23rd Sunday after Pentecost

Luke 21:18-19
But not a hair of your head will perish. Stand firm, and you will win your soul.

            Drought and fire, the worst I’ve ever seen. We don’t know when it will end or how many lives will be destroyed, but we know that it’s not over yet. More news updates everyday, fires here and fires over in the US, droughts and famines, civil conflicts and wars, this is the world we live in. We hear the words of Jesus, the letters of saints who have gone before and we wonder, what is this to me? How can this make sense of the world? Love and forgiveness don’t bring the rain, and even if they did, we don’t live in a forgiving world. We live in a world of sinners.

            This is why the world rejected Jesus and still does, He was not a sinner. His preaching of the truth in love lead to hatred of Him and his persecution, suffering and death. He knew the truth that sets free, the truth we confess with Him and all Christians in the Creed, the truth of God Almighty’s Word given to His people of old and preserved for us today. He was under no illusion to the true way of this world, not distracted by the amazing accomplishments achieved by humans, not seduced by the beauty even of this whole world. He stood firm in God’s way, of forgiveness, truth and love. His disciples as we heard today admired the great skill and beauty of the temple God had made in Jerusalem. This place dedicated to Almighty God of all, an image of where heaven and earth meet, of all creation, nations, sea, outer space and beyond the universe to the most holy place; this great wonder that pointed to the one true God. And Jesus responded, ‘this place will be destroyed.’

            Now it’s hard for you and me to really get our heads around this. Jesus is saying two things, one the temple will be destroyed similar to telling an American the white house would be nuked, and two this whole creation, what God’s temple was an image of, will be destroyed. Understandably the Jews wanted to know when. Jesus doesn’t really say, rather He tells them what life is going to be like before the end comes, wars and rumours of wars. Sounds familiar hey? And what does this life look like for those who follow and trust Father, Son, and Spirit? Persecution, arrest, and confrontation with those in power. And betrayal by those close to you, death and hatred. This is what Jesus promised your life before the end will be like. Not a very cheery image is it? How could we hope to survive this?

            Not a hair of your head will be destroyed, in enduring you will win your soul. You have been saved by Jesus, death is not the end, we wait for the resurrection of the dead in Christ to everlasting life in the new creation, the new temple is Jesus, the image of the new creation, sinless, joyful, glorified and untouchable by death or the devil. Here today He renews you in this new life in Him, forgiving you, teaching you and strengthening you; coming to be where He has promised to be for you, wherever two or three gather in His name, and in the bread and wine for your forgiveness. And He doesn’t abandon you when this time today ends, He has given you each other to support and encourage in this hard world. He has sent His Holy Spirit to be there for you, helping, guiding and supporting through your struggles. Even when you are asked, ‘why are you a Christian?’ He tells us not to worry about a script, but rather He will give you wisdom and the words. You have been placed in the kingdom of God, remain under His authority, hearing His word, receiving His forgiveness, and through all this He will stay with you and at the end we will together join the resurrection of Jesus to live together with God Almighty, our creator and Father, living with true peace, joy and love forever.

            We receive together God’s love and mercy now, we are not persecuted for Christ or in a famine, and more you are forgiven all your sins and helped through this life by God Himself. Yet still we wait for the world to come, just as we wait for the rain.

The peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts in Christ Jesus, now and into eternity. Amen.

Joseph Graham.

Twenty Second Sunday after Pentecost

Luke 20:38
He is not God of the dead but of the living, for all live to Him.

            Last week I reminded us that God is not a God of the dead but of the living, so all who have died in Christ are alive and we are together with them in Christ’s presence here today, living to God. That need not be a worrying thing, if our perfect righteous creator can forgive you, those former sinners, murders, liars and cheats washed by the holy blood of the lamb can certainly forgive too. And here is where we find that teaching, Jesus telling some of the Jewish leaders just how dumb and short-sighted they were regarding the resurrection and also marriage.

The Sadducees were trying to catch Jesus out, to prove that the resurrection was dumb, but they themselves had a dodgy view of what was to come, of how to understand the resurrection from the dead, believing it meant that people’d rise from the grave and continue living just like people have always lived in this corrupt world. Sometimes we might think the same, that this world will just continue, and nothing will really change, governments come and go, people born, marry and die and God’s promise that He’ll sort everything out was just wishful thinking. Maybe we’ll slowly get better, maybe there’ll be a big conflict between Christians and everyone else, maybe we’ll all just die from war and depression. Always found it a funny quirk that the Greek here sounds like the English for sad.

But rather than this sad state of affairs, Jesus paints a different picture, in the Matthean account He calls them wrong saying they don’t even know God or the Torah, the Jewish scriptures (Matthew 22:29). Instead of saying things will continue the way they’ve always done, Jesus says, those who attain the resurrection in the new age will not marry, things will be fundamentally different. Now I want to talk to you about the concept of foreshadowing. There’s some more precise language of type and antitype but I’ll stick to our vernacular. Jesus is the fulfilment of all God’s Word, of the whole of the Law, of all the promises and prophecies God gave throughout time (Matthew 5:17; Romans 10:4; John 19:28-30). This is what we teach and why we look to Jesus for all things, but sometimes God gives a taste of what’s to come, just a little of what we will experience in the fullness of time. An example, The ancient Israelites rejected God in the desert, God sent snakes that started killing them, then God got Moses to make a bronze snake on a wooden pole that the people would look to and be saved (Numbers 21:6-9). Now all people have rejected God, we suffer and die because of our sin, God sent His Son to die on a wooden cross that whoever looks to Him, whoever trusts Him has eternal life; Jesus Himself tells us that the bronze snake foreshadows Him (John 3:14f). Okay, so the Old Testament foreshadows Jesus, now what about marriage?

Jesus had told us that God gave us marriage at creation and that, what God has joined together let no man separate (Mark 10:9). But now He says there is an end to marriage, as long as we both shall live as we vow in the rite. But now I’ll put to you this, marriage between a husband and wife foreshadows the marriage between the church and Jesus Christ. I’m not sure how much we can say but clearly the Spirit tells us through Paul that the wife and bride reflects you with the whole people of God, the church, and the husband and bridegroom reflect Jesus and His ultimate love for the church (Ephesians 5:22-33). If this is the true way to hear Christ’s words, your marriage finds its fulfillment in our relationship to Christ as His bride, His wife.

