Archive for the ‘Lent’ Category

Jesus knows what makes us tick

Saturday, March 17th, 2018
Text: Hebrews 5:7
In his life on earth Jesus made his prayers and requests with loud cries and tears to God, who could save him from death.

Getting inside of someone else’s mind is a really difficult thing.  What makes people think and act the way they do isn’t easy.  As you listen to the news have you ever thought to yourself or even said out loud, “What on earth was that person thinking?  “What was going through his head to make him do this?”

We hear of a gunman entering a school and randomly shoot a teacher and students.
We hear of someone brutally harming a child.
Each time we shake our heads because we can’t fathom what has happened in that person’s life or what is going on in their minds to bring them to that point.

A pastor was called in to support a young mother and her two children who were shocked and traumatised by the unexpected death of their husband and father.  After what seemed like a normal lunch with the family, he went out to the shed and ended his life.

The police, family, friends and neighbours all asked the same question, “Why did he do it?  What was going on in his head?  He had a lovely wife and great kids – what led him to take such an extreme action?”  Everyone was trying to get inside his mind but in the end everyone had to admit that they would never know.  As much as we would have liked to get an insight into what this father was really thinking it was now impossible.

We might ask – how much does Jesus understand what is happening in our lives?  Our fast-paced world is so different from the dusty roads Jesus walked in first-century Palestine.
Does he understand our needs and sufferings?
Can he empathise with our worries, especially those worries that upset us and stress us?
Does he really know what is going on inside of our minds and what is really distressing us?
To be specific since Jesus experienced none of these while here on earth –
does he know what it’s like to lie in a hospital bed;
does he know what it’s like being 70 or 80 and all that goes with an aging body;
does he know about the stress that’s involved as we go through the various stages of life – getting married, raising children, dealing with teenagers, changing jobs, planning for retirement and then choosing the right moment to go into an aged care facility?

Does Jesus know and even care about these things which, in the big picture of the universe, are quite trivial but to us they are what make up our lives?

We acknowledge that Jesus is God;
that he was there at the creation of the world and
that he now rules with all power and authority.  As Paul wrote, Christ rules above all heavenly rulers, authorities, powers, and lords; he has a title superior to all titles of authority in this world and in the next” (Eph 2:21-22).  Jesus is so totally different to us – his ways, his wisdom, his knowledge, his decision are way beyond our comprehension.  Theologians have called God The Totally Other.  If the glorified Jesus is The Totally Other how well can he appreciate the things that are happening in our lives right now?  Has he ever had a sick day?  Has he ever had to grapple with depression, terminal illness, or to live in a dysfunctional family?

We know that Jesus was the one perfect person to walk this earth but that leads us to ask, “Was his personality, his character, his ability to cope and endure, his patience, his understanding and compassion so perfect from the moment he was born that it made it impossible for him to understand what it’s like not to be perfect?”  Therein lies the question that is almost as old as Christianity itself – Was Jesus really human or was he God in human disguise – in other words, he didn’t really become one of us?

The answer we give is crucial.  Among the things Christians believe is that through the birth, life and death of Christ, God became a part of what it means to be human.  He didn’t stand aloof from our pain and trouble.  He came right into the middle of all that causes suffering, sadness, depression, sin, rebellion and death. That’s what Christmas is all about – God leaving heaven and enduring all that is involved in becoming a human on this planet including birth in a time when infants dying at birth or soon after was quite common.

Because of Jesus, God can identify with us. He actually cares for us as one who personally knows us from the inside out and the outside in.  He knows what is really happening inside of us and the causes of the trauma and drama in our lives better than we know ourselves.  He knows all this because he has lived here amongst it all and experienced it all himself.

We say that through Jesus God knows what it is like to be hungry or to have plenty, to toil and sweat.
God knows the frustration of learning discipline and skills which do not come naturally.
God comprehends what it is like to sleep peacefully or toss sleeplessly, to relax and enjoy a joke.
Jesus may not have been an old man and experienced the aches and pains that old age bring but he certainly knew pain when every muscle, sinew, tendon and gaping wound made him cry out in agony.

Through Jesus God personally knows the sneakiness of some temptations and the full-on audacity of others.  From Christ God appreciates what it’s like to be warmed by a smile or snubbed by indifference.

God understands what it’s like to enjoy a new friendship and treasure an old one, to feel affirmed and to feel betrayed, to suffer for the truth, to be misunderstood, to make enemies, to suffer emotional and physical agony, and to feel forsaken. Yes, forsaken; forsaken by everyone. At the cross Jesus knows what it’s like to feel forsaken, even by God.

Some people say that if Jesus is not divine, then Christianity is a hoax. That is a part of the truth.  I would say that if Jesus were not fully divine and fully human then Christianity is a hoax.

When the writer of Hebrews says, “In his life on earth Jesus made his prayers and requests with loud cries and tears to God” he is reflecting on Jesus agony in the Garden of Gethsemane where he felt fear, dread, terror, and anxiety just as any of us would in the same circumstances.  He prayed and begged God to save him but still he had to suffer.  The letter to the Hebrews presents Jesus as the truly obedient son.  Obedience led to suffering and even though he feared death as much as anyone else, he trusted God perfectly.  Through his obedience he gained forgiveness for all those who buckle under the weight of suffering and depression; for all those who doubt God’s love for them when life becomes more than can be endured.

It’s natural for us to shy away from suffering. Not surprisingly, we dislike hard discipline and pain. We would like a trouble free, painless existence. Yet we need to face the unpalatable truth that we often learn more through suffering than we often do through comfortable times.

The very successful movie and TV star Michael J Fox was interviewed on TV was time ago.  At the age of 29 he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and was on a quest to find a cure.
The interviewer asked Fox after a clip from his time travel movie, “If you could go back in time, really, you wouldn’t change the fact that you’ve got Parkinson’s, would you?”
Fox replied, “No, I wouldn’t.  I absolutely wouldn’t. This path that I’m on …. it’s like I gave up my job to do my life’s work”.

That’s an amazing statement when you think about it.  There is an element of sacrifice about it and there is also the idea that suffering, used creatively, can enhance the beauty of a human life.  You may know of times in your life when some kind of trial or suffering has led you to grow in your understanding of God or developed your own perseverance, or strengthened your faith and trust, or increased your awareness of the suffering of others.  The path that Jesus was on included obedience and suffering and his life’s work brought about a cure for another sickness – the sickness of sin.

Even though Jesus never sinned he knows the shame and guilt that sin brings into our lives.  He was nailed to a cross but it was more than nails that held him there.  If it was just the nails then he could have used his almighty power and come down and healed himself and cursed his enemies.  Nails went through his flesh but it was our sin and shame and guilt that pinned him to the cross.  As he hung there he felt our shame and died for our sin.  He must have been overwhelmed with sadness at how much evil humanity had done and it was all now bearing down on him.  As the Scripture says, “He was wounded for our transgressions; he was bruised for our iniquities”.

When we look in the scriptures we see Jesus in two different ways.  In every way Jesus is one of us. He is as human as you and I.  He is born and dies.  He knows in a very real way what it means to suffer pain, and have needs, to feel vulnerable and helpless.  The man Jesus died the undignified death on a cross as a sinner giving his life to save all people.

The scriptures also show us that Jesus is God.  He created the world and us and as our Creator knows his creation.  He knows us more intimately than we can ever imagine.  He knew us before we were born – even before we were aware of ourselves.  He rose from dead and rules in heaven; he is our eternal high priest in heaven who presents our needs and prayers for us at the Father’s throne in a compassionate and understanding way (Hebrews 4:14-16).

At the beginning I talked about getting into the mind of someone else and understanding where that person is coming from and what makes him/her act in certain ways.  What makes us tick might be a bit of mystery to other people but it is no mystery to Jesus.  Approach God boldly and confidently, knowing with every human need that you suffer, Jesus is the High Priest who hears, knows and understands how you feel.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

Look up and live

Saturday, March 10th, 2018

John 3:14-21

 

Psalm 121 begins, “I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.”  How often in life do you find yourself in the depths of despair or frustration only to feel a call within yourself to lift up your eyes and search for help?  Our emphasis today is on lifting up and looking up, what does it mean for us, how does it take place and what are the benefits.

Moses and the Israelites were taking the long way round to get to the Promised Land, they were bickering and moaning to Moses and against God for taking them away from a life that even though it was unpleasant and hard work, provided them with food and water and a place to rest.  They felt that they would probably die in the wilderness and the food they were getting was as bland as I’ve been eating lately!  So they were grumbling big time.

