Archive for the ‘After Trinity’ Category

All in the mind

Saturday, August 15th, 2015

John 6:51-58

StMarksThere have been studies done about visualising situations such as in a college where the basketball team was split in two for a week. All the players went about training as usual but half, unbeknown to the others also were told to visualise themselves in the upcoming game. To see in their minds them defending the actual players they would stand and to “see themselves” throwing goals and collecting rebounds and come game day, the results clearly showed that the players who had seen the game in their head all week seemed clearly more prepared and in tune when the game was underway in both carrying out what they had imagined but also in adapting to unforeseen situations as they occurred.

Today we will receive Holy Communion. To share a meal together to which Charles Wesley remarked:  “The Lord’s Supper is the richest legacy which Christ has left for His followers.”

The Sacrament of the Altar that not only points to the cross of Christ as our enduring and unsurpassed source of salvation and as our storehouse of grace. But the Sacrament of the Alter of where our Saviour brings his cross to our altar so that we can receive HIs benefits in a tangible, visible way in the here and now.

Today, in the Body and blood of our Savior Jesus, not only is He present, not only do we receive forgiveness of sins, life and salvation, but today as we receive our Saviors body and blood we kneel or stand before Him in the blessings of his first coming, as to we most assuredly stand before Him celebrating being renewed to live today and celebrating eternal life as we anticipate the joy of his second coming.

In Holy Communion we do not see Jesus as a distant leader or director, but receive and know Him as our ever-present help in times of trouble and if we could actually see what in faith we try and comprehend I don’t think our views on troubles and hardships would ever be the same.

To visualise what’s going on in trust and belief and in wisdom as that of a child.

Because Jesus says we are to have childlike faith, and I think we know where he’s coming from. When we were children, Jesus was so uncomplicated. He said I love you, bring you forgiveness and you’ll go to heaven. Jesus said it, so it was so; it was just in there inside us and onto doing kid’s stuff we would go.

Then for want of a better word we grow up. Learn to think logically and question things, question perceived truths. Get beaten around the head with life’s responsibilities, struggles and hardships. Given the gift of greater intelligence, to be able to think deeply of how things work, or how they should work and yet with all this knowledge, power and experiences-Jesus says we are to have child-like faith.

When young, if told that’s a chair, well it’s a chair-now I might first consider that it actually may be a stool.

Two weeks ago we heard the Jews ask Jesus: What is it that we must do, to do the work of God? And Jesus replies to believe in the one He has sent. Is that it, or did he mean something else.

And in today’s Gospel Jesus tells us “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, they will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world”.

You can see where this is heading. No wonder the Jews had trouble understanding and believing what Jesus said. The stuff Jesus said, the gospel is foreign to how we are cast. Logically, these statements of Jesus are illogical. A pastor told me that when in your Parish; don’t get down on yourself with all the empty seats-because it’s a miracle that any one believes at all.

And through logic, or how we think it should work, he’s right, and right there we see that what Jesus said has to be case, everyone that does believe, has childlike faith, because otherwise you could not believe.

Trust, belief and wisdom. To trust and believe in what Jesus says, and the wisdom to do so, even though from within us it would seem the opposite. When as a child, Jesus says-so no questions needed. As an adult-Jesus says-and we question how that possibly could be-but believe anyway. That’s childlike faith-to override what we would think with what we are told by Jesus.

I was baptized as an adult-did I feel any different afterwards-I don’t think so. Baptizing our infants, do we literally see a hallo form-I haven’t yet. Studying at the sem. and being ordained, do I feel like some kind of saint-not likely-I think I did more so before I went in. And that is the Gospel.

It would be nice to self-reference our spirituality, of what’s going on in our hearts-of feeling our growth within ourselves. Indeed it would be very nice, but not so comforting the next day when we see our heart just as black again as the day before. And that is the Gospel. It is not how we feel-it’s what Christ promises and what he does.

In Holy Communion-Jesus says I give you my body and blood-for eternal life, yes, but also to work inside you-We believe that, even though in our inner selves we find it hard to see much progress, if any.

That is the Gospel. It is not from us, it’s from outside. The Word of God, Baptism and Holy Communion-Our Lord and Savior brings them to us, just like God sent His Son to us. He didn’t just flick a magic switch to fix up our mess-he sent His Son down to us-to grow in us from outside in-transforming us.

In Christ, we are transformed into the holy and righteous. Do you feel very holy and righteous? Maybe not, and if not, welcome to being normal. But in faith, though our hearts and minds may be at times like black coal-that when all the logic and facts of our sinful selves are stacked against, when we know that we are beyond help within ourselves, that in ourselves we are lost-yet cling to Christ, not just as our only hope of acceptance by the Father, but take it as a fact that we are accepted by the Father-that’s faith, faith in the truth. Thank God for the trust and belief he has worked in us, and the wisdom he has brought to us of childlike saving faith. Amen.

Imitating Christ

Monday, August 10th, 2015

Imitating the Character of Jesus

Ephesians 4:25–5:2

          LieschkeMark2009gz  It doesn’t really matter where you go or what you do week in and week out, you can be sure that someone will want to give you their opinion about what’s going on.

I don’t think we could go through a week without someone telling us what they think about politics, the economy, the footy, the weather, fashion, the best wine to drink, why Toyota’s are the best car to drive – etc.

            We can find these people wherever we happen to be.  We can hear people’s opinions at home, in the classroom or playground, at work, at a BBQ, watching sport.  They’re around everywhere.

We also find these people in churches.  That’s quite natural.  We’re all human.  We have opinions.  We like to comment on lots of things – like the length of sermons, the choice of songs or hymns, the volume of the music.

Or maybe some really important things like whether we have a clear vision of where God is leading us, whether we need to do more things to connect with people in the community, or whether or not we’re as welcoming as we could be to visitors to worship.

We all have opinions and that’s fine – but when it comes to commitment, when it comes to actually doing something to make a positive difference, well, we can often shy away.

We can be more than happy to make comments, but not always be active in doing something to make ideas into realities.  Or as someone said once: We can be ‘rocking chair Christians’, plenty of motion but little real progress.

It doesn’t matter how great an idea we have, it doesn’t matter what our opinions may be – if that’s all that we offer, if that’s all we contribute to the life of the church, to the body of Christ, then we’re not going to be moving forward.  We’re might be rocking and rolling – but not really going anywhere.

We’re all called into the ministry of Christ.  And that means we’re called to action – not just give our opinions.  We’re challenged to get down to the nitty gritty of what our faith in Jesus Christ all about.

Our theology, our understanding, our belief in Jesus is not just some kind of intellectual exercise that we are involved in; it’s something that we live out and share and celebrate.

            A church couple with a young family was once asked to host a distinguished theologian for the evening.  The husband told his wife in great detail about the visitor’s university degrees, his teaching responsibilities, the books he’d written, and the important church committees he’d chaired.

His wife was somewhat overawed at all this, but in the end all she had to say was: “I’m not very interested in all that stuff.  What I want to know is: how does he treat his wife and kids?”

            Now that’s getting down to the nitty gritty.  Her question was a valid one.  Does this man who writes, talks and lectures about God, does he practice what he preaches?  Was he a person who just shared his ideas and opinions or was he serious about imitating Jesus Christ?

