Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

The Text: Mark 4:35-41

 

The sinking ship is an image that can represent our greatest fears in situations of panic. The image of a sinking ship stirs in us a fear that our refuge at seachurch4 may not be that safe after all. For the famous ship the Titanic that sank in 1912, the ship was boasted as unsinkable, and having enough lifeboats on the deck for all on board was seen to spoil the look of the ship. What a tragic mistake that was! So many lives could have been saved if there were simply enough boats; the pride of human achievement blinding them from common sense.

But as we might picture the stern of this great ship sticking out of the water, we can be reminded of the near sinking of the boat that Jesus and the disciples were in on the Sea of Galilee in our text today. It’s not too different in fact from Titanic. Their boat was beginning to flood at the bow or front, with the disciples desperately trying to stop the stormy water from filling it up. Jesus is tucked up and sleeping at the stern, still dry. Jesus is raised up at the stern, the disciples down low feeling the icy cold threat of death and drowning as the water takes over.

The situation in their eyes has reached tipping point, and so they force Jesus to wake up. The disciples might be thinking a few things: ‘How is Jesus is managing to sleep through all this? Yes he’s exhausted from the crowds that keep following him, but surely he cares and knows what’s happening?’ Jesus’ sleeping in the storm makes the disciples doubt Jesus’ character and love. 

What we are seeing here in the disciples is what we would possibly all do when we have reached our limit or our tipping point. We see our security begin to vanish, we panic, accuse and misunderstand each other in our attempt to survive. Anger flashes like lightning, and in the storm the devil gets the better of us as he increases the fear and panic of the situation. But this storm was very real indeed for it to make experienced fishermen panic for their very lives. Squalls, high winds and storms were quite common on the Sea of Galilee, but there was something about this one that felt very different than normal.

When Jesus actually gets up his language indicates that something supernatural is in operation. When he orders the wind and waves to be silent, in the original language he is saying: ‘Be muzzled!’ It is as if the sea were alive as a demonic creature who wanted to swallow up Jesus and his disciples in one gulp. So as Jesus commands the storm and sea to be muzzled, just like he says to the demons earlier on, Jesus is showing that a spiritual power is at work as they cross to the other side. And remember that Jesus had an original mission to go the other side didn’t he? Just imagine the light bulb moments going on in the disciples once they see Jesus casting out a whole legion of demons out of one man in Mark chapter 5. ‘I see, that’s why we had the storm! Satan was trying to stop us coming!’

And so that opening line from Jesus at the beginning of our text has now some meaning and weight to it: ‘Let us go over to the other side’. That one phrase contains an entire plan of Jesus to take his disciples and us through a journey that maybe tricky and scary and unpredictable at times. Jesus knows the storm but he also knows the other side too.

It is on the other side on the shore where we can take stock and reflect how the storm is now gone, that we survived it, and how we might begin to understand what the storm was for, and what it did inside us. In the storm we got to know what we felt our limits were, and what our tipping points were. We began to work out at what point our faith held us fairly well until the trauma of what we experienced started to make us doubt whether God still cared about us.

We all have our tipping points; those times we want to shout out loud to a seemingly sleeping God and tell him how panicked we feel about our situation. But interestingly those prayers we shoot up in panic don’t ever go unheard. So many times God gets up in our drowning boats and makes something change. And you may have noticed over your lifetime that your tipping points of panic may have shifted. Some of you may panic at the sight of thunderstorm clouds, and others when the water is right up to your necks, as in Psalm 69.

Every one of you can have different reference points when you decide you can’t control the boat you are in, and you need God to either grab your hand and steady the boat or stop the storm completely. But sometimes God doesn’t stop the storm.

For unknown reasons he can sometimes let the storm rage on, but… he is always there with us, and he helps us survive it. After a while we may find that God makes us able to weather storms better as we grow in our faith. That is all well and good once we get to the shore, but in the thick of the storm it’s very hard to trust God isn’t it?

So whatever storms are running in your life at the moment, Jesus is there. He’s not sleeping. He’s right there saying to you: ‘Now don’t look over the side of the boat and be terrified by the waves and storm. Just look at me, keep focused. We’ll be through this soon’.

Finally, try to be open with others who look after you about the storms in your life. We can be very good at hiding our sinking ships in our hearts, and sometimes we can have no idea such as storm is whirling around in someone; gradually eroding their faith from within. So in the service today, I pray that whatever the storms you are going through, you will feel the peace of the Lord and his authority and power over the wind and waves inside you. Remember you are not a sinking ship, but a child of God whom Jesus loves. Jesus will be with you always over the sea of this life, but whatever happens he will always navigate you towards the final shoreline of heaven, where the storms cease and true life begins. Amen.

Third Sunday after Pentecost

The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.  Paul records in

david3
David:0414521661

2nd Corinthians, ‘if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone,

the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ.’

Let us pray:  O God our Father, we thank you that by faith in your son, we are in Christ, and are renewed each day by the work of your Holy Spirit.  Open our hearts and minds to receive all that you have for us today.  We pray in Jesus’ name.Amen.

Psalm 92 encourages us with the words, ‘It is good to praise the LORD and make music to your name, O Most High.      For you make us glad by your deeds, O LORD; we sing for joy at the works of your hands.’   

What great words to describe the joy of worshipping our God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit with passion.

One Pastor, Steve Shepherd, relates a story he overheard:  ‘A good Pastor, of the staid and orthodox type, had a passionate older woman in his congregation who was in the habit of saying, “Praise the Lord,” “Amen,” when anything particularly helpful was said.

This practice began to disturb the Pastor, and one New Year’s day he went to see her. “Betty,” he said, “I will make a bargain with you. You call out, ‘Praise the Lord’ just when I get to the best part of my sermon and it upsets my thoughts. Now if you will stop doing it all this year, I will give you a pair of nice warm woolen blankets.”

Betty was poor, and the offer of the blankets sounded good. So she did her best to earn them. Sunday after Sunday she kept quiet. But one day a pastor came to preach who was bubbling over with joy.

As he preached on the forgiveness of sin and all the blessings that follow, the vision of the blankets began to fade and fade, and the joys of salvation grew brighter and brighter. At last Betty could stand it no longer and jumping up she cried, “Blankets or no blankets, Hallelujah!” “Praise the Lord!”  “Amen!”

(From a sermon by Steve Shepherd, A Trustworthy Saying, 11/13/2010)

I can imagine that the bubbly Pastor was preaching on the sentiments we have today from Paul’s 2nd Letter to the Church at Corinth. ‘Christ’s love compels us to live the faith we have in Christ, because we are convinced that Christ died for all, and  was raised again.’   

Just so we can see each other from a different regard than the world sees us.  As we praise the Lord Jesus Christ, we can feel our hearts sing together, and see the light of Christ in each other’s eyes.  And even more, we can look at the world all around us from a different regard.  With hearts of compassion and understanding, rather than judgement and suspicion.

St Mark, the Evangelist, tells us that Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables, but explained things to his disciples. I suspect that this would set the stage for the Apostles and Disciples to make plain the plan of God for all people. Exhibiting the same hearts of compassion and understanding. 

Every time we approach the people in our share of the world with our attitudes, actions and words cultivated by the Holy Spirit, we become living parables of God’s love.  It is my prayer that we nurture the seeds that the Holy Spirit sows in our spirits. 

