Second Sunday of Advent

John The Baptist  Revd. Martin Dale

 

Sermon: John the Baptist – Radical and Countercultural par excellence

Story: A young police officer was taking his final exam for the police academy and he was set the following problem to solve.bob

“You are on patrol in the outer city when an explosion occurs in a gas main in a nearby street.

On investigation you find that a large hole has been blown in the footpath and there is an overturned van nearby.

Inside the van there is a strong smell of alcohol. Both occupants—a man and a woman—are injured.

You recognize the woman as the wife of your Chief of Police, who is at present away in the USA.

A passing motorist stops to offer you assistance and you realize that he is a man who is wanted for armed robbery.

Suddenly a man runs out of a nearby house, shouting that his wife is expecting a baby and that the shock of the explosion has made the birth imminent.

Another man is crying for help, having been blown in the adjacent canal by the explosion, and he cannot swim.

Describe in a few words what actions you would take.”

The young man thought for a moment, picked up his pen and wrote,

PAUSE

“I would take off my uniform and mingle with the crowd.”

But just as that wouldn’t do for the policeman so we as Christians we can’t duck our responsibilities either

We are often called to swim against the tide of public opinion.

Jesus certainly did – and so did the subject of our Bible reading this morning – John the Baptist.

And interestingly all four of the Gospels tell us things about the life of John the Baptist (Mt3, Mk1 and Mk 6, Lk 3 and Jn1).

John was an important figure for the early Church.

John the Baptist was both radical and countercultural in three ways:

  1. In his lifestyle
  2. In what he taught and
  3. In his fearlessness of men in the face of adversity.
  4. The first way that John the Baptist was radical and countercultural was his radical lifestyle

While the religious leaders of his day lived in fine houses – and the High Priest himself even lived in a palace – John the Baptist took to the desert to live a life of seclusion and prayer.

John wasn’t pretentious. He didn’t overrate himself. In fact quite the contrary.

He didn’t claim to be more than he was. There was a humility about John.

When Jesus came to be baptised by John – look at John’s reply:

“But John tried to deter him, saying: I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?” (Mt 3:14)

There was also a simplicity in his lifestyle

He didn’t wear an Armani suit or Designer jeans. He didn’t have a rolex watch either – and all the other trappings of worldly success. St Matthew records that

“John’s clothes were made of camels’ hair and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey.” (Mt 3:4)

While I am not advocating locusts and honey for our harvest supper – I do think it is important to notice the simplicity of John’s living.

  1. The second way in which John the Baptist was radical and countercultural was in his teaching

John the Baptist was very clear in his message. He called a spade a spade

He was hugely popular with the people – not just because he tweeked the nose of the heirarchy – but because the people recognised what he was saying was from God.

There was a mini revival. Even the outcasts of society – the tax collectors and the Roman soldiers are recorded as coming to him (Lk 3).

And I wouldn’t be surprised if the prostitutes came as well.

Yet his message wasn’t a populist message – indeed it should have been extremely unpopular as it was so condemnatory.

We read in Matthew 3 that he preached a Gospel of repentance. And He was quite a tough preacher.

When many of the Pharisees and Sadducees came to be baptised by him he said this:

“You brood of vipers Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath. Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves ” We have Abraham as our father. I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children of Abraham. The axe is already at the root of the trees and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Mt 3:8-9)

I don’t think John the Baptist had ever read Dale Carnegie’s book “How to make friends and influence people”!!!

The Jews thought that simply by keeping the letter of the Law – as they saw it – would make them fit children for God

But God is interested in the heart – as Jesus often himself taught

“What comes out of a man’s heart and not what goes in is that which pollutes him,” (Mt 15:17-18 paraphrased) Jesus once said.

And God speaking through the writer of the book of Proverbs inn the Old Testament said this:

26 My son, give me your heart and let your eyes keep to my ways, (Proverbs 23:26).

John’s message was tough – he didn’t mince his words – and inevitably this brought him into conflict with the authorities – which in this case was the local king Herod Antipas.

For Herod, John overstepped the mark once too often when he condemned Herod for marrying his brother Philip’s wife. And so Herod threw John in prison.

And prison in those days was not at all comfortable. Prisoners had no human rights and generally were dependant on friends and relations for the very food they ate.

  1. And the final way in which John the Baptist was radical and countercultural was in his fearlessness of men

He didn’t chicken out when the going got tough.

John, I am sure could have extradited himself from prison if he had simply found a formula to allow Herod to marry Herodias, Herod’s brother Philip’s wife.

And even great men of God bowed to such temporal pressure.

Story: One of the blots on the career of the great German Reformer, Martin Luther – was his acquiescence to the bigamous marriage of Philip of Hess.

In 1530, at the height of the Reformation in Germany – and where the Protestant cause was at its most vulnerable, Philip of Hesse organised the secular Protestant forces of the Reformation into

what was known as the Schmalkaldic League.

This alliance was set up to protect their religious and secular interests against interference from the Roman Catholic Holy Roman Emperor

On 11th December 1523 Philip married Christine of Saxony the daughter of an important ally George Duke of Saxony.

However Christine has been described by contempory sources as sickly and unattractive – and was reputed to have a drinking probem.

So it wasn’t very soon after the marriage that Philip committed adultery with the daugther of one of his sister’s ladies-in-waiting, Margarethe von der Saale.

And he wanted to marry her.

The matter was discussed with the great German Reformers, Luther, Methancthon and Bucer.

It was only when Philip threatened to side with the Holy Roman Emperor against the Protestant Schmalkaldic league if he didn’t get his own way, that the Reformers gave in.

They agreed that – rather than follow Henry VIII and have a divorce – they would sanction a bigamous marriage which took place on 4th December 1540, between Philip and Margarethe.

To the eternal shame of the Reformation

Had John the Baptist been asked his opinion, I am sure he would have condemned it.

Such was the courage and integrity of the man.

And John’s brave outspokenness eventually cost him his head.

Conclusion

John the Baptist’s story reminds us that being a Christian will not always be easy.

There will be tough decisions to make that might lead us to be unpopular.

Yet the story of John is not given to us to show us a way to earn our salvation – because we can’t.

All of us still have to come through the Cross of Jesus.

Even John the Baptist – a Great and Godly man as he was – could only enter the Kingdom through the Cross of Jesus Christ.

For the Kingdom of God is made up – not of those who in their own goodness try to enter it – but ofn those who are clothed in the blood of Jesus.

