Archive for the ‘Advent’ Category

When the silence begins

Saturday, December 9th, 2017

Isaiah 40:1-5

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. 3 A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. 5 Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
Isaiah spoke to the Israelites held captive in Babylon.  The Babylonians had taunted the Israelite captives, exiles…  
     “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.  There on the
poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors
demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”  How can we sing
the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?”  (Psalm 137)
And so there was silence; seventy years of silence; a whole lifetime of silence.

Until God speaks!  “Comfort, comfort my people!”  Enough is enough!  What they had borne, what they had suffered—because, as a nation, as a people, they had been proud and stupid and hadn’t listened and hadn’t obeyed—‘actions have consequences’ and all that stuff…—enough is enough.  “Comfort, comfort my people!” says God.  And once his “comfort” has been spoken, it must happen—his Word cannot return empty—it achieves what he sends it out to do—in the beginning ‘light’ and there was light—here ‘comfort’—God’s comfort.  The Hebrew sense of the word ‘comfort’ is the ‘turning away of suffering’—it is not a “there, there”…it is an active involvement in, engaging in the process of taking away what brings suffering.  For Israel, on this occasion, it meant God’s act of deliverance; it meant forgiveness; it meant a return home; it meant restoration.
God’s action here begins with a call for preparation.  The Israelites in exile knew well the long, lavish, imposing, purposely laid-out processional highways of the Babylonian city for the ceremonial welcoming of the king or of the gods.  These highways had been symbols in Israel’s history of its defeat and humiliation, of the might and power of those who had conquered them.  But now a new highway was to be prepared—a highway which left the towering temples of Babylon behind—a highway across the emptiness of the wilderness (an emptiness that figured prominently in Israel’s history—a place of learning to wait humbly for God’s provision)—across the wilderness and into God’s promised land—a highway for “the Lord”, for our God, to reveal his glory, to demonstrate his faithfulness to his promises.  “The Sovereign Lord is coming to rule with power,” Isaiah shouts, “bringing with him the people he has rescued.”

When God’s prophet John (the Baptist) arrives centuries later his voice again breaks the silence.  Another long silence.  Israel had again, as so often before, stopped listening to God’s voice and filled their heads with their own babble.  And when their proud plans and proclamations of self-importance were again tramped into the dust by the boots of an invading army (or two, or three…)…God waited…and eventually they heard and knew the silence.

You may have noticed, over the years, how hard we find it, generally, to sit and wait…and listen in silence.  Many self-nominated “good listeners” are actually people who simply have an awful lot of good advice to dispense!

A couple of weeks ago a person talked to me about a particular situation; started crying and cried the whole way through; told me of the things that were hurting; told me of a sense of loss—didn’t ask me what to do!—just told me of a deep sadness…and cried some more.  “You feel really sad,” I said eventually.  “Yes,” was the reply.  And silence.  And more crying.  And “thank you”.  [I must say, I was very impressed by the person’s own handling of the actual situation—a deep love and loyalty and commitment, an amazing spirit of sensitivity and great courage; had managed the situation beautifully!; but it was one of those situations that we all know about in this world, where hurt and pain and sadness are profoundly real.]

There were no appropriate platitudes.  No little “gems”, “pearls of wisdom”, cute clichés that would fill the silence.  Better to be silent.  And listen.  Wait…be ready to listen….

Quite a few years ago, deep in the season of Advent, I lost my voice.  It was no cough or cold, but a tumour on my thyroid gland.  I didn’t know it was there until it started bleeding internally and swelled up alarmingly.  Ten doctors in the emergency ward that night each said they wanted to check with another until finally a specialist figured out what was going on.  I lay a couple of days in hospital under observation, until they were convinced the tumour would not obstruct my breathing, and then was sent home a day or two before Christmas.  I still had to wait a couple of weeks for surgery, and the final verdict.  The tumour prevented me from speaking normally.  The surgery might possibly cause permanent damage to my vocal chords.  And the question about the—you know—‘nature’ of the tumour had to be finalized.

So I was a Christian, a pastor(!), at Christmas, with no voice.  Silent.  Couldn’t speak.  Couldn’t sing.  I spent a whole Christmas…just…listening.

Advent begins, in a sense, when the silence begins.  When you and I have nothing more to say, and so we are ready to listen.  Then, into our silence, God speaks, “Comfort, comfort! I am coming!”  Then we are able to hear one proclaiming repentance for the forgiveness of sins—clearing out the cause of our troubles and worries and making a highway for our God alone—allowing God to speak, and God to act, according to God’s plan—allowing God to be God!—“God with us”.

In a bush, in the emptiness of the wilderness, burning but somehow not destroyed, God said to Moses, “I am.”  To the prophet Elijah, wishing to die because no one would listen to him, God speaks his presence and promise not in a storm but in a whisper.  And when the “mountains fall into the heart of the sea”, the “waters roar and foam”, “the nations rage, the kingdoms totter”, God says, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

Like Lent, Advent is a season of repentance.  The purple reminds us of that.  Sometimes we think that repentance is about telling God all about our sins!  (As if he doesn’t already know!)  Maybe true repentance is best considered as a time of silence—“Enough talking about me…what do you have to say, God?”

Mark begins his Gospel rather powerfully:  “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”  It’s not really about me—it’s for me!—but it’s about Jesus.  Jesus is the good news!  Be still…and know Jesus.

The evangelist John announces God’s coming into the world, the Christmas event, in this way:  “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  God speaks.  God’s Word enters our humanity, our lives, our world.  How do we prepare for the “Word”?

In silence.  Ready to listen.  A highway into our hearts and minds by silence…for listening.

Here!  Listen to this!  Don’t sing; don’t hum along; just listen:

How silently, how silently,
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming;
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him, still
The dear Christ enters in.

Amen.  Come Lord Jesus.

Left in charge

Saturday, December 2nd, 2017

Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent

Text: Mark 13:33-36
Be on watch, be alert, for you do not know when the time will come.  It will be like a man who goes away from home on a trip and leaves his servants in charge, after giving to each one his own work to do and after telling the doorkeeper to keep watch.  Watch, then, because you do not know when the master of the house is coming—it might be in the evening or at midnight or before dawn or at sunrise.  If he comes suddenly, he must not find you asleep.

It is some time in the future.  World War 3 had begun with a nuclear attack by Albania on Italy, and then escalated with Egypt bombing the United States and the United Kingdom.  Russia and China become involved.  The war ended with both sides being wiped out but now there was a huge nuclear cloud that was slowly moving southwards and would eventually engulf the whole world.

Nevil Shute wrote a novel called On the beach* where he describes what happened in Melbourne as people waited for the end.  They knew that everyone in the north had been wiped out by the nuclear cloud.  They knew that this radioactive cloud was slowly travelling toward them.  The end wasn’t far away and they would all perish.  There wasn’t anything they could do to stop it.  It was just a matter of time.

What would they do as the end approached?  Would they panic?  Would they greet the end with a big party?
Would they simply give up, take their own lives, because there was no future?  What is more, death by radioactive poisoning was horrible and tortuous.
What would you do in such a circumstance?

In the story, some denied there was anything wrong.
Most people carried on as if everything was normal.
Babies were conceived – some never to be born and others would not see their first birthday;
vegetable gardens were planted though they would never be harvested;
children went to school even though they would never graduate;
and a grand prix race was held even though fuel supplies were low.
But in the end there was no escaping the cloud of death.
And that’s how Nevil Shute’s novel finishes.

How shall we wait for the time when “the sun will grow dark, the moon will no longer shine, the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers in space will be driven from their courses” (Mark 13:24,25)? These words describe some kind of terrible things that will happen when the world will end – but we need to read on.  These catastrophes are the beginning of something truly wonderful – Jesus will return.  We read, Then the Son of Man will appear, coming in the clouds with great power and glory.  He will send the angels out to the four corners of the earth to gather God’s chosen people from one end of the world to the other” (Mark 13:26-27).

But until that happens and we don’t know when that will happen, we need to wait.  Like the people in Shute’s novel we are faced with the question,
‘How shall we wait?
What are we to do while we are waiting?
Do we act as if nothing is going to happen and that Jesus’ return isn’t real?
Do we ignore the idea of the end of world even though we know that everything in this world does have an end eventually and so we continue to ‘eat, drink and be merry’?
Do we give up?
Do we see any purpose in our lives?’

In today’s gospel reading Jesus tells a parable about a man who leaves his property in charge of his servants.  He gives them specific responsibilities and orders them not to go to sleep on the job because he will return and when he does, he expects them to have been faithful in their duties and everything ship shape.

