Archive for the ‘After Pentecost’ Category

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

THE BEST INVITATION YOU WILL EVER RECEIVE

Saturday, October 14th, 2017

Matthew 22:1-14

 

 How do you react when you get an invitation to a wedding? Do you feel honoured? Have you ever had to decline an invitation to a wedding because of other commitments? Weddings are overwhelmingly joyful occasions. Yet they seem to bring out the worst in some guests or participants. Those invited might behave themselves in church, but sometimes alcohol loosens manners to breaking point at the reception. A wedding can bring out bad behaviour because the happiness of the bride and groom can make some guests jealous and make them realise they’re not as happy as that. They hope that alcohol will drown their unhappiness.

In today’s Gospel reading, we have no ordinary wedding celebration. We have all the extraordinary magnificence of a royal wedding banquet. The king is putting on the greatest wedding feast ever for his son, in honour of his son. He wants to honour his son by having the banquet hall full of guests. So he sends his servants to remind those who had already been invited that it’s time to come. But can you believe it? They refuse to attend, even though to do so would be viewed as a gesture of disloyalty to the royal household.

But the king won’t be deterred. He patiently persists in sending more servants out with the added information that he has meticulously prepared an awesome banquet for them, hoping this will act as an incentive to come. In the words everything is ready, come to the wedding banquet”, the king demonstrates the depth of his generosity and kindness to his potential guests. Still they pay no attention. Their occupations have become dangerous pre-occupations. They won’t let anything interrupt their “business as usual”. They stay away from the royal celebration for mundane and selfish reasons. They are even hostile towards the king’s messengers: reminiscent of the aggressive anti-Christian sentiments we’re increasingly hearing over our media. There are powerful anti-Christian voices seeking to drown out the Christian stand on important moral questions like abortion and euthanasia. For us, the life that’s “life indeed” means putting God first.

We can be so busy making a living that we fail to make a life. Satan wants us to respond to God’s invitation to spend time with His Son by saying “later on when I have more time. How I use my time is my own business and no one else’s.” When it comes to practising our faith, delay is deadly. Tomorrow may be too late. You need God most of all when you are busiest. God wants you now, just when your schedules and timetables clash with His priorities for you. God multiplies the time you devote to Him with endless blessing.

God refuses to let those who say “no” to Him spoil the Banquet He’s preparing in honour of His Son. God doesn’t want empty seats at Jesus’ Banquet. When the “high and mighty” of this world fail to show up, God invites the “nobodies” of this world to come. God welcomes those who’ve made a mess of their lives, those ashamed of their past, those who cannot understand what God sees in them. The fact is that God cannot see anything in them, but God makes something of them. God makes them His beloved sons and daughters. At Christ’s Banquet, there will be lots of folk who never ever dreamed they’d be invited.

So there they will be, all enjoying the heavenly festivities, poor wretches whom no one took seriously, ex-criminals and ex-prostitutes, and those who could never get it all right. The most comforting words of all in Jesus parable are: “and the wedding was filled with guests!”

 

Then the king appeared. This is the main thing – to see the king and be able to thank him for the invitation. Heaven isn’t so much about what you and I might get, but rather about what we will “be” – with God our Maker and Jesus Christ, His celebrated Son, forever and ever.

With the king’s appearance, Jesus’ parable takes a dramatic turn. The king sees a guest without a wedding robe that he has specially supplied for the occasion. As the only one without such a garment, this person stands out like a sore thumb. The king is deeply offended by such an insult.

The man no doubt thought that what he had already was good enough. He felt he didn’t need the king’s gift. He’s a self-sufficient, self-satisfied kind of guy, who saw no need to change, a change that’s symbolised by dressing appropriately for the festive occasion. In order to give this potential participant an opportunity to justify himself, the king addresses him in a friendly manner. He gently calls him “dear friend” and assumes he has a good excuse for what he’s done. He wants to put the best construction on his actions. “Dear friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe (v12)?” What a beautiful picture of love to the last possible moment. The man was speechless. In the face of such a lavish expression of grace, his action is indefensible, inexcusable.

What then is the meaning of this robe? To be sure, we’re invited to come to our Heavenly Father’s House just as we are. We needn’t be ashamed of the hedges and highways from which we have come. But we need to leave the past behind and let Jesus Christ transform us by His gift of righteousness. Our Lord compared the time of His coming, the Messianic Age, to a new garment. To be clothed with His new garment is a symbol of belonging to His community of salvation. He compared forgiveness with the best robe put onto the prodigal son when he returned to his father’s house.

Isaiah is overwhelmed with joy at the Lord’s gift of a robe of righteousness. “I am overwhelmed”, Isaiah says, “with joy in the Lord my God! For He has dressed me with the clothing of salvation and draped me in a robe of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10).”

 

The hymn writer, von Zinzendorf, shares Isaiah’s joy. He sings:

            1:         Jesus, your blood and righteousness

                        my beauty are, my glorious dress!

                        mid flaming worlds, in these arrayed

                        with joy shall I lift up my head.

 

            3:         This stainless robe its beauty wears

                        when all else fades with passing years;

                        no age can change its glorious hue –

                        the robe of Christ is ever new.

 

            5:         O let the dead now hear your voice,

                        let those once lost in sin rejoice!

                        their beauty this, their glorious dress:

                        Jesus, your blood and righteousness.

We need to guard against taking this gift of God’s grace for granted, or taking it in a flippant fashion. This is why we confess our sins and promise “to live as in God’s presence” before we receive Holy Communion. This is comparable to our putting on the wedding garment. Is it a sacrifice and burden to change into one’s best clothes to attend a wedding that has been looked forward to for weeks? No! This preparation for the celebration is itself part of the celebration and is full of eager anticipation.

So too, the joy of heaven over one sinner who repents makes our confession of sins an act of joy. Repentance is not a dismal renunciation of things that still mean a lot to us; it is a joyful homecoming to that place where certain things no longer have any importance for us. The joy of confessing our sins and repenting of them can never come too soon. Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount concludes with a warning to take care to not forfeit Christ’s gift of salvation that He gives us through His Word. But first, Jesus begins many times with “blessed” meaning “great joy”. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” or in other words, “O the joy of those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for God will satisfy them.”  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” – already in the here and now.

We understand and experience the secret of the Christian life when we experience its joy, the sheer bliss of hearing those welcome words: “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord.” Those who treasure and embrace the robe of our Lord’s righteousness may be “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; they may be poor, yet make others rich, as having nothing, and yet possessing everything (2 Corinthians 6:10).”

In Christ alone, we have everything worth having that will last forever. Amen.

Lord, what do you want us to do?

Saturday, October 7th, 2017
Text: Matthew 21:33-39
Jesus said, “There was once a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a hole for the wine press, and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to tenants and left home on a trip. When the time came to gather the grapes, he sent his slaves to the tenants to receive his share of the harvest. The tenants grabbed his slaves, beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again the man sent other slaves, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. Last of all he sent his son to them. “Surely they will respect my son,’ he said. But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, “This is the owner’s son. Come on, let’s kill him, and we will get his property!’ So they grabbed him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.

Even though the parable in today’s Gospel is story about judgement, it begins with a note of grace and generosity. A landowner planted a vineyard, improved it with a fence and watchtower. He set up everything nicely and now the property would start making money. He employed tenants to take care of his investment. They simply had to tend the plants, keep the weeds down, harvest the fruit, and make sure everything ran smoothly. The tenants had it made. They had a good job, security, steady income, job satisfaction, a roof over their heads, food on the table. Simply – this job was a gift.

As time went on the workers started to think of the vineyard as theirs. They started to use words like “our vineyard, our crop, our tools, our money”. They resented the idea that the landowner should expect to get anything from their hard work. They shamefully bashed, and even killed, anyone whom the landowner sent to get what was his.

The owner finally sends his own son. You might well ask, “What kind of father is this?” He knows how ruthless and violent these people are. He should call in the police to deal with these guys once and for all. But the landowner is always optimistic – always hoping that the tenants will change.

It doesn’t surprise us to hear that the tenants kill the son too. The conclusion to Jesus’ story – the landowner has no rent, no honour, no servants and now no son and no vineyard.

Jesus asked his listeners what they thought the landowner should do now.

A bit of a silly question really! Kill those violent and wicked tenants. After all the landowner had been ever so patient and gracious, giving them chance after chance to realise that they weren’t the owners but tenants.

We know that Jesus was talking about the people of Israel in this parable and how they had rejected God by beating and killing the prophets, and soon will beat and kill his Son. This parable had a special application to the church of Jesus’ day but we would be blind if that is all we could see in this story. God is the owner but how often do we act as if we are the owners.

When you stop and think about it, we are tenants, not owners. In the broadest sense, everything we have is on loan from God. We sometimes imagine that we are owners.
“It’s my money and I can spend it as I please.”
“It’s my body and I have a right to do what I want with it.”
“It’s my life and I don’t need anyone to tell me how to live it.”

