Forgiveness is the Return of Splendour in the World

­­­­­­­­­Luke 17:3-10

Forgiveness is the Return of Splendour in the World

Do you find it easy to say “I am sorry” to someone you’ve hurt? These three powerful words enable us to have smooth relationships with others. “Always apologise more than you think you need to” is advice worth practising as long as you live.

Expressing regret for hurting someone or sinning against them is the first step to healing a damaged relationship with others. The reason many relationships aren’t as good and loving as they could be is because we’ve failed to apologise when we’ve hurt and offended someone. Jesus points out to us in today’s text that love can involve having to apologise seven times in one day, if that’s what’s necessary for domestic harmony or harmony within a church community. This will also involve free and unconditional forgiveness of each other seven times or more in one day if necessary.

Our problem is that we’re quick to excuse ourselves, and we find it easier to criticize the other person rather than forgive them. Love is thrilled to say “sorry” to those whom we’ve hurt.  Where there are no apologies, anger grows and creates in us a desire to hit back.

Jesus’ call to forgive a sister or brother seven times a day if necessary made His disciples only too aware of their inadequate faith. That’s why they pray to Jesus, “Increase our faith”. They’re only too aware that they need the help only our Saviour can give them. By asking Jesus to increase our faith regularly, we are praying that our Lord will enable us to do things for Him that seem to be humanly impossible. He means we should use the faith God has already given us to ask Him for a more effective, life-transforming faith. Faith that grows like a mustard seed is faith that’s said its prayers.

Jesus links faith, prayer and forgiveness inseparably together when He says, “So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. ‘Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses’ (Mark11:24-25).”

No other act in the universe is as glorious and beautiful as God’s forgiveness of us. No other antidote brings such complete healing and peace as does forgiveness. Nothing in our sinful world bears the imprint of Christ, the Son of God, as surely as does forgiveness.

God forgives you like a mother forgives her child when she kisses the offence into eternal forgetfulness. His forgiveness of you is stronger than all your sins. Forgiveness is His barrier-breaking, future-opening gift to you.

Forgiveness meets our longing to make a fresh start in our relationships with God and each other. God’s forgiveness of you means you can live as His new creation, as if your life has just begun. Forgiveness is God’s most characteristic quality as our heavenly Father. He pleads with each one of us to be forgiven and forget; forget all the past sins of which God has already forgiven you and all the sins other people have committed against you.

The Bible tells us that ultimately all sin is against God and must be confessed to Him. King David confesses to God: “Against You, You alone, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified in Your sentence and blameless when You pass judgement (Psalm 51:4).” Because Jesus has taken the blame for all our sins in place of us, God no longer condemns those who plead for His forgiveness. “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).”

We show appreciation of God’s undeserved forgiveness of us by our eagerness to forgive one another.

A young man had a sharp disagreement with another church member. As he’d been a Christian for a longer time than the other person, his pastor asked him to initiate the process of reconciliation. The youth said to his pastor: “He is the one who started all this. I have done nothing wrong. Why should I go to him? He should be the one to make the first move, not me.” Forgiveness involves making the first move. To be a Christian involves forgiving what I think is unforgiveable. We are most like God when we forgive others.

If you cannot forgive others, you break the bridge over which you must pass; for everyone needs to be forgiven. Every Christian needs to be a good forgiver. Nothing stops prayer more than an unforgiving spirit.

To forgive someone is to slice away the wrong from the offender and see her or him in a new light. By living as God’s forgiven and forgiving people, you can make a tremendous difference at home, at work, at sport and at church.

The servant in today’s Gospel reading couldn’t expect any special treatment for simply doing his daily duty. Servants employed in the time of Jesus were grateful for the security of a job and worked for their masters out of a sense of loyalty. In ordinary life in the time of the New Testament, a master never waited on or served a servant.

 As our Master, Jesus, however, did something unique and unheard of before. He came not to be served, but to serve us in amazingly wonderful, down to earth ways. In Holy Communion, Jesus serves us with sacred food in this sacred meal so that we can serve others in all sorts of down to earth ways, like He serves us. Love knows its duty is never done. Love’s only reward is to have the privilege of serving others.

Serving our Saviour Jesus makes our lives full of meaning, because what we do for Him is eternally worthwhile with results seen only in heaven. We serve Jesus, and look forward to that day when in heaven Jesus will come and serve us. “It will be good for those servants whose Master finds them watching when He comes … He will dress Himself to serve, He will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them (Luke 12:37).” What a wonderful honour that will be!

Amen.

Deadlines and Second Chances

Luke 16:19-31

Deadlines and Second Chances

Most people these days are used to working to deadlines – ‘due dates’ to pay our bills or complete tax returns, Business Activity Statements or school assignments. There are ‘closing dates’ for entering competitions or buying tickets.  Although there can be disadvantages or disappointments if we miss those deadlines, there is usually some sort of second chance or a way around our misfortune.  Even angry football fans that miss out on grand final tickets are still able to watch the game on TV.

There is one thing in life though for which there is a final deadline, after which there is no turning back.  That has to do with whether we accept the gift of God’s grace in Jesus Christ and live for him, or whether we choose instead to live for ourselves, worldly wealth and material possessions.

Jesus talks about that deadline in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.  First, we are told about the enormous difference between the material wealth of these two people: There was once a rich man who dressed in the most expensive clothes and lived in great luxury.  There was also a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who used to be brought to the rich man’s door, hoping to eat the bits of food that fell from the rich man’s table.  Even the dogs would come and lick his sores (v.19-21).

Next, Jesus tells us about the enormous difference between the spiritual wealth of these two people.  Lazarus was the one who was spiritually rich and the ‘rich man’ was the one who was spiritually poor.  The evidence of that is what Jesus said about them when it came to the final deadline.  Their roles were reversed at the point of death: The poor man died and was carried by the angels to sit beside Abraham at the feast in heaven.  The rich man died and was buried, and in Hell where he was in great pain, he looked up and saw Abraham, far away, with Lazarus at his side (v.22, 23). 

The one who enjoyed comfort and pleasure on earth was now in torment and pain because, with all his earthly riches, he had neglected the greatest riches of all – the riches of God’s grace.  The one who endured torment and pain on earth was now enjoying comfort and pleasure because, in all his earthly poverty, he had found the greatest riches of all – his faith in God, and in God’s promises.

Both men had reached the deadline where their eternal fate would be decided forever.  There would be no second chance now, no way around the dilemma.  Their decision was now irreversible.

Suddenly the rich man thought of four things he should have done while on earth.

First, he lifted his eyes up to heaven.  He looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus at his side (v. 23).  He focused on the Father’s house above and the comfort, which believers receive there.  He had opportunity to do that during his earthly life, like David who said: “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple, for he will hide me in his shelter”  (Ps.27: 4,5).  He could have done that instead of focusing on himself, his own wealth and enjoyment.  Now it was too late!