In the parable described by Mark, we find  ” the kingdom of God” being described as a field scattered with seeds.  “ All by itself the soil produces grain… As soon as the grain is ripe, the sower puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”

But, in reality, ‘neither the sower or the earth  actually produce growth “by itself”. The plant owes its growth to the power of God, who both creates and sustains the natural order.’  In the same way, spiritual growth is similarly the result of God’s Word and Spirit, not the speaker or hearer. But we do need to pay attention to what seeds we sow.

(Engelbrecht, E. A. (2009). The Lutheran Study Bible (p. 1663). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

Some time ago “Reader’s Digest” shared the story about a company who mailed out some special advertising business post cards with a couple of mustard seeds glued to it.  A caption was printed on the card that went something like this: “If you have faith in our product as small as this mustard seed, you are guaranteed to get excellent results and be totally satisfied.” — Signed, The Management.

A few months later one recipient of this promotional piece wrote back to the company and said, “You will be very interested to know that I planted the mustard seeds you sent on your advertising card and they have grown into a very healthy vine producing wonderful tomatoes!”

(From a sermon by Terry Blankenship, Kingdom Building God’s Way, 5/16/2011)

Sometimes we grow things we didn’t expect, because we plant that wrong seeds.    We are being called to ‘Grow, and Go, and Administer’ for Christ Jesus, in the small things we do here in Port Macquarie.  I suggest we can be reminded to scatter seeds of compassion and care among our neighbours that will be cultivated and nourished by God’s Holy Spirit.  ‘Night and day, whether we sleep or get up, even when we cannot figure out how that happens.  We can trust God to bring the harvest.’

But we can also be intentional, praising God and offering the blessings of God to those we meet. As the Lord spoke through Ezekiel:  ‘“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it; I will break off a tender sprig from its topmost shoots and plant it.”’  Ezekiel shared that God was speaking words of comfort to Israel that a return from captivity was imminent.  But also a prophecy of the forthcoming incarnation of that tender shoot from the very top of the ceder that we recognize is Christ Jesus,  Even so, we can also recognize that it is no accident we are here in our place and time, planted by God our Father.   

As in the parable, God’s kingdom grows mysteriously of itself, at its own pace, in the power of the Holy Spirit, through Word and Sacrament.  We may become frustrated at times with the cycles and seasons we see around us. But, like the precious farmers that fill our tables with fine food, we can be patient, trusting God’s blessings.

God’s kingdom grows according to His plan and timetable. And it is a great blessing that things ultimately depend on Him and not us, for only God our Father, is able to bring home a great harvest for life eternal, through the sacrifice of his Son our Lord Jesus Christ and through the leading of the Holy Spirit.  So, let’s just praise the Lord, like Betty.

And let us pray: O God our Father, give us hearts that understand your love demonstrated  in Christ Jesus, your Son.  Hearts that accept your forgiveness, hearts that respond to your kindness and grace with fresh love for one another.  Hearts that are renewed by the Holy Spirit to show kindness toward others.  Life together filled with the joy of our salvation, through Christ our Lord. Amen. 

As we honour the wondrous creator of every heart, may the grace and peace of God keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, the Saviour of all.

Rev. David Thompson.

Second Sunday after Pentecost

The Text: Mark 3:20-35 

 

Let me introduce you to an American man named Bob Bassler. He is anchurch4 Evangelist.

He describes himself as a born-again Christian who fell into sin.

His story goes like this:

When he was 12 years old, Bob Bassler made a new friend and the two soon developed a strong bond. It would be a friendship that would have a huge impact on Bob’s life, for the father of Bob’s friend was a high ranking leader of the Detroit Mafia, and it wasn’t long before Bob was in the grip of their influence. He soon became fascinated with the Mafia underworld, which Satan used to keep Bob prisoner in the spiritual underworld. Bob became well known as a man of power in all the strip joints and on the streets. He formed a cocaine habit and soon began dealing to fund his habit, selling up to 100 ounces a week, at $2,000 an ounce. He was making a killing…literally—destroying the lives of those he dealt to as well as his own, having overdosed five times himself.

The police put a sting operation on Bob. One day he was pursued after leaving a restaurant. After he fled he was caught in a parking lot, just like on TV. Bob was charged over 7 different crimes and sentenced to a combined 150 years in prison. How Bob longed to be a 12 year old boy, and start all over again. When Bob was locked in his cell, freshly painted words on the wall grabbed his attention: “Jesus loves ya!” Bob knew that message was for him. He began to spend time in prayer and Scripture. He started a church in prison. Because of Bob’s exemplary conduct, he was given a letter of commendation from the State, honouring his character, and consequently he served only 2½ years of his original sentence before being released. Afterwards, Bob founded the ministry of New Life Deliverance Centre.

Can you imagine what life would be like if you were trapped like Bob was? Satan tried to devour Bob Bassler. Where would have Bob ended up, if Jesus had not rescued him? Bob said: “I had been empowered by the devil and was well known as a man of power in all the strip joints, on the streets, and in the underworld…The devil was holding me for ransom, but the Lord paid the price and redeemed me. Jesus rescued Bob from the kingdom of darkness, when Bob was helpless to help himself.

Jesus’ authority to deliver people from the grip of Satan is at the centre of the controversy in our text. It’s also at the heart of Mark’s presentation, from the outset, of who Jesus is: the long-promised Saviour who has come into the world. Mark recounts how Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time has come, and the kingdom of God is near” (that is to say, the reign of God has arrived and is present wherever Jesus is). Indeed the gospel is Christ, flesh and bones, standing among people with complete divine rescue and help. We see this in the earliest stages of Jesus’ ministry in Mark’s Gospel. Jesus and his disciples went to Capernaum and on the Sabbath Jesus enters the synagogue to teach, and calls an unclean spirit out of a man in their midst. They were all were all amazed and said: “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” That evening at sundown they brought to Jesus all who were sick or oppressed by demons. And the whole city was gathered together at the door. And he healed many who were sick with various diseases.

Jesus has been on a pretty successful preaching tour in which he’s not only proclaimed that the Kingdom of God is near but has also reigned over sickness and evil. His fame has spread throughout the region and he has caused such a sensation that crowds of people want to see him, jostling to catch a glimpse of who this Jesus is, so that when Jesus and his disciples enter a house they are not even able to eat. Some of those with Jesus start to think he has lost it and flipped out, as they said: “He is beside himself.”

Who is this Jesus? Is he out of his mind? The scribes coming down from Jerusalem make a far more sinister assertion: “He is possessed by Beelzebub. By the chief of demons He casts out the demons.” They recognise Jesus’ supernatural power but believe he is able to cast out demons because he is working for Satan and drawing power from him. They are in effect saying that Jesus is so far from being the Messiah that he is in league with Satan himself. They contend that Jesus is not the holy Son of God who bestows Divine saving help, rather they have rejected him as evil and impure. They have rejected the Holy Spirit’s guiding them into the truth about Christ, which is why Jesus says: Truly, I say to you that all the sins and blasphemies by the sons of men will be forgiven them, as much as they have blasphemed. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit does not have forgiveness but is guilty of an eternal sin” (verses 28-29).

Jesus explains it is not by Satan’s power that he does what he does. Why would the devil allow his power to be used against his own forces? An attack on any part of Satan’s domain is not a sign of collusion with him but a threat to his power. Jesus says: “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom is not able to stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. So how could he be working for Satan? How can Satan cast out Satan? “If Satan opposes himself and has been divided, he is not able to stand but his end has come. But no one is able to enter the house of the strong man and rob him of his possessions unless he first binds the strong man; then he will plunder his house.”

