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.

david3
David:0414521661

 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

ac8
David: 0428 667 754

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. 

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: 2 Timothy 3:15-17

 

The Holy Scriptures are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the truth, rebuking error, correcting faults, and giving instruction for right living, so that the person who serves God may be fully qualified and equipped to do every kind of good deed.      

Embarrassed by your Bible?

 

The apostle Paul knew that he would soon face execution. The words of our text are his last word to the young pastor who will carry on spreading the gospel. Paul knew that soon Timothy would have to continue without his mentor. And so he encourages the young pastor to keep on witnessing faithfully to Jesus, to hold on to the teachings of the Good News, and to carry on as teacher and preacher in the face of opposition and persecution.bob


Paul reminds young Timothy that Scripture is inspired by God and it tells us about God and his relationship with us, his people.

Let’s think of the Bible as being like a telescope.

With a telescope things that are a long way off can be brought closer and every detail can be seen as if that far away object were right there in front of you – so close in fact that you feel as if you could reach out and touch it.

Like a telescope the Bible brings in really close things that seem to be a long way off.

The Bible gives us a close up look at God and what he is like.

It shows us that all people have been made by God and that he has a special connection with each one of us. He made us all as individuals, given each of us abilities, treasures each of us and knows us intimately.

The Bible also shows us what God thinks of our sin.

It gives us a look into the heart of God as it aches for his fallen people and will do anything to bring them back to him.

The Bible gives us a close up look at God’s unquenchable love for us.

It tells us how that love sent his Son Jesus to the cross of Calvary just because he loves us so much – because of his deep desire that everyone would come to experience that peace and joy that comes from knowing that we have a God who never gives up.

The Bible is the tool that the Holy Spirit uses to show us the way of salvation.

It is through the message of the Bible that we are led to repentance, given forgiveness, the hope of salvation, the promise of eternal life, brought into God’s family and made members of the Body of Christ, the Church.

It is through the Bible the Holy Spirit confronts and challenges to be who God intends us to be as well as comforts and encourages us when the going gets tough for the followers of Jesus.

The Bible gives us a close up look at what the Christian life should be like. It provides us with guidelines and gives us the tools to measure the kind of life that is pleasing to God.

We can be so easily led astray by the confusing values of the world around us so it is important to have the Bible to guide us and provide us with the right motives. This close up view of what the Christ-like life is like guides, directs and points the way for us and for our children. It urges us to build our life upon its message so we will love the Lord with all our heart, soul and mind and love our neighbour as ourselves.

As Paul said, All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the truth, and giving instruction for right living so that the person who serves God may be fully qualified and equipped to do every kind of good deed.

Whether we have grown up in the church and attended Sunday School and had our parents read the Bible stories to us, or we joined the church later in life and through sermons, classes and Bible Studies heard the Gospel message, in either case the Holy Spirit has used the Holy Scriptures to give us the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

If you have ever been given a really old Bible – perhaps a handed down family Bible: If that Bible could talk, I wonder what it would tell us about how it has been used over the years.

Perhaps it has been a family Bible and every evening the family would gather around it and listen intently as the father or mother read from its pages.

Perhaps it may have belonged to a pastor or was a pulpit Bible and read every Sunday in Church Services.

Perhaps it was used by a Sunday School teacher or a school teacher to retell the exciting stories of the Bible to his/her students.

Perhaps it belonged to an elderly person who with failing eyes read passages of comfort and hope as he or she saw their earthly life coming to a close.

Perhaps parts of that Bible were well worn. Maybe this was a reader’s favourite part of the Bible.

On the other hand, because most of the book is in such good condition for its age maybe it has simply sat on a shelf or in a cupboard for many of those years.

If such a book could talk what would it say about how its owner regarded the Word of God? What would it say about how its pages were read, and how the reader grew in wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus?

If your Bible could talk, how would it describe your use of the Word of God? Would it feel loved and treasured; well-worn, well-used, dog-eared and valued?

