‘God’s Love Language’

Easter 6

John 14:15-31 (15:9-17)

In 1992 Baptist pastor and relationship counsellor Gary Chapman published a book titled The Five Love Languages. His basic idea was that everyone shows and experiences love differently. It has had a phenomenal success and continues to influence the way people look at how love is expressed between parents and children, couples and friends. It turns out that if someone feels they are loved when they are given gifts, this is how they assume others experience love. So a mother might buy her child gifts, or a husband might buy his wife gifts, thinking this is how they will know that they are loved. But if the other person experiences love through spending quality time with them, the efforts will fall flat and both parties will be left frustrated.

For those unfamiliar with the love languages concept, the five love languages are:

  • Words of Affirmation
  • Acts of Service
  • Receiving gifts
  • Quality time
  • Physical touch

Of course, everyone appreciates all of these things. But each one of us, according to this approach, has a particular way that someone can best show their love to us.

My wife is really big on the love languages concept. She has given much thought to what the love language of each of our children is. She has given me a copy of the book (on more than one occasion) to read. She said I should work out her love language. Well, I have made a start. For the past forty years I have bought her gifts to show her that I love her. She politely thanks me and the gift disappears into a drawer, is regifted to someone else, or if I am really lucky, ends up somewhere on her dresser top. So I think I can safely cross off ‘receiving gifts’ from the list as her primary love language. Now I’ve just got four more to work through to find the right one!

As you can see, finding someone’s love language can take some effort. It would be easier if she just told me!

But today’s text raises an even more basic question: What is God’s love language.

In other words, how does God show his love for us? And how do we show our love for God?

We find the answer to the first question, how does God show his love for us, in many places in the Bible. But perhaps no where more poignantly than in John 15, the very next chapter after the one we are reading this morning. In fact, for those who were paying close attention – and I know we all were, these were the words we opened our service with this morning: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (v. 13).

Simply put, God shows his love for us by giving his life for us. God shows his love for us by embracing all of our pain and loneliness and brokenness on the cross.

You have to admit, as gestures of love go, its big! And it was entirely unexpected. It’s not the sort of thing a self-respecting deity would do. The gods of the ancient world asked their followers to make sacrifices for them, to give to them. But in Jesus, God turns that idea upside down. God sacrifices himself for us. He gives his life for us. That’s how he showed his love for us.

But how do we respond to such love. How do we show our love to God? Which brings us back to the question: does God have a love language? A way in which we can show God that we love him?

Actually, it turns out that God does have a love language. And he doesn’t make us work it out ourselves. He tells us plainly. And it is described in today’s text.

Out Gospel text today begins with a line about how we show our love to Jesus. Jesus says to his disciples: ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments.’ Three more forms of this saying follow. Then the reading finishes with statement about Jesus’ love for the Father, to drive home the point.

If the lines are read out together, without the intervening material, they would form a very nice stanza of Hebrew poetry. In Hebrew poetry, for instance the Psalms, the poem is not built on rhyme or metre, but on the repetition of lines, but each time with a chance of words, reversing the order of the words, or in some other way making the same point in a different way.

So, if these key lines were all read together, like a piece of Hebrew poetry, the stanza would read like this.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (v. 15)

 “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me.” (v. 21)

“Those who love me will keep my word.” (v. 23)

“Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.” (v. 24)

“I do what the Father has commanded so the world knows that I love the Father” (v. 31)

We begin with the key statement. ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments.’

Then the same point is made, but the order of the thought is inverted. That is, it is turned inside out. ‘Those who keep my commandments are those who love me. Together, these two lines form what is called a chiasm. Those who love me keep my commands, those who keep my commands love me.

The third time the thought recurs the word commandment is replaced by ‘word’. ‘Those who love me will keep my word.’ What Jesus commands is what Jesus says, that is, his word. It is another way of saying the same thing, but using a different key word. It is a device any readers familiar with Hebrew thought and Hebrew poetry would have been very familiar with. And they disciples would have certainly understood it. And this line comes with a promise. Jesus says that those who love him, who keep his word, will be loved by the Father. And he and the Father will come and make their home with them. That’s a relationship built entirely on love. We love Jesus because Jesus loved us and gave his life for us. And when we show our love for Jesus, he and the Father come and make their home within us. So just as Jesus and the Father are one, as Jesus has explained earlier to his disciples, now he show how in love we also become one with God.

The fourth line of this sequence keeps the key words of love and word, but now the idea is stated in the negative. ‘The one who does not love me does not keep my words.’ Once again the same point is made, for the fourth time in succession, but in yet a different way.

And in case the disciples have missed the point Jesus is making, he finishes this part of his talk with yet a fifth in this series of parallel statements. And you might think by now he would be running out of ways to say the same thing differently. But Jesus drives home his point by going back to the key words of love and doing what is commanded. But this time he substitutes the Father for himself as the object of the obedience and he himself becomes the subject. Jesus say, ‘I do what the Father has commanded so that the world will see that I love the Father.’

So Jesus is asking us to do as he does. Jesus is asking us to be his disciples by imitating him. Because that’s what disciples do. They watch their teacher and do as he does. Once more in this final talk of Jesus with his disciples during the Last Supper he shows them (and us) the way to show our love for him. Just as he began his talk by setting the example of humility by washing their feet, now he is asking us all to follow his example of love.

So that is the answer to the question of how we show Jesus that we love him. We show our love for Jesus just as he showed his love for the Father, but doing what his Father asked, which was to give his life for us. Now Jesus asks us to show his love for him by doing what he asks.

Jesus’ love language, God’s own love language, is simply this. To do what Jesus has asked or commanded us to do.

Easy? Right?

Oh, but there is a question. And it is the obvious one. You will likely be wondering, just what does Jesus command us to do, in order to show that we love him?

We could try to work this out ourselves. What might God want us to do for him. The ancient world was full of gods and the all wanted the same thing: altars, temples, sacrifices. But Jesus doesn’t call us to show his love for him by building yet more altars and temples. The ancient world had more than enough of these. Jesus doesn’t ask us to show his love for him by building a 90 foot statue of him. He doesn’t ask us to show his love for him by going off on some unholy ‘holy’ war. Jesus doesn’t ask for any of these things.

When Jesus uses the word command repeatedly in this part of his talk, together with the word love, he is reminding his disciples of how he began this talk to them. Just after he washed their feet he asked them to serve one another by following his example. Then he said these well-known words: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should love one another. By this everyone know that you are by disciples, if you love one another.”

These words would have still been echoing in the disciples’ ears when Jesus repeatedly asks them to show their love for him by keeping his commandments, by keeping his word. And this is the one commandment Jesus singles out to say to his disciples before he goes to his death: love each other, just like I have loved you.

And again, in the very next chapter, in case we or the disciples are in any doubt about what Jesus asks of us, he says again: ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. … I have given you these commands so that you love one another’ (15:13,17).

No altars. No temples. No 90 foot statues. And certainly no holy wars. These are not God’s love language.

God’s love language is simply that we love each other as God loved us in and through Jesus.

And when we love one another, we are reminded of the One who first loved us. Who showed his love for us by giving his life for us.


Pastor Mark Worthing.
Port Macquarie.

‘Feed my Sheep’

Easter 5
John 21:15-25

The postscript to John’s Gospel contains two stories of Jesus on the beach on the shore of Lake Galilee with his disciples. The first story, as you recall, was the catch of the 153 fish and Jesus cooking breakfast for his disciples. This story was characterised, as we saw, by several memory triggers that reminded both the disciples and the reader of earlier incidents, including the miraculous catch of fish when Jesus first met Peter, the feeding of the five thousand with bread and fish, Peter walking on water when he left the others in the boat to go to Jesus, and the institution of the Lord’s Supper.

But there is another memory trigger in this first story that we did not highlight. And that is the charcoal fire on the beach. It is only the second time in John’s Gospel that a charcoal fire is mentioned. The first was at the courtyard of the high priest on the night Jesus was betrayed. On that night Peter sat around the charcoal fire and ended up denying Jesus three times. The mention of the charcoal fire in this final post-resurrection appearance of Jesus is another intentional memory trigger. And as the conversation between Jesus and Peter unfolds we will see its significance.

