Your Most Precious Treasure

The Text: Hebrews 11:1-6, 8-16

Your Faith in God Is Your Most Precious Treasure

There is a lot written in our newspapers these days about trust. Our politicalgarth leaders are calling on us to trust them even though many people feel they have betrayed our trust. Perhaps that’s why God’s Word says, “It is better to trust the Lord for protection than to trust anyone else, including strong leaders (Psalm 118:8).” So much of life is a matter of trust. If you don’t have faith in the safety of aeroplanes, you’d be reluctant to fly on them, just as it’s important to trust our doctors for our health’s sake. The playwright G.B. Shaw believes “We have not lost faith, but we have transferred it from God to the medical profession.”

Yet the remarkable thing is that so many people still see their faith in God as their most precious possession. What you believe is the most important thing about you, will make all the difference both for this life and for all eternity. The kind of faith today’s text speaks about is something we can be sure of. We are assured that “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (v1).” Faith in God is defined as a conviction that inspires confidence in God and leads to God-pleasing actions. The first example of God-pleasing faith in Hebrews 11 is that of Abel’s faith-inspired worship of God. The desire to worship God is in itself a significant form of faith. The truest expression of trust in God will always be worship.

A faith that loves to worship God pleases God immensely. One of the best ways of showing our love for someone dear to us is by praising them a lot. We show our love for God by our praise, thanks and adoration of our Creator. We say that actions speak louder than words. Worship is faith in action for the benefit and blessing of both ourselves and those around us. We can worship God on behalf of absent family members, relatives and friends, as we plead with God to be as merciful to them as God has been to us. Our worship of God together seeks to get us thinking more about others than about ourselves. Worship is education in unselfishness. Worship seeks to make us other-centred in our thinking and our actions.

This is what made Abraham’s faith so praiseworthy. His whole life was one great adventure in faith as he obeyed God and left his homeland for Canaan. Although Abraham engaged in lies and deceit on more than one occasion, his faith enabled him to think of others and put their needs ahead of his own. Abraham let his nephew Lot choose the better land for his flocks and herds. When God informed Abraham that He was going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham interceded on their behalf and pleaded with God to spare them. God encouraged Abraham to listen to his wife Sarah and heed what she said. “Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you (Genesis 21:12).”

Sarah’s faith in God enabled her to make great sacrifices. She had to wait a long, long time before she became a mother. At first she laughed at the impossibility of becoming a parent in her old age. But when God said, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”, her misgivings turned into faith as she looked forward to God fulfilling His promise. We’re told that she received strength to conceive because “she judged that God who has promised would keep faith (v11).” When her son Isaac was born, Sarah confesses, “God has brought laughter for me (Genesis 21:6).”

The heroes of faith celebrated in Hebrews 11 are less models for us than they are part of that great “cloud of witnesses” already in our Lord’s presence, urging us on to run the race of faith with diligence and single-mindedness. “And what of ourselves? With all these witnesses to faith around us like a cloud, we must throw off every encumbrance, every sin to which we cling, and run with resolution the race for which we are entered, our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom faith depends from start to finish: Jesus who, for the sake of the joy that lay ahead of Him, endured the cross, making light of its disgrace, and has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-2).”

Abraham is mentioned seventy two times in the New Testament. The writers of the New Testament believed that Christ’s coming into our world has made it possible to recapture the pristine faith of Abraham, a faith that continually pleases God. God’s Son, Jesus Christ, made it easier for us to believe by becoming one of us. The God we believe in, love and trust, is a Christlike God. Jesus Christ is God with a human face and a human heart, overflowing with a love for you that is both human and divine.

Faith in our Lord expects great things from Him. Expect little from your Saviour and you will receive little, but if you come with eager expectation, you will be blessed beyond all your expectations. In the Gospels, our Lord honours the faith of all who come to Him for mercy and help. When two blind people come to our Lord asking Him to have mercy on them, Jesus asks them, “Do you expect that I am able to do this?” After they say, “Yes, Lord”, Jesus responds, “According to your faith let it be done to you.”

The first thing that Jesus seeks from those who come to Him is faith. Faith in Christ alone is so powerful it suffices initially in the absence of other virtues. Often Jesus first wants faith, before He performs a miracle. Faith in Jesus needs to be constantly fed if it isn’t going to shrivel up and die. God’s Word says, “Faith comes from what is heard and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ (Romans 10:17).”

Christ-centred preaching strengthens our convictions about our Lord and all He has done for us and seeks to still do for us. Faith enables us to view life differently from those with no faith. Faith in our Lord gives us both insight and super-sight. Jesus said to Martha, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see God’s glory (John 11:40)?” In other words, “believing is seeing”. Faith enables us to see God all around us where we didn’t see Him before. Faith involves believing in advance what often only makes sense in hindsight. We cannot rely on our feelings, but we rely on God’s promises to sustain our faith in our Lord. We can trust God to keep His promises. Our prospects for the future are as bright as the promises of God.

One Monday a man went to his pastor to complain: “Yesterday I was filled with joy in the service but now all is gone and I do not know what to do. All is dark as night.”

His pastor replied, “I’m glad!”

“Glad?” asked the astonished man, “Glad! What do you mean?”

His pastor continued, “Yesterday, God gave you joy, and today He sees you are resting on your emotions instead of on the promises of Christ.”

You see, our feelings are like the weather; they change from time to time. They’re not necessarily reliable indicators of the state of our faith. When we feel depressed about our faith, we must focus on our Lord’s promises like John 10:27-28:”My sheep hear My voice. I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of My hand.”

For the person stressed and worried about how she’s going to care for her elderly parents, God gives a promise: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13).”

For the parents fearful about where their wayward child is, worried about whom he is with and what he is doing, He gives a promise: “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you (Hebrewws13:5).”

For the out-of-work person desperate to get a job, God offers a promise: “For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11).”

William James, a great psychologist, described a time in his early life when he was in the grip of a deep despair. “Fear was so incisive and powerful that if I had not clung to Scripture texts like “The eternal God is my refuge”, and “Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden”, and “I am the resurrection and the life”, I think I should really have gone insane.”

Our faith is sustained and strengthened by constant exposure to God’s Word, on which we can fully rely and completely trust. At present we walk by faith and not by sight. But one day soon, faith will give way to sight.

“So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).”


“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13).” Amen.

Better a Poor Farmer Than a Rich Fool

The Text: Luke 12:13-21

Few things are sadder than 20180311_103505 (1)family members fighting over an inheritance. The possibility of gaining from a substantial inheritance can turn lambs into wolves. Imagine interrupting a sermon to seek help to get more wealth! That’s what the brother in today’s Gospel does. In dispute over assets, this man wants Jesus to decide in his favour. Both brothers are captive to covetousness. The man with the lion’s share of the inheritance could have divided it equally with his brother.

No mediating of one dispute by our Lord will solve the deeper problem of the human heart. People who covet what they don’t have are unaware of their covetous attitude. A priest has reported that in 25 years of hearing confessions, he’s heard every sin confessed except that of covetousness! The man who seeks Jesus’ help wants the broken relationship between he and his brother finalised by complete separation. Jesus points out that He hasn’t come as a divider. He’s come as a reconciler. He wants to reconcile people to each other, not to finalise divisions between them. Reconciliation will require the petitioner to gain a new perspective on himself.

Receiving his portion of the inheritance won’t solve the antagonism between the brothers, for the issue is greed rather than justice. Jesus’ parable seeks to change human hearts, to free them from being possessed by their possessions. His story of a “successful” farmer is a subversive story. It calls into question so much of what we hold dear in our culture. Our culture holds up successful people as an inspiration for us. Any book with the words How To Succeed In …   in the title is assured of large popularity.