Second the rich man prayed for God’s mercy.  He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me” (v.24a).  He became aware of his real condition before God.  He was not worthy to stand before God on his own.  He was spiritually bankrupt, separated from God forever because of his sin.  He needed God and his mercy.  He could have received God’s mercy and salvation beforehand if only he had realized his own condition and prayed for mercy while he was living life on earth.  Now it was too late!

Third, the rich man began to think of Lazarus.  He called out, “Send Lazarus to dip his finger in some water and cool off my tongue, because I am in great pain in this fire” (v.24b).  Lazarus had been in pain on earth but the rich man had thought only of himself.  The scraps that Lazarus received were not given; they “fell”.  Now the rich man became aware of the need for compassion – when he was the one who needed it!  Now he noticed Lazarus.  But the gap that he had created between himself and others was as wide and “unbridgeable” as the gap between heaven and hell (v.26).  Abraham reminds him that he once had an opportunity to bridge that gap.  Now it was too late!

Fourth, the rich man had a ‘burning’ desire for evangelism.  The rich man said, “Then I beg you, father Abraham, send Lazarus to my Father’s house, where I have five brothers. Let him go and warn them so that they, at least, will not come to this place of pain” (v.27, 28).  In his life he had the Word of God, the warnings of Moses and the Prophets and the words of eternal life to share with them then, but he didn’t.  Now it was too late!  One of the greatest torments of Hell will be that people there will suddenly have a ‘burning’ desire to do all those things they should have done on earth, but will not be able to do them.  Christ’s warning is that we have only one lifetime to ‘get it right’ with God.

But isn’t God ‘a God of second chances’?  Doesn’t he want everyone in heaven and no one in hell?  That’s true!  That’s why he sent Jesus as our Saviour.  In Christ, God has provided a second chance for every human being who will receive it.  He has provided a much better alternative to the life that is lived to self and worldly pleasures and possessions.

Through Christ, God has offered us a fresh opportunity to focus on the father’s house above. We know that Jesus’ death has paved the way to the Father’s house for us, and that if we trust in him we need never be worried because, as he assures his faithful people, he has gone to prepare a place for us.  We have ample opportunity to renew that focus now through God’s Word and worship.

Through Christ, God has already bridged the gap that could have separated us from him eternally.  His amazing grace has given us the cross of Jesus as a secure bridge across that gap and Jesus’ resurrection as an assurance of his eternal victory over death and hell for all believers.  Every person has the opportunity to pray the ‘Sinners Prayer’ for mercy and to receive his free gift of eternal life.

Through Christ, God has given us the power and motivation to show love and compassion for others.  Jesus said: “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34), and  “As much as you have done it to the least of one of these, my brothers, you have done it to me” (Matt. 25:40).

Through Christ, God has given us the hope of having our families share God’s place of eternal happiness instead of the place of eternal pain.  Someone has risen from the dead and come to us to help us turn from our sins.  We have the Word of God – Moses and the Prophets as well as the word of Christ and his Apostles – to share God’s good news with our families and friends.

The fact is that, for us, God is providing the riches of his grace – and his second chance – right now.  What are the priorities in our lives at the moment?  What sort of riches are we really interested in – material or spiritual?  Are there some things we ought to look at changing now, before it is too late for ourselves and our families? 

When it comes to the deadline, when our life is over and we stand before God in judgement, there will be no more second chances.  God has given us our second chance, in Jesus.  Let’s not forget to put our trust in Him alone!  Amen.

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

Your favourite fairy tale.

Luke 16:1-13

The Merciful Master and His Shrewd Manager

What’s been your favourite fairy tale? What was it that grabbed your attention? Were you fascinated to watch the bad guy in action being eventually defeated by the hero of the story? Just as in real life, fairy tales contain bad guys as well as good ones. What fascinates us, I think, is the conflict between good and evil, with the hope that good will triumph.

The stories Jesus tells are not simply nice ones with only nice people in them. Rather, Jesus tells stories true to life with people of questionable character, like we find in real life. Our Lord tells us stories with the kinds of people we hear about each day, in order to grasp our attention. Have you been let down by someone you trusted? It’s a painful experience, isn’t it? Life isn’t always a rose garden. Jesus doesn’t depict life as better or worse than it is. Today’s parable has all the marks of something that really happened.

In the parable which Jesus tells us just before this one, the parable of the Prodigal Son, after wasting his father’s property, his son returns home and throws himself on his father’s mercy, just as in today’s parable the wasteful manager throws himself on his master’s mercy. This morning’s parable is about more than the wasteful use of someone else’s property. Its focus is rather on showing mercy on someone who doesn’t deserve it.

Having hit rock-bottom, the bad manager acts with amazing decisiveness and shrewdness to secure his future. It isn’t his dishonesty that’s commended, but rather, his shrewdness in using whatever opportunity is available to him to secure his future and make friends with those indebted to him. The fact that Jesus shares this parable with us is an act of grace and mercy. It invites us, yes even urges us, to prepare for our eternal future while we still can.

We have an advantage the wasteful manager didn’t have – as those who listen to and treasure Jesus our Saviour, and live in the light of the good news He brings us, our future is assured. Jesus reassures us: “My sheep hear My voice. I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of My hand (John 10:27-28).” The wasteful manager doesn’t reap what he sowed or get what he deserved. Grace, which God freely bestows on us, is God treating us so much better than we could ever deserve! Never forget that!

This parable is all about the amazing mercy of the manager’s merciful master who doesn’t punish or throw his wasteful manager into prison. The manager backs his whole future on his master’s reputation for showing mercy. By sacrificing his own commission, he invests in friendship, realising that to have friends that welcome you and care for you is much more important than being wealthy. He now realises that other people aren’t for our exploitation and personal advancement.

As soon as his master calls him to account, he doesn’t waste time on self-pity or trying to defend his actions. Instead, he maintains a cool head in the crisis and promptly does all he can to secure his future. “I have decided what to do so that when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes (v4).” Already he can see the welcome mats being laid down for him. While he still has the finance books, he will alter the accounts so that both he and his master will be commended by the debtors.

He now invites the debtors to alter in their own hand, the figures on the contracts he has access to, thus lessening their debt. The debtors will now be indebted to him. His shrewd insight is that he sees that the solution to a good future must come from outside. His entire plan is based on the assumption that his master is an honourable person who will respond again with mercy, as he has done in the past. The manager must act in haste in order that the debtors will think that the diminishing of their debts have come from the master’s mercy rather than the manager’s desperation to save his own skin. For the master to now repudiate these alterations would reveal him as mean and hard-hearted. To maintain his good reputation, the master can do nothing but endorse his manager’s actions. His master now commends his manager’s shrewdness, rather than the morality of his actions.

