Second Sunday of Easter

The Text: John 20:19-31

Humans are suspicious creatures.


We don’t immediately believe everything new thing we hear.


We measure it against what we know to be true.
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We evaluate it by what we have experienced.


We ask questions.

Does it sound possible?

Is it logical?

Ultimately, we like to see this new thing for ourselves, get our hands on it and check it out.  

Those who visited Jesus’ tomb three days after His burial could not believe what they saw and what they heard.

Early on that first Easter Day, Mary Magdalene saw the stone rolled away from Jesus’ tomb and immediately went and told Peter and John that Jesus’ body was gone. That was new.

No one had heard of the dead coming alive before.

Oh sure they had witnessed Jesus raising people from the dead, but they believed that His body was in a sealed tomb with soldiers guarding the entrance.

Peter and John are shocked and they run to the now open tomb to see this new thing for themselves.

What were they to make of this strange sight?

After all the pain and grief of Jesus’ torturous death, now His body is missing.

Peter and John went to their homes. Mary went back to the tomb, back to the last place she knew Jesus to be.

And there, the risen Lord Jesus revealed Himself to be alive.

His body was not been stolen.

He was not missing.

Jesus is alive and that was the new message Mary takes to the disciples.

But they did not believe Mary’s words (see Mk 16:11).

The disciples are suspicious.

They cannot believe that Jesus is alive.

They probably didn’t know what to believe, given that it is not common place for people to just come back from the dead.

Sadly though, they didn’t trust Mary’s words, even though she spoke the truth, and her words fitted with what Jesus had told them many times.

The only way they would believe is if they could see and touch Jesus for themselves.

Why were their hearts so hard?

Was God’s Word so far from them they could not believe Jesus is risen from the dead?

Was their grief so great that they could not recall Christ’s own words fore-warning of the events of those three days past?

We might criticize the disciples for their dullness in not putting together the words of Jesus and the events of His death and open tomb.

But we do so to our judgement, for we are not so great at trusting His promises and keeping His Word.

Later that day, in the evening, the disciples gather behind locked doors. They were no doubt discussing all that had taken place that day.

They were afraid that the Jews might now be after them, so they locked the door.

Huddling together in fear and confusion Jesus came and stood among them and said to them: “Peace be with you.”

Peace is what they lacked.

Those men were frightened for their lives, confused at what Mary’s words could mean, overwhelmed with guilt for deserting Jesus, afraid what would happen next, uncertain what they were to do.

Jesus comes and gives them what they lack.

Before they can say or do anything, Jesus speaks.

He is not there to condemn or seek revenge for abandoning Him.

Jesus came to grant them the deep abiding peace of God.

He has not deserted them, but comes to show them that He is alive and that He lives to grant peace to forgive their sins.

He is there to take away the barrier that exists between them and God.

By coming to them in the evening, Jesus has given them time to act according to faith.

He was giving them opportunity to trust in His words and understand that He was not dead, or missing, but raised from death to life.

They failed to trust in the Word.

They couldn’t see hand of God at work bringing about the salvation of sinners.

So, Jesus comes to show them that their sins have been atoned for.

He shows them His hands and His side. He invites them to touch Him, to feel the wounds by which they have been redeemed.

Hearing the Good News that Jesus was alive they did not believe it.

But in seeing Him for themselves and touching their risen Lord, they believe.

Mary’s words make sense.

Jesus words about “rising again” make sense.

He needed to die and be raised to life to bring God’s plan of salvation for all mankind into reality.

They were understanding in new ways, who Jesus truly is and what He came to do.

He is the flesh and blood God come to save the world through dying and rising again.

But one of the Twelve, Thomas, was not there, and when the others told him about Jesus’ appearing among them in the flesh, like them, he did not believe.

In fact, Thomas made this firm vow, “Unless I see in His hands the marks of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into His side, I will never believe.”

One week later, Thomas got the opportunity to make good on his vow.

The apostles again gathered behind locked doors and Christ came and stood among them, to again bestow peace upon them.

He invited Thomas to touch and feel and believe that He is indeed alive.

Thomas saw, he believed, and he confessed Christ as his Lord and God.

What about us?

We don’t get a chance to see and touch and believe?

We can’t place our finger into the wounds of Christ.

What we do have is just as sure,

we have the word of those who saw and believed.

We trust in the witness of Mary, Peter, Thomas and the other apostles.

We learn from Thomas that the witness of others can be relied on.

We get to hear and believe and listen to those who saw and confessed Jesus to be alive, to be the Lord.

They are faithful witnesses.

Their words are true, and with eyes of faith we confess Christ Jesus crucified and risen for our salvation.  

This ultimate Good News of Jesus conquering sin and death brings us peace.

Christ’s words grant us peace and forgiveness just as He forgave the apostles.

And He comes to us in His Supper to speak His peace to us and grant us His peace in bread and wine.

The words of Jesus are preserved in the liturgy of the Sacrament.

After the Words of Institution, the pastor proclaims to us, “The peace of the Lord be with you always.”

Jesus is our peace with the Father.

His forgiveness is the peace we enjoy.

He invites us to the feast of peace—His body and blood—so that we would know without doubt that we have the peace of God

Jesus places His flesh and blood in our bodies to make us holy as He is holy.

God calls us to faith on the basis of His Word, on the witness of Mary and the apostles.

We are those of whom Christ spoke when He said, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”.

We are blessed with faith to see that Jesus is our flesh and blood Saviour.

He has overcome sin and death for us. He gives the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to trust in Christ.

We meet Him in His own words, in the washing of Baptism, in His own Supper.

He comes to give us life, His life.

And it doesn’t matter what we have done, Jesus comes to forgive us.

He forgave the disciples that abandoned Him, and denied even knowing Him.

He forgave the apostles for doubting Him to accomplish salvation through His cross and resurrection.

If they are forgiven, then we are forgiven too.

John says as much when he says of his gospel account; these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.

We all have a doubting Thomas lurking deep inside, a part of us that struggles to believe what Christ’s resurrection means for us personally.

When we have doubts about it all being true, or if sin prevents you from believing that Christ died even for us, don’t try and go to the cross in your thoughts.

He is no longer there.

Go where Christ is found and where He desires you seek Him:

in His Word,

in the promises of Baptism,

in the feast of Eucharist,

in His words that grant us forgiveness and life.

God’s Word is given to us as an anchor in the storms of life.

An immovable rock on which we stand against the temptations of the flesh, the doubts in our mind and this non-believing world.

Christ is our life, and He gives His life through the physical means of His Word and Sacrament.

Get into the Word, receive the Sacrament in faith for the strengthening of our body and our salvation.

We are in Christ and He is in us.

As the bearers of Christ’s body and blood we are His words of grace to those burdened with sin.

We are God’s touch of compassion to those who hurt.

We are witnesses to the power of Jesus’ cross and resurrection.

Our neighbours meet Jesus in our words and actions, in the way we live differently from everyone else.

Jesus is alive, risen from the grave to give us His forgiveness and life through His Word and Sacraments.

Christ has defeated death,

He has defeated hell and sin, and He gives the gift of life and salvation freely to all who believe and are baptized.

With that in mind,

May the peace of God, which passes all human understanding, guard our hearts and minds through Jesus Christ.

Amen.

Easter Sunday

Acts:10:34-43; 1 Corinthians: 15:1-11;  St John:20: 1-29

The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the central truth of the Christian faith. It is also the most offensive element of the Christian faith for those who are not Christian. Many think that Jesus wasgordon5 a good man and taught some important ethical maxims which are as relevant today as they were there and then. But stumble at the thought that this good man who was crucified for his teaching was revealed in His resurrection as the Son, the only Son, of the eternal God through whom the world came to be. Who post his resurrection was given the title Lord, (which was the Greek translation of the Old Testament name for God. ( יהוה Translated as Yahweh but written as an unpronounceable word by the human larynx in Hebrew to safeguard God’s holiness from defilement.) The early Christians addressed this man in prayer as Lord

During the 40 days after His resurrection the disciples came to see that He had been always with them as the Lord God, in a form that was veiled for them. During the 40 days the presence of God in the man Jesus was no longer a paradox to them He was no longer the hidden God. But now they see as St Paul declares, ‘God was in Christ’ (2 Cor 5:19) He had been veiled as he had moved among His disciples, but now he was unmistakably revealed to be who He is, as the only Son of the Father. Their doubts and unbelief were dispelled, never to return.