For in human terms John was special – but this needs to be kept in perspective – as Jesus said:

I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the very least in the Kingdom of God is greater than he (Lk 7:28-29)

However, once we are saved John was a great example for us to follow in Christian living.

But John’s life reminds us that we must have integrity in our lives.

We must be willing to be faithful to God’s calling in our lives – even if it eventually costs us our head. That is quite a challenge.

Read by Bob Rayward.

First Sunday of Advent

Advent 1

Luke 21:25-36

 

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may be alert but not alarmed when our Lord Jesus Christ comes in his glory. Amen.

How do you feel when you see the police? I suppose it depends, doesn’t it? It can depend on the situation and what you’re doing at the time, and may also depend on the state of your conscience! For example,20180311_103505 (1) if you are driving along the road and see the police flash their lights at you and sound their siren, you’ll probably take your foot off the accelerator, and do a quick mental and visual check of everything you’re doing before pulling over. It wouldn’t surprise me if your heart starts beating faster and you’re quickly trying to decide whether it would be better for you to be honest or dishonest with your answers to their questions! Even before the policeman or woman starts talking to you, you might experience feelings of fear or guilt, even if you’ve done nothing wrong!
Or another example: let’s say you’re sitting at home and the doorbell rings. As you answer the door you see a policeman or woman standing there. While it’s possible they could be looking for directions, your heart fears another reason for their visit. Because it’s the police visiting, and even before they open their mouths, terror strikes your heart as you mentally account for your loved ones. On the other hand, if you’re in danger or trouble is threatening and you see those lights and hear the police siren; that same sound, those same lights, and those same uniforms which so often strike fear and loathing in most people’s hearts, can bring comfort and assurance. As the police arrive you know help is near, authority is near, and justice is near.

In today’s text we hear of coming disasters which would normally strike fear in most people’s hearts. When Jesus talks of signs involving the sun, moon, and stars, troubles between nations, and surging seas, it sounds terrifying! In fact, you don’t have to visit a movie theatre to see some of these things because sometimes we get to see them on the TV news reports. Just think back over events which have struck fear and terror into so many people’s lives, such as the surging seas of Tsunamis, the damaging winds of cyclones, floods, bushfires and earthquakes. But it’s not just natural disasters, because we also fear the man-made disasters such as wars and terrorism being played out over the globe. Thankfully most of us have so far escaped such terrors. However, there may be people among us here today who have experienced their own personal terrors: major car accidents, road rage, physical attack, robbery, addiction, abuse, neglect etc. These too strike fear into our hearts.

Unfortunately, we don’t all get to live happily ever after on this earth. People get hurt. Too many are terrorized by sights and sounds and smells. Too many find sleep hard to come by because they’re afraid of the nightmares which not only haunt their days, but also their nights. So many people are afraid, and they’ve got good reason to be afraid!

Many times we’re afraid of what we don’t know, but sometimes we’re afraid of what we do know and work so hard to avoid, deny, or run away from those things or people. We cower because we’re afraid. We fight because we’re afraid. We isolate ourselves because we’re afraid. We struggle with our faith because we’re afraid.

Even though Jesus talks of such signs which make the end of the world sound quite scary, when we stop and think about it, the end of the world comes every day for many people! When someone’s life ends, it is the end of the world for them. So, how do you know when your last day has come? And when your last day or moment comes and your breath is taken away, will you be afraid? If you’re afraid, what are you afraid of? Are you scared death will hurt? Are you scared what happens to you after you die? Are you scared all your life has come to nothing? Are you frightened because you don’t know what will happen to those you love? Are you afraid of standing before your God and Lord and Judge in heaven?

In this way, it’s no surprise many people will be afraid when the end comes – either in cosmic events, natural disasters, or even in the personal tragedies of life and death through accident, sickness, and so on. Many people will cower in fear. Many people will be scared of facing their Creator and Judge.

Of course, that’s if you’re guilty and have something to be afraid of. If you’ve neglected or rejected the promises of God, you should be afraid. If you’ve denied the existence of God and his love, then you should cower in fear. If you’re faced with an authority which you’ve rejected and ignored your whole life, living just for now without considering the earthly and eternal consequences, then you should curl up in a helpless ball of terror. But that shouldn’t be any of you.

You see, in the same way the presence of police will strike fear in the hearts of guilty people, the presence of these terrible signs announcing the coming of the Son of Man will strike fear into most people’s hearts. But also like the presence of police who come to bring justice and help, and so bring comfort and hope to those in trouble, the presence of these terrorizing signs announces the imminent presence of our Lord and Saviour, who comes to bring you comfort and hope.

Jesus is saying when your end comes, no matter how terrible it may seem, you have no need to be afraid like everyone else with their drooping shoulders and down-turned heads. Instead, Jesus calls you to confidently stand and lift up your heads so you can see your deliverer and redeemer come.

You can do this because you know something the rest of the world doesn’t. You know these signs don’t announce judgment and punishment for your guilt, because the judgment and punishment for your sins have been fully paid for by Jesus Christ.

You know bad things happen to the bad and good alike because of the brokenness and corruption of sin in the world, but you also know and trust that no matter how your own end will come, you have the promise of eternal life, and nothing can take that away from you.

You also know all people will stand before the Triune God to be judged, but you already know the result of your own trial before God because you know you’re defended by Christ himself and his blood. He speaks for you to say the full time for your crimes has been paid for. Everyone else will be afraid of the result of their trial because they have no defender or redeemer, because they’ve rejected him or ignored him.

We can stand and lift up our heads with confidence in days of terror and tribulation, but not because of our own behavior or good works. None of us is good enough and we have all fallen short of God’s glory. The only reason we can stand in the face of these terrible signs and look up when everyone else is looking down, is because of God’s unfading promises to us which are fulfilled through Jesus Christ. Everything and everyone in this world will disappear, but God’s word remains forever immoveable and unchanging. Our only hope is in the Word of God; the Word made flesh, the one who speaks truth and doesn’t lie or go back on his word, but fulfills it for us. God’s word, including the promises he gives you which he fulfilled and completed through the life, suffering, death and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ, will never fade away! With that knowledge, what have you got to be afraid of?

This is what Advent is all about. Advent isn’t about the ringing of cash registers, or about taking photographs with jolly fellows, or about endless Christmas carols which sing of snow and reindeer. Advent is about the coming of your deliverer and rescuer. Where everyone else is alarmed, you instead stay alert in anticipation of your coming Saviour and redeemer.

