Glory – on God’s Terms

The text: John 12:20-33

What would you see as the most glorious thing that could happen to you? Receiving an Australia Day award? Being praised in the presence of others? Gaining recognition in the newspaper for something you’ve done? One of our daily newspapers has a 15 Minutes of Fame column. A person was randomly chosen by a reporter who wrote up a brief sketch of that person’s life for the newspapers. But human fame and glory is quickly forgotten.

God’s idea of glory is totally different. Prior to their wedding day, a pastor was discussing marriage vows with a young couple. The man objected to the words in the vow “’til death do us part”. “Can’t you change the words?” he asked. “I don’t want death mentioned on my wedding day.” For God, death and glory aren’t incompatible. Nothing brings God greater glory than the death of His Son Jesus Christ for us. Jesus wanted God to be glorified by His perfect obedience to the will of God, no matter what the cost.

God doesn’t seek glory by means of a spectacular, sensational public relations stunt. Instead, God hides His glory in the life, suffering and death of Jesus our Saviour. Our world glorifies power, success, strength and affluence. God reveals Himself most fully in the humiliation, vulnerability and weakness of the Cross. The cross of Christ is the hiding place of God’s saving power and glory. We see our Saviour’s glory in His suffering because it shows how much He loves each and every one of us; we see His love in His excruciating agony on the Cross, as it reveals how He sacrificed everything for us. We cannot really understand Jesus apart from His Cross. It is central to why He came to our earth to be one of us, with us.

The Cross of Christ is the climax of His identification with us as mortal men and women. There, Christ carried out His mightiest work of salvation for us. The Cross both reveals and condemns our sin and guilt, and takes it away. We are eternally indebted to Jesus for what He did for us there. In the words of the famous hymn, Rock of ages:      

“Nothing in my hand I bring

 Simply to Your cross I cling.” (LHS 330)

In this morning’s text, some Greek visitors come to Jesus’ disciple Philip, perhaps because of his Greek name, and ask him: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” What a praiseworthy request! Philip is so excited that folk from the most intellectual and artistic nation of the time come to make contact with Jesus, that he quickly shares the news with his friend Andrew. At last Jesus is going to be recognised as a celebrity! They can’t wait to tell our Lord. Jesus responds that the great hour of His life has arrived.

These Greeks represent us, the Gentiles of the world. Their arrival anticipates Christ’s post-Pentecost mission. Jesus isn’t the latest philosopher or newest religious guru with a trendy recipe for self-advancement or self-enlightenment. Like a wheat crop, before there can be a harvest, grain must be buried in the ground. Jesus compares His mission to a grain of wheat. Before there can be the fruit of mission, of many people being won for Christ, He must sacrifice His life for us.

The sacrifice of His life on the Cross for each of us, and for all people of every race, has and will continue to draw more men and women to Jesus than all His miracles or unsurpassed moral teaching. Jesus wants us to be drawn to Him because of His suffering with and for us, and the sacrifice of His life instead of us, rather than because of His amazing miracles. We’re so reluctant to think or talk about our own or anyone else’s death. Jesus, however, views His death, as the greatest thing He’s done for us. We read in John 15:13, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends.” 

At the same time, giving His life for us wasn’t at all easy for Jesus. For us, often the anticipation of something painful, like going to the dentist, is worse than the event itself. Jesus doesn’t hide the anguish His imminent sacrifice of Himself for us was causing Him. The thought of it filled Him with deep agony: “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour?” was His painful plea as He anticipates his awful agony in the garden of Gethsemane. Who wants to die at the age of 33? Jesus’ obedience to God’s will came at great personal cost. But as today’s second Bible reading says, “He learnt obedience from what He suffered.” His private agony is transformed into a public confession of His obedience to God: “Father, save me from this hour? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.” (v27)

By His obedience to God the Father, Jesus came to undo and repair the damage caused by Adam and Eve’s disobedience to God. Nothing less than the future of all of us, of all humankind, was at stake. At any moment, Jesus could have said “no” to the Cross. But for our sakes, He was “obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” This gift of sacrificial love gives us a hope nothing can destroy. Martin Luther King Jr has said, “There are some who still find the Cross a stumbling block, others consider it foolishness. I am more convinced than ever that it is the power of God to social and individual salvation.”

We focus on the Cross of Christ during Lent because it speaks to us primarily of a fellow-sufferer who understands what it’s like for us to suffer and to be afraid of dying. Jesus hears your pain from His cross and not from the cosy comfort of an armchair. Jesus shares your suffering, physical or emotional, however great or small, in ways you can only begin to imagine. Your Saviour’s Cross means you can trust Jesus with your suffering, and discover that trusting Him is life-transforming. Jesus didn’t come to our world to answer your questions about why you’re suffering, but to fill it with His life-changing presence. No other sacrifice has changed as many lives as has Christ’s sacrifice for us. His sacrifice of Himself on the Cross attracts our gratitude because it was so undeserved. Jesus said, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I’ll draw all kinds of people to me (v32).” His death is the magnetism of an utterly selfless sacrifice. There’s something deeply moving about self-giving love, isn’t there? 

Life without sacrifice is a mean existence. We can either hoard what we have or sacrifice it in love for someone else. Jesus invites us to follow Him on the path of sacrificial service. “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves me (v27).” What a marvellous incentive to join Jesus on the path of sacrificial service. God will exceedingly honour such service. What’s more, Jesus calls those His friends, who serve Him in a way that sacrifices their preferences, their priorities and their inclinations. He says in John 15:15, “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing, but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from My Father.” To be called Jesus’ friend makes all we do for Him and for each other so very worthwhile, and fills life with meaning and purpose.

Jesus’ cross has transformed how we view life. Life isn’t about what we can get out of it for ourselves, but what we can give for the sake of others. Think of how much poorer our world would be without all those selfless folk whose first concern is always the welfare of others. They invite you to share their discovery, that “life’s happiest hours are those of self-forgetfulness.” We can lose ourselves in serving Jesus because He will never forget us.  


It can turn into an ‘Oh no’ moment.

The text: John 3:1-17

It can be a really nice thing to be comfortable in the presence of another person, perhaps a new friend or acquaintance, and to have them enthusiastically ask you whether you are a Christian. It gives you a sense of encouragement and confidence to answer truthfully, whole-heartedly and without any reservations, particularly if you think they are going to respond in turn by smiling, enthusiastically nodding and saying ‘me too.’ Sometimes, in less comfortable environments, we can feel the need to add a few gentle disclaimers about our faith or perhaps apologise for any indiscretions done in the name of the Christian faith that might somehow tarnish us. But when someone asks you with enthusiasm if you are a Christian, and you get the sense that they also are a Christian, it’s quite a good thing. I’m sure you have experienced that.

It can turn into an ‘Oh no’ moment however, when, having put your faith out there on the line and received an enthusiastic smile and nod in return from the other person, that they then ask you, ‘So, have you been born again?’ Perhaps you’ve experienced what I’m talking about. You thought you were about to deepen your relationship with this individual by sharing something very personal with them – your faith. You expected that you were about to feel closer to this person because you thought you were going to have something very important in common – your faith. But it turns into an ‘Oh no’ moment when they ask if you have been born again because it is clear that they see some distinctions between your Christian faith and theirs. Without unfairly caricaturing people like this, should you ever be in this situation, you can probably expect a long and drawn out theological discussion to follow about these distinctions between your faith and theirs and about what makes a real Christian. Inevitably it is bound to include things like adult baptism and a disregard for the baptism that you received as a child. You will probably be told that that baptism didn’t count. You’ll need to do it again as a consenting adult and there will probably be some other conditions on your new type of Christianity, perhaps extra evidence of your true faith by showing that you have the gift of speaking in tongues or something else like that. The message is: it’s time to move on from just being a Christian. That’s not enough. It’s time to be a born-again Christian.