So what did God do to fix it?  He didn’t remove them from the wilderness, he sent venomous snakes among them and many of the Israelites died!  Here is the wrath of God pure and simple, but when Moses prayed to God on behalf of the people God said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and lie.”  God provided the antidote and when the people were bitten they looked up and lived.

We could be a little perplexed by this scenario, we heard last week “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.” And here is God telling Moses to make a snake from bronze and place it on a pole and get the people to look at it!  The thing to realise in this case is that God commanded Moses to make it, and also in the original commandments they were told “You shall not bow down to them or worship them”, they weren’t bowing down and worshipping, they were looking up and being healed and in doing so they were reminded of how God provides for their healing and his power over all things.

Another important point is that God didn’t stop the snakes from biting after Moses prayed, he still allowed the snakes to bite the Israelites, but then provided them with the antidote in the snake lifted up for them to see.  God does provide the healing that is needed to bring them from death to life.

Our gospel reading makes the connection for us between the snake being lifted up in the wilderness for the Israelites and the son of man being lifted up.  We know in retrospect that Jesus was lifted up on the cross at Calvary, he was hung there for all to see, even if it was only for a short time, he was hung up there.  So what is the connection between a slithering and silent killer like a snake and the son of man who came to give his life for our sake?  You know the answer to that as well as I do…when the Israelites looked to the snake they were healed, saved from certain death.

Jesus was hung on the cross to save us from our certain death.  The healing that takes place through him on the cross takes us from death to new life in him.  Our second reading today describes this healing beautifully for us.  “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live…like the rest we were by nature deserving of wrath.  But because of his great love for us , God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions.”

Just like the Israelites who were bitten by the snakes, we were bitten by sin, through the serpent that tempted Adam and Eve.  We are surrounded daily by the slithering silent evil that longs to tempt us away from our focus on Christ and the cross on which he died to bring us healing from that sin.

Each and every one of us struggles with sin on a daily basis, there are events and challenges in the lives of all of us that threaten to swamp us, they feel like quicksand dragging us down feet first, like weeds wrapping around us and trying to trip us, like nets binding us hand and foot.  But even someone who is desperately trying to cling onto life can look up and live.

The Israelites looked to the bronze snake on the pole and they lived.  We have Christ on the cross to look to and to remind us that in fact we are already healed, and even better than that, “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.”

This takes us beyond the cross, we need not only look at the cross, but through the cross, as we see in the screen behind the altar at Croydon, to the wrappings of the empty tomb which represent the resurrection of Christ, in victory over death and then to his ascension into heaven where he does indeed sit at the right hand of the father.  From there he prays for us, just like Moses prayed to God the Father on behalf of the Israelites, Jesus is sitting in his place in heaven bringing our needs before God too.

None of this is our doing, as we heard in the opening, from Psalm 121, “our help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.”  And then in our second reading another way of saying it, “For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”

God gave us his son, to be lifted up on the cross, just like Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so that when sin bites us and threatens to bring about our spiritual death, we too have somewhere to look for help, we lift our eyes to the cross, but then through the cross to the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, all the while knowing in our heart of hearts that it is by grace that we have been saved, this isn’t something for the future, we have been saved.   Look up and live, lift your eyes to the Son of Man who was lifted up for our sake, so that we might be saved.

Amen.

How is your worship?

Saturday, March 3rd, 2018
Text: John 2:15,16
So Jesus made a whip from cords and drove all the animals out of the Temple, both the sheep and the cattle; he overturned the tables of the moneychangers and scattered their coins; and he ordered those who sold the pigeons, “Take them out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”

What is it that really burns you up?  What really stirs you up and gets you angry? Some people say that all anger is sinful.  It’s true a lot of anger may lead to saying and doing things that are harmful, there is also good anger.  Good anger comes as an expression of love and concern.

Today we hear of Jesus being angry.  The anger that Jesus felt that day grew out of his love for his Father and love for the people he saw in the temple and concern for what their worship had come to mean.  It is because of the intensity of his passion that we see Jesus so stirred up.

Jesus has just performed his first miracle at the wedding at Cana where he turned water into wine.  In fact John doesn’t call it a miracle; he calls Jesus’ miracles ‘signs’.
They are signs that God is doing something new; a new age is dawning on this world.
They are signs that the Messiah has come and that God is about to reveal his glory and do some powerful things as he demonstrates his love.
They are signs that a new order has come to replace the old.
They signs that things will never be the same again.

Jesus’ first interaction with the public in John’s Gospel takes place in the temple.  He causes a furore and people question his messianic authority and ask for a sign.  The sign Jesus gives is a prediction of his own suffering, death and resurrection.

Can you visualise the scene?  Jesus has entered the temple courtyard and it looks like a market place crowded with people selling and buying and money changing hands.  As Jesus watches all this he is outraged.  He makes a whip from some rope and drives out the animals from the courtyard, overturns the tables sending the coins of the money changers spilling on to the ground.  “Get these out of here,” he shouts. “This is place of prayer.  How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market! ” 

By the way, we aren’t talking about Jesus driving out a couple of animals from the courtyard.  During the Passover thousands of lambs as well as oxen and pigeons were slaughtered in the temple. So you see the temple courtyard would have resembled a huge animal market.   And as Jesus cleared all of these out, it was the maddest and angriest anyone had ever seen Jesus.

But you see, the problem is not only that Jesus is really mad, but he is in the temple when he gets so angry.  And it’s the time of the Passover – the great celebration of the liberation of Israel from Egyptian slavery.  This is the highest, happiest feast of Israel’s year.

The temple was the place where the nation gathered to be close to God. The temple is that place where they remembered God; they came there to be with God. Everyone is happy to be here at Passover in the temple for this festival occasion.  What a contrast this is to the anger of Jesus, whip in hand, overturning tables and shouting, “Get out of here!”

A while ago we heard the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament reading.  On this occasion Jesus doesn’t get red hot about adultery, he doesn’t get mad because the people in the temple were stealing, he doesn’t get furious because of covetousness or lack of respect for parents.

He attacked their worship. He assaulted their religion.  He isn’t attacking the Pharisees for their legalism, or the scribes for their snobbishness.  He isn’t assaulting unbelievers, he is attacking believers.  Here he barges in and attacks the religious for their religion, for the way they have perverted the worship of God.

John quite deliberately places this story in chapter 2 of his gospel because a new thing is breaking into this world.  The temple with its sacrifices and superficial worship has had its day.  Jesus explains it this way to the Samaritan woman,
“Believe me, the time is coming when you won’t worship the Father either on this mountain or in Jerusalem. … The time is coming and is already here when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for anyone who will worship him that way.  For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-26).

We are in the Lenten season and this is a time of self-examination.  Jesus cleansing of the temple leads us to ask ourselves,
“Does our worship need cleansing and renewing?”
“What does this ‘sign’ say to us about how we worship and our attitude toward worship”.  This is a text that leads the religious to examine their religion.

We are supposed to come here to meet God, to spend time with God and be touched by God and healed by God.
We are supposed to come here to recall the great things God has done in our lives this past week and celebrate with thanksgiving how God has rescued us from slavery to sin and given us a new land, a home in heaven with him forever.
We are supposed to be here to let the God who loves us touch our lives in his Word and the Sacrament, assure us of his love and send us out into the world to make a difference.
We are supposed to come here with our fellow Christians and be strengthened and reassured in their presence that we are loved and supported and comforted.

But what often happens.  We get out of bed, get dressed, sit in our seat, sing the hymns and songs, fight to keep focussed during the sermon, struggle to concentrate when our legs are aching during the prayers, stand for the benediction, have morning tea … and go home.

When Jesus saw what people had done with the worship life in the Temple he was horrified.  It made Jesus mad, just so mad when he saw what had happened to worship in the temple and what terrible attitudes those worshippers had.  When Jesus looks into the temple of our hearts when we worship, is he also horrified about the way we approach worship?

When he looks into our hearts does he see our reluctance to be here, driven here by our consciences, barely participating in the service and glad it is all over when that last “Amen” is said?
Are we so busy that out of the 168 hours in a week we can’t willingly spare just one hour to come into the presence of God with our fellow believers and celebrate God’s love.

When we come here to this church, do we really worship and celebrate God’s goodness in our lives, or do we just go through the motions sitting, standing, singing, saying the words, and perhaps sleeping, if not physically then spiritually?

