John 11

What qualities make a good mate?
We Aussies treasure a good mate.  In fact Australia was founded on mateship and mateship is what forges us as a nation.  Mates on the sports field, mates on school grounds, mates at work.  Without a good mate, someone to rely on, someone you can really trust, our lives can be very lonely and a lot harder to handle.

It is during the most difficult times in life, when the chips are down, that mates seem so important.  In fact, have you noticed, it is precisely in suffering, a special bond between mates is made; in a time of disaster, people pull together and mateship is forged; the sort of mateship we remember most.  The people of Nyngan endured a flood which engulfed their whole town, with most buildings over a meter under water and nearly everyone evacuated.

This happened nearly 20 years ago, yet even today, even though the people and the town continue to prosper, the thing they talk about most, is the flood and how they suffered together and how mates come together to see a mate through a hard time; mates who worked together to see this disaster through.

Yes, it is important to remember the hard times, the suffering and trials, and to remember mates who never gave up on us.

I often hear Christians say that the believer’s life is a life of victory, of joy and boundless possibilities; health and wealth gospel you could say. And many of the modern Christian songs of praise now reflect this thinking.  Yes, while it is true, Jesus has won the victory over sin and death, and we should be joyful over this news, is that all there is to know about God?  Is the God of victory and joy; the post-resurrection God, the only God we need to know?  Is the resurrected and ascended Lord Jesus no longer the suffering Lord?  No loner the one called Emmanuel, God with us, even in our suffering?

Let me pose you another question, is having mates all about the good times, the joy and victories?  I think not.  Mates are there for us also in the hard times, and the suffering.  And if we can sing ‘What a friend we have in Jesus, well then Jesus needs to be our mate in suffering also.

The story of Jesus raising Lazarus is a story of mateship amongst suffering. And it is a story that all of us can relate to;   Its about the hard times, about suffering and sorrow and its about death;  It’s a story about how Jesus, a friend of Lazarus, a mate, came to those suffering ; to be with the people and to be a mate with them, even in death; topics, which most Christians rarely talk about; yet isn’t it ironic, that much of the bible is about God helping those in trouble and suffering.

As Christians, we need to recognise the reality of death and suffering, of family hurts and tragedies, because it is inevitable, and when it happens, we want to know that we have a God, who is not only understanding, but who is a friend who will be there with us, to help us, like a mate in a time of disaster.

Mary and Matha were in such a situation; distort, as Lazarus, their brother, was dying.  They were helpless; what could they do?  Who could they turn to?  Immediately, on realizing Lazarus’ dire situation, Mary and Matha sent a message to Lazarus’ dearest friend Jesus.  ‘Lord, the one whom you love is dying’, or in Aussie lingo, ‘Jesus, your best mate is dying’.  Yes, they trusted that their mate Jesus could do something, they were not sure what, but they knew a good mate would always see it through; they trusted in him and believed he would help.

When Jesus arrived at the place where Lazarus lived, he was greeted with Mary’s tears of helplessness.  ‘Lord, if you were here, my brother would not have died’.  If you were here, your mate Lazarus would not have died.’  It is as if Jesus failed to be a good mate and didn’t see a friend through a hard time; Lazarus had died and Jesus was nowhere to be seen.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus let Lazarus die, and when he did finally turn up, why he didn’t just go straight to the grave to raise Lazarus, but instead, went first to those most desperate; to those suffering most?  Why he came face to face with hurting mates?

Perhaps he did this to demonstrate his love; his willingness to share in the burden of a friend; to show that he is able to be called upon, even in the darkest hour, even when he has seemingly left them all alone.

Perhaps he did this to fulfil their deepest human desire,… to have God with them, amongst them in their hopelessness, amongst the tears, and in the midst of despair.  Perhaps he did this so he can offer an amazing hope; and he did just that!  Jesus stood among the suffering and said ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die’

And with these words still resounding in the ears of Mary and Matha, and those present, Jesus calls Lazarus out of the grave; raises him from the dead, to show that his words are not empty; to show that he is in deed a good mate; faithful and true to what he says, and always there in time of need.  Jesus is among the dead and the mourning to be the resurrection and the life.

And can I assure you, he is among us still today, Jesus is Jesus and he is a friend of sinners, a good mate, still hang’n round those of us in need, answering our calls for help, coming to our aid and fulfilling our deepest desire;…to have Jesus with us.  However, his aid may not be what we expect, or when we expect it, as Mary and Matha found out.  Perhaps we too will call out ‘Lord, if only you were here’.  But it just maybe, in allowing us to suffer, Jesus is giving us time to be with him, so that he can be  amongst our hopelessness, amongst our tears, and in the midst of our despair, so that he can offer us an amazing hope.

Just as in earthly tragedies, which heighten our desire for a close friend to be with us, our trials and our struggles in life also heighten and reveal the true longing for God we all have; that desire to fulfil a need to be with God.

In trials Jesus comes to us, not to just fix up the problem, but to just be with us, to fulfil our longing for him, just as he did with Mary and Matha.  Jesus fulfils our need to see and experience God; Jesus makes God personal; here is God face to face; here is God who we can know and handle, feel and name.

How is Jesus present with us?  Simply when a fellow Christian visits and reads God’s word to us and prays with us, because Jesus has given as an incredible promised ‘where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am also’.  And he is with us bodily when we partake in the sacrament of Holy Communion.

And in Jesus just being there, amongst our daily struggles, whether we realize it or not, Jesus is calming our restless hearts; filling our yearning for him with the promise of hope and a way out.

Lent is a good time to remember that Jesus left the glory of heaven and suffered for us; a time to remember that through his suffering and death he forged a new mateship with us; and it is a time to ponder once again how he is with us in our need by his body and blood, in the bread and the wine, so that his word may continue to ring in our ears and splash on our lips ‘whoever believes in me  will never die, but be raised to eternal life’.

He came through with Lazarus, and raised him from the grave; and he will come through with us, in this life, and in the life to come.  So who better then, to have as a mate in times of suffering and strife than Jesus; who is not only he for us on earth, but here for us in eternity; yes what a mate indeed. Amen

John 9:1-41

It has been suggested that the origins of denominations occurred when all the healed blind men in the bible met each other. At first they were all excited about the miracle of sight that Jesus had given them, but as they talked about how Jesus had healed them, they began to discover some significant differences. For some, the healing came with simply a touch from Jesus (Matt 9:29; 20:34). Another proudly boasted that he had enough faith so that Jesus didn’t have to touch him to perform the miracle (as recorded Mk 10:52).

