5th Sunday of Lent

Philippians 3:13b-14

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

            God is doing a new thing. But then we don’t really like new things do we? That means change, means hard work, means moving away from what you know and have grown to accept. The funny thing for us as Christians is that this new thing that God is doing, and in part the goal that Paul strives for is in the past, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, your salvation, redemption and freedom from sin and death. It’s also in the past applied to you in baptism, drowned and dead to sin, the Old Adam, then risen cleansed to a new life in New man, Jesus, free from the chains of sin and the devil. From the old to the new, but it’s not back to the future, rather forward to the past.

            We can say that because although our resurrection in Jesus and our baptisms are both in the past we wait for the time they take full effect, when He returns, raises the dead and make all things new (Revelation 21:5). So what do we do while we wait? Just sit at home watching TV or playing games, maybe sell all you have and go live in the scrub, or just go about your life here on earth as if this world is all there is and will never really end, that it will not be made new? No there are huge problems with all these ways, they all come from ourselves, our own thoughts and desires, they are the ways of that Old Adam. Rather what does the Triune God teach us to do? What are His ways? Paul writes that he forgets what is behind, and elsewhere what is passing away (Matthew 24:351 Corinthians 7:31; 1 John 2:17), the glory we attain in this world, who we are in this world, neither Jew nor Greek (Galatians 3:28), even what you have done, how you have acted; to forget these things and strive for, strain toward what is ahead. Because all these things, what you have done and who you are in this world are nothing compared to what Jesus has done for you and who you now are in Him, who you will be.

Forward into the past. We know what Jesus has done and what He has promised, resurrection from the dead, His righteousness, freedom from death and our sinfulness. We know this, it was shown to our forebears in the faith all those years ago, in the distant past. But you and I in our struggles and failures to stay on God’s way, the straight narrow path, know that He will fulfil His promises to us, this worth more than anything we might do, so we strain with Paul to reach that goal, that end, like a runner in a race. Don’t give up on the promise to you, but to share in Christ’s way of life, His sufferings, and becoming like Him, who you are joined to in baptism, dying and rising to new life. This is the new thing, forward to the past, the goal of our Christian faith, to be resurrected from the dead, to receive Jesus’ righteousness, to be renewed.

The peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, from now to the end. Amen.

Joseph Graham

4th Sunday of Lent

Luke 15:21, 32

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

This parable needs no introduction, only the Good Samaritan might be more well known. But still, just because it is familiar to us doesn’t mean it’s a chore to listen to again. I’ve heard it called the parable of the lost son, following the parables of the lost sheep and lost coin; or called the Prodigal Son, prodigal just means wasteful, or even the loving Father, but what ever you know it as, it reminds us again of those things we so often take for granted and forget.

            Last week we heard that God’s ways are not our ways and this week we see this played out in the parable. One son decides he’s not satisfied with his life with the Father, takes the gifts the Father has given him, leaves and strives after things that don’t satisfy, throwing away and forgetting all the Father had done for him. The older son stays but also is not satisfied, potentially even resenting his younger brother because the older didn’t live that life, and then resenting him for the great gifts of peace, joy and love freely given to him. And then the Father, the one who sustains both sons even when they don’t recognise it, and who loves them both freely, not because of what they have done and not despite what they have done, but unconditionally loves both his wayward sons.

            Our ways are the ways of the sons, of active and passive rejection, neither were satisfied with God’s grace and love; God’s way is the way of the Father, of unconditional love and free restoration with Him. So here Jesus, talking to the faithful, law-abiding Pharisees who taunted Jesus because he ate with prostitutes and sinners, to them Jesus puts forward the two broad ways that we, as people who now believe in Him, go. Either the rejection of God and His goodness for our own benefit in the here and now, striving for things that do not last, wealth, sex, power; or the more subtle dissatisfaction and taking for granted what God has given you. The younger son turns from his evil ways and back to God pleading for mercy and receiving freely abundant grace; then the older brother resents the joy and peace the younger received. It reminds me of my parents.

My dad wasn’t a Christian, grew up as part of the culture, strove for the things in this world that don’t satisfy, then the Holy Spirit brought him to the truth, to Jesus Christ. It was a big change for him and he jumped right in, reading the books in the local pastor’s library, then the following year beginning to study to become a pastor. But mum grew up in the church, she had known God’s mercy and grace for her whole life, there was no great change, no ‘Damascus road’ experience. Mum was a bit envious of dad that he had that wonderful experience; dad was a bit envious of mum because she didn’t need it.

So how do you see yourself in this story. Are you the younger brother, an outright sinner who lived for this evil world then returned to God’s love? Or are you the older brother, taking God’s grace for granted and fighting your desire to sin? Or maybe sometimes a bit of both? Do you want to live like all the other people of Australia, by that policy of ‘if it doesn’t hurt anyone and makes you feel happy, do it’? This is the season of Lent when we take some time to look at ourselves and why Jesus died, so when you examine yourself against God’s Word, how do you like these brothers reject His love and promises to either go your own way or wish you could? How do you fall to temptation? That drive all humans have to rely on ourselves and store up treasures here on earth. Both in our thoughts and actions.

