Archive for the ‘Pentecost’ Category

When God speaks

Saturday, June 3rd, 2017
Text: Acts 2:5-8
There were Jews living in Jerusalem, religious people who had come from every country in the world. When they heard this noise, a large crowd gathered. They were all excited, because all of them heard the believers talking in their own languages. In amazement and wonder they exclaimed, “These people who are talking like this are Galileans! How is it, then, that all of us hear them speaking in our own native languages?

When travelling in non-English speaking countries, signs that have obviously been literally translated into English for visitors can be often confusing and amusing. Here are a couple of examples.

From a brochure of a car rental firm in Tokyo, “When passenger of foot heave in sight, tootle the horn.  Trumpet him melodiously at first, but if he still obstacles your passage then tootle him with vigour.”

On the office door of a doctor in Rome, “Specialist in women and other diseases”.

In a Greek tailor shop, “Order your summers suit.  Because is big rush we will execute customers in strict rotation”.

Making a good intelligible translation from one language to another is hard work and can be very difficulty but for the disciples on the Day of Pentecost there was no problem at all. Normally the disciples with their thick Galilean accents would have had difficulty speaking to those gathered in Jerusalem from all over the world of that time. The language barrier can be quite a difficult one to deal with. This was brought home to us when we visited the parents-in-law of our son. We arrived on their doorstep in a small village in France – we didn’t speak French and they didn’t speak English. It was hard work communicating using hand signs and thumbing through a dictionary. What a difference it made when their son arrived who could speak both French and English.

The amazing thing on Pentecost day is that the disciples didn’t need dictionaries or people to translate to find the best way to say something in a foreign language. We are told, “All of them heard the believers talking in their own languages. In amazement and wonder they exclaimed, “These people who are talking like this are Galileans! How is it, then, that all of us hear them speaking in our own native languages?” (Acts 2:7,8).

There are 3 words that describe what happened that first Pentecost Day. Heard, saw and spoke.
Firstly, those present heard a sound – they heard what sounded like a mighty rushing wind.
Secondly, they saw – they saw what appeared to be tongues of fire which spread our across the crowd and touched each person there.
And thirdly, after hearing and seeing, they spoke. They preached. They testified to the great good that God was doing among them. Jesus had said that he would send to them his Holy Spirit who would be their helper and stay with them forever.

The crowd out in the street scoffed saying, “They’re drunk!” The mob couldn’t imagine that God Almighty would use ignorant and unlearned people from the backwater of Galilee to speak the languages of those present with such skill and precision. In spite of the mockery, Peter gets up and speaks about Jesus. His sermon is recorded in The Acts of the Apostles. It’s not all that long. And yet three thousand people heard and believed and were baptised that day. The account of the Pentecost coming of the Holy Spirit concludes with the reaction of those believers. They continued to learn from the apostles, took part in fellowship meals, shared their belongings with those less fortunate, prayed together, and praised God (Acts 2:42-47).

There is a dynamic here, a powerful movement that is at the heart of the Bible’s story about who God is, who we are and what we are doing here.
The first thing we notice is how God reaches down and speaks to us. Our God is a relentlessly, unceasingly self-communicative God. There is something about God that loves to speak us, reveal his heart to us, and demonstrates a determination to get through to us with words that
express his untiring love for us,
his sacrifice for us in his son Jesus,
his dedication to rescuing us from our sinful ways,
his commitment to making sure that all people hear about the free gift of forgiveness that he offers to everyone.
Our God is one who just wants to speak to us.

A sure sign that two people are in love is that they long to be with one another. More than that, they way to talk with one another – the telephone, email, whatever – hours upon hours of talking. The talk is so important because our speech is our primary way of expressing ourselves, of sharing ourselves, giving to and receiving from others.

Every time we gather here for worship, we gather under the promise that God will speak to us. This is an important aspect of our worship services. The large part of our worship is listening to what God is saying to us.
His word of reassurance of the forgiveness of our sins,
his Word to us from the Scriptures,
his Word to us through the sermon,
his Word to us through Baptism and Holy Communion,
his Word of blessing as we leave here and face whatever the week ahead will bring.

God spoke to those gathered at the first Pentecost and he speaks to us again and again at the weekly celebration of Pentecost here at worship. We hear him speaking to us and being filled with his Spirit. What God says to us places us under the power of the Holy Spirit.

That leads me to ask then, what difference does God’s Word and his Spirit make in our lives? What are the characteristics of people under the power of the Spirit?

Spirit-filled people are people who know God’s love, they know they’re not perfect, but they know they have forgiveness through Jesus Christ. And they are able to pass that forgiveness to those who sin against them. Spirit-filled people know they have God’s power to help them and he will remain faithful and always love and care for them.

Spirit-filled people are growing people. They are continually growing in their faith, from the time of their Baptism to this day. They seek out every opportunity to discover Christ, and what it means to be children of God. They can’t get enough of hearing God speak to them.

Spirit-filled people are changed people. Through God’s Word and the Sacraments, the Holy Spirit wants to bring a change into our lives. He wants to come into our lives to bring light into our darkness; to turn our death into life; to change our lives from sin-filled to Spirit-filled. Every day Spirit-filled people try to live in their baptism. Daily they listen as the Holy Spirit reminds them, woos them, and persuades them through the Word of God. When the Word of God is heard the Holy Spirit draws us closer to God, brings us to repentance, to an assurance of the love of God for us and turns our lives around. He changes our direction!

Spirit-filled people have a new language. I don’t mean they go around speaking pious sounding words all day or use the name of Jesus in every other sentence. What I mean, Spirit-filled people speak words that heal and restore and make people happy and build people up instead of tearing them down. They speak a good word to our world, the good news about a crucified and risen Saviour.

Spirit-filled people are moved to love those around them. They are given a new outlook on the problems and the needs of other people and are happy to help and care for others. Spirit-filled people reflect the love of God into the lives of the people around them. This is how Paul described Spirit-filled people and how he saw the Spirit active in our lives. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Spirit-filled people want to share what Jesus means to them. The news about Jesus is too good not tell. This is something we can do on our local scene, as we go about our work, or talk to our neighbour over the back fence, let’s not be afraid to let people know that Jesus is someone special to you.

Spirit-filled people are concerned about the concerns of God.
Is God concerned about the way we are destroying our world? Spirit-filled people are!
Does God care for the starving, the dying, the homeless, the sick? Spirit-filled people are!
Is God concerned about those who don’t know of his love? Spirit-filled people are!

Spirit-filled people are praying people. Paul encourages us, “Pray on every occasion as the Spirit leads. For this reason keep alert and never give up; pray for all God’s people” (Eph 6:18). It is the Spirit who gives us a child’s confidence to go to our heavenly Father in prayer. It is the Spirit who “helps us in our weakness … and intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.” It is the Spirit who enables us to pray the most unlikely prayers in the face of suffering, on the battlefield, here in worship and at the kitchen table. Spirit-filled people “take everything to God in prayer.”

Spirit-filled people are worshipping people. In Philippians we read, “We worship God by means of his Spirit…(3:3). We have been saved by Jesus our Saviour and daily we experience the blessings of the Holy Spirit as he leads us to change the direction of our lives and assures us of the love and forgiveness of God. Spirit-filled people join with fellow Spirit-filled people of the body of Christ to give thanks and praise to the God who has done to so much for them.

Spirit-filled people are praising people. There is nothing more that we could ask of God. We haven’t done anything to deserve it but he has given us everything.

As you have listened to God’s Word to you about the Spirit-filled life, I’m sure your response is much the same as mine.
God has spoken but I haven’t been listening.
God has been giving me directions but I have chosen to ignore them.
God has kept on speaking, speaking and speaking to me about his love and his plan for my life and I still I don’t get it.

The longest word in the English language is “pneumono-ultra-microscopic-silico-volcano-coniosis,” which describes a lung disease caused by breathing in particles of volcanic matter or a similar fine dust. An even longer word, nearly 100 letters long, was used by James Joyce in his book ‘Finnegan’s Wake’ (1939). He created it to describe a thunderclap at the beginning of the story: (not even going to try to say it) bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuvarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk.”

The words that God speaks to us are much simpler than that. “You are my child. I have sent you my Son and given you my Spirit that you may believe and have eternal life”.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

Where is the Holy Spirit today?

Saturday, May 23rd, 2015

John 15:26,27; 16:4b-15

StMarksDuring a conversation, a parishioner was stunned that I was a Pastor yet could not speak in tongues. I agreed, not with the speaking in tongues bit, but with the being a Pastor bit.

Similar, over the years people have asked why it is that the Holy Spirit seems so absent from the Lutheran Church, or more so from a particular congregation in which the questioner has been worshipping, and if we dig a bit into that question, we’ll usually discover that this dissatisfaction with their own congregation has arisen because of a visit to another church’s worship service where it seems clear that the Holy Spirit is really active.

A statement said something like this, “I found that service like a spiritual electric storm: people speaking in tongues and falling over, people laughing, dancing and singing. It was like nothing I’d ever seen. I was freaked out and literally unable to speak for about an hour afterwards. If that was real spirit-filled worship, then it seemed to me that the church I’d grown up in doesn’t have the Holy Spirit”.