Or would it feel neglected and ignored; almost brand-new, untouched, dusty, and disused for most of the time?

If our Bibles could talk, would they embarrass us? When it comes to Bible neglect many of us would have to plead guilty. It’s not too hard to relegate reading the Bible to the bottom of our list of priorities in a day.

Some may be guilty of Bible abuse – treating it as a book of proof texts to back up an opinion no matter how off beat that opinion might be.

Some people treat the Bible like a set of dice – when a decision has to be made open up to a page wherever your eye falls that is the basis on which a choice is made. (Quite a risky practice).

Some see it as a book of magic. When things aren’t going well the Bible is opened hoping that somehow it will provide the solution you are looking for: but when things turn out ok and the crisis is over, the Bible is put back on its dusty shelf.

The Bible is about God and his relationship with us and our relationship with him. Two people can hardly establish a healthy relationship when the only time they communicate is when there is a crisis and then only in short, sharp sentences. If people approach the Bible with this kind of take it or leave it attitude they are bound to have difficulty with knowing

  • what is God’s will in their lives,
  • what is the way God wants them to live,
  • how God views their sin,
  • how he forgives and heals,
  • how to make good choices that are not only God-pleasing but also lead us to a happy and healthy existence.

You may know of people who have hardly opened a Bible since their confirmation classes.

God’s Word can only have a long term effect on our lives through regular contact with it. You might check your teeth in a mirror. They might be discoloured and in bad need of some proper care. A quick scrub with a toothbrush and paste will only do so much. You need regular cleaning morning and night, day after day. There is a cumulative effect of regular teeth hygiene.

You might notice that your clothes are beginning to shrink and that you need less fatty foods and more exercise. Experts warn against so called “crash diets”. They might have an instant effect, but if you want to have a long lasting effect, then you need to change your eating and exercise habits.

Likewise the best way to read the Bible is not through some kind of crash diet, but through a regular long-term prayerful diet of the Scriptures. That’s not to say that reading chapter after chapter is the best way to go. Maybe just a verse is all we need and we ask ourselves,

  • ‘What are the words really saying to me? Do I understand them?’
  • ‘What is God trying to tell me through these words?’
  • ‘What is God telling me about my sin, his love for me, or the way I am living the Christian life?’
  • ‘In what way will God’s message to me make a difference in my life?’

And finally pray that this Word from God will have a powerful impact on your life.

But you and I know that even before we get to the second question or third at the best, we have become distracted. Our minds wander. Something sparks off a memory or a job that needs to be done or something that will happen in the day ahead. Satan just loves to fill our heads with all kinds of distractions to keep us away from hearing what God has to say and then above all seeing how important this is for our lives. Too often he fools us into thinking that all we need to do is read a bit or listen to a bit but the application for us in our situation is side tracked by all kinds of other thoughts.

If that is the case then go back to the words on the page in front of you. Focus on them again. Let those words bring you back to God and hearing again what he is saying to you. Be open to the power of the Holy Spirit to help you do this – after all that’s what he does best – leading you to God’s Word and making it real for the place you are in at that very moment. He may need to do this several times in one session since we are distracted so easily.

More than any preceding generation we have been flooded with so many Bibles published in so many translations and in so many editions, and with so much devotional material. There really is no reason why we should be embarrassed if our Bibles could speak.

Thank God that in his Word to us he tells us that even lazy and distracted Bible readers can be given a fresh start. Jesus died even for those who have all these wonderful, full colour resources at our fingertips but are still “too busy” to use what we have available to us.

Jesus even forgives those who have heard sermons like this before and have decided to make a firm resolution to do something about it, but it never gets any further than that. The Bible is God’s Good News of love for us. In it we find forgiveness for our failure. Jesus died to take away our guilt and to declare us right and ready to hear what he has to say.