We all like the young son, are unworthy, are sinners; Paul writes that we deserve death (Romans 6:23). But what does the Father do? Does He make His son a slave? No! He graciously forgives and restores him to the family. The son knew what he had done was wrong, and knew that the Father was loving and generous, the son repented, turned back to God, confessed his sin and was forgiven. This is you and me, today we have confessed our sins, heard our Heavenly Father’s word of forgiveness and will eat with Him in thanksgiving and joy in Holy Communion. From 2 Corinthians (5:16-21) we heard that we who are in Christ are already part of the new creation, restored to the true and steadfast relationship with God Almighty; the old has gone and the new has come; our guilt and sin is taken away by Jesus and we are given His freedom from the devil and fear of death. We are called to live differently, what happens now that’s how Jesus ends the parable, do you stay with God? Or do you leave again or just grumble? This is the life of the Christian to, with the Holy Spirit’s help, struggle against temptation and our corrupt human ways to strive for things that don’t satisfy. But you and I are reconciled, you are forgiven, your Heavenly Father still loves you and wants the best for you. You are baptised into Jesus Christ, washed clean from your sin, even dead to it; sin no longer has power over you; and you are raised to new life, the new creation, reconciled fully to God. Don’t forget who you are, I know it’s not new, but don’t take it for granted; but far more than that don’t forget that you are reconciled to your loving Heavenly Father.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham

3rd Sunday of Lent

Isaiah 55:9
:As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

            Sometimes people we love decide to do somethings that just don’t make any sense to us, we think, ‘Why did they do that? How come to that conclusion? What’s going on?’. We know that we don’t all think the same, but there is hope, to understand your parents, children, friends and other people. We are all fundamentally the same, we are human and are influenced by the things that have happened in our lives, by our genetics and those we have lived alongside. But to think like each other, to really get into someone else’s head, that’s not an easy thing to do. Then compared to this, trying to understand other humans, how on earth could we ever understand God, His thoughts and His ways?

            He tells us. He tells us that His ways are fundamentally different to ours, as separate as the earth and the stars. And by His grace He also tells us how God’s thoughts are different to yours and mine. The difference between the thoughts that come from us and the thoughts that come from God. In the first two verses of this chapter He tells all who are thirsty ‘to come and buy milk and wine without cost’, then asks ‘why do we work for things that don’t satisfy’. His way is to receive from the Lord the blessings of freedom, life, and satisfaction; and our way is to strive to earn things, and strangely enough things that don’t satisfy. Our Heavenly Father here gives a fantastic analogy for how we are saved, thirsty people given free drink; the drink is yours, you need it, you didn’t earn it, but you can reject it; far better to trust the gracious giver and receive well His benefits.

But then God says to you that your ways are like chasing after things that don’t satisfy. Fundamentally, simply put we think we earn everything we get, and we strive for things we don’t need, and this is even in the small things. I’m certain that you all remember wanting to do something that was not helpful at all, maybe you only realised later, or maybe you just really wanted that extra beer, to hit that person in the face, to get to feel good in the moment regardless of what would happen later. But that you always think that you earn what you get might be something that you trust God about, but don’t really see it in your life. But it is true. This is why we struggle with God’s salvation, with our faith and trust in God. Despite your sins, your failures and your betrayals, Jesus still loves you, still forgives you, this is harder to accept for some rather than others. This is what Paul writes about in Romans, what I want to do I do not do, what I do not want to do I do, … what a wretched man am I. Thanks be to God who delivers me from this body of death (Romans 7:15-19, 25). In our society we hear about karma, you get what you give, give good receive good, give evil receive evil; we’re told it’s the way the world works. But what about cancer? What about sudden death of a family member? What about those Jews killed by Pilate?

How does Jesus respond to these questions? Do you think these people are worse sinners, more evil than you? No, all are sinners just as bad as each other, we all want to earn our salvation and strive for things that are bad for us. But unless you turn from your evil ways toward God, you too will perish. (Luke 13:1-5). Are you thirsty, do you need God to take you out of this destructive cycle? Jesus tells us, yes, we are; but don’t forget that God’s mercy and forgiveness, freedom from your sin, death and the devil, these things He freely gives you.

Through Isaiah He tells you that He will make a covenant with you, an everlasting promise and relationship, nothing can take you away from the love of God. This promise to David of the Messiah, the Christ to come. That people from every place will come and He will protect them, people the Israelites had never heard of, many of our ancestors, and also people we do not know. All these people, indeed all people who are trapped by sin, who are chasing the things of this world, the things that don’t satisfy, who are striving for what God freely gives; these people God calls to turn from their sad ways of living, to reject their thoughts and to turn to Him, to Jesus, who has mercy on them and pardons them.

In this season of Lent we remember that we and all people are helpless sinners who need God’s help. We look to Jesus, forward to Good Friday where He suffered our sin, guilt and death, and also to Resurrection Sunday where He rose victorious and free over sin, death and the devil. He is our saviour, our commander and our King.

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

Joseph Graham

1st Sunday in Lent

Luke 4:2
“where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry”.

