Archive for the ‘Epiphany’ Category

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.

When I was very young

Saturday, January 31st, 2015

“Lord I do believe; help my unbelief.”

Luke 2:22-40Pastor Steve

When I was very young I used to think, how great it would be if I knew that I would go to heaven because then I wouldn’t need to worry about anything that happens, be it being hurt or having no money or failing in things because none of that stuff would matter because it would all be so unimportant and trivial up and against living forever in heaven.

Maybe the silly musings of a child. But maybe the musings I should, maybe we could re-visit  when caught up in our adult lives with so much going on. Old age, illness, western society seeming to impose the need for earthly success and all the stuff that can sneak in and consume our thinking and striving and even supposedly decide our peace and happiness score.

All these hurts and joys, losses and successes are part of life and if say someone becomes very fortunate in life it’s certainly not a sin, but a gift and so enjoy it.

Similar if we see a great miracle that can only be God given, we shouldn’t say we don’t want it but delight in such a gift.

Yet in all things we can take a lesson from Job who in gain and loss simply remarks “the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away” and we know following that, the Lord gaveth  Job back his earthly riches.

Last week we talked about our peace within not being based on how we feel, but coming from outside us in knowing that irrespective of how we feel a particular day, that we are still forgiven and saved in Christ and likewise whether great in earthly riches or not, whether witnessing a great miracle from God or not, it is irrespective to how we stand before God the Father as forgiven, saved and redeemed before God the Father through Jesus Christ His Son.

To believe in this we don’t have to witness a great miracle like a burning bush in the desert or the parting of the Red sea because we know it in the greatest gift and miracle we’ve been given which is faith, and then in faith do the scriptures further enlighten us.  This could all seem a little like the chicken and the egg but is far from it because only in faith can we then understand and believe in the other ways that God has shown us how he has done things. Things like in today’s text where God gives us some back up logic to help confirm things, yet logic that can only bring that peace I wished for as a child when seen through the eyes of faith.

It’s sought of a paradox that when in faith, the logical can be helpful when we associate with the man as recorded in Mark 9:24 where we hear “And Jesus said to him, “‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I do believe; help my unbelief.”

And the logic that defies logic unless seen through faith that sees us accepting the words of Romans 8:17 for ourselves that “if children, then heirs — heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if so it be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together.”

Joint heirs with Christ. Us, the us that we know think bad thoughts and do messy things-we know in faith we’re saved in Christ, but joint heirs with Christ? Wow.

We know it’s true because the scriptures tell us but even in faith it does tend to be a little, yes “I do believe; (but) help my unbelief.”

So, God gives us a hand to understand through the gift of faith to understand the miracle of the virgin birth to yes, help answer our inquiring and logical mind.

Today’s text sees Jesus being taken to the temple after forty days and remarkably although the Jews were waiting for a warrior type king and saviour, Simeon and Anna blessed with the Holy Spirit saw and knew that this little baby is the Saviour and in that miracle itself could we talk.

But for the purposes of helping answer a little boy cry out “I do believe; help my unbelief” I would like to dig a little further.

Firstly why is Jesus being presented in the temple after forty days? Forty days that comes up so many times in other parts of scripture:

In the Old Testament, when God destroyed the earth with water, He caused it to rain 40 days and 40 nights (Genesis 7:12). After Moses killed the Egyptian, he fled to Midian, where he spent 40 years in the desert tending flocks (Acts 7:30). Moses was on Mount Sinai for 40 days and 40 nights (Exodus 24:18). Moses interceded on Israel’s behalf for 40 days and 40 nights (Deuteronomy 9:18, 25). The Law specified a maximum number of lashes a man could receive for a crime, setting the limit at 40 (Deuteronomy 25:3). The Israelite spies took 40 days to spy out Canaan (Numbers 13:25). The Israelites wandered for 40 years (Deuteronomy 8:2-5). Before Samson’s deliverance, Israel served the Philistines for 40 years (Judges 13:1). Goliath taunted Saul’s army for 40 days before David arrived to slay him (1 Samuel 17:16). When Elijah fled from Jezebel, he travelled 40 days and 40 nights to Mt. Horeb (1 Kings 19:8).

