Twentyfirst Sunday after Pentecost: Reformation

The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with all. Our Lord, Jesus Christ tells us, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples;

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 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”  Today, we celebrate the truth of the Good News.  Good News that sets us free to be in a right relationship with God our Father.  Good News that ‘the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets,  the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ‍ for all who believe.’ 

Let’s join in a word of prayer: Loving God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit:  we live our continuously new covenant of salvation received through faith in the sacrifice of your Son, our wonderful Saviour, Jesus Christ.  Guide our time together this morning as we remember the remarkable history of the reformation spurred on by your presence in the world through your Holy Spirit.  Help us to embrace your word, and receive once again the reforming power of your Gospel message as we worship You. God our gracious Father, hear our prayer in the name of our risen Lord, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

In these trying times of virus pandemic, it’s commo to experience many of the feelings that would have been evident during the time of the Reformation in Europe.  They were experiencing a plague that kept arising over the past two hundred of years.  Suspicion and isolation were often a part of life in the urbanisation of Europe as they evolved from the Medieval Age to the Modern Age.  Some even call the 14th and 15th Century the Reformation Age.

We discover in a biography, that Martin Luther spent his younger years isolated as a monk battling his personal demons. Luther felt utterly worthlessMartin Luther and incapable of carrying the burdens of priesthood. He was often, he wrote, pursued and tormented by Satan and his cohorts.

Before his spiritual reformation, Luther was discovered in his monk’s cell weeping because of his sins. His confessor, another young monk, simply didn’t know what to do, so he began repeating the Apostles’ Creed.  When he came to the last part of the creed, he spoke with reverence the words, “I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy Catholic Church; the communion of Saints; the forgiveness of sins; ” when Luther interrupted him, “Wait!” “What did you say?”

 And the dialogue continued, “What do you mean, what did I say?”  “That last part. What was it again?” “Oh, that. ‘I believe in the forgiveness of sins.'”

“The forgiveness of sins,” Luther said as if savouring each word. “The forgiveness of sins. Then there is hope for me somewhere. Then maybe there is a way to God.”

In his search for that ‘way’, while reading Paul’s letter to the Romans, Luther suddenly understood the meaning of God’s grace and how it is appropriated by faith. In that moment he came to understand that he was justified before God through faith and not by his works.

Luther discovered the way to God. Jesus Christ died to provide that way. The reality that mended Luther’s broken heart.  That gave him a passion for Scripture which would remain a hallmark of his life.  That there is one who sees our broken hearts and cares, who forgives and heals, who makes whole.  (ChristianGlobe Illustrations, King Duncan, ChristianGlobe Networks, Inc.)

But Luther was not alone.  The wondrous discovery of the truth of Christ was awakened in others as well.  Even another Martin.  At the beginning of the Reformation, Martin of Basle came to a knowledge of the truth.  But, afraid to make a public confession, he wrote on a leaf of parchment: “O most merciful Christ, I know that I can be saved only by the merit of thy blood. Holy Jesus, I acknowledge thy sufferings for me. I love thee, I love thee.”  Then he removed a stone from the wall of his chamber and hid it there. It was not discovered for more than a hundred years.

What made the difference between these two Martins?  When Martin Luther affirmed in his heart that truth as it is in Christ. He said: “My Lord has confessed me before men, I will not shrink from confessing Him before kings.” The world knows what followed, and today we remember that  Martin Luther made a difference.  But as for Martin of Basle, who difference did he make?  —Sunday School Times

‘Jesus said to those who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”  This truth makes us free.  Free to trust in Jesus. Free to express our right relationship with God every day by living in Christ.

Living without Christ is like driving a car with its front end way out of line. You can manage to stay on the road, if you grip the steering wheel with both hands and hang on tight. Any lapse of attention, however, and you’re out of control. It’s a constant struggle.  

I can imagine that we are sometimes like Luther, almost weeping over the wrong that seems to be happening in our lives.

Living in the truth that brings the freedom in Christ, is like getting a front-end alignment. The lack of control is corrected from the inside. Not to say there won’t be bumps and potholes ahead that will still try to jar us off the road. Temptations and challenges will always test our alertness to steer a straight course. We can hardly afford to fall asleep at the wheel. But the basic flaw in the moral mechanism has been repaired.  In a way we can never do ourselves.  By Christ Jesus our Saviour.  (adapted from Robert Schmidgall:  Illustrations from ChristianGlobe, ChristianGlobe Networks, Inc.)

The Apostle Paul gives us the best example of this.  He began his service to God with complete assurance in his own righteousness and piety.  He just knew he was right in putting his energies toward the destruction of the followers of Jesus.  Like that car that was out of alignment.  And then he encountered Christ Jesus in his full power.  And Paul realised just how frail and useless his misguided trust in himself had been.  When Paul turned his complete trust in and reliance upon  Jesus, his passion, energy, and will were transformed into the powerful servant and apostle that Christ Jesus knew he would be.

Paul wrote in his Letter to the Church at Rome:  ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. .. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”  (Ro 1:16–17 NIV)

For Christians in the 21st Century, speaking of righteousness has become a challenging proposition.  When we speak of being righteous before God, it appears to be a two sided coin.  On the one side, it almost seems to be boasting about our piety and purity.  And on the other side, it almost seems to be placing an obstacle to God.    And so, most Christians are really timid about sharing our righteousness before God.

In reality, righteousness simply speaks of our right relationship with God.  That right relationship with God, was sealed at the cross, and offered to us as children of God by our faith in Christ Jesus.  That is the only way to experience righteousness.  There is no other way.

Just as Paul received from Christ Jesus and explained to us.  And as Luther discovered in Paul’s letter to the Romans and reinforced so often.  A right relationship with God and with each other is the clear understanding of God’s love and mercy displayed in the Gospel that spurred the Reformation. 

The Reformation wasn’t about religion, or society, political power or culture. The Reformation was simply about returning to the freedom given to us through the Gospel.  Freedom to trust in Jesus Christ and live with confidence.  As Jesus said, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”    

When Martin Luther penned the great hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is our God” I believe he was expressing his faith in the truth that makes us free. 

‘A mighty fortress is our God, a trusty shield and weapon, our faithful helper in all need, our stay, whate’re may happen.’    And later, ‘for us fights the valiant one whom God himself elected.  Ask ye: who is this?  Christ Jesus it is.’

