Fifth Sunday of Lent

Text: Luke 7:36-50

Theme: “Love of Another Kind” (Part 3)

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rob2“Love of another Kind” – that’s been the theme of our sermon series over these last 2 weeks, and today we’re going to complete this series.  In a nutshell, the purpose of the series has been to show us the kind of love that transforms lives and that transforms churches.  It’s the kind of love that Jesus showed, and it’s the kind of love that he asks us to show to each other.

 So far we’ve looked at different facets, different aspects of this love of Jesus.  We’ve seen that it is a love that has no limits, no filters and no conditions.  And we’ve seen that it is a love that doesn’t get fazed by interruptions.  Rather, it’s a love which is open to a change of plans, a love which seeks opportunities to serve in the midst of interruptions.

 And that brings us to the last facet of Jesus’ love that we’re going to be looking at in this series.  As we heard earlier in the passage from Luke 7, Jesus is invited to the home of a religious leader . .  but this leader doesn’t want to show kindness to Jesus.  He wants to get into an intellectual debate with him.  Why?  So that he might catch Jesus saying something inappropriate.  He’d then report this to the authorities so Jesus could be discredited.

 Now Jesus, he’s reaching out to anyone he can, so he says, “Yes, I’ll come to your home.”  So he goes to the house of the Pharisee.  A lot of people are waiting outside.  They want to watch, to listen in to see if Jesus puts his foot in his mouth.  Well Jesus, he goes inside, sits down, and just as dinner is about to begin, the neighbourhood hooker, the neighbourhood prostitute – everybody knows her, they know the street corner she hangs out on – she comes in, falls down at Jesus’ feet, and starts crying.  And she’s got some perfume, and she opens it up and starts pouring it onto Jesus feet.  And Jesus is stuck there.  And it’s awkward.  Really awkward.

 What do you do when you get stuck in one of those awkward situations, when you’re confronted by the undesirable or the disreputable?  It happened to me.  I remember the time when Beryl and I were on holidays in Fiji.  We had gone to the capital – Suva – and as we got off the bus – we were accosted by a whole group of young kids who were begging for money.  They were dressed in rags and they looked undernourished and they looked up at us with pleading eyes.  And it was awkward.

 And what about for you?  What do you do when needy people get in your way and you can’t disentangle yourself?  What do you do when there’s a moral foul-up?  What do you do when someone has abused grace, and they’ve fouled up – not once or twice or three times – but plenty, and you’re sick of it?  What do you do with Christians who say that they’re going to clean up their act and who don’t?  What do you do with fellow members who go around undermining your work for God?  What do you do when you’ve straightened out that kid or that person for the 5th time, and they foul up again?  Does your grace have a limit?  Do you say – “That’s enough!  I’m outa here!”

 Well, it’s interesting in this situation here in our text.  Here’s the neighbourhood hooker.  And we note that Jesus doesn’t pry her away.  He doesn’t shove her to the side.  He doesn’t moralize.  He doesn’t give her a sermon.  The Bible says in Luke 7 that he discerns that her tears of repentance are genuine.  And you know what he says?  “You’re forgiven. It’s over.  It’s done.”

 Folks, that’s love of another kind.  That’s a 70 times 7 love.  That’s the love of someone who truly understands grace.  And yet . . . and yet how often don’t people, don’t Christians take that grace in vain.  How often don’t they respond to God’s amazing grace to them with a condemning attitude towards others.  Remember that classic parable in Matthew 18 where this bloke owes his master a fortune, and one day the master comes and says, “Pay all of it!”  And the bloke says, “I can’t.”  So the master says, “Fine.  You and your family are going to gaol for good.”  And as he’s being led out, he gets this little wry grin on his face and he says, “You wouldn’t be in the mood for being merciful, would you?  I know it’s a long shot, but you wouldn’t feel like being merciful, would you?”  And the master says, “OK.  I’ll cancel the whole thing.  I’ll absorb the entire debt.  Paid in full.  You’re free to go.  Go, tell the wife and kids.  Have a celebration.”

 You know what he does?  He goes home, tells the wife and kids.  And then his neighbour goes by who owes him $5.   And he says, “Hey you!  Come here!  Pay me what you owe me!”  The neighbour says, “Well I don’t have it on me right now.  I could probably go across the street and raise the cash.”  “No, no”, the bloke says, “You’re going to gaol!”  And he throws him in the slammer.

 And then the master finds out about it.  Not good.  NOT GOOD!  You can read about it in Matthew 18.  The master hauls him back, and he says, “Excuse me. . .  excuse me, can I ask you a question?  Weren’t you the fella who owed me a fortune?  Weren’t you the fella who was going to be thrown into the slammer – with your family – forever?  You didn’t have a ghost’s chance to repay me.  And I cancelled the whole debt and set you free!  I took the burden off your shoulders.  And you go out and you throw a bloke in the slammer for $5!!!?  Something didn’t register in your heart the way it should have.  Had it registered properly, you would have gone back and forgiven any debt anyone owed you.  And there’d be a pattern of forgiveness and grace for the rest of your life.”

 Folks, human love  . . love of a human kind  operates like that.  It keeps saying, “You’d better not foul up.  Better do it right.  Better not let me down.  Better not hurt me.  You’d better impress me with your goodness, ‘cause if I catch you slipping up  . .  I’m going to slam you!”

 That’s love of a human kind.  And here’s Jesus  . .  and he looks at this lady who’s slipped up big-time – this neighbourhood hooker – and he discerns that her tears of repentance are real, so he says, “It’s over.  Grace for you.  What I’ll do on the cross will be applied to your life.  And you are free.  You’ve never been so free.  Free from the sins of your past.  Free to start anew.  Free to enjoy this life.  Free to enjoy eternity.”

 You know how you can tell when love of another kind is present, operating in a church?  It’s when each person walks around overwhelmed by the nature of grace  . . just overwhelmed by it.  Where grace just doesn’t get old.  Where we say to each other, “Do you know what I’ve been forgiven from?  Do you have any idea of what I’ve been released from?  Do you have any idea of the mountain of debt that has been erased in my life through the cross?”   And where we freely share that love and grace with the undesirables, with the disreputables who come our way  . . .  because we know that – in God’s eyes – we are just as undesirable, just as disreputable as they are . . .  and that they need God’s grace just as much as we do.

 And that brings us to the end of this sermon and of the sermon series.  What a Saviour we have  . .  a Saviour who loves us with love of another kind.  And if that love is operating in the hearts and lives of each one of us, this community will be awesome.  It will have that feel of the love of Christ about it.  It will have grace at the core.  It’ll be that kind of community that breathes life into people.  That kind of community that looks for the hand of God in upsets, in interruptions.  That kind of community that doesn’t have limits or filters to put people through.  That kind of community that is always looking for new ways, more ways to show love to others.

