Sixth Sunday of Epiphany 17th February 2019

Text: Exodus 20:1-17
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“Obedient”.  It’s a key word for us today as we focus on the Old Testament lesson where God gives his people – where God gives us – the 10 Commandments.

“Obedience”.  Not a word to bring joy to most people’s hearts!  Parents struggle with it.  How do you get your kids to obey, to follow the family’s rules?  And how many of those rules should you have?  And does each rule need to be enforced all the time, or do circumstances mean you sometimes pretend you don’t see the disobedience?  And how on earth do you do this obedience thing when your kids hit those rebellious teenager years!

Obedience.  It’s a minefield for many parents.  And it causes more than a few problems for Lutherans.  Because we like to emphasize grace.  And rightly so.  We like to shy away from the whole obedience thing lest we somehow move into that area of works righteousness.  But here’s the deal; obedience is part of our Christian walk, our discipleship, our servanthood.  God – and he has every right to because he is God – God lays out certain rules, commandments before us.  Not for us to debate or assess the merits of or to determine which ones we’ll take on board and which ones we’ll dismiss.  Rather, he gives them to us to obey.

So, how can we move beyond a “gritting one’s teeth” kind of obedience to a willing obedience – like Jesus showed?  Humility is certainly important.  Proud people aren’t into willing obedience.  Humble ones are.  But there’s another factor that’s critical for willing obedience that I’d like to concentrate on today.  Let me summarise that factor with this statement, “How a person responds to a rule depends on how they relate to the rule-maker.”  Can I say that again, “How a person responds to a rule depends on how they relate to the rule-maker.”

For example, let’s imagine that my “baby” – Ben – is 8, not 28.  If I make a rule that Ben is supposed to obey, how Ben will respond to that rule will depend above all on how Ben and I are relating to each other.  I know there are other factors too, like, is the rule fair?  Does it apply to his brothers too?  Things like that.  But I’m convinced that Ben’s response to the rule will be determined above all by how he relates to me.  I mean, if he’s secure in our relationship, if he knows for sure that I love him heaps and want only the best for him, that shapes the way he responds to my rule.  He might be put out by it.  He might even think it’s unfair.  But if our relationship is strong and secure, if he knows I only want the best for him, then there’s every chance that he’ll go along with the rule.  There’s every chance he’ll do his best to obey it.

“How a person responds to a rule depends on how they relate to the rule-maker.”  It’s been true in our household.  I suspect it’s true – or has been true in yours.  And I’m convinced it’s true in God’s.  God sets down quite a few rules in the Bible.  How people respond to those rules depends – to a very large extent – on what their relationship with God is like, on how they see him.

Some people, for example, some see God as a highway patrolman.  These patrolmen are necessary and serve an important function, but most of us aren’t too happy to see them behind us on the highway.  We think they’re just waiting there – watching us like hawks – until we make the tiniest of mistakes  . . . and then their lights will start flashing and their siren will start blaring and they’ll come alongside us and give us this “I’ve got you!” kind of look.

Some people really do see God like that.  He’s the moral policeman who gives you all these rules, and he’s just waiting to catch you out, to punish you.  And inevitably, the relationship these people have with God is one based on fear, not love.  It’s distant, not intimate.  Obedience is seen as something to do to escape punishment.  If you can disobey without getting caught, that’s OK.  But by and large it’s better to obey, to do the right thing because you just don’t know when God might come around spying, checking up on you.

Is that the way you see God?  Is that the way you relate to him?  As a highway patrolman?  As I read the Bible, I get a different picture of God.  The sort of picture I get from the Bible is of God being more like a Coast Guard Captain.  He knows that you want to get your boat to safe waters.  But he also knows that you’re really up against it.  You’re unaware of the reefs that can rip the bottom out of your boat.  You’re unaware as to which of the possible routes will actually get you to your destination.  So what the coast guard captain does is to give you markers to highlight the channel.  These markers are called rules or commandments, and they’re meant for your protection.  As long as you follow them, you won’t get wrecked on the reefs.  As long as you obey them, you know you’re headed in the right direction.  Sometimes you don’t quite understand why he’s given you those rules.  Sometimes you might even think that they’re unfair.  But because you know he loves you, you chart your course his way.  You strive to obey him.

Can we – just for a moment – can we look at a couple of the laws, a couple of the channel markers that our Captain gives us?  He gives us the 3rd commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.”  Why does he give that rule to us?  To spoil a good weekend?  No!  He gives it to us because he loves us.  He knows that if we’re going to successfully navigate our way through life, it’s essential that we spend time with him.  He knows we need guidance and strength and support.  He knows we need to be closely connected to him.  And to experience the community and support of a church family.  And all that happens in worship.  And that’s why he wants us to come, so we can receive all those things.

Take another commandment – the 6th – about faithfulness between husband and wife.  Why does God have a rule about that?  Quite simply because he loves us.  He wants marriage to be fulfilling and deeply satisfying.  And he knows that’s not possible when we’re spreading our affections and heart around.  So – in love – he says, “Adultery is out, and faithfulness is in.”