I call these ‘Oh no’ moments because of course there’s no such thing as a born-again Christian. Or if there is, we are all born-again Christians. But really, if we wanted to get technical, we could say that there aren’t actually born-again Christians; there are only born-from-above Christians and I’ll let you know what I mean by that in a moment. Trying to explain this in pleasant company with a person who is determined to prove you wrong is hard work. Try it sometime, if you don’t believe me.

When the Apostle John recorded Jesus’ discussion with Nicodemus he used a Greek word that can have two meanings. It can be translated as ‘again’, as in one is born ‘again’; or it can be translated as ‘from above’ as in, one is born ‘from above’. It is a word superbly chosen by John to create a sense of the confusion between Jesus and Nicodemus. They seem to be talking about the same thing but really they are not. In fact, for quite a while they are talking past each other, a bit like us when someone asks us if we are a Christian and then takes us on the path I mentioned before.

A good comparison for Jesus and Nicodemus’ conversation is the old skit done by Abbot and Costello in the 50’s called ‘Who’s on First?’ One of the characters asks the other ‘Who’s on first?’, wanting to know the name of the player on first base in a baseball game. But the man who answers just says ‘Yes.’ It’s a strange answer because it doesn’t answer the question – ‘Who’s on first?’ ‘Yes’. As the skit goes on, however, you discover that the name of the man on first base is Who. ‘Who’s on first?’ ‘Yes’. But it gets more and more maddening for the person asking the questions because he doesn’t get it. He’s just confused. So then he asks, ‘What is the name of the player on second base?’ and the man who answers again says ‘Yes!’ This is extra frustrating for the person asking the questions because he doesn’t know but the name of the person on second base is, of course, Watt. And so the skit goes on and on with two people having a conversation both thinking that they know what they’re talking about but finding out that they are totally talking past each other.

So it was with Jesus and Nicodemus. Jesus says, ‘No one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born from above’ and a confused Nicodemus asks, ‘Born again? How can a grown person enter into their mother’s womb for a second time?’ Who’s on first Jesus? Yes.

I must admit I’ve got quite a soft spot for Nicodemus. He was considered to be a great teacher – Jesus even called him Israel’s teacher – so he was well-renowned and well-respected. He was a Pharisee, which meant that he really knew his stuff and would have studied the Old Testament in great detail for decades. He was a member of the Jewish ruling council so people looked to him for leadership and direction and he had the trust of the people. He was a man of great standing and stature, of enviable knowledge, age and wisdom. And there he is in the dark, coming to visit Jesus, a thirty-something, new kid on the block who doesn’t seem to have studied anywhere. Nicodemus, the great leader, needs some answers and he goes to Jesus. That’s a dangerous move – most of the other Pharisees and the Jewish ruling council are not on board at all, in fact, they reject Jesus outright and make plans to bring him down. But Nicodemus can see something in Jesus, something from God, yet at the same time things just don’t quite add up. Maybe these thoughts had been keeping him up at night. Whatever it was, he came to see Jesus one night to try and sort out his confusion. It’s long been speculated that by meeting Jesus in the dark Nicodemus was trying to keep his affiliation with Jesus a secret so that he wouldn’t lose his standing in the community.

During the week some of the people attending the meditation sessions put themselves in this story and also found it quite confusing. I don’t want people to find Scripture confusing forever but a sense of confusion or disorientation in this text is not necessarily a bad thing. Nicodemus, the teacher of Israel, didn’t get it, so don’t worry if you also need some further explanation.

Jesus makes a simple comparison: Flesh gives birth to flesh – all people are born as people of the flesh. We are born from down here. But Spirit gives birth to Spirit. If we are to be people of the Spirit we need to be born of the Spirit. We need to be born from above. Without being born from above we won’t even see the kingdom of God and so Jesus tells Nicodemus that while he may think he’s seeing the work of God in the works that Jesus does, he needs to be totally reborn to really see the work of God in the world.

What Jesus is talking about is baptism. ‘No one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born from above; no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.’ That’s why to be called a born-again Christian or even a born-from-above Christian doesn’t really make sense. When we were baptised we were born from above, born of water and the Spirit and we were brought into the kingdom of God. Did you consent to being born of the flesh? Did you do anything to influence your parents so that they gave birth to you? Of course not. Being born in the flesh is a passive act, requiring no effort on your part. It’s a gift and so is being born from above. In baptism God adopts us as his children and gives us the gift of his Holy Spirit.

Some people disown their parents and some people disown their baptism. But it doesn’t change the promise of the parents and in the case of baptism Jesus made the promise that whoever believes and is baptised will be saved.

Nicodemus may have been confused but what Jesus said to him must have taken effect. When the Pharisees declared that Jesus should be put to death Nicodemus calmly reminded them that their law did not condemn anyone without first giving them a fair hearing. After Jesus was put to death, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea – another closet follower of Jesus – took Jesus’ body and laid it in the tomb. Perhaps it was Jesus’ most famous words that stuck with Nicodemus even when he preferred to stay in the dark: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that whoever believes in him may not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. What great hopes we can have for Christians who maybe, like Nicodemus, are not quite ready to make a bold confession of faith.

And what great hope we have. We are Christians – that means we are born from above, born of water and the Spirit. God’s promise to you in your baptism, whatever your age at the time, is unconditional: Jesus came to bring light into the world and in baptism he brought you into his light. Jesus came not to condemn the world but to save it and in baptism you have been saved – born of the Spirit, born from above. Amen

Signs are everywhere

The Text: John 2:13-22

Signs are everywhere; they block out the scenery and distract our minds as we pass by them on the roads with slogans like: “Do this, don’t do that, buy this, try this”

And I reckon Jesus was probably thinking the same as He entered into the Temple courts at this high point of the Jewish yearly celebrations; the Passover.

And it seems that Jesus sees some disturbing signs around the Temple.

Just imagine if Jesus turned up today and threw all of the contents of the church outside! (brandishing a whip at the same time)… Most politically incorrect indeed!

Surely there’s no harm in a book stall or a trading table? After all, we’re only doing these things to promote the work of the church…

Which raises the question for us; “WOULD Jesus do the same thing today?”

If He did, I am sure we would be just as perplexed and demand some sort of explanation, just like those of Jesus time did; “Prove to me that You have the authority to do this?”

And to give us this proof, why not show us a little party trick; something to prove TO US that You have the credentials.

Now if we unpack all of this ‘tongue in cheek’ rhetoric, the point that this sermon is trying to make is that the people Jesus was criticising in our reading today were presuming authority over God, the God who worked through both the system of rites of the Jerusalem Temple and also through Jesus himself. The Jewish people of Jesus day are an example of this presumption, but people today still suffer with the same problem.

Humanity has always been easily deceived to think that we have the authority, because we believe we are keeping God’s law. What underpins this belief is a poor understanding of the nature of our sin.

The Temple system served well, as it provided a means for dealing with the problem of sin. But the system suffers from the same issue that has plagued humanity from the fall – we do not understand the true nature of our sin and think that we can simply deal with it like this: “If I am a good person, if I attend to my religious duties, then I will be OK.” And so we fool ourselves into thinking that we can keep in good with God, by our ‘own effort’…. Or, we despair of any hope at all.

But today’s text is full of human presumptions. It is exactly what Jesus is dealing with; people PRESUME that it is OK to buy and sell in the Temple precincts. They think that they are alright with God BECAUSE of the Temple system. But this should be a warning sign for us. Everywhere there are signs, but the signs are pointing to the systems devised by humanity and not to the real sign of what the sacrificial system means, as it deals with sin and who we are before God.

But, we might argue; “isn’t all of this sacrifice business commanded by God in the first place? Is there not a need for sacrificial animals and the right money to pay the Temple tax?” (And even Jesus agrees to pay the Temple tax in Matthew 17:26, 27, so as not to offend…) So just what are the signs for us in this story?

Well, Jesus is offended that this necessary business of sacrificing animals and the money changing is occurring within the Temple complex itself. Afterall, it is taking up space in the Temple precinct – God’s meeting place with humanity. And because all the sacrifices and money changing used to happen in the court of the Gentiles, that means less space for them to worship God. So everything (the sacrifices and money changing) that was supposed to bring people into the temple was now excluding people; specifically those who are not Jewish.