The farmer in today’s Gospel is an outstanding success in earthly terms. But Jesus calls him a dismal failure in what really matters, what matters eternally. The irony of success is that it can limit as well as expand our horizons. This farmer was locked in by his success. What he’s mastered had come to master him. No other story is so full of “I” disease. In its short space, there are eight “I”s  and four “my”s.  All goes well for him in his business. His wealth isn’t ill-gotten. There’s no mention of him being a bad employer. Many people see nothing wrong with his attitude. After all, he’s acting with prudence and common sense. Our modern society would consider him an eminent success.

It is significant that in light of the gregarious nature of life then, the rich man dialogues only with himself. He has no one else with whom he talks. He consults no neighbour or friend to exchange ideas. His speech is pitiful. This affluent person has arrived! He has made it! And he needs an audience for his arrival speech. He exclaims, “Who will rejoice with me?” He can only address himself, his only audience!

This self-serving individual deals only with things – things like the bigger barns he’ll build, the profit he’ll make from selling his grain when the prices go up, and the richer selection of food and drink for himself to indulge in. The greatest good he can imagine in life is maximising his own pleasure. It never enters his head to give to the needy, or to assist the poor. He has no need of anyone else. He lives only for himself. Not only does he give no thought to thanking God for his huge harvest, he reveals that he’s forgotten that his own body is mortal and he won’t necessarily live on for many years. The existence of others has totally dropped out of the picture. His formula for the “good life” is sheer stupidity. He cannot take any of his immense possessions into the grave with him. In his hour of greatest need, all his possessions will prove of no use to him.

Though this man may have had nothing to say to God, God had something to say to him: “You fool! This very night your life is being required of you (v.20).” The verb “to require” is used for the return of a loan. His life was on loan and now God, the Owner, wants the loan returned. Jesus makes it clear that our lives are not our own to do with as we like, but are a gift from God. God thunders to the rich farmer: “Look at what you’ve done to yourself! You plan alone, build alone, indulge alone and now you’ll die alone.”  The man doesn’t know who will end up with his assets and riches after his death. A fool is someone whose plans end at the grave. Was there ever a more searching question concerning the meaning of life than our Lord’s question, “What does it profit any of us if we gain the whole world, but lose our lives? (Luke 9:25)”

There are few things our Lord condemns more than greed. He attacks the false evaluation of life in economic terms. As if we can measure life in such narrow terms! Greed prevents so much generosity from occurring. Greed never delivers all the benefits it promises, benefits like peace of mind, security and happiness. We need five things for a reasonably contented life: (1) food; (2) clothing; (3) shelter; (4) medical care; and (5) the means to purchase the first four things. Jesus doesn’t oppose an appreciation of the good things of life. The best way to enjoy all the good things God has given us is by thanking Him for them. Nothing sustains joy and happiness better than gratitude.

“It is good to give thanks to the Lord” for life and health and daily food. “Life doesn’t consist in the abundance of possessions.” Life consists in the abundance of God’s undeserved goodness to us. God’s goodness is first of all evident in His gifts of family, friends, and neighbours. Where would any of us be without all that our grandparents, parents and siblings have done for us? Relationships with others are the true God-given riches of life. Relationships take time to keep together. Sadly, we see marriages breaking apart because couples are not spending sufficient time with each other. We hear of children becoming estranged from their mothers and fathers, because their busy parents haven’t spent sufficient time with them.

Advertisers give people unrealistic expectations of the benefits of material goods and possessions. God never meant these things to be the focus and goal of life. A TV interview with someone who had lost his home and possessions in a fire provides a vivid contrast to the rich fool in Jesus’ parable. He recalled that his brother had recently said they should avoid letting their possessions possess them. The victim of the house fire announced to the TV reporter with a note of unexpected triumph: “I am a free man now!” Jesus can free us from being enslaved to our possessions.

Jesus came into our world to help us become rich toward God. We become rich before God when we accept God as the Giver, and all we have as His gifts to us. We’re rich as far as God is concerned when we see the existence of everyone else in our lives as God’s gifts to us. We see and acknowledge faith, hope and love as life’s true riches, and Jesus Christ as God’s crowning gift to us. Thank God, His Son Jesus Christ shares the riches of His love, goodness and glory with us. “For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9).” Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life in all fullness and richness (John 10:10).” It’s a life too rich and wonderful to end in death. Let this good news of great joy possess you and overwhelm you with all its glorious possibilities.

Those who are contented with what God has given them are truly rich indeed. What better can we hope for in this life than God-given contentment? “Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these (1 Timothy 6:6-8).” The more grateful we are for all we have already, the more contented we will be. Saying “I love you” as often as possible to those near and dear to us fills them with a sense of contentment. We can be content in the knowledge that what God chooses for us is better than what we may choose for ourselves.

Better a poor farmer than a rich fool!

“Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that He has promised to those who love Him? (James 2:5)”

Amen.

The Good News about Prayer

Text: Luke 11:1-13

It’s wonderful, isn’t it, when someone tells you they’re remembering you inchurch4 their prayers. It can lift your spirits marvellously and transform your day. Today’s Gospel encourages us to pray. It seeks to impress on us that our prayers are welcomed by God and responded to as He sees best. Prayer is an essential part of being a Christian. Faith in our Lord and praying to Him belong inseparably together. Prayer isn’t just one expression of faith among others. To believe is to pray, because prayer is our response to God speaking to us in grace and love. The deepest expression of faith is to seek good things from God in prayer. So then think highly of your prayers, because we have God’s Word to trust that He welcomes them and encourages them.

God wants the best for you. He responds to your prayers in ways that are best for us. In prayer God either gives us what we ask for or something better. The great tragedy isn‘t unanswered prayer, but unoffered prayer. God won’t let your prayers be for nothing or be wasted. Our spiritual safety and protection lie only in prayer. It’s the strongest shield we have against the devil. Prayer is the door through which God enters our home, our workplace and our community, in order to bless us in unexpected ways. When we pray we’re, as it were, sitting at Jesus’ feet speaking to Him as one friend to another. Prayer is an expression of Jesus’ friendship with us and our friendship with Him.

Prayers in the Bible display a fervour and frankness not often seen in prayers today. They remind us that God seeks honesty from us in our prayers. God is thrilled when we honestly face ourselves and bring our real needs to Him. The weaker our faith, the more essential is prayer. The degree of our faith is the degree of our praying. Luther said, “Prayer is the most important thing in my life. If I should neglect prayer for a single day, I should lose a great deal of the fire of faith.” No one can say their prayers are poor when they’re using the language of love. There’s nothing that can lead us to love someone as much as prayer can. The most important purpose of prayer may be to let God love us as He listens to us. What a wonderful expression of love listening to someone is!

Prayer changes us in ways we never dreamed of, for the blessing and benefit of those around us. A bad prayer is better than no prayer at all because we learn to pray by praying. When we’re feeling low, prayer seeks to take us out of ourselves and into our Saviour’s healing presence. For prayer is first of all about communion with our Lord to maintain, sustain and strengthen our friendship with Him. It’s more about having a conversation with Him than about presenting Him with a shopping list. Prayer is both a gift and a duty. The Lord’s Prayer is His gift of grace to us. It is one of the greatest treasures of our Christian Faith.

Jesus’ disciples had recently heard Jesus pray a prayer of thanksgiving to His heavenly Father. So now in order to pray like Jesus did, they ask Him, “Lord, teach us to pray.” This is the only time they ask Jesus to teach them anything. Jesus knows of no better prayer He can give us. He gives it to us in two versions with the version in St. Luke’s Gospel slightly shorter than the one in Matthew 6. In this prayer, Jesus lists the things we need to pray about every day. The purpose of the petitions is that we’ll never have an excuse not to pray. The Lord’s Prayer opens our eyes to our real needs. In the first two petitions, Jesus invites us to identify with Him as God’s Son. In the next three petitions, our Lord identifies with us and our human needs.