What’s more, Jesus suggests that we, His followers, can learn from worldly men like this manager; how to wisely prepare for our eternal future. Jesus says, “The people of this world are much more shrewd in handling their affairs than the people who belong to the Light (v8).” This means we’re to love God with our minds as well as our hearts, and use all our intelligence and wisdom to lay up treasures for ourselves in heaven. We’re to use our brains to reflect on the meaning of life and death, time and eternity. Jesus’ parables are brain-teasers that hold a mirror to ourselves, so that we’re aware if we’re avoiding thinking about life’s most important questions in a flurry of secular activity. The better we understand the deep questions of our Christian faith, the more it will motivate us to grow in love for our Creator and eagerness to help others.

Jesus wants us to be as passionate and enthusiastic about the practice of our faith in God as the non-religious men and women around us are about their sport, their hobbies and entertainment activities. We learn from them about dedication and commitment. The non-religious folk around us often make huge sacrifices to achieve their earthly goals. How much more shouldn’t we do the same for something that will last forever? In the face of all the good things that God has in store for those who love God, there can be no room for a half-hearted faith. Instead of just possessing a faith in God, we want a faith that posses us, hook, line and sinker!

This week, God is giving you another chance, another opportunity to put God first, to love God above all things and discover the great and unexpected blessings that flow from doing so. When Jesus says, “No servant can serve two masters; for a servant will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and wealth”, He is stating the First Commandment in different words. Treasure God above everything else because your God treasures you so much more than you could imagine.

This morning’s parable doesn’t threaten; it encourages. Here’s someone without hope who has got himself into an unholy pickle. If he’s so shrewd in dealing with his own interest, how much more reason have you, “the people of the Light”, to draw the consequence of the happy situation into which your Lord Jesus has placed you. Your interests are looked after. Your future is assured. You have the best possible hope.

God isn’t going to sack you! God will not let you down although you may have let God down. Your life is in loving hands and your God surrounds you with His protecting and supporting hands. Since Jesus Christ died for you, that’s assured. Your future is good. How much more reason have you to act and live discovering the joys of God’s life! You don’t have to compete with others anymore. You don’t have to be afraid of dying anymore, for you have God’s life now. Your life is worthwhile now. You needn’t act as if the weight of the whole world is resting on your shoulders. Because of the mercies of the Lord that are new every day, you are worth a great deal more in God’s sight than your non-Christian neighbours and friends could ever have an inkling of.

“Listen! This is the hour to receive God’s favour; today is the day to be saved! (2 Corinthians 6:2)” Don’t delay! Embrace God’s grace and mercy today. For “according to God’s great mercy, we have been born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and to an inheritance that is imperishable (1 Peter 1:3-4).”

We thank God for that. Amen.

Vernon P Kleinig

When Heaven Rejoices Over You

The Text: Luke 15:1-10

When Heaven Rejoices Over You

 Few experiences in life arouse stronger feelings or stir us to action more quickly than when someone or something is lost. Hundreds of people will turn up to help look for a lost child. We can more easily identify with the woman who’s lost her valuable coin than the shepherd in this morning’s Gospel reading. What teenager hasn’t ransacked her or his clothing and bedroom until a lost $20 note is found, followed by a joyful shout, ”Mum, I’ve found it!” Luke 15 with its further parable of the Prodigal Son is one of the best loved chapters of the Bible. It’s considered the greatest chapter in St. Luke’s Gospel, since the Christmas story in chapter two.

Sadness hovers over a family where there’s a member missing. But what joy there is when the missing one returns home! The background to today’s two parables of good news is the eager welcome our Lord gives to despised tax collectors and other outcasts, an action which is strongly criticised by Jesus’ constant critics, the Pharisees. They’re complaining that Jesus invites tax collectors to have meals with Him even before they may have repented. Now if Jesus had announced that tax collectors would be welcome at His table after they’d renounced their evil ways and ‘cleaned up their act’, Jesus’ action would hardly have caused a ripple. But Jesus couldn’t wait for that to happen. He wanted them within His transforming presence as soon as possible. No wonder such folk flocked to Jesus. His critics, on the other hand, thought the worst charge they could level against Jesus was that “He’s the Friend of sinners!!” Jesus turned this criticism into a compliment. That’s why He’s come to our world – to be the Friend of all of us sinners.

So now, to defend His conduct in spending so much time seeking out God’s lost sons and daughters and then making them feel so welcome, our Lord now tells us two parables about searching for what has been so treasured and now becomes lost. Jesus went out of His way to spend the most time possible with those who needed Him the most, regardless of what it might do to His reputation. The new emphasis Jesus brings, as opposed to what the Jewish religious leaders had taught, is this – God actively goes in search for the lost and doesn’t want them to first “clean up their act”. Jesus is saying that because God is like this, seeking us unconditionally, I speak and act as I do. Jesus said that He was sent to seek God’s lost sheep because God misses them so much and treasures them so deeply.

Jesus assumes that His critics, when they lose a valuable animal, will act like the shepherd in today’s first parable. “Which of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety nine and go after the one that is lost?” The loss of even one sheep back in those days would have been a great blow to a shepherd struggling to make ends meet. A sheep which had wandered away from the care of its shepherd would be in danger of losing its life. The safety of the ninety nine sheep is no substitute for the loss of one. That’s why this good shepherd, who is a symbol of Christ our Good Shepherd, spares no effort in seeking its recovery.

Our society, our world places a big emphasis on statistics and numbers, which would suggest that we focus on the big numbers instead of only one. Not so with Jesus! Each single person matters more than they could imagine to their Lord and Saviour. Each of you matters immeasurably to your Good Shepherd, who made the ultimate sacrifice of His very life in order to rescue you. That’s how precious and invaluable you are to Jesus. No one else can take your place in Christ’s mission in this church and community. No one else can replace the unique contribution you alone can make to advance Christ’s cause. You’re more than “just another”. 

Have you noticed how much more blessed our worship here is when every member attends? Jesus needs your contribution, according to the gifts and talents He’s given you. His work is too important to not give it your all; your contribution can make such a difference to the life of His Church. The Lord’s work cannot be left to a few keen folk. Your presence and participation is an encouragement to everyone else.

A large part of Jesus’ ministry was with individuals on a one to one basis. He spent time with Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman by the well, the man born blind, and with Martha at her brother Lazarus’s death. Jesus treasures you more than you feel you could ever deserve. We need to remember that the people we’re tempted to criticize are cherished immensely by our dear Lord.