Thank God for his Word. Without it we would be lost and not have any idea of the salvation that we have through faith in Christ Jesus. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you read and reflect upon that Word, that you may find strength, encouragement, direction and hope for your lives and above all that you may find in it the living Word, Jesus Christ, our Saviour.

Amen

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Luke 17:15-16

 

When one of them saw that he was healed, he came back, praising God in a loud voice.  He threw himself to the ground at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.    

Frank Selak, a Croatian music teacher, began his lucky or unlucky streak (depending on how you look at it) in 1962 on a train going from Sarajevo to Dubrovnik.  The train inexplicably jumped the tracks and fell into an icy river killing 17 passengers. Frank managed to swim to the shore.20180311_103505 (1)

A year later while travelling on a plane, its door flew off and Frank was sucked out of the plane. He woke up in a hospital.  He had fallen into a haystack.

Then in 1966, Frank was on a bus that went off the road and into a river.  Four people were killed, but he suffered only minor injuries.

In 1970, his car caught on fire.  He stopped it and got out just before the whole car blew up.  In 1973 Frank was driving another car when a faulty fuel line sprayed petrol all over the engine and flames blew through the air vents. His only injury was the loss of most of his hair.

In ’95 he was hit by a bus but only sustained minor injuries.  Finally in 1996 he was driving on a mountain road when he went around a bend and saw a UN truck coming right at him.  His Skoda went through a guardrail and he jumped out at the last minute and watched his car explode 100 metres below him.

In 2003, Frank bought a lottery ticket for the first time in 40 years at the age of 74. He ended up winning $1 million.  He had a much needed hip replacement, bought a big house and everything that a million dollars could buy in Croatia.  In the end he gave it all away and went back to his small village and the simply lifestyle he had always been accustomed to.  Frank Selak has been dubbed “the luckiest man alive”.  The other lesson to be learnt from this story is – don’t get into any bus, train, plane or car with Frank Selak – he is the “unluckiest man to still be alive”

Luck is that indefinable and illusive thing that sometimes brings good fortune and sometimes doesn’t. You might say the terrorist who didn’t pay enough postage on a letter bomb experienced some bad luck. It came back with “Return to Sender” stamped on it.  Forgetting it was the bomb; he opened it.  

Have you said when you were almost run down crossing the street – “Boy, that was a lucky escape,” or comment about someone’s bad luck as one thing after another goes wrong.

Some people however, don’t believe in luck. They say, “You get what you deserve”.  Everything that happens to us is a reward or a punishment for the amount of effort that is put in. If you work hard, invest a lot of time and energy into something, you will get back what you have put into it.   

There are some who think that Christianity works this way. If you do good things, don’t annoy other people, live respectable lives, pray (when you need help), believe in “someone up there”, have your kids done (that is baptised) then you will live a happy and comfortable life.

On the other hand, those whose do evil and who live immoral lives can’t expect to be happy and prosperous. After all, you get what you deserve! 

This view of life runs into difficulty when good people suffer, or a slacker wins a lot of money. 

Have you noted that up to this point I haven’t mentioned God in this sermon? That’s because the belief that we get what we deserve and that good and bad are the result of luck or coincidence, have nothing to do with God. There is no room for God who gives generously and excessively even though we don’t deserve such abundance.  The God of the Bible doesn’t just give to good people or to people who in some way deserve to be treated better, he is gracious and generous to everyone whether they realise it or not.

The biblical concept of our heavenly Father giving us everything that we need, is absent from the thinking of many people these days. There is no thought given to what the Bible says about God being

  • the supplier of our daily bread,
  • the giver of our abilities,
  • the provider of everything that we need to live happy and peaceful lives.

For many people God doesn’t figure into how we are able to live so well every day.  Rather they say,

  • I get it because I deserve it;
  • I am well to do because I have earned it;
  • I get what I need because I have put in the hard hours working for it.