Jesus prayed in a revolutionary way, by addressing God as “Father”. He used the title and form of address of “Father” for God more than any other. By doing so, Jesus changed the way people viewed God. “Abba” means “Dear Father”, that is, God as someone near and easy to approach rather than someone distant and aloof from us. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus invites us to either address God as “our Father in Heaven” or “Father (Luke 11:21).” A father is someone who is close at hand and approachable at all times. The Father whom Jesus reveals to us is the Father of prodigal children who continues to think fondly of us even when we’ve wandered away from him. He’s our ever-present help in trouble who sympathizes with us in our distress and wants to share it with us.

Fathers delight in giving to their children. So our heavenly Father wants above all to give us the Holy Spirit to pray for us when we’re weak and vulnerable. Our heavenly Father acts towards us as His Son Jesus acted towards little children, the sick and the needy. If someone wants to know what God is like, we point them to Christ. Our God is a Christlike God. Jesus said, “Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father (John 14:9).” He is a model for earthly fathers. There’s no one more like a father than God. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus reveals to us a Father who provides for our daily needs, forgives and protects us. Fathers know what their children want, but love it when they ask for these things. So it is with our Father in heaven. “Father! To God Himself we cannot give a holier name (Wordsworth)” That’s why Jesus wants us to honour God’s name and treat it with reverence and awe. To love and honour His name is to love and praise Him. God’s name represents His nature, His works and words. Jesus hallowed God’s name by showing us why God is worthy of our worship, honour and glory. God’s power is released on us when we do that. God’s holiness is revealed when He reveals His glory to us, especially in and through His Son Jesus. His glory is part of the majesty and beauty of His holiness.

God has vested His name on us as His children. His reputation is at stake in how we live. We praise and adore His name in our worship together because His name for us is all about His gifts of hope and love, joy and forgiveness. We hallow His name by eagerly hearing His Word and gladly putting it into daily practice.

Where God’s name is so honoured, there His Kingdom with all its unique blessings embraces us. Wherever Jesus went, He brought the good news of His Kingdom to those who welcomed Him. The secret of God’s Kingdom is that its King is our Father. Jesus says to us, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.” Through baptism we’re brought into God’s royal household as His adopted children. God advances His Kingdom through its embassies, our churches, and through us as its ambassadors. As its ambassadors, we pass on and promote God’s work of reconciliation so that living in reconciliation with one another, the routines of daily life can become celebrations of love. “In the Kingdom of God, eating and drinking aren’t important. The important things are living right with God, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17).”

The next petition concerns our daily needs, which Jesus wants us to pray about. “Give us day by day our daily bread”. The technological development of our modern world only seems to increase our sense of insecurity. The more scientific our world becomes, the more insecure we feel. God wants us to trust that He will provide for both today and tomorrow’s needs. “Our bread” reminds us of the unselfish nature of Christian prayer. We pray the Lord’s Prayer for each other, on behalf of one another. There’s no room for any prayer that seeks advantage over someone else. Gandhi said, “There is enough food in our world for everyone’s need, but not for anyone’s greed.”

“Daily bread” involves everyday necessities, not luxuries. It includes caring fathers and mothers, healthy children, pleasant people to work with, good government, good friends and good weather. Here we acknowledge that God is behind all that goes right in our lives each day. Instead of taking everyday blessings for granted, this petition leads us to receive them with gratitude. “We are conscious of that, in normal life, so much more has been received than we have given, and that it is gratitude that first makes life rich (Bonhoeffer).”

We need God’s forgiveness, God’s most characteristic quality as our heavenly Father, as much as we need daily bread. Forgiveness is God’s barrier-breaking, future-opening gift to us. “Where there is forgiveness of sins, there is life and blessedness.” Forgiveness meets our longing to make a fresh start in our relationships with God and with one another. Forgiveness means you can live as if today is the first day of your life, because God promises to remember no more the sins He has forgiven. Passing on God’s forgiveness to each other frees us from past hurts and resentments and helps our love for one another to grow warm instead of cold. A school boy, after confessing his sins to his school chaplain, was reassured of God’s love and forgiveness. He then rushed outside and turned cartwheels right across the football pitch. The reassurance of God’s forgiveness can make us want to turn cartwheels of joy, in spirit at least. What a priceless expression of love is forgiveness!

“Save us from the time of trial” is our battle cry. We realise how easily we can be tempted to sin. Here we need our Father’s help more than anywhere else. It’s a prayer we pray for each other as well, realising how vulnerable we are to giving in to what we know is wrong. Here we pray that we won’t be caught off guard when we’re tired or depressed, but ask Jesus to pray for us as He has promised. Jesus prays on your behalf to His heavenly Father: “I am not asking You to take them out of the world, but I ask You to protect them from the Evil One (John 17:15).” God’s Word reassures you, “No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing He will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13).”

Victory over a time of temptation and testing brings you closer to Christ and more grateful than ever for all that He has done for you. When you then face temptation, pray passionately, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner”. God knows how to rescue you from temptation in ways that may surprise you. In this petition, we pray that we will always remain citizens of God’s eternal Kingdom until we hear our Saviour’s words, “Come, O blest of My Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you (Matthew 25:34).”

In conclusion, remember if you’ve had an earthly parent who let you down, God is the most reliable Father you can have. “There’s no one more like a Father than God is (Tertullian).” Amen.

Easily distracted

We are a society distracted by many things, like Martha.

Text messagesFacebook messages – Twitter messages – Snapchats – come8f5d0040f261ddb1b3f281e00e1385f0 all the time to distract us.

You go out for dinner these days and the diners aren’t talking with each other, they are looking down at their phones. Conversations are interrupted by the need to check out a text message or answer a call.

They are distracted by many things.

But in today’s Gospel Reading we are talking about a different type of distraction. We are talking about a distraction away from God.

There are many distractions in our lives that take us away from God, as it did to Martha.

It reminds me of the time when Peter saw Jesus walking on the water and asked to join him. Peter was fine while he was focused on Jesus, like Mary was. But as soon as he was distracted, like Martha, by the waves crashing around him he began to sink. The waves of fear and worry distracted him. Just as the waves of worry for Martha about getting things right at home for the guests distracted her away from Jesus.

So too the waves of fear and worry distract people away from God. Martha had gotten to the point of her worry that her work had stopped being a joy and vocation to God and had become a distraction to her faith in God. It had therefore stopped being a blessing to her and others and became a source of worry and anger.

Martha obviously had the gift of hospitality, making sure everything was right to welcome Jesus, but had become distracted by the worry. Instead of being a source of blessings to others it caused a division between her and her sister Mary.

It is easy for us also to become distracted by the worries of life and believe that we have to solve our problems rather than taking them to the Lord in Prayer. Like Martha, we have all been given a vocation in life by which we can serve God and our neighbour.

However, Martha’s distraction now saw her go to Jesus antagonised and angry with Mary. The love of God and neighbour was gone.

Our human nature can easily turn our love for God and neighbour around where we love ourselves only and forget to use our gifts to serve God and our neighbour. As Christians that’s where we can easily find ourselves, as we are reminded in the Parable of the Sower –

The seeds that were sown among thorns were the ones who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the distraction of riches choke the word.

And so we need to keep coming back to the feet of Jesus and allow him to remove those thorns in the flesh in our lives.

This is where worship plays a vital role in the life of the Christian to keep breaking that cycle of distraction. We need to see our worship in the same way that Mary sees it as it nurtures our faith to keep us focused on our vocation as serving God and our neighbour.

We need to see our worship as sitting at the feet of Jesus being nurtured for our life for when we leave to go into our daily vocation and not as a duty to God.

And remember that vocation is not just employment. It is how God uses you each day as mother, father, grandfather, grandmother, sister, brother, friend.

Just look at how the distraction affected the 2 sisters of Mary and Martha. Sadly, to many Christians, church becomes another task in their already hectic lives. And when that happens we can begin to see the friction between brothers and sisters in the faith.

We become distracted by the tasks rather than the service of God. Church should never be seen in such a way.

No, it needs to be seen in the light of what Paul says about the church being the body of Christ where the riches of God’s glory have been placed.

