Deadlines and Second Chances

Luke 16:19-31

Deadlines and Second Chances20180311_103505 (1)

Most people these days are used to working to deadlines – ‘due dates’ to pay our bills or complete tax returns, Business Activity Statements or school assignments. There are ‘closing dates’ for entering competitions or buying tickets.  Although there can be disadvantages or disappointments if we miss those deadlines, there is usually some sort of second chance or a way around our misfortune.  Even angry football fans that miss out on grand final tickets are still able to watch the game on TV.

There is one thing in life though for which there is a final deadline, after which there is no turning back.  That has to do with whether we accept the gift of God’s grace in Jesus Christ and live for him, or whether we choose instead to live for ourselves, worldly wealth and material possessions.

Jesus talks about that deadline in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.  First, we are told about the enormous difference between the material wealth of these two people: There was once a rich man who dressed in the most expensive clothes and lived in great luxury.  There was also a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who used to be brought to the rich man’s door, hoping to eat the bits of food that fell from the rich man’s table.  Even the dogs would come and lick his sores (v.19-21).

Next, Jesus tells us about the enormous difference between the spiritual wealth of these two people.  Lazarus was the one who was spiritually rich and the ‘rich man’ was the one who was spiritually poor.  The evidence of that is what Jesus said about them when it came to the final deadline.  Their roles were reversed at the point of death: The poor man died and was carried by the angels to sit beside Abraham at the feast in heaven.  The rich man died and was buried, and in Hell where he was in great pain, he looked up and saw Abraham, far away, with Lazarus at his side (v.22, 23). 

The one who enjoyed comfort and pleasure on earth was now in torment and pain because, with all his earthly riches, he had neglected the greatest riches of all – the riches of God’s grace.  The one who endured torment and pain on earth was now enjoying comfort and pleasure because, in all his earthly poverty, he had found the greatest riches of all – his faith in God, and in God’s promises.

Both men had reached the deadline where their eternal fate would be decided forever.  There would be no second chance now, no way around the dilemma.  Their decision was now irreversible.

Suddenly the rich man thought of four things he should have done while on earth.

First, he lifted his eyes up to heaven.  He looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus at his side (v. 23).  He focused on the Father’s house above and the comfort, which believers receive there.  He had opportunity to do that during his earthly life, like David who said: “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple, for he will hide me in his shelter”  (Ps.27: 4,5).  He could have done that instead of focusing on himself, his own wealth and enjoyment.  Now it was too late!

Second the rich man prayed for God’s mercy.  He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me” (v.24a).  He became aware of his real condition before God.  He was not worthy to stand before God on his own.  He was spiritually bankrupt, separated from God forever because of his sin.  He needed God and his mercy.  He could have received God’s mercy and salvation beforehand if only he had realized his own condition and prayed for mercy while he was living life on earth.  Now it was too late!

Third, the rich man began to think of Lazarus.  He called out, “Send Lazarus to dip his finger in some water and cool off my tongue, because I am in great pain in this fire” (v.24b).  Lazarus had been in pain on earth but the rich man had thought only of himself.  The scraps that Lazarus received were not given; they “fell”.  Now the rich man became aware of the need for compassion – when he was the one who needed it!  Now he noticed Lazarus.  But the gap that he had created between himself and others was as wide and “unbridgeable” as the gap between heaven and hell (v.26).  Abraham reminds him that he once had an opportunity to bridge that gap.  Now it was too late!

Fourth, the rich man had a ‘burning’ desire for evangelism.  The rich man said, “Then I beg you, father Abraham, send Lazarus to my Father’s house, where I have five brothers. Let him go and warn them so that they, at least, will not come to this place of pain” (v.27, 28).  In his life he had the Word of God, the warnings of Moses and the Prophets and the words of eternal life to share with them then, but he didn’t.  Now it was too late!  One of the greatest torments of Hell will be that people there will suddenly have a ‘burning’ desire to do all those things they should have done on earth, but will not be able to do them.  Christ’s warning is that we have only one lifetime to ‘get it right’ with God.

But isn’t God ‘a God of second chances’?  Doesn’t he want everyone in heaven and no one in hell?  That’s true!  That’s why he sent Jesus as our Saviour.  In Christ, God has provided a second chance for every human being who will receive it.  He has provided a much better alternative to the life that is lived to self and worldly pleasures and possessions.

Through Christ, God has offered us a fresh opportunity to focus on the father’s house above. We know that Jesus’ death has paved the way to the Father’s house for us, and that if we trust in him we need never be worried because, as he assures his faithful people, he has gone to prepare a place for us.  We have ample opportunity to renew that focus now through God’s Word and worship.

Through Christ, God has already bridged the gap that could have separated us from him eternally.  His amazing grace has given us the cross of Jesus as a secure bridge across that gap and Jesus’ resurrection as an assurance of his eternal victory over death and hell for all believers.  Every person has the opportunity to pray the ‘Sinners Prayer’ for mercy and to receive his free gift of eternal life.

Through Christ, God has given us the power and motivation to show love and compassion for others.  Jesus said: “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34), and  “As much as you have done it to the least of one of these, my brothers, you have done it to me” (Matt. 25:40).

Through Christ, God has given us the hope of having our families share God’s place of eternal happiness instead of the place of eternal pain.  Someone has risen from the dead and come to us to help us turn from our sins.  We have the Word of God – Moses and the Prophets as well as the word of Christ and his Apostles – to share God’s good news with our families and friends.

The fact is that, for us, God is providing the riches of his grace – and his second chance – right now.  What are the priorities in our lives at the moment?  What sort of riches are we really interested in – material or spiritual?  Are there some things we ought to look at changing now, before it is too late for ourselves and our families? 

When it comes to the deadline, when our life is over and we stand before God in judgement, there will be no more second chances.  God has given us our second chance, in Jesus.  Let’s not forget to put our trust in Him alone!  Amen.

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

Your favourite fairy tale.

Luke 16:1-13

The Merciful Master and His Shrewd Manager

What’s been your favourite fairy tale? What was it that grabbed your20180311_103505 (1) attention? Were you fascinated to watch the bad guy in action being eventually defeated by the hero of the story? Just as in real life, fairy tales contain bad guys as well as good ones. What fascinates us, I think, is the conflict between good and evil, with the hope that good will triumph.

The stories Jesus tells are not simply nice ones with only nice people in them. Rather, Jesus tells stories true to life with people of questionable character, like we find in real life. Our Lord tells us stories with the kinds of people we hear about each day, in order to grasp our attention. Have you been let down by someone you trusted? It’s a painful experience, isn’t it? Life isn’t always a rose garden. Jesus doesn’t depict life as better or worse than it is. Today’s parable has all the marks of something that really happened.

In the parable which Jesus tells us just before this one, the parable of the Prodigal Son, after wasting his father’s property, his son returns home and throws himself on his father’s mercy, just as in today’s parable the wasteful manager throws himself on his master’s mercy. This morning’s parable is about more than the wasteful use of someone else’s property. Its focus is rather on showing mercy on someone who doesn’t deserve it.

Having hit rock-bottom, the bad manager acts with amazing decisiveness and shrewdness to secure his future. It isn’t his dishonesty that’s commended, but rather, his shrewdness in using whatever opportunity is available to him to secure his future and make friends with those indebted to him. The fact that Jesus shares this parable with us is an act of grace and mercy. It invites us, yes even urges us, to prepare for our eternal future while we still can.

We have an advantage the wasteful manager didn’t have – as those who listen to and treasure Jesus our Saviour, and live in the light of the good news He brings us, our future is assured. Jesus reassures us: “My sheep hear My voice. I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of My hand (John 10:27-28).” The wasteful manager doesn’t reap what he sowed or get what he deserved. Grace, which God freely bestows on us, is God treating us so much better than we could ever deserve! Never forget that!

This parable is all about the amazing mercy of the manager’s merciful master who doesn’t punish or throw his wasteful manager into prison. The manager backs his whole future on his master’s reputation for showing mercy. By sacrificing his own commission, he invests in friendship, realising that to have friends that welcome you and care for you is much more important than being wealthy. He now realises that other people aren’t for our exploitation and personal advancement.