The Bible looks at things this way.  It sees God right in the middle of everything that happens.  It is stated again and again that

  • God put me together inside my mother,
  • God has given me my brain, my skills, and made me who I am,
  • God is leading me,
  • God is protecting me,
  • God is supplying me with daily food,
  • God heals me,
  • God is guiding the rulers,
  • God is helping his people,
  • God sends the rain and provides the harvest.

In fact, everything is seen as coming from the generous hand of God.  He doesn’t give because people have deserved it, in fact, we see so often that he gives even when people are downright awful. Look how he provided daily food to the whining and faithless people of Israel when travelling to the Promised Land.

The Bible also says that we ought to recognise God’s loving hand even when things aren’t going well for us.  Even though we can’t see it at the time, be assured that God is not handing out what we deserve. Somehow, God will use the present trials to bring us blessing.  Meanwhile in the midst of suffering we know that God is nearby, ready to help and support us until we come through to the other side.

When is the next big anniversary of this church? An anniversary is a great event. We could do a lot of chest beating and back patting and congratulating ourselves what a great job we have done here in this community.  But when you read the history of the Lutheran Church from its early days it has been a struggle and at times the flame almost went out.  We can only say in the end that in spite of the failings of the people, God is at the centre of what has happened here.  God has provided the people, the resources, and the help.  God has been the source of the wisdom, the faith, the commitment, and the right timing and the faithful realised this and gathered week after week to thank God for his leading.  

We heard in the Gospel reading before the story of the ten lepers, who called out to Jesus for help and were healed.  Only one returns. Only one can see that God is somehow involved in his restoration to health and returns to say thank you.  And Jesus makes a point of it.  “There were ten men who were healed.” he says, “Where are the other nine?”  And then Jesus commends the one who came back to say thanks because in expressing his gratitude he was recognising that not only was he healed, but who it was that had healed him.  The ex-leper didn’t know how it all happened, it wasn’t just good luck and it certainly wasn’t what he deserved, but he knew that somehow God had done something marvellous. He put God back into the centre of his thinking.

We put God back into the centre of our lives when we say at the end of hectic week, “Thank you God for helping me through this past week”. 

When we say grace before a meal, we put God back at the centre when we say, “Thank you God for this food”. 

We put God back at the centre when we say, “Thank you for the people you have placed in my life to love me and care for me – my family, my friends, and my church family”. 

When our good health is restored, we put God back in the centre when we thank him.

When the path through life is tough going and we don’t know where it will lead us we put God back into the centre when we look at the cross, are reminded of his love for us and place our future in his hands.

When we are weighed with fear and the trouble that sickness and death bring, we put God at the centre who gives us hope for the future when we thank Him for his love.

In a way, we can say that we see the things, events and people in our lives in a different way to the rest of the world. We see that God in one way or the other is behind everything that happens.

God has been excessively generous to us.  He has been generous for no other reason than to support and promote his work. Whether through a Lutheran World Service Appeal, or the offering plate to support mission work here and overseas, the training of workers for the church, or the work of the local congregation, God has made us rich so that we can richly bless others. 

If, for you, things operate on a “you get what you deserve” principle, then you have no need to say thank you for anything.

If everything is purely luck and you are ready to deal with whatever luck brings, there is no need to say thank you, except “thank my lucky stars!”

However, if you see God as being in everything, generously pouring out his blessings, sometimes in ways that are easy to see, sometimes in ways that are difficult to see, then join with the Samaritan leper who saw himself as totally unworthy of receiving anything from Jesus at all and yet receiving so much. 

He fell at Jesus’ feet and thanked him for the new beginning and the restoration of his life.  But this was more than just a healing of a man’s body.  Jesus said, “Get up and go; your faith has made you well.”  This healing has far wider implications.  This one Samaritan leper saw the deep love of Jesus, the love that would take him to the cross; the leper saw in Jesus the love that saves. 

