2nd Sunday in Lent 17th March

Matthew 9 : 36

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

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

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

There are two basic ways of caring for other people …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So why did Christians serve the poor?

Where did this idea come from?

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

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

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

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

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

Just take a look at the ministry of Jesus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘You did it … for me,’ says the King!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Gus Schutz

First Sunday in Lent 10th March 2019

 

Mathew: 18 : 4

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

 

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

It’s really hard for us to imagine!gus1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus invites us as his people in the world to …

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

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

Pastor: Gus Schutz