But regardless, Jesus is not just teaching that the resurrection is true, and we know this from His own resurrection and the Spirit’s words throughout Scripture, But Jesus is also teaching that even in marriage we live to God. So no idolising your beautiful, wonderful and caring wife, or your helpful husband, and no idolising your children, even if they are the cutest in the world. Rather we love our spouse and children because God first loved us (1 John 4:19), to the glory of God. Yes they are wonderful and lovely people, usually, but God has put them in your life to practise your faith, to love, to care, to encourage, to forgive, to practise reconciliation and also to bring up the next generation, but all this ultimately to the glory of the God who has given this wonderful gift to you. So yes, the resurrection is true, at the end we will live to God, but all live to Him even now and in marriage; as Paul writes to the Romans, whether we live or die we are the Lord’s (Romans 14:7-8).

So we live to God, as Paul writes, in Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28); whatever you do, do it to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31); and as Hannah Samuel’s mum prayed the Lord brings death and makes alive, He brings down to the grave and raises up (1 Samuel 2:6). All live to God, He is the goal of all good things, and in Him we have peace (Haggai 2:9). This is true, here in Christ Jesus, in His presence, we have peace; but there are those who want to destroy that peace, the man of lawlessness, that want us to live not to God but to others. Thank God He has given us Christians around us, even in our marriages and families, to encourage us in the faith, to hold to the teachings of the apostles, to pray to God for us, as Paul did, that “our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope,encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-17). To be encouraged and strengthened, body and soul until we join with those who have gone before in the resurrection to our wedding feast with Jesus.

And the peace of God that passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen.

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Luke 18:1
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.

            A favourite and certainly memorable parable, and a hard one for me too, because Luke already wrote us why Jesus said it! That we must always pray and not give up. So I’ll ask who here was weary and worn out at anytime this week? Now, who has been worn out by waiting for God’s promises to be fulfilled, the defeat and destruction of our enemies, sin, death and the devil?

            Luke in the previous chapters records Jesus speaking of the coming of God’s kingdom, salvation through faith in Jesus, forgiveness of sin and that those of the kingdom, saved and forgiven, serve. Now we hear of a helpless widow, coming to the judge for justice, righteousness, we could say that fancy word, justification. She needs justification because an enemy is trying to take her down. To wear her out, to tell the world she’s a failure and to destroy her. How often aren’t we like this widow, worn out not just by dust or babies, but by our struggle with our own sin and the failures of others, weary dealing with the death and sickness in this world, worn down by the attacks of our adversary the devil. How can we stand against all this by ourselves? Will we abandon the truth, let go of what is good, and reject the life God has given us? It’s certainly easier in many ways to live as if God doesn’t care, as if Jesus isn’t going to come back like a thief in the night, to get absorbed into whatever we do in this life; family, work, fame, even being a part of a parish, and to just go with the flow, take the easy way, to give up.

            But the widow doesn’t give up, she knows what is true and she seeks it. Everything is stacked against her, likely she doesn’t even have children or any family to back her up, to support her. She goes to the only one in town who can help, the person who happens to be the nastiest, snobbiest, least qualified judge in any story. Still she doesn’t give up, she goes again and again, knocked back, burdened, but still holding on to the truth. The judge meanwhile is doing his thing, but becoming increasingly annoyed at this widow. However he sees her devotion, and sees she ain’t letting up so he says to himself, self-centred that he is, ‘I will justify her so that her constant petitions don’t end with my black eye’. Yeah, that’s what the word means, and now I’m just picturing some old grandma walking into a court and punching the judge. So unrighteous judge brings justice against the widow’s accuser.

            But what about the righteous judge? The real judge, the one who will judge the whole world. What does He see? When we pray to our Father in Heaven through our King and mediator Jesus Christ by the power given us in the Holy Spirit, what does He, the Judge of all people, what does He do? He will justify His chosen people; He will make you righteous and save you from your enemies. Will He wait until we’ve bothered Him long enough? No, Jesus tells you, He will justify you and all of us quickly. Hallelujah, Good News if there ever was any! But this doesn’t mean that the struggles of this world will be taken away from us, it doesn’t mean that you will never be tempted again, and I know it doesn’t mean that Christ will come back tonight to finish what He’s started because people have been praying for that I dare say since He went. But when we pray, praying the prayer given by Jesus, your name be kept holy through my words and actions, your will be done even conform my will to yours, forgive us our sins, save us from the evil one; when we pray for Jesus Christ’s justification, He gives it quickly, so quick in fact He’s already made you holy in Him 2000yrs ago and made it personal for you when He baptised you. Promising the Spirit in baptism who has also given you faith, trust and understanding in God and His promises. You are saved, forgiven and renewed in Jesus.

You know God Almighty has authority over everything, because He made it. You trust that if anyone can help you it’ll be Him and so, like the widow, you ask. This is the faith! Trusting the creator and judge of all to make us right with Him, and acting on this faith by praying. My son trusts that someone will help him, and Rehab and I hear that trust sometimes loudly during the night. How much more will our Father in Heaven hear your cries, your shouting for salvation, for justice and righteousness. He hears and He justifies giving you what you need, forgiveness and everlasting life in spite of death in His Son, the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. Indeed He already has, you are in the Kingdom, in Jesus, the Holy Spirit lives with you, guiding you by Jesus’ words to always pray and not give up; but still Jesus ends the lesson with a question, will he find faith on earth?

The peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ by faith, now and forever. Amen.

Joseph Graham.

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

2 Timothy 2:8
Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel.

Remember, I know it’s harder for some of us, or at least some have a better excuse. But here today God is calling you to remember the Good News we cling to, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And unfortunately sometimes we forget. We forget in our lives what the core of our Christian faith is, we get side tracked, we forget we’re in this together and we forget why this message is so important for us in our lives. So what is the core of Christianity? Is it love? Maybe a different way of life? Or a decision I made? An assurance I will be safe and prosper in this life? A friendship group? A list of teachings you must know? Or perhaps something else?

Here the Holy Spirit summarises the gospel in the words, Jesus Christ risen from the dead, from the seed of David. We need to remember what this means; the name Jesus means God saves, Christ or messiah means anointed like the kings and priests of old, He is the true and everlasting King of kings and High Priest, He died but overcame death rising up to everlasting life, and He is the one promised throughout the Old Testament, the Son of David to come. The Word of God is not bound, but there is a lot to it. And it is true, but why do you care if it brings you, like Paul, suffering in this life, ridicule, anxiety, shame? What does this truth mean for you and me?

