3rd Sunday in Advent 16th December 2018

  How are the Christmas preparations going? Is it usually the women doing the hard yards – thinking of presents, getting everyone together, planning menus, as well as making sure everything is tidy and ready?mike “What do you mean, I’m not putting in.  I did the whipper snippering. All of it, the footpath as well.” Unspoken thoughts, ‘That’s more than enough. Besides, I am amazing. I am male. And I don’t carry on like I am entitled. Why can’t I be appreciated more, hassled less, it’ll all work out?’
Whether we are doing more than our fair share, or not pulling our weight, let’s ask what God is doing during this lead up to the gift of Christmas, and how do we align with God’s work? Our candle was about joy – what brings us joy, and what brings God joy? How can our hearts and God’s hearts line up?

John the Baptist was a strong voice – the first God voice for centuries. And it was a strong call: don’t rely on your religious credentials, your family history. Step outside the Promised Land, admit you need to make a new start, get washed clean in the Jordan River, and then, when you go back home, actually walk the walk, not just talk the talk. Bear fruit, good fruit, do practical actual good. John the Baptist then gave guidance to people in their different positions. Share with others. Don’t use your position or authority to exploit or abuse others. No more excuses, no more looking good but not showing any love, and to all of us sometimes, he might be saying, no more wringing your hands, no more helplessness and hopelessness. It is ok to be stuck, not knowing what to do, which way to go.  But that is for a season only. Bring that stuckness to God, ask the Holy Spirit to show you what that is a about. Is it fear, or faith?
John the Baptist was into doing actual good in your everyday, about making a difference. Let’s explore his image of a good tree bearing good fruit. You are grafted on to Christ. You belong, you are welcomed. You are joined to Christ, with God the good gardener. It’s pure gift. It’s forgiveness. It’s Christ dying on the cross for you, and saying, ‘I’ve got you. You sins are covered.’ It’s the promise that no matter what judgements are flying around, and what things keep rising up to accuse you, and what keeps rushing around inside you, God says, ‘You are my dearly loved son my dearly loved daughter.’ Breathe in, breathe out. Trust.
Now, out of that deep, utterly sure connection to God, the connection of grace and forgiveness, what will happen. Keep the nutrients going into your system: the good practices of listening to God’s Word and letting it go down deep inside you, trusting the Lord’s Supper to keep you in God’s love.
Never write yourself off.  The OT reading talked about shame changing to praise. Our most shameful, embarrassing or humiliating things are never wasted. Sometimes they are meant to be, to bring us into a teachable space. The grace and kindness we receive from others there will open up a God space inside us. They help us to be more aware of others, in a less putting down way. The hard work done there, on those persistent faults, or those places of great need, where we have allowed others to minster to us, become places from where we reach out to others with love in words and actions, love that comes from God.
If you are Yr 8 and you’ve done the whipper snippering, good on you. Part of the joy of Advent is showing love in practical ways.

Rev. Mike Mayer

2nd Sunday in Advent 9th December 2018

 Paul writes to the Church at Phillippi and to us:  ‘I am sure that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on that day when Christ Jesus comes back again.’

Let’s  join in a word of  prayer:
O God our Loving Father, as Christians we are together to worship You and to celebrate the unfinished business of our lives.  Guide our time together, at this, the second Sunday of Advent, that we may hear your message for us and continue to be moulded, by your Holy Spirit, into the people You want us to be.david Gracious heavenly Father, bless us with your peace, and hear our prayer for the sake of our risen Lord, Christ Jesus, Amen.