You know, I could go through every one of the 10 Commandments, in fact, every command in the whole Bible – how we are to treat our children, how we are to deal with our possessions, what our speech should be like, and more – I could go through the whole lot, and behind each one you would find one common factor . . . they’re motivated by love..  They’re given to us by a God who loves us.  They keep us off the rocks and in the safety of the channel.  None of them . . . none of them are meant to restrict our freedom and joy.  And the more we respond with willing obedience, the more fulfilling and joyful our lives can become.

But there’s the catch, isn’t it!  Because the fact is, we don’t always respond with obedience.  We’re all guilty of disobeying God’s laws.  Sometimes accidentally.  Sometimes deliberately.  And some of us know only too well what the cost is to go against God’s laws.  It’s as if we’ve been washed up onto jagged rocks.  And you know what?  The Captain of the Coast Guard – he sees us floundering there.  And he knows why we’re there – because we’ve disregarded the markers, we’re disobeyed his rules for us, we’ve arrogantly chartered our own course instead of following his course.  Yet instead of wiping his hands of us and saying “It’s your fault!  You blew it!  Now you’ll have to pay for it!”, instead of deciding to scrap us, to send us to the bottom, he sets out to salvage us.  He sends out another boat into the sea . . . a boat that was buffeted about, just like we are . . . a boat that was ridiculed and rejected . . . a boat that had many opportunities to head off course and forget about us – but didn’t . . . a boat which in the end took on the refuse, the garbage from every other boat – yours and mine – so much of it that in the end it sunk him.  This boat went to the bottom – willingly – because of his love for all, because of his love for you and me.

St Paul says, “And he became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.”

One who is worthy of our obedience, wouldn’t you agree?  One who gave his all to us so we can give our all to others!

Pastor Rob Peach

5th Sunday of Epiphany 10th February 2019

Luke 5:1-11 (NIV)

Theme:
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The beach. . . . Aussies seem to have a love affair with the beach.  They flock to it in their droves during the warmer months . . . to swim, to surf, to sunbake.rob

The beach . . . it’s certainly played a big part in my family’s history.  As kids, my dad and mum would regularly take us to the beach…  And we’ve done that with our boys too.  When they were small, Beryl and I would love to watch them splash around in the shallows.  They’d get on their boogie boards and ride the little shore waves in.

From time to time, though, I’d say to one of them: “How about I take you out further to where the water is deeper and the waves are better….  Most of the time, though – especially when they were little tackers – they didn’t want to go.  They felt much safer, much more secure when they could stand on the sand and were close to the shore……. 

But I’d persist: Don’t be afraid of the deeper water.  Come on.  Just a little bit further out.  Just to catch one wave. It’ll be funCome onJust try it.”

Why my persistence?…..  Because I wanted them to experience the thrills of being in the deeper water……  That’s where the action is……  I’d learnt that as a kid, and I wanted my kids to experience that too . . .  to push hard as a 2 or 3 metre wave approached, and then to go speeding down the front of that wave and feel it crash behind you.. . .  And there you are being pushed along by the white water . .  dodging this way and that . . . just for the fun of it or to avoid a collision with other swimmers…..  And your ride goes on for 40 or 50 metres . . . all the way to the shore…..  And that’s what I wanted my kids to experience.  Not just a 5 metre ride on a quarter of a metre ripple, but a real ride, a real thrill.

In our text for today, Jesus does pretty much the same thing.  He urges Simon to go out into the deeper water…….  Not just so that Simon could experience the thrill of catching a whole boat-load of fish.  That did happen…  But Jesus was much more interested in doing something with Simon’s life.  He wanted him to experience the thrill of being in a deep, personal relationship with the Lord of life.

Let’s then take a closer look at this encounter that Jesus had with Simon and see the difference he wanted to make in his life . . . and the difference he wants to make in our lives.

The first thing we note is that Jesus wants to take us from where we are to where he wants us to be……  That’s what he did with Simon…..  Simon had been washing the nets on the shore while keeping one ear on what Jesus was saying to the crowds….  He didn’t have the time to stop everything and give Jesus his undivided attention.  Because he had responsibilities to attend to: fish to catch; nets to wash and repair.  His family relied on him to bring in a good catch to eat and to sell.

That’s where Simon was at.  But Jesus wanted to take him from where he was at to where he wanted him to be.  “Simon”, he said, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

From shallow water to deeper water . . .a picture, a symbol of what Jesus was going to do with Simon’s life . . . to take him from his casual, superficial connection with Jesus to a deeper, more personal and real commitment to Jesus……  And even though Simon is a bit reluctant at first, at least he’s prepared to go to where Jesus wanted him to be.  He says: “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.  But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

Can I ask you; are you where Jesus wants you to be?….  Is your relationship with Jesus strong and real and alive ….. all the time?…. 

Do you open up every part of your life for him to have his way in?….  Are you serious about loving him by loving those around you . . . caring for them in tangible ways; sharing your faith with them, and so on?