It’s clear from the very first pages of the Bible when God gave Adam and Eve the Garden of Eden, that they didn’t own it, they were tenants.

You are made and owned by God. Your life is not yours to own like you own a Holden or a Ford or a wide screen surround sound digital TV system and so you can do whatever you please with it. You’re God’s property. Life is a gift, just as the Holden or the Ford and wide screen surround sound digital TV system are gifts, to be used with God the Creator in mind.

We have a responsibility to use his gifts wisely and faithfully. And God gives his gifts in the hope of finding a harvest of fruit – fruit like honouring, loving and trusting God above anything else, and in our dealings with others – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility and self-control.

Jesus was talking to the church of his day through this parable and so I want to focus on that special gift that God has given to us – the church. Like the landowner he has generously and graciously given us the church to care for and to reap a rich harvest.

But we are often guilty of acting as if we own the church. I don’t think it matters if we are talking about the church catholic – meaning the church throughout the world – or St Paul’s here on the local scene –
the church is the people of God, saved by Jesus’ death and resurrection,
the church is the fellowship of believers who are loved by our heavenly Father who speaks to us through the Scriptures and shows us his love through the water of baptism, the body and blood of Jesus in Holy Communion.
As God’s people we are given the Holy Spirit to encourage and support us every moment of every day. He keeps us together in Christ through forgiveness and reconciliation.
The church consists of people who have been chosen by God – as Peter says, “You are the chosen race, the king’s priests, the holy nation, God’s own people”. The church is a gift and our place in the church is a gift from God.

Since the church is God’s gift to us shouldn’t we be asking, “What does the owner want us to do? What does the Lord of the Church want us to do? As those who belong to the church through the gracious invitation of our Lord, what does he want us to do?” (Let’s not just think of the church as an organisation – like St Paul’s) but also of what does the Lord want us– the people of the church – you and me – to do).

Last week I emphasised the response of the individual to God’s love and concluded by asking, “Jesus, what do you want me to do?” But today our parable is leading us to ask a further question, “What do you want us, the people whom you have saved with the blood of your own Son, to do?” This is the question that we as church must ask. “Lord, what do you want us, your church, to do?”

When we ask questions like,
What does God want to do for this community through us, his church?
What does God wants us to do to help and encourage those who are facing tough times – whether they are the result of their own making or just happen because they are part of fallen humanity.
What does God want us to do to make worship meaningful across all generations?
What does God wants us to do so that all children are taught about the love Jesus has for them?
What does God wants us to do in order to make the best use of the properties and facilities that he has given us to further his work in this community?

Whatever other important questions arise, we always need to remind ourselves that this is not our church, this is God’s Church. The one who created the church, paid for it with the death of his Son. And so the first and vital question that needs to be asked is this, “What does the Lord of the church, the owner of the church, want us to do.” “How can we be the best tenants possible and serve our Master faithfully.”

And I, like you, want to know what the answers are to these questions. As individuals we come with all kinds of ideas and answers to the question, “What does God want to do through St Paul’s?” Each of us understands the mission and ministry of the church in different ways but in the end together as the fellowship of believers
we wrestle with what God wants us to do,
we argue with God about it,
we argue amongst ourselves (in a friendly way),
we are challenged to be church in our community,
and as individuals you and I may have to change our ideas and that means not always getting our own way.
If we, as church, still don’t know what God wants us to do we need to listen to him care fully again with open minds and pray all the more earnestly about it.

The church is God’s. We can take heart. Being the church is not all left up to us. We are God’s church, God’s people filled with the Holy Spirit to struggle with us and guide us as we seek ways to actively be the church in the world.

I said in the beginning that this parable of Jesus is a parable of judgement. Jesus concludes by saying, “And so I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce the proper fruits.” Was Jesus only talking about the church of his time? Could he also be saying this to us today? Is it possible that the church, the gospel, this gift may be taken from us and given to others?

As a family drove into town, they passed by a large, impressive church.
“We’ll go to that church on Sunday,” the man said to his family.
On Sunday they got up, got dressed, and walked to this very impressive church building. When the family entered they saw a small group of people scattered around the empty pews mumbling their way through the service.

It was obvious from the magnificent church building that this had once been a thriving, lively congregation. What they once had, they no longer had. The church had stopped asking, “What does God want us to do?”

On the other hand there was a congregation made up of mostly elderly people and their numbers were slowly but surely diminishing. One elderly man said, “God put this church here for a reason a hundred years ago, what does God want us, his church, to do today. It’s clear that the reasons why this church was formed in the first place have changed. Does that mean God is finished with us as a congregation? If that is the case then we should sell this valuable piece of real estate and worship elsewhere.”

This small group of older people wrestled and prayed about this. The church was located near a primary school. One elderly lady said, “Let’s have an after school activities time for kids. Lots of them go home to empty houses – let’s give them something to eat, crank up the sound system with some of their kind of music, and get some activities going”. They prayed about it. They knew it would be hard work. They didn’t like the music, but they were determined. They started with a small group of children, then some mothers came to help, then the Sunday School was restarted and a support group was formed to help families facing tough times.” That church was once again the church for that community. It all started with the simple question, “Lord, what do you want us to do?”

Jesus told this parable about the wicked tenants to bring the church of his day to repentance. It has the same effect on us today. When we read this we realise how often we forget to ask, “What would the owner want us to do”? We realise that so often we have wanted our own way and not sought what was the will of Lord of the Church.

We are here this morning because we have a Saviour who has died and risen for us. We have a Master who has given his life for us so that we can have forgiveness and eternal life. May God through his Holy Spirit continue to bless his church and give us an ever-greater vision of what he wants for the church and what it means for us to be the church, people bringing a rich and fruitful harvest for God. As great as the temptation always is to be a cosy and comfortable and to simply look after ourselves, let’s be open to the prompting and guiding of the Spirit to be a witnessing and serving church. May God richly bless and guide us as we ask, “Lord, what do you want us, your church, to do?”

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

 

When yes means yes

Saturday, September 30th, 2017
Text: Matthew 21:28-30
There was once a man who had two sons. He went to the older one and said, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.” “I don’t want to,” he answered, but later changed his mind and went. Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. “Yes sir,” he answered, but he did not go.

A father tells this story. “When my oldest son was about three years old, I was outside doing some work in the garden one afternoon. I took Kevin outside to play while I trimmed the hedges. Holding his hand, I knelt down beside him so that we could look at each other face to face. Slowly and carefully
I said, “Now, Kevin, you can play here in our front yard. You can go next door and play in your friend’s front yard. You can ride your bike up and down the driveway. You can go in the backyard and play with the dog or play on your swing. You can go back inside and watch television. You can stay here and watch me trim the hedges. You can do all those things but you are not go out into the street. It is very dangerous there. You cannot play in the street. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
And Kevin solemnly nodded his head. “Yes, Daddy,” he said. I let go of his hand and he ran straight to the curb, put one foot on the street, and then turned his head toward me and smiled, as if to say, “Silly daddy!”

Today’s gospel reading has a similar story. Jesus tells about a father who has two sons. The father asked them to go out and work in the field. One of the sons impudently answers, “No! I won’t go!”

A little later, the father looks up from what he is doing and notices that the boy has changed his mind and is now working out in the field.

His other son, when asked to work, politely said, “Yes, of course, father. Nothing would please me more than to work in the field for you.” Two hours later, the polite, seemingly obedient son is still lying on the sofa watching TV.

Now think hard, says Jesus, which son do you think pleased the father more? The one who said no, but then went into action or the one who politely said yes but then did nothing?

Those with children can identify with this scene immediately. It seems children come with the word “no” pre-programmed in them. You know how it goes.
Clean your room. No.
Do your homework. No.
Comb your hair. No.
Where does this come from? It comes from Adam and Eve, the ones who first said “no” to God and “yes” to themselves and the devil who lied to them. That “no” is passed on like a genetic disease from parent to child, from one generation to the next.

As children get older, the “no” turns into “Do I have to?” usually spoken in a whining tone that makes it doubly irritating.
“Help your mother with the dishes.” “Do I have to?”
This can turn into a more defiant “Why should I?”
“Be home at 11:00.” “Why should I?”

We are also familiar with the seemingly obedient child.
“Clean your room”. “Okay, Mum.” And when mum comes back nothing has changed. We also know that this kind of behaviour is not restricted to children. We say “yes”, perhaps with a good deal of enthusiasm but never get around to doing anything about it.

The Bible is full of stories about people who said “yes” but when it came to carrying out what they had said “yes” to that ended with a loud “no”.

A couple of examples. At the foot of Mt Sinai the people of Israel said, “Yes, we will do all the things the Lord has commanded us.” Not long after they said “no” to God in the loudest and most defiant way possible. They made a golden calf, and worshipped it.

