Table manners in the kingdom

The Text: Luke 14:1,7-14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The parable is of being invited to a wedding banquet.

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

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

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

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

It’s terrible, or so I’ve heard!

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

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

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

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

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

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

We do this sort of thing don’t we?

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘For all who exalt themselves, will be humbled,

And those who humble themselves will be exalted’.

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

You could say,

‘All who exalt themselves, God will humble,

All who humble themselves, God will exalt.’

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

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

He doesn’t say that.

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

but he redirects it, from human beings to God.

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

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

trust that God will do it for you.

God will move you up higher,

God will exalt you,

God will honour you,

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


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

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

So that’s the first word to those invited.

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

Again with an eye to God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I scratch your back, you scratch mine.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something like this happens with God our Father. 

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

His word to the invited guests,

His word to the host,

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

Where does Jesus fit in here?

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

Jesus teaches here on humility.

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

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

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

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

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

And as he humbled himself, God exalted him.

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

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

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

And again, he fulfils his own teaching.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Honour the Sabbath

The Text: Isaiah 58:13-14.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So as Paul said to the Hebrews:

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

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


All good things must come to an end.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Your Most Precious Treasure

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

Your Faith in God Is Your Most Precious Treasure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His pastor replied, “I’m glad!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Better a Poor Farmer Than a Rich Fool

The Text: Luke 12:13-21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Better a poor farmer than a rich fool!

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


The Good News about Prayer

Text: Luke 11:1-13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Easily distracted

We are a society distracted by many things, like Martha.

Text messagesFacebook messages – Twitter messages – Snapchats – come8f5d0040f261ddb1b3f281e00e1385f0 all the time to distract us.

You go out for dinner these days and the diners aren’t talking with each other, they are looking down at their phones. Conversations are interrupted by the need to check out a text message or answer a call.

They are distracted by many things.

But in today’s Gospel Reading we are talking about a different type of distraction. We are talking about a distraction away from God.

There are many distractions in our lives that take us away from God, as it did to Martha.

It reminds me of the time when Peter saw Jesus walking on the water and asked to join him. Peter was fine while he was focused on Jesus, like Mary was. But as soon as he was distracted, like Martha, by the waves crashing around him he began to sink. The waves of fear and worry distracted him. Just as the waves of worry for Martha about getting things right at home for the guests distracted her away from Jesus.

So too the waves of fear and worry distract people away from God. Martha had gotten to the point of her worry that her work had stopped being a joy and vocation to God and had become a distraction to her faith in God. It had therefore stopped being a blessing to her and others and became a source of worry and anger.

Martha obviously had the gift of hospitality, making sure everything was right to welcome Jesus, but had become distracted by the worry. Instead of being a source of blessings to others it caused a division between her and her sister Mary.

It is easy for us also to become distracted by the worries of life and believe that we have to solve our problems rather than taking them to the Lord in Prayer. Like Martha, we have all been given a vocation in life by which we can serve God and our neighbour.

However, Martha’s distraction now saw her go to Jesus antagonised and angry with Mary. The love of God and neighbour was gone.

Our human nature can easily turn our love for God and neighbour around where we love ourselves only and forget to use our gifts to serve God and our neighbour. As Christians that’s where we can easily find ourselves, as we are reminded in the Parable of the Sower –

The seeds that were sown among thorns were the ones who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the distraction of riches choke the word.

And so we need to keep coming back to the feet of Jesus and allow him to remove those thorns in the flesh in our lives.

This is where worship plays a vital role in the life of the Christian to keep breaking that cycle of distraction. We need to see our worship in the same way that Mary sees it as it nurtures our faith to keep us focused on our vocation as serving God and our neighbour.

We need to see our worship as sitting at the feet of Jesus being nurtured for our life for when we leave to go into our daily vocation and not as a duty to God.

And remember that vocation is not just employment. It is how God uses you each day as mother, father, grandfather, grandmother, sister, brother, friend.

Just look at how the distraction affected the 2 sisters of Mary and Martha. Sadly, to many Christians, church becomes another task in their already hectic lives. And when that happens we can begin to see the friction between brothers and sisters in the faith.