As soon as his master calls him to account, he doesn’t waste time on self-pity or trying to defend his actions. Instead, he maintains a cool head in the crisis and promptly does all he can to secure his future. “I have decided what to do so that when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes (v4).” Already he can see the welcome mats being laid down for him. While he still has the finance books, he will alter the accounts so that both he and his master will be commended by the debtors.

He now invites the debtors to alter in their own hand, the figures on the contracts he has access to, thus lessening their debt. The debtors will now be indebted to him. His shrewd insight is that he sees that the solution to a good future must come from outside. His entire plan is based on the assumption that his master is an honourable person who will respond again with mercy, as he has done in the past. The manager must act in haste in order that the debtors will think that the diminishing of their debts have come from the master’s mercy rather than the manager’s desperation to save his own skin. For the master to now repudiate these alterations would reveal him as mean and hard-hearted. To maintain his good reputation, the master can do nothing but endorse his manager’s actions. His master now commends his manager’s shrewdness, rather than the morality of his actions.

What’s more, Jesus suggests that we, His followers, can learn from worldly men like this manager; how to wisely prepare for our eternal future. Jesus says, “The people of this world are much more shrewd in handling their affairs than the people who belong to the Light (v8).” This means we’re to love God with our minds as well as our hearts, and use all our intelligence and wisdom to lay up treasures for ourselves in heaven. We’re to use our brains to reflect on the meaning of life and death, time and eternity. Jesus’ parables are brain-teasers that hold a mirror to ourselves, so that we’re aware if we’re avoiding thinking about life’s most important questions in a flurry of secular activity. The better we understand the deep questions of our Christian faith, the more it will motivate us to grow in love for our Creator and eagerness to help others.

Jesus wants us to be as passionate and enthusiastic about the practice of our faith in God as the non-religious men and women around us are about their sport, their hobbies and entertainment activities. We learn from them about dedication and commitment. The non-religious folk around us often make huge sacrifices to achieve their earthly goals. How much more shouldn’t we do the same for something that will last forever? In the face of all the good things that God has in store for those who love God, there can be no room for a half-hearted faith. Instead of just possessing a faith in God, we want a faith that posses us, hook, line and sinker!

This week, God is giving you another chance, another opportunity to put God first, to love God above all things and discover the great and unexpected blessings that flow from doing so. When Jesus says, “No servant can serve two masters; for a servant will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and wealth”, He is stating the First Commandment in different words. Treasure God above everything else because your God treasures you so much more than you could imagine.

This morning’s parable doesn’t threaten; it encourages. Here’s someone without hope who has got himself into an unholy pickle. If he’s so shrewd in dealing with his own interest, how much more reason have you, “the people of the Light”, to draw the consequence of the happy situation into which your Lord Jesus has placed you. Your interests are looked after. Your future is assured. You have the best possible hope.

God isn’t going to sack you! God will not let you down although you may have let God down. Your life is in loving hands and your God surrounds you with His protecting and supporting hands. Since Jesus Christ died for you, that’s assured. Your future is good. How much more reason have you to act and live discovering the joys of God’s life! You don’t have to compete with others anymore. You don’t have to be afraid of dying anymore, for you have God’s life now. Your life is worthwhile now. You needn’t act as if the weight of the whole world is resting on your shoulders. Because of the mercies of the Lord that are new every day, you are worth a great deal more in God’s sight than your non-Christian neighbours and friends could ever have an inkling of.

“Listen! This is the hour to receive God’s favour; today is the day to be saved! (2 Corinthians 6:2)” Don’t delay! Embrace God’s grace and mercy today. For “according to God’s great mercy, we have been born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and to an inheritance that is imperishable (1 Peter 1:3-4).”

We thank God for that. Amen.

Vernon P Kleinig

I have found my lost sheep.

The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

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‘Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.’  Every time a lost soul turns to Jesus Christ with faith, I am convinced, that Jesus beams with joy as he says ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’   Let’s join in a word of prayer: O God our loving Father, the Lord of our lives, today we are filled with the wonder of your presence in our worship and in our lives.  We celebrate that we are never lost to you, no matter how far we feel from your presence.  We give thanks for the gift of salvation received through the sacrifice of your Son.   Guide our time together this morning and give us a vision of your glory that will strengthen us in our walk together through this broken world. Gracious heavenly Father, hear our prayer for the sake of our risen Lord,  Amen.

The elder of a large congregation was contacted in the middle of the night for a special visit to the bedside of a prominent member at the hospital. The elder immediately dialled the pastor’s home telephone number.  To his surprise, he was greeted with little Venessa’s whispered, “Hello?”

Feeling a bit irritated at the inconvenience of having to talk to a youngster, the elder asked, “Venessa, is your Daddy home?” “Yes,” whispered the small voice.  “May I talk with him?” the elder asked. To his surprise, the small voice whispered, “No.”  The elder then asked, “Is your Mommy there?” “Yes,” came the answer. “May I talk with her?” Again, the small voice whispered, “No.”

Knowing that it was not likely that Venessa would be left home alone, the elder decided he would just leave a message with whomever was there watching over the child. “Is there anyone there besides you?” the elder asked Venessa. “Yes,” whispered the child, “a policeman.”

Wondering what a constable would be doing at the pastor’s home in the middle of the night, the elder asked, “May I speak with the policeman?”

“No, he’s busy,” whispered Venessa. “Busy doing what?” asked the elder. “Talking to Daddy and Mommy and the Fireman,” came the whispered answer.   Growing concerned and even worried as he heard what sounded like a siren in the background, the elder asked, “What is that noise?” “Another police car,” answered the whispering voice.   “What is going on there?” asked the elder, now alarmed. 

In an awed whispering voice, the child answered, “I heard someone say they are bringing some special puppies to my house.”  Now fully alarmed, and frustrated, the elder asked, “Why are they there?”   Still whispering, the young voice replied (along with a muffled giggle), “They’re looking for me!”   (adapted from  Christian Cheong)

It is a wonderful reality that our Father in heaven doesn’t need to send out search parties to find us.  He knows every location of every person, and he has a plan for every child of God who receives his outstretched arm that offers us salvation by faith in his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. As Paul writes to Timothy, ‘God our Saviour wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.’ (1 Ti 2:3–4 NIV)
And, as Christ said, all of heaven rejoices over each repentant sinner who confesses their faith in our living Saviour. 

God’s Holy Spirit is the lamp that searches the hearts and spirits of every person, like the woman in the parable of Jesus.  And under his watchful gaze, the Word of God, and the Sacrament of Holy Baptism lights the way for faith to find its way into hearts that were once cold and unrepentant.  Our Lord Jesus Christ welcomes everyone with love.    

All of heaven rejoiced over even Paul, who wrote that, ‘Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.  The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.’ 

So, we should not give up hope for the neighbours around us who seem to live without faith.  We should not stop praying for a family member who seems to be living without hope.  We should not stop loving those around us who seem so reluctant to trust in Jesus Christ.  Because, as Paul says, ‘Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’.

The good news is that Christ Jesus entered our humanity with a plan to touch the lives of every person.  To save sinners, and that means you and me.  Paul experienced the mercy, grace, love, and faith from the righteousness of Christ Jesus and that drove his ministry.  This conviction is the same reality that drives each of us as we care for each other and witness the work of the Gospel in our lives.

God is active among us, and He can make all the difference in our worshipping community.  I believe this with all my heart! No challenge is beyond God’s amazing grace.  But we are called to be active as we wait for God’s providence to reveal itself.  Active in prayer, active in the word, active in fellowship, active in love.  Active in witnessing the grace and love of our Saviour, Christ Jesus with our attitudes, our actions and our words.  Unlike the example of the Hebrew people in our reading from Exodus today. 

God called Moses to return to Mount Sinai, to receive instruction for the people.  For forty days, Moses remained on the mountain. During these forty days, the people just waited idly, receiving their manna, their quail, and being tested to see if they would remain faithful.  We see from the reading, that the people couldn’t just wait.  Instead of praising God for all that he provided in his care for them, their hearts turned to fear and doubt. 

They responded by making a golden calf to become the object of their worship. 

With the pleadings of Moses, God had mercy on them.  The end of our reading in Exodus brings us to the words, ‘Then the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.’ 

