Archive for the ‘After Pentecost’ Category

The least important

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

Why are you here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

Learning Jesus-Permanence

Saturday, November 11th, 2017

1 Thessalonias 4:13-18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is hope!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

THE HOLY SPIRIT IS YOUR PERSONAL ASSISTANT

Saturday, October 28th, 2017

1 Thessalonians 1:2-6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A psychologist, Abraham Maslow, reported that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What shall I do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

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