This encounter with the love of God meant that this leper would never be the same.  He truly was the luckiest man alive. 

With faith in Jesus and trust in his love for us and with Jesus at the centre of our lives then you and I are the luckiest people on this planet.

Amen

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Luke 17:5,6

The apostles said to the Lord, “Make our faith greater.” The Lord answered, “If you had faith as big as a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Pull yourself up by the roots and plant yourself in the sea!’ and it would obey you’. 

Faith the size of a mustard seed

A small congregation built a new church on a piece of land left to them by a church member.

Ten days before the new church was to open,johnmac but their world came crashing down when the local building inspector arrived and informed the Pastor that unless they double the number of parking spaces, they would not be able to use the new church.

Unfortunately, the new building had used every square centimetre except for a rather steep hill behind the church.

In order to build more parking spaces, they would have to move that rocky hill. Undaunted, the pastor announced the next Sunday morning that he would meet that evening with all members who had “mountain moving faith.”

They would hold a prayer session asking God to remove the mountain from the back yard and to somehow provide enough money to have it paved before the scheduled opening dedication service.

At the appointed time, 24 of the congregation’s 300 members assembled for prayer. They prayed for nearly three hours. At ten o’clock the pastor said the final “Amen”. “We’ll open our new church next Sunday as scheduled,” he assured everyone. “God has never let us down before, and I believe he will be faithful this time too.”

The next morning as the Pastor was working in his study there came a loud knock at his door and a rough looking construction foreman entered. “Excuse me, Reverend. I’m from a Construction Company.

We’re building a huge shopping mall. We need some fill – in fact, heaps of fill. Would you be willing to sell us a chunk of that rocky hill behind the church?

We’ll pay you for the dirt we remove and pave all the exposed area free of charge. We need to do this now to allow it to settle properly.” Well, the little church was dedicated the next Sunday as originally planned (Source unknown).

Wow. When you first hear this story it’s easy to say that this is exactly what Jesus was talking about when he said, ‘If you had faith as big as a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Pull yourself up by the roots and plant yourself in the sea!’ and it would obey you’.

In other words, through faith we can move mountains.

But is that right?

Is that a correct conclusion?

Was it their ‘mountain moving faith’ or the length of time they spent in prayer that in the end gave them what they were seeking?

Were those 24 people super heroes of faith and so moved the mountain?

The disciples were facing their own mountains that needed moving.

In the previous verses Jesus had been talking about the effect that sin has on our lives.

Firstly, Jesus warns that anyone who causes another person to sin would be better off if a huge rock were tied around his neck and thrown overboard somewhere in the deepest part of sea.

The disciples were worried about this and quite rightly.

Who hasn’t caused someone to sin?

Who hasn’t said and done things that have caused others to be hurt, fell alienated, angry, hateful, and unforgiving?

If that weren’t enough Jesus goes on to say more. “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.

If he sins against you seven times in one day, and each time he comes to you saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

It’s a difficult thing to talk to someone – rebuke someone – whose lifestyle does not reflect their position as a child of God. Jesus goes on to say even more.

When a person says he/she is sorry, Jesus says there is to be no limit to the number of times we are to forgive that person.

Very possibly he could be asking for forgiveness for the same or a similar sin over and over and over again.

Jesus says in no uncertain terms, ‘You must forgive him’.

That kind of forgiveness goes right against our human nature.

That person who keeps on offending us doesn’t deserve forgiveness and yet Jesus pronounces some dire consequences on those who can’t overcome their need for revenge and be forgiving.

The disciples had a problem – you might say they had their own mountain that needed moving.

They recognised their own sinfulness and their failure to live up to their calling as people who belong to God and disciples who claim to follow their master and do his will.

So, they come to Jesus with all this on their minds and say, “Make our faith greater!

Give us a greater amount of faith so that we will be able to do the things that you have asked of us”.

They felt that an increase in their faith would enable them to move the mountain of sin that was getting in the way of their faithful discipleship.