God has also shown us his mercy and grace.   God, the Son. entered humanity himself, to eat with us, talk with us, and journey with us.  He took all our mistakes and all our failures, and all our sin upon himself.  He sacrificed himself to receive the punishment that we deserve, and He led the way to a new relationship with the fullness of God our Father, by our faith in God the Son.
Jesus came into the world carrying the reality of the  good news that God loves each one of us, individually, without limits.  But sometimes it’s really hard for us to feel God’s love through the confusion and challenge of living.  Just like the Israelites at the foot of the mountain.  Especially when this broken world strives to tell us the lie – that God is distant, arbitrary, angry and judgemental.  That God doesn’t love us, doesn’t care about us, and doesn’t hear us.

From Scripture, we understand that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and God’s ways are not our ways.  But through Scripture, we can also know God’s love for us, and we can know the devil’s hatred.  The devil uses the world to speak discouraging words to us in his effort to destroy our faith, to corrupt our relationship with God.  To draw us into sin. 

But God uses the Gospel to strengthen us, to encourage us, and to preserve faith in us.       Jesus came into the world to defeat the devil’s effort to make us all captive of the self-doubt that he tries to put between us and God.  In the Gospel today, we discover Jesus sharing the good news with those who needed it most.  The tax collectors and sinners that were kept from worship in the temple and were separated from a welcoming relationship with God by their guilt and the rejection from others.

We don’t find anything about lost sinners that makes Jesus want to be with them.  We do find something about Jesus himself. His nature, as God’s Son.  And the Holy Spirit draws those to Jesus who need Him.  That’s wonderful news for all of us, believers and nonbelievers alike.

Wonderful news because it means that as much as people try to avoid that offer of love and acceptance, as much as people insist on trying to get along by themselves, God will not rest until we receive him.   He will not leave us nor forsake us.     That’s why Christ Jesus is the way he is.  That’s why he will give us, the Children of God by our faith, the intuition to encourage someone who needs to know that God loves them. 

That’s why Jesus will use us to show his love to our neighbour, to our friend, to the stranger we meet  Jesus wants us to understand that each of us is valued by a loving and caring God in Christ Jesus.  And together, we can make a difference in our broken world, by simply living our faith with our attitudes, actions and encouraging words.

Jesus never gives up on us.  He never gives up on those we love who seem to be lost and hidden by the broken world around us. So let’s never give up on God.  Even when life seems to overwhelm us. 

After all, in our baptism we are united with Jesus Christ into his death and resurrection.  And Jesus didn’t give up – even when facing the cross. 

One Christian church was striving for a way forward to reach out to people, both unbelievers and casual believers alike.  In her book, ‘Reclaiming the L Word’, Pastor Kelly Fryer provides five guiding principles that enabled that Congregation to follow our Saviour Jesus Christ.

That Jesus is Lord;  that Everyone is Welcome; that Love Changes People; that Everybody has something to offer; and that the world needs what we have.  To which I would add another guiding principle, that faith is the key to everything we do.

Principles that I find so evident as a natural outflow of the love we share here at St Peter’s.  Principles that we can engage with more purposefully as we  journey together in the love of Christ Jesus our Saviour.

It is no hollow prayer when we ask the Holy Spirit to set our hearts and lives ablaze for Christ Jesus to the glory of God our Father.  And we continue to Inspire people to LIVE a purposeful LIFE, growing TOGETHER in JESUS CHRIST.  May the grace and peace of God keep our hearts and minds in the calm assurance of salvation we have in our living Lord.
Amen. 

Pastor David Thompson.

Hard To Hate.

Text: Luke 14:25-33, Psalm 1:5-6, Philemon

“Hard To Hate”

 Hate is a hard word to hear. Especially in20180311_103505 (1) the context of the Gospel reading where we hear Jesus say a person must hate his or her very own life, hate father and mother, or hate sister and brother. Hearing ‘to hate’ startles the senses, yet Jesus goes on to shake us even more.

If you don’t perfectly hate like this, then Jesus says you cannot be his disciple. Added to this he says, “…any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:33 ESV)

What does God require of you? He wants you to lay down everything and take up your cross and follow him. Anything less and you cannot be his disciple. Without this hate of self and family, without the bearing of your cross, you and I are seen as flavourless salt… and salt that’s not salty is good for nothing!

A simple test of your hatred of self and family in favour of God can be best observed by your focus on your birthday over against your baptism birthday. Which of these two days gets your greater celebration?

Does the brighter spotlight fall on the day you were born, or rather, do you rejoice more over the anniversary of your day of birth into the eternal kingdom of God. Do you celebrate and commemorate the day you were born into your sinfulness or the day you were crucified and buried with Christ, the day you were baptised into his death, the day your sinfulness was defeated and you received eternal life?

Unless you hate your birthday more than the day your cross became Christ’s cross, and pick it up and follow him, you cannot be Jesus’ disciple!

In light of his word here, we start to see the shocking insufficiency of our existence. In fact, some of you are hard up remembering just what date it was when you were baptised, while some of you are questioning his word, trying to side step it, ignore it, or perhaps trying to justify yourself.

What is revealed here is we’re not what we’re meant to be! Humanity has lost its way! Our thinking has become confused and contradicted against the truth of the situation and our real position in this world and with God.

Most of us have come to accept a benign type of Christianity, devoid of anything which might seem offensive to our postmodern ears. However, what might seem to be benign is in fact malignant if you allow the word of God to dig beneath the surface and expose the reality of your human existence.

Is your quest for your idea of life the very thing that’s cutting you off from the life God wants to give you?

You know, it’s not meant to be this way!

In Psalm One, we’re told, “…the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” (Psalm 1:5-6 ESV)

So what is it for you? Are you righteous; one in God’s congregation? Or, are you a perishing sinner?

There’s a number of ways you might respond. First there’s the way of pride. We might look at ourselves all puffed up thinking we’re not doing too badly! Then, there’s the way of brokenness. We might see deep within the darkness of our sin and in shame seek to flee further from God’s presence.

Both of these responses are flawed! They are both equally wrong because answers are sought from within you.

However, there’s another way! The third way! By this path you can be honest! And answer both questions… YES! Yes, I am righteous; I am one in God’s congregation! And yes, I am a sinner! There is a part of me perishing! Thank God it’s being done away with!

Why is this different from a righteous pride that comes from within, or, equally from within, a humiliation that leads to the giving up of hope? It’s different because the twofold yes comes from outside. It allows you to be completely honest knowing yourself as God knows you!

In fact, God knows you better than you know yourself. He knew you before you were born. He knew you before your baptism into Christ’s death on your cross! He even knew you before this world existed. As we’ve heard in Psalm One, the Lord knows the way of the righteous.

Now God calls you to know yourself! Know your nature; be honest with yourself and him. Know you’re dying, but not despair! Rather because of the eternal joy that awaits you, endure the cross of dying, the killing of your sinful nature, and look forward with hope; fully convinced of the future.

To see yourself clothed the way you were meant to be before sin entered the lives of humanity! To see with God given faith, when God looks at you he sees Jesus! To see you covered with the righteousness of Christ. Believing and trusting Christ’s righteousness is the only way of righteousness.

When this happens we will hate what we are, but love what we have become, what we’re becoming, and what we will become in Christ!

We will realise this life is more about death than life and regret and detest it’s like this. But we’ll also see in death what has begun in baptism will be finished and done away with, so true life can begin. We will grow in love in the knowledge Jesus is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. And we will yearn, more and more, to be the same as him.

Today we also hear about Paul, Philemon (fill-ee-mon), and Onesimus (O-ness-ee-mus). Onesimus was Philemon’s slave, and after escaping and being found by Paul, Paul sends Onesimus back to Philemon. But Onesimus is different from what he once was. He’s no longer a slave to sin but is now bound by the Gospel. He had become the same as Saint Paul.

Although we know little about what it’s like to live in a social setting of slavery, we in fact, like Onesimus, were slaves to sinfulness but are being freed from that old bondage.

If we look into ourselves we might seek to flee our slavery like Onesimus, in despair or arrogance. But Onesimus then relied on Paul to win favour with his master, Philemon. Likewise, Christ has won the victory for us and we can rely on him to put us right with God.

We could imagine Onesimus hated his old life as a slave. We too who trust Christ to put us right will detest our old life too. We will hate the way things have become in this world. We will hate who we’ve become, slaves of sin. And because of it long for something much better and trust God is bringing it to fruition in our lives.

In hating ourselves we might learn to truly love who God is re-creating us to be. And then with this Christ-centred love we might love our neighbour as ourselves. We might love and serve one another as Christ loves and serves us. Amen.