The exorcisms that Jesus performs shows that Satan’s kingdom is under attack, not internally, but from outside: the reign of God in Christ. Jesus’ power and authority over illness and frailty has shown that he is one with his Father as the author and sustainer of his created world, revealing his power and authority also over sickness and suffering’s end point—to even bring about a new creation by bringing life out of death. Now the exorcisms that Jesus performs shows that his power and authority extends over even the kingdom of darkness itself, to rescue sinners from Satan’s grip.

Perhaps in today’s day and age it might seem that Jesus is anything but in control. It seems that it is usually evil that rages out of control. We live in a society where crowds do not flock to Jesus, and do not want to come to him and hear him. It often seems like evil is the victor and perhaps even has the upper hand on the church, which is so fiercely persecuted in some places, or suppressed in others, or it’s buildings simply crumble and close. But it is Satan’s kingdom that is unable to stand. Not because of any internal unrest, but because Jesus has destroyed its power. Jesus’ exorcisms in Mark’s Gospel point ahead to the Kingdom of God reigning over Satan by Christ’s death on the Cross. That’s why the Apostle Paul says: “Having disarmed the powers and authorities, Jesus made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the Cross” (Colossians 2:15).

We were all trapped like Bob Bassler was. But Jesus plundered Satan’s house when he died on the Cross and redeemed the whole world by his holy and precious blood. Paul says in Colossians 1:13: “He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

Since that time, God brings the redemption he won for the world to people personally in baptism. That’s why in the rite of baptism we say: “until Christ claims us in baptism through his Holy Spirit, we are under the power of the devil. Therefore I say: Depart, you unclean spirit, and make way for the Holy Spirit.” It is Satan who is the strong man but Jesus, who is far stronger, entered Satan’s house, bound him, and rescued you, so that now you belong to God, joined to Jesus.

It was in our baptism that your heart was sprinkled and made new, regenerated by the Holy Spirit so that we are able to trust God’s word are therefore justified by faith, so that the benefits of Jesus’ saving work on the Cross and empty tomb become part of our life.

In this sense, every baptism is an exorcism. Every baptism is a rescue. The devil’s hold over us has been broken. But we are more than freed slaves. Jesus has given us a new identity. He has brought us into his Kingdom as his own siblings, and therefore, the Father’s own dear children, so that with Jesus, we can pray to his Father: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” As Luther explains, when we pray those words “We ask in this prayer that God would watch over us and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful self may not deceive us and draw us into false belief, despair, and other great and shameful sins. And we pray that even though we are so tempted we may still win the final victory and that our heavenly Father would save us from every evil to body and soul and at our last hour would mercifully take us from the troubles of this world to himself in heaven.”

The church is God’s. It is his and he builds it by calling people to Christ through the Gospel, and sending his Spirit to enlighten people in truth and create saving faith in their hearts, so that, like Luther, and Bob Bassler, we might make a difference as a child of God to those around us.

As the host of the Lord’s Supper, Jesus nourishes us by serving us his very own holy body and blood, to bring to all those who receive in faith that which they believe—the benefits of Jesus’ death and resurrection: forgiveness, life and salvation. In this foretaste of the victory feast to come, Jesus assures us that there is no person, circumstance, force of nature, or even the devil himself, which can ever separate us from God’s love in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Every time we eat and drink at the Lord’s Table we proclaim that his Kingdom cannot fail, and it will have no end—for we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Amen.

Trinity Sunday

The Text: Isaiah 6:1-8

 

In an age where we always want to look to the future and create somethingcreed new and remarkable, the church insists on looking to what happened in the past. This seems so counter-cultural and many might think what we do is irrelevant for our contemporary society!

Take for example our Old Testament reading for today…what has a prophet’s vision from 740BC have to do with us here and now?

A man named Isaiah has a vision of our Lord God sitting on his throne in the temple in the same year King Uzziah died, which was over 2700 years ago. But why is this important for us to know about this date and this King?

Well, this King Uzziah [pronounced: you-zy-ah] was one of the few kings who did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. He reigned over the kingdom of Judah from the age of only 16, for 52 years; a reign that is recorded in the second book of Chronicles, chapter 26. Uzziah was instructed in the fear of the Lord by the prophet Zechariah. As long as he did the right thing by the Lord, God made him prosper. God helped him against Israel’s enemies the Philistines.

But King Uzziah also failed. This great and faithful King had failed to obey God because of his pride and he was unfaithful to God. He entered the holy temple to burn incense.

We might wonder what the matter with this is. What’s wrong with a king entering the temple to burn incense?

Well, it wasn’t his job. It was the priest’s job to offer incense and administer the sacrifices to God. The king’s job was to rule as God’s right hand and ensure the people worshipped God rightly. King Uzziah had overstepped his God-given authority, and he was afflicted with leprosy.

Because of his leprosy he was considered unclean and unholy, which meant he wasn’t allowed anywhere near the Temple. He was no longer welcome into God’s presence because of his leprosy, but had to live in a separate house. In fact, his son Jotham had to rule for him.

Soon there would be no King to rule over Judah as the people would be taken away into exile…at least until the promised Messiah came to rule over God’s people once again.

It’s in this context the prophet Isaiah had this vision, knowing if he failed the Lord in any way like King Uzziah did, he was likely to taste God’s judgment. Not only this, but he knew no-one was allowed to see God and live. God was holy, and unholy people would perish in God’s presence. Isaiah realised he was impure in a place which demanded perfect purity.

So, as soon as he saw this vision (and realising he wasn’t perfect, pure, or holy), he cried out in fear for his life because his lips were unclean and he lived in a land where the people also had unclean lips. He was terrified and thought he was going to die in the presence of such holiness!

The word ‘holy’ means ‘to make separate’ or ‘to put something aside for a special purpose’. Therefore, if God makes something or someone holy, he’s setting it, or them, aside for a special purpose and not for common use. A contemporary example of ‘holiness’ would be a pure white wedding dress which is set aside for that special wedding day. This means you wouldn’t do the gardening in it! Similarly, if God makes us holy, this means we’re set aside to live according to his holy ways.

Also, in regard to holiness, note the threefold repetition of ‘holy’ as a description of God.

When something is repeated in the bible, the emphasis is increased, but also the worth of that being spoken about. An example of this is when a child writes a letter to his or her mother saying ‘I love you very, very, very much’, every ‘very’ would increase in value; doubling and doubling again.

So God is holy, holy, holy…but Isaiah isn’t. God is perfectly pure; Isaiah isn’t. As a result, Isaiah is terrified of God and fears death. But then one of the seraphim flies toward the altar. Scripture tells us a seraphim is described as a creature having six wings. In Hebrew, ‘saraph’ describes burning or cauterising, so you could argue these winged creatures were glowing or alive with fire.

One of these flying creatures called a ‘seraphim’ went to the altar of incense to grab a burning coal, and then touched Isaiah’s lips with it saying, “This has touched your lips. Your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for”. Through this small yet highly significant act, Isaiah was forgiven, purified, and made holy so he could stand in front of a holy God without fear.

Next God asks whom he can send to his people. Who will go to be God’s holy presence and holy mouthpiece among a people of unclean lips?

Amazingly, Isaiah; this man who was only seconds ago shaking in his boots out of fear and trepidation, sticks up his hand and says: “Send me!”