When we come here to worship are we aware of what we are doing – that we have come here in the presence of the all-powerful and ever-loving God whose name we call on at the beginning of the service?
When we come here to worship do we have a sense of the absolutely amazing grace of God who has made it possible for us sinners to have the privilege to come before him?
At the temple the worshippers lost sight of just this fact and became more engrossed in other things. Recently I read this about worship:
Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke?  Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it.  It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets.  Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews for God will one day take offence…”

There is an element of humour in this, but it is also the truth.  Too often we consider worship as just a yawn.  Just as Jesus took great offence about the way the people were worshipping at the temple, likewise he is also offended by the attitude we have to worship.
The Bible says, “Since we are receiving a Kingdom that cannot be destroyed, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy reverence and awe” (Hebrews 12:28).  We have to admit that “reverence and awe” have been replaced by a yawn.

Isn’t it true that sometimes we lose focus of why we come here?  We lose focus because we are distracted by our feelings about the music, the preacher, the people sitting around us, the person we don’t particularly like sitting a few rows in front of us, you know what I mean.  This is one of Satan’s oldest tricks to get our thoughts and focus away from God and on to things very mundane and extremely distracting.

It happens to me as much as to anyone else – there are times when I don’t like the music, or there’s a distraction, and I admit that sometimes I find certain things that people do in worship off putting but when I’m most annoyed I have to remind myself that we’re all different, we all have different tastes in music, we have different ways of worshipping e.g. some like drama while others like meditation,  but in spite of our differences, in love we join with our fellow brothers and sisters and worship and celebrate our God in the best way we know how.

Remember Paul’s picture of the church as a body.  Every part of the body works together, even in worship.  And besides, God comes to us in his word and Sacraments regardless of what kind of music we have, or what style of liturgy, or what level of understanding we have about what worship is all about.

Jesus cleaned out everything that didn’t belong in the temple.  He cleans out everything that doesn’t belong in our lives including our worship lives here in this church or wherever.

He gave his body and blood for all the insincerity in our worship,
the times we have been driven to worship by conscience but our hearts weren’t in it,
for all the times we have spoken the words and not meant them.
He has given us his body and blood for the times we have sat here and gone home untouched by the Spirit,
for all the times we have given something else a higher priority than coming into the presence of God.

We thank God that he is still cleansing his temple, the temple of our hearts today.  We are made clean by the blood of the Lamb and invited to come and stand in his presence with reverence and awe.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

An alternative to the wish-list

Saturday, February 24th, 2018

Mark 8:34,35

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

All of you are familiar with the concept of “wish list”s.  They pop up—sometimes at our specific request, and sometimes with no prompting at all!—they pop up around Christmas, or birthday, or in the more sophisticated form of the “bridal registry”.  It seems to be an innate capacity of ours to identify and list all the things we need, or want.
I see wish lists in people’s lives in other forms, too.  It may be talking about “what I am going to do when I grow up”, or “what degree I’m going to get when I finish VCE”, or “how many children I’m going to have at which years in my marriage”, or “what I’m going to do when I cash in my super”.
The positive thing about a wish list is that it gives us an insight into someone, an opportunity, a focus, an understanding, a goal.  The danger of a wish list is that if it doesn’t eventuate—none of it!—(Not even one thing on my list, but all this other junk instead!)—we may end up desperately disappointed, disillusioned, even hurt, and angry.
The school of experience has taught me to value instead what I call the “prerogative of the giver”.  Giving is the prerogative of the giver.  A gift is the prerogative of the giver.  It may well be that the gift is, in fact, exactly what I wanted, perfect, just right!  But it is, before that, what the giver has wanted to give, is able to give; it is, first of all, a gift that is generated by the excitement, the love, the desire of the giver.
Jesus says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”  I think that probably 99% of the occasions on which I have heard those words, I have readied myself to do something, to take something up—“my cross”.  But go back a couple of verses in the Gospel today and you are reminded that when Jesus talks of the cross he is talking not of something that you carry, but something that carries you, that fixes you, that leaves you powerless, naked, stopped—
At that moment—taking the cross (or being taken up by it)—you lose life.  And from that moment life becomes, again, as it was in the beginning, a gift, and the prerogative of the Giver.
A little later, you’ll recall, Jesus—nailed to the cross—prays, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
And then it is up to the Father.  What will the Father give?  In his teaching Jesus once made a point of talking about the Father’s giving.  He pointed out that if we understand that even evil fathers know how to give good gifts to their children, “how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts”!
Easter is the prerogative of the Giver, the gift of the Father.  The life Jesus lives is the gift of the Father.  The life we live, in Christ, is the gift of the Father.  The life we have seen one person after another receive in recent weeks in baptism, is the gift of the Father.  The life given to you, body and blood, at the altar today, is the gift of the Father.
To put it quite bluntly, in denying yourself and taking the cross, you render yourself open to the gift.
This isn’t how we always think when we consider our “faith life”, or our “spirituality”, where we might prepare a list of what we think we should do…what we think we should pray for…how things must be.  Sometimes we think that “denying yourself” is giving up ‘chocolate’ or ‘wine’ or ‘take away’ or ‘TV’ and choosing to improve yourself by spending more time on much more pious but probably less exciting indulgences.
The example of Abraham is rather interesting.  Abraham is often touted by us as a man of great faith.  Indeed he was!  But the exercise of his faith is somewhat perverse.  God promises many descendants and a wonderful land.  And in order to actually receive these gifts Abraham has to—and this doesn’t happen easily:  he often resists, he second-guesses God, he lies, he manipulates—in order to actually receive the gift of the promise of family and land Abraham has to accept that he and his wife are barren, and then give their home away!  Abraham receives the promise by giving away.  It is completely counter-intuitive.
We have watched some close neighbours in the last few weeks lose everything.  Some of us have made little lists of what we would take if we were threatened by something that could very well take everything.  What would try to keep?  What would try to save?  We’ve seen people in tears celebrate the poverty of life, of family when everything else is gone.  We’ve been unsettled in ourselves.  What is important?  As the economy falls away, or as health deteriorates, or as age catches up, or as plans collapse, or as windows of opportunity slam shut, or as reference points shift, or as friends disappoint—
“My God, my God,” Jesus cries, “why have you abandoned me?”  And yet, “Into your hands I commit my spirit.”
That is the emptiness of taking the cross.  That is losing your life.  That is trust that the God into whose hands we give everything is “for us”; that he who gave everything up for us, will not give us up!; that, in fact, he will give us all good things—clothed better than the flowers, fed better than the birds, loved better than  the child loved by the best of earthly parents.
Taking up the cross is not about devising a spiritual discipline, praying a prayer list, giving something away (for Lent!).  Taking up the cross is about relationship.  It is about will.  It is about identity.  Ultimately it is about shifting our minds from “what could I do?” and “what could I want?” and “what could I be?” to “what has God done, for me?” and “what does God will for me?” and “what has God made me to be?”.
There is an old phrase that we use in the Church that talks about God’s “plan of salvation”.  When we “take up the cross” we are not taking that plan into our control, but are recognizing that God’s plan of salvation takes us up into it, into his will, into his love.  Abraham was taken up into that by giving up country, culture, home, status, security and receiving in return all the wealth of all the blessing of God—all of which had not been part of his plans, nowhere on his list.  But out of it he became a conduit of God’s blessings to all the nations of the world.  St Paul, who we heard today talking about and admiring the faith of Abraham, had had a similar challenging lesson about being taken up into God’s plan.  Paul had been turned around in his own life, giving up his ‘religiosity’, giving up his ‘expertise’, giving up his perfection and status and authority and power, giving up his sense of security and even giving up his concept of what constitutes real ‘health’ and ‘strength’ and, in return ended up knowing the liberation of grace—of receiving rather than earning or commanding.  He gave up what was his whole world and received an unexpected gift which, in turn, he would never give up even if the whole world were offered back to him.
Pastor David Stolz gave us, the pastors in his care, a little wooden cross he had made for each of us—just the right size to hold on to comfortably—big enough to fill your hand.  In prayer, in thinking, or in sharing with another who needs to be reminded of the grace of God…
In a way you might say that in order to take up the cross, we have to put the “wish list” down.  In holding the cross (and being held by it) our hands are actually freed, our eyes are freed, our minds are freed, our lives are freed to focus fully on the gracious will of God.  [In the garden Jesus prayed, as he was about to be taken up on the cross, “not my will, but your will….”]  The emptiness which comes from handing it over to God actually frees us to receive what does not necessarily appear on our self-made “wish lists”s, and opens us up to experiences of contentment, or healing, or recovery, or service, or generosity, or patience…or love…that we may not otherwise have planned.
In losing what we often think of as “life”, and in taking up the cross, we take up and are taken up by the fullness of God; we hold and are held by the eternal love of God.  The cross and the resurrection are the one place, the one event, the one gift.
James 1:17:  “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father….”  It is the prerogative of the Giver!
Amen.