That hymn, first published in 1529, has been called “Battle Hymn of the Reformation” and with good reason. It is said that the Reformation touched off one of the most influential movements in world history.  And yet, in the 21st Century we are hard-pressed to discover any worshipping community, outside of Lutheran, to remember and celebrate.  Because it is also said that the Reformation set the spark of disunity and discord among Christians that has diminished the Church’s authority to effect positive change in the world today. 

Certainly, I would agree, that if Reformation Day only celebrated the pride we have in being Lutheran, then it shouldn’t be a matter of celebration.  But if Reformation Day is about truth, than the Reformation can be celebrated with both humility and confidence. The truth that Martin Luther rediscovered from Scriptures.  The truth that was hidden by centuries of faulty doctrine.  The truth that Jesus says ‘will make us free’.

And so, for me, the Reformation does matter, and Reformation Day still matters too. It matters, because confessing the truth of our salvation still matters.  And also confessing the truth about our sins still matters.  Confessing the truth about God’s grace at work to save us still matters.   The truth that the Scriptures tell us about every human being, as both a saint and a sinner at the same time still matters.  A saint, who has been brought into a right relationship with God.  And a sinner, who still falls far short of all that God wants from those who are his children.

A sinner who know sins, who feels regrets, who suffers from the broken heart of broken relationships with God and with each other. 

And a saint who knows God’s love, who feels God’s forgiveness, who releases guilt to God’s grace.  God who says, “I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”

Through Christ we have received what we could never, on our own, earn or deserve – eternal salvation.  Because of Christ Jesus we have been given the gift of eternity, through faith, by God’s grace, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Here at St Peter’s we have been through a rough year, from the last Reformation Sunday.  First by drought and fire, then by pandemic and isolation, and finally by a decision that was brought before us that has affected all of us.  As we now engage with the road ahead to discover what is next for St Peter’s, we are reminded that we are united in Christ and the love of God.  United by the confession of our faith and the Gospel of grace.  United by the body and blood of Christ Jesus, and the care we have for each other.  Let’s enter this new year as one body in Christ Jesus, and see what brings before the next Reformation Sunday.

We are free to receive and share, to believe and confess, to teach and promote the truth of God’s grace.  A message we are honour bound to carry forward, as disciples of Jesus Christ in our time and this place.

As we both remember and celebrate the reformation, and become its voice in our day, the grace and peace of God keep our hearts and minds in the calm assurance of salvation in our living Lord, Christ Jesus. Amen.

Rev. David Thompson.

Tweenth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Matthew 22:19-21
Jesus said, “Show me the coin for paying the tax!”  They brought him the coin, and he asked them, “Whose face and name are these?”  “The Emperor’s”, they answered.  So Jesus said to them, “Well, then, pay to the Emperor what belongs to the Emperor, and pay to God what belongs to God.” 

What shall I do?

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A nine year old girl returned from Sunday School and as her father was sitting down with the Sunday Mail after lunch, she asked,
“Daddy, why did God make all the leaves green?”  He thought a moment and replied, “I don’t know.” 
Then she asked, “Daddy, if God made the world and everything else who made God?”  Again he said, “I don’t know.” 
Again she asked, “Daddy, how did Noah catch the two snakes and put them in the ark?”  He put down the newspaper and said with a smile, “Honey, I don’t know.” 

Like many children, this little girl was asking her dad some very important questions.  Dad was right in answering, “I don’t know” because there are certain questions for which we have no answers, at least until that day when we can ask God face to face (and most likely they won’t be important to us any more).

The Pharisees had a question for Jesus.  It’s one about religion and politics.  They asked, “Is it right, according to God’s will, to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”  This was no minor matter.  The Jews were taxed heavily by the Romans – not only were grain, oil and wine taxed but every male from age of fourteen and every female from the age of twelve had to pay a tax for just being alive.  This was a trick question.  Whichever way Jesus answered he would get into trouble. 

If he said, “Yes, it is lawful to pay taxes to the Roman emperor,” he would be in trouble with his own Jewish countrymen who deeply resented the oppression Rome had imposed on their nation.  Paying taxes to the Emperor was tantamount to kneeling at his feet – a posture reserved only for the worship of God.  Clearly, Jesus would be a traitor to his own people and to God, if he answered yes.

On the other hand, if he said, “No, it is not lawful to pay taxes to the Roman emperor,” he would be a traitor to Rome.  Whether they liked it or not, the Roman Empire had now taken control of Palestine. If Jesus spoke against paying taxes, he would be arrested and imprisoned.  Make no mistake about it; the Pharisees were out to get Jesus.

And how does Jesus answer?  He asks for a coin.  “Whose picture is stamped on the coin?  The emperor’s!  Well then it’s simple.  He must own it if he’s got his picture stamped on it.  You give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.  But be careful!  Don’t give to Caesar what belongs to God”.  End of discussion. 

Jesus cleverly states there are those things that belong to the state and those that belong to God. 
Someone summarised Jesus’ words saying, “The coin bears Caesar’s image; man bears God’s image, so give the coin to Caesar” – meaning pay tax – “but give yourself wholly to God.”  Serving God covers all of life.  It also includes serving Caesar in a way that brings honour to God.

In his answer Jesus is giving some broad principles but notice he doesn’t give any slick answers about how we are to carry out this responsibility.  Jesus leaves the details wide open.  He refuses to give two neatly divided lists of duties relating to God and those relating to Caesar that leave no doubt about what we are to do.    (Something that the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law would have liked – they liked rules that were black and white).

However in Jesus’ answer, the question about what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God remains open.  You and I must decide that for ourselves – struggle with and assess each new situation. 

Making a choice between two options that are appealing, logical and where there are arguments both for and against is not an easy task.  We might wish that there were some black and white guidelines that would make the decision for us.  It is true there may be some general rules, or principles, like the Ten Commandments, or the Sermon on the Mount, that make matters look simple and clear, but when it comes to applying these to the individual circumstance that we are faced with in our lives making a decision isn’t all that clear. 

Why doesn’t Jesus make things so much easier for us?  Why doesn’t he make a decision once and for all in this whole matter of paying taxes and giving to God, and with authority set up percentages and limits, say something about tithing, talk about our responsibility to God, and our responsibility to the government and so on?  We long for a clear ruling, one that is binding, one that will relieve us all the headache of making a decision.  But Jesus doesn’t make the decision for us.  He doesn’t want us to blindly follow a set of rules. 