An old fable tells how different tools tried to master a piece of iron. The blows of the axe fell heavily, but the only result was that its edge became more and more blunt. The saw’s relentless teeth worked until they were worn down and broken, without effect. The hammer’s head flew off at the first stroke, but didn’t even leave a dent.
Despite all their efforts, the iron remained hardened and stubborn.  Finally a warm flame curled gently around the iron, embraced it, and never left it until the iron melted under its irresistible influence. (SOURCE: Rodney Fry, “Paul’s Prayer For His Loved Ones,”)
As followers of Christ Jesus, we can try to chop through the discord in the world with severe discipline.  We can try to hammer out agreements between angry neighbours with harsh logic.  We can try to cut away hatred and misunderstanding within families, and even the church, with piercing words and looks.  But only persistent warmth of  love can melt hearts and bring peace.  Peace that keeps the spirit of Christ alive among His children, born out of the word and sacrament.  As Paul writes, “I pray that your love for each other will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in your knowledge and understanding.”
The decision to love happens when we are exposed to a higher standard of living at peace with one another. … That’s what  Jesus does for us.
As we read from Paul to Philippians earlier:  ‘I am sure that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on that day when Christ Jesus comes back again.’
As the world waits for the return of Christ Jesus, many people see only dimly what’s wrong with their lives, and they live under a cloud of self condemnation.  Saying things like: “I don’t know if I can live it.” “I am struggling all the time,” “What if God doesn’t hear my prayer?” or “What if I just can’t do what God wants?”, “I’m upset all the time.”, “I don’t have any peace. I’m churned up about everything. Worrying myself to death.”  In reality, the words we think and say to ourselves speak more clearly to our hearts than any words we hear from others.  Even from the Scripture.
But, when we determine to listen, the Scripture can make a big difference in the words we receive even from ourselves.  If we speak Gospel to ourselves and speak encouragement to others, those words will surely give us confidence that God has begun the work in our lives.  That He will carry it out and complete it.  No matter how we feel at that moment.  As I paraphrase Martin Luther “We shouldn’t always trust in our feelings, but we should trust always in the Word of God.”
These words give us evidence that the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives to bring us his peace.
Paul goes on to write,  ‘I pray that your love for each other will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in your knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters.’
As we receive God’s word, and determine to express our love for one another, I am sure that we will continue to discover what really matters.  Christ Jesus, influencing our lives through the faith we have in him.  Christ Jesus giving us peace of mind in every circumstance of life.  Christ Jesus smiling at the love that we share for one another.
What strength it is that we have someone who so clearly sees us for who we are and understands us.  We are children of the Most High, co-heirs with Jesus, our King of all creation, sharing in the love that God lavishes on all of us through the Holy Spirit.  As we wait for the full inheritance, we can live each day trusting in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, no matter what our current circumstances, whether celebration or challenge.
The Gospel today reminds us of the last Old Testament prophet, John the Baptiser.  He remained in the wilderness trying to discern his mission for God.  And God is faithful.
‘A message from God came to John son of Zechariah, who was living out in the wilderness. … Then John went from place to place on both sides of the Jordan River, preaching that people should be baptized to show that they had turned from their sins and turned to God to be forgiven.’
During this season of Advent, we confront our time of waiting for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.   We learn to live each day in the shadow of our justification before God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We prepare to meet our Savour, as though it is our last day on earth.
Each new day, we can live without any fear of tomorrow.  Whatever tomorrow brings, we can hold onto our faith in God with peace in our hearts and our hope of life eternal with Christ Jesus.  All this stored in our hearts by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel and the Sacraments of Christ Jesus.
We don’t need to be a ‘John the Baptiser’, although some will be called to be evangelists, pastors, and teachers.  We only need to listen for the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, allowing our hearts to sing together the joy of our salvation.
Carl Michalson, a brilliant young theologian who died in a plane crash some years ago, once told about playing with his young son one afternoon. They tussled playfully on their front lawn when Michalson accidentally hit the young boy in the face with his elbow.
It was a sharp blow full to his son’s face. The little boy was stunned by the impact of the elbow. It hurt, and he was just about to burst into tears. But then he looked into his father’s eyes. Instead of anger and hostility, he saw there his father’s sympathy and concern; he saw there his father’s love and compassion.
Instead of exploding into tears, the little boy suddenly rubbed his face and burst into laughter. What he saw in his father’s eyes made all the difference!  (Source: James W. Moore, Some Things Are too Good Not to Be True, Nashville:Dimensions, p. 43. Adapted.)
The sharp blow of God’s message to us is to live repentant lives.  Just as John the Baptist shared with us in the Gospel reading today.  ‘Prepare a pathway for the Lord’s coming!  Make a straight road for him!’  But, with our inside eyes, we can look into our Saviour’s eyes. We can see what he offers us in forgiveness that makes all the difference.
As Paul writes to us:  ‘May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—those good things that are produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God.’
We have the confirmation of our salvation by the witness of God’s Holy Spirit working in our lives.  All the times we can say with enthusiasm, “Jesus is Lord”.
But the world only sees the fruit of the tree, and not the sap running through it to give it life.  During our preparation for Christmas, and for the return of our Saviour, let us put on display the fruit of the Spirit to show the world that we are part of the glorious family of Christ Jesus.   AMEN.

Rev. David Thompson

1st Sunday in Advent 2nd December 2018

Text: Luke 21:27,28,36

Then the Son of Man will appear, coming in a cloud with great power and glory.  When these things begin to happen, stand up and raise your heads, because your salvation is near.

Jesus is coming

Being prepared is really important. Whether talking about preparing for an exam, a trip overseas or a dinner party. The 19th-century explorer, Sir John Franklin, led an expedition that tried to reach the North Pole. johnmacConsider how prepared he was for that journey:

“Each sailing vessel carried an auxiliary steam engine and a 12-day supply of coal for the entire projected 2 or 3 year voyage. Instead of additional coal…each ship made room for a 1,200-volume library, a hand-organ playing 50 tunes, china place settings for officers and men, cut-glass wine goblets, and sterling silver cutlery. The expedition carried no special clothing for the Arctic, only the uniforms of Her Majesty’s Navy.” (1)

Imagine heading into the frigid wastelands of the North Pole with supplies like that! These explorers were totally unprepared for what they were about to face.

Today is the beginning of the Advent season, a time of anticipation, a time of getting ready for the arrival of someone important. Jesus will come back again, as out text reminds us – “the Son of Man will appear, coming in a cloud with great power and glory”.

The Advent season reminds us through the words of Jesus and people like John the Baptist, Paul and the Old Testament prophets that we should always be prepared for Jesus’ return because we don’t know exactly when this will take place. His reappearance will catch many people unprepared just as a thief comes during the night when the owners of the house are sleeping and unprepared for his unexpected arrival.

There was once a spider who lived in a cornfield. He was a big spider and he had spun a beautiful web between the corn stalks. He got fat eating all the bugs that would get caught in his web. He liked his home and planned to stay there for the rest of his life.

One day the spider caught a little bug in his web, and just as the spider was about to eat him, the bug said,
“If you let me go I will tell you something important that will save your life.”

The spider paused for a moment and listened because he was amused.
“You better get out of this cornfield,” the little bug said, “The harvest is coming!”

The spider smiled and said, “What is this harvest you are talking about? I think you are just telling me a story.”

But the little bug said, “Oh no, it is true. The owner of this field is coming to harvest it soon. All the stalks will be knocked down and the corn will be gathered up. You will be killed by the giant machines if you stay here.”

The spider said, “I don’t believe in harvests and giant machines that knock down corn stalks. How can you prove this?”

The little bug continued, “Just look at the corn. See how it is planted in rows? It proves this field was created by an intelligent designer.”

The spider laughed and mockingly said, “This field has evolved and has nothing to do with a creator. Corn always grows that way.”

The bug went on to explain, “Oh no. This field belongs to the owner who planted it, and the harvest is coming soon.”

