Archive for the ‘After Easter’ Category

7th Sunday after Easter

Saturday, May 12th, 2018

John 17:14-18

I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.

The words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your eyes, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

            Who are you; an Australian; a cooker of good food; a child of your mother; mother to your children; a migrant; a man; a woman? Where do you find your identity? In your politics, ‘I’m a Liberals voter’; your work, ‘I’m a truckie’; your family, ‘I’m a mother/father’; your friends, ‘I’m the funny one’? Or do you primarily find your identity, who you are and what you are, in Jesus Christ, God’s Word?

            This reading is an excerpt from Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane just before He meets Judas and is arrested to be tried and crucified. The church tradition knows it as the High priestly prayer, in which Jesus, our High Priest, intercedes/speaks on our behalf to God our Father praising Him and asking for a number of things. Two things He asks for that we read are protection for His disciples and that they are made holy by and kept in the Word of God. Now Jesus is God, and He’s praying to God the Father, I think it’s safe to believe that what He prays for comes to reality; we have this assurance from Jesus that God always speaks truth (verse 17), and also we know this word held true for the disciples when they were rejected the world but ultimately protected from its lies. Jesus’ prayer is sure. God declares you saved and righteous in Jesus and He does strive to keep you from the devil.

            Also true is that you are not of this world. You are of Jesus and the Father (verse 9, 10). Christ Jesus is where we find our identity, where we learn who and what we are; sinners who have been saved. We no longer find our identity from this world, from our political or national affiliations, from our community ideals, from this world’s worldview, but from God. There is now no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, for you are all one in Christ; heirs of the promise (Galatians 3:28, 29b).  Heirs of the promise of eternal life in Christ, not heirs of the promise of Shorten or Turnbull, or the promise of ethnic nationalism, or multiculturalism, or capitalism, socialism, or any other promise of any other group of this world.

There is only one who has the power to save you from sin, death and the devil, to bring you ultimate love, peace and joy. That one is God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit: the only one who loves you and all people, and loves you completely (John 3:16, Romans 5:8, 1 John 4:9-10). He sent Jesus, His precious, only Son to die in your place so that you receive eternal life and freedom from evil. That is the promise, “whoever believes in Him will live forever” (John 3:16).

            What might this truth of God’s Word change in our lives? Who would we be if in everything we who claim Christ Jesus as Lord thought, spoke and acted with His words in mind, rather than the chattering of the voices in the world? How does God’s Word change you? “No one is righteous, no not even one”, “I forgive you all your sins”, “This is my body”, “This is my blood”, “Jesus came into the world to save sinners”, “Do not fear”, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (Psalm 14:3; Jeremiah 31:34; Mark 14:22-23; 1 Timothy 1:15; Deuteronomy 31:8; Matthew 5:10). Throughout your Christian life you have heard God’s Word, you have heard the truth, and you have learnt what God likes. You love God and so you try to do what pleases Him, He told us ‘Be holy for I am holy’ (1 Peter 1:16). This is our life that is not of the world.

            Unfortunately, sometimes, many times, we forget the Bible, God’s Word, we lose sight of our identity in Christ and we find again an identity in this world. We are still in the world, for Jesus has sent us just like He was sent. He has sent us with God’s Word to proclaim God’s Good News to all who do not know or understand it. And because we are still in the world we still struggle against it, we still struggle with temptation and sin. You dismiss who Christ tells you you are, and focus again to what the world tells you: it’s us against them and they’re evil (men/women; locals/foreigners; Labour/Liberal; black/white; or any other group and those outside); you are basically a god who can achieve anything, or even you deserve everything and everyone should love you because of who you are; or you belong nowhere, you deserve nothing and are worthless. Your gender defines you, or your sexuality, your political leanings, your skin, your family, your friends, your pay check. In this world I have heard all these things and more, many promise peace, wealth, joy, power, safety because of who you are. But look around, we don’t receive these; maybe some people for a little while but ultimately this world cannot ensure that we receive salvation from suffering. Only God can. But the world can ensure that we suffer because of who we are and sometimes that’s what it promises.

            And we are still in the world. We do still experience suffering because of who we are in the world. It is true that according to this world we live in I am a young man of European descent, good pay and scattered family and friends. These identities I have do influence how I live here, but Christ tells me and you that these are not our true identities, not the identity that He has given us. We find our identity In God’s Word. You are part of Christ’s body, you are in the Church His bride, you are adopted as His sons, you are one in Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 5:23, 25; Ephesians 1:5; Galatians 3:28). You are not of the world, now you’re made of different stuff through Christ and are keep protected and safe by God’s true Word.

That is who you are, a chosen nation, a royal priesthood, God’s people. The life of the Christian is different to the life of the world. We are sent, just as Jesus, to minister to the world and to bring the Word of God, the Good News to all people. This is not a completely safe task, because the sinful world hates this Word and us because we belong to Jesus. However, God the Father will protect us and the Holy Spirit guides us. Thanks be to God!

The peace of God which passes all our human understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now and always. Amen.

Chosen to bear fruit

Saturday, May 5th, 2018
Text: John 15:16
Jesus said, “You did not choose me, I chose you and appointed you to go and bear much fruit”.

Harry Lipsig, a New York lawyer, took on cases that others lawyers refused to touch. 

A woman was suing a drunken police officer who had struck and killed her 71-year-old husband with his patrol car. She argued that the city had deprived her of her husband’s future earnings potential as a psychiatrist. The lawyers for the police officer believed they had a water tight case against such a claim and argued that at the age of 71, the man had little earnings potential.

They thought they had a clever defence until they realized that this woman’s argument about her husband’s future earning power was being championed by a vigorous 87-year-old Harry Lipsig. His case rested on the argument that he was 87 and still practicing law and suggested that the psychiatrist, too, could have looked forward to many more years in the work force. Mr Lipsig’s client was awarded $1.25 million.

Facing some of the brightest minds in the legal profession, the 87 year old could have said but didn’t, “I can’t take on a case like this. I’m too old”. However, I’m sure all of us at some time have said, “I can’t do that.  What can I do?  I wouldn’t know what to do.”

For example, we learn that a close friend or relative has met with tragedy. Our immediate reaction to the news we have just heard is a desire to do something. We want to say something, do something, anything that will help.

But as we contemplate all this we start to ask ourselves, “What can I do?
I wouldn’t know what to say.
What if I say the wrong thing?
I might offend the person if I offer to help around the house.
I don’t know how to deal with overwhelming with grief.
I am only a housewife, a labourer, an accountant.
I am only a teenager, a farmer, a retiree.”

“I am only ….” are only 3 small words but have the power to stifle anything we consider too challenging or too demanding.

We hear those words spoken numerous times through the Scriptures and even if they aren’t spoken out loud we can assume that they were in the minds of those who questioned God’s command or even rejected it. When God told Jonah to call the people of Nineveh to repentance, I can well imagine Jonah saying as he boarded a ship to get away from God, “I can’t do this. It’s crazy. I am only …”

There are others who initially said, ‘I am only’ but then responded with obedience.

Take Jeremiah. No sooner had Jeremiah been told that he was chosen for a special job by God than the prophet-to-be blurts out, “I can’t. I don’t have the training. I am only a teenager.”
When God spoke to Moses at the burning bush, Moses tried to wriggle out of undertaking such a risky task and excuse himself from going to the Egyptian king by saying he wasn’t very good at making speeches, saying, “I am only a shepherd. I’m a nobody. How can I go to the king and bring the Israelites out of Egypt” (Exodus 3:11). 
Gideon was a farmer and God told him to lead an army to rid the land of an enemy. We can imagine him using those 3 words “I am only …” as he complained, “How can I save Israel? … I am the least in my family” (Judges 6:15).
When the angel spoke to Mary and told her she was about to bear a child, the Son of the Most High God, she too said, “How can I? I am only a young girl not even married yet.”

