Archive for the ‘After Pentecost’ Category

JOHN THE BAPTIST-A MAN OF CONVICTION

Saturday, July 14th, 2018

MARK:6:14-29

The Boss was complaining that he wasn’t getting enough respect from the staff. Later that morning he went out and returned with a sign that said, “I’m the boss”. He taped it to the office door. When he returned from lunch he found that someone has taped a note to the sign that said, “your wife called-she wants her sign back”.   

Review story: John had been arrested by King Herod. WHY? Because John kept reminding Herod that he wasn’t above God’s law. He said,”It is not lawful for you to take your brothers’ wife”. Herodius, Herod’s wife resented John’s criticism and wanted to kill him. But Herod has refused because he regarded John as a holy man-a man of God. Finally with some scheming-manipulating she was able to achieve her goal and have John killed. Herod was please with Herodius’s daughters dancing.  As a reward he foolishly made a promise he came to regret.  Herodius seized the opportunity and told her daughter to ask for the head of John the Baptist. Herod was greatly distressed at her request but he had backed himself into a corner and couldn’t get out of it. The point is: be careful about making promises.                But the story raises deeper issues: Questions like:” How could God let John the Baptist be treated like this? How could God stand by and let John who had devoted his life to serving God die like this? This question reflects the assumption of people who think that their faith is some kind of insurance against trouble-tragedy. They think that God is letting them down when problems-illness-tragedy hits them. They think that God is deaf to their prayers or doesn’t care about them if He doesn’t give help-healing right away        But nowhere in Scripture does God promise that just because we are Christians we can expect to be spared trouble or tragedy. You only have to read the Bible to see how many of God’s faithful servants suffered in a variety of ways. Eg Prophets-Jeremiah. Of the 12 disciples only John dies of old age. All the others became martyrs-died for their faith in Jesus. But is this so strange when we remember that Jesus himself suffered  and died for us-crucifixion was one of the most horrible ways to die. Life wasn’t easy for Jesus-no bed of roses.                          The thing that should astound us is not that we have to suffer at times but that we don’t suffer a lot more than we do.  That is particularly true of us here in Australia.  Dictators like Hitler-Stalin Mao Tse Tung –Pol Pot-and more recently Islamic Terrorism-ISIS i Iraq-Syria-Christians persecuted-killed. We have been fortunate in that we have escaped unlike Christians in some countries who suffer harassment-persecution. As far as our personal health  is concerned, considering how complex the human body is it’s a wonder we don’t have more health problems than we do.

We sometimes forget that God’s concern is not to fill our Bank accounts-to give us a comfortable enjoyable life-not to pander to our whims. His concern is that we serve him-become more like his Son Jesus. God’s concern is that His Will be done and that his Name is praised. It cost God dearly that we might have fellowship with him-it cost the life of his Son. We need to think about that when we think we are hard done by­-facing troubles-difficulties.

The main point is this: God would have us witness to him no matter what our situation in life. There are some people who whenever things go wrong let everyone know about it. But you don’t find John complaining-grizzling about being in prison. I’m sure he did a lot of thinking-praying while in his prison cell. But there is no mention of him complaining about his lot. But we are told that John speaks to Herod about the things of God. In fact it seem that Herod’s conscience led him to have a number of conversations with John. You sometimes hear people say that it is not necessary to speak about your faith. As long as you give a good witness with your life. I don’t believe that. The fact is most people don’t have any clear idea what Christianity is about. They think that as long as they try to live a “good life” they will be right. As long as they “do their best” God will treat them kindly. So if we think that our efforts to live a “good life” are going to convince people about the truth of Xianity- we are being naive. Especially when non Xians live lives that are just as good as ours if not better. We don’t have a monopoly in living a “good live. Frankly when we look at our own inconsistencies, our lives aren’t such a credible witness to Christ. The early apostles didn’t rely on the witness of their lives –they knew that many people worked hard at developing a virtuous life. They had something more glorious to offer. They declared that they were sinners under God’s judgement and so were others. The message was that despite the fact that all people were sinners, God sent his only Son Jesus to rescue them from their hopeless situation. Because sinners could not come to God through their own efforts, God came to them with his mercy-grace. He had given his own Son to pay price for our sins-the sinless One took upon himself the sins of the world and died for us. And to top it off Jesus had conquered death by his resurrection and given us the promise of eternal life. The apostles had a message to proclaim that gave hope-meaning for people’s lives.

It is in this light that we need to understand the witness of John. He was in the power of a man who could have had him killed at the drop of a hat. But Herod had no peace. In search of peace he kept coming back to this uncompromising  man of God-who told him the truth –about himself and God.  Ironically, although John was in prison – he was free-in his conscience-mind. While Herod was a captive to his weakness- ambition. Throughout this period of Imprisonment, John did not complain-whinge.  Instead he witnessed to the Truth. May we pray: God use me for your glory’s sake and help me to witness like John, whatever situation  you place us in. Amen. 