We become distracted by the tasks rather than the service of God. Church should never be seen in such a way.

No, it needs to be seen in the light of what Paul says about the church being the body of Christ where the riches of God’s glory have been placed.

And so the message of Martha and Mary also speaks a message to the church that its core message is always the Gospel that has freed us from our cares and burdens. The church needs to help us place our burdens on Jesus who says – come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.

The gathering around the Word and the Sacraments is not another thing for the Martha in us to add to our schedule. Remember, Jesus is the host here and we are the guests.

We are called to be Mary here and be prepared for our vocations as Marthas in the world. Martha had sadly confused the two.

The Gospel allows us to revalue our gifts to become our calling and vocation rather than a burden that distracts us away from God.

How do you see your life?

Do you see what you are doing as a burden, like Martha, or do you see it as a calling and vocation from God, like Mary. The work that Martha was doing was not the problem. It was her gift and calling. But she had let them distract her away from her service towards Jesus.

Martha does not let her gift of hospitality become a service to God but a distraction from the spiritual blessings that would come from it. The work she was doing needed to be done – but allowing them to burden her the way they did was the issue.

Our lives are going to be busy and burdensome at times. But in our busyness and burdens we are energised by our worship life and seeing our work as a vocation and calling by God.

Jesus didn’t say – you shouldn’t be burdened – but come unto me you who are burdened and I will give you rest. You can find that rest in your worship but you can also find it each day.

Luther in his Catechism teaches us how:

In the morning when you get up, make the sign of the holy cross and say: In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Then, kneeling or standing, repeat the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. Then go joyfully to your work,

In the evening when you go to bed, make the sign of the holy cross and say: In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Then kneeling or standing, repeat the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. Then go to sleep at once and sleep in peace.

Begin each day at the feet of Jesus. End each day at Jesus’ feet – and see how a new perspective of life comes on you. Our identity comes from Jesus Christ not from the work we do.

So when our work becomes our identity, like Martha, then the burdens take over as it did to Martha.

When our identity comes from sitting at Jesus feet, like Mary, then the burdens are easily transferred to Christ to receive his rest.

So choose the better part – choose to sit at Jesus’ feet and it will not be taken away from you. Amen


A strange question indeed.

Text: Luke 10:25-37 – Helping the outcast

I find the question asked by the lawyer a strange question indeed. Obviously20180311_103505 (1) this lawyer didn’t specialise in family law otherwise he would have known the answer to his question.

He asks “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

If it’s an inheritance then there is nothing YOU have to do.

It’s not a question of doing – it’s a question of being. Being a child of the one giving the inheritance or be listed in the will.

Likewise, to inherit eternal life there is nothing YOU can do except to wait for the person from whom you are inheriting to die, which for us as Christians is Jesus.

An inheritance is passed on at the death of the one giving.

Unless of course you are brazen like the Prodigal Son who demanded his inheritance now.

Nevertheless the question asked by the lawyer is or should be a question everyone asks.

How do I receive eternal life?

I believe that no one wants to die. We do everything we can to prolong life. We eat right – watch our cholesterol, watch our salt and sugar intake. We exercise.

The plastic surgery industry is alive and well as is the pharmaceutical business both medical and alternative medicine – just look at the health aisle in the supermarket – to make us look and feel younger. To live forever would be everyone’s dream.

So what is stopping people from understanding the eternal life that Jesus offers?

Why is there so much antagonism and rejection of the Christian faith when that is the central message we have?

People should be queuing to hear about eternal life.

Isn’t that our sole purpose – to live in heaven forever?

Isn’t that God’s sole purpose for us?

Remember John 3:16 – our most famous text – For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

So why has the focus on the Christian message by the world been one of seeing us as wowsers and legalists who object to everything?

Why has our message of how to receive eternal life changed from that of “being” and receiving eternal life as an inheritance to that of “doing” and earning eternal life?

Maybe we have been too focused on the wrong message ourselves and forgotten the Great Commission that Jesus left us with – go into all the world and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:20).

As we look at the Parable of the Good Samaritan that Jesus used to explain his teaching we see an example of devout religious people who had lost their mission.