The spider grinned and said to the little bug, “I don’t believe you,” and then the spider ate the little bug for lunch.

A few days later, the spider was laughing about the story the little bug had told him. He thought to himself, “A harvest! What a silly idea. I have lived here all of my life and nothing has ever disturbed me. I have been here since these stalks were just a foot off the ground, and I’ll be here for the rest of my life, because nothing is ever going to change in this field. Life is good, and I have it made.”

The next day was a beautiful sunny day in the cornfield. The sky above was clear and there was no wind at all. That afternoon as the spider was about to take a nap, he noticed some thick dusty clouds moving toward him. He could hear the roar of a great engine and he said to himself, “I wonder what that could be?”

Jesus knew that when the he came a second time there would be many people who would say, “I wonder what that could be?” and so he went to a lot of effort to tell us that he will return and that we need to always be ready.

He tells the story about a man who goes on a trip and leaves one of his workers in charge of his property and house. Before he goes, he gives the worker a list of jobs he expected to be completed while he is away. After the owner leaves the worker doesn’t worry too much about the jobs he had to do. The owner won’t be back for ages; there will have plenty of time to do those jobs just before the owner returns so he had a good time partying and having a great time. The owner came back suddenly and caught the man he had left in charge unfaithful and unprepared (Matt 24:45-51). Jesus concludes,
“Watch, then, because you do not know when the master of the house is coming—it might be in the evening or at midnight or before dawn or at sunrise. If he comes suddenly, he must not find you asleep. What I say to you, then, I say to all: Watch!”

When Jesus ascended to heaven, he has left us in charge and gave us instructions what we are to do while he is away.
Go, make disciples… baptise…
love one another…
pray for one another…
do this often as you drink in remembrance of me….
trust and believe in me…
worship, pray, teach, listen to my Word,
live as God’s people.
He will come again and he wants us to be always ready for his return. There is no room for bludging and leaving things to the last minute. He will come back and he wants to find us carrying out his instructions and be prepared for the day when he “will appear, coming in a cloud with great power and glory”.

Jesus leaves us in no doubt whatsoever that the day will come when the history of this world as we know it, will be drawn to a close. The last page of the world’s history will contain a description of what took place when Jesus returned. “There will be the shout of command, the archangel’s voice, the sound of God’s trumpet, and the Lord himself will come down from heaven” (1 Thess 4:16).
When this happens people will cower in fear.
Everyone will run this way and that to escape.
Everyone will faint from terror,
everyone except people of faith.
According to Jesus, people of faith need not panic when they see this happening. Jesus says, “When these things begin to happen, stand up and raise your heads, because your salvation is near.”

How can I say that we do not need to panic and be terrified like the rest of the world when Jesus comes as judge? After all, aren’t we sinners, people who have disobeyed God? Haven’t we been loveless? Haven’t we been too eager to offer excuses rather than live as one of God’s people? On what basis can it be said that we have nothing to fear on the day Jesus returns?

There are two ways to view Christ’s return. Firstly, people can ignore their sin and the fact that Jesus will come again. When the end looms near, they will have every reason to panic. They will realise that they will soon face an audit of their lives and how they have regarded God. They will panic because they know they will fail the test.

On the other hand, people who face judgement acknowledging their sinfulness, receiving God’s forgiveness, don’t have to panic when they face the end. If all your wrongs have been removed, wiped out, eliminated, by the forgiveness that Jesus won for you by dying on the cross, then there won’t be anything left to judge on judgement day. Paul puts it like this, “You will be free from all impurity and blame on the Day of Christ” (Phil 1:10). For Christians the return of Jesus is not something to fear. In fact, when everyone else around you is overcome by panic, you can stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.

Our baptism assures us that we have nothing to fear when Christ returns. Not many of us can remember the day we were baptised but that doesn’t reduce its significance or power one bit. In baptism, we are united with Jesus Christ in such a way that the power of sin to condemn is destroyed. We receive Christ’s forgiveness, and are given the promise that we shall live with God forever in heaven. From the day of our baptism on and throughout our lives, we acknowledge our sins against God, family members, friends and even total strangers and we claim the promise of forgiveness which God gives us in baptism.

Daily our sins are judged;
daily we are forgiven;
daily we are made new and clean.
Therefore, we need not fear the end of the world, because our sin has been dealt with at the baptismal font. While the rest of the world is cowering in fear, Christians stand erect with uplifted heads because they have been made pure and blameless by the blood of Jesus.

When you get right down to it, baptism is not a very spectacular thing,. It involves standing at the font while some ordinary water is applied to your head and some ancient words are spoken. There is no dove hovering overhead. No booming voice of God declaring that you a holy son or daughter. There is nothing to cause the congregation to ooh and ah. There is no angelic choir singing the “Hallelujah Chorus”. There is only the Word of God in and with the water – very ordinary water from the tap and a few simple words.

Jesus Christ was born in a dark, lonely stable amid lowly animals, not in the crowd-filled streets near a shopping mall amid fireworks and thundering music. Those who came and looked into the manger saw just another tiny Jewish baby, born to very poor parents, in a small county town, in very turbulent times. This first advent of Jesus into our world was indeed very ordinary and humble, but we know what great blessings the tiny baby in the manger brought to our world.

When we were born again in baptism at a quiet font with ordinary water and simple words, look what power that humble ceremony has brought to us. And when Christ comes again, we will stand up and raise our heads in great hope and expectation, because we do not have to be afraid of Jesus’ return, our life to come is secure.

As we progress through the Advent season, let’s join with the church of all ages and say, “Come, Lord Jesus!” Come into hearts as the Christ-child. Come on the Last Day. Come with your grace into our lives. “Come, Lord Jesus! Come!”