He challenges us to find out again in each new situation what action we ought to take.
Situations like
whether to reveal to a very sick friend that he/she will soon die or to say nothing;
whether to turn off a life support system or hope for a miracle;
whether to join an IVF program or remain childless;
whether to protest about a government policy or to remain silent;
whether to stay in an unhappy marriage and hope for a change or to get out,
whether to accept this new job or not because of the impact it will have on family life,

whether to be tough on a drug-addicted child or show tenderness, love and support to bring him to his senses. 
Everywhere in life – in our marriage, in visiting the sick, as a teacher in a school, as an executive doing his tax return, as a mother or father – we have to discover what is the will of God for us at this time and in this place and in this set of circumstances.

Often we can’t answer the questions that confront us, by thumbing through the Bible to find crisp, clear answers.  Or referring to an answer found on Schedule C. There is no dictionary we can look up what we have to do here and now to be in tune with the will of God.  Again, the burden of making responsible decisions falls on us. We know how difficult that can be because we are sinners.  We are biased and critical; we prefer to take the easier path; we avoid going against the crowd and simply sidestep making hard choices. 

As Christians we are joined with Jesus and we share in his love and take on his way of looking at the moral dilemmas that challenge us and so for us the issue always is, “What would Jesus do if he were in my situation?”  And sometimes we might not like the answer that we get back. 

You see, Jesus was always shocking people in the choices he made as he reflected the will of his Father. 
When he came across a prostitute, instead of quoting the Ten Commandments to her, he befriended her and said, “Your sins are forgiven”. 
When he met the white-collar cheat Zacchaeus, he loved him and went to dinner with him. 
To those who were exiled from their community because of a dreadful disease, he showed compassion and gave them healing.  The word that summarises Jesus ministry is “love”.

You see God doesn’t give us a list of laws and detailed instructions for carrying them out.  He doesn’t lead us around by the nose in every detail of our lives.  Rather he desires to make us mature sons and daughters, confident of his love, confident of our relationship with Jesus our Saviour and in his love we discover what is the right thing to do that reflects the love of Jesus that is in us.

We need to be diligent in coming to know God’s mind ever better through studying the Scriptures. 
We need to be unceasing in our prayers asking for the Spirit’s guidance.
We need to listen to the prompting of the Spirit as he shows us the way of love in the choices we make.

Some years ago a man talked about the tough decision he and his wife had made when they decided to terminate a pregnancy.  They had three daughters and their unborn child was the son they had wanted so much, however, doctors told them that something was terribly wrong and that if the pregnancy continued the mother’s life was in danger and if the baby survived he would most likely be severely brain damaged. 

The father said something like this, “I had such strong opinions about abortion –   no unborn life should be terminated.  I firmly believed God would always take charge and if the baby was born as a result of rape or was disabled that God would provide a way. 

But now what was God thinking?  This wasn’t fair.  This didn’t fit into any of my ideas.  To think of terminating the life of our son was unbearable.  And the possible death of my wife, June, was just as unbearable.  Our girls needed their mother.  June and I prayed.  We wrestled with the decision.  The doctor, a member of our church, prayed with us.  We decided.  And I don’t know if what we decided was the right thing but our pastor assured us that God knows what was in our hearts and how we wrestled with this situation and if we chose wrongly, his love burns even stronger for us.  It is precisely for the wrong choices we make that Jesus died on the cross.  At the funeral he admitted he didn’t understand God’s ways but he did say that Jesus loved our son as much as we did”.

I’m sure that many of us have made and will make many mistakes as we search for the right answers to many of life’s perplexing problems.  It’s ever so hard at times to know what God wants and to make a decision confidently knowing we have done the right thing. 

We make decisions about some of those tough questions in life in the knowledge that he forgives us when we do blunder and bungle.  It is a comfort to know of the forgiving love of God, otherwise we would be frightened to make any decisions at all.  Let’s remember that God can still bless us through those decisions that are poorly made.

In today’s gospel Jesus doesn’t give us rules but the permission to struggle with the question of what is appropriate for us to do in the world that God created.  Jesus gives us an assignment to seek out the will of God as best we can and go forward entrusting the choices we make into the hands of our loving and forgiving God.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Text:    Matthew 22:1-14 

You’re invited. You’re invited to a celebration. You’re invited to join in God’s great celebration.allanb

People sometimes think that Christian faith is all very sad and solemn. Yes, there is a side of Christian faith that is very deep, that goes to the depths of human experience, beyond the depths of human experience, to the point where God confronts every evil in all its terror.
The cross of Jesus is the stark symbol of the terror and tragedy of human life, of human life turned against its maker and lover.

And yes, there is a side of Christian faith that is all about self-denial, of facing and even embracing hardship and suffering, because comfort and indulgence can become a huge barrier between us and our God.

But at its very heart Christian faith is all about life, wonderful life, life as a gift, as a gift from God, life given a second time, life restored, life saved from death, by the loving forgiveness of Jesus Christ.

If you think about our celebrations, celebrations are all about life. We like to celebrate life, celebrate the special events of life, celebrate the milestones of our lives.

We want to celebrate by coming together, by sharing with other people. We want to capture some of the joy of living, the joy, the deep emotion that bubbles up when you experience the goodness of life. Joy comes from deep within. But joy is multiplied when it is shared.

We want to be able to laugh and smile and sing together. Joy is infectious. We receive joy from one another, and we give joy to one another. When we have something to rejoice about, we want to rejoice together.

And how we will share our joy? How will we celebrate? Somehow most celebrations involve food, good food and drink. Because sharing food is a very practical way of sharing joy.

So we put on a feast, a banquet, a party. Food is something we all need. But when we celebrate we pile on more food than we need. Celebration is more than survival. Celebration is all about a life that is richer and fuller than survival. Celebration is all about sharing the gift of life that is fulfilled and enriched.

Sadly many celebrations today become an excuse for self-indulgence, for drunkenness and abuse and selfishness, which is taking the good things of life and turning them into something selfish and destructive.

Celebration is a true celebration when it embraces the very best of life. Celebration is a true celebration when it gives glory to our God as the giver of life.

The Bible readings for today are all about celebrating the goodness of our God.

The first reading was from the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah has many harsh things to say, because he is talking to a people at a time when they had turned away from God, He has many gloomy things to say, because he warns the people that they will be defeated and life will become very hard. But he points the people to a time when God will rescue them. God will defeat their enemies. God will save the people from their distress.