If we die with, we will live with; if we endure, we will reign with. Are you ‘dead’ to this world, rejecting all evil, corruption and deception, just as Jesus did? Do you endure, keeping the righteous way under the burden of all the temptations to be proud, angry, to go the easy way, the wide road that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13)? Or do you miss the mark, do you sin? Last week we heard that suffering is part and parcel of the Christian life, that we pray for God’s mercy and help, meditate on His word, then suffer trials where we see our need to turn to God and His Gospel again. Paul writes here that He is suffering because He proclaims the Good News, but all that was for those called out, Christians, that we hit the mark of salvation in Christ Jesus with glory eternal! Through our suffering to turn and look to Jesus for our salvation. This is the core of Christianity salvation in Jesus, if there is ever a time when I or any pastor does not point you to look to Jesus for salvation let me know I’m a false teacher, antichrist, breaking the second commandment, abusing God’s good name and spitting on the Good News given to us. Paul wrote this letter to encourage Timothy to stand firm with the Holy Spirit and God’s clear word against leaders who were twisting the gospel and teaching something new.

They were denying the truth of Jesus’ word and as Christ Himself said, whoever denies me before men, I will deny before our Heavenly Father (Matthew 10:33). This is not something trivial, this is true peace, joy and love, and ultimately life eternal in Christ. We spend hours and years dedicated to learning and remembering any number of things, peoples names, how to fix cars, how to provide for our families, to support each other and any number of good God given gifts; but if we remember all these and neglect our Gospel (1 Corinthians 13:1-3), forgetting what His death means for you … well, we know what happened to the Israelites of old. How could we be so faithless?

If we deny Him, He will deny us; if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself. God always speaks the truth, Jesus says I am the way, the truth and the life, His promises are always sure. Even when you fail constantly, rejecting His promises and commands, our Father still loves you, Jesus still mediates for you, the Holy Spirit still encourages, and we will still try to encourage you to remind you of the salvation you have in Christ, given by God in your baptism, renewed for you again and again by the Spirit in Holy Communion. So you remind the rest of us through the witness of your life, acting and speaking in the presence of God; to do everything for the Glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31); to confess the truth of your sin, as we have already today; and to strive daily to lead the holy life of Christ. He has promised you in His life death and resurrection, you have life everlasting with Him, forgiveness of all your sin, renewal, restoration and reconciliation with God Almighty and all His chosen children, the church throughout time and place. God has saved you!

Remember, remind and react to this wonderful news! Don’t just sit on it, letting it gather dust until next Sunday, but endeavour to show yourself to God as His worker without shame. Yes we fail but then listen to His call of repentance and, when you confess the truth of your sin, His declaration, you are forgiven, righteous and reconciled to your Father in Christ Jesus, you can stand before Him, dead to shame and evil in Jesus Christ, in whom you now live. This is His assurance in Holy Baptism. So now do His work in your life without shame, hold to the simple truth, the gospel we are all a part of, ‘Jesus saves you from sin, death and the devil’. You have been given a new life in Christ, a promise that you will reign with Him, so explore and find out what this means in your life, but always remember and hold on to the Word of Truth, the core of our Gospel, ‘Jesus Christ saves you’.

And the peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now and forever. Amen.

Graham Joseph

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Luke 17:5,6

The apostles said to the Lord, “Make our faith greater.” The Lord answered, “If you had faith as big as a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Pull yourself up by the roots and plant yourself in the sea!’ and it would obey you’. 

Faith the size of a mustard seed

A small congregation built a new church on a piece of land left to them by a church member.

Ten days before the new church was to open, but their world came crashing down when the local building inspector arrived and informed the Pastor that unless they double the number of parking spaces, they would not be able to use the new church.

Unfortunately, the new building had used every square centimetre except for a rather steep hill behind the church.

In order to build more parking spaces, they would have to move that rocky hill. Undaunted, the pastor announced the next Sunday morning that he would meet that evening with all members who had “mountain moving faith.”

They would hold a prayer session asking God to remove the mountain from the back yard and to somehow provide enough money to have it paved before the scheduled opening dedication service.

At the appointed time, 24 of the congregation’s 300 members assembled for prayer. They prayed for nearly three hours. At ten o’clock the pastor said the final “Amen”. “We’ll open our new church next Sunday as scheduled,” he assured everyone. “God has never let us down before, and I believe he will be faithful this time too.”

The next morning as the Pastor was working in his study there came a loud knock at his door and a rough looking construction foreman entered. “Excuse me, Reverend. I’m from a Construction Company.

We’re building a huge shopping mall. We need some fill – in fact, heaps of fill. Would you be willing to sell us a chunk of that rocky hill behind the church?

We’ll pay you for the dirt we remove and pave all the exposed area free of charge. We need to do this now to allow it to settle properly.” Well, the little church was dedicated the next Sunday as originally planned (Source unknown).

Wow. When you first hear this story it’s easy to say that this is exactly what Jesus was talking about when he said, ‘If you had faith as big as a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Pull yourself up by the roots and plant yourself in the sea!’ and it would obey you’.

In other words, through faith we can move mountains.

But is that right?

Is that a correct conclusion?

Was it their ‘mountain moving faith’ or the length of time they spent in prayer that in the end gave them what they were seeking?

Were those 24 people super heroes of faith and so moved the mountain?

The disciples were facing their own mountains that needed moving.

In the previous verses Jesus had been talking about the effect that sin has on our lives.

Firstly, Jesus warns that anyone who causes another person to sin would be better off if a huge rock were tied around his neck and thrown overboard somewhere in the deepest part of sea.

The disciples were worried about this and quite rightly.

Who hasn’t caused someone to sin?

Who hasn’t said and done things that have caused others to be hurt, fell alienated, angry, hateful, and unforgiving?

If that weren’t enough Jesus goes on to say more. “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.

If he sins against you seven times in one day, and each time he comes to you saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

It’s a difficult thing to talk to someone – rebuke someone – whose lifestyle does not reflect their position as a child of God. Jesus goes on to say even more.

When a person says he/she is sorry, Jesus says there is to be no limit to the number of times we are to forgive that person.

Very possibly he could be asking for forgiveness for the same or a similar sin over and over and over again.

Jesus says in no uncertain terms, ‘You must forgive him’.

That kind of forgiveness goes right against our human nature.

That person who keeps on offending us doesn’t deserve forgiveness and yet Jesus pronounces some dire consequences on those who can’t overcome their need for revenge and be forgiving.