(1) Quoted from Annie Dillard’s Teaching a Stone to Talk

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

Read by John McLean

The last Sunday in the Church Year

Today is the last Sunday of the Christian Year. Next week will be the first Sunday in Advent.gordon

I want to use a quote from Winston Churchills speech to the English people on the defeat by the English 8th Army together with the Australians at Tobruk and Alamein of Rommel’s Afrika Korp. In 1942 he said,

“Now, this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” Winston Churchill.

For Christians today, there is an end and a beginning, there is fulfilment, finality, end but also hope. Fulfillment and Hope would be another way of expressing what today is in the Christian understanding of time. Our time, Our lifetime, the Lifetime of the world. This is the case since the Christian understanding of time is not based on the sun and the moon whereby in a rough manner, we understand time in terms of years and months. But the church understands time in terms of how God has and will act in his redeeming activity revealed in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, God’s eternal Word.

We understand time by the way we experience it as past present and future time. We indeed measure it by clocks and watches. This kind of time the Bible calls chronos, what Shakespeare described as “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day, To the last syllable of recorded time”; on the other hand, the Bible has a name for the time which we celebrate today at the end and the beginning of the church year. It is called Kairos, that is time understood in terms of a purpose not as Shakespeare described our time, “a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.” (Macbeth spoken by Macbeth)

Today’s lesson from the Holy Gospel of St John speaks of Jesus role in the coming judgment of Christians and the world. They are cryptic words. Words which do not have an evident meaning in terms of how the world viewed and understands the One who speaks them, Jesus of Nazareth. He is on his way to the cross and in the next chapter of the gospel he indicates that only those who eat the bread of life, his body and blood, have eternal life.

Here Jesus cryptic words refer to his role in the coming cosmic judgment of the world. And what a contrast they express! The carpenter’s son from Nazareth with a band of semi illiterate disciples identifies Himself as the One who judges the world. That his being and presence in the world has this kind of cosmic significance.

What has this to do with where we find ourselves today at the end and the beginning of the Christian Year? Fulfilment and Hope, that is what it is about. An end and a beginning which must be understood from its pivotal point in the person of Jesus Christ. He it is who determines how our time and the time of world is understood. We come today to the end of time as measured by our experience of time as a fleeting past and present and an unknown future. But we come today and look toward a future time measured not by our experience but by Him who, having identified himself with us in his humiliating journey to the cross, now determines our time as a future with hope because of who He is and what he has done. For Jesus as judge receives His power as the humiliated and crucified One from God the Father. The way he is going, the course of his life, his time, is not a random series of haphazard events without meaning and purpose.  According to Jesus words in St John He receives His authority from the Father as the Judge of the world. We know from St John in chapter one that this same Jesus is the co-eternal Word of God who was with God in the beginning and is the One through whom the world came into existence and that He is one with the Father: as the Nicene Creed puts it, He is “of one being (homoousios)with the Father.” That He receives authority as judge means that it is as the humiliated and crucified One, the One who become incarnate for our sakes. Became one with us to establish our righteousness through His self-emptying journey to the cross. He receives this authority not for His own sake but for ours. That he may be one with and represent us to the Father.

“For as the Father has life in Himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself, and has given him authority to execute judgement because he is the Son of Man.” John 5:26

Jesus, as the Son of God, is ever one with the Father and does not need to have life given to Him. He with the Spirit are ever one with the Father. But here Jesus says his capacity to have life in himself is a gift from the Father. He thus speaks as the One who has condescended to make himself one with us; who do not have life in themselves. He speaks as the one who will glorify the Father in His obedience unto death. He speaks as the one who is vindicated by the Father for our sakes, as He is raised from the dead. His being given the gift of having life in Himself is therefore to be understood as a gift He receives NOT for Himself, but on our behalf as the One who represents us in our alienation from God.

As this One He lives and rules the church and the world. According to his words his presence now in His word and sacrament is how the world under the thraldom of sin and death is judged.

” The hour is coming, and NOW is when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of Man and those who hear will live.” John 5:25

The presently active judgment of God of which Jesus speaks happens through His word. His word is the medium that now calls into being, actively creates the condition, whereby the cosmos, the world, is judged. The word of Jesus defines reality; Jesus word of promise changes the status of the world. Not simply as we perceive it and understand it; the power of Jesus word as that of the living crucified One is that which establishes the truth of our life before God, despite who we may think we are. It creates out of nothing a life of righteousness in the place of our sin, eternal life in the place of death. “The dead will hear the voice of the Son of Man and those who hear will live”. This judgment takes place despite appearances to the contrary, even though our experience of ourselves and the world contradicts it. This redefinition of reality by the word of Jesus is the foundation of our present hope, it alone sustains the church in its journey towards His final appearing.

Precisely the same paradox in respect of our time and the reality of our life of righteousness in Christ compared with how we experience ourselves and our time of sin and death, this very same paradox created by the presence of Jesus Christ, the living Word of God in the world, applies to the church and its relationship with the world.

Today, as we have just indicated, is an end and a beginning, fulfillment and hope, the end of the Church Year and the Beginning of a New Time when we look towards the Advent, the coming of Christ the Judge, who defines our time as past and future by the gift of His righteousness and the final destruction of sin and death. This is also true of the Church.

Fulfillment and hope are also how we understand the church and its life in the world. For like individual Christians and their pathetically feeble witness to Christ and His glory, compared with the promise of Christ’s Word that they know sustains them in righteousness before God. With the church it is no different.

What significance does the existence of the church really have in the tumultuous life of the city or it’s industry? What significance does the modest Sunday Service or Mass have

compared with what humanity usually sets up and deifies as the meaning of Sunday? What is the actual result of the church’s activity? Compared with the great or little achievements in other spheres of human activity, the discoveries of science and the inventions of technology, what is really accomplished in a visible and tangible form that can concretely demonstrated and of enough importance to be described in a meaningful way in the press?