It’s true, isn’t it, that we haven’t arrived yet.  We’re not perfect yet.  We’re not fully devoted followers of Jesus yet.  We are all works in progress…..  And we need to acknowledge that…..  And we need to be prepared to leave the security of the shallows, to allow Jesus to take us out of our comfort zone and into deeper waters  . . . to be able to say: “It’s scary, Lord.  I don’t like giving up control of my life to you.  But because you say so, I’m prepared to go.  I’m prepared to let you take me from where I am to where you want me to be.”

And what happens when we get out into the deeper water?….  That’s the next thing Jesus wants to teach us in this story.  We learn to trust him more fully.

When we’re in the shallows, we don’t need to trust him.   We can rely on ourselves….  Like my kids in the shallows at the beach.  If they fell over, they could just stand up again. 

That’s no problem in a foot of water…..  But when I took them out deeper – where they couldn’t touch the bottom – that’s where they had to trust me . . . that I’d be there to put them back on their boogie board if they fell off . .  that I wouldn’t push them down a wave that would dump them.

Some of you know what it’s like to be taken from the shallows where you’ve been safe, secure, comfortable and out into deeper waters… It might be because of an illness or a crisis – either to you or someone you know.  And all of a sudden you’re moving out into uncharted waters.  And the swell is bigger and more powerful.  And you can’t see the bottom.  And it can be scary, it really can… Until you realize that God is right there with you in the deeper water…..  He’s not abandoning you in that illness or crisis.  In fact, it becomes an opportunity for you to trust him more fully . . . that even though you don’t know exactly where current will take you, Jesus does.  And he’ll see you through.

Here’s one final point that I want to highlight from the text.  When we move from the shallows to the deeper water, our perspective changes.  We start to see what’s really important in life.  We become more concerned about what Jesus is concerned about.

Think of the 45 year old man who is in the prime of his life.  He looks at the paper each morning to see how his share portfolio is going.  He’s spending lots of time and energy at his work because he still has some rungs to climb up the corporate ladder.  He doesn’t see his wife or kids much, but that’s a small price to pay for the success he’s achieved….  But then – out of the blue – comes a heart attack!  And he’s taken out of the shallows and he’s in deep water….  And all of a sudden his perspective changes…..  He’s more interested in seeing the sun rising in the morning than reading his morning paper…..  He’s more interested in spending time with those who really count – with his wife and kids – than spending time at the office..  And in so many other ways, what was important before is no longer important now.  His perspective has changed.

We have a saying: “I’m in deep water.”…..  It’s got a negative connotation, hasn’t it.  It’s saying: “I’m in big trouble.” …. But if it’s God who leads you into deep water, there’s always a positive side to it…..  Because God will be using it to give you an opportunity to reflect and refocus and realize what really is important in your life…..  He’ll be giving you an opportunity to change your perspective on life ….. to be less concerned about what the world is concerned about and more concerned about what he is concerned about.

That’s what happened to Simon.  Before his encounter with Jesus, he was wrapped up in catching fish.  But after Jesus took him out into the deeper waters, he got fired up about catching people . . . about sharing the good news of Jesus with those who were lost.

Could it be that Jesus has taken you into deep waters right now because he wants you to change your perspective in some area of your life so that it lines up more closely with his?……  Perhaps in your attitude to others.  Or in your attitude to earthly possessions.  Or in your attitude to those who don’t know Jesus.  Or in some other area?…….  It’s worth thinking about, because Jesus often uses ‘deep water’ experiences to get us to do some soul searching, to do some major re-focusing.

Can I close with where I began – with my kids at the beach.  “Don’t be afraid of the deep water”, I’d say to them……  And through our text for today, Jesus is saying that to us too.  Don’t be afraid of the deep water……  Because I’m taking you from where you are to where I want you to be….  Because out there in the deep, that’s where you’re going to trust me more fully…… 

Because in the deep water, you’re going to be more concerned about the things that I’m concerned about.”

And that’s when life gets thrilling!…..  Not in the shallows, but out in the deep ….. with Jesus!  Amen.

Pastor Rob Paech

Called & Equiped by God

Text: Jeremiah 1:4-10 

Theme: “Called and Equipped by God”

 Sometimes I get called on to do things that make my knees wobbly and my stomach churn.  Like being asked to preach at a Pastor’s Conference in my first year in ministry. Not a pleasant experience – to have 75 of your peers sitting there listening to you, assessing you, passing you or failing you….. rob Or being asked to present a couple of papers to a principals and headmasters gathering…..  I don’t know if a principal or headmaster gets daunted by a group of pastors, but I was certainly daunted by them…..  Then there are those phone calls that seem to come out of nowhere: “Pastor, please come to the hospital.  There’s been a terrible accident.” Or “She’s gone!  After 32 years of marriage, she’s just walked out.  Can you come over, Pastor?

You know what that’s like too, don’t you.  Perhaps not in the same circumstances as me, but you know what it’s like to be called on by others in need.  Maybe called by God to help in some way…….  And you feel so daunted, so inadequate…..  What do you do?  How do you copeHow can you help?