And so the message of Martha and Mary also speaks a message to the church that its core message is always the Gospel that has freed us from our cares and burdens. The church needs to help us place our burdens on Jesus who says – come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.

The gathering around the Word and the Sacraments is not another thing for the Martha in us to add to our schedule. Remember, Jesus is the host here and we are the guests.

We are called to be Mary here and be prepared for our vocations as Marthas in the world. Martha had sadly confused the two.

The Gospel allows us to revalue our gifts to become our calling and vocation rather than a burden that distracts us away from God.

How do you see your life?

Do you see what you are doing as a burden, like Martha, or do you see it as a calling and vocation from God, like Mary. The work that Martha was doing was not the problem. It was her gift and calling. But she had let them distract her away from her service towards Jesus.

Martha does not let her gift of hospitality become a service to God but a distraction from the spiritual blessings that would come from it. The work she was doing needed to be done – but allowing them to burden her the way they did was the issue.

Our lives are going to be busy and burdensome at times. But in our busyness and burdens we are energised by our worship life and seeing our work as a vocation and calling by God.

Jesus didn’t say – you shouldn’t be burdened – but come unto me you who are burdened and I will give you rest. You can find that rest in your worship but you can also find it each day.

Luther in his Catechism teaches us how:

In the morning when you get up, make the sign of the holy cross and say: In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Then, kneeling or standing, repeat the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. Then go joyfully to your work,

In the evening when you go to bed, make the sign of the holy cross and say: In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Then kneeling or standing, repeat the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. Then go to sleep at once and sleep in peace.

Begin each day at the feet of Jesus. End each day at Jesus’ feet – and see how a new perspective of life comes on you. Our identity comes from Jesus Christ not from the work we do.

So when our work becomes our identity, like Martha, then the burdens take over as it did to Martha.

When our identity comes from sitting at Jesus feet, like Mary, then the burdens are easily transferred to Christ to receive his rest.

So choose the better part – choose to sit at Jesus’ feet and it will not be taken away from you. Amen

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A strange question indeed.

Text: Luke 10:25-37 – Helping the outcast

I find the question asked by the lawyer a strange question indeed. Obviously20180311_103505 (1) this lawyer didn’t specialise in family law otherwise he would have known the answer to his question.

He asks “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

If it’s an inheritance then there is nothing YOU have to do.

It’s not a question of doing – it’s a question of being. Being a child of the one giving the inheritance or be listed in the will.

Likewise, to inherit eternal life there is nothing YOU can do except to wait for the person from whom you are inheriting to die, which for us as Christians is Jesus.

An inheritance is passed on at the death of the one giving.

Unless of course you are brazen like the Prodigal Son who demanded his inheritance now.

Nevertheless the question asked by the lawyer is or should be a question everyone asks.

How do I receive eternal life?

I believe that no one wants to die. We do everything we can to prolong life. We eat right – watch our cholesterol, watch our salt and sugar intake. We exercise.

The plastic surgery industry is alive and well as is the pharmaceutical business both medical and alternative medicine – just look at the health aisle in the supermarket – to make us look and feel younger. To live forever would be everyone’s dream.

So what is stopping people from understanding the eternal life that Jesus offers?

Why is there so much antagonism and rejection of the Christian faith when that is the central message we have?

People should be queuing to hear about eternal life.

Isn’t that our sole purpose – to live in heaven forever?

Isn’t that God’s sole purpose for us?

Remember John 3:16 – our most famous text – For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

So why has the focus on the Christian message by the world been one of seeing us as wowsers and legalists who object to everything?

Why has our message of how to receive eternal life changed from that of “being” and receiving eternal life as an inheritance to that of “doing” and earning eternal life?

Maybe we have been too focused on the wrong message ourselves and forgotten the Great Commission that Jesus left us with – go into all the world and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:20).

As we look at the Parable of the Good Samaritan that Jesus used to explain his teaching we see an example of devout religious people who had lost their mission.

We hear of an Israelite who had been bashed and robbed and left to die. Three people pass him by – the first two being his fellow countrymen. In fact more than that – they were religious leaders of the community. They see him and walk by on the other side of the road.

Why would they do that? Sadly it wasn’t because they were afraid for their lives in case the robbers were still around but because of their religious duties. The priest and a Levite were on their way to the temple. As a priest and Levite they had temple responsibilities but if they made contact with a dead body that would have made them ceremonially unclean. And that would then disqualify them from their temple duties.

So they don’t risk going near the man just in case he is dead. They placed their religious duties above their love for their neighbour in need.

And so this question is constantly put before us to ensure that we have not forgotten to love our neighbour in our zealous desire to fulfil our religious observance.

There may be some situations we disagree with because of our religious values but that can never give permission to not love our neighbour. As Jesus points out, our neighbour is anyone who is in need, even if it is someone with whom we fundamentally disagree.

And the need may not necessarily be physical but also spiritual.

The Samaritan had every right to walk by on the other side of the road because of the way Samaritans were treated by the Jews. But he puts that to one side and helps his neighbour and follows up his care.

Sometimes we may be tempted to walk around an issue because it’s an easy solution or it means we don’t have to become involved.

Or what happens if the person I help is in a lifestyle I disagree with.

You may be able to think of examples where you were challenged to express love to someone while disagreeing with their lifestyle or other situation.

Let us remember that God totally disagreed with our lifestyle and yet showed the greatest of love to us that he could by sending his Son and allowing him to die for our sins. And even while we continue to sin despite this love having been shown to us God continues to love us and forgive us, as Paul reminded us:

God has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:14).

So the inheritance that the lawyer eagerly desired has been given to us already.

God is not going to wait till the end of our life to see if we are good enough to have earned our eternal life.

Notice Paul’s emphasis – God HAS rescued us – God HAS transferred us into the kingdom – we HAVE redemption and the forgiveness of sins. So even while we continue to live lives that God disagrees with, he continues to love us.

And there is our challenge – to show love despite the situation we are confronted with.

And it’s not just physical needs but spiritual – the need for love and understanding. Our struggle to act with justice toward the hurting is always going to be challenged by the tendency to stereotype people and associate only with those who meet the criteria that we have set.

It is very easy to discriminate in our hearts and let that guide our actions.

Jesus calls us to imitate the actions of the Good Samaritan, who was despised by all Hebrew society and in the Jewish mind was the least likely to act and demonstrate compassion.

Yet, it is the outcast who acts rightly when others, concerned possibly more for their own needs than right action, failed in their responsibility to be a neighbour.

Let us consider our actions, act rightly, and refuse to stereotype others.

Let us be compassionate toward all in keeping with Jesus’ message of love and peace and go and do likewise. Amen.

It’s God’ mission, not ours!

Text: Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

In the latest census of the Australian population (2016), the question about20180311_103505 (1) people’s religious affiliation showed that those who identified as Christians declined again to just over 50% with the next highest response being “no religion” at over 30%.

It can be difficult as we live in a world that is growing more and more anti-Christian with many people wanting less Church involvement in state matters such as teaching Christian Studies in state schools.

So how should Christians react?

Do we just sit back and say – well there’s nothing we can do about it.

It’s tough to know what we should do.

But we need to be careful that we don’t take up a fight that really doesn’t belong to us.

Paul had a similar situation happening in Galatia. A group of people known as the Judaizers were infiltrating the Christian community. They were introducing ways that were against the Christian gospel.

You may recall Paul warning the Galatians – beware of anyone who comes preaching a gospel different to the one that I came to you with. But he didn’t tell them to take up arms against them.

He simply told them to be sure of what they believe and don’t be misled by anyone. Let God deal with what needs to be dealt with.

That’s what “anathema” means.

He encouraged them to live a godly life and let God fight the fights that need to be fought. He didn’t in any way say that the fight wasn’t important. But he encouraged them to not let anything distract them from what God has called them to do.

He said: Don’t be deceived – God is not mocked. But as for you: Don’t grow weary in doing what is right.

