Archive for the ‘After Pentecost’ Category

Tell me something new.

Saturday, June 23rd, 2018

1 Samuel 17:45-47

David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the I come against you in the name of , the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”

 

Sometimes I think, “they’ve heard this all before, should I try and tell them something new?” Jesus loves you is a song we hear from our childhoods, and David and Goliath is too. The same message again and again, but I also know that we forget the same message of God’s grace again and again, so again we need to hear it. There is much to this story of ancient Israel, motivations, family obligations and jealousy, fear and struggles, kingship and leadership, the underdog beating the champion, and some even use it as proof that God makes His people succeed in all their struggles. However, I’m not convinced of that last one, because God has not promised me that He will make all my plans succeed. Rather He has promised me, and you, life eternal, peace and joy, but also suffering in this life.

Back to those verses I just reread, it comes to what we rely on. Goliath came at David with sword and spear, but David at Goliath in the name of the Lord Almighty. Goliath relied on his own strength and tools, David relied on God’s promises to the people of Israel. Goliath died, David was victorious. And now we know, along with all those Philistines and Israelites that The God of the armies of Israel saves His people, but not with sword and spear.

Here He saved the Israelites through a shepherd, but He has saved the whole world through the Good Shepherd (John 10), the great Son of David, Jesus Christ. Because of Jesus, His life, death resurrection and ascension, we are saved from sin, death and the Devil. 1 Corinthians (15:54-57) “Death is swallowed up in victory,” “Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” God has promised you eternal life, peace, and joy with Him, but now we do not see it.

And that is the struggle, God has told us we have won, but it still doesn’t look like it. We know that Jesus defeated sin and the devil on the cross, but it didn’t look like it. The Israelites had heard that God would give them the Promised Land and be with them, but looking at the Philistine army and their powerful champion Goliath it didn’t look like it. The Israelite army looked at the strength of the Philistines and Goliath and looked at their own strength and knew that they would fail. They would fail because their own abilities and tools were not good enough to get the victory they needed. They Philistines on the other hand could easily rely on their military prowess, particularly in Goliath, to defeat these Israelites. They both saw what they had and relied on that for the struggle against them. How often we rely on our own strength to get us through difficult times, or maybe we turn to rely on something else, to our savings, to alcohol, to family connections, to the medical profession, to any number of other things. But we often turn to these things instead of God. Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge him, and He will make your paths straight.”

That’s not to say don’t go to your friends or the doctor, David did still have his sling, but rather that we first turn to God and trust that He will do what He has promised, and certainly He may work through His creation, the gifts that He has given to all people. But it’s also important to remember what God has promised.

He promised the Israelites their own land, that those who curse them He will curse, that He will be their God, the God of the armies of Israel, and also, as we heard last week, David would be king (Exodus 23:22-31; Genesis 12:3 & Numbers 24:9; Exodus 7:4 & Exodus 29:44-46; 1 Samuel 16:1, 13). This is what David was relying on, not that God said David would kill Goliath. Sometimes we come up to different trials and struggles and turn to God to succeed and to find lazy comfort, but God never promised us that we will always succeed. In fact He has promised that we will struggle in this life (Romans 8;17; 1 Peter 2:20); Paul and John teach us that we will fail and fall into sin; the lives of the early Christians show us that we are not promised cosy lives with Christ here (Romans 7; 1 John 1). But He has promised to be with you, the Holy Spirit alongside you to bring you the peace of God and the assurance of your sins being forgiven and taken away, not just this but also life eternal with God in the new and renewed world after this one.

And so we ask God for help to always rely on Him instead of His gifts, to trust Him and not ourselves.

Pastor. Joseph Graham

“Faith Fencing “

Saturday, June 16th, 2018

 2 Corinthians 5:6-8,16-17 

A farmer goes to buy supplies to build a fence — three kilometres long! He has saved up all his money and estimates how much of everything he will need.He buys rolls and rolls of tie wire and netting wire, apparently to stop the sheep getting out and the wallabies getting in. He buys roles and roles of plain wire and barbed wire as well as insulators to electrify these top wires to stop his bulls fighting with the next door neighbour’s bulls. He loads onto his vehicle bundles of star pickets, or steel posts. Then he goes off to the forestry. For days he works to cut out strainer posts, split posts and stay rails. He eventually arrives back at home with loads of Ironbark timber. The work has been hard and his hands are stained from sap from cutting and barking trees.
Now the farmer is ready to build his fence. He trusts he has everything he needs to complete the task of constructing the fence. For the next couple of days he digs holes for the fence posts and flogs the star pickets into the ground; two steel posts to every split post. He believes this fence is going to be the straightest, tightest, neatest and newest fence in the district. He has great faith it’s going to stop everything from lambs to bulls.
He attaches wire to the posts, section by section, until he gets to the last one-hundred metres. But tragically as he unrolls the barbed wire, the spindle whirls to a stop — he’s run out of wire. He unrolls the plain wire — the same thing happens. And likewise the netting runs out too. The wire is too short, some of it by ten metres, some of it by seventy metres, and some of it by just three metres. None of it makes the distance to the final strainer post and so the fence stands unfinished.
How many people there have been and are today, who on approaching Christ, apparently come so near to him, yet never truly touch him! Unless the final contact of faith is achieved, all is lost. Like the newly constructed fence standing as the neatest, straightest, and tightest, stops nothing, so too faith that is not bound to Christ, stops and saves no one.
St Paul tells us, [W]e are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:6-8,16-17)
We live by faith, not by sight! Unless faith is connected to Christ what really is the faith we possess. True faith makes us one with Christ; it takes us out of ourselves, it takes us from the familiar homes of our bodies. Therefore, faith takes us away from trusting our feelings, faith leads us from our limited understanding so we might trust him alone, and faith puts no trust in the greatest works we might accomplish. We live by faith not by sight. Unlike sight, or touch, or feelings, or understanding, or physical strength, faith is not a faculty of our bodies. Faith is not at home in us but it always seeks to lead us home.
Faith comes to us from God. In fact it is sent from the Father and the Son, to you and to me, when the Holy Spirit comes to us in God’s word. Just like a removalist moving house, the Holy Spirit comes to us and is in the process of relocating us to be with God. But unlike a furniture removalist this shift is taking a lifetime. We might become frustrated with this move God is making within us. We would be frustrated if a furniture removalist took a lifetime to move our furniture from one house to another. However, God calls us to trust this lifelong shift, rather than try to understanding it and become frustrated with it. As Martin Luther once described faith as glue, we are called to let our hearts be stuck fast to the promises of God.
God moves us to be with him throughout this life, naturally we are called to be less and less reliant on the things with which our bodies are furnished.God’s will is that we look more and more to him; to live by faith and live less and less by sight and the other things we once relied on in the home of our person — the temporary home of our bodies.
The farmer’s fence was faulty, he built it by sight and his own understanding, and it came up short. He was lacking in judgement, discrimination, and discernment. However, a fence built by faith is tied to God; it protects a person from the smallest errors hopping into the heart, just as the farmer’s fence would have stopped wallabies if finished. Faith also guards us from the greatest of evils bellowing at us and barrelling us; just like a finished fence would have saved the farmer’s bull from the neighbour’s bull looking over the fence for a fight.
As people who live by faith, we are called to be discerning and make judgements over what is right and what is wrong, or what is truth and what is filled with error, so that the faith fence is not untied from Christ and the move from the home of our bodies to the home of heaven is not severed through confusion and deception.
In an age of political correctness, we are tempted to fall into line with the thinking that we must see every view as an alternative truth. We are tempted to see that “It’s all good” without stopping and discriminating false belief for what it is — deception.
It often comes as a surprise and shock to the person who thinks they are doing the right thing when they find out they have in fact been deceived — but that’s why it’s called deception. And the deception many Christians fall into is a quasi-faith that leads away from God, back into trusting personal traits and emotions as faith, and therefore leaving the fence of faith disconnected from God in a haze of confusion and chaos.
So if we are called to use sight, or feelings, or human understanding, less and less, to make sense of things, what should we use? If we are called to discern and judge without the use of our bodily faculties, then what do we use? How are we to view ourselves if sight and the other senses are things of the past? And should we discern and judge the fence building of others, or how the moving from the body to the home of heaven is going with others?
As we have already heard, faith allows us to be glued to the promises of God. To discern with faith, we don’t turn back to our human faculties, rather we view all things with, in, and through, the word of God. The word of God becomes our eyes and ears, and through it our hearts and minds are moulded toward the will of God. We hold all things up against the word of God; what others say to us, or seek to teach us, even our own Lutheran confessions can only stand under the authority of God’s word.
Through his word we are being made new creations in Christ, the old is gone, the new creation has come. In fact our re-creation is still coming to completion, and our re-creation will be finished and perfected in the future as God continues to move us from our old house into his new heavenly home.
So too we are called to see and hear each other through the lens and voice of God’s word. We are called to use the same divine word through which God has saved us and first given us faith, to judge and discern what others are doing.
Why must we do this? Not to knock each other down, but to help one another be freed from error, so we might all be built up in our saviour Jesus Christ through his word and the promise of his presence through his gifts to his church.
Why is this so important? Because through his word, the water and the word, and the body and blood, the Holy Spirit gives us the gift of faith and faith leads us out from ourselves and into the heavenly home of God the Father forever.
Live by faith not by sight! Seek the house of the Lord, and his home in eternity, over against the security we once found in ourselves. We have been baptised into Christ, so view each other in faith—with the eyes and ears of his word—and encourage each other into repentance and forgiveness, as does faith continue to encourage each of us. The ways of the world and the faculties of our bodies are doomed to death, so allow these things to be pruned off forever and be tied to Christ with the fence of faith forever. Amen.