For the disciples this was not a discovery of their own, the resurrection for them was not a self-evident truth. It was a conviction that went entirely against the grain for them . This is made abundantly evident in the resurrection narratives that they have given to us. The resurrected Jesus not only speaks with binding authority and effectiveness, but with truth and power. Such that his speech was able to overcome, the fears the grief, the bewilderment and doubts, the unbelief of the disciples. They came to see and believe that the resurrection was not a resuscitation of a miracle worker but a creative act whose only parallel is the creation of the world. It was a creation out of nothing of the dead body of the man Jesus who as the veiled  Son  of God had died with the desperate cry of dereliction upon His lips ‘My God, My God, how have you forsaken Me?’ (Matthew 27:46) Being in this way the representative human for all sinners since the creation of Adam. And so, St Paul unhesitatingly declares in (1Cor 15:17) that if this dead Son of God is not raised from the dead the Christian faith is vain. It has nothing to say to the world caught is the deadly web of its sin and estrangement from God. If there is no resurrection you are still in your sins and of all people Christians are the most miserable and of all people most to be pitied. (vs. 17-19)

One of the striking things about the New Testament’s account of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is that in the most artless way its writers do not attempt to give a coherent account of it. They do not in any way attempt to say what the resurrection as an event is. They tell us of the signs associated with it, such as the empty tomb, but remain silent as to the nature of the resurrection as such. Their historical narratives as we have them in the New Testament cannot be reconciled as to chronology or geography; and no one thought it appropriate or necessary in the early church to reconcile, to iron out these differences, to cover up these discrepancies. In this manner they simply point in their own way to their own incomprehension concerning the event to which they bear testimony

The gospel  (St John 20) speaks of Mary and Thomas in relation to the appearance to the disciples of the risen Lord. The doubt of Thomas with which his name has become associated, doubting Thomas; his doubt is no wit different from all the other disciples in relation to Jesus’ resurrection. As was Mary’s confusion about the stranger who greeted her on the first resurrection day

All the accounts of Jesus post resurrection appearances demonstrate the fact that Jesus created the disciples’ faith. We can speak of the disciples’ faith in the risen Lord only in the sense in which their unbelief is overcome by the action of Jesus. So, St. Thomas’ doubt and his subsequent faith is not a unique experience in respect to the other apostles. The circumstances in which Thomas comes to faith are his, but Jesus creates his faith, like that of all the other disciples as he overcomes doubt by His own action. Jesus’ resurrection far from being a belief  created by the disciples’ ability to believe the unbelievable, it in itself is the foundation of their faith.

Jesus says they are blessed who unlike Thomas ‘have not seen and yet believe.’ The blessedness of which Jesus speaks is the fact that all those,  apart from the apostles, who are not witnesses of the resurrection have no possibility of touching or handling Jesus the resurrected One, as they did. The blessedness of which Jesus speaks is that all others, that includes us, apart from the apostles, have simply the Apostolic word of testimony and the promised Holy Spirit as the basis of their faith, their union with Jesus.

Unlike Thomas and the other disciples including Mary of Magdala, these others of whom Jesus speaks do not face the temptation to which they were subject. This is the temptation, it consisted in their wanting to know that the truth of their faith in Jesus as the risen Lord could be established for them by something other than Jesus own word of promise. Their request to touch the resurrected Jesus indicates their desire to settle the truth of their belief in Jesus Lordship by their ability to trust their physical sense of touch.

 But also, Mary Magdalene, whom Jesus met in the garden near the tomb, there we read, Jesus refused to let her touch Him, to have a direct relationship with Him, this meeting also speaks to us of the same question., faced by Thomas on that evening in Jerusalem so long ago when, on that first Easter Day where the disciples gathered behind closed doors for fear of the Jews. The temptation of Thomas and Mary consisted in their wanting to know that the truth of their faith in Jesus as the risen Lord could be established for them by something other than Jesus own word of promise.

The apostles, and Thomas and Mary in particular, show how they were caught in the natural dilemma of wanting to seek a foundation for their faith in something other than Jesus’ word of promise to them concerning Himself.

They sought the veracity of their belief in the truth of their experience, their belief in their belief as the basis of faith, and in this way, give faith a basis of certainty in themselves. Thomas and Mary in their own way are the examples of an affliction that affected all the disciples, as they became witnesses of the resurrection.

We, on the other hand, hear a word of promise that comes to us from the apostolic witness of the scriptures. This word invites us to place our confidence in the One to whom they testify as the Lord of life. We are invited to obey the promise of this One whose word bears witness to Himself, that He is the risen victor of Gethsemane and Golgotha. This word of promise invites us to believe that Jesus is who He is for us; and that this is the only basis for understanding the truth of our faith. The certainty of our faith lays precisely in the uncertainty that we have in our selves. Certainty consists in the veracity of the word of promise that we hear from the One speaks it to us, as it is given to us in the scriptures. He it is who alone creates for us the basis and certainty of faith. Unlike St. Thomas we have no possibility of establishing our faith by believing in the veracity our senses by touching Jesus and thus, like Thomas, attempt to find an independent point of reference for the truth of Jesus word.

It is for this reason that Jesus calls those who have not seen or touched him blessed. ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe’ (John 20:29); we unlike Thomas are given the freedom to obey the Word of Jesus as the sole basis of faith. In this word and nothing else we find the truth of our life. This truth is no abstract proposition, but the truth of our life before God and each other, as grounded in Him who was raised by God for our sake. This means we  recognise the truth of our life before God and each other is established not by us but for us. That means Another establishes our faith as Christians: it is the Lord who promises Himself to us as the One who lives and pleads our cause as the crucified One. It is as we acknowledge His truth to be our truth that Jesus says we are blessed. It is this mystery of grace that we celebrate today by the means Jesus has given to us. His very body and blood which, given and received, makes us to be what we are not naturally, beloved children of the Father upon whom  for the sake of His risen crucified Son, He has set his love.

Dr. Gordon Watson.

Good Friday

Good Friday Sermon.

The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.  Let’s  join in a word of prayer: Loving God and Father, today we gather with all those who

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mourn over the fall of humanity.  Sin that required the sacrifice of a sinless Son of God, our Saviour Jesus Christ.  Help us to experience, in a tangible way, Your presence in our lives and our worship today.  Open our hearts and minds to your plan for our lives that has been worked out through Christ Jesus our Lord, in whose name we pray.  Amen.

Recently, I revisited Max Lucado’s book “He chose the nails”.  Max encourages us to encounter the mysterious gifts that Jesus chose to give us through his sacrifice. The gifts of Good Friday and Easter Morning are the most precious gifts any person could ever receive because they cost God so much to give.  The Apostle John records those words of John 3:16:  ‘God loved the people of the world so much, he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him will have everlasting life and not perish.”

God did this for us—just for us—because he loves each one of us so much. 

When Jesus was taken from his disciples, abused and bound,  he knew the humility that sin binds to all people. Yet Jesus chose to become one of us.

When Jesus stood falsely accused before the chief priests and teachers of the law, he knew the guilt that sin cries out against all people.  Yet Jesus chose to forgive us. 

When Jesus stood before the crowd in the hands of the soldiers of the Roman Governor, he knew the rejection and isolation that sin brings upon all people.  Yet Jesus chose to invite us into his holy presence in eternity.

When Jesus felt the hatred of those crying out for him to be crucified, he knew the cruel sentence that sin brings upon all people.  Yet Jesus chose to love us forever.  

When Jesus suffered the lash and the cross, he knew the awful suffering that sin casts upon all people.  Yet Jesus chose to give us the victory in his own crucifixion.

And yet, as Chad Bird writes in his book:  Finding God in the Most Unexpected Places:

The glory of God was revealed on the cross of crucifixion.  And yet ‘seeing God on the cross, we do not see.  That is, unless our spiritual eyes have been transferred to our ears.  Unless we see him through the prophecies of Isaiah about the Servant who would be “despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces”. (Isa 53:3) 

The Servant who would be “pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” (v 5)  If the Word of God, not the vision of our eyes, defines what is real, then we shall really see God on the cross.  We shall bask in the glory where no glory is to be seen.  On the cross and only on the cross, the scales shall  fall from our eyes so that we finally get it:  ‘God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring in the presence of God’. (1 Cor 1:27-29)

The Cross is God’s veiled unveiling.  It is his absent presence.  It is heaven dressed up as hell.  The cross defines how God has always worked and always will.  This is radical life-changing realization.  Beginning in Genesis, and continuing even now in our own lives is the God of the cross. … He conquered the cosmos by suffering defeat in death. He made his life our own, by letting humanity murder him’.  (‘Your God is Too Glorious – Finding God in the most unexpected places’  by Chad Bird, Baker Books, page 24)

So here we are together, honouring the sacrifice of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God.  A sacrifice through which Jesus offers the precious gifts witnessed by this holy week. 