To understand the context of this conversation between Peter and Jesus we need to recall the conversation between Peter and Jesus, which took place in the Upper Room before Jesus’ arrest, recorded in John 13:36-38.

‘Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered, “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now: but you will follow afterward.” Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cost crows, you will have denied my three times.”

Now, back to today’s text. Jesus and the disciples have just finished eating their breakfast of fish and bread around the charcoal fire on the shore. The presence of the charcoal fire reminds the reader of the fire that Peter stood by when he denied Jesus three times. The three-fold denial is significant because according to ancient custom to repeat a statement three times had strong legal and moral force. Now there needs to be a resolution of this three-fold denial. There needs to be a reconciliation and reinstatement of Peter and his role as leader of the group of disciples.

So we read that when they had finished eating, Jesus turned to Peter. And Jesus asks Peter, ‘Do you love me more than these others do?”

Well, that’s one heck of a question. What was Peter to think? Of course he loved Jesus. After all, he had just jumped out of a boat and swam to shore to see him. None of the other disciples had done that! So Peter says, ‘Yes, Lord. Of course. You know that I love you.”  But in the Greek in which John writes the account, there is an important difference in wording used by Jesus and Peter. Jesus asks Peter, Do you love me, using the word agape for love. It is a love that transcends all love. It is a love that knows no bounds. It is a deep metaphysical and spiritual love. In fact, John actually defines agape in the words of Jesus earlier in his gospel when he quotes Jesus telling his disciples “No one has greater love (agape) than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). So Jesus does not need to tell Peter and the others that he loves them. He has already demonstrated this through his actions.

But when Peter answers Jesus, he does not use the word agape. Instead he uses the word philo, which is the second highest type of love. It denotes a deep ‘brotherly love.’ In most of our English translations we miss this important nuance because the word ‘love’ is used to translate both words.

In essence, Jesus has just asked Peter if he loves him in the most profound and eternal way possible. And Peter responds, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that l love you like a brother.” This might strike us as odd and even awkward. It is a bit like a young person saying to their boyfriend or girlfriend for the first time those words, ‘I love you’ and in response getting only, ‘That’s nice. I like you, too.’ But Peter was not being rude or awkward here. Given his recent denial of Christ (three times!), it is likely that Peter simply did not feel worthy enough to pronounce this kind of love for Jesus. The last time Peter had boldly proclaimed his commitment to follow Jesus to death he had not been able to follow through. In fact, he had completely lost his courage and denied three times that he even knew Jesus. So here we find a much humbled Peter; a man less certain of himself than before his denial of Jesus. Peter, to put it simply, seems reluctant to commit to more than he is confident he can follow through on. And after claiming that even if the other disciples faltered, he would follow Jesus to the death, he is certainly not willing to say he loves Jesus more than the other disciples do.

In response, Jesus appears to ignore the difference in words used and says to Peter, ‘Well, if you love me, feed my lambs.’  Jesus is looking for action to back up Peter’s words. Jesus showed his own love for the disciples and for each one of us by laying down his life. Now he asks Peter to show his love for him through action.

Then Jesus repeats the question to Peter, using the word agape again. But this time Jesus leaves off the phrase, ‘more than these others.’ Perhaps if Peter is simply asked if he has an agape love for Jesus, and not whether he has this love even more deeply than the others, Peter might be willing to commit. But Peter responds for the second time using the word philo. ‘Yes Lord,’ Peter says, ‘I love you like a brother.’ And Jesus once more asks Peter to tend his flock. But this time he uses the word sheep instead of lambs, and the word tend instead of feed. The request made of Peter has been significantly downgraded! Hand feeding young lambs is much more work and requires a much greater commitment than keeping an eye on adult sheep out grazing. Perhaps Jesus was suggesting that if Peter can only commit to brotherly love, then feeding the little lambs might be too much for him. But Peter could at least tend to the adult sheep, who can feed themselves and need less care and attention than the lambs.

Then the question and answer are repeated for a third time. And this is a not-so-subtle reminder of Peter’s three-fold denial of Jesus. This three-fold repetition of question and response is meant to highlight that something very important is being said here. In first century Judaism a witness often was asked to make a statement or accusation three times. And a man who wanted to divorce his wife had to repeat this three times to have legal binding. So Peter’s three-fold denial of Jesus was a big deal. Now Jesus is providing the chance for Peter make things good by affirming his loyalty to Jesus three times.

But this third time there is a change in Jesus’ question. Jesus does not use the word agape this time. He realises that Peter does not feel able to proclaim this level of love. So Jesus comes down to Peter’s language, using the word philo, and asks Peter, ‘Do you love me like a brother?’ At this point Peter is getting a bit agitated because he thinks Jesus is asking him the same question over and over. So again he says, ‘Of course, Lord. Why do you keep asking me? You know everything. You know I love you like a brother.” Finally the question and the response match up, but only because Jesus has decided to meet Peter where he is at. Jesus and Peter agree on brotherly love. On philo love. It will have to be enough!

And again, Jesus challenges Peter, and asks him to ‘feed my sheep.” Jesus has returned to the request to feed, rather than to simply tend, but has retained the term for adult sheep, rather than reverting fully to his original request to feed the baby lambs. The third request does not bear the full responsibility of feeding the little lambs from the first request. But is more than just tending the sheep, as in Jesus’ second request to Peter. Once again, Jesus accommodates not only his language, but also his request, to what Peter at this point in time is capable of doing.  

It is agreed that Peter, the leader of the disciples, is able to commit to brotherly love of Jesus, and to feeding his sheep. And so the reconciliation is complete. Peter has been brought back into the fold as leader of the disciples.

But there is a final part to this conversation on the beach.

At the end of Jesus’ three-fold questioning of Peter about loving him, he tells Peter that he will give his life for him. But he asks him to follow him nonetheless. And this is exactly what Peter had asked to do, even pledged to do, at the Last Supper. But Peter becomes immediately distracted when he notices John coming toward them. And Peter brings up the question of what will happen to John. ‘What about that guy?’ he wants to know. ‘Will he, too, die for his faith?’ Jesus tells Peter that he is not to worry about John but to focus on his own commitment to discipleship. Then Jesus again repeats the command to follow him. And this command to follow Jesus is the final reference to the earlier conversation between Jesus and Peter at the Last Supper.

Remember, the context of Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s threefold denial was Peter’s request to follow Jesus to his death. Jesus asked Peter then, ‘Will you really lay down your life for me?’ Now Jesus is calling Peter not simply to follow him, but to do exactly what he had pledged before his crucifixion, that is, to follow Jesus to death. And so Jesus tells Peter the kind of death he will die. The reference to his hands being stretched out and led where he does now want to go is a reference to crucifixion. And when John wrote his Gospel his readers would have all known that Peter, the leader of the disciples, had been crucified some years earlier in Rome under Nero.

But what does this text mean for all of us today? We are, after all, not Peter.

Importantly, what Jesus says to Peter is meant not just for him, but for the other disciples, and for all of us who would one day follow Jesus.

So Jesus is asking all of us if we love him. He is asking all of us to care for his sheep, that is to take care of and to love one another. And he is asking all of us to follow him, whatever the cost.

And this is how John closes out his Gospel, his life of Jesus. He concludes with a conversation on a beach that recalls many key events from the ministry of Jesus. He concludes his Gospel with the story of Peter, who despite all his faults and failures, is forgiven and reinstated by Jesus. John concludes his Gospel with these words of Jesus echoing down through generations of followers of Jesus: ‘If you love me, feed my sheep and follow me.’

So, do we love Jesus?

If we love Jesus, however we understand that love, then Jesus calls us to demonstrate this love by our actions. Like Peter, we might have let Jesus down in the past. We might feel unworthy to make a bold commitment of agape love. It doesn’t matter. Jesus calls us all the same to show our love for him by our actions. He calls each one of us to love and care for one another, and he calls us to follow him, whatever the cost.