Let us work for the good of all, especially the family of faith. Let us support and encourage one another here in our congregation, our parish, and the wider church – the family of faith – because we are all in this mission together.

Let us always be focused on the cross of Christ – otherwise we will be distracted from what God asks us to do.

In last week’s Gospel reading we heard James and John get distracted by a fight they were not called to fight.

The Samaritans rejected Jesus and they wanted to rain down fire from heaven to destroy them.

But Jesus rejected that.

Today the disciples were distracted also. They went out as missionaries for God. When they returned they were ecstatic. But they were excited about the wrong thing.

They were distracted.

Lord – in your name even the demons submit to us.

But Jesus reminded them of what was important:

Don’t rejoice that the demons submit to you. Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.

When we watch the news on TV, or to read the newspaper, it can create a feeling of helplessness with all the crises of the world.

We are all involved in Christ’s mission of renewing the world, of bringing hatred and injustice to an end. Establishing God’s reign of love and peace. But in the face of the real problems of the world we often feel that our efforts are like a drop of water in the ocean.

Does what we do really make any difference?

In the struggle between the love of Christ and the powers of Satan, the battle between good and evil, are our efforts of any significance at all?

Does God see us as important factors in bringing about change in the world?

Of course he does.

Just as Jesus sent out the 72 into the world, Jesus left us with the Great Commission:

Go into all the world baptizing and teaching.

Jesus does however provide advice on how we are to go into the world as his people:

First, Jesus says that we are like Lambs in the midst of wolves: Jesus doesn’t hide the fact that the world is going to oppose our message.

For a long time Christianity was a dominant voice in the world, but that is not how Jesus originally saw it. In fact he said: The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. We should never see the church as failing because it is struggling.

And we shouldn’t see the world as our opposition to fight against. Jesus calls it the harvest and we are called to reap. To go out into the world even though the world will not receive us.

We are called to be salt and light in the world. Changing the world by how we live our lives, not by fighting those with whom we disagree.

As Jesus says – they will know we are Christians by our love. (John 13:35)

Carry no purse

When Jesus sent out the 72 he told them not to take any provisions with them.

Why not?

Because God would provide them with all they needed.

How do we know what to take when it is God guiding the mission? Too often, we have an agenda of what needs to happen – but this may not be God’s agenda.

Too often we go out into the world and believe we know what needs to happen.

Jesus is saying – take nothing with you. Let God guide every step and every word and every action.

We don’t know what God is going to do so we take nothing and let God lead the way.

We don’t want to be like James and John demanding God rain down fire every time someone objects to us or criticizes us. Then we would have no mission. There would be no harvest to bring in; it would all be destroyed.

The mission is God’s. We are his workers. We are bringing in God’s harvest.

If we start to work with our agenda then we can interfere with how God is planning the harvest.

Farmers will adjust their harvest strategy according to how the season is. God too has a mission plan and asks us to let him guide our words and actions.

Dealing with rejection

Jesus then tells the disciples how to deal with rejection. It’s not by calling down fire from heaven. No, he says when you enter a town that doesn’t welcome you, go into the street and wipe the dust off your shoes.

In other words, don’t let that rejection weigh you down. Move on.

Don’t take the baggage with you and let the anger and thoughts of revenge distract you from the mission. Keep focus on the mission. Keep doing good, even to those who oppose you.

The Final Victory

Finally Jesus reminds us as to what it is all about.

When the disciples return to tell of their victorious mission work, Jesus is again worried about the distraction.

Too often we become focused on the successes. The success can become our motivation. The success can easily distract us and become our measurement of God’s plan. When churches find success and grow they can become focused only on the growth.

Jesus says to the disciples – don’t rejoice at your success. Rejoice that your name is written in heaven.

And so that becomes our motivation. Not success, but the desire to have others have their name written in heaven.

We can become disheartened at the result of our mission when the results don’t happen.

When we are rejected we can feel hurt. But remember what Jesus said, they are not rejecting you, they are rejecting the one who sent you.

That is where the true hurt is, by God.

So, let us ask once again the Lord of the harvest to send us as labourers to his harvest

– to make us all faithful in our public witness to Jesus;

– to make each and every one of us faithful in bearing Christ’s name and witness to all.

It is in the honour of bearing his name that we rejoice and that our names are written in heaven. Amen.

The cost of following Jesus

THE TEXT: LUKE 9:51-62

As the time approached for him to be taken up to Heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went into a Samaritan villagechurch4 to get things ready for him. But the people there did not receive him because He was heading for Jerusalem. Seeing this, the disciples James and John said “Lord do you want us to call fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them. And they went to another village.
As they were going along the road someone said to Him: “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied: “The foxes have dens and the birds of the skies have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay the head.” And he said to another: “Follow me.” But he said to Jesus: “Lord, first allow me to go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him: “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.” And another said: “I will follow You, Lord, but first let me farewell my household.” And Jesus said to him: “No one who puts their hand to the plough and looks to the things behind is useful in the Kingdom of God.”

Footy season has been back in full swing now for a while. There’s been enough games to get a sense of whether or not the high priced recruits were worth the money, or who should be dropped and maybe culled from the playing list at the end of the year. Mike Brady’s famous song Up there Cazaly captures the fickle nature of supporters so well:

“you either love or hate it, depending on the score.”

Champion players who are lauded and decorated with all manner of awards are cheered when they’re playing well but jeered when they’re having a bad game. Champion players, after years of sacrifice on the training track, source of income for the club through promoting membership and marketing, and in some cases contributors to a premiership, are then mercilessly discarded from the playing list once they’ve hit the age of 30ish.

But this doesn’t just happen in footy. Celebrities who are idolised are just as quickly dumped depending upon what the current social fad or trend is. Some years ago, arguably the highest profile golfer in the contemporary game, Tiger Woods, went from hero to zero after it came to light that he had cheated on his wife and had several affairs.

However the hypocrisy of that reporting was simply gobsmacking. The same media who desperately desires, promotes and rejoices in all manner of sexual promiscuity and unrestrained pleasure all of a sudden became a pillar of morality, and self-righteously savaged him over a sustained period for the sake of ratings.

And then there is the world of politics -leaders from both major parties over recent campaigns have risen up against party leaders, only to shortly after themselves be wearing a knife in the back, depending on how loudly popularity polls and surveys speak.

We would like to think that human faithfulness would be a natural response in all of these situations, but the reality is the natural human response is instead fickleness – and today’s text shows that it is one that even shows itself in matters of faith.

As Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, a man approaches Jesus and declares: “I will follow you where ever you go.” This man is a believer; he trusts in Jesus, he commits to following him. However, his confession of faith is reminiscent of the Apostle Peter who trumpeted that he would never fall away from the Lord – but who would later deny him three times.

This man’s confession is bold, but premature. Jesus is, after all, going to Jerusalem – to be handed over to the chief priests and to Pilate, to be sentenced to death. To die a brutal and agonising death through crucifixion on a cross. Is this really what this man wanted and meant when he says he will follow Jesus wherever he will go?

With his reply: “The foxes have dens and the birds of the skies have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay the head” Jesus uses his own lack of a permanent home as an illustration of the path his followers must walk – the path of humility and self-emptying, of dying to the self; choosing the life with eternal purposes instead of the temporal; choosing heavenly treasures instead of earthly wealth. We don’t know if this person ended up following Jesus.

Then Jesus calls another man to follow him. This man is already a disciple – we know this because Jesus wants him to proclaim the Kingdom of God, and he doesn’t ask just anyone who hasn’t already been sufficiently instructed in the faith. But then we see the fickleness of the human heart again. This person makes excuses: “Lord, first allow me to go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him: “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.”