We hear of an Israelite who had been bashed and robbed and left to die. Three people pass him by – the first two being his fellow countrymen. In fact more than that – they were religious leaders of the community. They see him and walk by on the other side of the road.

Why would they do that? Sadly it wasn’t because they were afraid for their lives in case the robbers were still around but because of their religious duties. The priest and a Levite were on their way to the temple. As a priest and Levite they had temple responsibilities but if they made contact with a dead body that would have made them ceremonially unclean. And that would then disqualify them from their temple duties.

So they don’t risk going near the man just in case he is dead. They placed their religious duties above their love for their neighbour in need.

And so this question is constantly put before us to ensure that we have not forgotten to love our neighbour in our zealous desire to fulfil our religious observance.

There may be some situations we disagree with because of our religious values but that can never give permission to not love our neighbour. As Jesus points out, our neighbour is anyone who is in need, even if it is someone with whom we fundamentally disagree.

And the need may not necessarily be physical but also spiritual.

The Samaritan had every right to walk by on the other side of the road because of the way Samaritans were treated by the Jews. But he puts that to one side and helps his neighbour and follows up his care.

Sometimes we may be tempted to walk around an issue because it’s an easy solution or it means we don’t have to become involved.

Or what happens if the person I help is in a lifestyle I disagree with.

You may be able to think of examples where you were challenged to express love to someone while disagreeing with their lifestyle or other situation.

Let us remember that God totally disagreed with our lifestyle and yet showed the greatest of love to us that he could by sending his Son and allowing him to die for our sins. And even while we continue to sin despite this love having been shown to us God continues to love us and forgive us, as Paul reminded us:

God has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:14).

So the inheritance that the lawyer eagerly desired has been given to us already.

God is not going to wait till the end of our life to see if we are good enough to have earned our eternal life.

Notice Paul’s emphasis – God HAS rescued us – God HAS transferred us into the kingdom – we HAVE redemption and the forgiveness of sins. So even while we continue to live lives that God disagrees with, he continues to love us.

And there is our challenge – to show love despite the situation we are confronted with.

And it’s not just physical needs but spiritual – the need for love and understanding. Our struggle to act with justice toward the hurting is always going to be challenged by the tendency to stereotype people and associate only with those who meet the criteria that we have set.

It is very easy to discriminate in our hearts and let that guide our actions.

Jesus calls us to imitate the actions of the Good Samaritan, who was despised by all Hebrew society and in the Jewish mind was the least likely to act and demonstrate compassion.

Yet, it is the outcast who acts rightly when others, concerned possibly more for their own needs than right action, failed in their responsibility to be a neighbour.

Let us consider our actions, act rightly, and refuse to stereotype others.

Let us be compassionate toward all in keeping with Jesus’ message of love and peace and go and do likewise. Amen.

It’s God’ mission, not ours!

Text: Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

In the latest census of the Australian population (2016), the question about20180311_103505 (1) people’s religious affiliation showed that those who identified as Christians declined again to just over 50% with the next highest response being “no religion” at over 30%.

It can be difficult as we live in a world that is growing more and more anti-Christian with many people wanting less Church involvement in state matters such as teaching Christian Studies in state schools.

So how should Christians react?

Do we just sit back and say – well there’s nothing we can do about it.

It’s tough to know what we should do.

But we need to be careful that we don’t take up a fight that really doesn’t belong to us.

Paul had a similar situation happening in Galatia. A group of people known as the Judaizers were infiltrating the Christian community. They were introducing ways that were against the Christian gospel.

You may recall Paul warning the Galatians – beware of anyone who comes preaching a gospel different to the one that I came to you with. But he didn’t tell them to take up arms against them.

He simply told them to be sure of what they believe and don’t be misled by anyone. Let God deal with what needs to be dealt with.

That’s what “anathema” means.

He encouraged them to live a godly life and let God fight the fights that need to be fought. He didn’t in any way say that the fight wasn’t important. But he encouraged them to not let anything distract them from what God has called them to do.

He said: Don’t be deceived – God is not mocked. But as for you: Don’t grow weary in doing what is right.

