Archive for the ‘Lent’ Category

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.

 

Well meaning friends

Saturday, February 27th, 2016

 

Luke 13:1-9of

StMarksIn the book of Job, Job after suffering tragedy after tragedy is visited by his good meaning, but unknowing friends who suggest
he must be suffering such events because he is not right with God, and in today’s Gospel, Jesus feels the same sentiment from those who bring him the news of Pilate’s murderous actions against the Galileans.

News from Galilee of the murder fellow Jews, God’s people murdered as they were before God offering up sacrifices! Why Jesus, what did they do or not do to deserve such a horrible end to life?

Jesus responds, but not as was expected. He does not question over the details of this horrific tragedy and nor does He make a statement over the actions of Pilate, but asks those bearing the news: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?”

Before Jesus stood sinners who saw not their own sin, but only the sin of the Galileans who most surely must have greatly angered God to deserve such a death and so, like Job’s friends they clearly see this must be a logical cause and effect situation.

They must have deserved it.

Sorry guys but in Jesus statement “Do you think that those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans?” He has cut straight to the real issue he sees before Him, not the problem of those in Galilee, but rather the problem of those in His presence who know of sin, but know not their own. Jesus, not judging or breathing fire and brimstone, but rather out of His concern for them jolts them out of such flawed thinking and dangerous state of mind by stating to those around him, ‘Unless you repent, you too will all perish!’

Brian Jones: founder and original leader of the Rolling stones at age 27 was found dead in his swimming pool with greatly increased heart and liver size due to years of drug and alcohol abuse with the coroner’s report stating “death by misadventure”, and shortly after Peter Townshend from the band “The Who” wrote a poem titled “A normal Day for Brian, A man Who Died Every Day.”

Jim Morrison lead singer of the Doors and Jimi Hendrix in song also wrote and sang his tributes. Both would be dead within two years. Jim Morrison found dead in his bathtub from heart failure, said by many due to cocaine abuse and Jimi Hendrix choking on his own vomit. Both were 27 years old.   Kurt Cobain: lead singer of Nirvana found dead next to his shotgun. Amy Winehouse: alcohol poisoning and Janis Joplin from drug overdose, all only 27 years old with Janis once writing that she endures 23 hours a day only for the 24th when she can be herself, perform and feel happiness. A statement that makes those words from her number 1 hit (written by Kris Kristofferson) Me and Bobby McGee seem hauntingly appropriate:

“One day up near Salinas, Lord, I let him slip away,
He’s looking for that home and I hope he finds it,
But I’d trade all of my tomorrows for one single yesterday
To be holding Bobby’s body next to mine.
Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose,
Nothing, (and yeah) that’s all that Bobby left me.”

All 27 years old. Tragedies-I think so. All caused from their own actions-pretty much. Selfish in death and deserving our judgement?

“There bar the grace of God I go.” As with us, did God know them before they were created in their mother’s womb? As with us, did they not come from their mother’s womb in the love of the Saviour? As with us would they not have grown with a desire for life and happiness? And why, why are so many people who have trod the same path of abuse and recklessness still be walking this earth? Some still under the curse of self-abuse, and some still with the scars but restored.

It’s a long way down and a long way out and the difference between life and death at the bottom can sit on a knife edge. “There bar the grace of God we go”, and for some of us, there through the grace of God have we come out.

Did those who spoke of the Galileans repent and be saved? God knows but we don’t.

Did these talented musicians repent and be saved before the age of 27? I don’t know. But what I do know is that God says to me, and to you “Repent” that we not perish but be saved, and if that be a dying bedside repentance or a daily lifetime of repentance. Be it repentance from the heart of Jimi Hendrix, a world dictator, Judas Iscariot or from us here today-God’s grace shall not see us perish but in His forgiveness and salvation have eternal life in heaven. The Grace of God that we trust in to receive eternal life. A never ending life that I expect we need as we see come to grips with and understand just how in all things and in all situations was God doing His stuff to save.

A Pastor, scholar and teacher asked us third year theological and pastoral students “How our prayer life was going.” More out of fear than anything else did we nod and reply “”pretty good.”

And he, more out of knowing the human heart and mind than his observations replied, “No it’s not. But don’t worry about what you haven’t been doing, just re-start and keep working on it.”

If he was in our congregation today, he could ask the same of me in regards to repentance and I’m guessing both my and his responses would be like that of ours to each other those six years ago.

Repent of not repenting?