The disciples had a problem – you might say they had their own mountain that needed moving.

They recognised their own sinfulness and their failure to live up to their calling as people who belong to God and disciples who claim to follow their master and do his will.

So, they come to Jesus with all this on their minds and say, “Make our faith greater!

Give us a greater amount of faith so that we will be able to do the things that you have asked of us”.

They felt that an increase in their faith would enable them to move the mountain of sin that was getting in the way of their faithful discipleship.

And what does Jesus do – how does he answer their prayer?

Does he lay his hands upon them and pray and give them more faith?

Does he snap his fingers and grant them a double dose of his Spirit and faith?

Does he give them ‘mountain moving faith’ so that they could remove all obstacles that got in their way?

No, he doesn’t – instead he says to them, “If you had faith as big as a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Pull yourself up by the roots and plant yourself in the sea!’ and it would obey you”.

The point Jesus is making is that they have already been given faith.

Even a tiny faith the size of a mustard seed is enough as far as God is concerned.

The size of faith doesn’t matter because God is the one doing the moving.

If it is my faith that moved the mountain, then the bigger the mountain the more faith I would need to move it.

The bigger the obstacle the more strength I’d need to climb it.

The more serious the illness a faith even greater would be required to overcome it.

The more serious the sin the more faith I would need in order to have it forgiven.

That kind of thinking kind of makes sense, but that’s not how faith works. In fact, faith doesn’t do the work at all. And thank God for that.

God is the one doing the work through faith. Think of faith as the key that opens the door to God acting in our lives.

If I have a bigger key ring than you do, does it matter?

The size of a key ring doesn’t matter – key rings don’t open doors but it’s that little key on the ring that opens doors.

Even a little faith opens the door for God to move the mountains and trees and even our hearts.

So, what Jesus is saying to his disciples, who asked for their faith to be increased, is that even if they have the smallest amount of faith, they can do great things.

Even the smallest faith can grasp what God has and is doing in our lives;

even the smallest faith is able to recognise the ways that God is able to make changes in lives and in our world through us.

We have all met people who have lived through very difficult times, and no doubt many of us have thought about the great faith they must have had to come out of their troubles as well as they have.

We may even have said to them – with respect and admiration, ‘I don’t think I could have faced what you have faced. I admire your great faith.’

In response to this I have heard people say, ‘My faith is no greater than anyone else’s. I just didn’t know what faith I had until I needed it. God helped me, if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have made it.’

Jesus didn’t need to increase the size of the faith of the disciples. They already had faith.

He assures them of that and states that, even though their faith may be small, God can accomplish great things through them.

And we know that he did. They went on to share the Good News about Jesus even in the face of some strong opposition, being brought before rulers and judges, being imprisoned and killed.

Didn’t Paul say when he was recalling some of the difficulties he had to face as an apostle, “I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives me” (Phil 4:13).

He doesn’t talk about how great his faith in God was, but rather he talks about what his faith was focussed on.

There are times when our confident, perhaps even over confident faith, is brought crashing down because of what is happening in our lives.

There are times when our faith seems so trivial and weak in the face of gigantic threats to our health, our family, our self-worth.

But no matter what size and strength we consider our faith to be at any given moment, faith as small as a mustard seed (and that’s pretty small) is able to uproot a mulberry tree (which has an extensive root system, and plant (not dump) it into the sea and still expect it to bear mulberries.

Years ago, I was asked by the parents of a child who was severely intellectually disabled whether their child would have enough faith and understanding to come to Holy Communion.

My answer: ‘I wasn’t particularly concerned about understanding. Their child may never be able to express what she believed in words.

But as far as God is concerned a faith the size of a mustard seed is all that is needed for him to be able to do great things in their child’s life.’

What a joy it was for all those at church, especially the parents, to see the outstretched hands of this child, waiting for them to be filled with the love of God through the body and blood of Jesus in the sacrament.

Praise God that in spite of our sins he has given us faith – even faith as small as a mustard seed.

And God working through the faith he has given us will defeat the devil’s temptations to sin, he will help us overcome the obstacles we face when forgiveness is required.

God working in us through faith can move mountains and trees and even our own hearts for his glory. Faith is powerful, because the Christ in whom faith believes is powerful.

Faith, even one that is described as being the size of a mustard seed, relies on Jesus, his love and strength. This kind of faith enables us to rise above the most threatening circumstances.

To repeat Paul’s words, “I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives me” (Phil 4:13).

Let’s not twist all this around in order to convince ourselves that now we don’t need to take faith and prayer and the study of God’s Word seriously.

But realize that you already possess more than enough of what’s needed to change your life, your heart, your family, your community, even your world.

In summary, today we are being asked not how much faith do we have but rather what are we doing with the faith that God has already given us?

And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Children and grown-ups like hearing this parable. In this story it seems that for a moment, the curtain is drawn aside and we get a tiny glimpse of the hereafter, of heaven and hell. The other thing that pleases a child’s imagination and perhaps many adults, is to see how this rich guy, who had it so “good” in this life, gets what’s coming to him in the next life, while poor Lazarus, who had such a hell of a life on earth, at last receives the joy and consolation of heaven.

But by focussing on that aspect of the story, we’re missing its central point. The real point of the story is not so much about the rich man or about Lazarus, but rather about what Abraham says to the rich man about his five brothers still at home on earth and their need to hear God’s Word. The sin of the rich man isn’t that he was rich but that he was indifferent. It’s not bad to be rich, nor is it a sign of goodness to be poor. But it’s wrong when a person is so wrapped up in his possessions and affluent lifestyle and is so thoroughly selfish that he is totally indifferent to the needy person placed at his gate. The rich man’s terrible sin isn’t that he never helped Lazarus, but that he did nothing at all, feasting while Lazarus died at his gate. In the time of Jesus, affluent people used bread as we use serviettes – to wipe their fingers. Hungry Lazarus would gladly have fed on such scraps, but the rich guy pretends not to notice Lazarus’s desperate need for food.

What’s more, he pretends not to notice God, His Maker and the Giver of all the gifts he enjoys. These two realities go together – if you love God, you will love your neighbour and have a special compassion for a neighbour in need. At the other end of the scale, indifference to your needy neighbour is a reflection of your

indifference to God. God’s Word says to you, “Those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen (1 John 4:20).”