What human beings do may be great or small but at least it is done in the light of day. What the church does in the world in all its uniqueness and cosmic importance never appears. It is hidden. This is the weakness of the church when compared with other human enterprises.

Yet in the weakness of its efforts and achievements there is concealed the active strength of the church. The church need not be ashamed of its weakness. In fact, it must seriously renounce all attempts to give itself the appearance of strength. It must see that its honour consists in the fact that its being unimpressive and unsuccessful is because it is in the company of Jesus Christ. It can therefore know its hidden but very real power. For the strength of the Christian community consists in the fact that in all its obvious weakness it is not concerned plainly and noticeably with the most important matters of the day, but with the matter which whether known or unknown by the wider community is determinative for all people. It is concerned with the decision taken in Jesus Christ in favour for all people: for their deliverance from sin and death, that they are free and not slaves, that they may live and not die. This decision and its coming revelation is that which holds the world together, whether the world realises it or not. If the world concerns itself with the periphery of things, the church concerns itself with the centre of all things that relate to human existence.

What other work, or accomplishment in politics and art, industry and technology, can be done with the unlimited confidence that the church has as it looks to the revelation of this decision of God in Jesus Christ. No other human work or activity has this strength concealed in its weakness. All other human work is done under the pressure of consequences, of success. The Church is free from this pressure because it may know and trust, can praise and confess the One who is the Coming judge of all things. This is the confidence, the strength, the hope that this word of God gives to us today.

“Truly, truly I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” John 5:24.

Pastor Dr. Gordon Watson

26th Sunday after Pentecost 18th November

Text: Mark 13:1,2
As Jesus was leaving the Temple, one of his disciples said, “Look, Teacher! What wonderful stones and buildings!” Jesus answered, “You see these great buildings? Not a single stone here will be left in its place; every one of them will be thrown down.

Have you ever walked around a cemetery looking at the graves and reading the details about the lives of those buried there? 20180311_103505 (1) I’ve walked around some very old cemeteries in Europe and read the epitaphs and tried to work out something about the people who were buried there and the time they lived in.  In some places there are many graves of small children and we guessed that some kind of contagious illness had claimed their lives.  In some places we saw the graves of men, women and children who had been caught up in war and we read with sadness the details on their tombstones.

Gravestones can tell you a good deal about a person.
A headstone in Kent, England, reads,
Grim death took me
without any warning.
I was well at night,
and dead in the morning
.

On a headstone in a churchyard in Cornwall, England,
Here lies the body of Joan Carthew,
born at St Columb; died at St Cue;
children she had five,
three dead and two alive;
those that are dead choosing rather
to die with their mother than live with their father.

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel awoke one morning to read his own obituary in the local newspaper.  It read, “Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, who died yesterday, devised a way for more people to be killed in a war than ever before.  He died a very rich man.”

Actually, it was a mistake – it was Alfred’s older brother who had died.  But reading his own obituary had a profound effect on Alfred.  He decided he wanted to be known for something other than developing the means to kill people efficiently and for amassing a fortune in the process.  So he initiated the Nobel Peace Prize, the award for those who foster peace.

Nobel said, “Every person ought to have the chance to correct his epitaph in midstream and write a new one.”

At this time of the year the Church’s calendar is almost at an end and soon we will start a new year as we begin our preparations for the coming of Jesus at Christmas. With the end of the year also comes talk of the end of everything.  As we heard in the readings today there is an emphasis on the fact that there is a time limit on everything on this planet, including ourselves.

As one gravestone says,
Here Lies Joyce
she’d rather not
but has no choice.

So maybe it’s good to do what Alfred Nobel did – “to correct our epitaph and write a new one.”

If you died today, what would your family write about you in your obituary?
What would they honestly say about you as a person?  What memories would they have of the things you have done and said for them?
What moments would they recall where you have touched them at a point of need or rejoiced with them as you celebrated one of life’s victories with them?
What would they say about your Christian faith – your role in the church – the way you demonstrated your faith in your relationships, the way you passed on your faith and love to the next generation and to others?
After the funeral what would your friends say about you over a cuppa and a piece of cake?
How will your family, neighbours and your work mates remember you?

An obituary is a brief story of a person’s life whereas a eulogy is a statement that praises a person for all the good things he/she has done and ignores everything else.  In the church we prefer to use the term obituary because we recognise that life is full of ups and downs and the way we respond to those hills and valleys and challenges will vary.  We don’t always get it right.  We don’t always treat the people around us fairly and kindly.  Life is not just about being successful and being always happy.

One of the things we can get so wrong is how reckless we are with the people we love.  We get preoccupied and caught up in so many things. There’s not enough time in the day to do the things that we want to get done.  Unfortunately the victims of our busy-ness are the people we are the closest to – or at least are supposed to be the closest to.  We keep saying to ourselves, “I know I’ve pushed you to the side, but there’s always tomorrow and I’ll do better then”.  But will there always be another tomorrow to appreciate the beautiful things of today.

The disciples were admiring the magnificent beauty of the Temple in Jerusalem a true masterpiece of craftsmanship but as huge and magnificent and permanent the Temple might have seemed Jesus states that even this holy place of worship will come to an end.  And it did. The Romans completely destroyed the temple.  The reality is that there is not a never-ending supply of tomorrows.

We don’t know when we will take our last breath.  It may happen suddenly, giving us no time to make up for the important things that we have left undone for so long, and the relationships that we have ignored.