Getting down and dirty

Sunday, February 18th, 2018
Text: 1 Peter 3:18
Christ died for sins once and for all, a good man on behalf of sinners, in order to lead you to God.

In 1993 Bette Midler recorded and popularised a song called, ‘From a Distance’. When it first came out there was a buzz of excitement because there was a song about God on the radio. Each verse starts “From a distance’ and the words express the need for harmony and peace in the land and no guns, no hungry people and no disease. And then follows the chorus,
God is watching us. God is watching us.
God is watching us from a distance.

But is that really what God is like? God doesn’t watch. We watch. We watch TV. We watch children playing in a playground. We watch circus performers do all kinds of amazing things as they balance, tumble, juggle and perform high above our heads. Watching is a kind of aloof activity; in fact, it can hardly be called an activity. It is passive. When you watch a group of children playing cricket, you aren’t actively participating in the game. You are watching them from a distance.

God doesn’t just watch. He gets in there where the action is. He bats, he bowls, when a kid falls and grazes a knee, he picks them up and dusts them off, wipes a tear from their eye, and with a word of encouragement sends them back into the game. God doesn’t just watch what is happening here on earth from a distance. He comes right down into the thick of things; born in stable, living in a war torn country ruled by unjust and unkind rulers, experienced pain, hunger, thirst, even tempted just as we are, as we heard in the gospel reading today when Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness.

As we begin this Lenten season again we become aware once again that God isn’t watching us from a distance, in his Son Jesus he gets down and gets dirty. The reading today from Peter’s First Letter highlights this when the apostle says,

“Christ died for sins once for all”, and then a few verses later says, “Christ suffered physically” (4:1) and a bit earlier we hear “Christ suffered for you” (2:21). Peter is saying what the New Testament states again and again, as in Romans 5:8, “While we were still sinners that Christ died for us!”

We have heard words like “Christ suffered” and “Jesus died” so many times that I wonder whether we have lost the true impact of what these simple, yet very complex words, are saying to us. It’s only when we look at other words connected with Jesus suffering that we start to get an idea of what is being talked about. Words like ‘abused’, ‘rejected’, ‘beaten’, ‘whipped’, ‘mocked’, ‘pain’, ‘agony’, ‘wounds’, ‘crown of thorns’, ‘nails’, ‘put to death’. When we hear these words we realise that the word ‘suffer’ is a very intense word. We talk about the pain that a paper cut sends through our finger to our brain or the suffering that a backache causes us or a twisted ankle. But this kind of suffering pales into insignificance when we talk about the extreme suffering that Jesus experienced. It’s true some people have suffered extreme pain to a similar degree as Christ suffered and maybe it’s these people who have a sense of something of the suffering that Jesus went through.

But here is the dilemma with which the New Testament confronts us. When we say that Jesus suffered, we are saying, God suffers, God feels pain. To our human mind this is not possible. When we think of God we think of him being so different to us. We are mortal, God is immortal. We are weak, God is strong. We have limited knowledge, God knows everything. We are sinners, God is holy and perfect. It would be natural to follow on and say, “We suffer, God doesn’t suffer”.

But that’s precisely the point that the New Testament is making. God does suffer. There are those who say that God is just a creation of over active imaginations. But if God is just made up by the human imagination, I’m certain that the God we would create would not be a suffering God. Paul backs this up by saying to the Corinthians that the whole idea of God suffering on a cross is utter foolishness to our human way of thinking – ‘a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles’ (1 Cor 1:18-31).

Some Christians don’t like to focus too much on the suffering and death of Jesus. Some prefer to talk of him being Lord and King and that’s okay but let’s not forget that he is also a suffering God, a servant God. Suffering God and Servant God might seem like a contradiction in terms but that’s they way God is.

The New Testament doesn’t avoid talk about God suffering because this is central to God’s plan to save all people. Already in the Old Testament there is a connection between the saviour, the Messiah and suffering. In Isaiah we read,
“He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering ….
He was despised, and we esteemed him not;….
he was pierced for our transgressions …
and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:3-6)

We have a God who suffered. When we see God in pain on the cross, we know that this God understands my pain. You see God knows and understands what it’s like to lose a child, to be abused, rejected, humiliated, a social outcast because he hasn’t just watched from a distance, he hasn’t even saved humanity from a distance.
He came to earth and was hated, tortured, made a laughing stock, abused, humiliated, and suffered to the point of death, even death on a cross. As we go through Lent which includes the events that happened between Palm Sunday and Good Friday, we need to remember, more than ever, that our God is a suffering God.

That’s the reason why a cross is so central to a Christian place of worship. We can sandpaper and smooth down the cross. We can make it into a nice piece of jewellery. Whether the cross is plain empty cross, or a crucifix with the image of Jesus on it, it doesn’t matter. No matter how much we pretty up the cross, it is always in instrument of suffering; a reminder of excruciating agony and death. In Jesus’ case, the cross is a symbol of an innocent man suffering because of the wickedness of others. The cross can never be anything else but a symbol of suffering and death.

When we see Jesus on the cross, blood dripping down his face, his naked body bleeding from the cruel whipping, hands and feet nailed to its beams, it’s hard to imagine that this is God. In faith we can see beyond all that and realise that this is God’s love at work on the cross bringing us salvation and eternal life. Through the vulnerability and weakness displayed on the cross, God brings his love, power and grace to us. We may think that this is a strange thing for God to do but it’s all about God’s love for us.

Peter goes on and reminds us of another strange way that God comes to us when he says, “baptism now saves you”. Again this is a very strange thing for God to do. Very unimpressive. Very boring. Very ordinary. But very God!

Water, very ordinary water renews, cleanses, brings us under God’s grace and claims us as his children. When we look at water it’s hard to see how God can do anything fantastic through something so plain, so uninteresting. But that’s the way God often chooses to work in our lives. He calls ordinary people like you and me. In baptism God calls people who have ordinary jobs, ordinary lives, and live amongst ordinary people and joins their name with his name. In this way we are joined with the powerful God who empowers and enables ordinary people to do extraordinary things.

There is a message here for our lives as Christians. The question that confronts us then is this: Are we Christians ‘from a distance’? Just as Jesus didn’t deal with humanity’s problems from a distance neither are we called to deal with the hurts, troubles and pains that afflict the people around us from a distance. Often it means getting down to be with them and understand them and getting dirty to help them. Is this what Jesus was getting at when he washed his disciples feet on the night before he suffered and died? He was a true servant, getting down on his knees, taking dirty feet into his hands and washing them. This was a foreshadowing of the kind of servant role that he will take up as he suffers on the cross. Doesn’t he also say, “I, your Lord and Teacher, have just washed your feet. You, then, should wash one another’s feet. I have set an example for you, so that you will do just what I have done for you”?

This is what discipleship is all about.
It might be risky.
It might mean being a friend to someone whom everyone else ignores.
It might mean giving others time, money and help that you can’t really afford.
It might even mean putting your comfort and reputation on the line.
But in the end it’s the only way that we can be true disciples of Jesus. Up close and personal, understanding and full of compassion for where the person is at, ready to do whatever is necessary to provide relief and comfort. End goal of discipleship does not include ‘watching from a distance’.

As we move through this Lenten season we ask that the Holy Spirit would prepare us for the suffering God, the God who mixes it with the muck of our lives, who mixes with our pain, who suffers alongside us. Let’s thank God that he was prepared to do more than watch us from a distance but was prepared to get up close and personal for us. We pray that we might do the same for others.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

In order to bring glory to God

Tuesday, March 28th, 2017

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent

Text: John 11:1-6

A man named Lazarus, who lived in Bethany, became sick. Bethany was the town where Mary and her sister Martha lived.  (This Mary was the one who poured the perfume on the Lord’s feet and wiped them with her hair; it was her brother Lazarus who was sick.)  The sisters sent Jesus a message: “Lord, your dear friend is sick.” When Jesus heard it, he said, “The final result of this sickness will not be the death of Lazarus; this has happened in order to bring glory to God, and it will be the means by which the Son of God will receive glory.” Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he received the news that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was for two more days.

Ten year old Tim and a group of his friends were constantly harassed by other kids at their school. They were bullied, stood over for money, and because they were the smallest boys in the class they were powerless to do anything about it. One day after another incident, they talked about how they could put a stop to all this. Some of the boys were all for ganging up on the bullies, ambushing them, even getting some of the bigger kids to join them. Tim wasn’t convinced that an all-out war on the bullies was the best way to go. Someone was going to get hurt – most likely they would come off second best. They sat in silence for a while. Tim quietly said, “Instead of using the same tactics as the bullies, why don’t we do just the opposite. Let’s get everyone to be kind to one another – not just us but everyone in the whole school”. His friends thought he was crazy.