Let’s focus on being different now. Lazarus certainly was a different person in the next life. In contrast to the rich guy in our parable who is unnamed, Lazarus has a name. His name is a very important clue for understanding this story, because his name means “God is my helper.” His name shows that despite all his poverty and misery, he has put his trust in God. He believed God is his Helper. And when he dies, what he has always believed comes true. In heaven he discovers the joy of being with the God in whom he trusted.

The rich man is certainly a different person in the next life. For him it is a “riches to rags” story. In the next life he finds himself in hell. What is hell? To be separated from God. And what is heaven? To be with God. In this life the rich man separated himself from God; in the next life, the separation from God becomes absolute. So now he’s a radically different person – no more enjoying the comforts of this life, but enduring the discomforts of hell. Another thing is different about him in the next life. For the first time he thinks of someone other than himself. He is concerned about his five brothers left on earth and asks Abraham to send someone from the dead, lest they also come to the place of torment.

He thinks that there’s only one thing that will change his brothers on earth and make them different, that is if someone comes from the dead to warn them and then they will believe. “Not so”, Abraham tells him. “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.” And if they won’t listen to them, that is, if they won’t hear God’s Word for them, then they won’t listen even if someone comes to them from the dead.

Although this is only a story told to us by Jesus, nevertheless what He said actually happened. There was a brother who did come back from the dead, and would you know, his name was Lazarus! Remember how Jesus raised Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus from the dead. And what happened after Jesus raised Lazarus? Those who already believed, believed all the more. But those who didn’t believe immediately began plotting to assassinate Jesus. There were times like the feeding of the five thousand when people saw the miraculous things Jesus did and still didn’t believe in Him. Seeing is not necessarily believing.  Rather, faith in Jesus gives us super-sight. Jesus says to Martha at the death of her brother Lazarus, “Did I not tell you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God? (John 11:40)” Faith enables us to see God at work in our lives and around us, things those without faith cannot see.

So who are we in this story? We’re the ones still alive. We are the five brothers. And like them we have Moses and the prophets. In fact, we have even more, because not only do we have Moses and the prophets in the Old Testament, we also have the Gospels and the Epistles, the New Testament of our merciful Saviour Jesus Christ. We have the life-giving good news of His grace that can make us different, and can make us dare to live differently. What an incomparable blessing that is. It’s all about the Word who took on human flesh and lives among us, full of grace and truth.

Our Lord Jesus Christ became poorer and more wretched than Lazarus was so that by His poverty we could become rich in the things that matter eternally. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you, through His poverty, might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9).”

After His birth, where Jesus lay in a borrowed manger in a lowly stable, He was rejected, scoured, despised, tortured and crucified for us. Jesus gave up everything for us and our eternal benefit and blessing. After Jesus rose from the dead He became Lord of heaven and earth and the real owner of everything on this earth. He now says to you and to me: “Give to others, and God will give to you. Indeed, you will receive a full measure, a generous helping, poured into your hands – all that you can hold (Luke 6:38).” Or as the prayer of St. Francis puts it, “For it is in giving that we receive” the joy of knowing that we are blessing others with what God has given us. Jesus says to you “Blessed are those who hear God’s Word and put it into practice (Luke 11:28).”

It’s not hard to put ourselves in the rich man’s place and imagine what he might think, looking at Lazarus, all covered in loathsome sores: ‘But if the doctors cannot do a thing for him, what am I expected to do? He is as poor as the stray dogs themselves. But surely it is not my fault that he is poor. I never robbed him or stole from him. God knows the streets are full of beggars. There are plenty of others as badly off as he is. But what can one man do about it? They would have to bankrupt the government to make any noticeable difference. If one lone beggar finds his way to my door, does that give him more claim on me than the others have? I have let him live exclusively, for weeks and months, on the discarded scraps from my table. Surely that is something I am doing for him. What more can I do?’

When we suffer from donation-fatigue like that, we need to pray to Jesus, “Thank You for loving me so much more than I could ever deserve. Through Your Word and sacraments, continually fill me with a love that overflows into the lives of others.” 

People who love each other want to be together and hear each other speak. When we love our Lord, we want to be where He is with us in a very special way, that is, in the Lord’s Supper, where He gives Himself to us in an awesome act of love. He does this to continue making us more and more like Him. More and more we will become eager to love others with Christ’s life-transforming, life-renewing love.

We give to God because God promises to multiply with His blessing whatever we give, whether to Him or our needy neighbour. “God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7).”

For souls redeemed, for sins forgiven, for means of grace and hopes of heaven,

To you, O Lord, what can be given? You give us all.

We lose what on ourselves we spend; we have as treasure without end

Whatever, Lord, to You we lend – You give us all.


Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: 1 Timothy 2:1-2

First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, requests, and thanksgivings be offered to God for all people; for kings and all others who are in authority, that we may live a quiet and peaceful life with all reverence toward God and with proper conduct. 

Pray for everyone

In the middle of the fourth century lived a young man by the name of Augustine.  His mother, Monica was a devout Christian; his father a pagan until his conversion to Christianity just prior his death.  Augustine received a Christian education.  It seemed Augustine was a bright lad and when he was 16 his father sent him to the city to study and become a lawyer.  This was a bad mistake.  Augustine became involved in a lifestyle of idleness, sex, and alcohol.  When he was 18 he had to admit to his mother that he was the father of a son.  He became involved in heretical sectarian groups. 

You can imagine how upsetting all this was to his mother, but she never gave up hope.  She prayed and prayed for her wayward son.  She prayed that he would give up the wild life and the false teachings and once again come to know Jesus as she had taught him when he was a child.  Finally when he was 32 years of age Augustine gave up his wild ways and returned to the faith he had been taught.  This was a real life enactment of Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son only in this case it was a mother who watched and waited and prayed for her wayward son.  Not long after her watching and waiting was over Monica died.  Augustine went on to become a leader, a bishop, a teacher and a great defender of the Christian faith until his death at 76 years of age. 

The story about Augustine says many things about sin and forgiveness and grace but it also says such much about the importance of intercessory prayer – praying for others.  Over the 16 years she prayed for her son I’m sure Monica must have wondered as she prayed, “When will God act? Will my son ever change?” but she never gave up.  At baptism I urge parents and godparents to be like Monica – to daily pray for their child.  Satan and the evil in our world are too eager to harm those whom God loves, and to lead them away from their heavenly Father.  The attacks of Satan are very powerful and so we need to bring the safety of our children before God constantly.