 May you, may we be known as people, as a community that radiates love of another kind.  Amen.

Pastor Rob Paech.

Fourth Sunday of Lent

Text: Luke 7:11-15

Theme: “Love of Another Kind” (Part 2 in sermon series)  

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How do episodes of TV soapies begin?  Like “Home and Away”, or “The Bold and The Beautiful”?  I’m told – I mean, I wouldn’t know from personal experience – but I’m told that they begin with a 1 minute compilation of the previous episode.  10 second grabs of the previous episode are shown – one after another – so that, even if you missed that episode, it gives you enough of the action to make sense of the present episode.

Since we’re in a sermon series – this is the 2nd in the series – I thought that a 1-minute compilation might be helpful. That way – if you missed the previous sermon – you should still be able to make sense out of this one.

Well, in the first message we saw that love is at the heart of an extra-ordinary church, that when a church is alive and effective and impacting, you can be sure that love is flowing through the lives of its members.  Not an ordinary kind of love.  Not a human kind of love.  But love of another kind.  The kind of love that Jesus showed as he rubbed shoulders with people.  And we looked at the first person in Luke chapter 7 that Jesus rubbed shoulders with – the Roman soldier who had a sick servant.  And the main point we learnt was that – while human love is so often limited, bound up by filters and conditions – Jesus’ love, the love he wants us to show, it’s unlimited, filter-less, unconditional.

That pretty much brings us up to speed and to day’s message.  The 2nd person in Luke 7 that Jesus rubs shoulders with almost happens by accident.  Jesus is going on a journey, and he gets 1 suburb away, and he’s got plans and he’s going somewhere, but his path is interrupted by a funeral procession.  Did you ever have your path, your journey cut short because you had to wait for a funeral procession?  It’s what happened to Jesus.  He’s going through a little town called Nain, and he comes across this funeral procession with a woman walking behind a casket.

What do you do when you’re in a hurry, when you’ve got some important business to attend to  . .  and somebody interrupts your plans?  What do you do?

I probably shouldn’t say this – because it doesn’t reflect too kindly on me – but I remember some time ago when I was interrupted by a funeral procession.  I was in a side street and I wanted to turn out onto the main road, and this funeral hearse drove slowly past.  And I remember looking down the line of cars to see how many friends this person had, hoping he or she didn’t have many . . . ‘cause I had to get to the office to talk to some people about Jesus . . . .  Curious, isn’t it!!  I got impatient, upset  . .  because I got interrupted by that funeral.

That’s . . .  that’s me at times.  What about you?  When you’re leading a busy life, when you’ve got appointments or a job and people expect you to be efficient and punctual  . .  what do you do when interruptions and complications and delays come your way?  What happens to your heart and mine, what happens to love of a human kind when something or someone gets in our way?  This is what often happens to our heart.  If our heart is normally this big, when someone interrupts our plans, our heart shrinks real fast.  In a matter of seconds, we can go from being calm and kind to being irritable and selfish.

Want an example to test this out?  Let’s suppose, let’s imagine that you’re at Woolies and you’ve gone there to stock up on some extra supplies in case the Covid-19 really runs rampant.  And you’re making your way up and down the aisles when a voice comes over the store intercom: “New stocks of toilet paper have just been put on the shelves.  But there is only a very limited supply.  Enough for the first 30 customers only.  Oh, and it is first come, first served.”  And you just happen to be standing right in front of those newly stocked shelves.  And you know there are at least 100 other people in that store.  And you know you probably don’t need any more rolls; you’ve got dozens stockpiled at home.  But you can hear the stampede coming your war.  And you can sense their urgency.

Now, what’s going to happen to the size of your heart?  Is your heart going to get big?   Are you going to step aside and say; “Oh please, you . . .  you go first.  Your need is greater than mine”  Probably . . . . probably many of our hearts would be shrinking.  Probably we’d be jumping forward and grabbing a pack with our right hand.  And then grabbing another pack with our left . . .  just in case!  And that would be love of a human kind  . . love of a human kind.

What did Jesus do in Luke chapter 7?  He’s busy.  He’s heading somewhere.  He’s just given his tremendously successful Sermon on the Mount, and lots of people thought that he was a big-time star.  So, he’s going along, and he gets interrupted by this funeral procession, and there’s some woman walking behind the funeral casket.  What does Luke 7 say Jesus did?  Jesus stopped  . . and he saw that woman’s broken heart.  Her son – her only son – was in that casket.  Vs 13 says, “When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her.”  In a sense, his heart grows.  And then you know what he did?  He made his way into that procession and he touched the casket and he raised her son, and he gave him back to his mother. 

Now it takes a lot of power to pull off a resurrection!  But what really hits me in this story is not Jesus’ power, but his love.  What really stirs me is the love behind this miracle.  Jesus didn’t let this interruption shrink his heart.  Instead, he saw this interruption as an opportunity to expand his heart, to share his love with someone in need.  And that’s a powerful, powerful lesson for people like you and me.  Jesus is showing us – by example – that if you’re busy, if you’re going through the day and someone throws a spanner in the works, somebody interrupts you, there’s a complication  . . and you have love of another kind operating in your heart – then you look for the person or the people or the opportunity in the middle of that interruption.  What’s first on your mind is not “What am I going to miss out on now?”, but “Who might need my love right now?  How might I show it to them?”  Instead of shifting up a gear and trying to escape the interruption, you find yourself open to a change of plans.

I realize only too well that this is no small ask.  The pace of life for most of us these days – even for those of us in retirement – is frantic  . .  and we need interruptions like a hole in the head.  But there are times each week when I’m convinced that God arranges things, when he puts us in situations with other people who need the kind of love that we can uniquely give.  They are ‘divine interruptions’, ‘divine opportunities’.  And if we have Jesus’ love operating in our hearts, we can make such a difference to people’s lives, we really can.

Can I – in closing – can I ask you this week – each day this week – can I ask you to be on the lookout for interruptions, for complications.  And the numbers of those are certain to escalate in the times ahead as the tentacles of Covid-19 reach further and further out.  When those interruptions, those complications occur, can I encourage you – before your heart shrinks and you get hot under the collar – can I encourage you to ask yourself these questions: “Lord, is this an opportunity for love of another kind?  Is this one of your divine interruptions?  Did you arrange it?  Lord, should I be putting my plans on hold here and focus on the person?  How can I show love to this person right now?”

They’re mighty important questions when interruptions come our way.  And if we can respond to those interruptions with love of another kind – with Jesus’ love – we can bring some mighty important blessings into people’s lives.

May God bless you in your interruptions this week.  Amen.

