Archive for the ‘After Easter’ Category

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

The Uncertainty of Faith

Saturday, April 22nd, 2017

John 20:19-31

 Let me meet you on the mountain, Lord,

Just once.
You wouldn’t have to burn a whole bush.
Just a few smoking branches
And I would surely be …your Moses.

Let me meet you on the water, Lord,

Just once.
It wouldn’t have to be on the calm tides of Geographe Bay
Just on a puddle on a gravel road
And I would surely be…your Peter.

Let me meet you on the road, Lord,

Just once.
You wouldn’t have to blind me on Mitchell Freeway.
Just a few bright lights on the way to chapel
And I would surely be…your Paul.

Let me meet you, Lord,

Just once.
Anywhere. Anytime.
Just meeting you in the Word is so hard sometimes
Must I always be…your Thomas?

Norman Shirk, April 10, 1981, KQ (Dallas Seminary)

Do you often feel as though you just need a sign from God to really put your trust in him? Do you ever feel that if you just had a visible sign from Jesus, you would be a much stronger, faith-filled, bold person? Do you ever find yourself felling a little frustrated with this whole Christianity thing because it’s so unseen and intangible? If only there was proof. If only I had a direct line to Jesus. If only we had a sign for all to see that we really are on the right horse and that the future will really be okay……

We probably all feel all these things from time-to-time. In particular, the last verse of that little poem speaks of how we struggle with doubts.

Let me meet you, Lord,
Just once.
Anywhere. Anytime.
Just meeting you in the Word is so hard sometimes
Must I always be…your Thomas?

It is hard to meet Jesus up close and personal in the Word sometimes and sometimes we are very much like Thomas.

He needed proof. He needed a sure sign. He wanted a measurable experience, an unequivocal moment upon which to base his trust before he committed for life. He had seen it all and known the man Jesus very well. But he had seen the death of the man and heard the rumours of the resurrection, but he needed something to help him get from doubt to belief.

In the tender patience and grace of Jesus, he allows Thomas this sign, this moment, this experience. He didn’t have to. The church would have continued on without Thomas. The other 11 were ready to go out with the world-changing news of God’s new reality in the risen Christ. But Jesus slows things down, stops the program, and pauses the flow of things to minister to this man in need of something visible for faith to flourish.

Jesus says “Reach out Thomas. Place your finger in my hands. Reach out and hold my hands. Place you needs and fears and hopes in my hands, Thomas. Stop doubting and believe”.

Thomas was blessed because he could reach out and see, feel, touch Jesus. He reached out. He touched. He then shifted in mind and soul. “My Lord and my God!” he declared in relief and joy.

The great expression of the fullest faith in Jesus is given by the one who doubted the most and the longest! There’s some comfort for the doubters among us! This happens a whole week after the resurrection. This is the highest confession of faith in John’s gospel by anyone. It is the conclusive announcement of the whole witness of John. All that has been recorded has led to this moment and of all people, a doubter declares it. A person who in pain and sorrow and disappointment has gone underground and cut himself off from the church and anything to do with Jesus turns out to be the one who gives the final word of Jesus of Nazareth for all the ages to come. Jesus is THE LORD. Jesus is the God of the Old Testament, the creator of the universe, the saviour of the world, the hope and life of everyone!

But he could reach out and get that sign he needed. He could place his hands in the wounded hands of Christ and touch his pan and joy! We can’t.

And John knows this is how it will be for those who would come after those gathered in that room to witness this sign in person. He records this event to whisper in our doubting ears that moving on from unbelief is still possible for us who cannot see Jesus.

It’s clear that John is telling us that faith is possible and doubt can be overcome – but how and where and by whom?

John immediately points us to the very words he is writing on the page with us – who would come after him – at the front of his mind.

He wants us to know that we will never be able to claim faith is too hard or out of reach because we were not there and we did not see with our own eyes. He want us to know that faith will be possible for those who cannot prove Jesus lives or say that they have seen him with their own eyes. He is saying that there is no need for us to give up or feel second class because we could not be there with Thomas and the others.

No, John says he has written these things down for us and these words are enough for us to stop doubting and believe. Our faith is dependent on and flows from the witness of John and the others. Our faith is dependent on and is created by the witness of all the gospel writers, all the apostles, all the writers of the Bible. They were the “sent ones” of Christ who brought the good news of Easter into the world and the faith we share with them comes from their witness, and their witness is recorded for us and used by the Spirit of the living Christ to create faith in our hearts.

