Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Hebrews 12:1-2

Running the race

 

Recently, there was a marathon held in Brisbane.  The length of the race was 42.2kms and the first runner crossed the finish line in 2 hours and 31 minutes.  Many of us have watched marathon races on TVdhuff held at either the Olympic or Commonwealth Games and listened to commentators tell us of the feats of the runners as they appear on the screen.  They describe the pain they are feeling, what their bodies are going through at each stage of this endurance race.  They talk about the conditions of the race – how hot the weather is, whether the wind is helping or hindering the runners, whether the road is flat or hilly. The marathon is always a spectacular event as the runners try to match their skill and endurance against the record of those runners who have gone before them as well as overcome the difficulties the hills and the other runners present. For many of the runners it’s not a matter of coming in the first three places but simply of completing the course.  After all running 42kms is no small achievement in itself.

Here’s a little trivia about the marathon. In the year 490BC there was a Greek soldier by the name of Pheidippides.  He had taken part in a battle against the Persians on a plain about 40kms from Athens.  The name of the plain was Marathon.  Pheidippides was wounded, battered, fatigued from fighting in the battle but he knew the people back in Athens were waiting to hear whether they would continue to be free or become a part of the Persian Empire so he ran the 40 kms and stumbled into Athens shouting ‘We have won’ – and then collapsed and died.  Because of that run from the Battle of Marathon, long distance or endurance runs are called marathons.

In the letter to the Hebrews we are told of a marathon.  We are told about the champions of the past, the people who have won this race and have achieved the champions’ prize for their effort.  “We have this large crowd of witnesses around us,” the writer says, “who are examples for us that we may follow in their steps of faith.”  The eleventh chapter of Hebrews points out how the Bible is full of people who lived by their faith and trust in God.  One who features in this list at length is Abraham. 
Even though God asked him to uproot his family and go to a far-distant foreign land, with every confidence Abraham trusted God. 
Even though God made promises to Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation when he didn’t have any children and he and his wife were way too old to be parents, he still trusted God that this would happen.  And when he finally did have a son he was commanded to go and sacrifice him on Mt. Moriah.  As ridiculous and insane as this was, he continued to have faith in God’s wisdom.

Such witnesses of faith not only exist in the Bible.  I’m sure we can all think of men and women in our own lives who have had a powerful Christian influence on our life journey and encouraged us to trust God and grow in our faith.  They modelled to us what it meant to trust in Jesus and they spoke words that encouraged us to make the most of the gifts and opportunities we have and helped us when things were hard.  They were living examples of Christian love, joy and hope.  In fact they have been a real inspiration to our own faith and Christian life.

The writer to the Hebrews refers to Jesus as a marathon runner and the endurance and perseverance that was demonstrated as he ran toward the finishing line – the cross.  Going toward the cross and all that it meant was tough going, not just physically but there was also the mental and emotional anguish that came with it as well – just like a marathon.  He could have pulled out at any time, in fact, he was tempted to do that on several occasions including his 40 days in the wilderness when he was tempted by Satan and then much later in the Garden of Gethsemane or anywhere in between.  Jesus without question trusted his heavenly Father and the plan that God had to save humanity. 

It was sheer faith in God that carried him through the mockery, the beatings, the whipping, the crucifying, the rejection and the disbelief of even those closest to him.  The reactions of people including his own closest friends to his love and message about God’s Kingdom must have left Jesus disillusioned and wondering how God could continue to strive to redeem such stubborn people and yet he didn’t give up.  We read in Hebrews, He did not give up because of the cross! On the contrary, because of the joy that was waiting for him, he thought nothing of the disgrace of dying on the cross, and he is now seated at the right side of God’s throne” (Hebrews 12:2).

But the writer of Hebrews is not content to dwell on other marathon runners and brings it right down to us, saying, “Let us run with determination the race that lies before us”.  It is now our turn to run the marathon race of a lifetime.  It’s not easy.  It’s requires endurance and perseverance.  There are all kinds of obstacles and difficulties that hinder our progress.  We are runners running a race of faith and there is one goal – to reach the finishing line.  We don’t have to be first – just finish and the prize is ours.

Each of us has been given a race to run as we climb each hill and round each bend along the course toward the finishing line.  Each person’s race has its own difficulties and problems like any marathon, only in our race these difficulties come in the form of sicknesses and setbacks, worries and upsets.  For some, it seems that the race is harder than it is for others.

Hebrews reminds us to “rid ourselves of everything that gets in the way” of successfully running the race.   
You wouldn’t run a race in a dinner suit or a ball gown. 
You wouldn’t carry a shopping bag of treats to eat along the way. 
Neither would you start with the idea that every 2 minutes you would stop and have a 10 minute break because you want to look your best when you get to the finish line.  To run successfully there are some things that you have to give up to focus on winning the race.

Running the race of life in Christ is losing some of the weighty things we carry around. 
It’s losing the weight of self-indulgence and the selfish material centred way of life.
It’s losing all that pride, self-importance, the focus on our own achievements and our own goodness. 
There is the weight of guilt over something we have said and done that has affected relationships with others.
There is the weight of ruthlessness that leads us to trample on others to get ahead or to make our point.
There is the weight of worry and anxiety about what tomorrow will bring.
The weights of jealousy, hatred, lies, unkind words that burden us right down, making our race toward the finishing line so much more difficult. Like an athlete we would collapse along the way.

