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.

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
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.


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.

Christmas Eve 2007 – Luke 2: 1-14

‘And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.
9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.’

What a difference a day makes.  How often do you say that or have others say it to you?  What a difference a day makes.  One day you are 15 years of age and are not permitted to drive, then the next day you turn 16, and you are allowed to drive.  What a difference a day makes.  One day you are slaving away at work, the next you are taking it easy on the weekend.   What a difference a day makes.

In one day, one moment, one time in history, God bursts into the world to make a difference.  In one day He made a difference to the life of Mary and Joseph.  One day they are a couple, the next, they are parents.  In one day He made a difference in the lives of the shepherds.  One day they are tending their flocks at night, the next they are standing in the presence of Christ the Lord.

In one day the magnificent songs of praise and adoration to God are only sung in heaven, the next the whole earth is filled with the sound of angels singing ‘glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among the people of his favour’.  What a difference a day makes.  What a difference the Christ child makes.

In one day God made a difference to the world.  One day the world was without a saviour, living in hope for the day to arrive, when God would come and redeem his people.  The next, in the town of Bethlehem, in a manger, Christ the saviour of the world is born.  What a difference a day makes; what a difference the Christ child makes.

That’s why the angel said ‘I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.  For today, yes today in the town of David a saviour has been born to you; He is the Christ.’  Today is the day of God’s favour, today is the day the Lord has made.  Forget about yesterday, forget about what it was like before the Christ, forget about the searching and emptiness of yesterday.  Today has arrived, today Jesus the Christ child is here.  Here to make a difference.  There is now hope, there is now a saviour who has come into the world to restore the relationship between God and the world.  What a difference a day makes.

What difference will today make for you?  What difference will a day make in your life?  Today, as we join with the shepherds and angels in glorifying and praising God, for the Christ child, what difference will it make in your life?  What difference will Jesus make in your life?  The angels rejoiced, the shepherds praised, and Mary treasured him in her heart.  What will you do?

Can we leave from here today as if it was yesterday?  Can we go home without rejoicing like the angels, without praising like the shepherds?  Can we leave here today without pondering in our heart what today will bring?  What blessing we receive in the birth of Jesus, what the gift of salvation means for us?

Today, let us leave here in joy, knowing we have seen the Christ.  Knowing that Jesus has made a difference.  Sure, our daily routines of work and family and the struggles we face may not be different, even the shepherds had to go back to the fields.

But let us leave here today with different lives.  Lives that reflect the special hope we have.

And what might our lives touched by the presence of Jesus look like?  I don’t know whether I can tell you, perhaps you have to experience it for yourself.  After all, since Christ Jesus is real, so too will be the differences in your life.  Since the Christ child is born for you, only you can truly know what he can do for you.  Only St Paul, truly knew what Jesus meant to him to be willing to be persecuted for the sake of the gospel; only Zacheus truly knew what a difference Jesus made to be able to give half his money to the poor and mend his ways.

There is no text book changes to people’s lives.  Only when you live today, leaving yesterday behind, and live in the presence of Christ, will you truly know and experience what a difference Jesus can make in your life.   Yesterday is gone, today is different; we have seen Christ the Lord.  Amen

4th Sunday of Advent – Matthew 1:18-25

Who can tell me what their name means?
I have a little list here of some names and their meaning:
Bruce – woods
Andrew – manly – courageous
Kylie – a boomerang
Karen – pure
Ruth – beautiful and compassionate
Dianne – the divine one

Names are more than just headings or letters on a page.  A name brings meaning and purpose to someone or something; names are really an expression of what is going on.
If you are thinking names don’t really mean anything to you, can you remember being called names at school.  Name calling is horrible and very hurtful, and this is because names are a description that changes who you are; it is very powerful.

Actors and singers often change their names: Demi Moore, was born Demetria Guynes, however Demi Moore is a more purposeful name. Bono, the lead singer of U2’s real name is Paul Hewson.  bono is short for the Latin word for ‘good voice’; his name describes his actions.  So you can see, names are an expression of both purpose and action.

There is one more thing names are important for.  They give us access to someone.  Have you noticed the first thing children do when they meet each other for the first time?  ‘What’s your name’ they ask.  Even from a young age, we know that we can’t be with someone or have a relationship with them, until we know their name; then we have access to them.  Guys, you must know what I mean, remember trying to get the name of the girl you fancied across the room; then and only then could you ask her out.

So, there are three key elements to a name; they give purpose, describe action and give access.

