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 Everything that the Christian Church stands for is being attacked as outdated and irrelevant.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