The final Judgment.

The Text: Matthew 25:31-46

 As good Lutherans, we’ve all been taught we’re saved by grace through faith in Christ alone. We’re not saved by our good works because we’ll never be good enough. Only Christ is good enough. We believe this.

But at first glance, what Jesus says to us today challenges our thinking a bit. It seems in that great and glorious Day of the Lord when we stand in front of our God in judgment, we’re going to be split up into two teams. These two teams will not compete against each other to see who wins, because the result has already been decided.

The ones selected for the winning team will inherit the kingdom of God, which has been prepared for them since the foundation of the universe. Obviously we want to be on that team!

Why? Because the other team of losers are the ones who will enter the eternal fire of hell, which has been prepared for the devil and all his angels.

It’s entry into heaven or hell. We’ll be blessed or cursed. That’s the choice, but it’s not our choice. God chooses. By this time the result is already decided and we can’t appeal his decision.

So the obvious question is: ‘How do we know which team we’re going to be on?’

You might think from today’s text that the answer seems to be based on good works. In other words, those who do all those good things like feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the sick and those in prison, and so on, well, they’re in. They go to heaven.

But if you’re not merciful and gracious enough, then you’re out!

So, how many of us are confident we’ve done enough, we’ve ticked all the boxes and willingly and regularly helped those in need?

I thought so!

It seems that the greatest and most unforgivable sin Jesus mentions here is inaction! If you don’t help, serve, show mercy, or welcome people, you’re in deep trouble!

For this reason, this text has the power to make us very worried! After all, how many times have we not acted when we should have? How many times have we kept our hands in our pockets when we saw someone in need of basic help, and did nothing? How many times have we made a conscious decision not to help, or serve, or provide, or give, or visit, or bless?

How often do we think or hope that someone else will feed them, give them a drink, donate to that appeal, or visit them, and so on? How often do we think it’s only the pastor’s job or the elder’s job to visit the shut in and help the needy?

In this case, when you stand in front of Jesus, how do you think he’ll answer you when you say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, but I thought so-and-so was supposed to do that!’?

Jesus is saying our acts of grace and mercy to other people are not optional, but essential – in fact our salvation is dependent on them!

Well, so far it sounds like if we don’t perform acts of mercy by feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, providing clothes for those without, or visiting the sick or those in prison, then we’re not going to heaven!

So does that mean faith in Jesus isn’t essential anymore? Isn’t this a little different to what we’ve been taught?

Haven’t we all been taught we’re saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone and not by what we do or don’t do? Have we got it all wrong?

No, because there’s something else strange in this text.

Note the ‘blessed ones’ didn’t even know they were helping Jesus!

They’ve been naturally feeding the hungry, providing drink to the thirsty, welcoming the strangers, covering the naked with clothing, and visiting the sick and those in prison.

For them it was no surprise Jesus expected them to do these things, because they did it naturally anyway, but the surprise for them is when they did these things, no matter what the person looked like or how they acted, they were doing it to Jesus himself!

So here Jesus tells us he fully identifies himself with the hungry, the thirsty, the foreigner, the naked, the sick and those in prison, so much so, that when we provide for these people’s basic needs, we’re doing it for Jesus himself!

This is because Jesus doesn’t abandon the needy, but is there with them in their hunger, in their thirst, in their sicknesses, and in prison with them.

And we thought Jesus is only present in churches! Imagine going to prison and seeing Jesus there! Imagine seeing a homeless person sleeping under a bridge, and that’s where Jesus is!

Now, this doesn’t mean we do these things just because we know we’re doing it for Jesus, but because we’re naturally merciful to all people.

You see, for those who believe in Jesus, helping the needy isn’t an optional extra, but a natural part of their life; a natural extension of their faith in Jesus. In fact only a believer will live in the way this text directs.

To make it plain: Good works won’t save you and get you into heaven. Jesus alone saves you. So yes, you’re saved by grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ alone.

But what Jesus is saying here is this gift of grace to have faith in Christ alone doesn’t come alone.

The more we are exposed to the work of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God and his holy Sacraments, the more we receive Christ’s nature. The more of Christ’s nature we receive, then the more naturally we care for the needy because Jesus identifies and cares for the needy.

So, although faith in Jesus isn’t mentioned, it’s implied because:

Only those who have received the grace of God will become gracious people.

Only those fed and nourished by God will feed and nourish others.

Only those visited by God will visit other people.

Only those healed through the blood of Jesus will visit and care for those who are still sick.

Only those clothed by the righteousness of Christ will seek to cover up other people’s shame by clothing them.

Only those who have been freed from the prisons of hate and fear and guilt will go to visit those in prison.

In other words, Christ-centred people will naturally become needy-centred people. It almost goes without saying then: self-centred people will naturally ignore the needy.

Notice we’re not expected to heal people or release them from prison, etc, but simply supply their basic needs – a meal, a drink, clothing, welcoming, and visiting. No big miracles required, just little ministries of grace and mercy. Those who love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, will also love their neighbours, and show it in real, tangible actions. This is something we can all do, no matter how young or how old – just to help as you are able.

All of us have the ability to help those who are vulnerable and needy in society: the ones most other people isolate or ignore, such as the infirm, the lonely, those in nursing homes, the foreigner, the outcast, the unborn, and so on.

Strangely, as we attend to the needs of others, we’re also attending to our own salvation. Notice this doesn’t mean we’re saved by our good works. Again, to make it clear, we’re saved through faith in Jesus Christ alone! But the result of having faith in Christ is our natural service to those around you.

This is because the fruit of our faith is shown – not through our holier-than-thou attitudes or long-winded sermons, but through our actions. Jesus expects good fruit to be produced on a good tree; and good fruit will naturally be produced on every tree firmly rooted in Christ alone. Those who don’t produce good fruit simply aren’t firmly rooted in Christ.

Christ is preparing us through his Word and feeding us with his very own body and blood, which carries his grace-filled and merciful nature to us.

The Holy Spirit is equipping us for works of service which will minister to the needs of those around us – to feed the hungry, provide a drink to the thirsty, welcome the alien or stranger, clothe those not adequately dressed, and visit those who are sick or who feel imprisoned.

Our help may not always be appreciated, but if we choose not to ignore their needs and do these things Jesus talks about, we may be surprised to find we’re feeding and helping Jesus himself.

Then we’ll be on the team surprised to hear those most welcome words of Jesus, ‘Come into the kingdom of heaven which has been prepared for you since the foundation of the universe.’

And may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

The Last Sunday of the Church Year

Jeremiah 23:6
n His days Judah will be saved and Israel will dwell in safety, and His name will be called The Lord our righteousness.

The king will reign. This is the end of the church year, we have been on a journey from the coming of Jesus through His life, death, resurrection and ascension, to Pentecost the birth of His church, the way He calls us to live as saints throughout all time and place and these last few weeks, looking toward the end of this world. But one thing stays true, the King will reign. Drought, fire, dust and smoke Jesus says true to you, you have nothing you need to fear, not even spiders or snakes, but do be wary of the dangerous ones. Wars and conflicts, but the gates of hell will not overcome Christ’s church that you are a part of in Holy baptism. This kingdom will know no end.

But this corrupt world will. Jeremiah in his time saw the end of the kingdom of Judah, a kingdom lead mostly by men who rejected God, they went their own way, worshipping other gods and other kingdoms. Now two things, shepherd, really grazier or tender, describes rulers, they are supposed to tend to the people in the land. The second thing, God promised His people through Jeremiah, now the promise was partially fulfilled through the destruction of the kings of Judah, the exile and the restoration of the Jewish state by king Cyrus the Persian, but more fully Jesus fulfils the promise when He came, Son of David, Son of God, to save God’s people and continues to raise up shepherds over us today. This is true, yet we can’t fully see it until the final revelation at the end, when all is finished, fulfilled, perfected. So when God through Jeremiah is speaking to the ancient Jews, He is also speaking to you.

We Christians, followers of the truth, those who trust Christ Jesus the King of kings. We have been scattered across this world and divided by different teachings, different ways of life. The leaders across the globe reject God’s way of forgiveness and peace, even here in Australia they can forget they are called to tend to all those in this land, not just their friends or family. This is also a warning to me as your pastor, latin for shepherd here in this pasture. Leaders in the church are not immune to sin and the attacks and deceptions of the devil. Political or military power is one thing, but you have authorised me to have spiritual power over you, pray I don’t abuse it teaching in such a way that you are pointed to yourself rather than pointed to Jesus and your salvation and life in Him. Wrong teaching can destroy you, this is why it’s a scary thing to lead God’s people, the one who has been given much, much will be expected (Luke 12:48). And there will be a judgement at the end, under Jesus justice and righteousness will be the law of the land, the evil shepherds will be destroyed and those who reject Jesus the king killed, no more will God’s people be lead astray or abused, the devil and all his demons will be executed.

You will be free. Today you are freed from your sins, saved from the devil who accuses and tricks you, in Jesus you are safe. And here is the wonderful news, you and I don’t have to rely on ourselves, on what we have done or failed to do; you don’t have to rely on your good life, or your confession, and you don’t need to be afraid or doubt Christ’s words to you, given to you for the forgiveness of your sins. This beautiful good news is the name of the king, the Son of David, the Lord our righteousness. Jesus is your righteousness, it is not about you, He has done it, it’s not about me, Jesus saves, it is not about our words, He is the one who has promised and He fulfils all God’s Word. In Jesus you are washed clean of all your failures, all your sin, all the evil you have done. You are forgiven, you are safe. When Christ Jesus, God Almighty, comes as judge you have no reason to fear because He has already rescued you from the kingdom of darkness and evil, as Paul wrote, and brought you through baptism into His kingdom, redeemed you and reconciled you to Himself; you have peace through His blood, joined to His death in baptism and now alive in Him who makes you righteous. The judge can’t judge Himself, even if He did He is wise, caring, just and righteous, straight to God’s kingdom for you. And that is what Jesus your righteousness has already said to you.

This is the end of the year, next week we’ll start again looking forward to the coming of Jesus Christ. You do not need to fear or distress because for you and all Christians the judgement has already been made, you live now in the New Creation, Jesus Christ. We just have to wait until God reveals it to us, and with the conflict, disease, fire and drought, we might not have to wait too long for peace, joy and life everlasting.

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

Joseph Graham.

Last Sunday of the Church year 25th November

John 5:24

Truly truly I say to you, those listening to my word and believing Him who sent me have life eternal and does not come into judgement, but rather has passed from death into life.

God’s many promises through baptism are a special thing. Paul writes to the Romans (chapter 6) that we are baptised into Jesus Christ’s death and so surely now live with Him and await the time when our bodies will too become like His. To fully come into that eternal, limitless life that He has promised right here, those who listening to my word and believing Him who sent me have eternal life. And it’s a very special thing to see God promising these things again in baptism today. A special thing on a special day in the church year, the last Sunday when we look forward to that full realisation of all God’s promises, the return of Christ Jesus the King. When He comes again and we with all Christians, saints of all time, see our salvation. Free not just from the power of sin and the fear of death, but completely free from all evil, sin, wickedness and living in the full and perfect life that God gave us all by promise through baptism.

In this chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus responds to the hatred of those who rejected Him because He spoke of God Almighty as His equal. But as we confessed earlier Jesus is equal with the Father, and the Holy Spirit; and He declares it here too. Jesus is not just a great teacher and holy, righteous man, He is God. Just as the Father wakes the dead and makes them alive, so too does Jesus; The Father has given authority to judge all to Jesus; to honour Jesus is to honour the Father. Jesus is divine, He is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit as the only true, almighty and lifegiving God. And He tells us to listen to Him and believe the one who sent Him. Each and every one of you, to listen and believe, and what does Jesus tell you?

He tells us that no one is perfect, that we all make mistakes, that you sin and you need help. But it’s not just that, it’s not just a surface thing that we can put off or give up; He tells us through Paul and the Psalmists that no one here on earth seeks for the one true God, there is no one who is righteous no one who understands, all have fallen short and utterly failed (Romans 3:10-18; Psalms 14, 53, 5, 140, 10). A few weeks back we hear Jesus’ words, it is impossible for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (Mark 10:27), and Paul also tells us that by our own human effort we cannot understand anything of God (1 Corinthians 2:14) that His words are foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18) He even describes us as dead in trespass and sin, following the course of this world (Ephesians 2:1-3) picking up that imagery from Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37). Truly speaking, without Jesus and the Holy Spirit that is who we are, that is what we are dead and foolish to God’s wisdom.

And if that was all He said we would be the most pitiable people on the planet. But Jesus, God Himself, did rise from the dead; He is alive! Risen indeed! God created all living things, He makes life from nothing and Jesus too makes life, generates it, is it. Someone with a cold passes on the cold, and someone with and infectious disease passes on that disease and the death that goes with it; but Jesus is the opposite of death, He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life! (John 14:6) Instead of being destroyed by death, He is so much life that death becomes life. He is so holy that instead of being made unclean by touching the diseased He makes them clean, healing and forgiving. In His word He tells us clearly, you were dead, wicked and utterly selfish, but by God’s power, by His lifegiving you now have true life. Paul writes it like this, all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into His death, buried with Him on that Good Friday with sin paid for, destroyed and gone (Romans 6). You were joined together with Jesus in that death He died, so that, just as He was raised from the dead by the glory of The Father, you too might walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4). Joined together with Jesus on the cross and certainly we will be joined together with Him in the resurrection, that new and fulfilled life of divine peace and sinlessness. Dead to sin alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11).

Baptism is not just something we do because we listen to Jesus, it’s not just water and it’s not just a once off thing, done, dusted and forgotten. It is where we, by God’s power, promise and grace, are joined together with Jesus Christ, God become man, the beginning and end of our Christian life and our faith; from creation to the great apocalypse, everything that matters points to Jesus, the one our Heavenly Father sent. And so, you, who are listening to Jesus and are believing The Father’s promises are already joined to life eternal, even though you might not always see it. Being joined to Him you also share in His judgement, that has already been paid and resolved, nothing more needs to be said. You have already passed from death into life, dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. So live it by The Spirit’s strength!

Pastor Joseph Graham

Not all Beer and Skittles

John 18:36

StMarksIn my previous employment, coming towards to year 2,000 when there was a fear that the computers would simply crash due to how they were set up years before with the maximum year of 1999 installed, my employer must have spent tens of millions in updating all things P.C. to be year Y2K compliant.

In all seriousness that with the fear and hype going on at the time, to ensure all would be O.K. at the conclusion of that New Year’s celebrations: midnight 31’st December 1999 it was responsible management.

Yet as we know it all went off without a hitch and with the “wisdom” of hindsight I did amuse myself when one of the tech. guys speaking to us in middle management about all they’ve done also ridiculed the companies and countries that had not spent those millions and had the action plan that if anything did go wrong-they would just turn back the clocks.

It really did after the fact seem amazing to me that with all the technology we have that it couldn’t have been tested to be virtually 100% sure that the old systems were O.K. and gave me that same sense of irony as to when computers were first making their way in society we were being told that when we are all on board with such a great tool that the outcome will see us with so much extra leisure time on our hands that we won’t know what to do with it all. .

The promise of a life of all “beer and skittles” that not only never seemed to eventuate, but in many cases-in some sections, mostly-resulted in people having longer working days with less leisure time.

Do not get me wrong, I mostly like what technology has provided and since the dawn of time our world has been living in a world of advancement. Faster and more efficient methods of travel. Thankfully greater medicines and people of expertise that extend our lives. Mobile phones and social media that allow us to share our love with those we love no matter the location. Air conditioners in the heat, heaters in the cold and mechanisms to keep us safe from those with mechanisms to hurt us.

Yet somehow, in this we put pressure on ourselves in order to look and feel up to date and see our free time slaughtered on the altar of self-betterment and consumerism.

The need to be on a constant life of personal advancement of self and riches.  From good, to better, to best though falsely tricks us into thinking we are better educated, better skilled, and better moral people than ever before.  But are we?  Are you a better person than your parents, or their parents, or there parent’s parents?

Are we better than the people of past centuries, and if so what does that say about God?  Who after he had created humans, ‘…saw all that he had made, and it was very good.’?  Are we now, by our own effort, better people than God could ever make us?

In today’s Gospel we see the same scenario going on were Jesus is where He is, standing before Pilate because the Pharisees and the teachers of the law felt he got in their way of moral improvement as seem through their statements “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Jesus responds “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” …” In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.”  Jesus agrees that he is a king, but his kingdom is not outwardly recognizable.  It is not of this world.  It is not a kingdom defined by social, ethical or material advancement.  Jesus’ kingdom is about loss and not gain; about his disciples dying to self and taking up their cross.  Jesus is a king who came to suffer for those suffering and for those wanting forgiveness and for those “that knew not what they do.”

Should we strive in our lives to live better lives, to increase our skills of trade and communication? I certainly think so. But I know so-that Jesus did not go to the cross, suffered whippings, beatings and ultimately a humiliating death by crucifixion, just so we can be better people outwardly.

The good news of God’s kingdom is far more radical and life changing than just self-betterment or material improvement.  The kingdom of Jesus is a gift of restoration with him and renewal on the inside. Through the means of grace, baptism and Holy Communion, the gift of God’s kingdom are given, forgiveness, victory over sin, death and the devil.  No advancement, just total renewal.   The sacrifice and hard work of having to move from good to best, has already been offered by Jesus on the altar of the cross.  It was there that the best man payed the debt of the worst. It was there, hidden in suffering and selflessness, that Jesus’ opened a new way to God; where by his blood we are made the best we could ever be; inwardly, as written in Hebrews ‘our hearts are sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience.’ There was not and is not any visible advancement in the kingdom of God.  It is a “back to front” kingdom to which St Paul says ‘Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.’

We live in two kingdoms and there are a number of differences between the two. Between Jesus’ Kingdom and earthly ones.

The earthly kingdoms are sometimes built on force, with armies and killing.

In contrast, the kingship of Jesus never ends. Even when this earth is gone, and all the wars and killing of human beings has ended, the Kingdom of Jesus continues. When the last weapons of mass destruction have exploded and the earth has disappeared, the Kingdom of Jesus will continue. The Kingdom of Jesus is one where God wins the hearts and minds of people with his love. God’s love means God is the one who is killed. God is offered up as the sacrifice to destroy evil.

Actor Denzel Washington when addressing college graduates in May this year and after being asked for his advice replied with this:

“I’m going to keep it short,” “Number one: Put God first,” he said.  “Put God first in everything you do.” “Everything you think you see in me, everything I’ve accomplished, everything you think I have – and I have a few things,” said Washington. “Everything that I have is by the grace of God. Understand that. It’s a gift.”

Back tracking a little: In leading up to those remarks, the star of such films as Malcolm X, Training Day, Glory, The Book of Eli, and The Equalizer, said, “When I was young and started really making it as an actor, I came and talked to my mother and said, ‘Mom, did you think this was going to happen? I’d be so big and I’ll be able to take care of everybody and I can do this and I can do that.’”

“She said, ‘Boy, stop it right there, stop it right there, stop it right there!” he continued.  “She said, ‘If you only knew how many people been praying for you.’ How many prayer groups she put together, how many prayer talks she gave, how many times she splashed me with holy water to save my sorry behind.” 

“She said, ‘Oh, you did it all by yourself,'” (well) “‘I’ll tell you what you can do by yourself: Go outside and get a mop and bucket and clean these windows – you can do that by yourself, superstar.’”

“So, I’m saying that: because I want to congratulate all the parents and friends and family and aunties and uncles and grandmother and grandfathers, all the people that helped you get to where you are today,” Washington told the graduates.  “I’m going to tell you about three stories. I’m going to keep it short. I remember my graduation speaker, got up there

and went on forever, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.”

(But) “I’m going to keep it short,” he said, and then made his point about God and putting Him first in our lives.  “Number one: Put God first. Put God first in everything you do. Everything you think you see in me.  Everything I’ve accomplished, everything thing you think I have – and I have a few things. Everything that I have is by the grace of God. Understand that. It’s a gift.”

Jesus said ‘You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

And yet, Jesus invites not orders.  He encourages not demands.  He is the one who gives us worth, and so yes: become what you want. But be who you are and put Christ first just as He has put you first always remembering and relying of His love for you that allowed Him to say: to promise: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Amen

Photos don’t lie

“Photos don’t lie”

Matthew 25:31-46

A brief read of today’s Gospel text brings so many questions to me, and mostly in would questions about my outward actions and I don’t like it. Doing good works for salvation, fair dinkum most of the time I can hardly stand upright never mind be upright and tick all the boxes that this text seems to require.

Thinking of when I feed the hungry, welcome all strangers, give out cloths to those in need and  visit all the sick and those in jail gives me nightmares of judgement day like being on family feud and the three big crosses and the “eeeng” sound appearing between me and the judge. Sought of like we’ve surveyed one hundred people about your life and none of them gave you those answers.

So what to do? Well if I’m lost I might as well live for today and as I’m too old to change occupations again, I’m thinking I might brush up on my scripture so that I can use it to suit myself, somehow start a following where everyone sells all their assets and gives them toward the cause, being me. Buy a property in the hills and have 10 to 15 wives and live it up until our secret services decide enough is enough and storm the compound.

As inviting as that sounds, I still wouldn’t mind catching up with all you guys in eternity so I might take the alternate option and get myself a stainless steel diary, seek out at least one person per day in each of the categories, engrave each’s name in the book and so when raised on the last day, I grab my unperishable book of good works so that when I get to the front on the line at the pearly gates and when asked by St. Peter or whoever’s on that day of my worthiness we can have a conversation like this.



Steve Hibbard.

Well Mr. Hibbard to enter you must acquire one hundred points.

I thought so and so I have prepared this extensive catalogue of everything good I’ve ever done.

After a brief perusal, the gate keeper says very well-that gets you one point, what else do you have to offer.

Well, ur, uh-I was a Pastor of the Church.

Oh, O.K. then, you now have a tally of two points.

Things are not going well but then I notice one of the people I visited on the streets queue jumping and walking straight past me into the Holy City.

Hang on I say, I know that guy and he walked straight past and he didn’t even have his diary with him.

In which St. Peter replies Oh he doesn’t play your silly humanistic games.

Maybe I should build that harem in the woods. Or maybe I just should through myself at the feet of Christ and beg for His mercy and hear Jesus say, finally you get it.

As with much that the inspired Word of God teaches us, it’s about getting the horse back in front of cart.

To not say when I get my earthly possessions in order then I’ll serve the Lord, but to serve the Lord amongst our daily work now.

To not say, when I get my sin in order then I’ll be able to serve you, but to serve the Lord now amongst all our shortcomings and failures of being that great shining Christian on the hill.

And most importantly, to realise that our good works don’t even equate to being worth one ounce in the cargo of a convey of a thousand road trains towards our salvation, and see that the only possible way of salvation is not because of us and our deeds, but rather because of us and our limitations it is through the saving actions of Jesus Christ on the cross who still says today as he did to those he acquainted on the dusty roads in Israel-to the Jewish elite, to the prostitutes and to an unwashed career criminal on a cross next to him, that to believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, To believe He came to this earth to take our sins on himself and to have faith in His promise that in all this, you are forgiven in Him and in Him alone-your sins are forgiven and you will most surely as you sit here today-will enter the heavenly city not sneaking in through the back door, but ushered in by Christ himself amongst the euphoria of endless multitudes of angels singing and praising your arrival through your saviour, Jesus.

And that picture, which has already been taken and developed by God himself in his office in eternity is the freedom that allows us now to if not develop it here on earth, but to add some colour to our neighbours pictures and bringing a little sunshine to those in their cells of loneliness, addiction and grief.

Free to do so. What a great thing. To not have to worry about how you’ll pay off your heavenly  mortgage because it’s been paid out already. To not worry about the path of destruction behind us because we see that in our rear view mirror that even in that somehow God has used it for others and indeed for us to be here today and know the truth of His unending grace.

So together we through ourselves at our Lord’s feet and receive grace, forgiveness and salvation-and in that absolute fact, how could we do anything than help each other, our friends we know and those we don’t-because we are free to do so-thanks be to God. Amen.

Hang in – no matter what

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, Matthew 25:14-30

I’m not sure what I was thinking, but when I was younger I use to love pre-season football training. Alongside your team mates, pounding the pavement in 40 degree heat. Everyone struggling together. Sometimes cursing the strain and other times either encouraging or being encouraged by those alongside you to go a little further. People throwing up to a mix of laughter, congratulatory words of breaking through the pain barrier or just the sound of heaving bodies with nothing left to give but the desire to remain standing.

A year or so ago, one of those running alongside me lost his teenage daughter in a car accident. Lost his wife in divorce, his father in death and months later he himself was diagnosed with cancer and upon meeting up with him amongst such a time he remarked that it’s like those times in footy that when the bar is raised, you don’t really have a choice because you either rise to the challenge, or you go under.

In 1915 American physiologist Walter Bradford Cannon coined the phrase fight or flight to describe how we respond to perceived harmful events, attacks or a threat to survival. A situation felt by many during the Cold War between the Soviet Union and its allies and the United States and its allies. It was termed the Cold War because from the end of WWII until 1991 and though there were regional wars, the two superpowers never engaged directly in full-scale armed combat, they each did arm themselves heavily in preparation of a possible all-out nuclear world war. Each side had a nuclear deterrent that deterred an attack by the other side, on the basis that such an attack would lead to total destruction of the attacker: a doctrine of mutually assured destruction. And aside from the development of the two sides’ nuclear arsenals, and deployment of conventional military forces, the struggle for dominance was expressed via proxy wars around the globe, psychological warfare, propaganda and espionage, and technological competitions such as the Space Race.

They were troubling times where more than once, the inhabitants of this earth lived in the perception, and sometimes rightfully so, as in the Cuban missile crisis that at any moment life would cease as we know it. A time it would seem not unlike now where as I see on T.V. and read in the papers that once again people are building personal bomb shelters and preparing for the worst.  Or prepping as seems to be the phrase used these days.

Who knows maybe they might be right and as American singer Pat Boone said: “My guess is that there isn’t a thoughtful Christian alive who doesn’t believe we are living at the end of history. I don’t know how that makes you feel, but it gets me pretty excited. Just think about actually seeing, as the apostle Paul wrote it, the Lord Himself descending from heaven with a shout! Wow! And the signs that it’s about to happen are everywhere.”

Or there again they may be wrong because in Mark 14:32 we are told that “of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” And this is more in keeping with Paul’s message to the Thessalonians in today’s epistle where he in realization that they are falling into calculating end dates and a little too focused  about the shadows approaching and the later Glory, rather than living hopefully in the day to day.

Paul’s advice to the Thessalonians and indeed to us encourages us to live hopefully now knowing that though the day we know not, we do know that with faith in Christ; we have been given the birthright of people of the light.

Fight or Flight. I remember making a representative cricket team and coming in at number five we had lost three wickets for only two runs. I soon found out why because never prior or never since have I faced such a fast bowler. A bowler mind you that later I found out later was a loud out of a minimum security prison on the weekends to play and I’m glad I didn’t know that at the time because I didn’t need to add any more distractions to the fact that I did not see at all the first ball he bowled to me and playing in the time between cricket helmets being available but not used because to do so would be considered soft, I was recessing thoughts of such bravado because it was clear in my mind that should this man bowl me a well-directed bouncer at my head-I was a dead man.

I was punching way above my weight level but somehow scratched out about twenty runs while both not wanting to get out while preferably not being killed in the process and in doing so, my view on protective batting helmets was forever changed.

Fight or flight moments can forever change our views on people and situations and in our time of Cold War like concerns, Paul gives us some good advice

“But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness ……………………you children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.  So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep but let us be awake and sober.  For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night.  But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.  For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up….”

People of the light that St. Peter declares in 1 Peter 2:9 to “be a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.”

Today’s Gospel talks of using our talents which each and every one of us have. To use them rather than to bury them away not to build our own kingdom, but to build his kingdom and help all and sundry along the way.

We saw that video clip of Elizabeth Boyle where at the end the judges are like where have you been and to which we find out later she had been performing, but only in her little village. She had not buried her talent but know it was put even more on show through her singing and particularly for me her first album which was basically full of hymns.  The voice of an angel that would ultimately see me driving my little black sports car with the roof off with her version of amazing grace blaring and Cathy making mention of the somewhat unusual combination the two together may seem to some.

We may not have the voice of an angel but we do have the voices of the angels and all the company of heaven who cheer us on in both times of doubt and worry and in times fulfilment and contentment that in putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet and secure in our Saviours arms we need not fight nor flee but be present in the lives and situations of those around that the Lord brings before us that let the fruits of your labours be in abundance and the fruit of the Spirit in you bring love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness.

Some people’s talent is put on show for all to see and in the rough and tumble game of AFL none is greater than Gary Ablett Junior.  Some here may suggest that compared to league and union it maybe not that rough and tough but be that the case or not, it still is a highly aggressive and fierce body contact sport. Gary’s football talent is undeniably great but in a sport where every little thing can be used against you by the opposition it is with great admiration that I read in the Women’s weekly where in an interview he remarked openly “that he is a Christian, that Jesus is the most important thing to him and before every game he prays to God in Christ’s name including that he will not be badly hurt of injured.”

Great footballer and great confession. But no greater than yours that you take with you into your world that through having been given unfathomable fame and skill or just the right words in a seemingly chance encounter, all are alike before our Lord and Savior who sees those toiling amongst both the thorns and the good soil and looks in anticipation to “welcome home His good and trusted servants.” Amen.

If we could turn back time


“If we could turn back time”

Matthew 25: 1-13

If I could turn back time I would find a way to take back those words that hurt you and you’d stay

Too strong to tell you I was sorry
Too proud to tell you I was wrong
I know that I was blind.”

Words from Musicians Cher’s late 80’s song if I could turn back time that go well with the saying “If I had my time again…” and I’m sure there are many things we wish we could change from the past. But would we really want to go back and not just change a particular incident if had to start everything again. Personally even if I wanted too I wouldn’t and I couldn’t  because in being forewarned of what lies ahead I honestly don’t know if I could make it through a second time.

But those words from Cher could also apply to the five virgins from today’s Gospel who unprepared for the lord’s return beg to enter His kingdom with “Lord, lord, open (the door) to us only to hear the most harrowing words of  “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you” finishing with a warning to all through history “Watch therefore, for you know not the day nor the hour.” It is a parable that can unsettle us like the parable of the sheep and the goats from Matthew 25:31 where “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. (and) before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the king will say to those on his right, Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the earth.”

The separation of the sheep and the goats, the good and the bad does not always sit comfortably with me as I imagine when my eulogy is read at my funeral the things I’ve done  through life may be a lot different to one’s that that stick in my mind. Ironically, during the sorting of the sheep and the goats, both groups are just surprised as the other of their fate with the unsaved asking when did we do wrong and with the saved asking when did we actually do anything good.

A man was on death row awaiting execution the very next day for the life he took at a convenience store when at 17 years old and under the grip of drugs and needing a fix in a bungled hold up shot and killed an innocent man remarked that though that person I was twenty years ago I don’t even know now, I know what I’ve done and I’m sorry for it and so tomorrow I will get what I deserve and I are not angry because locked behind these bars I’ve found what I don’t deserve and that is forgiveness in Jesus.

When I was sixteen my friend and I were waiting for the last bus out of the city at the end of Hindley Street,  which is Adelaide’s equivalent of King’s cross  when about 12 youths of the same age attacked us. Three were punching and kicking me in the face with the others bashing my friends head against a brick wall and too this day I do not know how I somehow  managed to wrestle from my attackers and rip my friend from their grasp and escape. He was badly beaten and not thinking soundly and upon getting home to the house in North Adelaide about two kilometers away he started his Toyota tray top and loaded his 303 rifle. I tried to calm him down but he was going with or without me and so with the view to talk him down there I am driving down Hindley Street with my friend and his loaded 303 on his lap. I drove to every spot I thought they would not me and it still scares me of how life would be so different if we had come across them. The earthly outcomes in our life can be split by a hair. The attendant at the convenience store who didn’t come that day to be killed  like his attacker never intentionally came to kill.

Two boys attacked and responding in ways they never thought possible by twelve others that once ate ice cream and watched cartoons before somehow being turned to rage on the world.

At the end of the book of Genesis, Joseph looked back on the sinful decisions his brothers made towards him out of jealously of firstly conspiring to kill him before rather receiving money by selling him to slave traders. The same Joseph that went onto to hold great power in Egypt and yet despite his many bad memories when given the opportunity to pay back to his brothers the same for same saw how God has been at work and responds to them with “You meant evil against me but God meant it for good, to bring about that many people should be kept alive.”

If we could go back in time and fall in error again, or remain here and see how a gracious God did not unleash his wrath on us, but send his Son to walk with us through those moments.

To go back in time to fix our wrongs and be a better person or remain here knowing of both the good and the bad that has brought us to throw ourselves at the mercy of Christ and know His forgiveness.

When my brother died alone on a lonely bush track I wished I could have done one of two things. Firstly to try and talk him out of it, and if I couldn’t, to be with him so he would not have been alone in such a time.

God doesn’t need to bring pain to our lives because as we did in the Garden of Eden so does the human race do a good enough job of it itself and yet though that be the case, He still makes the 5 virgins prepared that though we don’t know the day nor the time when we will meet Him in the flesh, in all ways he has met us now and like the sheep given eternal life and ask how can that be? We see it can only be through faith in Christ alone. Jesus Christ who did not discard us when we discarded Him. But the Jesus Christ who was with us at our worst but treated us as His best.

A Hymn writer in the 16th century penned these words:

“I know my faith is founded

On Jesus Christ, my God and Lord;

And this my faith confessing,

Unmoved I stand on His sure Word.

Our reason cannot fathom

The truth of God profound;

Who trusts in human wisdom?

Relies on shifting ground.

God’s Word is all-sufficient,

It makes divinely sure,

And trusting in its wisdom,

My faith shall rest secure.”

When my brother died I was in my first term at the sem. And confused I prayed all night and after eventually falling asleep I awoke with the clearest of thoughts. A sure but not accusing “It did not have to end this way” and then “know my Word.”

Though we travel by faith in times of shifting ground and hardships we still are led to ask why? Not a why of disbelief in our Lord and Savior but a question asked through faith in our Lord and Savior and though that question might linger in reason we cannot fathom, unmoved we stand on the only sure ground we have which is the sure and all-sufficient inspired Words of The Father, the Son and Holy Spirit who tell us:

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed to us” so “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith” “whose Word does not return empty, but accomplishes what He desires and achieve the purpose for which He sent it.” To know “that the punishment that has brought us peace was upon Him, and by his wounds we are healed.” And your “Faith has come from hearing the message that is heard through the Word of Christ” and in His Word “Who shall separate you from the love of God. Shall trouble or hardship, or famine and weakness, or danger or sword. No in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” “For neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will able to separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus your Lord.”

And to us as to the Roman jailor who in fear called to Paul and asked “what must I do to be saved” we hear his reply to both that man in the dungeons imprisoning innocent Christians and to us here in His Holy house: “To believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.”

All in faith and you here today:

The Lord has blessed you and kept you.

The Lord has made His face shine on you and been gracious to you

The Lord has looked upon you with His favor

And so in those gifts:

You have been given the right to be in peace and rejoice in all things knowing and never questioning that as you sit here today, in heaven together with the angels and the archangels, and all the company of heaven, there too you will stand. Praise be to Christ. Amen.

Shackled and drawn

“Shackled and drawn”

Luke 23:33-43

Billy Graham said “If ever you should doubt the love of God, take a long, deep look at the cross, for in the cross you find the expression of God’s love.” The word expression stands for the manifestation or materialisation and in today’s Gospel God’s love is shown for what it is without need for in-depth theological debate or discussion as we see two criminals of equal offenses and receiving equal earthly justice on either side of the sinless Son of God. Two sinners both out of time to fix their wrongs and out of time to ask for a stay of their sentence that they start again and walk a better road and yet under the sure shadow of death, one is given life as he looks to Jesus next to him and in knowing who he is and what he stands for and in asking simply for Jesus to “Remember me when you come into your kingdom”, hears “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise”.

A miracle performed. Not a miracle performed that Jesus brings forgiveness to one who has lived a life in all the wrong places, but the miracle that this criminal has come to see the truth of Jesus. The truth that in him that regardless of how far we have fallen, he offers forgiveness without question, and should we simply accept it in him alone we too “will be with him in paradise”.

When I was very, very young (about six years old) I remember thinking about the terrible pain Jesus must have suffered on the cross, but also remember that as horrific as it was, that if only I could know for sure like Jesus did that he was going to heaven, that if I knew for sure that I too would go to heaven it would be so life changing that I wouldn’t have to be sad or worry about things or to have to have toys like others, because why would I?

Unfortunately it took me another twenty years to kneel at the base of the cross and understand the grace of God like the forgiven criminal on his cross. Twenty years of nightclubs, pubs and all manner of ills and ways of clothing myself with shields to not think of just how lowly I stood before God only to find out what I had wished for right from the start, and that my road to Jesus is not one I wouldn’t necessarily recommend, it was the road that maybe I had to travel to understand the unconditional love and forgiveness of God and know his grace. That though I did not know it as I travelled through many dangers, toils and snares, it was the grace of God that brought me through it, and only in his grace can I reside as he leads me home.

Our journeys to know the grace of God like the criminal on the cross are different. That some have known the truth of His love early in life and some not so is of no consequence when we hear his words of grace in our lives. His grace that allows to live without need to fear or be anxious. His grace that allows us to really live and not need to keep up with the “jones’ or put up shields to protect ourselves from being hurt. His grace that brings freedom.

Unfortunately, I’m still learning and often these lyrics of Bruce Springsteen’s seem a little too close for comfort:

“Great morning light splits through the chain
another day older and closer to the grave
I’m closer to the grave and come the dawn
I woke this morning shackled and drawn

Pick up the rock, son, and carry it on
Trudging through the dark in a world gone wrong
Woke up this morning shackled and drawn”.

We are free in Christ to live today as His children. Living to love and serve Christ and His children. To show charity and hospitality to all who come before us and to strive daily to live as God would wish us. Yet still shackled and drawn by knowing what we are as though we try, we fail. Though we only need Christ, we seek more and though we don’t doubt the Lord’s love for us, we doubt our love for him.

We live feeling torn between knowing the truth of Christ and the truth of our fallen selves and that fight can be fierce as the same powers of darkness that placed Jesus on the cross look to take the truth of Christ from us.

The truth that like two criminals separated by Jesus on His cross, one to His left dying in His sin, and one to His right given eternal life in Christ we see ourselves. Jesus on His cross between us with our sin and death to His left, and His righteousness with us on His right that in Him, we too will most surely be with Him in paradise.

And though the powers of darkness may endeavor that we trudge through the dark in a world gone wrong shackled and drawn” as sung by Bruce in his songs opening lyrics, truth is those shackles have been released and like how he finishes the same song so to can we when he sings that:

I want everybody to stand up and be counted tonight
you know we got to pray together
I want everybody to stand up and be counted tonight

Because in kneeling at the cross of Jesus you are forgiven. And forgiven He lifts you up to stand free from death and sin, to be alive in His righteousness in this world and the world to come. Amen.

“When two worlds collide”

John 18:33-37

(With reference to John 18: 28 through John 19: 16)

“When two worlds collide”

On the battlefield two opposing forces collide, country against country and person against person and in either victory or defeat, all suffer and all lose. In victory or defeat-the task to both is great. To rebuild and carry on despite of the injustices each has suffered and to rebuild and carry on despite of the injustices that each has been a part off.

Earlier in the week a journalist wrote of a decorated soldier that had in the heat of battle showed valour almost beyond comprehension in drawing fire upon himself to save his colleagues. And she spoke of one of his character traits that is not championed in our world as it once was. Humility, and went on to say that in ancient Greece the stars of the day, the brave and the warriors were noted and admired for their unpretentiousness and meekness. Their humility: the knowledge of themselves yet the courage to stand and fight the fight they had been given.

Humility we see in others that despite suffering opinions and actions against them, don’t retaliate but carry on regardless. Humility that is required of us when we see the regard in which we are rightly or wrongly judged. Open hostility or even the side look to another or the uneasy pause. Significantly insignificant moment’s that you know are the mask of something going on, gossip, backstabbing and so forth. Moment’s that call on our courage and humility so that we don’t return fire, but carry on with our eyes focussed on the good in them.

In the Gospel today we heard five short verses, but five short verses that are formed from all humanity as it was then, all of humanity previous and all of humanity since, as Jesus the Son of God with great courage and humility stands before Pilate as two worlds collide. Like that sideways glance, behind these verses are a myriad of power plays, bending of the truths and when not getting things as wanted, character assignation and rumour in order to gets things as wanted and expected.

Although In the time of Jesus the Jews were subject to the Romans, the Romans still allowed them a good deal of self-government but not the right to carry out the death penalty and this is why Jesus ends up before Pilate. The Jews from start to finish knew they had to use Pilate for their purposes. This is the time of the Passover and everything was being carried out by the Jews according to ceremonial law with meticulous care: yet at the same time hounding to the Cross the Son of God. The Jews charge against Jesus was blasphemy but they knew that on this charge alone Pilate would dismiss their cries for the death penalty. So they brought Jesus to him on the trumped up charges of rebellion and political insurrection against Rome by accusing Jesus of claiming to be a king.

They knew they were lying by changing contexts but so being full of hatred they did not hesitate to twist the truth and in order to feed this lie they denied every principle they had. The most being their declaration before Pilate that “We have no king but Caesar”. This statement must have taken Pilates breath away as in previous history, when the Romans had insisted the Jews were liable to pay taxes to them, the Jews declaring “that God alone was their King” revolted in the most bloody of rebellions.

In the hatred that had overcome them, the Jews were prepared to abandon every principle they had in order to eliminate Jesus.

Then there’s Pilate who must have wished he’d stayed in bed that day. Throughout the whole trial it is abundantly clear that Pilate knew that the charges against Jesus were a series of lies. Knew that Jesus was innocent, was deeply impressed when meeting him and did not want to condemn him. But from early events the Jews owned Pilate, and he and they both knew it.

When Pilate was given charge of this part of the Roman Empire he was involved in a series of over the top, not understanding the culture heavy handed actions. Events that resulted in the Jewish authorities complaining to head office-Caesar, who in response disciplined Pilate.

Pilate was on “probation” so to speak and any more complaints would not be good for his career as he was well “reminded” by the Jews in the trial when they blackmailed him by saying “If you let this man go, you are not Caesar’s friend”.

Pilate had tried every avenue at his disposal: He had Jesus whipped and beaten hoping that it would bring some pity out in the Jews, for them to say O.K. enough is enough. Had brought Jesus before them under the Passover custom of releasing a prisoner. Debating with them, almost pleading Jesus’ innocence before them but to no avail as they sided for the release of a freedom fighter named Barabbas. Yet again we see two worlds’ collide: Barabbas fighting for freedom by force, and Jesus fighting for Freedom with love.

Pilate used all the tools he had at his disposal to stop an innocent man being killed, but could not display the courage to just do the right thing no matter what the consequence. Yet knowing our own short comings and self- serving, somehow one cannot help but feel sorry for Pilate. He wanted to do the right thing; but he had not the courage to defy the Jews and do it. Pilate crucified Jesus in order to keep his job.

All players involved are self-serving and lacking the courage to face up to or stand up for the truth. All except Jesus: The man who raised the dead, healed the unhealable and at any moment could have brought this sham of a situation to an end, in humility lets it take place that the he may bring the offer of salvation to those from whom he suffers.

Jesus in his humility, in the knowledge of himself, the Son of God, the sinless one who had done only good, in courage fought his fight by allowing himself to be ridiculed, spat on, terribly beaten and to die in the most feared manner.

You may ask where’s the Gospel in this sermon. Yes, that was a bit of a history lesson. But a lesson that though from the past, tells of our future. In Jesus, back then and as is now two worlds collide. Yet as this happens, Jesus at the end of his earthly walk and while looking over his tormentors, and now to us-speaks.

Luke 23:34 “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

And that is the Gospel of our Lord. Amen.


An inside out Kingdom

An inside out kingdom John 18-33-37


Here I have an old telephone (old black wall phone)…here I have the latest
and best (A mobile).

Here I have an old way of recording music (a vinyl record)…and here is the latest (an ipod).  Advancement is good.  Getting better, being greater, having more is what life is all about; as the rhyme goes:

Good better best, never let it lest, until your good is better and your better’s best!

You and I live in a world of advancement.  Everything is going from the good to the greater; from the better to the best!  Our way of knowing who we are personally and even collectively as a nation or kingdom of people, is to judge how we have improved.  Advancement is the ruler we use to measure who we are; it defines us as a person; whether we have advanced from good to best gives us worth and value in our own eyes and in the eyes of the world.  To go the other way, to lose it, to go from best to good or from everything to nothing…from new to old…installs in us the feeling that we are worthless.

You and I are part of, and contribute to, the make up of this kingdom, in which we live; a kingdom that is addicted to advancement; a kingdom of individuals that judge and define self-worth by the measure of advancement.  Look at the pressure we put ourselves under in order to fertilize, nurture and grow the seeds of advancement; to look and feel up to date. Where has the 38 hr week gone?  Where has the lazy Saturday morning and the weekend off with the family gone?  Where is the one wage household gone?  Gone to the god of advancement.  And like all false god’s, the god of advancement demands a sacrifice.  The sacrifice is our time.  And our free time is slaughtered on the altar is consumerism.

It doesn’t stop there.  Consumerism is only the symptom of something more sinister and evil.  There is another kingdom devoted to advancement that drives everything else, and that is our own very being; our ego, as the psychologists describe it.  St Paul calls our personal advancement driver the sinful nature.  He writes ‘I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.’  We can’t carry out good because that would mean someone else would advance ahead of us…now ‘that’s unfair’.  Who’s had to teach your children to say that? No, its comes naturally!

The sinful nature, our natural inclination or instinct is to advance ourselves.  We feel we need to be on a constant continuum of personal advancement.  From good, to better, to best.  This desire and need is driving the whole scientific idea of evolutionary theory and turning it into a belief system, with the core belief being that we are constantly evolving into better and better people.  Evolutionism, not evolutionary theory, which is true science, has the sinful nature as its driving force.  It falsely tricks us into thinking we are better educated, better skilled, better moral people than ever before.  But are we?  Are you a better person than your parents, or their parents, or there parent’s parents?  Is natural evolution responsible for making us into better people?

If we are better than the people of past centuries, what does that say about God?  Who after he had created humans, ‘…saw all that he had made, and it was very good.’?  Are we now, by our own effort, better people than God could ever make us?

The sinful nature, which wants to take the place of God and be king, is what drives us to desire personal advancement.  But because we are not the creator, but the created, we can never become our best.  So when we see others advance ahead of us, or when someone who disrupts our advancement, we get angry.  The desire to advance the Jewish nation and religious customs is what drove the Jews to send Jesus to Pontius Pilate.  It drove the Jews, the scribes and the teachers of the law, to demand Jesus’ execution.

For them, Jesus was a failure.  He was not advancing their desire for the Jewish kingdom.  What king owns nothing?  What king rides into town on a donkey?  What king claims he will tear down the temple, when he should be building it even bigger?  He didn’t even seem to advance himself socially and more importantly…morally.  The Pharisees and the teachers of the law felt he got in their way of moral improvement and often muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”  Even Pilate was somewhat amused an inquired “Are you the king of the Jews?”

Jesus responds “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” …” In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.”  Jesus agrees that he is a king, but his kingdom is not outwardly recognizable.  It is not of this world.  It is not a kingdom defined by social, ethical or material advancement.  Jesus’ kingdom is about loss and not gain; about his disciples dying to self and taking up their cross.  Jesus is a king who came to suffer, to be destroyed and to be torn down, as he said “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

Jesus tried to tell everyone he met, that his kingdom, God’s kingdom was at hand, ‘repent the kingdom of heaven is near’.  But many laughed, ridiculed and mocked him.  They could see no evidence of it.  No pomp and ceremony.  But there indeed was, if only they had eyes of faith.  Jesus said ‘my kingdom is from another place.’  Many today still mock Jesus saying ‘the world is no better?’  Even many of us who are Christians still look for signs of advancement; signs that God’s kingdom is indeed near…miracles, conversions, people suddenly cured of disease. We want to see sin eradicated from the church and people passionate about their faith.

We want and expect of ourselves and each other the advancement motto ‘Good better best, never let it lest, until your good is better and your better’s best!  Is Christian ethics what Jesus was all about?  Is the requirement of the kingdom of God to be the best person you can be?  Would Jesus really have gone to the cross, suffered whippings, beatings and ultimately a humiliating death by crucifixion, just so we can be better people outwardly? Is worldly advancement worth going to the cross?

The good news of God’s kingdom is far more radical and life changing than just social or material improvement.  The kingdom of Jesus is a gift of restoration with him and renewal on the inside. Through the means of grace, baptism and Holy Communion, the gift of God’s kingdom are given, forgiveness, victory over sin, death and the devil.  No advancement, just total renewal.   The sacrifice and hard work of having to move from good to best, has already been offered by Jesus on the altar of the cross.  It was there that the best man payed the debt of the worst.

It was there, hidden in suffering and selflessness, that Jesus’ opened a new way to God; where by his blood we are made the best we could ever be; inwardly, as written in Hebrews ‘our hearts are sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience.’ There was not and is not any visible advancement in the kingdom of God.  It is an inside-out kingdom, as St Paul says ‘Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.’

Let me demonstrate how the kingdom of God renews us inwardly. (get a candle and put it straight up and down, to demonstrate how we think as Christians we need to get better and better, to be like Jesus and to be nearer to Jesus..  Then, tip the candle on the side.  This demonstrates the Christian life is not a ladder, but a renewing.  Outwardly we may look and feel the same; sometimes better, sometimes worse.  The wick is the Holy Spirit inside us.  Light the candle, and the flame is Christ.  As Christ shines in our heart, the Holy Spirit is taking away more and more of us and our self-righteousness, as John the Baptist said ‘He must increase, I must decrease.’  The Holy Spirit reveals our sin so we can recognize sin and then don’t want to go there.  Finally, only the Spirit and Jesus remain at death, our works and good deeds have no-bearing.

Jesus said ‘You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” Jesus invites not orders.  He encourages not demands.  He is the one who gives us worth, it is he who says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”