To cut a long story short the group decided to give it a go. The idea caught on and soon the whole school was making an extra special effort to show kindness and do good things for one another. Teachers were impressed at how well everyone was getting on. Those who had been harassing the younger kids didn’t know how to handle all this kindness and gave up. Tim was hailed a hero by parents, staff and students. As he was riding home alone one afternoon, a kid from another school jumped out in front of him brandishing a metal bar. He wanted Tim’s bike. Tim died on the footpath from a fatal blow to his head.

The change that happened at Tim’s school was amazing. This only made the event that ended Tim’s life even more heart wrenching. A young person who had his life in front of him, someone whose plan changed a community and yet his life was tragically cut short. That just doesn’t seem fair. In fact, it’s not fair at all.

Where was God when this happened?
Why did he let this to happen?
Who knows what great things Tim might have accomplished in the future with his innovative way of tackling hostile situations? He might have become a world leader and used his ideas to stop conflict between warring nations. But now we will never know. We want to understand but we can’t help but ask “Why?”

The Gospel today also has this theme. When we hear the news that a close friend is seriously ill it’s normal to rush and be with the family. Not Jesus! Jesus knew that Lazarus had died. As we know by the time Jesus got there Lazarus has already been dead for 4 days. Jews believed that the spirit only left the body after 3 days. That meant that Lazarus was as dead as dead can be. Jesus had even missed the funeral. Lazarus was already in a tomb.

All of this must have seemed so unfair.  Jesus healed many other people.  Why couldn’t he come to see Lazarus?  Restore him to health?  Where is Jesus?  Why is he taking so long to get here?

Jesus explains, “This has happened in order to bring glory to God”. This is a troubling saying from the mouth of Jesus. It might easily be interpreted as meaning that God has deliberately made life hard for Mary & Martha & Lazarus so that he can get all the glory.

Let’s clarify what Jesus means. The key to understanding what Jesus is saying here is in the words ‘so that’ and ‘in order that’. Jesus is saying this happened and this will be the outcome.
Lazarus dies – God doesn’t take his life, but the outcome will be that God’s glory will be shown. And that’s precisely what happens when Jesus raises dead Lazarus. We are told immediately following the raising of Lazarus that “many people believed in him”, and then a few verses later it is reported that “from that day on the Jewish authorities made plans to kill Jesus”. This miracle at the grave of Lazarus brought the events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday even closer.

When Jesus spoke of his own suffering and death he referred to the horrors of what was about to happen as his time of great glory. Out on Calvary’s Hill there was nothing glorious about the humiliation and suffering involved in a crucifixion. There was nothing glorious about hanging naked from a cross while bystanders jeered as his life slowly drained from the body. These are shameful events but forever people will give glory to God for all that he suffered.

Have you ever thought of the hard times in your life in this way? They happen so that God may be glorified.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s not that God deliberately chooses you. Bad things do happen.

It’s not that God doesn’t care or isn’t concerned about us. In fact, in the story about the raising of Lazarus we see just how much Jesus cares. It is reported that Jesus’ wept as he stood at the grave of Lazarus.
He felt the pain of Mary and Martha.
He felt the anguish that death brings.
He felt the pain for those who refused to believe.
Today he weeps for those caught up in war and famine.
He weeps for children lying in hospital with serious medical problems.
He weeps for those who feel unwanted, unloved and useless.
He weeps with each of us and feels the pain and anguish that we feel. But in all of this he also sees these as opportunities to bring about something good. God can use the bad to bring about something good in our lives and in the lives of others.
When trouble comes our way miracles do happen.
What we had thought were irreconcilable differences with another person are suddenly resolved.                                                                    There are times when the healing that takes place in our bodies leaves doctors dumbfounded . The grief that Mary and Martha felt was very real but so was their joy as they saw Lazarus walk out of the tomb.

It’s easy to give God the glory when he heals us in a miraculous way. It’s easier to convince people of God’s healing power when your experience is evidence of this. We like happy endings.

But every story doesn’t end with a miracle. You pray, you ask for a miracle, you commit things to God but it seems like he’s not listening.

The fact is that God is good, not because everything in life is smooth sailing. He’s good because he comes with us into the valleys of despair, he climbs the difficult and slippery slopes with us, he feels the highs and lows that we feel, and when we feel as if we can’t go any further he carries us. Hurt and pain will always be close by during our life on this earth but we can be certain that he doesn’t leave us to endure these alone. He promises that you won’t be tested beyond what you can endure and he will bring you through it.

We live in a world of sin. Bad things happen. We do not know why. Be assured that God has a plan. Look at the cross and see again God’s unshakeable love for you. Be assured that when you are the weakest, God’s power in your life is the strongest. Amen

Father, we give You thanks for Your goodness and you assurance that you are with us. We praise You for the Scriptures.

We pray that the Spirit will help us be strong and that your glory be seen when the Spirit helps us through the hard times ahead.

O God, open our eyes that we might marvel.

 Open our eyes and our hearts that we might fully know what has been done for us.

Open our eyes and our hearts that we might see Your Son…incarnate, crucified, risen.

Father, all this in Christ’s holy name we pray.

Amen

Written by Pastor Vince Gerhardy edited for Dubbo Lutheran Church

Living in the Light

Saturday, March 25th, 2017

What words do you associate with darkness?Fear? Night? Terror? Danger? Blindness? Directionless? Hopeless?

What words would you associate with light?

Day? Truth? Hope? Safety? Sight? Comfort?

So, if you had a choice between living in the light or living in the darkness, which one would you choose?

Yet, what if I told you many choose the darkness over light because they’re afraid of the light?

It works this way…let’s say one of your children stole something – either from a friend, from you, or from a shop. They don’t want you to know, so they hide their stolen treasure. They want you left in the dark about their crime. Strangely, the only way to enjoy this forbidden treasure is to keep it hidden, and so they don’t really enjoy it anyway.

Or, a husband looks at pornography over the internet. While his wife may enjoy some of the extra attention he gives her through guilt or wanting to live out his sexual fantasies, for the sake of his marriage, he keeps his addiction a secret. The light of truth would destroy the trust in their marriage, so he keeps her, and his secret, in the dark.

Or, a friend has done something wrong. You don’t approve of their action and want to tell them, but you still value your friendship and you’re afraid if you approach them about it, you’ll lose your friendship. So you turn a blind eye to what they’ve done, hoping by not mentioning it you’re keeping it in the dark and it’ll go away all by itself.

Sometimes we use darkness to hide ourselves or the things we do. Sometimes we try to keep ourselves in the dark by refusing to face the truth. Sometimes we use darkness to protect our friends and loved ones from being hurt. So, for some strange reason, even though the light seems so much more appealing, too often the darkness becomes our friend, our comfort, our security, or even our saviour.

But darkness is the playground of the devil. He hates the light, so he uses the darkness to his advantage. He uses the darkness of unexposed sin, guilt and anger to gain a foothold in our lives. He also uses the darkness of our own insecurities and fears. He doesn’t so much bring his own darkness, but delights in using our own darkness against us. It’s like he stands in a pile of our own dark filth and flings it back in our face.

“Don’t say anything about what you’ve done – they won’t like you anymore. If you tell anyone about that, you’ll be sorry! You think you’re a Christian? Just look at what you say and do – if you were a real Christian, you wouldn’t do that! And what about those things you do when you think no-one’s looking? Yeah, and don’t forget your thoughts. You can act like a good person most of the time, but your thoughts betray your true sinful and detestable nature. You don’t want to repent or change your life, after all, just think of all the pleasures you’ll miss out on. Just keep everything hidden and no-one will get hurt…much.”

Or he uses our fears and insecurities: “You’re not attractive enough. You’re not very clever. You’re fat. You’re lazy. You’re weak. You’re not a nice person. You’re old. You’re insignificant. Nobody loves you. Nobody wants you. Nobody cares about you.” And so on.

Yet, if we bring the things of darkness, such as our sin, guilt, shame, and fears into the light, the devil can no longer use them against us. The power of forgiveness is always stronger than the deceptions of the devil, the world, and our sinful self. The light is always more powerful than the darkness. You know when you turn a light on, the darkness goes away. You can’t turn the darkness on hoping the light will go away!

As sin and guilt is exposed to the light of confession and absolution, it’s gone and dealt with. As your fears and shame is replaced by the undeserving love of Jesus, you live in peace. The darkness no longer clings to you. The devil can’t use what you’re not already carrying around on your heart. His weapons are your own doubts and fears, not his own. The more sin you expose to the light of the gospel, the less the devil has to use. This is why he doesn’t want you to live in the light. He wants you to live in the darkness so the darkness of sin and guilt and shame and fear will keep you trapped and crippled.