The writer to the Hebrews can say that the Word of the apostles is God’s word. It is living and active. It actually achieves what it is sent to do. It has spiritual power and it cuts to the core of all things and weeds out truth from error. It does what it says.

So, what does this mean for us who doubt?

The direction Jesus gives Thomas to overcome his doubt and unbelief is our direction too. We must follow the lead of the resurrected Jesus. We must follow Thomas. We must reach out. We must place our hand in his hands and place ourselves in his hands to stop doubting and believe. But unlike Thomas, who was asked to place his hands in Jesus hands and his wounds, we are asked to place our hands in this witness of the apostles – the Word of God. We place our hands in the word of God. We speak the word of God. We see the word of God and we hear it and we sing it and we pray it and it becomes us and we find our own story in it.

If you’re doubting that Jesus of Nazareth has anything to do with you – then place your finger in his living and active word as you hear it preached, sung, prayed; as you read it for yourself and see it carried out right in front of you worship. There you will find that his wounds are your healing.

If you are struggling to live with any certainty about Christianity and your place in the church, follow Thomas. Place your mind and soul in Christ and find that by his word you are enlightened and doubt dissipates.

If you consider yourself a hard nut to crack and have often thought that you would like to believe but just cannot, there is only one way to find faith, and that is to put it somewhere – to put faith in this Word and absorb it and find that in a moment or in many a month you can say “My Lord and my God!” with Thomas.

And why keep struggling to believe? Why keep on persisting, reaching out for God, turning up in Church, telling your kids bible stories, opening up the bible for yourself? Why? Because that is where life is. John says that he writes of what he has seen and heard so that we may believe that Jesus Christ is God and that believing this we will receive life and life to the full. Jesus himself says that he has come to give life – full life to those who are dead.

He was dead. Now he lives. Now his life comes through faith and only faith. Faith is the receiver. Faith is what tunes in to God’s message of hope. Faith is the gift he creates to handle his Word.

Yes, friends, stop doubting and believe. In this there is real life and hope. Place your hand in his hand which he extends to you in his living Word.

Amen.

I will see you again.

Saturday, April 16th, 2016

Revelations 7:9-17
Psalm:23

“Down the lane I walk with my sweet Mary, hair of gold and lips like cherries.
It’s good to touch the green, green grass of home.
Yes, they’ll all come to meet me, arms reaching, smiling sweetly.
It’s good to touch the green, green grass of home.

Then I awake and look around me, at the four grey walls that surround me
and I realize, yes, I was only dreaming.
(But) arm in arm we’ll walk at daybreak.
(and) Again I’ll touch the green, green grass of home.
Yes, they’ll all come to see me in the shade of that old oak tree
as they lay me neath the green, green grass of home.”family

image001It doesn’t seem that long ago that in my first year here I sat at the bedside of one our sisters in Christ in the hospital as she was about to see the Lord face to face and with the curtain around her bed drawn I read plasm 23. It was the last time I saw her but I’m sure I’ll see her again, but as I departed the lady in the next bed loudly said “thank you so much for reading that.”

Today we have heard the scriptures read in a different order, but the order in life of how things work out. The Gospel of Christ pronounced to those before Him. The epistle of how His words work out in our lives, and finally revelation of how it works out at the end of earthly life, and all we could say encompassed by that beautiful psalm, psalm 23.

It seems strange to me now, but there was a time where I could not see any comfort in that psalm as it did not seem to show I was closer to Jesus but further apart. Where were my green fields and still waters? Where’s my comfort and my overflowing cup?

Two of America’s most infamous African-American gangs are the Crips and the bloods from South Central LA. A piece of land between Rodeo Drive and Hollywood that in the 50’s was separated by highways that were not to be crossed by those marginalized inside or those of racial anger or fear encircling this suburb of internment.

A suburb that has grown from young men forming their own clubs in the fifties because of not being able to join the boy scouts because of the color of their skin, to now open warfare between the gangs where most families are broken. Young men who grew up without role models to a future where a quarter of them will be either in prison or dead.

A future where many, many of them have never been outside their turf never mind feeling the breeze at a beach and all must not be caught “slipping.” Which is not to be caught unfocussed at all times because to do so at the edges of the gang territories, be it at the petrol station or the deli caught well get you killed by those wearing other colours. Blue for the crips, red for the bloods.

In the Middle East, Arab against Arab except for the universal hatred of Israel. South Central L.A. Afro American against Afro-American except for the universal hatred of the Authorities of Law that they see as wardens.