An incredible thing happened to Moses when he was afraid to lead the Israelites to the Promised Land.  He called out to God and said ‘I want your presence to go with us as we journey through the desert’.  God responds by saying ‘my presence will go with you, and I will give you rest’.  Then Moses is enveloped in a cloud expecting God to appear before him, expecting the presence of God in all his glory and power.  Yet, he did not see his presence or feel his presence, but he did hear his voice and the voice of God gave him more than he would have ever asked for; God gave him access to him by telling Moses his name, saying ‘the Lord, the Lord.’ And then he gave meaning and purpose to his name saying ‘the compassionate and gracious God, slow in anger and abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin’.

This is God’s name ‘the Lord’ which gives access to him.  And this is God’s name, which gives purpose and action; the God whose purpose is to love and whose action is to forgive.   How awesome this must have been for them, to know God’s name.

How awesome it is for us.  Today we have even more of God’s presence, even more access, more of his purpose and action than Moses ever did.  That’s right, God has put his name into human form, as Matthew records ‘”Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

We have God expressing his love in the name Jesus, his only Son, who through him, we have access to our Father in heaven.  And in the name, Jesus, we have God’s purpose; to save.  And in the name, Jesus, we have God’s action; to forgive sins.

And God being God, who always giving more than we ask, also attaches to Jesus name ‘Immanuel’ – God with us.

In Jesus we have everything of God, all he has and needs to offer; his purpose and action, his access and now his presence, as Jesus himself promises ‘And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’.  Sometimes, in all or struggles, it is easy to lose sight of this reality, sometimes we don’t see Jesus present with us, forgiving us and saving us and leading us into his kingdom  Let me tell you a story about something that happen last week.

I got a call from a concerned father in Gunnedah, telling me his son Ross, about my age, was in the Dubbo base hospital with serious stomach pains.  So I went down and visited him, his mother was there.  They were both in high spirits, talking and discussing plans for Christmas.  It had been a while since they last met as he worked on a farm out from Nyngan.  After talking with Ross, I found out that he used to go to the Lutheran services in Nyngan, but lately he had been a bit slack.  We talked a bit more, and he told me he would like to be picked up in Nevertire on my way through to Nyngan for church services.

I visited him again a few days later.  This time, I felt prompted by the Spirit to give him communion, so I did.  He confessed his sins, received forgiveness and took the body and blood of Jesus.  After this he talked again about going home for Christmas.  Two days later I get a phone call, Ross died, he didn’t make it home for Christmas.  I didn’t know that was going to happen, his mother didn’t, and certainly Ross didn’t.  But Jesus did.  And he was there for Ross, doing what his name implies ‘saving and forgiving’.  That day, in and with the bread and wine, Jesus was Immanuel, there saving Ross, forgiving his sins and bringing him into his kingdom.

And he is here with us today.  The same Jesus is with us that was promised to Joseph; the same Jesus is with us who is born of the Virgin Mary and who was born saviour; one who saves people from their sins; and the same Jesus is with us who is Immanuel – God with us.  We have his presence in the bread and wine as he promises ‘this is my body, this is my blood, given and shed for you’.

Jesus, Immanuel is present with us, giving us his power and Spirit here at church, yes, but he is also with us each and every moment of the day, like he was with Ross; guiding our thoughts and actions, leading us in his way, strengthening our faith and protecting us from evil.  This is the joyous celebration of Christmas; that God is with us.  And this is the joy we have as we face the year ahead.  We know that when we step out in faith, reaching those who don’t know the name of Jesus, when we go into dangerous places and difficult situations, we know Jesus is with us.

I am currently reading a book on the modern church called ‘An unstoppable force’ by Erwin McManus, and I would like to encourage you with some words as we prepare to enter a new era of church, an new era which may bring with it fear and uncertainty.  Erwin writes ‘God fears nothing and no one!  God moves with intentionality and power.  To live outside of God’s presence will put us in danger; to live in his presence will make us dangerous’.

And we are dangerous, as we work together in Jesus name to plan how best bring people to faith, we are dangerous; dangerous to the devil and all his evil works, because we go in the name of Jesus; the name above all names; the name of God’s Son who came to seek and to save the lost; who came to be Immanuel – God with us.  Amen.

3rd Sunday of Advent

What thoughts come to mind when you think of jails?
Being locked up in a confined area is very traumatic.  Not only do we loose our freedom, we also lose other things; human contact, things like conversation, relationships and touch.  We are no longer connected with the outside world.  We no longer know what is going on, we can’t see for ourselves or make judgements for ourselves about what is happening.  Being locked up also means we lose our ability to be who we really are; we can’t express or thoughts, our hopes, our desires.  We can’t be the person or live the life we want when imprisoned; being locked up means we are not able to be who we truly are.