Just as a marathon runner must shed all extra weight in his/her body as well as wear the lightest possible clothing and footwear, likewise those running the race of the life of Christ need to shed everything that will prevent them from reaching their goal. 

Giving up all that is sinful and getting our lives on the right track is hard stuff; it’s a tough call to give it all up and give ourselves over to the race ahead sticking to the straight and narrow way that leads to eternal life.   In fact, no matter how many times we determine to turn our lives around and decide to get back into the race, we find that we’re really not very good runners at all.  It’s easy to think, “I’m not one for running marathons, my persistence is very low, my ability to stick with Jesus, to follow him, to do what is pleasing to him is pretty lousy. I spend more time on the ground in sin, than I do on my feet running toward the finishing line”.

The writer to the Hebrews reminds us that this race is a tough one and will challenge us all the way, but he says the race is winnable – Jesus has made sure of that.  He has run the race ahead of us and made it possible for every runner to win the prize.  He has knocked down every obstacle and smoothed every bump and lowered every hill.  Trusting Jesus, all things are possible and nothing can prevent us from winning the prize.  “Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end”.

When things are tough, when everything goes against you, when you might feel like quitting and hanging up your running shoes, keep your eyes on Jesus, he will see you through. 
When you believe that you aren’t going to make it; you are too stressed, too worried, too depressed, too sad, too sick, keep your eyes on Jesus, he will see you through.
When you begin to believe that it’s too hard, you doubt or you fall, Jesus picks you up, dusts you off, lovingly pats you on the back and points you to the finishing line.
His love will not give up.  His forgiveness is never ending.  His joy is to see us all arrive at the finishing line and receive the prize of eternal life.  There is a medal there for you too. 

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

FAITH-WHAT IS FAITH? Hebrews 11:8-9.

Faith is a key word in the Bible- a key principle. But what is faith? Faith is a Collingwood supporter who believes that Collingwood pastorh2will win another Grand Final in their lifetime. School boy definition: Faith is believing something you know isn’t true”. Rather a cynical definition-his father must have been a politician. Faith has two aspects: 1. Believing something to be true. Eg the sun is 93 million miles from the earth.+The earth travels 584 million miles a year in its orbit of the sun. + Jesus was born in Bethlehem-lives in Israel-died on a cross-rose again was the Son of God. Faith means accepting  these statements as true.
2. TRUST:a deeper meaning-“ taking God at his Word”. Trusting in the promises  of God.   Biblical definition: Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see´ . Hebrews 11:1. Note the strong words- “ sure” certain“. This is very different from the school boys definition. It is not a vague  hope like saying “I hope it rains”. It is not a pious wish.  So faith doesn’t just say that Jesus died on a cross-but that he died for ME. Hebrews 11 is the great chapter on faith. It is a Whose-Who of people who have demonstrated faith- trust in God. It mentions people like Abel-Enoch Noah-Moses-Gideon-Samuel-David etc. Today I want to focus on Abraham. He is seen as the great example of faith. Today we will learn what faith is from the example of Abraham. The key word here is obviously OBEY. By Faith Abraham  obeyed. He went in obedience to God’s call-not because he had itchy feet- desire to travel- a political refugee- npr was he running away from home. He went simply because God called him. God called so Abraham obeyed. It was as simple as that. Put yourself in Abraham’s position. You live in the city of Haran-comfortable-civilized life- active and involved in the communityfamily nearby-aged 75-happy to spend the rest of your life there in familiar surroundings-you have no desire to move. It’s the last thing on your mind. It would be a big enough shock to be told to leave everything familiar with. That would be a big enough shock. But to be told to leave all that and go to an unknown country-a place you have never hear of-a place you didn’t know existed. That was a real test of faith. He didn’t even know where he was supposed to be going. Yet he went. He obeyed God. And he obeyed because he had faith/trust in God. Even though he had no idea where he was to go. He knew Who was going with him. He didn’t know the way. But he knew the guide. That was all that mattered. SO what do we learn from this. We learn that faith/Obedience go hand in hand. We learn that a true faith is an obedient faith. As the Bible says, “We walk by faith, not by sight”. After all if you had sight, you wouldn’t need faith. And what God required of Abraham, he also requires of us-an obedient faith.  Dietrich Bonhoffer a Lutheran pastor and theologian executed by the Nazis in 1944 studied the relationship between faith/obedience in his book on Discipleship; He saw that the two were intricately connected. Two statements-2 side of the coin “ONLY THOSE WHO BELEIVE CAN OBEY” and “ONLY THOSE WHO OBEY CAN BELEIVE”.  Faith gives the motivation-power to enab tle a person to obey, eg Peter walking on the water. His trust in Jesus enabled him to step out in faith. Only when you step out in obedience will you discover that God keeps his promises.

2.ENDURANCE—PATIENCE      Abraham set out for the promised land. It was a long-slow-tedious journey. Even when he arrived his faith was tested further

  He was not able to take possession of the land God had promised him. He had travelled so far- he had left behind the comfort-security-convenience of his former home. Yet when he arrived at his destination he can’t take possession of the land because other people were already living there. He had to life the life of a Nomad. Putting up and pulling down his tents. Then moving on again. He was not able to settle down-establish a permanent home. He was a wanderer-nomad in the land God had promised him. He did not even own a square metre of land. In fact the first piece of land he bought was a burial plot on which to bury his wife Sarah when she died. Yet despite the fact that God’s promise had not been fulfilled, Abraham did not give up his faith. He still trusted the Word/promise of God. God had spoken-He had made a promise and that was good enough for Abraham. He had a patient-enduring faith.    