A climate of anger, un yet fear not to be showed, and hopelessness that saw one young 19 year old voice that “he did not choose that destiny, it chose him, a life that he knows God did not want in society, yet trapped, his only way out is if someone will come down into the pit with him and show a way out.”

In the beginning God created the earth, the heavens above and all within and saw that it was good, only for us to fall to sin.

Sin that has seen nation rise against nation and those within, brother against brother and sister against sister and in the church, Christian against Christian and maybe the most fierce of all, the inner fight of self against self.

Mary Magdalene standing at the Tomb in the presence of Jesus was asked “Woman, why are you crying”

Her tears that could not be quelled for she saw not the risen Christ, but a tomb of lost hope.

On Jesus Cross, Pontius Pilate wrote an inscription “Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews” and when those present sought for that truth to be distorted, Pilate answered “What I have written, I have written.”

I read this and for you, and for those still fighting the emptiness as I bring it before you as it was to me.

Woman, why are you crying?  I’m crying because the one who gave me hope, the one who accepted me not for what I do but for me as a person, my friend, Jesus, is dead!  I’m crying for all those who pinned their hope on him; for all those who saw God like they’d never seen him before; for those who felt unburdened by chains which bound them, chains of oppression, chains of hopelessness, chains of feeling you have to do the right thing but never being able to do it well enough, chains which said you weren’t allowed here, you couldn’t go there, you weren’t the right race, didn’t have the right background, weren’t rich enough, religious enough, healthy enough, weren’t the right gender to be a part of God’s plan for his people.

I’m crying for all those people who felt a sense of liberation in the message of Jesus who are now shattered because he is dead.  I’m crying for all those through the ages who have lost a loved one, for those who have experienced what it is to be separated from someone they thought they would have for ever, for all those who know the pain of sickness and disease and tragedy and have sat by the bedside of a loved one as they slowly let go of the breath of life, or have been stunned, shocked, numbed by news of an inexplicable tragedy, those who in the death of Jesus see nothing more than that he went the same way we all go.

I’m crying for all those with emptiness inside, all those who search for meaning, and all those who are confused and lonely and wanting to give up.  And I’m crying for a world which is without direction, spinning hopelessly out of control, a world marked by millions without a home, without enough food, without the security of knowing how safe they will be tomorrow, with the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, for all the displaced people, all the orphaned, for the unborn who are terminated before they see the light of day and the elderly and frail who wonder when it will be their time to be extinguished– I cry for all those who could have found hope in this Jesus who have now been left hopeless as Jesus lies cold, dead in the tomb!

And I’m crying for me and for those like me, for those who lived before me and believed that God would one day set things right, and all those who come after me. And I’m crying because a man like this, a man we thought was God’s man, the holy one, should be treated this way.

But then like a voice from the dead, Woman why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking? “Mary, Mary it is I who you seek.”

Un yet still she cries.

Woman, why are you crying?  Lord my tears now are for this moment where my joy no one can take away from me.  My hope was dashed but now it has been restored.  I wept for others, but now I know that they, too, can have the experiences I’ve had of Jesus and everything he brings.  I cried because my Jesus, the Rescuer, the Saviour was dead, but now I smile because I know that my Redeemer lives!

The average age of death for those gang members of South Central L.A. is 20 years and 5 months. One of those more fortunate was former gang member Robert Martinez who like many of his once colleagues sported religious tattoos to which he stated, that “we all believed in God but we never talked about it. Everybody was afraid they were going to die and we wanted to be ready. Now a practicing Christian he still carries the same tattoo of Christ on his left arm that he carried into those mean streets of his youth. Christ with that boy on the streets and Christ with Him now in Church.

I, like Robert Martinez have come to see Psalm 23 through our trials and tribulations caused by self and others not as a separation from Jesus, but rather see His underserved and unfaltering love and presence amongst it.

Martin Luther King Jnr, the day before he was shot and killed finished his speech with these famous words: “I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter to me now, because I’ve been to the mountain top. And I don’t mind. Like everybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place but I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the Promised Land! And so I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything; I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

Yes our redeemer lives. Jesus having been into death itself, came out of it as Victor; having trumped Satan’s last trump.  Having verified, underlined, and confirmed everything he did, everything he said as real, genuine, believable, trustworthy, life-changing.  Not a loser but a winner.  Not defeated but victorious.  Not just one with us in our pain and our dying. Not just one with us, but one who is in front of us, who has gone ahead of us, offering us healing and help and hope.