Pastor Mark Worthing.
Port Macquarie.

We can learn a lot from sheep.

 Easter 4 (Good Shepherd Sunday)
John 10:1-18

We can learn a lot from sheep.

Sheep were the most common domesticated animal of the biblical world. Sheep and shepherds were everywhere. The most famous king of Israel, Kind David, started out as a shepherd. And one famous text that about the coming Messiah, Ezekiel 34, which we read this morning, says that the Messiah would be our shepherd, and also that God himself would be our shepherd. And David, the shepherd king, wrote a famous song about God as his shepherd. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. The tune has long been forgotten, but not the lyrics. It begins with the famous line: ‘The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall want for nothing.’

So at Jesus’ time, illustrations involving sheep and shepherds would be understood by everyone.

In Jesus’ last public talk as recorded in John’s gospel he is addressing the crowds after the healing of the blind man on the Sabbath. The context suggest an implicit criticism of the Jewish leaders for not being very good shepherds, and perhaps also a reminder of the importance of a single lost sheep (the man born blind).

What we find in this text is not a simple illustration about sheep and shepherds, but three inter-connected illustrations.

First, there is the illustration of the Sheepfold and the importance of recognising the shepherd’s voice (vv 1-6).

Second, there is the illustration of the gate to the sheepfold (vv 7-10).

And third, there is the illustration of the good shepherd (vv 11-18), for which this Sunday is named.

In order for us to understand that Jesus is the good shepherd, he first wants to explain a couple of things about sheep and shepherds.

First, he tells us about the importance of the shepherd’s voice. In some parts of the world still today, shepherds take their flocks out into open pasture, and then return with them at night to their village where the sheep are kept in a common sheepfold, or sheep pen. As was the custom also in Jesus’ time, these pens are simple enclosures formed of stone walls. Some of them are quite large and can hold hundreds of sheep. Each night the shepherd brings his sheep into the common fold, where someone guards the gate, and each morning, he comes to take his sheep out and lead them to pasture.

But how does the gatekeeper know which sheep are to go with each shepherd? And how does the shepherd know which sheep are his? While a good shepherd will indeed know his sheep, it would take quite a while to find each one when perhaps a dozen other shepherds also have led their sheep into the common sheepfold for the night. This system works because the sheep also know their shepherd. Each shepherd has a distinctive call, or sometimes a whistle. When his sheep hear this they perk up their ears and hurry for the shepherd, who leads them out of the sheepfold. The sheep who do not belong to the shepherd simply ignore the voice and wait for the call of their own shepherd. The sheep not only know the voice of the shepherd, but they trust it and are quite excited to hear it. They want to follow their shepherd.

For many years our neighbour in Hahndorf kept sheep. He used to work during the week part-time at a local potato farm. Two or three times a week he would drive his old six cylinder Ford ute (which only every ran on five cylinders) to the back of his property, which bordered our own, and would throw out box fulls of potato seconds.

Fun fact: Sheep love potatoes.

What we noticed is that we knew when our neighbour was coming before we could see him because forty or fifty sheep would suddenly come running over the hill and toward the gravel road that lead past his back paddock and to our home. They came running because they recognized the distinctive sound of his ute. And they knew that when he drove the ute in from that direction, it meant they were getting potatoes! They didn’t react that way for anyone else.

The engine of an old ute is not quite the same as the shepherd’s voice, but you can see the point. Sheep are quite good at knowing who cares for them and who provides for them. They will come when they hear the voice of their shepherd because they have learned to trust the shepherd. If someone comes to try to steal the sheep and calls them to come, they will not come. With this first illustration Jesus wanted his listeners to know that he knows and cares for his sheep, and that his sheep know his voice and trust him.  When he calls, we will follow. Jesus comes back to this illustration later in this same chapter when he says: ‘My sheep know my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life (which is even better than potatoes!), and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand’ (27 and 28).

Jesus’ second illustration takes the listener away from the larger, common sheepfold in the town or village to one of the many smaller sheepfolds build in more distance pastures. These were used when a shepherd has travelled too far from home in search of good pasture to return to the large, common sheepfold. In these, he could keep his sheep safely overnight. These structures were simple small stone enclosures built by generations of local shepherds. They did not have a wooden gate or a gatekeeper like the larger sheepfolds in town. They had a single opening into the sheepfold. And the shepherd would lay out his bedroll across the opening, becoming the gate of the sheepfold through the night. Any thief or wild animal that wanted to get at the sheep would have to come through the shepherd. In such a situation a good shepherd would never simply put some limbs across the entrance and go somewhere more safe and comfortable. He would stay with the sheep.

When Jesus says ‘I am the gate for the sheep,’ one of his famous ‘I am’ sayings in John’s Gospel, this is the image he is invoking. He not only protects the sheep with his own life, but no sheep come into the sheepfold except through him.

Now that Jesus has everyone thinking about sheep and shepherds, he moves to his third and final illustration. And remember, when he does this, his listeners will be thinking very much about the famous Messianic passage from Ezekiel in which we are told both that God himself will be our shepherd and that the messianic successor to King David will be our shepherd. It was a famous text. But how can both God and the Messiah be our shepherd when that passage made a point of telling us their would be one shepherd and one flock? A promise from this text is repeated by Jesus in today’s Gospel reading, verse 16, ‘They will listen to my voice and there will be one flock, one shepherd.’  Jesus explains how both God and the Messiah will be the one shepherd of the people when he says to those listening that he is the good shepherd. And as soon as Jesus finishes his illustration of the good shepherd, he goes on to explain that he and the Father are one. Jesus was telling the people that all those centuries earlier, Ezekiel was talking about one and the same shepherd. The one shepherd of God’s people is both the Messiah and God in human flesh. (But that’s another sermon). For now, we want to look at what Jesus tells us about himself as the good shepherd.

In this passage we have another Jesus’ seven ‘I am’ sayings from John’s Gospel, and the second within this single passage. John liked groups of seven. Like John’s seven signs or miracles of Jesus, he reports seven sayings of Jesus in which he said ‘I am …’ I am the bread of life (6:35), the light of the world (8:12), ‘the door’ (10:9) the good shepherd (10:11-14), the resurrection and the life (11:250, the way the truth and life (14:6) and the vine (15:1-5). These sayings are significant because when Moses asked God what his name was, God simply answered ‘I am’. So Jesus’ repetition of ‘I am’ reinforces John’s theme in his Gospel that Jesus is not only the Messiah, but also God the creator come to us in human flesh. So that is part of what is happening in this text.  Jesus is once again telling those who have ears to hear who he is. He is telling them that the solution of the riddle of Ezekiel’s prophecy about the one shepherd for the one flock being on the one had God and the Messiah is that the Messiah is God himself has come among us.

But the other part of what Jesus is telling us is what kind of Messiah he is. And what kind of God he is. He is not just a good shepherd, he is the Good Shepherd. His use of the definite article is deliberate and stands out. There might be many good shepherds, but there is only one who is the Good Shepherd.  Jesus is the one whose voice we follow because we know and trust him and he brings us only good things. He protects us and cares for us. And he gives us life everlasting. We have also been told that he is the gate by which we enter the sheepfold, and that he guards that gate himself, with his own life.

And now he tells us that he really means this. ‘I am the good shepherd,’ he says, ‘and I lay down my life for the sheep.’

People had’ of course’ heard stories of shepherds who had died protecting their flock from thieves or wild animals. Such occurrences were rare, but that is the kind of love and dedication to his sheep a truly good shepherd has. And Jesus is that kind of shepherd.

Jesus is not a God whom we are to fear. We do not cringe or cower when we hear his voice. We do not wonder what he wants from us now. When we hear his voice we are excited, because we know he cares about us. We know that he watches out for us. We know that he brings us everything we need. We know that he even offers us peace with him and eternal life.

And Jesus does this by making the ultimate sacrifice a good shepherd will make for his sheep. When Jesus speaks of the good shepherd laying down his life for his sheep, he is pointing to his own death of the cross. It was a death that was fast approaching when he gave this final public sermon. He is telling the people one last time not only who he is, but how much he loves his sheep, how much he loves all of us, both those who were near and those still far off.