Jeremiah – that’s the prophet Jeremiah – he can help us here.  Because he was called by God for an important task…..  The nation of Israel – God’s special people – they had turned their backs on him.  They’d forsaken God and turned to all sorts of false gods and religions. Spiritually they were at a low ebb.  And God says to Jeremiah – when he was just a young man – “Jeremiah, you’re going to be my mouthpiece to the people of Israel. I’ve had you chosen for this task since before you were born.  You will confront my people and tell them to return to me.” And Jeremiah’s jaw drops.  He says: “Lord, I’ll preach at a Pastor’s Conference, I’ll present a dozen papers to principals and headmasters, but Lord, don’t call me to be your mouthpiece to the people!”…..  Well, he doesn’t quite say that, but he is daunted by the task God’s placed before him.  And according to the text – he does come up with his excuses: “Hey, Lord, don’t pick me!.  I’m far too young.  You want someone more experienced, someone with more maturity.  And besides, you know I can’t talk very well.  I get tongue-tied. There are plenty of others with more of the gift of the gab than me.  Choose someone else.  I’m not your man!

And can I just say here, these weren’t invalid reasons given by Jeremiah.  They were true.  He was very young for the task.  And he was pretty uninspiring as a speaker.  But that doesn’t seem to worry God.  In fact, God seems to have a habit of picking seemingly inadequate people to do his work…..  Jeremiah wasn’t the first to consider himself too young, not a gifted speaker.  There were plenty of others back in the Bible and still are today.  And you may be one of them….  But when God wants something done, the ability – or lack of ability – of the person doesn’t seem to be his main priority.  Because he has all the necessary gifts and power to offer the person so that the things he wants done can be done effectively.

And that’s just what God does for Jeremiah in the text…..  God calls him for a special task – a task that scares the life out of Jeremiah – but God also equips him for the task.  He ‘shushes’ him.  He puts his hand on his lips and quietens him.  “Don’t talk about your age or your abilitiesShushBe quiet!  You don’t need to be afraidI will be with youI’ll give you the words you need to say.  I give you the authority, my authority!

And just by the way, if you think that from then on it was a breeze for Jeremiah, then just read the rest of his story for yourself in the Bible.  It was no walk in the park for him.  Far from it! God set him apart for a task – a difficult task – but he gave him everything he needed to do it well.

Can I – for a moment – can I focus on those of you who are involved in ministry to children and teens.  And I’m not just referring to those of you who might be involved in a Sunday School type of thing here at St Peters.  I’m talking about those of you who have meaningful contact with kids and teens at any level: as a parent or grandparent, as someone who is involved in Christian education in schools or who might sit next to one in churchwhatever level!  I don’t know if you realise it, but you have been entrusted by God with a sacred task.  And I’m not sure if I can think of a more important one!  Those kids and teens, they are growing up in a world that’s complex and confusing, that’s filled with opportunities and fraught with pitfalls.  And they desperately need caring people around them to help them navigate their way into adulthood.  You have the incredible privilege of walking with precious people in their formative years. Your time with them will leave a lasting impression on them…..  What a sacred trust!…  God has given you gifts and he wants you to use those gifts for the benefit of those children, those teenagers…  He has given you timehours each day – and he wants you to use them wisely…  He has poured his love into  you and he wants you to bring compassion to your work, to embrace those kids and teens in the same way as he would embrace themEmbrace those adults too, who come your way, needing your compassion and help.  And I’ve got to say – if you take this call of God, if you take the tasks he’s given you seriously, how could you not be daunted by the task that lies ahead? How could your knees not be a little wobbly, your stomach not a little churnedBut here’s the thing – if the story of Jeremiah – and of the whole Bible – if it’s crystal clear on one thing it’s this: God doesn’t call you to a task and then say: “Well, all the bestHope it works out!  I’ll be off now!” .. NO!  He quells the fear inside of us.  He ‘shushes’ the self-doubts, the insecurities and says to each of us: “Go . . .  in my name, in my strength, and keep turning to me for the courage you need for each day!….  What I’m calling you to do I will also equip you to do.  So don’t be afraidI will be with you.

And that’s God’s promise, his assurance to all of us here today, whatever our circumstance.  What he says to Jeremiah he says to us in our different situations: “Don’t say you’re too young, too inexperienced, too old, too frail, not confident enough!….  Don’t say that you can’t speak well, that you don’t have the brains, the social skills, whateverDon’t be afraidI am with you!  I will give you what you need.”……..  And he will – whether you are a leader in this church, or in your workplace, or as a mum or a dad or a grandparent, or as a friend.  ……  You may feel inadequate – and you may well be inadequate for some of the things he calls you to do, but hey, God has shown in the past he can do extraordinary things with pretty ordinary people.  Or maybe he doesn’t want you to do extraordinary things.  Maybe he wants you to do ordinary things faithfully that he can use to touch people’s lives in special waysSo, as people who have been called on by God to make a Kingdom difference – in this church, in your workplace, in your community, in your home, at whatever level – be brave!  !  Be strong!  Don’t be afraidTrust in God to work in you and with you as he has promised. …. Be in awe of the opportunity you have.  Be humble.  Keep turning to God for the wisdom and discernment and courage you need.
For all of us – in whatever situation in life we find ourselves in – be open to God’s call to you.  Be excited about it.  And count on him being the equipping, enabling, faithful God he promises to be.  Amen.