St Paul reminds you that you were once darkness, that is, you were once bearers of darkness, victims of darkness, and even instruments of darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Why should you choose to carry around the darkness of sin, guilt and fear, when you’re to now live in the light of Christ? Thinking of our definitions of darkness and light, you chose light as your preference. Living in the light and living in the darkness are incompatible. How can you live in the light of God’s grace, mercy and love, and yet still want to cover things up?

In our own Christian walk with Jesus, we can’t live in the light and darkness at the same time. Once we’ve tasted and seen the goodness of the Lord, once we’ve received the grace of God, once we’ve had our joy and peace restored through forgiveness, once our burdens of guilt and shame have been taken off our backs and washed away by the blood of Jesus, why would we want to keep anything hidden any longer? Why would we find greater comfort by living in darkness, when we know the peace and joy and hope we receive by exposing our sin and guilt to the light of God? Why would we want to continue carrying a burden when we know Jesus wants to take it from us?

You may have heard the general forgiveness of sins every Sunday of your life, but still struggle with specific things you’ve done in the past, things you’re not proud of. Private confession to a pastor may be what you need. Hearing those personal words of forgiveness for sins that have bothered you for a long time can bring peace and lightness to your heart again.

As mentioned before, the purpose of the Church is to forgive sins. Therefore, we’re to live in the light of Christ by exposing and forgiving sins.

We’re to expose our own sins and receive forgiveness, but this may also mean gently exposing other people’s darkness. This isn’t easy; at least, the gentle part isn’t easy. While we’re usually pretty good at letting everyone else know they’ve done the wrong thing, we’re not so good in doing it gently so they will admit their sin. Then, if they were to admit their sin, we’re usually slow at pronouncing forgiveness.

If you were to point out someone else’s sin or guilt, it shouldn’t be in order to punish them or put them down. If you were to expose someone’s darkness, it should be because you want to bring them into the light. You expose their sin in order to forgive them. So, if you expose their sin in order to make them suffer, you’re only doing the work of the devil. But, if you expose sins in order to forgive them and restore them to peace and hope and joy and life, then you’re doing the work of God.

You can’t clean up your own act. You can’t get rid of your own shadows, or your own darkness. Therefore, rather than being afraid of revealing your darkness and exposing what you want to cover up, you should welcome God’s pure light so that your shadows are taken away.

You shouldn’t be scared to expose what you want to hide because Jesus knows it already. Jesus knows you’ve done wrong, but instead of staying away from you, he came close to you in order to take away all your darkness.

Jesus came to uncover what you want to cover up. He doesn’t do this in order to embarrass you or punish you. He comes with his light and truth to take away your darkness of sin and guilt and fear and shame. He comes to take away your sins and give you his peace, his forgiveness and his light. Don’t hide your darkness, but offer it to Jesus. He’ll take it away.

Then as your darkness is taken away, you go out into the world as a changed person. You’re no longer burdened by your darkness. You no longer need to cover things up. You no longer do the things that belong to this darkened world.

Now of course, this means your light will stand out. You’ll be noticed. You’ll live differently to those around you. But you’d rather live as a child of the light than die in a world of darkness, wouldn’t you?

The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard our hearts and minds in the light of Christ Jesus. Amen.

He’s the real thing.

Friday, March 17th, 2017

Jesus Christ: he’s the real thing. John 4:5-42 The older I get, the more nostalgic I become. If I hear a song from the 70’s or the 80’s, I’m taking right back to the context in which I used to listen to that music. Recently I went to ACMI, (the Australian Centre for the Moving Image) in Federation Square. It was part of my resolution to do all the things I had never done in Melbourne. I absolutely loved it, and could have spent all day watching excerpts from the TV shows that I watched as a child. And with the shows went the ads. And there’s one company that I think does it better than most-Coca Cola. This company has been masterful in the way that it has marketing Coke. The formula incorporates young, vibrant people, indulging in exciting activities, complete with Coke in hand. There’s no doubt. The hype that surrounds Coca-Cola makes the drink out to be something that has the power to change lives. And the promise is that if you drink Coke then you’ll have a rich and wonderful experience of life with gorgeous, popular people right at the centre of the crowd. There’s a quasi-religious dimension to it.

It’s possible to substitute the word ‘God’ for ‘Coke’ in some of the slogans, and come up with an entirely legitimate statement. “Things go better with God.” “God adds life.” And my favourite one, which I used to have as a sticker inside my childhood Bible: “Jesus Christ; he’s the real thing.” Coke promises big things, but delivers little. It does quench thirst, but only to a point. And sadly, I’ve never found the consumption of CocaCola adding to the quality of my lifestyle, or acting as the elixir of youth. But Jesus is a different matter altogether. He truly is the real thing. The living water, in fact, as the woman at the well discovered to her amazement that hot afternoon. She was there for one thing only; to draw some refreshing water from the deep, cool well. And ostensibly, that’s why Jesus was there too. He had been walking all day in the heat, and simply needed a drink.

This story begins at the physical level. Both Jesus and the woman need water because of their biology. But Jesus takes this starting point and takes this woman down the path to a full revelation of his identity as the Messiah. In the process, he gently uncovers her ignorance and her needs. But first of all, we should be amazed that the conversation ever took place. Jesus was breaking convention on two points. There was great racial hatred between Jews and Samaritans. Most Jews travelling between Judea and Galilee would bypass Samaria completely, even though it was the most direct route. But Jesus, as always, took the road less travelled.

Secondly, speaking with a woman who was not an immediate relative just did not happen. It’s in response to the woman querying him about this that Jesus moves the conversation from the physical to the spiritual. “If you knew the generosity of God and who I am, you would be asking me for a drink, and I would give you fresh, living water.” Living water. It sounds appealing. But to start with, Jesus has no bucket. Is Jesus claiming some source of water better than this well dug by Jacob himself? Jesus elaborates. “Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again and again. Anyone who drinks the water I will give will never thirst ever. The water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life.” Now that sounds better. No more trips in the heat of the day to replenish the supply of water.

Jesus and the Samaritan woman are simply talking past one another. She’s stuck on the physical level. Jesus wants to lead her deeper. Jesus asks her to call her husband. And with that question, he breaks her life wide open. Her answer that she has no husband is greeted by Jesus with the remarkable revelation about her personal life. It’s a trail of emotional pain, and her current living arrangements transgress God’s law. It’s a life in need of God’s healing touch. That’s exactly why she’s here, in the middle of the day. Her shame keeps away from those who judge her for what she’s done. Better to avoid them altogether.

So this woman knows that Jesus is a prophet. Yet she’s not certain what Jesus wants to do with this information. Is he too going to shame her? Perhaps it’s best to shift this conversation away from the personal. Jesus, what do you say about the controversy between Jews and Samaritans about the proper place of worship.

But Jesus doesn’t want to play religious games. His concern is for this woman’s heart. In this encounter, he has been moving her through a process of spiritual discovery. The place of worship is immaterial. It’s what’s in the heart that matters. “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.” With majestic simplicity, Jesus short circuits the discussion. He simply announces, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” “I am the one who offers you living water. I am the one who connects you to the realm of the spiritual, to the life of God. I am the one that can satisfy your thirst for something substantial, meaningful, foundational, in your life.”

We all thirst. We’re desperate for acceptance from others. We want to feel that our lives are meaningful. We look for many ways to satisfy this thirst. From the woman at the well’s history, we might conclude that she tried to find meaning and security in her relationships with men. People thirst for all sorts of things that they think might provide them with meaning; a healthy bank balance, house, possessions, career, a degree at the right university. Pick your security blanket. But deep down we also know that “moth and rust destroy, and… thieves break in and steal.” And what then?

The mythology of the CocaCola ads themselves point to our desperate thirst, which cannot be quenched by any physical or human source. Our ultimate problem is spiritual. We need something to believe in that will go the distance. Jesus says to us, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”

Jesus says to us: “Unless you are trying to get your spiritual thirst quenched through me and not through these other things, unless you see that the solution must come inside rather than just pass by outside, that [whatever] else you worship will abandon you in the end.” The early church saw in this story a reference to the blessings poured out in baptism. This story was painted on the walls of the catacombs, a place symbolizing death, yet the place where new life in Jesus was proclaimed. So Jesus can say “The water I give…will become…a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” This is the same Jesus who on the cross cried out in agony, “I thirst,” and who suffered the loss of his relationship with his Father so that he could endure God’s judgement on a broken and disobedient creation. There was no relief for his thirst, only the agony of separation from the true source of life, his Father. Now, through his cross and resurrection, Jesus has come to us and filled us with the life of God through the Holy Spirit.