Because Jesus is the Good Shepherd, he is willing to go to the cross that we might have life.

So it turns out we can learn a lot from sheep. As Jesus shows us, we can learn everything we really need to know about God and his love for us from sheep.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, gathers us into one flock, and he gives his life to do it. And his one flock continues to grow as more and more hear the voice of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, and follow him.

On this Sunday of the Good Shepherd, might we continue to recongise the voice of Jesus as he calls us. And may we have the strength and courage to follow Jesus, to trust him as sheep trust their shepherd, for in Jesus, we have found our Messiah, our God and Creator, our one and only Good Shepherd.


Pastor Mark Worthing.
Port Macquarie.

‘The Greatest Fishing Story Ever Told’

Easter: John 21: 1-14

The summer I turned eight my father took me out fishing one evening on the lake bordering our farm. It is something we often did. Usually we were after small fish, and would be guaranteed to catch plenty. But I had just gotten a new rod and fishing reel for my birthday, so that night we were going after game fish, the big ones. We were fishing for fresh water bass, casting along the shore. I had been out with my father bass fishing a few times before over the past couple of years, but had failed to catch a single one over the size limit. This night was proving no different. After two trips around the lake with our canoe it was getting dark. My father suggested I let my line out with the lure on it and trawl it behind the boat as he paddled back across the lake. A few minutes later my bait hit a big snag and the pole almost came out of my hands.

Then the line began to move.

It was a fish.

A big one.

My father coached me through the process. I let out line to wear the fish down, then reeled in a bit, then let out more. For the first twenty minutes I let out more line than I was bringing in, because I didn’t want the line to break. About half an hour in, and with hardly enough light left to see, the fish broke the surface trying to shake the hook out of its mouth. It was a monster bass. When my father saw it he offered to take over the pole and reel. I, of course, declined the offer. My arms ached, but I was determined to land this fish. An hour later, and in near pitch black, I finally had the fish beside the boat. My father put the net under it and lifted it up. The net barely held the fish. It was a small mouth bass, rarer and usually smaller than large mouth bass. But this was the biggest bass of any type I had ever seen. It was the biggest bass my father had ever seen. It measured at 23 and a half inches long. Just an inch short of the state record. It was my first game fish, and was it ever a big one. When we finally got home my mom was still up, wondering what had happened to us. ‘Took you both long enough to come home empty-handed again,’ she said. My father looked and me and grinned. ‘Show her the fish,’ he said.

And that’s my best fishing story. I’m sure many of you have a great fishing story as well. And a couple of you I suspect have a net full of great fishing stories! But the fishing story in today’s Gospel text tops them all.

It is not just any fishing story.

It is the greatest fishing story ever told.

Here’s the context: Jesus had appeared to Mary Magdalene, then to his disciples twice in the upper room in Jerusalem. Now, they have returned to their home region of Galilee. Once there, Peter says one afternoon to the others: ‘I’m going fishing.’ Six of the other disciples decide to go with him. Many of them had, after all, been professional fishers before then began following Jesus.

As with all proper fishing stories, this one begins by relating how they were out all night and didn’t catch a single fish. It is the classic fishing story of nothing happening, of lowered expectations and disappointment.

And then, of course, the big catch.

It happened like this: The disciples were about to give up and come in from the night’s fishing empty handed. That is likely why they were near the shore. They had been casting their net hoping to catch a school of feeding fish, most likely Musht, or St Peter’s fish, commonly caught at night. The disciples then heard someone from shore call out to them. The man asked, ‘Have you caught anything?’ This is the most common question fishers are asked when people pass by. When walking along the break wall I often hear people ask this of those fishing there. And I have asked it a few times myself. And the response is nearly always the same. ‘Not a thing!’ The dsicples likewise call out to the man on the shore, ‘We haven’t caught a thing!’

Then the man suggests they cast their net on the right side of the boat. Now, if you are a regular fisher, you will know that advice from those passing by, who are most likely not expert fishers, is seldom appreciated – or taken. So you might will wonder why a group of professional fishers would listen to someone offering unsolicited advice from the shore. The answer is quite simple. The shoreline in that area is quite hilly and the person on the shore who they heard call out to them would have been standing several metres above the water level. On a calm early morning, such a person could see schools of fish below the surface that those in a boat could not see. So the suggestion was not that odd, nor the fact that they listened to the advice.

But what happened next came a quite shock. They cast the net as instructed. At first, the tug on the net was so great they must have thought that, being so close to shore, perhaps they had snagged the net in on a submerged log, or a wrecked fishing boat. But their net was not snagged. It wriggled with life. Their net was moving and full of fish. In fact, they had caught so many fish that they could not get the net into the boat.

That’s when the fishing story takes an unexpected turn. John turns his attention back to the man on the shore. That’s when John realises there is something familiar about what is happening. It is the first of several ‘memory triggers’ in this story – both for the disciples and for the reader. That it, John relates something which happened which sounds very familiar to the disciples, and to the reader.  Remember when Peter had first met Jesus. He had been out fishing all night and caught nothing. After using Peter’s boat to preach from, Jesus asked him to put his boat out and cast his net once more. But Peter was sceptical. There were no fish about that day. But he did it anyway, and they caught enough to fill two boats. That had been three years ago. Back at the beginning. It had been the start of the journey of discipleship. And that is when it clicks for John. He looks to the shore and realises that the man with the hot tip about where the fish are is Jesus.

“It is the Lord!” he says excitedly to Peter.  Peter, being the impetuous one, jumped straight into the water, so eager was he to come to Jesus. You may recall this is not the first time that Peter jumped out of a boat to come to Jesus. And this is the second obvious memory trigger in this story. But this time there is no attempt to walk on water. Again, Peter in his eagerness to come to Jesus, throws on his robe, jumps into the water leaving the others in the boat, then swims to shore. There he finds Jesus waiting with a charcoal fire going and he is cooking some fish and some bread. Jesus asks Peter to bring some of the fish he has just caught so he can make them all breakfast.

Peter heads back into the water where the boat and the net full of fish beside it are being brought to shore, and he helps drag the net on to the banks of the lake.

Then Jesus, the Creator of the universe who has died and risen from the dead, cooks his friends breakfast! Now that’s divine service!

It is only the second meal described in John’s gospel. Another memory trigger memory perhaps for the disciples. The other one was the feeding of the five thousand. And the menu was the same. Fish and bread. And that time as well it was Jesus who provided. But that time there had been far more people to feed than fish. Now there are far more fish than people to feed. Just how many fish were there?

Because these are fisher folk, and John was a professional fisher before he followed Jesus, there is one last important detail to be added to the story. The number of fish in the net, from a single cast, was one hundred and fifty-three! And they were all large ones at that. That was certainly a new local record for a single cast of the net by a long shot.  Now there’s a fish story that’s hard to beat. And in the midst of it all Jesus once more affirms to his disciples, in the routine actions of an ordinary life of fishing and eating breakfast, that he has indeed conquered death.

And one more memory trigger. And this was one that none of the disciples could miss. The last time Jesus had eaten with them was at the last supper. And now he does and says something very similar. He takes the bread and gives it to them, and then the fish. They could not help but remember the bread and wine of the last supper. So this story also becomes a strong image of the eucharistic meal, and because of this we often see bread and fish portrayed in early Christian art as a eucharistic symbol.

And that’s it. The greatest fishing story every told.

But if you have been following the story closely, you might be asking yourself a question. You might be wondering why, after all that had happened in the preceding weeks, were the disciples back in their boats fishing?

Let’s recap. The disciples have been following Jesus and learning from him for three years. For three years he had been preparing them. Jesus had told them of his death and resurrection, though they did not understand what this meant until these events actually occurred. Until just a week or so earlier, they were in Jerusalem, along with hundreds of other devoted followers of Jesus. Then Jesus appeared to them, at least twice, after his resurrection.  And when he appeared to them in Jerusalem he commissioned them to receive his Spirit, to go and forgive sins, and in general, to proclaim the good news.