Pastor Rob Peach

Fourth Sunday of Epiphany 3rd February 2019

Text: 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Love is patient and kind; it is not jealous or conceited or proud; love is not ill-mannered or selfish or irritable; love does not keep a record of wrongs; love is not happy with evil, but is happy with the truth. Love never gives up; and its faith, hope, and patience never fail.

 Tough Love

A youth pastor told this story.
“There was something wrong. It was written all over his face. He was sitting by himself, deep in thought, not joining in the conversation,20180311_103505 (1) ignoring the jokes the group were sharing. Later on, I had a chance to have a quiet talk with him when everyone was busy doing something else. “You look as though your life has been declared a disaster area”, I began. But he was in no mood to respond to my flippant remarks. He barely cracked a smile. After a while he told me that he had a car accident over the weekend and the old Holden car he had painstakingly restored was a write off. With a bit of prompting, he told me about how he had stripping down the motor, replaced the upholstery, and gave it a brand new paint job.

I suffered his loss with him quietly for a while. There was nothing that I could say that could take away that deep feeling of loss and grief. The end of a lovingly restored Holden was as bad as it could get, well so I thought. But there was more. “You know, everyone has been asking me about the car, and saying what a terrible thing it is to lose such a beautiful machine,’ he said, “but not one person has asked me how I am”.

Someone who cares. That’s what we all long for. Someone who loves us just as we are. And it seems there are times in our lives when we are made more aware of our need for the love and the care of others. When facing sickness, a time of trouble, when we are feeling particularly vulnerable we look for love. The trouble is that too often everyone is too busy looking after themselves and promoting their own causes to notice that there are people around them who need their love.

Paul doesn’t beat about the bush when he writes to the Christians at Corinth. He says that, without love, the gift of eloquent speaking and a brilliant use of words is nothing but verbal pollution.
He might be the greatest preacher and speaker but, without love, this is nothing but the sound of a cymbal dropped on the floor during a quiet part of a symphony.
Without love, the most poetic and soothing words are no better than the first horrible blasts on a rented trumpet by a 13 year old who’s only learning trumpet because his mum wants him to.

Strong words. So whatever Paul means by love here, it’s something strong, unsentimental, tough. Jesus talks about this kind of love when he says, “My commandment is this: love one another, just as I love you. The greatest love you can have for your friends is to give your life for them.” And that’s exactly the kind of love that Paul is talking about. It’s the strong, focussed, tough, no messing about kind of love that cost Jesus his life. It’s the same strong uncompromising love that reached out to lepers and tax collectors with compassion and kindness regardless of what others thought and quick to stand against those who wanted to condemn or exclude those who were different.

The kind of love that Jesus is commanding here isn’t a nice warm fuzzy feeling.
It isn’t the kind of love that asks first, “Well, what has that person done for me?”
This isn’t a “feel good” kind of love that gives us a ‘buzz’ when we do something good.
The kind of love that Jesus is talking about is a very practical and selfless kind of love.

When Paul talks about love he is talking about rolling up our sleeves and often doing things that go against our human nature so is often hard work.
He is talking about doing good to one another even though that other person is awfully irritating and quite unlikeable.
It might mean forgiving someone and making peace with them even though we feel that we are the ones who have been wronged and that believe it’s the other person who should be making the first moves.
It means going out of our way to give someone help or encouragement even though we don’t know them very well or perhaps don’t think they deserve it.

Let’s read again those familiar verses from 1 Corinthians 13. “Love is patient and kind; it is not jealous or conceited or proud; love is not ill-mannered or selfish or irritable; love does not keep a record of wrongs; love is not happy with evil, but is happy with the truth”

I believe that a distortion has arisen in the church when we talk about love. We emphasise being patient and kind, not being jealous, proud, ill-mannered or selfish and forgiving 70 times 7. These are all excellent words that describe love but there is more.

Paul says, “Love is not happy with evil”. And that’s the part that we have often overlooked. We have preferred not to see this as love because it is just so hard and even painful to put into practice. It’s what is called ‘tough love’.

Love, if it’s going to be real and healthy, also needs to have this ‘tough love’ component. Tough love is prepared to take a stand when it comes across things that are unhealthy, or wrong or ‘evil’ as St Paul says. There is no looking the other way or giving into allowing the bad in someone’s life to continue.

In case you’re thinking that ‘tough love’ isn’t a valid kind of love, then just think about Jesus. Without a doubt, he was patient and compassionate and his love was unconditional. He served without any thought of a favour in return. But Jesus demonstrated what it means that “Love is not happy with evil”.

Take the time he went into the temple in Jerusalem and sees that God’s house of prayer has been turned into a money-making venture. He gets a whip and he overturns their tables and drives them out. He was angry but he also acted in love because “Love is not happy with evil.” His love wouldn’t allow those people to be robbed of the blessings that meeting God in worship and prayer would bring to them. Love does not let us stand by and watch evil take charge.