When Paul wrote to the Christians at Ephesus, he began his letter by highlighting what God had done for his people in and through Jesus.  His opening chapters are like a magnificent hymn of praise!  Paul writes like someone on “cloud nine.”

He hardly stops to breathe as he spells out the wonder of what Jesus has done, not just for the Ephesians, but for the world and the whole universe.  The sentences roll on as if he had no idea about punctuation.  Paul celebrates what Jesus has done to bring peace and harmony into a sin-sick and depraved world.

But then suddenly in the second half of his letter, the mood changes.  The sentences become shorter.  His theme deals with the nitty gritty of Christian behaviour.  After soaring through the universe he comes back to earth, back to our every day lives, our homes, our relationships, our work, our struggles.

            It’s not that Paul utters a big sigh, shakes his head, puts the theology aside, and says: “Okay, that’s enough of the theory, now let’s get real.”

            No.  What he writes about in the second part of his letter, flows directly from what he’s said about how Jesus Christ has claimed us as his own, filled us with his Spirit, and equipped us to live as his people.  We’ve been transformed by Christ; we’ve been changed and renewed, so that we can be practically living out who we are.

Or in other words – once Jesus Christ lives within us, we are called and challenged and enabled to be active in the nitty gritty of Christian service.  We’re called, and equipped, to imitate the character of Jesus.

And this means doing some basic, simple, down to earth things like not lying, watching our moods, stopping from stealing, no swearing, cutting out spiteful words and actions and all malicious gossip.

Or, as Paul also puts it, from a positive perspective, we’re called to speak the truth, deal with our anger, be involved in useful activities, speak only what is good and helpful in a situation, be generous to each other, kind-hearted and forgiving.

I don’t think that Paul could have got more nitty gritty than this?  He said that when God’s people in Ephesus or Rome or Corinth, or Sydney or Dubbo or Gilgandra – when they’re around, you can be sure that God expects them to imitate his Son.  And that this means much more than offering opinions or making comments.  It means getting involved and backing up words with Christ-centred actions.

According to Paul, the grand vision of Christ reconciling everything, and drawing all together in beautiful harmony before God, comes down to some basic issues.

Even the little things that we do and say are significant and should represent what we believe.  It’s not enough to just share our opinions.  Our calling is to be imitators of Christ in actions as well as words.

But imitating the character of Jesus is not something we do on our own.  Imitating the character of Jesus is something we do in relationship with Jesus and others.  We don’t imitate Jesus in isolation.  The character of Jesus is lived out in community; and what we do or don’t do has an effect on the people around us in God’s church.

Because we’re part of a Christ’s body, a community of faith – when we lie to others, or get angry with them or say things that are negative about them – it has a consequence on the whole body, and to Christ himself, because he lives in others as well as us.

Paul writes about this kind of behaviour as conduct that “grieves the Holy Spirit of God.”  We grieve the Holy Spirit when we ignore Jesus who lives in us and through us.  We grieve the Holy Spirit when we give Satan a chance to influence us to be content with divisive relationships and gossip and bitterness.

            But as we’re open to Jesus’ influence and acknowledge the presence of his people around us, not only for us to serve, but to be there for our comfort, support and encouragement (and yes, it’s flawed and imperfect – but it still comes from people who have the Spirit of God in them); when we’re open to that, then what happens is that we grow to become more and more the community that God wants us to be.

Because of Jesus influence and the support of his people, we can continually work towards our speech and actions building others up, rather than tearing them down.  And when that happens we’re enabled to be a far greater positive influence in our ministry of love and service to those who don’t yet know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.

We’re on a journey with Christ; a journey that’s got real purpose and direction, a journey on which we’re challenged and encouraged to do some specific things.

You are on a journey.  Pastor Steve, you are on a journey as you continue your ministry in this parish, as you work at building relationships with people and as you serve in a this community.

And you, the members of St Mark’s/John’s – you are on a journey as you serve and witness and love and give of yourselves to each other and to this community.

St Paul tells of the special and unique relationship you have with God through Jesus so that you can do this.  You are part of God’s plan to bring his love and forgiveness to a world, to individuals around you, who are in need of experiencing it.

            People of the world are not holding their breath for you to share your opinions with them.  But they are desperately in need of more people who are active, imitating Christ, and sharing his love and forgiveness.

            And because of Christ you can do this.  It’s not beyond you.  It’s always something that you’re growing to be able to do better.  And even though it can be a long slow process without always having many visible results, you can rejoice in it because Jesus comes to you again today to draw you closer to him.

With that assurance and commitment from him, you can imitate him more faithfully.  Amen.

Mark Lieschke.

“G’day Tony

Saturday, August 1st, 2015

 

Ephesians 4:1-16, John 6: 24-35

StMarksI remember a few USA elections ago watching on T.V. a reporter talking of the voting sentiment as they filmed in the Republican heartland and it seemed that at least every second house had a sign out the front supporting George Bush.

It was so different to what we experience in Australia to where if our Prime Minister visited Dubbo he might just as likely get a “G’day Tony, how’s things” or even a  “I know the face but can’t seem to place it.” I think that’s great but last Sunday after taking my mum to Canberra to catch a bus home to South Australia we visited Parliament house. It was the first time I had been to see it since I was sixteen and even though no parliament was sitting that day and it was very quiet, it gave me an appreciation of how big a deal and special is the stuff that goes on in that building and felt a sense of its reverence not unlike the first time I visited an empty MCG in Melbourne. An awareness hard to explain as not so much from their dynamic structures, but just a strange and moving feeling that I don’t think I will ever forget. A sentiment I’ve heard people say for themselves upon visiting the vastness of the Grand Canyon or the majesty of one of the great cathedrals of Europe.

The same feeling I had when after a lifetime in the wilderness I was invited and attended against my wishes a small church in a small country town to where upon sitting down my tear ducts opened without control as I knew in every fibre of my body that I was finally home and I wonder just how many times in the back roads of our country in our small houses of worship has someone stumbled through those doors not looking to find home, only to find that home has found them.

To come together as one not in a structure of bricks and mortar, but in a place to receive the gifts of God. To receive His body and blood in Holy Communion, to be reminded of His forgiveness and love that He showers upon those who do His works. To come together as one in the body of Christ be it here in Dubbo/Gilgandra or in St. Pauls Cathedral in London or Rome, be we in suit and tie or tracksuit and sneakers and bow before our Saviour, do His works and receive His gifts. His works not of great missionary work or great acts of hospitality and charity that we receive Him. But the work as told to us in today’s Gospel by Christ himself who when asked of “what must we do to be doing the works of God answers “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom he has sent.”

The work of God that is no work other than receive Him as our Lord and Saviour. No work other than receive His forgiveness and no work other than as one in Christ go as free people. Free that in love we can with each other and all those God places before us not need to hide and protect ourselves through pride, arrogance or intolerance, but free to be modest, soft hearted, accepting and understanding.

Shock rock musician Alice Cooper, son of a pastor, grandson of a pastor, and nephew of a pastor, born again Christian and once described as the “most evil rock singer in the world” remarked that prior to his abstinence of alcohol some 24 years ago he was drinking upwards of a bottle of spirits a day not out of habit, but as medicine to survive to get to the next day. An illness he remarked of which he was not cured, but healed.