Pastor Rob Paech

Third Sunday of Lent

Love of another kind – Series Theme Introduction

15th March, 2020


Over my 40 years in parish and locum ministry, I’ve come across many, many churches.  Large churches and middle size churches and small churches.rob  Inner city churches and suburban churches and rural churches.  And – at least this is my experience anyway – there is one factor that sets some churches apart from others.  A factor that raises them above the category of “ordinary” and places them in the “extra-ordinary” category.  And this factor, it’s got nothing to do with church size or location.  I’ve found these “extra-ordinary” churches in large, urban centres, and also in small country congregations.

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So, what is this critical factor that sets some churches apart?  It’s LOVE!  Love!  Love is at the heart of every vibrant, impacting church that I know!  Bar none!  Churches can have the best location and plant and multiple staff members, but if they don’t have love beating strongly at their core, they will never be the “salt and light” church that God calls them to be.

And what is this love?  It’s the critical factor, the essential ingredient to an “extra-ordinary” church, but what is it?  What does it look like?  Where can you find it?  Well, you won’t see it on TV – on “Home and Away”, or on “The Bold and the Beautiful”.  You won’t see it demonstrated in the corporate or business world.    Nor in the various levels of government.  To see this kind of love, you need to go to another place.  Or – more correctly – to another person.  You need to go to Jesus.  To Jesus.  Because it’s another kind of love that he shows.  It’s another kind of love that he offers.  The only kind of love that makes a lasting difference in people’s lives.  The only kind of love that can truly transform churches and communities. love

So, can I invite you to join with me today – and over the next 2 Sundays – to journey through the 7th chapter in Luke’s Gospel and see Jesus interacting with various people.  And as we journey with Jesus in these interactions, we’ll see clearly what this love looks like.  And we’re going to do this under the sermon series theme of “Love of Another Kind”.

 

Love of another kind #1

Luke 7:1-10

15th March, 2020


In introducing the theme for this sermon series at the beginning of the service, I made this statement: “love is at the heart of an extraordinary church!”  And that statement is so true!  “Love is at the heart of an extraordinary church!”  When a church is alive and effective and impacting, you can be sure that love is flowing through the lives of its members.  And this love, it’s not an ordinary kind of love.  It’s not a human kind of love.  Rather, it’s “love of another kind”.  The kind of love that Jesus showed as he rubbed shoulders with people as he went about his daily business.

And that brings us to the first person in Luke chapter 7 that Jesus rubbed shoulders with.  He was a Roman soldier who had a sick servant.  So this Roman soldier – who the Jews hated – he approaches Jesus and says; “I don’t have a problem, but my servant does.  Would you consider healing him?”

Now let me ask you a question; what do you do when somebody you don’t know who has a friend of a friend of a friend comes to you and asks for a favour?  What do you do?  If you live a hectic sort of life – and many of us do – of if you’re an important kind of a person – your first reaction might well be to think to yourself; “I don’t have time to be bothered with this.”  And so you’ll say; “I’ll have my people call your people.  I’ll have someone in my organization contact someone in your organization.” …. Or what do you do when your neighbor gets a truckload of dirt dumped on his front lawn and he asks you to help him cart it round the back? …. Or when you’re asked to help some person in need in the community who you’ve never even met?  What do you do?  What do you do when you’re important or busy and people want some of your time?

Well, what did Jesus do?  Did he fob this Roman soldier off?  Did he ask one of his disciples to deal with him?  You could excuse him if he did.  I mean, Jesus is an important person.  And he’s on an important mission.  He’s on about his heavenly Father’s business.  And there’s so much for him to do.

So, what did Jesus do?  Jesus says; “Oh, there’s a hired hand you want healed?  No problem!”  And he heals him.

I’ve got to be honest; that’s not my natural way of operating.  If somebody comes to me for help, I’m likely to throw up some filters and conditions.  I don’t try to, but it just happens sometimes.  I can find myself saying; “OK, let me check these people out.  They’d better be legitimate.  They’d better be this.  They’d better be that.  And if they fit through all these conditions and filters that I put up and run them through, well, I might respond positively to their request”.

My love …. my love at times can be so limited, so restricted.  And then there’s Jesus’ love, and it has no filters or conditions.  In its scope, it is unlimited and unrestricted.  Jesus performs no background check to find out his credentials.  He disregards conventional prejudice about this person’s race and occupation.  He just helps him.  In the midst of his important schedule, he shows “love of another kind”.

I suspect that I’m not the only one who struggles with giving love, with giving time and energy and care to those who come in need.  Many people struggle with it.  They say; “I’ll love people if they’re white.  I’ll love people if they’re middle class.  I’ll love people if they’re educated.  I’ll love people if they vote the right way.  I’ll love people if they have the right tastes in music or in fashion.  I’ll love people if they’re young, or if they’re old.  I’ll love people if, if, if, if, if”.  And it affects, it limits the quality of relationships we have with others.

For starters, it limits our relationships within the family unit.  “If you put out the garbage, or if you do this job for me, then I’ll love you.”  But that kind of conditional love, it stunts relationships between husbands and wives.  It cripples relationships between parents and children.

 What our families need, what they desperately need, is mums and dads and teenagers and children who have “love of another kind” … who love unconditionally – without filters or limits.  Because when that kind of love is present in a family, people blossom and relationships deepen.  It makes all the difference when kids and teenagers know that – despite their way-out hair style or clothes or body piercing, … that even if they bomb out in school or drop out of uni or mess up their relationships – it makes all the difference when kids and teenagers know that their parents still love them with everything they’ve got,  … and that they’ll never stop loving them…..   It makes all the difference when spouses know that – even if they’re depressed or out of sorts or if they’ve failed their spouse big time – it makes all the difference when a spouse knows that their partner will keep on loving and loving and loving them. 

Not only does love of a human kind limit relationships in the family, but it also limits relationships in our community.  Love of a human kind responds to pop stars and movie stars and sports stars.  It makes time for the rich, the powerful, the popular.  But if you don’t fit into any of these categories, then that’s just bad luck.  If you happen to be unemployed or uneducated, if you happen to belong to the underclass or deviate from the socially accepted norm, it’ll probably mean that you’re going to be by-passed, over-looked, under-loved by the community.

What our community needs is “love of another kind”. … where people are treated equally – irrespective of their social standing … where people are given equal opportunity – irrespective of who they know or don’t know … where people are valued for who they are, not just for what I can get out of them … where people are respected and cared for because they’re people, not inconveniences or anonymous entities … where people can come to us with their requests – as did that Roman soldier – and we say – as Jesus did; “No problem.  I’ll help!”