John the Baptist would have been going through those exact things.  He was supposed to be the voice of one in the desert, proclaiming the kingdom of heaven, but now he is silenced.  He knew Jesus, the coming Messiah and made way for his coming, but now he was cut off from any contact.  John has heard of the miracles, but they are doing him no good in prison. He will die in prison. There are no miracles coming his way.

The certainty of his wilderness proclamations has now turned into questions: Being imprisoned, locked him away from being the person he wanted to be; the person God wanted him to be.  The person he needed to be, caused him to question who Jesus is.  ‘Is Jesus truly who he said he was?’  Am I proclaiming something I don’t even know I believe myself?  You can just imagine the fears ‘have I been over zealous in proclaiming Jesus as saviour’? ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” John questions.  His imprisonment stopped him from being the person God wanted him to be.

Many people, and you may be one of them, are also imprisoned like John.  And I don’t mean in an actual jail, but are imprisoned by circumstances. Self imprisonment, or the sense of ‘being locked up’ in your own body or home is real and it is something we may be dealing with personally.

Remember your thoughts on what it must be like being locked up, the feeling of loneliness, separation, and lose of who we really are, well that is exactly what some of us, and many in the community feel.

1) Perhaps it’s the jail of depression and anxiety which stops you from enjoying life; stops you from friendships and making new friends. Those suffering depression say its like darkness; just like standing in a dark cell, not knowing where to turn.
2)  Imprisonment can also come in the form of a medical condition, where you are a prisoner in your own home; unable to go out, unable to express your personality or live your life with other people.
3)  The feelings of imprisonment come when we are caught in obsessive behaviours; alcoholism, drug addiction, bingeing, gambling and internet porn.  All of these are prisons which keep us locked up from being who were really are and lock us up from being the people we are called to be.

And when this happens to us, we begin to question the purpose of our life.  For non-believers, they question whether there really is a God, and how God could allow bad things to happen to them.  For believers, as John did, we begin question whether Jesus is real; is he the one who can make a difference in our lives?  We echo John’s question ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”  Imprisonment brings insecurity and uncertainty about Jesus, because we’re not experiencing the freedom he gives, we seem to be locked up. And we’re not being the person we can be.

So what does Jesus say to answer this uncertainty?  What does he say to John: look John, I will come and break you free from your prison?  No, he doesn’t offer a way out, but he offers hope; hope that even though we as his disciples are caught up in prison, we may still know that he is the Christ   And he offers hope by pointing away from John’s imprisonment, away from ourselves and our needs, and points to others; to those who receive the free gift of mercy; his miracles.

He points to how ‘the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.’ Yes, the miracles of Jesus reveal the heart of God; his love for the world and his love others; and this is how He wants John to know he is the Christ; by his love toward others.

And this is how Jesus wants us to know him; not JUST by what he has done for us, or by what we NEED him to do for us, but by what is DOING for others.  Jesus wants us to know him as the saviour who lays down his life for others so that they may be saved.  And the miracles are evidence of this; the breaking in of the Kingdom of God.  You can know Jesus is the one when you turn from your own needs to see the miracles happen in the lives of others.  When you see ‘The blind, the lame, those who have leprosy, the deaf all healed, the dead are raised, and the good news preached,’ you know Jesus is the messiah.

We have already witnessed these things, in our own lives in the miracle of our baptism.  Here we are given victory over sin, death and the power of the devil.  It is through the waters of baptism that Jesus set us free; free from our deepest darkest jail- the bondage to sin and death.  What happens to us in our life, the prisons we endure, the suffering, pain, anxiety and the likes, will make no difference to the grace we have received.  Jesus is still our saviour.  We are free.

But now as one of his own, he is calling us, as he did to John the Baptist, to turn from our concerns, turn from our worries and turn toward those around us; turn in faith from looking inwards to looking outwards, to look to the needs of others, to witness the miracles Jesus is performing in the lives of those around us.

When we look out from ourselves as Jesus calls us to do, we see miracles: people coming to faith in Jesus; people we never thought would believe.  When we look out from ourselves we see Jesus performing miracles in people lives; a baby has been conceived for the Ebbs family, the Seminary family we support, when doctors said she would never become pregnant.  We witness people raised from the dead, alive and well when they should have been killed in a terrible accident.

Yes, this is our God at work, here in our church, here in our community, breaking into our world, bringing with him the wonders of kingdom of God.  So let us join him in his mission and be focused on others; working with Jesus to bring about miracles in peoples lives.  And as we do this, let us encourage each other with the words of Isaiah “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come,’