When God called Amos, an orchardist,
Andrew Peter, James and John, all fishermen,
Matthew, a tax collector,
Saul, a persecutor of the Christians,
one and all could have quite legitimately said, “I can’t do this! I am only a … farmer, a fisherman, a tax collector, an ordinary sort of person”.

When God chooses people for certain tasks and calls them to do what is seemingly dangerous and downright crazy, he knows what he’s doing. Even if the individual can only respond with ‘how can I do this’ and proposes all kinds of objections, God can see past our weaknesses and insecurities and see the real potential that exists within each of us.

When God came to young Jeremiah and said, ‘I am appointing you as a prophet to the nations’ we can understand why Jeremiah starts to object. Here is a teenager who is told to speak God’s Word of warning and judgement and repentance to people who would not take too kindly to this kind of message, especially from the mouth of a lad. But before Jeremiah and those like him can say anything else, God assures him that he will always be there to assist, rescue, support and strengthen his messengers, even in the worst of situations.
He says to Jeremiah, 
“Do not be afraid, for I will be with you to protect you. …. Listen, I am giving you the words you must speak”.

To Moses God said, “I will be with you”.
As Joshua takes over from Moses as leader of the Israelites, God says, “I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you”
As Jesus commands his disciples to preach and baptise people of all nations he says, 
“I will be with you always”

The words God uses here indicate his deep commitment to those he chooses in much the same way as the Bible describes the commitment between a husband and wife or the way God speaks of his commitment to the people of Israel.

Just as God came in his grace to Jeremiah, and called him to be his prophet, he has come to us. Through Jesus and his death and resurrection he has given us
a new identity as his chosen people and given us a new life.
Just as Jeremiah was given a new responsibility that day so also we have been given new responsibilities as his chosen people.
To be God’s voice to speak his Word of comfort and grace;
to be God’s ears to hear the cries of those who are hurting;
to be God’s hands to demonstrate God’s love through our care and love;
to be God’s feet to go and be his disciples in the every day matters of living in this world,
to be a witness to God’s love for all people in our neighbourhood, our community, in fact, the whole world.

It all sounds very nice to talk about Jeremiah and all the others and their call to be God’s messengers and seeing a parallel with God’s call to us to be his chosen people through holy Baptism. But when it comes down to it our response ends up no different to the biblical characters, “How can I do this. I am only …” and like Jeremiah, Moses and the others feel totally inadequate to carry out what God is asking us to do.

The words “I am only..” are words that deny the gifts God has given us to develop and use. “I am only …” is offered as a reason why we can’t do something. I don’t have what is needed to be on a congregational committee, or visit the sick, or talk to a neighbour about Jesus and the Church, or help in the worship service. I am only a farmer, a house wife, a retiree, a council worker.
Our fear of failure is nothing unusual. Our feeling of inadequacy is normal as we wonder how we will cope and what we will do. We would prefer that God leave us alone and ask someone else.

Like I said, it’s normal to feel afraid and inadequate and it’s just when we feel like this that we need to be reminded of God’s commitment to us.
It is God who chooses us to be his children and to actively be his disciple.
It is God who has promised those whom he has chosen that he will never leave them and will always be beside them to give guidance and help.
His commitment to us whom he has chosen as his people and given the task of using our gifts and skills to bless others is no different to the one he gave young Jeremiah, “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you”.

If God can overrule the objections of Jeremiah, and Gideon, and Moses and Peter, he can do that for us as well. God chooses us and appoints us to bear much fruit, to use Jesus’ words (John 15:16). We can be sure he won’t challenge us with anything for which he hasn’t equipped us. And we can be sure that he will help us in our times of hesitancy and lack of confidence. He will provide us with those who will help us be what he has chosen us to be.

I know that you and I will all too willingly shy away from challenges that are presented to us. It is part of our human nature to want to take an easier path and not to step out of where we feel comfortable. Be assured that our God who knows what we are capable of better than we know ourselves is the one challenging us to extend ourselves beyond what is comfortable and easy. And as we are reminded of this, let’s also remember Jesus own words, “You did not choose me, I chose you and appointed you to go and bear much fruit”.

Those are reassuring words – we have been chosen by our Lord and Saviour to carry on his work and as his chosen people he is not only ready to forgive us when we fail but also gives us the means of carrying out his work. No matter how inadequate we may feel, God has a marvellous way of using what we say and do to bring blessings to others.

When you hesitate and wonder what you could possibly say and do, remember you are God’s chosen people, made clean by the blood of Jesus and given a new life through his resurrection. He has chosen you, appointed you, will support you and provide you with the means and opportunities to bear much fruit.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

 

Love comes from God.

Saturday, April 28th, 2018

1 John 4:7-11, 20, 21

Beloved, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

We love because He first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And He has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

The words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your eyes, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

My beloved brothers and sisters, It seems we’ve been covering most of the first letter of John while I’ve been gone, three weeks ago we heard from the first chapter that God is light and He forgives your sins. Now we hear that oft quoted phrase, God is love. The Almighty Creator of the whole world, the one who has authority and power over all things even calamities (Isaiah 45:7), has revealed to us that He is love, here in His Word. That is a wonderful message, comforting and reassuring, and a very well known saying. But have you ever really thought about what that means? Does it mean we should just be nice and accepting of others? Or something much more?

But something that has bothered me before is the words that come before this statement, I’ll try and address these now because I love you and I want God’s Word to work on you and through you, also I’m sure some of you have questioned it too. How is it that everyone who loves is born of God? What does this mean for your friends and family who, though not in the Christian church, are ‘good’ people? They love their spouse, they care for their children and they try hard to make the world a better place for all. Does this verse seven mean that they will be saved because of their love? Of course, it doesn’t, but still…

I’ve thought on this a bit, and asked others in the past, and I can see two answers to this. One is a bit of a cop out, but true nevertheless. This message is meant for those already in the body of Christ, a letter to Christians, for you and me. It is not for those outside the church and it is not about you judging the love of another and so their salvation. John writes later that His reason for writing is that who believe in Jesus Christ may know that you have eternal life (1 John 5:13). And so it is instead a great comfort and can also be a little bit of a warning for you and me. The comfort in knowing that God loves you, is with you, saves you, bringing you life and taking away your filth; and a warning to you if your love is fake.

And that brings us to the other answer I see, which actually starts with a question immortalised in song, but. What is love? We all know we use the word differently in different times, the, ‘I love pizza, I love my dog and I love my girlfriend; but I’m not going to kiss my pizza goodnight, eat my dog or train my girlfriend to sit’. The Greeks were more fortunate or a bit smarter than us, they had four or so words for love in different contexts, brotherly love, erotic love, and here the word can be translated better unconditional love. But that’s all semantics, John, and God, are very kind in that in verse ten he writes, ‘This is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sin.’ That He sent His son to die for you. That’s a bit of an odd definition, but Paul helps shine some more of God’s light on the issue. Romans chapter 5(:6, 8, 10) Jesus died for you when you were still a sinner, when you still hated Him and were still Christ’s enemy. That is what you were when Jesus brought you to new life, when He paid for all your evil and reconciled you to God the Father. Even though you might hate Jesus, think Him the worst of liars, and try to kill Him, He brought you life and deep lasting peace, not just that, but He died to give it to you. That is love. That is God.

That is the great love He has shown us, He was willing to sacrifice for our benefit even when we were against Him. He gave the ultimate sacrifice of His own life, and also the life of His only Child (can you imagine?); to bring you from death to life and life never ending and to destroy and remove each and every one of your evil desires and failures now you are righteous in His eyes (John 3:16; Romans 6:4; 1 John 1:7-9), and He did this not when you loved Him but when you hated Him and called Him the worse hypocrite and deceiver.

Now my beloved brothers and sisters, because of God’s great love for you, because of the New life you have in Him and Him in you, because you have been born again and know God, because of these you show His love to others and love your siblings in the Faith. Indeed this is what we should do and what Christ Himself commanded, ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your mind and all your strength, and love your neighbour as yourself’, and ‘by this all men shall know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another’ (Matthew 22:36-40; John 13:35). So we should love each other, sharing the truth of God’s great love around. John here (1 John 4:8, 20) also writes that if you do not love you do not know God, you are not a Christian; that if you hate your brother in Christ you are not able to love Christ.

This being true, going back to my question, it should be easy to gauge who is a Christian and who is not; people who love unconditionally and completely are Christian and people who don’t are not. However, this is not the only way a Christian shows themselves, for someone who has rejected and still rejects Jesus Christ as Lord and God’s Son, they do not abide in God, or God in them, they are not followers of Christ (1 John 4:16, Romans 10:9).

But you who have been given the Holy Spirit in baptism live in God, and you who believe in the promises and action of Jesus God’s Son, which we can only do by the power of the Spirit, and confess Him as your Lord and saviour, as we do time and again in the creeds, God lives in you. Some here will have felt hatred towards others at sometime in their lives, or just refused to show love to others, remember how much, how great God’s love is for you, how much He has forgiven you, how much He gave for you to have life everlasting. This is love and this is The Truth, that the Almighty Creator of all gave the ultimate sacrifice for your sake, when you were the least worthy and entirely against Him, He did this to bring you the greatest gift, of purity, of peace, of joy, of hope, of life eternal, of Love. God is love and He loves you.

In this knowledge may His peace which surpasses all our understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus now and forever. Amen.

The Good Shepherd

Saturday, April 21st, 2018

Sermon for Easter 4 (Good Shepherd)
Bible reading: John 10:11

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. Today our Lord Jesus shows us a most precious illustration of how God relates to his people. He comes to us as a shepherd, to gather us together, to defend us from all harm, to put his life on the line for us. Here at Bethlehem, we have this fabulous stained-glass window portraying Jesus the Good Shepherd – it really is a sermon in visual form.

Many of us remember the parable of the lost sheep from childhood – a passage closely related to our gospel. And after lunch today, go and dig up your old Baptism or Confirmation certificates – I bet many of you will find an illustration of Jesus caring for little lambs and children there.

The bible mentions shepherds in a number of places; way back even in Old Testament times. Adam and Eve had two sons initially, and one was a shepherd.

Many years later Moses saw the vision of the burning bush. What was he doing at that time? He was tending his father-in-law’s sheep. Yes, Moses was a shepherd about to embark on a much more challenging task. With staff in hand he would shepherd the people of Israel out of slavery to the safety of the Promised Land.

David was a shepherd before he became King of Israel. He who wrote that most treasured of Psalms, The Lord is my Shepherd, knew the life of the shepherd: protecting the sheep from predators and thieves; leading them to where the best pasture grew and finding water for them to drink in the arid countryside of Israel. Like Moses, he eventually defended God’s people at a time of great political instability in the region.

Later on Israel had other leaders – priests and kings who were supposed to be shepherds over Israel, seeing to people’s spiritual and physical wellbeing. Sadly they neglected the people’s needs. The corrupt ones frequently took advantage of the weak for their own gain. Through the prophets God condemned these false shepherds and promised to step in himself to shepherd the sheep of Israel.

… he came to save the whole world. That’s why he is indeed the GoodShepherd.

In time Jesus came to do just that: God born as a human being to gather and save the vulnerable people of Israel – an event, incidentally, announced to shepherds on the first Christmas. And his concern was not just restricted to Israel; he came to save the whole world. That’s why he is indeed the Good Shepherd.

If we are to make one conclusion from today’s reading it is surely how much God loves his people.

We often hear that message: God loves you so much. But it doesn’t seem to have much of an impact on people’s lives. People are tired and indifferent to this most basic message of the church. And yet we are still convinced that this little sentence is the best message ever. We do whatever we can to share it effectively through a variety of media. It’s like green grass to a hungry flock, or clear water on a hot day.

Why then, has it come to be so impotent in its effect? Why has something so nourishing for the human soul become so insipid to many?

Basically it’s because people know little about the quality of this love. We can tell the world about the enormity of God’s love until we are blue in the face. Until they understand the human predicament, and the quality of God’s love for the world, the message falls on deaf ears.

In John 10, Jesus shows us the unmatched quality of God’s love in such simple terms even little children can grasp it – “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” That’s God’s love in a nutshell.

You see, the Good Shepherd is not in it for money. In fact it cost him everything – even his very life. Neither did he come down from heaven to the dangerous valley of this world under compulsion. He came willingly.

No-one takes [my life] from me, says Jesus. I lay it down on my own accord. I have power to lay it down and I have power to take it up again.

He didn’t follow the lure of popularity or prestige. He lost friends for speaking the truth. He even battled Satan and the forces of evil while in the fragile frame of human flesh. Who else could stand such an array of attacks for the sake of love? Jesus shepherds us not because we deserve it, for we all, like sheep, have gone astray. The world is either hostile or apathetic towards God’s extending arms of love.

Our hostility and apathy is the reason why we become lost, lonely, or tangled in the thorns of our sins, which separates us from the love of God.

When we follow our own impulses we consequently find ourselves in shadowy valleys of trouble: off side with our parents; in trouble with the police or the law; ostracized by those we had hoped would be our friends; caught in the brambles of addiction or self-hate; pestered by doubts – frightened at the uncertain and ever darkening future.

In love, Jesus came to gather a scattered humanity back from such a situation, and return people to God.

The King of Love my Shepherd is, whose goodness faileth never.
I nothing lack if I am his, and he is mine forever.

So do you ever doubt that you are among God’s elect, one of his dear sheep? Read the words of the Good Shepherd again, and hear with assurance that Jesus has gathered you into his flock. Nothing can his power withstand. None can pluck you from his hand.

Or do you think you are here because of a decision you made for Christ? The readings today dispel the proud delusion that thinks being a Christian is all about our devotion to God. It’s not. It’s clearly about his devotion to us.

In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 
—1 John

And for those of you who imagine God as distant, aloof, static, silent, watching and waiting to see what you will do, the Good Shepherd shows that he is right here in the thick of things with us. He gets his hands dirty and risks his wellbeing coming after us.

Jesus seeks us out. He wanders with tireless determination over hill and plain, through hazardous terrain to find us, to gather and protect us. He stood in the breach when death closed in like a pack of wolves, and he took the punishment for our wayward folly.

That is the meaning of God’s love friends. And David’s Psalm, which was written long ago, makes so much more sense in the light of Jesus’ words:

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

Here, we not only acknowledge God’s providence for our daily needs, but we also trust him to lead us in right paths of living as he calls us to follow his voice and no other.

The life-giving water of baptism has become a clear and refreshing pool of goodness and mercy to refresh us all the days of our life.

Even the darkest valley of death cannot harm us. Easter has made sure of that!

Our Lord’s words, his vicarious suffering and death, these are his comforting rod and staff.

So safe are we in his presence, we can feast before our enemies – gathering together as onechurch, one flock under one Shepherd as we share in the one bread and one cup together in the Lord’s Supper. Sweet fellowship divine!

But what has taken place in our hearts to open our ears, to bring us to an appreciation of this good news? Did someone say to us, ‘Hey, you’d better hop to it and get in line, the shepherd’s coming’? No. A harsh shepherd would only drive us further from God. A harsh shepherd would be more in line with the false shepherds who have harassed God’s people from ancient times.

Rather it is the tender nature of this shepherd that wins us. He is strong, but he uses his strength for us, not against us. He has trained our ears by the Holy Spirit to hear and recognise and love his voice.

We want nothing more than to be near this one who is full of grace and truth – like those sheep in Bethlehem’s stained-glass window. We live in an age when people are searching for spirituality. There is no higher spirituality than to believe the Gospel. The gospel makes us want to follow the Good Shepherd all the days of our life – to cherish and emulate his great love for us.

… people will notice God’s unique love at work in your lives and be drawn to the Good Shepherd

And others will see that: Others who are strays; or those who have never known Jesus Christ but are beginning to hear his voice bit by bit. Today people are searching for love and community. It can’t be found in hours spent glued to cell phones or chat rooms; or in front of the mirror after a gym workout; or fantasizing in cyberspace about power or pleasure; or in any other soul-destroying pass time.

But people will notice God’s unique love at work in your lives and be drawn to the Good Shepherd. They will come to hear with willing ears the gospel through the church, providing the church continues to tell it. They will gladly part company with the pervasive brambles of individualism and consumerism in exchange for the safe arms of the Good Shepherd, and the joyful community of his everlasting flock. Amen.

Pastor Simon Cooper

Like Him

Saturday, April 14th, 2018

Each year we celebrated ANZAC Day – the occasion when we remember those who gave their lives in war and express our thanks to those who went to war and survived.

We have heard on our news in recent times that a mass grave has been discovered in the north east of France near the place where the Battle of Fromelles was fought in July 1916. This was the first action that Australian troops saw on the Western Front in Europe. The attack was foolish, badly planned with the enemy in a superior position. The troops had to cross a wide ‘no-man’s land’ in broad daylight. One survivor wrote, “The air was thick with bullets, swishing in a flat, crisscrossed lattice of death. Hundreds were mown down in the flicker of an eyelid”. Over five and a half thousand soldiers were killed in just one day. One hundred and ninety-one were hurriedly buried by the enemy and it is this grave that is about to be opened, the remains of those soldiers identified and reburied in a new memorial cemetery.

The lives of these men were brought to a violent end in a stupid and foolish battle that was a complete defeat for the Australian and British troops. Why is so much effort being put into the exhumation and reburial of those who died so long ago? This is not an easy or inexpensive task. Why do we need to honour what is left of these men, treat those remains with so much dignity and show respect?

We could answer saying that these men gave their lives in the service of their country and deserve this kind of dignity. No one would argue with that.
What is more, this will certainly bring closure for some families who have wondered all these years where their loved one is buried.
The fact remains, however, that retrieving these remains won’t bring the person back. These remains are all that’s left of a life.

Whatever our religious convictions may be deep inside we know that our body is special and so we treat it in a special way even after it has died. When we attend a funeral we give honour and respect to the body, or what’s left of it (as in the case of those soldiers), and treat it with dignity.

Our bodies are miracles. In fact, the body we have was designed and created by God, and carries the mark of his genius. Just think of what our body can do, how complex and balanced, how strong and yet how capable of fine control.
Think about the brain and everything that it does and controls without any effort on our part.
Think about our eyes, ears, heart and lungs that are all so complex and amazing and do such marvellous things and we hardly give them a thought as we go about our daily tasks.
When one part is injured in some way, the body has its own repair mechanism. Our bodies are more than the result of an evolutionary process and are so wonderful and amazing that it’s not hard to believe that we are what we are because the hand of God the Creator made us.

The Bible sees human beings as one of God’s miracles. We are body, soul, mind, spirit, personality, DNA, flesh and bone, all wonderfully and mysteriously integrated and knit together, working in complex harmony. Think of a smile. You can’t separate the different components of a smile and if you were able then it would no longer be a smile. Muscle and bone and spirit and mind and personality all combine in one of the most powerful yet subtle things we can ever experience – a smile.

The psalmist wrote this to express how wonderfully made our bodies are, “You created every part of me; you put me together in my mother’s womb. When my bones were being formed, carefully put together in my mother’s womb, when I was growing there in secret, you knew that I was there— you saw me before I was born” (Psalm 139 13,15-16).

God made Adam and Eve with his own hands and intended them to live forever in happiness and harmony with God and the world in which he placed them. As we know that all changed when sin entered the world and our bodies became infected with all kinds of sickness and the process of aging began. However, even though we are marred and disfigured by sin, this doesn’t diminish the uniqueness of our bodies one bit.

God didn’t put us in this world simply to grow old, wear out and die. He made us to live forever. And in faith, we say as we confess what we believe – ‘I believe in the resurrection of the body’ – yes, my body will live forever.

Today we hear, as we have heard since Easter Day, how Jesus appears to his disciples in his resurrection body. To say the least the disciples were terrified. When someone is dead they stay dead. And so Jesus went to lot of effort to show them that he is not a ghost or a spirit or figment of their imagination but the flesh-and-blood Jesus they have known when they walked and talked together as they travelled around Galilee. This is the same Jesus who has real skin; skin that now bears scars from nails and a spear and who eats and drinks in the same way he did when he ate with Zaccheus or with the disciples at the last supper. He says, ‘Look at my hands and my feet and see who I am! Touch me and find out for yourselves. It’s me Jesus’.

The New Testament tells us that our resurrection too (following the pattern set by Jesus) will be a resurrection of the body. In today’s second reading, John says that when Jesus is revealed at the last day ‘we will be like him’ (John 3:2b).

There are some popular ideas about what happens to us after death that are so wrong.
One that raises its head every so often is the idea of reincarnation, that is, after we die we come back in another life. There are even some Christians who have expressed this idea to me. There is nothing to suggest in the Bible that we come back to live another life on this earth again. In fact, I don’t find this a particularly attractive idea compared to the joy of heaven.
Neither does the Bible talk about the dead hanging around as ghosts, or spirits, or forces or whatever.
Neither does the Bible say that we become angels when we die.

What the Bible does say is that the body that is capable of so many wonderful things is a creation of God and that through Jesus’ death and resurrection we are redeemed body and soul. That means that eternal life involves our bodies. This teaching about the resurrection of the body is something unique to the Christian faith.

You see, when Jesus died on the cross and rose again from the dead he didn’t do all this to save just our souls. He gave his body on the cross to save us in our totality. He has made us, body and soul, holy and right with God. We believe that this weak clay pot of a body will one day be transformed into the likeness of the perfect and eternal Son of God himself, nothing less. Yes, we will be like him.

Paul tells us that, like Jesus, our old body that is now so riddled with faults and weaknesses will be made new and perfect and eternal and beautiful and healthy and strong in every way. I’m not just talking about the physical side of our bodies which on this earth suffer from all kinds of ailments but also our personality, our character flaws, our selfishness and all the dark blots that spoil and hold us back, that trip us up here in this life where sin still hangs on to us.

Our will and our minds will be made new. We will know God’s will perfectly and so be in complete harmony with God and with everyone else. All these things will be made new and beautiful and we will be finally what God has always wanted us to be. We will be the beautiful and lovely person that God has always known we would one day become. In fact, that’s not to say that God doesn’t love us now. In Christ, we have already been new and clean because of the blood of Jesus, but while in this life we will always have to deal with sin and sickness and aging.

Paul uses the illustration of a seed that is planted in the ground but rises from the ground as a lush green plant with heads of grain. When you look at a daffodil bulb there is nothing attractive about it. Wrinkly, dry, brown, so ugly but when it is planted and rises from the ground there are green leaves and on the tall, straight stems are the most beautiful flowers. Listen to what the apostle says, This is how it will be when the dead are raised to life. When the body is buried, it is mortal; when raised, it will be immortal. When buried, it is ugly and weak; when raised, it will be beautiful and strong” (1 Cor 15:42-43).

This is great encouragement and comfort for us as we struggle with aging and illness.
These bodies that wear out in a few short years and leave us creaking and groaning with pain and losing our mobility are headed for complete and radical renewal. No arthritis, no heart problems or diabetes or cancer or Alzheimer’s disease.
No fear of that day when one of these will finally catch up with us and we die.

What a great encouragement and comfort all this is when we must sit at a deathbed or attend the funerals of family and friends.
In Christ and only in Christ is there the hope that beyond death there awaits a new life, a new body and a new home for all those who trust in Jesus as their saviour.

One day all of us will go through the dark valley of death.
We don’t know what our bodies will go through along the way.
We don’t know when this will happen.
We don’t have a precise description of what our new bodies will be like. After all how can you describe something out of this world with worldly words?
But what we do know is that when Jesus is revealed, we will be like him.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

 

Seeing And believing.

Saturday, April 7th, 2018
Text: John 20:24-25
One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (called the Twin), was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
Thomas said to them, “Unless I see the scars of the nails in his hands and put my finger on those scars and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

Harriet, the town gossip, knew everything about everybody.  People didn’t like the way she talked about everybody behind their backs, but they were afraid to say anything because they knew they would be her next topic of gossip.
But Harriet made a mistake, when she saw George’s ute parked all afternoon in front of the town’s only bar. She commented to George and others in no uncertain manner that since it was parked there so long everyone knew that he was an alcoholic.
George, a man of few words, stared at her for a moment and then just walked away.  He said nothing.  Later that evening, George quietly parked his ute in front of Harriet’s house and left it there all night.

Seeing is believing.  Harriet believed that and would jump to all kinds of wild conclusions from what she saw.  Thomas, Jesus’ disciple, thought the disciples had done the same – seen something and jumped to some wild conclusions.

Put yourself in Thomas’ shoes for a minute.  After someone whom you have loved dearly has died, you were there when this happened, and then some other friends come to you and say, “You know so and so who died yesterday, well we have seen him.  He is alive.  Isn’t that exciting?”

If someone said that to you, how would you react?  Would you join them in their excitement or perhaps say, “That’s nice”, but think that the person has become a bit delusional, perhaps too much stress that comes with grief.

The Gospel writer John recalls the time when the disciples told Thomas how seeing the wounds in Jesus’ hands and in his side convinced them that Jesus was really alive again.  Excitedly they told Thomas that there was no doubt about it – the crucified, dead and buried Jesus is alive.

But Thomas can’t believe what he was being told.  Jesus was dead.  He had seen this with his own eyes.  It isn’t logical – when you’re dead, you stay dead.  This defies all human reason.

Thomas doesn’t want wishful thinking; he doesn’t want to believe something that will turn out to be just the wild imagination of some over-stressed friends.

Grief can do some strange things to people’s minds and so Thomas is adamant, “Unless I see the scars of the nails in his hands and put my finger on those scars and my hand in his side, I will not believe”. 
“I want to believe what you guys have seen, but I need proof.  I won’t believe it’s true until I see the scars in his hands and his side for myself.”

Let’s give credit where credit is due.  Thomas doesn’t dismiss the possibility that the disciples had seen Jesus.  He could have said, “You’re all mad.  I don’t want to hear another word of this nonsense.”

Thomas wants to be convinced.  He wants proof that what the disciples had witnessed was true and real and not just some trick.

Let’s think about this for a moment.  There are times when our faith in God is strengthened and we become convinced more than ever before of God’s presence because we have seen the hand of God at work in our lives.
Perhaps you have had a prayer answered in an amazing way.
Or you have experienced a healing – someone has had a wonderful recovery from a serious illness that could have taken their life or left them with a serious disability.
A family member whom you have encouraged in their Christian faith suddenly opens their heart to the saving news of the gospel and become involved in the church.
Some of you have had amazing experiences of the closeness of God at a time when you were feeling lonely, or sick, or grieving.
At times like this, we are convinced that God is real and that his love and care for us could never be doubted.  We have experienced his love and power close at hand.

But there are also times when our experiences cause us to wonder, even doubt, whether God knows us at all.
We struggle to find the love of God when a child, who is just starting out in life, meets a tragic death.
Someone who is loved and very much needed in a family is struck down with a terrible disease.

We lose our jobs; we are broke; our marriage breaks up, a child causes us terrible stress.  How many people have prayed for healing but nothing happens.

Thomas had experienced Jesus’ crucifixion, death and burial; he had become confused about who Jesus was.
Like any of us in the face of a senseless tragedy (as Jesus’ death was) Thomas’ experience of the closeness of God was at an all-time low.
Like any of us, most likely he too was asking, “Where was God when all this was happening?”  Even when the disciples told him that Jesus had risen from the dead, he still would not believe until he had experienced this for himself.

Can you see that there is a bit of Thomas in all of us?  The strength or weakness of our faith often depends on our experiences, – on the evidence which convinces us that God is real and that he loves us, or on the other hand, our experience tells us that God is distant and doesn’t care.  We like to have positive experiences of God in our lives.  We like it when our faith is bolstered by the clear evidence of the power of God at work in our lives.  Thomas needed to experience it, to see with his own eyes the scars of the nails and feel the wound in Jesus’ side.

I believe that’s the way God made us to be – practical, down-to-earth people who rely on the experiences of this life.  God has given us feelings and emotions and these feelings and emotions often determine how we experience the presence or absence of God in our lives.
We have learnt at Sunday School, confirmation classes and Bible studies all the facts about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
Maybe you have learnt Bible verses off by heart, and can quickly find the promises of God in the scriptures – this is the foundation of our faith.  This kind of head knowledge is good but if it doesn’t have an impact on our daily lives, then of what use is it?

Our experience of God is extremely helpful in our relationship with God.  It’s good to experience a prayer that has been answered in the way we had prayed.
It’s good to be certain of the presence and power of God at work when we are recovering from sickness, or getting over a tragedy.  God gives us these experiences to show us that he does what he promises.

The experience of the disciples that day when they saw the risen Jesus must have been amazing and their faith and trust in Jesus rose to new heights.

When Thomas didn’t have that same experience and he was still left sad and depressed, Jesus could have taken the attitude, “Well, Thomas, you have the word of the disciples that should be enough.”  But Jesus isn’t like that.  He doesn’t ridicule Thomas for wanting to experience firsthand the resurrected Jesus.  He invites Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands; then reach out your hand and put it in my side. Stop your doubting, and believe!”  He goes out of his way for this one man and lets him experience the resurrection first hand.  Jesus provides this experience to reassure the troubled and doubting Thomas that the disciples were speaking the truth.  Thomas believes and exclaims, “My Lord and my God!”

This incident tells us clearly that seeing, touching, experiencing God in dramatic ways strengthens our faith, confirms our understanding of God, reassures us of the power and love of God but is not the basis of our faith.  If our faith in God rested only on our experiences then our faith would yoyo up and down every day, depending on whether our experiences were good or bad.  If we depended on our experiences of God to prove his love for us, then what would we do when the only evidence we see is sadness, tragedy and death.

You see, there comes a time when we have faith in God in spite of the circumstances we are experiencing.  Even when there is no immediate proof from your experience that God is powerful and that he loves you, you continue to trust in him.  We believe even though we can’t see it.  Faith keeps on trusting in spite of the fact that we can no longer see God’s hand at work.  Faith keeps on believing that God is faithful to his promises.

In spite of being jailed and his life threatened, Paul continued to trust God.
In spite of being imprisoned in 1943 for his political and Christian opposition to the Nazi regime, Dietrich Bonhoeffer continued to trust God.  He became pastor to fellow prisoners, spoke about God’s love and prayed with them.

Mother Teresa continued to help the poor and dying of Calcutta.  All she saw, day in and day out, was human misery.  She never lost sight of the loving God.
A mother continues to trust God even though her two small children were killed in a car accident.
A man continues to pray to God even though his body is filled with disease and daily struggles with pain.  He says, “God knows what he is doing”.

There comes a time when we believe even though there’s no immediate, obvious evidence that God is nearby.  We believe even though we can’t see.  That’s what Jesus was getting at when he said, “How happy are those who believe without seeing me!”  Faith in the New Testament is just this – trusting and relying on God even when our experience of God barely exists.  This is where Thomas came unstuck.  He should have believed that Jesus would rise again because Jesus had said he would.  In fact, all the disciples should have believed this in spite of what they had experienced.

Faith has to do with relying on a promise, trusting a word, holding on to what we know about God and believing that, regardless of what happens.

Faith believes that God is true to his word.  He never deserts us.  His love always burns strongly for us.  Even when the circumstances in our life might tempt us to think otherwise, faith holds on to believing that God knows what he is doing.

Jesus came to Thomas with understanding and compassion.  He helped Thomas in his faith, just as he helps us when we begin to wonder about God’s genuineness. He has given us the Holy Spirit to help us when our faith wavers. He helps us trust God’s promises even though our experience tells us otherwise.

From time to time, we are actually allowed to see him touch our lives and feel his presence; other times we rely on our experience of God from the past.
That’s okay but there will also be times when we rely solely on God’s Word of promise.  He said that he would always be our helper and strength, and we need to simply rely on the promise.

Jesus says to us as he said to Thomas, “Do you believe because you see me?  How happy are those who believe without seeing me!”

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

Living lovingly in a world of hate

Sunday, May 28th, 2017

Bible reading: John 17

I love you sweetheart… you are so beautiful… I can’t wait to be back with you… I’ve nearly finished the assignment here… I’ve been telling everybody how wonderful you are … It’ll be so good not to have to be parted… to hold each other… not to let go… to dance together as close as possible… I love you so much… I love you too.

It’s kind of embarrassing to walk in on a telephone conversation between lovers. That’s like what we’re doing here in John chapter 17. Jesus is speaking to his Father, whom he left to come to earth to be with us and love us and give his life for us, but now he is about to return to the Father he loves.

He speaks of the work he has completed. He speaks of the love the Father and Son share. He speaks of glorifying one another, that is doing what pleases each other, and therefore puts the other in the best light. Jesus only did what honoured his loving Father. He’s had to suffer for that. He will have to die for that. But you do that for the person you love the most. Jesus suffers and dies and shows how much God loves us all. Jesus knows his Father will honour him again in heaven.

It’s kind of embarrassing walking in on somebody praying to the God they know and love, like we see here. This prayer shows us a lot about the deeply loving relationship between Jesus and the Father. God is love, and here we see this amazing love of God as it beats eternally between the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. As we see Jesus praying we see the eternal dance of love in action. Here we see the Trinity working together bringing honour to one another by reaching out to give eternal life to people.

Jesus wants us to eavesdrop on his relationship with the Father, so we can learn how to relate to one another.

Don’t be embarrassed to walk in on Jesus praying. Watch him and learn from him. Listen to him as he prays in the Garden before his death, before his resurrection and Ascension to his loving Father. Learn all you can about this unity between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Learn all you can about this divine love. Listen to every word Jesus speaks through his entire ministry for he says: “whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.” Watch everything Jesus does for he says: “whatever the Father does, the Son also does.”

Why is it so important to listen to Jesus praying to his Father and speaking his word, and watch him doing his Father’s work? Because Jesus says the way the Father, Son and Spirit live in love and harmony is the way we are to live. His prayer for us is: “that they may be one, as we are one.” Jesus wants us to eavesdrop on his relationship with the Father, so we can learn how to relate to one another.

There are two pitfalls here. The first is that we think unity is something we have to do by trying harder to love one another, or being ecumenical. Unity is a gift God gives us when we are joined to Christ in Baptism. In baptism we are united with Christ in the one holy catholic and apostolic church. That is God’s gift of love to us. We can’t always see it, but because God gives it to us by grace in Christ, we believe it is so. “Whoever has the Son, has life.”

The second pitfall is that we think we have to maintain this unity by our own efforts – try harder to love people even though you really can’t stand them. Jesus’ prayer points us to the work of the Father for us.

Sixteen times in this chapter Jesus prays the words so that. That means he is speaking about outcomes, results he desires to see in us. Each time Jesus says what he or the Father will do so that the good results will flow into our lives. Listen to his prayer:

Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.

This is another way of praying that we will all know and love God so much, and be so thankful to him for all he has done for us in Jesus, that we will always go to him in prayer, and find strength to love one another, even at times when we are under attack.

The wolf attacks the sheep and scatters them. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep, and they follow him, and no one can snatch them out of his hand.

As spokes of a wheel are attached to the axle, so we are attached to Jesus Christ and the Father, and through that we are kept safe and loved in a world of hatred.

All pastors of the District have attended the Ambassadors of Reconciliation conference these past weeks. There we have seen how the wolf leads to disunity in the church and breaks relationships and scatters Christians and destroys the church. We Christians are all sinners and like our first parents fall out with one another.

Where do we go when relationships break down? Too often we turn on one another in anger, and we turn to a lawyer for help … Jesus rather calls us to turn to God in prayer

Where do we go when relationships break down? Too often we turn on one another in anger, and we turn to a lawyer for help. The result most often is that relationships are severed, the people of God are hamstrung, the church of God is ridiculed by the world, and its witness to Jesus is torpedoed. Is this the way of God, revealed in Jesus’ prayer?

Jesus rather calls us to turn to God in prayer, and in the strength of God, to turn to one another in love and forgiveness. Jesus had done no sin, yet he allowed himself to be led to the cross to die for our sins, so that we might be forgiven and reconciled to God and to one another. This is the Triune love that the Spirit of God pours into our hearts, so that we love one another, live in unity, and bring glory to God. This is the truth that Jesus dedicated himself to for our sake so that we may be dedicated or sanctified in truth.

There’s a final so that. Jesus prays for his church to be united in love like God:

So that the world may believe that you have sent me… so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me… As the Father has sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.

Can you see the pattern God has in his love for the world?

God so loved the world he sent his only Son to love the world and die for its sins on the cross, so all who believe in him will have eternal life.

Then God takes all who believe in him and are saved and united in love to go into the world and live this new life of love, in the midst of all the broken relationships and hatred and litigation and apathy… “so that world may see, and know and believe” that through Jesus Christ there is a way to be saved, and in the church there is a new community of love and forgiveness, and there is a heavenly home, where we can all be with God and see his glory forever.

Don’t be embarrassed to see and hear the Triune God at love. Let God love you into loving, “so that the world may see and know and believe, and God be glorified.” Amen.

Pastor David Christian

The Four B Club

Saturday, May 13th, 2017

A congregation has a group for elderly people. It meets in the church hall every fortnight and is well attended. It was a great time of fellowship and encouraging one another. It was called the Four-B Club. A newcomer to the group asked why it was called the Four-B Club. The answer was simple: The four Bs stand for Baldness, Bifocals, Bunions, and Bulge.

Growing older is something that affects every person on this planet, from the tiniest baby to the oldest person. Some of you are a long way from being a senior member of our society, but time will go fast and next thing you too will be wondering where the years have gone. We are all heading for the Four-B Club, that’s, if we are not there already. God created time when he created day and night, the seasons and the years. God created the days and years and said that it was very good.

But this good creation of God was affected when sin came into the world through the disobedience of the first man and woman. The passing of time began to have a negative effect on God’s creation. People and all things in this world began to show the signs of age. Time has been ticking away and everything you can see and feel and touch has been getting older. The process of aging that we are all familiar with changes people, animals and plants to the point that they became weak and eventually died.

In Psalm 90 the writer compares the shortness of human life to God who is from everlasting to everlasting. He says, “Seventy years is all we have— eighty years, if we are strong; yet all they bring us is trouble and sorrow; life is soon over, and we are gone” (Psalm 90:10). Then the psalmist is quick to explain why our life is so short. It’s because of sin. Death is God’s judgement on sin and the brevity of our life has been brought about because of our rebellion against God.

The effect that time has on people is really obvious to us when we meet up with a family we haven’t seen for some time. We can hardly believe our eyes at the changes that have occurred. The children are all so grown up, the parents have aged and perhaps put on a little weight, their hair is a little greyer, or they have changed because of sickness or some other distressing time. Others say the same about us. As the saying goes, “Time doesn’t stand still for anyone”; we are all getting older.

As we journey through life there are significant moments that remind us that with age come changes in our lifestyles. We realise that a certain part of our life is gone, never to be recaptured or relived.
For instance, the day you completed your schooling may have been a day of rejoicing on the one hand, but on the other, it marked the end of a part of your life that will never be repeated.
What about the day your last child leaves home and you wonder where all the years have gone.
Or what about the day you retired realising that what you had done over so many years was now finished.
There are those defining moments when we realise that things will be different from now on. The passing of time has seen to that.

What can we do about this? Some people over the years have searched for the ‘fountain of youth’ or something similar that will wind back the clock and give them extended youthfulness. Some try to slow down the aging process with face-lifts, pills and potions that will give them a fresh face look. In our youth-oriented culture people have a fear of looking old.

The Greeks called the fear of old age ‘geraphobia’. Those who have geraphobia want to live longer and never grow old. In fact some people are highly insulted if reference is made to how old they are. To some degree we all suffer from geraphobia. We fear that one day we might end up in a nursing home, unable to feed ourselves or control our bodily functions, not able to remember anything and maybe not even recognise our family when they come to visit.

When the fear of growing old grips our hearts or we see what getting older is doing to our bodies, or we see what age is doing to those whom we love, how do we handle this? How can we see our aging in a positive way and growing older as something meaningful and acceptable?

Let me start in this way. If you visit the southern states during winter you would find that most of the trees lose their leaves and their branches are completely bare. If you didn’t know any better you would say they were dead. From the ground to the upper most branches there is not a green leaf in sight. But we know that the trees are not dead. You may not be able to see the life in the tree, but it is there, and that’s what is important. Without that life, the tree really would be only a piece of dead wood.

Our lives can be compared to the trees as they go through the seasons. As time goes on, just as the trees lose their beauty and look dead, so too it happens with us. Time marches on with us, the things we were once able to do become more difficult, events and people become memories, and as we approach the autumn of our lives we realise that a large part of our life is over.

But behind the dead looking limbs and branches there is still life, waiting to burst out in fresh, green life. We know that the resurrected Jesus has won for us eternal life with him in heaven. Time may be marching on for us now and we can’t do anything about it, and as much as we would like it to stop so that we can accomplish all that we would like to in the years we have left, we have the assurance that our dying is not the end of us, but the beginning of a glorious new spring.

We heard Jesus say to the disciples in today’s Gospel reading, “Do not be worried and upset. Believe in God and believe also in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s house, and I am going to prepare a place for you” (John 14:1,2). Jesus is reminding us that even though we will go through the autumn and winter of our lives that doesn’t mean the end. There awaits all those who believe in Jesus as the way, the truth and the life a glorious spring where there is new life and new beginnings and a new home where there will be no such things as aging, the aches and pains that aging brings, or dying.

Though the writer of Psalm 90 is well aware of how his years are passing away and that nothing can recapture the years that have passed, nevertheless he is not pessimistic about life. He is not all doom and gloom when it comes to growing old. His confidence is in God. As he says at the very beginning of the psalm: Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

Because God is eternal and gracious, because he will always be there and will always be our loving God, life has an enduring and lasting quality about it. The years may be passing away, but beyond this life and in spite of the grave, there is life through Jesus our Saviour.

As we wait for the day when we are called from this life to that glorious new spring, God promises, “I am your God and will take care of you until you are old and your hair is gray. I made you and will care for you; I will give you help and rescue you” (Isaiah 46:4). He states that his love for us will never fail and he is always ready to help us deal with all that growing older brings. We may not know what the future may bring but we do know that his promise stands, “I made you and I will take care of you even when you are old and your hair is gray”.

You see the Bible always looks at life in the context of God’s relationship with us. This applies to every stage of life including that time when we notice the changes that aging is bringing into our lives. Even if we do end up in a nursing home with our minds and bodies failing, God’s promise still stands. We can still rely on him to be our strength and help even when we are the frailest and even when our memory fails or our speech falters. He still promises, “I will give you help and rescue you”.

One of the problems of this world is that people no longer see their lives in a relationship with God. They have broken away from God. All too often life is seen as a once only cycle. We are born, we live, we grow old, and we die. And that’s it. Once you have reached the autumn years of your life, and approaching the lifeless winter, that’s all that can be expected from life. There are many people who face the passing years with a kind of hopelessness, a sense of purposelessness and aimlessness.

But when we view our life from God’s perspective we get a whole new outlook. Jesus wants nothing but happiness for us and has gone to extreme lengths to make sure that we are happy now and forever in eternity. He assures us that he is with us always and that when the time comes for us to leave this life he wants us to be in the place where he is – that is in heaven. And as we move toward the end of our earthly life he reminds us that he is our everlasting God who provides us with help and comfort as we face all the fears and worries that growing older brings. He provides us with the reason for wanting to make the most of the time we have in this life, enjoying life, and serving and helping others in the way that only those can who have experienced the passing of the years.

Whether we are talking about getting our first job, or taking up new studies or an apprenticeship as a young worker, the responsibilities of being parents and the anxieties this brings as you watch your children grow from babies to young adults, or your own lapses of memory, failing strength, the wrinkles that worry you, your concern over your middle age spread, all are signs that we are all getting older, that we are passing from one season to the next.

One day baldness, bifocals, bunions, and bulge will become characteristic of people in your age group. When that day comes let’s greet it with a song of praise on our lips rather than moans and groans.
We have a God who is faithful to his promises and will take care of us and help us even when our hair is gray.
We thank God that he sees wrinkles and unsteady steps as something beautiful.
We praise God that the winter of our life will give way to the glorious new spring of eternity.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

 

Do sheep have free will?

Saturday, May 6th, 2017

   “Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognise a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.

Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.[a] They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

 

On Good Shepherd Sunday, I ask one of the philosophical questions of the ages that have stumped many:  Do sheep have free will?  We usually understand “free” as in “free will” meaning free to do anything one wants.

Then yes, sheep seem to have free will:  on their own, they will do whatever they want and so they easily get lost, upset, terrified, wanting luscious green grass until overgrazing and the like kills them, prone to the thief and the robber. Yes, sheep, if not guided, led, called, cared for, do whatever they want and that means injury and death.

That definition of “free will”, doing whatever one wants, does not seem so free, does it?  There seems to be a wilful stubbornness on the sheep’s part to do it my way and that is not free, but bondage, bondage of the will.  Do sheep have free will?  Answer:  No.

The sheep will go off on their own.  We all like sheep have gone astray, everyone to his own way. Yet, the will, the heart can be set free in the sight and care of the shepherd, trusting in Him alone:  to feed, to give drink, to be cared for, to be protected from enemies, from wolves to the weather.

“And that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name throughout all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24: 47) There is the voice of the shepherd. Recognize it and follow if you are a sheep.

There is only way to enter the sheepfold that is the Church:  going through the Good Shepherd.  He invites, guides and lets us in, night after night, day after day.

Sheepfolds were low stonewall enclosures which did not have wooden gates, they would probably rot too quickly exposed to the elements, but the shepherd himself was the gate, the door, as you can see on the screen.

The shepherd night after night, laid his body on the line for his charge.  He would not flee the sheep when they were attacked.  A shepherd’s voice would reassure them in the storm raging in the night.  The Good Shepherd does not flee the sheep, nor fleece them, like the hawkers of false doctrines who smile pretty and talk about your best life now, that is your own life, not the Lord’s indestructible life He gives freely to His sheep. Jesus promises the abundant life, His life, His flesh and His blood, not our flesh getting everything I ever wanted. The Good Shepherd’s hand is imprinted with the mark of the nails.  This shepherd laid down His life for the sheep, for you.

Like a sheep on a shepherd’s shoulder, you do not have to lug your sins around or pretend they do not exist or minimize their infection.  They are on the Good shepherd’s shoulders as He was nailed to the Cross. Jesus is quite clear, He is not any shepherd.  He and His Father are one, one God. He alone has carried the full brunt of the just Law of God and it’s punishment for our sake.

Jesus is saying this is what His Church is like:  a sheepfold.  Not grand and glorious is it?  People may think the magnificent church buildings of  Europe  and our nation are great to sight see, but will complain about the people who actual worship there are not a sight to see, “a bunch of hypocrites”.  Yes, that’s right, sinners, sheep. Kind of like a cop at a crime, nothing much to see here, move on…but don’t move on, taste and see the Lord is good and His mercy endures forever..

In the parable of today’s Gospel, the Lord Christ compares it [the Christian Church] to a sheep-fold. He compares the Holy Spirit to the Gate-guard, and Himself to the Door into this sheep pen, [as well as] to the Shepherd of the sheep. It is precisely for these reasons that these two items are placed side by side in the Third Article of our Christian faith, where we say: I believe in the Holy Spirit, one holy Christian Church, the communion of saints.

The first Christians on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit gathered them together, baptized into Christ Jesus, the Lord  showed them where to feed and be fed:  they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  Anything else is junk food, a cheat.  Luke tells us they  were joyful.  Also, Jesus concludes the parable of the lost sheep, “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

Mothers and fathers give oversight to their children but they cannot over look them and their actions.  The price of parenting is eternal vigilance.  Getting children from point A to  point B day after day safely, with much prayer so they won’t be lost is so akin to shepherding.  Keeping them away from the enemy, Satan, who has done quite a number on a culture astray.  Sheep going astray is not some prosaic, pastoral scene, sheep going astray means only thing:  death.

Parents bringing children to the Lord’s House, His sheepfold, not keeping them away from Jesus, their Good Shepherd.  In my cynical moments, it seems that these days it is not 1 sheep who is lost, but 99, yet I do not know the ways the Lord is working, and He is working still.  With the Good Shepherd we need to rejoice in Him over one sinner who repents. There are parents in households and parents in the Church; pastors.

…the Chief Shepherd. He, in turn, has under-shepherds, which consist of all faithful teachers and preachers. In keeping with Christ’s example, they are to faithfully graze the flock, direct them to the right Door, and guide the little lambs to Christ. Those who do otherwise, says Christ, are thieves and murderers, for they take away Christ’s glory; and they kill the souls of men through false doctrine, just as death devours little lambs in a poisoned pasture. (Pr. Johann Gerhard)

The voice of the Shepherd is peace for it is the Word of our forgiveness and peace.

My sheep here My voice He says, and I know them and they follow Me, and I give them eternal Life. Just as Christ  teachings are a complete rule of faith, so also is His life a clear, complete mirror for every good work. Learn from Me, He says in Matt, 11-29, as if to say: You have enough to learn about My love, about My patience, My humility, meekness, friendliness to do you for the rest of your lives. As a result, you will well forget about the commandments of men with which you serve God fruitlessly and in vain, Matt. 15:9. 0 God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, highly praised in all eternity: Give us all such an obedient, willing heart for following the voice of Christ in doctrine and life. (Pr. Johann Gerhard)

The Good Shepherd has the wounds of the Cross and His sheep have wounds, but He has branded His sheep with His Cross, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Pastor Mark Schroeder

The Journey

Sunday, April 30th, 2017



Luke 24:13-35

Maybe it’s the fact that I haven’t read a novel in about 20 years, but for some reason I love the way the narrative unfolds in today’s Gospel reading, the story of a journey takes us on a journey, it has changing moods, elements of surprise and even some irony.  As you read it draws you through from start to finish, it builds expectation, partly because we know the story, but also by the way the story is structured.

Here we have two men walking the seven mile journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus.  They’ve headed out following the events of Easter; they’re sad, depressed, they have the events of the last three days playing on their minds as they walk along and discuss them.  They’d hope that Jesus was the promised Messiah, but then he had been put to death by the very people who should have been supporting him.  Its three days since Jesus died and they’ve heard stories from some women that Jesus’ body was gone and that some angels had appeared and told them Jesus was alive.  Then to make things all the more troubling, some of their mates had gone to have a look and found the tomb was indeed empty but they hadn’t seen Jesus either.

Then this guy comes along and he obviously hasn’t been paying attention if he’s been in Jerusalem and hasn’t worked out what has been going on.  As an audience who already know the story we can see the humour in the situation, even the irony.  Here is Jesus standing right there with them, not only does he know what had happened in Jerusalem, but he was right at the centre of the activity.  If it was a pantomime we’d all be shouting to them, “It’s him, it’s Jesus that’s talking to you.”  Or “It’s him right in front of you”.  But alas they don’t work it out.  We’re told that their eyes were kept from recognising him.  We don’t know whether that is simple lack of understanding or perhaps divine intervention, but like Mary Magdalene at the tomb, they didn’t recognise who it was.  Well not at first anyway.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Jesus calls them foolish and slow of heart because they don’t believe all that the prophets had said.  Then he sets about telling them all about the things that mentioned him, form the book of Moses (Genesis) right through the Old Testament.  It may have taken a while to finish that trip from Jerusalem to Emmaus, because there are lots of references that would have needed to be covered.  Still they didn’t recognise him, even when they were nearing the village and Jesus went to continue on ahead of them.  They were polite though and invited Jesus to come and stay with them, it’s not like there were lots of hotels there for him to book into after all.

So this stranger stayed with them.  Now we get to the good bit of the story, the bit we are hoping for even though we know it’s going to happen.  He took bread, blessed it and broke it and gave it to them, does that formula sound familiar, have you heard it somewhere else in the last couple of weeks?  At last their eyes are opened and they recognise him, but hang on there’s a bit of a surprise here, Jesus disappears from their sight.  Finally they work out who it is and ‘pfft’ he’s gone, vanished, disappeared.

But they still seem excited, they realised that as Jesus was pointing out the realities of the scriptures to them, their hearts were burning, they were understanding that Jesus really was the Messiah that God the Father had promised and now they had seen him too.

Straight away they get up and head back to Jerusalem and find the disciples, and their experiences agreed, The Lord has risen indeed!  Then they told the disciples that Jesus had been made known to them in the breaking of bread.

They’d made the journey from sadness and confusion to excitement and understanding, they didn’t need to search for answers anymore, Jesus had explained to them and then they had finally recognised him and understood.  It’s a journey many of us have taken throughout our lives, perhaps often, perhaps all in one day or maybe even faster, depending on our personalities.

It’s a similar journey to the one we take each Easter, depending on our situation and ability to attend some or all of the services from Maundy Thursday through Good Friday and the Easter Sunday.  We start with the celebration of the institution of the Lord’s Supper and then hear of betrayal and end the service with the stripping of the altar.  Our Good Friday services are usually somewhat reflective and even sad or confronting, but there’s still a looking forward to the events of Sunday.  Then we have the rejoicing and hallelujahs of our Sunday celebrations and Christ is risen.

In some ways our service each week follows a journey like that, we often begin with a song of praise, followed by confessing our sins, our failings as people of God, we get a lift when we hear the absolution and the readings.  We hear God’s word read directly and then proclaimed in some way during children’s addresses and sermons.  Then we again give thanks and break bread and pour out the wine, the body and blood of Christ as we rejoice with the whole church on earth and all angels and archangels as we share in the communion meal, still hosted by our Lord and Saviour Jesus, who comes to us in this meal.

We are then ready to leave, prepared for the week ahead, to go out like the two men who were with Jesus on the day of his resurrection on the road to Emmaus.  Just as they ran off back to Jerusalem to tell others about what they had seen, we should do the same.  We’ve got exciting news, we shouldn’t be depressed about it, and there’s no need to be shy either, Christ has risen from the dead, and in his victory over death we’ve had a victory as well.  We share in that victory, because in his death he has fulfilled the Scriptures.  The old covenant has been completed and we now live in the new covenant in his blood, shed for us for the forgiveness of sins.

So don’t be sad or depressed about your faith, rejoice in it.  Don’t stay away because you feel unworthy, come, come to the waters and drink, come you who are thirsty, as we sang in the hymn earlier at Lilydale.  “Just as I am without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me, and that though bidd’st me come to thee, O lamb of God I come.”  We bring nothing but what God has first given us, we are only worthy because his blood was shed for us, and he is calling us to come and receive what the Lamb of God has won for us and given to us, forgiveness of sins and life everlasting.

So enjoy your journey, yes it will have its ups and downs, but know that Christ is with you always and he reveals himself to us too, in the breaking of bread and in his Word.
Amen.

Pastor Tim Stringer