A healing like I have experienced in a remote country town where the sentiment between black and white was frosty both ways. Emotions that often led to confrontation that being so long in place wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow from either side, never mind the thought of any need to change the mechanics of such a situation. Ingeniously or naively in such a climate, a person had the idea to start and Australian rules football team to compete in the neighbouring league some 400 or 500 Kilometres away and what once started as one team of two teams was transformed through training, playing alongside each other and from sitting with each other for a minimum of eight hours every Saturday on the bus together saw not only the reported town crime statistics drop by half. But black and white not sharing altercations at the pub, but sharing drinks and stories. See not abuse in the street, but a hand waving in acknowledgement and see not denial or rebuttal of the other identity but a proudness to introduce them as friends.

A situation of mistrust, suspicion and outpouring of anger that was not cured by either sides demand for change, but a situation cured by understanding and friendship that then saw no need for the other to change.

As one in Christ, we too are freed from such side shows as one upmanship and bringing others down that we may rise. Free from those outpouring of emotions that we clothe ourselves in to bring safety such as rage, greed, pride, and envy, but free to be who we are. As one in Christ that freedom is not so much “this is who I am, accept it or get stuffed.” But rather a “that is who you are and I accept you because I don’t give a stuff.”

The law of God is good as it contains the chaos in our world and shows us our sin. But the law of God does not cure our sins just as we cannot cure each other of those that the Lord places before us. The law does not cure, but accuses. The gospel of our Lord and saviour answered those accusations with His death on the cross and healed our mortal wounds with those pierced through His perishable and earthly body.

His wounds still on display in His resurrected body that he brought before those who denied Him and allowed His fearful apostles to see and Thomas to touch, not that He bring judgment upon them from what they had done, but that He bring healing upon them through what He had done that they be released and unbridled from their ghosts. To not be cured of what they were, but be healed because of who they were. The same people as before, the same background as before, the same past deeds as before and still the same loved ones of Christ as before. And yet never as before when standing in that small room did they see, know and understand the truth of the freedom of being as one in the love Jesus Christ their Saviour.

In Christ we have been set free to know that never shall we need hide from self, others or God again: and set free that all others shall never need hide themselves from us in fear of ridicule or judgement, but like we know the truth of a Saviour in whose stead we stand before God the Father, not as that of rotting flesh and blood clothed in garments of sin, but stand as one without blemish clothed in the righteousness of His Son Jesus Christ: their Saviour, our Saviour OUR SAVIOUR. Amen.

Be carefull what you wish for

Saturday, July 25th, 2015

John 6:1-15, Ephesians 3:14-21

StMarksA man was walking along the beach and he saw a sand covered bottle washed up on the shore. After he wiped of the sand with his handkerchief and polished it for a bit, low and behold a genie popped out and said “I grant you three wishes”. Startled but excited he asked for a bottle of beer that would never run out and “pop” there it was. Thirsty and to test the situation he guzzles down it down and unbelievably, after he’d taken the last drop it fills up again, and while thinking he’s hit the jackpot the genie announces “he still has two wishes left and asks for what does he wish from them” and in excitement he says “I’ll have two more of those bottles please.” That’s probably the kind of mistake I would make.

The scene for today’s Gospel see’s Jesus and His disciples traveling by boat across the Sea of Tiberias to withdraw from the crowds following, that they might rest and have time for prayer. It is said that the distance of travel by sea was only six kilometres and so, those following and seeing the direction of Jesus movements hastily set of on the twelve or so kilometre land journey so that only shortly after Jesus had arrived and taken refuge on a hill overlooking a grassy plain, the crowd had caught up and began to appear in droves.

Significantly it’s the time of the Passover (our Easter) and so the crowd reported as 5,000 men, meaning more likely 20,000 men, women and children has swelled to such great numbers with not the least being from those pilgrims on their journey from all over Israel to Jerusalem. Many of same people that would greet Jesus on His arrival at that Passover in Jerusalem with Palm leaves and their coats on the road before Him and shouting “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord-the King of Israel.” And many of the same people that but a short time later would deny Him, ridicule Him and even cheer for His executioners as they marched Him to the cross.

Yet with all this to take place, at the sight of the crowd Jesus ‘sympathy was kindled. They were hungry and they were tired, and they must be fed. Quite a predicament given that to feed such a gathering would have cost six months of the average wage, never mind that the two neighbouring towns of 3,000 residents could not have supplied such a mass of food even if they wanted too. So without Woolworths, Coles and Aldi’s approval still before Local government we have quite a predicament.

Enter the apostle Andrew who after putting the hat around returns to Jesus with a boy with the princely sum of five barley loaves and two little fish. Which in itself is ironic being that it would seem highly unlikely that those on pilgrimage would set of without any supplies and ironic that the one to come clean is this boy whose picnic lunch was that of barley loaves-the bread that was the cheapest of all bread and held in contempt by the middle to upper class plus a couple of sardine like pickled fish, and as we know the rest is history to where everyone ate their fill with still twelve baskets overflowing at the end.

In the Epistle Paul prays for us that: “May you experience the love of Christ, though it is so great you will never fully understand it” and in the feeding of those people that day we get a glimpse of the power and love of Christ which this side of heaven is hard to understand in its many aspects.

An amazing story of what can be, what is, and what will be that awakens and shakes the realities around us like that of the tale of an old German schoolmaster who, when he entered his class in the morning, used to remove his cap and bow ceremoniously to them. One asked him why he did this. His answer was ”You never know what one of these students may someday become”, and he was right-because one of those students was named Martin Luther.

Martin Luther who just may have had some Aussie heritage as seen in his conversations and attacks from the devil who after being told that he was basically a short of knowledge want to be as well as a sinner of many proportions would reply: “Well while that may be, I am a baptised and forgiven one.”   Basically, “She’ll be right mate, Jesus has got my back covered.”

A great truth that allows us to be both amongst the crowd being fed, and amongst those helping feed.

The sinner in self and yet the saint in Christ. The served and the servant. The afflicted and yet the quenched.

Earlier in the service we heard from the book of Luke, that: I tell you that there will be rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents. We are that sinner and like those in the crowd on the banks of the Tiberias Sea saw and received a miracle, I stand today here before the recipients of not one incident but of the whole of the miracles and passion of Christ.  I stand here before the greatness of Christ as displayed in you that has brought the angels and all the company of heaven to sing and rejoice.

Unbelievable and startling statements if not backed up by scripture in which they are. Amazing statements of the truth of how we sit before God the Father through Christ which can only be fathomed in faith. The same faith that saw Mother Theresa respond to a media question of her time in the Indian slums “that she has never seen God among such a situation, but I know he’s here.”

Her faith in the truth amongst what may appear. Her faith in the truth that Christ is with her both in the confines of here place of worship and in her place of work.

A little boy who gave up all his food, five loaves of bread and two small fish that Christ perform His miracle. A nun who gave up her life that she be that miracle to those still with empty stomachs, and Jesus Christ who gave His life that you be among those who have come out of the great tribulation and washed your robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. To receive the Lord’s shelter before his throne. To never again hunger or thirst. To not experience scorching heat nor the need to shed a tear and the Lamb at the centre of the throne, your shepherd who has lead you to His springs of living water.