Don’t worry – be happy

Saturday, June 9th, 2018

 

2 Corinthians 4:15-5:1

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.

I don’t know how many times you’ve noticed, but there seems to be connections everywhere. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy working on sermons. Maybe you find out how most of your church community is related in some way, or maybe the same idea just keeps coming up. That’s what happened for me this week in bible study, ladies guild and elsewhere, and that idea, that thought was to cling to God and let Him be in charge, and not to cling to the things in this life. To know and keep in mind that, for us Christians, what is coming, eternal life with God and participation in Christ’s glory at the end of this age, is so much more than the struggles and suffering we experience and put ourselves through in our lives here.

God is telling you through Paul that even though you may be wasting away, maybe because of stress and worry, or the weight of work and expectations, or even as our bodies grow old and fall apart, despite this you have eternal life waiting for you with God, a life that will never decay. Paul has just been telling the Corinthians of his afflictions, his perplextion, persecution and beatings (2 Corinthians 4:8-10). He knew what it meant to suffer in this life, but also to live for the glory of God and to increase the thanksgiving sent God’s way (2 Corinthians 4:15). He knew how to cling to God and not to this world. Do you?

Do you live as if the things in this life are nothing compared to life with God? Do you worry about what you will eat or what you will wear (Matthew 6:25-34)? Do you focus your time and effort to please yourself, eating rich food, drinking much wine/beer, exercising, reading, meeting with others, all these for your benefit, or theirs, but not God’s (1 Peter 4:3-6)? Do you waste this life that God has given you, spending it in front of the T.V. or the computer, or even at work, busying yourself with the tasks and cares of this world, and forgetting to brilliant Good News that God has given you? I know you suffer in this world, but do you hurt because of your sin, or because you live for God (1 Peter 2:19-20)?

Paul too knew he struggled with sin, we have his words that the good he wants to do, he does not do, but the evil he does not want to do he does (Romans 7:15-25). For many of us this is fairly relatable, but sometimes we do want to sin and we don’t want to live this life to the glory of God (1 Peter 4:11). We want to be in charge of our lives and keep the glory for ourselves when we really don’t have much power to change anything, just look at the rain as an example. We want to be the masters of our own little world, to build it up and to be in control. We worry about all the little things of this world, not that we shouldn’t clean our cars, or take care of ourselves and those God has given to us, but instead of clinging to God, relying on Him and letting Him be in charge, we put all the responsibility on ourselves. And then when we fail, not if, but when, we take God’s role as judge and condemn ourselves or others. Does this show God’s glory, or increase thanksgiving toward Him? No.

Paul knew this about himself, but he also knew what Jesus Christ had done for him, and he trusted in that. Certainly he would’ve slipt up, again and again we too know that we have failed, but this doesn’t mean that we cannot be saved. God’s grace is so much more powerful and greater than our sin. If you think your sin in this world is greater than God’s grace then you’re not listening to God, but have been deceived by the father of lie, the devil of this world. We see the struggles in this world, the injustice and evil, we see our own sins, but we do not see what is coming, the great and glorious thing that God does.

These things we see are temporary, here today gone tomorrow, or it might take 1000yrs I don’t know. But we do not see here what God has given us, eternal life with Him. He certainly doesn’t fall apart or waste away, and His promises don’t either. He has promised us that our bodies will be changed into eternal ones just as Jesus Christ was, that we will live together with Him and share in His immense and fantastic glory, more than we could imagine. He tells us here that this comparatively short time of suffering and struggle will end, and God will draw you, His people, to be with Him forever.

Joseph Grahm

“Treasures in Jars of Clay”

Saturday, June 2nd, 2018

2 Corinthians 4:5-12

For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

 

It happened in the Gold Country of Northern California in February of 2013. A man and his wife were walking their dog on their property when they saw the cover of a small, rusty tin canister beneath an oak tree. They dug it up and then opened it at home. It was filled with gold coins minted in the 1800’s. They went back and found more canisters under the tree, 1400 gold coins in all, worth over ten million dollars. Why would someone hide valuable gold coins in tin canisters under an oak tree?

Do you want to hear something even more strange to our human way of thinking? God in his love and mercy entrusts the greatest treasure in the world, his love for us in Jesus his Son, to people like you and me. The Apostle Paul calls us jars of clay. My dear Christian friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, we are broken people, people broken by sin, broken by troubles in life, broken by our anguish over not living the lives the Lord has called us to life. Yet, even though we are broken and cracked jars of clay that should be cast aside, we possess the greatest treasure in the world. We have Jesus. Yes, we are jars of clay, but special jars of clay because the treasure of Christ has come to us and the treasure of Christ is passed on through us.

Usually people find treasure, but the treasure you have in Christ Jesus your Saviour is different. This treasure finds you! Paul says, “We do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” Paul did not preach and brag and boast about himself. He did not try to thrill the crowds with how he had found the greatest treasure in the world by accepting Jesus into his heart. It was all about Jesus Christ being his Lord and God who came to him and found him. In a previous letter to the Corinthians he said, “For I resolved to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” In one of our hymns, we sing,

“Oh the height of Jesus’ love,

Higher than the heavens above,

Deeper than the depths of sea,

Lasting as eternity,

Love that found me-wondrous thought!

Found me when I sought him not.”

Paul was certainly not boasting about himself when he says in verse 7, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” Jars of clay! That’s how Paul saw himself and that is how we see ourselves. We cannot boast about being some beautiful Ming Dynasty vase that deserves to put up on the shelf and admired by other people and even by our God. Our lives are broken by sin just as a hammer can easily break any clay plot.

Oh, to be sure, there was a time when Paul thought he was a beautiful vase highly admired by his God because he followed rules and regulations of Jewish law meticulously. But then Jesus came to him and showed him how shattered and broken he was and how far short he fell of God’s glory. We read in Romans chapter 7 where Paul confessed that he did not know what sin was or how broken he was until he realized that coveting or even the desire to do something wrong made him unacceptable to God.

What do you do with a piece of pottery that is broken and cracked? You throw it away. What does the Lord our God do with jars of clay that are broken and cracked by sin? He gives them the greatest treasure in the world. He gives us his Son, Jesus, so we can be beautiful – not because of who we are, but because of the treasure that has been given to us.

How did this treasure come to you? Listen to what Paul says, “For God who said: ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” Remember the first day of creation. First God created the heavens and the earth, but it was formless and empty and dark. Then miraculously he said, “Let there be light” and there was light. Something similar has happened in your life and mine. Into this world of darkness into which we were born, totally clueless to the greatest treasure in the world, God brings light and shows us his glory in the face of Christ.

