Archive for the ‘Epiphany’ Category

5th Sunday of Epiphany

Saturday, February 9th, 2019

Isaiah 6:5-7

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

Fear, love and trust God. The old translation of the small catechism, the summary of the Bible and the Christian faith for children, and for each one of us. Like your life might revolve around meals, your family and your work; the Christian life revolves around Jesus in The Ten Commandments, The Creed and The Lord’s Prayer. He teaches us how to act, what God has graciously done and promised and to rely on Him and speak with Him in everything. To fear, love and trust God more than anything else.

And who is God? Creator of heaven and earth, our Heavenly Father, Lord of host or armies, the righteous and just judge, destroyer of evil and the wicked. He made all that is, you, your family, good food, the wonderful night sky, stunning vistas throughout this world, also volcanoes, torrential rain and this dry weather we’re having. He is in charge and He hates the wicked, those who want to harm others and those who deceive (Psalm 5:6; Hosea 9:15). God told Moses that He will curse those who reject Him to the third or fourth generation (Exodus 20:5). And later, cursed is anyone who does not do all these things of the Law (Deuteronomy 27:26). And Paul reminds us that, all people have sinned and turned away from God (Romans 3:10-18) and that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). And on top of all this, Isaiah also might recall God’s word to Moses on the Mount, you cannot see my face, for none shall see me and live (Exodus 33:20). I mean, even the flying seraphs hid their faces, perhaps so they weren’t destroyed by God’s holiness, that consuming fire; but Isaiah is staring straight at it (Isaiah 33:14).

Surely if your going to fear anything at all in this world we should fear the God who made it. He promises to destroy all evil and burn up the wicked (Isaiah 27:4; Revelation 21:8). He is awesome and terrifying for those who sin, who put their trust in themselves or anything else other than God Almighty. When you take away all the little things, deadlines, hunger, what to wear, all the worries of our day to day, this is what is left. You before God.

Isaiah sees this and cowers in the doorway. He confesses the truth as you have earlier. He says, ‘woe is me, I am a man of unclean lips and live among a people of unclean lips.’ He knew his sin, his deception and rejection of God in himself and the sin of his people. You know how you have rejected God, gone your own way, sought to harm others or benefit yourself against others, we hear of what goes on behind closed doors, at the banks, or even out in the open. We, like Isaiah, forget God and His word, instead doing and saying what we want. But we can’t always get it, we don’t have the power. And Isaiah also is powerless compared to God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

But what does God do? What does Jesus do? When you come to Him in your failure, in your need, what does He do? God’s servant got tongs to hold that holy coal, and touched it to Isaiah’s unclean lips, taking away his sin, forgiving him. This image of a burning coal was used in the early church to describe Jesus, God and man, fully together but no less bright as fire and no less solid as coal. And there is another image this reminds us of God touching our lips and taking away your sin. Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper, Christ’s body and blood, the Thanksgiving meal. Isaiah saw Jesus in His divine glory, but now we see Him, no less powerful, no less God, but also in His humble humanity. He is God Almighty, yes, but the Word became flesh and lived with us, that holiness mediated in the man Jesus, and so in Him we can approach the divine throne, protected and forgiven. Now there is no need of fear.

Before Jesus, the righteous judge, compared to Him, every person ever still is the same, powerless, scared and a sinner. That is true. But just as that is true, also, as Paul writes, “Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). The blood of the New Covenant touches your lips and forgives all your sins (Matthew 26:28). Christ Jesus is the judge of the world, and you have been forgiven and made clean by His body and blood, saved and proclaimed innocent. Isaiah saw the truth and experienced it, but did not know that in Jesus that merciful grace would be offered to you and all people. To be made clean and holy before God Almighty, to be joined to Him and to receive His deep peace and bursting joy. The disciples felt something like this when hauling the earthly bounty Jesus had given them, realising who He was and hearing that grace, do not be afraid (Luke 5:10). And this wonder in the forgiveness and peace of God we receive through His Word, through the absolution and through the precious body and blood of Jesus. These things are different from all other things in the world, here God has promised and given you forgiveness. In these unearthly things of bread and wine and words from a book, God Almighty gives us His peace. He takes away your fear. You are forgiven.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham

Third Sunday of Epiphany

Saturday, January 26th, 2019

Luke 4:18, 19

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

            Have you ever had to explain something complicated to anyone? Or had something complicated explained to you? Imagine a 12yr old explaining how to use the internet on a smart phone to their 80yr old grandparent who hadn’t even used a computer in their whole life. If the kid just told their grandparent everything all together at one time, I doubt anyone would understand or be fully understood. Rather it’s better to tell things one at a time, step by step, even walking the other person through it slowly. Fortunately this is exactly how the gospel accounts are written, slowly and progressively explaining to us again and again who Jesus is, coming back to the point again and again in different ways. At Epiphany you heard that Jesus is to be king of all people, two weeks ago, we heard Jesus is certainly God’s Son and you are too, in Him, then last week we spoke of Jesus showing His power and bringing joy, now again He reveals something about Himself. He reveals what He will do.

            On the topic of revealing, I have to say that we only heard half the story today with the second half up for next week. So I’ll quickly summarise, the people of Jesus’ hometown were first amazed. Then, after Jesus says a prophet isn’t accepted in his own town, His hometown people try to kill Him, but He gets away. A bit of an odd response to God’s revelation of truth maybe, but nevertheless.

And what is that truth? That He fulfils the promise of God through Isaiah, that one will be appointed by God to bring pardon, freedom and sight to the poor, broken and blind, and will send them out proclaiming the year of God’s favour and acceptance. Good news to the poor and freedom for all people as you read more of the prophecy in Isaiah 61. The revelation of the good news of Christ. But what is He actually saying, and who are the poor, captives, blind and crushed? And what is this acceptance of God in this new year?

Is He talking about you? Are you poor? Well, not when comparing your wealth to many around this world. Are you captive? This doesn’t look like the pictures I’ve seen of prisons or POW camps. Are you blind? I hope your eyes work, because most of you still drive! Are you crushed? Crushed by what? In this country, in this town, you are relatively rich, free and safe, so why do you care about Jesus, this teller of Good news to the poor? The ancient Israelites rejected Jesus, partly as He didn’t fit the earthly, warrior king they were waiting for. They expected help to maim and kill and further themselves in this world. God told the Israelites before they came out of the desert to be aware because when they live in the land of milk and honey they might forget what God has done and ignore Him (Deuteronomy 8:11-19). So, the Jews tried to kill Jesus when they heard His Word, how do you react?

Does it matter to you, or are you thinking about what you’ve got to do this arvo? Is the dullness of the preaching pushing you away from the wonder of God’s gifts to you? Does living this life of luxury, with food, drink and clothes a plenty, or even this dull day to day living help you forget the gravity, the importance of what Jesus does for you and not just you but every single person. Do you always remember the grace, hope and love you have in Jesus Christ, every day, or are you crushed by the worries of this world? Are you poor in spirit and conviction? Are you blind to the truth Christ reveals? Are you trapped by the evil of this world, the temptations of the devil and even your own sinful desires?