An experience that starts them to question whether they are Christian at all; whether the Holy Spirit was actually working in them or the church they belonged to because if the Holy Spirit really is at work in their life then shouldn’t they feel, experience or see more signs that the Holy Spirit is central to their life as a Christian and to those in the church?

It’s a feeling I know all too well, not the feeling of being second rate because I don’t have such outwardly spirit filled surreal “abilities”, but simply because I still often feel like a prick and having been baptised, how can that be? Baptised mind you not as an infant, but as a 29 year old. Baptised old enough to know, feel and see the before and after of the effects of Baptism and while I can’t remember a lot of my feelings before that day, I must have been one sorry son of a mother if this is the glorious result. Hardly an advertisement for Baptism and the coming of the Holy Spirit.

So what of me, you and our Church-are we full of the Spirit or just kidding ourselves.

To answer questions like this, one of the best places to go to find out more about the Holy Spirit from Jesus himself is in John chapters 14-16 on which does today’s gospel reading come, and so disregarding our own highly acclaimed or lowly disposition of ourselves, let’s hear the truth of the situation from the man himself, Jesus the Son of God who has brought you forgiveness and salvation, who in this Verse and those chapters of scripture teach us that the Holy Spirit’s role and work is not to get us to focus on the Spirit and dazzle us with all kinds of experiences that cause us make these the-be-all and end-all of our Christian faith, but tells us that the task of the Holy Spirit is to draw us to Jesus;
to make Jesus the centre and focus of our lives;
to teach us about Jesus;
and to lead us again and again to Jesus after we have been led astray by the world, or Satan or our own sinful nature. Summarised when Jesus says “the Spirit will “tell you all about me”, “he will give me glory” and “he will reveal to you whatever he receives from me”.

So why at times do I feel such a prick? Why? Because the focus is all wrong. The same misdirected focus that can lead the other way to where one thinks they are some type of law unto themselves immortal super being.

Two different outcomes from the same inwardly focussed photo shopped lives.

A Facebook type of life where I can make myself be whatever I want and Photoshop my life where I’m taller, thinner and have 5,000 friends that are so interested in me that I need to tell them that I just went to the toilet.

A life as stated by a mid-twenties university lecturer who said that in our world of self-focus, it does not allow for the realities of failing or dancing to another’s tune, but only to the tune of self and so hence, given that reality is what we make it, there can be no place for a higher force to answer to or be guided by.

A photo shopped life that made one of my group ask a simple yet complex question.

So what happens when reality hits and it all falls to pieces?

A one worded answer: Suicide.

That’s easy to say from the outside and I know that is far too simple an explanation. Yet it does get to the heart of the Holy Spirit who brings the focus to the help and the truth that is Jesus Christ.

The Holy Spirit that leads us to focus not on self, but to believe and have faith in Jesus. The Holy Spirit that in opposition to our own assessment of self, brings the grace and love of Jesus and reminds and comforts us with the certain knowledge that even when it seems God is far away, or that people don’t care, or that life is throwing at us every hurt and grief that it possibly can, the Holy Spirit points us to the love of our God as shown to us through Jesus death and resurrection.
He assures us that Jesus’ love for us is right there with us in the most severe situations.
He reminds us of the promises that the Scriptures tells us over and over again that the love that God has for us can never be quenched.
He strengthens us and helps us to be confident and strong by pointing us to the cross and reminding us that with Jesus’ we can endure any circumstance and trouble.

And so where is the Holy Spirit working; what is the sign of his presence and his power? Certainly it is not in experiences and large crowds, healings and supernatural gifts – good and God-given as they are. Jesus teaches that the Holy Spirit is wherever he – Jesus Christ – is proclaimed and confessed.

So where is the Holy Spirit working; what is the sign of his presence and his power? He is wherever Christ is being spoken about, wherever the words of Jesus are read and spoken. He is there in all his fullness wherever people worship and pray in the name of Jesus. When you believe and trust in Jesus you have that faith through the Holy Spirit’s work in you and the Holy Spirit filling you that you need not wonder of the Holy Spirit, but understand as Martin Luther who so eloquently stated that if you“ Believe, you’ve got it”

The grace of God the Father given to us in Jesus and brought to us through the Holy Spirit that lets us understand that it does not matter what else we feel, experience or don’t experience. It doesn’t matter whether we are stressed, depressed, average or exhilarated with joy and enthusiasm, but that in all are we covered by the righteousness of our Lord Jesus who says to you-in me regardless of how you see yourself, my Father sees you as his beloved and forgiven child. Saved from ourselves by being saved in Christ is our deal, and in knowing that we need not look in the mirror and see the reflection of what we know or think we know of ourselves, but lift our vision and see a man hanging from a cross look you in the eyes and not ask why did I come for such a person as you, but declare it is for such a person as you that I did come.

The Lord who came for you that He bless you and keep you. That He make His face shine on you and be gracious to you and that He look upon you with His favour and + give you the peace of God which passes all human understanding. Amen.

Behind your fears

Saturday, June 7th, 2014

Pentecost

John 20:19-23

What do we normally do when we’re afraid? Normally we try to protect ourselves.
This protection may take the form of putting up some kind of barrier, such as a wall, closing a door, or securing something with locks. For example, we might lock our precious belongings away because we’re afraid of losing them. We might lock our houses and cars. We may shut doors to strangers. We might slam doors to create a barrier between ourselves and the person we’re angry with, out of fear we’re not in control of the situation or our emotions.

We also protect ourselves by increasing our distance from danger. This might include avoidance, We might avoid going to the doctor because we’re afraid of the results. We might steer clear of people because we’re afraid of their anger, abuse, lies, or manipulation. We might stop our children from participating in certain activities or interacting with certain people because we’re afraid they might get hurt. If we’ve been hurt by a broken relationship in the past, we might avoid any new relationships because we’re afraid of more pain.

Another form of protection is attack. Because we’re afraid, we might yell at, abuse, insult, and hit out at those around us, and not always at the people who are the cause of our fears. For example, we might be angry with developers or mining or resource exploration companies because we’re afraid they’ll take away our land, our livelihood, our lifestyle or our home. Or, a church might be afraid for the future of their congregation: that they might not get a new pastor, or if they do get one, he might not live up to their expectations. Because of our fears – fears of being left out, forgotten, or of not being in control – we might be tempted to lash out at the leadership of our congregation, our previous pastors, our district, or the LCA.

Fears can control us and our actions. We build physical and emotional barriers around ourselves. We might hide behind jokes and safe conversational topics. We protect ourselves from probing questions or from revealing secrets about ourselves. We might build a wall of anger and punishment around us to protect ourselves from the things and people we’re scared of.

Many times, people won’t admit to their fears, but secretly everybody’s afraid of something. We’re afraid of losing loved ones through sickness or accident, losing respect, losing dignity through aging, losing farms and homes, losing our mind, our health, our faith, or our life.

Sometimes we may even be afraid of God. Maybe we’re afraid he won’t like us, so we might try to make him like us by doing all the right things. Maybe we’re afraid of what he says because it’ll affect the way we live, so we might try to ignore, “dumb down” or modify what he says. Maybe we’re afraid to admit we’re wrong, so we may try to disregard his words and his people.

Our fears constrict us, burden us, trap us and bind us. Our fears cripple us and make us sick with worry. Our fears control us and make us do all types of silly, irrational things. We can be ‘locked up’ by our fears, and we ‘lock’ others up because of our fears.

Then Jesus comes among us and says ‘Peace to you’. Peace?

Even though we long for peace, we can also be afraid of it. We would rather manufacture a false peace – a peace which involves barriers and distance: a peace which involves anger and punishment. Yet we also know our barriers and bravado offer no peace, just isolation with our fears.

Yet Jesus somehow gets past those barriers to offer us peace. He comes to bring us peace this morning. But this peace might scare us. This peace tells us to step out from our locked room, get out from behind our barriers, and go out again into the troubled and fearful world. This peace challenges us to trust him more than we trust our fears.

The peace Jesus offers us today, challenges and authorises us to forgive others. But we can also be afraid to forgive. When we forgive someone, we can’t hold them to ransom for the pain they’ve caused us anymore. But who are we really hurting by not forgiving? We lock up ourselves in chains just as much as the other person by withholding forgiveness. Yet by forgiving someone, we not only free them from their chains of sin, but we’re also freed from our fears. Of course, that forgiven person might hurt us again: that’s what we’re afraid of. Fears trap us: forgiveness frees us.

Jesus offers us peace even though our relationships might be breaking down, our loved ones are dying, our property is being taken from us, and our health declines. Jesus says, “Peace to you.”

Our idea of peace might be when God takes away everything we’re afraid of. We may think peace is when God gets rid of our enemies, gets rid of our sickness, gets rid of those who pick on the little guys, and makes us feel successful, whole and happy. We might think peace is when things go our way. We might think peace is where we’re free, but everyone else is restrained and kept ‘locked up’.

God’s peace isn’t like that. God doesn’t always take away all our troubles, but he still says ‘Peace to you’. God seems to let people get away with their hurtful crimes, but he still says ‘Peace to you’. God doesn’t always heal our sickness and won’t stop our loved ones from dying, but he still says ‘Peace to you’. God may delay things for us, yet he still says ‘Peace to you’. God is willing to forgive those we fear and don’t and he still says ‘Peace to you’.