And what of the statement of Martin Luther in his letter to his friend and fellow theologian Phillip Melanchthon saying, ‘Beware of aspiring to such purity that you will not wish to be looked upon as a sinner, or to be one.’ And again, ‘God does not save people who are fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly but believe and rejoice even more boldly… As long as we are here in this world we have to sin.’

Then there’s Paul in Romans chapter six, verse one who after telling us that “in Jesus’ obedience that many are made righteous. That the law came in to increase trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,” but then to us, as like Jesus knowing the confused thoughts of those before him, Paul likewise answers against what human logic would make of such a statement with so:”What shall we dot then? Are we to sin that grace may abound? By no means.”

No way.

“Sin Boldly”, and yet, “by no means sin?”

I am really starting to see myself at the base of that hill in Jerusalem 2,000 ago and hearing a guy called Jesus on the cross ask His father to “forgive them for they know what they do.”

Truth is Luther in stating to “Sin Boldly” is talking of matters of conscience. A bad conscience of those who the devil has successfully tempted to sin so that he can then accuse, ridicule and mislead that they’ve finally gone too far. To get them to doubt and wonder if they are really saved in Faith in Jesus alone. Lies of deceit and trickery to which Luther answers: yes you’re right, I did sin, but I am forgiven. And guess what, no matter what you say in your lies, when I sin again I am not going to listen to you, your lies and words of damnation, but to the Words of truth of that the Saviour and know, that in my confession, my desire for forgiveness from Him has been granted.

Repentance, it is a change in direction, where one stops doing what they are doing, about faces, and then finds themselves on the correct course of action.

Repentance, is that not was Luther was talking of, turning from one’s lies to the truth of the Lord?

Repent of not Repenting enough. By no means sin, but still falling to sin. Statements akin to those who ask through worry of having fallen to the unforgivable sin. Statement’s or thoughts that clearly show that the one thinking it is clearly repenting, clearly uncomfortable with their sin, and clearly not to have broken the unforgivable sin, which is basically not wanting forgiveness. Clearly not broken because if are they worried about it, in itself shows they haven’t. Repenting of not repenting enough not wanting to sin, but sinning, same thing.

After that last merry go round are you know as confused as I am?

Yes, again I see myself at the base of that hill in Jerusalem 2,000 ago and hearing a guy called Jesus on the cross ask His father to “forgive them for they know what they do.”

Truth is, we pretty much  do know what we do and that is why we are no longer at the base of a hill, but now at the base of a cross where an innocent man named Jesus has been murdered. A tragic death not at the age of 27, but pretty close at only 33.

Those mentioned earlier in the 27 club as it’s called and Jesus not much older. Did they all have a hand in their death. In a way- yes. Were those in the 27 club and Jesus loved by God, absolutely.

The same, maybe in those two things but that’s where it ends because the reality of repentance is not that of our often seemingly logical yet false conclusion that unless first we repent, then will only God come to us.

The reality is that God did not call humanity to repent so that Jesus might come. He was sent to be with sinners, dying for them, so all might repent because of him, and now, now He comes amongst those He calls to repent, and because He is amongst us, we repent. To daily hear those words from Romans Chapter six.  That: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into His death. We were therefore buried with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Jesus was raised from the dead by the Glory of The Father, (that) we too might walk in newness of life.”

Three days after we stood at the foot of that hill and then the cross of a man Jesus do we know He was raised in Glory.

There at the base of that hill do we no longer stay that we hear a man named Jesus “cry to His Father that he forgive us because we do not know what we do”

But there at the base of the cross of Jesus Christ our Saviour we do we remain for though He came when we knew Him not, there at the base of that cross no longer do we see a just man named, but hear the very son of God, Jesus Christ our Saviour cry to His Father that we receive forgiveness for what we now know. That we know the greatest story ever told and know the man who walked the greatest life ever lived.

To kneel before our Saviour on bended Knee and know and accept the grace and forgiveness of God the Father because of faith in His Son Jesus Christ who lived and died, so that we too daily will be raised here on our earthly journey to walk in a newness of life.

To daily repent, receive His forgiveness and know that in faith in Jesus Christ alone it to be so. To know that when we are called home that we will then with Jesus, remain in the newness of life eternal, as we too most surely know now, that He will remain with us here as we run, limp, crawl or in need, be carried towards that great day. Amen.

Just what’s going on?

Saturday, March 28th, 2015

Mark 11:1-11

 

Just what is going on in this world? Sometimes it’s hard to fathom and wonder of what awaits us in the future.