When you’re in trouble, when you’re in pain, when you’re struggling with yourself or with others, when disaster strikes, when loved ones die, and when you feel like crawling into a black hole of depression, don’t look at the sin, the pain, the guilt and the darkness, but look to the promises of God. God’s promises give you hope so you can stand up when everyone else cowers in fear. God’s unchanging word to you gives you reason to lift your heads when everyone else is hanging theirs.

God promises that even in tragic and tumultuous events, God’s gracious purposes are being worked out and his divine promises are being kept. Even though it may seem like the world and our lives are out of control, God’s word of promise is given to you so that you won’t be drawn into despair or cynicism.

So, today’s gospel reading isn’t supposed to be scary for us, the people of God, but it’s rather a word of hope and comfort for us to whom the promise has been given, which we receive by faith. These words are to encourage us so we may persevere in hope, continue with the art of prayer, keep bearing witness to God’s love for us, and endure to the end knowing the cosmic purposes of God have been decisively worked out and fulfilled in Jesus Christ…for each one of us.

 

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

Last Sunday of Church Year

Jeremiah 23:1-6; Colossions 1: 11-20; St Luke 23:23-43; & St Luke 13:22-30

He said to them, 24 “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. 25 Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’

“But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’gordon

26 “Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’

27 “But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’

28 “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. 29 People will come from east and west and north and south and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. 30 Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.”

The lectionary for today relates to the fact that it is the last Sunday of the church year. The subject of the lessons from the holy gospel is that the end of the church year is a time of fulfilment, Jesus ministry is fulfilled when He is crowned with thorns as the crucified King. And we shall see how the gospel lessons interpret this. To understand we must realise the Gospel narrative uses various words in the Greek language which indicate time not simply in terms of its chronology, its chronos (χρόνος). For example, the kind of thing Shakespeare had in mind in his famous soliloquy by Macbeth at the news of the death of Lady Macbeth: –

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,

20Creeps in this petty pace from day to day

To the last syllable of recorded time,

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player

25That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more. It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.

That is chronological (χρόνος) time. But the gospel also uses another word to speak of time not of time which just finishes, which comes to an end: Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow kind of time. But time understood as having a purpose. We have no English word which expresses time as having a purpose, we only have words for time which expresses duration, a beginning and an end. But there is another word used in the NT for time which expresses not simply the passing of time, as in (χρόνος) chronological time, but time in terms of purpose. This word is Chairos (καιρός) which means fulfilment of purpose.

We can understand something of this mystery relating to our experience of time when we consider the relationship between the two lessons from the holy gospel of St Luke before us today. The reading set for the day, St Luke 33., the crucifixion of Jesus, his awful death on the cross between two thieves. The other from St Luke 13: 22ff, we read; –

Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. 23 Someone asked him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?”

He said to them, 24 “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. 25 Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’

“But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’

26 “Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’

27 “But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’

28 “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. 29 People will come from east and west and north and south and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. 30 Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.”

In St Luke’s gospel the whole narrative of Jesus ministry is considered in terms of its (καιρός), its purpose. So, we read in chapter 9: verse 51 that “When the days drew near for him (Jesus) to be received up he set his face steadfastly toward Jerusalem.”  From this point in the gospel narrative everything that happens is related to the fulfilment of Jesus ministry in Jerusalem and the crucifixion. This is the purpose of Jesus journey to Jerusalem and for the next 15 chapters of the gospel; that is the context and meaning of all that happens and is said.

This journey upon which Jesus embarks, “Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem”, lasts until chapter 23 & 24 of the gospel with the crucifixion and its aftermath and then into the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, where we see the purpose of the journey fulfilled when, after the cross and resurrection, Jesus is “received up” into heaven as the risen Lord of the church.

It is in this context, this very specific context, that we must understand Jesus words that meet us in the gospel reading. For we must understand our journey, our life’s time, in the light of this journey of Jesus to Jerusalem. For our life’s time is given purpose and meaning by Jesus life’s time in His journey to Jerusalem.

The journey which Jesus undertakes to Jerusalem is one which started as he “set his face steadfastly” toward that city. We are to see in this, that the passion of Christ which he here sets his face toward, is not an accident that overtakes Jesus. His cross is not some fate which happens to him. His passion is that which He sees as the fulfilment of His life. This fulfilment is his identification with us as the Son of God. His taking to himself our flesh, with all that that entails in terms of what it means for him. Here he enters the far country of our human godforsakenness. This is the journey which Jesus is travelling, this is the way he embraces in v.51 of the 9th chapter of St. Luke when he sets his face “steadfastly to go to Jerusalem”.

It is in the light of this very specific journey that we must understand our journey as this is referred to by Jesus words in the lesson from St Luke 13. Which I read.

Jesus speaks of a narrow way, of few there be who find it; of exclusion, a shut door, and weeping and gnashing of teeth; of the last who shall be first and the first who shall be last.

Where is the popular image of Jesus as the Galilean carpenter, the itinerant teacher with his homespun philosophy of the golden rule; who speaks of the fatherly care of God for all people. These sayings are particularly harsh on those who acted on the assumption that they had a friendly relationship with God, that God was as it were one of them, a “mate”. They say, “We ate and drank with you and you taught in our streets.” To them the reply is, “I do not know where you come from.” The final judgment will bring many surprises; those that think they are in will be out and those who appear to be out will be in.

There have been those in the history of the church who, confronted with this puzzle, have propounded a teaching which said that since God’s judgment is just, and since we cannot do anything to justify ourselves, and since some will be excluded by God’s judgment there must be a hidden eternal decree by which God elects some and excludes or damns others. Those who accepted this preposterous thesis nevertheless sought assurance in signs of God’s election of them according to the material blessings which they claimed God had given them. Poverty on the other hand was understood as a sign of God’s judgment. Some social historians have attempted to blame this doctrine as having a significant influence upon the easy acceptance by Christians of the excesses of early capitalism. And this doctrine is not too removed from those incredible TV evangelists who peddle the teaching that if you have worldly success then God is on your side. There are many to whom this godless doctrine is their practical rule of thumb for understanding God’s action in their life: the acquisition of private wealth as a sign of God’s blessing and poverty as a sign of God’s judgment.

Well these harsh words of Jesus turn this comfortable doctrine which infects the church and the lives of many Christian people upside down. Jesus says there is no way we can know, in terms of who we are that God is on our side, that the door will not be shut in our face: that we will not hear the reply to our pleas, since we believed we were on familiar terms with God,  Jesus the Judge says to these people, “I do not know where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!”