At the same time, Isaiah is painting a picture of God’s final victory over all evil, of God’s salvation from all misery. He speaks of deliverance and salvation for the whole world:

On this mountain the Lord will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations, he will swallow up death forever. The sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of this people from all the earth. The Lord has spoken.

God will save people from death and he will bring people to his celebration of life:

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all the peoples, a banquet of aged wine – the best of meats and the finest of wines.

And people will join in the celebration, praising God:

Surely this is our God; we trusted in him and he saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him. Let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.

Our psalm today is Psalm 23. You all know it as the Psalm of the Good Shepherd. But did you notice how the psalm ends? With a great celebration!

The Lord who leads us and guides us through life, like a shepherd providing for and protecting his sheep, brings us to a great celebration of his victory:

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head will oil. My cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

We celebrate when we share in the salvation of our God. That is a celebration that we share in now. And a celebration that continues into all eternity.

The second reading takes us to the New Testament, to Paul’s letter to the Christians in Philippi. Of all the letters in the New Testament, this letter to the Philippians has the deepest sense of joy.

We heard it in the reading: Rejoice in the Lord always! I say it again: Rejoice!

Rejoice in the Lord, means rejoice in your relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. You are living in his forgiveness and his salvation. That is the very best reason to rejoice.

Throughout this letter Paul speaks about taking this spirit of joy into every part of your life. Celebrating can be a special time of coming together. Celebration is also an attitude to life.

It is a life of trust and prayer in a spirit of thanksgiving.
It is knowing the peace of God that goes beyond all human understanding.

It is looking for everything that is noble, pure, right good, holy, admirable – focusing on all that is good, on all that comes from God, and building your life around them.

And the Gospel of course is about a wedding celebration. Jesus tells a parable about a wedding banquet. He tells of a man who puts on a wedding banquet for the marriage of his son. He tells of a king who celebrates the marriage of the prince.

The story is obviously a parable about God, and about Jesus Christ as the Son of God.

But why a wedding feast? The people knew weddings as one of the great celebrations of life. In the cycles of life, for two people to come together, to join their lives, to continue the cycle of life, that was a celebration that the whole town would join in and celebrate. It was a celebration that would continue for several days.

The Bible uses the wedding feast as a picture of the celebration between God and his people. Jesus is sometimes called the bridegroom.

If Jesus is the bridegroom, who is the bride? The Bible speaks of the Christian church as the bride of Christ. The Christian church, which is all people who are brought to share this new love of God through the forgiving love of Christ is called the bride of Christ.

Christ loves his bride, and his bride is devoted to Christ. They share a life of wonderful, selfless love and deep, serving devotion.

So now Jesus tells this story of a father who gives a wedding banquet for his son, of a king who puts on a wedding feast for his prince.

But like many of the parables of Jesus, there is a twist.

The father prepares the feast, kills the fatted calf, lays out the tables, decorates the banquet hall. Then he sends his servants to summon the guests, the guests who have already been invited to share in the celebrations.

But they do not want to come. They refuse the invitation.

There seems to be two strands to the story, two different versions that have been brought together.

In the local village version, the guests just cannot be bothered. They have work to do. They are too busy, on their farms or in their businesses. They are preoccupied with what they want to do for themselves. They seem to have no idea of what they are missing out on. So they just ignore the invitation.

In the royal version, the guests turn on the servants, and beat them and kill them. If they refuse to come when they are summoned, their refusal is an act of rebellion against the king. That is why it says that the king was furious, and sent his soldiers to punish their city.

Here Jesus is thinking especially of how the religious leaders of Jerusalem turned against the prophets that God sent, and then turned against Jesus himself. By the time Matthew wrote this Gospel, the city of Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Roman army.

Either way, this parable tells of the goodness of God, providing a banquet, celebrating of the most wonderful life. And the tragedy of people who say: No, we don’t want that life. We don’t want to share your celebration. We don’t belong to you. We will not come and share in your wedding. We will not share in the relationship of joy that is faith in Jesus Christ.

But now there is something totally unexpected.

The father sends the servants out again, out into the streets and the laneways, out to find the people who are poor and struggling. He sends his invitation to people who never, ever thought that they would be invited to this wedding banquet.

Jesus says that the servants were told to bring in all the people they could find, both bad and good. So it was not a question of who deserved to be invited.

Here we see a picture of the grace of God. God’s invitation to come and share his life and salvation is an invitation to all people, an invitation that reaches far beyond who we think should be invited, who we think is worthy to be invited.

This story reminds us that none of us deserve to be invited into the life that God gives. God has gone out to find us wherever we are. It is not a question of how good or bad we are. None of us deserve the invitation.

We come only because God has come to us with his grace, with his love, with the undeserved privilege – God wants us to share in his life. God wants us to celebrate with our Lord Jesus Christ.

But there is one more twist. The father goes into the banquet hall and mingles with the guests. There he sees one guest who is not dressed in wedding clothes, in clothes that are appropriate for a royal celebration.

He has this guest thrown out, thrown into the outer darkness of wailing and moaning. Which is the Bible’s way of speaking about an existence without the life of God, an eternal punishment.

It sounds strange, after such a wonderful invitation. Why was he dressed so poorly? Why was he treated so harshly? It is not because this person was dragged in off the street, and could not be expected to dress up for the occasion.

The point Jesus is making here, is that the only way we can come into the presence of God, the only way we can share in the joy and life of our Saviour, is through the grace of God.

God gives grace. God clothes us, wraps us up in his forgiveness. To be there without wedding clothes means to come and to still ignore and refuse the grace of God. Which is an insult to God and a rejection of the grace of God. Which places us again under the judgement of God, and outside his life.

Our Lord invites us to celebrate with him, to share in his life, the life of sins forgiven and fellowship with our God and Lord.

We live a life of celebration. We express this relationship with our God in a special way when we come to worship. Here we are with God. Here we receive from God. Here we celebrate the grace of God. Here we even taste the banquet of God, as we receive the life-giving food and drink of Christ giving himself to us.

Here we rejoice, and we take that joy with us. Here we look forward to the eternal feast, the heavenly feast, where we share in the perfect joy of life with our God. Amen.