Love means taking a stand. That’s the way it was for Jesus. And that’s the way it’s to be with us. And I really want to encourage you to show that kind of love – real love, a balanced love that includes tough love. That’s not saying that patient and kindness are irrelevant but, that sometimes to be kind, love demands that we be tough.

Let’s take an example. There are times when parents need to show ‘tough love’ to their children. Don’t get me wrong. By ‘tough love’ I don’t mean being unreasonable, or mean, or nasty but tough!
It’s saying “no” even though your heart is saying, “It won’t hurt just this once”.
It’s setting boundaries because we need to protect them and that also includes enforcing those boundaries with consequences.
It’s not tolerating certain kinds of behaviour because we know that by allowing it we aren’t teaching them what is acceptable and what is unacceptable especially when it comes to relating to family members or friends.
Using ‘tough love’ can be painful for parents but it is part of loving our kids.

Teachers are also called on to exercise tough love. Nine times out of ten patience and kindness are the ways teachers interact with their students but there comes a time when it needs to be made clear that because of love you need to make a stand against the bad things that are happening. There is nothing vindictive, unkind, uncaring about this. In fact, it is because you care about the person involved that tough love is the way you need to deal with this situation. As a parent of a child who has been on the receiving end of tough love you need to realise that there aren’t any hidden agendas here – only love – only a deep desire to help and guide.

Love is not happy with evil.
Parents, love your kids enough to give them the best.
Teachers, love the children in your class. Commit yourselves to showing them real love and that includes ‘tough love’ that sets an example for the future.

It can happen at home, at work, amongst friends, in a club, at the church, that you will ask yourself, “As a Christian, what should I do? Should I just put up with what’s going on? Show patience and endurance?” And this is where love becomes a tough thing. Sometimes we have to say, “Something has to change. There is an attitude, a behaviour, an action that is clearly against what God wants and is harmful to others, so out of love I have to take a stand. It might seem harsh and I will probably feel bad about being so tough but it’s the most loving thing I can do in this situation. Sometimes love is tough!”

Love is hard work. It requires a good dose of wisdom when to apply patience and kindness and when to apply ‘love that is not happy with evil’. And you can bet that we will get it wrong more often than we care to admit. There will be times that we are just too soft and wishy washy, thinking that to show love we need never-ending patience and kindness. There will be other times when our so-called ‘tough love’ is motivated by our need to exercise anger, power and harshness that have nothing to do with love. I know how hard it is to find the best way to express love in any given situation and we will have to readily admit, “Boy, I sure messed that up”.

Jesus knows how tough loving can be. In the Garden of Gethsemane he wrestled with this whole question of how to show tough love. So talk to him about it. He’s been there and can give you the wisdom and the courage you need when it comes to showing love in the hardest circumstances, whether it be patience and kindness or the love that is not happy with evil. Talk to others who can encourage you and guide you in practicing love in all of its facets.

We won’t always get it right but Jesus’ love is the kind that always forgives, always supports, and always guides us down paths that sometimes we don’t appreciate. His love always gets it right.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

Seeking the Orphans of God. 27/1/19

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God the Evangelist

Sunday 27th January 9 a.m.

Dean Eaton
Reading – Acts 9:1-22

 “Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ He asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The reply came, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.’ The men who were travelling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

10 Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, ‘Ananias.’ He answered, ‘Here I am, Lord.’ 11 The Lord said to him, ‘Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision[a] a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.’ 13 But Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; 14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.’ 15 But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; 16 I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.’ 17 So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul[b] and said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength”.

Saul Preaches in Damascus

For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, 20 and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’ 21 All who heard him were amazed and said, ‘Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem among those who invoked this name? And has he not come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?’ 22 Saul became increasingly more powerful and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Messiah.

Introduction

This side of heaven, in the church what is the one thing that must happen?
Not-yet-Christian people discover the grace of God in Jesus Christ. 

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2016 NCLS

In new congregations – new church plants – today in Australia the conversion rate is about 32% amongst mainline denominations like ours.

How do we progress from 3% to 32% conversion rate?
I have good news today. I have discovered the perfect evangelist. One that is never embarrassing, always passionate, always wise, highly credible and always fruitful.

Ezekiel 34:11 says,

For thus says the Lord God, “I myself will search for my sheep and seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among the scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep.”

The mission statement of Jesus Christ, in my opinion, the text that wraps up the whole meaning of the Scriptures, is Luke 19:10: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”
In first Corinthians 3:5 and following Paul deals with a situation where believers are saying Paul brought them to Christ or Apollos brought them to Christ, and he’s trying to get away from that because he knows God is the true evangelist.

In verse 5 he says, “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants”—and here come the words—”through whom you came to believe as the Lord assigned to each”

As the Lord assigned to each.
You mean I didn’t lead somebody to Christ?
No.
God has set them up for us.
They were set up for Paul; they were set up for Apollos; they are set up for me. They are set up for you.
God has our Diary.
It is no mistake you work where you work.
It is no mistake you live where you live.
It is no mistake you run into the people you run into.