What we don’t hear today is the message he was to proclaim. It wasn’t going to be easy!

The words he was to speak at this time in history was very critical and condemning of the people he was to preach to. The people were hearing, but not understanding; seeing, but not perceiving. It seemed like a futile and thankless task. And how long was he to preach to this stubborn people of unclean lips? Until the land, its cities, and its people lie in waste and they’ve been taken away into exile.

It seems proclaiming God’s word was to be a total waste of time, but this previously frightened prophet, made holy by God, went and did what he was told.

Now, what’s this got to do with us today? What can we learn from the past to inform our present situation?

Well, today we’ve come into the presence of God almighty who is holy, holy, holy. We’ve already called on the name of our holy God and he’s giving us his full attention. As we come into the presence of our holy Triune God, some of us may be afraid. 

Some of us may be afraid of God’s anger or punishment. It could be we’ve fallen short of his expectations. We’re not perfect, even though God demands our perfection. Even one slip-up deserves God’s righteous judgment.

It could be our lips have become unclean because of dirty jokes, abusive words, put-downs, or lies. Similarly, our hands are unclean because you’ve taken what isn’t yours to take. Our feet have walked the ways of the world instead of walking the ways of God. Our eyes may have willingly looked upon sexual content. Our mind is corrupted by impure thoughts. Whatever it is, we may feel unholy, unworthy, and unwelcome by a holy God!

It could also be some of us might be afraid to come into God’s holy presence because we feel unclean. In this case it may not be what we’ve done, but what’s been done to us. For victims of abuse, particularly sexual abuse, this feeling of uncleanness and unworthiness is very strong. Not only are our lips unclean, but other parts of our body feels like it crawls with self-disgust. How can we come into the presence of a holy God who demands purity when you’ve been defiled by others?

Well, no matter how afraid we may be, we stand in awe of a holy God and declare God’s holiness along with the seraphim. We join their chorus as we say or sing ‘holy, holy’, holy’, magnifying praise to our almighty God.

Our holy God also comes to us, his church of today and makes us holy through the waters of baptism, through hearing and believing the Word of God made flesh, and through our eating and drinking in faith at the Lord’s Supper. This is how people with troubled consciences can come into God’s holy presence to be forgiven their sin, and to be cleansed from the impurity of others. Here we meet the God of holiness and we’re forgiven, cleansed, refined, and purified!

Then, surprisingly, God sends us back out into this unclean world to live holy lives and speak holy words of grace and forgiveness to others who are afraid and defiled!

As people made holy by God, we try not to live the ways of a dirty world, or speak their lies, but with the Holy Spirit’s help we attempt to live the ways of God.

God calls us to be holy messengers to others around us, no matter how foolish and stubborn they are, so that we can show and tell them what we’ve seen, heard, and experienced; so that we can tell them of his enduring and eternal holiness, goodness, mercy, forgiveness, and love.

Don’t let the shame of past sins or fears silence you! God has purified us and made us you holy to serve those around us in word and deed. Amen.

Pentecost Sunday

The Text: Acts 2:1-21pentecost

Have you been baptised with the Holy Spirit?

Are you filled with the power of the Holy Spirit?

Are you on fire for the Lord through the Spirit’s power?8f5d0040f261ddb1b3f281e00e1385f0

By the power of the Holy Spirit, can you talk in the language of men and of angels?

When you’re asked questions like this, how do you feel?

Do you start to get a little doubtful whether you have the Holy Spirit? Because, if you don’t have the Holy Spirit, then do you really believe in Jesus? And, if you don’t really believe in Jesus, then are you truly forgiven, and will you receive eternal life? So, how do you know if you even have the Holy Spirit unless you’ve had some kind of special spiritual experience to reassure you that you indeed have the Holy Spirit?

When we hear in today’s text where the apostles heard a rushing wind coming from heaven, received the Holy Spirit in the form of tongues of fire, and also miraculously became able to speak in other languages, we might start to wonder why we don’t get the same.

It’s quite possible nothing like this has ever happened to you. So, if you felt nothing miraculous or amazing happen to you when you were baptised or when you were confirmed, or when you became a Christian, it’s quite possible doubts may begin to rise in your minds and hearts.

So, in order to receive some reassurance of the Holy Spirit’s work in us, we may want certain songs or moving sermons or miraculous moments or something else to affect us in some way to reassure us and make us feel that God truly loves us because of these experiences. We may also want to see some of the fruits of the Spirit being harvested in our life.

On the other hand, we might also be scared to receive the Spirit. We may have seen others babble away in another languages with eyes closed, arms raised and were scared by it. Maybe out of ignorance or jealousy we’ve criticised those who seem to be filled with a spirit of some sort and can do special things. It could be that we’re scared to be fired up by the Spirit, because then we might have to do or say something which would challenge us or take us out of our own comfortable little world. In this way we may be afraid of where the Spirit will guide us and what he’ll ask us to do.

But none of this is the point of this text!

St Luke, who wrote this account, is not telling us that unless we hear a rushing wind, unless we have had a tongue of fire on our head, unless we can speak in other languages, or unless we have any other powerful spiritual experience that we don’t have the Holy Spirit.

You see, this is not to be a normative experience for everyone. We’re not being told this has to happen to us.

Although the Spirit came on the disciples in this particular way, this doesn’t mean it’s the normal way for all people to receive the Holy Spirit or that all Christians will experience something like this.

The point of this text, as Peter clearly points out, is that when the Holy Spirit came on these men in such a way, Scripture was being fulfilled, and he even quotes this Scripture from the prophet Joel (2:28-32).

Similarly, when Jesus came to us in human flesh at Bethlehem, Scripture was fulfilled.

When Jesus suffered, died, and was buried, Scripture was fulfilled.

When Jesus rose again from the dead and ascended into heaven, Scripture was fulfilled.

Everything that happened to Jesus and the disciples simply fulfilled what was promised by God himself through the Spirit-led prophets of the past!

So, when God’s chosen people received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, God wasn’t setting a precedent for us, but he did this in order to fulfil Scripture and so affirm what he’s spoken in the past through the prophets, and now through Jesus and the apostles, is true and trustworthy.

In this way, we don’t necessarily celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit so we can all have our own personal pet flames on our heads or so that we can speak in different tongues, but so that we may celebrate God’s Word being fulfilled through God’s Spirit-filled people as foretold by the prophet Joel. We celebrate God’s Spirit-filled Word is true and still being fulfilled even today.

Therefore, we can celebrate the last days which were spoken about thousands of years ago have now come. We celebrate, because with the Holy Spirit’s coming, the Day of the Lord has begun. We celebrate because people are still being inspired by the Holy Spirit to proclaim God’s Word to all nations. We celebrate, because in these last days, people are united in the Spirit in our common confession of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Now, this unity will be seen in a particular way. For example, rather than people glorifying themselves and their own works and achievements, Spirit-filled people will glorify the one true God in their own languages. Spirit-filled people were led to tell you about the good news of God in your own language.

Even in Australia we’re still working to translate God’s Word and speak it to indigenous Australians. In fact, an Aboriginal elder, when he received a bible written in his own language, once said with amazement and wonder: ‘God speaks to us in our language!’

This was a similar reaction of the people from many countries on that amazing day of Pentecost. People heard about the acts of God in their own language! God spoke their own tongue! No wonder many were amazed and perplexed!