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost


Text: Phil 3:10a
“All I want is to know Christ.”
Pursuing what is important

What was Sir Donald Bradman’s batting average? (99.94)
In what city did the Commonwealth Parliament first sit? (Melbourne)
Which band has received an Australian of the Year Award? (The Seekers)
What Australian movie includes the phrase “Tell him he’s dreaming”? (The Castle).
What is the tallest waterfall in Australia? (Wallaman Falls, Qld).
Where is the Big Prawn? (Ballina).

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If you ever want to go on the TV show Million Dollar Minute that’s the kind of knowledge you would need.  You don’t have to be academically brilliant.  In fact, there have been contestants on the show whom I would consider to come from professions that require a good deal of intelligence.  Those who win are the people who can absorb and recall trivia – small details from everyday life that other people simply overlook as unimportant.  If someone asked me, “What nationality was the person who invented the dual flush toilet?” I wouldn’t know because it’s a piece of trivia that I’ve considered not important enough to want to store in my memory forever.  (By the way, it is an Australian – Bruce Thompson in 1980).

When you think about it, our daily lives are made up of quite a bit of trivia – lots of little insignificant things.  I’m thinking of things like brushing your teeth, combing your hair, eating breakfast cereal, hanging out the washing, doing the dishes, having a shower and so on.  None of these events will ever be recorded in a biography of our life.  When our obituary is read at our funeral all those little mundane things that make up 90% of our life won’t get a mention

Even though those ordinary events make up so much of our life, they aren’t anywhere near as important as the day we were married, or the birth of our children, the happy times we’ve spent together as a family, or the marriage of our own children and the arrival of grandchildren. 

What is more important – a trendy expensive overseas holiday that masks underlying family tension or a low key holiday where family members share, support and help and enjoy one another’s company and the whole event enhances their relationships? 

Which is more enjoyable – a lavish dinner with all the trimmings in an atmosphere of anxiety and bitterness, or fish and chips eaten in an atmosphere of love and understanding all round?

The world is really good at making unimportant things seem important.  The people involved in advertising know exactly how to make trivial things seem so important.  In fact, they make it seem that our lives wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t follow their advice.  They keep telling us in their advertising that if we really want to have a happy and complete life then it’s not possible unless we use their product.
Drive this kind of car.
Buy this brand of cleaning product.
Use this insurance policy.
Buy these and you’ll be as happy meerkat eating a Happy Meal at McDonald’s!  

It’s so easy to turn anthills into mountains.  We get all mixed up.  Little things are treated as big things and big things are treated as little things.  We get side-tracked and our lives are given direction by the small things, the unimportant things.  Well, what really are the important things?

For a start God is important.  Now I know I hardly need to say that in the present company.  Everyone here in this church knows that!  But we all know how often we forget what is really important and get everything out of perspective.

The existence of God and his love for you and me is far more important than knowing the exact age of the earth, as interesting and as important as that information might be. 
The undeserved and unmerited love of God for us is far more important than knowing all the details of how vast and awesome the universe is. 
That God has adopted us into his family through the water of baptism and promised to always walk by our side during the good and bad times in our journey through life is more important than how much we are earning or what brand labels are on our clothes. 
There is nothing more important in the entire world than the special love that God has for each of us.  And yet somehow we manage to get side-tracked. Paul says in Romans 12, “Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world” and yet that’s exactly what we do. We copy what other people consider to be the most important and place them before God and his love for us.  It’s easy to copy the world’s values and not even now we’re doing it.  Because everyone else is doing it, it’s natural to think it’s ok, when in actual fact, it’s not God’s way.

Satan attempted to side-track Jesus in the wilderness with all kinds of temptations and get him to focus on fame and saving himself and not on being the Saviour of all people. 
The disciples at times were side-tracked by trivialities (like the discussion about who will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven).   
The Pharisees and leaders of the Jews tried to discredit Jesus in front of the people with all kind of unimportant issues but Jesus always focussed on what was important. He always came back to the main reason for his presence on earth, “I have come in order that you might have life—life in all its fullness” (John 10:10). 

Jesus reached out to people in love.  He healed people. He raised people from the dead.  He forgave their sins.  He taught them and challenged them to “take up their cross and follow him”.  Thesewere great things but the greatest was still to come.  He died on a brutal cross and in doing so paid the price for our failures and our over emphasis on the unimportant things of life.

Jesus died.  And he was raised again.  There is nothing trivial about what is happening here.  This is the most important piece of news to have ever come into our world.  Jesus died for our sakes.  He went through all of that just for us, simply because he wants us all to share in the joy of eternal life.  If you want to know what the most important thing in this life is – this is it.  Jesus and everything he has done for us.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul put it this way, “Everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ” (Phil 3:8-9a).   

Whatever Paul had considered as important prior to his conversion is no longer his first priority.  Once Paul thought his heritage as a Jew, the festivals and ceremonies of the Jewish religion, and obedience to the law, were the most important things.  But in comparison with the Christ, all of this pales into insignificance, or to use Paul’s word, “I consider it all as mere garbage.”

One of the reasons we need regular and faithful commitment to church attendance is that here we can make a time for a weekly mini-retreat to a place where the ordinary business of living is set aside to re-focus on what is really important.  It is a time to find forgiveness, to celebrate, to give thanks and to hear what he has to say to us through his Word. This is a time when we can place Jesus and the work he has given us as the one thing that is truly important in our lives.  This is the one time we can be served by Jesus as he gives us his body and blood and we are totally focussed on him and his love for us.  While the world around us is screaming, “Make me the most important part of your life”, the time we spend with Jesus here on Sunday and every day in prayer and devotion time, keeps us focussed.   

Paul is making it so clear to his readers.  “Everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord … All I want is to know Christ”.  That is the most important thing for him.  Everything else is not important – it’s rubbish.  It is Christ and only Christ who can give hope.  When it comes down to it everything in this world will pass away, even this body, and it is then that we only have Christ and he gives us everything we need.

It’s so easy to get everything upside down and our values and priorities topsy-turvy and end up regarding Jesus and his love for us as less important than we should. 
Today we are challenged to put first things first. 
We are challenged to take another look at what we regard as important and to recognise those things that we have elevated to take the place of the most important of all things.
There is nothing trivial about Jesus Christ – his suffering and dying for us. 
There is nothing trivial about the special relationship that our heavenly Father has with us and this is made clear to us in Baptism and in Holy Communion. 
There is nothing trivial about the presence of our Saviour in our everyday lives as he comforts, guides and supports us.
There is nothing trivial about the promise Jesus gave that “All who live and believe in him will never die” but will enjoy life in heaven forever.