Like a thief on a cross we too have seen the Promised Land that is Jesus Christ next to us. Like to that gang member lost, angry and fearful, God stands with us with His presence tattooed into our soul when we saw Him not and like Martin Luther King we know the glory of the coming of the Lord and though some of us may reach the promised land early or later than others, in that number will we be:

“One of the great multitude from every nation, tribe and peoples of earth. Standing before the throne of the lamb, clothed in white robes washed clean by the blood of the lamb. The lamb Jesus Christ who has lead us beside still waters and restored our soul. Who has lead us in paths of righteousness for His names sake. Jesus in goodness and mercy who has followed all the days of our lives that there in the house of the Lord shall we dwell forever, sheltered with His presence to neither hunger nor thirst any longer. To never shed a tear in sorrow nor ever again tremble in fear.

Like a thief on the cross we have seen the Promised Land that is Jesus Christ and asked that He remember us. And in knowing His response I leave you now with the same departing words as those I have said in confidence to all our brothers and sisters in Christ about to enter the Promised Land. Whether tomorrow here on this earth or not-I will see you again. Amen.

Just do our “job” as Christians

Saturday, April 9th, 2016

image001Acts 9:1-6

Often in society and in the Church we like to see, or even expect some positive changes in people when we extend our hand in help.

Well who said so? And for that matter what is positive change. Maybe the change needs to come in us. To have that perseverance and staying power when to us it seems a futile and lost cause. To just do our “job” as Christians and persevere and stay, knowing that God is somehow in that person’s life doing His job.

The same perseverance we suffer under in our own “stuff”. To persevere in our own hardships and disappointments knowing that God’s amongst it. To persevere in the knowledge of our sin, the stuff we detest of ourselves yet continually fall for, but stay clinging to what Christ has told us-that he is amongst it with us-seeing it and knowing it-yet staying firm in his commitment to bring us his grace.

And in these times of enlightenment and self-help, when we have to rely completely on someone else when we have no answer to the situation it can be the gaining of wisdom outside of “self”.

A man was a successful Wall Street analyst until drink drove him into deep depression which led to his mental disintegration. Following an accident which resulted from him being drunk, he decided to deliver himself from the depths into which he had sunk and became a member of an organisation called the “Moral Re-Armament”-an organisation that stresses do-it-yourself redemption. But instead of gaining his freedom through self-help, he sank deeper and deeper into the depths and after a three day drinking binge he ended up in a Manhattan hospital completely shattered. In his moment of complete and utter helplessness he prayed to God for help and said “suddenly, the room lit up in light and he was caught up into a feeling that words cannot describe”. This changed his life and what had been impossible for him to achieve was achieved in him through the power of God. From the depths of his defeat, degradation and despair he was “resurrected” from a living death and made alive. A “resurrection” that would be felt in the lives of millions, as this man Bill Wilson was to go on and be the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous.

A gift, a miracle-an encounter with God that saved him and countless others.

A gift, a miracle and encounter with God that changed the apostle’s Peter and Pauls lives and the lives of the countless millions others who saw and heard the truth of Christ in the lives of these two men who accepted his offer to leave behind their mistakes and live instead under His grace.

Peter who denied Christ three times and went missing in his time of need and Paul, a leader of those inflicting death and punishment on Christians who when they met the raised Christ came not to just know what he stood for, but what he came for-to set them free of themselves, of their failures, character flaws, and most importantly-of the things that they could not undo themselves-their sin.

These direct encounters, miracles if you like may seem reserved for the few but all who encounter Christ are offered his same life changing power.

A team mate of Shane Warne’s once remarked that no matter how much turbulence and media attention he was getting because of his personal life, when he walked onto the oval he left all his troubles on the ovals picket fence and was free to be the champion he was.

In our lives Christ is the picket fence that surrounds us. In our lives Christ brings the truth that sets us free:

“For I am the Lord, I change not. If you come to me, I will not cast you out. Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heaven burdens and I will give you rest”.

We may not seem to have that moment like the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, Peter or Paul, but those same gifts and miracles are hidden in every aspect of our lives. In our joyous moments Christ is there just as he is there guiding us as we walk through the chaos and confusion.

Like Paul, we may have a thorn in our side that we wish wasn’t there, but like Paul we have God’s grace and that is enough because living in that grace, we have the sureness of the resurrection on our last day and the sureness, that now-today we can serve God the Father by leaving our mistakes, burdens and sins from the past with our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

The knowledge of our inability and failure to live as we should is the start of wisdom. The knowledge of Christ’s power and love is the emergence of that wisdom. To live in Christ’s forgiveness and his total acceptance of you in every facet of your life is to understand that wisdom.