Paul says, “Brothers, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is that they will be saved.” (Romans 10:1)

Reading: John 6:44-45 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.  It is written in the Prophets: `They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me.”

Before you even thought about bringing a friend to Christ, before you thought of praying for your neighbour or relative, God is already witnessing to that person.
You know how he does that?
Through the glorious things he has made.
Turn to Romans 1. Let’s see the role God has in the process.

Romans 1:18 and following: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth.”

I have circled “suppress the truth.”
There’s a truth emanating from the Father heart of God to the whole world, and the only thing people can do is try to suppress it.
Here it is: For what can be known about God is plain to people because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world, his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things that he has made. So people are without excuse.God the evangelist is already there, displaying himself to the world.He does it in several ways.
First of all, he does it through creation, through beauty.
In the creation God’s speech, God’s power, God’s majesty is already there—poured out on a world desperately in need of hope. Beauty, awe—they come from God. He’s already there. But the creation is a limited testimony in that it reflects God in certain aspects only–namely, “his eternal power and divine nature.”
One has to look elsewhere for the disclosure of his love and grace–i.e., to Scripture and especially to God’s revelation in his Son (Jn 1:14).

“Reason has only a left-handed and partial knowledge of God based on the law of nature and of Moses. But the depth of divine wisdom, and of the divine purpose, the profundity of God’s grace and mercy, and what eternal life is like — of these matters reason is totally ignorant.” (Luther’s commentary on the Gospel of John)

Natural revelation is sufficient to make human beings responsible (they are left “without excuse”), but is not by itself sufficient to accomplish their salvation. That took the Cross which is the ultimate revelation of God in his love and mercy.
The reason God displays himself to the world, the reason God goes ahead is because God is a seeking God, constantly seeking the lost. A 24/7 God seeking lost people. God is a seeking God. The lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son—Luke 15 is all about this nature of God to drop everything to seek the one, not the masses. I’m glad for that. The angels in heaven rejoice every time God finds one, because he’s the evangelist.
As much as you believe you were seeking God, it turns out he was seeking you before you ever sought him.The nature of God is as initiator in all things.

  1. S. Lewis writes, “I never had the experience of looking for God. It was the other way around. He was the hunter; I was the pursued. He stalked me, took unerring aim, and fired.”

God is a seeking God and in the moment of salvation of one lost person God experiences His greatest joy. For in that moment the Father finds the lost child.
The Kingdom of God is built one person at a time. 

Because God is the great evangelist.

Third Sunday of Epiphany 27th January 2019

Luke 4:18, 19

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”20180311_103505 (1)

            Have you ever had to explain something complicated to anyone? Or had something complicated explained to you? Imagine a 12yr old explaining how to use the internet on a smart phone to their 80yr old grandparent who hadn’t even used a computer in their whole life. If the kid just told their grandparent everything all together at one time, I doubt anyone would understand or be fully understood. Rather it’s better to tell things one at a time, step by step, even walking the other person through it slowly. Fortunately this is exactly how the gospel accounts are written, slowly and progressively explaining to us again and again who Jesus is, coming back to the point again and again in different ways. At Epiphany you heard that Jesus is to be king of all people, two weeks ago, we heard Jesus is certainly God’s Son and you are too, in Him, then last week we spoke of Jesus showing His power and bringing joy, now again He reveals something about  Himself. He reveals what He will do.

  On the topic of revealing, I have to say that we only heard half the story today with the second half up for next week. So I’ll quickly summarise, the people of Jesus’ hometown were first amazed. Then, after Jesus says a prophet isn’t accepted in his own town, His hometown people try to kill Him, but He gets away. A bit of an odd response to God’s revelation of truth maybe, but nevertheless.

 And what is that truth? That He fulfils the promise of God through Isaiah, that one will be appointed by God to bring pardon, freedom and sight to the poor, broken and blind, and will send them out proclaiming the year of God’s favour and acceptance. Good news to the poor and freedom for all people as you read more of the prophecy in Isaiah 61. The revelation of the good news of Christ. But what is He actually saying, and who are the poor, captives, blind and crushed? And what is this acceptance of God in this new year?

 Is He talking about you? Are you poor? Well, not when comparing your wealth to many around this world. Are you captive? This doesn’t look like the pictures I’ve seen of prisons or POW camps. Are you blind? I hope your eyes work, because most of you still drive! Are you crushed? Crushed by what? In this country, in this town, you are relatively rich, free and safe, so why do you care about Jesus, this teller of Good news to the poor? The ancient Israelites rejected Jesus, partly as He didn’t fit the earthly, warrior king they were waiting for. They expected help to maim and kill and further themselves in this world. God told the Israelites before they came out of the desert to be aware because when they live in the land of milk and honey they might forget what God has done and ignore Him (Deuteronomy 8:11-19). So, the Jews tried to kill Jesus when they heard His Word, how do you react?