And then there is the church community.  And where church communities run only on love of a human kind, they can be pretty tough places to exist in.  I’ve been privileged to be connected with some wonderfully loving and caring churches in my time.  But I’ve also seen the damage that happens in churches where the “in crowd” excludes the “out-crowd” or the new-comers ….  where the hand of fellowship is extended only as long as people are prepared to conform …. where people place all sorts of conditions on their support.

This is the 3rd year that Beryl and I have been coming for a stint here at St Peter’s Lutheran Church, Port Macquarie.  And I’ve got to say that we have felt welcomed and embraced and valued from day 1!  You have something special here!  But this church family – like any church family – needs to constantly be looking at the mirror and asking questions like: How serious are we about building relationships with those in our various communities so that we can share ourselves and our Saviour with them?  Like, how open are we to newcomers when they do come?  How much are we prepared to give, to serve, so that they might come to know Jesus and what it means to be a part of his family?    Like, how prepared are we to put aside hurts and disappointments from fellow members so that we can move on to health and wholeness?

What’s needed in our families?  What’s needed in our community?  What’s needed in our church?  It’s “love of another kind”.  It’s Jesus’ love.  It’s the sort of love he showed to that soldier’s servant, to that hired help.  A love that has no filters, no conditions.  It’s a risky kind of love, an unpredictable kind of love, because you don’t know who’s going to come around the corner, you don’t know who’s going to come your way with a request, a problem, a hurt.  But if that “love of another kind” is operating in your heart and life, it’s awesome!  It’s awesome!  It makes an immeasurable difference to the quality of life in our homes and in our community and in our church.

This “love of another kind”, it comes from Jesus.  And it’s available to you today.  Over the next 2 Sundays we’re going to look at it more closely, but you don’t have to wait till then to receive it.  It’s available to you right now.  All you need to do is to ask Jesus for it … to acknowledge that your human love is too limited, too filtered, too conditional …. and that you need his unconditional love to fill you and to flow through you.

It’s worth thinking about and asking for, wouldn’t you agree?

Pastor Rob Paech.

 

Second Sunday of Lent

The Text: John 3:1-17

God’s Family and Our Family

How often do you stop to think about what God is like? As far as eternity is concerned, what you believe about God is the most important thing about you. Knowledge of God is the most important knowledge you can possess.dhuff Knowledge of God is momentous knowledge because of its power to change lives in so many wonderful ways. The better you know God personally, the stronger will be your convictions on moral matters and the keener you will be to act on these convictions. The Bible says, “The people who know their God will stand firm and take action (Daniel 11:32).”

 A group of university students were asked for their definition of God. Some gave very complicated definitions; others gave very vague definitions. Finally a normally quiet, shy girl said with a big smile on her face: “God is the One without whom I cannot exist!” What we believe about God makes all the difference to how we live from week to week. God wants to be our refuge and strength amid the stresses and strains of daily life. Our Triune God isn’t remote or aloof from contemporary life, but is deeply involved in what’s happening in our lives now. Our God is behind all the things that go right in our lives each week.

 In His Son Jesus Christ, God has all the time in the world for individuals. In today’s Gospel about Nicodemus’ conversation with Jesus, we have the first of many conversations Jesus has with individuals on a one to one basis. What’s more, many of the greatest truths Jesus ever told were shared with individual men and women. Perhaps this is Jesus’ way of saying that these priceless messages of good news are meant for each one of us personally.

 Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night-time, fascinated by the miracles Jesus performed. In those days, religious issues were often debated at night-time, even on a roof-top to take advantage of a refreshing evening breeze. Nicodemus has come to question Jesus. Instead, He ends up being questioned by Jesus. Nicodemus begins by paying Jesus a compliment, and is taken aback by Jesus’ unexpected reply. Jesus ignores the compliment and focuses instead on the new birth we all need in order to join God’s Kingdom. Jesus says, “No one can see the Kingdom of God without being born again.”

 Poor Nicodemus! He, almost humorously, takes Jesus’ words literally. He naively comments that no adult can enter their mother’s womb a second time. Jesus takes the focus from Himself and gives it to the Holy Spirit when He says, “No one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.” This is an example of the selfless way the three members of the Trinity operate. They honour each other by pointing to the work the other members of the Trinity do.

 God the Father points to the saving work of His Son Jesus and glorifies Him. Jesus takes the focus from Himself and glorifies His heavenly Father, while the Holy Spirit points us to Jesus and all that Jesus has done for us. God is no single person, but a social being, a Family of three persons. Just as it takes three persons to make a family, so the Trinity models family life for us. At the beginning of creation, God said, “It is not good that anyone should be alone (Genesis 2:18).” God never meant us to be alone, but rather to find our purpose and meaning in life and our fulfilment in relationships with one another.

 Our Father in heaven has given all authority, wisdom and love to our Saviour Jesus.  Jesus, in turn, is totally committed to doing His Father’s will. He says, “My food is to do the will of the Father who sent me (John 4:34).” The Holy Spirit reveals the Father and the Son to us and does all He can to bring them praise and glory. The chief characteristic of the Triune God is that of a community reaching out to include us in their love for each other. They want us to enjoy the fellowship they have with each other. You cannot have one member of the Trinity without also having the other two.

 None of us is self-made. We all began life in a triangular relationship with a mother and father. Most of us are involved in a threefold set of personal relationships. For example, I am a husband to my dear wife, a father to my children and a brother to my own siblings. Jesus says to each of you, “As the Father has loved Me, so I have loved you (John 15:9).” When the Bible says “God is love”, it affirms God’ social and Trinitarian nature, for love needs both a giver and a receiver.

 True love is mutual. Yet it is also more than mutual. Its outgoing nature is eager to bless as many other persons as possible. Self-sacrificial love is love at its best. Out of love for the whole world, God the Father sacrificed His dearest possession, His only Son, for us. This was the most glorious act of love by the Father in heaven. The glory of John 3:16 is in the special relationship between the Father and His Son. Jesus is God’s greatest gift of love to us, given to us so that we won’t perish. To “not perish” means that our lives won’t be wasted, but will enjoy life forever with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

 This hope that is ours through faith in Christ Jesus is a robust and resilient hope offered without limit. TV advertisements sometimes tell us “This offer is limited” or “Available only as long as supplies last”. Into our world of limited resources, limited time and limited opportunities Jesus tells us of God’s limitless love for the whole world. It would have been mind-blowing for Nicodemus to learn that God loves the whole world and that the very person he was listening to was proof of this love. “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not withhold His own Son, but gave Him up for all of us, will not God with Him also give us everything else? (Romans 8:31-32)” When we believe this with our whole being, then our lives become radiant with an indestructible hope.