Let us work for the good of all, especially the family of faith. Let us support and encourage one another here in our congregation, our parish, and the wider church – the family of faith – because we are all in this mission together.

Let us always be focused on the cross of Christ – otherwise we will be distracted from what God asks us to do.

In last week’s Gospel reading we heard James and John get distracted by a fight they were not called to fight.

The Samaritans rejected Jesus and they wanted to rain down fire from heaven to destroy them.

But Jesus rejected that.

Today the disciples were distracted also. They went out as missionaries for God. When they returned they were ecstatic. But they were excited about the wrong thing.

They were distracted.

Lord – in your name even the demons submit to us.

But Jesus reminded them of what was important:

Don’t rejoice that the demons submit to you. Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.

When we watch the news on TV, or to read the newspaper, it can create a feeling of helplessness with all the crises of the world.

We are all involved in Christ’s mission of renewing the world, of bringing hatred and injustice to an end. Establishing God’s reign of love and peace. But in the face of the real problems of the world we often feel that our efforts are like a drop of water in the ocean.

Does what we do really make any difference?

In the struggle between the love of Christ and the powers of Satan, the battle between good and evil, are our efforts of any significance at all?

Does God see us as important factors in bringing about change in the world?

Of course he does.

Just as Jesus sent out the 72 into the world, Jesus left us with the Great Commission:

Go into all the world baptizing and teaching.

Jesus does however provide advice on how we are to go into the world as his people:

First, Jesus says that we are like Lambs in the midst of wolves: Jesus doesn’t hide the fact that the world is going to oppose our message.

For a long time Christianity was a dominant voice in the world, but that is not how Jesus originally saw it. In fact he said: The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. We should never see the church as failing because it is struggling.

And we shouldn’t see the world as our opposition to fight against. Jesus calls it the harvest and we are called to reap. To go out into the world even though the world will not receive us.

We are called to be salt and light in the world. Changing the world by how we live our lives, not by fighting those with whom we disagree.

As Jesus says – they will know we are Christians by our love. (John 13:35)

Carry no purse

When Jesus sent out the 72 he told them not to take any provisions with them.

Why not?

Because God would provide them with all they needed.

How do we know what to take when it is God guiding the mission? Too often, we have an agenda of what needs to happen – but this may not be God’s agenda.

Too often we go out into the world and believe we know what needs to happen.

Jesus is saying – take nothing with you. Let God guide every step and every word and every action.

We don’t know what God is going to do so we take nothing and let God lead the way.

We don’t want to be like James and John demanding God rain down fire every time someone objects to us or criticizes us. Then we would have no mission. There would be no harvest to bring in; it would all be destroyed.

The mission is God’s. We are his workers. We are bringing in God’s harvest.

If we start to work with our agenda then we can interfere with how God is planning the harvest.

Farmers will adjust their harvest strategy according to how the season is. God too has a mission plan and asks us to let him guide our words and actions.

Dealing with rejection

Jesus then tells the disciples how to deal with rejection. It’s not by calling down fire from heaven. No, he says when you enter a town that doesn’t welcome you, go into the street and wipe the dust off your shoes.

In other words, don’t let that rejection weigh you down. Move on.

Don’t take the baggage with you and let the anger and thoughts of revenge distract you from the mission. Keep focus on the mission. Keep doing good, even to those who oppose you.

The Final Victory

Finally Jesus reminds us as to what it is all about.

When the disciples return to tell of their victorious mission work, Jesus is again worried about the distraction.

Too often we become focused on the successes. The success can become our motivation. The success can easily distract us and become our measurement of God’s plan. When churches find success and grow they can become focused only on the growth.

Jesus says to the disciples – don’t rejoice at your success. Rejoice that your name is written in heaven.

And so that becomes our motivation. Not success, but the desire to have others have their name written in heaven.

We can become disheartened at the result of our mission when the results don’t happen.

When we are rejected we can feel hurt. But remember what Jesus said, they are not rejecting you, they are rejecting the one who sent you.

That is where the true hurt is, by God.

So, let us ask once again the Lord of the harvest to send us as labourers to his harvest

– to make us all faithful in our public witness to Jesus;

– to make each and every one of us faithful in bearing Christ’s name and witness to all.