The disciple Peter promised “Yes Lord, you can count on me, I will never deny you even if it costs me my life.” Not long after, he said “no” three times as he denied any connection with Jesus.

The church leaders of Jesus’ time said “yes” to God but “no” to the one whom God had sent.

In all honesty we have to confess that we get out yeses and nos all mixed up. We have sinned against God our Father by what we have done and by what we have left undone, by our rebellious “no” and by our religious “yes.”

We say “yes” to following Jesus, but when discipleship involves putting God and others first, being committed to joining in mission and ministry with my fellow disciples, the people of our church, putting aside everything else as less important to doing the work that Jesus has given us to do, we end up saying “No, this is just too hard”.

We have said “yes” to the love of God, we enjoy God’s grace as we see it in Jesus; we like knowing that God’s love for us is so certain and unchangeable but we have said a firm “no” to offering a hand of friendship to the person who really gets us angry; we have said a firm “no” to forgiving a person who seems to delight in saying things that really gets us stirred up.

We have said a firm “yes” to the new life that we received from God’s Spirit at our baptism, but the way we live our lives declares a loud “no” as we say “yes” to jealousy, anger, impatience, unkindness, sexual immorality, being nasty and uncaring.

We have said “yes” to the whole idea of spreading the good news about Jesus and God’s love for people in every kind of situation, but when we look at how little we have done and what little enthusiasm we have for getting involved we realise that our “yes” has been nothing but a pious good intention. We have reserved the right to say “no” if too much is asked from us.

We have shouted, “Yes, God is so good. Look at what he has done for us; how he gave his Son’s life because of his extreme love for us. Look at how he cares for us and our loved ones every day. Yes, I will give God praise and worship.” But after that initial wave of excitement we end up saying “no” to committing time to gather with our fellow Christians in worship; we say “no” to joining with others to thank and praise God.

In Jesus’ parable the second son is an example of religious hypocrisy. Did you know that the word “hypocrite” comes from the Greek word for “actor”? Actors hid behind masks; they appeared to be something they were not. The second son appeared to be the good, obedient, perfect son. He pretended to be someone he wasn’t. He was an actor, a hypocrite.

Jesus saw the empty, hypocritical “yes” of the religious people of Israel. “They preach but they do not practice what they preach,” Jesus said. They say the right things but they do the opposite.

Those who were listening to Jesus as he told this parable got it right when he asked them, “Which one of the two sons did what his father wanted?” Not the son who said, “yes, yes, yes” and did nothing, not the son who heard exactly what his father wanted him to do, but instead had his own agenda listing what he would and would not do.
How many times have our good and noble “yes” to Christ in our lives, and our “yes” to doing something because of our faith turned out to be fizzers?
How many times have we heard a stirring sermon, heard an exciting talk and presentation, been to an inspiring seminar and enthusiastically said “yes” and went home and did nothing about it?

Notice that I haven’t excluded myself from any of this and it upsets me to see this kind of thing happening in me – saying “yes” like the second son in the parable and doing nothing. It upsets me when I see this in a congregation – full of good intentions, enthusiastically passing resolutions at meetings and then waiting for someone else to carry them out. “Yes what a good idea, but no, I don’t want to get involved”. Seeing this side of ourselves is not a pleasant experience. We cringe, we deny it, we repent of it.

We are thankful that the “yes” of Jesus’ love for us was more than words or a pious feeling. We are ever so grateful that Jesus’ “yes” for us meant action. We are great sinners, this is true. But Jesus is an even greater Saviour from sin. We have a Saviour whose “yes” for us led to his cruel suffering and death on a cross.

His “yes” for us at our baptism meant that each of us, personally and individually through the water that was splashed on us, was graciously given freedom from all of our sin, and the love of God who has promised to go with us through all the ups and downs of this life. And then finally when our journey here is over to welcome us into eternal glory in heaven.

As we come forward to receive Holy Communion we again hear God’s “yes” for us as we eat and drink the body blood of our Saviour.
Yes, in spite of our sin we are loved.
Yes, in spite of our hypocritical ways when we say “yes” but we really mean “no” there is forgiveness.
Yes, even though we have so many good intentions to carry out God’s will in and through our lives, the perfect life, suffering, death and burial, resurrection and ascension of Jesus has given us a fresh start and a fresh opportunity to say “yes” and to mean “yes”.

Through the power of God’s Spirit working in our lives may it happen that when we say “yes” to the love God shows us and exclaim “yes” to Jesus’ call to be disciples we will also say
“yes” to God making some big changes in our lives,
“yes” to following the guiding of the Spirit more closely,
“yes” to greater involvement in worship, prayer and the work of God’s church.

By the grace and power of God may our “yes” to Jesus be a “yes” to a new life inspired by the Spirit and enthused to do God’s work.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

God of grace

Saturday, September 23rd, 2017

 

Text: Jonah 3:10 – 4:3
God saw that the people of Nineveh had given up their wicked behaviour. So he changed his mind and did not punish them as he had said he would.
Jonah was very unhappy about this and became angry. So he prayed, “Lord, didn’t I say before I left home that this is just what you would do? That’s why I did my best to run away to Spain! I knew that you are a loving and merciful God, always patient, always kind, and always ready to change your mind and not punish. Now then, Lord, let me die. I am better off dead than alive.”

Most of us have a highly developed sense of justice. When someone does something that is outside of what we think is acceptable there are consequences.

A farmer noticed a carload of people who had climbed his orchard fence and were not only eating his apples without asking permission but were putting some in a shopping bag to take with them.

He climbed over the fence and walked up to them. One of them smiled sheepishly and, thinking that a little flattery would win the farmer over, said, “We hope you don’t mind but we have enjoyed eating some of your most excellent apples.”

“No, not at all,” said the farmer, “and I hope you don’t mind that I just let the air out of your most excellent tyres.”

From a very early age we learn that when someone does something to hurt us in any way, the right response is to give back equally what was given. In some cases, maybe we give back just a little more to make sure they don’t do it again.

If a terrorist who had been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocent people is captured and brought to trial I dare say most of us would like to see him get “what he deserves”. Just as he showed no mercy to his victims he doesn’t deserve any mercy now. He’s a monster whose life should be ended or locked up and the key thrown away.

In today’s Old Testament reading we hear about Jonah who is having real difficulty with this whole matter of what is right and fair. In fact, Jonah is seriously cheesed off. You see, he thinks these Ninevites should be wiped off the face of the earth. They are God’s enemies; they are the enemies of God’s chosen people; they are notoriously wicked and deserve the worst that God could dish out to them.

From the moment that God told him to go to Nineveh and warn the people that their wickedness would bring down God’s judgement on them, Jonah thought that this was all wrong.
Why even give them a warning? They are wicked so why doesn’t God just let them have it. Jonah is even suspicious that God will let them off the hook. Later on he says, “I knew from the very beginning that you wouldn’t destroy Nineveh. I knew that you would only show love and not punish your enemies”. And he might have added, “I knew that you would have compassion on them and they don’t deserve it.”

As far as Jonah is concerned, the Ninevites don’t deserve a second chance or any kind of mercy or even a warning that God’s judgement is near so he gets on a boat and sets sail in the opposite direction.

His attempt to get away from God is futile. We know the story well. Jonah is swallowed by a big fish and in the belly of the fish he throws himself on the grace of God and experiences God’s love and mercy as he is given a second chance. The fish spits him up on the beach and once again God tells him to call the people of Nineveh to turn away from their sin, turn to God, receive God’s forgiveness and mercy, and live.

So when we encounter Jonah in today’s first reading he is not a happy. He is not happy about the Ninevites getting another chance, about God allowing them to live, when they are such wicked and evil people. Jonah wants justice not mercy. This makes Jonah so angry.

Why is he so upset?

First of all Jonah thought he had God all worked out. The rules were straight forward. He had learnt them as a child. He said it every day, “Israel, remember this! The Lord – and the Lord alone – is our God. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deut 6:4). In other words, if you worship false gods, do not obey the one true God, live immorally and violently like the Ninevites, you will be punished by God. How simple is that? But now it seems that God is changing the rules and the wicked are going to get away scot free.

Secondly, Jonah was a Jew – one of God’s chosen people. But these Ninevites were nothing – godless, barbaric, wicked heathens involved in all kinds of deviant behaviour. They don’t deserve mercy; they deserve nothing less than God’s worst punishment. Besides what’s the point of being one of God’s chosen people if God was going to be gracious and forgiving to anyone and everyone, especially those whose lives and religion were so perverted and depraved.