A faith that is the kind that we all need-an enduring patient faith.  Even if our prayers are not immediately answered. A faith that continues to trust despite what may happen. Eg Job.    After all it is fairly easy to believe when your prayers are being answered in the way you want them to be. When everything is going well for you. It doesn’t take much faith to believe in those circumstances.
What kind of faith do you have? Is it a living-genuine faith? A faith that is strong enough to trust-obey even when you are not sure what is going to happen. Even if things don’t turn out the way you wanted them to. Even though others may make fun of your faith-ridicule you

“Faith is believing what God says simply because it is God who says it”.  So the real test of your faith is whether or not you are prepared to trust and obey. “Obedience is the outward sign of an inner faith”.  “Faith doesn’t make things easier but it enables you

To cope.   If your face is wrinkled with cares and worries, try a faith lift.” LH 321. “Faith is a living power from heaven; that grasps the promise God has given. A trust that cannot be o’thrown, fixed heartily on Christ alone.”

Pastor Hayden Blaess.

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.  Let’s join in a word of prayer: Loving God we are together this morning to worship You.  To give thanks to you for all that you are to us.  To praise You for salvation and life everlasting that you promise to us.  And to celebrate the gift of your Son, our wonderful Saviour, Jesus Christ, who captivates our attention and imagination.   By your Holy Spirit, may we receive Your message with confidence to strengthen and uphold us.    We ask this in the name of Jesus, our risen Lord, Amen.

david3
David:0414521661

 “Woe is me, gee ain’t it awful!”  These days, in the news, on television, and over the internet, I sense this mournful cry more than most other attitudes.  Not just in Australia, but in the world.  Violence, hatred, distrust, blind ambition, striving after the illusion of pleasure.  It’s almost as though the reading from King David’s son, Solomon, is being used as a script for the background of life today.  “Meaningless! Utterly meaningless!  Everything is meaningless.”

Solomon got to the point of his rule that he saw all his effort, all his wisdom, all his knowledge as dust blown in the wind. 

Toward the end of his life, Solomon realised that all he had done was for his own benefit and amusement.  And that it would have been a more fulfilling life to have lived simply: eating, drinking, and finding enjoyment in his toil.  If that was the extent of life, I can understand how Solomon would have come to that conclusion. 

But in his introspection, Solomon missed some of his important contributions to the life of Israel.  As King, keeping his heart and mind on things of God, he further consolidated the kingdom, and strengthened it against the surrounding enemies.  He built the Lord’s Temple that his father desperately wanted to leave as a legacy.   

But after losing his focus on things of God, and his self-control, Solomon also welcomed many pagan wives into his family, and through these alliances many false gods into the culture of Israel.  I suspect that this was much to the disappointment of God our Father: the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  The first love of Solomon’s father, David.

We can find this sad pattern of losing focus on things of God in every culture, every dynasty, every age.

In the United States, a life-long study was embarked in the 1930’s that followed more than 280 individuals over 72 years of their life.  The study examined and documented significant factors of human well-being in the lives of those being studied.  From health, physical condition, marital status, life-style decisions, psychological factors, and personal satisfaction.  At the conclusion of this study, in 2008, Dr George Vaillant was asked about the results of the study.  His reply was simple, but startling, “The only thing that really matters in life are your relationships with other people.” …  I would add an important other thing that really matters in life.  Our relationship with God our Father, with Jesus Christ our Lord, and with the Holy Spirit. 

Jesus Christ set the proper priority, that Solomon lost sight of, and most people in society today are blinded to.  “Do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it.  For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them.  But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” 

Paul paraphrased this better than I ever could, in his letter to the Christians in Colossae.  ‘Set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Set your  minds on things above, not on earthy things.’ 

At the conclusion of our time in this broken world, whatever we accomplish or fail to accomplish, will be ‘vanity of vanities’ for those things we do, think or say, where Christ Jesus is not at the centre.

Whatever in our life is not hidden with Christ in God, will eventually stand out like a flashing red and blue light in our rear view mirror.  Paul tells us to put to death whatever belongs to our earthly nature.  Now, I must confess that I have not yet found the magic formula that can totally severe me from my earthly nature.  But what I have learned to do, is follow the intuition of the Holy Spirit.  To stop, look and listen.
>To pause, when my body tells my soul that my human nature is sticking out again; with that edgy feeling that something isn’t right. 

>To look at my attitudes and be alert to the harsh words I say to those whom I love, and to the silence I use to hurt others. 

>To listen for the still small voice of conscience that can guide me back to love stream of my Saviour. 

As Paul writes, to persistently ‘put on the new self, which is being renewed in the image of its creator’.          

Vice Admiral, Sir Frances Drake, was quoted: “Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves, as our dreams come true because we have dreamed too little, when we arrive safely because we have sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess, we have lost our thirst for the waters of life; having fallen in love with life, we have ceased to dream of eternity; and in our efforts to build a new earth, we have allowed our vision of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture on wider seas where storms will show your mastery; where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars.

We ask you to push back the horizons of our hopes; and to push into the future in strength, courage, hope, and love.”

When any of us lose focus on Jesus Christ, and his provision for lives of meaning and purpose, truly everything is vanity.  And everything becomes pretty scary – filled with uncertainty, and a source of constant worry. 