 Rachel, a secondary school student, is an example of this. Seventeen-year-old Rachel wrote to her cousin, “If you had to make a list of the top 5 things most important to you, what would you put? Here’s mine: (1) God, (2) Family, (3) Friends, (4) My future, (5) Myself.”

 For Rachel and many other believers, God is No. 1 and all else is secondary. Rachel grew in grace and love. Her remarkable journal and her letters show that she understood what it meant to put God first in everything. She exhibited a deep spiritual life and wrote about her faith, her awareness of the fragility of life and the strength of God.

 Soon after, Rachel became one of fifteen victims in a tragic massacre at Columbine High School in America. Her attacker asked, “Do you believe in God?” She responded, “You know I do”, whereupon he said, “Then go be with Him”, and shot her.

 Earlier, Rachel had faced difficulties because of her faith and wrote, “I am not going to apologize for speaking the name of Jesus, I am not going to justify my faith to them, and I am not going to hide the light that God has put into me. If I have to sacrifice everything … I will. I will take it. If my friends have to become my enemies for me to be with my best Friend Jesus, then that’s fine with me.”

 What a heroic faith in a teenage girl, and what an inspiration for Christians of all ages. As the Lord’s Prayer reminds us, our Father in heaven is at the centre of everyday life, there to bless it and fill it with meaning. The Triune God can be found in our hospitals, our welfare centres, and near to the sick and dying. Jesus is on the side of the poor and needy, and we will discover Him there when we minister to them.

 God has created us so that we thrive in the company of others and they in turn bring out the best in us. It’s in our relationships with each other and with those closest to us that we find our true identity. It’s been said that a happy home life is our greatest source of satisfaction here on earth. God has given us families to teach us something about His own threefold Family. Healthy family living is other-centred in nature, where we’re more concerned to show love than to receive it. As the Prayer of St. Francis says, “It is in giving that we receive”; we receive the joy of blessing others with our gifts of love.

 “We love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19).” God’s love for us, given to us in richest measure in His Son Jesus Christ, is the best foretaste of Eternity we will experience in this life. And we look forward to eternal life when we will be “lost in wonder, love and praise” of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

 “O, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways! … From Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:33, 36)

First Sunday in Lent

The Text: Matthew 4:1-11

 

Lord Jesus, your word has power to heal and restore, as we meditate on your word, enlighten our hearts and minds and transform us by your Spirit. Amen.

Matthew 3 to Matthew 4 gives us one of the biggest contrasts that exists in the gospels.20180311_103505 (1)

Jesus goes from the cool waters of the Jordan; now into the wilderness.

From the huge crowds into isolation.

From the Spirit resting upon him like a dove to being driven by the Spirit into the wilderness.

From the voice of the Father calling him “Beloved Son” to the voice of the tester.

It is as if over the course of these two chapters we get a reimaging of the incarnation. When Jesus was born to walk this earth, he stepped out of all the heavenly Glory, placed in the womb of a young nobody girl from the backwaters of Nazareth. When we celebrate Christmas we celebrate that there is the deliberate choice by Jesus to honour his Father and leave his heavenly kingdom to dwell on earth and every step would have been a reminder of what he had given up.

And just as the incarnation was the conscious decision of Jesus to leave Heaven, so now in the transition between Matthew 3 and 4 we see on the one hand the beauty of the relationship of the Godhead, three in one, only to see the Spirit again sending Jesus away from that into something strange and unfamiliar.

In the incarnation and in the wilderness, Jesus is not there by mistake. With the test to come from the devil, Jesus is not caught unaware. When Jesus enters the wilderness, he is on a mission to find the devil and pass the test. But it is the God of the universe who sets this test to reveal who Jesus truly is. When we read Matthew 4, we need to think in terms of the testing of Jesus, not the temptation. Temptation speaks of trying to trap someone to sin.  A test exists to make plain what is really true.  Therefore when the Spirit drives Jesus into the desert to be tested, it’s not to work out whether Jesus can resist evil, but for Jesus to be revealed as to who he is as the Son of God.

Our text says that Jesus went out to face the test, but it took 40 days for the devil to show up. The devil wasn’t going to face Jesus when he was energised and primed—that would just be crazy. The devil waits until Jesus has begun to experience what a world broken by sin can truly feel like. Hunger, thirst, fatigue, pain, disorientation.  And in steps the devil to test Jesus. Each of the three tests are the product of a disordered creation.  Each of the three tests are luring Jesus with the very things that the wilderness has taken from him.

So it begins.  The first temptation is harmless enough:  if you are the Son of God, command these stones become bread.  A victimless suggestion, an easy way to assert his identity- no one is hurt, no command is broken is it?  Well almost.  Remember, why was Jesus in the wilderness?  Because the Spirit sent him there. It is where Jesus is supposed to be and if the Father has withheld food from Jesus then that is well enough, to make food for himself is to assert himself against his Father’s will in a place where he has chosen to instead submit to it.

Jesus responds by quoting from Deuteronomy 8:2-5, where Moses spoke to the people of Israel (Deuteronomy 8:2-5):

And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years.  Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you.

The wilderness and the hunger isn’t an end in itself.  God’s people spent 40 years out there so that God would test them and know their hearts.  They were humbled, they looked to the hand of God to provide for them.  But the goal, the purpose, was so that they would learn reliance on the Lord alone to provide for them.

Now the people of Israel did not do so well.  In the desert they complained against God. When he provided they doubted and took extra just in case, and how long after they left the desert did it take before they again relied on themselves and not every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord?

So this test by the devil seems harmless on the surface. But Jesus sees right through him.  This was so much more.  It would not be enough for Jesus to remedy his suffering for himself.  He did not come to simply soothe the pain of a broken world and make it a little more bearable.  He had come to restore it, by triumphing over sin, death and Satan himself.  He has come to be what the people of Israel were meant to be and failed. And so even if the father sent him to a place where he felt impact of our broken world through the wilderness, he knows that his circumstances do not define him, but his relationship with the Father does.

So the Devil tries something new. He takes Jesus to the heights of the Temple and says ‘“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”  Jesus isn’t the only one who can quote the Bible!  But like all good lies that contain about 90% truth, this test is designed to subtly redirect the intent and purpose of the word of God.  The devil quotes Psalm 91, and it seems to make sense, God will protect you Jesus, you won’t get hurt.

Yet there are in fact two fundamental flaws.

The first is that a Psalm of trust and confidence in God is transformed into a method to get God to do what you think you want or need. Psalm 91 is a beautiful Psalm of trust that helps us understand our circumstances especially when we are afraid or unsure. The devil tried to turn it into a means of forcing the Father’s hand. So instead of proclaiming unfailing trust in God, this test seeks to create doubt in the mind of Jesus and push him to force God to demonstrate his love on Jesus’ terms.  It becomes the exact opposite of the original meaning of the Psalm.