Jesus’ words here seem harsh, but He is not forbidding the disciples to attend funerals – particularly of parents. But if this man’s father had already died, the man would already be making funeral arrangements and not having this conversation. So it seems that he wanted to wait until after his father did die, before he followed Jesus, which might have yet been years away. That sounds like so many people today who put off following Jesus until some other day; usually in old age. But how do we know precisely when our last day will be? So this man in the text has divided loyalties. Jesus in effect tells him that the spiritually dead should bury the physically dead, and that the spiritually alive should be proclaiming the kingdom of God. What would you have done?

Still another says: “I will follow You, Lord, but first let me farewell my household.” Here, again, we see the fickle human heart with its divided loyalties. And you might be asking “How can Jesus be so harsh and force the guy’s hand into choosing between two things. But when this man gets back among his people, tells them of his intention to follow Jesus, and starts to say goodbye, will he be able to resist their pleading to stay with them and to give up Jesus? That’s why Jesus replies: “No one who puts their hand to the plough and looks to the things behind is useful in the Kingdom of God.” The phrase ‘looks the things behind is really in the sense of continually looking behind, longing, regretting for a former life before knowing Jesus.

Jesus calls us to follow Him. There is to be no divided loyalties. And following Jesus is costly. It all sounds like loss and slavery, doesn’t it? In a way it is. But ironically, it’s actually freedom. True freedom. Because if we’re not following Christ, we ultimately following ourselves. And following ourselves is a greater cost to us than following Christ. Because when we follow ourselves, our fickle hearts are not a reliable guide. We wander from Jesus and His Word and become lost, ultimately a slave to ourselves – to what our own reason makes of God’s Word and to our deficient systems and definitions of morality.

That’s just what Paul talks about in our Galatians reading today: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. You were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature.”

The options that Jesus gives to the men in our Gospel reading today are only two—follow Me or self. We don’t know what they did. What about you?

In 1519, Hernando Cortez led the Spanish conquest of Mexico. When Cortez disembarked his men off of the east coast of Mexico, he set fire to the ships that had brought them there. His men, watching their means of return to their homeland going up in flames, consequently knew that they were committing everything, even their lives to the cause of conquering a new world for Spain. There was no putting of the hand to the plough and looking back as it were. So also with you and me. When Christ says “Follow Me”, we are also called to burn our ships in the harbour—that we would be free from all worldly loves and loyalties that might come between us and our Christ.

Jesus’ call to the men in our text to follow Him is His same call to each one of us.

What are the loyalties that distract your attention from your Lord? Do you call Jesus ‘Lord’ yet still indulge the fickle heart?

Does His Word have authority over your reason, even when that Word stands for the opposite of being ‘progressive’ as society defines being progressive.

 In what ways will you follow Jesus in proclaiming the Kingdom in this place and community? How can we – and you – better do that?

What are some of the opportunities that you see?

Jesus calls us to Jerusalem, to the Cross, every day. To daily baptismal living, of dying to the self and to what the world cherishes. Of crucifying the sinful self through daily repentance, and following Him in daily rising to the newness and fullness and freedom of the resurrection life that He won for you through His own death and resurrection.

He calls you to proclaim that same message to a world that desperately needs to hear it; which has no real life, purpose or meaning, lost in the insecurity and unpredictable nature of fickleness, where people try to measure up to appearances, popularity and a purpose for life based on the swirling winds of changing social fads.

Is this not a greater cost than that of following Christ?

Following Jesus has a cost. But Jesus paid the cost himself, so as to reconcile us to the life of God and draw us to follow him, our leader. Our text says that Jesus resolutely set his face to Jerusalem. Jesus wasn’t a victim of circumstance. It was God’s will that he go to Jerusalem, go to the Cross, to pay the cost for the sins of the world through his death, even for those who did not receive him and reject him, like the Samaritans whom the Jews hated so much.

He died for those who did not deserve his love and grace; for those who did not measure up, for those whose love for God flickers and smoulders.

Then, triumphing over the grave, which we rejoice in, in this splendid season of Easter, our risen Lord calls you to follow him in a daily journey in his word, and to come to worship to follow him as he leads you as the holy host and chief actor in the worship service, to forgive, bless and strengthen you, giving you all the blessings and favour of God.

There is no other way that leads to life except to follow Jesus. It is because of Jesus who went to the Cross, to bring forgiveness, life and salvation to the world that we see God is not fickle.

He is faithful and loyal, with mercies that never end but are new each morning, who loves us unconditionally, dependant not on how well we have performed or measured up, but dependant solely on the merit of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He treads the path before us.

We follow him who has already paid and bore upon himself the cost of discipleship; we follow him who goes before us and leads us through suffering and death to resurrection and life everlasting.

Amen!

Is Satan real?

Text: Luke 26-39
As Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a man from the town who had demons in him. For a long time this man had gone without clothes and would not stay at home, but spent his time in the burial caves. When he saw Jesus, he gave a loud cry, threw himself down at his feet, and shouted, “Jesus, Son of the Most High God! What do you want with me? I beg you, don’t punish me!” He said this because Jesus had ordered the evil spirit to go out of him dhuff(verses 27-29a)

Two 6 year olds struggled with the problem of the existence of the devil.
One boy said, “Oh, there isn’t any devil.”
The other, rather upset, said, “What do you mean, there isn’t any devil? It talks about him all the way through the Bible!”
The first replied, “Oh that’s not true, you know. It’s just like Santa Claus, it’s only dad.”

How do you picture Satan? When you think of the devil, do you think of him with horns, a goatee beard, a devilish grin, a pointed tail and a pitch fork? I think that the devil would be quite happy being portrayed like this. He would be easy to pick out in a crowd and so easy to avoid. There would be no chance of the devil sneaking up and catching us unprepared. We would be able to see him coming a mile away.

The Bible doesn’t picture Satan as being like this at all? Someone once wrote, “If I were an artist illustrating the story of Jesus being tempted by the devil, I would draw Satan as a very pleasant-looking person … so nice that it would be difficult to tell which was Satan and which was Jesus in the picture”. This person is saying that the devil comes in disguise. When he tempts, he does it in such a way that you don’t even know you’re being tempted.

But hey, wait a minute! We are living in the 21st century. All this talk about the devil and demons was all right for the people back then in Jesus time and even people in 15th & 16th centuries, but we have come along way since those times. We joke about the devil, but we don’t take him seriously. Besides what was once called demon-possession in Jesus’ time can be explained by modern medicine. We know that epilepsy was thought to be a form of demon possession and many other sicknesses as the result of sin and the influence of Satan.

Probably the most famous depiction of demon possession is the movie The Exorcist. I have heard that it is based on an actual case, but the amazing part is the amount of effort required to beat the devil. He is powerful. Satan is a cunning enemy. He is not some cute cartoon figure, but he real and dangerous. The Bible urges us to take him seriously.

Jesus takes Satan seriously. In fact, he sees his whole ministry as a conflict with Satan. He teaches about the power of Satan. He saw his death as the supreme battle with the evil one. Jesus isn’t just a child of his age and is repeating what he had learnt from others. He speaks definitely and personally about the power of Satan and continually warns others about this power. If Jesus takes him seriously then I think we should also.

Today’s Gospel reading tells us of one of the occasions when Jesus confronted Satan. It was a very scary situation. Jesus and the disciples had just sailed across Lake Galilee and had put ashore, when suddenly a naked wild man came rushing toward them screaming and yelling. He lived liked an animal in the nearby burial caves in the cemetery. We are told demons had taken over his life. He became uncontrollable and dangerous. The townspeople rugby tackled the man and chained his arms and feet, but the wild man had super human strength and snapped the chains. He cried out in loud, often inhuman voices, cutting himself with stones as he gave out wild screams.

It seems the townspeople and the wild man had come to some sort of understanding. The wild man would live outside of the town in the burial caves, so when the man was tormented by demons and he became wild and uncontrollable he would not harm anyone else. Everyone knew that the place where Jesus had landed was, by common consent, a no-man’s land.