The number 40 also appears in the prophecies of Ezekiel (4:6; 29:11-13) and Jonah (3:4) and
In the New Testament, Jesus was tempted for 40 days and 40 nights (Matthew 4:2) and there were 40 days between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension (Acts 1:3).

But right here, the forty days that Mary and Joseph have followed in bringing the baby Jesus to the temple is straight from Leviticus chapter twelve where we hear that: “The Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘A woman who becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son will be ceremonially unclean for seven days, just as she is unclean during her monthly period. On the eighth day the boy is to be circumcised. Then the woman must wait thirty-three days to be purified from her bleeding. She must not touch anything sacred or go to the sanctuary until the days of her purification are over.

“‘When the days of her purification for a son….are over, she is to bring him to the priest at the entrance to the tent of meeting, a year-old lamb for a burnt offering (and/or) a young pigeon or a dove for a sin offering.[a] 7

The thing is that while the bible nowhere specifically assigns any special meaning to the number 40 and that whether or not the number 40 really has any significance is still debated by scholars, it does seem that the Bible definitely use’s 40 to emphasize a spiritual truth.

And the spiritual truth here is a truth seem through the faith of “yes I believe” that answers the “but help me in my unbelief” together with bringing the shining light of Christ where we can know peace on earth no matter our situation through understanding the extraordinary claim by Paul in Romans that we are “joint heirs with Christ of God’s Glory.”

The truth of this little child being presented in His father’s house that is so simple yet so profound that we need never listen to those thoughts of “If, or of earthly hope” but of know and rejoice and live in the peace of our salvation no matter our circumstance.

This has been a little long winded but the answer to our peace here on earth is when seen clearly through the eyes of faith and of how God has brought our salvation about that cannot be attested.

It goes like this:

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.

For me the unfathomable made fathomable and I hope that has helped you as it has helped me to both understand and more importantly rest totally in the truth without second guessing that yes, we are joint heirs with Christ himself and in all things and situations that arise, that we can take peace in the comfort that of what is now, and of what certainly will be, that:

“…in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38).

And in that we thank you Lord and depart today with our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus understanding the peace of God, that surpasses all human understanding. Amen.

When I was 22

Saturday, January 24th, 2015

Mark 1:14-20

Pastor SteveWhen I was about 22 years old one of my best friends took his own life in one of the most horrifying ways and when I was told over the telephone by my dad of what had happened I was basically stunned to silence. Stunned by what had happened yes, but also stunned that only weeks before he had rang me pleading with me to repent of my sins and follow the Lord Jesus Christ and in all seriousness, when I sat down and pondered his life and what we had done together and what I could’ve and maybe should have done,

I’m not sure which of the two phone calls stunned me the most because as I looked back in retrospect, it became evident that unless a miracle occurred he seemed destined for a short life and in one of the more subdued moments we shared together, I remember when about both 18 years old and sitting in the pub late in the evening on a cold and blustery night he became agitated and saying he was going for a drive. His agitation worried me and so I joined him and the next few minutes would see us hurtling along the highway with the accelerator flat to the board in his old Datsun 180B with him advising me that in the fierce rain, wind and puddles on the road that he was finding it hard to control with the car skating left and right and if that wasn’t bad enough, I knew I had only a five minute window of opportunity until we arrived at the infamous S bend in the road that had already claimed many lives from car roll overs. So what to do? I knew I couldn’t talk him down by pleading or logic because this man was on a mission. So, I did the opposite and urged him to go faster and after he eventually said he can’t because he was already flat out and couldn’t drain another ounce out of his Datsun, I remarked something to the effect of “what a piece of crap, let’s just go back to the pub”-and he did.

One of the more “unremarkable” situations we shared that in hindsight, was a life somewhat like experienced by people in car accidents where they say that while it was happening, it all seemed so slow. That his life was short, in hindsight if without great fortune, luck or a miracle did not surprise. But what of that phone call a few weeks before his death-urging me almost anxiously to repent and follow the Lord Jesus Christ. Maybe that was his life saving miracle, and just maybe it was part on mine.