We were born into this world looking inside of ourselves for some ray of light and some ray of goodness by which we could make ourselves acceptable to God. There was no hope in that darkness as Ephesians says, “We were without God and without hope.” Isaiah tells us, “Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like those without eyes.”

But then God shined in our hearts. He showed us the light of his glory in the face of Jesus. He lets us see with our ‘eyes of faith’ the face of Jesus and that his promises and work for us is real. Some Sunday school children in their Pentecost Sunday lesson recently, made eyes with tongues of fire inside them to show how the Holy Spirit gives us eyes of faith. 1 Corinthians 2 says, “However, as it is written, ‘No eye has seen, now ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him’, but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.”

The greatest treasure in the world is to have this light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. Your eyes see Jesus! You look into a manger in Bethlehem and believe with all your heart that a tiny baby is Lord and God from all eternity. Your eyes see Jesus loving and respecting his parents, showing kindness to people, and loving them in a way you have never been able to love people. Your eyes look at his face as he hangs on the cross and cries out, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” You see him suffering and dying for the curse of your sin. You see Jesus with joyful face on the night of resurrection appearing to the disciples and to you and saying, “Peace be to you.” You know that someday when Jesus returns you will see him face to face in all his glory. Even though your physical eyes do not see him, you see him in faith as your Shepherd who holds you in his loving arms. You know that nothing will ever separate you from his life.

There are days when our lives seem so cracked and broken. Yet, we still have this treasure in jars of clay. We can resonate with what Paul describes in our reading today, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” In the most difficult days we ever face in life, the treasure we have in Christ shines brightest. That was sure the case with Job. In the darkest days of life when he lashed out in anger against God, he bursts forth with the triumphant words, “I know that my Redeemer lives.” He wanted to have the words carved in stone so all could see. He wanted people to see him not as “poor Job”, but as the man who possessed the greatest treasure in the world, a Redeemer who lives. During his many low moments of life Martin Luther encouraged himself with the one Latin word “Vivit” which means ‘he lives’.

My friends, there is a huge difference between being a ‘crackpot’ and been a cracked pot. A crackpot is someone who is crazy, loony and eccentric. A cracked pot is a broken piece of pottery. We are cracked pots. We are broken people. But by the miracle of God’s grace we possess the greatest treasure in the world. We have the riches of forgiveness and peace with God and the hope of eternal life found only in Christ. We have this treasure in jars of clay not just to cherish, but pass on to other people.

Listen now to these words of Paul and think of the high honour and privilege that is given to you and me. “We always carry around in our bodies the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” If I were God I think I would have chosen more beautiful creatures to bring the treasures in Christ to the world. Why limit the angels to just announcing Jesus’ birth or his resurrection from the dead? Why not have an angel stand before you for the sermon this morning and bring you the treasures you have in Christ? Why not have an angel visit your family members or friends who have given up believing these treasures? Let God’s holy angel shake up their world and warn them about the judgment to come and then show them again the glory of God in the face of Jesus, the Jesus they may have once valued so highly?

Why does God use jars of clay to bring the treasures of Christ to our dying world? It is simply because he loves us so much. He loved us by bringing these treasures to us, and he loves us by asking us to pass these treasures on to other people.

Listen further to what Paul says as he speaks about his privilege and the privilege also given to us. “For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.” You have seen the treasures you have in Jesus and your life has never been the same since. You are alive. Yet at the same time, you are constantly giving yourself over to death. That seems like a contradiction, but it is not. Because you are alive in Christ you want to see sin die in your life. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus shows itself in how you handle sin when it surfaces in your life. You want to see it die, just as you would want some dangerous bacteria to die instead of infecting your body.

And so our daily lives, under Christ, give witness to this new reality and hope that now lives within us.

I am reminded of a young man with cerebral palsy, with a twisted body, sitting in a nursing home, wearing a T-shirt that said, “I love Jesus” and singing songs like “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” The words that came from his mouth sounded strange but they were not. His twisted body, like an old clay pot, cracked and broken, witnessed boldly to the treasures he had in Jesus.

Jars of clay. Cracked pots. We struggle every day to live for Jesus. As we struggle people watch. If they will look into this jar of clay they will see the greatest treasure in the world. Jars of clay. That is what we are. Jars of clay with greatest treasure in the world!

Amen.

The least important

Saturday, November 25th, 2017
Text: Matthew 25:35-40
(The King will say), I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you received me in your homes, naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me.’ The righteous will then answer him, “When, Lord, did we ever see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we ever see you a stranger and welcome you in our homes, or naked and clothe you? When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?’ The King will reply, “I tell you, whenever you did this for one of the least important of these followers of mine, you did it for me!’

Do you remember the scavenger hunts that were held in back in the days when you were a member of a youth group? At the beginning of the hunt you’re given a list of things you have to accumulate. All kinds of things might be on the list. Maybe an empty drink can, the name on the foundation stone of the church, the number plate of Mr Schwartz’s truck. The first group back with all the items and information wins. But before you get the prize, the leader checks off each item to make sure you have got everything you say you have.

Is that the way it’s going to be on the final Day of Judgment? The King, Jesus says, will be seated on the throne of glory and will gather all the nations before him. Then, he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates sheep from goats.
“Let’s see… yes, you once gave food to a hungry person. Check.
There was the time you gave a drink of water to the thirsty child. Check.
Visited a jail? Check.
Called on someone who was sick? Check.”

Is Jesus suggesting that you can make it into heaven by giving food to one hungry person?
Or do someone a kind deed and say,
“There! That’s my good deed for the day; my ticket to eternity with the sheep!”

It wouldn’t take too much effort to put this kind of emphasis on Jesus’ parable about the Last Judgement and come to the conclusion that it just takes a few charitable deeds to get into heaven.

Of course it works the other way too. We read this and realise that there is no way that we have been kind enough and generous enough to with Jesus’ approval and his invitation to “come and possess the kingdom which has been prepared for you since the creation of the world”. The parable leaves us with this feeling of failure, guilt, and shame that we have ignored so many people who have been crying out for our help but for some reason we were too busy, too preoccupied, too prejudiced to help. What chance have we got of escaping God’s judgement? To put it bluntly, about as much chance as a snowball in hell.

Of course guilt can be a great motivator as well. We would rather be doing something else but the feeling of guilt prompts us to do more for the least important. We know that doing something out of guilt ends up a chore; we do it not because we like to but because we have to. There is no joy. There is no generous spirit. We are like the child who does a chore grudgingly because he knows that if he doesn’t he will get into trouble and he won’t get any pocket money.

So if Jesus isn’t telling us that a few good deeds will get us past the pearly gates and isn’t using guilt as a motivator to care for others, what is he getting at?

The parable is asking whether we have seen Jesus in the face of the hungry and thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and those in prison.
The message of this parable is that Christ is mysteriously present to us in those who need our help. When we see the loving face of Jesus in the faces of the needy and disadvantaged then we will want to respond with love and meet that person’s need. It follows that when we don’t see Jesus in the face of others, we will not want to reach out in love to that person, in fact, we could be quite harsh, judgemental and critical.
The parable calls us to show compassion and spring into action for the least important just as Christ has had compassion on us who can be considered the least important because of our sin and rebellion against God.

We worship a God who is entangled in the suffering of humanity, in our sufferings and in the suffering of people everywhere. In fact, we worship a God who chooses not to untangle all the knots and problems of our world from the safety of heaven, but invites us all to be partners with him, to join our love to his love, and reach out to the suffering people in our world. This means reaching out to our sick friends,
making a meal for a grieving family,
welcoming the stranger here at church,
visiting people we know who are depressed, doubting God’s love and need words of reassurance and hope,
being understanding and supportive of the members of our families,
showing genuine love for our friends.
We are to see the face of Jesus in the faces of these people and minister to them in the same way Christ has ministered to us in our times of need.

But Jesus’ parable goes even further than this. Remember he is talking about the least important.
People whom others regard as insignificant.
People who are easily forgotten.
People who are out of sight so out of mind.