But how is this harsh exclusiveness in Jesus words about God’s judgment to be understood?

 How are the terrible misunderstandings of such words in the history of the church to be avoided?

We must not lose sight of the fact that Jesus utters these words on his way to Jerusalem where he is to die. The Son of God descends to the depths of our human condition before God in this his final godforsakenness. Thus, the words of Jesus in their harshness are meant, in the first instance, to draw our attention to the immeasurable cost of human redemption. The fact that our relationship with God is bought at such terrible price. The eternal Son of God, clothing himself with our humanity and shedding his blood, means that our relationship with God is not a truth or reality controllable or manipulated by our petty religious foibles or fancies.

These harsh words of Jesus are intended to indicate that the narrow way that leads to life, or the door that is to be opened, is not a way or a door that can be found and opened by us at all. It can only be opened for us not by us. It is precisely in this that the narrowness of the way consists.

There is nothing mysterious about feeling we are on good terms with God when our natural inclinations and temporal interests are served by that fact. We too can say, like the people outside the shut door, “We have eaten and drank with you and you have taught in our streets.”

What is mysterious to us is that the narrow way that leads to life before God is not found by us. The harsh words that exclude all human attempts to find an easy way to God and avoid the contradictions of the human condition: the narrowness of the way, the harshness of the judgment, is meant to lead us to the awful humility of God who in the inconceivable freedom of grace takes the godforsakenness of our human condition upon his own heart and bears it, and in bearing it, bears it away from us. It is this singular mysterious action of God, which is the narrow way that leads to life, the door that shuts out all those whom believe they can find their own way to God by their good deeds, their happy personal circumstance, or spiritual experiences and ecstatic ecstasies.

The harsh words of Jesus are meant to drive us to depend upon God’s free grace. And this grace alone! God’s mercy is not an abstract idea of goodness; it is demonstrated to all who hear these words from the One who speaks them. In Jesus, the one who “sets his face steadfastly to go to Jerusalem” for our sake. It is this One, the crucified God who is the judge of the world whom we must name as our King and only saviour, when we stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is in and through his redeeming work that our life, in its ending, is fulfilled in its purpose.

Dr. Gordon Watson.

Twenty Third Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Luke 21:10-12,18,19
He went on to say, “Countries will fight each other; kingdoms will attack one another. There will be terrible earthquakes, famines, and plagues everywhere; there will be strange and terrifying things coming from the sky. Before all these things take place, however, you will be arrested and persecuted; you will be handed over to be tried in synagogues and be put in prison; you will be brought before kings and rulers for my sake. …. But not a single hair from your heads will be lost. Stand firm, and you will save yourselves.

Interruptions

Interruptions can be annoying. You are watching a movie on TV and just when the story is getting exciting an advertisement comes on destroying the moment.
You decide that it’s about time you replied to the letters thatdhuff you have received. No sooner do you get started and someone in the family is hungry, can’t find something, want some help or just want to talk, and there goes all you good intentions. Sometimes interruptions, though initially annoying, can be creative and constructive.

A pastor tells the story of how he was interrupted by a phone call at a youth meeting where he was leading a Bible study. The pastor admitted that he felt annoyed being interrupted at a critical moment when he was coming to the main point of the study and the young people were following him intently. He was gone for the rest of the meeting. Some members of the group expressed their annoyance that the pastor had even answered his phone. The pastor came back just as everyone was leaving and told them that an unknown young man had been on the line. He had decided to take his own life but wanted to give someone – anyone – one last chance at arguing why he should continue to live. The interruption to the Bible study interrupted and stopped this young man’s intentions.

The whole story of the Bible can be looked at from the viewpoint of interruptions.
The devastating effects of sin interrupt the peace and harmony of life in the Garden of Eden.

Sin interrupts God’s plans for the world and so he interrupts sin by becoming a human being who lives among us filled with grace and truth and dies for us.

Jonah was fleeing from God who had commanded him to go to Nineveh and preach repentance. His escape was interrupted by God’s big fish that swallowed him and while in the belly of the fish he repented and then went on to Nineveh.

God’s people were caught in sin and were drifting away from God and so he sent the prophets to interrupt their drift away from him and bring them back into a relationship with their Creator and Saviour.

The story of Jesus in the gospel is one of interruptions.
The announcement of the birth of Jesus interrupts a young girl’s life and her wedding plans. The silence of the night is interrupted when angels announce the birth of the Messiah.

Jesus’ sermon is interrupted by a man with an evil spirit. The sermon gives way to the power of God which interrupts the power of Satan in this man’s life and with just one word from Jesus the evil spirit is cast out.

As the disciples stroll into the town of Nain enjoying a friendly chat with Jesus and listening intently to what Jesus had to say about the kingdom of God, they are interrupted by the loud wailing and crying as a group of mourners pass by. Death is always a powerful interruption to our well-laid plans. This funeral procession and the mourners’ grief are interrupted as Jesus restores life to the dead man and gives a promise that all of us who believe will one day experience this same interruption to death when we are raised to life.

A traitor friend who needs to go and sell his Lord for the price of a slave, interrupts Jesus’ celebration of the Passover with his disciples. This same traitor and the armed guards interrupt Jesus’ prayers in the Garden. And finally the sadness and confusion after Jesus’ death is interrupted by the news that he has risen. His tomb is empty.

Interruptions are events in our lives that can’t be forced back any more than the sea can be kept 3 metres from the shore line.

In my ministry I have seen many interruptions in people’s lives.
A young 21-year-old, fit and popular with his mates, passes away during the night with an athsma attack.
An 8-year-old just disciplined by his father ran out on the road and was killed by a passing car.
The life of a young mother is interrupted as disease invades.
Without a doubt some interruptions are painful.

On the other hand interruptions can bring joy.
The Holy Spirit interrupts a young man’s life and points him to Jesus.
The birth of a baby interrupts the life a couple but it is an interruption they have waited for.
The progression of disease is interrupted by a miraculous recovery.
A married couple interrupt the downward spiral of their relationship.

Today’s difficult gospel text makes us aware of the interruption that will affect the whole world. Jesus is leaving the temple and he is looking around at one of the most magnificent structures in the world at that time. He tells his disciples that this grand monument will be destroyed. We know that this happened at the hands of the Romans, but even if the Romans hadn’t touched the building, the forces of earthquake, fire, storm, and neglect would lead to the ruin of the temple much the same as the once magnificent structures in Greece and Rome. The history of the temple will be interrupted and brought to an end, he says, and it was.