What should the servants do?
Should they carry out their duties diligently as the boss had requested?
Do they believe that he will ever really check up on them?
Should they wait until the boss was about to return, slackening off while he is away and then quickly get things in order before he arrives?  Of course, there is a bit of a risk with this last idea because they could get caught out unprepared.

This parable has something to say about faithfulness and commitment to the tasks Jesus has given each of us.  This parable invites us to examine how we are using what God has given us in the time between the two Advents. Let’s look at it this way.

Can you recall one of your teachers at school ever saying something like this?  “Class, I’m going to step out of the room for a few minutes.  Now I hope that I can trust each of you to continue doing your work while I’m away.” (This scenario may not happen today but I can certainly recall it in my school days when teacher aides were unknown).

What happened on those occasions?  One or two kids would stand on watch near the door, listening for the teacher’s return.  Some kids worked diligently – or tried to – while other kids made spit-balls, paper air-planes, and other missiles; others wandered around between the desks – talking to one, poking another, having a good time.

Right now, the teacher is away – we are living between times, in the times between Christ’s first coming – as a babe in the manger and his second coming – as Lord and Judge.
Right now, our master is away but he has given us a job and he will come back.
Right now, like the people in the novel, we are waiting for the end.

When the classroom teacher returns she will be either disappointed or pleased with what the class did while she was away.
When Jesus returns he will reward those who have been faithful while he has been away and condemn those who have ignored his instructions and been unfaithful in carrying out their duties.

Will we faithfully do the work we have been left to do or will we play up hoping that we won’t get caught out if he comes back unexpectedly.

A large portion of the New Testament is concerned about what we ought to do while Christ is absent (in a physical sense) from this world.  We heard last Sunday that in this time before Jesus comes again we are to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, visit the sick and those in prison (Matt 25:31-46).  We are challenged to continue the ministry of Jesus among those who need help.
Jesus tells a story about bridesmaids who were ready and those who were not ready for the groom’s arrival.  He talks about signs to watch out for that will indicate that the time is near for his return.

The New Testament also tells us what kind of lives we are to live as we wait.  Peter’s second letter says, “What kind of people should you be?  Your lives should be holy and dedicated to God.  … As you wait for that Day do your best to be pure and faultless in God’s sight and to be at peace with him” (3:11,12). 

Paul goes to great lengths to remind his readers that Christ is coming soon and they are to walk as children of the light, alert, self-controlled, wearing faith and love as a breastplate, and our hope of salvation as a helmet” (1 Thess 5:8).

You and I are living between the two advents of Jesus.  We have been put in charge “each one with his/her own work to do” to use the words of Jesus in the parable.  The work of the kingdom of God, the work of the master has been entrusted to you and me, his servants.  And he expects us to be faithful servants.

There is little point in worrying and fretting over when the master will return.  Like parents who trust their teenagers to look after the house while they are away, like the teacher who leaves the classroom giving the students plenty of work to do, Jesus trusts us to carry out his work until he returns.

There is the work of fulfilling our vocation and position in life as parent, grandparent, teacher, engineer, student, tradesmen or in whatever way God has given you abilities.
There is the work of witnessing to God in our daily lives where we work, in the neighbourhood we live.
There is work of caring, nurturing, encouraging and building up to be done in our families, or at school, in the church or in the community we live.
There is work to do supporting those who are hurting and have needs as well as those who are the helpers and carers.
There is work to do guiding and leading others, pointing people to the comforting message of the Gospel in the various circumstances of people’s lives.
There is the work of living “lives holy and dedicated to God, doing our best to be pure and faultless in God’s sight and to be at peace with him”.

Having said all this I am beginning to feel like those kids in school who have been caught out by the teacher.  I know what I should be doing but during the teacher’s absence I decided to join the rest of the class and forget about the work assigned to me, have a bludge and join the riot.  I know what Jesus has told me to do and I know all about discipleship, but I know how hard it is to stick to the job the master has given.  It’s easy to slacken off and present some very convincing reasons why it’s better to take the easier road.

This is the struggle of every Christian.  In Jesus’ absence we have been easily side-tracked, put aside the important work that the master wants us to do.
We admit this as the church and as individual members of God’s family.
We have been given the responsibility of seeing to it that the gospel reaches the ears of people everywhere, but we have to admit this has not been one of our most cherished tasks.
The master has charged us with caring for the sick, the hungry, the homeless, the poor, and yet we have seen so many other things as more important.  This is also our personal confession.  We have let the master down again and again.

Advent is a season of repentance.  It’s a time of turning away from the cosy discipleship we have created and turn to Jesus for forgiveness and re-creation and renewal as his disciples.
Jesus came at his first advent for sinners like us.  He was born, died and rose for us.  He has pardoned our unfaithfulness in this time between his two advents.  He now challenges us again to be his faithful servants.

In my opening story, I told you about people who had no hope and were waiting to be destroyed by a nuclear cloud.  Whatever happens at the end of time, we know that when the end does come it will bring with it Jesus.  Jesus is an old friend.  We became best friends at our baptism and he has rescued us from our sin and its consequences.  He has claimed us as his own and promised us his eternal love.  When Jesus comes in glory, many will shake with fear, but we will clap our hands and cheer our victorious King.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

Who’s naughty or nice.

Wednesday, November 30th, 2016
  1. MATTHEW 24:36-44   LENT 1

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

Christmas is coming, this is the first Sunday in advent and I’m sure that in the stores there is an abundance of the Christmas carols and songs being played. Unfortunately a lot of these songs and carols are played to prick our consciences;     so that we will spend more money in good-will toward one another. I have to confess that I haven’t been shopping yet this year, but I live in HOPE.  I’m hoping Yvonne has bought me something.
I have to confess that I don’t get the opportunity to listen to the radio all that much and I’m not aware of the Christmas tunes that are being played, but I remember a few years back there was a song that everyone was talking about, the title was, “GRANDMA GOT RUN OVER BY A REINDEER.”

I have never heard it, have any of you? I am led to believe that it has been around for quite some time.  I dread to think what the words must be.

One of the popular songs that I have heard is “SANTA CLAUSE IS COMING TO TOWN.” The words sound very much like an effort by parents to get children to behave during the next few weeks.
If you think I’m going to sing it your wrong, I will recite the words. “YOU BETTER WATCH OUT, YOU BETTER NOT CRY, YOU BETTER NOT POUT, I’M TELLING YOU WHY: SANTA CLAUSE IS COMING TO TOWN.
And especially the next few lines, “HE’S MAKING A LIST, CHECKING IT TWICE, HE’S GONNA FIND OUT WHO’S NAUGHTY OR NICE.” Some people think of God that way. People tell their children that God is watching them and if they be naughty God will punish them.Please don’t tell your children or grandchildren that, tell them instead that God is a loving God.
Lent is a time of living in expectation, of HOPE, waiting for our Lord. It is a time of preparation, a time to prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus.
It was Christmas many years ago when a soldier named  Rex  was stationed in Korea as a young  lieutenant. His wife and baby daughter, whom he had never seen, were home in Australia. On Christmas morning the thermometer hovered around zero with several inches of snow covering the ground.
Outdoor worship services were planned for that morning. Although no one was required to attend services, Rex went out of respect and “to set a good example for the even younger soldiers.” Nearly two hundred  turned out for the service. They sat on their helmets in the snow. They faced a small portable altar. The chaplain had no microphone, and the portable organ suffered from the extreme cold.Something happened to Rex in that worship service. God broke through into his life. He thought of all that was precious to him: home, his wife, his unseen infant child. In that moment as they tried to sing Christmas carols in the cold air he realized that Christmas does not depend on church architecture or fine clothing, expansive meals or expensive gifts. Instead Rex claimed, “Christmas is best celebrated as a voluntary act in which we replenish our personal faith; in the company of others.” Far from home and loved ones, Rex realized “that Christmas Day, in itself, is not important, but the faith it represents is.”

Let us not forget in the coming weeks that Jesus is the reason why we celebrate Christmas. Advent reminds us that God often breaks into our lives in unexpected ways and at unexpected times. At those times we discover that we must change our ways and realign ourselves with Jesus Christ.

 In Isaiah we read, the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”

 That name means “God with us.” That would be a sign that God would save his people. Centuries pass by, and finally;          the hope of the world comes through;      the hope of a girl.

 Saint Luke tells us about it. The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a little out-of-the-way town up in the Galilee district. He spoke a simple message to a simple peasant girl. Her name was Mary. She was just a teenage girl, whose future had already been planned for her by her family and the family of a man named Joseph, a carpenter by trade.