To give Christ our past and present burdens is to answer his call and whether we answer that call and lay them off to him or not, in his name we are still forgiven and free in this world-that will not change. But his desire is that we join with a man that God said “was after his own heart”, yet a man that fell to adultery and murder.

A man called King David who in his sin truly came to know restoration in the grace of God. That restoration is what Christ craves we know and join with King David in testifying, and giving evidence of in our lives: From Psalm 55: verses16 to 18:

“As for Me, I will call upon God; and the Lord will save me…He shall hear my voice. He has delivered my soul in peace from the battle that was against me” (Ps. 55:16-18).

The Lord has blessed you and kept you. The Lord has made His face shine on you and been gracious to you. The Lord has looked upon you with favour and the Lord gives you his peace.

This man Thomas.

Saturday, April 2nd, 2016

John 20:24-29

 

image001People have often been hard on Thomas. He has been nicknamed ‘Doubting Thomas’ and some have portrayed him as almost a coward, when in actual fact, the evidence in the Scriptures is that Thomas was a man of great courage.

Thomas is sometimes treated as though he is a person who doesn’t want to believe, like many people today in society today. But maybe Thomas wanted to believe but found it hard to.

This man Thomas?  The other Gospels tell us nothing about him except his name. It is only here in John’s Gospel that Thomas comes alive for us. Thomas is portrayed as a man of great courage. There is the time Thomas speaks up when Jesus and his followers received news of the illness of Lazarus, the close friend of Jesus. News comes that Lazarus is near death. Jesus makes no move for two days to go to his friend. There had recently been two attempts to stone Jesus, so Jerusalem was a dangerous place for Jesus and his disciples.

Suddenly, Jesus announces he will go to his dying friend. The disciples think this is a bad move! It would be suicidal for them to go near Jerusalem. The danger is so great the disciples are near to abandoning Jesus at this point. But Thomas speaks up and says, “Let us go, that we may die with him.” Thomas can only see disaster lying ahead: nothing else. But this is no reason for him to turn his back on Jesus to try and save his own skin. He loves his Lord and because of Thomas’ courage, all the disciples go with Jesus to visit Lazarus.

And now here in today’s situation-again before we judge Thomas, we must also remember that while the other disciples were locked away for fear of the Jews, Thomas wasn’t there – which means he must have had the courage to venture outside.  And in regards to faith-Thomas is no worse than the other disciples.  They also didn’t believe until they saw Jesus.  They didn’t believe Mary’s testimony that she had seen the Lord. Yet Thomas is the one who is labelled the doubter.

What we see in Thomas is that human courage and faith in God are two different things and sometimes the two are easily confused.  The human strength that allowed Thomas to be absent from the safe place behind the locked doors is not going to help him when he needs faith.  Just as it wasn’t Peter’s human strength that allowed him to obey God rather than the human leaders.

When the other disciples tell Thomas they have seen the Lord, Thomas cannot accept it. The return of Jesus from the dead is too much for Thomas to believe, ironically even though he had seen the raising of Lazarus back to life.

So Thomas didn’t doubt that people could be raised from the dead. But he couldn’t believe that Jesus, the raiser of dead people could be raised himself. So when Jesus does appear to Thomas and invites him to touch his hands and his side and realises it is indeed the Lord-he in joy and excitement bursts out with his great confession of faith, “My Lord and my God”.

These aren’t the words of a man who is still pondering his findings! When Thomas sees the risen Jesus in person before him, he doesn’t need half an hour to detachedly examine the body of Jesus. The scriptures don’t tell us if Thomas even touched Jesus. Thomas speaks out with the courage of his faith, “My Lord and my God”. This is the greatest and boldest confession of faith any follower of Jesus made, and it comes from the mouth and heart of Thomas. It is a courageous confession and the same confession of faith we make about Jesus in the Creed.

Yes-The tomb is empty, but yes: sometimes so too is the place where we go to look for help from God.  Yes-Jesus deals with Thomas’s doubts, but yes-he declares that this won’t be how he will deal with the faith/life struggles that we go through.  And yes-Jesus will use our faith and says that we will be greatly blessed when we believe without seeing,

In Thomas’s struggles we see that God is the one, the only one, through whom our life questions can be answered.  God is the initiator and it is God to whom we must go in our life struggles.  When we allow God to direct our life and trust him it won’t always be “up” – it will sometimes be “down”.  But it will always be forward to eternal life in heaven.