And what to the disciples do? Well, they trundle off back to Galilee and go back to fishing. (Perhaps they were just following instructions. While John’s Gospel does not mention it, in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus asks Mary Magdalene and ‘the other Mary’ to tell his disciples to go to Galilee and waif for him there. Perhaps this is what they were doing. But they do seem to be surprised to see Jesus is they had simply been waiting for him to join them.) It is a bit of an unexpected response from those who have just encountered the risen Christ, and who are the recognised leaders of the many followers of Jesus still gathered back in Jerusalem.

So since the disciples are no longer in Jerusalem with the other followers of Jesus, Jesus goes to them. He gives them a hot fishing tip, makes them breakfast, and reminds them once again that he really has risen from the dead.

When we think about what is going on in the context of this story, the implied question Jesus asks is this: ‘Do you and the others have anything else that you ought to be doing now? Why are all you out here by yourselves, trying to catch fish – which, by the way, you were not doing very well at? You have now had the biggest catch of fish you or anyone on this lake will ever have. There is nothing more here to achieve. It’s time to move on.’

We might be harsh in our judgment of the disciples. We might well wonder what on earth were they thinking? After all that had happened, with all the people looking to them for leadership, and Jesus’ own commissioning of them on that first Easter evening – why did they simply go back to their nets?

But the disciples are not really so different from us. We have just journeyed through Holy Week, then celebrated the joyous good news that Jesus is risen from the dead. Now Easter is over. The celebrations have finished. The chocolate is gone. The long weekend past. And we have returned to our normal lives as if nothing has happened. And we, like the disciples, need Jesus to come to us, to where we are at. We need Jesus to come and nudge us and remind us that things can never again be as they were.

The Creator of the Universe has died for us and risen again, that we might have life. He calls us to live out and share this good news, the good news that Jesus lives. And because he lives, and lives for us, nothing will ever be the same again. The question for us, then, is this: What would Jesus have us to do, now that we have heard the good news that he lives?

As tempting as it might be to simply return to our nets, to our old lives, there is good news to proclaim. After Easter, our lives simply cannot be the same.


Pastor Mark Worthing.
Port Macquarie.

That first Easter day.

The Text: John 20:19-31
The sun has set on that first Easter day. In the midst of their grief and confusion, the apostles are given a glimmer of relief through sightings of the risen Lord Jesus, through angelic messengers who bring hope for the future, and a dim, dark memory of some things Jesus said about suffering and dying and rising again. But as the sun sets, fear and anxiety takes hold once more. Life often seems more difficult when darkness descends.
The apostles find a safe location and lock themselves in securely. Who knows what they talked about? What we do know is that despite all the evidence that Jesus had overcome death, they were still scared out of their wits, fearful that the Jewish leaders would murder them just as they had murdered Jesus.
Jesus had the right to show up and tell the disciples off. “You thick-headed people,” he could have said, “I told you over and over and over again that I was going to rise on the third day. How come you never got it?” Jesus had the right to do that, but He didn’t. Instead Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” Instead of scolding them, He gave them peace. They deserved wrath, but Jesus gave them peace.
Standing in the middle of the disciples and proclaims that, despite their failures; despite the way they abandoned Jesus and even denied Him, they have peace with God. And as He says this, Jesus shows them how much this peace cost – pointing to the wounds of His crucifixion.
So Jesus speaks His word of peace and the disciples receive the gift of reconciliation with God. It’s little wonder that they were still so excited when Thomas finally arrives later that night. “We have seen the Lord!” they declare to him, expecting Thomas to be excited. Over the centuries Thomas’ response has come to be known as one of doubt…but that’s not accurate.
Thomas doesn’t doubt, he flat out refuses to believe. That’s what he says. It’s not
that Thomas has a few questions about what happened to Jesus – he simply refuses to believe the word of God spoken to him by Jesus’ apostles. He rejects the eyewitness testimony of those who had seen Jesus and been given authority to tell the world about Him.
Well, a week later, it’s the same story. The disciples are gathered in the same room but this time Thomas is there. And Jesus shows up again. And again He has every right to tell Thomas off for his unbelief. But the first word Jesus speaks is one of peace. He declares that our sin’s rage against God is finished and He gives hope for eternity. He doesn’t chastise Thomas but offers the proof Thomas asked for and then demands that Thomas stop doubting and believe. He tells Thomas to stop being a pagan. Stop being an unbeliever doomed for judgement. And He calls him to simply believe. And what’s amazing is that Jesus’ words are enough. Thomas doesn’t stick his fingers in the nail wounds and he doesn’t prod Jesus’ side. Instead he hears Jesus’ words and his heart is changed. He cries out, “My Lord and my God!”
People often say how much easier it would be to believe if only…if only they could see Jesus….if only they could have some miraculous experience….if only Christian teaching was more in line with their way of thinking…if only their lives showed more evidence of blessing…and the list goes on. But what today’s reading does is show this kind of thinking for what it is: unbelief. This unbelief has the worst consequences, for refusal to believe God’s promises leads to hell.
Jesus doesn’t mess around with Thomas. Jesus speaks plainly that Thomas needs to stop being an unbeliever if he wants to enjoy the benefits of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Simply hanging around with the other apostles while maintaining this stubborn unbelief is not enough.
Yet Jesus is determined that Thomas not continue in unbelief. Jesus is kind and gracious and speaks words of forgiveness and mercy to him, and this word of grace changes the hardest of hearts.
That’s good news for us, too. For as we can no longer see Jesus with our eyes, it can be easy to doubt—or even disbelieve—God’s promises in Christ to us. How do we deal with unbelief such as this that lurks in all our hearts? How do we simply trust in the Lord whose wounds declare us forgiven and at peace with God?
At the end of our reading John says “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
What a wonderful statement of grace to you and me! Through His servant John, the Lord is telling us that we have all we need to believe and be saved. It’s not the kind of proof that will satisfy those looking for spectacular experiences or worldly approval…but it is the sure and certain proof that we all need to be freed from our sins and to live in the knowledge that we are at peace with God because Jesus died in our place and is now risen.
The Word of God is all we need. In fact Paul says in the letter to the Romans that faith can only come through hearing the word of Christ. That’s what John is saying. Yes, those first apostles were blessed to see the Lord, resurrected from the dead, alive and full of blessing.
But ultimately their faith was based on the words He spoke…the same word we have with us still today.
Week after week many of us come here and basically our message is the same. Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins. He rose again in victory over sin and death and the Devil.
And now He proclaims we are forgiven and set free for eternity. And you know that’s basically what the apostles said to Thomas as well when he refused to believe. Let us be careful, that we too are not stubborn and unbelieving and buy into Satan’s lie that we need more than this; the lie that there is something more exciting, something more spiritual than hearing that our sins are forgiven? God forbid that we would be found to be unbelieving Thomase’s in this way.
For just as Jesus was present with the disciples proclaiming peace and forgiveness in the midst of their fears, He surely stands with us today speaking that same word. He proclaims we are forgiven by His blood. He declares heaven is ours because He overcame death and the grave and was raised on the third day. He continues to come to us proclaiming peace,
proclaiming life, proclaiming salvation that at the last day we would be found believing.
So hear the word of Christ spoken first to the apostles, then to Thomas and now to us here.
The word that sets us free and creates faith in Jesus’ saving work. The word that Jesus has commanded His church to proclaim until He returns – the word that declares our sins are forgiven because Jesus has died our death and is now risen from the dead to fill us with the peace of God which passes all understanding. A peace that will keep our hearts and minds
in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

A place prepared

The Text: John 14: 1-14

A Place prepared

Clean sheets on the spare bed. check.

House clean and tidy. check.

Plenty of Food in the house. check

Yep ready for the visitors to arrive.

Is that something you do to prepare for visitors to come and stay with you? A special meal, the spare bed has clean fresh sheets, and the house is tidied?

It is special when children who have grown and left home, come home. For a mother, it is a joyous occasion when all the family are together and are at peace with one another.