The truth of Jesus is that in this world, yes you are; but Jesus comes to save you, to free you from your sin, to forgive and pardon you, to bring you true light, to reveal the truth of your need and your salvation. And with the words of Nehemiah (8:10) “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” This day you’ve heard again the wonders of the time of acceptance of you by God. Don’t forget what Christ has done for you, He loves you. Don’t forget that you can rely on Him for help in your struggles with sin and evil. Don’t forget that in Him you are forgiven, a beloved child of God. Don’t forget that with Jesus you have joy. Don’t forget to allow some time to explain or understand things, repetition does help remembering. And don’t forget that because of the cross you will be free.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Second Sunday of Epiphany

Saturday, January 19th, 2019

John 2:11

What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

            Who here had wine at their wedding? Who ran out of it because people were still celebrating two days later? In this season of revelation one thing God reveals through John is that Jesus likes weddings, He didn’t let the party stop, didn’t crush the joy. But there is much more to this account than just supplying fantastic and free wine for the wedding feast.

            John calls this miracle the first sign of Jesus. Now we all know that a sign points to something else, street signs and red skies. So what does this story point to? What is it a sign for and what are the other signs? Well, in John’s gospel there are seven events in Jesus’ life called signs, all of them pointing to His death on the cross and the resurrection, three days; all revealing a part of its importance. And so John wants us to think about and understand better Christ’s crucifixion through this story, so that you may believe (John 20:). And not just that but John writes that through this sign of the crucifixion, the death of Jesus, His glory is revealed. How can that be?

            Well the story tells us what will happen, the need will be met with abundance. The wine ran out, and Mary tells Jesus about this, He replies saying His hour has not yet come; the time of His glorification and death is not now. Perhaps regardless, Mary tells the servants to listen to Jesus and do whatever He tells them to do. Jesus instructs the servants and water becomes some wonderful wine. They needed wine, they had run out, and Jesus provided it, and not just any wine, but the best! And in abundance around 600 to 900 bottles of it! And who can make water into wine? God can, but He usually uses grapevines and time. Jesus, the Son of God, provides for your needs. We can only get so far on our own until we fail, fall into shame and need a saviour. Along with every other human you need to be saved from sin, death and evil, you cannot make it on your own; He provides that on the cross.

            But it is not just that, the wine is drawn from those special ceremonial jars. These jars were used in the purification rituals of the Jews, washing hands before meals, cleaning dirty things and purifying the spiritually unclean. This Jewish water of purification into the Christly wine of celebration and joy! Jesus fulfils our needs and also He fulfils the Word of God in the Old Testament. Both all those commands and guides that we learnt in Confirmation and also all the promises that God had made to His people. He perfectly fulfils and completes the whole Word of God, to bring joy to you and all creation. His crucifixion is something new from the old, just as you are a new creation in Jesus Christ, to His glory and your joy.

            So this sign points to God’s glory and our joy in Christ’s crucifixion, His hour. What He has done, Thanks be to God! But what about you, what do you do now? There’s different ways of writing, teaching, poetry, story and others; and when we hear a story from scripture it can be helpful to think about which character is most like you. Probably not Jesus, but maybe, or maybe His mother, the important person of the bridegroom, the MC, the disciples, the bride though we don’t hear what she does, but I’m going to highlight the lowly servants and Mary from verses 4 and 5. Do whatever He tells you. Mary just told Jesus there’s no wine, He tells her ‘what of it?’ then despite this apparent disinterest, even arrogance or denial, Mary relies on God’s salvation through Jesus. She tells the servants to listen to Him and obey. They don’t understand what’s going on, much like us hey, but they trust and obey. Now I don’t know if these servants later followed Jesus, or if we’ll meet them at the end in Jesus, but I do know their example of faith is a worthy one. In Matthews account Jesus sends out the eleven before the ascension telling them to make disciples, students, of all nations, baptising and teaching to obey all He has commanded (Matthew 28:19-20); John’s parallel account more emphasises the forgiveness and peace of God through His Word, the Gospel, and throughout scripture we hear God’s Words, His commands and His promises. To live in Christ’s crucifixion is to listen and obey, as Mary says, Do whatever He tells you, even if you might not understand for He has given you joy to excess!

            So as people of the crucifixion, listen to Jesus and obey Him. When you do fail remember the fulfilment of all His promises, you are forgiven and loved, now married to Christ, in His bride the church. At the crucifixion you might see a dead and rejected man, but that scene is the glory of God and your joy.

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

Joseph Graham

The first Sunday after Epiphany

Saturday, January 12th, 2019

Luke 3:22

And the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased.”The

            This is the season of Epiphany, of revelation, and so This is your life! And our first guest is John the Baptist to tell us a bit of your journey. He came to prepare your way, and He points to you the mighty one to come! Of course, I’m specifically talking about Jesus of Nazareth; however to say that John the Baptist was talking about anyone of you might not be that far off.

            Today we remember the baptism of Jesus, the voice and the dove, but what is baptism? Why was John baptising others? And why did we hear from those other parts of God’s Word? From what I have been able to gather, baptism, or washing/submersion, in the time of Jesus was used by the Jews for those coming into the faith, much like Christians do today. Now John and some particular groups of Jews also baptised Jews themselves, those who were already part of God’s people, the importance being that it’s not just outsiders or non-believers that need to be cleansed but also those who are of God’s people. All people need to continually recognise their dirtiness, guilt and sin; their need for salvation, salvation that God had promised. And so John’s preaching and baptising prepares the way for the promised salvation; Jesus. There is more to say about baptism in the ancient world 2000yrs ago but instead we’ll look back a bit further.

            The prophecy we heard from Isaiah chapter 3, spoken around 2700yrs ago, tells the people of Israel, and by God’s grace you as well, to not fear, God Almighty has redeemed you, is with you and will gather you who He formed, made, created. You will pass through the chaotic, deep water and through the consuming, purifying fire in safety to the glory of God. He’s obviously talking about the future, but don’t you think that it sounds a bit familiar? What Bible stories can you remember about people ‘passing through’ water or through fire? … There is, of course, the flood, also the Exodus, the coming into the promised land, and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego being thrown into the fire (Genesis 6-9; Exodus 14; Joshua 3; Daniel 3). All these stories tell of people who trust God, are in trouble and passing through receive salvation, blessings and life. Not only that but in the flood the Exodus and the three in the fire, those wicked are destroyed, no longer able to harm or threaten. But again Isaiah is looking forward, and though these stories may help us understand they are just a reflection of what it to come.

            And like these stories John tells the crowds, he’s not the greatest or most important, that one is coming and will baptise with the Holy Spirit and fire. Then comes Jesus, the one John said would separate the wheat from the chaff, gather the good grains and burn the rubbish with unquenchable fire. We know that the two common images of condemnation are darkness and fire, but remember also the prophecy of Malachi 4 that He will be a refiners fire, purging the dross from you, purifying you from the evil and sin you struggle with day after day in this life. Fire is a symbol of God’s presence, guiding the Israelites in the desert, appearing to His prophets in visions (Exodus 13:17-22; Ezekiel 1). Fire can symbolise purity, life, passion, and also destruction; and God Almighty, the Most Holy One, In His holiness destroys wickedness (Habakkuk 1:13; Isaiah 6:3-5; 2 Samuel 6:1-11). God came to be with the Israelites on Mount Sinai but many Israelites died because of their evil. So what does this coming of Jesus mean? Holy Spirit and fire? Judgement? Destruction of all evil? … Well, yeah it kinda does. But does that mean we should be terrified? No.