Pastor. Haydn Blaess

Now,do you beleive?

Saturday, July 7th, 2018

Mark 6:2, 6

When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Have you ever been utterly dumbfounded? You think you know a person, you understand all the things that could possibly happen, then BAM! Something’s strange. Some of you might have felt that when the World Trade centres were hit by two planes. My dad was dumbfounded when my brother and I told him we had girlfriends, and again when I told him I was going to propose. And when Jesus’ family, childhood friends and workmates heard Him spout this wisdom, the Truth of God, they were dumbfounded, amazed, astonished. Where’s this from? What is this wisdom? What are these miracles? Isn’t this that bloke I grew up with? Who is He to preach to me?

Jesus had, by this point taught at quite a few synagogues on quite a few Sabbaths, but had never had a reaction quite like this. In Marks first chapter the people were amazed with the authority that He spoke with and told everyone about this new teacher, the new teaching, ‘God’s kingdom is here, repent and believe the good news.’ (Mark 1: 21-28; 15). Jesus healed them, and many around the city, but He only healed those who had faith that He could. But here, among His own people, His own earthly family, they didn’t believe and so He could only heal a few. This is the first time in Mark that a town rejects Jesus and the Good News and He marvels that His own people do not believe.

Now, do you believe? Do you believe that God’s kingdom is here, that you must turn from your ways, and that Jesus speaks the truth, the Good News? Do you truly believe that you are evil, that everything that comes from you is corrupt, your actions, thoughts and even desires? Or do you look at me instead of the message? ‘Who is this kid, telling us we’re sinners?’ ‘What authority does he have over us?’ Would you trust these words more if I were your son, or if I were a chippy, someone you knew well, but hadn’t seen for a bit suddenly telling you gotta change? Or would you dismiss what I have to say, maybe even get angry and kick me out as in Luke’s account when the locals try to kill Jesus (Luke 4:29)? This is what happened to Him, because He was a tradie, not a teacher, had a questionable birth, and was family, too familiar. Not just that, but also Jesus brought God’s Word and wisdom; that hard word that you are evil, turned in on yourself, stealing honour for yourself and in and of yourself rejecting the one who created you, loves you, sustains you and talks to you. You need salvation and Jesus brings it too you, and in Him with the Holy Spirit you are changed, forgiven, renewed, cleansed and made holy.

Maybe you’re less worried about who I am, but have become too familiar with the message itself. Do you still repent and try to change or have you become complacent in your Christian life? Do you think that though Christ died for your sins on the cross, that was not enough and you need to still do something for your salvation, that what you do can make God forgive you? Have you come to think that deep down, there is good in you after all, that you are not sinful to the core? You have heard this Word from God for years, perhaps your whole life. It is part of your history, your story, it has become familiar. Maybe you think you understand God’s Word and don’t need to hear it more, you’ve heard it once and don’t need to think on it and now you rely on your own memory and thoughts. But then you rely on your self, that self that Jesus tells you is dirty, rotten, wicked and must be changed. Maybe this message is so familiar that you ignore how offensive it is to you and every other, and Jesus’ childhood friends and family.

One thing that stuck out very clearly to me while reading this passage was this fact, the reject of Jesus by His family. Even though He spoke the truth to them, they did not accept it. And how often do we experience the same with our families. Interestingly after this He sends the twelve to spread His message in the region. Now I’m not certain of His aim there, but I do know that even if God’s Word from you is rejected by your family, He certainly can and many times does send others to them.

That is a hope we have, despite the offence that God’s message brings. And another thing, this message of God is true, and even though it is a hard truth, because it is true, it’s hard to ignore. We see it in ourselves, a sudden desire for violence or other sin, a subtle inclination for small but growing lies, an action without thinking that brings no good or godly result; and of course, we see it in others. We humans are by nature, sinful and unclean. This truth stands and we cannot get rid of it, maybe we can try to ignore it, distract ourselves or lie to ourselves, but the truth still remains. And if it remains for us it remains for all those we love too, and just like Jesus’ family there may come a time when we accept it and our family does too. Jesus’ brothers James and Jude who rejected Him here later became leaders in the Christian church, both with letters kept in the Bible. Despite that initial rejection and offence, they kept listening to God’s Word, to scripture, and through that the Holy Spirit produced faith. In the same way as your family hears God’s Word from you and others, and as you yourself continue to read and listen to God’s Word, God will work in you and them, reminding of the truth of our situation. You are wicked and sinful, and Jesus, sent by the Father, has saved you from that and The Spirit is changing you, making you holy and good.  Amen

Pastor Joseph Graham

Fighting with love

Saturday, July 7th, 2018

Mark 6:2,3
When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue. Many people were there, and when they heard him, they were all amazed. “Where did he get all this?” they asked. “What wisdom is this that has been given him? How does he perform miracles! Isn’t he the carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here?” And they rejected him.