We didn’t see the star in the sky on the night he was born in our humanity.  We didn’t hear the witness of shepherds about the visit of angels.  We didn’t see him turn water into wine, or calm a storm, or feed 5000 with two fish and five loaves.  We haven’t seen him teaching and healing in the Temple.  We haven’t seen him being questioned by the religious leaders, and the Roman Governor.  We haven’t seen him being whipped for our transgressions.  We haven’t seen him ridiculed by the pagan soldiers.   We haven’t seen him hanging lifeless on a cross.  And yet, we believe.  As Jesus would say to Thomas after his resurrection, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.” (John 20:29 NLT)

We have learned from the ancients of faith, that God prepared the world through his prophets for the arrival of a Saviour, a Messiah.  The arrival they only hoped for.  The arrival we have heard about from the Scriptures that witness what we have not seen, and yet believe.

We have received the encouragement from the Apostles that the faith we have in our Saviour is as precious, as valid, as powerful, as important as the faith of the Apostles, the Prophets, the Ancients of the Faith. 

We have cherished the reality of Scripture, received from our nearer forefathers of the Reformation, that we are in a right relationship with God our Father, through the faith we have in Christ Jesus who offered forgiveness from the cross.    

When Jesus whispered from the cross that “It is finished,” we can be assured that it was the end of the old.   And a new beginning of God’s presence among us.  The beginning of life in the presence of God’s eternity.  The call to discipleship, and the unfolding of history into the future from creation to Apostles to modern Christianity. 

As Jesus said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.  If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.  If anyone is ashamed of me and my message, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in his glory and in the glory of the Father and the holy angels.” (Luke 9:23–27 NLT)

The gifts that Jesus chose to give us in his death and resurrection show us the unfolding plan of God for us all. With a sure conclusion of the utter defeat of the devil; and the ultimate victory of God’s plan.  A  plan for those through time and place who receive Christ Jesus, those who believe in his name, those to whom God has given the right to become his children.

We are part of God’s ultimate plan in the ultimate victory of Christ Jesus.  Because Jesus Christ fulfilled God’s plan for salvation, as he cried, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

For us now, in our generation, in our time, and in our place, we are called to be faithful in living the faith we have received by the Holy Spirit working in word and sacrament. 

We are warned from Hebrews, ‘Without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds.  And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming back again is drawing near.’

As we approach the conclusion of our age, and the revealed victory of God’s plan for life, we are given the task to hold onto the faith we have received.  To witness that faith by our actions, our attitudes and our words, as we live out our part of God’s plan as children of God who can be trusted.   To encourage each other, as we all face those times when we are tempted to doubt God’s care for us.   

 To find enjoyment, fulfillment, and purpose in meeting together in fellowship as our hearts sing together the praises of our Saviour who died for us.

This is especially important now that we are closer to our Lord’s return than ever before in history.  When we witness events and hostilities that surely point to the end of times.  As one sign recently said, ‘one in hundred years drought, fire, flood and pandemic, all in 18 months.’  And yet, we realize as Jesus tells us clearly that only the Father knows when he will wrap up this age, and usher in a new age of peace and love.  And that will be wonderful. 

Because of Good Friday, we can hear the words of Hebrews with a new direction in our life,  ‘dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. This is the new, life-giving way that Christ has opened up for us through the sacred curtain, by means of his death for us.’

And so, today, as we grieve the suffering and death of our Saviour, and we prepare to celebrate His awesome resurrection, let’s hold onto these words of Hebrews, ‘without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promise.’   And may the grace and peace of God keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.   AMEN.

Rev. David Thompson.

Maunday Thursday

The Text: John 13

John chapter 13 is a popular reading with many people, Christian and non-Christian alike. There’s something heart-warming about a leader getting onac5 his knees and serving his followers. The love that Jesus preaches tonight, that He enacted with His disciples, and that drove Him on to the cross, is made of quite different stuff than what the world defines and knows as love. In fact the love that Jesus preaches, enacts and suffers himself is so selfless that it cost him his own life.

Jesus had just been welcomed into Jerusalem to the shouts of the crowd. Expectations were running high. The opportunity for Him to spark a popular rebellion and topple the Roman authorities was very real. The chance for Him to reclaim the throne of Israel was before Him.

But what did He do? He gathered in an upstairs room and quietly gives his disciples bread and wine and declares that it is His true body and blood given for the forgiveness of sins. And if that weren’t confusing enough, He then gets up and does the work of a slave. Humiliating Himself as He washes the feet of those who should be looking after Him.

But in this act of love, Jesus gives a clear indication as to the nature of His mission. It was not to be one of earthly glory and fame, but one of service and love. And in this lowly task of cleansing their feet, Jesus was pointing to a far greater cleansing about to be take place on the cross. The foot washing was a symbol, only a picture of Jesus’ ultimate humility, his ultimate gift. Jesus humbles himself to death on the cross for all the disciples, for us, to make us clean from all our sin.

Maundy Thursday helps us remember that Jesus overcomes the world, our sin and the Devil, not through an all-out offensive attack. But through love. A love that is actively at work. A love so deep and profound that it is unconcerned about humiliation. Unconcerned about other’s opinions. Unconcerned about expectations of power and victory and honour. This is the love that was hinted at in the humble act of washing the disciples’ feet, but was finally poured out for all to see on the cross. A love so deep and so astonishing, that it still causes offence even among Christians.

How many of us want to picture Jesus slaying the devil in a mighty battle? How many of us want to see Jesus punishing those who are the worst of sinners? How many of us want to see Jesus take control? But He doesn’t do these things. Instead He kneels down before His disciples and lovingly washes their feet – even the feet of the one who is about to betray Him.

Jesus loves you and me in the same way. It is the same love that has washed over us in holy baptism. That simple act that connects us to Jesus’ death and resurrection. That simple act that continues to cleanse us right through to the core. It is the same love that speaks tenderly to us as we hear those golden words –your sins are forgiven in Jesus’ name. It is the same love that is placed in our very mouths as Jesus’ body and blood is given for our forgiveness and life. As Jesus took the place of a servant and washed the feet of His disciples, He revealed how He would continue to serve us until we are called home.

The foot washing is an example of Jesus’ humble and loving service. And Jesus makes it clear that as we have been loved and served by Him, so we are to love one another. His example is a call for us to a love that never stops, a love that doesn’t quit when it’s hard to love, a love that includes all—spouse, children, parents, brothers and sisters, neighbours, friends, enemies, fellow Christians, and the lost. It’s a compassionate, giving love that gives time, effort, and money. It’s tough love when saying no is the most loving thing you can do.

What motivates us? Where do we get the strength? “We love because he first loved us”. His gift of love calls us to repentance, it forgives us – even when we’ve failed to love as we should, and it draws us to follow him and love others as he did, to the end.

Now some of you might be disappointed tonight because you figure you’ve heard it all before. But this is no small matter for those of us who call Jesus our Lord and Saviour. Jesus considered it a big enough deal to die for. And so we are called to love – especially our brothers and sisters in Christ – so that our life together may be a beacon of hope to this lost world. We are called to leave behind all attempts to have power and control and to seek the way of love and mercy and service. We are called to live out our faith in real, practical and down to earth ways – and mark my words – the unbelieving world is watching.

There is no greater scandal among God’s people than when we fight and lack love for one another. And there is nothing more powerful in bringing people to Jesus than when Christians follow His example and love as He has called us to. One of the early church fathers noted that unbelievers became fascinated with the Christian faith not because Christians appeared so holy, but because of the way they loved each other. It was written that “despite periods of harsh persecution, the witness of generations of Christians living the “new commandment” of Jesus to “love one another,” helped the church to grow and spread across the Roman empire, and led some to proclaim, perhaps with disbelief, “see how they love one another.”