Helmut Thielicke once wrote, “Though the burden of the whole world lay heavy upon His shoulders, though Corinth and Ephesus and Athens, whole continents, with all their desperate need, were dreadfully near to His heart, though suffering and sinning were going on in chamber, street corner, castle and slums, seen only by the Son of God – though this immeasurable misery and wretchedness cried aloud for a physician, He has time to stop and talk to the individual. He associates with publicans, lonely widows, and despised prostitutes; He moves among the outcasts of society, wrestling for the soul of individuals. He appears not to be bothered at all by the fact that these are not strategically important people, that they have no prominence, that they are not key figures, but only the unfortunate, lost children of the Father in Heaven. He seems to ignore with a sovereign indifference the great so-called “world-historical perspectives” of His mission, when it comes to one insignificant, blind, and smelly beggar, this Mr Nobody, who is nevertheless so dear to the heart of God and must be saved. Because Jesus knows that He must serve His neighbour (literally, those nearest here and now) He can confidently leave to His Father the things farthest away, the great perspectives.”

A farmer was walking down a lane carrying a half grown sheep. “How do they get lost?” he was asked. “They just nibble themselves lost”, he replied. “They just keep their heads down and just wander from one green patch to another. Sometimes they come to a hole in the fence, but they never find the hole to get back in again.” What a lost sheep cannot do for itself, someone else must do for it. It needs a caring shepherd to rescue it.

Now when the shepherd finds his lost sheep, he doesn’t reproach it for causing him so much trouble. Nor does he complain about having to carry it on his shoulders back to his sheepfold. Without his shouldering of this eagerly-sought burden, there can be no joyous restoration to its flock. The joy of finding his treasured possession overshadows everything else. That’s why he urges his friends and neighbours to celebrate with him his glad discovery. Joy has to be shared. It’s too good to keep to oneself. Jesus asks His critics: “Is it wrong for Me to spend so much time and effort over one lost soul as you do for one lost sheep?”

This parable is an invitation to them and to us to repent. “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety nine righteous persons who need no repentance (v7).” What better reason can there be to apologise to God for all the times we’ve hurt Him and disobeyed Him? One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received was, “Always say ‘sorry’ more than you think you need to.” We can repent with joy because of the joy our repentance creates in heaven. Repentance need not be gloomy or morbid. Rather, because of the joyous reaction in heaven to our confession of sin, we repent as often as we can, as soon as we can, because our Heavenly Father is eager to welcome us back home again and embrace us with His unconditional love.

At the same time, God’s grief over those who see no need to repent and return to His House is like the grief of the woman who has lost one of her ten coins. This would have amounted to the loss of a tenth of her savings. No wonder she passionately searches for her lost property! As long as the coin is lost, it is of no value to anyone. No wonder she doesn’t stop searching until it’s found. And when it’s found, she invites her girlfriends and neighbours to a joy-filled celebration of thankfulness. She possibly even spends more on the celebration than the coin is worth!

In the same vein, Jesus shares with us the angels’ keen interest in our salvation. The angels can’t wait to joyously celebrate our eager repentance to our forgiving God. Today’s Gospel about Jesus eating with sinners is good news for all of us. His precious Supper is His Feast of forgiveness for us. He invites all of us who need Him so much and who are aware of their unworthiness to receive that life-giving gift. God’s Word says, “Do you not realise that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance (Romans 2:4)?” You can repent with joy because heaven rejoices when you do.

Look around you and rejoice at all those who have responded to the Gospel, and thank God for them all. Jesus wants you to have His permanent joy in you. Finally, thank God for the good news of great joy in today’s sermon text, news that’s a joy to share with others. Take up Jesus’ invitation to “rejoice that your names are written in heaven (Luke 10:20).”

Amen.

Hard to Hate.

Text: Luke 14:25-33, Psalm 1:5-6, Philemon

“Hard To Hate”

 

Hate is a hard word to hear. Especially in the context of the Gospel reading where we hear Jesus say a person must hate his or her very own life, hate father and mother, or hate sister and brother. Hearing ‘to hate’ startles the senses, yet Jesus goes on to shake us even more.

If you don’t perfectly hate like this, then Jesus says you cannot be his disciple. Added to this he says, “…any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:33 ESV)

What does God require of you? He wants you to lay down everything and take up your cross and follow him. Anything less and you cannot be his disciple. Without this hate of self and family, without the bearing of your cross, you and I are seen as flavourless salt… and salt that’s not salty is good for nothing!

A simple test of your hatred of self and family in favour of God can be best observed by your focus on your birthday over against your baptism birthday. Which of these two days gets your greater celebration?

Does the brighter spotlight fall on the day you were born, or rather, do you rejoice more over the anniversary of your day of birth into the eternal kingdom of God. Do you celebrate and commemorate the day you were born into your sinfulness or the day you were crucified and buried with Christ, the day you were baptised into his death, the day your sinfulness was defeated and you received eternal life?

Unless you hate your birthday more than the day your cross became Christ’s cross, and pick it up and follow him, you cannot be Jesus’ disciple!

In light of his word here, we start to see the shocking insufficiency of our existence. In fact, some of you are hard up remembering just what date it was when you were baptised, while some of you are questioning his word, trying to side step it, ignore it, or perhaps trying to justify yourself.

What is revealed here is we’re not what we’re meant to be! Humanity has lost its way! Our thinking has become confused and contradicted against the truth of the situation and our real position in this world and with God.

Most of us have come to accept a benign type of Christianity, devoid of anything which might seem offensive to our postmodern ears. However, what might seem to be benign is in fact malignant if you allow the word of God to dig beneath the surface and expose the reality of your human existence.

Is your quest for your idea of life the very thing that’s cutting you off from the life God wants to give you?

You know, it’s not meant to be this way!

In Psalm One, we’re told, “…the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” (Psalm 1:5-6 ESV)

So what is it for you? Are you righteous; one in God’s congregation? Or, are you a perishing sinner?

There’s a number of ways you might respond. First there’s the way of pride. We might look at ourselves all puffed up thinking we’re not doing too badly! Then, there’s the way of brokenness. We might see deep within the darkness of our sin and in shame seek to flee further from God’s presence.

Both of these responses are flawed! They are both equally wrong because answers are sought from within you.

However, there’s another way! The third way! By this path you can be honest! And answer both questions… YES! Yes, I am righteous; I am one in God’s congregation! And yes, I am a sinner! There is a part of me perishing! Thank God it’s being done away with!

Why is this different from a righteous pride that comes from within, or, equally from within, a humiliation that leads to the giving up of hope? It’s different because the twofold yes comes from outside. It allows you to be completely honest knowing yourself as God knows you!

In fact, God knows you better than you know yourself. He knew you before you were born. He knew you before your baptism into Christ’s death on your cross! He even knew you before this world existed. As we’ve heard in Psalm One, the Lord knows the way of the righteous.

Now God calls you to know yourself! Know your nature; be honest with yourself and him. Know you’re dying, but not despair! Rather because of the eternal joy that awaits you, endure the cross of dying, the killing of your sinful nature, and look forward with hope; fully convinced of the future.

