Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

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

david3
David:0414521661

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

:Children’s Talk

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

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

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

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

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

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

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

Overview of the gospel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hayden Blaess.

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rev. Hayden Blaess

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Luke 10:1-11,16-20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Third Sunday after Pentecost

Luke 9:51-62

The cost of following Jesus

A young mum and her daughter attended the first three nights of the congregation’s Christmas celebration.johnmac

Normally the congregation hosted a week-long event of music, entertainment and fun that shares the good news of Jesus’ birth in new and vibrant ways.

The local pastor sat down with her on the third night while her daughter played games with the other kids. He thanked her for bringing her family so regularly. She was appreciative of the opportunity to have some fun and she really liked the music… even the children’s Christmas pageant.

The pastor invited her to the Christmas Eve worship, offering her the small brochure of the Christmas worship schedule. She refused. “No thanks,” she said. “We like the fun things, but we are not religious.” The pastor persisted with a smile. She grinned back and said, “No offense, but most of this religious stuff seems to me to be a load bulldust!” She wasn’t aggressive. She just spoke her heart and then went back to the festivities with her daughter.

The gospel heading today was the “cost of following Jesus.” Was that the issue for this woman? Or what about this man? He was a farmer and a good one at that. He was a morally and ethically sound person. He was a sort of a bloke who would give the shirt off his back and race ahead of you into a burning building to save your kids. He had never been part of a Christian church but wouldn’t begrudge your membership and participation. He wouldn’t belittle your worship or following of Jesus, but wouldn’t join in. He doesn’t see a need. He openly marvels at the hurtful and often foolish things churches and Christians do. He takes life as it comes and complains about life’s hardships a lot less than many of his neighbouring Lutheran farmers.
Know anyone like that?

We struggle just as much today with the issue of following Jesus as the people did when he walked this earth!
And I could give you story after story of the confusion and ignorance and indifference that is reflected in people today – just like so many of the responses Jesus experienced during his earthly ministry. Luke’s Gospel account is concerned about that reality, as it recalls the life and work of Jesus. For the young missionary church of the early centuries, it gave them insights for living in a very difficult and changing environment. No less for us today. God wants us, the continuing mission church in the 21st Century, to learn from this account also. Today’s sermon text is at the point in Luke’s Gospel where Jesus sets his face to Jerusalem. He is going up to Jerusalem. He sends his messengers ahead of him – people who tell of his coming, people who prepare the way before him. They go to a Samaritan village and are not received. They are turned away. So, James and John, two of the disciples, want to burn to cinders these negative, rejecting Samaritans for their unbelief. Not a particularly good response from them either. And Jesus doesn’t support their idea at all. In fact, he tells the two of them in no uncertain terms. So, they just continue on their way elsewhere. Some people come to Jesus and they offer to follow him, they want to be his disciples. At last some progress in mission it seems! But what does Jesus do? He basically sends them away! He throws up a big reality check in front of them.

“Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
To another he said, “Follow me.” “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” To yet another Jesus said: “No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

When people come and want to follow Jesus – he goes and sends them away! What is going on here? We could understand it if, at this particular point, the disciples began to ask themselves whether following Jesus was anything like what they had expected or hoped it would be.  Is it worth it, if he is so determined to go up to Jerusalem? Is it worth it if no one wants him, if he is just going to go on being rejected? Is it worth it if he is just going to turn prospective followers away?Perhaps you can understand how they may have felt.

Haven’t we been going on for years about mission in our church, and all that seems to be happening is that we are shrinking and getting older and greyer with each passing year? We are still hesitant at welcoming the stranger in our midst. We don’t seem to find it any easier to invite others to the faith. Sometimes we struggle to have a clear vision or understanding about what we are really supposed to be on about, as a Christian church in the community. And on top of that, we are living in a society that is becoming increasingly cynical about the church – more and more people openly state they have no faith, more and more people are turning to alternative faiths, and fewer people are regularly attending church.

What’s the point!
This Christian stuff!
Is it worth it?
And I am sure that you could add a few personal experiences to this.

Many of us have probably had a few moments in life where we have wondered – what’s the point in believing, or trusting so much, or hanging in there so desperately when things just don’t ever seem to work out or get better, or change even a little bit for the good? How many of you have sat at the bedside of loved ones and prayed and prayed for their recovery – and it has seemed to no avail? Have you reasoned with a child – a teenager – to change their way of life, or to come back to church, and it hasn’t happened? Have you prayed for a loved one to come to faith, maybe for years, without any apparent indication that your prayers are being answered? Maybe you wanted some changes in your own life, some problem you wanted to overcome, some shameful sin you wanted to be rid of, some temptation you just did not want to experience any more. And just when you think you’ve made it; you find you’re back at square one again. You are still stuck with it, just like Paul’s thorn in the flesh that he never seemed to be able to get rid of.

So, this Christian stuff, this mission stuff, is it worth it?
Why not just leave people alone – let them believe what they want?
Just let things be what they will be. Who cares?

But even that does not work for us, does it? Not when you have been touched yourself by the love and grace of Jesus. Something happens to you that you just cannot turn away from. You’re still a Christian, aren’t you, despite everything you have struggled with in life? In fact, sometimes those struggles make us even more convinced and committed than we were before. More than ever, we pray for and hope in and believe in and work for the mission of the church in our day and age and world.

What is it that makes it still worthwhile, and still gives us a heart for telling others, and wanting their lives touched by Jesus as well? It can only be the One who goes to Jerusalem, and to the cross, and who goes with us still.

For out of the Jerusalem experience of Jesus you come to the only faith and conviction that is possible – that this Jesus is not just one of the prophets, another one who was slain by the people of Jerusalem, but this Jesus is no less than the Son of God Himself, who has come to this sin-filled world to show us his love, his acceptance of us, his commitment to walk with us through this world and everything it can throw at us, to finally take us to be with him where he is.

He will not let us go!
God will not let us go.

God will go through everything he has to go through to stay at our side, walk with us, carry us, comfort our hearts, save us and give us hope.

Jesus was God at work in this world, working solely for us fallen beings and our eternal future. If I don’t see that as true, then I deny all faith and belief in God and commit myself to nothing – which in reality means I will be led by every passing whim, as the saying goes, “if you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything”.

However, if I receive God’s revelation as true, that Jesus is God in the flesh, come down for me and my salvation, then I have no other place to go. My only hope is to follow him and be with him, because where God is – that is the only place that true hope can live. And that is the only thing that can make the difference.

The only thing that makes this Christian stuff worthwhile, the only thing that gives us a reason for mission, the only thing that gives us any reason to hang in there in suffering or rejection or failure or whatever.

Because God came in the person of Jesus Christ to be with us – not to turn this world into some kind of paradise – but to be with us in this world, here and now, so that we could be with him in the world to come.

And because of Jesus, God will not let anything take us away from him – not rejection or hatred or suffering or loss of family or friends or poverty or homelessness or even death.
Nothing will be allowed to take us away from him.

Nothing can separate us from Christ and his love!

So, we can keep telling others the wonderful good news of how God has come to our rescue through Jesus. We can keep praying for our families, or our suffering loved ones, because God in Jesus is also there for them, and in doing so, we can help them to come to see that and believe it. When you come to know God through Jesus, when he touches your heart and becomes your God – there is nowhere else you can go or be. And nothing will stop you being there with Him – not family or homelessness, or poverty, or rejection.

Your priorities will change. Because God has come to you – in Jesus! Amen

 

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

26th Sunday after Pentecost 18th November

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

25th Sunday after Pentecost 11th November

The Widows Mite, More Than It Appears To Be

Text: Mark 12:38-44

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

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

  1. Recognize The Source Of Pride.                                                                           

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

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

  1. Know the Strength of Humility.                                                                                

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

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