And thirdly, (and this annoyed Jonah more than anything and made him really angry), he firmly believed that God was unfair. Jonah thought the people of Nineveh were so wicked that they were beyond mercy and grace. For Jonah things were simple. People should get what they deserve. If they have been faithful and good then they should be blessed. If they have been wicked and perverted then they deserve to be damned.
After Jonah had tried to run away from God Jonah was happy to receive God’s mercy but he resented God dealing with the Ninevites in a similar way. In Jonah’s mind the Ninevites were so wicked that there was only one way God should deal with them. No mercy; only punishment.

It’s clear that Jonah was telling God how he should treat the people of Nineveh and thought he knew better than God what they deserved.

What is more, he missed the point that God was free to do as he liked even if it seemed unfair and didn’t make any sense to anyone else.

The Book of Jonah is well described as a book about mission – God’s mission to a Jonah himself. God is reaching out and teaching Jonah about grace and undeserved mercy.
And so as you read this Old Testament story you begin to see that God’s real mission in the story is not to Nineveh at all! God could have sent anyone to deliver his message to them – probably a person more enthusiastic about mission work would have done a far better job and certainly someone who understood God’s grace a little better would have been a far more effective witness. God’s mission is to help Jonah understand that his grace is not selective (i.e. some people deserve it more that others) or limited (i.e. that God can love only certain people).

Jesus teaches this same lesson in his parable about the labourers in the vineyard. Remember how workers are hired at different times of the day to bring in the harvest. When the end of the day came and each worker was paid the person who worked all day received the same as the person who worked for only one hour. The point being made here is that this doesn’t seem fair at all. In our way thinking, people should only get what they deserve and no more.

Jesus makes it clear that this is not the way God operates. If God operated that way then no one would receive anything from God. God’s love extends to one and all regardless of their situation in life, how good or bad, how faithful or unfaithful they have been, or how long they have been members of the church. The questions the owner of the vineyard asked could well have been questions that God could have asked Jonah. “Don’t I have the right to be generous if I want to? Are you angry because I have been generous?”

What God was trying to get through to Jonah and what Jesus was trying to tell his listeners was that God doesn’t operate by what is fair or unfair. God doesn’t use accounting methods to decide what we deserve. In fact, the word deserve doesn’t apply to the way God thinks of us because if God gave us what we deserve then we would all end up in hell.

If God dealt with Jonah the way Jonah expected God to deal with the Ninevites then neither Jonah nor the Ninevites would have been saved. Jonah would be judged in the same way he expected the people of Nineveh to be judged. The story of Jonah and the parable of the labourers in the vineyard tell us that God is generous, full of grace, and forgiving. He is ready to give second chances and in the case of Jonah third and fourth chances.

We can add that God’s grace is persistent. It doesn’t give up.
God rescues rebellious Jonah from the briny deep.
He is patient with Jonah’s half-hearted effort in delivering his message,
and to top it all off he hangs in there when Jonah smoulders with anger and self righteous pity because all he can see is injustice and unfairness.

The story about Jonah finishes with a question from God. Remember Jonah is seething that God had shown mercy on the people of Nineveh. God had caused a plant to grow and shelter Jonah from the hot sun and then it died. That made Jonah even more upset. God comes to him with this concluding sentence. “You are concerned about a mere bush that grew one day and died the next. Don’t you think that I should be concerned about the 120,000 people in that city?”

We don’t know how Jonah responded.
Was God’s mission to Jonah successful?
Did Jonah finally understand God’s mercy and grace?
Was this a turning point in his life and he repented of his hard-heartedness toward the people of Nineveh and let God’s mercy and grace control his life?

I believe that this ending is deliberate. It’s good storytelling because instead of ending with “and he lived happily ever after” we are left to ponder the question, “How did the grace of God affect Jonah? How has the grace of God affected us and the way we live today?”

Do we reflect the grace God has shown toward us in the way that we show love to the people in our lives?
Do we reflect the grace of God when others have offended us? Do we reach out and seek forgiveness and reconciliation or do we pass off the rift that has happened with “It’s not my fault; he/she needs to apologise to me”.
Do we reflect the grace of God in the way we treat those who are in some kind of need? Are we hard-headed and ignore their need, make excuses for our lack of empathy and action or do we strive to understand, be compassionate, and help in what ever way we can?
Do we reflect the grace of God as we deal with difficult people – those who are hard to like, argumentative, opinionated, self-focussed or do we find it easier to brush them aside and declare that they require too much effort and emotional energy?
Do we reflect the grace of God as members of the church when others lose their faith, adopt a way of life that is clearly wrong in God’s eyes, drop out of the fellowship of the church? Do we offer them our love, our help and support?
Are we like Jonah – ready to accept God’s grace and to be cared for, comforted and helped by a loving God but refuse to pass this on the same care, comfort and love to others?

We all struggle to reflect the grace of God in our lives and we often fail. The great thing about God’s grace is that it never gives up, it is always ready to forgive, restore and make new. May God’s grace truly make a real difference in our lives every day.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

But God …

Saturday, September 16th, 2017

 

 

Text: Genesis 50:20
Joseph said to his brothers, “You plotted evil against me, but God turned it into good”.

We throw around the word “luck” quite a bit. We say things like,
“Good luck for the game tomorrow”.
“With a bit of luck I’ll get through this surgery OK”.
“That was a lucky escape”.
“I’ve finally got a lucky break.”
“I haven’t worked all that hard studying for these exams but with a bit of luck I can pull off a pass”,
or when we hear of some freak accident and say, “That was just bad luck.  He was at the wrong place at the wrong time”.

Often we use the word “luck” without too much thought about what we are saying but the word implies a lot more than we realise.  When we say “Good luck” to a sports person are we saying that he/she will need luck to win because their skills aren’t up to scratch?  Do we really believe that luck will change that?

Sometimes we use “luck” to explain why something happens that can’t be explained in any other way than to say it was a matter of luck, or chance or fortune either good or bad.

Science says that on first impressions you might think that things happen randomly, but even in the randomness there is a pattern.  This has nothing to do with luck.  Let’s take an example.  When flipping a coin it seems that it’s just luck that it comes down “heads” or “tails”.  But when you flip a coin a hundred times, it is not simply by luck that half of the times it will come up “heads” and the other half “tails”.

Did you know that the word “luck” doesn’t appear anywhere in the Bible?  That’s strange in a way, since fate and luck were such popular concepts in the ancient world, especially among the Greeks and Romans.

In the Bible nothing is left to luck or chance.  The Bible gives us a picture of a God who cares, listens and acts behind the scenes of human history and of our lives.  His divine providence, wisdom, and foresight oversee everything that happens.  Nothing happens that is outside his control.  He even uses evil events and people to bring about some good end.

It would be an interesting exercise to go through the Bible to see how many times the words “but God” are used in the same way they are used in today’s text from Genesis.  Joseph said to his brothers, “You plotted evil against me, but God turned it into good”. The words “but God” involve some kind of human foolishness or disaster that God uses to bring rescue and blessing and goodness.

Even if the words “but God” aren’t actually in the text they could be implied anyway.  For example, God commanded Jonah to call the people of Nineveh to turn away from their sinful lives.  Jonah didn’t like this assignment, ran away, was swallowed by a big fish but God rescued him and saved the people of Nineveh.  Or Daniel was thrown into a cage of lions but God sent an angel to shut their mouths and Daniel was unharmed.  The king and all the people worshipped God. When David killed Goliath it wasn’t just a lucky shot that brought down the giant.  David made this clear to Goliath, “You might be big and mean but God will put you in my power and I will defeat you”.

Today’s reading from a story in the Book of Genesis could be read just as a good luck/bad luck kind of story.  It’s about Joseph, the bratty spoilt kid in the Old Testament who was given a fancy brightly coloured coat by his father, Jacob. Bad luck for his big brothers that this little kid was their father’s favourite.  His jealous brothers wanted to do away with the lad but it was just good luck that one of the brothers felt bad about murdering him and so Joseph was sold as a slave.  Joseph ended up in Egypt and he got a lucky break and ended up in the house of a rich man.  Through a stroke of bad luck he ended up in jail on a trumped up charge of rape.  Then through a series of events that could be interpreted as just plain good luck ended up as prime minister to the Egyptian Pharaoh.

In the meantime bad luck struck the brothers because famine wiped out all their crops and so had to go to Egypt to find food.  To cut a long story short when the brothers found out that the Egyptian ruler with whom they had been dealing was the brother they had tried to kill, they really believed their luck had run out.  This ruler had total control over them and this would be their end.

But as I said, luck or fate or chance are foreign concepts in the Bible and Joseph makes this quite clear when he explains to his brothers that he has no intention of getting back at them for what they had done to him.  The brothers were expecting the worst but Joseph saw things differently.  Joseph saw the hand of God behind everything that had happened. He explained it like this to his brothers,God sent me ahead of you to rescue you in this amazing way and to make sure that you and your descendants survive. So it was not really you who sent me here, but God. He has made me the king’s highest official” (Genesis 45:7-8).