StMarksIt’s the year 2020 and things have changed. Our country has been annexed by a brutal adversary. Our individual wealth has been taken, our right to free speech and travel is monitored and acted on should the government deem us a risk and daily we are humiliated that our spirit be broken and fall into line and for us in the Church, our last bastion of safety and identity is under attack in that if we persist to adhere to our principles of marriage, right to life and of the one true God and Saviour then first the Pastors and priests, and then those still holding firm will at the least be confirmed as a terrorist to the “state” and thrown in prison without the need for a court of law or any proof other than our statements of faith.

There seems no hope until we hear that finally, an allied nation of great strength is storming towards us with a great flotilla of warships laden with a vast cargo of highly trained and equipped military service men and women and as they arrive in Botany Bay our jubilation cannot be contained.

Finally we will be free again. But then nothing and our cheers turn to despair, confusion, fear and anger.

Best not to throw stones when we live in glass houses because should we be there in this fictional future day, would we any different from those of past.

Those of past who see their own flotilla of hope arrive at their Botany Bay that is Jerusalem. A Flotilla of twelve led by the promised one that is a man named Jesus Christ and alongside them we sing and voice with great joy “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord” while shouting our customary cry of desperation of “save us now” in the form of the word “Hosanna.”

Hosanna, save us now-a word for those searching and confused people who knew one thing: that they wanted to be saved.

A word that gives voice to Israel’s anguish and misery and its hope too. Israel which had been ground into the dust by the brutality of the Roman Empire. They had been taxed into poverty by Caesar. They had been humiliated and had their pride taken away from them. And they wanted somehow to be rescued and restored. They wanted to see God’s power crush those who had crushed them. They wanted God’s might and majesty to destroy those who had destroyed their nation and their spirit. And they had seized on the promises of God in the prophets that He would send them a saviour who would do all this.

Singing and shouting: Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. But just a few hours after this, Jesus, who is carried into Jerusalem in triumph will walk through the same streets, this time himself doing the carrying – the cross.

Instead of a warrior king, what did they get? A man on a cross – somebody who was apparently as easily crushed as they were, somebody who (very soon after entering Jerusalem as a king) let himself be arrested, scourged and beaten and condemned to death.

Instead of a powerful rescuer who punished God’s enemies and expelled them from the land God had given them, they got a weakling – a king who would not even pick up a sword to defend himself, but instead hung pathetically on a cross and prayed that God would forgive his murderers. What power is there in that? How was that going to save them? Jesus was a victim. They wanted a warrior. Jesus was all love. They needed power.

And in their frustration and contempt, they shout at Jesus on the cross with the words “Come on you claim to save others but you cannot save yourself!”

If we enter their time we can see how they had no idea that all the time there was something much bigger and much more important than the fate of their little country at stake. They had no idea of the salvation being hammered out for the world, no idea that God’s power was being revealed here on the cross once and for all and can see the truth in Paul statement that “God’s wisdom in sending Jesus to die for all people seemed like foolishness to the world. “

At least the people of those times had a good excuse because they did not have the benefit of hindsight like we do in the books of the New Testament.

Yet if we look around at how lives are lived today we see the same thing going on – now as then.

People want to be saved. We live in the grip of the same fears and struggles and burdens as the people who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem. We want understandably to be saved from the threat of terrorist attack. We want to be saved from illness and death. We want to be saved from unemployment and financial problems and poverty in our old age. We want to be saved from loneliness and grief. We need a powerful saviour – somebody or something who can beat all our enemies. “Hosanna!” we yell. “Save us!”

And just like Israel, the natural thing is to turn to some source of power. Maybe we need to turn to the kind of power that comes out the barrel of a gun and declare war on terror, and kill all the terrorists before they kill us. Eradicate our enemies. Or there’s the power of money in that if we have enough security and protection and possessions, perhaps we will be safe.

And yet, sooner or later we face up to the fact that no matter how much we surround ourselves with the arsenal of the world and its comforts and protectors, we will never be safe for eventually death will still find us and tragedy’s can still knock on our doors.

Yes, we were in those crowds and we still are. “Blessed be the Lord” and then in confusion and hurt “why Lord?”

Yet hear our Saviour beaten and bruised by us and for us ask His Father to “Forgive them they no not what they do. “

To stand alongside Paul and know that we do what we don’t want to and don’t want we want to do and cry to the Lord “to take these thorns from our flesh” only to hear “my grace is sufficient for thee”

The words of God that seem to deride and ridicule. Words that in our hardest of situations seem foolish. “She’ll be right mate” or in contemporary society “to suck it up,” and so fall to our knees like Jesus in agony and prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane before His arrest, torture and death and ask  God the Father is there another way? And then see not ridicule and derision but see our God of all wisdom and love proclaim that “my grace is sufficient for thee.”