Daily we hear how evil is doing its work – killing innocent people whether in bombings in Syria, mass shootings in America, murder in our own streets, or violence in Papua New Guinea. 
We hear of children being badly treated by the very people who they look to for protection and care – their parents. 
We hear of terrible things that people in positions of authority inflict on the innocent and helpless, simply because they can.
How many governments around the world have killed thousands upon thousands of their people and have never had to answer for what they have done?

We pray for the victims of such terrible atrocities, and that’s what God wants us to do.  They need God’s help.

But how often do we pray for the perpetrators of such evil deeds? 
Do they deserve our prayers? 
Do they deserve help from God? 

Today we hear from Paul’s first letter to Timothy.   He starts by saying,First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, requests, and thanksgivings be offered to God for all people”. 

Did you hear what Paul just said?  He wants us to pray for all people, for everyone.  That sounds good but not very easy to carry out.  It might be truer to say that we offer petitions, prayers, requests and thanksgiving for nearly all people.  It’s pretty hard to pray for all people.  We might be happy to pray for most people, but there are those people for whom we find it extremely hard to pray. 

How easy is it to pray for the perpetrators of evil not in the sense that God would strike them down with fire and brimstone, but that they would come to see that God’s ways to solve an issue is not with violence and harm but with an openness to the power of the Holy Spirit so they can be guided to seek better ways, calmer ways, more humane ways to deal with others.   
How many have prayed for those religious and political leaders who only speak with such bitterness, hatred and loathing of everything western and constantly threaten violence against the unbelievers?  One would suppose that Paul’s encouragement to pray for
everyone includes those people as well. 

How easy is it to pray for those you don’t like – perhaps a person with whom you have had a falling out; the person you absolutely loathe; the person who has hurt you deeply?
I’m sure Paul included those people when he says that we should pray for
all people.  It’s easy to pray for parents, sons and daughters, friends, fellow Christians, but how hard it is to pray for all people.

And then Paul makes his advice to Timothy really hard to carry out.  He says we are to pray for “kings and all others in authority”.
Mayors and regional council members,
members of Parliament, premiers, prime ministers, opposition parties,
public servants, judges, barristers, the police, union leaders. 
This includes even those people with whom we don’t agree;
those whose particular kind of politics we dislike;
those whom we believe to be dishonest and abuse their position;
those whom we think aren’t doing their job.
With some of the things that happen in high places, we don’t feel like praying for our politicians.  We say we pay too much in tax; we disapprove of the government wasting money.

Paul is calling us to pray for all those in authority; not just those whose policies we like, but all those who rule our nation.  This is especially hard for us Australians because we have developed this thing we call “the tall poppy syndrome”.  We take delight in being critical and cynical about those in leadership positions.  We’ve just had elections and how many times didn’t we hear people say that they didn’t like any of the people or parties they were asked to vote for, as if to say that there wasn’t a decent person amongst them all.  I don’t think that would be a fair call.

Maybe Timothy wasn’t finding it easy to pray for the ruler of his time and who can blame him.  Timothy and Paul lived in a time when the government was opposed to Christianity and deliberately went out of its way to treat Christians badly.  It wasn’t a Christian government by any stretch of the imagination, and yet Paul says here and in other places, that Christians are to obey the rulers, pay taxes, and pray for politicians.  He makes the point that “the existing authorities have been put there by God. Whoever opposes the existing authority oppose what God has ordered” (Romans 13:1-7). 

It would have been much easier if Paul had said that we should pray for those in authority whom we believe to be doing the right thing.  Instead he says that “petitions, prayers, requests, and thanksgivings be offered to God for all people; for kings and all others who are in authority”.

I think Paul realized that the job of a politician is never an easy one.  Being a leader involves making decisions and it doesn’t matter what course of action is decided upon, there will always be those who will disagree and criticize loudly.  Add to that the constant pressure of public office, appointments, meetings, business deals, conferences, press releases, contracts, media attention, lobby groups, and so on.  With the public office there are always the temptations – self-glorification, bribery, corruption, and greed.

In the complexities of our world, leaders need our prayers.  So much responsibility rests on their shoulders – how will they respond, what kind of force will be used to bring the terrorists to justice, what countries will oppose any such attempt, what measures need to be taken to ensure that this will not lead to an all-out war, will we commit our military forces to help, in what way are we jeopardizing peace on this earth and so on.  There is little doubt that regardless of whether we think they deserve it or not, leaders need our prayers.  They need God’s wisdom and power to guide them in the difficult task that faces them.

This should be noted as well.  When Paul tells Timothy to pray for “others in authority” this includes the leaders of the church and of the congregation – pastors, priests, chairpersons, bishops, elders, lay assistants, councils and committees.  Being a leader in the church at this time is not an easy thing.  Thank God that he has given us leaders remembering that the greatest proportion of leaders in a congregation is volunteers who fit leading a congregation into their busy family and work lives.  Ask God to give wisdom and strength to the leaders as they carry out the very difficult task of leading the church in the secular society in which we live. 

I think you get the picture.  Paul is urging us to pray – pray – pray for our leaders.  Whether we like them as persons or their policies or their actions is beside the point. 
If they are doing a good job in your estimation – pray for God’s continued blessing and guidance.
If they are doing a lousy job – pray that God would give them wisdom, understanding and compassion as they lead.
If they are doing something you don’t like – pray that God would give you the courage and the right words to give encouragement and friendly advice.

Because the love of Jesus permeates you and me and because our eyes have been opened to the needs of our neighbour in every corner of our community, we want our leaders to respond to those needs and to lead us in that response.  It might be that people desperately need to know of the love that Jesus has for them or that a response is needed to crime or terrorism, the burden that is placed on leaders at every level is a great one.  Leaders need our support and the guidance of the Lord as they seek to find the right paths of action.  

In the Bible we read, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective”. “Pray for all people; … for kings and all in authority so that we can live quiet and peaceful lives”
.© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

Forteenth Sunday after Penteost

Luke 15:7
I say to you, in the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner repenting than over 99 righteous who don’t need to repent.

            Jesus always tells some interesting stories, sheep, coins and parties. He’s there in ancient Judah with these greedy embezzlers, probably prostitutes and all sorts of obvious sinners coming to hear Him, His words of truth in love, repent and believe the good news (Ephesians 4:15; Mark 1:15). At the beginning of His ministry in Luke’s account He declares, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (Luke 4:18-19). These sinners had come to hear the good news, hopefully not to reject it. However the religious elite, the ones who knew God’s Word and looked down on those who didn’t, they were different, they came not to hear but to grumble, ‘how can he associate with druggos, bikies, and even those thieving bank managers?’ Jesus always has good ears, He hears them and He responds.