It is in the honour of bearing his name that we rejoice and that our names are written in heaven. Amen.

The cost of following Jesus

THE TEXT: LUKE 9:51-62

As the time approached for him to be taken up to Heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went into a Samaritan villagechurch4 to get things ready for him. But the people there did not receive him because He was heading for Jerusalem. Seeing this, the disciples James and John said “Lord do you want us to call fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them. And they went to another village.
As they were going along the road someone said to Him: “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied: “The foxes have dens and the birds of the skies have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay the head.” And he said to another: “Follow me.” But he said to Jesus: “Lord, first allow me to go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him: “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.” And another said: “I will follow You, Lord, but first let me farewell my household.” And Jesus said to him: “No one who puts their hand to the plough and looks to the things behind is useful in the Kingdom of God.”

Footy season has been back in full swing now for a while. There’s been enough games to get a sense of whether or not the high priced recruits were worth the money, or who should be dropped and maybe culled from the playing list at the end of the year. Mike Brady’s famous song Up there Cazaly captures the fickle nature of supporters so well:

“you either love or hate it, depending on the score.”

Champion players who are lauded and decorated with all manner of awards are cheered when they’re playing well but jeered when they’re having a bad game. Champion players, after years of sacrifice on the training track, source of income for the club through promoting membership and marketing, and in some cases contributors to a premiership, are then mercilessly discarded from the playing list once they’ve hit the age of 30ish.

But this doesn’t just happen in footy. Celebrities who are idolised are just as quickly dumped depending upon what the current social fad or trend is. Some years ago, arguably the highest profile golfer in the contemporary game, Tiger Woods, went from hero to zero after it came to light that he had cheated on his wife and had several affairs.

However the hypocrisy of that reporting was simply gobsmacking. The same media who desperately desires, promotes and rejoices in all manner of sexual promiscuity and unrestrained pleasure all of a sudden became a pillar of morality, and self-righteously savaged him over a sustained period for the sake of ratings.

And then there is the world of politics -leaders from both major parties over recent campaigns have risen up against party leaders, only to shortly after themselves be wearing a knife in the back, depending on how loudly popularity polls and surveys speak.

We would like to think that human faithfulness would be a natural response in all of these situations, but the reality is the natural human response is instead fickleness – and today’s text shows that it is one that even shows itself in matters of faith.

As Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, a man approaches Jesus and declares: “I will follow you where ever you go.” This man is a believer; he trusts in Jesus, he commits to following him. However, his confession of faith is reminiscent of the Apostle Peter who trumpeted that he would never fall away from the Lord – but who would later deny him three times.

This man’s confession is bold, but premature. Jesus is, after all, going to Jerusalem – to be handed over to the chief priests and to Pilate, to be sentenced to death. To die a brutal and agonising death through crucifixion on a cross. Is this really what this man wanted and meant when he says he will follow Jesus wherever he will go?

With his reply: “The foxes have dens and the birds of the skies have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay the head” Jesus uses his own lack of a permanent home as an illustration of the path his followers must walk – the path of humility and self-emptying, of dying to the self; choosing the life with eternal purposes instead of the temporal; choosing heavenly treasures instead of earthly wealth. We don’t know if this person ended up following Jesus.

Then Jesus calls another man to follow him. This man is already a disciple – we know this because Jesus wants him to proclaim the Kingdom of God, and he doesn’t ask just anyone who hasn’t already been sufficiently instructed in the faith. But then we see the fickleness of the human heart again. This person makes excuses: “Lord, first allow me to go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him: “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.”

Jesus’ words here seem harsh, but He is not forbidding the disciples to attend funerals – particularly of parents. But if this man’s father had already died, the man would already be making funeral arrangements and not having this conversation. So it seems that he wanted to wait until after his father did die, before he followed Jesus, which might have yet been years away. That sounds like so many people today who put off following Jesus until some other day; usually in old age. But how do we know precisely when our last day will be? So this man in the text has divided loyalties. Jesus in effect tells him that the spiritually dead should bury the physically dead, and that the spiritually alive should be proclaiming the kingdom of God. What would you have done?