His grace given to us through his Son Jesus Christ who after crying for another way finished with “but not as I will, but as you will.”

The will of the Father that when the cheers and joy around us fade we still kneel at the foot of the cross and see his grace that lets us stand with the resurrected Christ.

The will of the Father that as we travel through our valleys in the shadow of death see we are not alone, but with by our resurrected saviour who guides, strengthens and in need, carries us that we not perish in our sins, but reside in the grace of God the Father.

The will of the Father that does not unleash his wrath on our world, but his will that we accept his Grace won for us through his Son and with the apostle Paul profess like him: that

 I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2nd Corinthians 12:5-9).

The Lord’s grace is most sufficient for us and in that when we are weak we are strong. Weak in self, yet strong in Christ that we fight our thorns of the flesh that they be not a wall between His grace, but a bridge to safety.

A bridge that we cross carrying our thorns yet leaving them behind as we instead bear our crosses as we follow Jesus. Fighting the good and running the good race in faith that come what may; His will has been done in you when you came to faith.

And in that faith, let us all pray for the help we need today, not that boast in ourselves, but that in the power of our Lord and Saviour we heed His wish that:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

And so today. Though weary and burdened we may be-we put our todays in the Lord’s hands as we have put our heavenly tomorrows and know, that there is no other way, for on our travels and in the grace of God, both kneeling at the Cross and standing in exultation with the risen Christ, we have been brought to see, trust and be thankful that yes, Jesus Christ is our only way, our truth and our life. Amen.

Look up and live

Sunday, March 15th, 2015

Look up and live

Numbers 21:4-9, Ephesians 2:1-10, 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.”

StMarksHow 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 a bit bland. 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!  The wrath of God on display and yet 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 live.”  And so, an antidote given from God that when the people were bitten they looked up and lived.

We could be a little perplexed by this scenario because last week we heard that “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.  The antidote, being supplied by God, and so God himself providing 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 and see the resurrection of Christ in victory over death and to his ascension into heaven where he sits 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.

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 just for the future, but also saved here in our todays.

When I was young I was not tough enough to get a tattoo and now old I’m not cool or hip enough. That’s fine but what we should all have inscribed with un perishable ink of our hearts and minds is that most loved and to the point text from John 3:16 and the accompanying verse from John 5:24:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

(and) “Truly, Truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life..(and)..does not come into judgement, but has passed from life to death.”

So yes today, we can, we should and we must, in the truth of what we were and of what we have become stand at the base of the cross with our earthly sin and to lift our eyes to the Son of Man who was lifted up for our sake and see ourselves lifted up with Him that we carry on in the time allotted to us. Heavy in our sin, yet unburdened through His righteousness, knowing our inadequacies yet flourishing in His sufficiency and abundance and wether in self-disdain or denial, look up and see a saviour, our saviour, your saviour with eyes moist in affection toward you who He loves so great. The love He asks you accept without regard to your human standards, but to His standards which He has brought to your lives in the grace of God, the forgiveness of your sins and the peace of that in faith so shall you remain that you are given the ability to carry on no matter what your position or situation in life. To to lift up the burdened and free the chained as He has done to you. Because in you, regardless of your own thoughts, doubts, maybe’s if’s and buts, in you do I and the world see the masterpiece of God. And that is a sinner saved through the grace of God who will live in and for eternity. That is our truth, and that is our statement to this world, not that we boast or they envy, but that they hear of the unfathomable love of Christ through the simple words of those like us, and know that yes-it must be true for there could have been no other way. Amen.

Does anybody really care

Sunday, March 8th, 2015

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

StMarks

In a philosophy class one of the first things we were asked was that if a tree falls in the forest but no one was there did it really fall?

I would say yes, but more importantly, who cares?

Don’t get me wrong I like pondering over things and when I used to visit my Father, Cathy tells me she and my mum would say “well that’s politics and sport done and so only religion to go.”

Philosopher “sizing” about things can be interesting, eye opening and fun and yet, without the gift of the Holy Spirit the smartest philosophers in the world can’t tell us a thing about God’s love.