There among those who have come out of the great tribulation. Standing before Christ: A nun and those that Christ touched through her. A little boy with not bread or fish but surrounded by those who Christ filled with them.  To be alongside our mothers and fathers, daughters and sons. To be there amongst a great crowd of some you served, yet knew not. To be before the throne of God with our Great Shepherd Jesus Christ and know that when we bought failure, he bought success. To know that in all ways and things that Christ worked to guide us to that moment and hear for ourselves those angels once again sing and rejoice for our Saviour Jesus Christ who gave His life, that we have life-both eternally on that day, and life lived today eternally grateful that come what may-nothing shall ever separate us from the love of Christ. Amen.

Sheep without a Shepherd

Sunday, July 19th, 2015

Mark 6:34a

“When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”

 

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

StMarksIn all seriousness that could be the whole of our message today because those words “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” sum up and entail the whole truth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Not looking from afar, but coming down from paradise unspoilt, restraining himself that He walk this earth to feel hunger, hurt, earthly judgement, and fear- as seen when in the Garden of Gethsemane before His walk to the cross ask His Father “if there is another way”, yet only to know and feel what must have been a heartbreaking and loneliness greater than any before or after has felt when, on the cross, judged for our sins and in His death throws cries out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” His cry given further poignancy in Psalm 22 with the verse
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?”

Could there have been another way? Probably, but not probable when we consider the Love and compassion of our Triune God. Of God The Father, Of Jesus Christ His Son and of The Holy Spirit. The love as seen in Jesus when on His travels he could not help but cure those hurting who came before Him. The love as seen in Jesus who in seeing the pain of those suffering the loss of a loved one, wept alongside them as Lazarus lay lifeless.

Jesus on His walk felt our joys, and felt our pain because of the compassion of God the Father who said no, there is no other way than for me to send My Son Jesus to not just understand our plight and feel sorry for the broken, but for My Son to sit in the muck and the mud and have our pain as His own.

The compassion we heard of again today to “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”

The same compassion for us now in the reality of God-with-us in Christ Jesus.  The Shepherd-King Jesus, here, His real presence – with us and ruling in our lives.
That is the Shepherd-King.  Yet it is an unusual biblical concept and in a sense it is a paradox because we associate the shepherd with a certain simplicity, humility, gentleness, nurturing nature – and the king with power and authority.  And, the truth is, whenever we think ‘king’ we first go to power and authority, though we learned well in David, that God chose the simple, humble, gentle, nurturing shepherd to be king. And yes, we might say, but he defeated Goliath! And so object – only to be corrected that actually David, himself, confidently strode out not to defeat Goliath, but to serve God by trusting that God will be God amongst it all.

It is a paradox.
The paradox of the Shepherd-King doesn’t get simpler when we think of the kingdom.  Or does it?
In today’s Gospel – and in this 6th chapter of Mark – Jesus has basically been pushed out of his home town, Nazareth,  but he stays – teaching and caring for people, he sends out his followers to do the same thing, he receives the horrific news that his cousin John has been killed, he is hounded by crowds of people in trouble and each time he tries to get away for a bit someone else needs him, he rescues his disciples from a storm to get to the other side of the lake and there he is immediately surrounded by more who are suffering – the ‘King’ is rejected, threatened, hounded – yet the Shepherd remains and, in the middle of all that:  “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” or, as stated in the actual Gospel reading, “When Jesus … saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”

He had compassion on them.

The paradox of the Shepherd King that sees Him do the unthinkable and let people like us, the one’s He came to save from hurt and judgement then take that same message to the “crowds” He sends before us. The people searching for meaning and those knowing but still hurting.

I was working with a young girl with quite severe physical impairment and in discussing I remember her saying that “everyone’s got something it’s just that mines on show for all to see.”

She was right and my mind goes back to our visit to Sydney last week and seeing a homeless beggar on every street. Seemingly nothing in life but the shirt on their back and a few coins put in a hat by passer-by’s. Yet the compassion that saw the first we come across and after a young boy put his last forty dollars in his hat was asked by the recipient, by the one in need if he was sure he could afford to be so generous.

It was a wonderful exchange to see. But an exchange that only lead to hurt fifty metres later when there was another, then another, and then another that saw my heart bleed in the hurt that that boy felt in not having anything left to give.

The poor and homeless are like that girl said, there struggling for all to see and yet not alone in their struggles as seen in the lives of the rich and powerful who though they may wine and dine without need, still search like those words of Neil Diamond in his song I am, I said  where he sings

“L.A.’s fine, the sun shines most the time

And the feeling is “lay back”
Palm trees grow and rents are low
But you know I keep thinkin’ about
Making my way back

Well I’m New York City born and raised
But nowadays,
I’m lost between two shores
L.A.’s fine, but it ain’t home
New York’s home,
But it ain’t mine no more

I am”… I cried “I am”… said I
And I am lost and I can’t
Even say why
Leavin’ me lonely still”

Hurt in this world is not just for one type but cover all collars, creeds and levels of society. It’s not picky and while we should help those in need we know from our own experiences that it’s all patches and fingers in a leaking damn unless the hope leads to Christ.

The hope that leads to Christ to know enjoyment amongst our troubles, and the hope in Christ that leads to simply being able to put one foot in front of the other when all seems lost: like that of the gentleman who approaching for food and while eating said I’ve tried all my life to beat alcohol but I can no longer and have given up the fight and now only ask that Jesus forgive me.

The hope that saw a legendry missionary return and upon being asked of his success remarked “yes many have been saved, but who will save me?”

Real life people who regardless of position and outward appearance need to hear like we do over and over again that: God so loved the world, that God so loves you, that He gave His one and only Son to die.

And so, Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  This is the Word of the Lord to you, because the King is on his throne, and the Shepherd has his arms wrapped around you.  You can go out today and rest in that; you can go and base your whole life on that, on that foundation.  The fact that you can do that is because of the will of God and the act of God.  You are the Shepherd’s loved sheep; you are the King’s loved subject… so that, as Luther put it, “I can belong to him, and he can rule over me as my king.  I can live under him and serve him, innocent and happy forever, just as he was raised to life, and lives and rules forever.”  This is the complete story when it comes to God’s kingdom:  he establishes his gracious rule; we live in that grace.
Interestingly, I read that The kingdom of the Shepherd-King is not, as has crept into the language of the church with great popularity something that we help to build.  You will hear the phrase ‘build God’s kingdom’ quite a bit and the intention is good, but there is also the danger that it starts to shape our thinking about the nature of God’s kingdom because in itself it is not a biblical concept because though the New Testament is full of references to God’s kingdom, there is never anything remotely like a suggestion that you and I have anything to do with building that kingdom, or establishing that kingdom, or preserving that kingdom, or protecting that kingdom.

We ‘inherit’ it – as a gift; we ‘receive’ it – as a gift; we are ‘brought into’ it – as the work of God; we ‘enter’ it through the gift of baptism; we ‘serve’ when we are already in it, because we’ve been brought into it; we ‘see’ it because we are in it.  But nowhere does the New Testament suggest we build it, grow it, maintain it or prosper it.
God’s kingdom comes, God’s will is done because God is God.  The creator made us and claims us and rules over us; in the gracious life, death and resurrection of Jesus. A claim, A kingdom, A reality that is reiterated and emphasized! And a truth that lets us pray, that this might also be done among us – that the reality might also be evident in our lives, seen by us, recognized by us and lived by us.