People often show their faith by wearing crosses around their necks. Others post confessions of faith on social media, say grace before meals and refusing to blaspheme. Now as good as these things are in bearing witness to our faith, the only advertisement that Jesus calls us to tonight is to love one another. And in this simple act, inspired by His sin-consuming love, all people will know that we are His disciples. And His love will continue to change the world – one love drenched soul at a time. Amen.

Fifth Sunday after Lent

The Text: Mark 11:1-11

 

This coming week we will be commemorating the greatest week in the history of our world. The events of the first Holy Week are still being re-enacted andallanb remembered all over the world because of the lasting impact they’ve had on the lives of so many people. Can you remember a pre-Easter week that stands out in your memory still today? The atmosphere of today, Palm Sunday, anticipates the even greater joy of Easter Sunday, the greatest Sunday of the Church Year. Our Lord’s opponents were concerned that, if they didn’t get rid of Him, everyone might come to faith in Him. Such was Jesus’ impact on huge numbers of people. The Pharisees and their supporters said, “What are we to do? This man is performing many miraculous signs. If we let Him go on like this, everyone will believe in Him (John 11:48).” They then plotted to put Jesus to death.

Jesus was aware of what His enemies planned to do with Him. He could therefore have easily entered Jerusalem quietly. Instead, He deliberately enters the centre of opposition to Him publicly to reveal who He really is. So He enters the city with immense courage, in order to make one last appeal to the people there to believe in Him. People might not bother listening to Jesus, but they could hardly fail to see the humble way He was coming to them. No doubt Jesus was remembering Zechariah’s prophecy: “Your king comes to you … humble and riding on a donkey (9:9).”

Kings rode on donkeys when they came in peace. Jesus enters Jerusalem claiming to be our King, but as the King of Peace, to bring us peace such as this world can never give us. He enters Jerusalem deliberately refusing the role of a political saviour. He came appealing for a throne; the throne of our hearts. He is in control of the events of this special day. He sends two of His disciples to borrow a young donkey that had never been ridden before. Jesus regularly sends His followers on errands, two of them together, no doubt to cheer each other up and support each other, and then to share the load of the task. Each and every Christian needs the support and encouragement of a fellow Christian. When Jesus’ disciples are asked why they want to borrow a donkey they reply “The Lord needs it.” The fact that Jesus needs it was reason enough to agree to their request.

Your Lord needs you too. No one else can replace you. Jesus needs you, your time, your talents and gifts, and above, your prayers for others. Please don’t be tempted to say to Jesus: “I’m not very gifted. After all, what difference can an ordinary individual like me make?” Christ’s cause in this community is suffering because of those who think they have nothing worthwhile to contribute to the work of His Kingdom. Jesus needs the contribution of every one here today. To paraphrase J.F. Kennedy, “Ask not what your church can do for you, but rather what you can do for your church.”

This week is a superb time to pray for the return to God’s House of your prodigal relatives, family members and friends who have drifted away from worshipping God. Pray that they will be sitting here with you Thursday evening, Friday or Sunday. Not only does Jesus need your loving devotion and service, Jesus loves it when you need Him more than anything else. He treasures your company and loves listening to your prayers and praises. Your Lord will multiply with His blessing whatever you do for Him or give to Him. Treasure the fact that He needs you and your unique contribution.

In an age when people around us are reluctant to commit to anything long-term, lifelong commitment isn’t praised and commended as much as it deserves to be. It’s so easy in our modern environment to be lukewarm about life’s most important matters. Jesus wants you to be fair dinkum about your faith. Whole-hearted commitment to Christ can work wonders for Him. We fulfil God’s plan and purpose for us when we’re committed to Him, “for better, for worse, in sickness and in health, as long as we live.”

Recall a time when you were full of enthusiasm for Jesus Christ. Wouldn’t it be great if that could happen again this Holy Week? Why is it, for example, considered to be okay to be enthusiastic about your favourite sport or hobby but not about your Saviour Jesus Christ? Enthusiasm for Jesus has a wonderful way of diminishing your worries and anxieties. “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say, rejoice!”

There was no shortage of joy and jubilant acclamation on that first Palm Sunday. Those round Jesus spread their garments on the road before the donkey He was riding. To do so was considered an act of homage to a King, as also were the waving and spreading of palm branches on the way ahead. The people shouted a royal acclamation from Psalm 118, a psalm every child learned back then: “Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord.” “Hosanna!” is a petition to God to “save us now!” It could even be translated as “three cheers for Jesus!” The crowd was so enthusiastic because it saw Zechariah’s prophecy, “Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem. Lo, your King comes to you” being fulfilled before their eyes.

The story is told of an American travelling on a bus in Sweden. He was bragging to the Swedish man sitting next to him, how accessible, in theory, the American president was to his citizens. After the Swede got off the bus, someone else said to the American: “In Sweden, its King rides on a bus with his subjects.” The American tourist had been talking to the King of Sweden.

Jesus is a humble King, who loves spending time with those who need His healing power and help most of all.  He is as accessible to us as that Swedish King riding on a bus was to his people. Jesus lets Himself be vulnerable to ridicule and rejection Instead of being aloof and above the hassles and frustrations we face from week to week, He is thrilled to be with us amid the mess and muddle of daily life. Jesus redefined kingship in terms of loving service, humility and accessibility.
He is
“the Servant King
He calls us now to follow Him
to bring our lives as a daily offering
of worship to the Servant King.” 

If our Lord enters Jerusalem with a ragtag group of tax collectors, poor people and fishing folk, who can tell with whom He might associate next? He’s likely to be with the most unlikely of people, those neglected by the high and mighty but greatly treasured by Him. He shares common cause with them and doesn’t act as if He’s better than they. He went out of His way to go to the remote towns of the land to meet the needs of the disabled and the mentally distressed, to widows uncared for by others. All these people saw in Jesus their only hope for a better future.

Gandhi, the great leader of India, was asked, “If you were given the power to remake the world, what would you do first?” Following Jesus’ example, Gandhi replied, “I would pray for the power to renounce that power.” He preferred to be a servant of his people rather than a power-broker, and operate by the power of love.

So then, the best title for our Palm Sunday King is “the Friend of Sinners.” Jesus’ friendship with you makes you one of His Church’s living treasures. He invites you to treasure those He calls you to serve and see them as His gifts to you. Make the joyful discovery of how, as you help others carry their burdens, your own become lighter. May you be Jesus’ “donkey” carrying Him to the people who need Him the most.

Jesus has promised to remain faithful to you, even when you find being faithful to Him tough going. Faith and faithfulness belong together like a lock and a key. Acts of faithfulness like regular prayer, worship, receiving Holy Communion, keep faith alive and thriving. It is faithfulness in these things, rather than success, that our Lord looks for from us. Jesus has promised that the blessings received from our faithfulness will be infinitely greater than all our acts of faithfulness. As far as our Lord is concerned, faithfulness in small things is indeed a great thing. 

This Palm Sunday let the words of The Prayer of St. Francis be your prayer of recommitment to your Lord:

  Make me a channel of your peace: where there is hatred, let me bring your love;  where there is injury, your pardon, Lord, and where there’s doubt, true faith in you. Make me a channel of your peace: where there’s despair in life, let me bring hope; where there is darkness, only light, and where there’s sadness, ever joy.

  O Master, grant that I may never seek so much to be consoled, as to console,  to be understood, as to understand, to be loved, as to love with all my soul.

 Make me a channel of your peace; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, in giving to all men that we receive, and in dying that we’re born to life.

We pray:
Come, Lord Jesus, come.
Come to us through the word of the cross, the word of reconciliation, and the Gospel of peace.
Come to us with wisdom from above to enlighten and inspire us, so that all we say or do may be solely to Your glory, in Your holy name. Amen.

Fifth Sunday after Lent

The text: John 12:20-33

Glory – on God’s Terms

What would you see as the most glorious thing that could happen to you?garth Receiving an Australia Day award? Being praised in the presence of others? Gaining recognition in the newspaper for something you’ve done? One of our daily newspapers has a 15 Minutes of Fame column. A person was randomly chosen by a reporter who wrote up a brief sketch of that person’s life for the newspapers. But human fame and glory is quickly forgotten.

God’s idea of glory is totally different. Prior to their wedding day, a pastor was discussing marriage vows with a young couple. The man objected to the words in the vow “’til death do us part”. “Can’t you change the words?” he asked. “I don’t want death mentioned on my wedding day.” For God, death and glory aren’t incompatible. Nothing brings God greater glory than the death of His Son Jesus Christ for us. Jesus wanted God to be glorified by His perfect obedience to the will of God, no matter what the cost.