As the wild man rushed downhill from the tombs, eyes crazed, screaming at the top of his lungs, it must have been a frightening sight for the disciples. Perhaps they considered jumping back into the boat or jumping on the man as a group, hoping their combined strength would contain him. The demons recognised Jesus. They were afraid; they knew that Jesus’ had the power to send them back to where they came from. Jesus demonstrates his power by simply asking, “What is your name?” The demons were in control of the wild man but Jesus was in control of them. He commands them to come out of the man and enter a nearby herd of pigs.

When the local people from the town come out to see what was going on they were shocked at what they saw. This once wild man was “sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind” (Luke 5:35).

There is much that can be said about this text, but there is one clear message – even though Satan is powerful; the power of Jesus is even stronger. In fact, Luke has placed this event in amongst other demonstrations of Jesus’ power. Immediately before this story, we find Jesus commanding the wind and waves to be quiet. Jesus need only speak the word and a great calm fell on the lake (Luke 8:22-25). Jesus was more powerful than the destructive forces of nature.

Then immediately after the expulsion of Satan from the wild man, Luke tells us that Jesus has the power to heal. He restores to health a woman who had been ill for 12 years. She had examined by an untold number of doctors but they were unable to heal her; but Jesus did. He did what had been humanly impossible. He has the power to control disease, viruses, bacteria, bleeding, epilepsy, leprosy, and cancer. He has the power to heal the incurable.

In fact, he has the power to raise the dead. He went to the home of a twelve-year-old girl who had died. No one could do anything for her now except to mourn the passing of this young life. They had been powerless in the face of death. They could not stop it taking this girl’s life. They even made fun of Jesus when he said she was only sleeping. Dead was dead, as far they were concerned. They underestimated the power of Jesus. He took the child by the hand and to everyone’s amazement, he brought her back to life. Jesus could even command the dead to rise. He was more powerful than death itself.

I’m especially glad that Jesus has all power and authority when it comes to Satan. I’m especially glad simply because Satan is far more powerful than we are.

Satan blinds us. St Paul says, “The god of this age (the devil) has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor 2:4 NIV). We might have heard the same message from the Bible over and over, but Satan blinds us to what God is trying to say to us. We close our ears; we interpret what is said in our own way, we refuse to apply what God is saying to our own lives.

Satan wants to control us,
to possess us,
to tempt us to do what is against God’s plan for our lives,
to lead us astray by telling us that wrong is right, that the truth is a lie, that God does not love us, to influence us, to hinder us from doing what we know God wants us to do.
Satan loves bitterness, hatred, violence, arguments; he loves dividing people and especially dividing families and the church.
He can enter the hearts of people and cause so much harm. Drunkenness, drug abuse, greed, road rage, vulgar language, racial prejudice, abusiveness, despair, sexual promiscuity; I’m sure you get the picture.

The power of Satan is nothing to mess around with. Séances, ouija boards, witchcraft, the occult, are dangerous. Using these is an invitation to Satan to take control.

Having said all this you might be beginning to wonder whether we have any chance against such a formidable foe. We all know how easy it is for us to succumb to his temptations. When we think everything is going okay, bingo we suddenly realise that Satan has been leading us along by the nose. Sometimes we aren’t even aware that he is having such a powerful influence in our lives. So how can we stand up against something so powerful?

The answer is simple – we can’t! Not by ourselves anyway. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t try to resist Satan and his temptations and not give in to his attempts to lead us astray. James says, “So then, submit yourselves to God. Resist the Devil, and he will run away from you” (4:7). We need a power that is far greater than any power we have in ourselves. We need the power of Christ on our side if we are going to resist the devil.

Satan wants to draw us away from God’s kingdom into his own dark realm. Daily he tempts us; he tries to draw us away from God. He tempts us so that we fall under God’s condemnation and be sent to hell.

But Jesus has broken Satan’s power. Remember I said before that the whole life of Jesus is an attack against the domination of the devil and the climax of the battle occurred on the cross of Calvary. On the cross, Jesus broke the stranglehold that Satan can have over.
He has won for us forgiveness for all the times we give into Satan.
He has redeemed us – that means he has bought us back from sin and Satan with the price of his own blood.
He has reclaimed us as his own and made us his dear children.
He has made us new, given us a fresh start, and given us his Holy Spirit to help us resist Satan’s power.
Satan may tempt us and we will give in, we deserve God’s punishment, but through his death and resurrection, through the water of baptism we belong to God; we are forgiven and free. We are called to follow in Jesus’ footsteps and likewise resist the devil. Paul says
, “Let the mighty strength of the Lord make you strong. Put on all the armour God gives, so you can defend yourself against the devil’s tricks. … And when the battle is over, you will still be standing firm (worth reading all of Ephesians 6:10-17).

Our story from Luke’s Gospel concluded, “The man went through the town, telling what Jesus had done for him” (Luke 8:39). Just as Jesus commissioned the once wild man to “Go back home and tell what God has done for you”, he has also commanded us to share the good news of freedom from Satan’s power to anyone who would listen. Jesus wants every person in this nation, in the whole world to say with Paul, “God rescued us from the dark power of Satan and brought us into the kingdom of his dear Son” (Col 1:13 CEV).

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

All working together

Text: John 16:12-15.

 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.

All working togetherallanb

Here today in just these few verses we are given an insight into the workings of God and that which is important to him; and this then has an impact on who we are and what we are on about as well.

Now here in this reading we are reminded of how the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; the three members of the Trinity are at work in our world today. The thing that strikes us very strongly is that they are all working together, from their different positions and roles within the Godhead. That is they are at work making known to us that which is of God and which is important for us: that which is all truth. Very clearly, however the point is made that this knowledge has to do with Jesus and what he has said and done for us as he lived on this earth.

Now here Jesus begins by telling us that The Spirit of truth is come to guide us into the things that are important for us to know: the truth. This Spirit, we are told elsewhere, proceeds from the Father and the Son, and will make known to us only that which he hears from them. His sole purpose is to lead us to faith in Jesus Christ, which in turn brings glory to Jesus. He therefore, is sent to us, to make known to us all that Jesus said and did through his life, death and resurrection. The things yet to come, are a reference to Jesus death and resurrection which was yet to come, and which were of great importance for our salvation.

In that regard the Holy Spirit has often been regarded as the shy member of the Trinity. His focus is not on himself and what he does, but has come simply in order to make salvation through Christ, by grace through faith, known to us: to bring us to this knowledge and to help us to trust in this message, so that glory may in turn go to Jesus Christ and from there to the Father. He does not speak or act on his own behalf; as an independent agent, but only of that which he has received from the Father through the Son.

This then highlights the work of Jesus whilst he was here on this earth. God himself come to us, so that he might save us from the hell we have brought on ourselves through our rejection of God and our failing to live under his authority and Word. He took the punishment we deserve, on himself, so that we in turn might be forgiven and assured of life and salvation. Then he was raised from the dead so that we can be assured that he is for real and that eternal life is now there for all who are in Christ.

All this is from the Father. Everything Jesus had and gave he had in common with his Father. The divine love and power is reflected from the Father through the Son, and then made know by the Holy Spirit. All are working together to bring forgiveness, life and salvation to us all. There we have the greatness of our God, and that which we truly thank and praise him for.

But this work and cooperation has continued on from there. This Good News of Jesus Christ has been proclaimed year after year ever since. It has brought life and salvation down through the ages to many, many people. Through the Word and Sacraments, the Spirit has made known all the truth that surrounds Jesus’ death and resurrection that we need to know. Around the world, people have come to faith in Jesus Christ. And glory is going to the Father for all the goodness that he has extended to us.

This goodness and work even now goes on here. The Spirit of truth is still at work, seeking to guide us into all truth. Salvation by grace through faith is still being proclaimed. The emphasis of Christ alone, grace alone, scripture alone and faith alone are still held up in some quarters as vital. Jesus death and resurrection is still the focus in preaching and teaching. The Triune God is continuing to work together to ensure that this message of Jesus continues to go on.