On the seventeenth day of the second month the Lord shut the door of the Ark and the water beneath the earth burst open and the floodgates of the sky were opened for forty days and nights. On the first day of the tenth month the tops of the mountains appeared and after forty days Noah opened the window. A dove was sent out to see if the water had receded to sustain life. It returned as it left-empty handed, or more precisely-empty beaked. . Seven days later he sent it out again and it returned with a fresh olive leave. Seven days later he sent out the Dove again and it did not return to the Noah, but returned to the world where it once was.

I have met several Thomas’s in our world who want to believe, but struggle. Just as we struggle when those we want to believe seemingly want not to, and with those that are yet to believe that we know and love that can be very hard emotionally.

Jesus rose and left the tomb and it remained empty and returned to the Apostles’ who were hiding in fear carrying His scars for their freedom, and in another seven days Thomas saw for himself the risen Lord.

Jesus said to Thomas: “Because you have seen me you have believed, blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed.” The Word of God as recorded by the apostles in the room has not returned empty we have believed and are blessed. And as blessed we are, in prayer and in service to our Lord do we make known Him known to those who doubt or know not.

Isaiah 55:11: “so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

Mark 11:24: “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”

No less than the very Words of God that the more so should we respond too in faith in our homes, in our workplaces, schools and here in this house of God.

So I ask you now in prayer to bring your needs and those of others before the Lord in Prayer. To in prayer offer to the Lord your fears and trials and in faith leave them with Him, and ask that’s the Lord Will be done to see those we know who still doubt or deny  Him, will in God’s time together with the apostles, Thomas and us. Together with those in Christ that have gone before, those with us now and those yet to come and together with the angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven see, know and bellow in sure and joyful voice “My Lord and My God “

We bring our prayers before the Lord. Amen

Back in the old days

Saturday, May 16th, 2015

John 17:6-9, 1 John 5:9-13

StMarksOn school holidays back in the day, the T.V. used to play Abbott and Costello movies. Abbott was the straight man and Costello
the funny one.  They were great and while most episodes are only a vague memory these days, one I remember one clearly (reasonably).

They are both on foot in a sand dune swept desert.  They are worn and thirsty and on their last legs and in the sweltering heat they keep seeing these mirages of water in the distance that they trek towards but never arrive at and so are ready to pack it in. But then Abbott sees one more in the distance and follows it and low and behold it is an oasis like you see in the Middle East. Eventually Costello catches up and sees Abbott on his back in the water, refreshed and gargling out water like a fountain surrounded by palm trees in a picture straight from like in a children’s pictorial bible. Abbott is in paradise found and loving it but when Costello arrives he says stop hurting yourself you’re only imagining it and so while Abbott splashes around, Costello just sits alongside on a rock waiting for his friend to come to his senses.

It’s very funny and I assume not meant as a comment on society, yet in pondering this week’s message it did make me reflect of the Christian life. Still looking for paradise or having found it, still confused and trying to work it all. Sought of like being told how to ride a bike but having no idea what a bike actually looks like and sometimes while living in the kingdom of God it does feel like we’re stuck in the desert thirsty and beaten.

A feeling not just reserved for us of when we read of Jesus in the desert being tempted by the devil for forty days. Not a feeling, but a reality that Jesus suffered and the blessed reality for us that He wasn’t beaten. Sustained by prayer and the Word of His Father Jesus persevered and won a battle we could not and in today’s Gospel we see Him again drawing strength from the Father through prayer and Word, only this time His prayer is for us as we hear Him praying for the disciples. The twelve closet and most beloved friends of Jesus that He prays to the Father for. His “prayer that God the Father not take them out of the world but that he protect them from the evil one.” (As)” For they are not of the world, even as I am not of it. (So) sanctify them by the truth; your Word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.”

A few years ago I was asked to visit a lady on her death bed. She had been severely ill and bed bound for a significant time and while hard to understand, I understood. She told me that as an early teenager that she had died on the operating table and visited heaven. Then surrounded by weeping family and soon to be shocked family and most certainly doctor, awoke back in earth. This side of heaven I cannot make sense of those things and she must have known of what people’s reactions would have been because apart from those present around that operating table and her later born son, she mentioned that I was the only one she had told. I don’t understand such stuff but I did see the outcome of hers as here on her deathbed in pain, not only was she prepared to leave this earth, she anticipated with great joy to feel and reside in that place that she experienced all those years ago and so at her request, we prayed that the Lord’s will be that she depart this world and so it was, and at her funeral and hearing in the eulogy of some of the hard times she experienced yet with a seemingly joyous and free spirited heart, it did seem that those desert moments seen through of what she knew were not dry and barren but covered in carpets of wild flowers brought to life from the winter rains.