Still another says: “I will follow You, Lord, but first let me farewell my household.” Here, again, we see the fickle human heart with its divided loyalties. And you might be asking “How can Jesus be so harsh and force the guy’s hand into choosing between two things. But when this man gets back among his people, tells them of his intention to follow Jesus, and starts to say goodbye, will he be able to resist their pleading to stay with them and to give up Jesus? That’s why Jesus replies: “No one who puts their hand to the plough and looks to the things behind is useful in the Kingdom of God.” The phrase ‘looks the things behind is really in the sense of continually looking behind, longing, regretting for a former life before knowing Jesus.

Jesus calls us to follow Him. There is to be no divided loyalties. And following Jesus is costly. It all sounds like loss and slavery, doesn’t it? In a way it is. But ironically, it’s actually freedom. True freedom. Because if we’re not following Christ, we ultimately following ourselves. And following ourselves is a greater cost to us than following Christ. Because when we follow ourselves, our fickle hearts are not a reliable guide. We wander from Jesus and His Word and become lost, ultimately a slave to ourselves – to what our own reason makes of God’s Word and to our deficient systems and definitions of morality.

That’s just what Paul talks about in our Galatians reading today: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. You were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature.”

The options that Jesus gives to the men in our Gospel reading today are only two—follow Me or self. We don’t know what they did. What about you?

In 1519, Hernando Cortez led the Spanish conquest of Mexico. When Cortez disembarked his men off of the east coast of Mexico, he set fire to the ships that had brought them there. His men, watching their means of return to their homeland going up in flames, consequently knew that they were committing everything, even their lives to the cause of conquering a new world for Spain. There was no putting of the hand to the plough and looking back as it were. So also with you and me. When Christ says “Follow Me”, we are also called to burn our ships in the harbour—that we would be free from all worldly loves and loyalties that might come between us and our Christ.

Jesus’ call to the men in our text to follow Him is His same call to each one of us.

What are the loyalties that distract your attention from your Lord? Do you call Jesus ‘Lord’ yet still indulge the fickle heart?

Does His Word have authority over your reason, even when that Word stands for the opposite of being ‘progressive’ as society defines being progressive.

 In what ways will you follow Jesus in proclaiming the Kingdom in this place and community? How can we – and you – better do that?

What are some of the opportunities that you see?

Jesus calls us to Jerusalem, to the Cross, every day. To daily baptismal living, of dying to the self and to what the world cherishes. Of crucifying the sinful self through daily repentance, and following Him in daily rising to the newness and fullness and freedom of the resurrection life that He won for you through His own death and resurrection.

He calls you to proclaim that same message to a world that desperately needs to hear it; which has no real life, purpose or meaning, lost in the insecurity and unpredictable nature of fickleness, where people try to measure up to appearances, popularity and a purpose for life based on the swirling winds of changing social fads.

Is this not a greater cost than that of following Christ?

Following Jesus has a cost. But Jesus paid the cost himself, so as to reconcile us to the life of God and draw us to follow him, our leader. Our text says that Jesus resolutely set his face to Jerusalem. Jesus wasn’t a victim of circumstance. It was God’s will that he go to Jerusalem, go to the Cross, to pay the cost for the sins of the world through his death, even for those who did not receive him and reject him, like the Samaritans whom the Jews hated so much.

He died for those who did not deserve his love and grace; for those who did not measure up, for those whose love for God flickers and smoulders.

Then, triumphing over the grave, which we rejoice in, in this splendid season of Easter, our risen Lord calls you to follow him in a daily journey in his word, and to come to worship to follow him as he leads you as the holy host and chief actor in the worship service, to forgive, bless and strengthen you, giving you all the blessings and favour of God.

There is no other way that leads to life except to follow Jesus. It is because of Jesus who went to the Cross, to bring forgiveness, life and salvation to the world that we see God is not fickle.

He is faithful and loyal, with mercies that never end but are new each morning, who loves us unconditionally, dependant not on how well we have performed or measured up, but dependant solely on the merit of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He treads the path before us.

We follow him who has already paid and bore upon himself the cost of discipleship; we follow him who goes before us and leads us through suffering and death to resurrection and life everlasting.