He goes on and says that everything we cherish, every institution and tradition, every treasure that we count on and store up will be interrupted and brought to an end. Wars, earthquakes, famines, and other disasters in nature, persecutions when family members will rise up against other members of a family, will interrupt our way of life and the peace we enjoy. Families will be interrupted, businesses will be interrupted, governments will be interrupted.

We can see this happening in our world.
Peace and safety in our world and in our community are very fragile things and can easily be interrupted by hostility, bloodshed, robbery and fear.
The place that Christ had in the hearts of the people of our nation has been interrupted and replaced with all kind of other religious values that can easily be understood as Christian or compatible with Christianity when clearly they are false.
The strength and harmony in families has been interrupted and eroded by violence in the home, divorce, pressures, stresses, rebellious children, and the need for parents to work longer and harder.

The interruptions that we experience almost on a daily basis are reminders that things in this world are very uncertain. We are reminded that at any time our own life will be interrupted and that there will come a time when the history of our world will be interrupted. This last and final interruption will happen when Jesus comes again and this world will pass away.

When you think about it, the interruptions that we experience in life can make us feel very insecure and uncertain. But I want to make it clear to everyone today that there is one thing that will never be interrupted, that is, the love that our Father in heaven has for us.

St Paul says, “Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present or the future, nor powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Whoever believes and trusts in Jesus and his saving work on the cross,
and whoever holds on to the Good Shepherd’s hand as they walk life’s journey, and listens to his voice and follows his ways when everything else passes away will receive the crown of eternal life. Even though the history of our world will be interrupted, nothing is able to interrupt God’s love for us.

The Bible states clearly that the saving work of Jesus endures for all time and that God has promised that because of Jesus he will not hold our sin against us, that he has established an eternal covenant of love with us and that he will stand beside and help us no matter what kind of interruption will disrupt our lives.

Nothing can destroy this fact. All kinds of disasters may happen to us in our lives and to our world, but that one fact stands forever. God loves us and his saving work will not be interrupted.

When Jesus could see only death ahead interrupting his life on this earth he turned to the heavenly Father in prayer. He was led to see that there was no way he could avoid what was about to happen but he was strengthened by God and enabled to endure what had to be endured. Likewise we are strengthened.

No amount of interruption in our world can take away from us the grace and love of Jesus. It is that love that he has given to us freely on the cross that will stand by us when disasters in our world threaten us and overwhelm us like a giant tidal wave. Every possession, every power and authority, everything that we cherish in this world will disappear some day, either at our death or when the last day comes, but what will not disappear is this – God’s kingdom and our place in it as citizens of heaven and heirs of eternal life.

When Christ bursts into this world on the last day, that will be the last interruption that we will ever experience. There will no more interruptions by sickness, death, wars, natural disasters, accidents, crime or whatever. We will be taken into God’s presence and join those gathered around the throne of God.

The words of the psalm are very helpful when we think of this final interruption, “We will not be afraid, even if the earth is shaken and mountains fall into the ocean depths; even if the seas roar and rage, and the hills are shaken by the violence. … The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge (Psalm 46).

In the meantime we need to deal with the interruptions that take place in our everyday life, especially those interruptions that bring us fear and grief. The apostle Paul had to deal with these kinds of interruptions often. Shipwrecks, jail, hostile people, sickness interrupted him in the work God had given him to tell the good news about Jesus. But nothing interrupted his trust in Jesus.

How easily is our faith in Jesus interrupted?
How readily do we allow our pet sins interrupt the newness that we have in Christ?
How often do we allow or even try to find interruptions that keep us away from reading God’s Word, praying and worshipping together with our fellow believers?
How willingly do we allow our sinful nature and Satan interrupt our walking God’s ways?

God grant that the Holy Spirit would interrupt every sin, every temptation, every fear and doubt, and remind us everyday that God’s love for us is uninterruptible. God grant that our commitment and faith be as uninterruptible as God’s commitment to us.


© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

 

Twenty second Sunday after Pentecost

The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.  Let’s join in a word of prayer: Loving God, speak to us and bless the words we hear, the thoughts we accept, and the meditations of our hearts that we receive.  Let them be of value to us and be acceptable to You.  Gracious heavenly Father, hear our prayer for the sake of our risen Lord,  Amen.

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 One day late in the afternoon a missionary in Africa had a surprise visit. When he entered his small hut he discovered a very large python on the floor. He left the hut and went to his truck and returned with his pistol.

Even though he had his gun, he still had one important problem. He only had one bullet left in the gun. He could not afford to miss. All of his skill would be required in order to rid his hut of this deadly creature. If he missed, there was no telling what would happen next. He took careful aim and pulled the trigger ever so gently. He shot the python in the head. The python, which would soon die, was at this point only wounded. It still had some life and some fight within itself. The python began to throw itself violently about. The missionary left the hut and listened for some time as the python broke furniture and destroyed lamps and other personal items as it unleashed one last burst of energy. After some time, things got quiet and the missionary assumed that the snake was dead. When he went back into his hut he found the snake was indeed dead, but his home was in shambles. (Source: Dr. James Dobson, When God Doesn’t Make Sense (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.), p. 194. Used by permission.”)

 I suspect this is a reminder of our spiritual battles with the enemies of God. The victory has been won in Jesus Christ.  But until his return, the battle continues, making a mess in our ordered Christian lives. So, let’s rejoice in the knowledge that Christ has won the battle, and keep our brooms and mops of prayer and fellowship and Scripture handy to face the mess of living in our broken world.

 Even in the freedom we enjoy in Australia, we face the mess of living in a society which, for the most part, fails to recognise the Lord of all life. Paul faced an even more severe mess in Thessalonica.  He had shared encouragement with them in his first letter.  That although they faced the persecution of unbelievers around them, they would be blessed when Christ returns.

He wrote to them that, ‘you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.’  (1 Th 1:9–10 NIV)

It appears this letter so impressed them, that many simply gave up the fight against their mess, and just decided to wait for Christ’s return.  In his first letter, Paul wrote, ‘the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.  Therefore encourage each other with these words.’  (1 Th 4:16–18 NIV)
We know the devil works to turn every encouragement into discouragement.  Like the python, writhing and pulsing with dying energy. Rumours started flying among the believers from false teachers.  Rumours that Christ had already come.  That these believers in Thessalonica were the ones left behind for judgement.  That they missed out on being with Christ Jesus forever.And so, Paul writes this second letter to the Thessalonians, trying to straighten some of the mess left behind by these rumours. 