God doesn’t seek glory by means of a spectacular, sensational public relations stunt. Instead, God hides His glory in the life, suffering and death of Jesus our Saviour. Our world glorifies power, success, strength and affluence. God reveals Himself most fully in the humiliation, vulnerability and weakness of the Cross. The cross of Christ is the hiding place of God’s saving power and glory. We see our Saviour’s glory in His suffering because it shows how much He loves each and every one of us; we see His love in His excruciating agony on the Cross, as it reveals how He sacrificed everything for us. We cannot really understand Jesus apart from His Cross. It is central to why He came to our earth to be one of us, with us.

The Cross of Christ is the climax of His identification with us as mortal men and women. There, Christ carried out His mightiest work of salvation for us. The Cross both reveals and condemns our sin and guilt, and takes it away. We are eternally indebted to Jesus for what He did for us there. In the words of the famous hymn, Rock of ages:       

“Nothing in my hand I bring Simply to Your cross I cling.” (LHS 330)

In this morning’s text, some Greek visitors come to Jesus’ disciple Philip, perhaps because of his Greek name, and ask him: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” What a praiseworthy request! Philip is so excited that folk from the most intellectual and artistic nation of the time come to make contact with Jesus, that he quickly shares the news with his friend Andrew. At last Jesus is going to be recognised as a celebrity! They can’t wait to tell our Lord. Jesus responds that the great hour of His life has arrived.

These Greeks represent us, the Gentiles of the world. Their arrival anticipates Christ’s post-Pentecost mission. Jesus isn’t the latest philosopher or newest religious guru with a trendy recipe for self-advancement or self-enlightenment. Like a wheat crop, before there can be a harvest, grain must be buried in the ground. Jesus compares His mission to a grain of wheat. Before there can be the fruit of mission, of many people being won for Christ, He must sacrifice His life for us.

The sacrifice of His life on the Cross for each of us, and for all people of every race, has and will continue to draw more men and women to Jesus than all His miracles or unsurpassed moral teaching. Jesus wants us to be drawn to Him because of His suffering with and for us, and the sacrifice of His life instead of us, rather than because of His amazing miracles. We’re so reluctant to think or talk about our own or anyone else’s death. Jesus, however, views His death, as the greatest thing He’s done for us. We read in John 15:13, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends.” 

At the same time, giving His life for us wasn’t at all easy for Jesus. For us, often the anticipation of something painful, like going to the dentist, is worse than the event itself. Jesus doesn’t hide the anguish His imminent sacrifice of Himself for us was causing Him. The thought of it filled Him with deep agony: “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour?” was His painful plea as He anticipates his awful agony in the garden of Gethsemane. Who wants to die at the age of 33? Jesus’ obedience to God’s will came at great personal cost. But as today’s second Bible reading says, “He learnt obedience from what He suffered.” His private agony is transformed into a public confession of His obedience to God: “Father, save me from this hour? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.” (v27)

By His obedience to God the Father, Jesus came to undo and repair the damage caused by Adam and Eve’s disobedience to God. Nothing less than the future of all of us, of all humankind, was at stake. At any moment, Jesus could have said “no” to the Cross. But for our sakes, He was “obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” This gift of sacrificial love gives us a hope nothing can destroy. Martin Luther King Jr has said, “There are some who still find the Cross a stumbling block, others consider it foolishness. I am more convinced than ever that it is the power of God to social and individual salvation.”

We focus on the Cross of Christ during Lent because it speaks to us primarily of a fellow-sufferer who understands what it’s like for us to suffer and to be afraid of dying. Jesus hears your pain from His cross and not from the cosy comfort of an armchair. Jesus shares your suffering, physical or emotional, however great or small, in ways you can only begin to imagine. Your Saviour’s Cross means you can trust Jesus with your suffering, and discover that trusting Him is life-transforming. Jesus didn’t come to our world to answer your questions about why you’re suffering, but to fill it with His life-changing presence. No other sacrifice has changed as many lives as has Christ’s sacrifice for us. His sacrifice of Himself on the Cross attracts our gratitude because it was so undeserved. Jesus said, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I’ll draw all kinds of people to me (v32).” His death is the magnetism of an utterly selfless sacrifice. There’s something deeply moving about self-giving love, isn’t there? 

Life without sacrifice is a mean existence. We can either hoard what we have or sacrifice it in love for someone else. Jesus invites us to follow Him on the path of sacrificial service. “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves me (v27).” What a marvellous incentive to join Jesus on the path of sacrificial service. God will exceedingly honour such service. What’s more, Jesus calls those His friends, who serve Him in a way that sacrifices their preferences, their priorities and their inclinations. He says in John 15:15, “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing, but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from My Father.” To be called Jesus’ friend makes all we do for Him and for each other so very worthwhile, and fills life with meaning and purpose.

Jesus’ cross has transformed how we view life. Life isn’t about what we can get out of it for ourselves, but what we can give for the sake of others. Think of how much poorer our world would be without all those selfless folk whose first concern is always the welfare of others. They invite you to share their discovery, that “life’s happiest hours are those of self-forgetfulness.” We can lose ourselves in serving Jesus because He will never forget us.

Amen!

Fourth Sunday after Lent

The text: Ephesians 2:1-10

“By grace you have been saved”—one of the most well-known verses in the church, especially amongst us Lutherans. Or is it?johnmac

What does being saved by grace mean?

The assurance of salvation by grace was the message that Duke George of Saxony heard in July 1517.

He had requested a “learned and eloquent preacher” to preach in the castle chapel at Dresden.

Who was sent? None other than Martin Luther! Luther preached on the assurance of salvation.

In his sermon he said: “Our salvation must ever remain our foremost concern.

Man can obtain it only through faith in Christ Jesus, not by his own good works.”

Later that day at the dinner table, Duke George asked his wife’s attendant, Barbara von Sala: “How did you like the sermon?”

“Ah” she replied, “let me hear just one more like it, and I can die in peace!”

But Duke George was not impressed. In fiery indignation he exclaimed:

“I’d give much money not to have heard it.

It makes men secure and reckless in sin!”

I’m not sure that being ‘secure and reckless in sin’ was what Barbara von Sala was advocating, and Luther certainly wasn’t either.

In fact, Barbara wanted the opposite. If Barbara was secure and reckless in sin, she wouldn’t have cared for the gospel at all and have longed for the comfort and peace of God’s promise of forgiveness and righteousness with him.

“Let me hear just one more [sermon] like it, and I can die in peace!”

Barbara said. She had heard the gospel and it had given her such great joy.

The gospel message Barbara von Sala rejoiced in is summarised by today’s verse in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:

“It is by grace you have been saved through faith—and this is not of yourselves; it is the gift of God—not by works so that no-one may boast.”

It is a verse that is at the heart of the reformation and at the identity, theology and culture of the Lutheran church.

But what is the gospel?

Paul gives us a key word in today’s text:

The gospel is that we have been saved.

Someone who has been saved can’t save themselves; they need another to save them.

Often the gospel is explained this way: because of sin we are separated from God, but God throws a life buoy to us—Jesus—and when we grasp hold of him, we are saved.

But in today’s text Paul says: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.”

We weren’t only drowning with one arm above the waves reaching for a life buoy.

We had already drowned, as it were—we were already spiritually dead, at the bottom of the sea of human sin.

Now someone who’s dead can’t do a whole lot.

They can’t raise themselves to life and contribute anything to change their situation.

Paul says that’s what the natural human condition is like.

The only life we had was in sin, and we followed the ways of this world and the ruler of the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts.

Amazing that what Paul writes centuries ago is the exact diagnosis of society today — a society which mere humans create God in their image and who even want to be God, being the final authority and worshipping the self.

No wonder Paul says we were objects of wrath. God’s sentence of death for our transgressions is just. Why?

Because sin is not restricted to a particular culture or time, but entrenched in what it means to be a human being after the Fall.

Sin is a spectrum that we are all part of.

When God’s law shows us the ways in which we sin it shows us, at the same time, that we are no better than the society we lament over.

The Ten Commandments show us how God wants us to live in every area of life, in our spiritual life, family life, work life, in all our interactions with God and neighbour.

There’s no such thing as a little lie. It’s a lie.