God’s peace is different from what the world offers. God’s peace is different from the peace locks, barriers and distance offer. God’s peace somehow comes to us even if all the safety barriers and security blankets are taken away. God’s peace comes even when we’re terrified.

God’s peace isn’t necessarily when God takes away the people or situations we’re afraid of, but rather, God’s peace comes when he takes away our fear of them.

But how does God’s peace come to us and how does he drive out our fears

God’s peace comes to us through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

That can sound a bit ‘airy fairy’ ,vague and elusive until we get a bit more specific.

For instance, God’s peace washed over us when we were baptised. If we were scared of God beforehand, we have no reason to fear him now because we’re safe in Jesus. Our sins were washed away and our name is written in the book of heaven. We’re at peace with God for the sake of Jesus. Of course, baptism doesn’t guarantee we’ll live happily ever after in this life on earth, although in one sense it does. It means that whenever we’re afraid or troubled, we can shout like Martin Luther used to, saying ‘I am baptised!’ Baptism assures us that we are God’s forgiven and saved children. Nothing in all of creation can separate us from God’s love, or from God’s peace through faith in Jesus.

We also eat and drink God’s peace in the Lord’s Supper. Jesus comes to us to give us a real and certain assurance that we’re at peace with God through Christ’s willing sacrifice for us. Just like we invite friends and loved ones to our dinner table, Jesus invites us to come to his banquet table as his honoured guests to receive an assurance of his forgiveness and peace. We’re not enemies, but dearly loved people who are at peace with God through Christ’s death and resurrection. Anything we’ve thought, said or done that might create barriers between us and God or between ourselves and those around us, are forgiven and taken away by eating and drinking in faith. In this sense, we come in peace to receive peace by eating and drinking. We then go out from this meal in peace in order to bring God’s peace to all those around us.

The forgiveness of sins is closely connected to God’s peace. God’s forgiveness drives away our fear.

When our sins are forgiven, locks are opened that even the best locksmiths in the world can’t unlock. It’s like Jesus has handed sinful human beings the keys to his own house. The heavenly house, or more so, heavenly home.

Through the forgiveness of sins, the gates of heaven are unlocked and swung open for us.

These are the tools, the instruments, or the means of grace and peace that Jesus gives his people: the Word of God, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the authority to forgive people their sins. These tools, these keys, unlock heaven for us. These are the tools through which the Holy Spirit comes and comforts his people. These are the instruments which drive out fear and replace it with peace. These are the keys to peace on earth.

Then, as God’s peace has driven away our fears and brought down the barriers of protection, we go out from this place to become peacemakers in this fear-filled world. We go out from this place with a message of peace through the forgiveness of sins. We’re led by the Holy Spirit to forgive others in order to bring God’s peace to a troubled and fearful world. Forgiveness is the key to unlocking us from fear. Forgiveness is the key to bringing a glimpse of heaven on earth. Forgiveness is the key to true peace on earth that drives out our fears.

When we go home today, it may be tempting fate if we don’t keep your belongings secure and lock them up and so still will be. It would be silly not to. But also don’t be afraid to live in the freedom of Christ. Don’t be afraid to let some of those barriers come down and those distances reduce as Jesus takes away our fears and replaces them with his peace – peace knowing we’re a loved child of God who lives under the care of Christ. Go out from here as forgiven people who are at peace with God and at peace with each other and likewise let us be prepared to unburden and release others through your forgiveness so they too may experience the peace of God as we do.

In this way, may……the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

The forgotten years

Saturday, August 31st, 2013

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15, 16 & Luke 14:1, 7-14.

scholarThe rule of thumb for sermon writing is one hour preparation for every minute spoken (maybe that’s why mine are short). That may seem a lot but a lot of time needs to be spent to make sure we’re talking God’s lessons and not our own and when I first started sermon writing in my last year at the sem. I spent endless hours studying the text in to ensure that be so. This went on for months until my mentor pastor said “what you’re doing is good, but you must also remember that the message is to you as well, so firstly you need understand it personally for yourself and how it speaks to your own heart”.

Resultantly, that’s what I’ve always tried to do. Though at the time his remark “of having been moulded through life experiences to preach God’s Word” made about as much sense as when hearing of my first placement-here in Dubbo, and being confused of just who and what I was meant to be I rang a friend of mine to ask his advice (who I might add is the pastor I would like to be) and his advice was “just be yourself”. A lot of things don’t make sense to me and that was certainly one of them.

At the recent pastor’s conference and synod, hearing and seeing all these people smarter, nicer and godlier I had that same sense of feeling inferior and asking just “what am I doing here”. So what do you do when you’re really got no idea what’s going on. Pray, pray and pray some more: and in my prayer I asked God just what is the deal and begged for an answer.

Two days later I read todays Gospel about after having being forgiven in Christ, God accepts you-and-me-as we are. So for now it looks like we’re stuck with each other.

At first reading, the gospel comes across as not getting ahead of yourself in places of prestige and most certainly Jesus uses the situation of the day to get his point across. Being that in the synagogue, should you have arrived early to take your seat in the correct pecking, there was always the chance that someone higher up the food chain might arrive and be asked forward at the expense of your own seating arrangements and accordingly, public humiliation.

In my previous job I led a team of 30 people. One of which who was a middle aged lady from overseas with limited English. Everyone was nice to her but her role was considered on the lower end of the scale and people didn’t give her as much respect as maybe they gave to others they thought more deserving. One day talking to her, I found out she was only working there to fund her studies. Being that in her home country she was a medical surgeon but having come to Australia had to do another twelve months transitional study to re-commence her occupation in the medical field.

I never told them because a.) Why should it change how people respected and treated her and, b.) It was her life to report back to others should she felt so inclined. But she never did and that she for want of a better word was “running menial errands” instead of clearing arteries did not seem to faze her in the least.

That lady shone a light of the humility of which Jesus talks. Not a false “I’m worthless” type of humility, but the humility to not place ourselves on a pedestal and look condescendingly on others.

And Jesus is big on humility as in heard in the Hebrews text today where we are told “to remember those in prison as though in prison with them”. Now if we don’t guild the lily that’s a pretty hard call unless we look outside ourselves and to that of Jesus himself and the how he humbled himself to be born as a perishable human to walk amongst the fallen. As Christians we just know this is so and rejoice that in his doing so and taking our sins on himself, that in simple trust and belief in him alone we are saved as we are. We know this to be true but we should never forget just how radical it was for in other god belief systems it is about not gods coming to them, but about them working their way up to the gods through works or enlightenment of the mind and body.

Thankfully God the Fathers saving plan for people through Christ is back to front from human thought because in him, the greatest serving the least it brings us the freedom to be who we are. The freedom that means that a well-educated scholar doesn’t need to feel they must have to talk like me, and for people like me not to feel that unless we get a handle on the big words we are some secondary human being. Humility in Christ in not falsely dumbing yourself down or falsely talking yourself up. Humility in Christ is realising that in the kingdom of God we are all equal. And being equal, should one’s place be at the top of the food chain as the world sees it, or at the bottom is of no consequence for either can rejoice in the one same truth like us here today.

That regardless of status or lack of. That given the gift of riches or the lack of: that to each of you here today, that in faith in Jesus Christ alone, that no matter how great or small your sins may be, you have been redeemed of them and are forgiven and free.

Johnny Cash wrote this of his Journey:

There were nights I don’t remember

And there’s pain that I’ve forgotten

Other things I choose not to recall

There are faces that come to me

In my darkest secret memory

Faces that I wish would not come back at all

In my dreams parade of lovers

From the other times and places

There’s not one that matters now, no matter who

I’m just thankful for the journey

And that I’ve survived the battles

And that my spoils of victory are you

Book ends of John’s life and the same may be said of ours. The pain of carrying the hurt of life and the hurt of carrying sin up and against when you are freed in the knowledge of the truth that in Christ alone YOU ARE forgiven and before me today God the Father sees you spotlessly washed clean in the blood of the Lamb.

In Christ you are forgiven and given freedom with nothing to prove to yourself or any others. Forgiven and free to serve those he places before you trusting that while you may travel for the remainder of your lives in different earthly spheres, you travel as one hearing and knowing His Words for yourself both individually and collectively “To be strong and of good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for it is I the Lord your God who goes with you and I will not leave you or forsake you. Amen.

 

Wind and Fire

Monday, May 20th, 2013

Acts 2: 1-21

pentecost.2This morning we have two very important things going on as a part of our worship service. The most obvious is that today is Confirmation Sunday. For a lengthy time Emily, Ange, Matthew, Amy and Lilli have gone through careful instruction with Jenny and me in the basics of the Christian Faith. We’ve used the doctrine of the Scriptures as taught in Luther’s Small Catechism as the basis for our instruction, and they have learned about the faith that they will confess as their own today. It’s a big day! In some cases, you have friends and relatives that have travelled a long ways to be here.

While Confirmation Sunday is a big day in the life of our Lutheran congregations, that’s not the only big event we remember today. Today is also the Day of Pentecost.

In our reading from Acts 2 and the Gospel reading from John, we hear about the promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit, and the fulfilment of it in Acts.

This morning, we’re going to look at that first Pentecost, and see why it’s such a big deal to us today, and why that event can give our confirmees a lot of confidence as they go out living their lives in the Christian faith.