He now writes, ‘Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers,  not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way.’

 And then Paul reminds them of some very specific and frightening events that will precede the end times.  Things he had shared with them when he visited Thessalonica.   He isn’t trying to give any indication about the timing of the end, but only to relieve their fears, that it had already happened.  Those events surely have not even happened yet today. 

 And even when they do happen, they will only be the  markers of God’s plan for the transition of the world’s time into God’s eternity.   God is in control.  And, as Jesus himself said,  ‘God is God of the living’.  God cares about us and moves us ever closer to the time when we will be with him in perfect eternity.  Every day that I wake up in the morning, I give thanks to God that I am one day closer to eternal life with him.  And then I get out of bed and begin to live the day with all the energy, faith, and caring that I can muster. As I live out the day, I make my mistakes and then turn to God’s Holy Spirit to guide me in my attitudes, actions, and the words I use.   

 As we approach the end of the Church year, and enter Advent, we will be sharing a number of readings proclaiming the end of times, and the beginning of God’s eternity.  But as Paul shares, we shouldn’t get too upset and disturbed by these readings.  They are a reminder that this age will not last forever, and God has the final victory over even time itself.

 Even so, unlike the Sadducees who discounted any kind of life after death, we wonder what eternity will be like.  It’s hard for us to imagine what heaven will be like.  What an eternal future in the presence of God will be.  It’s a human trait to be curious about the future.    A popular song recently captured our imagination, in words directed toward Christ Jesus.

 I can only imagine what it will be like when I walk by Your side.  I can only imagine what my eyes will see when Your face is before me.  Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel.  Will I dance for You Jesus, or in awe of You be still.  Will I stand in Your presence, or to my knees will I fall.  Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all – I can only imagine. As human beings, we are not yet able to grasp the complexities or the pleasures of the resurrection and the life beyond. Sometimes all we can do is recognize the mystery of the unknown and the limitations of our own understandings.

 The apostle Paul writes “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I reasoned as a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully”.  God of the living created human life, complete, with a future in mind. 

God has provided life after death for those who respond to his love.  Until that time is fulfilled, we will just have to accept the promises of God with faith.  Let’s hold onto the hope, that the heart and soul of the relationships we hold sacred in this life will be affirmed in eternity.  I can only imagine that the love that we hold for each other as family, friends and neighbours will surely accompany us into eternity. In any case, we can take comfort that Jesus has already made the way for us to be included in the resurrection.  By His sacrifice on the cross, He gives us forgiveness for our sins and a renewed relationship with God.  And as Jesus said in the reading,  Our God “is the God of the living, not the dead.

 May God the creator of time and controller of destiny give each one of us today unfaltering trust in our living Lord and Saviour.   Trust to allow Jesus to help us hold in our hearts the faith that He gives to us as a gift.  Trust to allow the Holy Spirit guide us in our challenge of Christian Living, even in the mess of our broken world.  Trust also to help us yield our lives to God with Joy in our hearts.  Trust to follow our God of the living into eternal life with Him.

 May the grace and peace of God, which passes all our human understanding, keep our hearts and minds in the calm assurance of eternal salvation in our living Lord, Christ Jesus.   Amen.

David Thompson.

All Saints Day

What is All Saints Day?

1Corinthians 1:2-3 ESV

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

All Saints Day, also known as All Hallows’ Day, or Hallowmas, is a Christian celebration in honour of all the saints from Christian history. johnmacIn Western Christianity, it is observed on November 1st by the Lutheran Church, and other mainstream Protestant denominations.

All Saints Day relates to giving God earnest gratitude for the lives of his saints, remembering those who were well-known and not. Additionally, individuals throughout Christian history are celebrated, such as Peter the Apostle and Charles Wesley, as well as people who have personally guided us to faith in Jesus, such as a relative or friend.

In addition to weekly worship gatherings, “All Saints Day” annually reminds us of our connectedness as Christians. It’s commemorated every November 1st.

Perhaps, we think of saints as statues in a church building. But the Bible teaches something completely different. Who is a saint? You are. That is if you’re a follower of Jesus. God calls a “saint” anyone who trusts in Christ alone for salvation.

All Saints

Dear Saints in Christ, I want you to have a quick look around, and tell me if anyone here is wearing a golden halo.

Is there anyone here who is looking particularly saintly today?

Your husband or wife perhaps? No?

Children – have you been little saints this morning?

The fact is, we know that we’re all pretty human, and being human means “warts and all”.

Most of us have probably said, “I’m no saint”. However, in just a little while we are all going to say the words, ‘I believe in the communion of saints’.

And with these words we will confess our belief that there is more to the church than meets the eye.

There is more to this Lutheran congregation, than meets the eye.

The church is far more than a gathering of individuals loitering with religious intent.

The church is, in fact, a communion of all people who have been made holy by Jesus – all believers in Christ, in all places, of all times.

The communion of saints includes all Christians living now, all the faithful who have died, and even those believers who are yet to be!

All of these are “saints” because they are baptized into Jesus, and all of these saints are a “communion,” because being united to Jesus makes us united to each other.

But as you probably know, among the various churches there exists a differing emphasis on the saints – who they are, how we are to honour them, whether or not they pray for us, and so on.

The Roman Catholic Church, for example, recently canonized Mary McKillop and she was made an “official” saint of the church.

And many other Christian traditions, ours included, hold the saints in memory by naming our congregations and schools after them.

But quite apart from these questions, the thing I’d like to focus on today is that we regard all Christians as saints.

All baptised believers are holy, and that’s what the word ‘saint’ means: a holy person.

And to look at the role that the saints (both living and departed) play in our lives, I’d like to focus on a passage from the Lutheran Confessions, one that I think all Christians could say ‘Amen’ to.

Let me read the relevant passage to you.

Our Confession approves giving honour to the saints. This honour is threefold. The first is thanksgiving: we should thank God for showing examples of his mercy, revealing his will to save people, and giving teachers and other gifts to the church….The second honour is strengthening of our faith: when we see Peter forgiven after his denial, we are encouraged to believe that grace does indeed abound more than sin. The third honour is imitation, first of their faith and then of their other virtues, which each should imitate in accordance with his calling. (Apology, XXI)

Let’s look at these three ways of honouring the saints in more detail.