Nearing the end of our seminary a Pastor and qualified lecturer in the field of the subject being, that being essentially three months of group and individual psyche type tests. Well two months he said “well you’re done and though I’ve cannot fully understand you or you seem to cope, it does seem you do, so we can either finish up today or do whatever you want.” I replied “that we might as well still meet because I enjoyed his company and so we talked about sport, the world and such stuff. But then one day after remarking that he had been in the church and its work all his life, asked me of what it’s like in “the real world?”

I replied that I’ve had just as much help in times of need from those outside the church as those within and I gave him a scenario that I had been part of.

There was this man who slept out the front of the seminary at night times and I made it my quest to befriend him, bring him a coffee and a snack and eventfully talk about our Lord and eventually I did get the courage up to give him a bible. To which he responded “well I might just throw it in the bin”. To which I responded “well at least use it as a pillow.” Low and behold next day he told me two things, the first that he was baptised and the second, that the bible I gave him had some long words to which then lead me to discover that the bible I had grabbed off the pile was an old King James version.

Anyway, not long after a very good friend was visiting me and staying the night. Well not to be distracted I asked to be excused so that I could visit the bench fellow. “To which he said “no worries, I’ll come with you”.

I used to stay for about ten minutes. But not this night as from the start to finish did my friend show nothing of being intimidated or uncomfortable, but instead talked of farming, of cattle and sheep due to the bench man’s previous occupation of a butcher and all manner of stuff over the next hour or so.

And so there we are, the other two talking as if they had known each other for years, and me enjoying it but also sought of wanting to move on and get back to our own party so to speak.

And with this in mind I realized about the nature of how the kingdom comes and how the kingdom is in the world around us – not as something we have to define and put in place, but as something that exists because of what the Creator and Saviour has declared and shown as Shepherd-King, then this immediately places us not outside, apart from, separated from people all around us in our community, but in their midst – we live in the middle of God’s kingdom of grace established in his world, by his love for the world.

God’s kingdom said of so well in this story we read in bible study at Gil.

A man was visiting a very poor area in a foreign country when he saw a little girl playing in the rubbish. She had no shoes and her face was fifthly. Someone commented, “How is it possible for her mother to let her live that way? It is deplorable. The leader of the group, who came from the neighbourhood, said, “That little girl is dearly loved by her mother, but her mother has no knowledge of or love for soap. You have knowledge of and love of soap, but no love for the little girl. Until love for soap and love for the little girl come together in the same person, she is likely to stay as she is.”

Yes, many have been saved, but who will save me.

There is only one and that is Jesus Christ. Jesus who sees the drug addict feeding his habit through lies, stealing and deception but remembers the little boy he once was.

Jesus who sees the heart of a rich man return to the lonely confines of his searching and lonely heart.

Jesus who sees what has driven a man to live on a park bench and understand. And Jesus who saw the honest heart of my friend Steve, here today with us as he was with that man on that bench.

And Jesus Christ your Savior, who asks that you here today-regardless of creed, colour, race or societies standards, asks, begs and pleads that you here today understand as best you can that while He sees and knows our sins and shortfalls, He chooses to see the heart of the Father that sent Him, that the Father see the heart of Jesus, that though breaking in compassion for those of us and others hurting in our world, will never break under any circumstances His oath, His promise and His reason for “being”, that all, that you-be we of seemingly great faith or seemingly little, that before Him all faith in Christ is equal as are all that come to be fed on the shores of His Kingdom and enter into the waters of His grace.

And so “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”

His grace that we can also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

His grace that has set you free even though the shadows still follow.

His grace that sets you free to serve in His Kingdom even though we may not be able to serve ourselves.

His grace that asks “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

His grace that brought a man to write and know that because

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
he had already come;
’Twas grace hath brought him safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

His grace brought to you, that you too know in full certainty, that the same grace that has carried you through many dangers, toils and snares, is the same grace that will take you home

And His grace, that He ask we take to those before us, that they too He may lead home.
And yes, Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Amen.

Hope in Hopeless times

Saturday, June 27th, 2015

“Hope in Hopeless times”

 

Lamentations 3:22-31, Mark 5: 21-43

 

StMarks The reading from Lamentations was written at a time when God’s people had lost everything; their city and nation; their temple and their very freedom. Things could hardly be worse than that. Except for the family in our Gospel reading; who had lost the life of their young darling daughter: what a tragedy! Yet we are reminded by our Lord that in both situations that all is not lost. We still have every reason to live in hope. For the Lord is still God; and he is our portion. We can still live in hope even in the very worst of times – even in the face of death itself.

These reading could well be called hope for the hopeless times and with that in mind we might well say to ourselves that this doesn’t apply to us here now so let’s just switch off and change the subject. Yet, I would be very surprised if there are not of us who even now, are going through very difficult times: some worse than others. But we also need to remember that all of us at some time or other will go through our difficult times, and we will have to face death itself. The question is, what is or is going to be our source of hope in those times of difficulty and even hopelessness. Difficulties and hopelessness as seen in the Middle East and even within the land of the free, the U.S.A. whereas mentioned by the Reverend Fred Nile on the ABC T.V. show Q&A where Christians are being taken to court for adhering to their faith.

In “Pastors School” a lecturer mentioned that it is not your job to purposely seek out to be persecuted because that would be silly, but it is your job to face it when it comes and as Christians that’s the same for all of us in whatever form it may take.

And indeed it would seem that we are in interesting times where to be in the world but not of the world will certainly get attention one way or another because as one famous social critic declared our Contemporary culture is, in his words a “culture of narcissism.” Narcissism is vanity, self-admiration, self-centredness and importance  and tragically, the Church is not immune to this virus because at some point during the last quarter century it became all-too-common to stop proclaiming a gospel directed at people’s real spiritual needs and instead focus on the wants and desires of potential church goers, and so more than mirroring the first century church, this conduct reflects more the way of how a coffee franchise markets overpriced coffee to potential consumers.

For example, conventional wisdom in evangelicalism today is that suffering is the exception, not the norm for the believer. Moreover, if a Christian does suffer it is quite possibly because of sin in his or her life. Many segments of the church’s—immersed in a culture of happy, prosperous consumers—have failed their constituency by not faithfully proclaiming what the Bible says about the reality of suffering.

But suffering in the Christian life is the rule, not the exception. From the day Christ called us to follow Him he fully disclosed two prerequisites: denying ourselves and taking up our cross. When Saul of Tarsus was converted on the road to Damascus, he didn’t experience a T.V. evangelist “big tent” type healing. On the contrary, God blinded him, left him in that condition for days and sent a reluctant evangelist by the name of Ananias to inform him of how much he would suffer for the name of Christ (Acts 9:15).

And suffer he did. Consider what Paul endured: five times beaten with 39 stripes, three times beaten with rods, stoned, shipwrecked three times, a night and a day floating in the sea, danger of all kinds, weary and in pain, hungry and thirsty, naked and cold. And to add insult to injury God refused to answer his prayer for healing from whatever was ailing him—a thorn in his flesh. Paul was told to be content with grace in the midst of his sufferings (2 Corinthians 11:1).

How did Paul respond to his sufferings?

I will glory in the things which concern my infirmities (2 Corinthians 2:30).

I am now ready to be offered and the time of my departure is at hand …henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto them also who love His appearing (2 Timothy 2:8).

The Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen (2 Timothy 2:18).