Sometimes Pentecost can be one of the days of the church year that some may say that Lutherans are out of touch with. Some, even from within our wider church say that we don’t talk enough about the Holy Spirit, that what we believe, teach, and confess is dead, that we’re not “alive” like other churches seem to be. And I spose talk of the Holy Spirit in regards to tongues of fire, and strange languages can be confusing and even misconstrued. So sometimes we do decide that it is easier to not really talk about Pentecost, or what happened on that day.

Well this morning, we are going to talk about Pentecost, and we’re going to talk about the Holy Spirit, but we’re going to see how the Holy Spirit truly works, and what it has to do with our confirmees, and with us. To start off with, let’s discover what the Holy Spirit’s work is. It has been 10 days since Jesus had ascended into heaven. Just prior to His ascension into heaven, Jesus told his disciples to stay in Jerusalem and wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit, who would empower them to be Jesus’ witnesses in Jerusalem, all of Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. They spent that time together, devoting themselves to prayer and meditating on the Word that Jesus had given them.

Then it happens. A sound of a rushing wind filled the room where the Disciples were. A pretty extraordinary event I would think! But there’s more. Next, tongues of fire descend over the disciple’s heads. Pretty impressive and needless to say, it’s going to grab a LOT of attention. This is all taking place at the Jewish Pentecost festival, which was one of the major festivals Jewish men were expected to return to Jerusalem for. So you have devout Jews from every tribe and place in the city. This sets the stage for what happens next.

The apostles come out, and start speaking in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. In other words, the disciples come out, and they start speaking other known languages. Languages that they had never spoken before, and so understandably the Jews who where there were saying “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? So how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?” It’s obvious something big is going on! They’re telling the good news about Jesus to all of these people in the language that they can understand! This isn’t the kind of “speaking in tongues” that is on the radar these days, but as in the scripture here, “tongues” refers to speaking in known languages that hearers can understand. In the midst of all of this, Peter gets up and starts preaching a sermon. He tells them that what is going on is the fulfilment of a prophecy in Joel, and points them to Jesus, the one that they had put to death, who was the long awaited Messiah.

Later in the chapter, we’re told that Peter’s audience is cut to the heart by the preaching of the law, and ask what they are to do. Peter tells them to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins, and that this gift was for them, and their children, and for all who were far off, everyone whom the Lord would call to himself. Then we’re told that 3,000 people were baptized and added to the church that day, and that they continued to gather around the apostles’ teaching, and the breaking of the bread, in other words, they gathered around the preaching of the Word and the Sacrament of Holy Communion on a regular basis. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved!

Quite a day and you can read into the text a lot of fervour and zeal in those early Christians. That had to have been an exciting day to be a part of! 3000 people heard the Gospel preached to them in their own language, believed, and were baptized. When we compare that, life at our little Lutheran Church’s seems to be pretty dull, and because of that, we maybe led to despair sometimes and wonder if we have the Holy Spirit like other churches do. So, do we have the Spirit at St. Marks and St. Johns? And are we allowing the Holy Spirit to work?

To find the answer, let me ask you a couple of questions. What are we missing from that day of Pentecost? Well, we didn’t have a loud rushing wind fill the building this morning. And as I look out at the congregation, I don’t see any tongues of fire dancing atop anyone’s heads, and I doubt you’ll see that when our confirmees publically confess their faith in the Rite of Confirmation. But what do we have? The furniture you see in the front of this church will give you that answer. You see the pulpit and lectern, where the Word of God is read from and proclaimed to you, telling you that we have the Apostles’ teaching, the Word of God that is read and proclaimed. You see the Baptismal Font, telling us the same baptism that was given to those 3,000 people that day is given here. And, you see the altar, where we receive the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper: the body and blood of our Lord.

So if you ask me, we have what’s necessary to forgive sins and bring eternal life, we have Word and Sacrament. You see, when something big happened in God’s plan of salvation in the Bible, He kicked it off with something special: at the crucifixion, darkness covered the land, the temple curtain was torn in two, and the earth shook. At the Resurrection, the stone was rolled away. Here at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit that Jesus had promised the disciples would come in the Gospel reading arrived, it is announced with the rushing wind, tongues of fire, and the gift of languages. Those things didn’t give forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. God’s Word, Holy Baptism, and Holy Communion did and still do. Those are the means that the Holy Spirit worked through to bring people to faith, and to strengthen the faith of those who already believed. So could it be?

Could it be that what we’ve been doing in believing that the Old and New Testaments are the inspired, infallible Word of God, and that the Word, attached to water in Holy Baptism and bread and wine in Holy Communion, without gimmicks and fads attached to them, is exactly what those early Christians in Acts 2 were doing? Could it be that the problem isn’t with the Scriptures, or the doctrine that these young people have come to learn in Luther’s Small Catechism, but that the problem is with us, in wanting to squelch the Spirit’s work by our own emotions, ideas, or activity, looking for the Spirit in places He has not promised to be found?

Yet, some might say, 3,000 people were baptized after one sermon, without having to spend a year of careful instruction with a Pastor studying the doctrine of the Scriptures! Something powerful had to be going on! Well it was but let’s put it into proper perspective. Pentecost was a major Jewish festival that would bring many Jewish men into Jerusalem.

Historical record apart from the Scriptures tells us that Jerusalem’s population would swell to up to one million or more during such times.

Not only that, but the text tells us these were devout Jews, men who were well schooled in the Word of God, they knew everything there was about the Messiah expect one thing, his name. Now, if you do the math, if we have 1 million devout Jews in the city at Pentecost, and 3,000 of them hear the message proclaimed to them in their own language, and they are baptized, then that means 3 one-thousandths of one percent of the Jews in Jerusalem heard the message, believed, and were baptized. If you were to talk to a supposed church growth expert today with a statistic like that, they may call the Pentecost event a failure.

For you confirmees, today it is going to be easy to promise that you will remain faithful in the Christian faith. But, the tough part happens the moment you walk out of that door. Statistically speaking, half of you will eventually stop coming to church in your high school years. You’ll find the allure of sports, late Saturday nights with friends, or other things in the world to be more important than being strengthened in your faith in church where Christ is present with His gifts of Word and Sacrament. You’ll be tempted with this sin and that sin, and have the world tell you that what you learned in the Bible isn’t really relevant anymore. You’ll be tempted to look for God in places He hasn’t promised to be found. You’ll be tempted to turn your back on Word and Sacrament because they’re not flashy, or entertaining in the eyes of the world.

But, there’s a great danger in that! When you ignore these means that the Holy Spirit promises to work through, you are setting yourself up to be tricked in regards to the truth of Christ’s gifts. And eventually, you will risk being starved out of your faith.

But that plea isn’t just for our confirmees, it’s also for all of us here. Don’t go looking for the Spirit in places He has not promised to be. Sometimes, we’re tempted to fall into a phrase I heard as “Lutheran Shame”, in that we’re led to believe that our doctrine and practice isn’t all that exciting, and so we go and look at other churches, and see what they’re doing that seems more alive, and want to adopt their methods without first going to the Word of God to find out if they are scriptural or not.

We’re often tempted to believe that the Spirit won’t work through these means and try to come up with our own methods to cause the Holy Spirit to come and work. When that happens, we forget that the Holy Spirit works through means, that He has promised to work faith through the Word and the Sacrament when and where He wills. There are times and places where mission work is slow, and other times and places where it is fertile. Paul sometimes would preach, and have several converts, while other places; he would nearly be stoned to death.

In our world of instant gratification, it’s tempting to get discouraged in the church-and if you think of the struggles of our ancestors and their missionary activities into Northern Territory and PNG we could imagine it would have been tempting to have given up. But those early Pastors and Christians knew that the Holy Spirit works through the means of Word and Sacrament, and in God’s timing, congregations began from those seeds that were planted during that time.

Don’t get caught up in a statistical report, or a dollar sign to measure a church’s mission. We’re called to measure it by if that church or mission is proclaiming the Word of God in its truth and purity, and if the Sacraments are being administered to the Word of Christ, and let us repent when we use any other means to try to bring about the work of the Holy Spirit.

To confirmees today, while your confirmation instruction has ended, your life of hearing the Scriptures preached to you is only just beginning. I want to encourage you to continue to allow the Spirit to point you to Christ through the Word and through the Sacraments. Continue to come here on Sunday mornings, be fed through God’s Word and Sacraments, where the Spirit will convict you of your sins, and point you to Christ crucified, who through His life, death, and resurrection, has won forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation for you. Continue to read your Bibles at home and don’t be afraid to come by my office and ask me the tough questions. We’ll sit down together, and find the answers in the Word of God.

And for the rest of us, the Day of Pentecost is a challenge for us to remain faithful to the doctrine we have learned from the Scriptures. Be encouraged in that being a church that remains faithful to Word and Sacrament ministry, is being an Acts 2 type of church. Be encouraged in the knowledge that the Holy Spirit is at work here. Even though the means may not be that flashy, we have the promise from God’s Holy Word that the Spirit is here, through the Word, through Holy Baptism, through Holy Communion to convict us of our sin, and to point us to our Saviour, Jesus Christ, and to either bring us to faith in Christ, or strengthen our faith in Christ. What could be more exciting than that?