This is surely then also where we join in this important work of God. As we allow the Spirit of truth to work in our lives we too will be focussing all that we say and do on Jesus Christ and the importance of his death and resurrection for our salvation and life. Like the Spirit, we will not act as independent agents, but will act under the guidance of the Spirit and under the authority of God himself. We too will only speak of what has been passed on from Christ as of first importance. As we do, we can be sure that God’s work will go on and continue to bear fruit.

So today, we are reminded again that God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all working together with one purpose in mind: Each in their different roles and priorities, all with the same end in mind.

The Spirit of truth is sent to lead us into all truth: The truth and importance of Jesus Christ and all that he has done for us through his death and resurrection. In this, the love and power of the Father is extended to all people.

So also then, when we focus on that same message we know that we too are being joined into that work of God himself. We also know that where that message is, and is proclaimed, that it will bring blessing. But more importantly, glory will go to our Lord Jesus Christ. That in turn will bring glory to the Father. Here again as I conclude this message let us remember that to God alone, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, belongs all glory and honour, now and always.

AMEN.

‘Show us the Father’

Text: John 14: 8-17, 25-27

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesusgarth answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. I tell you the truth, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. “If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

“All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Today’s text begins with Philip asking Jesus to show the disciples the Father. Philip’s thought seems to be that if Jesus, soon leaving them, would visibly reveal his Father to them, the disciples would be satisfied with this until the day when Jesus would return for them. On the one hand this shows great faith—Philip regards Jesus as able to actually and visibly show the Father to them. On the other hand, Philip is slow to grasp what Jesus means when he speaks about knowing and seeing the Father.

Jesus’ response to Philip is that Philip has already seen the Father. “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” Jesus says. This is because Jesus shares the same eternal, divine nature as his Father. In order to make this oneness of Himself with the Father altogether clear, Jesus points to the constant evidence and manifestation of this oneness: “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing His work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves” (verses 10-11). What Jesus has been teaching, preaching and doing is no less than the Father speaking and working through him.

Then Jesus continues with a series of amazing and comforting promises. Now listen carefully—because these are the same promises for Jesus’ church today. First He says: “I tell you the truth, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these…” The promise is for whoever believes in Jesus. Now it might seem a bit hard to believe that we will do even greater works than Jesus. The greater is referring to greater in number. Jesus’ followers of all times will continue his mission and ministry throughout the ages. And so we see Jesus’ promises beginning to be fulfilled in Acts 5:

The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade…more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by impure spirits, and all of them were healed (v 12-16).

These works were possible because it was really Jesus working through the people. Jesus continues to work through his people today. The promise is that whatever we ask in Jesus’ name he will do: “You may ask me for anything in my name and I will do it.” This isn’t a blanket promise for a new car, better pay, the jackpot in the lottery, a grand final win for our sporting team…

The promises that Jesus makes—that we will do greater works than he, and that he will do whatever we ask in his name—are couched between two references to God’s Word in our text—verse 8 (“The words I say to you are not just my own”) and verse 15 (“If you love me, you will do what I command”). What Jesus is saying is that when his people minister to others according to what he commands, he will follow through on what he promises and do what we ask in his name that is according to his will.

Jesus says: “Whatever you ask I will do it.”

When we baptise in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, God is present to wash the lost and condemned sinner and unite them to Christ and his death and resurrection. The Father hears our prayer to set the person free from the power of Satan and rescue them from the kingdom of darkness and death and receive them into the kingdom of light and life of Christ, for Jesus’ sake. When we pray for God to sanctify us in the truth, he answers our prayer and Jesus comes to us through his Word and continues to share his holiness with us as in his presence. When we trust God at his promise that the Gospel is the power for salvation, and ask him to bring that salvation to those gathered with us, he is present through his Word to convict us of sin, forgive and comfort us through his gospel, and create and sustain saving faith in Christ crucified, risen and ascended.

When a friend on the fringe of the church sits in your lounge room, broken and searching for hope, and you desperately pray in your heart for Jesus to help you find the words to say, his promise today is that he will do whatever we ask, and his words will come to you, and no matter how mucked up you think your proclamation may be, it will be Christ’s proclamation that there is hope when it would seem there is none, that there is a Saviour for them, the Lord Jesus Christ and he forgives every sin and promises to make everything new, no matter how messed up things may be.

When at a hospital bedside someone who does not yet know the Lord asks what hope there is for them, and you pray that somehow this person will come to know Christ, Jesus promises: “I will do whatever you ask in my name” and he will help you share with them the hope that you have, Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins, the One who is the resurrection and the life so that “Whoever believes in the Son will not perish but have eternal life”.

When we pass the peace of Christ in church with his words: “Peace be with you” we are not conveying a nice wish but Christ is speaking his own words through us and bringing peace and comfort through us to those in the pews around us. That’s Christ at work through you!

These are the greater works that Jesus is talking about. You don’t have to raise Lazarus or heal someone from cancer or convert your entire workplace by turning the water in the water cooler into wine. But every proclamation of God’s grace in Christ are the greater works, for the gospel is the power for salvation. Every word of blessing, every building up in the faith, every admonishing from Scripture, every act of witnessing to our neighbour, every act of love according to God’s Word are the greater works, and they can only be done if Jesus and the Father are with us in the first place…that is what Jesus is ultimately assuring you today. So don’t ever think that what you do in the Lord’s name is insignificant, for God is with his servants.

How good our God is to us, giving of his very self to us! Not content to rest there, Jesus makes another promise: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth.” Actually the word for Counsellor is perhaps better translated ‘Advocate’. It comes from the word ‘Paraclete’; originally two Greek words: para (to be beside) and kaleo to call out, or urge on. And so we see the Holy Spirit Jesus promises is not a thing, or a power, but a person—a Divine person, God the Holy Spirit, beside us urging us on, calling us on as he walks step by step beside us.

Jesus promises that the Spirit of Truth will be with us forever. God with us forever! God with us in the Person of the Holy Spirit, teaching us of everything Jesus said—forever!  What a personal God we have! God who is relational, intimately involved in our lives. And this Paraclete, this Holy Spirit, is the other counsellor who will be with us forever. Who is the first? Jesus himself. Jesus’ ascension was not simply to go to heaven to be distant and removed from his people. It is not as if Jesus ascends into Heaven to leave behind the Holy Spirit in his place. Jesus ascended to fill all things, Paul says in Ephesians. He is everywhere present, and present in particular ways in his word and sacraments to bring forgiveness, life and salvation. He is the other Counsellor, the other Advocate, or Paraclete, the other one walking beside you, urging you on. And wherever Jesus is, so is the Father.

What an amazing, self-giving God! Pentecost is so much more than searching for visual proofs for God’s existence. It is so much more than trying to find spiritual experiences. It is all about the One who has given himself to us in the Person of Christ and the Person of the Holy Spirit so that we can have a personal relationship with the God of the universe. God is not up there…or over there…but God Almighty is our Paraclete, the One who walks beside you and who lives in you, in the Person of Christ and our Heavenly Father and the Person of the Holy Spirit whom the Father sends through Jesus. God lives in you! Just think of that! Everywhere you go, in every prayer for every person you come across, in every blessing you give them, in every Word of comfort from the Scriptures, in every act of love, you bring the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit to them. Wherever you are in your faith journey, whatever life throws at you, and whenever you share the gospel with those around you, Jesus and the Spirit of Truth are walking beside you. God goes with you. The Lord is always with his servants.

So brothers and sisters do not be troubled and afraid. Your God is with you and he does not give to you as the world gives; he does not give to you expecting that you will be able to pay him back. He does not give to you based on certain provisions in fine print. He does not give to you with interest or an early termination of contract clause. He does not give to you based on how well you are doing, or based on what you deserve. No, he does not give to you as the world gives. But he gives to you as God gives: generously, freely, graciously, unconditionally…he gives himself to you…forever.

Amen.