Jesus tells the story of the Rich Man who had a beggar living on his footpath – Lazarus was his name.  The Rich Man died and went to hell.  Suddenly he realised his mistake – Lazarus was his neighbour but he had been too caught up in making money and throwing big parties for his cronies.  Now it was too late.

As we focus on the reality that there will be a time when time will end – either at the end of the world or at the moment of our death – it’s good to stop and examine where our lives are heading.
Reassess what’s been happening in our relationship with the people in our families.  Ask the question – have I shown as much love and care to them as I would like?
Have I spent time with them – listening to them – learning about their joys and sorrows – encouraging them?
Reassess what’s been happening with your friends and the people at work.  Have I given them some of my time?  Have I been too busy and too uninterested in what’s happening in their lives?

Reassess where you are at this moment in your relationship with God?
Do I trust God?  Do I have a real sense of peace knowing that God is ready to help me, guide me, and support me?
Is my faith something in my head or is it something that really affects everything that I do in my daily life –
the way I interact with people,
the way I speak to them,
the way I speak about them to others,
the way I focus on God and his love for me?
Can I forgive those who have deeply wronged me?  Am I willing to reach out to them rather than wait for them to come to me?
Can I forgive myself for the wrongs of the past because I know that God has forgiven me?  Can I learn to not be so hard on myself and live in the grace and peace that comes from God?
How well am I caring for my relationship with God through reading his Word and prayer, attending worship and Holy Communion?

Has my leisure time or work taken control of my life?  God wants us to get out there and enjoy sport, be good at our work, have fun enjoying God’s creation.  He has given us all these to make the most of; but he doesn’t want these to take control of our lives – to disrupt our relationship with the people in our lives and especially to put at risk our relationship with God.

I’m not telling you anything new when I say that when you die, we stand naked before the judgement throne of God.  At that moment all that will count is – not your job, not your money, not your status or fame, not your successes, not even your piety – all that will count is that Jesus has died for you.  If it wasn’t for Jesus your sin would condemn you.  Trusting him is the only way to life eternal and eternal peace and joy.

What is the greatest comfort that you can give your family when it comes the time for you to leave this life?  Their ultimate consolation is to know that Jesus is your saviour.  The greatest comfort you can give your family is the assurance that you are in heaven where there is none of the troubles of this life.  You are there ready to welcome them when that day comes for them to die.

I would hope that the inscription on your headstone would be better than the one on an auctioneer’s grave, which simply read.  “Going!!  Going!!  Gone!!”
I would hope that your obituary would tell how
you trusted God;
fixed your eyes on Jesus when the going got tough;
knew that Jesus has forgiven you making it possible for you to go to heaven,
confessed boldly, “Jesus is my Lord and Saviour”
knew how to divide work time and leisure time, making sure there was time for worship and prayer.
I would hope that those attending your funeral would be able to reflect on how you cared for them,
encouraged them,
showed them Jesus,
prayed for them,
enjoyed life with them,
and worked honestly alongside of them.

I would hope that when it came to that day, your funeral would be a celebration of your entrance into eternal life.  I would hope that those who gather on that day would experience an inner peace and joy knowing that Jesus died for you and that you trusted in him for forgiveness and eternal life.  That will be of special comfort to those who are feeling empty and alone because of your departure.

That day when Jesus was leaving the temple with his disciples, he gave them a lesson on how temporary things in this life really are as he spoke of the almost unthinkable – the destruction of that magnificent building.  Our place in this world is even more temporary than the things we build.  However, there is a permanent home waiting for us in heaven. Jesus says to all who trust and believe in him, “There are any rooms in my Father’s house.  I have gone to prepare a place for you so that you can be where I am”.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

25th Sunday after Pentecost 11th November

The Widows Mite, More Than It Appears To Be

Text: Mark 12:38-44

Proposition: Pride and humility are revealed in our actions and they declare our belief in who we think is supreme and best able to care for us. bob                    

Introduction: It had been about three days since Jesus made the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which means it was three days away from the time of His arrest, humiliation and death. One of the last lessons of faith that Jesus gives to the people is the caution to avoid the pitfalls of pride, especially in worship, leadership and stewardship. It’s a caution to value the things that God values, to not be fooled by outer appearances, to neither over estimate the proud nor under estimate the humble. There’s a story told about how a delegation called on Theodore Roosevelt at his home in Oyster Bay, Long Island. The President met them with his coat off and his sleeves rolled up. “Ah, gentlemen,” he said, “come down to the barn and we will talk while I do some work.” At the barn, Roosevelt picked up a pitchfork and looked around for the hay. Then he called out, “John, where’s all the hay?” “Sorry, sir,” John called down from the hayloft. “I ain’t had time to toss it back down again after you pitched it up while the Iowa folks were here.” In politics, sports, entertainment and even the church, appearances can be deceiving. As Mark records what Jesus did in those last days, what occurs is a contrast between the worthless actions of the proud and the extravagance of humility. It was a lesson that the apostle Peter never forgot, perhaps as he told the account of these days to young Mark what Peter remembered was how he had fallen in pride and been restored through humility. Turn with me to Mark 12: 38-44.                                                                                                                                             

  1. Recognize The Source Of Pride.                                                                           

Pride is often known by its desire for greatness, that’s how Jesus begins to describe it. The long robes, the formal greetings in the market places, the special seats at the feasts, all these point to how pride is a desire to ascend to the highest place. We recognize pride in the way that it exalts itself, the way it calls others to, “Look at me, look at what I’m doing, aren’t I great!”. Maybe you recognize these as words that children have often called out to their parents as they rode their bike for the first time or climbed the tree in the backyard. When they say this it’s cute, it has a feeling of accomplishment and pride seems to be a good thing, a natural influence in our lives that draws us to take risks and to stretch our capabilities. Does pride somehow start out good and then somewhere along the way turn bad? Is it like a cute little Tiger cub that one day grows up to be a man-eater? 1 John 2:16 says, “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” It seems that no matter where you look in Scripture the term pride isn’t referred to in a positive way. Consider these thoughts from the book of Proverbs:      Proverbs 11:2 “When pride comes, then comes shame; but with the humble is wisdom.” Proverbs 13:10, “By pride comes nothing but strife, but with the well-advised is wisdom.”                                                                                                               