 But God had other plans for Mary. He chose her to be the mother of the Messiah.                God chose her because she was only engaged, and there would be no doubt this virgin was having God’s Son and the son of no other. But we know people, don’t we? And we know what they said about her.

 However, she and Joseph held onto what the angel Gabriel had said about him: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.”

 It is here in this event that we see coming together in Bethlehem the hope of a girl and the hope of the world.     Young Mary, approaching marriage, had wonderful hopes about her own little family and the birth of her own little children.

 Her hopes came together with God’s plan about his Son who would be born to become the hope of the world.   The hope of this girl has become the hope of the world — AND HE IS OUR ONLY HOPE  This is what the Advent season says to us. Prepare to receive the hope of the world. The commentary on this passage in Luke says, “The glory of Christmas came about by the willingness of ordinary people to obey God’s claim on their lives.” I wonder if you are willing to do that, to obey God’s claim on your life?

If you are; you will experience the glory of Christmas, and you will find hope in your life, the hope of the world. I want to tell you why this child became the hope of the world.

 He is the hope of the world because he is God coming to us. Gabriel said to Mary, “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High.” He is God coming to us. He is bringing God into our world and our experience. We have him as a part of our lives today and will forever. That is what this Advent time of preparation is all about. We are getting ready to celebrate the fact that he is God coming to us.

 Years ago in a small European town a visitor noticed that on one of the streets THERE IS A WALL. And when the citizens of the town walked by it they would nod and make the sign of the cross. As he stood there and watched he observed that they all did this. He became curious about the practice and began to ask around.

 But no one could tell him what it meant. Finally, he obtained permission to investigate the wall. He began to chip away at layers of paint and dirt. He discovered underneath a beautiful mural of Mary and her baby.

 People had always made the sign of the cross as they passed by that painting even after it was covered over. They had passed on the tradition, though the reason for it had been lost.

 Remove some of the things in which we dress Christmas and there beneath the surface you come to the central meaning. And you find there this beautiful story about a young girl and her baby – the hope of a little girl and the hope of the world.

 On these Sundays we are thinking together about the theme, “They Came Together In Bethlehem.” And today we turn to this: “The Hope Of A Girl – And The Hope Of The World.”                                             

 Long ago the prophet Isaiah saw a time when God would send a Messiah to set his people free. In a few weeks we will celebrate the birth of our Lord! Jesus was born of a woman, lived on this earth and died for our sins; so that we could be free.

 The Isaiah passage has a beautiful image. At the close of chapter 10, the hopeless fall of Assyria is magnificently pictured as the falling of the cedars of Lebanon by the axe swung by God’s own hand.

 I’m told that a cedar once cut down will not put out any new shoots. So the great Assyrian power has fallen and will fall forever. The metaphor is carried out in surpassing beauty in the 11th chapter

 It, too, is the picture of a shoot growing out of a stump — but not a cedar stump — an oak, which everyone knows will put out new growth from the old. And Isaiah uses that to talk about the coming Messiah: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse.”

Here is the beautiful prophecy of the coming Messiah, the coming of Jesus Christ out of the line of David,          specifically from the shoot of Jesse — a shoot that will grow up out of that stump to flower and bless all humankind.

It was that kind of longing for the coming Messiah that was expressed over and over again in the heart and mind and soul of ancient Israel.

That Messiah came in Jesus Christ — grew, taught, ministered, was crucified, was raised by God from the dead and ascended back to the Father from whom He had come. But now the Gospel writers are telling us that this One will come again. That’s the witness of Scripture. “Look up and raise your heads,” says Jesus in Luke’s Gospel, “because your redemption is drawing nigh.”

So we believe — so we pray “Come, O Come Emmanuel.” That’s the way we sing it; when singing;  it expresses far more than we can simply say. The promise of Advent is that word from the prophet Isaiah,

 “For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” And the ringing call of Advent is the word of Jesus from Luke, “Look up and raise your head,  for your redemption is drawing nigh.”

 To-day the WORD is fulfilled in our hearing! To-day all that Jesus accomplished in His perfect life, His innocent death, His glorious resurrection, all that Jesus did is applied to us, fulfilled in our ears full of His word.

 Advent is a time of HOPE! Hope that our Saviour will come! Hope that we will be ready for HIM. Our hope is not in vain, as Jesus has promised us, HE WILL RETURN; He  is preparing that place for us.                                 His great love for us is real, HIS GRACE for us is real.   There is no need for us to fear, for Jesus loves us.So we believe — so we pray: “Come, O come Emmanuel.”

Amen.

Pastor Ian Kotzur

 

 

How deep the Father’s love for us

Saturday, March 12th, 2016

John 12:1-8

StMarksIt’s the time of the Passover and Jesus knowing he is a marked man by the Jewish authorities, shows courage beyond belief and has walked into the lion’s den and gone to Jerusalem knowing the fate that awaits him. But this night he is sharing a meal in the home of Martha and Mary.

Martha as usual is busy working and serving others with the meal preparations. Lazarus, who has only been recently raised from the dead, is present and then there’s Mary and Judas whose actions are poles apart.

Mary in her love for Jesus has thrown human convention of thought or society standards out the window. Firstly the ointment she applies to Jesus feet was worth in today’s standards a full year’s wages. Was this a family heirloom that she has saved for her “retirement” but know sees a more worthwhile purpose. It seems a strange thing to have ”lying around the house” but makes me think of those post-apocalyptic movies where they end up using cash notes to keep the fire going. However this “pot of gold come to be”, Mary continues in her disregard for society logic and ways by wiping Jesus feet with her hair. An act is not just showing her humility and love, but has also smashed through the glass ceiling as no respectable women would ever appear publically with their hair unbound as it was considered immoral.

Then at the other end of the spectrum is Judas who having been given the job of “treasurer” by Jesus says what would seem logical, to sell the precious ointment and use the proceeds to feed the poor and if we were there and unaware of the truth that he actually wanted to take some of the proceeds for himself, this would seem a reasonable and sensible suggestion. While this is going on Martha and Lazarus are in the back ground and as the family fortune one way or another is about to leave the building, seem quite content. It is an amazing scene.

While for us to hear of the love and generosity of Mary, Martha and Lazarus is humbling, it’s also if we are honest unfathomable, because if we could truly put ourselves in that household, I’m not sure we could guarantee to be a Martha, Mary or Lazarus any more than we could guarantee not to be calculating and self-considering like Judas.

Yet right amongst this. Amongst Mary’s almost unparalleled throwing of “caution to the wind” in her love for Jesus, Martha’s dedicated work and support for all those present, Lazarus chatting with and entertaining his guest and saviour at the table and Judas, the one given the trust of and being in charge of the money yet who is pilfering of the proceeds and who will soon go one step further and give up Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. There in the centre of this condensed overview of society sits Jesus who will shortly throw himself to his accusers in the sure knowledge that their response to him will be unjust, spiteful, cruel and terminal.

He walks towards them, and towards his cruel death in his love for Mary, Martha and Lazarus. And he walks towards them and towards his cruel death in his love for the Judas’ and his love for those plotting against him. A man who after having experienced the love of Mary and the hatred of the authorities will ask his Father, ask the one with limitless power “To forgive them, for they know not what they do”.

Yes, in times we may not know what we do, and in others we are blatantly aware. It is what it is ab whether we chose to be where we are in our lives at this moment or just seem to have fallen here is not the point. The point is that because Jesus has chosen you, you can choose to live a life irrespective of where that may be. Whether with the open love of Mary or the hidden sin of Judas, when life is seen through the grace bestowed by God the Father to us through faith in Christ alone you are free “to shoot for the stars” or free not to, because in Christ you are following your dreams no matter what shape they take.

You are not Mary, Martha, Lazarus or Judas. You are who you are and that is who Christ loves. Thinking of you as you are today Christ went to the cross, not for what you should or will be-but who you are today. So live life, walk in the rain in your shorts or use an umbrella it doesn’t matter as either way you do not walk alone. That the outward love of Mary we may not have, but the love of Christ to Mary we do have, and that’s what matters, and knowing that is living a life.

Two thousand years ago Jesus in his love for those who knew him and loved him he walked to the cross. Two thousand years ago Jesus in love for those who neither loved him nor knew him he walked to the cross and asked the Father to forgive them “for they know not what they do”.