Depending on where the children are geographically, there may be different ways they can travel to come home. Even when we go to places there is generally more than one way to take to reach a destination. If there is a more scenic way to get to a destination, sometimes that is a better wat than to travel on a major highway.

We can’t do that at the moment. We aren’t allowed to travel. We can’t be with our mother’s today if they live away from us. But that’s okay we can still connect with, phone, Facebook, Skype, email. Once this pandemic is over, once again we can go to their place.

Jesus tells about a place for us to go to today. He calls it his Father’s house. It’s a place where there is not just one spare room, but there are many rooms. But as Jesus says to Thomas, you can’t get there on your own. Jesus says: “I am the way”.

To know Jesus is to know the Father. In the same way, the Father knows the ones who listen to the voice of Jesus, and follow him along the way. It’s interesting that before early believers were called Christians they were called people who followed ‘The Way’.

Jesus fulfilled what the prophet Isaiah spoke of, “And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way; even if they are fools, they shall not go astray”. (Isaiah 35:8).

How are we ever able to walk the way of holiness and be invited into our heavenly room that is prepared for us? For we know that daily we struggle with our humanity and its sinful desires. Rather than daily concentrate on the Holy life God desires of us, we follow our own ambitions.

The way to God was completely closed, and sin was the roadblock. It was like when the Israelites had been rescued out of Egypt they were filled with fear because they thought the way to freedom was blocked by the Red Sea as the Egyptian chariots were closing in behind them. It’s the same in our lives. If we think our way to freedom depends on us, then we fail to trust that Jesus has provided away for our freedom.

The way was blocked because of sin, but God wanted to rescue us from this world in which sin entered and blocked the way to the place where our Heavenly Father has these many rooms prepared. God could not simply excuse or overlook our sin and allow us to enter his place in our sinful state. Yes God is merciful, but He is also just. Justice requires that sin be paid for. At great cost, he himself paid that price.

God offers salvation to everyone who accepts it through faith in Jesus. Jesus describes this way as entering through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

Perhaps the way through Jesus doesn’t look appealing enough or has too many restrictions. But in reality, the way through Jesus is bigger than you think, because God sent Jesus to save the world. It isn’t God’s fault that many don’t accept that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.

We know the way to heaven by trusting in what Jesus has done for us and what he continues to do for us through his gifts to the Church. Our journey begins in Baptism. Through God’s Word and water Jesus dwells in our hearts through faith. Faith receives the promises of God and clings to Jesus as the true and only way. Faith receives Jesus as the way and rejects all other ways that are contrary to what God’s word says.

Just like a mother, God has a lot of love to give, even lots more. God’s love is an everlasting steadfast love that endures rejection, as he sees people go on a journey in other directions to fulfil their needs. However, through the Holy Spirit, God never stops trying to alert us if we go in the wrong direction.

It’s like when your TomTom or Navman tells you perform a U-turn where possible. What I really dislike about relying on GPS is when they try to take you down a road that isn’t there. It makes us end up feeling lost and not sure where I am. Then I need to back track to get on the right way.

Likewise, God gives us a conscience to alert us when we follow a way that leads away from his way. His ways are written on our hearts, and supported through his written word to show us his way.

When it comes to walking the way of holiness, it’s the way of repentance and forgiveness. Repentance because we fail to live holy lives and need to turn back and confess our failures to God. God hears our cries for mercy and forgives us for Jesus’ sake.

He is always waiting like a mother for her children to come home. One of the best images we have of this in the bible is the story of the prodigal son.

When Jesus says, “I am the Way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me” he is not meaning this to be a threat. Jesus spoke these words to his disciples, as a word of comfort.

They are a comfort for us as well, for we don’t need to panic and search for a hidden map or look for clues, or guess if we are on the road to salvation. It’s clear and simple. As Jesus says “Do not let your heart be troubled. There are many rooms in my Father’s house. If it were not so, I would have told you. I am going away to make a place for you. After I go and make a place for you, I will come back and take you with me. Then you may be where I am.”

A mother’s desire is to protect her children. Have you felt the anxious wait to see your children safely arrive home? You hope they will not get lost, but will follow the way that leads to you, to the place you have prepared for them. Sometimes things occur where as parents, as a mother, you need to go and bring your child to the safety of home.

This is what Jesus did for all of us. He came down from heaven into the world, where we were lost and heading in all sorts of directions and he shows the way home. His desire is for us to be where he is. There is no other way than the way Jesus paved at a great cost to himself.

He calls us to follow him with hearts that forgive, and have compassion. With hearts that welcome home into the family a child who had lost their way. With hearts that even go looking when we notice we haven’t seen them for a while.

It’s what a mother does for her child so she knows her child is safe.

It’s what Jesus does for us. There is only one true way to eternal life. That is the way of Jesus. Amen

I am the good Shepherd.

The Text: John 10: 1-10

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. On this day we recognise that Jesus our risen Lord is indeed our Good Shepherd. As Psalm 23 says, he leads us to green pastures, and beside still waters. In our Gospel reading it cuts short of the part where Jesus says, ‘I am the good shepherd’.

In this reading from beginning of John chapter 10, Jesus describes himself as a door or a gate. The word for door can also mean opportunity.

Let’s look at what we know about doors and gates. What is their purpose? Why do you have doors in your house? Obvious isn’t it? You want to keep out those whom you don’t want in your house. The ones who you allow in your house are the ones you invite into your house. Even within your house are doors. You may close the door to your room for this may be your private sanctuary, and the ones you allow into your room are the people who are closest to you.

Jesus describes the people who try to get into your house by other means than invited through the door, are thieves and robbers. That is why our doors have locks on them, to prevent thieves and robbers from entering through the door uninvited. Of course, as Jesus tells us what we already know, they will try to find another way in.

It’s the same when you have a gate to your property, or a gate to the paddocks on your farms. The gates are there for a reason, to keep safe what is within, and to keep out that which is not allowed.

So, who is allowed through the door? Why is Jesus describing himself as the door?  Jesus may be alluding to the ways that shepherds would gather their sheep into a pen by calling their names. They would follow the shepherd into the pen and the shepherd would sleep in the opening as there was no gate.

Why is Jesus telling us this? What has bought him to this point where he teaches about himself as the door or the gate?

You may recall the Gospel reading for the fourth Sunday in Lent, about the man born blind. When Jesus healed this man born blind on the Sabbath, it was the talk of the town. The man was bought before the Pharisees and they interrogated him and his parents. During the interrogation the man said to the Pharisees: “Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become one of his disciples?” This led the Pharisees to cast him out of the temple where Jesus came to the man and asked him: “Do you believe in the Son of God?” The man replied: “Who is he sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus answered: “You have seen him, and it is he who speaks to you.” What did the man do then? He confessed his faith and worshipped Jesus.

Now today, Jesus says he is the door, he is the opportunity for all those who hear his voice, to come to him, to worship him and say, ‘Lord I believe’.

Jesus calls you into the safety of his kingdom. There is no other way to enter. The way is through Jesus. Anyone who tries otherwise to snatch you away from the love and mercy of Jesus is a thief and a robber who tries to rob you of the joy of being saved.

The Pharisees tried to rob the man born blind of the grace that Jesus had shown to him, claiming it to be a sinful deed done on the Sabbath. They denied the joy the parents should have felt of their son receiving his sight. Even as we read further into John chapter 10 in verse 27, Jesus says: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can snatch them out of my hand. I and the Father are one.”

It was that comment that stirred the pot for the Jews. When John speaks of the Jews here, it is all those who opposed Jesus. Just as they rejected what the man born blind said, they now rejected Jesus, accused him of blasphemy, they picked up stones and tried to arrest him, but his time had not yet come. Remember this happened before the events of Easter.

What does this mean for us? It means that there is life and salvation for all who hear Jesus’ call to follow. Jesus has come to bring forgiveness and healing. Jesus has come to make his voice known. How is it known? Through his word. Through his word we hear that Jesus suffered greatly that we may know him.