A person could read about human beings and their great love stories in a novel, but still not know that God’s love is deeper and higher than any human love

We could study the rich variety of trees and animals, the seas and its creatures, the stars and black holes in space, and anything else in the universe caused by the creative genius of God.

But these majestic pieces of the cosmos still can’t tell us that the real essence of God the Father who is a God of Love.

One could philosophise and knowingly say, “Whoever designed and caused the human beings to live on this planet must have been more than super ingenious and whoever created the stars and space and time has it all perfect, and must be the finest and most powerful craftsman ever.” All true.

One might also conclude that God is not only supremely powerful, but at the same time cruel, the way death is part of nature and human existence. So then, in that manner-no, creation does not show us the God of love.

We really can only know the full depth of God’s love by looking at the cross.

That the all-powerful God would personally go to be crucified for you and me is shattering, mind blowing stuff. The cross teaches us more about God the creator than any study about his creation.

On the cross we see God seemingly at his weakest. People do with him what they like! The spit on him, mock him, humiliate him, whip him, and God bleeds.Only a few nails hold him to the cross. God is held by a handful of nails to the timber – part of his own creation.

There God dies, seemingly as weak as the day he came into the world.

Our Saviour Jesus who entered the world a helpless baby. Who depended on a couple of humans called Mary and Joseph to look after him and keep him alive only to leave the world helpless, along with a couple of criminals for company who also hang and die on several pieces of wood.

Yet in that picture of the cross we see the love of God reaching out to all types of people.

The love of God that continually in our confused lives reaches out to you and me that we know that:“The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is     stronger than human strength.”

There, on the cross, we see what our sin has done to God and what it can do to us.

We destroy the genius who designed us and gave us life: the same one who brought us into this world and gave us the freedom to enjoy it with him, and with one another.

The freedom to reject him and drive him out so we can claim the universe for ourselves, and keep all the glory and praise for ourselves.

Would we willingly let anything we made turn on us and destroy us. No we’d use force. If we invented human beings we’d keep full control. Humans would be like puppets that couldn’t move unless we pulled the strings. To our way of thinking it is foolish of God to let people think for themselves, or have the power to turn on God.

Yet the one with all the power, God the Father doesn’t rule people by force but chooses to win people by his divine love.

God prefers people to show love and praise and trust rather than rule with an iron fist.

God chose to enter the world in Jesus so he could be close to us, and we could be close to him. He came because he cares.

Our weakest point is our selfishness and can separate us from God. So God chose the cross to meet us in our weakness. His Son Jesus given to us in love, who came to us in love so we would never be separated from God and his love again.

God could use his power to wipe out the human race. He could send a terrible disease that doesn’t respond to any treatment; or a meteor that would smash the world and destroy all human life. But God chooses to use a cross, made of wood. A cross the same as any other cross the Romans used for executing criminals.

And yet on this one hangs the Son of God. The Son of God taking our places.

To those there. The Son of God, yer right. The apostles after following Jesus seeing miracles of untold power and words of mighty love and wisdom see him seemingly defeated and ask themselves “what was that?”

Given the circumstances a fair enough question.

Yet they would soon understand as we have that God chooses that way to show his loving concern for them, for you and for me. Our God who wants to win people by his love, and not by brutal force.

The cross of Jesus is the place we see the power of human sin. Our sin that was so great in God’s eyes that Jesus went ahead and paid for it even before we were born.

Things happen in our lives that we simply don’t understand and often unfairly God gets the blame.

He understands that sometimes we would like a puppet master God who clears the path by forcing us this or that way but we all know how that works out when we are told not to do something without understanding why, we try to do it or at the least become resentful of our inequality of freedom.

But if we really just think for a moment: if there were no cross of Jesus, then the song “Amazing Grace” wouldn’t exist. And Amazing grace it is-and it’s our grace. It’s your grace and no matter what we think of ourselves or each other.

In belief in Jesus Christ as your saviour, my saviour-We are saved. And that is: The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding. Amen.

Walk a mile in my shoes

Saturday, February 28th, 2015

“Genesis 17:1-7, 15, 16: Mark 8:31-38: Romans 4:13-25”

StMarksApartheid in South Africa was a terrible thing and rightfully condemned by the world. Two sets of people in one land separated by the colour of their skin. One child unbeknown to itself born into an earthly life of good fortune, and one child unbeknown to itself born into an earthly life of misfortune.

The “same” children separated by a controlled fence between The United States of America and Mexico. The “same” children separated through royal blood line and those not and the “same” children in our communities separated unbeknown to themselves to be born into a stable home environment or an environment of physical or emotional abuse that may shape their understanding and actions that seem inexcusable to those who have not walked that path.