It was not by chance that Joseph had risen to a position of power and was able to help his brothers and their families.  God had used all the hatred his brothers had for him to save them in the end. Joseph explains, “You plotted evil against me, but God turned it into good, in order to preserve the lives of many people today because of what happened” (Genesis 50:20).

Joseph must have wondered, as any of us would, “Why is this happening to me?” or even asked, “God, what are you doing to me. Why are you allowing these things to happen?” It is later as he looked into the rear vision mirror on where he had been that he could say “but God”.  All these bad things happened to me and God permitted them to happen but God used them to save my family and their children and the generations to come.  God was behind the scenes working good into their evil purposes.

I can’t go on without referring to one other “but God” story in the Bible. Peter tells it like this on Pentecost Day, “Jesus was handed over to you; and you killed him by letting sinful men crucify him. But God raised him from death, setting him free from its power, because it was impossible that death should hold him prisoner (Acts 2:22-24).  Evil was at work that first Good Friday.  An innocent man captured, put on trial, whipped, mocked, cruelly treated and nailed through hands and feet to a cross.  What could be more atrocious than that?  What seemed to be one of the biggest stuff ups in history becomes the very epitome of love; the beginning of the new possibilities and new hope that would come into human lives.

God used the evil on that day to bring forgiveness and eternal life into the lives of all people.  We could even use Joseph’s words here, “God turned the evil into good, in order to preserve the lives of many people”.

Whenever we hear the words “but God” or they are implied as God uses the circumstances in our lives to bring about good things and blessings, we know that God is always in control.  There are times when he permits bad things to happen but they don’t happen outside of his control.  God allows them to happen for a reason and that reason is always bound up with his love for us. Sometimes and perhaps more often than not we can’t see the reason why God permits bad things to happen because his ways and thoughts are far beyond ours.  We can’t think like God and we don’t have the wisdom of God but we can trust his love.

To be sure, the story of Jesus, the cross and the tomb, the story about Joseph and his brothers say very loudly that not everything that happens is good.  Horrible things happen – babies die, mothers get cancer, parents abuse children; we have Baghdad, Kabul, Tripoli, Chechnya, Auschwitz, we have famine and war in Africa where people are suffering in a way we can hardly begin to imagine. Everyday’s news has a story. There is no way in the world we can begin to understand why these things happen on such a massive scale.  We know that God doesn’t cause evil to happen; the people on this planet do a pretty good job at creating evil without any outside help.

To be sure terrible things happen in our lives – some are our own making and others seem to come out of the blue.  It’s not a matter of good luck or bad luck.  In faith we believe that God is always close by as we travel through dark times and along unfamiliar roads.  Joseph didn’t know why things happened the way they did as they unfolded and he didn’t have the advantage of a crystal ball to see that all the events in his life would end up bringing blessings to his family.  But one thing he was certain about – God was travelling along with him.

Like Abraham who obeyed God and packed up everything and travelled to an unknown destination,
like David who defied the giant Goliath;
like Daniel whose obedience to God meant persecution;
like Peter and the other disciples whose loyalty to Jesus made life hard and in the end cost them their lives;
like Joseph who must have often wondered where life was taking him,
we too are on a journey and we don’t know what lies around the corner, but we do know who is travelling with us.  We don’t rely on luck to get us through but on the sure and certain love of God that we know through Jesus.  It’s the kind of love that is persistent, committed and never gives up; the kind of love that gives us peace and contentment even when we are totally confused about the events of our lives.

As you leave here this morning, my parting words to you will not be, “Good luck”. Rather, I will remind you that as you go out into the world, you do not go alone; you go with each other and God goes with you. No matter what this week may bring, God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit will remain with you and bless and protect you and give you the peace that comes from knowing that it’s not luck that controls your life but the loving hand of almighty God.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

Part of the Community

Friday, September 8th, 2017

Matthew 18:15-20

 

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so that we may recognise the seriousness of sin, but also the riches of your forgiveness through your Son Jesus Christ. Amen.

Once upon a time, there were a number of people who lived on the sea. They had no houses as we are used to, but they each lived in a small canoe.

Now over a period of time, they discovered it would be beneficial if they bound their canoes together to form a floating community. This community of canoes then provided safety when the seas became rough, provided opportunities to teach children together, and gave opportunities to seek and provide comfort for each other in tough times.

To help them in their travels, they set up a mast in the middle of their community. It had a strong and tall upper beam and a sturdy cross beam which they attached a sail onto. This sail helped them so they didn’t weary themselves with all their rowing, and also guided them toward their eventual destination.

Then one day, Timothy started paddling backwards, just for fun. He didn’t think it would hurt anyone to paddle backwards and thought it was a break from the routine. But Jenny noticed he was doing this and saw how his paddling was slowing down their progress and how it put extra strain on the ropes that bound the canoes together. She thought that perhaps she would just yell at Timothy really loud so that everyone would hear and look at him, but then thought this might embarrass him, so instead she quietly went over to him and discussed this with him in private.

Timothy didn’t even realize that what he did was affecting anyone else, and when he heard about this, he quickly stopped paddling backwards and thanked Jenny for letting him know.

Soon afterwards Sharon yelled some abuse at Fred, using some very colourful language. Donald, a friend of Fred’s, overheard and didn’t think Sharon’s words and attitudes were very helpful. After she seemed to calm down a little, he went over to her and said that even if what she said was right, he didn’t think her attitude was helpful and definitely didn’t agree with her using all those swear words.

 

Sharon didn’t like someone else telling her this, so she told Donald so in no uncertain terms, after all, it was just his opinion. If he didn’t like her using those words, then maybe he shouldn’t listen in on her conversations.

After trying to explain his position in the kindest way, Donald eventually gave up, but then spoke to his wife about what had happened. She suggested bringing along another friend and the community leader so that Sharon could see it wasn’t just one person’s concern, but the community’s. He did this and they all approached her and tried to explain how her language and attitudes had affected the community and how some of the children had now started using the same language against their parents.

Although Sharon didn’t like people ‘ganging up’ on her, she agreed her words and her attitudes were not helpful. She agreed to apologise to Fred for using such swear words and promised to try and stop using such language.

A few weeks later, George decided he didn’t want to wear clothes anymore, so he got undressed and went about his daily tasks without any clothes on.

Now everyone noticed, but they were almost too embarrassed to say anything. What would others think if they saw them talking to a naked George?

Eventually Paul got up the courage to speak to George about it. He explained his embarrassment and asked if he could please put some clothes on. But George said he couldn’t see anything wrong with not wearing any clothes, after all it seemed to be more Paul’s problem than George’s, so he just better get used to it.

But Paul was still very concerned and watched the children point at George and laugh at him. He also saw how many women would blush if they saw him, or would even catch some of them secretly staring at him with that spark of speculation in their eyes. So he gathered the community leader and another person to more formally approach George.

They told him they had nothing against nakedness as such, but shared their concern for the community, noting people’s embarrassment and the jokes that were told about him. They also mentioned the secret looks that could harm marriage relationships.

 

At this he called them all prudes and said he was going to continue to keep his clothes off. Anyway, if they didn’t like it, what would they do about it?

After many different but ultimately unsuccessful approaches, they went away and started discussing this matter among themselves. They had quite a debate because they knew they were only a small community and needed everyone and their canoes. They didn’t want to cut George off, but also agreed that his behaviour showed he didn’t respect others and his nakedness would be harmful to the community. Each individual is accountable to the community, but he was already acting as if he was outside of the community. After a long and passionate discussion, they decided that unless he would put some clothes on, they had to cut him loose from the canoe community.

As one they approached him and shared their concerns, giving him one last opportunity, but he remained defiant. Therefore they cut his canoe loose. They had tears in their eyes as they saw him float away, while he yelled abuses at them and made many lewd actions.

Eventually he disappeared beyond their sight, but every day and every night they had someone posted to keep watch for him in the hope he would one day return to them. They even tried sending out people in canoes in order to find him and bring him back to safety.

Now we’re not a community of canoes. We also didn’t come together just because we decided to. We came together because God gathered us together as a community of believers joined in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Yet we also come together as a community of sinners. Every one of us sin every day. Anyone who thinks he or she doesn’t sin does not need the church, and therefore also has no need for Christ.

Now as sinners, sometimes we like to point out each other’s sinfulness. We like to do this especially if we’re hurt by their actions, but also because it may direct attention away from our own sins.

Yet there are other times when we might ignore someone’s sin. We don’t want to meddle in someone else’s affairs. We don’t want to force our opinion or our moral compass on another. We don’t want to offend them. We don’t want to affect our relationship with them by pointing out their sins. So we remain silent, but secretly annoyed, hurt, disgusted or embarrassed.

The other problem is that, even though we acknowledge we are all sinners, we don’t like to admit our own sin, and definitely don’t want anyone else to point out our sin.