The second flaw stands out really clearly once you see it.  By saying that the Father won’t let Jesus be hurt, the devil trying to redefine the nature of the relationship between Jesus and the Father.  ‘If you are the Father’s only Son, surely he doesn’t want you to be hurt…’  the problem is: that’s precisely why Jesus had come- not to be hurt in some fickle experiment, but to bear the brunt of all hurt and all pain and all suffering.

To suggest that the Father would not allow Jesus to feel pain if he truly loved him seeks to test whether Jesus would truly obey the Father in all things regardless of the cost.

And Jesus sees right through him, quoting Deuteronomy 6: “you shall not put the Lord you God to the test.”

It is no one’s prerogative to assume that God is there to act when we tell him, to intervene when we demand it.  Even Jesus, the perfect Son, would not assume to flip this story on its head.  It is the Father testing him to reveal the truth of who Jesus is, it is not for Jesus to test the Father to try and determine his motives or his character.

Israel failed that test, they questioned God’s goodness, they doubted his provision, they dismissed his love and grace over and over again.  Jesus on the other hand demonstrates total trust in the Father, without having to get the Father to perform for him.  He trusts the Father’s goodness even when the path included pain and suffering. Jesus had come to go to the cross, pain was his path and he knew it was the goodness and grace of God that demanded it. He would not escape it, he would faithfully submit to his Father’s will and endure it—for us.

The devil has one more attempt.  If the path Jesus was on meant willingly going without food, meant not forcing the Father to intervene to avoid suffering, and indeed meant suffering, then the last test is simple- choose a different god.  Leave this one and instead of the wilderness you can have the world.  Exchange the God of the Cross and inherit the world.

Did the devil even have the right to offer this gift?  Of course not, the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it!  And Jesus saw right through him.

In the wilderness, the Israelites failed this test, they worshipped other God’s, they looked for an easier path, but Jesus’ character is revealed in this test.  Even knowing what it would mean to follow the Father, he would not turn away.

The Father was placing all things under Jesus and through the cross he becomes the Saviour of the world. Where Israel failed, Jesus triumphs.

Jesus tells Satan ‘Go!’ and Satan leaves.  The Father’s test is over and Jesus’ character has been revealed.

Where Israel could not be faithful, Jesus takes their place and fulfils it on their and our behalf.

From this point on evil wears the face of defeat.  All evil is now powerless in the presence of Jesus.  Jesus’ ministry begins by overcoming evil in these tests.  It reaches its climax when Jesus overcomes evil by the cross; it will end when Jesus comes again and finally and fully restores all creation—which includes us, too.

Amen.

5th Sunday in Lent 7th April

Philippians 3 : 4b – 14

‘Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.’

As Christians in the world today, we are living in really exciting times!gus1
Don’t you think so?

They may be challenging and tough times, but I believe that for us they are really good times.

They are difficult times because the established church is coming in for a bashing like never before. Everything that the Christian Church stands for is being attacked as outdated and irrelevant. The teaching and morals we promote are labelled by many as intolerant, inappropriate and insensitive. Even God’s Word, the Holy Bible, which for us is the basis of our faith, our teaching and way of life, is in many circles treated with utter contempt. And I could probably go on!

We are living in a world of constant and rapid change. Change can be difficult and stressful. But challenging and tough times are good times, because they bring us back to the heart of who we are and what we really believe.

So what do you believe?  What do you really believe?

I get to conduct many funerals. It happens to be an occupational hazard!

I remember a man coming to me after the grave-side service of one funeral, and saying: ‘Thank you for pointing us to Christ crucified and risen from the dead – the only sure hope for us in death!’

I simply responded: ‘What else is there to point to?’ And yet I suspect he was saying something more; because I have experienced it and I struggle with it most times I prepare for a funeral.

Yet, some so called ‘Christian’ funerals today seem to deny the need for a Saviour. The whole process becomes a celebration of the one who died. So that the comfort for those who mourn is … ‘he lived a pretty good life, she lived a good life … now that’s gotta count for something!’

Well, the apostle Paul blows that line of thinking out of the water!

But the danger can be that some of us ‘Christians’ just don’t get it!

So just listen to what Paul says highlighting his own personal ‘good life’

  • ‘I was circumcised on the eighth day’ (v. 5)

The command of God that was given to Abraham was followed in Paul’s life!  This means he was born into the Jewish faith. He knew the privileges and observed all the ceremonies after his birth.

  • He was … ‘of the people of Israel’ (v. 5)

This put him in a most unique and special relationship with God. Because God chose Israel from among all the other nations!  By calling himself an Israelite, Paul stressed the absolute purity of his race and descent.

  • He was … ‘of the tribe of Benjamin’ (v. 5)

He was not only an Israelite, he was from an elite tribe!  This gave him a very special place and position. It was as if he belonged to Israel’s royalty!

  • He was … ‘a Hebrew of Hebrews’ (v. 5)

We know that the Jews were scattered all over the world. But Paul belonged to that group of Hebrews who stubbornly refused to assimilate with the nations among whom they lived. And to do that, they continued to learn and speak their native Hebrew language. It made them truly Hebrew.

  • ‘in regard to the law,’ he was … ‘a Pharisee’ (v. 5)

There were not many Pharisees. They were a very special sect – the spiritual athletes of Judaism. Devoting their whole lives not just to the study of every smallest detail of the Law, but also to following it to the ‘nth’ degree!

  • And ‘as for zeal, persecuting the church’ (v. 6)

Commitment to a cause was the greatest quality in religious life. Paul was convinced that Jesus Christ was intending to undermine Jewish Law. So he persecuted the followers of Christ, trying to destroy his apostles. (see Acts 9:1-2)

  • And ‘as for legalistic righteousness’, he was ‘faultless’ (v. 6)

There were no demands of the Law which Paul did not fulfil. When it came to the Law, he was above and beyond criticism.

So how do your credentials stack up against those of the apostle Paul?

Does our ‘good life’ come anywhere near the ‘good life’ and the ‘achievements’ of Paul?

Now just listen to what Paul thinks of his credentials?  His ‘good life’!  He says: ‘… I consider everything a loss to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, having a righteousness … which is through faith in Christ.’ (v. 8-9)

Now that word rubbish is a very strong word. In English we call it ‘dung.’  We know it by other names – it’s that offensive substance that every living creature expels from the body daily!

It does not matter how impressive our human achievements are – they only amount to dirty, smelly dung. Even our Christian parents, or our connection to the church – whether regular or occasional, cannot put us right with God. Our position in society is of no help!  My being a pastor will not save me!  We cannot win God’s saving love. We cannot earn eternal life with God in heaven.