And what does Jesus do – how does he answer their prayer?

Does he lay his hands upon them and pray and give them more faith?

Does he snap his fingers and grant them a double dose of his Spirit and faith?

Does he give them ‘mountain moving faith’ so that they could remove all obstacles that got in their way?

No, he doesn’t – instead he says to them, “If you had faith as big as a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Pull yourself up by the roots and plant yourself in the sea!’ and it would obey you”.

The point Jesus is making is that they have already been given faith.

Even a tiny faith the size of a mustard seed is enough as far as God is concerned.

The size of faith doesn’t matter because God is the one doing the moving.

If it is my faith that moved the mountain, then the bigger the mountain the more faith I would need to move it.

The bigger the obstacle the more strength I’d need to climb it.

The more serious the illness a faith even greater would be required to overcome it.

The more serious the sin the more faith I would need in order to have it forgiven.

That kind of thinking kind of makes sense, but that’s not how faith works. In fact, faith doesn’t do the work at all. And thank God for that.

God is the one doing the work through faith. Think of faith as the key that opens the door to God acting in our lives.

If I have a bigger key ring than you do, does it matter?

The size of a key ring doesn’t matter – key rings don’t open doors but it’s that little key on the ring that opens doors.

Even a little faith opens the door for God to move the mountains and trees and even our hearts.

So, what Jesus is saying to his disciples, who asked for their faith to be increased, is that even if they have the smallest amount of faith, they can do great things.

Even the smallest faith can grasp what God has and is doing in our lives;

even the smallest faith is able to recognise the ways that God is able to make changes in lives and in our world through us.

We have all met people who have lived through very difficult times, and no doubt many of us have thought about the great faith they must have had to come out of their troubles as well as they have.

We may even have said to them – with respect and admiration, ‘I don’t think I could have faced what you have faced. I admire your great faith.’

In response to this I have heard people say, ‘My faith is no greater than anyone else’s. I just didn’t know what faith I had until I needed it. God helped me, if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have made it.’

Jesus didn’t need to increase the size of the faith of the disciples. They already had faith.

He assures them of that and states that, even though their faith may be small, God can accomplish great things through them.

And we know that he did. They went on to share the Good News about Jesus even in the face of some strong opposition, being brought before rulers and judges, being imprisoned and killed.

Didn’t Paul say when he was recalling some of the difficulties he had to face as an apostle, “I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives me” (Phil 4:13).

He doesn’t talk about how great his faith in God was, but rather he talks about what his faith was focussed on.

There are times when our confident, perhaps even over confident faith, is brought crashing down because of what is happening in our lives.

There are times when our faith seems so trivial and weak in the face of gigantic threats to our health, our family, our self-worth.

But no matter what size and strength we consider our faith to be at any given moment, faith as small as a mustard seed (and that’s pretty small) is able to uproot a mulberry tree (which has an extensive root system, and plant (not dump) it into the sea and still expect it to bear mulberries.

Years ago, I was asked by the parents of a child who was severely intellectually disabled whether their child would have enough faith and understanding to come to Holy Communion.

My answer: ‘I wasn’t particularly concerned about understanding. Their child may never be able to express what she believed in words.

But as far as God is concerned a faith the size of a mustard seed is all that is needed for him to be able to do great things in their child’s life.’

What a joy it was for all those at church, especially the parents, to see the outstretched hands of this child, waiting for them to be filled with the love of God through the body and blood of Jesus in the sacrament.

Praise God that in spite of our sins he has given us faith – even faith as small as a mustard seed.

And God working through the faith he has given us will defeat the devil’s temptations to sin, he will help us overcome the obstacles we face when forgiveness is required.

God working in us through faith can move mountains and trees and even our own hearts for his glory. Faith is powerful, because the Christ in whom faith believes is powerful.