Another meekly exclaimed that Jesus not only touched him twice, but also “spit on his eyes” in order for him to see clearly (as Mk also records 8:23). The final one really felt embarrassed to admit that even though a touch wasn’t part of his healing, Jesus’ “spit” wasn’t enough. Jesus had mixed his saliva with dirt and put the mud on his eyes and then told him to go and wash in some pool of water (Jn 9:6-7). Since each one thought his healing was normal and better than the others, they divided into spittites and non-spittites; muddites and non-muddites; touchites and non-touchites. Denominationalism was born.

Isn’t it funny how we often admit we are not an authority on one particular thing; we don’t have all the answers; we are prepared to take another opinion or view; we are, as the saying goes, more a ‘jack of all trades, and master of none’.  But when it comes to God, and who he is and how he works…well, we are all experts; we’re masters and everyone else is a jack of all trades.

Like the spitters or the non-spitters, we know best and we know exactly how God acts or would act in every situation.  We know he worked in our life in this way, therefore he must work in the same way for everyone else; we have our religion down pat and God all squared off; there is nothing new about God we don’t already know.

We all have religious glasses through which we look at God and understand him.  You through the lens of the Uniting, me and others here, through Lutheran lenses; each of us, looking at God, seeing him work within the boundaries and scope of our glasses.  We are confident, and we are sure that we have the right glasses because surely after 2000 years, we aught to know God; know his ways; know how he saves.

But has God ever surprised you?  Has he ever done something so radical in your life, that he left you gob smacked; unable to say for certain that this is God working?  Have you even been confronted with a situation that made you realize, that when it comes to God, we are not masters, but rather a jack of all trades?  Why is it that God sometimes shocks us?  Could it be that we are so darn certain we know God, so focused on our glasses through which we see God, when some miracle, or some tragedy happens in our life, we are actually blinded to God; we cannot see him in our situation and think it cannot be from him; he just wouldn’t do that; its fate, or good planning or just luck…but not God.

This is how it was for the Pharisees and the Jews in general.  They had God down pat.  He only works within the focal range of their glasses; through the confines of their lenses; the perimeters set by the laws of Moses.  After all, God spoke to Moses and told him everything the people of Israel needed to know.  The Pharisees’ glasses where not bifocals, they didn’t have another view of God; another way to see him.  They were certain they knew God the only way.

Then, a man turns up, a man who was blind but now sees; a man who was once a beggar but is now free.  A man that claims God did it; a man named Jesus did it.

How can this be they exclaim!  This cannot be so, God doesn’t work this way. ‘”How were your eyes opened?’…‘Where is this man?’…‘How did you receive your sight?’… ‘This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath?’… ‘How can a sinner do such miraculous signs?’… ‘What have you to say about him?’………………………

‘How is it that now he can see?’

Jesus spat on the ground, made mud, put it on the blind man’s eyes, he washed and he could see.  Simple, powerful… a miracle; A God action.  Yet they found it hard to believe, because God does not work this way, healing on the Sabbath, mixing with sinners and welcoming the unclean. It just doesn’t fit the glasses through which God is understood.  And because of this, they can’t actually see Jesus is God.  How ironic is that!  The blind man sees and the seeing are blind!  This is why Jesus says to them “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”

Yes, we can be so sure of God, so sure that our glasses are the perfect lens to see God, that we are actually blind to him.

Let us then contrast this sort of faith; this sort of certainty about God that actually blinds to the truth, to faith of the blind man.

Did he claim to know everything about God?  Did he claim to have all the answers; the perfect ‘theology’ about God?  No, all he knew was this ‘I was blind, but now I see’.  His healing by Jesus; the opening of his eyes, did not give him the final and ultimate answer to God.  And neither was it the end of his relationship with Jesus.  Rather it was the beginning; the start of a journey of discovery about God; to discover who God is and why he did such a thing as heal him of his blindness.

Jesus never gave him all the answers, and with good reason.  He wanted the man to grapple with the God questions; to struggle with why and how faith is relevant in daily life, and to debate and discuss with others the questions about Jesus, who he was and why he come.  Jesus wanted the blind man to not only see the world, but to also see him; to have eyes of faith that are not dependant on others and their vision of God, but to have eyes of faith that are his own and that are dependant on him alone.

The man had to struggle with all the questions and doubt, the fears and persecution, the confessions and ultimately, the isolation of being kicked out of the temple.  But as he took each step in his journey, as he made a confession about Jesus, God was opening his eyes of faith.  From ‘I don’t know who he is’, to ‘he is a prophet’, to ‘he is from God,’ to finally ‘Lord, I believe, you are the Son of God; his eyes of faith are opened.

From the day of our baptism; the day we received the miracle healing of Jesus; the miracle of forgiveness and eternal life, to this present day, we are on a journey of discovery; a journey to discover the wonderful and glorious mercies of God; and to discover what it means in everyday life.  We did not receive all the right answers about God that day.  Our healing by Jesus did not give us the final and ultimate answer to God.  Every one of us needs to grapple with the God questions; to struggle with why and how, to debate and discuss with each other the questions about Jesus, who he is and why he did such a thing as save a wretch like me.

And as we continue to do this, to confess out faith to others, to admit we don’t have all the answers; to allow ourselves to be surprised, to be baffled, to even be disappointed and persecuted for the sake of Jesus, then our eyes are opened to see God; our faith is strengthened to see him as the God who saves and redeems us from the grave, through the death and resurrection of his Son.  To see him in Jesus Christ, who comes to us to give us his body and blood in, with and under the bread and wine of Holy Communion.

And when our eyes of faith are open, we can confess our own faith, together with the healed man and together with each other, and we can say ‘Lord, I believe’ and we can join with the blind hymn writer, John Newton, and sing ‘Once I was blind, but now I see.’

In step with God – Genesis 12:1-4

I know a number of you have gone in to the outback.  How would you express what you saw, or if you haven’t what word would best describe the outback?  Barren.  Yes, the outback can seem a God forsaken place, where nothing lives, where many dreams have failed, lives have been lost and hopes dashed.  Many have tried to make a future in the outback, brought with them sheep and cattle, families and workers, but were only turned back by the bareness of the country.  Barren, it is a word that describes hopelessness, emptiness, and the end of the line.  I want you to keep this image in your mind.

And when bareness becomes a part of our lives, when all looks to have come to an end, we begin to look for a way out, and for many, the first way out is to reject God; to see him as the cause rather than the solution to our problems, or to make him irrelevant and non-existent.

Richard Dawkin’s search to prove that God is real came to a barren end, he could not find proof that God exists, so he concludes there must not be a God and so rejects him and religion as a whole saying ‘A case can be made that faith is one of the world’s great evils, comparable to the small pox virus but harder to eradicate.  Faith, being belief that isn’t based on evidence, is the principal vice of any religion’.