Two thousand years ago Jesus walked to the cross knowing that a group of sinners will be here today needing to be forgiven. And as he sees us groping in the dark with our sins. Sees us make mistake after mistake and sees us in our “Judas” moments as we selfishly turn away from the need of others. Yet in hearing our cries for help and forgiveness and knowing that he is our only chance, he sees our faith like that of the precious ointment that Mary placed at his feet. That he sees us trust in nothing other than faith in him alone and risk being ridiculed by those around us, he turns to the Father and says “you know what they do, but forgive them-for you know what I have done for them”.

And so it is here for you today, washed clean, No need of regret. But refreshed in spirit for you know the truth, and that truth is Jesus Christ. And in faith in Jesus Christ-you have the most remarkable and greatest gift that truly does make a mockery of our other value systems, because in the cold light of day, when the Lord says “my grace is sufficient for thee”, we see not a man giving away his retirement fund, but see God the Father do the unfathomable as said so well in the song we are about to sing:

“How deep the Father’s love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure.”

The love of the Father so great that we cannot comprehend it this side of heaven. But the love of the Father that heard His Son’s Word’s on the cross and said yes my Son, yes-it is finished-because their trust in my grace is enough.

Amen.

It was like an act of treachery.

Saturday, March 5th, 2016

StMarksI’ve seen several times, particularly in farming where a son asks for his share of his inheritance so that he can be independent.But this young man, the prodigal son (noting that the word prodigal means to “live extravagant and wastefully” )This prodigal son gave his father the greatest insult and hurt you could imagine.His leaving home was one thing,but back in those times in him asking his father for his share of the inheritance, he was effectively wishing that he-the father was dead. Itwas like an act of treachery.

Yet, his loving and generous father,much I would imagine to the disgust his local community family agrees to his requestand once received,the son promptly sets off on a long journey to a distant land and begins to waste his fortune on wild living.
When the money runs out, a severe famine hits the country and the son finds himself in dire circumstances.

He takes a job feeding pigs, and as pigs were considered unclean in Jewish society, and that he is working for gentiles, he has fallen to the lowest of the low, never mind that he is so destitute that he even longs to eat the food assigned to the pigs.

The young man is destitute and without friend, favor or future and if he still has any pride left,he would have surely felt those eyes looking,yet not looking as experienced by those in our society seen picking up cigarette butts or asking for a few dollars.
And to add insult to injury, we know as does he, that this prodigal son he has no one to blame but himself.

The shame and guilt carried that can consume a person and alluringly, almost teasingly entice further self-destruction.

This man is on the knife edge but in his desperation he remembers what once was and by the grace of God sees a ray of hope in life, that of returning home-only not as a son to the man he hurt and insulted, but to beg to be his servant.

The father who had been watching and waiting, seeing his bedraggled looking son walking towards him rushes out, stops his son in his tracks and before his son can get out his planned speech, receives him back with open arms of compassion.

He is overjoyed by the return of his lost son! Andvirtually  immediately the father turns to his servants and asks them to prepare a giant feast in celebration.

Meanwhile, the older son is not one bit happy when he comes in from working the fields and discovers a party going on to celebrate his younger brother’s return.

And dare I say could we not understand this after seeing his brother having sought his share of the inheritance, blowing it, returning with nothing only to be smothered in love by his father.

Maybe thoughts of now he will get another slice of the inheritance pie came to mind.But the father tries to dissuade the older brother from his jealous rage explaining,“You are always with me, and everything I have is yours.”

We are left at the end of the parable to wonder the outcome of the older brother.But it would seem, one son has returned, one is still on his journey.In our busy lives we walk past people.Stressed we have arguments and disagreements.Wronged we seek justice and when unloved we become unloving until that moment when it’s too late.

To when if only we could have that one more moment where we could take that loved one in our hand and hold them once more.Not to forgive them because that’s not even a thought,but just to have them home again and be with them is enough.Even though we are sinners, we know that love.

That love though which is miniscule and judgmental in comparison to God the Fathers who gave his own Son for you, so that you like the son returned home-so it is too you.

When the boy came home, he had everything he threw away restored by the good grace of the Father.

  1. The Robe – His Purity – Here stands the son in the rags of his sins. He doesn’t look like a child of this father. But, the father orders the best of his robes to be brought and to be put on the son. This robe would cover all the stains and dirt of the pig pen. This robe would make him look like the father. Imagine a servant walking up, who had net been there when the son returned home and seeing this boy from behind in the father’s robe. He would naturally mistake him for the father! This robe served to erase all the visible signs of this boy’s sinful past. When a sinner comes home, they also receive a robe from the heavenly Father. This righteousness is not the righteousness of good works or of human goodness. No, this is the very righteousness of Jesus Christ imputed to those who receive Him by faith. When we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ, all the pain and the stain of our past is forever washed away! All the dirt and the filth of a life of sin is forever washed away from us!
  2. The Ring – His Privileges – After the robe came the ring. The ring was a symbol of son ship and authority. The one with the ring could speak for the Father! The one with the ring had access to all that belonged to the father! The one with the father’s ring was in a position of great privilege! When old, lost sinners repent of their sins and come home to the Father, they are given the great privilege of being recognized as His sons, 1 John 3:1-2. They are given the privilege of speaking for the Father, Act 1:8. They are allowed access to all that belongs to the Father as well, Rom. 8:17, Psa. 24:1; Psa. 50:10. When we come to the Father, He opens the storehouses of His grace and gives us everything He has!
  3. The Shoes – His Position – The father calls for shoes to be brought for the feet of his son. Only the slaves went barefoot, sons wore shoes! This boy returned home desiring to be just a mere hired servant, but the father is determined to recognize his position as a son! In the boy’s eyes, he didn’t even deserve to be a slave, but even lower, even a hired servant. The father, however, looked at him and said, “This is my son!” The father alone determines the position and worth of his children! Saved by grace, you became a child of God! He no longer sees you as a slave or as a sinner, but he sees you as His darling child, whom He loves like He loves His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ! We are right to humble ourselves in His presence, but let’s never forget that if we are saved by grace, that it is the Father Who determines our standing in the family and not we ourselves! What I am saying is this: Don’t let the devil or the flesh keep you down by telling you that you are not worthy to be a child of God. In Christ you are truly saved, you have been accepted by the Father in Heaven and He has called you His child!
  4. V. 23-24 He Found Rejoicing – Ill. The fatted calf was kept for special occasions. The fatted calf was the Father’s way of sharing His joy with all around. Instead of a wasted life, the father was celebrating a life redeemed and restored! So it is when a sinner returns home to God tb he Father! There is rejoicing in Heaven. There is rejoicing in the House of God. And, there is rejoicing in the heart of the redeemed sinner!

All that have walked this earth apart from Jesus have sinned. Yet all those that once walked this earth in faith in Jesus now truly know his love in its fullness. For us that still remain, who still sin and make mistakes Jesus says come to me for I will give you rest and bring you my father’s love, for as I spread my arms on the cross in bearing your sins, my father’s arms are still spread in love waiting for those still wandering.

I have sinned and no doubt will sin again as will we all. Yet Christ walks with us that we know of God the Fathers love. His love that has no boundaries. His love that asks us not to be saints but makes us saints. His love today that comes to us in Christ Jesus who looks at us with loving and understanding eyes and says “I know how tough it is-so come to me and rest. I gave my life for you-that you may live in peace. I love you now, as you are-know that peace because I have restored you for in me you are that younger son, and what I did for him I do to you.

Brother and sisters in Christ, you are sons and daughters of God. You have been restored. Let it fill your hearts with peace and pray for those still on their lonely way home. Amen

The Fox and the Hen

Saturday, February 20th, 2016

“The Fox And The Hen”

(Based on Luke 13:31-35)

 

Grace, Peace and Hope to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

StMarksLet’s Pray: May the words of my lips and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you Lord-Amen.

Today’s Gospel begins with one of the Pharisees going to Jesus, and telling him to leave that place, because Herod wanted to kill him.

It sounds like he was trying to do the Lord a favour, but I’m not so sure.

The Pharisees are mentioned fourteen times in Luke before we get to this chapter, and all but one refer to the conflict that was growing between them and Jesus.

In 11:42 Jesus says:

“Woe to you Pharisees because you give a tenth of your Mint, Rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God…”

That’s a huge indictment against them.

In the following verse he says: Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and respectful greetings in the market places.”

In 11:53 “The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law began to oppose him fiercely, besieging him with questions, waiting to catch him in something he said.”

And in 12:1 Jesus says: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy;”

another strong indictment against them.

There’ a sample of Jesus’ last four interactions with the Pharisees leading up to today’s text, so you understand why I doubt that particular Pharisee was trying to do Jesus a favour.

In fact it’s far more likely he was trying to scare him off, which is a more likely fit for how the rest of the Gospel pans out.