Faith, even one that is described as being the size of a mustard seed, relies on Jesus, his love and strength. This kind of faith enables us to rise above the most threatening circumstances.

To repeat Paul’s words, “I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives me” (Phil 4:13).

Let’s not twist all this around in order to convince ourselves that now we don’t need to take faith and prayer and the study of God’s Word seriously.

But realize that you already possess more than enough of what’s needed to change your life, your heart, your family, your community, even your world.

In summary, today we are being asked not how much faith do we have but rather what are we doing with the faith that God has already given us?

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

 

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

Sixtheenth Sunday after Pentecost

    Luke 16:19-31
  :Gifted to give

What would you do if you unexpectedly received one million dollars? Would you automatically think of giving some of it away to others in greater need than you? On the Sunday TV program Songs of Praise a new definition of a millionaire was suggested as “someone who gives a million dollars away”20180311_103505 (1). Today we thank God for all those around us who have so generously supported the ministry of our Church to the poor and needy. In the Early Church the poor were called “the treasures of the Church” because in helping the poor, Christians were helping Christ Himself who meets us in the poor and needy.  

The focus of Jesus’ ministry was on those in greatest need of His help. Jesus deeply and warmly loved those on the edge of society or those who were looked down on with disdain – the weak, the sick, the disabled and outcasts. Jesus reminds John the Baptist that His mission was to bring good news to the poor. By this, Jesus also includes those suffering from spiritual poverty, of which there are so many here in our own community. In today’s parable, Jesus focuses on the needs of poor people like Lazarus.

Children and grown-ups like hearing this parable. In this story it seems that for a moment, the curtain is drawn aside and we get a tiny glimpse of the hereafter, of heaven and hell. The other thing that pleases a child’s imagination and perhaps many adults, is to see how this rich guy, who had it so “good” in this life, gets what’s coming to him in the next life, while poor Lazarus, who had such a hell of a life on earth, at last receives the joy and consolation of heaven.

But by focussing on that aspect of the story, we’re missing its central point. The real point of the story is not so much about the rich man or about Lazarus, but rather about what Abraham says to the rich man about his five brothers still at home on earth and their need to hear God’s Word. The sin of the rich man isn’t that he was rich but that he was indifferent. It’s not bad to be rich, nor is it a sign of goodness to be poor. But it’s wrong when a person is so wrapped up in his possessions and affluent lifestyle and is so thoroughly selfish that he is totally indifferent to the needy person placed at his gate. The rich man’s terrible sin isn’t that he never helped Lazarus, but that he did nothing at all, feasting while Lazarus died at his gate. In the time of Jesus, affluent people used bread as we use serviettes – to wipe their fingers. Hungry Lazarus would gladly have fed on such scraps, but the rich guy pretends not to notice Lazarus’s desperate need for food.

What’s more, he pretends not to notice God, His Maker and the Giver of all the gifts he enjoys. These two realities go together – if you love God, you will love your neighbour and have a special compassion for a neighbour in need. At the other end of the scale, indifference to your needy neighbour is a reflection of your indifference to God. God’s Word says to you, “Those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen (1 John 4:20).”

Let’s focus on being different now. Lazarus certainly was a different person in the next life. In contrast to the rich guy in our parable who is unnamed, Lazarus has a name. His name is a very important clue for understanding this story, because his name means “God is my helper.” His name shows that despite all his poverty and misery, he has put his trust in God. He believed God is his Helper. And when he dies, what he has always believed comes true. In heaven he discovers the joy of being with the God in whom he trusted.

The rich man is certainly a different person in the next life. For him it is a “riches to rags” story. In the next life he finds himself in hell. What is hell? To be separated from God. And what is heaven? To be with God. In this life the rich man separated himself from God; in the next life, the separation from God becomes absolute. So now he’s a radically different person – no more enjoying the comforts of this life, but enduring the discomforts of hell. Another thing is different about him in the next life. For the first time he thinks of someone other than himself. He is concerned about his five brothers left on earth and asks Abraham to send someone from the dead, lest they also come to the place of torment.