A young couple had been married a few short and disappointing months. He never dreamed there were so many ways to ruin chicken. She couldn’t imagine why she ever thought his jokes were funny. Neither one said aloud what they were both thinking – the marriage was a big mistake.

One hot afternoon, they got into a terrible argument about whether they could afford to paint the living room. Tempers flared, voices were raised, and somehow one of the wedding gift plates crashed to the floor. She burst into tears, called him heartless and a cheapskate. He shouted that he’d rather be a cheapskate than a nag, then grabbed the car keys on his way out. His parting words, punctuated by the slam of the screen door, were, “That’s it! I’m leaving you!”

But before he could coax their rickety car into gear, the passenger door flew open and his bride landed on the seat beside him. She stared straight ahead, her face tear-streaked but determined.

“And just where do you think you’re going?” he asked in amazement.

She hesitated only a moment before replying, just long enough to be sure of the answer that would decide the direction of their lives for the next forty-three years.

“If you’re leaving me, I’m going with you.” 

This story about conflict has a happy ending. As so often is the case, conflict can result in a stronger and closer relationship between people. But as we know conflict can have an opposite effect. We can all tell of stories where conflict has led to a total breakdown of friendship between the people involved. So what is it that makes conflict a positive or a destructive force in our lives?

The question that should be asked first of all is whether Christians should ever be in conflict – in situations of confrontation, tension and agitation?
Whether you answer that with, “No they shouldn’t” or “Yes they can it depends on how they handle it” the fact remains conflict is part of our world and our life in this world. God never intended there to be conflict when he created the human race. Conflict came when Adam and Eve set on a course wanting to be like God. That ended in a headlong clash with God.

Well let’s look at what happens in Mark’s Gospel. Here we see Jesus in conflict with the people in his own hometown. The people of Nazareth knew him. They knew him as the son of Mary and Joseph the carpenter. They were familiar with his brothers, James, Joseph, Judas and Simon and his sisters. When they heard Jesus speak in the synagogue they wondered what this local bloke was up to. How can this man whom we have known since he was a toddler have such understanding and wisdom about the things of God? He didn’t even go to seminary; he was just a carpenter. How dare he speak as if he was an authority in these matters? In his own hometown, Jesus experiences sarcasm, rejection, and conflict. We are told he was rejected.

In John’s account of Jesus ministry we hear Jesus speaking about his relationship with the Father and that he himself was God in the flesh. And when he said, “Before Abraham was, I Am” (John 8:59) his listeners picked up stones to throw at him. Jesus must have known that his words would cause conflict.

In a seminar on Jesus, the group was reading some of Jesus’ parables. “Why did Jesus speak so many parables?” the seminar leader asked.
“Well,” said one member of the group, “he was trying to communicate with simple, rural people so he had to tell them everything in these little stories, so they could get his point.”
“If that’s so,” spoke up another, “then Jesus failed because most of the people didn’t get it.”

The group finally came to the conclusion that Jesus must have been using parables for some purpose other than to ensure that everyone got his point. He was willing to be misunderstood, rejected because the truth had to be spoken whether people were ready to hear what he had to say or not. The truth of what Jesus said didn’t depend on the acceptance of the listeners to give it validity. He spoke the truth with love even though it might lead to conflict. You and I know from experience that even when we try our hardest to speak with love to someone about an important issue, there is always the possibility that the other person will not receive it with the love that was intended and so conflict arises.

The English word conflict comes from a Latin word which means “to strike together”. Whenever two or more people go after goals that they perceive to be correct and whenever one person’s ideas and needs collide with another’s, conflict arises. If people did not make a move to fulfil their ideas, goals, or desires and they were not prepared to put forward ideas and test to see what others thought about them, then there is conflict.

We know that there is always a tension between the Christian and the rest of the world. Just as Jesus was faced with opposition and he was in conflict with the people of his time so are we faced with similar conflict. The values of the world are not necessarily those of the Christian.
The community in which we live might believe that casual sex, taking advantage of others, cheating, abusive behaviour and language, crude jokes, stories and actions are normal and so are okay. Everyone else thinks it’s okay so it must be okay.
I recall a discussion with a young teenage couple who attended a church where I was pastor asking me if it was okay for them to have sex since everyone else at school was doing it. They were stunned when I told them that God intended sex for marriage – for couples who were committed to each other for life – for those who were ready to take on the responsibilities that go along with having sex.
But it is clear that the standards of the Christian and that of the world can be poles apart.
The world may think that it is weak to seek reconciliation when it is clear that you are the one who has been wronged. The way Christ wants us to respond in a situation like this is to act in love and to make amends where there has been a falling out no matter who is in the right or the wrong.