This parable is about how our faith in Jesus and our worship ought to penetrate and be interwoven with the ordinary everyday things of our lives. Religion isn’t something just for certain times of the week but it infiltrates every moment of every day. The love of Christ makes us eager to do something for the least important people of this world.

Here is a story of which there are a number of versions. Conrad, the old cobbler, dreamed one night that Jesus would come to be his guest. He was up as the sun was rising and set about decorating his little shop with bright flowers and greenery. He set the table with milk and honey and bread, and waited.

While he was waiting, a beggar walked down the street came barefoot in the driving rain. Conrad called him in and gave him a pair of shoes. An old woman came bent from the weight of a heavy burden. He lifted the load off her back and shared his food with her. And finally, just before the day was about to fade away into darkness, a little child came. Her eyes were wet with tears. Conrad gave her a glass of milk, and led her back to her mother. But the divine guest never came. Conrad was disappointed. The evening as he dozed in front of the fireplace he heard a soft voice say,
“Lift up your heart, for I have kept my word.
Three times I came to your friendly door;
Three times my shadow was on your floor.
I was the beggar with the bruised feet;
I was the woman you gave to eat;
I was the child on the homeless street!”

This is what Jesus meant when he said, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers (and sisters) of mine, you did for me.”

We don’t have to look too far to find the people whom Jesus called the least.
Half the world’s population, nearly three billion people, live on less than $3 a day
the over one billion people who don’t have access to affordable and safe water;
over 800 million people do not get enough food;
More than 840 million adults, of whom 538 million are women, are illiterate.
The least that Jesus is talking about are the hundred of thousands of children who die every year from preventable diseases;
the 30 million people who have lost their homes because of conflict and natural disasters.
These Jesus calls these people least important – these people are important to God but for us it is easy to see them as the least important.

These are the people we can easily ignore because of their religion or race or life styles.
They are people we can easily forget because they are far from our own shores and we can’t begin to imagine their suffering because we have nothing like it here in Australia.
These are the people that cause us to look the other way.
But at the same time, these are the people whom Jesus claims to be among. Or better, it is in the face of these people that we see Jesus. 
“I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers (and sisters) of mine, you did for me.”

This brings me to the point of Jesus’ parable. He knows as well as we do that our sinfulness, selfishness, and lack of concern for others get in the way of caring for the least important. He told this story to focus not on what we should be doing but on something far more profound and basic. He wants us to ask ourselves, “What is my real heart relationship to this Lord who has redeemed and loved me from before the foundation of the world?”

He wants us to realise and appreciate the impact that Jesus has on us and the way we live our lives. Through confessing our guilt and receiving that rich, free and almost overpowering forgiveness our lives and hearts and our priorities are turned upside down.

When we are naked he clothes us in his own righteousness.
When we are in prison, condemned, shamed and guilty, he visits us and releases us.
When we are hungry and starving, God feeds us with the body and blood of his Son.

And what he does for us is what we then begin to do for others, our hands become his hands, our feet his feet, our hearts his heart, our love his love, and the least important become the most important in our eyes.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

Why are you here?

Saturday, November 18th, 2017
Text: Matthew 25:14-15

Jesus said, “Once there was a man who was about to leave home on a trip; he called his servants and put them in charge of his property. He gave to each one according to his ability: to one he gave five thousand gold coins, to another he gave two thousand, and to another he gave one thousand. Then he left on his trip”.

Today I would like to start with a deep philosophical and theological question that has been pondered over through the centuries by learned and simple people alike.  It’s a question that has caused a lot of head scratching, deep thinking, and answers like “I dunno” as well as complicated answers that fill books.  The question goes like this, “Why were you put on this planet at this particular time and in this particular place?”  Or to put it simply, “Why are you here?”  “What is the purpose of your life?”

Viktor Frankl, a survivor of Nazi Concentration Camps observed how some people were able to survive the terrible conditions and concluded that there was one factor that enabled those people to endure the impossible – it was the driving conviction that there was still some purpose in their lives, that they still had something to live for, some important work yet to do.

“What is the purpose of my life here and now on this planet?”  Let’s go to the Book of Genesis – the book of beginnings – and see what it tells us about why we are here?  In the beginning humans are put here to care for the earth and the living things on this earth and to live in relationships – with the rest of creation, with each other and with God.

We also note that when God created the world there was evening and morning, sunrise and sunset.  That means God gives us our days.  God gives us our time and we are told that he was very pleased with what he had given us. Note also that he gives us days to work and days to rest.  So while we carry time around with us, we wear time on our wrists and live as though we own time, time is actually God’s, not ours.  He made it.  He owns it.  He gives it to us as a gift!

When we look at the opening chapters of the Bible and then follow the message through its pages it’s clear that God puts us on this earth to look after the gifts he has given us.  This is not just about looking after the world and not abusing it, exploiting it, destroying it, but also looking after everything and everyone that God has given to us.
That includes our bodies and our abilities,
the people he has given us in our families, our friends and our brothers and sisters in the church.
God entrusts to us and wants us to look after his world and that includes the physical world and its environment, the people he has placed in our lives – those we know well and those we don’t know personally.

In all of this there is something worth noting.  The Bible never talks about us being here to get as much as we can out of the world for ourselves.  The Bible is always pointing us away from ourselves to God, to others, to relationships, to the earth itself.  
Why am I here on this planet?  
If we answer, “I’m here to work” (and we all spend a fair bit of time doing that), it’s worth thinking about why we work.  How is the energy we use at work related to this earth, to relationships, to God, to serving others?  If we are retired, how does the way we spend our days related to our purpose for being here: related to serving others, to the earth, to God, to the relationships God has given us?

We all know Jesus’ story about the rich farmer who had such fantastic crops that he decided to pull down his barns and build bigger ones.  “Lucky man!” he said. “You have all you need for many years.  Take life easy, eat, drink and enjoy yourself”. (Luke 12:16-20).  This man’s purpose in life was get from the earth all he could get and keep it all for himself – there is no connection here with God; no thought of relationships and the people around him; no inkling that he has been given so much to serve others.  He died a rich man but in God’s eyes he was poorer than the poorest.

In Jesus’ parable in today’s Gospel reading a man is about to go away on a journey and so he entrusts his servants with his property “I am going away. I want you to look after what is mine!” Then he gives to each of his servants various amounts of his assets for them to manage and we note that he doesn’t give them all the same amount – he gives to each one according to his ability.  He is not asking the impossible; he knows his workers and simply wants them to manage well what he knows they are quite capable of taking care of.  There is no favouritism. All he asks is that each one is faithful in their task.  He says, “In time, I will return, and then I want to know how well you have managed what I have given to you!”

The question that you and I are left to consider is this, “How well am I using what God has given to me?  When I am called to give an account of what I have done, what will I have to report?”

First of all, how much do I do for myself and how much is for others?
As I have already said, when I look in my Bible I can’t find anything which says that I am to use my time, my talents, my wealth, the resources available to me through work to advance my own cause, to make myself more comfortable, to get myself respect and become the envy of everyone else – the emphasis being on the ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘myself’. I don’t see any of that in the Bible but I do see a lot about others.  I am here for the other person – to build the other person up, to make them look good and feel good, to ensure that they are well off.

The Bible even suggests that the reason I work is so that I am able to be more generous – the more I earn, the more I can give away (2 Cor 9:11).  Here’s a challenge.

If I work so long and so hard that I don’t have time for my family, don’t have time for my church, don’t have time for God – how well am I using what God has entrusted to me?  The ironic thing is that we work hard and long hours to provide for others, for those who depend on us to earn an income, but if all they get from us is our income and never actually see us, or we are too tired to be of any use to anyone, how wisely are we really using our time?  If that’s how I have been managing what God has given me, then how will I answer my Master when he comes back and asks me to give an account of what I have done?

On the other hand, if I waste my time, and I am lazy, unproductive and do nothing to benefit someone else, then how do I answer the Master who asks me to give an account of how well I have managed the gifts he has entrusted to me?

When we answer the question, “what is the purpose of my life” the answer God is looking for is how our work, our money, our time, our abilities, our leisure time have actually benefitted the world and the people around us in some way.
God is looking to see
what legacy we have left behind,
what people we have touched,
in what way is our world a better place because we have lived here for however many years we have in this life.
Some are gifted in such a way that they can be an Albert Schweitzer or a Mother Theresa and leave a legacy that is famous because they touched so many lives and books have been written about them.  That’s like the servant who was given 5,000 silver coins and faithfully did great things with that money.