Jesus’ response adds to that likelihood.

“Go tell that fox ‘I cast out demons and perform miracles today, and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal. Yet today, tomorrow and the next day I must be on my way, for it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’”

Jesus gave his itinerary to the Pharisee, maybe to pass on to Herod if he wished, but more likely to call his bluff,

because he knew his life wasn’t in Herod’s hands, but the eternal hands of his Father…

Jesus called Herod a fox, and I’m sure that has to do with the bad reputation foxes have always had for killing unnecessarily.

I remember hearing how a fox will chase a tiny lamb until it bleats, then bite the lamb’s tongue out, leave it to die, and move on to the next one.

It’s not a pretty picture, and reminds us of another fox, another Herod; the father of the one we’ve heard about today, the one who chased the lambs of Israel and had the baby boys under two years of age killed, after the Magi came enquiring about the new born “King of the Jews.”

So much senseless death!

It also reminds us how this particular Herod had John the Baptist’s head cut off and presented on a plate.

More senseless death!

He was a fox…

and then a little later,

Jesus is cast in the role of a Hen, whose natural enemy is a fox, and who will lay down her life to save her chicks… and we’ll come back to that later.

Notice the shape of the itinerary.

Jesus says he’ll be casting out demons and performing healings today and tomorrow, and on the third day he will reach his goal.

Then he reinterprets it to say:

“Today and tomorrow and the next day I must be on my way, because it is not possible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.”

The symbolic language Luke uses here is doing very much the same thing as the passage we heard a month ago when Jesus went to Nazareth where he was rejected.

Where they led him to a cliff, to throw him off and kill him, yet fortunately for us all, he walked away through the crowd and went on his way.

And that particular Gospel is a précis of Jesus’ earthly ministry right up to his death and resurrection.

His ministry that cast him in the role of the prophets, who were well received at first, then rejected and killed.

There’s a very similar thing happening here;

Jesus tells of his plans to carry out more ministry; casting out demons and performing healing miracles,

then he superimposes his movement toward Jerusalem, and the fate he knows awaits him there, to be rejected by his people and killed.

The part about him reaching his goal on the third day looks past Jesus’ death and alludes to his resurrection. And that’s been unanimously agreed on by biblical commentators as every other time Luke uses that formula;

‘on the third day,’

he’s referring directly to Jesus’ resurrection.

So the elements of Jesus’ mission in the world, his miraculous works, followed by his rejection, death and resurrection are all here, just not in chronological order.

And finally the last verse for today, where Jesus says: “You will not see me until you say ‘blessed is the one coming in the name of the Lord.’”

When do you think that might have taken place?  It happened on Palm Sunday in the city that kills the prophets-Jerusalem.

Today’s Gospel is like a jig-saw of Jesus’ mission in the world, with Luke gathering all of the miraculous things together;

Jesus’ driving out demons, his healing ministry and the allusion to his resurrection are mentioned in the first itinerary statement,

With the second itinerary alluding to his rejection, suffering and death in Jerusalem.

Now this mightn’t seem so, but this is vitally important,

because those two aspects of Jesus’ ministry;

his glorious works, and his suffering and death,

validate him as God’s true Messiah.

He must have a glorious ministry, or it would be said that God hadn’t come in Jesus’ flesh.

But a glorious Messiah who doesn’t suffer for his people, could never bring the Gospel of God’s grace to us.

A glorious Messiah who didn’t suffer could only heap more condemnation from God’s Law on his people, which would only serve to inflame the war between Heaven and Earth.

There wouldn’t be any peace with that kind of Messiah, only death and destruction…

and yet how ironic it is; that is exactly the kind of Messiah the people thought they wanted!

But what really stands out for me today is the fox and the hen, because when you think about those two,

the fox is the aggressor,

and the hen is its prey.

So I wonder, what have hens ever done to foxes that might cause them to attack?

Absolutely nothing!

It is purely and simply the nature of a fox that it wants to kill and eat any hen it comes across… and their chicks.

The way Luke has cast those two creatures;

humanity in the guise of a fox,

and God in the guise of a hen,

really does capture the natural animosity that humanity has for God,

And this picture that Luke has painted with these words, helps us to see how that animosity is only one-sided because we all know that hens do not go around attacking foxes.

A couple of weeks ago a newspaper ran an article about the plan the South Australian Attorney General has to remove the Bible and references to God when witnesses take the oath and swear to tell the truth in court.

There’s some more degradation the current culture is imposing on us.

But what was also worrying were the comments about that in the opinion column on the editorial page.

Comments full of bitterness poured out on God and the Church.

Seriously, the malice that some of our fellow citizens feel free to express in those sorts of forums now, is frightening.

But what has God done to deserve it?

 

What God has done-deserves nothing but our thanks and praise.

Now, if it’s not bad enough that the unbelieving world maligns God,

worse though,

is that it wasn’t the unbelieving nations of the world who killed the prophets, or Jesus Christ.

It was the holy people of God; the people God had actually bent over backwards to bless.

A new low so to speak that emphasizes the appalling nature of human sin that just cannot be overstated.

And in that, we see the depth and wondrous beauty of the Gospel.

God in Jesus Christ wasn’t blind to any of this.

The Gospel shows us very clearly how his eyes were wide open to the treacherous nature of the human heart:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem; the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it. How often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

He knew them through and through, and yet when Jesus answered the Pharisee he said:

“Today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.”

Why would he even bother with such unfaithful people?

Would we not just turn away in disgust.

Some of the foul treatment that I’ve seen that’s handed out to my loved ones, friends colleagues and brothers and sisters in Christ

Can make it be very, very tempting to take a stand against those people and sought them out both verbally and physically in a like manner to their own,

fortunately though for maybe both them and me did these thoughts of re-actions only come in hindsight        and when it was too late to do it.

Hindsight that gives us the time to remember or even realise, that just as for us, so it is for them.

As with us, God comes for them and not against them like the hen gathering her chicks.

We might like to punish them.

He comes to set them free

and to bless them.

The grace of God is breathtaking,

and fortunately so,

because if it wasn’t

then there would be no hope for us either.

So Lord,

we do thank and praise you for your loving kindness to us;

that you haven’t turned away,

but come to redeem us and embrace us as your beloved children.

And so we pray,

That in the days we have left,

That you help us

to grow in faith, hope and love of yours eternal,

and serve and love

regardless of actions, colour or creed,

serve and love those you place before us, as you have most certainly have too us.

In Jesus name, and for Jesus’ sake do we pray.  Amen.

AND The peace of God

 

which passes all human understanding

 

keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

 

Amen.

 

With thanks to Pastor Keith McNicol from which this message has been provided (with alterations)

Don’t be tricked

Sunday, February 14th, 2016

Luke 4:1-13

 

Dear heavenly Father, lead us by your Holy Spirit so that we may remain faithful during our trials and temptations, through StMarksJesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

We pray in the Lord’s Prayer: ‘Lead us not into temptation’.

We know God doesn’t tempt anyone, so when we pray for our Father not to lead us into temptation we’re really asking God to keep us safe from the devil, from our own sinful nature, and from those who are against God.

We’re praying God won’t let them trick us into losing our faith, giving up all hope, and doing other unsavoury things, yet while also praying that even though we are attacked, that in the end, we will win the victory.

Unfortunately we’re tempted often. We’re tempted in ways that are deceptive and attractive. Even though the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, he loves to dress up as a harmless lamb. He doesn’t wear a red suit, have horns and a spiked tail, and carry around a red fork. He dresses up in things that are attractive and desirable. He’s the king of deception and more likely to test and tempt us through things that seem good, right, and reasonable, just as we here he did in todays Gospel reading.

Jesus was hungry! He’s been in the wilderness without food for 40 days. The stones around him would look pretty tempting even after 4 days! Why not just turn them into bread? Surely God wouldn’t want Jesus to go hungry, would he? Don’t we pray ‘Give us today our daily bread’? Well, through a miracle, God may want to give Jesus his daily bread through these stones! Wouldn’t that seem good, right, and reasonable?

We too are often tempted to satisfy our physical desires. We want to gratify our stomachs, our pleasures, our lusts, and our passions and as it seems everyone else is doing it, it can seem a little unfair if we miss out, and just like those famous two people in a garden who were given everything it had-except of all things an apple:  Now I might be getting a bit ahead of myself, but I reckon I could have handled turning down that piece of particular fruit, never mind if the temptation was of the vegetable variety. But what if “the don’t go there” food was a mixture of ingredients that in our modern world we would label a pizza. And that’s the point-we are not tempted by things we don’t want, but things we do want and if it’s not fleshly gratifications, the powers of darkness endeavour to take our eyes of the Lord through the allure power and possessions

Think how much we crave the things of this world. We’re not happy with what we have and always want more. Our TV seems smaller than the one in the shops or in someone else’s house. Our mobile phones don’t look as flashy or sound as good as the person next to us. We want the latest car, the latest gadget, a bigger house; we want the next best thing. More than this, we don’t want to wait. We want glory, power and riches now.