The fact remains – no one likes conflict. No one likes to be ridiculed as “old fashioned” and “out of touch with the real world”, but in the end there can be no compromise. If we are followers of Jesus, then we will want to be what God intended us to be and to live the new life that we have in Christ. And there will be times when we will find ourselves in conflict with others because of our faith in Jesus. As long as we are in this world there will always be tension between the followers of Christ and the world. Doesn’t Jesus say, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword”? To know Christ will more than likely put us at odds with the world and its values. Jesus even says that this conflict may even occur between members of the same family.

But what about tension in the church? Is there a place for conflict and unease in the church? The response I’m sure we would all give is that there should not any tension and conflict in the church. However, I was challenged with this thought I read recently.
In conflict, a group is energised. As an old pastor once said, “You can put out a fire easier than you can raise the dead”. Where there is absolutely no dissatisfaction, no vision of anything better, no pain, there is little action. A church in which there is a healthy amount of tension and conflict is a church alive.” The writer went on to say that the church needs to be exposed to the demands of Scripture, to be assured that there is a power for change, for good, and for meaning in our world, and that … there is something better than merely present arrangements.
Do you see his point?
A church that is no longer challenged;
a church in which there is no tension;
a church where there is no healthy conflict,
no critical examination of its ministry and mission,
no pain as it seeks out better and even more appropriate ways of fulfilling its mission in the world;
that church will do very little.

You see in the church there should always be pastors, lay people, or committees who will ask the question, “How can we do what we are doing in a better way”. There will always be those who will propose with conviction a certain direction the church should go in order to fulfil its mission more effectively. And there will be those who will propose a different direction. That is conflict.

If we didn’t care about Jesus, our faith, one another, the church, our own congregation or even those in our community and in the world, then there would be no conflict. We would be happy to go along doing what we always have done even if it doesn’t work very well. But we do care; we do have our own individual ideas of how the mission of the church should be carried out. We care about the kingdom of God and that’s why conflict in the church can be so vigorous. That’s is why two people, both sincere, both concerned about God’s work in their congregation, both dedicated to serving God can have opposing views. Both are seeking the best way to do God’s work.

The Gospel, the love of God for us sinners, the love that Jesus demonstrated on the cross, our faith in Jesus will not let us sit on our hands and do nothing to improve the way we are doing things. When there is tension because the church is being confronted with new ways to carry out God’s mission, then the gospel is being truthfully preached and enacted, and we are participating in the same kind of conflict that characterised much of Jesus’ ministry.

But the problem is this – we are afraid of conflict. We try to go out of our way to ensure that peace, calmness, acceptance and harmony reign supreme. There is a reason for this fear of conflict. Too often we allow conflict to become personal and we quickly label people as “hard to get on with” because they challenge our point of view. People get hurt, things are said that shouldn’t be said, harm is done to relationships, dirty tricks are used to get the upper hand, and some leave the church because of what has happened and the way the conflict got out of hand. What that happens Satan has won the day.

There are those times when either we have created conflict or fanned the flames of conflict, not for the good of the church and its mission, but because we have some personal need. There are times when we have let creative tension in the church or our families become destructive. When Jesus found himself in the midst of tension and challenges of his authority he always acted in love. Our wills and God’s collide more frequently than we are aware. But God always loves even though we are in conflict with him. He died for us, and forgives us.

Our prayer should always be this. Lord, stir us up and disquiet us by your Holy Spirit. Help us to learn to fight for what’s important and, in our disagreements with one another, to fight like Christians, that is with love, with truth, and with the conviction that we are all brothers and sisters here, all of us trying to be faithful to the One who has called us to be his church. Amen.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

 

Tell me something new.

Saturday, June 23rd, 2018

1 Samuel 17:45-47

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor. Joseph Graham

“Faith Fencing “

Saturday, June 16th, 2018

 2 Corinthians 5:6-8,16-17 

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

Don’t worry – be happy

Saturday, June 9th, 2018

 

2 Corinthians 4:15-5:1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joseph Grahm

“Treasures in Jars of Clay”

Saturday, June 2nd, 2018

2 Corinthians 4:5-12

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

 

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

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

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

“Oh the height of Jesus’ love,

Higher than the heavens above,

Deeper than the depths of sea,

Lasting as eternity,

Love that found me-wondrous thought!

Found me when I sought him not.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

The least important

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

Why are you here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

Learning Jesus-Permanence

Saturday, November 11th, 2017

1 Thessalonias 4:13-18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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