Or, as Jesus taught, just thinking about something sinful but not following through in action is no better than actually doing the wrong thing.

We are truly among those who need saving because we cannot save ourselves and we need saving from ourselves.

Barbara von Sala knew that—that’s why she cherished the gospel she heard that day in the Dresden castle chapel.

It’s the same gospel we need to hear too, and we hear it in our text today: “we have been saved.”

For it was while we were dead in our sins that God showed his rich and unconditional mercy and lavish love to us through his Son.

It was while the human race was unable to reach out to Jesus that God reached out to us by sending Jesus into the world, not to condemn the world—but to save the world through him.

Jesus kept the law for us perfectly then traded places with us to take the Father’s wrath on our sin for us and save us from his just sentence of death that we might have his very own righteousness.

This was a past event that has already happened for us, a complete gift, totally undeserved: “by grace you have been saved.”

We could never do anything to deserve God’s love, never contribute anything to life with God or earn a pat on the back from him.

We are not saved because of our kindness to our neighbour or by our service in the church or how often we donate to community service programs or by how much we put in the offering plate.

We are not saved because of our faith as if our faith were a work by us that is pleasing to God;

we are not saved because of any decision we make,

or our piety,

or the eloquence

or frequency of our prayers,

but faith is itself an undeserved gift from God brought into effect by the Holy Spirit as he speaks to us through the Scriptures to enlighten us to see we are saved by Christ and because of Christ, and we receive all his saving work through faith.

But what of Duke George’s response to Luther’s sermon?

Remember what he said?

“I’d give much money not to have heard it.  It makes men secure and reckless in sin!”

Duke George’s concern, Christians abusing their freedom, is a valid one, even though I feel he misunderstood what Luther had said.

For the gospel is certainly not the reason to discard the law, but only to strive harder to keep it.

The danger in the church is the temptation to think that because we are saved apart from the Law, we should disregard the Law and don’t need to strive daily to lead a holy life.

That because good works aren’t necessary for salvation that they aren’t necessary at all.

They were thoughts the church at Rome entertained.

But in chapter 6 of his letter to the Christians there, Paul insists:

“What shall we say then?

Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?

No way!

How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (v1-2).

And in today’s text he says: “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith—and this is not of yourselves; it is the gift of God—not by works so that no-one may boast.

For we are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works which he has prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (v8-10).

We’re not saved by good works but saved for good works.

The gospel doesn’t mean a doing away with the law, but upholding it.

That’s really what we ourselves confessed again this morning.

Did you notice the careful wording and order of the questions of confession?

Having been redeemed by Christ from all our sins means that we will strive daily to lead a holy life.

We don’t strive daily to lead a holy life that God might redeem us—in Christ, he already has.

And we can’t daily strive to lead a holy life apart from Christ, who has already brought us to share in his holiness that we may walk in it.

What does walking in holiness look like?

How do we know what the good works are that God has called us to do?

Again, God’s law shows us.

The 10 commandments show us God’s design for what good works are to be.

We are to use God’s name to pray,

we are to desire His word and gladly hear and learn it.

We are to honour and respect our parents and all those in authority.

We are to help our neighbour in all their needs.

We are to uphold God’s design for marriage so that in matters of sex, our words and conduct are pure and honourable and husband and wife love and respect one another.

We are not to gossip but defend our neighbour and speak of them in the kindest way possible and help them protect and even increase what is theirs, and to be satisfied with what God has blessed us with, and to use it to bless others.

This is all completely different to the way of the world but it is what God rescued you for.

So, we can say that Lent and the Christian life is all about good works.

And we can even say it is about being saved by good works—that is, Christ’s good works.

He is the one who perfectly kept the commandments for you and showed both perfect submission to his Father’s will and perfect love and compassion, even to the point of laying down his own life on the Cross for you, to free you from sin, death and Satan.

Grace is not cheap, for the ransom price God paid to make you his very own was the holy and precious blood of his Son Jesus.

Then he actually made you his own at your baptism, where the crucified, risen, exalted Christ stood in the sanctuary space in the church here on earth, baptising you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, to make you who were once dead now alive, with him.

In your union with Christ you already share in Jesus’ own enthronement and have a place of belonging and permanency in heaven, so that while you wait for the day he comes again, you already receive every spiritual blessing that comes from your Father in heaven through Jesus.

In union with Christ you are indeed covered in his holiness, and walk with him as his holy priests for the sake of the world, partners with him in his mission of prayer for it, and service to it through the good works he prepared for you beforehand.

Why has God done all this for you?

Simply because of his love for you, and because he was determined to shower the inexpressible riches of heaven in Christ upon you.

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

Amen.

Third Sunday in Lent

The texts from scripture in today’s reading from the Book of Exodus and the holy gospel of St John speak to us of two significant events in the people ofgordon5 Israel and the Apostle’s history: the destruction of the second Jewish Temple and the coming to faith of the Apostles in the fulfilment of the Jewish people’s history in Israel’s Messiah the Lord Jesus the Christ.

Firstly the 20th chapter of Exodus relates the well-known account of God’s giving the tablets of the Law on Mt Sinai to Moses as the sign of the bond between God and God’s people Israel. This event formed the foundation of God’s covenant with Israel. But of course, this event is subsequent to the great deliverance by God of Israel from 400 years of slavery in Egypt through the Passover of the Angel of Death. In this event whereby, under the instruction of Moses, the Israelites were to put the blood of a sacrificial lamb on the door posts of their houses as a sign through which they would be delivered from the terrible  consequences of the Angel of Death’s visitation on the first born of their Egyptian captors. The ensemble of these events became known as the Exodus of Israel from Egypt under the leadership of Moses and is celebrated in the yearly memorial liturgy of the Passover. It is to this annual event that in St John 2 Jesus is said to have come up from Capernaum to attend in Jerusalem.

The gospel also tells us when he arrived at the Temple forecourt, he found traders selling various kinds of animals and birds used in the liturgical celebration of the Passover. Now these traders were providing a legitimate service for the worshippers who were celebrating the Passover. Since the Jewish authorities would not allow the Gentile coins, with the deified image of the Emperor stamped on them, to be used in the purchase of the temple offerings. So, the traders supplied, by means of exchange, the alternative kosher coinage to buy the required sacrificial offerings.

This business, legitimised by the Temple authorities, is disrupted by Jesus’ action. Overturning the money changers tables and driving out the animals from the Temple forecourt. Of course, the Jewish authorities were not pleased and asked Jesus by what authority was he acting to disrupt the accepted order of Passover celebration. Jesus action was not as many have described it an anti-capitalist act, designed to demonstrate Jesus’ affinity with the downtrodden poor and show his social justice credentials. No, Jesus action indicates a far deeper issue. His action indicates that the whole system of Temple sacrifice as a method of dealing with Israel’s relationship with God is at an end. Temple worship as the means of God’s forgiveness and reconciliation for His people is about to end.

The Passover, while it was the reason for Jesús presence in Jerusalem, was not the only important focus of the Jews worship of God. The existence of the Temple itself was at stake, in Jesus action. It is Temple worship itself that Jesus action indicates is ending. In response to the Jews enquiry as to Jesus authority for taking such violent action against the traders, He says, “Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up”. (John Chp. 2:19)

What sort of answer is this? The Jews ask the perfectly logical question; How is this possible? Since it took 46 years to build the Temple? The disciples are no less puzzled. They only come to know later after the resurrection what meaning Jesus statement had at that time.

Well, what is the meaning? To understand we must see what Temple worship was and why it existed at all in Israel. We have already indicated how in Exodus 20, today’s reading from the OT, God gave the Law on the tablets of stone to Moses as a sign of the covenanted relationship established with Israel by means of their Exodus from Egypt on the night of the Passover. But we seldom read Exodus 34 where God renews the covenant with Israel because Israel broke the first covenant. For as Moses descended from Mt Sinai with the first tablets of the Law Israel was down below with Aaron worshipping an idol, the Golden Calf or Bull. (The Bull being an expression of power and sexual promiscuity) When Moses heard the noise of music and dancing and saw what was happening, he smashed the tablets of the covenant in pieces and ordered a slaughter of the idolators. Moses is distraught with grief at the broken covenant and pleads with God to take his life in place of what remains of idolatrous Israel. But God mercifully renews the covenant with Israel with new tablets of stone given by God: and a regime of forgiveness for Israelis put in place. Initially this arrangement was the tent of meeting in which God met with Moses and then a tabernacle and ark in which the tablets of the Law were kept. This original system of consultation between God and Israel through the mediation of Moses was superseded in Israel’s history by Solomon’s temple in which the descendants of Aaron became priests offering sacrifice for the people as they confessed their sins. This system expanded and became more elaborate over time, but  essentially it expressed how God and Israel maintained the covenant in the midst of their sin and rebellion against God. The great festival of forgiveness and reconciliation between God and sinful Israel was called Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It happened annually (some might remember that it was on Yom Kippur 1973 that Egypt attacked Israel in an attempt to reclaim land lost in the initial 1967 war.) This was an opportune time for Egypt to start a war with Israel. For on Yom Kippur everything came to a standstill, no one worked, it was such a solemn day. On this day the High Priest would take two animals, usually goats or  bulls, slaughtering one of them since God required a blood sacrifice  to atone for sin.