 Does it matter to you, or are you thinking about what you’ve got to do this arvo? Is the dullness of the preaching pushing you away from the wonder of God’s gifts to you? Does living this life of luxury, with food, drink and clothes a plenty, or even this dull day to day living help you forget the gravity, the importance of what Jesus does for you and not just you but every single person. Do you always remember the grace, hope and love you have in Jesus Christ, every day, or are you crushed by the worries of this world? Are you poor in spirit and conviction? Are you blind to the truth Christ reveals? Are you trapped by the evil of this world, the temptations of the devil and even your own sinful desires?

 The truth of Jesus is that in this world, yes you are; but Jesus comes to save you, to free you from your sin, to forgive and pardon you, to bring you true light, to reveal the truth of your need and your salvation. And with the words of Nehemiah (8:10) “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” This day you’ve heard again the wonders of the time of acceptance of you by God. Don’t forget what Christ has done for you, He loves you. Don’t forget that you can rely on Him for help in your struggles with sin and evil. Don’t forget that in Him you are forgiven, a beloved child of God. Don’t forget that with Jesus you have joy. Don’t forget to allow some time to explain or understand things, repetition does help remembering. And don’t forget that because of the cross you will be free.

And the peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Rev. Joseph Graham.

Second Sunday of Epiphany 20th January 2019

John 2:11

What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

            Who here had wine at their wedding? Who ran out of it because people were still celebrating two days later? In this season of revelation one thing God reveals through John is that Jesus likes weddings, 20180311_103505 (1)He didn’t let the party stop, didn’t crush the joy. But there is much more to this account than just supplying fantastic and free wine for the wedding feast.

            John calls this miracle the first sign of Jesus. Now we all know that a sign points to something else, street signs and red skies. So what does this story point to? What is it a sign for and what are the other signs? Well, in John’s gospel there are seven events in Jesus’ life called signs, all of them pointing to His death on the cross and the resurrection, three days; all revealing a part of its importance. And so John wants us to think about and understand better Christ’s crucifixion through this story, so that you may believe (John 20:). And not just that but John writes that through this sign of the crucifixion, the death of Jesus, His glory is revealed. How can that be?

            Well the story tells us what will happen, the need will be met with abundance. The wine ran out, and Mary tells Jesus about this, He replies saying His hour has not yet come; the time of His glorification and death is not now. Perhaps regardless, Mary tells the servants to listen to Jesus and do whatever He tells them to do. Jesus instructs the servants and water becomes some wonderful wine. They needed wine, they had run out, and Jesus provided it, and not just any wine, but the best! And in abundance around 600 to 900 bottles of it! And who can make water into wine? God can, but He usually uses grapevines and time. Jesus, the Son of God, provides for your needs. We can only get so far on our own until we fail, fall into shame and need a saviour. Along with every other human you need to be saved from sin, death and evil, you cannot make it on your own; He provides that on the cross.

            But it is not just that, the wine is drawn from those special ceremonial jars. These jars were used in the purification rituals of the Jews, washing hands before meals, cleaning dirty things and purifying the spiritually unclean. This Jewish water of purification into the Christly wine of celebration and joy! Jesus fulfils our needs and also He fulfils the Word of God in the Old Testament. Both all those commands and guides that we learnt in Confirmation and also all the promises that God had made to His people. He perfectly fulfils and completes the whole Word of God, to bring joy to you and all creation. His crucifixion is something new from the old, just as you are a new creation in Jesus Christ, to His glory and your joy.

            So this sign points to God’s glory and our joy in Christ’s crucifixion, His hour. What He has done, Thanks be to God! But what about you, what do you do now? There’s different ways of writing, teaching, poetry, story and others; and when we hear a story from scripture it can be helpful to think about which character is most like you. Probably not Jesus, but maybe, or maybe His mother, the important person of the bridegroom, the MC, the disciples, the bride though we don’t hear what she does, but I’m going to highlight the lowly servants and Mary from verses 4 and 5. Do whatever He tells you. Mary just told Jesus there’s no wine, He tells her ‘what of it?’ then despite this apparent disinterest, even arrogance or denial, Mary relies on God’s salvation through Jesus. She tells the servants to listen to Him and obey. They don’t understand what’s going on, much like us hey, but they trust and obey. Now I don’t know if these servants later followed Jesus, or if we’ll meet them at the end in Jesus, but I do know their example of faith is a worthy one. In Matthews account Jesus sends out the eleven before the ascension telling them to make disciples, students, of all nations, baptising and teaching to obey all He has commanded (Matthew 28:19-20); John’s parallel account more emphasises the forgiveness and peace of God through His Word, the Gospel, and throughout scripture we hear God’s Words, His commands and His promises. To live in Christ’s crucifixion is to listen and obey, as Mary says, Do whatever He tells you, even if you might not understand for He has given you joy to excess!

            So as people of the crucifixion, listen to Jesus and obey Him. When you do fail remember the fulfilment of all His promises, you are forgiven and loved, now married to Christ, in His bride the church. At the crucifixion you might see a dead and rejected man, but that scene is the glory of God and your joy.

The peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Rev. Joseph Graham