We don’t like this because it shames us and threatens our pride. Because of society’s push for the rights of the individual over the right of a community, we seem to think our faith is a private matter and even the way we live is a private matter. We don’t think it’s anyone else’s business to tell us we’re wrong.

Yet the wrongs or sins of an individual are very serious and affect the whole body of believers, especially if that sin is done in public and without any signs of repentance or sorrow. Because sin affects the whole community, especially the public sins, the Christian is accountable to the whole assembly.

So what do we do when we become aware of someone’s sins that are repeatedly done in public? Well, this text gives clear advice. It gives us a gentle, but serious approach to our own sinfulness and each other’s sinfulness.

However, this text has also been abused. This text isn’t given to us so that we can delight in pointing out each other’s faults and shortcomings, or things we don’t like about them, like their looks or their smell. It isn’t to be used in order for us to get back at someone who hurt us, or even to get rid of a community’s ‘deadwood’. It doesn’t justify our expectations that everyone around us should live up to our standards, or even live a perfect life, because no one can.

Rather, this text is used when we show our genuine care and concern for those who may already be spiritually lost to us. It’s used when we care enough about someone that we will reach out and speak to them in love because they’re no longer publicly living as a believer and are unrepentant of their actions.

If you approach someone and point out their sins, it may not seem very loving to them, and may be seen as an invasion of privacy, or a way of forcing your opinion on them, or that you’re being too legalistic or critical, but as Christians you realise the seriousness of sin and cannot in a good conscience allow them to continue in their sinful actions while they profess to be Christian.

 

We courageously approach people in love and concern, not just because of the harm the sin is doing to other people, but also because of the harm it does to the person doing it. They may not realise they already live as if they are outside of the faith community and are therefore also living outside of Christ.

We are all sinful and for this reason we must avoid the temptation to be too judgemental and go around pointing out each others sinfulness. Calling someone a sinner won’t necessarily help. But the Lord does encourage us to love and care for each other enough, that if we see someone openly sinning and they’re not sorry about their actions, we will reach out to each other in concern for the sake of their eternal welfare.

When you do this, do it in love and not in a way that shows your superiority over them. Approach them as a fellow sinner. If they’re sorry for their actions, then point them to Jesus Christ and his undeserving forgiveness. In this way you’ll restore a brother or sister to the community of believers.

Our Lord Jesus Christ died so that all our sins are covered and dealt with, but if someone is no longer repentent and therefore don’t think they need the blood of Christ, then we should love them enough to reach out to gain them as our brother or sister in Christ.

We may not be a community of canoes, but we are a community bound to each other through faith in Jesus Christ. Love one another enough to be brothers and sisters in Christ. Love one another enough to speak gently and lovingly about sin. Love one another enough to admit your own sinfulness and your own need for Jesus. Love one another enough to listen patiently to someone’s concern, even if you don’t want to hear it. Love one another enough to speak the forgiveness of Christ. Love one another enough that you still want to gather with each other in the name of Christ and have Jesus within your midst. Love one another so that …

The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

When losers are winners

Saturday, September 2nd, 2017
Text: Matthew 16:24-26
Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone wants to come with me he must forget himself, carry his cross, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his own life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Will a person gain anything if he wins the whole world but loses his life? Of course not!”

Over the past weeks we have certainly had a good dose of hero worship. The high profile and the status that goes with winning a medal at the Beijing Olympic Games highlights how important winning is not only for the individual medal winners but also for the whole country. We know how much the Brits have delighted in getting more medals at the games than the Aussies. Winning is everything. Whether talking about the Olympics, football, cricket, a game of Monopoly or cards. The aim is to win and those who do win can brag about their skill, their abilities and expertise. Winners get all the glory.

Even for the spectators winning is everything. When a team is not winning, or even close to winning, no matter how hard the players are trying, the spectators are disappointed in their performance. That becomes so obvious when spectators start to leave before the game is even finished because they believe their team is not going to win. But when the team is winning the spectators are right there with the winners. Winners receive all the glory.

I don’t think the disciples were into football or cricket but they know from life experience that being a winner is what really mattered. No-one wanted to be regarded as a loser. That’s why the Jews were in constant revolt against their Roman rulers and even if it meant losing one’s life it was well worth the effort to make their enemies the losers and themselves the winners.

Jesus and the disciples were in the Roman holiday town of Caesarea Philippi. There, with the cool breeze blowing in their faces off the sea, Jesus drops a bombshell. He tells them that, not long from now, he must go to Jerusalem, he must fall into the hands of his enemies, he will suffer, and there he will die.

The shock is almost greater than his disciples can bear. And Peter, in typical style, speaks up for the rest of the disciples and rebukes Jesus. “God forbid it, Lord! That must never happen to you!” (By the way, the word “rebuke” is a strong word. We hear of Jesus rebuking unclean spirits, demons, and casts them out with authority. He rebuked storms to stop and be still. And so this is by no means a soft, gentle telling off. “Rebuke” implies authority. So you have the scenario of Peter, the disciple, rebuking Jesus as if he had greater authority and insight into how Jesus’ future should unfold).

According to Peter, if Jesus was ever going to be a winner he was going about it the wrong way. It’s clear that the disciple didn’t realise that God’s idea of who is a winner and how one becomes a winner is quite different to that of the rest of the world. God’s way of winning over sin and death involved suffering. Those who think they are winners in Jerusalem will be exposed as those who have lost all idea that right throughout history God has shown himself to be a reconciling God and whose love for humanity never gives up. Jesus will be publicly humiliated in the worst form of torture known to humanity. There will be blood and then death.

Peter had just answered Jesus question, “Who do you say that I am?” with “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God”. This kind of talk about evil being stronger than good, enemies being more powerful than the Son of the living God, meant that Jesus would end up being recorded in history as the biggest loser of all time.

I think we can understand where Peter is coming from. Heroes are winners. Winners are not defeated by their enemies. Winners do not die on crosses.

Jesus in turn rebukes Peter saying, “Get away from me! You are thinking like everyone else and not like God!” In fact more accurately, Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan!” This says something about what Jesus thought of Peter’s ideas. Maybe Peter’s words reminded Jesus of his temptation by Satan in the wilderness when Satan tried to get Jesus to take the easier and more glorious path to being a hero. People would flock to him after seeing him float down from the heights of the Temple roof and, accompanied by an angel or two, land safely in the courtyard below.

The fact that Jesus speaks so strongly to Peter indicates that what he is about to say is very important. “If anyone wants to come with me he must forget himself, carry his cross, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his own life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Will a person gain anything if he wins the whole world but loses his life? Of course not!”

Have you noticed what Jesus has done here? He has moved the focus of the conversation away from himself and what lay ahead of him to the disciple and what lay ahead of those who follow Jesus. The path of forgetting oneself is not only for Jesus, but also for those who follow him. You must forget yourself, and you must take up your cross and follow.

What Jesus is saying here is so radical and different to our usual way of thinking and acting. We are so used to ‘looking out for number one’ and the attitude that ‘my needs are more important than anyone else’s’ that Jesus’ words fly in the face of the self-seeking and self-importance that is so common in our world.

“Forget yourself” – that’s even radical for Christians because we know just how difficult this is. These are difficult words – “forget yourself, your needs, your ideas, your plans, your need to impress, your fears, your need to be highly regarded in the sight of others, your whatever, and be my disciple”.
Now we could do what we usually do with anything that is too hard – ignore it, or water it down, somehow make it a bit easier to swallow.
Or we could do just as it says, that is, to follow his example of letting go of being so “me” focussed, and put God and his kingdom first.

Nothing, no matter how sacred, is permitted to come between ourselves and God. We place ourselves at his disposal.
His plans are our plans,
his will is our will,
his ways are our ways.
In our lives we are committed to only one thing – focused on being Christ-like in our relationships with others, dedicated to being truly his disciples, committed to following God’s way and not those of the world, faithful to God’s will that love would be our guide in every circumstance. Make no mistake about it, Jesus is saying to his followers, ‘Becoming a disciple is a radical step and being a disciple demands your commitment to forget yourself as crazy as this might seem to everyone else’.

And Jesus goes on to give the formula for the ultimate loser. ‘Take up your cross’, not the cross of Jesus, but your own cross.

The words, “Take up your cross” can rightly be understood in the narrower fashion. This includes the sense of accepting the “cross” of poor health, grief, loneliness, job loss and so on in the same way that Jesus was able to endure the suffering and pain of the cross with the knowledge that he had a loving heavenly Father who could be counted on.

However, this phrase “take up your cross” seems to have the broader and even more positive meaning of sharing with Christ in the work of showing love and compassion. Jesus has placed the burden on all of our shoulders
to care as he cared,
forgive as he forgave,
heal as he healed,
comfort as he comforted,
encourage as he encouraged,
accept others as he accepted others,
follow God’s ways as he did,
suffer as he suffered,
and give sacrificially as Jesus gave sacrificially.
Each of us must take up our cross and follow him.