May God grant that to us for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

 

Are you a Sheep or a Goat?

Saturday, November 19th, 2011

Text: Matthew 25:35-40

(The King will say), I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you received me in your homes, naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me.’ The righteous will then answer him, “When, Lord, did we ever see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we ever see you a stranger and welcome you in our homes, or naked and clothe you? When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?’ The King will reply, “I tell you, whenever you did this for one of the least important of these followers of mine, you did it for me!’

The least important

 

Do you remember the scavenger hunts that were held in back in the days when you were a member of a youth group? At the beginning of the hunt you’re given a list of things you have to accumulate. All kinds of things might be on the list. Maybe an empty drink can, the name on the foundation stone of the church, the number plate of Mr Schwartz’s truck. The first group back with all the items and information wins. But before you get the prize, the leader checks off each item to make sure you have got everything you say you have.

Is that the way it’s going to be on the final Day of Judgment? The King, Jesus says, will be seated on the throne of glory and will gather all the nations before him. Then, he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates sheep from goats.
“Let’s see… yes, you once gave food to a hungry person. Check.
There was the time you gave a drink of water to the thirsty child. Check.
Visited a jail? Check.
Called on someone who was sick? Check.”

Is Jesus suggesting that you can make it into heaven by giving food to one hungry person?
Or do someone a kind deed and say,
“There! That’s my good deed for the day; my ticket to eternity with the sheep!”

It wouldn’t take too much effort to put this kind of emphasis on Jesus’ parable about the Last Judgement and come to the conclusion that it just takes a few charitable deeds to get into heaven.

Of course it works the other way too. We read this and realise that there is no way that we have been kind enough and generous enough to with Jesus’ approval and his invitation to “come and possess the kingdom which has been prepared for you since the creation of the world”. The parable leaves us with this feeling of failure, guilt, and shame that we have ignored so many people who have been crying out for our help but for some reason we were too busy, too preoccupied, too prejudiced to help. What chance have we got of escaping God’s judgement? To put it bluntly, about as much chance as a snowball in hell.

Of course guilt can be a great motivator as well. We would rather be doing something else but the feeling of guilt prompts us to do more for the least important. We know that doing something out of guilt ends up a chore; we do it not because we like to but because we have to. There is no joy. There is no generous spirit. We are like the child who does a chore grudgingly because he knows that if he doesn’t he will get into trouble and he won’t get any pocket money.

So if Jesus isn’t telling us that a few good deeds will get us past the pearly gates and isn’t using guilt as a motivator to care for others, what is he getting at?

The parable is asking whether we have seen Jesus in the face of the hungry and thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and those in prison.
The message of this parable is that Christ is mysteriously present to us in those who need our help. When we see the loving face of Jesus in the faces of the needy and disadvantaged then we will want to respond with love and meet that person’s need. It follows that when we don’t see Jesus in the face of others, we will not want to reach out in love to that person, in fact, we could be quite harsh, judgemental and critical.
The parable calls us to show compassion and spring into action for the least important just as Christ has had compassion on us who can be considered the least important because of our sin and rebellion against God.

We worship a God who is entangled in the suffering of humanity, in our sufferings and in the suffering of people everywhere. In fact, we worship a God who chooses not to untangle all the knots and problems of our world from the safety of heaven, but invites us all to be partners with him, to join our love to his love, and reach out to the suffering people in our world. This means reaching out to our sick friends,
making a meal for a grieving family,
welcoming the stranger here at church,
visiting people we know who are depressed, doubting God’s love and need words of reassurance and hope,
being understanding and supportive of the members of our families,
showing genuine love for our friends.
We are to see the face of Jesus in the faces of these people and minister to them in the same way Christ has ministered to us in our times of need.

But Jesus’ parable goes even further than this. Remember he is talking about the least important.
People whom others regard as insignificant.
People who are easily forgotten.
People who are out of sight so out of mind.

This parable is about how our faith in Jesus and our worship ought to penetrate and be interwoven with the ordinary everyday things of our lives. Religion isn’t something just for certain times of the week but it infiltrates every moment of every day. The love of Christ makes us eager to do something for the least important people of this world.

Here is a story of which there are a number of versions. Conrad, the old cobbler, dreamed one night that Jesus would come to be his guest. He was up as the sun was rising and set about decorating his little shop with bright flowers and greenery. He set the table with milk and honey and bread, and waited.

While he was waiting, a beggar walked down the street came barefoot in the driving rain. Conrad called him in and gave him a pair of shoes. An old woman came bent from the weight of a heavy burden. He lifted the load off her back and shared his food with her. And finally, just before the day was about to fade away into darkness, a little child came. Her eyes were wet with tears. Conrad gave her a glass of milk, and led her back to her mother. But the divine guest never came. Conrad was disappointed. The evening as he dozed in front of the fireplace he heard a soft voice say,
“Lift up your heart, for I have kept my word.
Three times I came to your friendly door;
Three times my shadow was on your floor.
I was the beggar with the bruised feet;
I was the woman you gave to eat;
I was the child on the homeless street!”

This is what Jesus meant when he said, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers (and sisters) of mine, you did for me.”

We don’t have to look too far to find the people whom Jesus called the least.
Half the world’s population, nearly three billion people, live on less than $3 a day
the over one billion people who don’t have access to affordable and safe water;
over 800 million people do not get enough food;
More than 840 million adults, of whom 538 million are women, are illiterate.
The least that Jesus is talking about are the hundred of thousands of children who die every year from preventable diseases;
the 30 million people who have lost their homes because of conflict and natural disasters.
These Jesus calls these people least important – these people are important to God but for us it is easy to see them as the least important.

These are the people we can easily ignore because of their religion or race or life styles.
They are people we can easily forget because they are far from our own shores and we can’t begin to imagine their suffering because we have nothing like it here in Australia.
These are the people that cause us to look the other way.
But at the same time, these are the people whom Jesus claims to be among. Or better, it is in the face of these people that we see Jesus. 
“I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers (and sisters) of mine, you did for me.”

This brings me to the point of Jesus’ parable. He knows as well as we do that our sinfulness, selfishness, and lack of concern for others get in the way of caring for the least important. He told this story to focus not on what we should be doing but on something far more profound and basic. He wants us to ask ourselves, “What is my real heart relationship to this Lord who has redeemed and loved me from before the foundation of the world?”

He wants us to realise and appreciate the impact that Jesus has on us and the way we live our lives. Through confessing our guilt and receiving that rich, free and almost overpowering forgiveness our lives and hearts and our priorities are turned upside down.

When we are naked he clothes us in his own righteousness.
When we are in prison, condemned, shamed and guilty, he visits us and releases us.
When we are hungry and starving, God feeds us with the body and blood of his Son.

And what he does for us is what we then begin to do for others, our hands become his hands, our feet his feet, our hearts his heart, our love his love, and the least important become the most important in our eyes.

 

 

 

Like a thief in the night.

Friday, November 11th, 2011

 

 Waiting for Christ’s return.

 

Text: 1 Thessalonians 5:2b,3b,6,8b,9
The Day of the Lord will come as a thief comes at night. … It will come as suddenly as the pains that come upon a woman in labour, and people will not escape… So then, we should not be sleeping like the others; we should be awake and sober. … We must wear faith and love as a breastplate, and our hope of salvation as a helmet. God did not choose us to suffer his anger, but to possess salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

 

Edgar Whisenant, a NASA engineer, used his mathematical skills to set a date for the return of Jesus. He wrote a book called ‘88 reasons why Jesus will return in 1988’. The book caused a real buzz amongst some Christians, especially in the US. He was so certain that Jesus would return on Sept 10 1988 that he said, “If I’m wrong then the scripture is mistaken”. And since the Bible is never wrong he said that he knew for certain that Jesus would be here on that day.
It is amazing that someone could be so confident in knowing when Jesus will return. Jesus himself said, “No one knows, however, when that day and hour will come—neither the angels in 
heaven nor the Son; the Father alone knows.” (Matt 24:36).

The angels didn’t know, and Jesus didn’t know, but amazingly enough, Edgar did. Well, you can guess what happened. The day came and passed and Edgar didn’t know half as much as he thought he did. The old saying held true, “If at first you don’t succeed, fail and fail again.” Edgar wrote a second book the next year claiming that he forgot that the calendar didn’t start with 1 but year 0, so he said he was a year off. Failed again.

The apostle Paul was confident that Jesus would return and he wrote to the Thessalonians, “You yourselves know very well that the Day of the Lord will come as a thief comes at night. When people say, ‘Everything is quiet and safe,’ then suddenly destruction will hit them! It will come as suddenly as the pains that come upon a woman in labour” (1 Thess 5:2,3).

To describe Jesus as a thief seems just a bit strange. But Paul isn’t the only person to describe Jesus’ return in this way. Jesus himself uses the picture of a thief coming at night and catching many people off guard. (Luke 12:39,40).

Twice in the Book of Revelation we read, “I will come like a thief” (Rev. 3:3; 16:15).