This is the Spirit of God, as Jesus explains it: “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” This is the well that will never run dry, from which we can draw hope no matter how hot it gets, no matter how shameful our past, or how broken our present, when life doesn’t play out for us like a happy, smiling Coca-cola ad. The woman at the well suddenly leaves Jesus. Her water jar is left standing there. The thing she came for is not important any more. She needs to tell others what she’s just experienced. “The spring of water gushing up to eternal life” is overflowing, and is now quenching the thirst of her friends and neighbours.

She is the first missionary in John’s gospel. So much so that the people of that place request Jesus to stay a few days. They too, want to drink from the living water. How and where is God calling you to share this same living water? Let God continually refresh you with living water, the gift of his Son, Jesus Christ. Drink deeply of him, as you are doing today in worship, through his word and holy meal, and in your own prayer and Scripture reading time. Don’t go looking for other things to provide meaning and significance, from Coca-Cola upwards. You have all you need in Christ to live an abundant life, overflowing in praise to God. And see how that praise impacts those around you, all the thirsty people. Remember those Coke slogans. Placing God as the subject God makes much more sense. “Life goes better with God.” “God adds life.” And my favourite one. “Jesus Christ; he’s the real thing.” Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen

Pastor AndrewBrook

There are some very confusing things.

Saturday, March 11th, 2017

Jesus answered (Nicodemus), “I am telling you the truth: no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born again.” 

Born from above.

There are some very confusing things in our world. For example, Why is it that people say they “slept like a baby” when a baby wakes up every three or four hours?

If olive oil is made from olives, and vegetable oil is made from vegetables, what is baby oil made from?

Did you ever notice that when you blow in a dog’s face, he gets mad at you, but when you take him for a car ride; he sticks his head out the window and enjoys the breeze?

Nicodemus was a man looking for answers. He was a good man. He was a Pharisee and Pharisees were very enthusiastic about being good. Nicodemus was a very religious man and spent a great deal of time trying to do the right thing.

Nicodemus was not only a good man but was also a confused man. He was confused about Jesus, who he was, how he could do miracles and why people like John the Baptist called him “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”.

So one night Nicodemus went to visit Jesus.

Why did he go to see Jesus at night? Did he go at night because he couldn’t sleep? Was he afraid that his fellow Pharisees would not think highly of him for meeting with such a troublemaker as Jesus of Nazareth?

To be honest, we don’t know why he went at night?

Maybe there is some symbolism in the fact that he came in the dark. We could say that here is man who is caught up in the darkness and he comes to the one who is light in the darkness of this world. John the Baptist said this of Jesus just a couple of chapters before, “This was the real light – the light that comes into the world and shines on all people” (John 1:9) The darkness of night might be seen as a symbol of the darkness that was in the heart of Nicodemus.

Nicodemus is fascinated in Jesus and begins his conversation with Jesus in this way, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher sent by God” and we know that “no one could perform the miracles you are doing unless God were with him.” You might not think much of us Pharisees but we aren’t stupid. “We know…” There is a smugness here. He and his Pharisee colleagues know all there is to know about God and how to live a godly life.

They go to Bible study every day and worship every week.

They fast, they give more than a tenth of their income to the church, they spend hour after hour in prayer.

Before Nicodemus is able to say anything else, Jesus says, “I am telling you the truth: no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born again.”

No mention of being good or religious. No one gets into the Kingdom of God by being a “good person”! Nicodemus had devoted his life to being good, committed to being faithful to God, devout in his worship and prayer. The Pharisees had something like 10,633 rules they had to keep to live a truly godly life. No doubt Nicodemus was a good Pharisee and a good man but Jesus blows a hole in this idea of goodness. No amount of goodness is good enough to establish a relationship with God or to get us into the kingdom of heaven!

Let’s look at it this way. Eight year old Peter went to Dreamworld with his two older brothers and mum and dad. He wanted to be able to ride all the rides that his older brothers could ride. But there’s only one problem: he’s too short. He is about 5 cm too short, only a mere 5 cm. At the entrance to the rides there is a sign with a line drawn across at a certain height from the ground indicating that only those so high or above could get on the ride.

Now Peter was tall for an 8-year-old, but he was still 5 cm too short to ride those rides. And no matter how he strained and tried to “act taller” he just couldn’t measure up!

He tried begging the ride operator. But he would not let Peter get on to that ride.

The operator didn’t say, “Well, because you are taller than 95% of all the other 8 year olds in your class at school, you can ride”.

He didn’t say, “You are almost tall enough, I’ll let you on to the ride.” The plain and simple truth is that if you don’t measure up, you don’t get on to the ride.

No matter how hard we stretch and act “good”, our goodness is never good enough to get into the Kingdom of God. That’s quite a blow. Like Nicodemus we’re good people!

We think of ourselves as upright, moral, decent kind of people.

We worship on Sundays, we pray, we give generously to the offering, we support the church’s programs.

We aren’t unfaithful to our spouse.

We treat our kids well.

We pay our taxes.

We don’t lie… very often.

We don’t steal from our employers… much.

We try to be kind, gentle and caring people … most of the time.

We try not to hurt people … as best as we can.

And all of that may be true – up to a point. But no matter how much we strain and try to “act taller” we just can’t measure up!  When measured against God’s absolute perfect standard, not one of us measures up. We all fall short. And not just by a few centimetres, we fall short by miles and miles. And deep down we all know it. Paul gives this diagnosis of our human condition from God’s perspective: “There is no one who is righteous. … No one does what is right, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12).

Like the operator of the rides, there can be no compromising of the rules. No one can get to heaven by being good because no one can ever be good enough! You are going to have to go about it another way! And there is another way!

Jesus says that it’s not a matter of being “good”, it’s a matter of “being born anew”, or perhaps better “being born from above” (both meanings are possible). Jesus said that means “being born of water and the Spirit.” Just as Nicodemus contributed nothing to his own birth into the world, likewise he contributes nothing to his birth into the Kingdom of God. Life is a pure gift in each case! But the new birth into the kingdom of God is a gift by God’s power.

In other words, Jesus is saying, “You can’t do it, Nicodemus, but God can! He can transform you from the inside out and make you good enough!”

It’s as though you are lying on a hospital bed in the final stages of a terminal disease and Jesus walks into the room.

You look at him and say, “Jesus, am I good enough to make it out of here?”

And Jesus says, “No, you’re not good enough! But I will do something for you. I will take out of your body the disease that is killing you, and I will put it into my own body. I will make the swap at no cost to you but at great cost to me. The result will be: I will die… you will live!”

What a gift! Jesus, God of the universe, says to us, “I will give you my goodness as a gift and take your badness into myself. I’ll take your sin and in its place I’ll give you my righteousness. I’ll die on the cross and you will live forever.” Out of love for us, God gave us his Son. He is God’s gift to each of us. Forgiveness and eternal life are ours through his Son’s death and resurrection.

When a person is baptised we hear what is about to happen through those drops of water, and the Spirit working through that water, “God washes us clean in the waters of baptism, and we are born again as his children. Through baptism our heavenly forgives us our sins and unites us with our Lord Jesus Christ, so that we share in his resurrection” (From the baptismal service of the LCA).

Or to use the words of Jesus, we have been “born again through the water and the Spirit”, “born from above” and made holy, fresh and clean.

Forgiveness for all sin, promised a place in heaven, made members of his church, given a fresh start.

He has promised to be our refuge and strength, our comforter and helper, our friend and saviour even when we are led astray into a far country fall into all kinds of evil and trouble, even when we feel as if life has taken us down a rough road, the covenant that God established with us at baptism assures us that Jesus’ love and forgiveness is certain and sure. We have been new and holy with another person’s holiness.

Born again – born from above – new life in Christ – a new relationship with God and the people in our lives.  We have been given a new life; making this new life a reality in our everyday interaction with other people is the challenge that is ahead of us. The New Testament often says, “You have been made new through Christ so then every day you must put off the old self and put on the new life in Christ”. This newness that you have received from God should impact on everything we do and say

the way we love and serve others,                                                                                                                                     the way we put God and his will first in our lives.

This is not just about being religious – this is about a new life that arises out of our relationship with God – this is about reconciliation, in fact, daily reconciliation with God as we repent of the wrong we have done and ask God to forgive us, and then strive to live as God’s holy people who with the help of the Holy Spirit, want to be the light of Christ in the lives of the people around them..