How could Paul rejoice in his sufferings and give glory to God? The answer lies in a full reading of 2 Timothy 3:1, written in prison just prior to his execution. Note the use of the word “love” five times in these two chapters: lovers of self (3:2); lovers of money (3:2 – “covetous” in some translations); lovers of pleasure (3:4); love his appearing (4:8); loved this present world (4:10).

One of the five loves mentioned stands in stark contrast to the other four: loving the appearing of Jesus Christ.

When we live in anticipation of seeing Jesus and hearing Him say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: enter into the joy of your Lord,” we can endure suffering. Why?  Because such a focus helps us realize that the worst thing that happens to us here and now can never separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. With our focus not on self but Jesus, we more fully realize the truth of 2 Corinthians 2:17: “Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”

The tragedy is that much of contemporary evangelicalism has sold the future and eternal “weight of glory” for the immediate and transient satisfaction of “your best life now.” As a result, when Christians encounter difficultly they are ill-prepared to deal with it biblically: the storms come, the winds blow and “Cultural Christian” is blown away because there was no firm, biblical foundation for life (Matthew 7:24).

In contrast, the English Baptist John Rippon wrote in 1787 of the believer’s firm foundation:

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
is laid for your faith in his excellent word!
What more can he say than to you he hath said,
to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavour to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.

In Jesus we have a foundation not only for this life, but for all eternity. Therefore, come what may, the Christian can proclaim, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalms 73:26).

So the encouragement we have here again is for us to look away from ourselves and the things of this world, to the Lord Jesus Christ and his unfailing love toward us. Sure we still have to live and work in this world, and we have to be real; and have to be involved and active our society, but our hope now is not centered on ourselves, and the things that our world trusts. Instead we remember that the Lord God Almighty is in control, and that he has our best interests at heart. Even if at times it may not look that way.

 Our assurance that this is the case for us, we only look to Jesus Christ our Lord and savior. He not only raised that little girl from the dead, but he himself rose again after dying on the cross for us. So now there is hope for us in hopeless times. There is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory and honor now and always. AMEN.

Divine Wisdom for Sufferers

Saturday, June 20th, 2015

Job 38:1-11

 

DIVINE WISDOM FOR SUFFERERS

StMarksTwo articles I read this week:

(Headline) IS the world going mad? Military posturing is quietly reaching new extremes in Europe, the Mediterranean and the South China Sea. And the provocative bluster has just reached new heights.

The source was anonymous. But the mouthpiece has a measure of credibility. High profile military analyst and former US Naval War College lecturer John Schindler tweeted last week: “Said a senior NATO (non-US) GOFO to me today: ‘We’ll probably be at war this summer. If we’re lucky it won’t be nuclear.’ Let that sink in

(Headline) THE families of the victims killed at a historic black church in Charleston have told the suspected gunman that they forgive him as he made his first court appearance.

Accused Dylann Roof, 21, appeared via video and showed no emotion as five victims’ relatives read statements.

“I forgive you and my family forgives you,” said Anthony Thompson, a relative of Myra Thompson, 59, one of those killed in the Wednesday night attack inside the Emanuel AME Church. “But … take this opportunity to repent. Repent and confess and give your life to Christ and change your ways. You’ll be better off than you are now.”

“May God have mercy on you,” said Felicia Sanders, the mother of 26-year-old victim Tywanza Sanders. “Every fibre in my body hurts, and I will never be the same.

Martin Luther at one stage could not understand why the book of Revelations with its graphic images could be in our bible that is so full of grace. Until that is to when under persecution and potential assignation he remarked that it then “travelled” with him like a trusted old friend.

Likewise for many for many people there’s no Book of the Bible that speaks more helpfully to them after suffering loss than the Book of Job with its honest examination of all the raw emotions we experience when overtaken by loss. An agonisingly honest Book that reveals sympathy for sufferers in that it let’s its readers know that someone else knows how they feel.

Job suffered what we do, in the vital areas of family, health and material possessions. Just when he thought he was doing everything right, everything went wrong for him. He refused, however, to accept the role of victim. His initial response was: “We take the good days from God, why not also the bad ones?” Satan sought to discover if Job served God out of self-interest – because of all the blessings God had given him – or out of an unconditional trust in God. Nowhere in Job’s debate with his three friends over the reason why we suffer, did he place his hope in his wealth, his friends, his own wisdom or experience and yet his protests of innocence gave him no relief from their accusations or logic.

Most of us would of heard of someone remark of another as having the “faith of Job.” High praise because Job never entertained the thought of giving up his faith in God. Rather, he desperately wanted to experience God’s active, healing presence in his life, as he questioned what God was doing and cried out to God for some relief from his heartache. Job represents to us without providing easy answers, everyone who seems to be suffering more than seems necessary, and indeed many of those suffering understand this Book best and know, that in God being God, He will do many things we cannot comprehend, and act in ways we don’t always understand and as seen in the scriptures they often link the mystery of suffering with the mystery of God. The mysteries of God as seen in the Book of Job doesn’t make light of life’s unfairness, but rather points out that life’s unfairness doesn‘t call God’s goodness into question.

If there was no suffering, how would we develop compassion? If there were no emergencies to handle or crises to deal with, how would we develop courage? When things go wrong for us, we can too quickly conclude that all of life is unjust and unfair. Our loss swamps our perspective on life. We need to see all that is still going right all around us, and all the good that is still happening in our lives.

A mother whose son was killed in a car accident, rose early on the morning of the funeral to read God’s reply to Job in Job 36-41. She said, “I needed to know that my pain was not all there was in the world”. Her anguish threatened to swallow all of creation. What she needed was the reassurance of a God whose power of creation and re-creation is stronger than the power of what seems chaotic and haphazard in our lives. This is what God’s reply to Job seeks to do for such a confused sufferer as Job was. The same need that those Christians suffering through war and persecution today most surely are placing their hopes.

So God aims to persuade Job, as with us of the fundamental reliability of the structures and systems of creation, in the face of the unpredictable events that occur in a world marred by sin. God’s reply itself was unpredictable. God doesn’t answer any of Job’s questions. Instead, God has a range of questions for Job, to get him thinking differently, very differently from how he had been thinking. In a sense, God’s appearance to Job is the true answer to Job’s deepest needs. God had been listening to Job’s cries for help. God wasn’t unresponsive to all that Job had been going through. First of all, God takes Job out of his narrow, little circle of concern into the vastness of His complex creation. God takes Job through the marvel of a forest to watch His obedient infant, the sea, and then to view the wonder of the stars at night.

God tells us that He is purposeful in what He is doing in His creation, pervasive in His control of it, and personal in His care for it. He shows us that caring for the whole creation is something only God knows how to do. With playful irony and touches of humour, God reveals to us His delight in all He has made, especially in creating animals and birds of no practical use to us. God’s reply is a defence of the ecology of nature and the proper use of the environment. God made wild animals to enjoy their existence in the wilderness, just as much as God enjoys watching them and providing for their unique needs.

There are deer whose freedom God wants us to preserve; there are animals God doesn’t want us to tame. His creation has more variety than we need because it is there for our enjoyment, and not just to be exploited. God invites us to share the morning star’s song of joy over what God has made (Job 38:7). Weather is arranged not just for us, but also for God’s other creatures. In nature, God is doing a host of things right each day, things that have little or nothing to do with us human beings. God’s humorous sketch of the ostrich in Job 39:13-18 serves no solemn purpose. It acts “silly” because that’s how God created it. It, in turn, laughs at our so-called “progress” (Job 39:7).