To see yourself clothed the way you were meant to be before sin entered the lives of humanity! To see with God given faith, when God looks at you he sees Jesus! To see you covered with the righteousness of Christ. Believing and trusting Christ’s righteousness is the only way of righteousness.

When this happens we will hate what we are, but love what we have become, what we’re becoming, and what we will become in Christ!

We will realise this life is more about death than life and regret and detest it’s like this. But we’ll also see in death what has begun in baptism will be finished and done away with, so true life can begin. We will grow in love in the knowledge Jesus is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. And we will yearn, more and more, to be the same as him.

Today we also hear about Paul, Philemon (fill-ee-mon), and Onesimus (O-ness-ee-mus). Onesimus was Philemon’s slave, and after escaping and being found by Paul, Paul sends Onesimus back to Philemon. But Onesimus is different from what he once was. He’s no longer a slave to sin but is now bound by the Gospel. He had become the same as Saint Paul.

Although we know little about what it’s like to live in a social setting of slavery, we in fact, like Onesimus, were slaves to sinfulness but are being freed from that old bondage.

If we look into ourselves we might seek to flee our slavery like Onesimus, in despair or arrogance. But Onesimus then relied on Paul to win favour with his master, Philemon. Likewise, Christ has won the victory for us and we can rely on him to put us right with God.

We could imagine Onesimus hated his old life as a slave. We too who trust Christ to put us right will detest our old life too. We will hate the way things have become in this world. We will hate who we’ve become, slaves of sin. And because of it long for something much better and trust God is bringing it to fruition in our lives.

In hating ourselves we might learn to truly love who God is re-creating us to be. And then with this Christ-centred love we might love our neighbour as ourselves. We might love and serve one another as Christ loves and serves us. Amen.

Pastor Heath Pukallus

Blessed are the hospitable

Text: Luke 14:1, 12-14

Lillie loves to open her home to others. Often church folk have gathered around the organ in her home and sang together in praise of our Lord. The highlight of this time of fellowship is the supper which Lillie has delighted to prepare. Were you to ask her, she’d say with other Christians who love to practice hospitality that she has always received far more from her practice of hospitality than she’s ever given to others. In inviting folk into her home, she has no doubt “entertained angels unawares.” In stories of Christian hospitality, it’s a case of “for it is in giving that we receive.” In fact, it’s hard to tell where giving and receiving begin or end.

Many Christians will tell you that some of the happiest moments of their lives have been when they’ve invited newcomers or visitors into their homes and discovered with great joy how much they have in common with them. From New Testament times until recently, hospitality has been one of the chief ways Christians have expressed their love for strangers. The Greek word used in the New Testament for hospitality means “love of strangers”. The New Testament uses the same word for “guest” as for “stranger”. The early Christians were treated as strangers in the Roman Empire because of their strange new Faith. It was the warm welcome strangers received into Christian homes that assisted the rapid growth of the Christian Church.

A powerful opponent of Christianity, the Emperor Julian, wrote: “It is the Christians’ benevolence to strangers … that has done the most to increase [it]”. In our Lord’s parable of the Good Samaritan, the Samaritan, a foreigner, treats a Jewish stranger as his neighbour. Jesus acted as Host to 5,000 hungry listeners when He fed them all from the five loaves and two fishes a boy gave to Him. What a motley lot of people there would have been in that crowd. We need to see newcomers, guests and visitors as our Lord does. “I was a stranger and you welcomed Me”, Jesus says in Matthew 25:35.

On the way to Damascus, two disciples of Jesus welcomed what they thought was a stranger into their home. What a blessing that turned out to be as they discovered the stranger was Jesus! Our potential guests may not look like the Jesus we expect. But then, how often do we expect our Lord to come in the guise of a newcomer or visitor? The New Testament links hospitality to folk we’ve never had in our homes previously, to love for Jesus. It’s a practice that enriches all involved. The quality of hospitality doesn’t depend on the cost of food, but on the warm, enthusiastic welcome given and received.

 

In encouraging you to show hospitality, I’m not wanting in any way to place an added burden on you, but inviting you to be blessed, really blessed, beyond all expectation, through your practice of hospitality. This is something too good to just leave to others. Jesus invites you to look on others as either your neighbour or a potential new friend. Many Christians have found that in their practice of hospitality, the distinction between host and guest evaporates in recognition of a new-found unity between those involved. Angels are messengers from God. Your guest may be a messenger from God as you discover how much they can bring God’s presence into your life.

Meals in the Bible were never secular occasions. They frequently turned out to be events of great religious significance. Simon the Pharisee’s guest in the Book of Luke is, through the stranger – the woman who weeps on Jesus’ feet – revealed to be the ultimate Guest. As the meal proceeds, the role of known and stranger, guest and host, is reversed. Jesus becomes a Host with the best news ever, that is, forgiveness for even public sinners, and the welcome announcement that the woman’s faith in Jesus has saved her.

After Easter, Christ’s followers discern His identity when He assumes the role of Host in the “Breaking and Blessing of Bread”. This “breaking and blessing of bread” illustrates Holy Communion where Christ Himself shares His richest treasures with us, so that we can pass onto others the blessings we’ve received from Him. Of all the means by which Jesus could have chosen to be remembered, He chose to be remembered by a meal, by His Holy Supper. What our Lord considered memorable and characteristic of His ministry was His table fellowship. Jesus transformed one of our most common daily events into an occasion of profound spiritual import. The early Christian Church continued His approach.

An outstanding feature of the Church in the New Testament is its enthusiastic practice of hospitality. The Book of the Acts ends by telling us that St. Paul practised what he taught: “Get into the habit of inviting strangers home for dinner (Romans 12:13)”, Paul encourages us. While in Rome he welcomed all who came to him for a bite to eat (Acts 28:30). In St. Peter’s first letter, Peter implores us to ”Be hospitable to one another without complaining (1 Peter 4:9).” In his third letter, St. John commends Gaius for his exemplary hospitality: “Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the friends, even though they are strangers to you; they have testified to your love before the Church. You will do well to send them on in a manner worthy of God; for they began their journey for the sake of Christ, accepting no support from non-believers. Therefore, we ought to support such people (3 John 1:5-8).”

Worship flourishes in a climate of hospitality. Research has found that the most important factor in whether visitors return to Church again was the presence of welcoming hospitality. Hospitality brings the Church into our homes and links Church and home inseparably together. We need to see our church as a “House of Hospitality”, and perhaps set aside the fifth Sunday of the month as “Hospitality Day”.

As we receive Jesus into our homes and meet His hunger, He reminds us that He is preparing, as our Host in heaven, a place where we will be His guests forever. Jesus moves among us now in ways we often only discover in hindsight. We can do more for one another than we’re aware of, as we act as co-hosts with Jesus.