First of all, we give thanks to God for all his people.

Because apart from the gospel and the sacraments, the saints are the greatest blessing the church has.

Every saved man, woman and child is a wonderful cause for rejoicing.

Every believer sitting in the pew today is evidence that God is still at work in the 21st century just as much as he was in the first.

Every believer sitting here today demonstrates that miracles still occur.

We should never stop giving thanks for the fact that despite all the faults we can find with others, and all the warts others can find with us, God has begun his work of salvation, and is daily working to bring it to completion.

Moreover, we can thank the Lord for those who taught us the faith and brought us to Jesus: our parents, our uncles and aunts, our god parents our pastors, our teachers.

Thank the Lord for every mature Christian who showed us what following Christ means.

Thank the Lord for the pastors who established congregations in this region decades ago.

Thank the Lord for the early missionaries who gave up everything to bring Christ to this unforgiving and harsh land as it was in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Thank the Lord for those whose theological insight has helped us to think through the faith clearly.

Thank the Lord for those whose lives were channels of divine love – like Mother Teresa or St Francis of Assisi – and have shown that in a world of poverty or cruelty or war, God still draws near to us.

Thank the Lord for those who shed their blood rather than deny the faith and by doing so secured or strengthened the future of the church, such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer who died at the hands of the Nazis, or many centuries ago, Bishop Polycarp of Smyrna who when ordered to curse Christ responded:

‘Eighty-six years have I served him, and he has done me no wrong: how then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?’

But thank the Lord also for ordinary Christians who have simply and steadfastly kept the faith, and for unknown Christians who were never remembered in this life, but will receive ample reward in the next.

And, we can even thank the Lord for those living saints with whom we disagree, with whom we experience conflict, because they too are our brothers and sisters, and our unity in Christ transcends our disagreements and tensions.

Every saint, in fact, is a demonstration of how much God wants to save us, how much he wants to forgive us.

And that brings me to the second reason for honouring the saints: for strengthening our faith.

Again and again we discover that the saints are forgiven sinners.

They may have been heroes of the faith, but they were highly forgiven heroes!

The greatest hymn-writer of the Bible, King David, was an adulterer and a murderer.

Jacob, who was named Israel, was dishonest and tricked his brother Esau.

Peter denied his Lord three times.

Paul confessed to a lifetime struggle with sin.

And yet, God’s grace triumphed over all their faults and his forgiveness covered their most disastrous sins.

When they were weak, God showed his strength in them.

Whenever they thought they had failed, God’s word returned to them having achieved all it set out to do.

And how does this strengthen our faith?

Well, if God has shown such mercy to them, think of what mercy he will show to us.

If God has used other sinners, he will also use us.

There is hope for us all!

And that means it doesn’t make much sense to say “I’m no saint”.

In effect, that’s saying: “I don’t believe in God’s forgiveness” or even worse “I don’t need God’s forgiveness”.

Remember, that the only kind of saint is a forgiven saint.

Even Jesus, the saint of saints, the holy one of God, became sin for our sake.

The third way we honour the saints is to imitate them.

The saints who stand out are worth copying.

They are good role models for the rest of us.

In St Pauls letter to the Phillipians he said quite unashamedly:

Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you’.

We too can ‘take note’ of those who have excelled in faith and love and seek to imitate them.

I think this is especially true for younger Christians.

We need heroes to inspire us. We have sporting heroes – why not faith heroes?

A young Catholic I spoke to some time ago said that at their confirmation they chose a saint to whom they could look as a model and inspiration.

What a good idea!

In so many TV shows, novels and movies, the idea of a hero has gone out the window.

Often, all the characters are depressingly hopeless.

There is no-one you can admire or respect.

How sad if for young Christians if it’s no different in the church.

Although I haven’t any formally recognised saints in my own mind, there are a number of people who for me have really demonstrated a faith and love worth following.

And by being more like them, I am being more like Christ.

Parents and Grandparents: why don’t you talk about this with your children or grandchildren when you have lunch today?

Who modelled the faith for you?

So, our honour of the saints is three-fold, say the confessions.

We give thanks for them, our faith is strengthened by them, and we imitate them.

To finish off, let me return to a point I made at the beginning: the communion of saints is a spiritual reality, and therefore it’s something we can hardly begin to understand in this life.

But because we are all joined sacramentally to Christ – through baptism and holy communion – we are also joined to each other.

Because my left ear is joined to my head, and because my right ear is also joined to my head, both ears are in union with each other, even though my ears have never seen each other in their life!

They share the same health, they share the same illness, they share the same life by being members of the same body, united by one head.

So it is with all the saints: we share all things in common.

The spiritual strength of some saints help and sustain those who are weak.

On the other hand, the sins and weakness of others are shared by the rest as well.

As Paul writes to the Corinthians: ‘If one part (of the body of Christ) suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it’.

So, on this festival of All Saints, let us give thanks for what we all share in common, and let us confess: “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints”. Amen.

 

Reformation Sunday

 

Romans 3:19-28

‘Justification by faith’

 

And at the heart of the Reformation was the teaching of justification. And at the centre of this teaching of justification is our text, from Romans 3.

Justification is about how I can be made right

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with God. It’s a legal, forensic picture; as I stand before the judgment seat of God, And the focus of the Reformation was to make clear that this can never happen by our own strength or anything we do, but we are freely justified – declared to be righteous – before God, because of Jesus Christ. Justification is by grace through faith.
But now, over 500 years on from the Reformation, some people may ask, is the Christian teaching of justification still relevant to modern people?
Some don’t think it is.Some people say that people today don’t resonate with this legal and forensic language of St Paul that affected Luther so profoundly, and so although it was important back then, it’s not for today. But that is dead wrong.

People today are looking to be justified just as much as they were in the first century and the 16th century. We human beings in fact spend a whole lot of time and energy in life in just this endeavour, trying to justify ourselves, our lives, our actions, to ourselves, to others, and at some deeper level, before God.

This came home to the writer of this sermon when he was saw a big bumper sticker across the back of someone’s car which read, ‘justify your existence’. That is essentially the exact opposite to the Christian teaching we hear today. But the very fact that people have “justify your existence” ,  not just as a sticker on their cars, but even tattooed on their bodies, tells me that this message of justification is one that people need to hear just as much today as ever before. So let’s see what we learn about justification by faith in Jesus Christ from our text today. Let’s see its need, its source and its effect.