Now I’m not standing up here as a hypocrite, because I fall for a mixture of those worldly things all the time. We probably all have and besides what’s wrong with having these things. Absolutely nothing. The problem is when they become our gods, because when they do, no matter how many things we gather around us, we’re never really satisfied. There’ll always be a new thing we want. We’ll never have enough money. We’ll never be fully satisfied with what we have.

The more we fill our lives with things, the emptier and lonelier we feel, while then being told by the deceiver knowing of how selfish we are, how we’ll never be able to make up for lost times with our families, friends, or with God. Tempt, accuse and tempt the same stuff again through telling us it will then take the pain away from our guilty conscience by doing the same things and all of a sudden, we go from a going to work to buy a beer scenario, to needing the beer to get through work.

We are tempted to put the kart before the horse just like Jesus was by the devil in today’s Gospel.

And Jesus reply, although starving and given a seemingly straight forward and appropriate suggestion given that he hadn’t eaten for forty days certainly had the power to turn the rocks around him into bread, or even Pizza if He wished.

But no, Jesus knew this was not about the devil feeling sorry for Him or caring for Him. This was the devil endeavouring to undermine His Father and the plan He had put in place to save the one’s he cared for and so with even with such a mouth-watering temptation, Jesus quotes a verse from Deuteronomy, saying “Man shall not live by bread alone”.

The context of the verse he quotes is the people of Israel were just about to enter the Promised Land. Before they enter that land, Moses reminds them of God’s law, saying “Remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.  And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deut 8:2-3)

For the Israelites, their hunger was to teach them the value, importance and necessity of God’s Word. Food will sustain you briefly, but the Word of God will sustain and satisfy you far longer. No one really lives, no matter how much food they have in their belly, without the Word of God. The testing and the hunger were necessary lessons. Jesus submitted himself to this lesson.  He would not be deceived by any desire for instant gratification. The Word of God sustains him.

So will we learn from our temptations and tests? Will we learn to resist the temptation to gratify our fleshly desires right now, or will we learn to wait patiently for what God wants to give us? Through our times of testing, we may learn to be more discerning between what seems good, right, and reasonable, and what really is good and right and reasonable for us.

These temptations are real. They’re real for us, and they were real for Jesus.

Jesus was tempted to abandon the road to suffering and receive the whole world and its inhabitants, but to do so would have meant turning his back on his Father. We are given the same temptations through whatever manner to do the same, to put the kart before the horse, to put things ahead of God.

Things that can be good, but only if subservient to what is truly, good and trustworthy and that is our triune God: God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ our Saviour and the Holy Spirit.

The dark side’s temptations and deceptions are for one purpose. The purpose of taking our eyes off God by manipulating his Word. To take our eyes off Jesus and seeing our self-first.

Not what a great gift and blessing that the Lord has provided me with employment, a roof over our heads and food, clothing family and friends.

Not what a great gift, but turns it to you deserve, it’s your right, if people are in the way cut them down: whatever form it takes is not for the persons care, happiness and a life gained, but the exact opposite.

It’s a “I will tempt with drugs, and once hooked, I’ll tempt to overdose so that they cannot hear the hope and life available to them through the true Word of God.”

So what to do when tempted and with the power of the Holy Spirit hold out. Praise God.

And if you fail, like so many times I do: Then we return to the true Word of God more than ever if that’s possible. Not the Word of God that’s been eroded to maybe’s, if’s and but’s. Not the maybe I’ll be forgiven and saved in Christ version that destroys the truth like a movie director using their creative licence. No we listen to God the Father and the one who lived it Jesus Christ. Jesus who battled and won that even if we do succumb to temptations, by faith, believe God won’t abandon us and doesn’t lead us into temptation. No matter what trials or temptations we face, either in times of abundance or times of scarcity, we can trust in God. He will prove true and faithful to us. We have been set free to put our trust in Jesus who has already walked through many trials and temptations and has proved victorious over them. Through trusting his obedience and victory we are saved. We can trust he’ll give us what we need to endure and persevere in your own times of trouble. We can be certain he will save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil.

 

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

“Tall poppy syndrome”

Saturday, December 19th, 2015

Micah 5:2-4

 

If there is one thing we Australians are famous for, it’s chopping down anyone we consider to be getting just a bit too big for giftstheir boots. We tend to like everyone to be on a fairly level playing field and we don’t like people blowing their own trumpet or suggesting that they are a little better than someone else.

This “tall poppy syndrome” as it’s known, can be very unfair and even hurtful, but it can also produce some great humour as the following story shows:

An outback cattle station owner travelled to the big smoke for a holiday. Naturally, he drove down in the biggest vehicle he could find – a nice big Ford F250 Dual cab with a big V8 diesel motor and with all the bells and whistles. He was driving through the green dairy country in the hills just outside the city and he had to stop as the local dairy farmer’s cows crossed the road at milking time.

The cattleman called out to the dairy farmer, “How much land you got, mate?”

“Well,” the dairy farmer said, “my land runs all the way down there to those pines near the creek and right up to that line of gums on top of the ridge.”

“You know,” said the cattleman, “I’ve got a station in the outback, and I can get in my ute and drive all day without reaching any of my boundary lines.”

“Is that so?” said the dairy farmer. “I had a ute like that once.”

We don’t mind reminding people that we really are all the same and that no-one is better than anyone else in the overall scheme of things. I reckon that’s a good thing.

But at the same time, we still like to try to gain the upper hand over others. We can spend a lot of time and energy trying to keep people in their place – usually below us – especially if we have been a bit stirred up or angered by someone’s words or behaviour.

  • The boss lets us have it when he hasn’t bothered to hear our side of what really went on.
  • The kids try something on and we overreact by putting them in their place – maybe even unfairly.
  • A friend lets some confidential information circulate and we repay in kind.

We have a bit of trouble as Christians understanding God’s perspective on who we are, what’s important, what’s our place, what is of big importance in the Christian life and what is of small importance.

Sometimes we hold the exact opposite point of view to God. What we value as being big and small, important and unimportant, highly valued and of no great value seems to be a lot different to what he regards as important, big, small, valued and so on.

Today’s first reading really brings out how differently God sees us in his overall plan of bringing all things to their fulfilment. God chooses what seems small to us to accomplish big things through us.

The prophet Micah proclaims the birth of a new ruler for God’s people and the whole world: he will come from Bethlehem Ephrathah. Now Ephrathah is in the general vicinity of Bethlehem. Ephrathah was originally a small Judahite clan. So, this locality or suburb of Bethlehem was small and of no great importance or power in terms of politics, military status, arts and culture or great in by any other measure we might put on towns and suburbs. It certainly was no Tokyo, Sydney, New York, Paris or London.

Bethlehem is now almost a suburb of Jerusalem. It is only about 8kms from the centre of Jerusalem. So, here we have this little location with a name derived from the local family that have lived there for generations within a suburb of Bethlehem, which is hugely overshadowed by the big smoke next door. We are talking small, small town. We are talking no outward importance as far as society sees things.

But of course, we know that God has a different understanding and approach to what is important and unimportant; what is big and what is small. We know that by God’s promise to the prophet Samuel, a long time before the prophet Micah ever spoke and a long time before anything big happened in small Bethlehem, God made a choice about this little place. He told his prophet Samuel to go to this little town and find a king. From this little place and this little family among all the big and powerful families of the country, God had chosen a new king to replace Saul.

Samuel obeyed the Lord and went to Bethlehem to the family of Jesse. Jesse made his 10 sons walk past  Samuel so Samuel could find the one that the Lord had chosen to be King of the whole nation. There was one of Jesse’s sons missing that day. He was out in the paddock keeping the sheep. Samuel didn’t find God’s anointed king among the 10 big brothers. But when the youngest came in hot and sweaty from being out with the sheep all day, he was anointed to be king of Israel. His name was David and all of this happened in little Bethlehem (1 Samuel 16). Bethlehem became the birth-place of the King!

God chooses what seems small to accomplish his big things.