God’s joy in His creation is reflected in the leisurely nature of the tour He takes Job on. By doing this, God helps Job to recover a place of security and belonging within the rich panorama of creation. Job himself has acknowledged that he is sure of his safety with God the other side of death. “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last He will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another (Job 19:25-27a).” Our Redeemer living again was the unexpected outcome from Good Friday.

The events of Good Friday demonstrate to us that God hasn’t abandoned us in our pain and our loss. Human suffering is so significant that God shares it with us. Job’s sufferings point to those of our suffering Saviour Jesus Christ, God’s ultimate demonstration of justice. Jesus suffered without consolation and comfort on the cross, so that His suffering might be our comfort in our own suffering. Our sufferings come to us to make us Christlike: “We suffer with Christ so that we may also be glorified with Him (Romans 8:17).”

Through suffering, we discover that Jesus is our first and greatest need, both for the present and for the future. Our suffering has meaning and value beyond all that we can comprehend in the present. Job learned that we cannot evaluate God’s actions on the basis of the small piece of reality we experience. We can, however, trust God for the bigger picture – that He has all the loose threads of the lives of all His creatures in His hands.

A clergy couple fostered three children whose lives had been devastated by witnessing their mother kill their father, and then being arrested. On the first night, the children were in this couple’s care, they read together the creation account in Genesis 1. The husband explained that the children had experienced such a sudden and violent loss that they needed to know there was something on which they could still rely. To hear about God’s well-ordered, good world in the presence of adults who would stand by them, was the first step to restoring a sense of trust in these children.

God’s message about creation serves a similar function with Job. Life’s problems need good, close relationships with others rather than good reasons. The Book of Job tells us to avoid judging the sufferings of others. Instead, we’re to ask the Lord to lead us to those who suffer like we have, and to listen to them and pray for them, and ironically, then even our own burdens are easier to bear when we help others bear theirs.

“Lord, you are our help in trouble; in darkness, come as light; in our sadness, come as joy; in our troubles come as peace; in our weakness, come as strength. Redeem, renew and restore us. Amen.”

 

A modest family in a modest town

Saturday, June 13th, 2015

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13, Mark 4:26-34.

In our Old Testament reading we heard of the amazing story of King David. David the shepherd boy and the youngest of the StMarkseight Sons of Jesse.

David’s father Jesse who was of no social consequence within his Bethlehem community except for maybe ridicule as hinted by in this piece of scripture.

So David, born in a “modest” town to a “modest” family whose first occupation being that of a shepherd would have seen him viewed by the smug religious rulers of the time as second class, incompetent, untrustworthy and despised in everyday life.  In fact despised so much were the shepherds that they were deprived of civil rights and could not fulfill judicial offices or be admitted in court as witnesses. No wonder I suppose then that to buy wool, milk or a young goat from a shepherd was forbidden on the assumption that it would be stolen property, and to which in the Mishnah, Judaism’s written record of the oral law goes as far to say that “no one should ever feel obligated to rescue a shepherd who has fallen into a pit,” and from this Inexplicable situation God calls David who would become a charismatic leader who would overcome a split and waring Israel, overcome the tribal suspicious and resistance to the idea of a king by ingeniously invading and setting up camp in the neutral and independent city of Jerusalem. A move that would centralize the state and provide the infrastructure through which a new national identity could there emerge with the internal social stability and external security in which saw him having the  allegiance of all the Israelite tribes and regions and establish Israel as a dominant political force in the land, and if that not enough-in his decision to employ workers from regions far and wide to construct these new fortifications and infrastructure he established for himself significant relationships with the foreign powers from which they came.

I’ve always found it quizzical that his successor, his Son Solomon who in a dream saw the Lord appear to him and after the Lord telling him to “Ask for whatever you want me to give you”, asks not for riches for himself nor the death of his enemies, but that he be given a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. “

In short his request was for the gift of wisdom to which as God had promised, was granted. Quizzical for me because in order to ask for wisdom, I would think you need a share of wisdom to start with, but as we’ve seen through his Father David, it would seem he had a bit of a head start.

So we fast forward about 900 or so years and after the short period of time where the shepherds gained some recognition through King David’s rise to fame, now here again have they returned to be scorned in a society of religious snobbery and class prejudice, and low and behold who is the first people that the angels tell that the awaited messiah has arrived. The messiah born holding the lineage of King David through Joseph, again born in the town of Bethlehem (as was David). And while Joseph was not a shepherd, Jesus is born in a stable with the sheep and goats. And who is the first people that the angels tell of this earth shattering event in history. Yep-those bottom of the social rung shepherds again.

An amazing story and as we know the rest is history where this child Jesus, born to a virgin from God the Father. God from God, Jesus: who would walk the earth befriending sinners and calling the unlikely to follow him that they carry on his work after unfathomably, the Son of God, the waited Messiah for 2,000 years is tortured and killed on a cross as a criminal by his own people.

Everything, the whole story seems to come from “back to front land” and so it’s no wonder that Jesus needed to basically tell us in today’s Gospel that when it comes down to it, that most of the time we’ve got basically no idea of what’s going on where He talks of the largest of the garden plants coming from the smallest seed despite half the time the earthly human gardener being asleep, and in our present time where it seems that the kingdom of God is under attack, particularly in its once strongholds this gives us great comfort not just for our world, but for ourselves because this truly is a great time to be a Christian and trust that God’s still in control in both the now and in the bigger scheme of things.

How we became to believe I’m not sure as even though we do know from scripture that faith both comes and is strengthened from reading and hearing those Words of that scripture, in its teaching, in Baptism and Holy Communion, we also know from the book of John that “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

So why me, why us? Quite frankly I don’t care. I’m just happy that we’ve been blessed with the spirit of truth. A great blessing that we got before we asked for it. A gift that we not withhold from others or throw in their faces, but a gift that could be said of as did Chris Judd did of his career as an AFL footballer who on retirement this week and being asked of his great talent remarked with “I have never thought of myself or footballers better than those in any other occupation because being born in Australia means we’ve already won the ovarian lottery in the first place and after that it’s all a bonus.”

It’s a great comment because being renowned for his hard training ethic and preparation and a career that any elite footballer be proud of, he did not deny those things as why should he because they’re true. But then put’s it into perspective of what he couldn’t control through birth place, time and situation. A perspective and understanding that gave him the mindset of being neither elitist nor subservient to those who do or don’t care of his football ability or the game itself.

Is this not that of a Christian, of us? Somehow we’re won the ovarian lottery to be born in a country where Christianity can be freely practiced. Won the ovarian lottery that be our background be of this or that, that the spirit has blown our way that we can now here as Christians learn of our craft by increasing our knowledge of the gifts we have been given. The gift of that being a Christian that we know that though in Sin we are forgiven in Christ. The gift that having been forgiven in Christ we are reunited with God the Father and the gift from those gifts that sees us assured of eternal life in the world to come.