            There will be more joy in heaven over one of these rotten people repenting than all those who don’t need to repent. More joy at one of these lost sheep, at real risk of destruction, being found, picked up and taken home, more joy at this one salvation than over 99 who were already safe. Now sometimes it’s helpful for you to think about who you might’ve been all those years ago; a despised tax collector coming to hear Jesus, a grumbling Pharisee? A righteous sheep, or the lost, in Greek destroyed, coin? The sinner or the righteous? I’m sure that tax collector Zacchaeus knew which one he was. So who are you?

            I’ll give a small hint from the Psalm for today, ‘all have turned away, all are corrupt, there is no one who does good, no not even one.’ (Psalm 14:3). You are a sinner, just like me, just like those tax collectors and just like those Pharisees who were too proud to notice. Too proud like the kings and people Jeremiah brought God’s Word to, refusing to accept their need for a saviour, their need to change and serve God alone. God promised destruction and they were lost. But what happened to the lost? It’s them Jesus came to save!

            As Paul wrote, Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15), later in Luke, to seek and save the lost (19:10). The shepherd travels and finding the lost sheep, lifts it to His shoulders and brings it home in joy! The woman brings light, cleanses the house and seeks out the coin, finding again with joy! And in the parable after these the father welcomes his prodigal son with joy! Yes, you have sinned, you are afflicted by sinful corruption that all humans suffer from, but you have been lifted up, saved by Jesus. You were lost, dead in your transgressions and sin but God raised you up with Christ, yes baptised into His death and rising in Him with new life, Christ has cleansed you by the washing with water through the word, this is the truth (Ephesians 2:1-10; Romans 6; Ephesians 5:26)!

            Now saved and made holy by Christ, receiving the joy and peace that comes with this wonderful grace, who are we but the friends and neighbours of the shepherd and the woman in the parables, together with all the saints who have gone before, with the angels and all heaven rejoicing when the Father draws another sinner to salvation in His Son (John 6:44). Celebrating when any other is born into this new life in Jesus, rejoicing at all baptisms and with every new convert; it doesn’t matter their work, family, sickness, or sins; and also rejoicing when after you sin, after one of us sins against you, going your own way, after this when you repent, transform your mind, and reject deception and sin, when one of us returns to this new way of living in Jesus, confessing the truth of what we have done, and coming before God’s throne of grace we can rejoice as each of us receive His wonderful grace! To live again the joy of Christ’s forgiveness, He came to save you and all sinners; to thank God for His mercy, that we don’t receive the destruction we and the ancient Hebrews deserved; and to taste, even if just a moment, the wonderful victory that is ours in Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

            And the peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Joseph Graham

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Jeremiah 18:11
Now therefore say to the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, ‘This is what the Lord says: Look! I am preparing a disaster for you and devising a plan against you. So turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions.

Make your ways good. Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, is again sent by God to tell His wayward people to return to Him and avoid disaster; they do not listen, keep on rejecting God, worshiping the Baals, sacrificing children to Molech, and they also plot Jeremiah’s downfall. Eventually God’s disasters come, the kingdom is defeated, the temple destroyed and the people are exiled into Babylon. God does not deal with idle threats, but neither are His promises idle. Israelites turned back to their God in exile and after a time the promised land was returned as God had promised, and just as had been promised in Eden Jesus came, took our suffering, died and rose again, destroying the power of sin, death and the devil. God’s promises are sure.

But what about you? The Ten Commandments teach us that our heavenly Father will punish those who break them to the third and fourth generation and will bless those who keep them for thousands. So do you listen to His words, to His promise to you? Or do you ignore His commands, His word for your life, that gives you life? The Hebrews turned from the one true God again and again they suffered because of their sins; for a time they lived God’s way, but again and again they turned from this narrow one and went their own way, the ways of the people around them. How often do you do the same? Do you consider your Lord’s will when you make a big decision? Consider all He has done for you when you eat your food and drink? Do you reflect on the wonder of His forgiveness for all your failures? How does the way you live everyday show you glorify Him and not anyone else?

Jesus says His disciples must give up on everything to follow Him (Luke 14:33), to live not for your parents, not for your spouse, your child, or even yourself; but rather to live only for Jesus. For the ancient Hebrews it was obvious when they worshipped another god, for us it is harder to recognise, but when you do not reject all this world to cling solely to Christ you break God’s commandments, refuse to listen to His word. This is the cost of discipleship, it’s easy to see why the Hebrews continued in their own ways, doing what they thought was right.

To walk God’s way, to listen and obey His words of command and promise, law and gospel, is to do everything for the glory of God. To repent. Paul writes of a good example, Onesimus, a runaway slave who name means useful, but turned out rather useless to his master Philemon. However Onesimus became a Christian, rejected his own selfish way and went to return to his servanthood. He gave up his freedom in this life to submit himself, not to Philemon, but to Christ. Now Paul doesn’t leave it there but also almost coerces Philemon to show mercy to his runaway slave, to treat him like a brother for Christ’s sake, to reject society’s standard and perhaps his own retribution against this criminal. To reject our own sinful ways and to follow God’s righteous way of forgiveness, peace, joy and love.

So what about you? Did you pay attention to the reading of Holy Scripture, +the different verses we use for the liturgy, to Christ forgiveness to you for all your sins? And will you live in the light of these truths, to truly listen to what God Almighty has told you, to reject the evil of this world, to live differently, to live as God’s people and to strive daily to lead a holy life, even as Christ has made you holy? How is your life different from non-Christians?

If people I knew from school saw me now they would easily see I am married and have a child by the way I speak and act. My life is now fundamentally different to when I was a high schooler, though I still cook, just now I’m cooking for Rehab and Nathaniel, not my brother Ben, the fundamental reasons have changed. In Baptism, in Holy Communion, in receiving the Holy Spirit and God’s grace your life has been fundamentally changed, is this wonderful truth reflected in the way you live each day or do you still walk in the ways of the wicked, abusing God’s gifts and His love? How, with the help of the Holy Spirit, could you change your life for the glory of God; and how can you encourage the rest of us to live in God’s way? That’s a take home question, to ask God and yourself.

An important question that ancient Hebrews rejected. They heard God’s dire warning, repent or face destruction, a promise of suffering, and they received it; but for you do not forget Jesus Christ has suffered for you, in Him is forgiveness and new life. You have heard God’s Word the truth of your evil and of Christ’s forgiveness and gift of new life, and agreed confessing it. So as we are renewed by His body and blood, live in that new life, in God’s good way.