The common theme in the readings this morning is a call to repent, to turn away from those things separating us from God, to turn about around and look back to God.

But turn from what and why?

Our lives can be confusing and in many ways, the experiences we have had, the sins committed and the grace received can see us living like what is said of the brilliant where often their great skill is because they walk that fine line between genius and madness. A fine line that has seen many of the greatest minds in authorship, musicians, artists, comedians and invention cross that line and be devoured by the very experiences of desire, of ambition that never seems to bring peace but painfully higher striving, of things started small in drugs or alcohol that started innocently enough but now have taken over to claim the mind, body and if not for the Lord and Saviour, the soul.

A sermon I will never forget is one which over and over carried the message of forgiveness in Christ. Everything the Pastor said was true and it was comforting like all messages based on the grace of God are. Until he said the words that shook me too my core finishing with “you know what you’re doing wrong, so stop it, stop it now.” A very unfamiliar technique of Gospel first, law second. Unusual because the recommended manner, and the truth of the matter is that in the law we are convicted and brought to our knees in order to see the grace and forgiveness of our Lord and Saviour as said so well by once slave trader John Newton in his great hymn Amazing Grace of his life’s testimony with the words:

“Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, And grace my fears relieved; (and) how precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.”

In that Church listening to message of Christ I knew that grace just like you know it now, and yet I was still brought to my knees with those words “you know what you’re doing wrong, so stop it, stop it now.” And so I left, still knowing of the precious gift of forgiveness but also mixed with a heightened desire to change my ways only to find myself here today still doing what I don’t want to do, and not doing what I want to do and as you too are both sinner and saint, sinners in ourselves and saints in Christs forgiveness I imagine that you to only know too  well that daily physical and spiritual battle, and that if weighed down more by our failure than the Lords grace and forgiveness, life can truly seem harsh. A battle when we see our own dark hearts up against other Christians so upbeat in song and the greatest battle of all of when the powers of darkness come and remind us of what we are in order to take our focus away from the only answer that is Jesus Christ.

A Spiritual battle fought between good and bad, between God the Father and the fallen angel Satan and the battle within us and in the Church. A battle were one seeks that we take our eyes from the cross and punish ourselves with dread, up and against Jesus who asks we see simply the truth that is Him. A battle where one desires that those of the church lower their eyes from the cross and bicker, argue and create divisions based on their own agendas or air of superiority against simply keeping their eyes lifted and stead feast to the cross and see these side shows for what they are. Yet try as we do too remain focussed, that inner battle, no matter how our great faith still to some extent continues to rage. A battle that can so easily take our minds away from the truth of the good news in the battle itself.

The battle the sinless Jesus felt when in the garden of Gethsemane and approaching the direct moments that would see Him crucified on a cross ask His father is there another way. The battle Jesus felt knowing of Lazarus’ certain fate of eternal life, yet still weeps when his earthly body lay before Him. In Jesus earthly body He felt our battle and knows the grinding within us and the grinding between His earthly and Heavenly kingdoms. The battle He felt yet followed His Father’s will to perfection, and the battle that He sees in us, A battle that He does not dismiss lightly, but one that He sees in truth as we run the good race. The good race still with that grinding, yet remaining in faith. Remaining in the faith in and amongst our lives of grinding that does not question, but actually confirms that the Holy Spirit is in you and that truly you are of childlike faith and will most certainly inherit internal life in Jesus Christ the Son of God-Your Saviour.

That is the good news and should you lead a life still scarred from the past but still with faith in Christ, or upbeat and still with faith in Jesus Christ the result is still the same. That in Faith in Jesus Christ as the only measure of forgiveness-that you are forgiven, both now today and on your last day, that will see you will stand beside Abraham, Isaiah, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Stand beside Desmond Tutu, Martin Luther, your departed husband, wife and children and all those who have departed in faith in Christ. Stand together united before God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ and for the very first time feel absolute peace.

