Archive for the ‘After Easter’ Category

The Good Shepherd

Saturday, April 21st, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Simon Cooper

Like Him

Saturday, April 14th, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

 

Seeing And believing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

Living lovingly in a world of hate

Sunday, May 28th, 2017

Bible reading: John 17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor David Christian

The Four B Club

Saturday, May 13th, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

 

Do sheep have free will?

Saturday, May 6th, 2017

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Mark Schroeder

The Journey

Sunday, April 30th, 2017



Luke 24:13-35

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Tim Stringer

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.