We are waiting for a cool and wet change, a mark perhaps of the end of Summer and the beginning of Autumn, changing of the seasons. As the seasons change in the weather so they do in our church year. For the last two months we heard who Jesus is, God and man. Now in the next two months we’ll hear some of what He did and why it matters to you and me.

And so, after being baptised Jesus went into the desert guided by the Holy Spirit. This was a time of fasting and perhaps preparation for what He was about to do in His three-year ministry culminating in His death, resurrection and ascension. And after 40 days He was tempted by the devil. Tempted in three ways to break the first of the ten commandments, to rely on the gifts that God had given Him, to rely on others for His own benefit and to use God to get His own way. Even today the devil tempts us to reject God in these same ways.

Jesus ate nothing for 40 days, 5 and a bit weeks. He was hungry it says, probably the understatement of that century, most people I know get hungry within a day; and He is human, we die after 40-60 days without food so it’s safe to say He was starving and close to death. But He is also God, creator of all, the devil tempts Him to prove His divinity by using His power to sate His hunger. He certainly could do it, He feed 5000+ people with 5 loaves and two fish; and God brought bread out of nowhere in the desert for the Israelites (Luke 9:12-17; Exodus 16). However, He listens instead to God’s way and His Word, man shall not live on bread alone, but on every Word that comes from the mouth of the Lord (Deuteronomy 8:3). Of course, Jesus would go on to eat, blessed by the gifts His Father gave Him, but at this time He would not rely on His abilities to satisfy the devil.

We too have many gifts of God, life is the first and the foundational one but also the skills and knowledge we have received through our lives in this world that God has given. And like Jesus the devil tempts you and me to rely on these gifts rather than the God who gives them. A simple small example is when you grab a snack to give you some energy and forget God, in that time you are relying on the snack to give energy, not God who gave you the snack. Certainly there are more atrocious ways we might fall to this temptation of the enemy, like relying on our goodness to get ahead in life or on wealth to benefit and save ourselves. To rely on what is created rather than the creator.

The next temptation was to rely on the devil to receive what God had already promised to give Jesus, all authority, glory and power on earth. Now the devil is the father of lies, so I’m not sure that he could actually give this, but he is also called the ruler of this wicked world (John 8:44; John 14:30, 16:11, Ephesians 2:1-3). Regardless Jesus rightly confesses that we are to worship and glorify God alone, the first commandment, to look to Him when we need help and to live for Him who has given us life and everything we have.

Again you and I hear the whisperings of the deciever when we are tempted to rely on anyone, perhaps even the pastor, for salvation; to worship and glorify someone instead of God. Of course God has given us all the people in our lives, the wonderful ones and the not so wonderful; but again to rely on the gift instead of the giver is to reject God as our saviour. However we can, and should, thank God for the good He brings us through other people, like Jesus being provided for by Mary and Joseph.

The devil’s final temptation, before he leaves to tempt Judas later and orcesrate the crucifixion to his own destruction (Luke 22:3), is to abuse God’s Word and promise implying that Jesus would not have to suffer that death. To display His power and God’s grace to all with all the armies of heaven. Later Jesus reveals to Pilate that He could command all the heavenly armies to come and destroy those calling for His death (John 18:36), but His kingdom is not of this world. And in the same way Jesus rejects the devil and his ways and his twisted usage of the Bible, instead choosing to trust in God’s way that even though it was more painful and difficult that it was the best way and the right way.

Here we can remember that firstly people can twist God’s Words to say what they want and so we, like Jesus, should try to learn the whole of God’s Word and it’s foundation well so we can recognise, by the Holy Spirit’s guidance through the Word, anything off about what someone may say about God, Jesus, the faith and His church. The second thing we can learn is that you and I are tempted to do just that, twist God’s own Word to justify ourselves. The devil may say to you in different ways, ‘well you’re forgiven already for everything, so you might as well swindle that person or lie to your spouse or what have you’. Then when you do fall into temptation, really any temptation, the devil doubles down on this two hit combo as satan the accuser, ‘you’re a terrbile person for doing that, God won’t forgive you’. Of course, he is the father of lies and this is the biggest lie of all, no matter what temptation you fall into, a horrible and wicked betrayal of Jesus even killing Him again it may be, no matter how you fail God, He wants to forgive you and take away your guilt, so turn back to Him and ask for His help.

In the letter to the Hebrews (2:18; 4:15) the Holy Spirit tells us, that our high preist, our leader Jesus, was tempted in every way that you are, but didn’t fall and so He sympathises with you in all your temptations, even your falling into them, and He wants to help; so rely on Him and trust His promises. As we prepare over these 40 days to remember and celebrate our Lord’s death and resurrection let’s remember that He has given us everything we have, has given life to all the people we know and has given us clearly His precious promises of life, salvation and freedom from sin and guilt. Relying on Jesus as He helps us reject the temptations of the evil one.

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

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Jesus knows what makes us tick

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

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.


How is your worship?

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

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!

Getting down and dirty

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

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.


Written by Pastor Vince Gerhardy edited for Dubbo Lutheran Church