Some of you may have experienced what it’s like to come home to find that someone has broken into your home and rifled through your belongings, looking for something valuable to steal. A word that is often used to describe how people feel after such an event is ‘violated’. That safe, secure, sanctuary called home, never feels quite so safe again. Your special and sacred place has been invaded by an unwelcome visitor. An intruder has had the gall to finger your most intimate possessions. There are some people who never feel comfortable in their own homes again after a thief has violated their private space.

Now to speak of Jesus as a thief seems so contrary to what we believe about him. There are much more flattering images of Jesus.
A shepherd who lovingly cares for his sheep.
A loving parent who is always ready to welcome back his straying child.
A compassionate healer;
someone who is always ready to forgive;
one who is able to calm storms and bring peace to troubled lives;
the one who stands at the door and knocks.
But a thief! That’s not the usual way we portray Jesus. How many stained glass windows or painting have you seen with Jesus climbing through an open window on a dark night looking over his shoulder to make sure no one notices what he’s up to? A thief is a criminal – hardly the right way to think of Jesus.

And that’s exactly why Jesus himself and the apostles use this picture.
To catch our attention. This is so important!
Jesus is coming back; there can be no doubt about that.
Be ready for his return. Don’t be caught out. If we know that our property is in danger from a thief, we do something to be ready for the time this happens. Put on security screens, closed circuit TV, alarms, maybe even stand guard and wait for the thief to arrive. Not to do anything would be crazy and would be an open invitation for the thief to do his worst.

The message that the New Testament gives is quite consistent. Jesus said, “Watch out, then, because you do not know what day your Lord will come” (Matt 24:42). It’s like a thief – you never know when he will strike so be ready for when he does.

But why is the Bible so keen for us to be ready for the Last Day when the events of that day hardly seem like something to look forward to. In Zephaniah (today’s Old Testament reading) we read, “The Lord says, “I will bring such disasters on the human race …. (because) they have sinned against me.”
“On the day when the Lord shows his fury. The whole earth will be destroyed by the fire of his anger. He will put an end—a sudden end—to everyone who lives on earth” (1:17a,18).

This is rather terrifying. If being ready is so important then what do we need to do in order to be prepared for Jesus’ return? St Paul tells the Thessalonians that God doesn’t want any of us to suffer God’s judgment, but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He is saying first of all that it’s not what we can do to make us ready but what Christ has done for us.

He has made it possible for sinners to survive God’s judgement. Jesus himself has made us ready for his return! We could never prepare ourselves, because we could not pay for our own sins, so Jesus paid the price for us dying on the cross for us—in our place. The Bible word for this is grace—it means that Jesus gave us a gift we don’t deserve.

Nelson Mandela taught the world a lesson in grace when, after emerging from prison after twenty-seven years and being elected president of South Africa, he appointed Archbishop Desmond Tutu to head an official government panel called the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The rules were simple: if a white policeman or army officer voluntarily faced his accusers, confessed his crime, and fully acknowledged his guilt, he could not be tried and punished for that crime. Hard-liners grumbled about the obvious injustice of letting criminals go free, but Mandela insisted that the country needed healing even more than it needed justice.

At one hearing, a policeman named van de Broek recounted an incident when he and other officers shot an eighteen-year-old boy and burned the body. Eight years later van de Broek returned to the same house and seized the boy’s father. The wife was forced to watch as the policemen did the same to her husband.

The courtroom grew hushed as the elderly woman who had lost first her son and then her husband was given a chance to respond.
“What do you want from Mr van de Broek?” the judge asked. She said she wanted van de Broek to go to the place where they burned her husband’s body and gather up the dust so she could give him a decent burial. His head down, the policeman nodded in agreement.

And I would like Mr van de Broek to know that he is forgiven by God, and that I forgive him too. I would like to embrace him so he can know my forgiveness is real.”

Spontaneously, some in the courtroom began singing “Amazing Grace” as the elderly woman made her way to the witness stand, but van de Broek did not hear the hymn. He had fainted, overwhelmed.(From Philip Yancey’s “Rumors of Another World”.)

Justice was not done in South Africa that day. Something beyond justice took place. The name for it is grace—rather than seeking justice for sin, an old woman absorbed the hurt and instead returned forgiveness.

Jesus absorbed the hurt for us. He offers us forgiveness and love. He holds out to us the hope of salvation. He invites us to trust in him and his sacrifice for our sin. The Holy Spirit prods us to respond to the faith that has been given to us and believe that Jesus truly is the Way to eternal life. Without any of this the Day of Judgement would be a terrifying day. Only because of Jesus and his righteousness the Day of judgement becomes a Day of Salvation.

But the apostle doesn’t stop there when talking about readiness for the day when Christ will come again. When Christ comes again he should find us living as children of the light. This is how Peter talks about being ready for the Day of Judgement.
“The end of all things is near. You must be self-controlled and alert, to be able to pray. Above everything, love one another earnestly, because love covers over many sins.  Open your homes to each other without complaining. Each one, as a good manager of God’s different gifts, must use for the good of others the special gift he has received from God. Those who preach must preach God’s messages; those who serve must serve with the strength that God gives them, so that in all things praise may be given to God through Jesus Christ, to whom belong glory and power forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:7-11).

What Peter is saying here is that waiting for the end is not simply a matter of sitting around and waiting for things to happen.
Nor is it a time for self indulgence – filling each day with looking after our wants and desires.
Nor is it a time for greed and being so focussed on ourselves that we fail to see that others need us and our help.
As we wait for Jesus to return, Paul points out that we should be praying, loving, caring without complaining, using our gifts for the good of others, telling others about salvation in Christ, serving and giving to others to the point that we are drained. It follows that faith in Christ leads to an active life of love and serve.

Laziness,
lack of involvement,
a life so crowded that there is no time for growing in our faith and acts of service,
ignoring the Spirit’s call to grow in your Christian life through God’s Word, Holy Communion and worship with your fellow Christians
is not the way to wait for Jesus’ return.

In these days before Jesus returns,
every time we speak a word of forgiveness,
every time we show some care,
every time we teach or counsel or comfort someone,
every day we remain loyal and committed to following Christ,
every time we reject sin or bounce back from disappointment,
every time we hang in there with someone struggling or in a situation of pain and loss
—all of these and more give us the opportunity to make Jesus’ presence real and lead them to be better prepared for the Christ returns. What better way to prepare for Jesus to come.

I know in the end that sin will always be a part of our lives. In the end it is only Christ who can truly make us ready through his own death and resurrection. But that doesn’t give us permission to sidestep the question, “What am I doing as I wait for Jesus to return?”

 

 

Nothing lasts forever.

Saturday, November 5th, 2011

There is Hope.

Text: 1 Thessalonians 4:13,14
Our friends, we want you to know the truth about those who have died, so that you will not be sad, as are those who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will take back with Jesus those who have died believing in him.

 

One of the lessons that we learn early in life is that things in this world do not last forever. Often we learn this lesson with a good deal of sadness and along with that sadness a good deal of confusion.
As our children were growing up we always had pets – cats, dogs, budgies, bantams, chickens, guinea pigs, even a horse. These were pets that they loved to hold, cuddle, wrap in blankets, push around in their prams, pretend they were babies. Our eldest daughter was often found out in the chook yard nursing a bantam. Another daughter loved her guinea pigs. When one of our dogs was suffering from a back injury and it was clear that he wasn’t going to get any better, our son carried the dog into his room and took special care of him. When the dog died each child disappeared to their own rooms and we found them on their beds with tears running down their faces. They were old enough to know (primary school age) that when something dies it doesn’t come back again. Their grief was enough for Miriam and me to agree that we would not have any more dogs. (We did give into our youngest daughter’s plea for another dog who had his 15th birthday this week).

Those who are keen gardeners know that the most beautiful bed of flowers doesn’t last forever. Eventually they droop, drop their petals, and we pull them up and throw them into the bin.

We are approaching the end of the church year. At this time of the year we begin to look at the end of things. We look toward the end of time when Christ will come again and the world as we know it will come to an end.
We look to the end of our own lives when we will pass through ‘the valley of the shadow of death’. We can’t be certain when this will happen but we can be certain that it will happen.

The church father St. Augustine once said, “On the first day of our lives, someone might look into our cribs and mutter, ‘I’m afraid, you are in a bad way. You won’t get out of this alive.’” We, you and I, are terminal. And the older we get the more we realise that life is short. 

On the morning of my 40th birthday my son greeted me with all the sensitivity that a young teen can muster, “Happy Birthday, Pops. What’s it like knowing that half your life is over?” We laughed but I didn’t really need to me reminded of that fact at that very moment. But as much as we might deny it, life does pass by quickly and our bodies start to slow down and show signs of wearing out. We might even go into a panic as we realise that the psalmist was right, ‘We are like weeds that sprout in the morning, that grow and burst into bloom, then dry up and die in the evening… Seventy years is all we have – eighty if we are strong … life is soon over and we are gone (Psalm 90 5,6,10).

A writer once said, Looking at death is like looking at the sun. A man can look directly at it for a moment, but must then turn away.

That’s how so many people live with death. They cannot bear the thought of either a last day for the world, or of their own last day. So many people these days have grabbed on to the idea of reincarnation – they will come back again in another life. That idea is plainly not true. Some simply go into denial; they shut their eyes to it and try to pretend that it won’t happen to them. Others adopt a more fatalistic approach. It’s going to happen and there’s nothing anyone can do change that.