Young people can make us feel younger as we listen to their fresh ideas and life plans. We can travel to others places in our imagination as they tell us about their home-places. A listening ear is the best cure for loneliness. I know of people who felt unneeded and undervalued until someone invited them into their home. It’s easy to be hospitable to relatives and close friends. In today’s Gospel reading, our Lord presents us with something more challenging and open to unexpected blessings. We offer hospitality in the context of Christ’s kindness to us, with our Lord as both our gracious Host and our blessed Guest. You don’t need surplus resources to do this. We aren’t out to impress anyone. Our Lord promises to bless whatever we share with others. It has been remarked on again and again that Christians of modest means make the best hosts. Hospitality can include a host of activities like afternoon tea, a card games afternoon, a chat over coffee, a video evening, a walk along the rail-line walking track, or an invitation to drop in for half an hour when the other person is nearby.

Visitors are to be received into our homes without apology, even when preparations haven’t been completed or when a house is untidy. The hosts needn’t do everything by themselves. Let your guests assist if they ask to. Resources can be pooled, like “Let’s have a leftovers party together.” Hospitality which is done for Christ doesn’t suffer the mistakes Martha made in Luke 10:40. “Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to Him and asked, ‘Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’”

No, hospitality comes before pride. It’s carried out in a spirit of humble service for the glory of God rather than as an end in itself. “Given and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap (Luke 6:38).”  You will receive a far greater blessing than you give.

The Christian practice of hospitality is too weighted with blessing to be postponed. God’s Word urges you, “Welcome one another, therefore, as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God (Romans 15:7).” Above all, respond eagerly to your Lord’s call to you – that He may remain a permanent Guest in your home. He says, “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear My voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with Me (Revelation 3:20).”

“Lord Jesus, we are Your guests;

 Through Your gifts to us, may others be blessed.” Amen.

Honour the Sabbath

The Text: Isaiah 58:13-14.

Honour the Sabbath

(Isa 58:13-14) “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honourable, and if you honour it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, {14} then you will find your joy in the LORD, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” The mouth of the LORD has spoken.

(Heb 12:28-29) Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, {29} for our “God is a consuming fire.”

(Luke 13:14-15) Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue ruler said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.” {15} The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water?

 

Today our readings throw out a challenge to us all with regard to our Sunday worship. More to the point, we are called on to reflect on what is our attitude towards Sundays and what and why we do what we do? And on reflecting on these readings this morning we see that we all fall into the dangers that God is making us aware of here. But even more significant is the fact that we are denying God the opportunities that he wants for us.

In light of attendances across the churches, we would do well to reflect on what God has to say to us here. I recognise that there is sickness and many other issues for a number of people, but at the same time the devil and our sinful nature is at work as well. Unless we take these things seriously we too will find ourselves in serious trouble; and we will be denying God the opportunity to bring the blessings that he wants, to us and our nation. He may well level at us the term hypocrite.

As we reflect on this issue then, we see that there are three keys problems that we regularly find at work in our lives and which the devil feeds.

The first one is that we don’t need to take what God has to say with regard to the Sabbath seriously. I’ve heard many comments over the years that go along the lines of: ‘You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian? I can miss a Sunday here and there and it is not going to affect my faith! I have to do this or that on Sunday. Worship is boring. I don’t get on with the people there.’ And the list could go on. Underlying many of these comments is the attitude that we have more important things to do on Sunday, or that we decide what is good and right for ourselves.

The other problem that so often arises and which our Gospel reading places before us, is the legalism that all too often becomes associated with the Lord’s day. ‘You can’t do this or that on the Sabbath! We can only do it this way. It has to be hymns out of the hymn book or it is no good. Or the opposite, ‘We have to move with the society and the times and change everything.’ As long as I … Or, ‘As long as I keep doing [insert pet sin], then I cannot commune because I’m too sinful’ And again, the list could go on. Here underlying it all is the attitude that we must do things just the right way or else we will not receive God’s blessing.

But overarching these problems is that much deeper and more pervasive issue of the fact that we see ourselves as the centre of what the Sabbath is all about. Worship is what we do for God, not first and foremost we he does for us. It is we determining if and when, where and how, we worship, and everything else that has to do with this day. Even right down to what we think is important and what needs to be in our worship services. Or more to the point today, what we can discard and not have. Therein lies the sin of each one of us. We want to be like God and we want to decide for ourselves what we think is good and important. We want to be our own gods. And it is that attitude which brings death. And maybe there is a good indicator as to why the church today is dying in the western world.

However here it is that Jesus reminded the Pharisees of his day, as well as us today, that there is a far more central issue involved here, than what we do and how we do it. This day has to do with us being freed from that which binds us and grinds us into the ground. He speaks of being freed from Satan. It has to do with forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.

It has to do with our Lord and who he is and what he does. It has to do with, as Paul says to the Hebrews:

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

Yes, that is what God has in mind for you and me here this morning and every time we gather here in his presence. He wants to meet with you here, together with all the saints, and he wants to reassure you that you are part of a new covenant where we can have that guarantee that we are forgiven for all our selfishness and sin, and that he has many blessings surrounding that for you and me. God and what he has to offer is what is essential for this life and the next. He is here to do just that and along with that, he gives us the directives that we need for our worship and for life.

Here also remember that he was the one who set aside the Sabbath so that he could allow us to rest in his presence and receive all the good that he has in mind for us. He commands us to ‘Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” That means as Luther says; ‘we should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and his Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.’ We are to use the form of worship that he has set down for us since the early days of the Church.

Here also listen to what he says in our Old Testament reading today.

“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honourable, and if you honour it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the LORD, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” The mouth of the LORD has spoken.

This is just as important for us today as it was back then. So we use this as an opportunity to turn away from doing that which “I” want to do and instead look to him and receive what he has to give. Following his Word, rather than the word of our sinful selves and the world around us. We take on board the fact that he is the “Lord of the Sabbath.” He is the one who is important, and he has much to give us as we live in a world full of temptations and troubles.

So as Paul said to the Hebrews:

See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. [That is Jesus and his word of forgiveness] If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken–that is, created things–so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”

We have a great, awesome, and loving God who calls us week by week into his day of rest and receiving of all the good things that he has in mind for us. Through Word and Sacrament, he seeks to richly bless us. Who then are we to deny him this opportunity? Or do we think that we are greater, stronger and wiser than God almighty, himself? No let us be challenged and encouraged to see the Sabbath as God’s gift to us for our welfare and good. And through it, may all glory and honour go to our great God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

AMEN.

All good things must come to an end.

The Texts: Luke 12:49-51, Hebrews 12:1-4

“All Good Things Are Yet To Come!”