 

Pastor Heath Pukallus

Table manners in the kingdom

The Text: Luke 14:1,7-14

Have you ever been involved in planning a wedding? If you have, you would8f5d0040f261ddb1b3f281e00e1385f0 not doubt understand the challenge of sorting out the seating plan. This would have to be one of the most delicate tasks! Who do you seat where? Will this person and that person be okay on the same table? Will this uncle and that cousin be upset by their place? And so on. Together with working out the guest list itself, the seating plan is often the cause of many arguments and sleepless nights!’

Which are the two issues Jesus addresses today, although not deciding where others sit, but deciding where you sit. Which seats to take, and which people to invite, these are Jesus’ two main points of teaching in this text.

But let’s be clear, Jesus’ purpose is not simply to teach the table manners and etiquette of this world, but to teach us about the etiquette of the kingdom of God, to teach us the table manners of the heavenly banquet.

Today we’ll look at this text in three sections: 

First is the word to the invited guests – which focuses on humility.

Second is the word to the inviter, the host – which focuses on hospitality.

And third is to consider the one who speaks these words, Jesus himself.

So first is the word to the invited guests, calling for humility with an eye to God.  

Jesus is at a meal with the religious leaders on the Sabbath, and there was something he saw there which presented a teaching moment.

What he saw, was that at this meal the guests chose the places of honour’.

 So imagine a table, a host and his seat, and certain seats are more distinguished than others, and there’s a bit of maneuvering to get to these seats.

Now this was evidently a favorite past time with the religious leaders, and something Jesus saw as a very serious problem.

Because earlier in this Gospel he had already denounced them for something similar, saying ‘Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces…’ (Luke 11:43)

Then later on in the Gospel he’s going to say it again,

‘Beware of the Scribes… who love the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at feasts…’ (Luke 20:46).

This is a recurring theme of Jesus, something very important.

So on this occasion Jesus uses what he sees as a springboard for a parable.

The parable is of being invited to a wedding banquet.

But at this wedding, the bride and groom don’t arrange place seatings like I said before, but the tables and seats are open, and yet there’s an expectation that people will arrange themselves into the socially appropriate order.

 And in this situation Jesus gives what would seem some fairly common-sense advice, seemingly built on that wisdom we heard from Proverbs 25 today.

He says in that situation don’t take the best seat, because imagine how embarrassing it will be if you need to get moved down.

Have you ever tried to sneak into better seats at the movies or the football or cricket and been asked to move?

It’s terrible, or so I’ve heard!

You pretend you’re all confused and this sort of thing to try and cover it up!

So Jesus says, take a low seat, so that the host can move you up when he comes,

and then you’ll receive real honour, rather than shame.

Have you reflected on how much we still think where we sit when we enter a room?

You know what it’s like, we walk in to some function, we scan around, where should I sit?

And we think, well I’d rather not find myself sitting with that person, oh and I don’t want to get left sitting by myself, oh and if I wait to see where that person sits maybe I can get a seat near them?

We do this sort of thing don’t we?

Jesus has hit on something deep within us here. As the religious leaders jostle for the best seats at the table, and as we recognize this same impulse in us, Jesus doesn’t just see bad manners, he sees the symptom of a spiritual problem.

 The problem is that we think our status, our honour, all depends on us and what we can do to bring it about.

We have this desire to be honoured, to have a certain status in this world

And we worry it’s not going to happen for us, that we’re going to be left behind, and so we want to take matters into our own hands and make sure we get ourselves up to where we need to be?

But Jesus would have us do the opposite, to humble ourselves, to take the lower place.

But notice the incredible end to the parable. Jesus doesn’t finish just by talking about earthly meals, but he speaks expansively showing he’s talking about life in his kingdom.

‘For all who exalt themselves, will be humbled,

And those who humble themselves will be exalted’.

Who’s doing the humbling and exalting here? It’s God.

You could say,

‘All who exalt themselves, God will humble,

All who humble themselves, God will exalt.’

This is very important to see Jesus’ promise attached to his command.

 Jesus doesn’t say, just take the lowly places and be content with that, just humble yourselves and stay down there.

He doesn’t say that.

He doesn’t so much eradicate our desire to be honoured and exalted,

but he redirects it, from human beings to God.

He says I know you want to be honoured, I know you desire a certain status,

but don’t seek it from human beings and don’t try and get it by your own strength,

trust that God will do it for you.

God will move you up higher,

God will exalt you,

God will honour you,

Perhaps even in this life, but especially when it comes to the eternal life with God in never-ending glory.  

 

One of the reasons Jesus teaches us this is that we naturally look at others and where our place is, then we hear the call to be humble, and before you know it instead of looking around at others and our place we begin to look only at our own humility.

But Jesus encourages us to be humble, but all the while looking to God.

So that’s the first word to those invited.

Next Jesus speaks to the inviter, the host, and the focus here is hospitality,

Again with an eye to God.

When Jesus was speaking to those invited about clamouring for seats and that sort of things, I wonder if the host was feeling a bit relieved because he seemed to be off the hook.

He was pretty much the only one there who the parable wasn’t directly aimed at. But then Jesus turns to him and shows how the same problem can present itself from that end too.

Here it’s not about where you sit when invited, it’s about who you invite in the first place. So he says,

‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid.’ 

13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’

So what Jesus is speaking to here is how social interactions and invitations to meals can work as a sort of ‘social currency’ if you like.

I have the right people to a party at my place, they invite me in return, and I get to be seen at the right sort of parties at the right sort of people’s places.

I scratch your back, you scratch mine.

Jesus can evidently see this is what his host was doing with this meal, and he encourages him, and us, in another way.

Instead, invite the outcasts, invite those who won’t normally be invited, invite those who you may even have to go and pick up because they can’t get there themselves.

Invite those who, humanly speaking, have nothing to trade with in this social currency.

Now I don’t think Jesus is forbidding ever having family and friends for meals,

but he doesn’t want it to only ever be that.

 

Let’s think, is there someone on your street, who have never been asked over for a cup of coffee?

Are there people in our own congregation, who may have never been invited to someone’s house for a meal?

Jesus encourages us, to think about our social interactions very differently here.

In the first part of Jesus teaching, the guests look for status by getting the right seats. In this part the host looks for status by having the right guests there, and so getting invited back to be a honoured guest himself by people who know how to return a favour.

But notice again the surprise, that Jesus doesn’t forbid this desire to be repaid.

Instead again, he redirects it to God. He says, 

‘for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’

So Jesus answer to our problem, is not to say you should just invite the poor and know that that is good enough in itself, that’s what we may expect him to say.

But instead he calls us again to do these things with an eye to God, knowing that he will repay you.

So that when the people you invite show up late, they don’t bring that nice bottle of wine, or when they don’t bring anything at all, when they don’t make great conversation, when they leave mud on the carpet, when they overstay their welcome, and you think why on earth did we do this?

Jesus says no don’t worry about that, know that the repayment is not in this life,

God will repay you in the resurrection, in the heavenly banquet that never ends.

Now I know we can get a bit nervous when we hear this talk of repayment in the resurrection, because we treasure the truth that we are only ever saved by grace.

But one way to help us think about it is just to consider human family life. If my child does something kind for another child who doesn’t have many friends, because she knows I’ll be pleased, is that a bad thing? I don’t think so, it’s actually a beautiful thing.

Not only that, but if she’s the worse off for doing this kindness, I will be delighted to make it up to her and more.

Something like this happens with God our Father. 

 So we’ve considered those two main parts of Jesus’ teaching today,


His word to the invited guests,

His word to the host,

now to finish off let’s consider the one who give the teaching.

Where does Jesus fit in here?

Well, as if so often the case, Jesus fulfils his own teaching.

Jesus teaches here on humility.

And this is the same Jesus who said, ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart…’ Matt 11:28.

Jesus, the teacher of humility, is himself the only true humble one.

This is the same Jesus St Paul writes about in Philippians saying,

he ‘humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him’. 

Jesus was entitled to the place of greatest honour in all the universe, yet took the place of ultimate shame, he humbled himself for you, he died for you, even died on a cross, for you.

And as he humbled himself, God exalted him.

In his resurrection and ascension God exalted him, so that as you are in him, you too may be exalted to the right hand of God, to take your seat in the heavenly places.

Jesus calls to humility, and he fulfils his own teaching by being humble unto death.  

Jesus also instructs here on hospitality, on inviting and welcoming the outcasts.

And again, he fulfils his own teaching.

Because this is the same Jesus who ate and drank with sinners, who called to himself those who could not repay him.

And Jesus has welcomed you, Jesus has called you, Jesus has become your host at his banquet, even though there is nothing with which you could ever repay him.

As you repent and turn away from your sins, you humble yourself, and as you believe in Jesus,

In him you are exalted, in him you are blessed, in him you are righteous,in him you have your resurrection,  in him and because of him, you will have your reward.

The one who gives this teaching today on humility and hospitality, ultimately fulfils his own teaching.

So if you’re ever involved in planning a wedding, ‘watch out for the seating plan’, be prepared for some challenges over the guest list.

But more importantly let every meal you are invited to or consider inviting others to, remind you of Jesus’ teaching, not just on earthly table manners and etiquette in this life, but what life is like in his kingdom.

That humility and hospitality are marks of those who live in his kingdom, that we do not need to be concerned about gaining status in this world, by gaining status through our own strength and social maneuvering, for in Jesus God will exalt you, in Jesus God repays you, so in all the earthly banquets, live with an eye to the heavenly banquet to which you are called.

Today you are invited to a foretaste of that feast to come.

Amen.

Honour the Sabbath

The Text: Isaiah 58:13-14.

(Isa 58:13-14) “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from8f5d0040f261ddb1b3f281e00e1385f0 doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honourable, and if you honour it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, {14} then you will find your joy in the LORD, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” The mouth of the LORD has spoken.

(Heb 12:28-29) Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, {29} for our “God is a consuming fire.”

(Luke 13:14-15) Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue ruler said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.” {15} The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water?

 

Today our readings throw out a challenge to us all with regard to our Sunday worship. More to the point, we are called on to reflect on what is our attitude towards Sundays and what and why we do what we do? And on reflecting on these readings this morning we see that we all fall into the dangers that God is making us aware of here. But even more significant is the fact that we are denying God the opportunities that he wants for us.

In light of attendances across the churches, we would do well to reflect on what God has to say to us here. I recognise that there is sickness and many other issues for a number of people, but at the same time the devil and our sinful nature is at work as well. Unless we take these things seriously we too will find ourselves in serious trouble; and we will be denying God the opportunity to bring the blessings that he wants, to us and our nation. He may well level at us the term hypocrite.

As we reflect on this issue then, we see that there are three keys problems that we regularly find at work in our lives and which the devil feeds.

The first one is that we don’t need to take what God has to say with regard to the Sabbath seriously. I’ve heard many comments over the years that go along the lines of: ‘You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian? I can miss a Sunday here and there and it is not going to affect my faith! I have to do this or that on Sunday. Worship is boring. I don’t get on with the people there.’ And the list could go on. Underlying many of these comments is the attitude that we have more important things to do on Sunday, or that we decide what is good and right for ourselves.

The other problem that so often arises and which our Gospel reading places before us, is the legalism that all too often becomes associated with the Lord’s day. ‘You can’t do this or that on the Sabbath! We can only do it this way. It has to be hymns out of the hymn book or it is no good. Or the opposite, ‘We have to move with the society and the times and change everything.’ As long as I … Or, ‘As long as I keep doing [insert pet sin], then I cannot commune because I’m too sinful’ And again, the list could go on. Here underlying it all is the attitude that we must do things just the right way or else we will not receive God’s blessing.

But overarching these problems is that much deeper and more pervasive issue of the fact that we see ourselves as the centre of what the Sabbath is all about. Worship is what we do for God, not first and foremost we he does for us. It is we determining if and when, where and how, we worship, and everything else that has to do with this day. Even right down to what we think is important and what needs to be in our worship services. Or more to the point today, what we can discard and not have. Therein lies the sin of each one of us. We want to be like God and we want to decide for ourselves what we think is good and important. We want to be our own gods. And it is that attitude which brings death. And maybe there is a good indicator as to why the church today is dying in the western world.

However here it is that Jesus reminded the Pharisees of his day, as well as us today, that there is a far more central issue involved here, than what we do and how we do it. This day has to do with us being freed from that which binds us and grinds us into the ground. He speaks of being freed from Satan. It has to do with forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.

It has to do with our Lord and who he is and what he does. It has to do with, as Paul says to the Hebrews:

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

Yes, that is what God has in mind for you and me here this morning and every time we gather here in his presence. He wants to meet with you here, together with all the saints, and he wants to reassure you that you are part of a new covenant where we can have that guarantee that we are forgiven for all our selfishness and sin, and that he has many blessings surrounding that for you and me. God and what he has to offer is what is essential for this life and the next. He is here to do just that and along with that, he gives us the directives that we need for our worship and for life.

Here also remember that he was the one who set aside the Sabbath so that he could allow us to rest in his presence and receive all the good that he has in mind for us. He commands us to ‘Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” That means as Luther says; ‘we should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and his Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.’ We are to use the form of worship that he has set down for us since the early days of the Church.

Here also listen to what he says in our Old Testament reading today.

“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honourable, and if you honour it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the LORD, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” The mouth of the LORD has spoken.

This is just as important for us today as it was back then. So we use this as an opportunity to turn away from doing that which “I” want to do and instead look to him and receive what he has to give. Following his Word, rather than the word of our sinful selves and the world around us. We take on board the fact that he is the “Lord of the Sabbath.” He is the one who is important, and he has much to give us as we live in a world full of temptations and troubles.

So as Paul said to the Hebrews:

See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. [That is Jesus and his word of forgiveness] If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken–that is, created things–so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”

We have a great, awesome, and loving God who calls us week by week into his day of rest and receiving of all the good things that he has in mind for us. Through Word and Sacrament, he seeks to richly bless us. Who then are we to deny him this opportunity? Or do we think that we are greater, stronger and wiser than God almighty, himself? No let us be challenged and encouraged to see the Sabbath as God’s gift to us for our welfare and good. And through it, may all glory and honour go to our great God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

AMEN.

All good things must come to an end.

The Texts: Luke 12:49-56
8f5d0040f261ddb1b3f281e00e1385f0
“All Good Things Are Yet To Come!” 

All good things must come to an end. This is the way we view much of our lives.

As children we all look forward to birthdays, and Christmas celebrations with family. But when it’s time to go home sadness, tears, and tantrums take over because the fun is finished, and all the good things have come to an end.

We part company with our cousins, and the festivities, to return to the mundane everyday motions of life. The division causes distress, the fun never seems to last. It’s takes so long to arrive and then in a flash it’s over. Mum and dad are the agents of division and the destroyers of delight. It’s at this time children would rather be separated from mum and dad and reunited in celebration with their cousins.

This type of sentiment doesn’t end in childhood. We carry on through life looking to live for the moment, or we reminisce over the past. We long for things to be the way they were. We get distressed about what the future might bring – failing bodies, loss of loved ones, loss of our independence, and finally loss of life. Are you anxious, uneasy, or distressed about what you are becoming over time?

Jesus was anxious too! He was distressed but not in the way we are about the future. Rather Jesus’ distress occurred because of the present, and all the while his hope was in what the end of his ministry on earth would bring.

So, Jesus laments in a way which is different to us, he says, “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” (Luke 12:49-51)

Jesus looks forward to finishing what needs to happen. He is torn to the core of his being; he is distressed, until the result is complete. While a quasi-superficial peace exists he is distressed. Until the things we perceive to be good come to an end, there is no peace in Jesus’ heart.

Just like a parent taking distressed kids home after a fun filled day, Jesus knows no peace until God’s children are laid to rest, so we might be rested and refreshed through his rest at the cross and in the grave.

See the problem here is as old as there have been parents and children. There is the constant struggle between those who have age, experience, and wisdom on their side verses the young who lack wisdom but have a whole bundle of energy to burn.

We put recreation before both groups asking, “What is recreation?” and get two very different answers. For some the idea of recreation is to go, go, go! Experiencing action is what recreation is all about! But for others recreation takes on a more subdued event of relaxing, sleeping, and resting the body.

For Jesus recreation is somewhere in between! He was distressed and wanted to go, go, go, but this is so he could get to the place where he was placed in perfect rest, completing his work of recreation.

Now this might seem all a bit confusing to us who live in an age where recreation and holidays have lost their original purpose. And we do well to take the word recreation and stick a hyphen in so we hear recreation as re-creation. Our recreation is a time to be recreated or re-created. So too for holidays! Holidays were once holy-days set apart for a very different purpose than what they’ve become today.

To find the function of holidays and days of recreation, the commandment “Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy” is as good a place as any to begin. After all the Sabbath is where God rested when he finished creation, and it’s where we’re re-created as we rest in God’s presence. And if it’s good enough for God to rest, perhaps we can enjoy the work God gives us in creation, and rest in him to be re-created and made holy as he is holy.

In the Old Testament the Sabbath begun at sundown on Friday and finished at sundown on Saturday. The Sabbath was a day to be re-created, and it was done by resting in the hearing of God’s Word. And so recreation and holidays flow on in the same vein. We are called to enjoy our work while we have it, and look forward to the holidays and days of recreation, not to glorify ourselves and neglect his Word, but to learn and hear it through teaching and preaching, regarding it as holy and therefore bringing glory to God.

How mixed up we have become in these things today! We lament and are distressed by the work God gives us and then when times come for us to be re-created and made holy, we choose to busy ourselves to the point of exhaustion and distress.

When we need re-creation and holiness, we are blinded by our desire for recreation and happiness, and the holidays and days of recreation become difficult days of uneasiness — and dis-ease!

Recreation is meant to lessen our dis-ease, yet for many their pursuit of recreational activities has become a disease! In fact, our distress from the unholiness and chaos of our search for fulfilment exposes the greatest disease of humanity – our sinfulness.

So as life seems to ebb away we become more and more like children at the end of a day of celebration. We become distressed over what is passing away, rather than being distressed over the fact we have become addicted to death and transient things around us. We want to stay and play, wearing ourselves out to the point where we’re so delirious we’ve lost all sight of what God truly intends for us.

Jesus says his coming has brought fire to the earth rather than peace. And this fire comes not only to the world but to us as well. There’s a division within us; a struggle between who you once were, and into whom you are being re-created.

The Holy Spirit delivers the fiery Holy Word of God into our hearts and the battle begins. Jesus seeks to conquer our unbelief, restlessness, and idolatry. Our hearts are receiving the will of God, and subsequently the distress of Jesus dwells in us until our baptism is made complete at the day of our resurrection after our earthly death.

But the old nature doesn’t die easily; it fights and assails us because Christ is in us. Our human nature would have us believe life is about selfishness now! That peace comes from me being number one! We would be at peace if conflict didn’t occur in us. But the reality is we are not living but dying, and for those who allow God to re-create them in Jesus Christ, they are being made his new creations. But it causes distress within as it divides sinner from saint. Like Jesus we are looking forward distressed until the fire of Christ’s fiery baptism of blood on the cross finishes its work of refinement in us. Then life will really being and death will be a thing of the past.

Jesus’ work of recreation divides not only the new believer from the old Adam within. Jesus also says it divides families and communities. Our sin separated Jesus from his Heavenly Father’s love on the cross. He experienced the full gamut of God’s wrath as a result of taking our addiction to death on himself, so we might be joined with the Father.

There are no shades of grey at the cross, Jesus was completely cut off from life, and experienced death in all its viciousness. And so the division continues to this day. We wrestle and struggle with those who choose the opposite from us. The question is this: Am I upholding God’s holiness and re-creation won for me in Jesus’ death, where one day I will be living in eternal peace? Or am I choosing to chase re-creation in unholy things, forsaking Christ’s work on the cross? There’s no halfway here! Either there’s surrender to Christ or surrender to eternal death. And between the divisions there will be an impenetrable void, impassable for all eternity.

So the reality for you is not that all good things are coming to an end but the truly good things are yet to come! Until death is a thing of the past, there will be times of distress, but at the second coming of Christ, we look forward to perfection and joy. Therefore, we’re encouraged as God’s children not to resist him but to be encouraged by all those who have gone before us bearing the forgiveness and faith of God. And so we hear…

…since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. (Hebrews 12:1-4)

Amen.

Your Most Precious Treasure

The Text: Hebrews 11:1-6, 8-16

Your Faith in God Is Your Most Precious Treasure

There is a lot written in our newspapers these days about trust. Our politicalgarth leaders are calling on us to trust them even though many people feel they have betrayed our trust. Perhaps that’s why God’s Word says, “It is better to trust the Lord for protection than to trust anyone else, including strong leaders (Psalm 118:8).” So much of life is a matter of trust. If you don’t have faith in the safety of aeroplanes, you’d be reluctant to fly on them, just as it’s important to trust our doctors for our health’s sake. The playwright G.B. Shaw believes “We have not lost faith, but we have transferred it from God to the medical profession.”

Yet the remarkable thing is that so many people still see their faith in God as their most precious possession. What you believe is the most important thing about you, will make all the difference both for this life and for all eternity. The kind of faith today’s text speaks about is something we can be sure of. We are assured that “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (v1).” Faith in God is defined as a conviction that inspires confidence in God and leads to God-pleasing actions. The first example of God-pleasing faith in Hebrews 11 is that of Abel’s faith-inspired worship of God. The desire to worship God is in itself a significant form of faith. The truest expression of trust in God will always be worship.

A faith that loves to worship God pleases God immensely. One of the best ways of showing our love for someone dear to us is by praising them a lot. We show our love for God by our praise, thanks and adoration of our Creator. We say that actions speak louder than words. Worship is faith in action for the benefit and blessing of both ourselves and those around us. We can worship God on behalf of absent family members, relatives and friends, as we plead with God to be as merciful to them as God has been to us. Our worship of God together seeks to get us thinking more about others than about ourselves. Worship is education in unselfishness. Worship seeks to make us other-centred in our thinking and our actions.

This is what made Abraham’s faith so praiseworthy. His whole life was one great adventure in faith as he obeyed God and left his homeland for Canaan. Although Abraham engaged in lies and deceit on more than one occasion, his faith enabled him to think of others and put their needs ahead of his own. Abraham let his nephew Lot choose the better land for his flocks and herds. When God informed Abraham that He was going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham interceded on their behalf and pleaded with God to spare them. God encouraged Abraham to listen to his wife Sarah and heed what she said. “Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you (Genesis 21:12).”

Sarah’s faith in God enabled her to make great sacrifices. She had to wait a long, long time before she became a mother. At first she laughed at the impossibility of becoming a parent in her old age. But when God said, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”, her misgivings turned into faith as she looked forward to God fulfilling His promise. We’re told that she received strength to conceive because “she judged that God who has promised would keep faith (v11).” When her son Isaac was born, Sarah confesses, “God has brought laughter for me (Genesis 21:6).”

The heroes of faith celebrated in Hebrews 11 are less models for us than they are part of that great “cloud of witnesses” already in our Lord’s presence, urging us on to run the race of faith with diligence and single-mindedness. “And what of ourselves? With all these witnesses to faith around us like a cloud, we must throw off every encumbrance, every sin to which we cling, and run with resolution the race for which we are entered, our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom faith depends from start to finish: Jesus who, for the sake of the joy that lay ahead of Him, endured the cross, making light of its disgrace, and has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-2).”

Abraham is mentioned seventy two times in the New Testament. The writers of the New Testament believed that Christ’s coming into our world has made it possible to recapture the pristine faith of Abraham, a faith that continually pleases God. God’s Son, Jesus Christ, made it easier for us to believe by becoming one of us. The God we believe in, love and trust, is a Christlike God. Jesus Christ is God with a human face and a human heart, overflowing with a love for you that is both human and divine.

Faith in our Lord expects great things from Him. Expect little from your Saviour and you will receive little, but if you come with eager expectation, you will be blessed beyond all your expectations. In the Gospels, our Lord honours the faith of all who come to Him for mercy and help. When two blind people come to our Lord asking Him to have mercy on them, Jesus asks them, “Do you expect that I am able to do this?” After they say, “Yes, Lord”, Jesus responds, “According to your faith let it be done to you.”

The first thing that Jesus seeks from those who come to Him is faith. Faith in Christ alone is so powerful it suffices initially in the absence of other virtues. Often Jesus first wants faith, before He performs a miracle. Faith in Jesus needs to be constantly fed if it isn’t going to shrivel up and die. God’s Word says, “Faith comes from what is heard and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ (Romans 10:17).”

Christ-centred preaching strengthens our convictions about our Lord and all He has done for us and seeks to still do for us. Faith enables us to view life differently from those with no faith. Faith in our Lord gives us both insight and super-sight. Jesus said to Martha, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see God’s glory (John 11:40)?” In other words, “believing is seeing”. Faith enables us to see God all around us where we didn’t see Him before. Faith involves believing in advance what often only makes sense in hindsight. We cannot rely on our feelings, but we rely on God’s promises to sustain our faith in our Lord. We can trust God to keep His promises. Our prospects for the future are as bright as the promises of God.

One Monday a man went to his pastor to complain: “Yesterday I was filled with joy in the service but now all is gone and I do not know what to do. All is dark as night.”

His pastor replied, “I’m glad!”

“Glad?” asked the astonished man, “Glad! What do you mean?”

His pastor continued, “Yesterday, God gave you joy, and today He sees you are resting on your emotions instead of on the promises of Christ.”

You see, our feelings are like the weather; they change from time to time. They’re not necessarily reliable indicators of the state of our faith. When we feel depressed about our faith, we must focus on our Lord’s promises like John 10:27-28:”My sheep hear My voice. I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of My hand.”

For the person stressed and worried about how she’s going to care for her elderly parents, God gives a promise: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13).”

For the parents fearful about where their wayward child is, worried about whom he is with and what he is doing, He gives a promise: “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you (Hebrewws13:5).”

For the out-of-work person desperate to get a job, God offers a promise: “For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11).”

William James, a great psychologist, described a time in his early life when he was in the grip of a deep despair. “Fear was so incisive and powerful that if I had not clung to Scripture texts like “The eternal God is my refuge”, and “Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden”, and “I am the resurrection and the life”, I think I should really have gone insane.”

Our faith is sustained and strengthened by constant exposure to God’s Word, on which we can fully rely and completely trust. At present we walk by faith and not by sight. But one day soon, faith will give way to sight.

“So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).”


“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13).” Amen.

Better a Poor Farmer Than a Rich Fool

The Text: Luke 12:13-21

Few things are sadder than 20180311_103505 (1)family members fighting over an inheritance. The possibility of gaining from a substantial inheritance can turn lambs into wolves. Imagine interrupting a sermon to seek help to get more wealth! That’s what the brother in today’s Gospel does. In dispute over assets, this man wants Jesus to decide in his favour. Both brothers are captive to covetousness. The man with the lion’s share of the inheritance could have divided it equally with his brother.

No mediating of one dispute by our Lord will solve the deeper problem of the human heart. People who covet what they don’t have are unaware of their covetous attitude. A priest has reported that in 25 years of hearing confessions, he’s heard every sin confessed except that of covetousness! The man who seeks Jesus’ help wants the broken relationship between he and his brother finalised by complete separation. Jesus points out that He hasn’t come as a divider. He’s come as a reconciler. He wants to reconcile people to each other, not to finalise divisions between them. Reconciliation will require the petitioner to gain a new perspective on himself.

Receiving his portion of the inheritance won’t solve the antagonism between the brothers, for the issue is greed rather than justice. Jesus’ parable seeks to change human hearts, to free them from being possessed by their possessions. His story of a “successful” farmer is a subversive story. It calls into question so much of what we hold dear in our culture. Our culture holds up successful people as an inspiration for us. Any book with the words How To Succeed In …   in the title is assured of large popularity.

The farmer in today’s Gospel is an outstanding success in earthly terms. But Jesus calls him a dismal failure in what really matters, what matters eternally. The irony of success is that it can limit as well as expand our horizons. This farmer was locked in by his success. What he’s mastered had come to master him. No other story is so full of “I” disease. In its short space, there are eight “I”s  and four “my”s.  All goes well for him in his business. His wealth isn’t ill-gotten. There’s no mention of him being a bad employer. Many people see nothing wrong with his attitude. After all, he’s acting with prudence and common sense. Our modern society would consider him an eminent success.

It is significant that in light of the gregarious nature of life then, the rich man dialogues only with himself. He has no one else with whom he talks. He consults no neighbour or friend to exchange ideas. His speech is pitiful. This affluent person has arrived! He has made it! And he needs an audience for his arrival speech. He exclaims, “Who will rejoice with me?” He can only address himself, his only audience!

This self-serving individual deals only with things – things like the bigger barns he’ll build, the profit he’ll make from selling his grain when the prices go up, and the richer selection of food and drink for himself to indulge in. The greatest good he can imagine in life is maximising his own pleasure. It never enters his head to give to the needy, or to assist the poor. He has no need of anyone else. He lives only for himself. Not only does he give no thought to thanking God for his huge harvest, he reveals that he’s forgotten that his own body is mortal and he won’t necessarily live on for many years. The existence of others has totally dropped out of the picture. His formula for the “good life” is sheer stupidity. He cannot take any of his immense possessions into the grave with him. In his hour of greatest need, all his possessions will prove of no use to him.

Though this man may have had nothing to say to God, God had something to say to him: “You fool! This very night your life is being required of you (v.20).” The verb “to require” is used for the return of a loan. His life was on loan and now God, the Owner, wants the loan returned. Jesus makes it clear that our lives are not our own to do with as we like, but are a gift from God. God thunders to the rich farmer: “Look at what you’ve done to yourself! You plan alone, build alone, indulge alone and now you’ll die alone.”  The man doesn’t know who will end up with his assets and riches after his death. A fool is someone whose plans end at the grave. Was there ever a more searching question concerning the meaning of life than our Lord’s question, “What does it profit any of us if we gain the whole world, but lose our lives? (Luke 9:25)”

There are few things our Lord condemns more than greed. He attacks the false evaluation of life in economic terms. As if we can measure life in such narrow terms! Greed prevents so much generosity from occurring. Greed never delivers all the benefits it promises, benefits like peace of mind, security and happiness. We need five things for a reasonably contented life: (1) food; (2) clothing; (3) shelter; (4) medical care; and (5) the means to purchase the first four things. Jesus doesn’t oppose an appreciation of the good things of life. The best way to enjoy all the good things God has given us is by thanking Him for them. Nothing sustains joy and happiness better than gratitude.

“It is good to give thanks to the Lord” for life and health and daily food. “Life doesn’t consist in the abundance of possessions.” Life consists in the abundance of God’s undeserved goodness to us. God’s goodness is first of all evident in His gifts of family, friends, and neighbours. Where would any of us be without all that our grandparents, parents and siblings have done for us? Relationships with others are the true God-given riches of life. Relationships take time to keep together. Sadly, we see marriages breaking apart because couples are not spending sufficient time with each other. We hear of children becoming estranged from their mothers and fathers, because their busy parents haven’t spent sufficient time with them.

Advertisers give people unrealistic expectations of the benefits of material goods and possessions. God never meant these things to be the focus and goal of life. A TV interview with someone who had lost his home and possessions in a fire provides a vivid contrast to the rich fool in Jesus’ parable. He recalled that his brother had recently said they should avoid letting their possessions possess them. The victim of the house fire announced to the TV reporter with a note of unexpected triumph: “I am a free man now!” Jesus can free us from being enslaved to our possessions.

Jesus came into our world to help us become rich toward God. We become rich before God when we accept God as the Giver, and all we have as His gifts to us. We’re rich as far as God is concerned when we see the existence of everyone else in our lives as God’s gifts to us. We see and acknowledge faith, hope and love as life’s true riches, and Jesus Christ as God’s crowning gift to us. Thank God, His Son Jesus Christ shares the riches of His love, goodness and glory with us. “For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9).” Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life in all fullness and richness (John 10:10).” It’s a life too rich and wonderful to end in death. Let this good news of great joy possess you and overwhelm you with all its glorious possibilities.

Those who are contented with what God has given them are truly rich indeed. What better can we hope for in this life than God-given contentment? “Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these (1 Timothy 6:6-8).” The more grateful we are for all we have already, the more contented we will be. Saying “I love you” as often as possible to those near and dear to us fills them with a sense of contentment. We can be content in the knowledge that what God chooses for us is better than what we may choose for ourselves.

Better a poor farmer than a rich fool!

“Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that He has promised to those who love Him? (James 2:5)”

Amen.

The Good News about Prayer

Text: Luke 11:1-13

It’s wonderful, isn’t it, when someone tells you they’re remembering you inchurch4 their prayers. It can lift your spirits marvellously and transform your day. Today’s Gospel encourages us to pray. It seeks to impress on us that our prayers are welcomed by God and responded to as He sees best. Prayer is an essential part of being a Christian. Faith in our Lord and praying to Him belong inseparably together. Prayer isn’t just one expression of faith among others. To believe is to pray, because prayer is our response to God speaking to us in grace and love. The deepest expression of faith is to seek good things from God in prayer. So then think highly of your prayers, because we have God’s Word to trust that He welcomes them and encourages them.

God wants the best for you. He responds to your prayers in ways that are best for us. In prayer God either gives us what we ask for or something better. The great tragedy isn‘t unanswered prayer, but unoffered prayer. God won’t let your prayers be for nothing or be wasted. Our spiritual safety and protection lie only in prayer. It’s the strongest shield we have against the devil. Prayer is the door through which God enters our home, our workplace and our community, in order to bless us in unexpected ways. When we pray we’re, as it were, sitting at Jesus’ feet speaking to Him as one friend to another. Prayer is an expression of Jesus’ friendship with us and our friendship with Him.

Prayers in the Bible display a fervour and frankness not often seen in prayers today. They remind us that God seeks honesty from us in our prayers. God is thrilled when we honestly face ourselves and bring our real needs to Him. The weaker our faith, the more essential is prayer. The degree of our faith is the degree of our praying. Luther said, “Prayer is the most important thing in my life. If I should neglect prayer for a single day, I should lose a great deal of the fire of faith.” No one can say their prayers are poor when they’re using the language of love. There’s nothing that can lead us to love someone as much as prayer can. The most important purpose of prayer may be to let God love us as He listens to us. What a wonderful expression of love listening to someone is!

Prayer changes us in ways we never dreamed of, for the blessing and benefit of those around us. A bad prayer is better than no prayer at all because we learn to pray by praying. When we’re feeling low, prayer seeks to take us out of ourselves and into our Saviour’s healing presence. For prayer is first of all about communion with our Lord to maintain, sustain and strengthen our friendship with Him. It’s more about having a conversation with Him than about presenting Him with a shopping list. Prayer is both a gift and a duty. The Lord’s Prayer is His gift of grace to us. It is one of the greatest treasures of our Christian Faith.

Jesus’ disciples had recently heard Jesus pray a prayer of thanksgiving to His heavenly Father. So now in order to pray like Jesus did, they ask Him, “Lord, teach us to pray.” This is the only time they ask Jesus to teach them anything. Jesus knows of no better prayer He can give us. He gives it to us in two versions with the version in St. Luke’s Gospel slightly shorter than the one in Matthew 6. In this prayer, Jesus lists the things we need to pray about every day. The purpose of the petitions is that we’ll never have an excuse not to pray. The Lord’s Prayer opens our eyes to our real needs. In the first two petitions, Jesus invites us to identify with Him as God’s Son. In the next three petitions, our Lord identifies with us and our human needs.

Jesus prayed in a revolutionary way, by addressing God as “Father”. He used the title and form of address of “Father” for God more than any other. By doing so, Jesus changed the way people viewed God. “Abba” means “Dear Father”, that is, God as someone near and easy to approach rather than someone distant and aloof from us. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus invites us to either address God as “our Father in Heaven” or “Father (Luke 11:21).” A father is someone who is close at hand and approachable at all times. The Father whom Jesus reveals to us is the Father of prodigal children who continues to think fondly of us even when we’ve wandered away from him. He’s our ever-present help in trouble who sympathizes with us in our distress and wants to share it with us.

Fathers delight in giving to their children. So our heavenly Father wants above all to give us the Holy Spirit to pray for us when we’re weak and vulnerable. Our heavenly Father acts towards us as His Son Jesus acted towards little children, the sick and the needy. If someone wants to know what God is like, we point them to Christ. Our God is a Christlike God. Jesus said, “Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father (John 14:9).” He is a model for earthly fathers. There’s no one more like a father than God. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus reveals to us a Father who provides for our daily needs, forgives and protects us. Fathers know what their children want, but love it when they ask for these things. So it is with our Father in heaven. “Father! To God Himself we cannot give a holier name (Wordsworth)” That’s why Jesus wants us to honour God’s name and treat it with reverence and awe. To love and honour His name is to love and praise Him. God’s name represents His nature, His works and words. Jesus hallowed God’s name by showing us why God is worthy of our worship, honour and glory. God’s power is released on us when we do that. God’s holiness is revealed when He reveals His glory to us, especially in and through His Son Jesus. His glory is part of the majesty and beauty of His holiness.

God has vested His name on us as His children. His reputation is at stake in how we live. We praise and adore His name in our worship together because His name for us is all about His gifts of hope and love, joy and forgiveness. We hallow His name by eagerly hearing His Word and gladly putting it into daily practice.

Where God’s name is so honoured, there His Kingdom with all its unique blessings embraces us. Wherever Jesus went, He brought the good news of His Kingdom to those who welcomed Him. The secret of God’s Kingdom is that its King is our Father. Jesus says to us, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.” Through baptism we’re brought into God’s royal household as His adopted children. God advances His Kingdom through its embassies, our churches, and through us as its ambassadors. As its ambassadors, we pass on and promote God’s work of reconciliation so that living in reconciliation with one another, the routines of daily life can become celebrations of love. “In the Kingdom of God, eating and drinking aren’t important. The important things are living right with God, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17).”

The next petition concerns our daily needs, which Jesus wants us to pray about. “Give us day by day our daily bread”. The technological development of our modern world only seems to increase our sense of insecurity. The more scientific our world becomes, the more insecure we feel. God wants us to trust that He will provide for both today and tomorrow’s needs. “Our bread” reminds us of the unselfish nature of Christian prayer. We pray the Lord’s Prayer for each other, on behalf of one another. There’s no room for any prayer that seeks advantage over someone else. Gandhi said, “There is enough food in our world for everyone’s need, but not for anyone’s greed.”

“Daily bread” involves everyday necessities, not luxuries. It includes caring fathers and mothers, healthy children, pleasant people to work with, good government, good friends and good weather. Here we acknowledge that God is behind all that goes right in our lives each day. Instead of taking everyday blessings for granted, this petition leads us to receive them with gratitude. “We are conscious of that, in normal life, so much more has been received than we have given, and that it is gratitude that first makes life rich (Bonhoeffer).”

We need God’s forgiveness, God’s most characteristic quality as our heavenly Father, as much as we need daily bread. Forgiveness is God’s barrier-breaking, future-opening gift to us. “Where there is forgiveness of sins, there is life and blessedness.” Forgiveness meets our longing to make a fresh start in our relationships with God and with one another. Forgiveness means you can live as if today is the first day of your life, because God promises to remember no more the sins He has forgiven. Passing on God’s forgiveness to each other frees us from past hurts and resentments and helps our love for one another to grow warm instead of cold. A school boy, after confessing his sins to his school chaplain, was reassured of God’s love and forgiveness. He then rushed outside and turned cartwheels right across the football pitch. The reassurance of God’s forgiveness can make us want to turn cartwheels of joy, in spirit at least. What a priceless expression of love is forgiveness!

“Save us from the time of trial” is our battle cry. We realise how easily we can be tempted to sin. Here we need our Father’s help more than anywhere else. It’s a prayer we pray for each other as well, realising how vulnerable we are to giving in to what we know is wrong. Here we pray that we won’t be caught off guard when we’re tired or depressed, but ask Jesus to pray for us as He has promised. Jesus prays on your behalf to His heavenly Father: “I am not asking You to take them out of the world, but I ask You to protect them from the Evil One (John 17:15).” God’s Word reassures you, “No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing He will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13).”

Victory over a time of temptation and testing brings you closer to Christ and more grateful than ever for all that He has done for you. When you then face temptation, pray passionately, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner”. God knows how to rescue you from temptation in ways that may surprise you. In this petition, we pray that we will always remain citizens of God’s eternal Kingdom until we hear our Saviour’s words, “Come, O blest of My Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you (Matthew 25:34).”

In conclusion, remember if you’ve had an earthly parent who let you down, God is the most reliable Father you can have. “There’s no one more like a Father than God is (Tertullian).” Amen.