In this way, the Church is not based upon a common unity set down by human organisations, constitutions, customs, common languages, or even similar rules, but it’s united through a common confession of faith in the one Triune God through the power of the Holy Spirit, even if that one confession is spoken in different languages and in different denominations.

The Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, not so we would have an experience to copy, but so that all people may believe God’s word has been fulfilled and we’re now all being told about the glory of God and his wonderful acts through Jesus Christ his Son.

We don’t have to have a flame on our head, or be able to speak in different languages, in order to have the Holy Spirit.

We have the Holy Spirit when we’re able to speak or sing God’s praises. We have the Holy Spirit when we’re able to pray to God, even in times of doubt. We have the Holy Spirit when we’re able to call on the Lord’s name, and because of this we’re comforted to know we will be saved, for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

The Holy Spirit is still being poured out today so that you and I and the people around us may hear what God has done in our own language. The Holy Spirit is poured out on us when we’re baptised, when we hear God’s Word, when we hear his words of grace and forgiveness, when we receive the Lord’s Supper, and when we pray through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is active when we hear how Scripture has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ and in the pouring out of his Spirit to all people. The Holy Spirit is active among us in his word and in his precious sacraments as channels of God’s forgiveness, love, peace and hope. The Holy Spirit is active as he leads us to glorify the Father and the Son by telling others what God’s done for us.

The Holy Spirit continues to call us, make us holy, enlighten us, and unite us so that we may glorify God the Son and the Father who sent him. We have the Holy Spirit because we’ve been led to praise God’s mighty deeds in his Son.

Therefore, whenever you’re asked “Do you have the Holy Spirit?” you can boldly say “Yes!”

We have the Holy Spirit so we may call on God’s name in prayer and praise – with or without any super shows of spirituality or being able to speak in different tongues.

May the Holy Spirit continue to guide us, comfort us, and lead us this week to tell of what God has done for us and for all people through Jesus Christ. Amen!

Ascension Sunday

The Text: Acts 1:15-17, 21-26        

                 In order to run a successful business or organization you need to have8f5d0040f261ddb1b3f281e00e1385f0 a well-thought out succession plan. People are not going to remain in their positions forever. In past generations it was more common to have the same career throughout your life. But these days it is estimated that the average person makes a career change approximately 5-7 times during their working life. There are also changes in jobs that happen within a particular career. So the statistics suggest that a third of the workforce changes jobs every 12 months.

Because of this rate of turnover the task facing any business or organisation is to identify and develop people from within who have the potential to fill key leadership positions. They need to be suitably prepared beforehand so they can step in and fill any gaps when they occur. This kind of succession planning can reduce the disruption caused when people happen to leave key positions.

Last Thursday was the festival of the Ascension, where we celebrate the crowning glory of Jesus who ascended to the right-hand side of the Father to take his rightful place in the heavenly realms. This occurred 40 days after the resurrection and 10 days before the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Church.

This Sunday in the church year recognises a strange, in-between time for the disciples. They found themselves hanging around in Jerusalem after Jesus had ascended into heaven waiting for the promised Holy Spirit. But they weren’t just twiddling their thumbs during this time. They met for prayer and worship and they also had some house-keeping matters to attend to. In the Acts reading we heard that:

“In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) and said, ‘it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us — one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection’” (v15, 21-22).

The Apostles encountered an unexpected vacancy in their number with the Judas’ betrayal of Jesus and his subsequent death. They now numbered eleven rather than twelve. Judas needed to be replaced. The disciples ended up nominating two contenders for the position: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias” (Acts 1:23).

They then prayed to God to help them make their decision before they cast lots. This wasn’t like the proverbial ‘flipping a coin’. It was basically them casting their vote. We do the same thing in the church when we select people for certain positions when there is more than one candidate to choose from. In this case the lot fell to Matthias and he was added to the eleven apostles to complete their number. 

God’s succession planning also includes each one of us. We are selected by name to join the community of faith, and this was done in baptism. When we were baptised into God’s family we received the call to follow Jesus. If that happened as an infant, then that is a calling we have from the cradle to the grave. If it happened later in life, then it is a calling from that moment on to the day we die. We don’t retire from being disciples, though we may be called to perform all sorts of different roles throughout our lives as disciples.

Some aspects of this discipleship calling are ones we all have in common. There are things we should all be enacting in our lives, regardless of our individual gifting. This includes the call to love one another and to forgive each other. These things are not optional extras for disciples but come with the job description.

Then there are other callings to serve in the body of Christ that revolve around particular gifts and offices. In our Acts reading it dealt specifically with the office of Apostle. That was a unique role in the early church placed upon those who had witnessed the life and ministry and resurrection of Jesus. The Apostles were responsible for helping to establish the church through their witness and teaching.

These days it could be the office of pastor or evangelist or teacher or some other leadership role. What succession plan do we have for these positions?

Is it simply a matter of us identifying those individuals in our community who have the potential to take on extra leadership responsibilities? Is it then a case of mentoring them and giving them the opportunity to grow in their role?

Sure we can do this and should do this. But there is a fundamental step that needs to be in place before any of this can happen. Look at the criteria that were used in order to narrow down the list of potential apostles to Joseph and Matthias.

They needed to have been with the group of disciples for the whole time Jesus had come in and gone out among them; from the time of his baptism in the Jordan River until the time of his ascension into heaven. No mention is made about any leadership qualities or abilities the men themselves had displayed.

The only thing that qualified Joseph and Matthias to succeed in the prospective position of apostle was their experience of Jesus and his ministry among them.

That is the fundamental thing we need to remember when it comes to planning in the church. If we simply want to run a congregation as a business or organization then we will be content to settle for identifying those with leadership skills and abilities. We will prepare people and give them opportunities to take on certain roles in the church, whether it is in finance or management or some other task.

But if we want to be a community that lives out the ministry and mission that our Lord is calling us to, then we are going to approach things differently. 

It is not only a select few of us who are being called to serve in God’s kingdom. That calling is upon all of us as God’s Church. We’re being equipped for whatever roles we have to play as Jesus ministers to us in our midst. 

It is in our relationship to Jesus that we are being prepared for his ministry and mission in our lives and in the life of his church. As we hear and read and reflect on his word, as we live in the grace of our baptism, as we receive his life-giving body and blood in the Lord’s Supper and as we gather as his people in worship for prayer and praise, he continues to be at work, coming and going among us.

As the ascended Lord, Jesus remains the head of his church. The apostles did not succeed him and none of us have succeeded him. The living Lord Jesus remains at the heart of the succession plan of his church as he comes in and out among those who gather in his name. It is Jesus who continues to inspire us and call us and equip us to serve in his church. If we continue in our relationship with him then we will be guided by him as to how we are to exercise our gifts and abilities.

In the body of Christ we should keep an eye out for those with certain gifts and abilities to serve in different capacities in the church. But we should be far more interested in seeing that we belong to a community where we are all seeking to grow as disciples of Jesus. If that is happening, then the ministry and mission our Lord wants us to engage in is already happening. As the head of his church the Lord Jesus will provide. So may we gather around him, grow in him and go with him wherever he is calling us to serve. Amen. 

       

Sixth Sunday after Easter

The text: Acts 10:44-48 

In Acts 10 we hear about the conclusion of the incident where8f5d0040f261ddb1b3f281e00e1385f0 the Apostle Peter witnesses the way God wanted to include the Gentiles (those beyond Israel) in the promises of his kingdom. Peter witnessed God pouring out his Holy Spirit on the household of Cornelius and he said, “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptised with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have” (Acts 10:47).