Shame, strife… the Scripture states that these have their origins in pride, no matter the age or stage of life. As pride seeks to elevate self it will either seek to gain the approval of some or seek to diminish those who oppose it. Perhaps one of the most insidious appearances of pride is when it cloaks itself as humility. Jesus refers to the pretense of the Scribes as they make long prayers. He speaks about the way their piety is used to for dishonest gain in consuming the widows’ house. The face and the posture and the words seem humble but at the heart of it all is pride. But pride is not just action or attitude, it comes from a deeper place. Charles Spurgeon tells a story about a wise man who comes upon a shepherd boy taking care of his flock. The water that the sheep have to drink from in the creek is so muddy that it is undrinkable. So the shepherd boy is taking out jugs of water, letting it sit and then carefully pouring the clear water out to the flock. The wise man sees this and observes that it’s going to take all day to water just half the flock. He suggests to the shepherd boy that they walk upstream to see what makes the creek so muddy. As they come over a rise they see this pond out of which the creek flows and it has all kinds of wild animals and birds walking about its edges. The pond is fed by an underground spring and the spring water is pure yet all these wild animals and birds are stirring up the mud and the creek becomes undrinkable. If they will chase these away and then guard the pond then the shepherd no longer needs to work so hard at straining out the muddy water. The point is that pride issues from the heart and we can work at changing our behavior till the day is done and it still won’t fix the problem. You need to go to the source, clear out that which pollutes it and then guard it from other intruders. How do you do that? Proverbs 8:13, “All who fear the LORD will hate evil. That is why I hate pride, arrogance, corruption, and perverted speech.” Know the truth of Proverbs 29:23, “A man’s pride shall bring him low: but honor shall uphold the humble in spirit.” In contrast to the pride of the Scribes comes the humility of the widow as she brings her offering to the Temple.

  1. Know the Strength of Humility.                                                                                

I think it could be a little unnerving to have Jesus sitting there by the offering plate as it were, watching what each person drops into it. We would likely think that this was inappropriate if it happened today. Yet there Jesus is, I’m thinking that He was there because that’s where the Father asked Him to be, that’s where this event was about to unfold, a literal event and even a prophetic event. On the surface this looks more like a story about generosity than humility, an extravagant generosity that draws the eyes of the Savior. It’s what Jesus says next that moves this to the realm of humility, “…she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood.” So two ideas immediately present themselves:

  1. When it comes to giving to the Lord it’s not the amount that is of primary importance but rather the heart attitude of sacrifice that the amount represents.
  2. When giving to the Lord it’s not about duty so much as it’s about dependence. When you think that she gave her whole livelihood that sounds irrational, what will she live upon tomorrow? The widow’s answer would be that God has promised to provide for her. This is where the focus shifts from lessons on giving to lessons on humility. It’s why Jesus calls the disciples to Himself, the lesson of humility is one which they will dearly need as they face isolation and the formidable forces of resistance of both Herod and Satan. Charles Spurgeon said that, “It is not humility to underrate yourself, humility is to think of yourself, if you can, as God thinks of you.” The widow in Israel was one who was to be protected, Psalm 68:5 says that God is a Father to the fatherless and a judge of the widows. Deut.10:18, Prov.15:25, Psalm 146:9, Jer.7:6, Isa. 1:17…all these verses speak about God’s concern for the widow and the fatherless. The care of widows was meant to be a spiritual barometer for the nation of Israel, that this widow had but two mites to drop into the offering spoke very poorly of the spiritual health of the nation. It is no small coincidence that this story is immediately followed by the prophecy of the destruction of the Temple. The widow knew the word of God, she had placed her hopes upon its promises and upon the Lord Who stood behind this Word. Her humility was a confidence properly placed, she had no hope in herself. All this is what Israel ought to have done. Humility begins in the heart, the same place that pride has its origin. It is from the heart that God calls us to follow after His will and design for us. Consider Isaiah 57:15, “For thus says the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit cof the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” If humility is to think of yourself as God thinks of you, then humility is a pursuit of the truth of who we are. Humility in that sense is what marks the character of Jesus, He knows the truth of who He is. It is that same right assessment of identity that Jesus calls us to, it’s why He revives the spirit of the humble that they would walk truthfully before Him. The contrite heart is a repentant heart one that changes from pride to humble agreement with God. The widows’ heart was humble, the circumstances of livelihood were there and it was a concern, yet she declared her even more real trust and dependence in God. In the Bible there are 49 verses referring to Pride, 25 referring to the humble and 833 that speak about the heart. Guard your hearts! “The humble shall see this and be glad; And you who seek God, your hearts shall live.
    Read by Bob Raywood

 

24th Sunday after Pentecost 4th November

Text: Revelation 7:13-14
One of the elders asked me, “Who are these people dressed in white robes, and where do they come from?” “I don’t know, sir. You do,” I answered.
He said to me, “These are the people who have come safely through the terrible persecution. They have washed their robes and made them white with the blood of the Lamb.

You – a saint?

Are you a “saint”? Do you write the word “saint” in front of your name when you sign things? Do you introduce yourself saying “Hello, I’m Saint …?” 20180311_103505 (1)Most of us would think that it would be far too presumptuous on our part to call ourselves a saint. We know just how unsaintly we are.