There may be a fine line between genius and madness and between earthly happiness and sorrow, but there is a canyon between our earthly self-destructive sin which we daily fight to the sin that has been taken away and forgiven eternally in Jesus Christ our Saviour.

So daily we repent, not to be saved, but because we are. And so too daily does the Lord ask us to turn back to him. Not with a big stick, but with a loving heart that asks us to remove the hurdles between us and His loving arms. To not remove them not to add discomfort, but to bring comfort. To turn over to Him the chains we feel bound by that promised much, but only brought further and greater discomfort. To repent and turn back to God not that we live dour and joyless lives. But repent and turn back to God to live vibrant and joyous lives in the freedom that with or without our earthly binding chains we are saved and forgiven in Jesus Christ and rejoice in all things, and yet still take a chance to follow Him without our props and like Lazarus know of Jesus’ power, love and compassion that saw his earthly life re-ignited. To be raised from the dead to live “a new” life on earth as most assuredly he would again in forgiveness on his last day in the presence of The Father, The Son, The Holy Spirit and all the Company of heaven. Amen.

“The game changer”

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014

“The game changer”

Matthew 5:38-48

Not long after getting a transfer in my banking employment from a small country town to the regional “city” of Port Augusta, I found myself waiting to play my first game with my new Central Augusta football team mates while watching the lead up game and as “luck” would have it I learnt something of what was in store for me when I saw one of the forwards take a mark in front of goal and then be punched flush in the face from an opposition player coming from the other direction.

Interesting style of football I thought but what “got” me was not that a fight followed, nor the comment of my team mate next to me who remarked that “the player involved was gutless and shouldn’t be allowed out there.” What got me was that after having agreed was what his assessment actually meant when he continued with “yes, if someone can’t take a punch without fighting back he is pathetic and a blight against the whole team”.

I thought he might have been pulling my leg until half an hour later as we got changed I saw one of the other teams players come in with a clearly broken arm seemingly bearing no pain and chatting merrily away to the guys in our team that he knew as if he’d only hurt a fingernail and in that 30 minutes of time I learnt more of the courage required than I had learnt in enduring the previous four months of preseason fitness and weights training.

It was a valuable lesson not unlike of what Jesus talk of today in the gospel where we after our “preseason training” of hearing and studying the Word are led by that strength not to retaliate against those who attack us, but the strength to absorb the hits and stay true to the game plan of what it means to be saved in Christ.

As with my Central Augusta team mate to me, Jesus in today’s gospel yet again challenges the Jewish people listening to him not by changing the game, but by changing how it’s played in hitting them with scripture that they all knew and for us to see what they came to hear we need not criticise and abuse, but firstly take a walk in the shoes of those hearing this radical message of Jesus for the first time.

“An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” is straight from the old testament and not designed by God for the outbreak of violence but to limit it by curbing our desire to give back more than what we got and even then, though this law allows one to get even within limits, it does not require one to get even and in that light we see the true purpose of this Old testament law not as savage and bloodthirsty, but of a beginning of mercy.

Enter the fulfilment of mercy in Jesus Christ who doesn’t render His audience as wrong but gives a fuller understanding and in saying “Do not resist the one who is evil” and knowing that in the word translated as resist in this context means “do not render evil for evil” we see that Jesus is not telling us to be weak and passive, but to have the courage of not being of a vindictive and revengeful mind set and return fire not with fire, but return fire with goodness and I would suggest to those present and indeed to ourselves that at the very least we ask ourselves how does this actually play out in our lives and so not to leave either of us wondering Jesus responds with four examples of which due to time constraints I will talk of one.

In understanding Jesus response of “But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also” again we have to sit with those present at the time to understand. Firstly we see that is not about standing there like a punching bag because in knowing that the first blow mentioned is to the right cheek and in likewise knowing that by far the most natural hand used is the right hand we see that it’s virtually impossible when face to face to properly land a blow flush with right hand to the left cheek. So physically it cannot be a punch but a slap from the back of the hand and in the time of Jesus and still in parts of the world now, a slap to the face with the back of one’s hand is not designed to physically punish but to insult and to the Jews of the time it was considered a gross insult and one of the most demeaning acts one could inflict on another person, and so again, Jesus is saying to us not to return fire with fire with insults and rumour, but to avoid retaliation and personal revenge.