            As Paul writes to the Romans and the Galatians, we are joined together with Christ in our baptism into His name (Romans 6; Galatians 3:27). And so your life is now a reflection of His. He was baptised, remembering all those passing through water to salvation and peace, The Holy Spirit came upon Him as a dove, symbol of peace, remember the angels to the shepherds, ‘peace and goodwill to those with whom God is pleased’ (Luke 2:14), And who is God pleased with? Jesus, who you are part of, joined with in baptism. God Almighty says to you, “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.”

            But it doesn’t stop there. Jesus suffered in His life, speaking the truth and holding to it. He took on our sin, dying with it, like the flood destroying the wicked; but He rose again to life, like rising up from baptism, glorified, in peace, pure and holy. In Jesus this is your life too, though a poor reflection mired by our failings and forgetting. You do suffer when you hold fast to God’s truth, because we still struggle with our sin and others, but the suffering is not the end. The end is peace, joy and love in Jesus, freedom from all evil, and that end we have now in part. Baptism, passing through the water, is a summary of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection which is also a summary of your life. That is the revelation today, you are in Jesus through baptism, hold to the truth and that truth is, God almighty says to you, “You are my beloved child with you I am well pleased. Amen
Pastor Joseph Graham

Epiphany Sunday

Saturday, January 5th, 2019

Matthew 2:1-12

Once there was a man who came to see the well-known Pastor Charles Spurgeon. He asked him if his church was a pure church. The man said that he wanted to find a pure church to belong to. Spurgeon replied that he didn’t know about his own church. He did know that there were many good people in it, sincere Christian people, but there might possibly be a Judas among them, as there was in the company of Jesus’ disciples. Yes, there could possibly be some deceivers and idolaters as there were in the churches of Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, and all the others in New Testament times. On the whole he thought that his church was not the one this man was looking for. In fact, he didn’t know that there had been such a church in all of history. Pastor Spurgeon then said, “But if you should happen to find such a church, I beg of you not to join it, for you would spoil the whole thing”*

The Church is a strange entity. In our creed we state that we believe in the holy catholic church, or the holy Christian church. But what makes it up? What kinds of people exist within the Church? We might like to think we have the perfect or pure church, but that thinking would be naïve at the least. If someone were seeking the pure church, the one where Christ is found, would they come here? If there were some wise men looking for Christ, would they come here?

The Wise Men of our text are said to have travelled a long way to see the Christ Child. Once they arrived, the Bible says, “And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshipped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. ” (Matt 2:11)

Note that the text says that they went into a house. Now we normally think the Wise Men came on the same night as the shepherds – after all, the wise men are often part of our Nativity scenes – but this is not so. They came quite some time after Mary had given birth to Jesus. It’s quite possible Joseph had probably secured a house for the family by this time.

So, the Wise Men walked into the house and saw the Christ Child. Now, they could have just peeked in through the window and then said, “We’ve seen the Christ Child” and then went on their way, but they didn’t do that. We are told they fell down before the Christ Child.

Remember that these were men who were probably often in the presence of the king of Babylon or Persia or one of the other lands of the East. They were probably important, intelligent, and wealthy. How could they now come to the lowly town of Bethlehem and bow down before a child? This house wasn’t a palace and it wasn’t in the beautiful royal city of Jerusalem. Yet here in a humble house was the pure church, because this is where Christ is! There response was to humble themselves, to give themselves before the Christ Child. What humility, what commitment, and how complete their giving of themselves to the Lord!

All of us can learn some important lessons from those Wise Men. You and I have also seen the Christ Child. We have seen him in our Christmas worship services, in the carols on the television and radio, in our Bible readings and devotions. Sadly, some will have failed to see him during the Christmas season in all the hustle and bustle.

But for those of us who have seen the Christ Child, what is our response to him? Do we fall down before him in humility?

No, we probably struggle in this area because each one of us has some sense of pride. Each one of us has a problem in lowering ourselves at times. Each one of us has a big problem in humbling ourselves before people. If we struggle to humble ourselves before people, then is it any easier to humble ourselves before God? Yet if we desire to be wise like the wise men of our text, the first thing we need to do is fall down before Jesus in humility.

The Wise Men also worshipped the Christ Child. Notice carefully that the worshiping was distinct from the falling down and from the giving of gifts to the Christ Child. Those Wise Men certainly didn’t come to impress Joseph and Mary. They certainly didn’t come to show the people on the street that they were doing something great. They came to worship the Christ Child. This is the way it ought to be with wise men today. We hope and pray that there is not a person in this church who is here because they are trying to make a good impression, or because of other people in the church, or because they hope to gain material benefits. If there is, then they are a hypocrite and their practice is out of step with what they profess.

This church is here for one reason. Our presence here is to be for that same reason – and that is to worship Christ and to grow in Christ. All the other religions in the world try to help people look better before God, so that God will finally accept them in his favour. Only in Christianity do people come to know and believe that they are helpless sinners. Yet as we come before Christ, we also hear that God provided an answer to our helplessness and our sinfulness in his Son Jesus Christ. Our response is therefore thanks and praise to God for his loving mercy. Our response is to praise and worship our Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – no matter how lowly our church building or how small our congregation might be.

There once was a man of God named John who loved his village chapel. One day, he was stopped by a friend, who happened to be a devoted fisherman. The fisherman said, “John, I’ve often wondered what attraction there is, up at the village chapel. You go there week after week to the same old chapel, see the same people, and sing the same old hymns . . .”

“Wait a minute,” interrupted John. “You often fish at the same spot, and in the same water, don’t you?”

“Yes, that’s true,” agreed the other.

John smiled and said, “Well, actually, you don’t, for the water you fished in yesterday has passed on to the sea; in the same way every time I go to the chapel, the Lord has something fresh for me.”

And how true that is! Sometimes people may wonder why we come here week after week to sing the same hymns, use the same service orders, and hear essentially the same message of forgiveness and hope. Here in our church we keep hearing the word of Christ’s death and resurrection, and that Jesus has paid for our sins and given us eternal life, yet this message is strangely new every time we hear it! Every Sunday we see the baptismal font that threatens to be lost in our familiarity – just another piece of furniture – yet it is also brand new as we continue to receive forgiveness every day through that once-in-a-lifetime event. Here we receive that same meal with the same taste of bread and wine, yet time after time it is still food and drink from heaven – always powerful, always effective, and always new.

The Wise Men knew that they had something fresh before them. And so do we who believe in Jesus Christ as our Saviour, know that every time we fall before our God and Saviour in worship, we receive something fresh and refreshing.

The Wise Men in our text didn’t just fall down before the Christ Child and worship him; they also offered him gifts. The gifts they offered were not ordinary gifts picked up from a discount store. They probably weren’t even products of their country. We know of no gold native to Babylon. Frankincense and myrrh of the finest quality came from India. So all of the gifts were probably imported and were of great value. They certainly didn’t present to the Lord what was left over.

Consider the three kinds of gifts presented and their meanings. Gold was offered to kings, the riches of royalty. Frankincense was offered to God, burned as a sweet-smelling sacrifice. An offering of Myrrh was a reminder of death, for it could be used in embalming. So here gold was offered to the King of kings, frankincense was offered to the God of gods and Lord of lords, and myrrh was offered to the One who would die for the people. He is our King, our Lord and our Saviour. How significant those gifts were at that particular time!