(As we are told in Leviticus 17:11, “For the life of the creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your lives – for it is the blood that makes atonement because of the life”. This is restated again in Hebrews 9:22, “And nearly everything is purified in blood according to the Torah, and apart from the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness”.)

But the other animal, the scapegoat, the priest set free. This was a sign of the forgiveness through blood sacrifice, since the scapegoat on whom the Priest laid the sins of the people was driven into the wilderness, symbolising the life of the sinner lived before God. The High Priest would then take the blood of sacrifice and with the emblems representing the 12 tribes of Israel displayed on his vestments, and on this one day of the year  go in behind the curtain of the temple into the Holy of Holies, the very presence of God. There he would sprinkle or daub the blood of sacrifice on the Mercy Seat  made of gold situated on top of the ark of the covenant. He would then come out to face the people and with his arms raised pronounce upon them the Aaronic blessing.

The Lord bless and keep you the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you” (Numbers Chapter 6:22-27)

The liturgy of the Day of Atonement, the very reason for temple worship, had its origins in Israel’s sin against God at Mt Sinai, this act of rebellion has  haunted Israel’s memory throughout the generations. Both kinds of sacrifice, blood sacrifice of one goat and the laying of the sin of the people on the scapegoat which was driven into the wasteland of the wilderness to exist in a kind of nonexistence before God. In both these images the people saw themselves on the one hand as guilty and on the other as preserved in their guilt by God’s mercy. The function of the liturgy was to bear witness to the fact that the holy and living God could not be approached apart from an act of atonement and reconciliation. The liturgy as laid down by God’s command, showed that the ultimate ground of Israel’s reconciliation with God lay deep in the mystery of God’s own being and will. The rich pattern of the liturgy gave the worshippers something to lay hold of even though it pointed far beyond what they could grasp. For it witnessed to what God alone could do and would do for His people.

Jesus words in John chapter 2, indicate that He Himself is that act of God in person to which the liturgy of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement pointed. He Himself will be the sacrifice, slain for His people’s sin, but also, He Himself will be the scapegoat driven into the wilderness of death laden with his people’s guilt. Jesus himself as God’s servant and Son, as the great 53rd chapter of Isaiah Vs 4-9 indicates,

 “ he would be cut off from the land of the living, yet he bore our sufferings and was pierced for our transgressions. He made Himself a sacrifice for sin, for the Lord laid on Him the guilt of us all”.

In an incomprehensible reversal of all righteous and pious thinking, God declares himself guilty to the world and thereby extinguishes the guilt of the world. God himself takes the humiliating path of reconciliation and thereby sets the world free. God wants to be guilty of our guilt and takes upon himself the punishment and suffering that this guilt brought to us. God stands in for godlessness, love stands in for hate, the Holy One for the sinner. Now there is no longer any godlessness, any hate, any sin that God has not taken upon himself, suffered, and atoned. Now there is no more a world that is not reconciled with God and in peace. That is what God did in his beloved Son Jesus Christ. We see in Jesus, the incarnate God, the unfathomable mystery of the love of God for the world. God loves the world—not ideal human beings but people as they are, not an ideal world but the real world.

This is what the disciples saw and believed and proclaimed to the world this side of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. What they saw and believed, what they proclaimed was always in the framework of the history of the Israel and their relationship with God. For the Body of which Jesus spoke is His own Body delivered up to death for our sake but raised on the third day to be forever the One through whom our relationship to the Father is mediated by His word and the sacrament of His body and blood. In this mystery is the mystery of God for us: His unfathomable goodness and faithfulness to Israel and through Israel to and for us.

18 The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this? Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days”…. When he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. (St John 2:18-22)

Dr. Gordon Watson.

Second Sunday in Lent

The grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you always.  Our Lord Jesus Christ tells us “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Let’s join in a word of prayer:

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  Loving Father, this morning we are together to worship You and to continue our journey with Your Son on his way to the cross.  We trust in your promise that by our faith in your Son, we will be counted among the righteous and be given the right to be called children of God.  We praise you for the gift of salvation that Jesus Christ has given, and for His life and ministry that we encounter.  Guide our time together so that we may take up our crosses and follow our risen Saviour, in whose name we pray.  Amen.

John Mark writes of a time when Jesus journeyed with his Disciples.  It appears that his more casual followers straggled along at a distance.  Waiting for the next witness of his divine authority by another healing or miracle.   

As they walked along, Jesus engaged the Disciples with a dialogue that ended with the question, “Who do you say that I am?” 

Mark records Peter’s profound response with well known words, “You are the Christ.”  Matthew adds a bit more to Peter’s words, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Mt 16:16 ESV)   It is then that Christ Jesus commends Peter in Matthew “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” (Mt 16:17 ESV)

As I prayed over this passage of Scripture, I was blessed.  The Holy Spirit opened my understanding of this passage of Scripture in a new way.  I saw in my minds eye that it was at this point the ears of the devil were perked up, and his attention was drawn to Peter, who is blessed to receive the wisdom of God.  Peter who has now revealed Jesus as the Christ, Son of the Living God.

I am convinced that the devil was also listening as Jesus spoke about what it meant for him to be the Christ, the Son of the Living God,  The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.   How he must suffer, be rejected, be killed, and then rise again on the third day.  The devil would have understood exactly what Jesus meant.  But these words would have confused Peter and would have planted the seed of doubt.

Doubt in the destiny of the Christ, Son of the Living God.  But even in the beginning of doubt, Jesus demonstrated his love, concern, and care for Peter.  Just as he loves us, is concerned over us, and cares for us, in our times of both doubt and certainty.  Times of fear and of faith. 

I am convinced that Jesus was actually speaking to the devil, when he said, “Get behind me, Satan.”  Placing himself as a barrier between the temptation of the devil and dear Peter.  Just as Christ Jesus living in our hearts by his Holy Spirit, presents an unmovable barrier between the devil and our spirit.  Joined with us through faith in Christ Jesus, and his sacrifice for us.  A reality that Peter was beginning to question, which made him vulnerable to the influence of Satan.

It was after this, that Satan obeyed the Christ, Son of the Living God, as he must always do.  He separated himself from Peter, at least for a while.  Then Jesus warned Peter, “You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”  That warning is for every Christian.  Every casual follower of Christ Jesus.  Every dedicated and disciplined Disciple. 

When we set our minds on the things we see around us in the world, we become vulnerable to the worst temptations.  Temptations to doubt the reality of Christ Jesus, of our baptism, of our faith.

Of God’s love for us.

When Jesus called all the followers and disciples together, he spoke a hard truth, a strict reality, almost a command. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”  

Words that have become so real to us in people of faith around the world.  Just as it would to the Disciples in the early Church in Jerusalem during their persecution.   The image from a few years ago still haunts me, as I read these verses.  An image of 21 Coptic Christians, in their orange prison jumpsuits, kneeling with heads bowed.  And standing behind each one an Islamic Terrorist with machete or sword or knife, ready to inflict a fatal blow.   Also the recurring images of Christians, in Africa, China, and around the world who are imprisoned, humiliated, persecuted and matyred for sharing their faith.

These are the modern witnesses for Christ Jesus.  These are the ones who embraced the grace of God, rather than deny their faith in Jesus Christ.  Who became vivid portrayals of our Lord’s words, “whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the Gospel’s will save it.”

In the shadow of the cross of Christ, and the witnesses of these modern martyrs, how are we to order our lives to take up our cross and follow Jesus?  To live the grace of God in Christ Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit? 

To discover the answer, we search the Scriptures and we turn to a prolific Lutheran writer, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. 