When we think of a saint we think of the heavy weights of all saintsChristianity A saint is someone like Mother Theresa – you go and live in a third world country somewhere and dedicate your life to helping others – that’s a saint.
The Apostle Peter or the Apostle Paul – those guys are saints – the real good people. These are the champions of Christianity – they are shining examples to the world of what it means to be a Christian.

But me – a saint? No way. I’m definitely not a saint.”

Let’s say that we have a committee here at church, called the “Saint Committee.” And their job is to determine if you should be called a “saint” or not. And so this committee goes into your house while you’re not home, and sets up hidden cameras. They set up microphones all over your house. They set up surveillance equipment at your work. They bug your phone so that they can listen to your conversations. They follow you around, take pictures of you, and take notes on everything you say and do.

Then, after gathering all this information, they meet as a committee, and the chairman says, “Well, what have you learnt about so-and-so? Is this person a saint?” What do you think they would say, after observing the lives of any of us closely?
“He’s no saint,” one of them might say. “I’ve listened to his conversation. I’ve watched what he does. He’s no saint! Without a doubt he’s a sinner!”

Do you think that’s what the committee would say about you?

It is true, that we are sinners, and we have more than earned that title in our lives. If our all of our conversations were taped, and we were watched every day, we would be embarrassed by what other people would see in our lives.

We know that God knows everything about us – what we say and what we think and what we do? That thought is so embarrassing. There’s no way God could think otherwise – we are no saints; we are sinners.

Everyone is sinful, and even the so-called “good” people have skeletons in their closet. No one deserves to be called a saint.

And yet, the strange thing is, God does call us to be saints! The word “saint” appears in the Bible over 60 times, and every single time it is used, it refers to those who are Christians but interestingly not necessarily those whom we think of themselves as good and holy. In his letter to the Romans, Paul says, “To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints.”

He begins his letters to the Corinthians in the same way and we know all too well that the church in Corinth had so many issues to deal with. They could hardly be called a model Christians. The congregation was divided according to their favourite pastor, there was sexual immorality, drunkenness at church gatherings, claims of superiority over others because some claimed to have greater and more important gifts from the Holy Spirit, there were even lawsuits between members of the church. And yet in spite of all this Paul’s opening words, “To the church of God in Corinth, to those … called to be saints”.

If the Apostle Paul wrote a letter to this church, he would write, “To all in Caboolture who are loved by God and called to be saints.”

It’s good to remember this because we can be so hard on the church and the people who make up the church. Many people drop out of the church because all they can see are sinners in a congregation – people with all kinds of hang-ups, different and difficult personalities, people with any number of pet sins they find hard to kick, people who seem to specialise on stepping on other people’s toes. If that’s all that God could see when he looks at us, he would have every right to drop us like a hot potato. He knows all about our sin but he doesn’t give up on us.

So why does Paul use the word “saint” so freely when addressing even the most perverted Christians? How does a person become a saint in the eyes of God?

The answer is found in one of our Scripture lessons for this morning – the reading from the Book of Revelation, chapter 7. There you have a picture of the saints in heaven gathered around the throne of God.

Verse 9 – there is a huge crowd – so big no one could count them. They were from every nation on earth, wearing white robes and holding palm branches, praising God in heaven with all the angels.

Verse 13 – someone asks, “These people in white robes – who are they and where did they come from?”

And then verse 14 is the key verse, “These are the people … who washed their robes and made them white with the blood of the Lamb”.

That’s the secret of how a person becomes a saint – by washing their robes and making them white in the blood of the Lamb.

“Your robe” is your life. The Bible sometimes talks about our robes – our clothes – as covered in dirt – the dirt of every sinful thought, word and action. They are so filthy that no amount a Sard Oxy Action Plus or Omo would get rid of the stain of sin. There is only way your robe of life can be made white as snow and that is in the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ.

At the beginning of our service, we confessed all of our sins to God. And after confessing our sins, what happened? We again received the assurance that our sins have been forgiven. And it wasn’t some warm fuzzy statement about how God is nice and loves everybody and doesn’t really take sin seriously. No, the forgiveness of sins you received was a special kind of forgiveness. The forgiveness God gives is very costly. The high cost was the life of God’s Son given for us on the cross.

The Bible says, “The blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (I John 1:7). We believed this; we put our faith in it. In the eyes of God, we are saints. Sure, we will always be sinners while we walk this earth, but as far as God is concerned we are also saints – people who have been cleansed of all sin through the blood of Jesus.

You see, a “saint” is someone who realizes that he/she is a sinner, repents of that sin and believes that the blood of Jesus Christ takes away all of our sins.

In our baptism God cleansed us for our sin by connecting us to the blood of his Son.

When we receive Holy Communion we eat and drink the very body and blood of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of your sins. At that moment, you are washing your robe in the blood of the Lamb. You and I are “saints” in the eyes of God. It’s not because we have done something so good that somehow makes up for all the bad we do. Quite the opposite Jesus has done something good for us by giving his life for us on the cross.

Maybe there are some people here who aren’t yet convinced that God can accept sinners, especially if you are feeling guilty over something you feel is unforgiveable. Be certain about this – through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and the holiness that Jesus achieved for you on the cross, he is calling you to have faith in what he has done for you – that the blood of Jesus Christ has cleansed you of all of your sins.

It follows then that since God has made us saints that we should endeavour to live like saints. It’s a tough call but saints strive to show love, forgiveness, compassion and understanding in every relationship and every circumstance. That’s the challenge that God throws out to us. You have been called to be saints and so strive to be who you are.

We know how often we fail to live up to our calling. Without hesitation we say, “Well, I’m a sinner – that’s no secret to anyone who knows me. But I’m also a saint because Christ has taken my sins away. I’m a saint because of Jesus.”

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy