Second Sunday in Lent 17th March

Matthew 9 : 36

‘When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them,

because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.’gus1

Would you say you are a compassionate and caring person?  Would you like to be?

There are two basic ways of caring for other people …

  1. You can give to please the one who receives, so that they will later return the favour; … or
  2. You can graciously give to relieve someone’s economic or physical distress, without ever expecting anything in return!

It has been noted that the classical philosophers of Jesus’ time despised the emotions of mercy and pity. They even considered them to be a defect in character. A defect that any rational human being ought to avoid. They suggested any call to help the ‘undeserving’ should go unanswered.

Today, it is an assumed value in our culture that we should care for others.

But there is a great deal of discussion around who should pay for the care, how much the government should provide in care, and how the care might best be delivered. Very few people would say there should be no care and no mercy to those in need.

This was certainly not the case in Jesus’ time. For then care for the desperate and destitute was NOT an assumed cultural practice.

The early church leaders transformed their culture to care for those in need!

The radical nature of care in the early church, is that this care was offered, not just to fellow Christians, but to all people in need. So the world at that time really took notice of how Christians were serving all the poor people around them. Their care was unconditionally offered to all people.

So why did Christians serve the poor?

Where did this idea come from?

Well, Jesus made serving the very lowest of the low central to his life and work.

Very early in Jesus’ ministry, we are told of his being at the synagogue in Nazareth. He is participating in the weekly Jewish worship. He reads from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. Words that point to a coming Messiah!  Then he makes his point, by taking on these words. Look at me he says!   I am the One whom God has promised. For you will truly see these words coming to life in my ministry!

‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me’, he says, ‘because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to

the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind.’

(Luke 4:18 quoting the Old Testament prophet Isaiah: Isaiah 61:1)

Just take a look at the ministry of Jesus.

His focus is on those who are: ‘poor, the prisoners, the blind, and the oppressed.’  (Luke 4:18)

He has an intentional bias on caring for the needs of these people. There are so many references in the gospels that speak of Jesus reaching out to the poor, the blind, and the sick. He forgives them and welcomes them into his kingdom. He gives them his full attention and the care they desire.

Now consider the framework for the church setting up care for the poor and the needy.

It is based on a parable recorded in Matthew’s gospel that Jesus tells about judgement and the end of time.

We must be careful to read and understand this parable with all of the New Testament teaching. For if we take it on face value, it sounds like Jesus is saying that we can earn our way into heaven!  By now, we ought to know that this is certainly not the case. For we are saved by grace, not by any good works we may do!

The apostle Paul states this clearly in Ephesians 2:8-9 …

‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not your own doing,

it is the free gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork,

created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.’

In the parable Jesus pictures all the people of the world stretched out before God.

He is separating the sheep from the goats. The sheep are acceptable for his kingdom, but the goats are not. The sheep are on his right and the goats are on his left. Key to the passage is what the King says and why he has put these people on his right …

He says: ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ (Matthew 25:34-36)

Their response is one of utter surprise, as they ask: ‘when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison … and care for you in these needs?’  (v. 37-39)

Then Jesus speaks the words that will go on to change the world and keep changing it …

‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least

of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me!’

‘You did it … for me,’ says the King!

These words of Jesus are so well known, that we can easily miss their significance. In a world where caring for people was motivated by ‘what you will later receive in return’, rather than by ‘grace and mercy’, this is an enormous shift!

This was never more evident than during two plagues that swept through the Roman Empire, killing hundreds of thousands of people. It is thought that in AD 165 and AD 251 between twenty to thirty percent of the population died. When the plaques struck in cities and people were falling sick and dying, everyone who could, ran for the hills, literally!  The leaders and the wealthy fled, and pagan priests left. The sick were rolled into the street to die because of community fear.

So who cared for the sick and the dying?  Only those who followed a teacher who said: ‘Whatever you did for one of these humble brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’  Only the Christians stayed … to serve the sick and dying !

This is the game changing significance of the life and teaching of Jesus!

The culture of the Greco Roman world was incredibly cruel and heartless. One commentator wrote this: “It was not the extremes of callousness that I came to find shocking, but the lack of a sense that the poor or the weak might have any intrinsic value.”  It is in Jesus that every human life, whether strong or weak, healthy or sick, in a position of power or a commoner, is equally precious and valuable.

The words of Jesus have motivated Christians across the centuries to open up hospitals to care for the poor. This was the significant contribution of the Lutheran mission movement in the developing world.

Elly and I saw this happening in Papua New Guinea. Hospitals, Aid Posts, Schools and bridges were built to better care for the needs of God’s people.

I thank God for the people here who serve the lowly, knowing they are serving Jesus!

I thank God for those who volunteer at the Sunnyside Lutheran Retirement Village. I thank God for those who offer their services at the Holy Trinity Lutheran College. I thank God for those who serve food and drinks after funerals. I thank God for those who volunteer at Jacob’s Well and the Christian Emergency Food Centre. I thank God for those who contribute to the Shed Night and U-nique ministries.

But above all, I thank God for the many silent, anonymous servants who every day, are quietly serving the lowly around them who are in need. Serving others without pay, but with love and joy!

May Jesus continue to change human hearts, leading them to serve with joy and love.

‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you …’

For: ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters

of mine, you did for me!’  Now, only a God who truly loves could say that!

Pastor Gus Schutz

First Sunday in Lent 10th March 2019

 

Mathew: 18 : 4

‘Whoever humbles himself like this child is greatest in the kingdom of heaven!’

 

What was it like for women and what was the place of children at the time of Jesus?

It’s really hard for us to imagine!gus1

Today there are still struggles for women to gain equal pay in many occupations. Recent revelations in the entertainment industry and the political arena, show us that the abuse of women, by powerful men, still exists. These attitudes need to be challenged. They should not be a part of society where we believe in the equality of men and women.

While there is still much to be done, the difference between a woman’s life today, and that in the past, is black and white. Even so, it is important to also note that there were also some wealthy and powerful women in Jesus’ day, although they were very much in the minority.

The place of children today is one of care and protection in most western societies.

This does not mean children were not cared for in Jesus’ day, but they were not treated with the same worth as they are today.

In Jesus’ day, women had no rights!  They were treated as possessions by men!

So how did that come about?  Well, prominent men, like Plato, actually wrote that women were inferior to men in every way. Intellectually, physically, emotionally, they were inferior, and should be treated as such. In their mid teens women were married to older men, and they had no choice in who they married. The expectation was that they would bear male offspring.
They could easily be divorced. If they wanted to go to court, they could not represent themselves, as a woman’s testimony didn’t count. Plato grouped children and women together, along with other marginal actors in society, like slaves and animals.

The lowly place of women and children was expressed in an awful way.

In the Greco-Roman world, there were almost 25% more men than women. It’s interesting that the genders were not more even, given you could not choose the sex of your child. It is partly explained through a regular action, called exposure. If you wanted a boy, and a girl was born and you could not provide for another child, you took the baby outside and exposed it to the elements. If someone found the child and took it in, that child would have the opportunity of a life, most likely as a slave. But if not, the child would die. Girls were a financial drain on society. Therefore they were seen as expendable.
In Jewish culture, children and slaves were a father’s property, just like material objects. A man could divorce his wife, his children and other household members as he pleased, without fear of any legal consequence. Little wonder, then, that a Jewish man would pray: ‘I thank you God, that I was not born a gentile, a slave or a woman!’

Jesus stepped into this culture, treating women and children in a very different way!

Each of the gospels record all sorts of interesting stories of the life of Jesus and his relationship and interactions with women and children.

  • Luke (8:1-3) tells us of three women who followed Jesus, and also supported his ministry.

Firstly there is Mary Magdalene. Some assume that she was a prostitute, but we cannot be sure. What we do know, is that Jesus cast several demons out of her, so she was indebted to Jesus. Another was Joana, linked to the household of Herod, so possibly a woman of privilege and position, and also of influence. Then there was Susanna. She is only mentioned in this story, but we are told that out of her own means she supported Jesus.

These three women are also mentioned at the crucifixion of Jesus. They were there when all the disciples, who we know were men, had run away!  (Mark 15:40-41) They also went to find the tomb empty, and were the first to announce that Jesus had been raised from the dead. (Luke 24:10)

  • Most of you are familiar with the story of Mary and Martha. (Luke 10:38-42)

In the light of our attitudes and behavior today, it is a surprising story. Martha is working away, preparing a meal, while Mary is just sitting around. When Martha points out the obvious injustice of this, Jesus appears to take the side of the ‘lazy’ sister. It doesn’t seem fair.

The key to the story is that Mary wasn’t just sitting around – she was learning from Jesus. Martha had taken the traditional role for women of preparing food. But Mary on the other hand, was sitting at the feet of Jesus, the place of learning. Here was a woman learning, growing, and expanding her mind.

When Martha complains, Jesus makes the point that our learning and growth is important, and that should not be taken away from us. Not by her industrious and annoyed sister, or by the culture that believed that learning was not the role of a woman.

  • Leadership roles and styles continued to be questioned in society.

This is not new. In Jesus’ day it was common to promote yourself as a leader and let the world know how wonderful you were. Just like it is today.

Again, Jesus turned the accepted perception of people regarding leaders upside down. On one occasion, his own disciples were discussing: ‘who was the greatest among them’. (Matthew 18:1-6) To illustrate the point he wanted to make, he placed a small child among them. He used the ‘humility’ of a child as an example of what greatness looks like. This is a lesson for us all. Like children, leaders are to embody the very model of Jesus himself as humble leaders. Not only that, children are as important as anyone else in society. They are to be loved, cared for, nurtured and valued like everyone else.

Many people wrongly view the church as misogynistic, or suppressing women.

We can understand that with the apostle Paul suggesting men should control women, using terms like: ‘the man is the head of the wife’ (Ephesians 5:23)

However, he also directs us all to: ‘submit to one another out of reverence for the Lord’. (Ephesians 5:21) In the Christian community, under the Lordship of Jesus, there are times when we will all lovingly surrender to others. In this way we bless others, we build healthy and functional communities, and most importantly, we honour God.

Jesus both models and teaches us how we are to treat others.

In a world where all too often women are treated as objects and children are put down, it is the message of Jesus that helps us to see all people as being free to be themselves. As Christian communities we have the privilege of demonstrating to all people their freedom in Jesus.
God has made us all for a purpose. It is only in relationship with him that we find our meaning and purpose. In God’s eyes we are: ‘precious and honoured in his sight, and he loves us’. (Isaiah 43:4) This is a particular challenge to us in Australia today where domestic violence and the abuse of children continue to be huge issues.

Jesus invites us as his people in the world to …

  • Firstly, to treat all people with reverence and respect – giving them the opportunity to participate in ministry of his church and have a sense of significance in the world, and …
  • Secondly to consider carefully how we view other people, especially women – not viewing them as objects but as the children of God, rescued by the blood of Jesus, and destined along with us to share in his glories forever.
  • Thirdly, let us value all children – protecting and nurturing them to grow as God’s children.

So let us then joyfully celebrate the freedom we have in Jesus, encouraging and helping others to fulfil the potential they have in Jesus … so that we honour and praise a loving God who has made us in his image for a relationship with him.

Pastor: Gus Schutz

Third of March Transfiguration

Galatians 3 : 26 – 29

 ‘There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’gus1

 All people are equal.

Now there is nothing new about this, is there? But when you really understand the implications of our being equal, this becomes a radically new idea!

I am sure that if you were in a large gathering of people, in a busy shopping centre or at a major sporting event (as long as it wasn’t a footy game involving Collingwood!); and you asked people randomly if they believe everybody is of equal value and worth, you would find very few people disagreeing with this idea.

Equality is a foundational value of most western democracies.

It is foundational for our democratic system of government.

But what very few people in western nations ever consider, or ask, is: ‘where does this idea of equality come from?’ ‘Why do we believe that all people are equal?’

 However, in saying this, we must understand two realities …

  1. While we may say and believe that all people are equal, our society rarely treats people equally!

It is an idea we aim for, but mostly fail to live out; either personally or in community. But while it is true that we fail to embrace this value, this does not mean we don’t inwardly believe that it is a value we ought to hold and embrace in life.

     2.But while all people are equal, this does not mean that all ideas are equal.

Everyone has equal value, but the values and ideals we may hold are not equal. Just think of some of the evil ideas people have sought to carry out over the centuries. Like the ethnic cleansing of communities, undertaken by Hitler, Pol Pot or the more recent actions of the Myanmar military against the Rohingya minorities. Or even our own interactions with our Indigenous people. In communities where we hold people as equal, purging a society or an ethnic group due to their heritage is simply appalling. The people who push these attitudes and actions are of equal value, but we do not give their ideas equal value.

Now, if you were to ask why we think people are equal, the answer will usually be: ‘this is what everyone thinks; and this is what everyone has always thought! But neither of these responses is true!

The reality is: people have not always treated everyone as equal!

During the time of Jesus, the Greco-Roman world did not believe people were of equal value and worth. the well known Greek philosophers, Aristotle and Plato did not believe all people were equal. Aristotle believed there were subclasses within society, where the lower classes of slaves existed to serve the upper classes.

The term he used for these slaves was neither ‘male’ nor ‘female’. They were non-persons!  He believed people were born into that role. They were the property of their owners. Literally: ‘living tools’. In his mind slaves were much like working animals, for they both, with their bodies, served the needs of life.

Now, how would you like to be reduced to a ‘thing – a living tool’, for others to use?God’s own Son, Jesus, came into this world of structural inequality!

Teaching and treating all people he encountered with equal dignity and worth.

Around the world there are many communities with structural inequality.

If a nation chooses to follow the Hindu teaching, the logical outcome will be structural inequality. That is underpinned by two key ideas …

  1. Firstly, through reincarnation – where every soul returns again and again.
  2. Secondly, your behaviour in each life will impact your place in the next life. This is what is called ‘karma’. So, upper class Brahmins feel justified in their privileges, because this reflects their past life. Theirs is a culture where inequality is ‘institutionalized’ through the religious philosophy and teaching.

So why then, did Jesus and the early church treat people equally?

Where did this idea come from?

It is really an Old Testament concept from the Jewish faith which is now foundational to what we as Christians believe. The creation story in Genesis tells us that: ‘God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.’ (Genesis 1:27) Every human being has God’s own signature on them!

All of Scripture repeats and echoes this idea. You are of worth because God made you. You are precious, because you reflect God’s own image. You are loved, because God promises to be with you.

It doesn’t matter whether you are brilliant, powerful and wealthy, or whether you are poor, disabled, or unable to contribute in some ways, before God you are of equal worth. So this principle of everyone being equal must be what we believe. It must be what we hold on to and promote in the world.

The beautiful words of Psalm 139 reinforce this concept of equality … (Psalm 139:13-16)

“For you (God) created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful,

I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place,

when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body;

all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

It is helpful to remember that equality became the foundation for modern democracies like the United States of America. In their Declaration of Independence, it boldly states …

‘We hold these truths to be self evident, that all people are created equal.’

Jesus taught and treated people as if they were equal.

At a time when people believed in inequality; Jesus taught equality!

He tells us the: ‘Parable of the lost sheep.’ The shepherd leaves the ninety nine sheep and goes after the one lost. In a powerful way this teaches us that everyone matters and all are precious to him because they are equally valued. Every single one is precious – eternally precious.

In John’s gospel, Jesus also outlines the two ways a shepherd cares for his sheep …

  1. One is the common pen for holding sheep in the village overnight.

A number of different shepherds would come in from the fields with their sheep for the night. They were kept in a common holding pen until the next morning. Each shepherd would call his sheep. Recognizing the shepherd’s voice, they would follow, for they knew and trusted their own shepherd.

  1. The other is where the shepherd is with his sheep, in the countryside for a number of days.

The shepherd would build a small holding pen from sticks and branches. There was no door to the pen, so the shepherd lay across the opening through which the sheep came and went. He was their protector.