He thinks that there’s only one thing that will change his brothers on earth and make them different, that is if someone comes from the dead to warn them and then they will believe. “Not so”, Abraham tells him. “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.” And if they won’t listen to them, that is, if they won’t hear God’s Word for them, then they won’t listen even if someone comes to them from the dead.

Although this is only a story told to us by Jesus, nevertheless what He said actually happened. There was a brother who did come back from the dead, and would you know, his name was Lazarus! Remember how Jesus raised Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus from the dead. And what happened after Jesus raised Lazarus? Those who already believed, believed all the more. But those who didn’t believe immediately began plotting to assassinate Jesus. There were times like the feeding of the five thousand when people saw the miraculous things Jesus did and still didn’t believe in Him. Seeing is not necessarily believing.  Rather, faith in Jesus gives us super-sight. Jesus says to Martha at the death of her brother Lazarus, “Did I not tell you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God? (John 11:40)” Faith enables us to see God at work in our lives and around us, things those without faith cannot see.

So who are we in this story? We’re the ones still alive. We are the five brothers. And like them we have Moses and the prophets. In fact, we have even more, because not only do we have Moses and the prophets in the Old Testament, we also have the Gospels and the Epistles, the New Testament of our merciful Saviour Jesus Christ. We have the life-giving good news of His grace that can make us different, and can make us dare to live differently. What an incomparable blessing that is. It’s all about the Word who took on human flesh and lives among us, full of grace and truth.

Our Lord Jesus Christ became poorer and more wretched than Lazarus was so that by His poverty we could become rich in the things that matter eternally. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you, through His poverty, might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9).”

After His birth, where Jesus lay in a borrowed manger in a lowly stable, He was rejected, scoured, despised, tortured and crucified for us. Jesus gave up everything for us and our eternal benefit and blessing. After Jesus rose from the dead He became Lord of heaven and earth and the real owner of everything on this earth. He now says to you and to me: “Give to others, and God will give to you. Indeed, you will receive a full measure, a generous helping, poured into your hands – all that you can hold (Luke 6:38).” Or as the prayer of St. Francis puts it, “For it is in giving that we receive” the joy of knowing that we are blessing others with what God has given us. Jesus says to you “Blessed are those who hear God’s Word and put it into practice (Luke 11:28).”

It’s not hard to put ourselves in the rich man’s place and imagine what he might think, looking at Lazarus, all covered in loathsome sores: ‘But if the doctors cannot do a thing for him, what am I expected to do? He is as poor as the stray dogs themselves. But surely it is not my fault that he is poor. I never robbed him or stole from him. God knows the streets are full of beggars. There are plenty of others as badly off as he is. But what can one man do about it? They would have to bankrupt the government to make any noticeable difference. If one lone beggar finds his way to my door, does that give him more claim on me than the others have? I have let him live exclusively, for weeks and months, on the discarded scraps from my table. Surely that is something I am doing for him. What more can I do?’

When we suffer from donation-fatigue like that, we need to pray to Jesus, “Thank You for loving me so much more than I could ever deserve. Through Your Word and sacraments, continually fill me with a love that overflows into the lives of others.” 

People who love each other want to be together and hear each other speak. When we love our Lord, we want to be where He is with us in a very special way, that is, in the Lord’s Supper, where He gives Himself to us in an awesome act of love. He does this to continue making us more and more like Him. More and more we will become eager to love others with Christ’s life-transforming, life-renewing love.

We give to God because God promises to multiply with His blessing whatever we give, whether to Him or our needy neighbour. “God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7).”

For souls redeemed, for sins forgiven, for means of grace and hopes of heaven,

To you, O Lord, what can be given? You give us all.

We lose what on ourselves we spend; we have as treasure without end

Whatever, Lord, to You we lend – You give us all.

Amen.