Keeping Christ central in a world that demands that so many other things are more important is hard work and it’s becoming more and more difficult to make Christ central in our ever increasing secular society that has no understanding of God whatsoever.  The apostle knew that as well as anyone because he also lived in a non-christian world and talked about constant striving and to never think that this business is a pushover – because it’s not. 

He knows how important Jesus is and so he keeps on reminding himself, “All I want to know is Christ” and he keeps on telling those whom he loves, “All you need to know is Christ – he is the most important”.

In Jesus Christ there is life.  There is nothing trivial about that!

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost.

The verses read for the scripture from St Matthew’s gospel chapter 21;verses 23-27, concern a puzzle, a conundrum, posed by Jesus to the Jewish leaders. It is on these verses I wish to concentrate our attention this morning. They gordon3relate to a meeting between, we are told, Jesus and “the Chief Priest and Elders of the people,” (v23) and the incident occurs in wider discussion by Jesus about the nature of faith in God the Father of Jesus Christ, the question of faith in God is the context in which this encounter is recorded.

The encounter between Jesus and the “Chief priests and the Elders”, concerns the question of authority. With this question they seek to elicit from Jesus an explanation by which they can understand the basis of  His actions and teachings. On the surface this seems a perfectly simple and understandable question to ask of Jesus who comes amongst them doing and saying many things without any recognisable credentials that they can understand or accept. It is there right as the custodians of the community’s wellbeing that they should ask of Jesus, ‘Well, why should we believe what you say? Tell us by what authority you preach and teach?’ Give us an explanation of your right to be teaching and acting in the manner of one who speaks on behalf of God.

 The way the question is posed means that Jesus authority needs to be explained in terms that they, the Jewish leaders, understand their own authority. For their authority is understandable, they stand in a long line of traditional authority stretching back to appointment by Moses. They can point to their descent and lineage of priesthood and eldership which originates in the formation of Israel itself. But what of Jesus, the itinerant teacher from Nazareth? Their assumption is that since Jesus cannot point to any recognisable or understandable authority or tradition He will not be able to say by what authority he teaches and thus be shown to be a fraud.

But in Jesus reply to their clever question about authority, we are meant to see the impossibility of faith in God as a human possibility, a human undertaking. This incident between Jesus and the Jewish leaders in the Temple confirms the well-known words of Martin Luther concerning knowledge of and faith in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when he makes, to us, the somewhat puzzling statement,

“I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth……… This is most certainly true.” (Commentary on the Third Article of the Creed in the Small Catechism)

You may well ask the question, but Jewish leaders that day in the Temple questioning Jesus authority did not have Luther’s Smaller Catechism in their pocket to which they could conveniently refer? Of course, they did not. But Jesus reply indicates the same understanding of knowledge and faith in God as Luther’s statement in the Catechism.

According to Jesus reply to the Jewish leader’s question about His authority they are directed  to their view of John the Baptist’s Baptism. Was John’s baptism of God or man? The Jewish authorities know they cannot answer that it was from God because if they did, they would be shown to be unbeliever’s in Israel’s God for whom they claim authority to speak.  They did not recognise John as a prophet who’s coming is directly related to Jesus as the promised Messiah. They cannot admit that John spoke in the name of God, as it would show them up as unbelievers and their authority a fraud.

But on the other hand, they cannot say that John’s baptism was a human action because if they did their credibility, their authority, amongst the people would be questioned since the people recognised John as sent by God. So, the Jewish leaders are seen to be caught between a rock and hard place and thus they refuse to answer Jesus question.

The point of Jesus question, in answer to the Chief Priests question about His authority, is that the witness of the Baptist, His preaching and baptism, raises the possibility of God coming to His people in grace and judgment: a God whose will and purpose is expressed, not in some far off heaven but here and now in the midst of His people. The word of the Baptist was that this reality was soon to be realised and realised in Jesus who came to him on the banks of the Jordan river whom John recognised as the Son of God. John told his disciples Jesus was “the Lamb of God”. In St John’s gospel Chp. 1:29, we read “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

The Jewish leaders in rejecting the possibility that the witness of the Baptist to God’s coming to them in gracious judgment denies the very reason for Israel’s existence. For Israel’s very existence in the world was witness to the fact that their God comes to them and acts for them, creating them as a people in the world for His redemptive purpose for all people. The God of the Jews is a God who acts in the world. He lives and acts in the historical relationships in which His people are involved. That is the whole purpose of the witness of the Old Testament scriptures. The God of the Old Testament is a living acting God who comes to His people in grace and judgment throughout their history, even to this present day.

Jesus refusal to answer their question concerning His authority is intended to heighten the dilemma in which the leaders of God’s people find themselves. Jesus silence, His refusal to answer the question as to the basis of His authority, proclaims what the Baptists word indicated, that God’s action is ungrounded in anything but God’s freedom. God’s action is grounded only in the inexpressible freedom of God to be the God He determines Himself to be for His people.

The great declaration of God to Moses question as to who God’s identity is, in the book of Exodus, “I am who I am.” or “I will be who I will be” is God’s response to Moses’ request for His name. He gives Moses an unpronounceable name which indicates He determines Himself to be the God of Israel in the inexpressible freedom of His grace. So, to Moses He gives Himself a name which the human tongue cannot pronounce based on the consonants and vowels of the Hebrew verb “to be”. And to this day the Jews do not take the name of God on their lips since it is not only holy but is unpronounceable. So, when reading the scriptures, they say “Ha Shame”, “the Name” when they come to the word signifying Israel’s God. The authority of God’s presence in the world is ungrounded, precisely because God’s presence was and is the activity His free grace, His realised salvation for His people. His voluntary, free action, towards them in Jesus cannot be demonstrated by any authority in this world since it is the authority of the ungrounded love of God, His free grace. If we are to know this God then we must recognise this fact and know Him only by believing Him and not try to establish His authority by something we regard as authoritative aside from the action of God Himself who has come to us in the humility of His free grace.