And at this time of the Passover, we could well expect a vast amount of trade going on, through simple necessity. If any of us were a Gentile at the time, and we wanted to pray before the Lord in His Temple, we simply would not be able to because ‘there would not be any room in the Inn…’

So, part of Jesus’ anger is directed at these practices which denied people (specifically the non-Jews) access to worshipping God.

And so, a good question to ask ourselves today is; “Am I robbing people of access to God through my own attitude, actions and behaviour?” (pause)

But there’s an even deeper message to be found in this story of the cleansing of the Temple. Jesus, through this action, is preparing His people for the new covenant agreement. As He takes hold of the whip and drives out human corruption from this, His body of worship, so He is preparing the way for Himself. Jesus is giving us a sign of what is to come…

The Jerusalem Temple was the divinely given means of humanity to have access to God. A place where Israel could be sure of God’s presence with them. A place where they could meet with God and plead for their sin to be taken away. And also, a place where God’s people could and should, pray for the whole world.

And because the non-Jews had been denied a place of access to God because of the clutter of all the sacrificing and money-changing, God has now come to provide greater access for all; not just those who think they’re in God’s good book; and it is a sign of new things to come…through Christ!

Signs, signs, everywhere there are signs…and it seems no one is looking! When the Jews demanded a sign from Jesus, He gave them and us the only real sign that we could ever need; His own resurrection, His own body torn down and raised up again in three days. But of course, this is not the sign that humanity wants or expects, is it? In fact, it would be far more believable and faith building for Jesus to tear down and rebuild the temple in three days, than to believe in His resurrection from the dead after three days.

As St Paul tells us, this is the foolishness of God. The sending of His Son Jesus to die on a shameful cross is not what the proud, self-secure, human heart wants to see! It’s not the sign that we want to believe in! It is an offence to our pride and condemns our very being. It is a sign that is still rejected today. But it is very much the sign that is given by God to us…and thank God that it is! For what the proud human heart actually needs, is the heart surgery that our Lord brings through this very means of the cross!

As our Lord clears the Temple and makes way for Himself, so He gives the very sign of His suffering and death that we, as His very own people, might see and recognise! As He takes up the whip in the Temple, so He foreshadows His own flogging; another sign for us! When Jesus, the Word of God, says that He is the Way and the Truth and the Life, so He is showing us that it is THROUGH Him that we now have access to God the Father. Through Jesus bodily suffering, death, resurrection and His bodily ascension into heaven, we now HAVE ACCESS to God! Jesus replaces the old Temple system with Himself!

We know that the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed in 70AD, and never rebuilt or replaced.  We know that our own bodies, the new temple, will likewise be destroyed. But just as the Word says, they will be replaced with something far greater and grander! Because the more glorious sign, the second part of what Jesus says, is His resurrection!

The old system of sacrifices at the Jerusalem Temple were only a foreshadowing of Jesus, the living Temple as God with us, God incarnate! It is Jesus’ sacrifice that deals with our sin, once and for all. It is in Jesus’ Name that our prayers are heard. It is in Jesus’ Name that we gather before the altar of God each and every Sunday. It is through Jesus’ resurrection, that all of this, is opened up for US!

Jesus’ body replaces the old Temple system, and we are invited to follow into Jesus’ new temple system –  through our baptism. Helped on our way, through receiving His Word and His body and blood.

And so now that our sin is DONE WITH through Jesus’ sacrifice, we are also called into His resurrection living. Each Sunday we confess our sin and are forgiven. As Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, so we are now called to follow in this “new temple system” and our bodies have even become God’s very own little temples of the Holy Spirit!

And, this brings about change. For our old Temples have now been swept clean! We are set free from the burden of those sacrifices and money changing to SIMPLY BE GOD’S HOLY PEOPLE!

We are no longer bound to sin, no longer focussed on ourselves. We are free to be the living presence of God for others through our daily living. Free to love as God first loved us. Free to seek this constant sweeping clean by Jesus’ Holy Spirit. We are a new creation – a reflection of Jesus Himself; perfect love!

And so each of us, now have become a walking, living billboard for the saving grace and love of God! We are all signs, no longer blocking out the scenery or distracting our minds, but pointing others to Christ.
And now may the peace of God that passes all human understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.

Is your faith @ the crossroads?

The Text: Mark 8:31-38 

To be at the crossroads is a figurative term, meaning that we have arrived at a critical intersection in life where the direction chosen will have profound consequences for the future, just like arriving at an unmarked or unknown intersection and having to decide which way to go.

“Is your faith at the crossroads?” That could well be a question Mark’s Gospel poses for us today. The disciples were at the crossroads that day when Jesus taught them that it was necessary for him to suffer many things, be rejected by the elders, chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.

Up until this point there has been a breath-taking succession of miracles in which Jesus’ divine powers are on display. He had cast out evil spirits, miraculously healed lepers, the blind, the deaf, and the chronically ill, and exercised mastery over creation. Jesus has triumphed over every opposition, even showing that he has authority over death itself, with the raising of Jairus’ daughter. Just before today’s text, they had just confessed Jesus to be the Christ.

How suddenly they had arrived at the cross-roads! Jesus makes the astonishing claim that he must suffer and die, one that smacks of failure, defeat, and compromise of God’s mission. How can suffering and death possibly happen to the One who is the agent of salvation? How can Jesus succumb to the very forces that he’s just overcome? Surely there will be peace for Israel and earthly grandeur and triumph for Jesus, certainly not terrible suffering and being killed!

For Peter, things really seem to be at the crossroads―if Jesus goes ahead with whatever crazy plan he has, it will be the end of him! What’s he thinking!?!? So Peter wants to set things straight. It’s not too hard to picture him putting his arm around Jesus, gently ushering him aside and speaking firmly in his ear―our text says that Peter rebuked him. We don’t know exactly what words, but in effect perhaps something like: “Um…Jesus, let’s just get things straight. You’re the Messiah. Messiahs don’t suffer. Messiahs don’t die. Messiahs take control. Messiahs are victorious!”

But Jesus gives a rebuke of his own to Peter: “Get behind me, Satan, for you do not care about the things of God but the things of men!” And having called the crowd with his disciples he said to them: “If anyone wants to follow me, they must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life on account of me and the Gospel will save it. For what will it profit a person to gain the whole world but to have lost their soul? Or what can anyone pay for their soul?”

Peter has to deny himself―deny his understanding, plans and schemes of what should transpire next. He has to deny his own reason and listen to what Jesus has just said: that Jesus must suffer many things, be rejected by the elders, chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise up. With the benefit of hindsight, we know that this was the very way that Jesus did triumph. The cross was Jesus’ throne where he conquered sin, death and the demonic realm before triumphing with the greatest miracle ever: rising from the dead. Jesus has to go to the cross. It is necessary that he experience the valley of the shadow of death so that he can die the death that should have been ours.

Jesus must die. But what’s more, Jesus calls those who follow him to die as well. He called the crowd with his disciples and said to them: “If anyone wants to follow me, they must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life on account of me and the Gospel will save it”. Jesus is not only talking about his own suffering and death but now talking about all of his followers losing his lives! It’s in this context that Jesus talks about bearing our crosses. This metaphor of taking up one’s own cross is not to be made into an exhortation merely to endure any kind of suffering patiently. Often we talk about “everyone having a cross to bear” when we think about those who are ill or having some kind of trouble in their life.

Jesus isn’t meaning this at all. He is talking about taking up our cross and following him. He carried his own cross as he walked to Golgotha to be crucified. To die. When Jesus is talking about us taking up our cross and following him, he is calling us to follow him to death too. To die to ourselves. Which is nothing other than what daily living in our baptism means, just as Paul says in Romans 6:What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Luther says this means that the old Adam in us, together with all sins and evil desires, should be drowned by daily sorrow and repentance and be put to death, and that a new person should arise daily to live in righteousness with God forever.