Most of us won’t have an experience like that lady but undoubtedly to an extent we will have our desert moments like our Lord and saviour.

Matthew 4:1-11

4 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted[a] by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’[b]

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’[c]

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’[d]

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’[e]

11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

Our desert or wilderness moments may not be as clear or understandable as that placed before Jesus, yet they will be there cloaked in some form or another and as with Jesus, the answer to our accuser and ourselves cannot be of what may seem but of the truth as told to us in the Holy Word of God.

During the week I watched a movie about General Patton. The American general feared by the Germans in world war 11 and the General who was instrumental in regaining Europe and the General who in the movie was described by his enemy as “a man who prays on his knees but stands swearing like a trouper.”

Unfortunately that description is sometimes a little close to home but it does make a statement that we can learn from amidst our own warfare of will. A statement that wether in seeming defeat or at a loss to situation or thought, we too pray on our knees not to rise feebly, but rise to standing assured not in ourselves but in the Word of God. To still harbour some fears but override them in not logically putting two and two together, but by hearing the Word of God as seen in His Son our Saviour Jesus Christ and placed into our hearts and minds by the Holy Spirit.

Martin Luther after once doubting the authenticity and right of the book of revelations in the New Testament would later through hardship and persecution come to say that in those moments it had become like an old friend that travelled with him, assuring and comforting him of the blessed heavenly oasis that awaits.

We too at the worst of it may know of that feeling, and if not, at the very least it will be our sure Hope of when we face our earthly death.

Scripture tells us “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven.  A time to give birth and a time to die; A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.”

Our time is now and after we kneel in prayer we arise in the knowledge of the Word of God that “our, your Sins are forgiven”, and forgiven we hear in the background the promise fulfilled in the book of Revelations of where together as one, we alongside all those of the past, present and future stand together before the throne of God rejoicing with all the heavenly angels and beings of what has come to be.

Our time is now and in the season we reside, in the Word of God we rise to our feet and see not our wilderness of loss, doubt and despair. But rise to our feet and see our world the same yet transformed and see amongst the dry creek beds and sparse deserts His Word come to life. See His Word come to life in our lives and bring water to the creeks and flowers to the desert.

In the Word of God in this world do we rise, and though those of the world may not see our creeks flow or our landscapes bloom, we can for we know that though we have been left in this world, Christ the Son of God prays to His Father on our behalf asking that we be made Holy and sanctified in the truth. A request fulfilled in you as you be in the world, but not of it. Fulfilled in us who though poor in spirit and weak in strength, see the Holiness of Christ and trust in His Words for ourselves. Fulfilled in us who though wether bowed down be it in earthly shame or pride, rise up restored in His forgiveness. And fulfilled in us who see as those of the world, yet understand as those of Christ that yes, though we may walk through the valley of the shadow of death , hurt and suffering, we need not fear nor reside in earthly doubt or anxiety, but see Him with us and in prayer alongside the author of Psalm 119 ask for His steadfast love come to you and His salvation according to His promise.

 To hear the words of 1St John for yourselves “that you may know that whoever believes in the name of the Son of God has eternal life.”

And to rise up with the Psalmist and know, that according to thy Word do you have the answer to any that reproach you, for in the Word do you trust. Amen.

A Faith that overcomes

Sunday, May 10th, 2015

            1 John 5:1-6

A Faith that Overcomes

 

StMarksI was working late one evening in the bank completing a long winded, boring and mind numbing meaningless task that someone in management had introduced to be seen to be seen. I knew it, we all knew it, but regardless it had to be done and while doing so a colleague and friend walked past expressing to me that “you must have done something horribly wrong in a previous life.”

There are people in society who will try to give you explanations for the terrible things that happen. For example; one well known identity rationalized that the tragedy of 9/11 happened because of the sinful activity in New York City. He later apologized and said he really didn’t mean to say that. We hear people do this all the time because they have a need to connect the bad things in life with some misbehaviour or sin. Or, we want to believe that the bad things that happen are God’s punishment.

Similar some people of faith want to believe that their faith is like an insurance policy, that because they “believe” nothing bad will happen to them. Or, when something bad happens they say their faith wasn’t strong enough. They play the “if only” game…. “If I had only believed more, if I had only loved more, if I had only followed all the rules.”

Or, some may say, “What good is it to believe or have faith, when bad things still happen?” I imagine it’s a question some have asked amid times of great trials, and there are no simple explanations.