This was God’s way of saying that all people are created equal. But has that message got through to us in 2021? We don’t really treat everyone as equal. If you go to board a plane at the airport you will see two separate lines: one for economy and one for business class. Of course, you have to pay for that privilege.

Money certainly talks loudly in our world. It grants access and rights, establishing all sorts of exclusive little clubs. It impacts on where you can afford to live, on what schools you can send your children to and on what kind of restaurants and shops you can afford to patronise. And it is not just money that creates this exclusivity.

It could be your culture or your bloodline or your level of education or your looks or your system of beliefs or any other number of factors that determine where you find yourself on the different pecking orders of life.

Sometimes there are very obvious distinctions – like in the Indian caste system where you have the untouchables at the bottom of the social rung. But there are also far more subtle distinctions, like ones we make in our society. We might not always be conscious of the way we alter our behaviour toward someone depending on their weight or clothes or hairstyle or whether they have tattoos. But we do it just the same.

But God is above this kind of thing, isn’t he? God is not about to judge us according to our skin colour or our bank balance or our fashion sense or the number of letters we have after our name or any of these other superficial distinctions.

Yet at times in the Old Testament it might not seem like this. From God’s promise to Abraham to “make you into a great nation, and I will bless you” (Genesis 12:2) came the nation of Israel—God’s chosen ones, the ones he favoured, the ones he rescued from the hands of slavery to the Egyptians and the ones he gave the Promised Land to at the exclusion of all other races and peoples.

By the time Jesus was born, in the land of the tribe of Judah in the line of the great Jewish King, David, the Jews had been reminded of their treasured status as God’s holy nation for more than two thousand years.

But with the coming of Jesus, the global aspect of God’s mission was emphasized. Jesus said that “repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations” (Luke 24:47) and he commanded his disciples to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).

On the day of Pentecost, the Old Testament prophesy from Joel was fulfilled: “In the last days, God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit on all people’” (Acts 2:17). The Spirit enabled the disciples to speak in other tongues so that people from all sorts of different nationalities could hear the good news of Jesus.

In today’s reading from Acts 10, Peter proclaims: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality’ (Acts 10:34). From a worldly point of view Cornelius had rights. As a centurion he was a VIP in the 1st century Roman world. He went straight to the head of the queue. His position gave him power and prestige. He also appeared to have been well liked and respected in the broader community, including among the Jews. When some men went to fetch Simon Peter to meet with Cornelius they said to Peter: He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people” (v22). 

All of these things counted in Cornelius’ favour in the pecking orders of the world. But none of them could gain him inclusion in God’s kingdom.

Now came the vital lesson that everyone needed to learn, a lesson that was driven home in no uncertain terms. Inclusion in God’s kingdom is always and only at the instigation of God and by his grace and power.

The parallels between what happened in Cornelius’ house and what happened on the Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem are unmistakeable—which has led many scholars to consider this account in Acts 10 as the Pentecost equivalent for the Gentiles. But we should really see both events as equally significant for Jew and Gentile alike as God seeks to communicate the universality and inclusivity of the Gospel of Jesus. 

In both cases, Acts 2 and Acts 10, the Holy Spirit was ‘poured out’ on the people who were gathered (Acts 2:17,33; 10:45). In both cases one of the manifestations of the Spirit was the speaking in different ‘tongues’ (Acts 2:3,4,6; 10:46). In both cases the response of those who witnessed it was ‘astonishment’ (Acts 2:7,12; 10:45). And in both cases the Spirit was referred to as ‘God’s gift’ (Acts 2:38; 10:45).

The result was a complete change in Peter’s attitude. It was no accident that God had drawn this key leader of the early church to the house of Cornelius to witness this. So Peter said: “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have” (Acts 10:47).

God sent his only Son, our Lord Jesus, to reconcile the world to himself. Inclusion in God’s kingdom is always and only by God’s grace and power. We might differ in the upbringing we have received and in the type of family we are from. We might differ on the amount of our salaries, on our level of education, on the quality of our clothes and homes and the number of tattoos we have. But there is no pecking order in God’s family.

There is no one who has a greater right to be here than anyone else and no one is here except by the work of the Holy Spirit who has included each of us. That should surely impact the way we view and treat each other. It should surely also impact the way we view and treat those who do not yet belong to God’s kingdom.

May we never make a judgment that the message of Jesus is not for any particular type of person for whatever reason. May we never stand in the way of anyone being received into God’s kingdom for any bias we might have. Instead, may we welcome all people equally with God’s love, even as he has welcomed each one of us—completely by grace! Amen.

Fifth Sunday after Easter

The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”

david3
David:0414521661

 Let’s  join in a word of  prayer: Loving Holy Spirit of  God, we are gathered so that you can reveal your presence in our lives to mould us into the people that we are destined to become as baptised children of God. God our Father, guide our time together this morning, that we may recognise your working in our lives in word and sacrament, to prune away all that is not of Christ Jesus.  Lord Jesus Christ, as we rejoice over your presence with us, and continue to live in the glory of your  resurrection, we pray in your name. Amen.

One of our favourite places to visit is the Hunter Valley.  Looking over the vineyards, and the beauty of the area.  Tasting the wines, olives, and other fruit produced in that area.  This week, I was drawn to the illustration that Merrill Tenney provides in his discussion of John’s Gospel, about vines branches and fruit. 

‘In pruning a vine, two principles are generally observed: first, all dead wood must be ruthlessly removed; and second, the live wood must be cut back drastically. Dead wood harbors insects and disease and may cause the vine to rot, to say nothing of being unproductive and unsightly.   Living wood must be trimmed back in order to prevent such heavy growth, that the life of the vine goes into the wood rather than into fruit.

The vineyards in the early spring look like a collection of barren stumps; but in the autumn the new branches are filled with luxuriant grapes. As the vinedresser wields the pruning knife on his vines, so God cuts dead wood out from within His saints, and often cuts back living wood so far that His method seems almost cruel. Nevertheless, from those who have suffered the most, there often comes the greatest fruitfulness. (Merrill C. Tenney, John: The Gospel of Belief, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, pp. 227-28.)

While a tree or vine is dormant, it’s difficult for most people to see which branches are alive and which branches are dead.   But I’m told that this is the best time to do the pruning.   

When things seem to be going really good in our lives, most people have a sense of confidence.  Whether that confidence is in God or in ourselves. I suspect that God, working through his Holy Spirit, finds this the most difficult of times to prune away all that is not of Christ Jesus and effect real change.

But in those times of our lives when things are going from good to bad to worse, people of faith often confront what needs to change in our lives and allow the Holy Spirit to effect those changes. So that we can regain a sense of joy and peace in living God’s way.

In our lives, I accept that the difficult times are times of pruning.   Clearing away the things in our lives that threaten our existence in Christ Jesus.  Painful times that bring self-reflection, repentance, redirection, and rededication.  We can be sure that the work of the Holy Spirit  is preserving the fruitful branches in each of us, nurturing our living faith.

I discovered that when a tree or vine awakens from being dormant.  Some of the branches begin to show new life.  Leaves, new shoots, and flowering fruit begin to appear.  While other branches remain lifeless.  It is during this time that the difference between the branches become noticeable.