Dawkins believes its up to humanity to better our own lives, there is no God, faith is the wall which stops us from being in control of our destiny; faith hides reality.  Really?  Well our world is littered with the remnants and legacies of past generations’ attempts at improving our life by rejecting God; thinking we have the power to better our lives.  The remnant and legacy we have been left, speaks for its self; war, starvation, tyranny, loneliness and depression.

Does this sound like a better society? Does this sound like we have things in control?  Billy Joel wrote a song about this called ‘We didn’t start the fire.’ In it he lists all the failures of the world, and he ends with ‘JFK blown away what more do I have to say’, we didn’t start the fire, its always burning, since the world’s been turning’.

Yes, the first few chapters of Genesis sounds like it could have been written by Billy Joel.  We didn’t start the fire, the world’s been burning since the world’s been turning ‘Adam tries to better his own life, rejects God’s word and ends up kicked out of the garden.  Cain tries to better his life, rejects God’s word and kills Abel; whole nations want to better their lives, reject God and are drowned in the flood.

The whole of humanity wants to better its self, builds a tower to heaven, only to end in confusion.  Yes, we didn’t start the fire against God, but we are certainly part of it, stoking it with our failures to trust his word.

Perhaps there have been times when you and I have found, as Dawkins did, that we need to take control of our own lives, why wait for God to act.  Why wait for a future promise that may never come true, why wait for evidence that God is real in our life, why wait to see his blessing when they may never happen, live for now; act now, before it is too late.  Leave faith in God to those who are afraid to take control.

When we begin to read the story of Abraham, we begin with the genealogy from Adam to Noah and then the genealogies from Noah to Abraham.  And when this concludes, we realize that Abraham had every excuse to take his life into his own hands; to leave faith to those who are afraid.   There is no proof God had things in control.  You see, his family line concludes the list with ‘Abram married Sarah, who was barren.’  It stops there; at a point of hopelessness; no longer can the family line go on.

What does this tell us?  Humanity can go on for ages and ages, but it will end in nothing, unless there is divine intervention, grace. It tells us, Humanity, you and I, have nowhere else to go. Barrenness- be it war, devastation, destruction- is the way of human history without God. It tells us, there is no foreseeable future, only hopelessness. Human power, apart from God, cannot create or even invent a future for its self.

But the story doesn’t stop there.  No, this is the pivotal point in human history.  The point in which God, in the face of bareness, despair and hopelessness, breaks into the world with a word of hope for humanity.  And its also a story about faith and trust in God, who by his grace, restores hope in the bareness of Abrahams life. What seems to be an end is actually the future for God’s people; our future.

God says to Abraham ‘go to a land that I will show you and I will bless you and make you into a great nation’.  Wow!  What a word; what a promise…what a contradiction.  Abraham saw bareness and hopelessness, an end of an era; God saw a start of something new.  By making Abraham’s wife Sarah, barren, God was showing that he was closing off the old, ending the human tragedy of sin and death  and assuring in a new way, a new creation, a new people who will be his own, who will live by faith, not by sight.

Abraham, as in previous generations, could have rejected God’s word.  He could have looked at his situation, looked his hopelessness and did as Adam did and said ‘God, you must be joking, I’m doing it my way’; but he didn’t.   Adam chose disobedience, Abraham chose faith. He believed God where Adam did not. He trusted, despite physical evidence to the contrary.   And as St Paul writes ‘His faith was credited to him as righteousness;’ that is, he is in God’s blessing because he trusted his word.  He received because he believed.

Abraham stepped out in faith and anticipation of the future.  God’s word of promise seemed imposable, yet because it was God’s word it seemed plausible; plausible enough for Abraham to stake his life on it.  He believed enough to trust that at some point in the distant future, final confirmation of the promise would take place.  In the mean time, he is perfectly prepared to live with the unresolved tension.  He lived and thought as if the promise had already happened, even thought he knew only future generations would have the luxury of knowing and actually living in the promise.

You and I have the same promise of God, to bring you into the Promised Land.  Jesus says to you in your baptism ‘you are part of God’s family, you are my child of the promise, arise from this barren way of life, and I will take you to the Promised Land.’ And if you have not heard the promise for a while, here is.  The promise straight out of today’s gospel ‘”For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’  Let’s say that together…..

This is the promise for you, given at your baptism ‘you shall not perish but have eternal life’.  This is the word of God to you, the same word of God Abraham heard and trusted.  Is it plausible enough for us to believe?  Plausible enough to stake our life on it? To trust that at some point in the distant future, final confirmation of the promise will take place.  Are we perfectly prepared to live with the unresolved tension of living now, yet for eternity?  To live as if the promise had already happened?

This is the question of faith, stepping out on a promise.  Dawkins is right, there is no proof, only the word and promise of God.  The scriptures say ‘faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.’  So let’s live today as Abraham did, as if the promise has been fulfilled.  Leaving the bareness of our own ways, leaving the emptiness of life without God and his word, and live as if in his presence; listening to him, studying his word and loving and serving each other.

Let us live with a hope so strong that everyday we hand over our life to him.  For we know, that the same word of God, who had the power to raise Jesus Christ from the grave, is the same powerful word that will bring us into eternal life; the fulfilment of the promise. Amen

Harvest sermon – Luke 17:11-19

Hand out some gifts.

Why do we say thank you?

o    Our appreciation
o    In recognition of the giver
o    To give honour

Its very easy to give thanks to someone who has given you something directly, because you know them or you can see them and so say thanks mate!  What if we step back one level and think about the person who made the lollies, do we know them?  Can we see them?  Yet should we give thanks to them?  What if we were to take another step back and think about the people who produced the raw material in the first place?  The sugar cane and the cocoa trees, do we know who this is?  Can we see him?  Should we give thanks to them also?

Yes of course, but as you can see, the further we get away from the actual giver, the person who gave us the gift, the harder it is for us to recognise them as the giver. Here in Australia, a civilized country, where science and technology, shops and product outlets provide us with everything we need, we are so far from the actual giver, it is easy for us to forget to say thanks; after all, who do we give thanks to – ebay?

Yes, many of us have lost track of who to say ‘thanks’ to, because face to face giving, where someone actually gives us the present, is becoming a thing of the past.  We are far away givers and receivers.  Often the gifts we give are now posted, emailed, or express delivered, rather than given in person.  And the things we need for daily living, food, drink etc, we simply buy off the self, no face to face service or shaking the dirty and calloused hands of the local producer.  We have what we want without even recognising the giver.

And what is the result of our far-away giving and receiving?  We become focused on the gift and not on the giver.  We become selfish.  The further we remove ourselves from the giver of the gift, or the provider of our needs, the more selfish we become.  Where’s my quality fruit?  Where’s my new years harvest wine?  Little thought goes into the provider; the giver of our needs.