When we place ourselves before the Christ, what gifts do we give? Leftovers after we pay our bills and treat ourselves to a few luxuries? Or do we follow the example of the Wise Men and offer him our first fruits? And what is our motivation for giving? Let us offer our gifts for the same reason the wise men did: because Jesus Christ is our King of kings and Lord of lords, and, by his death on the cross, our personal Saviour.

Here in this house we meet with Christ. Here in this house we have the pure and perfect church. Not because we are perfect but because Christ is here in his Word, in the waters of baptism, and in his Holy Supper.

In this sense, we all come as wise men and women to worship the Christ. We have all been led here and we all humble ourselves before him. We come to offer him ourselves in humble service toward him and each other. We come to offer him small gifts that are not from our left-overs, but from our first fruits: ourselves, our time and our possessions.

We also come to receive his refreshing Word of forgiveness every week. We come to receive his living Word through the Bible readings and the sermon that inform our lives. We come to taste that heavenly meal that assures us of God’s continuing love and forgiveness. Thanks be to God that Christ allows himself to be revealed to imperfect humans so that we may come before God in peace. Amen.

Walter B. Knight

Flying like eagles

Sunday, February 4th, 2018
Text: Isaiah 40:31
Those who trust in the Lord for help will find their strength renewed. They will rise on wings like eagles; they will run and not get weary; they will walk and not grow weak.

Ever wondered what it would be like to fly? I don’t mean flying in a plane, or dangling beneath a kite or parachute.I mean sticking your arms out like a bird, or out front like superman if you like, and soaring above the earth; banking over the forests; skimming over the rivers; darting through mountain canyons; diving down and scaring the living daylights out of the members of your family; breathing deeply in the fresh air of free and effortless flight! And if you are someone who is scared of heights, imagine if you had no such fear. You could come and fly with the rest of us.

From the early pages of history people have looked at the birds and wanted to fly. You may have seen on TV people flying in a wind tunnel but that’s not soaring high above the clouds. You have seen people jump out of perfectly good planes and ‘fly’ at least for a while, but gravity does it job and the skydiver has no choice but to pull the ripcord on his parachute.

I’m sure every kid at some time has wanted to fly. Maybe it’s been a theme in your dreams but like all dreams there comes a rude awakening when you wake up and discover that you are still a prisoner of gravity. As much as we really wish we could fly, we have to walk to the bathroom, walk out to the kitchen for breakfast and walk to school or work. We aren’t built for flying.

As adults we don’t think about flying as we did when we were kids. Not only aren’t we built for flying but we also carry a lot of baggage – we carry too much weight. Not only the kind of weight that shows up on the bathroom scales but the weight of worry, anxiety, paying bills, keeping the boss happy, and how our health crisis will turn out. All this weighs us down.

If you own your own business and you wonder if you’ve thought about everything and planned for every contingency. You do care about those who work for you, and you realise that there may come a time when you will have to put off some of them. And this weighs you down.

Then there’s your family. The people you love. You see your parents getting older; perhaps becoming infirm. You see your children struggling in this or that. Perhaps you’ve hit a rough patch in your marriage. When you were a kid love wasn’t so difficult and so demanding. But that’s because you were mostly on the receiving end of it. And now you are called to be the one who gives it; called to be the one who loves. This too can weigh you down.

So what about those dreams of flying high above the world in complete freedom and in the open spaces where there is not a worry in the world? Nah! Not anymore! Life is way too heavy to entertain such thought. Flying – that’s okay for kids to dream about because they don’t have the worries we have but for us the world is too real. A bit like gravity – we can’t ever get away from it.

And yet, what does the text from Isaiah say? “Those who trust in the Lord for help will find their strength renewed. They will rise on wings like eagles; they will run and not get weary.” Hmmm. “They will rise on wings like eagles”. With renewed strength they will soar above the earth with the powerful wings of an eagle. I don’t know about you, but Isaiah’s got my attention! Suddenly my childhood interest in being able to fly is renewed. Floating, drifting, circling, free as a bird. Is there a way to overcome the gravity of our lives, a way to lighten our loads, a way rise above it all? Is this just a dream, wishful thinking, belonging to the world of fantasy along with fairies, flying dragons and magic carpets?

Just to put these words about flying like eagles into context. The prophet Isaiah was writing to the people of Israel during a time, when they felt like their strength was sapped and they had no hope. Like us, they were worried. The news wasn’t good. The dreadful Assyrians were breathing down their necks, and later it would be the Babylonians who would take them all away to live in exile. As they thought about all the stuff that was happening around them, they were weighed down and overwhelmed by the seriousness of their situation.

They started to say things like, “God doesn’t really care about me! How can he? Look at all this bad and difficult stuff that is happening all around us. He’s not really in charge of things!” (Isaiah 40:27).

You see what was happening here? They began to see their problems as being bigger than God himself. They forgot that the creator of everything, the everlasting Lord, whose love for his people means he will never grow tired of helping them, just might be able to help them with all their worries.

You see over the years a subtle exchange had taken place. They exchanged their faith in God for a kind of do-it-yourself kind of attitude. We do the exact same thing! This DIY kind of Christianity excludes God from certain areas of our lives. I know God is there but I can handle this myself.
“Let’s see, my work, hmm, no that’s not God’s problem.
Finances, no. I can fix that.
Relationship problems, no. That’s my responsibility.
My love life, no God doesn’t know anything about that, that’s my area.”

Without even giving it too much thought we exclude God from different aspects of our lives. We can fix it we say and maybe it works okay for a time. But then we begin to feel the weight. Our blood pressure rises. We toss and turn. We get sick. We become depressed. The joy goes out of our lives. We despair. We slowly realise that the DIY approach isn’t all that successful after all.

I’m sure that a lot us, including myself, have to admit to doing this at some time, if not more often than we care to admit. We sideline God and try to be our own god. We believe that we can do it alone, but that’s something God never intended us to be. God didn’t make us to stand alone against everything that threatens our safety and happiness. God made us to rely on him.

This is where Isaiah comes in and we have this wonderful passage that was read earlier. He asks, “How can you be so dumb. Don’t you know who stretched out the heavens, made the earth and filled it with people? Don’t you know that it is God who created the stars? There are millions of them, and yet he knows when one of them is missing and if God knows each individual star, it follows that he knows each one of us personally and calls us by name. He knows when we are in trouble. No one can ever accuse God of turning a deaf ear to our needs.

Then comes these wonderful words,
“Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God; he created all the world.
He never grows tired or weary.
No one understands his thoughts.
He strengthens those who are weak and tired. 
Even those who are young grow weak; young people can fall exhausted. 
But those who trust in the Lord for help will find their strength renewed.
They will rise on wings like eagles;
they will run and not get weary;
they will walk and not grow weak.” (40:28-31)

Jesus affirmed what Isaiah said when he said things like, “Come to me, all of your who are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” or “Your heavenly Father knows all about the sparrows even though there are so many of them and he knows when a hair falls from your head. In the same way, he knows each of us intimately and personally” or “I am the good shepherd and I know each of my sheep and if one should get lost, I will go so far as to sacrifice my life to rescue that lost one”.

Jesus assures us that there is not a moment when we are not under his love and care. Yes, there will be times when we will intentionally and unintentionally lock him out of our lives. There will be times when we could have saved ourselves a heap of stress and pressure if only we had trusted in the Lord for help and realised that he is ready, willing and able to give us renewed strength and a fresh outlook on life and its problems.