So, Christ Jesus poses the question, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?”  It is God our Father who adds the hours to our days, and the days to our lives.  Who gives us the key to his kingdom in the faith we have in his son our Lord Jesus Christ.  Who gives us the Holy Spirit to guide us to the best decisions to fill our hours and days with love for one another.  Who gives us the courage to confront our daunting earthly nature, and the freedom to allow our spiritual nature to prevail in our broken world.  

As the Psalmist writes, “One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD  all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.’ (Psalm 27:4 NIV)

Even in these days, together as a worshipping community, we can give the Holy Spirit permission to work among us and in us to make a difference. To set our hearts and lives on fire for Christ Jesus to the glory of God our Father.  So that, after all is said and done, we can raise our faces to Christ Jesus and declare that all is not vanity, but Christ is all in all. 

We can trust that our Lord Jesus will strengthen our faith in every time of uncertainty, as we gather around the Word and the Sacraments.   That He will make his presence felt in our hearts and spirits as we remain united to him and seek his will in our lives.  That He will give us the courage to be good stewards of the precious Gospel message we express in our caring, sharing, loving, and helping.

The grace and peace of God keep our hearts and minds in the calm assurance of salvation in our living Lord, Christ Jesus. Amen.

:Children’s Talk

God cares about what you think! Did you know that? God cares about the things that interest you. He knows it’s very easy to think all day about what you’re gonna eat, what you’re gonna wear, what games you’re gonna play, what TV you’re gonna watch. He knows it’s easy to think about the new toy you want or the next holiday you’re gonna have.

The Bible says God wants you to be happy, and to care about other things too. To think about some of the things that are important to God.  Like your mom and dad, your sister and brother, your nana and poppy.  God wants you to think about Him once in a while too.
So, the next time when you’re thinking about things, find some time for Jesus too.  And talk to him in prayer.

Let’s pray:   Dear Jesus, my friend and my God:  remind us all to think about you once in a while and to find time to think about the good things you bring into our life.  We pray in your name.  Amen.

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

LUKE 11:5-8: “The friend at midnight”.

Importance of context- Bible passages eg “Judas hung himself”-“Go and do likewise”.pastorh2

To understand what Jesus is telling us in this parable we need to know about the culture of the times. Some times in our haste to apply Jesus’ teaching we skim  through the story and fail to understand what Jesus really means. Consequently our understanding-application of the story is not always accurate.

Overview of the gospel.

11:1-4: when the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray he teaches them what we call the Lord’s prayer.

11:5-8: J tells a parable to assure his hearers that when they pray, they pray to a loving Heavenly Father who is more than ready/willing to hear their prayer.

11:9-13, J assures them that when they pray for the HSP they will be given what they asj for.

Jesus begins this parable with the scenario that expects a very clear NO-Never answer.

The situation that J poses is as follows. Suppose a friend from a distant village comes to you home just before midnight and you need to provide him with food/accommodation.

Finding a bed is fine but you don’t have sufficient food to feed him. So you go to your neighbour to borrow some bread.  And your neighbour offers some weak excuses about a locked door and sleeping children. Can you imagine that happening?

And J’s listeners will respond with an emphatic NO! They could not imagine such a thing happening. We need to have a closer look at this parable in the context of the culture of the time.

Frame 2 vs 5-6:A Man has a friend who arrives at his home in the late hours of the night. Isn’t that inconsiderate of the friend? NO. IN the summer it was often wiser to travel at night to escape the heat of the day. Now the friend’s arrival creates a challenge for the host. Cultural custom  requires that the host must provide some food for the guest and the guest must eat- whether he is hungry or not. The problem is that the host has no bread. He might have some leftovers but he can’t give that because it would be an insult. He must provide a whole loaf-more than the guest can eat.

Frame 3-vs 7: So the host goes to his neighbour and calls out that he needs 3 loaves of bread to feed his guest. The neighbour (naturally enough) is not too pleased to be woken up and hopes he will go away. After all it is very late. He wants to sleep. He tells the host that the door is bolted and the children are asleep. Weak excuses. The door can be unbolted and if the children stir, they will soon go back to sleep. The excuses are so weak that they are quite ridiculous. That is what J’s hearers would think.

Frame 4-11:8. At this point we need to understand that according to the culture –in village life a guest  of one person is considered a guest of the whole community-  not just the individual host. A guest would be told that he had ”honoured our village” by coming to stay. So the whole community is also considered responsible for hosting the guest. What this means is that the man who is woken up in the middle of the night and asked to provide some bread for his neighbour who has an unexpected visitor,  provides the bread, not because he is friends  with the neighbour, but for the sake of his reputation. He knows that his neighbour is obliged to provide food for his unexpected

Guest. He also knows that if refuses to give his neighbour the bread he needs to feed his guest, the story will be all over the village by morning. His reputation will be trashed. He will be met with cries of “shame” everywhere he goes.

SO it is to avoid  his reputation  from being trashed – to avoid being “shamed” that he gets up and provides what the borrower wants. And by doing this he fulfils his duty to the guest of the village. As long as the request is reasonable –which it was-to refuse the request was unthinkable.

 Frame 4: The traveler goes on his way next morning and everyone in the village is there to say goodbye. The Host is there- the neighbour who was woken up and provided the food is there- the whole village is there to say farewell. And so the village has honoured its obligation to the traveler. The host’s reputation for hospitality is intake.  The neighbor’s reputation is preserved.

What is the point of the story? What is J teaching us? The point is quite simple. Just as the man who asks his friend to provide some bread for the unexpected visitor has his request granted, so those who pray –those who ASK-SEEK-KNOCK will be heard by God.