That’s what Jesus means by denying ourselves, taking up our cross and following him. Jesus is not merely calling us to endure discomfort, but to put to death that within us which is in complete contradiction to God’s love; that which is inconsistent with what he commands. “If anyone wants to follow me, they must deny themselves, take up their Cross and follow me”.

Dying doesn’t sound so good, does it? All of a sudden, then, we are at the crossroads. Maybe we should skip over this text and fast forward ahead to next week. But Jesus won’t have it. Like Peter we are challenged by Jesus to make an either/or decision: who is to be your Lord and master? Is it to be yourself or is it to be Christ? Jesus goes on to say: “Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life on account of me and the Gospel will save it.” We’re there at the cross roads. It doesn’t sound a popular message. A life without carrying the cross seems very attractive.

But if you stop and think about it, so can dying to the self and following Jesus. For what does that look like? It means letting God be God over our whole lives, rather than the parts of the lives we invite him to be. It means no longer running to the idols we cling to for comfort whenever we are anxious or hurting. It means freely forgiving others rather than using our anger in the wrong way by clinging to bitterness and un-forgiveness. It means no longer comparing ourselves to others or trying to win their approval but comparing ourselves to Christ and resting in the approval God already has for us in him. It means no longer trying to justify harmful thoughts, actions, or things we do or failed to do but handing them over to him as we rest under God’s Word. It means choosing to be gracious and compassionate to others because everyone needs grace and compassion. It means speaking well of everyone in the kindest way possible so that reputations and emotions are not damaged.

Today, Jesus stands with us at the cross-roads. Are we going to follow him? Are we going to live according to every word that comes from the mouth of God, or only those that don’t trouble us too much or place heavy demands upon us?

Jesus’ challenge to us to take up our cross and find our life by losing it is a heavy demand. It is hard law. But the good news is that Jesus has done it for us. The good news is that his cross is the very power to do what we would otherwise be powerless to do ourselves. Let us all say that our faith is at the cross roads―walking on the road under the shadow of Jesus’ cross, as he takes us by the hand. As we follow him we walk behind the One who carried his cross for our sakes. Only his cross-bearing can empower the cross-bearing he calls us to endure. Only his death and resurrection can enable us to die to the old Adam in us and rise to new life. As he brings his death and resurrection to life in us personally through his word and sacraments we are indeed freed to lose the world and its ways and even our own as Jesus strengthens us in faith and living that faith out in loving service to others.

It is for this very reason that Jesus came into the world. No one can give anything in exchange for their soul. No one except God, who paid the price to make you his very own, alone, by giving up his only Son. He took up his cross, walked to Golgotha and was crucified so that his shed blood would purify and free you from all your sins. He joined you to his death and resurrection in your baptism, where he washed you clean and forgave you all your sin, poured out His Holy Spirit on you to give new birth and to consecrate you for life and service with Him. Rejoice that you are at the crossroads. For everyone who bears their cross is marked by it as a follower of Jesus and everyone who follows to the Cross follows also to the empty tomb and the ascension into heaven, where riches greater than all the earthly kingdoms await you from your Heavenly Father. Amen.

Jesus in the wilderness

The Text: Mark 1:9-14


Last week, on Ash Wednesday, the church arrived at the season of Lent. There we began another 40 days of journeying with Jesus to the Cross. Today’s Gospel reading now draws us into Jesus’ own 40 days in the wilderness.

Usually when we hear the word ‘wilderness,’ we picture a dry and harsh wasteland; a place of emptiness and loneliness, a place of vulnerability with little shelter or protection from the dangerous elements. It’s a place without hope and without much of anything. It’s a dangerous and threatening place, and, in Mark’s account, complete with wild animals. This is the place where Jesus is to be exposed to the harshest of conditions – physically and spiritually speaking.

Why was Jesus in the wilderness? This was the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry that the Father had commissioned him for. Because of his inestimable love, God sent his Son into the world in order to rescue us from the kingdom of darkness. Mark tells us that at Jesus’ baptism, as he was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending upon him.

This is most significant because in the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit anointed specific individuals to perform their callings: the Judges, the prophets, priests and the kings, and people like Simeon who were waiting for the consolation of Israel. All of these roles are ultimately fulfilled in Jesus. He is the great deliverer, rescuing us from the Kingdom of darkness. He is the greatest of the prophets because he proclaims the gospel and works through it. He is our Great High Priest interceding for us and by his own sacrifice reconciling us to God. He is our King through whom the Father sends his Spirit to rule over us with his grace.

Mark shows that the Father has held nothing back in order to save the human race; the heavens were torn open. We are reminded of the appeal to God in Isaiah 64: “O, that you would tear the heavens and come down”. Then here, at the baptism, the Lord and giver of life, that is, the Holy Spirit comes in all his fullness, anointing Jesus for his ministry of the Gospel on earth.

As soon as Jesus was baptised, he was sent by the Spirit out into the wilderness, being tempted by Satan for 40 days. We’re reminded of Israel’s wandering in the wilderness for 40 years on the way to enter the land that God had promised them, and how they fell to the temptation of grumbling against Moses, the leader God had given them, and therefore against God himself. They doubted God’s plan for them and weren’t at all keen on doing his will at that point, and fell to the temptation of idolatry. But whereas Israel of old failed, Jesus doesn’t. Jesus did not just go through this testing time so that he could sympathise with our weaknesses. He went through this to overcome it for us and win the victory over the devil. It’s a part of the Great Exchange: your failures exchanged for Jesus’ success, imputed to you through faith.

It’s hard for us to appreciate what spending 40 days in a wilderness might be like—we who live in ordered communities, with people all around, lush greenery, plentiful food and water.

Yet in another way today’s western society as a kind of wilderness too. The spiritual supermarket of our current time offers all sorts of philosophies and worldviews from which to pick and choose from, all promising meaning and fulfilment, but leaving spiritual consumers in a hungry and thirsty wasteland of un-fulfilment. There is a wilderness of addiction, pain and breakdown from substance abuse which promises an escape from pain but only fuels more pain. There is the wilderness of the materialistic West as marketers promise their customers that they can buy their way to popularity, which is always out of reach so that the costly treadmill of retail therapy does little to change the loneliness within. There is the wilderness of self-loathing, depression and despair of attaining self-worth through physical appearance, leaving the masses with an unachievable goal because the computer corrected images displayed everywhere are not real.

Our society lives in the wilderness of Twittersphere, where everyone has the right to be authors of truth, and where personal opinion determines moral standards. Tolerance is the great sermon that rings forth, yet on the other hand, those same preachers lead the charge to cut down anyone who dares disagree with ideas posted that are different to their own. There is the moral wilderness devoid of true love with the absence of any concern for anyone other than the great ‘me’. Relationships are understood in contractual terms, commitment is viewed as irresponsible, and relational success is measured by the number of partners one has, no longer an enduring marriage relationship between one husband and one wife. There is the wilderness of aimlessness, not only amongst the youth, but now their parents are also searching for something to fill in the boredom, which usually results in abuse of others property, abuse of others, or abuse of themselves.

Though the devil is defeated by the death and resurrection of Jesus, Satan still tempts us to live the wilderness way—to go and find meaning, fulfilment, peace and satisfaction apart from God and his word. Then when we do fall, the Devil tempts us to doubt God’s word in another sense: to disbelieve that the promises God makes could ever really be for us. He tempts us to believe that what we have thought, said or done is unforgivable. He tempts us to believe there is no way God could love us. He tempts us to doubt our standing before God as his children, and tricks us that we now have to do something in addition to Jesus’ work to try to win God’s approval all over again.

Perhaps that’s why Mark glosses over the detail and moves straight to what comes next: Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Jesus doesn’t say the Kingdom of God will come soon. He has already said in today’s text that the time has come. What Jesus says is that the Kingdom of God has come near—it is close by. What is needed for a Kingdom? A King! And he is the Divine King, the King from heaven of whom Psalm 95 speaks:

For the Lord is the great God,
    the great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth,
    and the mountain peaks belong to him.

 The sea is his, for he made it,
    and his hands formed the dry land.