All this talk about how short life is and our inevitable death can be rather depressing. It hurts all the more when we recall those special people who have left this life. Maybe the death of someone who was near and dear to you is still fresh in your mind. You recall with sadness what these people meant to you, how they impacted on your lives, the fun times you had with them. But now they are gone. Their memory is firmly fixed in our mind, but their presence in our lives is missed.

Will we hope ever to see their faces again?
Is it only wishful thinking, pure fantasy to believe that there is something beyond death?
As we say farewell to love ones, or look ahead to the day when we will gasp our last, is there any hope that will ease our grief and help us to be more relaxed about our own day of dying?

St Paul often tackled this very difficult subject in his letters. For instance, when he wrote to the Thessalonians he was speaking to a church in grief. The little congregation had risked so much; they had gone against their culture and the local authorities and stood firm in their faith in Jesus. They firmly believed that Christ would return soon. But where was Jesus? They had been waiting for years now. And while they were waiting some of their most beloved leaders and saints had died. Since they had died before Christ’s return are they lost forever? Will they be part of that great day when the dead will rise again? 

Paul tells his readers not to grieve as if there was no hope; as if there was nothing more to look forward to once we reached the end of our life on earth. And what hope do we have? He says, “We believe that Jesus died and rose again …. Those who have died believing in Christ will rise to life …. We will always be with the Lord” (1 Thess 4:14,16,17). In his letters Paul encouraged those Christians who were anxious about what will happen when time will stop and the world will end as well as comforting those who were concerned about what will happen when time will stop for each of us and our life will come to an end.

Like the Christians in Paul’s time, we too are sad when someone leaves this life. But this sadness does not lead us to despair or lose all hope. Because of Jesus we know there is life beyond death. There is no need for hopeless despair. There is no need to fear what will happen to us beyond this life.

Of course we will still have our moments of panic as we face our own mortality. As we wait for surgery, or realise how fast life is flying by, or stand by the grave of a loved one, we will still have those pangs of fear shoot through us.
We may wonder what will death be like;
how will we die;
what will happen to the family we leave behind;
and how we will miss seeing our children or grandchildren grow up and having their own families?
But these moments of panic are replaced with the confidence that Jesus has everything under control. And that includes death. Because of Jesus ‘
death has been swallowed up in victory’.

Jesus has prepared the way. He has died to cleanse us from our sin and make us ready to enter into God’s presence in heaven. There is no reason to fear the outcome of our last day at all. Christ has died for us. We trust in him as our Saviour to rescue us from everything that would stand in our way to enjoying eternal life. There can be no doubt about our resurrection to eternal life. Paul talks about what will happen when Christ comes again, when he says,
“When the trumpet sounds, the dead will be raised, never to die again, and we shall all be changed. For what is mortal must be changed into what is immortal; what will die must be changed into what cannot die. So when this takes place, and the mortal has been changed into the immortal, then the scripture will come true: “Death is destroyed; victory is complete!” (1 Cor 15:52-54).

The witness of the Scriptures is clear. Death is not the end because our Saviour Jesus has changed everything to the point that death is no longer the penalty that it was. Jesus took care of death’s power over is through his own death and resurrection. He has made death the doorway to eternal life with God in heaven. Death is no longer a terrifying and frightening thing for those who trust in Jesus, but is the stepping off point to eternal life.

Last week we celebrated All Saints Day and we heard about that wonderful vision of heaven that John gives us in the Book of Revelation. He sees all these people from all around the world dressed in white robes standing before the throne of the Lamb. He asks, “Who are these people?”
This is the answer he receives,
“They are the people … who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. That is why they stand before God’s throne” (Revelation 7:14,15)

We are certain of eternal life because our sins have been washed away in the blood of the Lamb. Jesus has made us holy, clean, pure and perfect through the giving of his own life for us and thus making us fit to enter God’s presence in heaven. God offers this to everyone and invites everyone to trust in the love and forgiveness that Jesus offers.

As the end of the church year gets nearer our eyes are focused beyond this life to the eternal joy that we will experience when we pass from this life. And we know that heaven will be a wonderful place. We read, “God himself will be with his people, and he will be their God. He will wipe away all tears from their eyes. There will be no more death, no more grief or crying or pain” (Rev 21:3,4).

Nick, a ten year old, had been diagnosed with leukemia 3 years ago but all attempts by doctors had failed to hold back its devastating course. His parents sat by his bed helplessly as the colour drained from his cheeks. Nick was buried on the Tuesday of Holy Week. Easter Day dawned unusually warm and bright. Late that day, Nick’s parents sat on their verandah watching the sunset. Their six-year-old daughter, Hannah, played beside them. Nick’s dad said to Hannah, “Look at that beautiful sunset. Do you see all those beautiful colours – the pink and blue and gold colours in the clouds?”
Hannah thoughtfully replied, “Do you think Nick can see all those beautiful colours?”

Her dad replied, “He sees an even more beautiful sunset than we can see, Hannah. He’s in heaven with Jesus the most beautiful place that anyone can imagine”.

 

What God expects.

Friday, October 21st, 2011

Text: Matthew 22:36-39
The Pharisees … tried to trap him with a question. “Teacher,” he asked, “which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and the most important commandment. The second most important commandment is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself.’”

Loving God and one another.


A production that I have seen performed by professionals as well as secondary school teens is Fiddler on the Roof. The play is set in an impoverished Russian village, Anatevka, populated largely by Jewish families, at a time when Russia was ruled by the Tsar. The people of the village had a simple faith. They heard little news of the outside world and their lives were governed strictly by their age-old traditions.

As the curtain opens for the first act, the attention of the audience is drawn to the roof of a house on the stage. A violin begins a haunting tune and the shadow of a fiddler, violin tucked under his chin, is seen playing and dancing gaily on the roof.

The lights come on the stage and the first person we meet is Tevye the dairy farmer. His opening words go something like this. “A fiddler on the roof? Sounds crazy no?… You might say that every one of us is a fiddler on the roof trying to scratch out a pleasant simple tune without breaking his neck … It isn’t easy! … How can we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word. Tradition! Because of our tradition we have kept our balance for years … Because of our tradition everyone knows who he is and what God expects of him…. Tradition! Tradition! Without our tradition, our life would be as shaky as… as … as a fiddler on the roof!”

Like Tevye, the Pharisees knew that without Israel’s traditions life would be as shaky as a fiddler on the roof. Like Tevye, they knew the importance of knowing who we are and what God expects of us and so they ask Jesus, “Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus answered by giving the traditional answer from the Old Testament, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind’ and ‘love your neighbour as you love yourself.’

There is nothing new in Jesus’ answer. This is not something original. In Jewish writings long before Jesus’ time, these two commandments summarised the whole of the law. A Jewish lawyer asked Jesus what he must do to receive eternal life (Luke 10:27). So Jesus asked him, “What do the Scriptures say? The lawyer gives the answer that every child was taught form an early age, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind’ and ‘love your neighbour as you love yourself.”

Every Pharisee, every Jew – even Tevye the dairy farmer in the village of Anatevka – knew those words. These words are the essence, the beginning and the ending of the Jewish piety. In Deuteronomy we read, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” These words were to be recalled in the morning and in the evening. They were to be taught to the children. And they were recited just before the moment of death.

“And the second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself,” Jesus continued. Jesus went to the heart of the Pharisees’ tradition. He quoted the Law in Leviticus dealing with right conduct toward the neighbour. He went on, “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

The Pharisees wanted to find out where Jesus stood in regard to the traditional faith, the faith of the fathers. And in his reply, we find that Jesus had a great respect for tradition. He goes to the very heart of the Jewish faith and quotes passages of the Old Testament. Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel we hear that Jesus hasn’t come to do away with Israel’s faith. We hear him say, “Do not think that I have come to do away with the Law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets … but to make their teachings come true. Remember that as long as heaven and earth last, not the least point nor smallest detail of the Law will be done away with – not until the end of all things” (Matt 5:17). Jesus has great respect for the traditional faith, but not necessarily the traditional interpretation of the Pharisees.

The Jewish idea of responsibility when it came to which people were to be loved went like this. Everyone was to love God – that was compulsory. But everyone else was given a rating as to how much love they were to receive. There were those people to whom it was a responsibility to show love. Those on the outer circles of the community, like lepers, sinners, tax collectors, Gentiles, Samaritans etc, some were to be loved less, or others were owed no love whatsoever. The Pharisees had established a multitude of laws to help people in their observance of this command. These laws told people whom they were to love, and whom they could ignore.

By saying that the greatest commandment is to love God and to love your neighbour, gives a new slant to the traditional interpretation. To love God that was clear enough but to also say to love one another in the same breath puts both of these commands on an equal footing. One is not more important than the other. Both are compulsory. To love God is to love my neighbour and to truly love my neighbour is to love God. The command to love our enemies might seem to be crazy and impossible but it fits right in here with God’s love for us and our love for God. The Bible says, “If we say we love God, but hate others, we are liars. … The command that Christ has given us is this: whoever loves God must love others also” (I John 4:20-21).

It’s quite clear that loving God and loving our neighbour are inseparable. You cannot claim to love God if you don’t love your neighbour. Essentially the entire law of God can be boiled down to two simple commandments: Love God with your whole being; and love whomever God puts next to you as you love yourself.