God’s saving love comes to us only through faith in Christ.

Let’s hear what the Apostle Paul says: ‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.’  (Ephesians 2:8-9)  This is the heart of our faith as Lutherans.

So do you get it?  Everything else in life is dung, compared to knowing Christ!

Now we have all come to know each other, to varying degrees, haven’t we?

Well, big deal!  So what!  Our ‘knowing’ each other counts for nothing, if we are not in a relationship with each other. In relationships that blesses us all – and please and honour our God.

When we die, we can’t take our life achievements with us.

At very best our credentials and our achievements will be like dung. They may perhaps fertilize the world we leave behind, and the lives of others. But they won’t help us.

When we die the only thing we can take with us is our relationship with Jesus!

So to know Christ should be our ultimate goal.

Now just consider your values.

Do you place anything above your relationship with Jesus?

It is only in Christ that we enjoy all the blessings and benefits of being in a right relationship with God.

We have peace now through the forgiveness of sins. We experience it in the miracle of baptism. We express it in our personal confession, followed by God’s forgiveness!  Strength for daily living in the power of God’s love!  Given to us right here in Christ’s body broken and his blood poured out.

I hope you came here with empty hands this morning. Because there is nothing we can offer God.

May you go with hands and hearts filled to overflowing with the richness of God’s love and grace, …

as he leads you forward … ‘toward the goal to win the prize for which God

has called (you)  heavenward in Christ Jesus.’ (v. 14)

Pastor Gus Schutz

4th Sunday in Lent 31st March

Matthew 6 : 12, 14 – 15

‘Forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors, … For if you forgive others when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins’.gus1

 Forgiving relationships are living relationships!

If we can’t forgive others, then we will never be able to live in healthy relationships with other people. This is true for all of our relationships. It is true in marriage, in our homes, in our work places and at leisure. If you are not forgiving, you are not living!
Why?  Because you and I are not perfect twenty four seven, are we? We say and do things that hurt others. Sometimes we are simply misunderstood. We don’t mean to hurt others, but we do inflict hurt on them.
It is the same with us. We are also hurt by others. Sometimes their intention is to hurt us. Other times we misunderstand them. Maybe we are just having a bad day. We are vulnerable, sensitive or touchy.
But the truth remains – we hurt, and we are hurt.

So without forgiveness, there is hostility, division and separation.

But where there is forgiveness, there is healing and reconciliation. Relationships can be restored and strengthened again. There can be hope for a better future through forgiveness.

We need to know that forgiveness is only possible because of Jesus.

Words of forgiveness happen to be the first words Jesus spoke from the cross!

Did you know that?  Jesus was nailed to the cross along with two criminals, and he is recorded as saying: ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’. (Luke 23:34) He came to establish a new way – the way of forgiveness. Forgiveness is at the heart of Easter. It is the purpose for which he came and the climax of his mission in the world.
We know Jesus died on a Roman cross. He was buried in a tomb and the entrance was blocked by a large stone and guarded by Roman soldiers. Jesus was dead!
But Jesus broke free from the tomb. He overcame death, and he appeared to people as the risen and living Lord Jesus.
The actions of Jesus were not just a moral example. He was God in human flesh, who came to extend his grace and forgiveness to all of humanity.

Forgiveness is at the heart of celebrating Easter.

Today we are challenged to truly understand forgiveness. Both how we offer forgiveness to others, and also how we receive forgiveness for ourselves.

  • Some of you will know the story of Nelson Mandela.

He was an anti-apartheid revolutionary in South Africa, mid last century. Because of his strong stand, he was unjustly and unfairly imprisoned for twenty seven years. Apartheid was a system imposed by the then minority white government of segregating races. Of keeping the predominantly dark skinned people separate from whites. It inferred that black skinned people were inferior to white skinned people.
Now we could understand that after being falsely imprisoned for those long years, a man may grow bitter and resentful toward such a cruel leadership that ordered his imprisonment. But Mandela wisely knew that forgiveness was the only way forward. He said: ‘We never heal until we forgive’. ‘You will achieve more in this world through acts of mercy and forgiveness, than you will through acts of revenge’.
Mandela’s life was an amazing and wonderful witness to the power of love and forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a choice we make in life.

It is a value we continue to live out. It is a daily attitude we put into practice, even when we feel wronged, and even if those who brought pain on us are not seeking our forgiveness.

Forgiveness really matters!  Remember how important forgiveness was for Jesus.

  1. Firstly, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches his people how to pray.

It is from his teaching that we get the well known and frequently prayed ‘Lord’s Prayer’. It is significant that immediately after the Lord’s Prayer, he repeats the call to: ‘forgive!’  Now doesn’t that emphasize how important forgiveness is?
He adds this warning to his repeated call to forgive – For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.’ (Matthew 6:14-15)

  1. Secondly, Jesus challenges us to see what our failure to forgive looks like from God’s perspective. (The parable of Matthew 18:23-35)

He tells the story of a servant who owes his master or king an outrageous amount of money – about a million dollars!  He has no way of repaying this debt. So he pleads for mercy and has the debt cancelled! But immediately after having his debt forgiven, he meets a man who owes him a small amount – only a few dollars – and demands that it be repaid in full. This man is poor, so, in the same way, he pleads for mercy. But his plea falls on deaf ears, and he is sent to jail until the meager amount is repaid.
In Jesus’ story, others see what has happened, so they complain to the king. Naturally the king is furious, so he has him dragged in to explain his cruel behavior, when he has been treated so graciously.
It’s a question we all need to consider. Every single one of us has been forgiven so much by a gracious and loving God. He is so good to us, he keeps on forgiving us when we turn to him for mercy. Whatever debt others may owe to us is by comparison minute! Therefore we should be ready to forgive, thankful that our God is so rich in forgiving us!

So why is it that like the unforgiving servant we struggle so much to forgive?

  • Well, we simply underestimate the amount we have been forgiven!

This is common, even for us as Christians. But the apostle Paul makes it clear that: ‘we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God’. (Romans 3:23)  The prophet Isaiah is less charitable, suggesting that in God’s eyes: ‘even our very best actions are like filthy rags!’ (Isaiah 64:6) So Paul is right to say: ‘we were dead in our transgressions and sins!’ (Ephesians 2:1)

  • Again, we are all probably suffering deeply from our own hurt.

Every one of us here will have our own story of being hurt by others. There will be people here today for whom forgiving another just feels impossible. You have been hurt, wounded and abused. The scars of those wounds run so deep that you feel the request to forgive is too great. The bible’s word for ‘forgive’ literally means ‘let go’.  Some of us may know we need to let go, but we don’t know how to let go. That’s how difficult it is to forgive. The point is this: ‘until we let go, we will forever be bound!’  It is an awful thing to be bound in your own hurt and pain.