Is there anything about this story that bothers/troubles you? Isn’t the somewhat reluctant response of the neighbour  a rather unfortunate picture of how God responds to prayer?  Doesn’t it portray  God as being somewhat reluctant to hear our prayers? Wouldn’t the story be better if the neighbour responded on the basis of friendship  rather than because he felt obliged to respond in order to protect his reputation?

The answer to that is we need to understand what kind of parable Jesus has given us. This particular parable   IS NOT one that works by saying, “God is or God acts like the man in the parable eg, “ The Kingdom of Heaven is like” etc. But this particular parable

Is one that says “ IF PEOPLE ARE LIKE OR ACT LIKE THIS, HOW MUCH MORE..” CF Luke 18’ The unjust judge”. 

In this case the argument is:” If a friend who is a rather reluctant friend( at least at midnight) is willing to get out of bed and give some bread, HOW MUCH MORE will God your loving Father give you the things that you need if you ask him?

That that this is the meaning is shown by what Jesus says in vs 11-13 (frame 5). Fish and eggs are good/nutritious while the snake and scorpion are two of the greatest dangers to children living in Palestine.  If human fathers know how to give good gifts to their children, HOW MUCH MORE , Jesus concludes will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.

The Point: Jesus teaches us that just as parents will give their children good things those who ask God can be assured that God will give them even better gifts than those a parent gives their children. He also teaches that God is a God of Honour- that he honours his Word. So we can have complete assurance that our prayers to God will be heard. After all the God who invites us to pray is more than willing to listen  to our prayers and to grant us the power/guidance of the HSP.  SO it is on this basis that are encouraged to persist in prayer- ASK-SEEK-KNOCK- This is not a once only action-but rather a continuous action. Illustration- visiting a friend-sprinkler on lawn-front door open-radio going- do you only knock once?

Why should we persist in praying? Because God invites us-integrity-promise.  That is why we are to persist in praying?

May this teaching of Jesus be an encouragement’ “not to give up” but to persist in Prayer to our Heavenly father who has our best interests at heart.

Hayden Blaess.

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

MARY AND MARTHA—LUKE 10:38-42 “BEING WITH JESUS”.

It has been said that a good preacher begins well and ends well and keeps the two fairly close together.

            The father came home late one night after a long day at work. He was tired and pastorh2verging on becoming irritable. He hoped his family was asleep. he just wanted to go to bed and sleep.

But as he closed the front door a voice came from his youngest sons’ bedroom, “Is that you Dad”? The father answered wearily “Yes Jimmy I’m home”.

Would you come here for a minute Dad”?  The father was almost going to say, “leave it until morning. I’m too tired”?  But he didn’t. Instead he went wearily to his sons’ room. As he sat on the bed, young Jimmy took  his father’s hand and squeezed it and said, “I just wanted to touch you before I went to sleep”.

Why did Jimmy want to touch his father? He wanted to know that his father was there and loved him-that he cared for him. He wanted to have that safe feeling –sense of belonging. He wanted to have the assurance that he was important to his father. He wanted to know he was in a secure relationship.

            What kind of relationship do you want to have with Jesus?

            What kind of relationship do you think that Jesus would like to have with you? In this story Jesus deals with the relationships and spells out what kind  of relationship he wants to have with people.

Now Jesus’ behaviour was very radical for those times. WHY? Jesus is received into a woman’s house and teaches women. No self-respecting rabbi would spend time teaching a woman. Jesus’ action would have been seen as quite scandalous.

            Jesus’ primary concern is for people to have a deep/meaningful relationship with him. What Jesus means is not just things like “ Don’t stay at home on Sunday to cook the roast. Make sure you go to church first”. That may sound a bit of a crass  interpretation but I can remember hearing that kind of meaning given to this story.

 Nor is Jesus simply saying, “ Don’t get so wrapped up in the things of life that you have no time for God”.

Now both of these statements might be true, but what Jesus is getting at goes much deeper than that. It goes to the fundamental need/longing within us for closeness with God. That is the point Jesus wants to emphasize.

            When Jesus called the disciples to follow him, he was really calling them to “be with him”. They couldn’t follow him without being “with him” That was the disciples’ main task- simply to spend time in Jesus’ presence.

            And that is what Jesus wants us to see in the story of Mary and Martha. To live as Martha was to live in danger of being drawn away from and not making her spiritual growth a priority.  It is precisely Martha’s pre-occupation with busyness that eventually kills spiritual growth. You see Martha wanted to serve Jesus. What she didn’t understand was that at that particular time, Jesus came to serve her. What Martha failed to see ( despite her good intentions) was that it was more important for Jesus to teach her than for her to serve him.

            From Martha’s perspective her sister Mary was being lazy- avoiding her responsibilities. But that was not the case at all. Somehow Mary knew instinctively that it was more important to spend time in listening to Jesus. So may grew spiritually-her faith came alive-she had a growing sense of closeness to Jesus-simply because she spent time in his presence. Somehow she instinctively knew that the most important thing in her life was simply “being in the presence of Jesus”. That helped her sort out her priorities-evaluate what was really important in her life.

            You see if you don’t do what Mary did-spend time with Jesus- the danger is that you end up with the life of Martha-where you become resentful-and even the service she offers to Jesus is seen as drudgery.  There is no sense of joy- no spontaneity in Martha. Everything is seen as duty-and while the Martha’s of this world carry out their duties-responsibilities. They do so with a feeling of resentment. 