The apostle Paul reminds us that we are all one in Jesus.

All the barriers of class and status are broken down and destroyed. In Jesus, we are all equal.

These structural inequalities of the Greco-Roman world remind us that now everything is changed. In Jesus!  ‘There is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave of free, male or female, for we are all one in Jesus!’

So what does equality look like in our lives?

It begins with our attitude. Considering and treating everyone as equal. ‘Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God,’ we are told. (Romans 15:7)  Accept the lonely, the poor, the sick, the unemployed and the homeless. Accept them, as in Jesus, God lovingly accepts you.

Do that in your life today?  When we treat all people equally, we bring praise to God!

Gus Schutz

Seventh Sunday of Epiphany 24th February

John 20 : 30 – 31

 

‘Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name’.

 

Who do you think is the most influential person in human history?gus1

Now, believe it or not, this question has actually been researched and documented. The outcome of that research is that no person, living or dead, has ever influenced our world more than Jesus of Nazareth.

You may find that very surprising, especially when you stop to consider what Jesus left at the end of his time here on earth. At the time of his awful death through crucifixion, no one was less likely to be remembered, or be an influence for future generations than Jesus of Nazareth.

Just consider what he left at the end of his ministry …

  • He didn’t own any property or amass any fortune,
  • He never wrote any books,
  • He didn’t hold any political positions,
  • He didn’t start any organizations. Remember, the church only formed after his time here on earth!
  • He travelled very little, and what travelling he did, was limited to a small region,
  • He only had a small band of followers.

Now, that’s a pretty unimpressive resume, isn’t it?

Yet today, two thousand years later, Jesus is the most influential person in human history!

So let’s look at why Jesus is such an influential person in human history?

  1. Firstly he really was a person in history!

This is important, because today there are many people who still question whether Jesus actually lived and walked on this earth. That is especially true for the younger generations today. They admire the stories told about Jesus, but they doubt whether he was a person of history.

But there is so much historical information and there are so many records we have to show that Jesus really was a person in human history. Now, some of those reports were even by people who were not followers of Jesus!  People who were the detractors, even the enemies of Jesus!

  • We have writings about Jesus going back to only a few decades after his life.

People wrote about this individual in history.

  • Stories were also written very close to the time some events actually occurred.

There were events recorded by Tacitus, who was a Roman senator and historian. Written only twenty years after the time Jesus lived and walked on this earth. Then there were other documents written by historians like Josephus and Pliny. Their only interest was to record history.

These people were not followers of Jesus, they were critics of him, but they wrote about him. Now, would they have even bothered to write about Jesus, if he wasn’t an actual person of history?  I don’t think so!

2: Secondly, we know about Jesus because people wanted to share his story!

They tell the life story of Jesus. Everything that he said and did!  They were close to him and were the eye witnesses of much of his life. They just wanted the world to know how remarkable Jesus of Nazareth was.

People like the Gospel writers – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. We get to hear from them every Sunday, and then when we read the gospels ourselves.

They were simple ordinary people, who got to rub shoulders with Jesus.

Fishermen, tax collectors, even a physician. Like us, they were common folk. But their lives were completely changed by their experiences with Jesus. They marvelled at his compassion and care for people. How he treated everyone alike. They had never met anyone like Jesus before.

  1. Thirdly, the followers of Jesus gave up their lives for what they believed.

That is really quite mind blowing, isn’t it?  Who of us would be prepared to die for what we believed in?

The suggestion has been made that the followers of Jesus made up or added to his story that he died a physical death, and then rose again physically. They agree that Jesus may have been a great teacher, but he was really just another ordinary individual. It was his followers and the church who invented some of the miraculous stories told about him, and then, especially the extraordinary tale of his death and resurrection.  I mean, how can someone possibly die, and then rise from the dead three days later?

Now we know that eleven of the disciples remained at the time of Jesus’ death.

The amazing thing is that only one of those eleven died a natural death. The other ten died as martyrs. They lived a life of persecution and torture before losing their life standing up for what they believed in.

They were eyewitnesses to the truth of Jesus’ resurrection. So the obvious question is: ‘Who in their right mind would be prepared to die for something if they knew it to be a lie?’ 

Yes, these disciples were prepared to put their life on the line, because they knew that while Jesus did die, he also truly rose again and was physically present with them before ascending to the Father.

  1. Fourthly, Jesus changed the lives of people one at a time.

The teachings of Jesus may have led to changing societies, but individual lives are only changed one person at a time. That was true with Jesus. He didn’t bring about any sweeping changes to the values, ethics and behaviour of society. His impact was on people, one person at a time, and often on people who were not looking for any change!

  • Think of the apostle Paul!             He was a prominent Jew and a Pharisee.

He had a great family background and the best of teaching in Jewish law. He persecuted the followers of Jesus and even spoke to the Roman leaders about his obsession to hunt them down.

Yet one day, on his way to Damascus, his journey was interrupted by Jesus and his life was turned upside down. The outcome was a life revolutionized by Jesus and he became one of the greatest missionaries the world has ever known.

  • Augustine was another! He lived a completely self-indulgent and pleasure seeking life.

At the age of only fifteen he had a mistress. He went to Milan to teach and enjoy every aspect of life he could. But he couldn’t run from God who was seeking him. One day, while out in the garden, confused about his life, he heard a voice say: ‘take up and read’. So he read from the book of Romans and it began a change that saw him become one of the greatest leaders of the church at that time. He became the bishop of Hippo, in Northern Africa, and one of the greatest minds the church has seen.

  • Maybe you know someone whose life has been radically changed by Jesus.

I was already a Christian as a teenager when my brother was killed in an accident. But I remember reflecting on that experience many times. It could have turned me away from God. How could there be a loving God if someone so young has their life cut short. From a human point of view we could say: ‘what a waste!’ But I came to the conclusion that it could only be a waste if there were no God!  God is forever present in our lives. In good and bad situations. It is only through God that we can make sense and meaning of our lives. I know my brother is forever safe in God’s care, and in my journey through life I continue to pinch myself and say: ‘God is so good to me!’  I know I don’t deserve it.

Jesus continues to change lives and the worlds of people – one at a time!

The fact that Jesus lived and was a person of history makes all the difference. He knows and understands what it is like for us to be human, and he cares about us all the same. He has a plan and a purpose for every one of us. We are precious to him and he loves us with a passion. So surrender your life and your concerns to Jesus. Trust in him for he truly cares.

So keep looking to Jesus – he will truly make a difference in your life.

Gus Schutz

Sixth Sunday of Epiphany 17th February 2019

Text: Exodus 20:1-17
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“Obedient”.  It’s a key word for us today as we focus on the Old Testament lesson where God gives his people – where God gives us – the 10 Commandments.

“Obedience”.  Not a word to bring joy to most people’s hearts!  Parents struggle with it.  How do you get your kids to obey, to follow the family’s rules?  And how many of those rules should you have?  And does each rule need to be enforced all the time, or do circumstances mean you sometimes pretend you don’t see the disobedience?  And how on earth do you do this obedience thing when your kids hit those rebellious teenager years!

Obedience.  It’s a minefield for many parents.  And it causes more than a few problems for Lutherans.  Because we like to emphasize grace.  And rightly so.  We like to shy away from the whole obedience thing lest we somehow move into that area of works righteousness.  But here’s the deal; obedience is part of our Christian walk, our discipleship, our servanthood.  God – and he has every right to because he is God – God lays out certain rules, commandments before us.  Not for us to debate or assess the merits of or to determine which ones we’ll take on board and which ones we’ll dismiss.  Rather, he gives them to us to obey.

So, how can we move beyond a “gritting one’s teeth” kind of obedience to a willing obedience – like Jesus showed?  Humility is certainly important.  Proud people aren’t into willing obedience.  Humble ones are.  But there’s another factor that’s critical for willing obedience that I’d like to concentrate on today.  Let me summarise that factor with this statement, “How a person responds to a rule depends on how they relate to the rule-maker.”  Can I say that again, “How a person responds to a rule depends on how they relate to the rule-maker.”

For example, let’s imagine that my “baby” – Ben – is 8, not 28.  If I make a rule that Ben is supposed to obey, how Ben will respond to that rule will depend above all on how Ben and I are relating to each other.  I know there are other factors too, like, is the rule fair?  Does it apply to his brothers too?  Things like that.  But I’m convinced that Ben’s response to the rule will be determined above all by how he relates to me.  I mean, if he’s secure in our relationship, if he knows for sure that I love him heaps and want only the best for him, that shapes the way he responds to my rule.  He might be put out by it.  He might even think it’s unfair.  But if our relationship is strong and secure, if he knows I only want the best for him, then there’s every chance that he’ll go along with the rule.  There’s every chance he’ll do his best to obey it.

“How a person responds to a rule depends on how they relate to the rule-maker.”  It’s been true in our household.  I suspect it’s true – or has been true in yours.  And I’m convinced it’s true in God’s.  God sets down quite a few rules in the Bible.  How people respond to those rules depends – to a very large extent – on what their relationship with God is like, on how they see him.

Some people, for example, some see God as a highway patrolman.  These patrolmen are necessary and serve an important function, but most of us aren’t too happy to see them behind us on the highway.  We think they’re just waiting there – watching us like hawks – until we make the tiniest of mistakes  . . . and then their lights will start flashing and their siren will start blaring and they’ll come alongside us and give us this “I’ve got you!” kind of look.

Some people really do see God like that.  He’s the moral policeman who gives you all these rules, and he’s just waiting to catch you out, to punish you.  And inevitably, the relationship these people have with God is one based on fear, not love.  It’s distant, not intimate.  Obedience is seen as something to do to escape punishment.  If you can disobey without getting caught, that’s OK.  But by and large it’s better to obey, to do the right thing because you just don’t know when God might come around spying, checking up on you.

Is that the way you see God?  Is that the way you relate to him?  As a highway patrolman?  As I read the Bible, I get a different picture of God.  The sort of picture I get from the Bible is of God being more like a Coast Guard Captain.  He knows that you want to get your boat to safe waters.  But he also knows that you’re really up against it.  You’re unaware of the reefs that can rip the bottom out of your boat.  You’re unaware as to which of the possible routes will actually get you to your destination.  So what the coast guard captain does is to give you markers to highlight the channel.  These markers are called rules or commandments, and they’re meant for your protection.  As long as you follow them, you won’t get wrecked on the reefs.  As long as you obey them, you know you’re headed in the right direction.  Sometimes you don’t quite understand why he’s given you those rules.  Sometimes you might even think that they’re unfair.  But because you know he loves you, you chart your course his way.  You strive to obey him.

Can we – just for a moment – can we look at a couple of the laws, a couple of the channel markers that our Captain gives us?  He gives us the 3rd commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.”  Why does he give that rule to us?  To spoil a good weekend?  No!  He gives it to us because he loves us.  He knows that if we’re going to successfully navigate our way through life, it’s essential that we spend time with him.  He knows we need guidance and strength and support.  He knows we need to be closely connected to him.  And to experience the community and support of a church family.  And all that happens in worship.  And that’s why he wants us to come, so we can receive all those things.

Take another commandment – the 6th – about faithfulness between husband and wife.  Why does God have a rule about that?  Quite simply because he loves us.  He wants marriage to be fulfilling and deeply satisfying.  And he knows that’s not possible when we’re spreading our affections and heart around.  So – in love – he says, “Adultery is out, and faithfulness is in.”

You know, I could go through every one of the 10 Commandments, in fact, every command in the whole Bible – how we are to treat our children, how we are to deal with our possessions, what our speech should be like, and more – I could go through the whole lot, and behind each one you would find one common factor . . . they’re motivated by love..  They’re given to us by a God who loves us.  They keep us off the rocks and in the safety of the channel.  None of them . . . none of them are meant to restrict our freedom and joy.  And the more we respond with willing obedience, the more fulfilling and joyful our lives can become.

But there’s the catch, isn’t it!  Because the fact is, we don’t always respond with obedience.  We’re all guilty of disobeying God’s laws.  Sometimes accidentally.  Sometimes deliberately.  And some of us know only too well what the cost is to go against God’s laws.  It’s as if we’ve been washed up onto jagged rocks.  And you know what?  The Captain of the Coast Guard – he sees us floundering there.  And he knows why we’re there – because we’ve disregarded the markers, we’re disobeyed his rules for us, we’ve arrogantly chartered our own course instead of following his course.  Yet instead of wiping his hands of us and saying “It’s your fault!  You blew it!  Now you’ll have to pay for it!”, instead of deciding to scrap us, to send us to the bottom, he sets out to salvage us.  He sends out another boat into the sea . . . a boat that was buffeted about, just like we are . . . a boat that was ridiculed and rejected . . . a boat that had many opportunities to head off course and forget about us – but didn’t . . . a boat which in the end took on the refuse, the garbage from every other boat – yours and mine – so much of it that in the end it sunk him.  This boat went to the bottom – willingly – because of his love for all, because of his love for you and me.

St Paul says, “And he became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.”

One who is worthy of our obedience, wouldn’t you agree?  One who gave his all to us so we can give our all to others!

Pastor Rob Peach

5th Sunday of Epiphany 10th February 2019

Luke 5:1-11 (NIV)

Theme:
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The beach. . . . Aussies seem to have a love affair with the beach.  They flock to it in their droves during the warmer months . . . to swim, to surf, to sunbake.rob

The beach . . . it’s certainly played a big part in my family’s history.  As kids, my dad and mum would regularly take us to the beach…  And we’ve done that with our boys too.  When they were small, Beryl and I would love to watch them splash around in the shallows.  They’d get on their boogie boards and ride the little shore waves in.

From time to time, though, I’d say to one of them: “How about I take you out further to where the water is deeper and the waves are better….  Most of the time, though – especially when they were little tackers – they didn’t want to go.  They felt much safer, much more secure when they could stand on the sand and were close to the shore……. 

But I’d persist: Don’t be afraid of the deeper water.  Come on.  Just a little bit further out.  Just to catch one wave. It’ll be funCome onJust try it.”

Why my persistence?…..  Because I wanted them to experience the thrills of being in the deeper water……  That’s where the action is……  I’d learnt that as a kid, and I wanted my kids to experience that too . . .  to push hard as a 2 or 3 metre wave approached, and then to go speeding down the front of that wave and feel it crash behind you.. . .  And there you are being pushed along by the white water . .  dodging this way and that . . . just for the fun of it or to avoid a collision with other swimmers…..  And your ride goes on for 40 or 50 metres . . . all the way to the shore…..  And that’s what I wanted my kids to experience.  Not just a 5 metre ride on a quarter of a metre ripple, but a real ride, a real thrill.

In our text for today, Jesus does pretty much the same thing.  He urges Simon to go out into the deeper water…….  Not just so that Simon could experience the thrill of catching a whole boat-load of fish.  That did happen…  But Jesus was much more interested in doing something with Simon’s life.  He wanted him to experience the thrill of being in a deep, personal relationship with the Lord of life.

Let’s then take a closer look at this encounter that Jesus had with Simon and see the difference he wanted to make in his life . . . and the difference he wants to make in our lives.

The first thing we note is that Jesus wants to take us from where we are to where he wants us to be……  That’s what he did with Simon…..  Simon had been washing the nets on the shore while keeping one ear on what Jesus was saying to the crowds….  He didn’t have the time to stop everything and give Jesus his undivided attention.  Because he had responsibilities to attend to: fish to catch; nets to wash and repair.  His family relied on him to bring in a good catch to eat and to sell.

That’s where Simon was at.  But Jesus wanted to take him from where he was at to where he wanted him to be.  “Simon”, he said, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

From shallow water to deeper water . . .a picture, a symbol of what Jesus was going to do with Simon’s life . . . to take him from his casual, superficial connection with Jesus to a deeper, more personal and real commitment to Jesus……  And even though Simon is a bit reluctant at first, at least he’s prepared to go to where Jesus wanted him to be.  He says: “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.  But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

Can I ask you; are you where Jesus wants you to be?….  Is your relationship with Jesus strong and real and alive ….. all the time?…. 

Do you open up every part of your life for him to have his way in?….  Are you serious about loving him by loving those around you . . . caring for them in tangible ways; sharing your faith with them, and so on?

It’s true, isn’t it, that we haven’t arrived yet.  We’re not perfect yet.  We’re not fully devoted followers of Jesus yet.  We are all works in progress…..  And we need to acknowledge that…..  And we need to be prepared to leave the security of the shallows, to allow Jesus to take us out of our comfort zone and into deeper waters  . . . to be able to say: “It’s scary, Lord.  I don’t like giving up control of my life to you.  But because you say so, I’m prepared to go.  I’m prepared to let you take me from where I am to where you want me to be.”

And what happens when we get out into the deeper water?….  That’s the next thing Jesus wants to teach us in this story.  We learn to trust him more fully.

When we’re in the shallows, we don’t need to trust him.   We can rely on ourselves….  Like my kids in the shallows at the beach.  If they fell over, they could just stand up again. 

That’s no problem in a foot of water…..  But when I took them out deeper – where they couldn’t touch the bottom – that’s where they had to trust me . . . that I’d be there to put them back on their boogie board if they fell off . .  that I wouldn’t push them down a wave that would dump them.

Some of you know what it’s like to be taken from the shallows where you’ve been safe, secure, comfortable and out into deeper waters… It might be because of an illness or a crisis – either to you or someone you know.  And all of a sudden you’re moving out into uncharted waters.  And the swell is bigger and more powerful.  And you can’t see the bottom.  And it can be scary, it really can… Until you realize that God is right there with you in the deeper water…..  He’s not abandoning you in that illness or crisis.  In fact, it becomes an opportunity for you to trust him more fully . . . that even though you don’t know exactly where current will take you, Jesus does.  And he’ll see you through.

Here’s one final point that I want to highlight from the text.  When we move from the shallows to the deeper water, our perspective changes.  We start to see what’s really important in life.  We become more concerned about what Jesus is concerned about.

Think of the 45 year old man who is in the prime of his life.  He looks at the paper each morning to see how his share portfolio is going.  He’s spending lots of time and energy at his work because he still has some rungs to climb up the corporate ladder.  He doesn’t see his wife or kids much, but that’s a small price to pay for the success he’s achieved….  But then – out of the blue – comes a heart attack!  And he’s taken out of the shallows and he’s in deep water….  And all of a sudden his perspective changes…..  He’s more interested in seeing the sun rising in the morning than reading his morning paper…..  He’s more interested in spending time with those who really count – with his wife and kids – than spending time at the office..  And in so many other ways, what was important before is no longer important now.  His perspective has changed.

We have a saying: “I’m in deep water.”…..  It’s got a negative connotation, hasn’t it.  It’s saying: “I’m in big trouble.” …. But if it’s God who leads you into deep water, there’s always a positive side to it…..  Because God will be using it to give you an opportunity to reflect and refocus and realize what really is important in your life…..  He’ll be giving you an opportunity to change your perspective on life ….. to be less concerned about what the world is concerned about and more concerned about what he is concerned about.

That’s what happened to Simon.  Before his encounter with Jesus, he was wrapped up in catching fish.  But after Jesus took him out into the deeper waters, he got fired up about catching people . . . about sharing the good news of Jesus with those who were lost.

Could it be that Jesus has taken you into deep waters right now because he wants you to change your perspective in some area of your life so that it lines up more closely with his?……  Perhaps in your attitude to others.  Or in your attitude to earthly possessions.  Or in your attitude to those who don’t know Jesus.  Or in some other area?…….  It’s worth thinking about, because Jesus often uses ‘deep water’ experiences to get us to do some soul searching, to do some major re-focusing.

Can I close with where I began – with my kids at the beach.  “Don’t be afraid of the deep water”, I’d say to them……  And through our text for today, Jesus is saying that to us too.  Don’t be afraid of the deep water……  Because I’m taking you from where you are to where I want you to be….  Because out there in the deep, that’s where you’re going to trust me more fully…… 

Because in the deep water, you’re going to be more concerned about the things that I’m concerned about.”

And that’s when life gets thrilling!…..  Not in the shallows, but out in the deep ….. with Jesus!  Amen.

Pastor Rob Paech

Called & Equiped by God

Text: Jeremiah 1:4-10 

Theme: “Called and Equipped by God”

 Sometimes I get called on to do things that make my knees wobbly and my stomach churn.  Like being asked to preach at a Pastor’s Conference in my first year in ministry. Not a pleasant experience – to have 75 of your peers sitting there listening to you, assessing you, passing you or failing you….. rob Or being asked to present a couple of papers to a principals and headmasters gathering…..  I don’t know if a principal or headmaster gets daunted by a group of pastors, but I was certainly daunted by them…..  Then there are those phone calls that seem to come out of nowhere: “Pastor, please come to the hospital.  There’s been a terrible accident.” Or “She’s gone!  After 32 years of marriage, she’s just walked out.  Can you come over, Pastor?

You know what that’s like too, don’t you.  Perhaps not in the same circumstances as me, but you know what it’s like to be called on by others in need.  Maybe called by God to help in some way…….  And you feel so daunted, so inadequate…..  What do you do?  How do you copeHow can you help?

Jeremiah – that’s the prophet Jeremiah – he can help us here.  Because he was called by God for an important task…..  The nation of Israel – God’s special people – they had turned their backs on him.  They’d forsaken God and turned to all sorts of false gods and religions. Spiritually they were at a low ebb.  And God says to Jeremiah – when he was just a young man – “Jeremiah, you’re going to be my mouthpiece to the people of Israel. I’ve had you chosen for this task since before you were born.  You will confront my people and tell them to return to me.” And Jeremiah’s jaw drops.  He says: “Lord, I’ll preach at a Pastor’s Conference, I’ll present a dozen papers to principals and headmasters, but Lord, don’t call me to be your mouthpiece to the people!”…..  Well, he doesn’t quite say that, but he is daunted by the task God’s placed before him.  And according to the text – he does come up with his excuses: “Hey, Lord, don’t pick me!.  I’m far too young.  You want someone more experienced, someone with more maturity.  And besides, you know I can’t talk very well.  I get tongue-tied. There are plenty of others with more of the gift of the gab than me.  Choose someone else.  I’m not your man!

And can I just say here, these weren’t invalid reasons given by Jeremiah.  They were true.  He was very young for the task.  And he was pretty uninspiring as a speaker.  But that doesn’t seem to worry God.  In fact, God seems to have a habit of picking seemingly inadequate people to do his work…..  Jeremiah wasn’t the first to consider himself too young, not a gifted speaker.  There were plenty of others back in the Bible and still are today.  And you may be one of them….  But when God wants something done, the ability – or lack of ability – of the person doesn’t seem to be his main priority.  Because he has all the necessary gifts and power to offer the person so that the things he wants done can be done effectively.

And that’s just what God does for Jeremiah in the text…..  God calls him for a special task – a task that scares the life out of Jeremiah – but God also equips him for the task.  He ‘shushes’ him.  He puts his hand on his lips and quietens him.  “Don’t talk about your age or your abilitiesShushBe quiet!  You don’t need to be afraidI will be with youI’ll give you the words you need to say.  I give you the authority, my authority!

And just by the way, if you think that from then on it was a breeze for Jeremiah, then just read the rest of his story for yourself in the Bible.  It was no walk in the park for him.  Far from it! God set him apart for a task – a difficult task – but he gave him everything he needed to do it well.

Can I – for a moment – can I focus on those of you who are involved in ministry to children and teens.  And I’m not just referring to those of you who might be involved in a Sunday School type of thing here at St Peters.  I’m talking about those of you who have meaningful contact with kids and teens at any level: as a parent or grandparent, as someone who is involved in Christian education in schools or who might sit next to one in churchwhatever level!  I don’t know if you realise it, but you have been entrusted by God with a sacred task.  And I’m not sure if I can think of a more important one!  Those kids and teens, they are growing up in a world that’s complex and confusing, that’s filled with opportunities and fraught with pitfalls.  And they desperately need caring people around them to help them navigate their way into adulthood.  You have the incredible privilege of walking with precious people in their formative years. Your time with them will leave a lasting impression on them…..  What a sacred trust!…  God has given you gifts and he wants you to use those gifts for the benefit of those children, those teenagers…  He has given you timehours each day – and he wants you to use them wisely…  He has poured his love into  you and he wants you to bring compassion to your work, to embrace those kids and teens in the same way as he would embrace themEmbrace those adults too, who come your way, needing your compassion and help.  And I’ve got to say – if you take this call of God, if you take the tasks he’s given you seriously, how could you not be daunted by the task that lies ahead? How could your knees not be a little wobbly, your stomach not a little churnedBut here’s the thing – if the story of Jeremiah – and of the whole Bible – if it’s crystal clear on one thing it’s this: God doesn’t call you to a task and then say: “Well, all the bestHope it works out!  I’ll be off now!” .. NO!  He quells the fear inside of us.  He ‘shushes’ the self-doubts, the insecurities and says to each of us: “Go . . .  in my name, in my strength, and keep turning to me for the courage you need for each day!….  What I’m calling you to do I will also equip you to do.  So don’t be afraidI will be with you.

And that’s God’s promise, his assurance to all of us here today, whatever our circumstance.  What he says to Jeremiah he says to us in our different situations: “Don’t say you’re too young, too inexperienced, too old, too frail, not confident enough!….  Don’t say that you can’t speak well, that you don’t have the brains, the social skills, whateverDon’t be afraidI am with you!  I will give you what you need.”……..  And he will – whether you are a leader in this church, or in your workplace, or as a mum or a dad or a grandparent, or as a friend.  ……  You may feel inadequate – and you may well be inadequate for some of the things he calls you to do, but hey, God has shown in the past he can do extraordinary things with pretty ordinary people.  Or maybe he doesn’t want you to do extraordinary things.  Maybe he wants you to do ordinary things faithfully that he can use to touch people’s lives in special waysSo, as people who have been called on by God to make a Kingdom difference – in this church, in your workplace, in your community, in your home, at whatever level – be brave!  !  Be strong!  Don’t be afraidTrust in God to work in you and with you as he has promised. …. Be in awe of the opportunity you have.  Be humble.  Keep turning to God for the wisdom and discernment and courage you need.
For all of us – in whatever situation in life we find ourselves in – be open to God’s call to you.  Be excited about it.  And count on him being the equipping, enabling, faithful God he promises to be.  Amen.

Pastor Rob Peach