But there was also the servant who was given just a small amount and with that small amount he was faithful and able to do great things.  Using what we have been given to serve others and honour God, no matter how humble that might be, we will receive the commendation, “Well done, you good and faithful servant. … Come in and share my happiness” (Matthew 25:23).

When we answer the question, “what is the purpose of my life” will we be able to say that we have used the time God has given us to get to know him more, love him more, serve him more, share him more with others?

When the time comes to give account, I suspect the Master will want to know: in all the things you did in your life, where did God figure?  What priority did he have in the things you devoted your time to?  What difference did he make in the way you spoke, in how you talked about other people, in whether you criticised and gossiped, or built up and encouraged?  Did you commit an hour or so a week to God and things to do with God, or was he quite clearly your constant companion in every moment of your life?  What time did you have for God?

As a preacher of the Christian Church every sermon must have some good news in it. The truth is that there is a lot in this parable that leaves us feeling guilty which really isn’t good news.  The last words of the parable echo in our ears, “As for this useless servant – throw him outside in the darkness; there he will cry and gnash his teeth” (Matt 25:30).  Sometimes we need a challenge, we need to re-think, to re-evaluate. Jesus forces us to do that, as we listen to this story.  The parable forces us to ask ourselves,
What is the purpose of my life?
Why have I been put here on this earth?
Why has Jesus called me to be his disciple and made me part of the people of God in his church?
How am I using the time, abilities and resources that God has given me to be a blessing to others?

And as we prayerfully think through these things we will fall on our knees and acknowledge how often we have failed and how often we have believed that life’s purpose has been all about us to the exclusion of everyone else.

Jesus came to take on the heavy load of guilt that we bear.  He came to take on himself our failures, our self-centredness, our selfishness, our inability to use what God has given to benefit the people around us.  He died for those moments when we let our sinful nature overwhelm the new life that we have in Christ.  He forgives us when we think that our purpose in life is to accumulate as much as we can for ourselves and forget that we have been blessed to be a blessing to others. He gives us the Holy Spirit to renew us and fill our hearts with new desires and new plans and new ways of service to God and the people in our lives.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

Learning Jesus-Permanence

Saturday, November 11th, 2017

1 Thessalonias 4:13-18

There is nothing quite like a game of peek-a-boo.  Face behind the hands, or ducking behind a chair, or through a door—a baby intrigued; then a moment of surprise or even shock; followed by a baby’s laughter.  It is a great game!

Mind you, it’s not entirely a game.  It’s actually part of a learning process in which a child, often around the age of eight or nine months, gets a grasp of what is known as “object permanence”—the understanding that when we see something, and then it is covered up, or removed, or a person leaves the room, that object still exists, that person still exists.  Once a child gets a hold of this you can put a toy on the floor and cover it with a blanket and the child will reach for it, look for it under the blanket.  The child will also get anxious sometimes when Mum or Dad leaves the room—still existing, but not there to be seen!  So where?  And for how long?

Of course the same learning that makes for peek-a-boo giggles is a developmental concept that also allows for separation anxiety….

There is a gentle reminder of “permanence” in our funeral service when, as the coffin is about to be lowered into the grave, or removed from sight for later burial or cremation, and these words are spoken:
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. Therefore encourage one another with these words.
Paul wrote these words to the young Christian church at Thessalonica—to Christians who were concerned that Jesus was taking a long time coming back.  It is hard for us to appreciate just what it was like for those in the very first generation following Jesus’ death and resurrection and ascension, living each day with the wonderful promise and an imminent sense of his return!  Maybe, if we can draw on base childhood feelings—as we get just a bit agitated that Mum or Dad hasn’t returned, isn’t back in sight, isn’t visible in that comforting, reassuring way we need…not quite quickly enough.

That is how the first generation of Christians waited—wavering, at times, between joyful anticipation and expectation, and natural moments of anxiety.

And the anxiety became accentuated as fellow Christians began to die.  The waiting for Jesus of weeks, or months, became long years…and aging Christians began to die.  And for the first time the Church’s pastors had to deal with questions like, “What happens to a Christian when he dies?  What will happen in the resurrection?  What will we be like?  Will we be young or old?  What will ‘perfect me’ look like?  Will we still know everyone?  What happens in-between, after you die, before the resurrection?”

And the questions may come from all kinds of different thinking—about personal health, about relationships, about fears, about loved ones.

And how does the Bible answer these troubling questions?
In many ways, to be frank, it doesn’t.  (Not how we would like it to, anyway….)  In another way, it does so in a most direct and simple way:  it points to Jesus.  When you read through the New Testament you tend to come across a couple of expressions.  For one, it talks about Christians who “have fallen asleep in him”, that is, in Jesus.  Asleep in Jesus.  It talks about those who have “died in Christ”.  In Christ Jesus.  And elsewhere it talks about those who are “with the Lord”.  WithJesus.  All of these expressions focus Christian faith on Jesus; they direct questions—even anxious questions—to considering Jesus; in relation to Jesus.

Try and imagine, again, if you can, those living in the years immediately following the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  The witness of Jesus’ first followers to Jesus’ teaching, to Jesus’ miracles, to Jesus’ compassion, to Jesus’ sensitivity, to Jesus’ loyalty, to Jesus’ power, to Jesus’ care; to the way Jesus included people, forgave people, welcomed those sometimes rejected by others, his generosity, his patience, his honesty, his directness, his gentleness, his wisdom, his mercy.  The immediacy of the events for the witnesses who then spread out through the world and proclaimed hope because of God’s love—the immediacy of the events was translated into an energy and capacity to create an experience of Jesus’ presence, even for those who, like the Thessalonians, had not seen him for themselves.

The specific question that Paul addresses is a concern that if a person dies before Jesus’ return then will he or she somehow miss out on the big event?  Paul assures them that those who are “dead in Christ”, or those who “have fallen asleep in him” are in him, are in Christ—the nature of the relationship is there, is real, alive or dead—in the reality of the risen Jesus, no matter what we seem to see or perceive or even fear because we can’t see, or don’t know….  Paul asserts this emphatically to a people who are anxious and confused—(we know how that feels!)—he asserts this emphatically because he does not want us, in our grieving—(and grieving is real; it means giving up control of a situation; it means change in a situation, in a relationship)—he does not want us to grieve “as others do who have no hope”.  Christian hope is about a certainty in something that is real, but not yet realized.  If we are to hope—even in a time of grief—if we are to hope in Christ, in Jesus, we hope based on a relationship with Jesus that is real even before we see him face to face when he comes again.

Where does that “real” come from?  Not one of you here has lived at a time when Jesus has walked among us in the way that he did during his time of ministry in the first century.  (I allow that some of you may have well heard his voice or seen his smile or known his reassurance in dreams or visions or experiences where you’re not quite sure what was going on.)  But it hasn’t been, for us, like it was for the first apostles.

And yet, by faith, our hope is real.  Our hope in Christ Jesus.  Where does that come from in this day and age?

Of course, it is the work of the Holy Spirit.  And the Spirit works through God’s Word, in all the variety of ways that we proclaim it; the Spirit works through the Sacraments of baptism and communion with a visibility and physicality that connects each of us personally to God’s Word, God’s grace, God’s promise; and the Spirit works through these means through the on-going day to day ministry of people—teachers and pastors and friends and parents (and you get the drift)—ordinary and extraordinary people—who help to give an experience of the concrete reality of God’s saving love and saving presence through day to day faithfully “being Christ” to others; being the presence of Christ in the lives of others.  When the Bible speaks of us, the Church, as the body of Christ, it is much more than a picturesque metaphor for how Christians should relate to each other under Christ; it is a rather powerful statement about Jesus’ real presence in the world today!