 Come, let us bow down in worship,
    let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;
 for he is our God
    and we are the people of his pasture,
    the flock under his care.

In Jesus the Kingdom of God has come near. In Jesus, God has come to earth to pour out his grace, to bring rescue from Satan, to bring forgiveness of sins, freedom and fullness of life.

Every other King would have his subjects defend him. Instead, Jesus our King, defends us all by bringing about what he says in his Gospel, working forgiveness of sins, life, salvation and peace for us.

As we, his church, are surrounded by the wilderness of today’s world and still beset by Satan’s temptations, our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the King of kings, has won the victory. In him the Kingdom of God has come near…not just 2,000 years ago in Galilee. He has won the victory for us all and he comes to us to give us all the benefits of his triumph. In the person of Christ, the kingdom of God has come as near to us “as near gets:” at the baptismal font, as he proclaimed the Good News to you through your pastor: “I baptise you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Just as the Father held nothing back at Jesus’ baptism, he also gives us the fullness of his Spirit, and he declares: “You are my son/you are my daughter whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” No matter how many times we fail and need to seek forgiveness, through Christ, we remain God’s very own dearly loved child. May he, each day, grant us strength to drown the sinful nature and rise again to newness of life.

In the person of Christ, the kingdom of God has come near again this day. He stands amongst us and says, “‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’ (Matthew 11:28). He says, “Peace be with you!” not as a sincere wish, but as statement that bestows what it says. In baptism, at the Lord’s Supper and anywhere and everywhere the Christian proclaims and announces God’s free forgiveness in Christ, there Christ is among them. This announced and enacted Good News is from God himself. It alone actually frees us and forgives us. It alone provides the strength, as well as the secure hope needed to resist caving in out in the wilderness of the world.

In Christ, as we, his body, gather in worship, we have come into the sanctuary in the midst of the wilderness of the world; here is the Kingdom of God present and at work in with his victory for us all! Amen.

The emotion of death

As a way of breaking into the text about Lazarus and his death and resurrection we are going to explore the different emotions and reactions in this story; The disciples, Martha and Mary, Jesus, the Jews and also Lazarus.
It seems to be so often the case that the disciples don’t really understand what is going on. When the message comes to Jesus that Lazarus is sick, he pretty clearly explains to them that the end will not be death. But you can’t help but wonder how many of them thought; ‘we’d better get there quickly!’ But they don’t go quickly and the text indicates that Jesus deliberately waited until Lazarus had died so that he could achieve the goal of this encounter. “for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

This is the same goal we’ve heard over the last couple of weeks of Lent in the gospel readings, that on lookers and participants in the narratives might identify Jesus as the Christ or The Anointed one and give glory to God.

I can see why the disciples get confused. First Jesus wants to wait, then suddenly he tells them ‘let’s go to Lazarus because he is asleep.’ Now to be fair this is a common idiom for death, the disciples should have known what he meant. But their first reaction to their impending journey to Judea is not their concern for Lazarus but concern for themselves. They fear death, the fear their own death, they even fear Jesus’ death, as they remind him that last time they were in that area, the Jews tried to stone him!

But Thomas seems to quickly change his mind when they realise Lazarus is actually dead and not just sleeping to regain strength and gives a strange response. One minute the disciples are concerned that being in Judea could lead to their own or Jesus death, the next Thomas proclaims: “let’s go that we might die with him.” It’s as if in one phrase he realises what is going on and is prepared to die with him. We assume the ‘him’ is Lazarus, it could well be Jesus, that Thomas expects to go to Judea and where Lazarus is already dead and by going there Jesus will die and the disciples will follow. But he has obviously jumped the gun, it’s not Lazarus who the disciples will follow into death and certainly not so quickly.

The disciples are confused, and scared, then suddenly ready to go but in the process, they fail to identify Jesus as the Christ, or at least fail to fully comprehend what his identity means.

So the disciples head off with Jesus and seem to just follow along, because they have no further recorded interactions.

Mary and Martha on the other hand have much to say.

Martha is the first to greet Jesus, does that fit with your picture of Martha? Remember Martha is the busy one, getting things done, Mary is the one sitting and listening. It makes sense then that Martha runs out to meet Jesus, maybe she has learnt from their previous encounters that Jesus is priority number one. Or maybe she is in her ‘get things done’ mode and rushes out to meet him, in the hope that he would comfort her, but she doesn’t sound like a woman looking for comfort.

I can just imagine Martha and her meeting and greeting Jesus. How do you picture it, is she gentle and subdued or is she really telling Jesus that he has failed her? Perhaps she made herself as big as possible got up in his face and demanded; ‘Lord if you have been here my brother would not have died.’

And she is correct. Jesus could have healed her brother.

How often do we have that same reaction to God, or others? If you had been here… this terrible thing would not have happened. This is the accusation of a hurting and burdened person. Someone who is angry with God.

But even though Martha is angry with Jesus, his words to her should be a greater comfort; ‘I am the resurrection and the life.’ In this story of Lazarus and his sisters and Jesus raising him from the dead, the family and bystanders are getting a glimpse of what is to come. It is like a pointing to Jesus own death and resurrection. And a pointing to their own resurrection, the resurrection of the listeners and participants in the story, Martha, Mary, Thomas, the other disciples, and even the Jews who watch and join in.

And it is a pointing to our resurrection with Christ as did our opening verses in today’s service from Romans

11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

Just like Lazarus coming out of the grave alive with his body intact, and just as Jesus came out of the grave alive with his body intact, we too will rise with our bodies intact. We will not be just unembodied spirits floating around with God, we will have a body and a spirit, it will be a return to our intended state before the fall.

In Ezekiel we hear of the vision of the dry bones. The Hebrew word that is translated as ‘wind’, ‘Spirit’ and ‘breath’ in that passage is the same word. The wind blows the spirit into the bodies and it becomes breath. To have wind, breath or spirit is to be alive. Just like when God created Adam from the dirt, he breathed into him and he was alive. We still do the same today, when someone has stopped breathing, we breathe into them in an attempt to give them life. As it is in the New Testament, a different language but the words Spirit, wind is the same word. So without God’s spirit we are dead.

But we do have God’s Spirit, he has been poured out on us, blown into us. An internet image depicts this well, in that picture; A person had opened the bible, behind the bible was a glowing face, blowing his spirit into the reader. That is what God’s word does, it brings the Spirit and so brings life. When we hear the word the Spirit comes on us to give us life.

And we know we have the Spirit; we know that we belong to Christ because he has claimed us as his own in our baptism. We can be assured that in baptism his Spirit blew into us, giving us life, taking us through death into new life.

Shall we go back to the emotions of Lazarus’ resurrection…

Martha and Mary experienced anger, disappointment, Jesus failed them. They trust, they know who Jesus is, what he can do, but he didn’t get there in time.

What about Jesus emotion–

Jesus hates death

Jesus hates sin that causes death

Jesus hates the pain that death creates

Jesus hates the fact that even though Lazarus is going to live (even that Lazarus is going to see Jesus die) Jesus hates that Lazarus will die again also.

We know God hates death for he had the Psalmist proclaim; Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. Psalm 116:15 (ESV)

This story is filled with emotion from Jesus, he is here identified as truly human. He shares in human emotion and pain. The sadness of losing a loved one, the distress of not being with them as they suffered, and the anger He displays because He knows that it is sin that leads to death, the fallen nature of humanity.

Then we have the Jews lurking around, watching the proceedings, wondering what it might mean. Some believing that Jesus is the Son of God, others going off and telling the leaders what Jesus has done. And the reaction of the leaders, who wonder ‘what are we doing’ scared that they might lose their place of power should Jesus actually lead a rebellion, absolutely oblivious to what Jesus knows he will have to do and yet by the power of God still able to prophesy in John 11:50 ‘that it is better that one man should die than the whole nation.’

The main player, the person who has his name on the title of this story, Lazarus, the man who actually dies and is brought back to life, what of his reaction. He has no speaking or acting parts, so how can we know, it would be pure speculation. His death, his reaction to his own death, and new life is of no consequence to John. It is all the other people that show their true colours by their reactions. That is often the way with death, it is the loved ones, those who are left behind that have the biggest emotional struggles, the strongest reactions to death come from the siblings, the spouse, the children or the parents.