I’m sure that all ten of the lepers that Jesus healed that day, were grateful as they walked away along the road and noticed that their leprosy had been healed. I’m sure they were very thankful to Jesus in their hearts for answering their cry for mercy; curing them from their leprosy. I’m certain they were brimming over with gratitude as they showed themselves to the priest and were welcomed back into their communities.  Yet the distance travelled away from the giver, had its toll on their thanks.  The further they went from Jesus, the less chance they had of returning to him to give him thanks.  Why?

Because the gift becomes the centre of their attention; the further they walked, the more their thoughts turned to the gift.  Wow!  Look at me! Now I can go see my family, now I can do this and now I can do that.  As they walked away, unknowingly and most likely, unintentionally, so did their thanks to Jesus.

The text doesn’t say whether the lepers made it to the temple or not, or whether they went straight home to their families, but one thing is clear; the further they walked away from Jesus, the further they separated the gift from the giver, the less likely they were thank him.  It’s a fact.  It happens.  And it happens in our own lives.  On that special day of our baptism, we are given the greatest gift of all; Jesus heals us spiritually.  In the water we are cleansed of the leprosy of sin, which was killing us.  We are given a second chance at life, just like the lepers were.

And how grateful we are, very thankful to Jesus, and with every good intention, we plan to go to church, to show ourselves in God’s house, yet as we go, the gift becomes the priority over the giver.  Wow, look at me, I am free, no longer under the burden of guilt and fear; I don’t have to do this or that, or can do this and can do that.  And as the years go by, its so easy to distance ourselves from Jesus, travel away from him.  And this is reflected in our failure to give thanks; we no longer give thanks, that is, we no longer stay close to Jesus; we no longer worship. We don’t return to the giver to give him our worship of thanksgiving.

This was not the case however, with the one leper.  The further the Samaritan went from Jesus, the more he realized he was walking away from the giver.  It is most likely that he never even made it to the temple, and why should he.  He realized the place where God is, was not in the temple, but in Jesus.  For him, the place to give thanks for his healing was where Jesus is, for he is the new temple, the new place where God is present.  He fell down at Jesus feet and gave thanks – he worshipped.

To worship is the give thanks to God. Luke uses the word ‘Eucharist’, the verb ‘giving thanks’, Jesus ‘gave thanks’ to God when instituting the Last Supper; that is why the Supper is often called the ‘Eucharist’.  The service of giving thanks to the one who gives the gift of his body and blood for our healing.  In the Lord’s Supper we come to Jesus and he gives us the gift of a second chance at life, the gift of forgiveness and healing; an opportunity to start anew.  And like the one leper, we come to give him thanks; we come to worship; we come to be face to face with our giver, Jesus our saviour.

I often hear people say to me ‘I don’t need to go the church to be a Christian’, and perhaps you have heard this yourself, and perhaps this is what the 9 lepers thought, ‘I don’t need to go to Jesus to give him thanks, I can do it at home’.  But why wouldn’t we want to go to where God is; the gift giver?  Why wouldn’t you want to be were Jesus is?  Why settle for a distant relationship; a far away giving thanks?  Perhaps this is what we are used to, I don’t know.  Perhaps we are afraid of being close to Jesus; perhaps to say our thanks to Jesus, means more than words.

A lady named Barbara began keeping a list of her favourite things as a shy teenager.
Soon the list became second nature; she found herself making additions while riding the bus, eating breakfast, even in the middle of the night. Twenty years later and dozens of spiral notebooks later, she had listed 14,000 things to be happy about. (Why not write your own book?)  As wonderful and important as this is, giving thanks is more than drawing up lists of your blessings, thinking thankful thoughts, and feeling gratitude in your heart.  It means more than just giving lip-service.

To ‘give thanks’ is a verb, a doing word. Giving thanks involves our whole person.
When the one leper returned to Jesus and worshiped him, Jesus gave him a command – Arise, journey, your faith has made you well.  Jesus is on a journey to the cross, a journey to save and he calls those he has healed to join the journey with him.  Once we have come to Jesus in worship, he calls us in faith to arise and journey with him; to no longer travel away from him, but to walk with him; to be with him, so that we may serve others as he has served us.

Just as St John says ‘This is worship, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.’ And this is our thanks, ‘since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.’

Yes, so let us be thankful people of God.  People who are thankful enough to care about those kids in Dubbo North Primary School who don’t know Jesus; who are thankful enough to offer ourselves for service to those in our community; those who don’t fit in, to those in the hospital suffering alone.  We could probably make a list as long as Barbra on the ways we could live out our thankfulness in our community.  But remember, it is Jesus who heals and it is Jesus who is the gift giver, so first and foremost we journey with him; live in him and meet with him face to face and it is to him that we give our thanks and praise.
Amen

Ash Wednesday 2008

 

Over the past week or so we have had some pretty scary thunderstorms.  You can see them building up in the distance.  You know they are coming.  The rumbles, the flashes of lightening and the growing darkness announce the coming wrath of nature.  We go into hiding, go under cove to protect ourselves from facing the elements and the dangers.  We stay in doors, locked away until the darkness passes.  To illustrate the coming of something to fear, Joel uses the imagery of an Army coming to attack.  The trumpets announce the coming wrath and warn the people to take cover; to go into hiding for fear of being killed.

This imagery of a thunderstorm; the darkness, the flashes of lightening or the imagery of the fierce army coming and the fear it produces in us, is literally how you and I feel when caught in sin.  I don’t mean being actually caught doing something wrong, and the fear and darkness we experience when we know the consequences.  No, I mean the darkness and fear we experience when our guilty conscience is pricked.  Perhaps someone says some thing as innocent as ‘It terrible how people could lie like that’ or ‘fancy Johno being a violent abuser’ and instantly, bang, like a clamp of thunder our conscience darkens, and guilt, like lightening strikes us to the heart.  We ourselves have done just that, or are still doing just that, or similar.

Our feelings of guilt make us act as if a severe storm is coming.  We want to hide to protect ourselves; we want to hide our secret, lock ourselves away with it for fear that if we were to be found out we would be struck down.

To hide means to be a captive, stuck, locked up in one place.  Guilt produces shame and shame holds us in a state of captivity, like we were enduring a storm in a tiny cellar. The only difference is, storms eventually move on, whereas, guilt always remains and so we remain locked up by the shame.  Feelings of unworthiness, or anger at ourselves that we let others down, or even anger that we let ourself down, stop us from coming out of hiding.

So how do we get of this?  Do we find comfort inside ourselves, not daring to mention to anyone our secret?  No, secrets make us prisoners in our own body.  What about lying, could we lie to others or even to ourself?  No, lies also lock us up; Do we act like a doctor and explore ways to cure the pain that is in us?  Drink, medication, sleeping tablets. No, the cause of the pain is not physical, though there are physical symptoms, sudden weight loss or gain, depression, or a weak immune system, but to fix the symptoms is pointless, the pain is originated in our actions.

So how do we get out of our hiding place?  Can we even?

When a thunderstorm comes, we fear, and with good reason; the lightning strikes the ground and the thunder crashes all around. But then, have you noticed what happens next?  After the storm cell has passed, it begins to rain.  Everything we fear has moved on, and we are left with rain; rain that renews, restores and refreshes the earth; rain that is life giving.  We had to face the storm, but after the storm we have the rain.

Guilt and shame over sin is our storm, its the army approaching to attack us, and it’s the thunder bolts of guilt that continue to strike us; it hangs around as long as we remain in hiding; but if we come out and confess our sins, admit our guilt, then the storm goes, and the healing rains come pouring down.  The prophet Joel puts it this way ‘The day of the LORD is great; it is dreadful. Who can endure it? That’s the storm, but then he goes on.  ‘Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.’  That’s the rain after the storm.

To stop hiding is to return to the Lord, to the one who is the storm, but is also the rain; the one who destroys, but also the one who heals.  Return to the Lord is to recognise his wrath and anger against sin; our sin and to admit our guilt and ask to stand in the rain of his grace.  For in him is washing; cleansing and healing; renewal and restoration.  This is the incredible focus and emphasis of the Lenten season, the two actions of God; his anger against sin, which in fear, holds us in hiding, and then his raining grace of forgiveness for the sake of Christ Jesus, which frees us from our hiding places.

So let us take up his offer this Lent.  Let us admit we are under his storm of anger and that in guilt and shame we are hiding from him.  Let us confess our sins and ask for his grace; the grace that rains down upon us from the cross.  Let us cry out to Jesus and receive his forgiveness.

How can we do this?  Well, a good way is to go without something we like, that way, as we crave for it we are reminded of our sinful desires and our need for Christ.  It is an ancient custom to go without something and it is a good spiritual exercise.  When we crave, we can confess our sins by even just saying the Lord’s Prayer. Perhaps this is some thing you could do.

Yes, what an opportunity we have! An opportunity that far too few have or even know about.  So make this lent your time; your time to weather the storm and come out of hiding and into the rain of God’s grace in Jesus.

Transfiguration – Matthew 17:1-9

I have a post card here, its from … and the opening words are ‘wish you were
here.’
Whenever we have some good news or experience something really exciting, we want those closest to know about it.  In fact, we want more than that, we want them to be apart of it; we want them with us, to experience what we are experiencing.

We are lucky in this day and age we have the technology to share special experiences; live with our friends.  Using our phones or a web cam we can bring friends right into our moments of joy. Perhaps it’s a wedding or a party or a holiday.  We have this technology because we love to share our joyful experiences with others, not just afterwards, but while we are actually experiencing it.  However, this technology is still no substitute for having our family and friends really being there; experiencing along with us, the excitement, the joy and the wonder of what we are seeing and experiencing;  we want them to have the same joy.

You and I like to share special moments and events, because most of the time our lives are often fairly ordinary, daily routines and schedules make our lives busy, but often not exciting.  And sometimes this is the way it seems with God.  Our relationship with him is fairly ordinary, nothing special.  We routinely make ourselves busy with God; we pray to him, we give thanks to him, we receive from him grace and forgiveness, peace and everything we need for our bodies.

Yet this all happens in very mundane and ordinary ways.  We wonder that perhaps, if we were to experience God in a more glorious and exciting way, if we could share his working with us, then we would understand and know him more; then we may even be closer to him.

Jesus did just that; shared his life.  He did it with his disciples.  He shared with them what was happening in his life; and invited them to join him.  He shared with them that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things and to be killed.  He shared with them that he would love them to be with him; to take up their cross and follow him.  But did they feel closer to him?  Did they experience the same joy in obedience as him?    Did they even want to be there?  Peter answers from us all when he realized what Jesus was talking about ‘Never Lord!  This shall never happen to you.’

That’s right.  To share in Jesus’ world is not what we would really want to do.  When he invited the disciples to join him, they refused because they could not understand the meaning and purpose of sharing in suffering.  ‘Lord, why would you want to suffer and die, why would you want us to be with you in all this?’  You and I don’t want others to share in our suffering, we want to spare them.  Would you send a postcard from hospital saying ‘wishing you were here!’  No, we find it hard to comprehend suffering and avoid it at all costs.

Yet Jesus does not abandon his disciples to their misunderstandings, no, he encourages them all the more to come and join him; he wants his friends to experience who he really is; to truly know him; to be apart of his life.  He invites his closest disciples, Peter, James and John to come and climb a mountain.  To endure with him the hardship that comes with mountain climbing; the pain, the near falls, and the tiredness that comes with strenuous work.

And he calls them to do this, to be with him, so that they will share a special moment with him; an exciting moment when he is glorified.  Jesus, as we do with our friends, wants his disciples to experience what he is experiencing and to share his joy with them.  Then they may know who he is – that he is the Son of God.  Jesus wants them to look beyond their suffering; to endure their current hardships of the mountain climb, so that they may experience, with him, the hidden Glory of God.

You and I are no different to the disciples.  We take a look at our lives and the lives of others, and often all we see is the mundane and the ordinary; Or all we see is the mountain we have to climb.  The mountains of ill health and hardship or loneliness and depression.  And we think to ourselves as St Paul said ‘Never Lord, surely, this is not to be.’

Yet Jesus invites us to be a part of this.  To take up our cross and follow him; to be with him so that he may share his life with you.  He wants us to be where he is, even if this means we must climb a hard mountain.  Jesus wants us to place our trust in him, in his word; Just as our Father in heaven invites us to saying ‘This is my Son in whom I am well pleased.  Listen to him’.

To listen is to trust as the disciples did.  To trust, that despite the mountain we may be climbing, or the ordinary and mundane things we are currently experiencing, Jesus is still the Son of God.  And to listen is to hear and believe that hidden behind the norm, the mundane or the suffering, is the glory and power of God.

And sometimes as we follow, Jesus may still reveal his glory, just as he did with the disciples at the transfiguration. I would like to get Rosale to come and tell us about how God gave her a chance to experience his glory and power, even in the midst of suffering.

Despite what we see, and what Rosale saw with her daughter, her miracle healing helps us to understand that Jesus promises to be with us, and to heal us spiritually and calls us to share in his life.  And he does just that, heal us and share his life with us, in the sacrament of Holy Communion.  What looks to us as normal and mundane, is the power of God to save us.  Hidden in, with and under the bread and wine is Jesus body and blood.  And he invites us to be with him, to trust his word, as his Father announced, that as we eat and drink, he forgives us, heals us and gives us a share in his life.