Jesus silence does not simply confront his questioners with a puzzle. This puzzle reflects the contradiction of their existence before God. Their question shows the impossibility of their faith in God being real. For faith, and therefore knowledge of God, presupposes that God’s coming to His people is not motivated or grounded in who they are or in what they understand the world to be; but simply in His free condescension, His grace. Jesus silence is an invitation to the Jews to again allow themselves to be grasped by the mystery of their being the people of God. God’s unfathomable mercy toward them which in terms of who they are is completely inexplicable, ungrounded. In Charles Wesley’s memorable words, God’s grace is His “undistinguishing regard, that is immense, unfathomed and unconfined.” Its nature cannot be conceived even by the angels, for “In vain the first-born Seraph tries to sound the depth of love divine”, “Tis Mystery all that thou my God shouldst die for me.”

For Jews will again be confronted with Jesus silence to which His silence here points. This silence is before Pilate in the judgment place, Gabatha, where Jesus is asked the same question as the High Priest in the Temple. Jesus refuses to answer precisely because the mystery of God’s grace deepens and widens in that now God Himself becomes in His Son identified with His people’s sin. He refuses to justify Himself. He thus allows Himself to be put in the wrong in order that His people in their god forsakenness may be given to participate in His own eternal righteousness.

What does this incident in the Temple teach us about our faith in terms of Luther’s words: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him.” It teaches us that we cannot give a reason for our faith and hope in Christ that is related to who we are or what the world is. Faith in God is something created by God’s action, His grace toward us in His action in Christ. It cannot be demonstrated by anything in this world but comes to us by God’s free grace. The Jews refused to live by this mystery of grace and sought to make Jesus tell them how his authority is based in what they regarded as their authority as leaders of the people of Israel. This was an impossible request, because Jesus presence in the world is grounded in the unfathomable action of God’s condescension in grace to redeem and renew His people. We must heed Luther’s words and understand that faith is not some magic trick which we perform because of some religious skill or motivation we have.  Faith is true knowledge of God  because it is not our knowledge, it is God’s knowledge of us in Christ.

Dr. Gordon Watson.

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.  Let’s  join in a word of  prayer:
God of such amazing grace and mercy, we know from Scriptures, the certainty of your care for us.  Help us express this care for others
as your children,  seeking to be compassionate and setting aside our pride.  God of all mercy, help us to hold onto the faith that your Holy Spirit puts into our hearts by word and sacrament.  Gracious heavenly Father, hear our prayer for the sake of our risen Lord,  Amen.

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David:0414521661

Two brothers were born into a middle class Christian family here in Australia.  The brothers grew apart, with one embracing Christianity as a teenager, while the other became interested in experimenting with all that living in a broken world offered.  As life progressed the Christian tried to encourage, warn, and even frighten his brother into accepting faith in Christ Jesus.   Nothing seemed to make a difference.

As they matured and became older, the wayward brother became ill, and faced death.  The Christian brother sat at his bed side through the last days of his brother’s life, and spoke gently of Jesus.  In the last moments of his life, the brothers prayed together and the dying brother expressed a reborn faith in our Saviour.  He closed his eyes for the last time with the shadow of a smile on his face, and contentment in his heart.

At the funeral, the Christian brother was sad and angry.  The Pastor spoke to him with concern over his grief.  The Christian explained that he was angry because his brother had lived his life devoid of faith, but at the last moment received life eternal.  It was clear that the Christian brother was resentful of his brother’s wayward life and deathbed conversion.

The Pastor gently related the parable we shared in the Gospel today.  It made all the difference, because the reality of God’s grace and love for every believer shines through, no matter how confused our life becomes.   In the Kingdom of God, it may even seem that ‘the first will be last, and the last will be first,’ as Jesus relates to us.

This does raise an interesting question though.  Can we disregard our relationship with Christ Jesus until we are near the point of meeting Him?

 In light of such a question, I am reminded of Paul’s words, ‘what ever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.’  And so, I suggest that it does make a difference.  We don’t believe in Jesus just for the eternity we will share with Him.  We believe in Jesus for the hope we have each day we live with Him here and now.  ‘To live is Christ and to die is gain.’

I am convinced that when we get to heaven, there will be no contest to see who was the most deserving of God’s grace because no one deserves it.  We receive it because of God’s nature, not because of our’s.

I suspect there will only be one contest in heaven. When we look back and see what we were before, when we see how Jesus rescued us, when we recall how confused we were, when we remember how God reached out and brought us into His family, and how he upheld us in his hand, and when we see Jesus who loves us and gave himself for us, the only contest will be to see which of us will sing the loudest:  “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.”  Grace that set our hearts free to trust and believe.

God’s generosity is limitless.  His forgiveness has no boundaries.  His love is eternal. He is not a respecter of merit.  And yet, Jesus ends the parable with the words, ‘the last will be first, and the first will be last.’

From the words of Christ Jesus, I have a sense that there is an order to things in eternity.  That we have a foretaste of this in the parable.  The followers of Christ Jesus can be assured of the promises of life eternal from God.  Life that is special, joyous, and exciting.

In the parable, we see workers who are hired in the morning, the afternoon, and the evening, all receiving the same reward for their commitment to the landowner.  In the reality of salvation, I expect the same generosity from God, for those who come to faith in Jesus Christ, and receive the gift of baptism.  Whether as a baby, a child, a teenager, an adult, or on their deathbed, the same salvation is offered and received. There are no levels to salvation, and there is no purgatory where we must work away our sins.  Jesus fulfilled the entire law, and took our punishment to free us from judgement.  Nothing is impossible for God.

I suspect that there is not one Christian who would disagree with the mercy and grace of our loving God.  After all, God sent his Son to die on the cross to offer us this salvation.

And yet, among the workers, those last hired, are first paid, and they receive the same reward as all the others.  In our minds, this seems unfair.  We most often work an hour for an hour’s wage.  In the parable we have the words of the landowner, “Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a normal days wage?  ‍ Take your pay and go.”    Jesus died on the cross for all humanity.  Because of this universal act of sacrifice, God offers the same unlimited salvation to every person individually.  And we receive this gift individually, by faith in our Saviour, Jesus Christ.    

When the landowner went out to hire labourers, he did not pick and choose among those who were there.  Everyone who was standing there was hired, and the landowner returned again and again to discover those who were ready to begin work.  Yet the landowner made the agreement with each worker individually, when they were hired. 

God’s Holy Spirit has been poured out upon the whole human race at Pentecost.  God keeps every person in his view, and when we are ready to receive his grace and mercy, He is ready to receive us.  And the angels in heaven shout for joy as a new child of God is registered in the book of life.

But let’s not be confused about this.  When God chooses us to join the Kingdom of God, our work on earth is not finished.  It is just beginning, and will continue as long as we have breath.  Paul writes, ‘For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.  If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labour for me.’