It is during this time that the dead branches can be pruned away to make way for the living, growing, fruitful branches.  It’s clear to me that those around us will see the fruit growing on our branches before they notice the vine that is Christ Jesus.  The only way I can tell an orange tree from an apple tree is to notice the fruit.  The question we ask ourselves is “do we want others to notice the dead branches in our lives or the living fruitful branches.”

Christ Jesus says:  “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

The Apostle John tells us that ‘if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.  By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.”   As we abide in Christ Jesus, and live in his love, our Lord bears much fruit in us by his Holy Spirit.  Fruit of “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control”.    

We see all this being worked out in the Deacon Philip who lived through a time when things went from bad to worse.  A time when Stephen, his fellow deacon, was stoned for proclaiming the Good News of Christ Jesus.  Persecution that arose against Christians from both Roman and Jewish circles. 

The Bible tells us that as the persecution grew, ‘those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ.’  (Acts 8:4–5 ESV)

Through the persecution, God was pruning away the fear and anxiety, allowing the fruitful growth of courage and faith through the Gospel message.

As Philip lived that faith, showing the world the fruit of the Spirit, the Lord led him to one who was returning from Jerusalem.  One who had gone there to learn more about the God he found in the Scriptures.  One who would have been rejected at the Temple, and who would have  left the city unfulfilled, but still curious.  So God touched the lives of both Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch as he brought them together. 

One, abiding in Christ Jesus as a fruitful branch, and one seeking to be grafted into Christ Jesus to live as a fruitful branch.  What we learn from this is that we too can make a difference in someone’s life, just as Philip made a difference in the life of this eunuch.

I’m not sure that Philip was excited or even prepared to present Christ Jesus to a Gentile, a foreigner, a eunuch.  But Philip was prepared through God’s gift of Baptism and the precious Gospel message, and also the pruning of the Holy Spirit, to respond to the call of God when it was needed, in just the way it was needed. 

And so it is for us.  Most of us wouldn’t be prepared to stand on a street corner shouting the Scriptures, or even to sit with a group of people gently sharing the Gospel.  But I am convinced that each of us is prepared to follow the leading of Christ Jesus in whom we abide.  To witness the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our attitudes, actions and words, as we engage with those around us every day.  That is all the Lord expects of us.  As we abide in Christ Jesus by the faith he gives us, we can live in the confidence of our right relationship with God our Father, with God the Son and with God the Holy Spirit.

And, if we are ever confused about whether we are connected to Christ Jesus, in whom we abide, we can take a moment to contemplate our own navels.    

Our belly button is a constant reminder that we all started life abiding in another human being.  God’s Holy Spirit is the constant witness that we are abiding in Christ Jesus, by that feeling, deep in our gut, that we are not alone. That we are loved.

As branches, grafted onto the vine, Jesus calls us to be fruitful witnesses of the miracle of forgiveness and love, right here in the Mid North Coast.    To demonstrate our connection to each other by showing our forgiveness, and our connection to God by showing our love.  To join our hearts with a new sister in Christ through the gift of baptism, praising our Savour.

And  so, the grace and peace of God keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, the Saviour of all.   AMEN.

Rev David Thompson.

Fourth Sunday after Easter

 (Good Shepherd Sunday)

John 10:11-18

 

I LOVE YOU.

Each sheep is precious to the shepherd. He knows each sheep personally. He20180311_103505 (1) was there when it was conceived, and at the moment it was born. He knows its parents, and its genetic make-up. Each lamb is different with its own name and each recognises and responds to the voice of their shepherd.

This is the way God knows us. Each one of us is different. We each have our own unique DNA (unless we have an identical twin!). We have different personality traits, and different gifts and abilities. We too have a Good Shepherd. We are all precious to him- there’s no favouritism or heirarchy. The Good Shepherd is prepared to fight for his sheep and protect them from all evil.

Jesus fights for his people. There are three evil enemies who would attack us and leave behind only skin and bones.

Firstly, there is the evil within us that would destroy us. Like an evil virus in our computers that would cripple us and leave us empty. A symptom of this evil might be a bout of depression. One sees no way ahead. One feels helpless. One gives up on the future. But the Good Shepherd is always out in front. He knows the way ahead, even when we don’t. He knows the way and will lead us through anything that comes. Jesus is the way ahead.

Jesus knows we need times to rest and recuperate. He leads us to rest in the green pastures, during our times of grief and sorrow. A time of sickness when he reaches out to us through the caring hands of doctors and nurses can also be a time of rest. He gives us these special times of rest, because he loves us.

He can give us rest from guilt. Jesus gives us a peace of heart and mind the world can’t give. Perhaps there is a particular sin we are ashamed of. We try and keep a lid on it so no one knows about it. We hide it deep inside ourselves. We repress it. And the Good Shepherd knows all about and he says in love, “You are too weak to overcome it. It will destroy you. Give it to me and I will fight it. I’ll cover it over and wipe it away with my own blood.” So he makes it disappear from God’s eyes. We can all have a clean sheet and enjoy a time of rest from our guilt. Enjoy the green pastures of life he has led us to.

So the Good Shepherd deals with our first enemy – our sin and guilt. Out of love He cleans it up so we can run as smoothly as a brand new computer!

The second enemy is the Evil One. He wants to separate the sheep from their Shepherd. He wants to put something or someone else in front to lead us astray. If Jesus is not out in front leading us on, then who or what is? Could it be what others think? Could it be our status, urging us on to impress others. Is it Popularity? Or maybe it could be the latest fashions. Sheep follow one another! They love to follow the rest of the mob.

The Good Shepherd assures us we will get all the food and clothes we need. We can trust him, like lamb relies on the shepherd for food, and a safe place to sleep.

It is the Evil One’s work to separate us from the Shepherd’s voice so we don’t hear the words of Jesus. How does he do this? The Evil One comes in disguise, dressed up as a sheep. We might have friends whom he uses to separate us from the Good Shepherd. They get us far enough away in life from the Shepherd so we don’t hear his voice, his tender loving call, or his words of warning.

The scary thing is that just like we don’t see an evil virus coming in an email,  we also don’t see the enemy, or his cunning, or see the wolf behind the sheep’s clothing. But Jesus does. Jesus recognises the Evil One and takes him on. We aren’t a match for the evil powers and forces that would lead us astray, separate us from Jesus, and destroy us. We are hardly aware of them, they are so well disguised. But Jesus recognises them and knows them. He fights the evil and cunning ones for us. He warns us.

When we stay close to Jesus we are safe. There will be times when we think we don’t need a shepherd at all. The Evil One will also assure us we are safe with him. He comes with his lies to entice us to leave Jesus and follow someone or something else. He will promise us the world, just as he offered Jesus the whole world. But Jesus knocked him back. Jesus is out in front. Out of love and care He invites us to follow closely behind him so we will be safe.

Thirdly, there is the evil of death. It is natural that even the mere thought of dying can frighten us. We avoid talking about it. We don’t know what is on the other side.

Jesus knows the other side. He comes from there. It is his home. He came to visit us out of loving care and concern, like a Good Shepherd. “Don’t be afraid!” he assures us.  He rules over there too. In this world he had no place to call his own home. The other side is his home and he wants to take us there to be with him in safety.

Jesus leads his sheep home in the evening, through the dark valleys of the shadows of death. Jesus puts his arms round us. If necessary he picks us up and carries us over the line, like a shepherd carries a tiny lamb: the way you might carry a pet that you love to a place of safety at your own home.