Yes, we may not always see the power and glory of God, just as the disciples didn’t see it in Jesus, but this is why he is transfigured, and why it is recorded in the bible, so that we too may believe and truly know that Jesus is the Son of God. And so we may know when Jesus says ‘this is my body, this is my blood; given and shed for you’, that this is true.  And that in this sacrament, as he did with the disciples, Jesus is calling us to share in his life.  And he is calling us to share in his joy. Amen

Matthew 4: 12-22

Sorry, there is no sermon today!  Can I leave everything with you- I’m not doing this any more, I am off to follow this guy who came and asked me to join him on a journey.

You can probably now imagine how old man Zebedee felt when his own son’s just up fishing and left him.  Left him with the fish, the cleaning and even with an uncertain future.  Who was Jesus or what did he say to make these men leave everything and follow him?

Simon known as Peter and his brother Andrew where generational fishermen.  From all accounts, they were most likely well known and quite well off in the fishing industry; Peter had his own house and was married.  To suddenly do something as radical as leaving their job to follow Jesus, something special must take place when you follow Jesus.

Have you ever been called to follow?  Was it in a job, or a holiday or when you are learning some thing new- when someone said ‘follow me’.  So what does that entail?  Just mindless repetition, like a parrot that only dictates words and actions?  Or is to ‘follow’ something more?  It must be more than this or you wouldn’t follow; Simon and Andrew wouldn’t leave everything if all it meant was to be like a parrot.  No, to follow is far more.
Unfortunately, to follow is not very popular, who wants to be a learner under the control of someone else!  Yet Matthew makes it crystal clear what it means to be a “Christian.” A Christian is a “disciple” or “follower” of Jesus. Our fundamental identity, who we are as believers in Jesus, is not a “leader” but a “follower” or “companion” of Christ.  Jesus says ‘come, follow me’ not ‘come be a leader and fisher of men.’
Despite Jesus call to first follow, we still seem to chase after conferences on leadership and mission.  Yet has anyone here EVER seen a conference on “followership?” Or how about a conference simply on how to be a better disciple? Isn’t it very interesting how we are more interested in Jesus’ position of “Leader” than in our position of “follower?” Perhaps we are putting the cart by for the horse.  Perhaps we need to take a step back and refocus on what it means to follow and why we are followers of Jesus, before we tackle the mission field.

Let me show you a clip from Finding Nemo.

What happened?  Yes, confusion reigned!  Both were followers, one fish thought she knew how to follow and so called the other to follow, but because both of the fish didn’t know what they were following they both became confused and had to changed direction all the time and in the end never arrived no where.

Yes, to have a good leader is critical, but to know what it means to be good follower is just as important.  Only when we follow, can we truly begin to know the leader.  Only then, will we know where we are going, why we are following and where we will end up. After following, we will then be empowered to bring others with us; to follow along with us.

And the only way we can learn to follow is by following.   Jesus promises to make these fishermen into fishers of men, not by empowering them to do this, but by asking them to follow.  Empowerment to call others to follow only happens later in their discipleship, when Jesus ‘calls the disciples to him and gives them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.’  Before they are empowered to be missionary focused they are first missioned themselves by being a follower of Jesus.

Yes, Jesus makes fishers of men, not empowers them.  We are made or created or crafted by God himself to call others to be disciples, not suddenly by some sort of magical blessing, but through following him.  To be followers of Jesus means the same for us as it did to Simon and Andrew.  We are to study him, learn from him and watch the way he did things and have the same concerns and goals as him.  This can be hard work and takes a conscious effort.

In Jesus day, many others accepted his invitation, dozens, maybe even hundreds responded to Jesus’ call.  Crowds followed him around, but many only like a spectator might follow Tiger Woods around a golf course, only watching on, never being involved; never grasping and receiving the joy of salvation that only Jesus can give.

The joy they didn’t grasp, and many today don’t grasp, is the fact that Jesus makes us into followers; its not our doing.  This is why many give up, for them, being a Christian is about moulding and making themselves into followers; its about how hard they work and the goals they achieve in themselves.  But we don’t need to concern ourselves about that, or any other difficulties we will face.

To be a follower does not depend on how we are doing, or how our commitment compares to what others are doing.  Being a follower of Jesus means we follow, allowing him to work in us, even though there are times in our life when we think we have failed.  Yet St Paul reminds us as we follow ‘do not lose heart. Though outwardly we see nothing happening, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.’

And this renewal happens as we follow Jesus.  I opened a bob bon at Christmas, and you know the little sayings or jokes you get inside, well the one I got read ‘A good listener is not only popular everywhere, but after a while he gets to know something’.  How true this is for us as followers of Christ.  As we listen to him, study is word and think about how it is relevant to us, after a while we will learn something.
This is what it means to be a follower; to learn about Jesus, why we follow and where we will end up.  It is through this that Jesus is renewing us and making us into fishers of men.  Once we have listened and learnt, then we are empowered to call others to come and follow.
So, as we as a parish look to embark on a mission program and become a parish of fishers of men, let us remember that first and foremost, our calling is to be followers.  So let us commit ourselves to the study of God’s word, make it a conscious goal of ours to provide times of study, and make ourselves available to attend studies or to devote ourselves to the word through home devotions.
Then we know that Jesus is making us ready to make other followers, and then we know, that it is not by our effort that we are followers, but that Jesus is renewing us day by day.  So come with me and follow Jesus.

John 1:29-42

John 1 29 to 42 20_1_08

Take away- what does this mean to you?  We live in a take away society. Everything revolves around ‘taking things away’.  I don’t mean just take away food; I mean ‘everything we do is based on ‘take away’.  And I really noticed this on our holiday over to the far West Coast of South Australia.  Out there, where there is nothing, no shops, no amenities and no facilities; just a beach surf and sand, I soon realized the importance of ‘take away’ and how we rely on it for our very being.

Living on a beach really puts life into perspective.  We can’t do anything without ‘take away’.  What was I do with all my rubbish, who was going to ‘take it away?’.  There is no bins, no dumps, no garbage collection to take it away.  I had to carry it around with me all for the whole week.  Then when we left, I couldn’t just leave the rubbish on the beach, I had to take it with me.  And I still have it with me.  There has been no one to take it away from me.

We love take away because it means we don’t need to deal with things.  Someone else deals with our needs, our food, our coffee, and most important for us – our waste.  We love it when someone else is responsible for the things we don’t know what to do with.

There is one take away that every one of us does not know how to deal with; sin.  It is always with us, our constant companion.  We are never rid of it because it is who we are, as St Paul reminds us ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’, and St John ‘If we claim to be without sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us’.  Its like we are all sitting on Yalata beach with no way of disposing of our rubbish, we just have a big black bag of garbage and call out– ‘will someone deal with this stuff.’