About 20 years ago I read an article written by an Anglican school chaplain, in which he asserted that for large numbers of young people growing up in Australia, the school chaplain would be the concrete symbol of God and God’s church which they encountered in life.  While I have a much broader picture of what happens in a church school than that it was a comment which made me realise the significance of the opportunity which I have to “make real” and “meaningful” in the life of a person the Gospel of God’s love in Jesus, which I proclaim.  Every time I speak a word of forgiveness, every time I show some care, every time I teach or direct or counsel according to an understanding of the gracious will of God, every day I remain loyal and patient, every time I bounce back from disappointment and make a new beginning with someone struggling or in a situation of pain and loss—these all give me the opportunity to make Christ real, to make Jesus’ presence real.

Most of us will know well that it is a lifetime of knowing the reality of God’s love spoken and shown to us that enables us to know the real presence of Jesus’ love remains, and is constant even at those moments when we can’t seem to see what we trust without seeing; when our hope, our assurance in the promise is filled with an experience of knowing faithfulness in the past; when our grieving at the tomb is balanced with our celebration of the life we have known.  Every sermon you have listened to, every lesson taught from the Scriptures, every hymn or song sung in worship, every speaking of God’s word of forgiveness, every wafer and sip swallowed, every splash from the waters of the font, every gesture of comfort or aid or encouragement or acceptance in the name of Christ has been for you, through others—God’s servants of every kind—the presence of Jesus in your life in way that has taught you “object permanence”—Jesus permanence, grace permanence, life permanence.

The apostle and evangelist John put it like this in the first century:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.  We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.

That tradition of ministry has made Jesus’ presence real for us.

You are a part of that tradition.  You know the constant grace of Jesus.  So encourage one another with these words, and encourage people, with the word of his love, and his life, to know his presence, his permanence.  Amen.

There is hope!

Saturday, November 4th, 2017
Text: 1 Thessalonians 4:13,14
Our friends, we want you to know the truth about those who have died, so that you will not be sad, as are those who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will take back with Jesus those who have died believing in him.

One of the lessons that we learn early in life is that things in this world do not last forever. Often we learn this lesson with a good deal of sadness and along with that sadness a good deal of confusion.
As our children were growing up we always had pets – cats, dogs, budgies, bantams, chickens, guinea pigs, even a horse. These were pets that they loved to hold, cuddle, wrap in blankets, push around in their prams, pretend they were babies. Our eldest daughter was often found out in the chook yard nursing a bantam. Another daughter loved her guinea pigs. When one of our dogs was suffering from a back injury and it was clear that he wasn’t going to get any better, our son carried the dog into his room and took special care of him. When the dog died each child disappeared to their own rooms and we found them on their beds with tears running down their faces. They were old enough to know (primary school age) that when something dies it doesn’t come back again. Their grief was enough for Miriam and me to agree that we would not have any more dogs, though that decision was overturned by our youngest daughter’s pleading for a puppy of her own. 

Those who are keen gardeners know that the most beautiful bed of flowers doesn’t last forever. Eventually they droop, drop their petals, and we pull them up and throw them into the bin.

We are approaching the end of the church year. At this time of the year we begin to look at the end of things. We look toward the end of time when Christ will come again and the world as we know it will come to an end.
We look to the end of our own lives when we will pass through ‘the valley of the shadow of death’. We can’t be certain when this will happen but we can be certain that it will happen.

The church father St. Augustine once said, “On the first day of our lives, someone might look into our cribs and mutter, ‘I’m afraid, you are in a bad way. You won’t get out of this alive.’” We, you and I, are terminal. And the older we get the more we realise that life is short.

On the morning of my 40th birthday my son greeted me with all the sensitivity that a young teen can muster, “Happy Birthday, Pops. What’s it like knowing that half your life is over?” We laughed but I didn’t really need to be reminded of that fact at that very moment. But as much as we might deny it, life does pass by quickly and our bodies start to slow down and show signs of wearing out. We might even go into a panic as we realise that the psalmist was right, ‘We are like weeds that sprout in the morning, that grow and burst into bloom, then dry up and die in the evening… Seventy years is all we have – eighty if we are strong … life is soon over and we are gone (Psalm 90 5,6,10).

A writer once said, Looking at death is like looking at the sun. A man can look directly at it for a moment, but must then turn away.

That’s how so many people live with death. They cannot bear the thought of either a last day for the world, or their own last day. So many people these days have grabbed on to the idea of reincarnation – they will come back again in another life. That idea is plainly not true. Some simply go into denial; they shut their eyes to it and try to pretend that it won’t happen to them. Others adopt a more fatalistic approach. It’s going to happen and there’s nothing anyone can do change that.

All this talk about how short life is and our inevitable death can be rather depressing. It hurts all the more when we recall those special people who have left this life. Maybe the death of someone who was near and dear to you is still fresh in your mind. You recall with sadness what these people meant to you, how they impacted on your lives, the fun times you had with them. But now they are gone. Their memory is firmly fixed in our mind, but their presence in our lives is missed.

Will we hope ever to see their faces again?
Is it only wishful thinking, pure fantasy to believe that there is something beyond death?
As we say farewell to love ones, or look ahead to the day when we will gasp our last, is there any hope that will ease our grief and help us to be more relaxed about our own day of dying?

St Paul often tackled this very difficult subject in his letters. For instance, when he wrote to the Thessalonians he was speaking to a church in grief. The little congregation had risked so much; they had gone against their culture and the local authorities and stood firm in their faith in Jesus. They firmly believed that Christ would return soon. But where was Jesus? They had been waiting for years now. And while they were waiting some of their most beloved leaders and saints had died. Since they had died before Christ’s return are they lost forever? Will they be part of that great day when the dead will rise again?

Paul tells his readers not to grieve as if there was no hope; as if there was nothing more to look forward to once we reached the end of our life on earth. And what hope do we have? He says, “We believe that Jesus died and rose again …. Those who have died believing in Christ will rise to life …. We will always be with the Lord” (1 Thess 4:14,16,17). In his letters Paul encouraged those Christians who were anxious about what will happen when time will stop and the world will end as well as comforting those who were concerned about what will happen when time will stop for each of us and our life will come to an end.

Like the Christians in Paul’s time, we too are sad when someone leaves this life. But this sadness does not lead us to despair or lose all hope. Because of Jesus we know there is life beyond death. There is no need for hopeless despair. There is no need to fear what will happen to us beyond this life.

Of course we will still have our moments of panic as we face our own mortality. As we wait for surgery, or realise how fast life is flying by, or stand by the grave of a loved one, we will still have those pangs of fear shoot through us.
We may wonder what will death be like;
how will we die;
what will happen to the family we leave behind;
and how we will miss seeing our children or grandchildren grow up and having their own families?
But these moments of panic are replaced with the confidence that Jesus has everything under control. And that includes death. Because of Jesus ‘
death has been swallowed up in victory’.

Jesus has prepared the way. He has died to cleanse us from our sin and make us ready to enter into God’s presence in heaven. There is no reason to fear the outcome of our last day at all. Christ has died for us. We trust in him as our Saviour to rescue us from everything that would stand in our way to enjoying eternal life. There can be no doubt about our resurrection to eternal life. Paul talks about what will happen when Christ comes again, when he says,
“When the trumpet sounds, the dead will be raised, never to die again, and we shall all be changed. For what is mortal must be changed into what is immortal; what will die must be changed into what cannot die. So when this takes place, and the mortal has been changed into the immortal, then the scripture will come true: “Death is destroyed; victory is complete!” (1 Cor 15:52-54).

The witness of the Scriptures is clear. Death is not the end because our Saviour Jesus has changed everything to the point that death is no longer the penalty that it was. Jesus took care of death’s power over is through his own death and resurrection. He has made death the doorway to eternal life with God in heaven. Death is no longer a terrifying and frightening thing for those who trust in Jesus, but is the stepping off point to eternal life.

Last week we celebrated All Saints Day and we heard about that wonderful vision of heaven that John gives us in the Book of Revelation. He sees all these people from all around the world dressed in white robes standing before the throne of the Lamb. He asks, “Who are these people?”
This is the answer he receives, 
“They are the people … who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. That is why they stand before God’s throne” (Revelation 7:14,15).

We are certain of eternal life because our sins have been washed away in the blood of the Lamb. Jesus has made us holy, clean, pure and perfect through the giving of his own life for us and thus making us fit to enter God’s presence in heaven. God offers this to everyone and invites everyone to trust in the love and forgiveness that Jesus offers.

As the end of the church year gets nearer our eyes are focused beyond this life to the eternal joy that we will experience when we pass from this life. And we know that heaven will be a wonderful place. We read, “God himself will be with his people, and he will be their God.  He will wipe away all tears from their eyes. There will be no more death, no more grief or crying or pain” (Rev 21:3,4).

Nick, a ten year old, had been diagnosed with leukemia 3 years ago but all attempts by doctors had failed to hold back its devastating course. His parents sat by his bed helplessly as the colour drained from his cheeks. Nick was buried on the Tuesday of Holy Week. Easter Day dawned unusually warm and bright. Late that day, Nick’s parents sat on their verandah watching the sunset. Their six-year-old daughter, Hannah, played beside them. Nick’s dad said to Hannah, “Look at that beautiful sunset. Do you see all those beautiful colours – the pink and blue and gold colours in the clouds?”
Hannah thoughtfully replied, “Do you think Nick can see all those beautiful colours?”

Her dad replied, “He sees an even more beautiful sunset than we can see, Hannah. He’s in heaven with Jesus the most beautiful place that anyone can imagine”.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

THE HOLY SPIRIT IS YOUR PERSONAL ASSISTANT

Saturday, October 28th, 2017

1 Thessalonians 1:2-6

What is it that keeps you going? What motivates you to do things for others? Some people are motivated by their love of a particular activity, such as gardening or sport. If you’d have asked what led the Christians of the New Testament to do all the extraordinary mission and welfare work they did, they would have said they were led by the Holy Spirit to share the good news about Jesus in word and deed. What a difference the presence of the Holy Spirit makes!

Before Pentecost, our Lord’s followers were often weary and ran out of energy. This changed when the Holy Spirit came. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit transformed the disciples of Jesus from being faint-hearted and cowardly folk into courageous heroes: awe-inspiring advocates and promoters of the Gospel; passionately committed Christians who boldly defied the whole Roman Empire and who, before long, were accused of turning the world upside down. In turn, those who became Christians (like the congregation in Thessalonika, to whom St. Paul writes this first letter) were filled with a radiant, active and productive faith and a powerful love for others.

St. Paul writes this freshly minted letter to encourage Christians who have made an enthusiastic beginning in the practice of their faith, to keep up the good work. Letters play a vital role in strengthening relationships between people. We delight to get personally written letters that share good news with us. We treasure St. Paul’s letters with the wonderful way they’re able to strengthen our faith and deepen our commitment to Christ and His Church. He begins on a positive note, constantly thanking God for all the faithful folk in His Church.

In today’s world, faithfulness to Jesus Christ is a most commendable quality, worthy of praise and thanks. For our lives often get shaken by hardships, disappointments and setbacks. We don’t always have a good day, despite what others say when they greet us with their cheery “good day to you”. On those days when things don’t go according to plan, or when we hear bad news, we need the personal encouragement and assistance the Holy Spirit gives. The Holy Spirit delights to be our P.A.- our personal assistant- amid all the joys and frustrations of daily life. The Holy Spirit is actively present amid the most adverse circumstances of daily life. He works in disappointing circumstances, taking us onto a different and more fruitful path through life. When St. Paul was driven out of Antioch, the Holy Spirit enabled him to rejoice in the new direction in which Paul was led, where He added greater blessings to his mission work.

The Holy Spirit can work wonders through our failures and setbacks. “The Spirit helps us in our weakness” (Romans 8:26) is one of the most comforting and consoling things said about the Holy Spirit in the Bible. The Holy Spirit works wonders through Christians who acknowledge their weakness and their need of the Holy Spirit‘s help. Our sense of helplessness before God is the most essential thing for effective prayer. Almost without exception, those who pray are aware of their own weaknesses and shortcomings, and long for all the help from heaven they can get.

The Holy Spirit treasures our weaknesses because they give Him more room to do His life-changing work. Struggling with our Faith with all the pressures placed on it in today’s world isn’t a sign of the Spirit’s absence, but of His presence. Our struggle over our faith and our inadequate and less-than-ideal prayer life are the surest signs of the Holy Spirit at work inside us to keep our faith alive. A man came to a priest to tell him: “I have no faith.” The priest, replied, “It is not your faith, my friend, but your conscience that is at fault.” You see, the Holy Spirit had led him to come to a man of God who could help him come to faith.

The Holy Spirit seeks to glorify God in and through our weaknesses and inadequacies, because these lead us to depend more on His help than do our strengths and successes. The Holy Spirit isn’t above details, like lighting lamps and sweeping out corners in search of one lost coin, as we read about in Jesus’ parables. The Spirit is ours, not only for the high “inspired” moments of prayer and worship: He’s there to assist us amid our daily routine and scarcely-noted failures. No prayer request is too trivial for Him. When we pray, the Holy Spirit gets to work.

The Holy Spirit and prayer are inseparable. As Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:18-19, “Pray on every occasion, as the Spirit leads. For this reason keep alert and never give up; pray always for all God’s people.” We need to “pray at all times” because there’s a constant temptation to put off prayer. Plug up every gap and meet every eventuality with prayer. There’s no Christian so weak that he or she lacks the strength to pray for others, and there’s no one so strong that they can do without the prayers of fellow Christians for them.  We grow stronger in our faith and commitment to Christ Jesus by strengthening each other through prayer and Spirit-inspired words of encouragement. The simplest thing to do if you’re finding difficulty praying for others is to follow Jesus’ advice and pray that our Heavenly Father will give you the Holy Spirit. Jesus says, “If you, then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him (Luke 11:13).”

The greatest contribution we can all make to the growth of Christ’s Church (and we all want to see Christ’s Church grow) is to pray for its mission outreach into our community. We need to pray for our next door neighbours and those across the street from us, as well as for our “not-yet-believing” friends and relatives. We bring them nearer to God through our persistent personal prayers for them. As we pray for someone dear to us, Satan’s hold on them is broken. By praying for the pastors of our church, we help remove the obstacles Satan has placed to stop their ministry from succeeding. By interceding for our children and grandchildren, nephews and nieces, we are aiding their protection from temptation.

Who in our church or neighbourhood do we think is most at risk from the devil? Pray for them, and ask God to bless them. Such activity thrills the Holy Spirit immensely. The Holy Spirit seeks to make prayer a joyful and refreshing time for us. Our text mentions the joy the Spirit of God inspires in those who treasure the Gospel. “The more joyful you are and the more certain and sure the faith in your heart is, the nearer the Holy Spirit is to you (Luther).” The nearer the Holy Spirit is to you, the more you will want to bring joy into the lives of others.

A psychologist, Abraham Maslow, reported that:

“I never met a happy individual who was not committed to a job or cause outside himself. Because such people have a mission in life, they are not self-centred and introspective. For them happiness is the by-product of work and duty.”

A young mother testified to the joy that living for others gave her:

“I was scurrying round the kitchen getting breakfast for my husband and our three children. The sun was streaming in, the sound of frying bacon mingled with the casual chatter of husband and children. As I looked at them I was so overwhelmed by their beauty that tears sprung to my eyes, and I was all joy.”

The Holy Spirit inspires in us a joy that keeps coming back, a joy that eliminates pessimism and fills us with hope.

A lot of emphasis is sometimes placed on the Holy Spirit’s gift of healing and this has had its rich blessings. But how should we view those who remain ill after many prayers for their healing?

Not all are healed, since sickness and death are part of the Church’s glory. Sickness is a social sign; since social conditions have often contributed to the illness, the community has a responsibility for those who are ill. They must be visited and reassured they’re not forgotten. Then their illness is no longer seen as the fate, deserved or undeserved, of an individual. Visiting the sick is a two-way street as our Lord ministers to the visitors through the sick. Illness can become a spiritual strength in our Lord’s hands. It occurs so that the works of God might be manifest (John 9:3). Illness has as much a place in our growth in faith as good health.

The world has yet to see what the Holy Spirit can do with churches where every member is fully committed to Jesus Christ.

“Now to Him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to Him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21).”