It is not death that we need to fear. It is being cut off from Jesus, on the other side. If that happened we would be unloved, forever. Never accepted, never satisfied. We would have no name and no love. We’d be helpless and completely under the power of evil. Being separated from God is what hell is.

Jesus fights death and destroys its power to separate us from our Good Shepherd. Death can’t separate us from God and his love.

It is God who is love. His love is even greater and deeper than a mother’s love. God has designed mothers to love us too, no matter who we are. “I Love You”. We need to hear those words from our mothers and our families. But most of all we need to hear it from our God.

May the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Third Sunday after Easter

The Text: Luke 24:36-48

Do the words of today’s Gospel reading sound familiar: “Jesus himself stood among them and said to them: ‘Peace be with you’”? If that sounds familiar itallanb is probably because we heard these same words last Sunday in the Gospel reading from John 20. The context of that passage was twofold. First, it was the evening of Jesus’ resurrection; the first Easter day. Second, John also progresses to a week later, when the risen Jesus again appears to his disciples the following Sunday. It makes sense, then, for a reading that focuses on events the week after Jesus’ resurrection to be used in church the week after Easter Sunday.

We seem to be going backwards to the first Easter Sunday. Shouldn’t it be time to move on to something else? After all we know the Easter story well; maybe even too well. Every year that we celebrate Easter we become a little more familiar with it. Maybe the risk is to be so familiar with it that we do start to think of it as a story like those we might have read to our children, and don’t stop to reflect on the depth of the reality of what took place for us.

It is hard for us who are separated by thousands of years and thousands of kilometres to comprehend what that first Easter was really like for those disciples. It was an anxious enough time for them as it is, with the authorities promising the same fate to anyone who declared allegiance to Jesus and confessed him to be the Christ. Last week John told us that the disciples had gathered under the cover of darkness with the doors locked. So just imagine how startled and frightened they would have been when all of a sudden Jesus came and stood among them, hearts racing and throats dry, utterly confused about what was happening, thinking they had seen a ghost.

But it is not a ghost there with them; it is Jesus. He holds out his hands and points to his feet to show them the punctures in his flesh from where the nails were driven through to the wood of the Cross. “It is I myself!” He says. “Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” Just imagine being there, right in front of Jesus! What would you do? Perhaps you might slowly and cautiously reach out with your trembling hand, touching the hand of your Maker and Redeemer. As you make contact you feel the same human flesh that you have. Imagine the blur of emotions the disciples must have felt and all the thoughts running through their mind—one moment gripping fear, the next joy and amazement because it seems too good to be true. But it is true! This is Jesus with them. He has actually, bodily risen. He physically eats some fish, right there with them. The crucified Jesus is now the risen, crucified Jesus!

Easter is not just a story—it is real. God didn’t turn from pain and suffering, injustice, grief, and brokenness but in Christ he faced it and fully absorbed it. Those wounds the risen Christ showed his disciples are real. They encompass everything he endured: his betrayal and handing over to be crucified, the horrific depths of injustice; all the mocking and spitting, the ridicule and bullying, the abuse and brutality, the emotional torment and physical pain and the anguish of being God-forsaken that Jesus suffered. His wounds encompass the grief of a mother losing her son and the fear of those who loved Jesus being persecuted themselves. They are bottomless holes in which all the disciples’ own failings are hidden: the doubts about what Jesus said, the public denial of him. They are wounds that absorb their squabbling about who would be the greatest, their lack of faith, their incomprehension of his ministry and unreliability in it, the rebuke of Jesus when he revealed his mission and of going to the Cross, their inability to stay awake and keep watch with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and keep watch, their denial of him, their inability to recognize him after his resurrection and their unbelief of the women’s testimony on Easter morning.

How deep their fright and fear must have been…not only to see Jesus but then to fear what he might say to them. We share in the same failings and inadequacies of the disciples. We know too well the reality of guilt and shame as Satan comes to attack us with the fiercest of condemnations. It’s an intolerable burden and try as we might all the self-justifications and blaming others and even God—and relabelling what we’ve done or failed to do—doesn’t take that experience of gnawing guilt away. Although Satan is overcome by Christ’s victory, he tries to do whatever damage he can with the limited opportunity he has until Christ returns to make all things new. The devil tempts us to go against God’s word, and even to decide what that word is, thereby denying Christ rather than ourselves.

If we’re honest, we’ve seen that in the 14 days since Easter Sunday in our family arguments, or when we lose our patience with others, maybe even our brothers and sisters in the congregation. In fact it’s often in the congregation we know this most acutely, when we hurt others and they hurt us, because we have judged a matter that is important to them as trivial to us. We can become fixed on what we see in front of us and dismiss what others see around us. We might work harder at preserving our pride than preserving love, which overshadows the desire to gladly hear and learn God’s word and the desire to serve others. We might talk of the church and its worship in terms of consumer language; what we have a right to and how our needs should be met, as if God doesn’t know how to meet human needs. It’s14 days since we celebrated Easter, but the secret thoughts and attitudes of the heart are still there. We still sin, we still have guilt, we still need peace.

The devil loves nothing more than to lead us into temptation and then heap condemnation and guilt upon us when we fall. Then, having fallen, he drives us to look inwardly on how to justify ourselves. But we can’t justify ourselves. It isn’t what we do or say but what Christ does and says that makes us right with God and brings us divine peace. That’s why we need to hear the same words from last week all over again: on the first Easter day as Jesus came and stood among them and said: “Peace be with you”. Like the disciples, we also acutely know that we need God’s forgiveness and peace. Jesus came to bring the benefits of his death and resurrection to his disciples personally by telling them in four short words that their past failings are not held against them and they are in a right standing before God: “Peace be with you.”

If only we could go to that house where the disciples were and see Jesus too and hear his words. Was this experience just for the disciples and the women at the tomb and the 500 people he appeared to? If only we could go back there, somehow. Maybe that’s why the Lectionary compilers take us back to the first Easter three weeks in a row—because we can’t go back there. There is no going back, some 2,000 years ago to Jerusalem so far away.

But in Christ, God has brought Easter to us. We received and share in all of the benefits of Christ’s saving death and resurrection when we were baptised into his death and resurrection, and the one true God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, put his name on us so that we are his very own dear children who belong to him forever.

That is why we can rejoice with the apostle John and say: “See what love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God. And that is what we are!” God lavished his love on us in Jesus his Son, who is with us, in our lying down in the evening and our rising in the morning. He is with us when we eat breakfast, lunch and tea (whether that’s broiled fish or not). He is with us in our work place, at our school, in our study course. He is with us while we wait in the doctor’s surgery. He is with us while we wait for test results, or as we lie in hospital. He is with us as we travel, with us in our leisure. He is with us in our fears and trials. He is with us even though others sin against us. He is with us as others help us, and with us in our helping of others too. And in church he is with us here in a special way for a particular purpose that he is nowhere else. The risen Christ is here to meet with us and bless us, bestowing divine peace upon us.

We can’t go back to that house where Jesus opened the minds of his disciples to understand the scriptures, so Jesus comes here for us every Sunday as he leads us through the liturgy, as we listen to the readings, as we hear the proclaimed word. The repentance and forgiveness of sins that will be preached in Christ’s name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem, has even made it all the way to us here. We can’t go back to the house the disciples were in some 2,000 years ago to hear Jesus proclaim peace…so the risen Christ comes in our time, in this space, to this house. He stands among us, his baptised people, as we share the peace of the Lord with one another: “Peace be with you”.

Amen.