THE NEED FOR JUSTIFICATION
So first is the need for justification. It’s summed up by Paul in these famous words,
‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’.

The problem is that in the cosmic courtroom of God’s justice, every single human being stands guilty and condemned, and has no way of doing anything to justify themselves.

This is the problem. And our text begins with the culmination of an argument St Paul has been making along these lines for about 2 and a half chapters. Acting Like a prosecuting attorney, St Paul has laid out his case. Whether you are a Jew who knows God’s law and doesn’t keep it, or whether you’re a Gentile who has never heard of the Ten Commandments; or maybe you know the glory of God in creation, and are aware of the law written on your heart: no matter who you are, you have not worshiped God as you should, and you have not lived as he would have you live. That leaves us standing alone in front of God, guilty and condemned.

It all crescendos at the start of our text where Paul says that this all means ‘every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God’. ‘Every mouth may be silenced’.
Kids are good at making excuses, aren’t they? You confront them about something and they are very quick to blame their brother or sister. Or it was the kids next door. It wasn’t really their fault, it was the tigers hiding in the backyard that made the mess! There’s almost always an excuse. But then every now and then, you catch them out don’t you? You have all the evidence and all the excuses covered, You ask them in detail about whether it was them that broke the jar because they were climbing the shelves wanting to get to the biscuits, and they just look at you in stunned silence. They have nothing to say. They are speechless before this indisputable evidence and accusation. Their mouth have been silenced.

That’s the picture of you and me left on our own before Almighty God. There is nothing to say, no excuse we can make, no defence worth mounting. We are guilty and condemned and there is nothing in our own strength that we can do about it. That was the problem 2000 years ago, 500 years ago, and it’s still the problem today.

THE CHARACTER AND SOURCE OF JUSTIFICATION
But thank God it’s not the end of the story. Because now we come to what justification actually is; where it comes from; its source. Rather than having to do it ourselves, to make things right with God by our own strength and lives, rather than having to justify our existence, God’s does it for us.
We are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus’.  

The source of our justification is Jesus Christ and what he does for us on the cross. On our own we stand guilty and condemned before God. The wonder is that God himself makes us right with him by a sheer act of grace and mercy which we receive by trusting in it. It comes through faith. But how does God do this? What sort of judge is this and what sort of court is this where the judge simply declared guilty people to be innocent? If that’s what God does for no apparent reason, there’s a big problem, because God would no longer be just.

But this is why it’s so important for us to never lose sight of the fact that we are justified before God on the basis of Jesus’ shed blood for us on the cross. When God declares us righteous in his sight, this is no kangaroo court where the judge change his verdict on a whim. This is not just God letting us off the hook because he’s in a good mood. This is no legal fiction. Jesus lived the life of perfect righteousness, and he died the death you and I deserved. It’s because of what he has done that God declares us righteous.

‘God made him who knew no sin to become sin for us, so that in him, we may become the righteousness of God’.

 This is how marvellously God is both the just and the justifier of those who have faith in Jesus. Now notice here too how St Paul is piling up the different images to try and get at the true wonder of what Jesus does on the cross. He moves from the legal picture of justification, that we declared righteous because of the death of Jesus, to the slave market picture of redemption: that we are bought back from slavery because of death of Jesus: and then to the picture of the temple where Christ is a sacrifice of atonement. All of that pointed forward to Jesus’ once for all sacrifice, where his blood covers our sin and guilt, so that we can be righteous in God’s sight.

In 2008, there was a terrible terrorist attack at the Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai, India where 200 people were killed. Afterward a reporter interviewed a survivor who had been at the hotel for dinner that night, who had been pulled under a table by a friend when they heard gunshots.  The terrorists had come striding through the restaurant systematically shooting, thinking they had killed everyone. Miraculously, this man had survived. When the interviewer asked the guest how he lived when everyone else around him had not, he replied in a very memorable way. He said, “All I can think is that when the terrorists looked at me I was covered in someone else’s blood, and they took me for dead.”

Covered in the blood of another.  That’s what the death of Jesus accomplishes and that is source of our justification before God.
It’s a gift to us,
Not something we earn,
We receive it in faith.
You do not need to justify your existence. In Jesus Christ God has done it for you. And that is still as relevant for us today as it ever has been. 

THE EFFECT OF JUSTIFICATION

So we’ve looked at why we need this justification, what it is and where it comes from. Then finally we ask, what is its effect?
What does it change practically in our lives?

There are many different ways to answer this question. Our Gospel reason points us to the freedom this means for us. Since we are declared righteous in God’s sight, we do not have to spend our lives trying to justify ourselves to ourselves or others and most especially God, we are free.
Have you ever seen a broadcast of a big court case when someone who feared a guilty verdict and sentence is declared innocent and free? The utter relief and joy on their faces, people weeping and hugging each other, This freedom we have from condemnation because we justified by grace through faith in Christ, has a profound effect in our lives.

Another way St Paul describes this effect is having peace with God, and having access to his grace. But actually here in our text, interestingly, and somewhat surprisingly, these are not so much in focus. The effect of our being justified here is seemingly much more mundane and everyday. The effect is that boasting is excluded. What’s fascinating here is that this teaching on justification which seems so focused on our relationship with God, the vertical dimension if you like, for St Paul has an immediate application to how we live with each other, an immediate horizontal dimension too. What seems to be in focus here is the whole Jew and Gentile dynamic in the early church. So Paul is driving home that it does not matter who you are, all have sinned. All are justified by grace through faith in Christ alone. To be justified by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, is to lead to humility, not boasting. And this is worth us thinking about again as we celebrate the Reformation. However we celebrate, in whatever ways we commemorate the Reformation, any boasting in ourselves or our tradition or our denomination is completely excluded.

Again this is still as relevant today as ever. Our pride and boasting still damages our relationships, damages our Christian community, and does not make for a winsome witness to the Gospel. So may this wonderful truth of God’s justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, drive out from us all boasting.
As Paul writes elsewhere,

‘Christ Jesus has become to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Despite the Reformation, we still all fall short of the glory of God.

Therefore we rejoice that God has sent his Son to die for us, so that in him we can be justified and righteous in his sight. This will remove our pride and boasting and lead us to humility and love for our brothers and sisters whoever they are.
And all of this is still as relevant today as it ever has been.

In the name of Jesus, Amen.