As 1 Peter 2: 22-25 says: “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

What more can we say than, ‘worthy is the lamb who was slain’? Despite our sinfulness, Jesus still calls us by name, and invites us into his kingdom. He invites us in and sets out a banqueting table of forgiveness, mercy, healing, acceptance and compassion.

You are all welcome. Do you hear his voice? A voice that says: Come all you who are weary and burdened. I will give you rest. Come, I will give you abundant life. Come in, I will keep you safe from the evil one.

The Pharisee, the Jews, the crowd, Satan, all may have thought they had silenced Jesus when he died on the Cross, but the Cross only showed to the world that Jesus is worthy to follow, for he was willing to give his life for his sheep.

Jesus is calling your name. Do you hear his voice? The blind man heard Jesus ask: “Do you believe in the Son of God?” He responded: “Lord I believe”.

Jesus is the door. Jesus is your opportunity to know the love of God and be accepted into his family, simply by listening to his voice. Any other voices that want to rob you of receiving this grace that Jesus offers to you are thieves and robbers. You don’t need to listen to those voices, because Jesus is calling your name. His is the voice that calls to you as you come and go in this world. Just as you come and go from the safety of your home, Jesus tells you to come and go knowing he is watching over as your good shepherd. Jesus knows you by name. May that be your comfort and peace. Amen

Hope Restored

The Text: Luke 24: 13-19

On that day two of Jesus’ followers were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking to each other about all the things that had happened. As they talked and discussed, Jesus himself drew near and walked along with them; they saw him, but somehow did not recognize him.  Jesus said to them, “What are you talking about to each other, as you walk along?” They stood still, with sad faces. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only visitor in Jerusalem who doesn’t know the things that have been happening there these last few days?”

“What things?” he asked. “The things that happened to Jesus of Nazareth. “they answered.

Have you heard the term, “I’ve had the stuffing knocked out of me?” This is an old saying that people have said when they suffer a serious illness, or get news that just saps the strength out of them. It is a struggle to get through the day. Maybe even cause a loss of hope.

Have you ever felt like that?

Perhaps it is because you have put high hopes in being cured of sickness and it hasn’t turned out how you expected. Or even like the disciples, when you are overcome with the death of a loved one. All these things can consume us, and bring loss of hope.

Today we hear of two disciples consumed with the events of the last few days. It’s been an overwhelming week, from Jesus’ triumphant entry into the city, to his betrayal and arrest, culminating in His crucifixion and burial. All of this was too much. The disciples have had the stuffing knocked out of them.

Some women came and reported that angels had told them he is not here. He is risen, but when Peter went and had a look all he saw was the strips of linen, so they regarded the news as nonsense. So later that day of the Lord’s resurrection, these two followers of Jesus’ head back home to the village of Emmaus about 7 miles from Jerusalem. As they walked and talked, they were filled with a mixture of sadness, of grief and confusion, a loss of hope, trying make sense of the last few days.

They had high hopes. Jesus was supposed to be the Messiah. He was supposed to come to liberate Israel, to free the people from oppression. But now Jesus was gone. As the disciples were preoccupied with all these thoughts, we are told Jesus came up and walked beside them, yet they were kept from recognising him.

Why would Jesus do that?  Why would Jesus delay revealing he is alive to them? Why let them suffer and think all that we hoped for is gone?

When they ask Jesus: “Don’t you know what has been going on the last few days?” Jesus pretends he doesn’t know and asks “What things?”

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.

Then Jesus said to the disciples: “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken. Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?”

Jesus wants the disciples to understand, all that has happened was prophesied. Jesus taught them from the beginning with Moses and all the prophets, how all the events about himself were a fulfilment of scripture.

Perhaps Jesus began with Genesis 3:15, where God cursed the serpent saying, “I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. And he will strike your head and you will strike his heel.”

And maybe Isaiah 7:14 where God says, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive, and she will have a son and name him Immanuel.”

Maybe Jesus quoted Isaiah 53:3: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of suffering who knew what sickness was. He was like one people turned away from; he was despised, and we did not value him.”

What we can know is that it would have been an amazing journey through scripture as Jesus journeyed with them on the road to Emmaus. Jesus would have taught them about the Messiah and why it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and die and be raised again.

So, what can we learn from this great learning experience the disciples had with Jesus? Well for us, it means we can also rely on the word of God to learn all we need to know about Jesus. We can also learn how the Old Testament points to Jesus as the saviour who is to come. In the gospels, we hear of Jesus, the word become flesh. We hear he came to heal and to proclaim the good news, that Jesus is the way into the kingdom of heaven. We hear of Jesus’ resurrection appearances. The letters of Paul and Peter and others encourage us to live in faith, trusting in all that Jesus has done for us and for our salvation.

Jesus continues to reveal who he is through the truth of his word, so that our hearts burn within us, as we learn more and more about Jesus and of his love and mercy for us. It is not without significance that it is around the Supper table the disciples’ eyes are opened and they see Jesus for who he really is as he “took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them”. The words are almost identical to those at the Last Supper where Jesus “took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them”.

While we are unable to gather for Holy Communion at this time, we look forward to the time when we can once again commune with the Lord Jesus, the host and the meal itself. For it is a meal that involves all our senses as we taste, see, hear, feel, and smell Jesus, in this Holy meal.

Another thing that is interesting, is once their eyes were opened, Jesus disappeared. Why?

Our answer is in what we are told happened next. This was something they could not keep to themselves. They could not wait to run the seven miles back to Jerusalem and share the news. They gave witness that Jesus was risen, that he had walked with them and talked with them, explained the scriptures to them, and broke bread at their table.

While we have not seen the risen Jesus, we can be assured that just as the scriptures say, He is Risen. This something that we cannot keep to ourselves. We aren’t allowed to congregate or gather at the coffee shop to share this good news, we do have a phone and technology to tell this good news. We don’t need to hide in fear of all that has happened and is happening, but we can be filled with joy for the hope we have in Jesus.

Even though we have times where we experience despair, sadness, even shattered hopes, we are not alone. Maybe Jesus is walking beside you and you haven’t noticed Jesus come along side and say, “Tell me what it is troubling you?”

Though we can’t make sense of all that is going on, Jesus wants us to be in conversation with him, to cast our burdens on him.

Jesus is our living Lord who is committed to walk with us and help us to endure all things. He tells us that nothing can separate us from his love. All it takes is to listen to him in his word and draw comfort and strength from his word. As we walk and learn more about Jesus, may our hearts burn within us as we here Jesus speak to us through his Spirit.

Through faith and trust in the resurrected Jesus, it enables us to truly see that the risen Lord is our hope when the stuffing has been knocked out of us. Let’s remember we are not walking alone. The risen Jesus is walking with us! Amen.

Seeing is believing

The Text: John 20:19-31

Some of our popular sayings are absurd, like “seeing is believing”. If you see, you don’t need to believe.  People have refused to affirm what they see. They often have vested interests for doing so. Jesus’ opponents witnessed His mighty miracles and yet refused to believe in Him. Earlier in John’s Gospel, after Jesus miraculously fed 5,000 people, Jesus said: “You have seen me and yet you do not believe (John 6:36).”  In the Bible, believing makes seeing possible. At her brother Lazarus’s death, Jesus tells Martha, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see God’s glory (John 11:40)?”

You see, faith is a lot like falling in love. Falling in love isn’t blind, but super-sighted. It enables you to see all sorts of things, good qualities in your beloved you never noticed before. So faith opens our eyes to the things God is doing in your life right now. Both love and faith involve taking a risk, the risk of commitment. Some people have never found commitment easy. There have always been those who have found faith in God a struggle, like Thomas did in today’s Gospel. When you consider all the attacks on our Christian faith in our media, in pubs and at parties, it’s an amazing miracle that so many people in our community, not only believe in our Lord but give visible evidence of their faith week by week. Thank God for every sign of faith you see around you.