Nicodemus was confused and asked, “How can this be?” Simply, this is God at his most mysterious and amazing best. This is grace! This is God’s gift to you through Jesus. Celebrate it and live it!

May the love and peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Vince Gerhardy

“The serpent deceived me”

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017

Matthew 4:1-11   5th MARCH 2017 DUBBO

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

Today God has adopted two new children, Annabelle and Harry. As parents James and Katrina, Rhys and Elisha you have the responsibility to teach your children, so that they grow up knowing that through Jesus they have eternal life. As parents there will be many, many times that they will bring you great joy, children are very good at saying the most wonderful things. Due to their innocence they can come up with real gems which will bring laughter into your home and memories that you will remember all your life.

 There is a story of a little girl who was sent to her room for misbehaving. Sometime later her mother happened to pass by her door and heard her praying. “God, I am stuck up here because of YOU. Last night I prayed for you to help me be a good girl. Well, you didn’t, so it’s your fault!”

 Sounds a bit like the conversation between God and Adam and Eve in the Garden. God asks what’s going on, Adam responds by admitting that he ate the forbidden fruit, but then he blames God (“It was the woman who gave it to me,  YOU PUT HER HERE …”)

 Is SHE responsible?  apparently not! For she says; “The SERPENT DECEIVED ME, and I ate.” Poor Eve – she was only a victim. She could not be held responsible for eating the fruit. Neither could Adam. “The Devil made me do it!”

 But scripture is very plain – “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God;” there is none righteous, no not one.” In fact, there has been only one totally innocent victim in human history…         that is Jesus. Yes, he had opportunity to sin. And if he had succumbed, he would have had wonderful excuses – no one could blame him.
The Gospel message from Matthew which I read today has three strong temptations presented. Satin speaks to Jesus. Jesus,  you are incredibly powerful; use that power to meet your own needs. If you don’t take care of yourself, you will not be able to take care of anyone else.

 On top of that, if word gets around that you turn stones into bread, think how many folks would follow you. Everyone can use a little extra bread. Who could have blamed Jesus for doing something like that?

 The second temptation was equally enticing. Let folks know beyond the shadow of a doubt that YOU ARE THE MESSIAH, the Chosen One of God. What a spectacular stunt to leap from the Pinnacle of the Temple, drop the 450 feet straight down into the Kidron Valley, and land unharmed. God’s angels will protect you. People will SURELY listen to your message when they hear what you have done. Would anyone legitimately reproach Jesus for deciding to take that course?

 The third temptation was enormous – unchallenged political power to right all the wrongs…all the kingdoms of the world. How incredibly simple,

Jesus: you can ORDER folks to listen. You can ORDER justice and an end to all oppression. What a wonderful opportunity!
All it will take is a tiny compromise, an ever-so-slight division in your loyalties. You do not have to stop worshipping the God of heaven, just spread that worship around a bit. Jesus, this is the offer you cannot refuse.  Who could have blamed him for accepting?
Its interesting how Jesus avoided giving in. After each of the temptations was offered, he quoted scripture. Perhaps that should not be surprising. After all, spiritual maturity only comes when we have a deep relationship with the God of the universe whom we meet and learn from in the pages of the Bible.

Since the beginning of time our first instinct has been to blame others for our own failures. Instead of accepting responsibility, we claim we are victims of cruel and callous forces. It would serve us right if God simply turned away and allowed us to stew in our own sins. But that is not the God of love we meet in scripture.

 Do you remember what Adam and Eve did after their trip to the tree? In coming to the sudden realisation that they were naked, they made themselves fig-leaf loin cloths.

 Well, as the old movie says, “Stupid is as stupid does,” and this was a stupid move. Have you ever felt a fig leaf? It is NOT “the comfort of cotton.” In fact, IF IT comes in regular contact with sensitive skin, it is REAL  ITCHY.

  Back there in the Garden, God saw what was happening and, in a gesture of divine grace, said, “Here. Let me give you something that will work better… animal skins.” AARh-h-h. What a relief. We face temptation all the time. Temptation hangs in our environment like flu virus, always threatening to break down our resistance. We are tempted to break our diets, flirt with somebody at work, cheat on our taxes, gossip about a friend, lie our way out of trouble … you name it.

We are always being tempted to do what we know we shouldn’t do. We don’t need any instruction about temptation. Temptation we know about.
But, do we really? Do we really know what temptation is? Today’s lesson from the Gospel of Matthew is a story about the nature of human temptation — Jesus’ temptation and ours — and it throws a surprising light on what temptation really is. What does it mean, really, to be tempted?

 In ordinary terms, we think of temptation as the urge to do something we really would like to do but know we shouldn’t do — one more cigarette, one more fling, one more drink, one more juicy rumor. But the deepest temptation is not the urge to misbehave, to do what we know we shouldn’t do, but rather the enticement to compromise our baptismal identity, to be who we are not called to be.

 That’s the message in this story of Jesus’ temptation. The devil is not tempting Jesus to misbehave. He is not tempting Jesus to steal a wallet, or cheat on his taxes, or pick a fight with his neighbor. It’s deeper than that. The devil is tempting Jesus to ignore his baptism, to deny who he is, to forget that he is the child of his Father in heaven.

 It is significant that Jesus comes to the temptation immediately from his baptism, when the skies opened and a voice from heaven said, “You are my beloved Son, the one with whom I am well pleased.”

 That’s who he is. “You are my beloved Son. You are the heir to the identity and mission of my people. You are my prophet, my priest, my anointed, my suffering servant. You are the one I am sending down the long and painful road to Jerusalem.

 You are the one I am calling to drink the bitter cup of sacrifice. You are the one I am delivering into the hands of those who will kill you. You are the one I am sending to bear the cross for the salvation of all people.

You are the one to whom I am entrusting the promise of redemption. You are the one. You are my beloved Son, and I am well-pleased with you.”

 It is, then, when Jesus’ vocation and identity are most clear that he comes to the season of his tempting. It is precisely Jesus’ identity that the devil seeks to destroy. That, after all, is what temptation is all about.

 Notice how the tempter begins, “If you are the Son of God …” He could have attacked directly: “You are not the Son of God,” but he was too crafty for that. Much better to generate self-doubt — “If you are the Son of God” — since self-doubt is the cancer that eats away at identity.

 The devil picks away,  at Jesus’ son-ship, at his baptismal identity. The three temptations — to turn stones into bread, to throw himself down from the top of the temple and to worship the tempter — are not enticements to do bad things; they are, at root, invitations to be somebody else, to live some life other than that of the beloved son of God.

 Everything about the early chapters of Matthew — from the genealogy that opens the Gospel to the account of Jesus’ baptism — makes it plain that Jesus had been given a narrative to follow, a storied identity, the narrative of God’s salvation.

 The devil wants him to change the script, to trade God’s story for some other story. Notice that Jesus combats the devil’s attack not with theological innovation, skillful counter-arguments, but by citing the story, quoting each time scriptures from Deuteronomy that he was taught as a child.

 In other words, Jesus resists the devil’s tempting by quoting the Holy Scripture. He will not change the script; he will not live a narrative other than the one he has been given; he remembers his baptism, and he knows who he is. Because we belong to Jesus Christ, we, too, have been given a part in the story, a role to play in this holy drama of redemption.

 We have been called, called in our baptism to be God’s beloved children.

 In a world where THE STRONGER RULE, we have been named ambassadors of reconciliation. It is our baptismal identity to be those who sow love; where there is hatred,    hope where there is despair,                 faith where there is doubt.

 Because we are called, we are also tempted, tempted to change the script, tempted to live out a DIFFERENT LIFE, tempted to be someone other than who we are called to be. To yield to temptation is far more serious than to commit some transgression;

To yield to temptation is to say, “I am not a child of God, and I will not take my part in God’s drama of redemption.”

 Jesus was cast into the lead role in the drama of God’s redemption, and the devil tempted him to change the script, improvise on the character, deny who he was called to be. But Jesus knew who he was and he trusted his Father and he never wavered.

 Like Jesus, WE WHO are part of the church have been baptized, and the words have been said about us, “You are a son of God … you are a daughter of God.” We, too, have been given our parts to play in the drama of God’s redemption.

 “Seek first the kingdom of God, pray without ceasing,  repay no one evil for evil, feed my lambs,  bear one another’s burdens, be kind to one another, forgive one another  love your enemies,  be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”

 Even now the tempter whispers in your ear, change the script, make up your own lines.

 Everything is at stake, and the one who has poured his life into preparing us is watching. Jesus loves us and will help us in serving HIM by serving others. Jesus is always near to help and guide us, LET US ALWAYS REMAIN IN HIS LOVE.                Amen.

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