And the peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts in Christ Jesus now and forever. Amen.

Twelth Sunday after Pentecost

Scripture: Luke 14:1-14                                                              

“Jesus is coming to dinner, and you’re all invited!”

We have to use our imaginations a bit about just how this invitation got passed around because there are precious few details given. We know Jesus is coming to dinner. We also know that there was growing conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders. The dinner gathering was made up of a leader of the Pharisees, a few of his fellow Pharisees and some local bible experts. (Called the “scribes” or “lawyers” in the bible)

We can safely assume then, that the invitation was somewhat disingenuous. Listen once again to these words in the beginning of our scripture. “… Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a mean on the sabbath, {and} they were watching him closely.”

There are two key ingredients that make up the charged atmosphere of this meal time. The scribes and Pharisees watching like a hawk, hoping to get something on Jesus that will enhance their case against him. Jesus, on the other hand, is focusing in on the radical disconnect between the desires of God and the practice of their religion. The passage points to, but can not fully show the tremendous passion that underlies this meal.

As the passage progresses, Jesus by his actions and his words addresses the issues of healing, humility and hospitality. It is perhaps no accident that the healing comes first. It is the healing ministry of Jesus that ignites much of the protest against his ministry. Not so much because of the fact that he heals, but because of the time that he heals. Amazingly, the joy of the healing presence of God in the lives of hurting people is lost to Jesus’ nay sayers. While the crowds of common people are recognizing and rejoicing at the work of God, the because they get all worked up about the legality of whether healing on the sabbath is against the prohibition of working on the sabbath.

Let’s look more closely at how this meal time goes as Jesus addresses:

[1] Healing

As the Pharisees are “watching him closely,” Jesus encounters a man with dropsy. The term dropsy is no longer used in medical literature. The condition is swelling caused by edema or water. One modern version of the bible translates this incident by describing the man as having, “swollen arms and legs.” In any case, the man is there before the meal actually gets started.

The language of the text suggests that the man with dropsy may have been a plant for this occasion. It was not long before this event that Jesus had been teaching in a synagogues. A woman who apparently suffered from severe osteoporosis was present for his teaching. [Luke 13:10-17] Jesus healed her and the ruler of the synagogue lodged a bitter complaint that the woman could be healed on any other day. This healing, he reasoned, was not legitimate because it was done on the sabbath.

The guy totally misses the point. Jesus tells the whole gathered crowd that these religious leaders would not hesitate to walk one of their thirsty donkeys to a place where they could drink on the sabbath – but they would deny this woman (a member of their own faith to be sure) an opportunity for healing. The crowd, however, understands. They break into joyous celebration. What better day to see this woman of faith released from her long burden? How wonderful that she should be healed on God’s day of rest which should be honored by all God’s children!

All of us know people like these Pharisees – don’t we? You know – the person who never sees the positive and can always pick out the negative. There are those folks who can walk into a room with 99 good things to make a positive comment about and perhaps one thing that deserves a bit of criticism – and what do they see first? Right! They can spot the flaw in a microsecond and miss the good things entirely.

Jesus addresses the lawyers and Pharisees before he begins to deal with the sick man who stands before him. He is way ahead of them. They are not interested in the health or illness of the man who stands before Jesus. Talk about manipulation!

He asks them a question. “Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?” They don’t answer a word. Of course this is a setup. No words are exchanged between the man who is ill and Jesus — at least Luke does not record any conversation. The man is healed and sent on his way. What a great day it was for him. Especially if he expected no more than to assist the religious bureaucrats in trapping Jesus. He goes back to family and home a new man having experience something of the coming of God’s reign.

Now Jesus turns back to his host and his entourage. “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?” This time there is more than silence. They, “Could not reply to this.” The disconnect between the desires of God for the children of God and the devotion of the lawyers and Pharisees to the letter of the law brings shame to his adversaries — to say nothing of increased anger and opposition.

The essential point of this lesson is that Jesus brings hope and healing while his detractors bring rules and regulations to those who are seeking the presence of God in their lives.

[2] Humility

Now the meal begins to get underway and Jesus observes how the invited guests begin to head for the head table. In Jesus’ day, tables were closer to the floor than we are used to and guests would recline at couches round the table. The honored guests would be closest to the host. The tables at a larger gathering would be in the shape of a U with the host and most honored guests at the head table.

In the event a honored guest would show up a bit late, someone who had taken a position near the host might be asked to find another spot so that the more important guest might be seated near the host.

Jesus tells a parable which is central to the way God’s kingdom works. If the guests take the lowest position possible at the meal, chances are the host will ask them to move up in position. On the other hand if they come to the meal assuming that they would surely have a seat at the head table, it would be terribly embarrassing to be asked to move to a less favorable seat.

Humility is one of the hallmarks of a person of authentic faith and a central principle in the kingdom of God. Luke 18:14 details the story of how a Pharisee and a sinner went to the temple to pray. The Pharisee suggests to God that he is so thrilled he is not a wretch like the man who prays beside him. On the other hand, the sinner can do nothing but hang his head and beg for God’s mercy. Jesus responds, “I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

James spells out how it is that humility is the way of advancement with God. “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” [4:10]

[3] Hospitality

Now Jesus turns to the host of the meal and talks about hospitality. “Don’t give a dinner for your friends or family and rich neighbors. Rather invite people who have no possible way of paying you back. Invite the poor and dispossessed and you will be blessed by God in the end.”

Throughout his gospel, Luke has focused on Jesus’ heart for the poor and socially unacceptable people of his day. In fact, the sure sign of the presence of God was to be, “good news” for the poor. Messiah’s mission was to bring healing to the sick, sight to the blind and freedom for the oppressed.

Hospitality is one of the marks of the faithful community. “Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers,” Paul wrote to the church at Rome. [Rom. 12:13] The writer of the letter to the Hebrews enjoined his readers, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” [Heb. 13:2]

Those who sought to entrap Jesus in the breaking of sabbath laws missed the point of his healing ministry, failed the test of humility and were self serving in their hospitality.

And so let us be aware that, “Jesus is coming to dinner!” Whenever we reach out to bring hope and healing to others, or open our hearts to those who others reject, Jesus comes to dinner. We are called as people of faith to become a community of hope and healing — a place of hospitality where humility is the mark of greatness.