The late Henry Hamann said in his book on Matthew’s Gospel: “Jesus does not separate love for God from love for man, since the latter flows from the former, and since without the latter the former is impossible”.*

Before we go any further we need to understand what Jesus means here when he uses the word love. That little four letter word “love” in English is used in many contexts. We talk about loving our dog, loving strawberries and ice-cream, or loving our latest heart throb. When we use the word love like that we are expressing our affection and the warm feelings we have for whatever it is that we are loving. Because we associate the word “love” with affection it’s no wonder that we have difficulty loving those people who annoy us, those who have hurt us, and those who don’t deserve to be loved. When someone is really annoying us and we lose that warm feeling, we give up “loving” that person.

When the Bible talks about love it is really talks about a love that keeps on loving, it involves commitment. We may have warm feelings of gratitude to God when we consider all that he has done for us, but it is not warm feelings that Jesus is demanding of us. It is stubborn, unwavering commitment. It follows then that to love one another, including our enemies, doesn’t mean we must feel affection for them, rather it means a commitment on our part to take their needs seriously, just as God committed himself to taking our needs seriously by sending his Son into this world.

You see this in marriages where the aging process leaves one partner physically incapacitated, difficult to live with, very demanding, and yet the other partner keeps on caring, showing patience, extremely forgiving and dealing with all the difficulties. That’s coming close to the biblical idea of love. It’s that commitment even though it’s really hard. It’s that stubborn, unwavering commitment to the other person’s needs often at a great sacrifice to him/herself.

Whether we are talking about a marriage, involvement with a church or friendships – everything is fine while we have those warm feelings but when those warm feelings fade so does the relationship. You see, warm feelings without any commitment are very temporary.

The kind of love that Jesus is talking about in his answer to the Pharisees doesn’t come naturally. Putting it into practice is something we have to work on. Love – commitment – is a deliberate action of the will. To love means deliberately to turn toward another person and their needs, to give away something of ourselves to someone else without thinking of what we will get in return.

In Luke’s Gospel Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 15:25-37) we see an example of a man loving his enemy, committing his money, time and energy to seeing to the needs of the man lying in the gutter. He stopped to help and to hang with the consequences. All he could see was someone in need. This kind of love/commitment is self-sacrificing. It is putting the other person first, whether it is God or our neighbour.

In all honesty, it doesn’t take much imagination to realise that this kind of love has been in short supply in our lives. In fact, if we could love perfectly then there would be no more sin in our world. If we could love perfectly, if we could be able to be truly committed to other people, then there would be no more violence, or war; what we say and do would only be gentle, kind and caring.

Because this is not the case Jesus came to pay for our lovelessness. He showed us what true love is.
His love touched the dumb, the deaf, the diseased, and the disabled.
His love warned, wept, and washed dirty feet.
His love willingly took him to Jerusalem and terrible suffering.
His love carried a cross – and died upon it!
His love welcomed each of us into God’s family, forgiving our sin in the water of baptism. Because of Jesus you are perfect saints in the eyes of God. Eternal life is yours in Christ. Forgiveness of sins is yours. The perfect love of God is yours.

We don’t love in order to get to heaven; we love because heaven is already ours in Christ.
We don’t love in order to win God’s favour; we love because we already have God’s favour in Christ.
We don’t love so that God will love us; we love because God has loved us in Christ with the greatest love we will ever know, the crucified love of Jesus.

In ‘Fiddler on the roof’, there is a confusion between faith and tradition in Tevye’s thinking when he says that without tradition our life would be as shaky as a fiddler trying to play on the roof!”

Maybe we would be more inclined to say, “Without the love of Christ controlling us, our life would be as shaky as… as … as a fiddler on the roof!”

 

Like father like son

Saturday, October 15th, 2011

Imitators of God

Sermon: 22nd Sunday after Pentecost, Year A

Reading: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10


 The other day I had the experience that many fathers have with their kids: I watched one of my kids imitate me. Right down to the gestures and the tone of voice. It reminded me that the most powerful way to teach anybody anything is to do it yourself. This is what you see at work in the second reading for today, from Thessalonians.

Paul has been the founding pastor of this congregation at Thessalonica and has lived and worked with the people there for some time – certainly some months, perhaps even for a year or more.

The church began in this Greek city of Thessalonica through Paul’s missionary preaching, and through the baptism of converts who came to believe as a result of this preaching.

But Paul has done much more than preach. He has lived his faith. He has been Living the Word – a familiar phrase in the Ringwood congregation! And this is what has made the biggest impact.

Interestingly, like parents with their kids, pastors often leave their imprint on a congregation – particularly pastors who stay a while. Over time, the people see and watch and pick up what the pastor’s attitudes and priorities are, and they adopt and imitate them.

This is what happened with this little congregation at Thessalonica. Paul makes mention in his letter to them – written after his time with them – of two particular special qualities they have. In verses 5 and 6, he mentions their conviction and their joy as Christians. Somehow they have learned these things and are putting them into practice.

Now, where, how and by whom do you think they saw those two qualities being lived out? Who showed them joy and conviction?

Paul of course! They are imitating him. When he looks at the church in Thessalonica, he is looking in the mirror! During his time at Thessalonica, Paul shaped this church with his own values – so much so that after Paul left, they carried on in the way he had shown them. Paul’s great faith and conviction about Jesus Christ and his love for all people had rubbed off. They watched and they noticed and they imitated. In same way they had made Paul’s joy in the good news of salvation their own.

So much so in fact, that this little church had become famous not only in their own area but in surrounding territories – in Achaia and Macedonia and even beyond. Paul observes that the word of the Lord has “sounded forth” from them and made a huge impact on people near and far, so that now others were being inspired by them and had begun imitating them. Paul’s great passion and enthusiasm for telling the world about Jesus Christ had powerfully shaped them and they were now shaping the faith of others.

There’s a chain reaction here: Paul imitates Christ. The Thessalonians imitate Paul. And other Christians then imitate the Thessalonians. It is like throwing a rock into a pool – the ripple effect goes out further than we ever imagine and effects others in ways we never dreamed of.

As I look at the life of this congregation (through the eyes of Christ) I see the same thing at work. Many people have grown and learned how to live out God’s love as they see others doing it. We learn Christ through seeing and meeting Christ in each other. There are small acts of service in response to peoples’ needs, there is understanding and gentleness given to those with problems in life, there’s care and encouragement. And others watch as this happens and then imitate. It is beautiful. We help one another grow in this way.

But it’s not just inside the church that this happens. The ripples go out. As I look at families in our church, I see the powerful witness some of you parents give your kids by your own worship and service, especially the young kids who are still at home. When they see you worship and watch you sing and pray and see how this is part of your life, they are being formed in their faith.

But it is also the same with you parents of older kids that have grown up and left home and possibly left the church. Don’t under-estimate the power of your example of faith and worship and love. Never think that it is not being noticed and having an impact. It definitely is, even though you may see no visible response to it now. What they see in your life is worth more than anything you say to your kids.

This is fundamentally what “Child in Our Hands” is about – it’s what your kids see in you.

There is of course an important role for teaching and instructing people in the Scriptures and the doctrines of the faith (Paul certainly did that at Thessalonica too), however the most powerful teaching was his example. What people see us do, what attitudes we display, what values we show. As Paul says, when this is happening, when the Holy Spirit is using us to lead and shape one another in God’s love, we often have no need to say a lot about it because our lives speak louder than words.

One things lots of people in the church do not understand is that this is the mission of the church at work. The church works not through programs or buildings or spectacular attractional events or dynamic pastors – but through you – yes you, imperfect you, sometimes struggling you – because you are, by God’s grace, Christ’s child, his disciple.

As we live in this relationship with Christ each day, as a mother, a father, a child, an employer, an employee, a friend, a marriage partner and in all your roles, relationships and vocations in life, Christ is holding up your life before others so that in you, they may see him:

  • In the way you might practice forgiveness;
  • In the way you might show compassion and understanding;
  • In the way you act and treat others with integrity instead of self-interest;
  • In the way perhaps that you do not judge others in their problems but listen to them.

Things that you might not even be aware of doing yourself, but are things you do because they are just part of who you are in Christ, and it comes out of you.

Some of you might know the story of Malcolm Muggeridge – a journalist and sceptic, who rejected the Christian faith. He was full of cynicism and ridicule about the Church and criticised it at every opportunity. As part of an article he was researching he visited one of the Hospices in India run by Mother Theresa (long before she became famous). He met her and interviewed her, and a life long friendship began.

When he, a couple of years later was converted and became a Christian, he said that meeting Mother Theresa was the great turning point in his life. Why? Because of her example of Christian love and compassion. It was what she lived more than what she said. He had no arguments against that. He had no way of attacking it. He saw God’s power quietly at work in this woman. As he put it, in her eyes, he met Jesus Christ for the first time.

In turn, Malcolm Muggeridge has influenced an enormous number of people towards Christ through his repentance and faith in Christ, and the way he has shared this in his writing and his books over the years. It’s that ripple effect again.

When we live in daily relationship with God the Father, through Jesus Christ, others see, and are powerfully impacted. This powerful though very quiet dynamic is God’s way of bringing his Kingdom in the world, through you. Amen