All good things must come to an end. This is the way we view much of our lives.

As children we all look forward to birthdays, and Christmas celebrations with family. But when it’s time to go home sadness, tears, and tantrums take over because the fun is finished, and all the good things have come to an end.

We part company with our cousins, and the festivities, to return to the mundane everyday motions of life. The division causes distress, the fun never seems to last. It’s takes so long to arrive and then in a flash it’s over. Mum and dad are the agents of division and the destroyers of delight. It’s at this time children would rather be separated from mum and dad and reunited in celebration with their cousins.

This type of sentiment doesn’t end in childhood. We carry on through life looking to live for the moment, or we reminisce over the past. We long for things to be the way they were. We get distressed about what the future might bring – failing bodies, loss of loved ones, loss of our independence, and finally loss of life. Are you anxious, uneasy, or distressed about what you are becoming over time?

Jesus was anxious too! He was distressed but not in the way we are about the future. Rather Jesus’ distress occurred because of the present, and all the while his hope was in what the end of his ministry on earth would bring.

So, Jesus laments in a way which is different to us, he says, “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” (Luke 12:49-51)

Jesus looks forward to finishing what needs to happen. He is torn to the core of his being; he is distressed, until the result is complete. While a quasi-superficial peace exists he is distressed. Until the things we perceive to be good come to an end, there is no peace in Jesus’ heart.

Just like a parent taking distressed kids home after a fun filled day, Jesus knows no peace until God’s children are laid to rest, so we might be rested and refreshed through his rest at the cross and in the grave.

See the problem here is as old as there have been parents and children. There is the constant struggle between those who have age, experience, and wisdom on their side verses the young who lack wisdom but have a whole bundle of energy to burn.

We put recreation before both groups asking, “What is recreation?” and get two very different answers. For some the idea of recreation is to go, go, go! Experiencing action is what recreation is all about! But for others recreation takes on a more subdued event of relaxing, sleeping, and resting the body.

For Jesus recreation is somewhere in between! He was distressed and wanted to go, go, go, but this is so he could get to the place where he was placed in perfect rest, completing his work of recreation.

Now this might seem all a bit confusing to us who live in an age where recreation and holidays have lost their original purpose. And we do well to take the word recreation and stick a hyphen in so we hear recreation as re-creation. Our recreation is a time to be recreated or re-created. So too for holidays! Holidays were once holy-days set apart for a very different purpose than what they’ve become today.

To find the function of holidays and days of recreation, the commandment “Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy” is as good a place as any to begin. After all the Sabbath is where God rested when he finished creation, and it’s where we’re re-created as we rest in God’s presence. And if it’s good enough for God to rest, perhaps we can enjoy the work God gives us in creation, and rest in him to be re-created and made holy as he is holy.

In the Old Testament the Sabbath begun at sundown on Friday and finished at sundown on Saturday. The Sabbath was a day to be re-created, and it was done by resting in the hearing of God’s Word. And so recreation and holidays flow on in the same vein. We are called to enjoy our work while we have it, and look forward to the holidays and days of recreation, not to glorify ourselves and neglect his Word, but to learn and hear it through teaching and preaching, regarding it as holy and therefore bringing glory to God.

How mixed up we have become in these things today! We lament and are distressed by the work God gives us and then when times come for us to be re-created and made holy, we choose to busy ourselves to the point of exhaustion and distress.

When we need re-creation and holiness, we are blinded by our desire for recreation and happiness, and the holidays and days of recreation become difficult days of uneasiness — and dis-ease!

Recreation is meant to lessen our dis-ease, yet for many their pursuit of recreational activities has become a disease! In fact, our distress from the unholiness and chaos of our search for fulfilment exposes the greatest disease of humanity – our sinfulness.

So as life seems to ebb away we become more and more like children at the end of a day of celebration. We become distressed over what is passing away, rather than being distressed over the fact we have become addicted to death and transient things around us. We want to stay and play, wearing ourselves out to the point where we’re so delirious we’ve lost all sight of what God truly intends for us.

Jesus says his coming has brought fire to the earth rather than peace. And this fire comes not only to the world but to us as well. There’s a division within us; a struggle between who you once were, and into whom you are being re-created.

The Holy Spirit delivers the fiery Holy Word of God into our hearts and the battle begins. Jesus seeks to conquer our unbelief, restlessness, and idolatry. Our hearts are receiving the will of God, and subsequently the distress of Jesus dwells in us until our baptism is made complete at the day of our resurrection after our earthly death.

But the old nature doesn’t die easily; it fights and assails us because Christ is in us. Our human nature would have us believe life is about selfishness now! That peace comes from me being number one! We would be at peace if conflict didn’t occur in us. But the reality is we are not living but dying, and for those who allow God to re-create them in Jesus Christ, they are being made his new creations. But it causes distress within as it divides sinner from saint. Like Jesus we are looking forward distressed until the fire of Christ’s fiery baptism of blood on the cross finishes its work of refinement in us. Then life will really being and death will be a thing of the past.

Jesus’ work of recreation divides not only the new believer from the old Adam within. Jesus also says it divides families and communities. Our sin separated Jesus from his Heavenly Father’s love on the cross. He experienced the full gamut of God’s wrath as a result of taking our addiction to death on himself, so we might be joined with the Father.

There are no shades of grey at the cross, Jesus was completely cut off from life, and experienced death in all its viciousness. And so the division continues to this day. We wrestle and struggle with those who choose the opposite from us. The question is this: Am I upholding God’s holiness and re-creation won for me in Jesus’ death, where one day I will be living in eternal peace? Or am I choosing to chase re-creation in unholy things, forsaking Christ’s work on the cross? There’s no halfway here! Either there’s surrender to Christ or surrender to eternal death. And between the divisions there will be an impenetrable void, impassable for all eternity.

So the reality for you is not that all good things are coming to an end but the truly good things are yet to come! Until death is a thing of the past, there will be times of distress, but at the second coming of Christ, we look forward to perfection and joy. Therefore, we’re encouraged as God’s children not to resist him but to be encouraged by all those who have gone before us bearing the forgiveness and faith of God. And so we hear…

…since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. (Hebrews 12:1-4)

Amen.

Fixing our eyes on Jesus

Hebrews 12:1-2
Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the Beginner and Completer of our faith.

            In these last four years we have seen trials and troubles, drought, fire and flood; pandemic; death and for some family break up. Life in this world is hard. Imagine being driven out of your country, fleeing an army coming to slaughter you; being in a city as walls and buildings collapse around you; being rejected by your family and friends, being locked away not allowed outside. Now, I’m not talking about fleeing Prussia or Ethiopia, or the war in Ukraine, or disownment because of conversion, or even those Covid lockdowns; rather the Exodus from Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea, Rahab seeing her corrupt city’s walls fall around her, David rejected by his people for a time, and Samson imprisoned. There is nothing new under the sun. God’s people have always struggled since our first failure in Adam and Eve when pain, tears and death came into the world. And yet God came to help, He comes to save.