And when you operate on this basis- 1 or 2 things can happen.

  1. You feel that others don’t appreciate your efforts-your hard work. “resentment”
  2. You feel self-righteous –you feel you alone are doing the right thing. That you are responsible while all the others who aren’t helping are

The Apostle James says “ DRAW NEAR TO GOD AND HE WILL DRAW NEAR TO YOU”.  Tell me, Do you intentionally try to draw near to God? Do you spend time in reading the Word-listening to the Word-meditating on it.

      Perhaps we are something like the wife who said to her husband when they were out driving, “ You know Dear, we don’t seem to sit as close to each other like we did before we were married”. Her husband replied, “Well I haven’t shifted”.  In those times when we are not feeling close to him, Jesus says, “ I haven’t shifted. You just don’t spend the time with me in order to feel close to me”.

            And when we are not spending time with Jesus our relationship with him suffers. Just like any other human relationship suffers if people don’t spend time with each other-marriage-friendship.

            Mary chose to be with Jesus. She could have made other choices. She could have been like Martha and been too busy to spend time with Jesus. You see, being close to Jesus doesn’t just happen. We have to make it happen. Mary deliberately chose  to enjoy the closeness of the relationship that Jesus offered her.

            The same thing applies to us. We have to choose to make time to spend with Jesus. Whether it is 5-10-20-30 minutes. It is not so much the amount of time. Rather it is about taking your relationship with Jesus seriously enough so that you will spend whatever time you can make. And that will vary from person to person-situation. I remember a mother with young children in Melbourne who would pray with the children as she drove them to school-teaching-modeling to her children the importance of spending time with God.

            But it all begins with a decision –choice –to spend time with Jesus. And it’s not too late for anyone to begin. It only needs the decision-resolve to follow though. And if you think that it is going to be too hard to do alone, then find someone else to do it with- to pray-support-encourage you. How you do it doesn’t matter. The important thing is that you do it- Nike ad.

Draw closer to Jesus and let your life be transformed by the touch of his hand.

Do you remember the gospel lesson last Sunday? It was the Good Samaritan. Jesus met a man who was very skilled in Scripture- but he had trouble acting on what he knew. He had a problem with putting what he knew into practice. So Jesus offered him the example of the Good Samaritan.

In today’s reading Jesus visits a woman who is so busy in serving, that she does not have time to hear the Word. Her example is her sister Mary who as Jesus said “one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better”. You see it isn’t that what Martha was doing was bad. In fact what she was doing was good. It’s just that what Mary chose was better.

            So to the religious expert Jesus said, “GO AND DO IT”.  To Martha he said, “ SIT DOWN AND LISTEN-LEARN FROM ME”.

            You see it’s not a matter of Martha vs Mary-Martha or Mary, but Martha and Mary. There are times when we need to be like Martha –when there are things that need to be done. But there are also times when we need to be like Mary-when we stop our busyness and spend time with Jesus. Key word is ‘ appropriate”.  We need to have the balance of being served by Jesus(Mary)-serving Jesus (Martha).

Rev. Hayden Blaess

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

“TO WHOM AM I NEIGHBOUR” LUKE 10:25-37

A certain woman went down the road from Wauchope to Port Macquarie and ran over a piece of wood on the road. A nail was protruding from the wood. It punctured her tyre and left her stranded by the side of the road.pastorh2 After seeing that she had a flat tyre she got back in the car, locked the doors and prayed that the Lord would send some help. By chance there came a limousine along the road with a bumper sticker that read, “SMILE! God loves you”. When the occupants of the car saw the stranded woman, they moved over to the far lane and accelerated away without smiling.

Likewise, there came a sports car with a bumper sticker saying, “Honk if you love Jesus”. The man who was driving passed by, in fact put his foot down, moved over to the far lane and drove on. He didn’t honk or use his mobile phone to call the NRMA about the woman’s dilemma.

But a certain working man, as he travelled to his job, came to the place where the lady had stopped, and when he saw her flat tyre had compassion on her. He stopped his old battered ute, and offered to change the flat tyre. The man took out the spare tyre, jacked up the car, removed the flat tyre and replaced it with the spare.

When he had finished, the woman tried to pay him. He refused the money saying, “If my wife were stranded on the highway with a flat tyre, I’d want some Good Samaritan to stope and help her”. He returned to his bumper-sticker less ute, smiled honked his horn and went on his way. Which one of these was neighbour to the woman with the flat tyre?

Of course, you recognized in this story the parable that Jesus told about the Good Samaritan. The reason why Jesus told this story in the first place is important. 

A man well versed in the Old Testament law asked Jesus a question because he wanted to trick Jesus into saying something that would show him as a false teacher. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” In reply to Jesus’ question the lawyers’ answer came straight from the Old Testament. ( vs 27). Jesus congratulates the lawyer for his answer, saying, “Do this and you will live”. But the lawyer isn’t going to let Jesus get away so easily. Do he asks, “Who is my neighbour?” “Is it the unruly child sho lives in my street, or that annoying person who lives next door? Is it the homeless person who annoys passers-by by asking for money for a sandwich? Is it the orphan in Africa whose parents died of Aids or the victim of war in Iraq?” The lawyer continues, “I am confused by the immense range of possibilities which this commandment place before me, Jesus. Shouldn’t we set up priorities of need? Shouldn’t we stipulate certain types of “neighbours” who deserve to be helped over those who seem to abuse this “love your neighbour rule”, simply to get themselves out of trouble? All this must be cleared up before I can love my neighbour. Tell me now, “Who is my neighbour?”

The lawyer wanted a precise definition about the meaning of the word ”neighbour”. And so long as everybody kept discussing definitions, there was no need to get serious about doing anything.  Whatever the lawyers motives were, Jesus took the opportunity to make this a time for teaching.

Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan and ends with the disconcerting reversal of the question of who my neighbour is. The reversal runs as follows: Who among these-priest-Levite and Samaritan- had behaved as a neighbour? Who was a neighbour to the wounded victim? Was it the priest- a man dedicated to serving God in the temple? Was it the Levite-a teacher of the law-someone who surely knew right from wrong? Was it the Samaritan-an outsider-not regarded as part of God’s family? Who acted like a neighbour to the man attacked by robbers, Jesus asks?”

Imagine the listeners’ reaction. No! Not the Samaritan. He can’t be the hero-this half breed heathen. He is not even a Jew-one of God’s chosen people. It can’t be him. But of course it was. The teacher of the law must have found it very hard to respond to Jesus’ question when he asked, “Who was neighbour to the man who was robbed?”

As you know this story inspires Christians to help and show concern for those in need, the poor-starving-homeless-refugees and so on. Generally we are very good at supporting “the neighbour” through LWS, World Vision-40 hour famine and other relief organizations.

But I also want to point out that our neighbour is also the person right here in our community, whom we often see, who we often ignore, who we don’t want to associate with, who we try to avoid because we know that it will cost us time-energy. Perhaps the neighbour who needs you at this time is sitting in front of you, behind-next to you. Too often we look to far away places ti find people whom we can be a neighbour to and overlook those who are right under our nose.

We don’t have to look to far to find people longing for some kind of human warmth- people in our family, among our friends and relatives, those in our neighbourhood, and there always be strangers looking for kindness and compassion.

This story about the Good Samaritan is one I have preached-taught many times. But it is a story I have stumbled over because in it I see just how many times I have been like the priest and Levite-crossing to the other side of the road-walking on and pretending that I didn’t see the pain-need-hurt- because I knew that stopping would cost me something-energy-time-money.

This parable hits us hard as it defines what kind of neighbour we ought to be. Neighbours who ignore labels that separate people; neighbours who let nothing stand in the way of showing compassion-love; neighbours who are gracious –giving their love freely even though we might think the other person doesn’t deserve it.     

Neighbours who are willing to reach out to family members, friends, in fact anyone and give a hug of understanding, compassion-forgiveness-comfort. This kind of neighbourliness isn’t just a once in a while thing when it suits us. It is the fulltime work of the Christian. Jesus said to the lawyer ( and to us), “Go then and do likewise”

In other words, “Don’t just talk about it, do it”. And that can be hard, really hard. We all know how hard it is to be the kind of Good Samaritan that Jesus is describing in this story.

The truth is that if our eternal life depended on the way we carry out Jesus’ command to “love God and to love others”, then without a doubt we would be doomed. This command of Jesus to “go and do” reminds us just how much we need Jesus to be our Good Samaritan.

He is the one who gave himself into the hands of his enemies and died on the cross. He is a true neighbour who forgives us our sins –failures-especially our failure to love others. He is our neighbour who paid the price for us to enter the joy of eternal life. Jesus is truly our Good Samaritan.

Having experienced this amazing love, the HSP stirs within us the will to be like Jesus to others. The HSP motivates-enables us to be a Good Samaritan to others.

People get caught up in all kinds of things that turn their lives upside down. Will that person have a “neighbour” to stop and soothe their wounds with an act of gracious love? Will the trouble in their lives be reversed by some caring person? Will that caring person be you or me? There are people all around us who are half dead and lying in a ditch. Some are half dead physically, some emotionally-spiritually. They are powerless to rescue themselves. God grant us the will-love to truly be their neighbours.

Rev. Hayden Blaess

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Luke 10:1-11,16-20

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may bring your peace to those around us for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Have you ever been away on a camping trip? 20180311_103505 (1)Even if you are only going away for a few nights, you seem to have to take a heap of stuff with you: sleeping bags, something for shelter, folding camping chairs, cooking utensils, water, food, not to mention enough clothes to cater for every possible type of weather! Then there are the non-essentials to make the trip more enjoyable or comfortable: a camera, a good book, chocolates, a bottle of port and so on!

Don’t we all tend to bring so much stuff ‘just in case’? Then we get home wondering why we packed so much because we only ended up using half the stuff we brought with us!

Perhaps you have moved home a few times? Those who have will know it can be quite confronting. Even if you think you don’t have much stuff, when you have to shift it, you find you’ve got so many things you forgot you had, which includes many things you no longer use, but keep ‘just in case’. As your precious and not so precious belongings get packed away in the back of a truck, it’s like your life is passing before your eyes. Forgotten junk and valuable possessions are packed side by side. And no matter what lessons you learn with each move, most likely you’ll have more things to shift next time you move.

When Jesus sent out these seventy or so men, he made sure they packed none of those ‘just in case’ items. In fact, they even went on their journey without some of the items considered necessary. No money. No backpack. No shoes. Rather than going out well-resourced and well-prepared, they went out like beggars. Imagine going on holidays or a camping trip with nothing but the clothes on your back! Either you’d have to get used to going without, or you’d need to beg and borrow from everyone around you and be totally reliant on their generosity.

Yet this is how Jesus sent them out – totally relying on the grace and mercy of others. They were trusting God would send them people who would provide for their needs. They would leave behind all their home comforts and their security blankets and go where Jesus sent them. Would you do such a thing? Would you be brave enough to go where Jesus sends you, even if you feel vulnerable and unprepared?

Now, even though this was scary and needed a lot of trust and courage, it was also an excellent strategy. For example, what type of person might be receptive to a message of peace? While it’s theoretically possible a stingy and selfish person might accept a message of peace from God, it’s more likely a generous and welcoming person will welcome such a message. Those who had a heart to care for the needy also had hearts that were open to God’s words of peace and hope and mercy and life.

As the seventy went out, they may have wanted to go to the rich and impressive people, but they may not have been the ones who provided for them. It may have been some in the middle class or some among the poor people who provided for them. They may have had small homes and limited resources, but large and generous hearts. Those with stingy and cold hearts had no room for God’s message of peace. Those with large and generous hearts were open to God’s Word.

Just like you can’t force a crop to grow without good soil and without good rains, you can’t force the gospel message of peace on people who have cold and selfish hearts. Some fields aren’t ready to be planted. God may still need to do more work on them. After all, he’s the one who provides the seeds, fertilises the ground, and sends the rain and sunshine. We only reap what God’s already done. Don’t be upset if some don’t want to hear God’s message of peace. Yet, even though many may reject this message, there are plenty more who are ready.

When someone with a generous and helpful heart offered help to these messenger beggars, they were to go to their home and announce peace. If a person of peace was in that house, the peace rested on that person. Jesus doesn’t say whether the sent messenger was aware if the peace rested on someone in that house or not. He wasn’t to force peace or manufacture peace. His only job was to announce peace. Then God, knowing if a person of peace existed or not, would be the one to transfer the peace onto that person.

On the other hand, if no-one in that household was a person of peace, the peace remained with the messenger. Again, the messenger may not have been aware of a lack of peace transfer. The messenger only announces peace; God is the peace distributor.

Then, whether or not peace was received or not, they were to settle there for a while until the time came to go to a new town. They weren’t to go searching for a better home, a more comfortable home, a tidier home, a quieter home, a home with meals to their taste, or a better looking household. Once in a town and welcomed into a home, they were to stay put.

Do you ever find yourself in a conversation with someone, wishing you were somewhere else? You know, you act as if you’re listening and give all the right nods, smiles and comments, but your eyes are roving around the crowd to see if you can find someone better to be with. You want to be with your friends, and not always the person in front of you.

Just like God sent those seventy men to homes they may not have wanted to live in, God may send us to someone we don’t want to be with. It could be God wants us there for a reason. It takes courage and trust to remain where we are and let God use us in that place and with those people. The building of relationships is vital for the message of peace, and we don’t always get to choose the relationships. We don’t always choose who needs to hear the message of peace.

The building of relationships is vital and may challenge some current methods of outreach. While many people focus on getting people to worship and try to manufacture a wonderful experience in the hope they may win people for Christ, that’s not what Jesus asks for. If it was all about building experiences and dazzling people, God would have sent circus performers! God encourages relationships, not experiences. God doesn’t always work through the spectacular, but the ordinary.

In the same way, rather than going up to someone and saying ‘God loves you so much he sent his Son to die for you so that you may not perish but receive eternal life’ and then not care that they’re struggling with life, couldn’t care less they have health problems, or totally ignore the fact they’re hurting because of broken relationships, we’re instead encouraged to get to know the family, get to hear their stories, listen to their pains, cry with them, share their joys, and build a relationship of respect, love and trust.

Jesus didn’t tell them to do a quick evangelism door knock, but told them to live with them. Once they understood the people better, the gospel message of peace could be more specific to their particular pains and situation.

Being with them for a while brought another risk as well. Even though we may be able to fool people with a great show of love and faith and peace and joy for a while, we can’t fool them all the time. Over a period of time they could tell if the message we delivered was genuine or not by the way we lived. If we proclaimed peace, but put people down, gossiped behind people’s backs and acted selfishly, then they would learn the peace was fake and superficial.

The best messages of peace aren’t proclaimed from a pulpit, but lived in everyday life with all its troubles and temptations. As the messengers of God’s peace lived with a family for a while, they could see that God’s peace was real and genuine. They would know God’s peace as something trustworthy and life-changing.

Now, even though the sending of the seventy men to the surrounding towns to prepare for Jesus’ coming was a once off event, Jesus continues to send people out even today.

Jesus sends us into families and work places and clubs and schools and even among strangers. We don’t always get to choose these places and people. In fact sometimes we don’t even want to be there and long to be some other place. But Jesus may have sent us to proclaim peace and live in peace among them.

There may be times the peace we proclaim and live isn’t received by others. It may not be our fault. Remember we’re sent like lambs among wolves, so don’t be surprised those wolves actually exist and love to snap and snarl at our message of peace. Their hardened hearts may not be ready yet, but trust Jesus will continue to work on them in the hope they may one day receive that peace with joy and thanksgiving.

Yet there may be times we proclaim peace to someone and that peace is received. Over a period of time they’ve noticed we live in peace with God and with those around us. They notice the way we forgive. They notice we don’t seek revenge and payback like others. They notice we don’t gossip and put people down. They notice we encourage, lift up and care for those around us. They see us as peacemakers and peace-livers.

These men were sent out to proclaim the peace of God to others. This peace of God is the Kingdom of God at work, working away on stubborn hearts, in ordinary lives, and in everyday places. Therefore, may you too bring…

 

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