That’s why we have Christian funerals, to comfort the living, with the good news that Jesus Christ has overcome death by his death and resurrection. It is not to glorify the person recently deceased, it is to glorify God and point mourners to Jesus the Son of God.

There are a range of reactions to Lazarus’ death and subsequent new life. From anger and disappointment to confusion and trust. But we need to see that Lazarus’ resurrection is not foreign to us. Just like Lazarus we also die in baptism and rise to new life. We could even say Lazarus’ resurrection is like baptism, he dies and then is called out of the grave to new life. We die in baptism, that is our flesh, as Paul describes it, is put to death so that Jesus can call us out of that death (sin) into new life. He calls us out like he called out Lazarus; Come out into new life with him.

Jesus says I am the resurrection and the life; Come out of your death in the flesh into your new life in the Spirit. Amen!

Jesus heals the blind man

The Text: John 9:1-41


Today we are going to focus on our Gospel reading from John chapter 9:1-41 in which we heard how Jesus healed the man born blind and how the Pharisees investigated the healing. It concluded with Jesus speaking about our spiritual blindness.


This story about Jesus healing the man born blind is a dramatic gospel presentation, filled with heated exchanges and clever dialogue.

There is the dialogue between Jesus and his disciples, and Jesus and the blind man.

There is also the dialogue between the blind man and his parents, his neighbours and even a divided group of Pharisees who wanted to condemn Jesus.

What makes this healing miracle stand out from the many other healing miracles that Jesus performed is the fact that this blind man did not approach Jesus asking for healing. Rather, Jesus approached him.

This blind man had been blind from birth. Jesus took pity on this man and on the society that had to support him.

So Jesus gave to this man something that he had never experienced before – he gave this blind man the ability to see!

Before we can understand what sight is, we must try to understand what it is to be blind. Close your eyes for a moment. Now imagine how different life would be if God had created people without eyes to see. Imagine if everyone was guided only by the ability to touch, taste, smell and hear.

Without our eyes we have no way of comparing colour or light.  Without eyes there would be no such term as blind; for there would be nothing to compare blindness with.

But the blind man in our Gospel reading certainly knew that he was blind. From the time that he could understand speech his parents and friends probably told him that he was blind. The blind man had no way of understanding sight – yet he longed to be able to see. If he could see he would be able to stop begging and start working. The ability to see would change his life.

So when Jesus came to the blind man, Jesus changed the life of the blind man forever by giving him the ability to see.

When he was blind, he did not understand what it meant to be blind for he had never experienced the ability to see. Once he was blind, but now he could see.

The reading gave us a detailed description of the healing: Jesus came to the blind man. He took a handful of clay, spat on it and worked it in his hand. He then put it on the blind man’s eyes and told him to go and wash in The Pool of Siloam (Si-lo-am). He did this and amazingly he came back seeing.

With his new ability to see, he now understood what it meant to be previously blind.  Now he is able to see for the first time!  It’s hard to imagine what that first moment of sight would have been like!

He rushed to tell people of his new found sight. He told people whom he thought were able to see clearly too!

He thought they would be so happy for him – that he could see like them! Instead, they wanted to have little to do with him.

There seemed to be something different about the sight that Jesus had given to this man compared to the sight of his family and friends.

The sight that Jesus gave was more than seeing in the ‘physical’ sense. Jesus also gave him the ability to see in the ‘spiritual’ sense. He gave to this blind man the ability to see spiritually – Now what might seeing spiritually mean?

Jesus gave the healed man the ability to identify that the person who healed him was Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the living God; the one God promised to send to be the saviour of the world.

To see spiritually is to see what God already sees. It is to see what God is doing!

Today, let’s call this spiritual seeing – spiritual vision.

The Pharisees had a real problem with this miracle because it had taken place on the Sabbath – a day when no Jew could do anything that could be interpreted as work.

So the Pharisees interrogated this man several times about who it was that healed him. And each time the healed man was interrogated, his spiritual vision became more focussed.

His explanation of who Jesus is became clearer. The healed man’s spiritual vision became so focussed that he even boldly claimed to be a disciple of the one who healed him. To this the Pharisees replied: ‘You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.’

To this the healed man answered: ‘Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.’

But the Pharisees eyes were still blinded. And they could not recognise that the one who healed the man was the Son of God. It was as if the Pharisees had been blinded by their religion to the point where they could no longer recognise God at work in this person’s life. They did not have spiritual vision.

Just like the blind man in our story and these Pharisees we are all born with spiritual blindness. This is because sin is part of the world. Because of sin we are born into this world without the ability to see spiritually. On our own we cannot see God or recognise his works amongst us.

Because of sin none of us are born with spiritual vision.

God alone can give us such vision.

Through baptism God begins to grow our spiritual vision. He makes it possible that we can see in ways that we could have never dreamed of. In our baptism God has washed away our sin so that we may grow to see spiritually.

In Baptism God washes away our sin and sends us the Holy Spirit who gives us the faith to see that God is with us – to see in the spirit that Jesus is our saviour – to see that we will live with him forever in perfect relationship.

Spiritual vision allows us to be able to recognise our sin. Spiritual vision also allows us to see how the crucified Jesus comes to us and gives us the forgiveness and the new life that he has won for us. With Spiritual vision we can see that Jesus heals our hurts and makes us whole. With spiritual vision we can see God at work in our lives guiding us with his Holy Spirit until we arrive at our heavenly home.

Spiritual vision is very different to our physical vision. Often our physical vision deteriorates with age. But our spiritual vision if cared for and nurtured can develop with age.

This happens as we continue to receive God’s gifts to us. When I think of caring for our physical vision: I remember the old saying: “Eat your carrots – that way you will be able to see in the dark!” Yes our food helps us grow physically strong and strengthen our physical vision. 

But eating carrots and other healthy foods will not grow our spiritual vision! There are other gifts God gives to grow our spiritual vision.


God gives us his written and spoken word and the Body and Blood of Christ that we receive in his Holy Meal. Through these means the Holy Spirit is at work growing our spiritual vision.

Spiritual vision allows us to see the world in a new light. It allows us to see the world as God sees it. We can see and identify God with us and working through us to others and others to us.

Spiritual vision helps us to celebrate what God is doing amongst us. With a healthy spiritual vision we can see Jesus at work shaping our lives and the lives of those around us. A healthy spiritual vision will enable us to see every person as special to God. It will help us to value and respect, to love and to serve each other at the point of their greatest need, just as Jesus has come to serve us according to our need. 

Ultimately a healthy spiritual vision leads us to worship Jesus as our Saviour. Those who have a healthy spiritual vision are the ones who give glory to God by loving and serving those around them.

As our spiritual vision matures and becomes more focussed we are able to boldly proclaim the name of Jesus Christ crucified until he comes again. We will live in the light and show our love for God by loving one another and turning away from sin.  

God is growing our spiritual vision. The spiritual vision that he is growing in us will help us see ourselves the way God sees us—forgiven, redeemed and healed by the blood of Jesus. Our spiritual vision will help us see who Jesus is and what he has done for us. With spiritual vision we will see his light, we will see our sin in a new light. We will daily drown the old sinful nature and trust in Jesus alone. May this be true for us all. Amen.

I can see you are a prophet

The Text: John 4:19-26 (NRSV)

19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you[b] say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I am he,[c] the one who is speaking to you.”

Today’s text is part of our Gospel reading from John chapter 4 where Jesus is talking with a Samaritan woman at the well.

I read again from verse 19:

‘Sir’, the woman said , ‘I can see that you are a prophet. Our Father’s worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.’

Jesus declared, ‘Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation comes from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when true worshippers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks.

God is Spirit, and his worshippers must worship in Spirit and in truth.

Let us pray. Lord Sanctify us by the truth, Your word is truth. Amen.

If a strange man asked you for a drink of water and then started talking to you about water that would quench your thirst forever, what would you do?

Would you ask for a drink of his thirst-quenching water?

If this foreigner, whom you do not know, then revealed your deepest darkest secrets, cutting your conscience to the bone, exposing your guilt, what would you do?

Would you recognize that this foreigner is someone special who has been sent from God?

Would you try to steer the direction of the conversation to something lighter and less threatening?

Maybe you would prefer to talk sport or politics or dare I say it even religion?

Well, this is what our Samaritan woman does.

She decides to talk religion. 

At first she didn’t recognize that this man was Jesus – the Messiah!  She saw him simply as a Jewish prophet. But in their discussion Jesus did something that only a God who knows each of us personally could do. He cut to the bone of her secret problems and revealed her broken relationships, her promiscuity and all that troubled her conscience.

To have our hurts and weaknesses revealed is one of the most humbling experiences that any human can face. We would all prefer to put on a brave face and pretend nothing was wrong by changing the subject. We may be able to hide the truth we don’t want others to know, but nothing is hidden from God.

Yet to try and turn the subject away from her deep dark sins, the Samaritan woman starts a conversation about religious matters. She highlighted one of the big issues that separated the Samaritans and the Jews.

The issue concerned the correct place of worship. You see, the Samaritans believed the only correct place to worship was on Mt Gerazim. (Gera-Zim) The Jews believed the only correct place of worship was at Jerusalem on Mt Zion. So the Jews and Samaritans lived as two separate nations.

The Samaritan woman was looking for an answer to this long standing division. But the answer which she got was radically different to what she may have expected. It cut deeper into her problem.

Jesus revealed that the key issue was not where we worship

but who it is that we worship, and how!

In the coming of Jesus, the time had come when true worshippers would worship God as their Father. Jesus said: They will worship the Father in Spirit and Truth.

But what does this mean? What does it mean to worship the Father in Spirit and in truth?

Created as God’s chosen children we are called to worship God as our Father. He provides for us, he cares for us, he guides us.

We are to fear him, love him, serve and obey him just like we are to fear love, serve and obey our earthly parents.  Just as we trust our earthly parents to provide for us in our childhood so we are to trust God to  provide for us as we journey to the promised land, for he is our creator and he has made us his children.

Today we have come together to worship God our Father in Spirit and in Truth. We called on the name of our God – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

When we call on the name of our Triune God we acknowledge that we belong to the eternal body of Jesus Christ.

In the body of Christ we are joined with all saints of ages past, present and future and all saints on earth. We are joined with the saints in our neighbouring churches and the churches all over the world.

Most importantly, the Holy Spirit joins us with Christ Jesus.

It is only through Jesus that we can come to our Father.

Jesus is the Truth. He is the word of God in the flesh. The Holy Spirit gathers us together in Christ Jesus – and together we worship our Father. Together we receive our Father’s goodness, and we give thanks to him for his great love for us.

Then, having received our Father’s blessing, he sends us out as his restored people to be a blessing to others in our community, to serve him by serving one another.

We first entered the true place of worship when we were baptized. At our baptism the name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit was spoken over us and we were welcomed into the body of Christ. At Baptism we received God’s Spirit and the Spirit continues to build faith in us and continues to bring us back to Jesus’ body where we worship our Father in Spirit and truth together with all God’s people.

Now imagine for a moment that you were the Samaritan woman, and you wanted to change the topic of discussion away from the guilt that has been revealed in you; what religious question would you ask Jesus?

In the church on earth there are many issues that threaten to divide or trouble the church. Maybe you would ask Jesus about the styles of music that often divide people in worship. You may say, we prefer organ music in our worship, and others prefer guitar music.

Maybe you would make a comment about the many different forms of worship and orders of service in the church. You may say, I prefer the order of service straight from the hymnal, while another person might say, I prefer the more casual family service, or charismatic , or a reflective service.  

Maybe you would talk about the different ways we praise God. You may say, Some people praise God by singing beautiful hymns. Others praise God by singing sacred songs. Some praise God with movement, others praise God with a sturdy stance.

The Samaritan woman steered the conversation away from herself by asking Jesus about the right place of worship. Today we might do that similar. You might say I think it is better to worship in a small congregation, another person might say, I prefer to worship in a big congregation.

We can so easily think that it is the forms, the music and the place that makes true worship. But these things are only instruments that are useless on their own. It is when the Spirit works through and beyond these instruments that there is true worship!

So often we concern ourselves with issues that are actually irrelevant – as if our salvation depended on them.

The real danger is that the music, or the forms, or the people and the building become the focus of our worship time. It is possible that these things can become barriers that stop people from starting or maintaining a relationship with God as their father. These matters can also distract us away from God our Father who is to be the true focus of our worship.

So often we lose sight of who it is that we are worshipping and how many different ways we can truly worship him. We get caught up in petty issues, and personal hobby horses and lose sight of who it is that we are worshipping.

But Jesus clears away our agenda. He reveals that he wants to restore our relationship with God our Father through our worship experience!

Just like the Samaritan woman, we are sinners with a history. When we come into the presence of God our masks are cut away and God exposes us for who we really are. Naturally we will want to hide our shortfalls and our broken relationships behind pious words. But we can hide nothing from God. He sees everything.

But in a show of eternal love the one true Jesus comes to us, he shows us that he has died for us and introduces us to our Heavenly Father just as he did to the Samaritan woman.

Jesus makes it possible for people like us and the Samaritan woman, – people who are abused and condemned to be able to worship God the gracious Father.

God the Father has sent his Son to walk with sinners to overturn the practices, the forms, the music and the temples that demand us to sacrifice ourselves in order to be saved. And Jesus paid the price for this radical action. He offended many who worked to try and gain their own salvation. Finally, Jesus was put to death on the cross.

And there on the cross, Jesus shed his blood to wash us clean so that we can stand before God as our Father and worship him forever!

At our Baptism God gave us his Holy Spirit to transform us who were unholy and unclean sinful beings into holy spiritual beings. Now the Holy Spirit empowers us to gather together to worship God the Father through Jesus Christ – in Spirit and truth.

Because of Christ, worshipping God the Father is not a matter of forms, sacrifices or styles. Worship is about our relationship to God our Father.

Through the Spirit we are brought into fellowship with Jesus Christ who is the truth. And through Jesus we can stand before God our Father and worship him.

Like the Samaritan woman, we can rejoice that Jesus is the Saviour who restores our relationship with God the Father. Amen

And the peace of God which passes all understanding keep our hearts and mind safe in Jesus Christ to life everlasting. Amen.

Nicodemus came at night

The Text: John 3:1-17

Nicodemus came at night!


A pastor had a discussion at a youth meeting about this fact; that Nicodemus came at night and there were a few suggestions as to why this may have been.

Some suggested that he might have come at night because he was a member of the Pharisees and didn’t want to be seen with Jesus by the other leaders or by other members of the ruling council the Sanhedrin. Some theologians don’t accept this premise.

Another suggestion was that Nicodemus was nocturnal, a bit like a possum! Now while this gave us a good laugh apparently it might be closer to the mark than we thought. Nicodemus being a Pharisee was a theologian, but a theologian was not a job where you could earn a living so the majority of the Pharisees would have worked during the day, leaving only the night time for theological discussion.

Now another suggestion was that Nicodemus came at night so that he could have a decent conversation when others wouldn’t be harassing Jesus, it seems if that was his goal then he got his wish.

Nicodemus came because he wanted to make sense of the something. A common question for the Pharisees in their theological discussion was; how and when will we see the kingdom of God?

Given we are going to talk about things that we can’t understand by our own reason perhaps you might consider some of the thing that don’t make sense to you.

There are many things do not make sense to us!

Why are sheep so stupid? Why does my dog keep running away? Why does God allow suffering? Why, why, why?

And then we come to the how’s.

How did God create the earth and is our modern science close to finding out? How does a car work? How do computers work? How am I going to manage in this life?

Many of these things have perfectly legitimate answers, others just don’t make sense.

Nicodemus wanted to make sense of something and it seems he only got more confused. His question related, we can assume, to the kingdom of God. When and where? When will the kingdom come? Where will the kingdom come?

He doesn’t come straight out and ask Jesus this but Jesus pre-empts his question and sees through his preliminaries to get straight to the point. Nicodemus doesn’t even get a question out – only a comment about Jesus having God with him, before Jesus gives the answer to his un-asked question. ‘If you’re looking for the Kingdom, you are not going to see it unless you are born again’.

Now if Nicodemus was confused before, he’s really baffled now. Born again? Born once is confusing enough to understand, how we can be born again? A man can’t climb back in where he came from so that he can come out again! It was hard enough for your mother the first time when you were an infant – how painful would it be to birth an adult!

But Jesus is not talking about physical birth, he’s talking about birth with water and the spirit. Not water, and then the spirit, as if you can be re-born again, and then again, but water and the spirit together creating a new being. This new being is not driven by its flesh as the old being was but is now driven by the spirit who resides and does the good that pleases God.

Lutherans straight away think this relates to baptism. And why shouldn’t we? It’s not even a big stretch. And here in this passage the active work of God in baptism is highlighted.

During your birth I’m pretty sure you didn’t do much. You didn’t participate in the conception, that’s a miracle of God and your Parents. You were passive through gestation, fed as your mother ate, living like a parasite, and then through your birth your mother once again did all the hard work and you probably just cried when it was over. So if you were passive and receptive in your physical birth, how much more are you passive and receptive in your new birth?

We are passive in our life of faith. You don’t start by looking for God.

As much as we could say well Nicodemus came to God, so we must also come to God. Verses 16-17 tell us that God has come to us. If God in Jesus were not on this earth Nicodemus would have had no one to seek out.

Same goes for us, God seeks us out now by the Spirit blowing wherever he pleases. Blowing through parents who know that it’s a good thing for their child to get baptised. Blowing through families who want good things for their children even if they cannot explain or put a name to them. Blowing through friends and neighbours who do the good deeds of the spirit because he resides in them leading their friends and neighbours to come and ask how and why are you doing these good things.

This passage must definitely be about baptism. Baptism where the participant is passive and God is active. Using water, word and spirit to get the job done to re-birth a person of the spirit.

If Nicodemus didn’t understand, how can anyone of the flesh get it? We just don’t and can’t understand how and why God does these things. We need to refer back to the catechism where we learnt that ‘I cannot by my own understanding… …but the Holy Spirit, calls, enlightens’ and so on.

Nicodemus couldn’t by his own understanding. Maybe he did get it eventually because he went with Joseph to help bury Jesus. Abraham couldn’t by his own understanding comprehend how God could call him to be the father of many nations in his old age, but he eventually came to believe and have faith in the promise of his God. So Nicodemus could be seen as a real son of Abraham who came to believe, have faith in what God had told him.

We also can come to believe, we may not be able to understand for ourselves, but the Holy Spirit calls and enlightens us, the Holy Spirit gives us faith to believe that; we are reborn in baptism by water and the spirit. That we enter the kingdom in our new birth, that we have the spirit. That we are included when Jesus tells us that God sent his son for the whole world, for US.

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for coming into the world as Saviour. May we believe in you and be born again.


The temptation of Jesus

The Text: Matthew 4:1-11

The temptation of Jesus    

Today’s gospel reading deals with the realities of sin and temptation, grace and faith. Our gospel reading identifies Jesus’ faith in the word of God. His faith was demonstrated in the face of temptation.

As Christians we believe that sin has power – a deadly power that comes from the evil one. We also believe that faith has power – a life-giving power that comes from God.

In our lives we experience a struggle between these two powers. Martin Luther often spoke about Christians being saints and sinners at the same time.

When we put our faith in God we can be sure that Satan will want to throw a temptation or two our way. For example, we all have a dominant life value that we unconsciously base our decisions on. For some this might be the desire for fun or comfort or safety. It might be the desire for power or pleasure or to please others.

Satan loves to play with these desires and to lead us to think that we are the most important people in the world and that everything should revolve around us.

Satan loves to challenge our faith and seeks to twist the truth to lead us away from serving God.

When natural disaster or personal tragedy comes our way, Satan will try to tempt us into believing ‘God doesn’t love me. God is punishing me.’ If you ever experience this, stop! And remember what the scriptures say.

In the scriptures we will find a completely different explanation to disaster and tragedy. Romans 8:22 says. We know that all that God created has been groaning. It is in pain as if it were giving birth to a child. The created world continues to groan even now.

Scripture makes it clear that there will come a time when there will be a new heaven and a new earth and the old order of things will pass away and death will be no more. Regardless of what happens in this world, will you keep your faith in God’s promise that he is making all things new?

Even when disasters and tragedies leave us feeling as if we are small and powerless, will we keep the faith?

There is an old Scandinavian legend that explains this so well. It is about the mighty Thor and how one day he visited the land of the giants.

When Thor arrived there he found that the giants were engaged in various contests of strength. They asked him if he would like to take part in their games. He said yes. So they proposed three tests of strength for him.

First Thor was asked to drink all the liquid in a large two handed drinking bowl. He tried to drink it. And he drank as much as he could. But only a tiny portion of the liquid in the bowl had disappeared. Finally he had to put down the bowl and admit defeat. To him the giants seemed sympathetic – and they proposed something a bit easier for his second test.

A black cat was walking by and Thor was instructed to lift it up. He grabbed hold of the animal, thinking it should be easy to hoist it up. He strained and tugged as hard as he could but he couldn’t even begin to budge the cat.

By this time the giants were beginning to be openly amused at Thor’s predicament.  “You are supposed to be strong”, they said, “but it seems you are not. Well…we will give you something even easier for your third test.”

So for the third test the giants challenged Thor to a wrestle with an old woman. With every bit of strength that Thor could muster he grabbed hold of the old woman, but all his pushing and pulling and twisting was in vain. He simply could not meet the challenge.

As Thor, humbled and dejected, left the giants to head back home, one of them went with him for a part of the way and told him that there was magic in the contests. He said:

“The cup contained the sea and who can drink that? The cat was the evil in the world, and who is able to lift that up and take it away? And the old woman was time, and who is able to contend with her?”

When it comes to sin and its effect on the world, we are truly living in the land of giants. The sin of all people causes the world to groan in pain. We are tempted to give up in despair – feeling that nothing we can do will make a difference; believing that there is no help or hope for us or our world.

Maybe this is the greatest temptation of our time. Maybe our greatest temptation is to give up hope. This might just be the greatest work of Satan in our world – tempting people away from putting their hope in God and his Holy word.

But friends, we have within us: one who is stronger than the world; one who is greater than the tempter; one who has triumphed over evil both in life (as we see in Jesus’ temptation today), and in death (as we see in Jesus’ death and resurrection).

Most people dwell too much on the negative side of things. They see the problems but they don’t take hold of the solution. That solution is that the good news of salvation that is unconditionally offered to all.

In our life we so quickly fall into despair on account of the giants we face: we forget the stories of hope that God gives us, like the story of David and of how one small stone in his hands brought an end to Goliath who threatened his nation and caused even Saul and his mighty army to give up hope.

So too, we have a saviour: one who remembers who we are; one who loves us as a father loves his children; one who seeks to nurture us as a mother nurtures her baby.

This saviour has ventured into the same troubled waters that we live in each day. He has battled the currents – fought the enemies – and shown that he is able. He also shows us that when we ‘swim’ with him – we are able too!

Our saviour remembers who we are and he loves us, and seeks the best for us. He knows that we are weak swimmers in the deep waters of sin. He knows that we will flounder and thrash, grow tired and sink. He knows the waters we are in. And he does not ignore us.

Our saviour reaches out to us

– he calls out to us.

– he seeks to guide us and help us – and like all good parents

– he forgives us and does all that he can to make sure that we start each day anew, refreshed and surrounded in love.

Even though we have fallen, we have a saviour who has been proven to stand firm even in the face of temptation. He alone can rescue us.  May we look to Jesus for he is our hope and our salvation.