The apostle Paul realised that he knew what he ought to do and trust God more but found more often than not that he did what he knew he shouldn’t do. There were times when he was physically exhausted and drained, not knowing what will happen to him next. But in each case he came back to this one point, “God can raise me above all this. His love is so powerful that I can be confident, content, and certain no matter what the circumstances. The Lord will help me to face each thing that terrifies me and give me the strength to continue”. In the end Paul says, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).

As Isaiah said, “Those who trust in the Lord for help will find their strength renewed. They will rise on wings like eagles; they will run and not get weary; they will walk and not grow weak”.

In other words, trusting in God to give us the strength that is beyond our own strength to deal with any situation, we can rise on wings like eagles. We can fly. We can soar high above our problems; we can fly free with the sky as the limit. God wants us to fly like eagles.

When we trust in God and his love for us and entrust our lives to the one who gave his life for us on the cross, everything else is dwarfed in comparison to the largeness and authority of the Lord. He is bigger than any problem we might face. And as we learn to trust him, we begin to see things from his perspective. He draws us upward in faith, so that we begin to get a bird’s eye view of things, or more correctly, a God’s eye view of things.

Remember the dreams about flying, the fantasy stories like Peter Pan where children could fly; well they are not too far off the mark. We too can fly even though our feet never leave the ground. We can rise above everything threatens our security with a strength that comes from God. “Those who trust in the Lord for help will find their strength renewed. They will rise on wings like eagles”.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

 

People do change

Saturday, February 3rd, 2018
Text: Job 3a,4-5
Jonah obeyed the Lord and went to Nineveh and proclaimed, “In forty days Nineveh will be destroyed!”  The people of Nineveh believed God’s message. So they decided that everyone should fast, and all the people, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth to show that they had repented.

A  young girl was reading her Bible on a bus.  A grumpy looking, overweight man sat down next to her and noticed what she was reading.  After some muttering and mumbling that she didn’t really understand he asked, “Do you believe everything in the Bible?”  And she said, “Yes, I do.”
He kept on, “You mean to tell me you believe that Jonah lived for three days in the belly of a whale?”
The girl answered, “Yes.”  The man persisted, “Well then how do you explain that?”
The girl answered, “I can’t, but I believe it.”
The man became more agitated and said.  “Young lady, you should be able to explain what you believe!”
The girl then said, “I don’t know exactly how Jonah survived but I’ll ask him when I get to heaven.”
Then sarcastically, the man asked, “And what if Jonah didn’t make it to heaven?”  And she replied, “Then you can ask him.”

The story about Jonah and the big fish has always been a favourite with children.  It has something of a fairy tale quality about it.  It’s a story that appeals to the imagination.  This is a story about one of God’s most reluctant prophets who is told to go to Nineveh – that hated, despised, despotic Near Eastern power that had caused so much suffering in Israel.  Jonah is to preach against their wicked ways but he doesn’t want to do it.

The Ninevites had caused so much grief and pain to the people in the surrounding countries so why should he go there as God’s messenger and call them to change their ways?  They won’t change and Jonah didn’t want them to change. They only deserved God’s condemnation and punishment.  Jonah knew that God was loving and merciful and that he was great on giving second chances (see 4:2) but as far as the Ninevites are concerned they don’t deserve a second chance?  Why should such a horrible, cruel and merciless people be given the opportunity to repent and change their ways?  Besides, people like that don’t change.

Even though Jonah tries to ignore God’s call and boards a ship for a place on the edge of the world, God persists and sends a storm and a big fish which swallows Jonah and rescues him from a briny death.  In the belly of this fish Jonah relents and after three days Jonah is coughed up on the beach.

Jonah walks through this enormous city calling out a simple message – not a call to repentance, not a message of God’s love, only a threat, “In forty days Nineveh will be destroyed!”  It seems as if Jonah is making his message as offensive and as blunt as he possibly can.  Was he trying to prove a point to God, “See, people like this don’t change”?

Jonah wasn’t rejected as a crackpot.  A miracle happens.  The entire city from the king down to the poorest peasant believed God’s message.  Even the sheep and cattle are involved.  Everyone wears sackcloth and ashes and prays that God will not destroy them.

This is a preacher’s dream. A whole city of people turning to God.
In spite of his reluctance,
regardless of his lousy attitude that the people of Nineveh weren’t worth it,
and apart from his very blunt message,
the whole city fell on its knees in repentance and prayer.  Jonah had only just begun walking through this huge city; with such little effort on his part the response was overwhelming.

Jonah’s half-hearted efforts resulted in Nineveh’s wholehearted response.  Jonah was wrong.  People like that do change.  The one person in the whole story who found it difficult to change was Jonah himself.  Reading on further in the book of Jonah we find that he becomes angry and disgusted with God’s whole attitude in this affair.  Jonah becomes angry because God is not.  Jonah wanted justice not grace, punishment not forgiveness.  In fact, by the end of the story we aren’t even too sure if Jonah himself changed.

What are we to make of this whole story about Jonah?  As I said at the beginning this Old Testament story makes a great story for children but what message does God want to convey to us today?

Well, most importantly this is a story of God’s love and mercy.  Look how often God was patient with the hard-headed and ignorant Jonah.  If it was up to us we would have given up on this idiot long ago.  We would have come to the conclusion that he will never change, he is too wrapped up in his own ideas and his own world that he will never change.  He is too set in his attitude about the Ninevites about the judgement he thinks they deserve, it might be better to choose someone else.

But notice how God comes back to Jonah again and again.  He doesn’t give up.  He rescues him from a watery grave and orders a big fish to swallow Jonah.  He is patient with Jonah’s half-hearted effort in delivering his message, and to top it all off he hangs in there when Jonah becomes angry with God saying, “I knew it!  I knew you would be loving and merciful.  I knew that you would go back on what you said and save the people of Nineveh!”  God was trying to convince Jonah that he loved the people of Nineveh as much as anyone else.

God hasn’t changed one bit from the days of Jonah.  We know how frustrated and impatient we can get with other people and so you can imagine how frustrated and impatient God must get with us. The way we hurt the people around us through our selfishness and lack of consideration and the way we hurt God with our sin must leave him upset and offended.  And yet he doesn’t let this get in the way of his love and mercy and, like he did for Jonah, he comes back to us again and again wanting us to love him, trust him and turn our lives around from self-centredness and sin to lives of love, and patience and understanding.

Just as God spoke his word through Jonah, as poor and inadequate as Jonah’s effort was, he speaks to us through the Bible, through other people, through parents, neighbours and friends, calling us to trust him and believe in him as the God who loved us so dearly that he sent his Son, Jesus into this world to be our Saviour.

The Son of God came to earth and from his earliest days on this earth, he was hated and hunted down by kings and rulers and religious leaders.  He did this because of his love for us.
He lived in this world and endured hunger, pain, thirst, sadness and death that he would not have endured had he stayed in heaven.  He did it for us.
He died, not a peaceful and quiet death, but with nails in his hands and feet, a crown of thorns pressing on his head, because of his love for you and me.
Jesus came to this earth to tell us that believing and trusting in him is the only way to eternal life.  He said it clearly and plainly, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no-one goes to the Father except by me.”

He loves us, loves us, and loves us more and will do anything to ensure that we will live forever in heaven.  Jesus has promised to walk with us all the days of our lives through the ups and downs.  He has assured us that he will always be there for us to call on in times of sickness, sadness, trouble, even death.  The love that God has for us is stated over and over again in the Bible.

That’s how God felt about the people of Nineveh and grumpy Jonah.  That’s the way God feels about you!  But I don’t want to give you the impression that God is an old softie and that he will never condemn anyone.  He does!  Those who insist that believing and trusting in God is nonsense will one day face God’s disappointment and anger.  And who can blame him.  He has given us every opportunity to trust in his love for us and still people turn their backs on him.

The other point that I wish to bring out is that people can change.  There are those who say, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.  I’ve lived without God, Jesus and the church for all these years, I can’t change now”.
Others say, “I’ve lived with this hatred for so long I can’t stop,”
or “My sexual sins, my compulsive gambling, my alcoholism (or whatever) are so much a part of my life I can’t stop,”
or “I can’t help being rude and unkind to that person.”

A counsellor of many years once said that the one thing he had learned in counselling people with problems is that “people almost never change.  Change, real change, is rare.”  Perhaps that counsellor was having a bad day when he said that.  Perhaps he was like Jonah – not believing that God has the power to bring about change in the lives and hearts on the people of Nineveh.

This is where faith comes in.
Faith is the willingness to be amazed, shocked by the surprising changes that God can bring about in our lives.
Faith is the willingness to be surprised at the depth and power of God’s love for us and his constant willingness never to give up on us.
Faith is the willingness to believe the power that the Gospel can have in changing the direction of our lives.
Faith is the willingness to believe that with God’s power in our lives we can change.

The first words Jesus preached after his baptism were “turn away from your sin and believe.”  They are as relevant to us today as they were when they were first spoken.  When we take God seriously, don’t be surprised when he challenges us to make some radical and risky changes in our lives.  In fact, just when we have our world settled, fixed, finished, God comes along with his amazing grace and turns our whole life around.  That’s what happened at Nineveh when Jonah preached.  And that’s what happens when God and his never-ending love touches our lives.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

Strongholds

Saturday, January 27th, 2018

Mark 1:21-28

There is little doubt after reading today’s gospel reading that evil exists.  But if you take notice of what happens when Jesus speaks with authority, it also exits.  When Jesus tells the evil spirit to be quiet and come out of the man in the synagogue, it obeys him, it comes out, although with a shriek and not quietly.  But does evil still exist?  If we look around us in the world we can say honestly, categorically and perhaps even with authority that yes evil does still exist.

Now we may not see people like the man in the synagogue that Jesus encountered, but I’m sure you’ve all heard stories about people who have been possessed by evil spirits or demons.  There are accounts of things going wrong when exorcisms have been performed without proper authority and there’s an article on the Lutheran Church of Australia website that gives an account of an ‘unlikely Lutheran’ who has in his past experienced the presence of evil spirits.  So that kind of evil is still around today.  But on the whole we avoid talking about such things, they are perhaps taboo.  Even to the point that I’ve avoided a children’s address today because the subject matter isn’t necessarily ‘G” rated.

But there are some important things to notice about this account that Mark recorded for us as Jesus first act in his ministry that we need to hear about and understand.  This man while being possessed by an evil spirit was in the synagogue, not waiting outside, but inside, a part of the group.  Then when Jesus walked up the man called out to Jesus and said, “What do you want with us Jesus of Nazareth, have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are – the Holy One of God.”  This evil spirit knew exactly who Jesus was, who he represented and what he was capable of, and it feared him and what he was about to do.

It’s important to note that Jesus had the power and authority over the evil spirit.  You may have also noticed that at the beginning of the reading the people of Capernaum were amazed at Jesus teaching in the synagogue because he spoke with such authority.  Jesus has authority over the word and over evil spirits and over us too.  He is after all the Holy One of God.

So what does this mean for us?  As I look around the congregation I see no-one who appears to be possessed by an evil spirit like the one in our gospel.  I can’t know for sure, but I’m fairly certain.  What if we think of the evil things in our lives that are more insidious and hidden, that we might not even see as evil?

What about things in our lives that become strongholds for us, things that demand our attention night and day, things that we hide from our friends, family, workmates etc.  Are there things in your life that have become stumbling blocks to you and maybe even those around you?

For the Corinthians it was an issue of eating food that had been offered to idols.  If it led to confusion and caused others to sin, then Paul said to do away with it, stop, cease!

You could say that any addiction is a stronghold or a stumbling block to you and potentially those around you.  Let’s think about a few of those things.  Mobile phones have become a bit of an addiction haven’t they?  I challenge you to walk into any restaurant, fast food or otherwise and not see people sitting across a table from one another staring at the screen of their mobile phone.  This damages natural relationships, rather than interacting with those who are sitting right there with us we are distracted by the people within the screen or the games that exist on them.  And I’m not saying I’m exempt from this either, I’m as guilty as the next person!

This helpful and seemingly harmless piece of technology now rules our lives.  We feel naked if we leave home without them, we grab for ours when someone else gets a call and even if we know it’s not our ringtone we still take the opportunity to check ours anyway.  (I even found myself stopping as I was writing this because I ‘needed’ to check my emails and others messaging systems).

Then of course there are the more obvious things like drugs, alcohol, gambling, smoking, or even pornography those things that are addictions in the traditional sense of the word.  These too have an impact on our own lives and our relationships with others.  Some of them bring about deceit and lying, covering up the habit or addiction if someone else has a low opinion of it or might find out.  Maybe it’s because if others find out it could be a stumbling block and cause them to do it as well, but more than likely it is through a sense of guilt or shame.  We generally have a bit of an idea that something we are doing is either wrong or not good for us.

There are a few way of going about dealing with this.  Jesus said to the evil spirit “Be quiet” and “Come out of him.”  With God’s help we can do that too.  Some things like alcohol and drugs require professional assistance and a time of detox and rehabilitation to be free from them, others require admitting that they are a problem and then making a decision to say enough is enough.  It may surprise you but confession and absolution can have an amazing effect on the person who feels guilty for the things they have been up to.  Speaking the truth to someone in confidence and knowing that it is never going to be spoken about outside of that discussion has an amazing sense of a weight being lifted.  A problem shared is a problem halved is quite true.  Then to add to that the hearing of God’s forgiveness for you through his Son Jesus has the most power and authority of all, the result is as if a demon has been cast out of us.

It’s funny how little coincidences occur, but as I was writing this on Wednesday out there in the kitchen I was on shuffle on iTunes and the Tim McGraw song Angel Boy came on.  It goes something like this:

My mother said there’s only one way
Sweet angel boy, narrow and straight
Time it has passed, teachings they fade
Now her angel boy has gone astray

I’ve held the hand of the devil, felt his breath on my skin
Dip me into the water, wash me again
Can I still be forgiven for all of these things?
Or have I gone too far now
Have I lost my wings?

I found me a priest, I spoke my mind
Asked if I’d sinned one too many times
He said, “My Son, you’re only a man”
Then I said, “Sir, you don’t understand”

I’ve held the hand of the devil, felt his breath on my skin
Dip me into the water, wash me again
Can I still be forgiven for all of these things?
Or have I gone too far now
Have I lost my wings?

Here’s the good news, no matter what we’ve done, we don’t need to be rebaptised, once is enough for all time.  Jesus has all authority and he has passed it on to us.  Whatever we bind on earth will be bound in heaven, whatever we loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.  There is nothing we can do to cause God to love us any less.  He wants to save us and forgive us.  He went to extraordinary lengths to achieve it.

He is the only true stronghold in our lives, cling to him, live in his love and claim that love and forgiveness for yourself.

Amen.

The heavens opened

Saturday, January 6th, 2018
Text: Mark 1:9b-10
Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan. As soon as Jesus came up out of the water, he saw heaven opening and the Spirit coming down on him like a dove.

There is a word picture that I want to focus on today. It appears in the account of Jesus’ baptism in Mark’s Gospel when we are told that heaven opened up. This picture is used on numerous occasions in the Old Testament. Ezekiel begins his book saying, “The heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God” (Ezekiel 1:1). The prophet Malachi records God’s words, “I will open the windows of heaven and flood you with blessing after blessing” (3:10). Perhaps one of the most well known references to the ‘windows of heaven’ is in the early chapters of Genesis (7:11) at the time of the Flood when we are told that “the windows of heaven were thrown open” (though some translators prefer “floodgates” instead of windows).

It seems that every time ‘the windows of heaven’ are mentioned we get a glimpse of God and see something of who he is – one who blesses and gives generously or one who takes sin seriously. Even when people like Isaiah or Daniel or John in the Book of Revelation receive a vision of God and heaven, it is as if they are looking through a window into heaven and seeing what no one else has seen before.

When the windows of heaven open there are no barriers between earth and heaven. Human prayers freely ascend and divine blessings descend without hindrance. There is a connection between the divine and the human.

However, at the time of Jesus people believed the windows of heaven had been closed. Longingly they looked back to the stories of Abraham, Moses, Elijah, King David, Amos, Isaiah and Ezekiel when there was a good deal of communication between heaven and earth. God would come down and talk to people like Abraham and Moses, or he would rain down manna from the heavens, or open the windows of heaven during a time of drought, or give his messengers visions that would reveal to them the glory and majesty of their God. It seemed that the windows of heaven were always open in those blessed days.

But now it seemed that the heavens were closed. There were now no famous prophets, no new law givers, no singers of new psalms. No outpouring of the Spirit, no new word from God. There was nothing new coming from God and they deeply mourned the continued silence. This made the promise of the messiah even more important because surely then the windows of heaven would be open again and God would pour down new blessings on his people.

People gathered at the Jordan River wondering if John was the one who would once again open the windows of heaven for his people. Jesus was baptised by John. The gospel writer, Mark, states that immediately the heavens were opened and the Spirit came down like a dove on Jesus of Nazareth. Then a voice spoke from the heavens. It was the voice of God saying, “You are my own dear Son. I am pleased with you” (Mark 1:11)

For the early Christians who read the accounts of Jesus baptism recorded by the gospel writers this opening of the window of heaven, the dove and the voice of God were so exciting. The waiting, the longing and the grieving were over. The gates of heaven were now wide open; the Word was speaking, the Holy Spirit was active. It was now a time for celebration.

John records the testimony of John the Baptist about what happened that day. We read, “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven and stay on him. … I tell you that he is the Son of God” (John 1:32-34).

Let’s step from that situation by the Jordan River to today.  Every so often in a casual conversation a comment like this is made when the topic of God comes up.
“Maybe there is some kind of a God. I believe there is some kind of a power that keeps the world going and maybe that’s God. But if that is the case, God must be so far away that the affairs of this world are of little importance to him. When I hear of children being blown to bits in a senseless bombing attack, or people dying of starvation or innocent people being murdered on the streets of our own cities, I see no sign of God’s presence; I hear no word from God. It is as if he doesn’t exist. If he does surely he would do something about the mess our world is in.”

I wonder if the people of Jesus’ time felt something similar. They had been subjected to Roman rule which at times was quite harsh. Babies were massacred in Bethlehem by their own king. The temple had been corrupted as a place of worship – a place where you could find God if he was to be found anywhere – and yet God did nothing about it. It was as if the windows of heaven were closed and God couldn’t even see what was going on.

I wonder if the disciples felt this when they saw Jesus nailed to a cross. They saw his agony, they heard his cries, they saw him give his last breath but the heavens were silent. Not a word from God. It was as if God had closed the window and let Jesus die at the hands of evil people.

Is it that many people don’t believe in God because they don’t see any evidence that God has anything to do with our world or is it because they don’t recognise God’s voice and what he does for them? Remember that John the Baptist saw the heavens open and believed but many to whom he told this didn’t believe and he lost his head over it.

According to history, James Whittaker saw the heavens open and believed. Who was James Whittaker? He was a member of the hand-picked crew that flew a Liberator bomber to where the war was being fought in the Pacific. On board was Eddie Rickenbacker who had been sent to meet with General MacArthur and see first hand what was happening. In October of 1942, Rickenbacker and the crew were reported lost at sea. Somewhere over the Pacific, the navigation equipment failed, the plane ran out of fuel and crashed into the ocean dangerously close to the enemy. The nine men, some injured during the crash, floated in 3 rafts. They battled the heat, the storms, and the water. Sharks – some 10 feet long – would ram their 9 foot rafts. After only 3 days their rations ran out. It would take a miracle to survive.

On the morning of the 8th day Rickenbacker leaned his head back against the raft and pulled his hat over his eyes. A seagull landed on his head. He peered out from under his hat. Every eye was on him. Rickenbacker caught it, and the crew ate it. The bird’s intestines were used for bait to catch fish . . . and the crew survived 24 days at sea to tell the story. What a miracle!!

In 1985 at a reunion of the crew and their families, Mrs Whittaker spoke about another miracle. “The real miracle”, she said, “was not a bird on the head of Eddie Rickenbacker – but a change in the heart of my husband. The greatest event of that day was not the rescue of a crew, but the rescue of a soul. You see, my husband was an unbeliever. The plane crash didn’t change his unbelief. The days facing death in the life raft didn’t cause him to reconsider his destiny. In fact, my husband grew irritated when one of the crew continually read his Bible privately and aloud. … It was right after one of those morning Bible readings that the seagull landed on Rickenbacker’s hat. And at that moment, my husband became a believer.” James Whittaker wrote a book about all this and concludes with these words, “During those blazing days out there I found my God”. (You can read this book online http://www.ccel.us/angelssing.toc.html).

Perhaps it might have been better to say that during those blazing days out there on the sea in a raft, the heavens opened, God came down in the form of a seagull, and Whittaker saw God’s hand in his rescue and believed. Some would say that the appearance of the seagull was fate or a coincidence.
Would God really go to so much effort to save 8 men while the rest of the world was locked in a deadly battle for freedom and thousands of people were dying in Europe and the Pacific?
Would the Maker of the universe really go to such lengths as to send a missionary seagull to give its life to save not only the lives of those men but also to reveal to them that God really does care? Would God really do this?

John the Baptist and James Whittaker would say, “Too right. Of course, he does!” The heavens opened and there was a connection between the divine and the human. They experienced God reaching down to them and showing them his love and grace as they realised that God had come down for them. Jesus is real. His love is real. He wants all people to know that their sins have been dealt with and that he has made it possible for God and humans to be connected. He came so that we can enjoy the presence of God in our lives as we battle the storms and dangers that come our way in the same way that Whittaker came to see that God had everything to do with the incredible rescue of those in the rafts.

Isn’t that how it still is for us? The windows of heaven are opened. Jesus’ life and death embody the opening of the heavens. Open! Absolutely open!  God with us! The heavens open and we get a glimpse of God through
Jesus’ love for people, his teaching through the parables;
his healing of the sick, his touching of lepers, his table fellowship with sinners;
his embrace of those who were socially unacceptable;
his last supper with his friends, his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane;
his betrayal, arrest, abuse, torture, and his staggering to Golgotha;
his crucifixion and concern for a thief at his side,
his death and burial, and then the wonder of Easter Day and his living presence among his disciples.
Jesus opened the heavens and showed us the heart of God the Father while he was here on earth.  He still does this for us today.

No matter what our feelings are telling us at any particular moment, the heavens are definitely open, declares the Gospel. No matter what our mood, the heavens are open.

There may be times when we feel that the windows of heaven are shut. We may have grey times, when the feeling of God’s absence blots out any warmth that we might get from sun (son). We may feel that way but in truth the heavens are never closed. Never! In Christ and through Christ they are open! The negative feelings and moods that we may sometimes have don’t determine the status of the windows of heaven or God’s relationship with us. That has been determined by Christ Jesus. God’s promises, the grace of Jesus Christ, the Spirit, our adoption by God as his children in baptism and every day, and the gift of Jesus’ body and blood in the sacrament assure us that heaven’s windows are never shut. God’s loving heart is always available.

When Jesus was baptised the heavens opened and a dove came down on Jesus. Ever since, the heavens have been open and God’s Spirit comes down on us to challenge us to deal with some aspect of our lives, to offer us support in our struggles, to give us comfort in our grief, to assure us of his grace and mercy, to challenge us to respond with faith and obedience.

In Jesus, the words of the prophet come true, “I will open the windows of heaven and flood you with blessing after blessing”.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

There is no other way

Saturday, February 7th, 2015

“1st Corinthians 9:16-23”

“There is no other way”Pastor Steve

Last week we talked about how the virgin birth of Jesus plays out in our lives and for those not present, or those present but catching up on some well-deserved rest, I would like to start by re-affirming  that message again, being: that back in the day, should two kingdoms be at war, sometimes in the desire to bring peace. One kingdom would give a Kings Son to be married to the other Kings daughter. Problem is that should things flare up, each is still tied by blood to their relevant family and kingdom. But when they had a child, that person could truly unite both kingdoms because he/she had the blood of both within them.

So too the virgin birth of Jesus. Born a human in a human body but not of human seed but of God Himself.  Jesus born of both kingdoms of earth and heaven. Jesus 100% human yet 100% divine and Jesus the Son of God, of One with the Father and of one with us, that we are of one with Him.

I mention this again in response to today’s epistle reading from St. Paul. Paul who when still called Saul was leading the charge against Christians to silence them, persecute them and even kill them. Hardly the one we would think to be chosen as a great disciple for Jesus Christ and yet as we know, Jesus pulls off a master stroke by converted this driven man, who once converted continues as before in his full frontal, lay everything on the line driven manner, only now not to suppress the gospel, but to bring it to the attention of any who will listen. The gospel he breaths and lives by, and the gospel he understands implicitly having been against his desires pulled from the way of salvational ruin and be given faith, forgiveness, and eternal life.

Paul stakes his life on the gospel because he knows that he had absolutely nothing what so ever to do with having either received or believed it and if we remember back to Christs words to him in his conversion experience Jesus gives him a great truth up front and centre when he says “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

Not why do you persecute, Billy, Joe or Jane. But why do you persecute me? And in that one question again we see God our Father send His Son to this earth the mend the fracture from sin between heaven and earth, between God and humans, between life and death. A little baby, born a human in a human body but not of human seed but of God Himself.  Jesus born of both kingdoms of earth and heaven. Jesus 100% human yet 100% divine and Jesus the Son of God, of One with the Father and of one with us, that we are of one with Him.

A truth that should once and forever take away our human made legal gospel of:

If you really have faith, God will care for you.

If you are sincere, God will be on your side.

If you give up this or that you can be regarded as a true Christian or,

If you trusted more in God your troubles, worries or sickness would be over.

Statements of a legal gospel that is no gospel at all and ifs and buts that are the greatest enemy of the gospel of God’s grace in Christ for it then makes what God does dependent on what we do.

Paul knows these lies for what they are because he, like us have received the gospel and continue to receive it like the pious Christian man who on his death bed and under the attack of his conscience sees his thin veneer of eternal life through good works and deeds taken from him to be replaced by that which he sought to hide from himself of a life of jealousy, revenge and self-righteous pride.

The truth he sought to suppress from himself, yet the truth that saw him know the true gospel for the first time when in the last moments of his consciousness and asked by his daughter if he was still thinking of Jesus” replied “I am not able to, I can’t think any longer. But I do know that Jesus is thinking of me.”

A situation I have witnessed and up front and personal in a dementia ward where though I know that they probably won’t remember our service or the message, you can see and feel Christ there with them and when you are there, though they may forget the whole event, the able minded don’t as they see Christ still with these people holding them close.

That is the Gospel and that is the Gospel that the great apostle Paul knew when the light of Christ entered his soul not to reveal Paul’s greatness, but rather his cobwebs and see the truth that in Christ alone are we saved.

In Christ alone as seen in one of those services in the dementia ward where a lady upon taking Holy Communion asked who I was and where I came from. Either hard of hearing or off having never heard of the Lutheran Church and after my three attempts to explain were made in vain, the nurse jumped in and replied for me that “I was a Pastor from the Presbyterian Church” to which the elderly lady responded oh, that’s O.K. resulting in the nurse then turning to me and saying softly “today we are all things to all people.”

It was a funny and endearing moment for me and while I believe and adhere to the confessions of our church, the Church is Christ and Christ is the church and in Christ, when you came to faith, that for each of you though you did not hear it, we know from scripture that the heavens erupted in joy and praise to God for you that one sinner saved.

The same joy and praise given light in the book of revelations that though you still fell to sin, again we hear of all the company of heaven with trumpets playing, angels singing and praising God that you having been kept in faith by Christ have made it through the great tribulation to join them in eternal worship as described in chapter 21: verse 22 “(and) I did not see a temple in the city, because it’s temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb. The city has no need of the sun or the moon to shine on it, because the glory of God shines on it, and the Lamb is its lamp. The peoples of the world will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their wealth into it (and) the gates of the city will stand open all day; they will never be closed because there will be no night there.”

Our earthly Christian Churches are the start of that reality, and while nobody in the church will object to faith, self-sacrifice, prayer, trust, social concern or true doctrine, God does not accept us because of these because they are the results of the gospel and not its conditions.

WE ARE SAVED IN CHRIST, So saved in Christ we like Paul can be all things to all people, not to simply try and please everyone by being someone you’re not. But by being what you are and that is a forgiven sinner who knows the unwarranted and undeserved grace of God.

The grace that though our hearts were closed, we received because the Lord held the gates open till we saw His light, and the gates of his earthly home that we hold open, shining His light here from this building, and shining His light from the open hearts of forgiven sinners that others not see the glow of righteous pride or judgement, but His radiant light shine refusing to be restrained by the dark cobwebs of our lives, but shining through and made even brighter by its contrast that others follow it to your witness. To your story that is Christ alone.

Praise be to God. Amen.