As a child, many times when someone nationally or in our own community was having their character attacked I remember how my mum used to mention the chorus from an old song that says

“Walk a mile in my shoes, before you abuse, criticize and accuse, walk a mile in my shoes”

It goes on:

“If I could be you, if you could be me for just one hour
If we could find a way to get inside each other’s mind,
If you could see you through my eyes instead of your own
I believe you’d be surprised to see that you’ve been blind.

Now your whole world you see around you is just a reflection
And the law of Karma says you’re gonna reap just what you sow
So unless you’ve lived a life of total perfection
You’d better be careful of every stone that you should throw

And there are people on reservations and out in the ghettos
And brother, there, but for the grace of God, go you and I..”

In sin there bar the grace of God we all went because we all, unbeknown to ourselves were to be born sinful because of things outside ourselves that took place 4,000 years before in the Garden of Eden.

We never asked to be sinners, yet we sin because we were born that way. Born into sin yet ironically, still of the blood line of our very first ancestors born as his created children and of the likeness of himself, God our Father.

 God our Father who gave his Son Jesus to walk in our shoes that in Him in the Grace of God we do go.

Saved not in works or merit, but saved in faith in Christ alone. The truth that we know and yet because it is so opposite to our natural thinking we are tempted to limit God to the size of our purposes or to doubt the breadth of God’s generosity or the surprising power of his activity.

It’s a condition in which we were born and that is why we not dwell on our own logic and human wisdom but on that of the Word of God. The same Word of God given to us as that to Abraham who as a hundred year old man and with his wife Sarah beyond child bearing years was to be given a Son that of which would come great nations and kings.

A promise from God to Abraham that against all probability we are told in verse 18 from today’s Romans text that in “faithful” hope he believed against “earthly” hope.

A promise that would see his birth lineage become the Jewish people of God, and a promise that would see the gentiles, us become part of that lineage as the people of God through the birth of Jesus to Joseph and Mary.

In Jesus, we are part of that bloodline and so, to us as to was Abraham the book of Romans through the Apostle Paul sets forth the gospel of justification by faith apart from works of the law and maintains that, since that is so, no one can boast about being able to obtain justification by works of the law, for both Jew and Gentile.

And in today’s particular text itself, Paul takes up the story of Abraham as a proof that justification is by faith, not works. After all, he says, the great patriarch Abraham was justified by faith, not by observing works of the law. He was justified while he was technically still a Gentile, since he was declared justified prior to being circumcised and moreover, as the law of Moses was not given until many centuries after Abraham was declared righteous, he clearly could not have been justified by doing works of the law.

In researching this message I found how the blood lines and associated promises play out as both interesting and comforting. Yet these are not mere words on a piece of paper, these are the Words and promises of God that are alive and working even when we don’t realise it.

The Word of God given to a sinner like me who when at my worst, in a car troubled and anxious in life and with the tell-tale signs of alcohol and tobacco smells and packaging as my passenger, was approached by what we would judge to be a homeless drunk, who peered through my window without judgement nor in a state such as my own, and announce both forcefully and with urgency “that Jesus knows who you are, and you are one of His.”

A few words said to me when I deserved them least, but needed them most that changed if not my life, changed how I viewed it and most importantly, how I was viewed by a loving Lord who has crossed the tracks, and though he did not sin, walked those paths and knows the pain and knows the need.

Jesus Christ knows who you are, and you are one of His and regardless of your current state, He comes to you today.

Today in His Word He comes to you and says you are mine and always will be, and in faith rather than in our self, He asks we take Him on face value. To accept in Holy Communion not just a piece of bread and sip of wine, but the very body and blood that He gave on the cross that you need not doubt, but know as He knows that the fence between sinners and God has been torn down that now here today, be we in soiled clothing and poor in spirit or joyous and abounding in faith-as one we can trust that in Him, God the Father sees not that little baby born to a life of self- hatred and self-abuse, sees not that little baby born of affluence yet still bound to a body of sin. Sees not what has become but still sees that little child who He knew would have to walk regardless of birth circumstance and location through the great tribulation of this fractured world.

The walk that He walked not that we see barriers between poor and rich. Not barriers between black nor white and nor heaven itself. But before God standing as one in faith hearing both collectively and individually-I know who you are and you are one of mine and I forgive you of your sins, and so come what may-I am in you and you in me and forever shall I stand alongside you on this earth, and the one to come. Amen.