Note the way Jesus uses the word “must” when talking about his journey to Jerusalem. Just as the Son of Man must be rejected, must suffer and must die and rise again so must his disciples take up their cross and follow. This little word “must” indicates that it is God’s will that Jesus take up the cross of suffering and humiliation and likewise it is God’s will that we must take up our cross.

In November 1992 five nuns were killed in the country of Liberia on the west coast of Africa. The nuns had been missing for about a week near Monrovia. That area was controlled by the National Patriotic Front – rebels who were trying to seize control. “These nuns, who were all experienced missionaries in Liberia either in education or health-care ministries, had been brutally shot to death. Their bodies were apparently left where they had fallen – three at their compound in a suburb of Monrovia and two on the road several miles away.”

Is this what discipleship is all about?
Is this the cross Jesus is talking about – being so focussed and committed to God’s Kingdom that the consequences don’t matter?
Is he saying that it is possible that we will experience rejection and humiliation when following Jesus is more important that anything else?
Does this mean that success in God’s eyes is not what we earn,
what we have,
what position we have in the community or the church,
or what “pious” lives we have but that the cross of love, service, sharing with the needy, welcoming the stranger, blessing those who persecute you, never taking revenge and answering evil with good? 
(See today’s reading from Romans 12:9-21 for Paul’s description of a life focussed on discipleship Jesus’ way).

I don’t know how you feel, maybe it’s the same as I feel, but every time I read or preach on this text, I wonder whether I really deserve the title ‘disciple’, ‘member of God’s family’, ‘follower of Jesus’. Jesus’ description of discipleship is tough, demanding, radical. How can I ever match that kind of expectation?

The plain and simple answer is that none of us can. That’s not minimising Jesus’ call to forget oneself, take up our cross and follow him but it is acknowledging that our human nature will always get in the way of this kind of discipleship. I take heart from the disciple Peter who really messed up big time when his commitment to Jesus as a disciple was challenged in the courtyard of the High Priest. When Jesus was being led through the courtyard, he knew what Peter had done. His eyes were filled with nothing but love and compassion for the Peter’s wounded spirit.

That’s why Jesus said he must be rejected, must suffer and must die and rise again – to bring forgiveness and grace into the lives of his disciples who find themselves failing again and again. It is the cross that makes us losers to be winners. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). Jesus died so that we might have forgiveness, hope and courage as we go out and take up our cross and follow Jesus.

We may stumble in carrying the cross of discipleship, we may not carry out God’s plans for our community as we should, we may not be as committed and as focussed as we ought to be, nevertheless God is calling each of us to forget ourselves, forget our failures because Jesus died to give us forgiveness and new starts, take up our cross, follow him and serve in whatever way God has gifted us.

It is said winners are grinners, in Jesus, losers are the winners and so they are the grinners.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

 

Who is Jesus?

Saturday, August 26th, 2017
Text: Matthew 16:13-17
Jesus went to the territory near the town of Caesarea Philippi, where he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” “Some say John the Baptist,” they answered. “Others say Elijah, while others say Jeremiah or some other prophet.”  “What about you?” he asked them. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  “Good for you, Simon son of John!” answered Jesus. “For this truth did not come to you from any human being, but it was given to you directly by my Father in heaven.

Without a doubt, the person who has been depicted in art the most down through the centuries is Jesus. We have seen pictures of Jesus in Bibles and Bible storybooks, all of them radically different in how they depict him. Rembrandt’s Jesus is very human, all light and shadow; El Greco’s Jesus is a striking, lean somewhat wild and demanding Jesus; Angelico portrays Jesus as sweet and angelic. There is Jesus the Good Shepherd, loving, smiling, caring and holding lambs or carrying a child in his arms. There is Jesus, the judge with a dark severe expression, sitting on a throne, staring as if he could see right through us.

Without a doubt, the person who has been written about the most is Jesus. Whole libraries are filled with books about Jesus and almost every book gives us a different picture of Jesus. To mention just a few.
H.S. Reimarus (early 1700s) contended that Jesus wasn’t divine but a Jewish revolutionary figure who died a disappointed failure. His disciples stole his body and made up a story about him being the redeemer. Paul spread the lie which was swallowed by a gullible world.
Ernest Renan (mid 1800s) presented a rather romantic picture of Jesus – a strange, sweet-spirited poet walking about Galilee teaching morality. He won the hearts of many people but fell foul of the temple authorities.
David Strauss (mid 1800s) said that the gospels were untrue and the miracle stories were just “myths”.
Albert Schweitzer (early 1900s) who portrayed Jesus as a prophet who was disappointed that God did not step in and end the world, work justice and set things right.

In both art and literature there are so many images of Jesus and so many ideas about what kind of person Jesus was. Who is right? The search for the historical Jesus, Jesus as he was known back then in Palestine, has only led to confusion and futility. What is important is who is Jesus today.

In our text today, Jesus casually asks the disciples “Who do people say I am?” The reply came, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah (because it was believed Elijah would return) while others say Jeremiah (the prophet of gloom and doom) or some other prophet.”
People who had witnessed Jesus work miracles,
listened carefully when he taught about the Kingdom of God,
heard him speak harshly to Canaanite woman
and witness what the kind of person he was,
were all guessing about this man from Nazareth really was.

Jesus wasn’t interested in what others thought of him. He got straight to the point, “What about you?” Jesus asked the disciples. “Who do you think I am?”

This question is as relevant today as it was 2,000 years ago.

A Christian rock-magazine reported an interview with Mike Portnoy, the drummer of a popular metal band. The interviewer asked, “Who do you think that Jesus Christ is?”

“Whoa, uh, this is a question for Kev,” laughs Mike. ” … He’s got a pretty strong outlook on that question. I tend to go with the general consensus that he is God or was God or whatever. I’m not a very religious person, but I do believe in God and I believe in Jesus Christ. To be honest, I’ve never been a very religious person, so that’s another question that I couldn’t answer from the bottom of my heart.” (Heaven’s Metal #42, page 24).

Mike Portnoy might be an exceptional drummer in a rock band but he expressed what most think about Jesus. Jesus is God or was God or whateverThat’s something I can’t answer from the bottom of my heart. That means, I think Jesus was a real person but he has no effect on my life whatsoever.

What makes it even more confusing for people is the growth of other religions within Australia – all claiming to have the truth. As a result we have people saying that all religions are true, all are heading in the same direction, all speaking about peace and harmony. Whether you are Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Moslem, Taoist, Mahikari, Jew or Christian, it doesn’t really matter. They all proclaim good living and love toward the members of your family and your friends.

A student went to a university chaplain and asked him to explain what were the differences between Christianity and Judaism. She was in love with a Jewish student and they were thinking about getting married. They talked about worship, rituals, festivals, customs, traditions, prayer and even God himself. Finally, she asked, “When it comes down to it, what is the one thing that makes Christians, Christian?”

The reply came, “The thing that makes us who we are is who Jesus is. Jesus Christ is Christianity. Other faiths have love; have beliefs about the good and the true. Only Christianity has Jesus.”

We believe that God came in the flesh, as a Jew from Nazareth.
We believe the way God saves is through Jesus.
We believe that the Jewish carpenter’s son, who was born, lived briefly, died violently in his thirties, and rose from the dead, is God who has brought us forgiveness and hope.
We believe that we have met God; we have met God as Jesus.
We, along with Peter, confess, 
“You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.”

Christianity is more than knowing biblical facts, or the teachings of the church. It is more than memorising Bible verses and Luther’s Small Catechism. It is even more than doing good things for others.

It is about a relationship – a relationship between God and us. How many people have said to me that everything they had learnt at confirmation classes didn’t make a great deal of difference to their lives at the time of their confirmation. In fact, a lot of what they learnt, had gone right over their heads. It was some time later that they became aware of what Jesus was all about. Suddenly in some cases, and in others, more slowly, the penny dropped. It’s not that they were searching for more meaning in their lives and suddenly found Jesus. Rather they were minding their own business and from out of nowhere, God found them. The Holy Spirit finally got through to them and they could see in full technicolour detail that their faith is all about the relationship between God and them and how this relationship now changes everything – their attitudes and their relationship with their family and others.

A man tells how he was just biding his time in a church service, looking at his watch every now and then in order to keep himself awake during the sermon. He didn’t really know what the preacher was rattling on about. In the middle of his boredom, he heard just one sentence. That one sentence grabbed him and he began to see his faith in a totally different light. He claimed that God opened his ears to hear that one sentence and things were never the same again.

When Peter made his confession, “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God” Jesus makes a point of telling him that this truth isn’t something that Peter had worked out for himself. Jesus said, “This truth did not come to you from any human being, but it was given to you directly by my Father in heaven”.