The letter of I John was written to believers who wanted to be connected to God and strengthen their faith. But, they were being misled by false teachers. There was confusion about what it meant to be people of faith and the faith community was struggling to be a cohesive group of people, and similar the way they were treating others was not overly endowed with neighbourly love. Confused and being led astray what they needed was some concrete teaching of Jesus and not that of those who think they can read God’s mind.

So, the writer of I John tells us (4:1) to “test the spirits.” In other words, make sure that the voices we are listening to are sincere. Those who offer simple explanations for the difficulties of life could be misleading you.

Some want you to believe that all you need to do is follow a list of do’s and don’ts. Others suggest that there is some formula you have to abide by that will make you a believer and television preachers tend to fit into one of these categories.

But the writer of 1 John states that “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”(4:4) Meaning that to have faith means we don’t always understand. God is much bigger than we are. God’s ways are beyond our ability to understand everything that happens and yes in retrospect we often can see God’s hand in situations, but there are also those things that we will never understand this side of heaven, and to have faith, sometimes we will need to just trust in our Lord even when things make no sense what so ever. Like the man who was walking the streets of Sydney searching for employment. He finally found Girard, a well-known businessman who offered to give the man a job. He said, “See that pile of bricks over there? Cary them to the other end of the yard and pile them by the fence.” By nightfall the man had finished the job. He then asked if there would be work the next day. Girard told him to come back tomorrow and he would give him another job. The man returned the next morning and Girard told him to carry the same pile of bricks he had stacked the day before by the fence to their original spot. He never said a word. He did exactly as he was instructed. It became evident to Girard that he could trust the man and therefore he gave him a full time position.

God wants us to realize that there are things we don’t understand, yet God alone is in charge of the big picture. Faith is trusting in God when we don’t know what the outcome will be.

Rabbi Harold S. Kushner, who wrote, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, said that the ways of God cannot always be explained.

The challenge for us is to continue to love God (and others) even when something bad happens to us. That’s faith in action. Faith in Christ grown from seeing what the Son of God, the sinless and perfect one who let himself be led like a lamb to slaughter to cover the sins of those He loved. Those He loved-, the lost and “the found”, the sad and the happy, the high and the low, the hungry and the full, the thirsty and the quenched. The imperfect, and the imperfect. The who of the human race, the whole of us and though we may become confused of events that take place in our lives, He asks us not to be confused of that event that took place on the cross for in His death, and resurrection He asks only that we know and believe that He is the Son of God, the Holy one who has brought us forgiveness and in that belief, then we are forgiven and saved. That is faith, and that is the faith known that allows us to also see past the flaws of others like He has to us.

A lesson I learnt first hand Early one morning I was walking down the street in North Adelaide to withdraw my last $20 from the ATM when near I saw a lady badly shaking and another body lying on the footpath and I immediately thought not today because of being down to my last few dollars. But as I got drew near, she didn’t ask me for money, but quite the opposite, because as I approached and as she was aware of people’s judgements-like mine she leant against the wall so that her arm stopped shaking and after being up close and not looking not from afar: I saw a young lady, well dressed talking to her son dressed in his school uniform, tired and lying on the footpath while they waited for the bus and while I withdrew my money I heard their conversation and it nearly brought tears to my eyes.

To hear the love between this mother and her Son. This mother with a handicap talking to her tired son lying on the pavement in his school cloths. No judgement of each other-Just love for each other regardless of appearances to the world and people like me.

That morning I learnt that from afar sometimes things are not as they seem. But importantly, probably more so is that even if they are, should that change the way we love each other and treat each other.

And so I, like you, live a life trying to love one another regardless if friend or foe. And live a life failing to do so as much we would wish. That’s life and whether in times of trial and tribulation or in times of falling short it is all about trust.

The trust that regardless of the hardships we face, to know that Christ is with us.

The trust that regardless of the hardships of others that we fail to help with or mess up, that Christ is still with them.

And the trust that sees us rise another day to love one another: To achieve in it and to fail in it, yet know that in both, that Jesus Christ loves us so much that He died for us. To know in both be it in love’s success or love’s failure that Christ forgives us. That’s faith and that’s the faith that you have.

You have been forgiven in Christ, and in that forgiveness will His love lead you home. And in that love we can lye on the footpath dressed in our good school cloths like that boy. In that love can we still love and cherish others though we have our personal “handicaps”. In that love we rise after we fall, and in that love shall we forever dwell to when we fall in our last moment and rise for the last time and see our blessed Lord and Saviour with angels singing and multitudes cheering halauhah, and maybe even see a little boy in crisp clean garments with his mum. And see his mum holding him close with arms strong in the strength of love. Amen.