Those of my era may know the song that goes “O’ Lord it’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way” and if we as Christians did to that of how Jesus changes things around we would be singing “O’ Lord it’s easy to be humble when we are not perfect in anyway”.

Problem is that in our sin and in our world that that keeps showering us with our right to do this and our right to do that, as is it hard to always be humble so too is it not to return fire with fire. Because that’s our right, right? Well contrary to what society tells us in self- help groups designed to empower us to reach our potential and reign at the top of the heap in all our glory, as disciples of Christ we have actually given away those rights and signed up to die to self as said in John where we are told “He must become greater and we must become less”.

Unfortunately, this side of heaven we will never fulfil those words as most assuredly in ourselves we will never live up to the last words in today’s gospel that inform us that “therefore you must be prefect, as your heavenly Father is prefect”.

So what to do? Nothing and everything.

Nothing because in belief in Jesus Christ alone you have been saved and given the right to eternal life and from those most wonderful Words of Romans do we rest our doubts and rejoice in hearing again and again that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Yet in requiring nothing other than we trust in the Lord, he gives us the right to live a life of everything.

The right to live a full life. Not a life of always getting our own way or of harbouring anger and judgement towards others whether it is just or unjust or our right. But a life of peace free from such distractions that we see the beauty of Christ and the hurt of the world and strive in any small way we can to bring them together that as He is made greater, so too the hurt smaller.  Amen.

Facing the Truth

Saturday, February 15th, 2014

Matthew 5:21-37

Maybe it’s because our congregations are coming up to the times of their AGM’s, I’m not sure but during this week, without meaning to I came to considering my ministry in our parish and what I saw was not enjoyable and though I tried to find something, anything that I could hang my hat on and feel good about, every angle I took led me to the same place and so knowing my inadequacies, I came to TRULY understand the apostle Paul for first time when he says he has nothing to offer those before him other than the truth of Christ crucified.

In his letters Paul tells us time and time again not cling to one shred of self-righteousness because “there is none righteous, not even one”.

It is a message that can sit a little uncomfortable with us and it would seem with our world as we replace biblical words like sin, wretch, lies and iniquities with behavioural disorders, non-truths, unproductive personal habits and compulsive personality types.

Yes, some of these modern descriptive terms do describe medical conditions born in us and thankfully, with modern medicine can be treated. But we are also born in the affliction of sin. That’s reality, but a reality that not only does society not want to know, but worse, some of the holders of the mysteries-being the churches and the people of Christ don’t seem to want to preach, teach or talk about and indeed I’ve been in discussions where the advice I received was not to bring up the law in services where there will be those of in-frequent attendance.

Most certainly, we preach and base every ounce of our well-being on the gospel and the gospel alone, that’s how it should be and how it has to be but the problem is, that unless we have felt the law, we won’t feel, know and relish in the true freedom of the gospel.

Without the law there is no sin, without sin there is no need for forgiveness and without the need for forgiveness there is no need for Christ and so in our world where the only reality has become what we decide it to be, unless we as the church talk about the reality of our need for Christ into it, the reality of His atoning works don’t even get a chance to be heard never mind accepted or discarded.

The saying what we don’t know won’t hurt us does is not always the case and certainly does not cut it in relation to matters of salvation and just as un knowingly we carry around soft drinks going by the label of “Monster” which carry the Hebrew letters for the number 666 and urging us unleash the beast, so too without the knowledge of our sinful state we will find ways to overlook the need for Christ.

Thirteenth century Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev wrote that:

“I don’t know what the heart of a bad man is like, but I do know what the heart of a good man is like and it is terrible”.

Unfortunately, I would suggest we may have all felt that realisation and unfortunately without a remedy life can become a game of chasing the cure through self-medication and surrounding ourselves with the noise of the world to where we present ourselves to both the person looking in the mirror and those looking on like a photo shopped Facebook page.