Our standing in God’s kingdom is a fact, and in that whether we be before great religious leaders or before the madding and ridiculing crowds, we neither be pompously elitist nor fearfully subservient, but simply tell and know how it is, and that is one who now rests in the shade of the tree of Christ’s Cross and nests in the mighty branch of His resurrection.  That’s who you are and though all of that may have come through the seemingly “back to front land” of how God works is a further testament to His testament that “His Word does not return empty.” His Word that assures you that you are a saved child of God. His Word that we take before the world in our humble or highly exclaimed social statuses that it pierce the soul of those who do not know or believe it not. Not that it drive them away in despair and anger that they not return, but simply take His Word as best we can in our actions, in prayer, in recital and understanding to those that God places before us, knowing that amongst it all, be we insecure of language or in doubt of worthiness, amongst it all God will be God that the humble will stand and the proud kneel before the same throne and that though here on earth it may all still seem as “back to front land”, that they too will see like we will see when all is revealed in our heavenly home. To see how our roads were straightened, our valleys raised and the mountains flattened, that as we made our way home, it most certainly was a great time for a Christian, to be a Christian. Amen.

A notorious Australian

Saturday, June 6th, 2015

Mark 3:20-35

 

Chopper Reed is a notorious Australian who Wikipedia tells us:

StMarksWas born on 17 November 1954 to a former army father and a mother who was a devout Seventh-day Adventist. He was placed in a children’s home for the first 5 years of his life. He grew up in the Melbourne suburbs of Collingwood, Thomastown, Fitzroy and Preston. He was bullied at school, claiming that by the age of 15, he had been on the “losing end of several hundred fights and that his father, usually on his mother’s recommendation, beat him often as a child. Read was made a ward of the state by the age of 14 and was placed in several mental institutions as a teenager, where, he later claimed, he was subjected to electroshock therapy.

When he was still young, Read was already an accomplished street fighter and the leader of the Surrey Road gang. He began his criminal career by robbing drug dealers, based in massage parlors in the Prahran area. He later graduated to kidnapping and torturing members of the criminal underworld, often using a blowtorch or bolt cutters to remove the toes of his victims as an incentive for them to produce enough money so that Read would leave them alive.[1]

Read spent only 13 months outside prison between the ages of 20 and 38, having been convicted of crimes including armed robbery, firearm offences, assault, arson, impersonating a police officer and kidnapping.[2]

Later in his life he claimed to be involved in the killing of 19 people and the attempted murder of 11 others. In an April 2013 interview with the New York Times, Read said “Look, honestly, I haven’t killed that many people, probably about four or seven, depending on how you look at it.”[6]

In today’s Gospel we have the revelation of the unforgivable sin where in verse thirty-one we are told: “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. [32] And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”

We may think it strange to hear Jesus telling the Pharisees of the unforgivable sin in a Gospel text, but in reality what he shows us is the depth’s and heights to which the grace of God searches to bring salvation.

But here in this passage, what exactly had these Pharisees done that would cause Jesus to say that they could “not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come?” The word “blaspheme” literally means “to speak against.” The scribes and Pharisees were guilty of “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” because they were attributing the work of the Spirit to Satan. But is to simply “speak against” the Holy Spirit enough to bring about irrevocable eternal condemnation?

Let’s look at the facts.
The apostle Paul was himself, guilty of that sin. He writes, “Even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; [14] and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 1:13).

Paul had been guilty of saying the exact same things — and worse — as the other Pharisees, before he met the Lord on the road to Damascus. We often hear the name of God or Jesus being used in vain or blasphemous ways, even today. How can God forgive words spoken against His Son, and yet not forgive the words spoken against His Spirit?

Obviously there is something deeper implied, than simply speaking against the Spirit; if not then the beloved Apostle Paul would have been lost eternally as well. So what is meant by “blasphemy against the Spirit?” Let’s consider some of the sinners we read about in the New Testament.

The “tax-collectors and sinners” were acknowledge by others and admitted by themselves to be notorious transgressors of God’s Law. Yet, when they came to Jesus in Luke 15:1

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. read more »

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, they certainly found more than enough grace to forgive their sins.

Take the case of the sinful prostitute in Luke 7:36-50 who was scorned by the apostles when she washed Jesus feet with ointment and tears.

Or the woman who was got caught in bed with a man not her husband in John 8:11 and who the Pharisees demanded be stoned only for Jesus to renounce their actions.

Does God forgive such scandalous behavior? Yes! Both found that Jesus had grace enough to cover their fleshly sins.

What about a traitor — one of the inner circle who forsook the Lord “with his eyes open,” even after he had been warned? Peter was all these; he denied his Master three times the night that the “Friend of Sinners” most needed a friend. He cursed and swore that he did not even know the man. Could God forgive such a one? Yes. Jesus forgave Peter and gave him a place of honor as the “key-note speaker” on the Day of Pentecost.

What about murderers? Surely there is no sin worse than killing another person. And yet, the Apostle Paul, again, had been involved in murder. Even those on whose hands God saw crimson stains that matched His Son’s blood type were told: “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit

Even murder — even the murder of Jesus Christ — could be forgiven.

All of these sins, in fact every sin that a person commits, can be forgiven. But even so, the Pharisees had not done any of these things; so none of these could be the sin against the Spirit. What sin had they committed that meant they could not be forgiven!?

Understand that Jesus did not condemn His enemies because of what they said or because of any single act. Rather, He denounced them for their obstinate hardness of heart. Their words gave evidence of the evil in their hearts. The sin against the Holy Spirit is not a matter of speech; the words spoke are only “fruit” from a sin-filled heart. That is why Jesus states very clearly: [34] “You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” How had the scribes and Pharisees reached such a deplorable condition? By constantly and consistently refusing to accept the Spirit-created evidence that proved Jesus to be the Messiah.

So what is “blasphemy against the Spirit?” It is the final and complete rejection of Jesus Christ. This sin is a denial of the Spirit’s message and rejection of the Lord’s deity. Jesus made it clear that all sins can be forgiven. Adultery, murder, blasphemy, and other sins can all be forgiven; they are not unpardonable. But God cannot forgive the rejection of His Son. It is the Holy Spirit who bears witness to Christ and convicts the lost sinner.

So when it comes right down to it: The only sin, for which there is no forgiveness, is the sin for which no forgiveness is wanted. The Pharisees had so hated and hardened their hearts against Jesus, that they were guilty of an Unforgivable Sin. Salvation is denied them, not because it is not offered, but because they have permanently rejected it.

So what of us. Should we try not to sin? Absolutely. Try to be more charitable and better people? Absolutely.

Will we ever be good enough or do enough to not need Christ as the door to salvation. Never. As never will the door to salvation be closed to those who throw themselves at the feet of Christ desiring mercy.

At the introduction to this message I talked of the life Chopper Reed. Now here at the conclusion I add that in March 2008 he revealed he only had two to five years to live and required a liver transplant. However, he refused to agree to the procedure, stating that while a transplant would save him, he did not want one when an organ could be provided to someone else.[14

Did he lead a sinful life? Yes. Did he die an honorable death? It would seem so. Will he be in heaven chatting to the Apostle Paul, Martin Luther and the Wesley Boys? We don’t know because we don’t know if he committed the unforgivable sin which is to reject Christ’s forgiveness.

And quite simply it’s none of our business to wonder because our business is towards the still living and whether that be to those of Choppers ilk or the saintly lady in here twilight years, it is to bring or remind them of the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The Gospel of Christ that we need to know for others when the world judges, and the Gospel for ourselves that we too must hear again and again as we too smell the stench of our own sins.

The Gospel of Christ not twisted, distorted or confused.

But the living Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.  Amen.