David became the greatest King, not in wealth, power or world status – his son Solomon really reached those pinnacles. David became King and was a “man after God’s own heart”. He sinned greatly but repented often and he put his trust in the Lord for his life. He wrote about it all in the psalms.

When those heady days of power and prestige ran out for the people of Israel, Bethlehem and indeed the whole nation of Israel were again nothing as far as the world was concerned. But again in the darkest days of God’s people, God chooses to do something big with something so small. He speaks another promise about little Bethlehem and this time God goes further than he did the first time he made a promise concerning Bethlehem.

Through Micah, God announces that there will come another King one day. He will be the ultimate King because he does not have his origins in a mere human family. He comes from of old, from ancient days (Micah 5:2).

He will be the one that the Lord spoke of way back in King David’s rule. God said through another of his prophets, the prophet Nathan, that one day there would be a king over Israel who will rule forever. God said to David that through this new king, not only God’s people would be blessed, but the whole world would be blessed because this new king – this new Messiah –  would rule over every power and nation.

All this from a little place of no particular importance to anyone!

God chooses what seems small to accomplish big things.

We will celebrate the coming of this extraordinarily BIG king who comes in a very normal, small way in a few days time. This ultimate Power and Life of the universe from ancient days has come into the world in the same way that we human, limited, finite, fragile people all came into the world. God keeps his promises for 1000 years and turns up in a way that is everything opposite to what we might want him to be.

Our God always has been on about doing his big things in and through small things and small people. Think of Moses – a reluctant leader. Think of the prophets; Elijah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Micah – all lived in weakness and powerlessness. Think of David – chosen so young. Think of Elizabeth and Mary – an elderly woman and a young girl who would be called “theotokos” (the bearer of God) by Christians for all generations!

Think of yourself. Where did you come from? What claim to God’s promises did you have? Why should he have chosen you to be a co-ruler with Christ in the world, for that is what you are in baptism? By what right of your own do sit at the Lord’s Table where you receive his love and grace and forgiveness in these ordinary looking but supernatural realities?

God chooses weak people, sinning people, blind people: all the “wrong” people to be with him. Praise the Lord!  Because of his “upside down” ways we have life and a future in his big work of gathering all the other big and small people into his family.

Because of this, our future as God’s community in this little corner of the earth is secure. God has not stopped working with clay vessels. He remains the shepherd who stands, protects and feeds us with his love, grace, peace and power; as he speaks his Word and gives us his own body and blood that was born in Bethlehem, crucified in Jerusalem and raised to glory.

Like the people of Micah’s day, we are to wait for his coming. Like a pregnant woman, we wait for the coming of our king – just like Elizabeth and Mary had to wait for their two children of promise.

But as they waited together, they and the children in their wombs leapt for joy at the good news God promised. “I am here and I am coming again and there will be lasting peace in your lives and in my world”.

We wait in the struggle with joy at the news we have heard and upon which we pin our lives, and we pray – Come soon, Lord Jesus, come soon.

Amen.

Keep your chin up

Saturday, December 12th, 2015

Philippians 4:4-7

 

 

“Rejoice in the Lord always!gifts

Rejoice in the Lord always, even though you’re having a really bad day.

Rejoice in the Lord, even when you’re in pain, when you’re suffering, or when you’re sick.

Rejoice in the Lord always, even when you’re getting old and frail.”

“Be reasonable to everyone, even though family and friends attack you, criticise you and abandon you. Be gentle with all people, even though they are not gentle with you and backstab you. Be gentle with people even though they lie to your face.”

“Don’t be anxious, even though you probably haven’t finished your Christmas shopping yet. Don’t be anxious about your crops and the lack of rain, or your limited finances, your wayward children, your selfish spouse, or your destructive community. Don’t be overly concerned about anything, even though you worry what the future might bring.”

“Be joyful, be reasonable with others, and don’t be anxious.”

Well, some people can live like this, but some of us find it hard to be always joyful, to be gentle at all times, and not worry about so many things.

In fact, even when things go right, we sometimes find it hard to rejoice. We struggle to be gentle or reasonable at home, let alone to others in our community. We worry about the smallest things that seem to blow out of all proportion in our minds.

Was Paul one of these annoying people that seem to always be happy, gentle and have no worries about anything? Is he expecting us to change our nature and be like him?

Sure, Paul was writing this letter from prison; sure he had been whipped and beaten to within an inch of his life; sure he was criticised by many people, including synagogue leaders; and sure he had close friends and family abandon him in times of need, but we all have problems of our own!

He may have been able to keep his chin up and keep smiling in all circumstances, but we can’t!

Why is it that we struggle with these things? Is there something wrong with Paul’s expectations, or is there something wrong with us?

Part of the problem is that we’re often focused on ourselves. We think we’re only truly happy when we get what we want. We can only be gentle with those who are first gentle with us. We’re only free of worries if everything goes our own way. Our sin makes us selfish and self-serving.

Our sinfulness blinds us so that we don’t see the blessings God gives us, even in the times of trouble and suffering. Perhaps we want revenge against people who treat us badly, instead of practicing peacemaking through forgiveness and gentleness. Maybe we don’t trust God will help us in our times of need and we figure it’s all up to us, so therefore we worry about how WE can fix things.

What can possibly help us get out of our gloomy outlooks, our selfish dealings with others, and our fretful lives?

Paul gives us a hint: we can always rejoice, be gentle, and not be anxious, because the Lord is near.

Because the Lord is near, we can rejoice even in the worst circumstances. Because the Lord is near, we can be gentle even with our enemies. Because the Lord is near, we have no need to be anxious.

It’s like we have been running a marathon. Our bodies ache and our minds have been telling us to give up for ages. Our vision has been blurred so that all we see is the few steps in front of us. But despite our aches and pains, we know the finish line is just up ahead. Where we come in the race doesn’t matter, but we’re filled with joy to know the race is almost finished. Relief and rescue is in sight.

But it’s more than that.

This isn’t just the relief from knowing the end is in sight, but that our Saviour and rescuer is near. Sure the end is coming, that time when the Lord will come again to judge the living and the dead, but we also know Jesus promises to always be near us.

He’s the one who’s been jogging alongside us the whole marathon, going through the same temptations, and the same pain. He’s the one who picks us up when we fall. He’s the one who bore the abuse against us, and took the worst scars. He’s the one who heals our wounds. When we’ve mistakenly gone down the wrong path, he’s followed us and called us to turn around and join the race again. When we’ve felt like giving up, he’s the one who encouraged us with his words and his refreshing provisions. He’s the one who constantly reminded us to keep calling on him and telling him our needs, to let him shoulder our pain, our frustrations, our sicknesses and our worries.

When we’re overly concerned about our problems, about people around us, or about our situation in life, he encourages us to take our needs to him in prayer. If we keep all our problems and worries to ourselves, they grow and multiply and threaten to take all the joy out of our lives. In this sense, worry is like a virus that takes away all our reasons to rejoice. The antidote for worry and anxiousness is prayer.

We can’t ‘think’ our worries away through wishful or positive thinking, but when we bring them before God in prayer, he gives us his peace. Notice it’s HIS peace he gives us, which is far better than any calmness we could ever achieve by our own reasoning.

Then, as our worries are taken away and God grants us his peace, joy can start growing in our life again. Our focus has been shifted away from our own troubles and problems so that we may look to Jesus Christ. Then we have reason for joy and thankfulness because of what God has done for us through Jesus.

Outward circumstances do not and should not determine the condition of our hearts. Even when everything around us is dark and gloomy, we can be joyful within.

We can be joyful because of our oneness with Christ. Even when we feel alone and isolated, we can rejoice in our unity with our Triune God.

We can be joyful because of our forgiveness through Christ. Sure other people may still not forgive us, they may still hold a grudge against us, and they may still continue to attack us, but as we stand in front of God, our conscience is clear through the forgiveness of our sins.

We can be joyful because of the nearness of Christ himself. He never abandons us or attacks us. He supplies all our needs. He lifts us up when we’ve fallen. He gives us the strength to endure our times of trial and suffering, and he even heals us. He answers our prayers for ourselves, the ones we love, and our petitions for the needs of the world. Christ gives us his peace.

Then, like a sentry, the peace from God will guard our hearts. It’s like we’ve a company of peace soldiers or angels surrounding us whose sole purpose is to protect and guard us.

As we confront all the temptations and trials of this life, we can be sure Jesus is near, which brings us joy. Through the peace and forgiveness from Christ, we can be gentle with all people, including our enemies. Through prayer, all our anxiousness is taken away and thankfulness joins with our reasons for joy.

For the foundation of our joy, is the nearness of Jesus Christ.