When we truly understand the love of Jesus in forgiving us, we can begin to forgive!
Jesus is showing us that if we have been forgiven a great debt, we too can be led to forgive. Knowing we have been forgiven so much helps us to forgive others. Our capacity to forgive others is shaped by our experience of forgiveness. Look to Jesus!  For God, in Jesus, just keeps on forgiving us! So, as God forgives you, in the power of his love, forgive others, one person at a time.

Today is the opportunity for each one of us to make a fresh start.

Look to the cross of Jesus, and see that his forgiving love is for you. That means you can start be forgiving yourself. In Jesus, God gives you a new beginning and new opportunities every day.
So let Jesus give you the courage and the grace to forgive others. You may be surprised how better you will feel and how you will bring healing to our relationships with others.

Not only that – you will honour the God who in Jesus so richly forgives you!

Pastor Gus Schutz

Third Sunday in Lent 24th March

Matthew 20 : 26

‘Not so with you. Instead whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.’

How do you understand and rate the quality of ‘humility?’gus1

There is an ancient text written six hundred years before Jesus was born listing positive life-guidelines for living well. There are almost one hundred and fifty short statements in that list. But the idea of ‘humility’ does not even rate a mention on this list!  Does that surprise you?

Now contrast that with the book called: ‘The Ideal Team Player’.

It was released in 2016 and is written by Patrick Lencioni. He is not a Christian author, he is a world best-selling writer. His books are even used by corporate leaders around the world. In his book: ‘The Ideal Team Player’, he lists three main attributes of the best team members. Would you believe it, one of the three happens to be: ‘humility!’

This is an enormous change, but our community gives little thought to it!
An ancient document lists nearly one hundred and fifty guidelines for living well, and humility is not even mentioned!  But ‘The Ideal Team Player’ lists only three qualities and ‘humility’ is one of them!

The point is this: humility was not a virtue when Jesus came into our world!

In fact, humility was even seen to be a weakness, a character flaw. People would not lower themselves beneath those they believed to be less than them. They would only humble themselves before those who were much greater than them. So Jesus spoke to his disciples about the attitude of leaders at that time, the Gentile leaders. ‘You know the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them’, he said, ‘and their high authorities exercise authority over them.’  (Matthew 20:25)  He was describing their leadership style. So, if followers of the Greco-Roman culture were to hear these words, they would say: ‘Yeah, that’s exactly what we do!’  It’s a bit like someone scoring a goal, and raising his arms, as if to say: ‘look how good I am!’

 So how did Jesus respond to this pride and arrogance?

He says: ‘No, that’s not how it is to be. Actually greatness is servanthood. Greatness is to be a slave.
It is to humble yourself, and joyfully and lovingly be willing to be the servant of others. Jesus does not only teach humility, he models humility in his life. There are so many examples, but two stand out above and beyond all the others …

  1. Firstly, when Jesus was at the last supper with his disciples.

This story has come to greatly influence both the church and our world.

Foot washing was a necessary social task at that time. Palestine was a very hot place. Roads were dusty. People wore open sandals. They shared meals together at the end of the day. You may imagine that to do so without having your feet washed would be very unpleasant. That task was obviously left to the lowliest of servants. No one wants to wash the feet of others, do they? The meal is ready, but there is nobody to wash feet. No servant has been assigned. Jesus notices this, so without a word, he takes on the role of washing the feet!  He knows the time has come for him to leave the world and return to His Father. (John 13:1) He knew his relationship and position with God.

In the culture at that time, Jesus would have been … and should have been the last person in the room to wash anyone’s feet. But he humbles himself, takes on the role of a servant, and washes their feet.

Now, the unusual nature of what Jesus did is made clear by Peter’s reaction.
This is not right, he thinks!  So Peter refuses to allow Jesus to wash his feet. He is simply representing the culture of his time. In Peter’s eyes, what Jesus does is not right! So Jesus must explain his actions. For what he has done is not just a moment in time!

It’s the picture of the future for all who would be the leaders of the early church.
They will set the tone and pattern for leadership in the future. Yes, even for us in the world today!

“Do you understand what I have done …?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”  (John 13:12-17)

  1. Secondly, and most powerfully, we see humility in Jesus death on the cross!

No act has influenced the world view on humility more than the death of Jesus on a Roman cross. All four gospels outline the story of Jesus’ crucifixion, but the apostle Paul gives us another perspective. Paul is writing to the church at Philippi, encouraging the attitude of humility. He invites them to serve others, to look for the good of others, and not their own desires. He uses the example of Jesus’ death on the cross to reinforce his point. Jesus gives up his life for others. Scholars suggest this section which was our first reading today, did not originate with Paul. They believe he is quoting a poem or hymn that was passed on between Christians. The clear teaching is that Jesus gave up what was his.
For although: ‘being in very nature God, he did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage.’ (Philippians 2:6)

He set His being God aside in an act of humility and service for all humanity!
This became the example, the template, the pattern for behaviour of the early church, in leadership. How gloriously and wonderfully refreshing!  If this were the same attitude and approach of church leadership today, maybe the church would not be the foul odour in society that it currently is.

The apostle Paul embraces the same model of humility. He was dealing with issues among God’s people at Corinth. As a church leader, missionary and church planter, he had a right to expect support from the church. Financial help would allow him to continue his role in ministry. It was the practice that speakers who travelled to speak and lecture were paid. Paul insisted that he would not use this right, for he was there to serve people with the gospel.

‘If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more?’ he says. ‘But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel.’  (1 Corinthians 9:12) The attitude of Paul was to follow Jesus. ‘Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.’ (1 Cor. 9:19)

What a blessing to have this God inspired change of attitude!

It is only in the first century, after the death and resurrection of Jesus; that history speaks of humility in a positive way. This is not a religious reflection. It is the simple truth of history. The example of Jesus has transformed leadership styles in the church, in communities and around the world.

I thank God for the humble, servant leaders we have here in our congregation.

At the Holy Trinity Lutheran College and the Sunnyside Lutheran Retirement Village. At the Jacob’s Well Christian Bookstore and the Christian Emergency Food Centre. I thank God for the men and women of God who have modelled serving with humility in leadership roles in our community over the years. I praise him for the men and women who follow Jesus as they embrace the privilege and responsibility of parenting their children and of being a shining light for all people.

When Jesus went to the cross, he gave up his life for all people.

What amazing love!  For in Jesus he gave all people the opportunity to come into a relationship with God. It is only through Jesus that we can call God our dear Father. Thanks be to God for Jesus!

Lord Jesus, please continue to bless us with your humility, as we lead your people!

Pastor Gus Schutz

Second 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