It’s our sin-stained humanity that gets in the way and clouds our understanding of God. How can we have a relationship with God when we constantly hurt him, forget that he even exists, ignore his power and presence, deny any connection with him through what we say and do. In other words, we are downright awful and horrible to him. If we were like that to any of our human friends, they would soon exit any relationship with us. We need God’s help.

God planned from the days of Adam and Eve to send Jesus to make things right again between himself and us. God closed the gap between us; has made us members of his family at our baptism; and reaffirms his relationship with us every time we go to Holy Communion. Whether we speak of God as we know him in the Old Testament, or see him stretched on a Roman cross, his attitude toward his people is always the same. His commitment and love are the same, and he is determined to establish a relationship with people who are unwilling even to acknowledge him. The Bible tells story after story of God reaching to people in love. We read about his patience with the people of Israel in the wilderness and his grace toward the thief on the cross.

We love God, we believe, because God first loved us in Jesus. Christianity is not the adherence to a set of rules, nor is it a set of ideas, a philosophy you might say, that leads to peace, harmony, inner peace, and good karma. It is a way of life, a way of walking with Jesus, a relationship. Christians are often looked at with a degree of scepticism by those who don’t know when we say we believe that Jesus rose from the dead and is present with us now, that he walks with us, and is closer to us than we are even to ourselves.

Mother Teresa was asked by a young man why she always talked about this Jesus stuff. He said he was going to work among the poor like her, do charity work, but without the Jesus baggage. Mother Teresa responded something like, “Go and work 20 years or a lifetime among the poorest of the poor. Then come back and tell me how you did it. I know that the only way I have been able to do it is because of Jesus.” Her faith, her understanding of Jesus, gave her the ability to be a doer, a doer not just for a week or a season or a year, but for a lifetime. She was able to do work that would have turned off the bravest hearts because of her relationship with Jesus.

As we stand around the deathbed of someone we love – Jesus is with us.
As we try to decide what direction to take and what is the right decision – Jesus is with us.
As we struggle with disappointment, guilt, and depression – Jesus is with us.
As we grieve over change in the church, or the lack of love in our family – Jesus is with us.

By his grace, we are able to say, “You are the Christ! You make all the difference in my life. Thanks!”

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

“The Power of Fear”

Saturday, August 12th, 2017

Fear is a fascinating word. Attached to fear is our negative response when we do something wrong or are expecting something dreadful to happen at any moment in the immediate future.

What is the opposite of fear? Or what does it mean to have no fear? When we ask ourselves these things we might assume positive things such as liking or loving to be opposite to our negative understanding of fear. However, liking or loving someone or something can be a positive demonstration of great fear.Fearing and loving the Lord therefore is not the opposite of fearing the wrath of the Lord. Both are fear, with opposite results. So what is the opposite of fear? Indeed, what is fear?

A worthy subject in examining fear is my family’s dog – Rufee. He’s a Jack Russel Foxy cross, and he’s generally a happy-go-lucky type of dog. When we are out walking there’s a flock of birds, Noisy Minors, and they lay siege upon Rufee every time we walk past their territory. It’s a sight to be seen as Rufee sniffs around the place with thirty odd birds dive-bombing him and creating a commotion that’s heard some distant away. But does he care? Not in the slightest! In fact I don’t even think he knows they exist.

However, it’s a different story if he sees a bird scavenging around on the ground, or he sees a hare or a wallaby or a cat. He notices them and usually tears off after them in a cloud of dust. The other morning he took off after two Magpies who were innocently foraging around amongst the frosty clumps of grass. I thought to myself, this was probably not a wise course of action. Chasing them now might seem like fun, but in a couple of month when they begin their breeding season, and the Magpie’s temperament changes, he will incur the wrath of old man Magpie. And every Australian knows that a Magpie attack can be a little more viscous than a bunch of Noisy Minors.

But then after we arrive home I give him a bone and Rufee displays a regular ritual that seems to show fear. He first looks at me as if to say, “Wow, am I really allowed to have this morsel of meat and bone, boss?” Then he sheepishly examines the bone in a rather subtle way. He stands back from the bone as if to not raise too much attention, looking around, looking at the bone, then looking around again, then the bone, then around the place once more, to see if the coast is clear. He genuinely fears that someone else is going to come and steal his bone. So he moves the bone from where I dropped it on the back lawn and takes it to a place where he can enjoy it in peace.

One might wonder what the point of all this might be! However, these different responses, I believe, demonstrate the opposites of fear.

The Noisy Minors bomb the living daylights out of Rufee and he doesn’t care. These little noisy birds have no power over him. Fear and power are connected.

The animals that take off when he chases them might also seem as though they have no power over him; that he doesn’t care about them either. But he loves chasing them and he loves the fact that they run or take flight. Although I’m sure he would be surprised if it happened, he is also disappointed he can’t catch the animals he chases. These creatures have power over him and therefore he demonstrates fear. Somewhere within the dog’s makeup is his inbuilt desire to chase and with it is his love for doing so. He actually respects the fact that they flee so he can chase them. They flee and this empowers him to impulsively chase.

Then when he is eating his bone this same power instinctively causes him fear of me in the same positive way as when he chases another animal, but then when he surveys the surrounds for other dogs he goes through his ritual to protect what is his. Something has power over him, the bone, his instinct, or both. This power causes fear in the negative sense. And when the Magpies start diving Rufee in Springtime I’m sure he will be the one fleeing in fear, especially if they hit him a couple of times with their beaks. This also is a power, causing negative fear. And it’s one we all respect and know of – all too well!

So fear has a lot to do with power. The opposite of fear is not caring. Or to put it another way, there’s no respect, acknowledgement, or interest for the good or the bad which might happen. Not fearing is when something has no power over us, either positively or negatively.

When we speak of fear in the bible, there are many occasions where we hear of fear that causes people to worry and doubt. But the positive side of fear is also to be found. In Matthew 9 Jesus heals a paralytic some men had brought to him on a mat. Then in verse 8 we hear, “When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men.” (Matthew 9:8) The crowd which was filled with awe is actually filled with fear, as it is written in the Greek but translated as awe in English. The crowd attributes authority, or power, to Jesus at his healing of the man and they worship God.

In fact, fear and faith go hand in hand. What we fear, whether good or bad, is something or someone we trust is going to do something of power to us.When we fear, we believe something or someone to have the greatest power or authority at that moment, if not all the time.

Unfortunately, most of the time, our fear is negative. Many occasions in the bible Jesus calls those he speaks to, to not have fear. This is negative fear that something bad is going to happen, because of Jesus’ extraordinary power, or since they see his power fear and believe their weakness or sin will bring them punishment.

When Jesus approached the boat on the lake, the disciples are full of fear. This is not because they recognise it’s Jesus coming toward them with extraordinary power, but because they had wearily fought against the rough sea right through the night. The disciples were Jewish men and held a fear for the water. They had a deep respect for its power as they superstitiously thought the depths were full of chaotic evil. And since the waves had antagonistically fought against them for most of the night, the appearance of Jesus walking on water is the last straw, leading them to believe a phantasmic spirit from the deep has come to get them.

When Jesus approaches the disciples in the boat, he immediately says, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” (Matthew 15:27) What he does is refocuses the disciples on him and his power. He instructs them to fear him, not because he is a phantom or a spirit from the deep coming in power over them, but rather, he is Jesus coming in power over the deep. When he says, “Take courage”, he tells the disciple to be of good cheer or to positively and boldly fear him who has power over all things.

So Peter is bold and he says to Jesus, “Lord, if it is you tell me to come to you on the water.” (Matthew 14:28) But when Jesus invites him out of the boat the negative inbuilt fear and belief in the chaotic waters overcomes his newfound bold faith in Jesus standing on the water just outside the boat.

What is it that you fear? What do you believe has power in your life? And is this fear negative or positive? Most people are usually overcome by a negative fear like Peter, and fail to see the awesome power of God and fear him in a way that glorifies his love for us.

You are called to a fear of God that acknowledges his power over your sin. You need not fear God like a bogeyman who’s going to get you in the night; like the phantasma the disciples thought was going to get them on the lake.

You have been called not to waver, and turn about face, as the struggles come and go in your lives. Rather believe the extraordinary power of God, the power won at the cross over sin, and the power of God the Holy Spirit in the written word of God.

Sin and all the forces of evil, although still present in this life, are not to be feared. When we fear these things we give back their power over us and turn away from he who has all authority in heaven and on earth.

God says to us, I am the Lord your God you shall have no other Gods! And we know that to mean, we are to fear, love and trust God above anything else!Therefore, come to him as he extends his hand to you. Let your sin have no power over you as you expose it to the cross and the forgiveness of Christ who hung there for you. And positively fear God who has placed Jesus Christ, the foundation of faith, in you. Amen.

For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and forever, Amen!

  Pastor Heath Pukallus