Ever since Adam and Eve fell into sin by wanting to be like God, we have had to carry around with us a big garbo bag of sin; full of guilt, shame and embarrassment over the wrong things we have done in our lives.  Or perhaps we are carrying around a garbo bag of addiction or anger which stops us from being a loving person and stops us from having close relationships with our husband or wife.  And we just can’t get someone to ‘take it away’.

More and more people today are finding the load just to hard to bare and are trying to deal with it themselves.  Suicide, especially among our young people, is becoming an accepted alternative to actually facing the problem.  Many are turning to therapists and self help gurus to alleviate their guilt, or just becoming isolated from society and live lonely lives.  One other way of trying to ‘take away’ sin, which is now very popular, is to play the blame game; its not my fault its my upbringing or alcohol or drugs or my bad schooling.  Yes, we have all done it, the blame game, yet somehow nothing seems to be taken away.

People in Jesus time had the same problem; sin, and were lining up to see John the Baptist.  He was known as the prophet could take away sins by baptising ‘repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near’.  Matthew reports ‘Confessing their sins, the people were baptised by John in the Jordan’.  People could unload their guilt, drop of their waste; their garbo bags of shame and sin’.  The water would take away sin.  This was a new thing, a great thing, a way of letting someone else deal with the things we couldn’t.

Yet what was wrong with this?  What are the short comings of John’s take away service?

Yes, it was only local; for those in Israel and it was only around while John was alive and it was only temporary, it could never totally and fully take sins away, because there is no payment for the sin; no atonement.  It was like dumping everyone’s garbo bags at the tip gate but not paying the fee to dump it in; the sins are taken away from the person, but still not dealt with, not buried, never to be seen again.  The price had yet to be paid.  John knew this and told of one to come that would pay the cost to rid us totally of our sins; who would bury them for good.

Then suddenly this person, the one spoken about, turned up.  But John doesn’t say ‘there he is, the one I was talking about’, no, he says something unheard of until that moment ‘Look, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world’.  John instantly connects the person of Jesus with his mission ‘to take away the sins of the world’; a universal mission; a world wide mission’.  Jesus is the great ‘take away-er’ of sins.  He will be the one who deals with our waste.  No longer will we need to be on an empty beach with a garbo bag full of waste with no one to take it away.

And how will he do this?  By paying the price for sin, taking them and burying them –totally and forever.  Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  And this title ‘the lamb of God’ connects Jesus with the lambs used for the sacrifice for sin in the temple and so indicates how Jesus will take away sin; through his death. In giving Jesus this title, John may have even had in mind the time God called Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac.  On building the altar Isaac asked ‘”The fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.”

Jesus is the Lamb provide by God himself, as Abraham implied.  He is the perfect sacrificial lamb to take away sin.  Why? Because we are unable to take away our own sins, we will die for them, as Paul reminds us ‘the wages of sin is death’.  And God holds us responsible for each and every one of them, and for who we are.  However because he is compassionate and full of grace and love, he provides Jesus as the person to die in our place- to pay the admission price to enter the tip and dumb all our bags of rubbish, to be buried forever.  Once and for all.

If you want to know more about this, the paying for our sins by Jesus death, can I encourage you to read Hebrews.  It will help to explain this great and wondrous gift to us.

While Jesus is the once for all payment for our sins, his sacrifice is an ongoing action that is just as valid today as on the day he hung on the cross.  The baptism we have today,  the communion you receive today, the announcement of forgiveness you hear today, is as if Jesus is speaking to you directly from the cross saying ‘your sins are forgiven’.   The blood of the lamb which paid the price for the sin of the world, is the same blood we drink to pay for the sins of today.  This is why the sacraments of baptism and communion are so inseparable from the church and Christian faith, they are the means of grace; the means through which our sins are taken away.

To have a place where my sins are taken away is a big relief, its like taking this bag of rubbish, the same rubbish I could not get rid of on the beach, the rubbish I carried around the whole holiday and being able to dump it off in this garbage bin for someone else to deal with.  And sure enough, I know that in the coming week it will be taken out to be destroyed.  This is literally what happens with our sin when we come to church; we dump it and Jesus takes it away.

How much easier it is to walk with no garbage to carry.  We are not loaded down and no longer looking for someone to take it away.  This is the good news about Jesus the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  And this is what gives us the freedom we now have and what makes us rejoice and give thanks to God.  Let us now do this very thing as we sing the following song ‘Shine Jesus shine’.

1st Sunday after Christmas Hebrews 2: 10-18

 

 

Who is your favourite pioneer, or explorer?  Why?
We admire pioneers because they put their own lives at risk in order to break new frontiers for the rest of us.  One such person is Sir Edmund Hillary, the first person to climb to the top of Mt Everest.  (slide 1) He was able to achieve what many people have failed to do.  What was so pioneering is that he was able to blaze a path for others to follow.  (slide 2) He and his team went ahead of everyone to come and put safety pins and clamps into the rocks and across the crevasses, ropes and ladders, so that future expeditions could happen.

The pioneers went ahead and prepared the way for others.  They faced the uncertainty, fear and the unknown, to find the best path up to the summit.  (slide 3&4).  Now others follow in their path, relying on their anchor points, their route, and their safety advice.  From these photos we can see others climbing to the summit.

It is not the same to send a robot up a mountain or to the moon or wherever, only when one of us, a human being, breaks the new ground, reaches the goal, the summit, can we be certain the feat can be done; only then do we know that we too can reach the same summit.

Did you know that there is an even greater summit that has been reached by a pioneer; a far greater feat has been achieved by another human being; a human, just like us, who has gone before us and has prepared a way for us to the greatest of summits.

(slide 5)  Jesus Christ, true God, yet true human being, like us in every way, but without sin, has reached the summit of heaven.  Jesus, like Edmund Hillary on Mt Everest, has gone before us and blazed a path into heaven itself; he is the first pioneer of salvation, to make a way into the presence of God.  And in true pioneering spirit, he has made the path open for all to enter heaven through his achievements.  Sound unbelievable?  Listen to this from Hebrews ‘In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through suffering.’

Did you hear that ‘In bringing many sons to glory’, that’s humanity, that’s you and I, we are being brought into glory; being brought into heaven itself …by the pioneer of our salvation, Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the pioneer of the human race, the first of the new Adam, the new man, to enter glory.  And he is the one who brings the rest of his brothers and sisters, those who are baptised and believe, into glory with him.

What a feat, no wonder the writer calls Jesus a pioneer!  We know that one of us is already in heaven; one who blazed the way for us, making the path open so that we may join him.  What comfort it is for us to know that it can be done, the summit can be reached and that heaven is meant for humanity, for you and I to be with God; and we can be assured of this for the scriptures say ‘since the pioneer who saves and those he brings into glory are of the same origin. Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.’  We are in the same family as the one who saves; Jesus Christ.  We will share in his victory.

This pioneering act, which opened the way to heaven, had its beginnings at the first Christmas (slide 6).  Here in a manger, wrapped in cloths is the pioneer of our salvation.  This unassuming baby is the Son of God, born to Mary and a son to Joseph, truly human in every way, yet God, and begins his trek to the summit of heaven by sharing in our humanity; being one of us so that he may lead all of humanity into glory.  This is the mystery and miracle of Jesus the Christmas child; that he is God in human nature; not two separate parts, not human now God later, no, both truly human and truly God; in Jesus God became one of us, a human.

Being totally human, Jesus experienced every emotion, suffered pain, had joys and sorrows, wept and laughed.  God made himself so vulnerable in Jesus, that his parents had to flee Bethlehem because he would have been killed by Herod.  Yes, if Jesus was not really human, and could not be killed, there would have been no need for him to be hidden in exile.  And if he were not human he would not have suffered temptation, but he did.  St Mark begins Jesus earthly ministry with the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness and closes it with Jesus’ temptation to reject the cross and the will of his Father in the garden of Gethsemane.

And since Jesus has suffered every temptation, in our darkest hours of trial, when we struggle with temptation, in Jesus we have someone who knows temptation and has over come it, and can help us.  Like Edmund Hillary, who forged a path up the mountain and over come the trials, and who put in place safety lines and anchor points for those to follow.  Jesus has led the way leaving us anchor points to place our hope during these trials.  One such anchor point is our baptism.  It is the sure hope that when we fall into temptation, as a climber may fall down a mountain, we can cling to it, hold on tight and say as Luther did ‘in spite of everything, I’ve been baptised!  I have the promise that I will be happy forever and I have eternal life for my body and soul’.

Yes, these anchor points Jesus put in place are there to be used, not to be admired and looked at.  Who would climb Mt Everest and say, I’m not using the safety points, I’m going it alone’.  That climber would be a fool and soon fall to their death.  We are in the same predicament.  We cannot reach the summit of heaven on our own, using our own safety nets, we will soon fall and die.  We need to rely on Jesus, the pioneer who went ahead of us, and use the anchor points; baptism, Holy Communion, the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus name.  All of these are the power of God to save, to be used to defeat the devil, sin and temptation which pull us off the mountain.

Sir Hillary had travelled 13 days, and 17 miles up the mountain range to reach the final camp site, just a few hundred meters from the summit.  Yet the last few metres were to be the hardest trial, taking 7hrs until finally on May the 29th at 11:30am he reached the summit; the first person had reached the top of the world.  The hardest trials and suffering were at the end, but once over come, led to total victory.

Before Jesus reached the summit of heaven, to bring many of us to glory, he had to first suffer.  And the hardest trial and suffering came at the end.  (slide 7)  The writer to the Hebrews says ‘it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through suffering so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death– that is, the devil– and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.’

The pioneer of our salvation exchanged glory for human nature, then in suffering, exchanged the wood of the manger for the wood of the cross.  This picture reveals the true story behind the birth of Jesus; to bring his children through death to life.  And because we now know it has been done, death no longer has power over us; Jesus has released us from fear.  This is why we sing these words from the carol ‘Once in a royal David’s city: ‘And our eyes at last shall see him, through his own redeeming love, for that child so dear and gentle, is our Lord in heaven above; and he leads his children on , to the place where he has gone’.  The true Christmas joy in the birth of Jesus is found only in his whole life; his birth, his death, resurrection and ascension, for through his life, he has opened for us the way to heaven.  Yes, Jesus is the pioneer of our salvation.

Amen

Christmas Day 2007 – Luke 2:8-20

We live in a world where the remarkable has become the norm.  What was unreal is now real; what we seen as impossible is now possible.

Who would have thought you could cook food until it is boiling hot without some sort of heating element and then be able to touch the bowl or plate the food is cooked in.  The microwave is indeed remarkable.

Who would have thought we could store whole libraries with thousands of books into a space the size of a match box.  Impossible, yet it is being done.

Who would have thought we could walk around in the outback while talking to friends on the other side of the world; seems unreal, yet it is real because of the mobile phone.

The remarkable has become the norm and nothing seems to really amaze us anymore.  Perhaps if we were the shepherds in the fields today, and suddenly a great company of angels came praising God in the heavens, we might say ‘O yeah, saw something like that on the Matrix movie’ and go on looking after the sheep…from home using webcam that is!

The miraculous, the awesome, the incredible wonder of Christmas is often lost in our own self importance.  With the advances in technology, the baby Jesus is a little old hat; a little mundane.  That is of course, until we realize we are not the centre of creation, we are not as big, or as important as we think we are.  Take a look at a clip from a DVD called ‘indescribable’

When we put ourselves, our efforts and our ego into perspective; into proportion the works and wonders of God, then we begin to see the real miracle of Christmas.  It is when we realize how big God is and how small we are, do we begin to see the wonder of Christmas and join with the psalmist ‘When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?’  This is the miracle of Christmas, that God should love us some much that he would send his own Son into the world as our saviour; that Jesus would leave his home and come to us.

This fact is not lost on heaven’s angels, even they are astounded at this wonder and come together to sing God’s praises ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests;’  so excited where they, that the heavenly hosts leave their home and joined Jesus on earth and sang his praises there.  On Christmas day the impossible became the possible; that all of Heaven would fill the earth; that God would come and live among us, born as a baby and lying in a manger.

The shepherds never lost sight of this, the lowly and least in society are first to hear and are astounded at the angel’s announcement that God would come into the world.  So much so, that they too, together with the angels, leave their homes and join Jesus to sing his praises.  The unreal becomes the real; That God and man are once again together.  This happening is so amazing to the shepherds that they stay only a short time.  They are eager to go and tell others about this miracle.

And today?  Are there still people like the shepherds staying only a while in church with Jesus, to then leave in a hurry and in joy to tell others about the miracle?  Are you amazed that God, the creator of the heavens and earth, whose hands formed the dry land, would do such a thing as leave his home and enter ours; to become one of us, to save us from our sins?  Yes, I know you are.

Even today, some 2000 years later, we have not lost sight of this wonder.  In fact, the more we discover about the world and the enormity of the universe, the more we admire the complexities of creation and how sin is destroying everything, including us, the more we realize that God has done far more that any microwave, any computer or any mobile phone could ever do; sure they may have changed the world; God changed eternity.

On that first Christmas Jesus was born, and on that day the remarkable be came the norm.  From that day on, we as sinners have God living among us.  Through Jesus he is righting the wrongs, reclaiming his own and bringing from the dead those who were once lost forever.  Today is indeed a day to join Mary and ponder all these things in our heart; ponder how remarkable, how unreal and how impossible God is to make this happen.
Amen