In  the Scriptures, we discover the words of Paul, ‘We know that our old self was crucified with Christ in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.’  (Romans 6:6–7 ESV) 

Taking up our cross and following Jesus, reminds us that we can resist every temptation, set our hearts to the discipline of discipleship, and live our faith, because Jesus has set us free by his sacrifice. A life renewed each moment by the grace of God.

In his book, “The Cost of Discipleship,” Bonhoeffer describes the Grace of God. He writes of the concept of “cheap grace.”  Listen to how he defines it: “Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our church.  Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.”

In many ways, I agree with Bonhoeffer, that we are blessed when we respond to God’s grace with our lives of repentance, discipline, discipleship, and faith.  That is what the season of Lent is all about. I also agree with Bonhoeffer, that the enemy of the Church is ‘cheap grace’, when people abandon the teaching of the hard truths and flock to others who speak only of the blessings of Christianity. 

But the grace of God is never cheap … because it cost the death of God’s Son on the cross.   The grace of God is a given in the life of a Christian, as we confront our sinfulness and God’s forgiveness.  But we must never take the grace of God for granted. 

When Jesus was tempted in the desert, He responded to the devil with the words, “The Scriptures say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.’ ”  (Mt 4:7 NLT) We test the Lord our God, when we live without the discipline of faith and yet expect God to receive us with forgiveness and acceptance when we meet Him in eternity.

As baptised Christians, receiving God’s gift of faith in our Saviour, we are given eternal life with our Saviour.  But, living in this broken world,  we will still confront the cross of Christ.  When we hear Jesus’ call to live out our discipleship in our actions and attitudes, I hope the each of us will decide to live our lives in the shadow of the cross.  As the New Living Translation quotes Jesus, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross, and follow me.”

I was told once that most Christians are intimidated by the concept of discipleship.  It’s just too difficult for us to consider ourselves disciples. 

That it is easier to remain casual followers, who are certainly Christians by their faith in Christ Jesus.  But are reluctant to take up the discipline of Discipleship.  Reading the Bible, Praying, Worshipping, Living Repentant Lives, Serving the Church, Caring for Each Other, and Supporting the Church with their finances.

Lent is a time when we can set aside time to confront the parts of our lives that are not under submission to Christ Jesus.  To let the Holy Spirit show us the ways we can revive the momentum of our own discipleship.  To see discipleship as something to be desired rather than to be feared.

As people of Jesus Christ, we are reminded that salvation, by the grace of God, binds us to his will for our living.  By the grace of God, we are free to surrender our will to the will of God and to submit ourselves to the authority of Jesus Christ.  To celebrate the promises of God.

At our baptism, we receive the full promise of God to be joined with Christ Jesus in eternity.  And we invite God’s Holy Spirit to be a vital part of our living.  We are declared righteous with God, because of faith.  But it was only the beginning of our life with Christ Jesus. 

We can hold onto our faith in Christ Jesus, trust God, and follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit through all the challenge that our discipleship will bring.

Over the few weeks of Lent, lets ask the Holy Spirit to set our hearts and lives ablaze for Christ Jesus to the glory of God our Father.  And may the grace and peace of God,  keep our hearts and minds in, Christ Jesus.   Amen.

Rev David Thompson

First Sunday in Lent

The text: Mark 1-9-15

 

Today’s sermon is about baptism and Lent. It’s about our journey of life and Jesus’ journey to the cross.

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David: 0428 667 754

In Mark we hear of Jesus’ baptism. One thing that we should notice about Mark’s account of Jesus baptism is that everything happens very fast, ‘immediately’, the spirit descends and the Father speaks, ‘immediately’ the Spirit sends Jesus into the wilderness.

Then comes Jesus’ temptation by Satan. Jesus is tempted to deny God and rely on himself, and worship Satan. Jesus does not succumb to temptation, and he resists temptation for us.

Our journey of faith also begins in baptism, by water and the spirit, but in contrast to Jesus journey our journey begins with death. The death of the sinner, in the water and by the word, the union of each Christian to our Saviour’s death and resurrection for us. This death continues for the whole of our life until we breathe our final breath, as Luther puts it in the hymn ‘Lord Keep us steadfast in thy word’, we are taken out of death to life.

As Christ was tempted after his baptism, so too are we. For in our sinful state, before our baptism, before we are claimed by Christ and have the gospel proclaimed to us, temptation is not a factor. For sin reigns before we are claimed by Christ. We have no regard for doing God’s will, we have no desire to resist evil, so we are free to sin without the need for temptation.

After baptism, after Christ has placed his mark on us, after we have heard the Gospel, temptation begins. Because Satan knows that he has lost another soul and wants to win it back.

We should be reminded here of the petition from Lord’s Prayer: “And lead us not into temptation.”

In his explanation in the Small Catechism, Luther taught this to mean: “God tempts no one to sin, but we pray in this petition that God may so guard and preserve us that the devil, the world, and our flesh may not deceive us or mislead us into unbelief, despair, and other great and shameful sins, but that, although we may be so tempted, we may finally prevail and gain the victory.”

For Luther, and for St Mark, it is not God who does the tempting. God leads us on his path of truth. But it is the devil, the world and our flesh that tempt us to sin. They tempt us by saying:

  • Jesus’ words are not trustworthy;
  • You don’t really believe that do you?
  • How could one man’s life 2000 years ago be relevant to you today?
  • You don’t deserve his gifts!
  • He doesn’t really love you;
  • It’s not a big deal, the world has changed and that sin doesn’t matter now;
  • You must work harder for your salvation, it’s up to you!

Many of us even become complacent in our faith. Satan can take a holiday. We look to the world and find in it such compelling evidence that we walk away from our Saviour who suffered, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God. So after being brought to God by our Saviour we walk away and follow the ways of the world.

Others of us are so turned in on ourselves that Satan need not do any work at all. We continue in our sin, happily breaking each and every commandment, succumbing to our own fleshy temptation and refusing ever to repent.

Or we do repent with the best intentions, yet when we walk out the door we slip back into our sins again?

Brothers and sisters, we must return to our Saviour, to our walk of faith. When we are tempted, by Satan, the world or our sinful self, we must flee to our Saviour. For he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.

We must return to the Cross, for that is the task of Lent. To turn away from our own sins, temptations, agendas, and turn back to our Saviour on the cross. Lent is about repenting of our turning away from God, and turning back with a good conscience granted by our Saviour Jesus Christ in our baptism. The task of Lent is to repent of our unbelief and lack trust, believe that he has done all this for us; that he has taken on our flesh, been baptized, walked through the wilderness, experienced and resisted all manner of temptations and even in the face of death did not turn back, but turned his face to Jerusalem and followed the path all the way to the cross, all for us.

Our journey of Lent follows Jesus’ journey. We follow him through our baptism, into our temptations, right to his Cross. Yet our journey doesn’t end in death—our journey ends in resurrection, as Jesus shares his own resurrection with us. We don’t receive what we deserve, that is eternal death, we receive what he deserves, eternal life with God.

As we take this journey of Lent again, and we lift our eyes to Jesus our Saviour on the Cross, we must always be aware that Lent is really a condensed form of the Christian life.

  • Our baptism is not just relevant in Lent;
  • Our temptations are not limited to Lent;
  • Our sin is not limited to Lent;
  • Our spiritual disciplines are not limited to Lent.

Lent is a chance to hone our spiritual disciplines, to be reminded of them so that we might make them a habit throughout our years of dying to ourselves and rising again to new life each day, in righteousness and purity forever.

As you join Jesus on his journey to the Cross, you might consider how the disciplines of prayer, fasting and giving to the needy help you focus on Jesus during Lent. Fasting, for instance, helps you focus on Jesus because you have free time when you would usually eat, time that is free so that you can read and meditate on his word. By reading the word, (you might focus your reading on Jesus’ suffering and death) you are immediately looking to him and away from yourself. You could also be free in that time to serve your neighbor with acts of service. You also free up some money by not purchasing food and this too could help you focus on the needs of others rather than your own needs.

The spiritual disciplines were never meant to focus you on yourself; we are good enough at doing that already. Spiritual disciplines are supposed to make you look outside of yourself, to look to Jesus and to your neighbor, to see in Jesus Christ the pain and suffering he endured for us, the temptations he resisted, so that he could bring us to God with a pure and clean conscience. What an incredible gift!

Amen.