            The saints of old suffered because of their own sins and the sins of others. In the face of that sin, in the face of death, and before the face of the devil; they suffered, yet God provided for them. The Lord God gave them strength! “Through faith they conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; they shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; their weakness was turned to strength; and they became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again.” You know these saints, Joshua, Josiah, David, Daniel, Elijah and Elisha. You know what God has done through them and for them in their struggles, the same struggles you now face.

            And yet God did not take their suffering away. “There were those who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawn in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and ill-treated – the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.” They suffered sickness, cancer, rejection and ridicule even by their own family, their own children. “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God has planned something better for us so that only together with us they would be made perfect.” That we would be made perfect in Jesus, by His suffering, death and His resurrection and ascension.

            Before Christ, the Old Testament saints were longing for the reconciliation to come, yet they could not see or understand what God was doing. Now with Christ, in the Year of our Lord 2022, we know Jesus our Saviour and Lord. We know what He has done for us and all people, all His Creation. United in Him, we join His suffering, His joy, His peace, and His faithfulness; yet still often we cannot see what God has done. And so Lewis, John, Ruth, Bev, Geoff, Joy, Vee, and Bill also joined Christ in His suffering and death and in His Resurrection being made children of God; yet still not seeing God’s promises fully come to pass.
We have commended them into God’s care, put in a eulogy, a good word, for them because of their faith. Yet God has planned something better for us all, that all together at the end of this world we will not just see the fulfilment of His wonderful promises, peace, joy and love everlasting; not just see Jesus; not just see each other; but also hold each other, and dwell with each other forever. This is the Resurrection when this fallen world finally passes away with all brokenness, corruption, pain and death passing away with it. When all those things that separate us, sin, hurt, death, and not enough hours in the day, when all these things that separate us pass away and we dwell together, with all the saints, with Jesus the founder and completer of our faith.

            He is the one who began the good work in you, and He is the one who completes it. He is the one who sends the Holy Spirit from the Father to guide you and draw you to His gifts. He is the one into whom you were baptised, united with Him in His life, death and resurrection. And He is the one who gathers the souls of those who fall asleep in faith, bringing them with Him wherever He goes. And finally He is the one who will raise the dead, the faithful to continue in His love together forever, and those who reject to continue in their rejection and hatred of Him forever. Now we see as through a dirty glass, but then we will see the truth clearly (1 Corinthians 13:12); that as we are in Christ, you are surrounded by all these saints whose souls rest in Jesus, resting in peace as we together await the consummation of God’s promises. You are today surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, even if we cannot yet see; these who kept the faith despite all that the world and that pathetic devil threw at them. Who through many of the same sufferings you face, by the strength the same Spirit provides, stood against the same enemies, and now stand together with Christ in Victory.

            This is our goal, to stand with them in the Resurrection, in Christ. So throw off all the things that hinder you and the sin that so easily entangles and run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing your eyes on the goal in everything you do; your focus on Jesus the author and perfector of your faith, on Jesus who began and completes your salvation and the salvation of all the saints.

            So together with this great cloud of witnesses, the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now and to life everlasting. Amen.

Christ might come tonight.

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

Luke 12:40
You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect Him.

            In a little over a week from now, my family and I will be driving out of Dubbo toward Biloela. Are we ready? No. To be honest it’s an overwhelming thing to have to leave those you love, and the work you’ve done in the garden, and the connections you’ve made in the communities, and the hurts you’ve caused and the failures you’ve made. To leave the stability you’ve found in this world, and uproot yourself, your spouse and your children and drive off to another place. It’s an overwhelming change, and yet it will be nothing in comparison to the coming of Christ. I’m packing to leave on Tuesday week, and I’m not ready. Christ might come tonight. Are you ready?

            Are you ready for this world to pass away? Are you ready to die tonight? Are you ready to never sin again? Are you ready to give up all your plans for this world and rest in the everlasting work of God? If you are, act like it. Provide for those in need, those in your family, among your friends, especially among your brothers and sisters in Christ. I’ve been told that, in the past people spent time to save money, yet now we want to spend money to save time; but money doesn’t fix every problem, often time with another is what is needed. This is why a pastor who visits is much more loved than one that doesn’t, yet it doesn’t have to be the pastor to come and listen, to eat a biscuit and lead another sibling in Christ to prayer. You can bring the love of our Lord to each other, you be Christ to one another, after all that is who every child of God is called to be. You are called to be Christ; to live in His life, death and resurrection, to love as He loves and serve as He serves. And that is who we will be when Jesus returns either to take you home, or to make all things right.

            This is why we do not need to fear. All the things that may terrify us, pain, loss, death; those things we fear, hurt, failure, sin; all the awful things, hate, murder, the demonic; Jesus is greater than all these. For in Him all things are made right with God. Jesus is stronger than all demons; the Holy Spirit more powerful than the zeitgeist, than the spirit of the age; and of course Our Father in Heaven is far greater than any king, president or prime minister, or father on earth. So do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.
Do not be afraid of the future, for Jesus is coming back in glory; do not be afraid of your past failures and sins, for you have been reconciled with Our Father in Christ; do not be afraid of lacking a full time pastor, for you have the Holy Spirit the greatest and most caring companion and guide. And you have each other, the kingdom of God; distance cannot separate us who are united by God’s love, not even death can separate us from Jesus or each other. As we gather in Christ’s presence, we gather with every Christian, every saint, from the beginning of Creation to now, and with all the angels, with Michael and Gabriel, we sing and glorify the King of kings!

            And yet we don’t see this treasure. We await that time when Christ finalises His victory, like servants waiting for their master to return from a feast; He won’t abandon His people, He won’t forsake His Kingdom. And so we wait, for 2000 years the Church has waited, now Phoebe joins us as we await Christ’s appearing in glory; the rest at the end of this fallen world, when He comes, our treasure, God’s love, joy, peace and life everlasting with all our brothers and sisters in Christ; the destruction of sin, death and the devil. What a wonderful gift to Phoebe and to all of you, Christ Himself, His eternal life, His victory. And today a foretaste of this treasure, a family right here! We might not see all the heavenly hosts, or all the saints from across the world and who have fallen asleep in Christ; but I see you and you see me.

Thank you for your love and for showing me Christ, and God continue to bless you through His Word through His sacraments and through each other. This is how we prepare for the life to come, to live in Christ now, to live in His Words and live in His authority, to live in love and trust with other Christians and for the benefit of all people and all Creation. This is the way of life the Son of Man will bring when He appears in glory, are you ready for it?

As you await our Lord, the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now into the everlasting life. Amen.