We pray, “O Spirit of God, revive this church of ours, beginning with me. Amen.”

What shall I do?

Saturday, October 21st, 2017
Text: Matthew 22:19-21
Jesus said, “Show me the coin for paying the tax!”  They brought him the coin, and he asked them, “Whose face and name are these?”  “The Emperor’s”, they answered.  So Jesus said to them, “Well, then, pay to the Emperor what belongs to the Emperor, and pay to God what belongs to God.” 

A nine year old girl returned from Sunday School and as her father was sitting down with the Sunday Mail after lunch, she asked,
“Daddy, why did God make all the leaves green?” He thought a moment and replied, “I don’t know.”
Then she asked, “Daddy, if God made the world and everything else who made God?”  Again he said, “I don’t know.”
Again she asked, “Daddy, how did Noah catch the two snakes and put them in the ark?”  He put down the newspaper and said with a smile, “Honey, I don’t know.”

Like many children, this little girl was asking her dad some very important questions.  Dad was right in answering, “I don’t know” because there are certain questions for which we have no answers, at least until that day when we can ask God face to face (and most likely they won’t be important to us any more).

The Pharisees had a question for Jesus.  It’s one about religion and politics.  They asked, “Is it right, according to God’s will, to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”  This was no minor matter.  The Jews were taxed heavily by the Romans – not only were grain, oil and wine taxed but every male from age of fourteen and every female from the age of twelve had to pay a tax for just being alive.  This was a trick question.  Whichever way Jesus answered he would get into trouble.

If he said, “Yes, it is lawful to pay taxes to the Roman emperor,” he would be in trouble with his own Jewish countrymen who deeply resented the oppression Rome had imposed on their nation. Paying taxes to the Emperor was tantamount to kneeling at his feet – a posture reserved only for the worship of God.  Clearly, Jesus would be a traitor to his own people and to God, if he answered yes.

On the other hand, if he said, “No, it is not lawful to pay taxes to the Roman emperor,” he would be a traitor to Rome.  Whether they liked it or not, the Roman Empire had now taken control of Palestine. If Jesus spoke against paying taxes, he would be arrested and imprisoned.  Make no mistake about it; the Pharisees were out to get Jesus.

And how does Jesus answer?  He asks for a coin.  “Whose picture is stamped on the coin?  The emperor’s!  Well then it’s simple.  He must own it if he’s got his picture stamped on it.  You give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.  But be careful!  Don’t give to Caesar what belongs to God”.  End of discussion.

Jesus cleverly states there are those things that belong to the state and those that belong to God.
Someone summarised Jesus’ words saying, “The coin bears Caesar’s image; man bears God’s image, so give the coin to Caesar” – meaning pay tax – “but give yourself wholly to God.”  Serving God covers all of life.  It also includes serving Caesar in a way that brings honour to God.

In his answer Jesus is giving some broad principles but notice he doesn’t give any slick answers about how we are to carry out this responsibility.  Jesus leaves the details wide open.  He refuses to give two neatly divided lists of duties relating to God and those relating to Caesar that leave no doubt about what we are to do.    (Something that the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law would have liked – they liked rules that were black and white).

However in Jesus’ answer, the question about what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God remains open.  You and I must decide that for ourselves – struggle with and assess each new situation.

Making a choice between two options that are appealing, logical and where there are arguments both for and against is not an easy task.  We might wish that there were some black and white guidelines that would make the decision for us.  It is true there may be some general rules, or principles, like the Ten Commandments, or the Sermon on the Mount, that make matters look simple and clear, but when it comes to applying these to the individual circumstance that we are faced with in our lives making a decision isn’t all that clear.

Why doesn’t Jesus make things so much easier for us?  Why doesn’t he make a decision once and for all in this whole matter of paying taxes and giving to God, and with authority set up percentages and limits, say something about tithing, talk about our responsibility to God, and our responsibility to the government and so on?  We long for a clear ruling, one that is binding, one that will relieve us all the headache of making a decision.  But Jesus doesn’t make the decision for us.  He doesn’t want us to blindly follow a set of rules.

He challenges us to find out again in each new situation what action we ought to take.
Situations like
whether to reveal to a very sick friend that he/she will soon die or to say nothing;
whether to turn off a life support system or hope for a miracle;
whether to join an IVF program or remain childless;
whether to protest about a government policy or to remain silent;
whether to stay in an unhappy marriage and hope for a change or to get out,
whether to accept this new job or not because of the impact it will have on family life,
whether to be tough on a drug-addicted child or show tenderness, love and support to bring him to his senses.
Everywhere in life – in our marriage, in visiting the sick, as a teacher in a school, as an executive doing his tax return, as a mother or father – we have to discover what is the will of God for us at this time and in this place and in this set of circumstances.

Often we can’t answer the questions that confront us, by thumbing through the Bible to find crisp, clear answers.  Or referring to an answer found on Schedule C. There is no dictionary we can look up what we have to do here and now to be in tune with the will of God.  Again, the burden of making responsible decisions falls on us. We know how difficult that can be because we are sinners.  We are biased and critical; we prefer to take the easier path; we avoid going against the crowd and simply sidestep making hard choices.

As Christians we are joined with Jesus and we share in his love and take on his way of looking at the moral dilemmas that challenge us and so for us the issue always is, “What would Jesus do if he were in my situation?”  And sometimes we might not like the answer that we get back.

You see, Jesus was always shocking people in the choices he made as he reflected the will of his Father.
When he came across a prostitute, instead of quoting the Ten Commandments to her, he befriended her and said, “Your sins are forgiven”.
When he met the white-collar cheat Zacchaeus, he loved him and went to dinner with him.
To those who were exiled from their community because of a dreadful disease, he showed compassion and gave them healing.  The word that summarises Jesus ministry is “love”.

You see God doesn’t give us a list of laws and detailed instructions for carrying them out.  He doesn’t lead us around by the nose in every detail of our lives.  Rather he desires to make us mature sons and daughters, confident of his love, confident of our relationship with Jesus our Saviour and in his love we discover what is the right thing to do that reflects the love of Jesus that is in us.

We need to be diligent in coming to know God’s mind ever better through studying the Scriptures.
We need to be unceasing in our prayers asking for the Spirit’s guidance.
We need to listen to the prompting of the Spirit as he shows us the way of love in the choices we make.

Some years ago a man talked about the tough decision he and his wife had made when they decided to terminate a pregnancy.  They had three daughters and their unborn child was the son they had wanted so much, however, doctors told them that something was terribly wrong and that if the pregnancy continued the mother’s life was in danger and if the baby survived he would most likely be severely brain damaged.

The father said something like this, “I had such strong opinions about abortion –   no unborn life should be terminated.  I firmly believed God would always take charge and if the baby was born as a result of rape or was disabled that God would provide a way.

But now what was God thinking?  This wasn’t fair.  This didn’t fit into any of my ideas.  To think of terminating the life of our son was unbearable.  And the possible death of my wife, June, was just as unbearable.  Our girls needed their mother.  June and I prayed.  We wrestled with the decision.  The doctor, a member of our church, prayed with us.  We decided.  And I don’t know if what we decided was the right thing but our pastor assured us that God knows what was in our hearts and how we wrestled with this situation and if we chose wrongly, his love burns even stronger for us.  It is precisely for the wrong choices we make that Jesus died on the cross.  At the funeral he admitted he didn’t understand God’s ways but he did say that Jesus loved our son as much as we did”.

I’m sure that many of us have made and will make many mistakes as we search for the right answers to many of life’s perplexing problems.  It’s ever so hard at times to know what God wants and to make a decision confidently knowing we have done the right thing.

We make decisions about some of those tough questions in life in the knowledge that he forgives us when we do blunder and bungle.  It is a comfort to know of the forgiving love of God, otherwise we would be frightened to make any decisions at all.  Let’s remember that God can still bless us through those decisions that are poorly made.

In today’s gospel Jesus doesn’t give us rules but the permission to struggle with the question of what is appropriate for us to do in the world that God created.  Jesus gives us an assignment to seek out the will of God as best we can and go forward entrusting the choices we make into the hands of our loving and forgiving God.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy