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

 

22nd Sunday after Pentecost 21st October

   Jesus said, “among you it should be different.  Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all. For even I, the Son of Man, came here not to be served but to serve others, and to give my life as a ransom for many.”

History tells us that when World War I broke out in Europe, davidthe Prime Minister of Australia offered the Australian Commonwealth to do all they could to back Great Britain. He asked what was the most useful thing Australia could do.  The reply came-“Build us ships: we need ships.” The Australians did not build ships.

Instead, they did what Australians do best.  They began to till the fields, sow seed, and reap harvests to send food to England. Grain was gathered, put into sacks, and brought down to the water’s edge to wait for the ships. But the ships never came.  And as the grain rotted on the docs Australia prepared to go to war. 

All the same, Great Britain cried out for, “Ships! ships! ships!”  With all due respect to our Commonwealth,  Australia only had to “obey the call.”

But it seems that ever since the rebellion of Adam and Eve, “obedience” has become less and less important in the minds of people.  And obedience is a lost art today. We see it all around us.  Kids don’t seem to obey their parents. Employees don’t like to listen to their bosses. Patients often won’t follow their doctors.  People even seem to struggle with simple obedience to the laws of our neighbourhoods.  

The word ‘obey’ is probably considered worse than most other four-letter words today. It seems that society associates obeying someone with slavery. However, in our Christian experience,  “obey” is far from a dirty word. It does not mean inferiority. It is something that God encourages.  And yet, of the 2340 references I found in the Bible to obedience, only about 10% of those are in the New Testament.  And even then, it is an invitation to follow Christ Jesus, and listen to our conscience, trained by the Holy Spirit, using the double edge sword of the Scriptures. 

In Christ Jesus, we have freedom.  Freedom to disagree with society and become obedient servants of our Saviour.  Freedom to care for our neighbour, our family, and our friends.  Recognising ‘political correctness’ as another failure to obey Christ Jesus.

For Christians, it is a blessing to hear the words of Jesus saying, ‘among you it should be different.’  And to discover the words of Hebrews,  ‘even though Jesus is God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered.’  When Jesus encourages us to take up our crosses and follow him, he is calling us to see every discouragement, every challenge, every suffering as an opportunity to be obedient servants.

So what does it mean to be an obedient servant?  When I look at the fruit of the Holy Spirit blossoming in our lives, I find the job description of an obedient servant.  Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

As Paul tells us in Romans, ‘We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord. For even Christ didn’t live to please himself.’ (Romans 15:2-3)

And also in Ephesians, ‘I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.’ (Ephesians 4:1-3)

As we allow the Holy Spirit to dominate our attitudes toward God and toward each other, the servant-heart of obedience grows stronger in us every day. 
But we will never get it perfect.  We will still make mistakes along the way. We will find ourselves repenting over and over for our short-comings. 

As Martin Luther indicated, ‘The old Adam was drowned in our baptism, but “the old Adam is a mighty good swimmer,” and keeps popping up.’  That doesn’t mean that we should just give up.  That we should stop listening to our conscience.  But we should let our lives be the battlefield of our obedience to our Lord and Saviour.  So when we meet him, we will hear the words,  ‘good and faithful servant.’ 

After all, we have the armour of God to prepare us for the confrontation with our temptations and confusions.  And we have the valiant warrior of the Holy Spirit to guide us along the pathways of obedience.

We can hold onto the example of Job.  When he became the object of the devil’s wrath, he remained obedient to God.  When he became the object of ridicule of his friends and his wife, he remained obedient to God.  When he entered a dialogue with God asking “why”, he still remained obedient.  And God responded, “Where were you” when God created the universe and set his plan into motion.  In all his suffering, Job was reminded that we can never fully know God’s reasons or his plan.  But God has revealed enough to us in his precious Word, to allow us to keep faith in Jesus Christ, and remain obedient to God’s will for each of us.

We live every day, counted among the righteous, because of the gift of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.    

Our Lord who has made the way for us to be counted among those with a right relationship with our Lord.   

Our Lord, Jesus Christ, has earned our honour our praise, and our obedience.   We have a purpose in living, and it isn’t just about us. Our Saviour calls us to the obedience of servant-hood as children of God, and Disciples of our Saviour.    Through Jesus we have real significance.  Through him we are sons and daughters of the creator of all.  Through Him we have the freedom to be servants.

We come here, in the very presence of the King of Creation, to be blessed by the High Priest, who offers us forgiveness and life eternal.  Jesus Christ himself.

He comes to us in the Word.  He comes to us in the Sacraments.  Here Jesus puts His own life and strength and Spirit in each of us.  Here the Great Servant King provides us with the strength that we need to be obedient servants.  The humility to give ourselves over to the power and authority of God.  The courage to let  the Holy Spirit grow us to be the best people we can be. 

It is in our response to Jesus Christ that we honour God in all the ways he reaches out to us.  As one example goes, ‘Sir Leonard J. Wood once visited the king of France and the king was so pleased with him he was invited for dinner the next day. 

Sir Leonard went to the palace.  But the king, meeting him in one of the halls, said, “Why Sir Leonard, I did not expect to see you. How is it you are here?”  The astonished guest responded with humility, “Did not your majesty invite me to dine with you?”

“Yes,” replied the king, “but you did not answer my invitation.”    Then it was that Sir Leonard Wood uttered one of the choicest sentences of his life. He replied, “A king’s invitation is never to be answered, but to be obeyed.” ’  (Emphasis, Vol. 24, No. 3, September-October 1994 (Lima, OH: CSS Publishing Co., Inc.), pp. 48-49)

As one of our beloved hymns says,

When we walk with the Lord,
In the Light of his word,
What a glory he sheds on our way!
While we do his good will,
He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way,
to be happy in Jesus, But to trust and obey.

And it ends with the words:
Then in fellowship sweet, we will sit at his feet,
Or we’ll walk by his side in the way;
What he says, we will do; Where he sends we will go,
Never fear, only trust and obey.

The grace and peace of our Triune God keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen

Rev. David Thompson

21st Sunday after Pentecost 14th October

 

Text: Hebrews 4:15-16 (CEV)
Jesus understands every weakness of ours, because he was tempted in every way that we are. But he did not sin!  So whenever we are in need, we should come bravely before the throne of our merciful God. There we will be treated with undeserved kindness, and we will find help.

God knows One of the complaints often heard about our politicians is that they lose touch with johnmacwhat is happening in the ‘real world’. What we mean is that the longer women and men spend in the elite “corridors of power” the more likely they are to lose an awareness of what it is like to be an ordinary citizen. The announcement that the Prime Minister will make a flying, rushed, two day visit to a rural area to become acquainted with the “grass roots,” is met with a good deal of cynicism. The same goes for the occasional visits of cabinet ministers to a factory floor or a steel mill. It might be a good PR photo opportunity for the politician but does little to acquaint the person with what is happening in the lives of ordinary people.

This sort of comment is made about the hierarchy of the church across all denominations as well. Maybe it’s part of what we call the “tall poppy syndrome” but there remains the perception that church bureaucracy regardless of the skills of the leaders can so easily lose touch with the hopes and fears of ordinary Christians.

Is it possible that the same kind of criticism can be levelled at God?
How can the God of the heavens be in touch with the ordinary lives of you and me?
How can God empathise with our little minds, with our fierce hopes and nagging anxieties?
Isn’t God too big, too far away, too almighty (if you like) to know and appreciate what it is that bothers us and fills our hearts with fear.

Many feel that way. They feel it, even though they may never be game to say it aloud. Some of the great people of the Bible, people like Job, the writers of the Psalms, and Elijah, have expressed how God seemed to be so distant and uninvolved in their problems. At one time we find Elijah escaping into the desert hunted by the soldiers of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. He collapsed under a large tree exhausted and disillusioned, believing that God didn’t care or didn’t understand what was happening to him. He exclaimed, “I’ve had enough. I just want to die”.

Have you ever wondered why praying to Mary and the saints is so popular to so many Christians. One of the reasons is that such souls are able to understand what it’s like to be human, struggling in this unpredictable and often unjust world. Many of the saints lived in complicated and unfair circumstances and received what they didn’t deserve even though they lived godly lives. So it’s easy to unburden your heart to your favourite saint trusting them with your prayers because they know what it’s like to feel life’s injustices.

I believe at some time all of us experience the gulf between God and us and we shouldn’t just pass it off as a moment of doubt or weakness. Especially those moments in our lives when things happen that we don’t understand. There are certain events and circumstances that happen that don’t make any sense to us at all. They seem unfair, unreasonable, irrational, unkind and cruel. We can’t see any good in what is happening at all. It is just at this time that God and his love seem to be so distant.

We call to God. We want answers. We want to understand. We want things to change. But we don’t hear what we want to hear; we hear only a still small voice whispering to us as it did to Elijah assuring us that in spite of everything God has not abandoned us. That small voice of God might be a friend trying to reassure and comfort us but in the confusion of the moment that’s not the answer we are seeking.

Is it true that God doesn’t understand what we really want and need? Is he really out of touch?

How can God know what it’s like to be a teenager constantly confronted with drugs and alcohol and wild parties and raging desire?

Can God appreciate how it feels to be 48 years old and to lose your job where you have worked your guts out for years? And when you look for another job you’re regarded as “over the hill” because of your age and unemployable.

Or how can God comprehend what it’s like to keep up with our money centred culture?  What does God know about paying the bills, scrimping and saving to educate children, being confronted with the runaway cost of living?

Or how can God, who’s not had a day’s worry in all of eternity, know what it’s like to worry? What does God know about being anxious waiting for a doctor’s report, or waiting for a rebellious teenager to come home, or to worry about the future?

How can God truly be on the same wave length as us and know what it’s like to be a mere mortal with all that goes along with our mortality? It would seem most unlikely. Job complained about God’s lack of appreciation of his troubles saying, “I cannot find God anywhere in front or back of me, to my left or my right. God is always at work, though I never see him. … If I knew where to find God, I would go there and argue my case” (Job 23:8,9,2,3).

In the Jewish religion it was only the High Priest who could approach God on just one day of the year. There was this ongoing wall of separation between God and the people. God was considered unapproachable to the ordinary person.

Then something amazing happened.

God came from heaven to earth. He was born as you and I. His earthly name was Jesus, a commoner, and preached his Gospel throughout the province of Galilee. It was the ordinary everyday people who flocked to listen to him. He taught them about a loving God who was near at hand;
a God who treasured the name of each vineyard labourer or woman toiling in the home or child playing in the street;
a caring God who numbered the hairs on the head of even the lepers, prostitutes, and the unpatriotic tax collectors;
a loving God who was like a shepherd to his people, knowing each one personally, watching over them, protecting them, guiding them and always by their side.

Jesus brought a whole new perspective on how God views each one of us. Not only did Jesus teach them that there was no gap, his life embodied that teaching.  The Word became flesh. Slowly the disciples began to suspect that there was more to Jesus than met the eye. Slowly they came to see that Jesus was God and so they came to experience God in a totally new way. God was not remote. He was in the world in Christ and then in the world and in them personally in the Holy Spirit.

The gulf was bridged; bridged forever. And so we have this text today from Hebrews chapter 4
“Jesus understands every weakness of ours, because he was tempted in every way that we are. But he did not sin!  So whenever we are in need, we should come bravely before the throne of our merciful God. There we will be treated with undeserved kindness, and we will find help”. 

These are words of confidence. They tell us that through Christ Jesus, the gracious God is readily available to each one of us. These words tell us that God is not out of touch with what is happening right now in our lives but that he knows what it’s like to be in our shoes.

God knows from firsthand experience.  God is closely acquainted with the temptations of the teenager and of the middle aged and the elderly, with the pressures of work and opponents, acquainted with our health and our pain, our fears and our dearest hopes. He understands. He feels. He has compassion.

Paul said to the people of Athens, “God isn’t far from any of us, and he gives us the power to live, to move, and to be who we are” (Acts 17:27,28). Through Jesus we have direct fellowship with God, and through Jesus, God has direct understanding of what it means to endure the joys and hardships of life in this world. In short, our God understands.

He understands when we don’t understand and begin to question his wisdom. When we ask those questions that start with “why” or make statements that start “it’s not fair”, God knows and understands the pain that cause us to question his plans for us. He simply says,
“Trust my love for you. There are a lot of other uncertainties in this world but there is one thing that is an absolute certainty and that is my love for you and I will never do anything that will contradict that love. It might look as if I don’t care from your perspective but, from where I sit, I only want what is best. I can’t explain it any simpler than to say, ‘Trust my love for you’.

Even though Jesus has ascended to heaven and now sits on the throne of heaven in all his godly glory, he hasn’t forgotten what it’s like to be human. We are encouraged to trust God even in those times when we don’t understand what is happening in our lives.
When we are hurting;
when we are bewildered;
when we are physically, emotionally and spiritually drained and we have no reserves left,
we can be certain our heavenly Father knows exactly how we feel.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that Jesus suffers with us. We say that in baptism we are joined with Christ in his death and resurrection. I would contend that we are joined in such a way that when we weep, he weeps with us; when we cry out in pain, he cries out with us. He feels what we are feeling. Jesus understands us completely and so we are invited today to come confidently to God in prayer. Because he understands, we will find help.

The help he gives will come in a multitude of ways and we need to keep in mind that one of the ways that he helps us is to give us perfect healing – the perfect healing that is given when we leave this life and enter the new life in heaven and given a new body. That is the perfect healing we all long for and it’s the goal of our faith because there with Jesus there will no longer be confusion, doubt, anxiety, pain and all the other things that trouble us now.

Until that time, as we travel through this life, we can be certain that we have the loving arms of God around us. They are there even when we think they aren’t there because we have a God who is touched by our human weaknesses, who really knows what it is like to be you, or to be me.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

Read by John McLean

20th Sunday after Pentecost 7th October

St Mark 10: 17 – 31
There is a remarkable correspondence between the account in Genesis:2 from today’s lectionary reading and the issues raised by the conversation between Jesus and the rich man and the disciples regarding salvation or eternal life. In trying to understand this connection we also see the truth of Martin Luther’s words in his commentary on the Epistle to the Galatiansgordon

Therefore, whoever knows well how to distinguish the Gospel from the Law should give thanks to God and know that he is a real theologian (Luther LW Vol 26 p115.)

 What Luther is saying is that in one way or another we are all theologians, we all have views about ourselves, the world and God. But what distinguishes real theologians from fake theologians is their knowledge of the difference between God’s Law and God’s Gospel. This ability consists in the right use of both the Law and the Gospel. God’s Law confronts us with God’s commands. It constantly reminded us just how far we are from knowing and loving God. It tells us that in fact we hate God, we would rather be free of God’s commands and be the judges of what is good and evil for ourselves. How very post-modern is that!

The Gospel on the other hand is God’s Word of free forgiveness in Christ, the covering of our waywardness and hatred of God by God’s gift of Christ’s righteousness; whereby we are set free from being haters of God’s law to embracing his will for us and our neighbour, in which we express our thanks to God for His grace toward us in Christ. 

In the scriptures from Genesis to the Gospel of St Mark read today, we see how the difference and unity between the Law and the Gospel has a very drastic effect if they are not understood or rejected.

In the garden of Eden man (Adam/Adamah means ‘earth’ from which God created man) Adam is put amid a flourishing garden planted with all manner of edible fruits which are there for his benefit and sustenance. There is however one important proviso or exception. He must not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God says if man eats the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil on that day, “you will surely die.” So, the fruit of this tree has fatal consequences and thus God’s command to avoid the fruit of this tree is a prohibition to safeguard and protect the Adam’s life. God’s command is life giving and life preserving. In this command God’s protective hand is stretched out over man. God wills to protect what He has created from death, with all its negative connotations. God’s command concerning this tree is a powerful promise of life and abundant nourishment for Adam in the garden.

The threat posed by the fruit of the tree, which man is forbidden to eat, is that God knows that once eaten man will have his eyes opened and he will have the knowledge of good and evil. For Adam this is the fatal threat that this tree poses. It promises the knowledge of good and evil. Once man has this knowledge God cannot stop the fatal consequences flowing from the decision to eat the fruit, this occurs in Chapter 3 of Genesis. But once the fatal step is taken man will become himself like God. He will possess in the knowledge of good and evil that which distinguishes the Creator from the creature. The knowledge of creation established in its lawfulness as good. God’s act of creation consists in the establishment of that which is not God within the limits of creaturely being, as created. In relation to God and this limitation of the creature is being a creature is as part of the good creation that the Lord God makes and loves. God knows the creation in its earthly reality as created is limited, is not divine, it is not unlimited but limited, it has boundaries set by God’s act of creation and which is declared ‘good.’

In transgressing the commandment that is meant to save and secure the creaturely life of the creature, man becomes the possessor of divine knowledge; man become as the Bible puts it “like God knowing good and evil”

But such knowledge, once attained, cannot become unknown. Man is burdened with it and it becomes the seed of his destruction as the creature God has made from the dust of the earth. For the creature makes the impossible attempt to be like God and therefore rejects the gracious life preserving truth of God’s command regarding the tree of knowledge. In seeking and achieving this knowledge man hates the limit of his creaturely being and life as the one who God had created and willed to relate to in love. But instead seeks to be equal with God; man grasps the impossible possibility for a creature of being “like God”. Adam thus embraces his own death as a creature in his rejection of God’s good command to “not eat of the fruit tree of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Instead of allowing God to be God and rejoicing in the promised goodness of God’s commandment towards him that wills to preserves life; Adam and all his subsequent generations hurtle headlong to destruction in hatred of God’s commandment and reaching for the unattainable goal of being like God. Possessing the ability to know good and evil, having a conscience, being the judge and therefore being like God. Rejecting the love of God encapsulated in the command not to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; rejecting this love, rejecting the life-giving life preserving commandment, Adam chooses the death of separation from God as a would-be god with all its awful consequences. This is immediately revealed by the book of Genesis in Adam’s family. His descendants multiply and destroy each other as generation succeeds generation.

When we come to the New Testament, the reading from the holy gospel of St Mark 10, we are presented with the difference between those who are obedient and those who are disobedient to Jesus. Who’s in and who’s out of the kingdom. It has two main sections: one dealing negatively with the disobedience of the rich man and the other positively dealing with the nature of the disciple’s obedience.

We shall begin by trying to see the difference by looking at the second section first: The obedience of the disciples. They ask Jesus, “Who can be saved”, for they are “astounded” and “amazed” at Jesus saying that it “is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than that rich man should enter the kingdom of God.” When the rich man seeking eternal life says he has kept the commandments turns away from Jesus when confronted with the meaning of God’s commandments.

Contrary to the rich man who departs and goes away from Jesus. The saying of Peter in v.28., is not contradicted. That they indeed, the disciples, have left all and followed Jesus. They have done in fact what the rich man could not do. But to their amazement Jesus does not then say that therefore they inherit eternal life, as opposed to the rich man. Surely, we may think, Jesus is over emphasising the situation of human beings before God. Haven’t the disciples done precisely what the rich man was unable to do and in so doing, leaving all and following Jesus, haven’t they by doing this shown that entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven is after all a human possibility.

But Jesus words in v.27 puts an end to this illusion. That even they, the disciples, the obedient ones, should enter the Kingdom of Heaven is an impossibility for men. So, Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ urgent question, “Who then can be saved” is effectively – ‘No one’ can, ‘Nobody can be saved’. The disciples, standing as they do before the disobedience of the rich man, are forced by Jesus words to see themselves as standing on a par with the rich man when it comes to reckoning up “Who can be saved.” They are forced to see that their only hope, as it is also the hope of the rich man, that with God, “all things are possible,” and therefore even their salvation as well. For this possibility of God is standing before them and the rich man in the person of Jesus, who as God’s Son is identified in his flesh with the godforsakenness of the human condition. He is God’s possibility which excludes both the rich man as well as disciples from salvation in terms of what they have done or not done: for He is in Himself not simply the divine possibility of salvation He is its actuality.

Even though it is true of the rich man that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of as needle than that he should enter the Kingdom of Heaven, this is also true of the disciples: those who have done what the rich man could and would not do. From the point of view of their own ability the disciples too lack precisely the same thing as the rich man. This is the discovery they are forced to make when, according to the text, they exclaim, “Who then can be saved!” The judgment of Jesus on the rich man, the affirmation by Jesus of the one thing necessary applies no less to the disciples.

These words of Jesus compel the disciples to see the disobedient in an entirely new light. Jesus’ seemingly harsh words directed at the rich man and indirectly to them as well, who have left all and followed Him, that they indeed are included in Jesus saying, “With men it is impossible.” With these words Jesus binds the disciples in complete solidarity with the disobedient rich man. In Jesus encounter with the rich man and in the consequent discussion the disciples are confronted with the yawning abyss of their own disobedience, the impossibility of their salvation apart from the actuality of the possibility of God’s grace present for them in Jesus. The presence of God’s grace in Jesus excludes all people from the Kingdom of Heaven in order that those who enter, enter only because of the gift of grace present in Him. Who can be saved? Nobody can be saved, the affirmation of the one thing necessary for the rich man applies no less to the disciples.

What is it then that distinguishes the disciples of Jesus from the rich man, the disobedient. The difference does not consist in their obedience, what they have done in following Jesus as opposed to the rich man’s disobedience. What distinguishes the disciples from the rich man is not who and what they are but who and what Jesus will to be for them in His call of them. In their following Jesus, their being with Him, they testify to the possibility of grace, the fact that with God all things are possible and that includes their obedience. They remain disciples only in so far as they continue to acknowledge this mystery to be the basis of their existence. For the conversation between Jesus and the disciples ends with the cryptic saying, “many that are first shall be last, and the last first.”

But this gift of grace present in Jesus was there not only for the disciples it was there for the rich man as well. The gospel writer adds the critical words in the context of Jesus conversation with the rich man: “Jesus”, he says, “looked upon him and loved him.” When Jesus goes on to tell him what he lacks, the freedom from his riches, he does so in order that he, the rich man, may see that Jesus is there specifically for him. Jesus call of the rich man to follow him and forsake his riches shows us, as in Genesis, that the command of God is life preserving and grounded in God’s love. It is that rich man, may give up what he has chosen as giving his life meaning and value, his possession and instead receive the gift of God’s grace as that which gives his life enduring meaning. Within the hard shell of the commandment that Jesus gives the rich man is the life preserving love of Christ which he chooses not to receive  

For who else is Jesus on the way to Gethsemane and Golgotha, but for the sake of those who are enslaved by all that negates true human life. Jesus hard words to the rich man, the demand that he lays upon him and which causes him to turn away, this hard demand is in order that the rich man may be set free to allow himself to be loved by Jesus. This was purpose of the command of the law which the rich man could recite but did not know. The rich man can certainly reject what Jesus wills to be for him and he does so. But his actions cannot negate or overthrow the Kingdom of Christ, the fact, so poignantly stated by the gospel writer, that Jesus looked upon him and loved him, loved specifically him with his hard and rebellious heart.

In Him God has taken to himself the sinful humanity of every one of us, children of Adam and become the One, the only one to live a human life before God that allows God to be God. To fulfil the Law not for his own sake but for ours. This involves Him confessing the sin of Adam and all his descendants by allowing God to be in the right in rejecting the foolish creature who sought to be God by knowing good and evil. Allowing God to be the judge. Allowing God to be in the right over against Him and thus embracing his journey to the cross and death in order that a new Adam may come to life in His resurrected glory and be the one who lives to give this new humanity of His to those who accept the gift of His truth and righteousness as the truth about the untruth of their lives and thus live by faith in Him. And we are promised this wonderful gift of Himself in Word and Sacrament

Pastor Dr. Gordon Watson.

17th Sunday after Pentecost 16th September

WISDOM IS CALLING

 

We are joyful today

            Through God’s strength to direct us,

            God’s might to uphold us,pastor

            God’s wisdom to guide us,

            God’s eye to watch us,

            God’s ear to hear us,

            God’s Word to speak to us,

            God’s hand to guard us,

            God’s way to lie before us,

            God’s shield to protect us,

            God’s angels to keep us from the snares of the devil.

            Lord Jesus, save us

            From temptation of vices,

            From everyone who shall wish us ill,

            Afar and near,

            Alone and in a multitude.  (Attributed to St Patrick. Mediacom, April 2000)

 

Introduction

 

            One of the saddest chapters in the Bible is Genesis 19. Here God sent an angel to warn Lot and his family to flee from the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. The angel told them, ‘Flee for your lives. Don’t look back’ (Gen 19:17). However, Lot’s wife ‘looked back and she became a pillar of salt’ (Gen 19:26). How foolish was that?

            Our text, Proverbs 1:20-33, features no angel, but rather wisdom, personified as a woman. That is, a woman is featured as wisdom itself and calling out for people to flee wickedness and follow the Lord and so be wise. May God’s Holy Spirit enable us to hear the call of wisdom and so be wise.

 

I  THE FOOLISH DO NOT LISTEN

 

            Sadly many people do not listen to wisdom. They follow folly instead.

The book of Proverbs gives examples of how people follow their fleshly appetites. But it warns that although sin seems pleasurable at first, it has a deadly sting in its tail. It kills.

            For instance, Proverbs lists the abuse of alcohol as a foolish pursuit. Alcohol is a good gift of God when used in moderation. But when abused it has terrible results. I don’t need to go into detail here about the dangers of drinking too much. Alcohol addiction leads to stupid actions, deadly fights, memory loss and other physical problems. Moreover, in Australia 52% of road deaths are caused by alcohol.

I will never forget visiting a man in hospital who was addicted to drink. He told me that he was about to go home by ambulance and he would instruct the driver to stop at the first hotel so he could have a drink. How foolish. Indeed, a few months later he was dead. Alcoholism shortens one’s life by an average of 12 years.

            Sin is very sneaky. It seems attractive. It appeals to our human nature. For a time it is exciting. Maybe that’s why a company put out a perfume called ‘My Sin’. The promotion blurb said that it’s a fragrance ‘so alluring, so charming, so exciting that we could only call it “My Sin”’. Sin may seem exciting but as Proverbs says, ‘So then (you sinners), you will get what you deserve, and your own actions will make you sick.  Foolish people die because they reject wisdom. Stupid people are destroyed’. Proverbs also says that foolish people are even more stupid than birds which walk into a trap they watch being set. True, foolish people get caught in the trap they themselves have set! (1:17f)

            Foolishness abounds in our society. We think of people, even pensioners, who allow one arm bandits to rob them of nearly all their money. Or I think of a woman who divorced her abusive husband, but then ended up marrying another man who also abused her. Yes, foolishness is all around us!

            Wisdom calls out to foolish people. But they don’t listen. Their ears are blocked. So calamity rushes upon them like a storm. They cry out for help, but it is too late. 

            What about us? It is easy for us to point our fingers at others. But it is true we have often acted the fool too. That’s because we are sinners. ‘Sin makes us stupid’. You know how foolishness has touched you, and I know how foolishness has touched me.  Whether it is a careless word, angry response to some remark, even a scaled down version of road rage, annoyance at the checkout counter when someone lines up at the 12 or less items with 20 – yes we counted them one by one, or occasionally drinking too much, we have often let the Lord down and ourselves as well. As Proverbs tells us, sin ‘bites like a snake and stings like an adder’ (Prov 23:32).

            Most foolish of all is when people reject our Lord and Master, Jesus the Christ. It is sad that most Jews have rejected Jesus as Messiah. Many have given up all hope of any Messiah. Others are still waiting for the Messiah to come. When Helen and I were in Israel some years ago we were taken around the country in a small bus. As we were going along we noticed light poles that had arrows on them. The arrows finally pointed to a large house. We noticed that all the lights were on. We asked our driver what this meant. He said that many Jews believed that the New York Rabbi (Rebbe) Schneerson was the Messiah. After he died he would come back alive again as Messiah to Israel. The arrows on the poles were to guide him to his house. And the house had its lights on day and night so he would know which house was his! Some Messiah who needed help to find his house!

They are quite wrong of course. Since then Rabbi Schneerson has died and he certainly hasn’t come back to live in that house as the Messiah.

            Jesus is the Messiah. The only Messiah. Those who do not welcome him are fools. In the end they will miss out on life with Jesus in his eternal and glorious kingdom.

 

II  THE WISE LISTEN

 

            Wisdom. How does one become wise? Through education? Not necessarily. Some of the stupidest people around are very well educated. Think of Stephen Foster. He wrote such popular songs as ‘Sewanee River’, ‘Oh, Susanna’, ‘Beautiful Dreamer’, and 200 more. He became wealthy. But he ended up as a penniless drunkard, got into a brawl and died after someone slashed open his throat.

            There are also some very well educated people in jail. You see, education does not guarantee wisdom. Schools are deluding themselves if they think sex education, or drug education alone will ensure young people make the right choices. 

Nor does experience guarantee wisdom. Sure, many old people are wise and experienced. But it’s also true that there is no fool like an old fool!

True wisdom comes through being attached to Jesus Christ. As St Paul says, God ‘gave you your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, righteousness, holiness and ransom from sin’ (1 Cor 1:30). Jesus alone makes us wise unto salvation. Jesus alone died and rose for us and forgives our sins. Jesus alone is the way to heaven. Jesus alone took the poison from the cobra of death for us so that we shall not die but live. Jesus alone was slain and raised from the dead for us, so that God the Father does not condemn us but pardons us, stands by us, strengthens us, protects and preserves us and will one day take us to joy and glory in heaven that no mind can fathom or tongue can tell. There is no other, Jesus Christ is our true Wisdom.

We could go on: Christ dealt with our old self which makes us stupid. He took our foolishness to his cross. He forgave us the many times we refused to listen to wisdom. He gave us a new nature, one filled with the Spirit and therefore wise.

In today’s gospel reading Jesus asks his disciples, ‘“Who do you say I am?” The place where Jesus asked this question was Caesarea Philippi. It was here that the universal Greek god of ‘All’ was venerated next to a temple of Emperor Augustus who had claimed to be divine. This place was also near the source of the River Jordan, the river in which Jesus was baptised. So the place where Jesus asked his disciples whom they thought he was, was steeped in paganism.  Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, answered for them all, ‘“You are the Messiah”’ (Mark 8: 29). 

            Christ also asks us, ‘Whom do you say I am?’ What will our answer be? We who live in the midst of paganism and false religions? May God’s Spirit move our hearts to respond, ‘You are the Christ, the Messiah, the only wise Savior of all’.

            Christ our wisdom calls us to act wisely, morally and sensibly. Through Christ our actions are based on the fear of the Lord. For it is also true that ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’ (Prov 1:7). Our whole life is thus controlled by the Lord. This touches every aspect of our life: the way we use alcohol, prescription drugs, speech, money, relationships,  sex, everything.

            A medical student was asked whether he ever went on binge drinking. What do you think of his answer? He said, ‘No, I hope to be a neurosurgeon. Alcohol kills brain cells. I need all the brain cells I can to get to get where I hope to be one day’. So was that a wise answer? It was, but an even better answer would be, ‘I don’t go on binge drinking because I am a follower of Christ. I need all the brain cells I can get to be a faithful disciple’.

I am also reminded of a High School student who was out with classmates. They tried to entice him into joining their binge drinking. Each time they tried, he answered with a word of Scripture. At last one of them said to the others, ‘Leave him be. He’s so full of the Bible we can’t do a thing with him! It’s great when young people do the wise thing for Christ’s sake.

In Christ we are wiser than the smartest intellectual without Christ. But thank God many Christian intellectuals are wise. Some of the wisest people were both great Christians and scientists. Isaac Newton – mathematician, the discoverer of calculus and the founder of classical physics – dedicated his life to Christ. Michael Faraday – the discoverer of benzene, electromagnetic induction and the generator – was a firm believer in Christ. William Perkin – the great organic chemist who discovered the first synthetic dye, known as Perkin’s mauve – was a great Christian. On his deathbed he said, ‘The children are in Sunday School. Give them my love and tell them always to trust Jesus. Louis Pasteur, who gave us pasteurized milk and other good things, was a Christian. Samuel Morse, who gave us Morse code and the telegraph, was a Christian, Charles Babbage, who was the forerunner of computers and the speedometer, was a Christian. I could mention many other famous scientists who believed in Christ. You don’t have to sacrifice your intellect to be a Christian. As Wisdom says, I ‘give you good advice and share my knowledge with you’.

 

Conclusion

 

            Alexander Grigolia emigrated from the former Soviet Union Georgia to the USA. He became a successful professor at a University. As a non-believer in Christ he had a longing in his heart he couldn’t pinpoint. One day while getting a shoe shine he noticed that the lad had a joyful heart. Dr Grigolia finally could stand it no longer. He asked, ‘What makes you so happy?’

            The shoe shine looked up and said, ‘Jesus. He loves me. He died for me so God could forgive my badness. He makes me happy’.

            Dr Grigolia could not escape those words. They were words that wisdom was calling out to him. The Holy Spirit later brought him to Christ and true wisdom. Later Dr Grigolia taught at a Christian College. One of his students was a young man called Billy Graham.

            True wisdom is to follow Christ, to live in Christ, to obey Christ. Those who listen to wisdom ‘will have security.  They will be safe, with no reason to be afraid’. Listen, wisdom is calling!

Pastor Peter Kriewaldt

16th Sunday after Pentecost 9th September

FAITH AT WORK

Introduction

Some things belong together: strawberries and ice cream, coffee and cake, horse and carriage, bow and arrow, love and marriage.pastor

So also faith and works belong together. Faith and works are the two feet with which a person walks in Christ. One without the other produces a spiritual cripple. Our text from James 2 also proclaims this truth: faith and works belong together. You can’t have one without the other. Faith without works is dead; works without faith is not pleasing in God’s sight. May God’s Holy Spirit give us a faith that produces many good works.

 

I  FAITH ALONE SAVES

 

Although faith and works belong together, faith alone saves. What is faith? Basically, faith is trust. By using all the letters of the word faith, we get: ‘Forsaking all I trust him’. That’s FAITH.

Faith has to do with believing in Christ. The word ‘believe’ means to entrust your life to Christ. Another way of looking at the word ‘believe’ is given by Dr Paton, a Bible translator. He was translating the Bible into the language of some South Sea Islanders. He searched for a way of expressing the word ‘believe’ in their language. Just then one of the locals came in, hot and tired from a long walk. The man threw himself on a chair. He put his feet on another chair and used a local word which meant, ‘I am resting my whole weight here’. Instantly Dr Paton had the words he needed for ‘believe’. The people of that Pacific island now know that to believe in Jesus, or to have faith in Jesus, means that you rest your whole weight of mind and heart on Jesus.

Faith or belief in Christ is a gift of the Holy Spirit. As St Paul says, ‘No one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit’ (1 Cor 12:3). If the Holy Spirit were absent from our lives, we would never come to faith in Christ. Our Spirit-less heart is too hard and corrupt to put its weight on Christ. But the Holy Spirit has called us to faith through the word of Christ and led us to trust him.

Through faith we believe that Jesus came to earth as sin bearer, devil- slayer, death destroyer. Jesus came as our  substitute. All that he did, he did for us.  He copped God’s judgment over sin in our place. He was tempted by Satan in our place. He died in our place. By trusting Jesus, we receive the fruits of his cross – forgiveness of sins, life with God and freedom from the power of Satan. More, Jesus rose from the dead for us. Faith brings with it the sure hope of our resurrection from the dead.

Faith justifies us or puts us right with God. As St Paul says, To be put right with God ‘is through faith from beginning to end’ (R. l:17).

The Bible makes it very clear that faith alone saves. Our works cannot save us. As St Paul says, ‘a person is put right with God through faith, and not by doing what the Law commands’ (R. 3:28). Indeed, ‘Those who depend on obeying the Law live under a curse. For the Scripture says, “Whoever does not always obey everything that is written in the book of the Law is under God’s curse!”’ (Gal. 3:10) Well, no one can keep God’s law perfectly. As St James says,  ‘Whoever breaks one commandment is guilty of breaking them all’. Apart from faith we would be doomed. Faith alone connects us to Jesus who kept the law in our place. Yes, faith alone saves. May God’s Holy Spirit give us such a saving faith in Christ.

 

II  FAITH IS NEVER ALONE

 

Although faith alone saves, faith is never alone. Faith always produces good works. It is always doing something. As Martin Luther says, ‘Oh, a living, energetic, active, mighty thing is this faith. It is impossible for it not to do good constantly. Nor does it ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is put, it has already done them and is forever doing them’ (Plass 1:499).

Works show the reality of our faith. This is shown by the story of the queen of Sheba who came to visit king Solomon. It is said that one day during her visit she decided to put king Solomon to the test. She brought artificial flowers so perfectly formed that no human eye could detect them from real flowers. She put them in a vase on Solomon’s table, in his throne room next to real flowers. As he came in, the queen of Sheba is reported to have said, ‘Solomon, you are the wisest man in the world. Tell me without touching these flowers, which are real and which are artificial’. Solomon studied the flowers for a long time and said nothing, until finally he said, ‘Open the windows and let the bees come in’. Only true flowers have a genuine scent which attract bees.

Brilliant. That, too, is how to tell genuine faith from dead faith. Only people with true faith give off the aroma of Christ. Dead faith gives off no aroma of Christ.

Works flow from true faith in Christ. Works come from a cleansed and redeemed life. We rejoice to produce works which please God.

How different is Islam. In Islam the only way to get to Paradise is through good works. But here is the catch: your good works have to outweigh your bad works. If your good works aren’t heavy enough, you cannot enter Paradise.  To ensure enough good works are done, some countries even have religious police. In Saudi Arabia you’d better carry your marriage certificate with you to show that the woman who walks alongside you is your wife. If she isn’t, you’re in big trouble. In Malaysia teams of volunteers patrol the streets of Kuala Lumpur looking for people who offend Islamic law – like Muslim couples showing affection in public like holding hands. The patrols cannot make arrests but will alert police officers to this so-called breach of morality (Cf Asia Focus March 2006). As you can imagine, one can never be sure one has enough good works to get you to Paradise.

How different is Christian morality and good works. We do good works because we are already citizens of heaven. We believe that no amount of good works will get us into heaven. That’s why we hang on to Christ. For Christ alone was perfect and he credits his goodness to us! Christ’s death and resurrection make us certain that we will go to heaven.

At the same time we believe that if faith does not produce works, it is dead. As James says, ‘If (faith) is alone and includes no actions, then it is dead’. It is a pretend faith. Even demons have that kind of faith (Js. 2:19).

What’s your faith like? Is it producing many good works? Or are your works few and far between? Is your faith alone, or is it accompanied by works? Your answer is one of life or death!

 

III TWO EXAMPLES OF FAITH AT WORK

 

James gives two examples of faith at work. The first one has to do with the treatment of the rich and poor. He says, ‘As believers in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, you must never treat people in different ways according to their outward appearance’.

Apparently members of the congregation were treating the rich and poor differently. The rich were feted and made welcome; the poor were neglected and left in the corner. Looks like money spoke in those days too.

James rebukes these Christians for doing this. He tells them, ‘You are guilty of sin’. ‘You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great’ (Lev. 19:15).

Actually rich people are often blinded to Christ by their wealth. They tend to invest their time in their business and trust in their wealth rather than in Christ. As Jesus said, ‘It will be very hard for rich people to enter the kingdom of heaven… it is much harder for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle’ (Mt. 19:23-24).

At the same time poor people may find it hard to enter the kingdom as well. They may blame God for their poverty. Or waste their money on lotto tickets or one arm bandits in a vain attempt to get rich. They may try to milk the social security system by claiming money that is not rightfully theirs.

Whether we are rich or poor, we all need an active faith. For it is our faith in Christ that sends us with good works to serve others. Such service attracts people into the church. Generally people come into the church not because the pastor is a great guy or preaches great sermons. It’s not because the building is nice. It’s because someone cared for them. They saw Christ in that person. They felt at home, even if they were poor, or had little to offer.

James then gives a second example of faith at work. It also has to do with care for the needy. He says, ‘Suppose there are brothers or sisters who need clothes and don’t have enough to eat. What good is there in your saying to them, “God bless you! Keep warm and eat well!” – if you don’t give them the necessities of life?’

Good wishes and sympathy are not always enough. There’s a Peanuts cartoon where Snoopy is out in the cold. He’s shivering. Charlie Brown comes along dressed in a thick coat and gloves. He says to Snoopy, ‘Be of good cheer, Snoopy. Be of good cheer’. And then walks off leaving Snoopy to shiver in the cold. Snoopy needs a coat, or to be invited into Charlie Brown’s warm house.

If Christians don’t act, they harm the church. Scoffers see this and are quick to condemn. Thus it was that a needy lad wasn’t helped by fellow Christians. A skeptic tried to shake his faith. ‘How can you be a Christian when no one helps you?’ He replied, ‘God tells his people to help, but they forget.’ Do we forget to help? God forbid!

Faith active in good works is desperately needed today in our society. Our society is sliding further and further into moral decline. What can we do? We can write letters to the editor or to our politicians. We can speak up for good when the opportunity arises. But whatever the situation we face, may God’s Holy Spirit help us to maintain the good and be rich in good works. May the Spirit give us a faith that is active in good works.

 

Conclusion

 

Just as an ocean liner was putting out to sea, a young woman fell overboard, and was heard to scream that she couldn’t swim. No one jumped in to help her. Then, to the astonishment of all present, an elderly man of over 70 went hurtling after her. Eventually, amid rousing cheers, he brought her to safety. Such was the admiration felt for the old man’s heroism that a banquet was held in his honor at which the captain of the ship made a speech. Amid the applause which followed, the old man was urged to reply. He rose and said, ‘I’ve only one thing to say. “Who pushed me?”’ No one on board went to help the young woman. An old man did. But he had to be pushed!

No, faith never has to be pushed into good works. Faith has received the salvation Jesus won on his cross. A new life is received. A life which is always doing good things. Freely. Willingly. Faith alone saves. But faith is never alone.

So what’s our faith like? Alone? Or hard at work?

 

Peter Kriewaldt