Problem is the wolf won’t leave the door and far from fleeing from it, we draw even closer as we thirst to fill that internal hole that won’t be filled and continue on a merry go round that while once enjoyable, has now become the substance of our life as we go round and round and though we can see things outside flashing past, they are blurred and though there’s a feeling that’s what’s out there is good, we can’t stop to see it clearly because we can’t let go of the pole we are holding lest we fall and suffer greater injury.

God said he will write the law on our hearts and he has for the religious and atheist alike as we all chase that ever elusive desire of happiness and inner peace and should the Holy Spirit not show us that the cause is sin, we stay on the merry go round chasing our tail but never catching it.

So the Lord does us a favour and humbles us in the knowledge of ourselves up and against the heavy weight of the law and asks that we pass it on to those who don’t want to hear it, but like us most definitely need to.

Many have said that while under the grip of incurable illness they come to see the beauty and smell of a rose like they could never have imagined. So too, that when one comes to see their incurable sin in the law does come the sweet fragrance and taste of the gospel.

The Gospel of our Lord that doesn’t say don’t go on that overseas holiday, but says by all means do it; but do it not to search for happiness but to enjoy happiness.

The Gospel of our Lord that says yes, build your business, buy a house or learn the guitar. But do it not to hide yourself from yourself or because you have you, but because you want too.

And the Gospel of the Lord that came to a Pastor that he not be free of his inadequacies, but that his inadequacies bring him the freedom to serve God and His people in the strength of the Lord and not of his own, and that is the freedom of what John talks of in his gospel where he tells us that: “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed”.

We all here today fall short, yet in knowing and acknowledging it, in Christ we have never been in a better place.  For in falling short we have come to know that in salvation, peace and happiness there is only one way that fulfils that aching hole within us and that is to trust in Jesus Christ and in what He done on the cross for us.

So today we stand before God the Father not content in our sin, but content that we know of them and of joyful hearts that though in sin we fall short, we know that in Christ our weakness brings strength, our failures success and though once trapped in ourselves, like our Lord’s body was broken on the cross that He may rise in victory, so to from a crushed spirit have we risen to see to that His victory is ours and know for ourselves how sweet and precious is that grace which we have received. His grace to you that brings eternal life, and His grace to you that he pleads that you know today, to walk in it, to revel in it and most certainly, to find peace in it. Amen.

Back to the Future

Saturday, February 8th, 2014

“Back to the future”

1 Corinthians 2:1-12 & Matthew 5:13-20

In his autobiography, one of the greatest AFL footballers of all time, revered not only by his own teams supporters, but by all remarked that often his dislike for playing was so great that before the game he would sometimes hide in the toilet cubicle in tears just wishing he could be anywhere but to where he was about to be, being in front of up to 100,000 football fans both admiring and in disbelief of what this man was capable of doing on the footy field.

A man revered by all, yet a man torn within himself who remarked that if it wasn’t for his Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, would most certainly not have “made it out alive”.

This is the wisdom of God that Paul talks about in today’s reading from 1st Corinthians. The wisdom of God up and against the wisdom of the world. The wisdom that Paul, then still known as Saul had the full authority to preach and teach, because it was the wisdom he had felt and knew first hand when as a man of high esteem and power and as Acts tells us, “was breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples (and so) went to the high priest  and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem…yet  as he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him and he fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

A terrifying moment, but even more so, that when struck down with blindness by the Lord became like a little child who had to rely on others to lead him, fend for him and care for him. Three days later, after who knows what would have gone through his head his sight was restored that again he could see the majesty of a new day. A physical miracle, yet a miracle that pales into insignificance compared to that which had brought him to see the truth of the shining light of Christ.

The light and truth of Christ followed by this man Paul, who once revered by his Jewish colleagues, now stands before the Corinthian church while both being violently opposed by those once were admirers, and regard of him as weak, foolish and powerless.

From riches to rags and under the constant threat of, and often realisation of being beaten, bashed, and insulted, here stands Paul professing his testimony to any that will listen. His testimony of God proclaimed not with lofty speech or of earthly wisdom, but proclaimed by the gift of the Holy Spirit his testimony of knowing nothing other than Jesus Christ and Him crucified. His message for others that they too not rest in the wisdom of the world, but in the power of God.

And though Paul who in his own words is “in weakness, fear and much trembling”, and “the greatest of sinners”, ironically has found peace. Not the worldly peace which is merely the absence of trouble, but biblical peace. The peace of Christ that is not related to circumstances, but His peace that be we be in the midst of great trials and hardships is still there up holding and sustaining us.

This is the peace of Christ in which we live and the peace of that in today’s Gospel that Christ tells us to take to the world and let shine before others, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Two years ago after being ordained as a pastor, I had a terrifying realisation, I was a pastor. That, though in itself was nothing short of a miracle, I knew it to be true because I had the certificate. The greater miracle was that on that day, the 4th of December 2011 I became a man of virtue, goodness and love. Problem was that as they didn’t give me a certificate of that, I found myself facing up to the fact that far from shining my light into the world of good deeds and great character, I may indeed need to hide my deeds and inner self under the very basket that the Lord says not to, and so confused I rang a fellow pastor who I knew very well and asked of how to handle this predicament I found myself. Too which he responded and to whom you can now blame for the predicament you have now found yourself placed, was “to just be myself”.

That can be an interesting light to show.

Tonight on T.V. there is a show “documenting” the life and times of Inxs and their lead singer Michael Hutchence and from what I’ve seen and read, Michaels light of charisma, talent and kindness shone bright, as to did the light of his substance abuse, sex and self-disregard.

Though it seems his life was a contradiction of both light and darkness, and though I do not know his spiritual standing, in co-writing these lyrics it would seem that he knew of the true light of which our Lord tells us to let shine:

“This is the power
Since time began
Every single hour
That we have known….

Shine like it does
Into every heart
Shine like it does
And if you’re looking
You will find it…

This is the story
Since time began
There will come a day
When we will know”

Michael was a man of rare musical genius but to judge his light to the world would be like judging mine to our parish and maybe even your good works to and for society. A mixed bag that I would suggest would leave us in a precarious position should they be the defining factor in bringing others to give glory to the Father who is in heaven.

The power since time began, every single hour that we have known that shines as it does into every heart is not that of us, but of Christ and most certainly, as Christ himself did when he walked this earth, we are show charity, kindness and love.

But the true and perfect light and the good works of today’s gospel that we are to show to the world that they to come to know God is that of Christ.

Our light and good deeds that we take to others is our confession of the truth of what we like Paul, have come to know for ourselves.

The truth of not what we think or argue over in our minds, not the truth of our human logic, but the clear and un movable truth of Christ and His message of the Gospel that is not part of, but the entirety of the power to bring those placed before us to know the Lord and His peace.

Our good works and deeds are our testimony to the truth that though born of worldly sin and falling constantly to its charms and its persuasive ways, it does not condemn. For when we knew Him not, the Lord came to us that as He was to die on a cross, so too our sins so that as He was raised to life eternal, so too in Him are we. And that we still fall to sin and hear those condemning judgments from the devil and our own logic of being not good enough and needing to earn our salvation, we discard them for the lies they are and listen not to ourselves, but to Christ himself who has told us, that though you still fall to sin you need not despair. For on the cross I gave my life you. And in faith in Christ alone as the one who has brought the gifts of forgiveness, salvation and eternal life, those gifts are now yours.

The truth of Christ is our peace in this world and our light to the world, for in him the scriptures tells us not to wonder of our last day, but to know that this day, that today in faith, belief and trust in Christ you have received eternal life, and that having accepted Christ, He has promised:

“that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

And though be we in weakness, fear and much trembling, or of power and authority”, our true peace is not of that which is merely the absence of trouble, but in the presence of our Lord who though we see Him not, walks with us, holding and sustaining us in faith that though like the thief on the cross we see His paradise not, we hear His words for ourselves and know them to be true in the present as much as they are in the future, that “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise”. Amen.