The foundation of our gentle dealing with all people, no matter how they treat us, is Jesus Christ.

The foundation of our freedom from anxiety, is prayer in the name of Jesus Christ.

The foundation of peace is Jesus Christ…

Amen.

Coming in from the Desert

Saturday, December 5th, 2015

Luke 3:1-6

 

giftsJohn – out in the desert – was in the great tradition of the Hebrew prophets. And here, we see him aware that the time was upon Him to fulfil the destiny given to him right from his conception when still in his mother’s womb, he first encountered a baby to be called Jesus being carried within his Aunt Mary’s womb.

So, in responding to a calling from God he came in from the wilderness and began to preach a message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  Luke names a list of rulers who probably wouldn’t have been happy with this scruffy looking prophet from the desert coming to the people and trying to put things right, especially if they thought that the one who was coming would take over their leadership from them.

Yet he came proclaiming boldly, “to prepare the way of the Lord; to make his paths straight”, this is the message of the prophet Isaiah and John the Baptist is here to put it into practice.  Times are about to change people, hear ye, hear ye!  The mountains are about to move, the whole landscape will change, crooked will become straight and rough will become smooth.  But most importantly, all flesh will see the salvation of God.

Bold statements that saw the people distracted with superficial things come out from Jerusalem to see him. They were intrigued by this strange phenomenon of a wild man preaching repentance. They were fascinated by surface level things like his camel hair suit, wild hair-do and homemade leather belt and his fiery and passionate message of challenge. They wanted to interview him and then tell all their friends about their remarkable experience. “Who are you?” they asked. His answer was short and to the point: “I am not the Christ.” “Are you Elijah?” “No!” “Then who are you?” they persisted and though they had their doubts about who he was, his message to their ears was clear: Repent.

Repent at Christmas? Isn’t that the message of Lent, when we hear of all that torture, blood and suffering of this Jesus to whom John was a sign? But not at Christmas! Christmas is nice. Christmas is about a cute little baby and carols and presents and food and shopping!

Yes, repent approaching Christmas. John calls us to approach Christmas with honesty and openness to the Word of God. He calls us to repent our way to a merry Christmas.

Advent means “coming” and it requires a thoughtful and reflective approach to the coming of God into our humanity; with all our muck, sin and death. We prepare for Christmas by repenting. Repenting for John is more than having a change of heart or a feeling of regret. It is more than a New Year’s Eve resolution. Repentance is a turning away from ourselves, and in simple trust and faith in God’s grace, turning back to him.

Advent marks the start of a new church year, and it is customary at the start of any year to reflect on the past, look at the present and contemplate the future. We find ourselves reflecting on what God has been up to and what he will do in the future. In tough times when we feel a bit alone, it is pretty easy to start to worry about our future and feel as though we have to make everything happen by ourselves, without God!  Then there is always all those things we see and hear on TV these days – so much fear and terror. So many tragedies, so much suffering.

But into this comes this fiery witness – John. He calls us away from our worries and puts our life into perspective – God’s perspective. He displays God’s passion to have us back with him. John shows God’s deep concern for us and points us sinners to the medicine for our disease – the antidote to our worry, the security for our future – Jesus.

Each of us is invited to come to Jesus one-on-one. John says prepare for the advent – the coming – of Jesus. We can’t rely on our pedigree as a dyed-in-the-wool Lutheran or an extra special member of this parish. There is no room for pleading ignorance concerning God’s call to come clean with him and repent. No, there is only room in our hearts for the grace of Jesus –that’s what it’s all about.

For us Christians, there is a lifetime of living that comes from this grace that fills our hearts. We are called by the Lord through John to reflect on what we do with the Lord’s grace and love.

Consider the following….

  • If you have food in the fridge, clothes on your back, a roof overhead and a place to sleep, you are richer than 75% of people in the world.
  • If you have money in the bank, in your wallet/purse and spare change in a jar somewhere, you are among the top 8% of the world’s wealthy.
  • If you woke up this morning with more health than illness, you are doing better than the 1 million who will not survive the week.
  • If you have never experienced the danger of battle, loneliness of imprisonment, agony of torture or pangs of starving, you are ahead of 500 million people.
  • If you can attend a Christian church meeting without fear of harassment, arrest, torture or death, you are more blessed than 3 billion people.

Sobering facts that see us hearing the voice of John more as the God fearing Jews coming out from the Holy temples of Jerusalem than the wondering “un-godly, unknowing” gentiles

So, is it time for us to do a similar thing. To hear his message from the wilderness and repent, I think so. Just as it is also the time that we take his message with us into the wilderness knowing of the need to call the world to repentance and make the way straight for the coming of the kingdom of God?

Many would say that we now live in a post-Christian society, that our society has become more secular than Christian or in some parts of the world other faiths have taken precedent.  Perhaps the world view right now is not so different from the time of John the Baptist, with everyone looking out for themselves and building their own kingdoms, trying to take what is someone else’s for their own benefit.

We could also say in some ways that the those of us who would call ourselves a part of the kingdom of God, the church, aren’t that different to the rest of society.  We are distracted by the need to get ahead, to have all the right ‘toys’ in our houses, garages and driveways, we work too hard to have time to play, we focus on our own needs instead of the needs of others and building the kingdom of God is fairly low on the agenda for a fair majority of us.  So yes, John’s message is for us too, and especially during this Advent season as we journey along the path to Christmas.

And maybe as we go, we can share our hope, our vision and our faith with those around us by becoming quiet and caring prophets as we through our actions make the path just that little bit smoother for others to see the salvation of God as well.

Amen.

Post message reflection partly based on the writings of Duke Ellington

Imagine weaving your way through an ancient crowded marketplace. Pots are clanging, merchants are squabbling and a donkeys are braying as they wait to be unloaded. Your sandals scrape on cobblestone. Someone carrying an arm load of palm branches brushes quickly past you, knocking you to the ground. “Sorry!” he shouts without looking back. “I’ve got to be there when he comes!” You rise and taste the blood on your upper lip. Oth­ers are scurrying by—some with little children in their arms, some hand in hand with their lovers, one with no hand at all. A man with a withered leg hobbles up and pauses to catch his breath. “Why is everyone in such a hurry?” you ask. “It’s the healer!” he grins through three crooked teeth. “He’s coming this way.” You decide to follow. A dozen ornately clad religious teachers push briskly past. One seems excited. The others appear annoyed. “He is a great rabbi!” brags the one. “We’ll see about that!” scowl the others. You approach the gate and the crowd begins to cheer. They lift their palm branches high, like a thousand fans for a pharaoh. “Hosanna!” they shout as a wave of excitement fills the air. “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven! Glory in the highest heaven!” You strain to see what is happening, looking for a warhorse, a chariot or a god. What are they waiting for? Whom are they cheering? A king? A healer? A general? And then you see him—the man on a donkey. Crowds are parting to let him pass—this strange and welcomed visitor. Not a king. Not a general. No person of prestige or power. A simple man on a donkey, with power to rivet the crowds. The religious teach­ers march up and order him to silence the masses. You press closer and see Him looking at the broken, hungry, oppressed and lost people, and then from His heavy eyes you see a single tear drop and wonder of such a man being honored so greatly, yet so greatly honors those before Him.  . (Pause) In a moment, you are transported to the streets of your town. Crowds are scurrying. Tinsel is glittering. A tiny speaker is blaring, “Here comes Santa Claus,” above a plastic Christmas tree. You look up, half expecting to see the man on the donkey, but all that greets your sight is a mass of anxious people, a blur of bustling crowds. Credit cards flash. Tills ring. Bright wrapping paper is bound with bows but no one is speaking—no one. They all seem in such a hurry, but no one says a word. So silent about the king whose name alone bears witness to the approaching holly day. Holy day. Holiday. There is nothing said about the healer, the teacher, the king—no praises, no whispers, no words.

Then suddenly you hear those words mentioned by the veterans on that one day of the year when they once again march united, and come to understand the power and hope of those words said for their fallen comrades through the trust of what awaited them because of the one man who defeated death that life become eternal:

The tumult and the shouting dies—
The Captains and the Kings depart—
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

Far-called our navies melt away—
On dune and headland sinks the fire—
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe—
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard—
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding calls not Thee to guard.
For frantic boast and foolish word,
Thy Mercy on Thy People, Lord!

As we celebrate Advent-the coming of our Lord Jesus, we again see our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ the Son of God look toward the broken, hungry, oppressed and lost people. And look toward us and ask that we bring before Him our needs and the needs of our world. Bring before Him our fears, and the fears of the people that all will see and know the hope that is He. Amen