Thomas didn’t initially share Peter’s Easter joy. He was absent the first time our risen Redeemer appeared, when His followers were gathered together. What blessings he missed out on by absenting himself from the company of his fellow believers. Consider what blessings, what enrichment and strengthening of your faith you may have missed out on by absenting yourself from the fellowship of the Lord’s House on Sunday only to inform this person that that topic was dealt with the previous Sunday when that individual was absent.  That’s why God urges us: “Some people have got out of the habit of meeting for worship, but we mustn’t do that. We should keep on encouraging each other, especially since you know that the day of the Lord’s coming is getting closer (Hebrews 10:25).” 

Thomas grieved over his Lord’s death longer than he needed to. He believed he was a realist. He’d expected all along that Jesus would be crucified. When Jesus proposed to visit Mary and Martha because their brother Lazarus had died, Thomas replied, “Let us also go that we may die with him (11:16).”  He didn’t lack courage, but was a pessimist. A loyal follower of Jesus, he was a slow learner, slow to grasp who Jesus was and why He’d come. He wasn’t afraid to ask the questions of Jesus no one else dared ask. “Lord, we do not know where you are going”, he said.

Thomas is the most maligned of Christ’s apostles. He has been dubbed “doubting Thomas”. We don’t refer to Peter as “Peter the denier”. There’s something up-to-date about Thomas. He strikes me as a suitable patron saint for our times. He wasn’t prepared to believe because others said so. He wanted a genuine faith, a firsthand experience of the risen Christ. He wasn’t going to be content with second-hand testimony.  If others had encountered the risen Christ, so must he. Thomas doesn’t ask to hear our Lord’s voice or see His face; he wants to see Jesus’ wounds. He’s only interested in the resurrection of His wounded Saviour. The wonderful thing about the other apostles is that they don’t snub him because of his doubts, but gently keep him posted about their Easter experiences. Maintaining friendship and fellowship with someone plagued by doubts has won many a doubter back into a stronger, firmer faith.

I have found that most doubters are dissatisfied with their doubt, and long for the joy a firm faith provides. Thomas’ lack of faith does more for us than the firm faith of his fellow apostles. Thomas doubted, so that we need not doubt.

Jesus now comes to His followers on His Day, the Lord’s Day. This time Thomas makes sure he’s with the others. Thomas has perhaps begun to realise that the place to find an answer to doubt isn’t in isolation, but in the company of others with a stronger faith than his own. Faith, you see, is partly contagious. As Jesus has often done with others who need their faith strengthened, Jesus gives Thomas what he needs to have, a firm faith in Him. Jesus displays His wounds which reveal the depths of His love for Thomas (and us). The wounds in Jesus’ hands heal the wound in Thomas’ heart. The slowest learners often become the strongest believers. Thomas may have been slow to believe in Jesus’ resurrection, but at a bound, he leaps ahead of the others and is the first to come to full faith in our Lord: “My Lord and My God”, he confesses. He now confesses a greater faith than eyes can see. Thomas gives expression to the highest act of worship in the New Testament. The words “My Lord” mean Thomas is thrilled to now belong to his Lord and to surrender his life to Him.

We remember Thomas more for his supreme confession of faith than his previous doubts. Jesus calls a faith like ours that hasn’t seen Him “blessed”. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe (John 20:29b).” Our Lord commends, praises and blesses a faith that heroically continues to believe without immediate or obvious confirmation. Faith means trusting in advance what will only make sense in hindsight. Faith that makes a difference believes that our Lord is with us in all our difficulties, disappointments and doubts. Faith that thrives constantly feeds on God’s Word. Christians are more likely to read God’s Word for comfort and help if they believe God is with them in their difficulties and doubts. Doubt is faith suffering from malnutrition. Doubt points to areas where one’s faith needs to grow and acquire deeper insight. Doubt is faith’s inbuilt stimulus to increase, deepen and develop.

Regular prayer and worship help keep our faith in good shape, fit to meet life’s challenges and setbacks. Luther once said: “To believe in God is to worship God.” God is greater than all our problems, difficulties and doubts. When we bring our doubts to God in prayer, the sting is taken out of them and they no longer impact negatively on our faith. We needn’t understand everything about our faith for it to be robust and resilient. Faith becomes unshakeable when I realise that Christ my Lord has grasped me more firmly than I ever could grasp Him. Fear, shame and guilt have kept more people away from God than doubt ever has. The welcome news Jesus brings is that He can free you from fear, guilt and shame like no one else can. Pray for a faith that nothing can destroy. Pray to stay faithful to your Lord unto death, so that you will receive from Him the crown of life everlasting. Amen

‘Peace, God’s command and promise’

John 14:23
Jesus said, anyone who loves me will keep my word.

            When I last preached I was meditating on remembering, on making something part of our lives here today as we live them. Remembering that last week of Christ’s life. Making the crucifixion part of our living. The New Resurrected Life of Christ as part and parcel of our bodies today. Remembering Christ in the way we live. And today we remember some of Christ’s teaching on that last night before the crucifixion. As the disciples and Jesus eat and make their way up to the mount of Olives, Jesus says, “anyone who loves me will keep my word.” Or ‘anyone who loves me obeys my commands’, as it is sometimes translated and rightly so, yet it’s much more than that. Anyone who loves Jesus will keep His word, and if you do not keep His word then you do not love Him. But what does it mean to keep? And what is His word?

            Well, I’ll ask the question, what have you kept? And what have I kept? Digging around in my old box, I found a bag I made in grade 8, with a brass spoon Great Gran gave me, and a wooden spoon I won as last place on a quiz night. I’ve kept both these spoons for over 10 years, safe in a bag in a box, guarded from hands that might want to clean up and throw things out, I’ve kept them safe and haven’t used them. Perhaps that should change.

I’ve also kept in touch with an old school friend, catching up over the phone and face to face maybe ten or so times over the last ten years. Perhaps the friendship would keep better if we were in closer contact, yet we are still good enough friends.

And I’ve also kept some words in mind over the years. My dad told me, “It takes two to tango” a bit vague, especially because I don’t really dance, but it means all parties involved need to take responsibility for it to work, at work, in relationships, in all sorts of things. I’ve kept that word in mind and it’s sort of changed the way I see the world, it guides the way I might interact, and I suppose you could say it shows my love for my father. To keep something well, you guard it and keep it safe, you don’t forget about it or refuse to use it, and your life in some ways revolve around what is kept.

            Anyone who loves Jesus will keep His word. And what is that word? His first sermon, “Repent and believe the Good News, for the Kingdom of Heaven is here!” His last sermon on the cross, “It is finished, complete!” And His sermon before the Ascension, “Go and make disciples of all nations, by baptising and teaching them to keep everything I have commanded you; and surely I will be with you to the very end of the age.” In the word He left, Jesus promises the Kingdom of Heaven; that His mission, the defeat of sin, death and the devil, and full reconciliation between God and humanity is complete; and that He is with you always. In the word He left, Jesus commands us to repent, turn toward Him, and to go and make disciples, teaching them to keep all His commands. This is Law and Gospel, promise and command, and yet Jesus doesn’t separate them. When He declares your sins are forgiven, He promises that He has dealt with your sins and they need not burden you anymore, and He commands that you reject your sinful habits and live free from sin and it’s burden just as He has already freed you. In one word, ‘I forgive you’ He promises and He commands. In one word, ‘You are my beloved child’ God Almighty promises His fatherly love and commands obedience to His family culture. In a word Jesus gives and commands, as He says to you, ‘Peace’.

            Peace as the world cannot give, peace which surpasses all understanding, the peace of God, of Jesus Christ our Righteousness. “Peace I leave for you, my peace I give you.” If you love Jesus you will keep this good word, treasure it, guard it, and share it to the glory of God. Yet it’s not simply only this word of Divine Peace, you can hear all the depths of His word, and for that you need others to teach you, that is your pastor, your parents, your Christian brothers and sisters; and Jesus commands you to teach those He gives to you. To keep all His word, and part of that word is for when you fail, ‘repent, I forgive you.’ Though His Word is not a burden for you to be crushed by, it is a command to hear and to do; yet more than a command it is a promise and a gift of love, life and peace. And so our loving Lord and Saviour says, those who love me keep my word.

            And hear that word again: the peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now and to life everlasting. Go in peace! Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.