While we labour in the field, God’s Holy Spirit gives us different gifts and abilities. It must have been in the parable that some of the workers tilled the land, some cultivated the crop, and others harvested the fruit.   As the Scriptures tell us, ‘we are to use our different gifts in accordance with the grace that God has given us. If our gift is to speak God’s message, we should do it according to the faith that we have; if it is to serve, we should serve; if it is to teach, we should teach; if it is to encourage others, we should do so.’   
Whatever gifts God has given to us, and whatever we do, we do all to the glory of God.  And we do all with love for one another.  All to the glory of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  There is no reason for any Christian to complain about God’s grace from envy or resentment, as the workers did in the parable. And as the Israelite people whom God led to freedom from Egypt.  

In Christ Jesus, we have the spiritual freedom to do our best to align our priorities with God’s will for our lives and our world.  We can give thanks to God for his mercy in offering salvation through our Saviour.  It’s only wise to use whatever gifts we have been given to promote the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the harvest fields where we have been placed.  Our generous and loving God who wants everyone to be saved.

Over the weeks and even months ahead, we as a worshipping community will rely upon the gifts we have been given, and the spiritual freedom we are blessed with.  We see from the Contact, and other testimonies that the Lutheran Church especially in New South Wales are facing a future with hope, faith, and confidence.  Facing the challenge and the opportunity to re-imagine worship and mission as Lutherans of the 21st Century. 

I am excited to witness what that future will bring.  New expressions of worship with word and sacrament.  New opportunities of mission right here in New South Wales and even Port Macquarie.  And new challenges of working closely with the District and the Lutheran Church of Australia in redefining the LCA Constitution and identity.   I have a keen desire to be part of this new initiative, and I hope that we will all move forward with faith, hope and expectation, rather than anxiety, fear, and lost familiarity.  And as we open ourselves to the work of the Holy Spirit to go out and call others to join us in our little vineyard of the world, we can rejoice along with the angels in heaven.    

So, for today, for tomorrow, and for the future, may the grace and peace of our Triune God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.   AMEN.

Rev David Thompson.

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.  Paul writes to us this morning, ‘why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.  It is written: ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.’  So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.’

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David:0414521661

Let’s join in a word of prayer:  Loving Lord Jesus, as we share this time of worship, joined together in your presence, strengthen our resolve to withhold judgement and actively accept each other for the person each of us is.  Help us gain a new perspective of peace, confidence, and joyful fellowship as you fill us with your Spirit, and feed us on your word.  Gracious Lord Jesus, hear our prayer for your name’s sake, Amen.

Would you say, “most Christians agree on everything”.  Is that right?  Well, sometimes even we, as Christians, are quick to disagree and even judge other people, even other Christians.  The way they live or the way they express their relationship with God.  The words they use.   
In this broken world, we recognise there’s a lot of false teaching around, and a lot of what we would consider casual Christianity.   We don’t want to get taken in by it.  So we learn to judge as wisely as we can, and test everything against the precious Word of God. 

 At the same time, the basis for our judgment isn’t always the best it could be. It’s sometimes easy for us to filter what the Bible teaches with our personal bias.  And to extend this judgement from ideas to people.

A story is told about a Catholic priest who was walking down a lane behind his church to his car.  Suddenly a thief jumped out from behind some bushes and pressed the muzzle of his gun into the priest’s ribs.

The thief said, “Give me your wallet!”  Without hesitation, the priest reached gently for his wallet in the breast pocket of his coat. It was then the thief caught a glimpse of his collar.  “Are you a priest,” the thief asked?  “Yes I am, my son” said the priest. 

“Well, put your wallet back,” the thief said. “I don’t rob priests. I may not be Catholic, but I am a Christian.”  

At that point, the relieved priest put his wallet away and pulled out two cigars with shaky fingers.  He offered one to the thief.  The thief responded with indignation, “Oh no, I couldn’t do that. Smoking is so wrong.  I can’t believe a priest would do such an evil thing!”

Sometimes people have convictions about certain things, but fail to deal with other things that really matter in their lives and their relationship with our Saviour Christ Jesus. (Observation by Scott Kircher 6/19/2012)

So, Paul seems to echo the words of Christ, recorded in Matthew Chapter 7,  “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

(Mt 7:1–2 NIV)

When we stand before our God in heaven, Scripture reveals that we will need to give an account of ourselves.  I have a sense that we will not be standing in judgement, because Jesus took all our wrong actions, attitudes, and words to the cross.  But instead, this will be a recognition for us of all that was wrong, and all that we are turning over to God, as we leave that behind to be part of a perfect eternity.

When Paul asks the question ‘why do you condemn another believer? Why do you look down on another believer?’ I suspect he says this to encourage us to respect each other in the Christian Community out of love for one another.  And not just to avoid judgment ourselves.

With this epiphany rising up in our spirit every time we are tempted to condemn others, we can take hold of the words of Jesus to us today.  When Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive someone who sins against me? Up to seven times?”  Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.”  Or “seventy times seven” in another version.  A response that I am convinced was intended to indicate we shouldn’t limit our forgiveness.  In just the same way we want God’s forgiveness never to be limited.

We are facing decisions about our future as we endeavour to discover what our Worshipping Community is passionate about.  We will certainly encounter situations where our intuitions and  passions will drive us in different directions, even as Christian brothers and sisters.  So we keep in mind that we are not to condemn one another as we all try to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit. 

We should rather try to understand each other, with forgiveness over the attitudes we misperceive, the words we often misunderstand, and the ideas that we sometimes find difficult to accept.

Paul wrote in Romans to the Church of his day, and to all Christians, throughout time.  The early Christians were in dispute over eating food that could be purchased in the market place, especially meat.  As Gentile Christians, they were not required to observe kosher.  Even so, they would be purchasing meat and other foods in the markets of Rome that most likely would have been presented first at the altar of some false god or goddess.  So to eat it would remind them of their previous life and practice of pagan worship.  And this would burden their conscience. 

I have read that many of these early Christians preferred to eat only vegetables, rather than take a chance of eating sacrificed meat.  Others celebrated their freedom in Christ Jesus to accept the purchased food to be eaten with joy and thanks to God.

In the same way, the Jewish Christians disputed with the Gentile Christians about days of worship. 

The Jewish Christians worshipped on the Sabbath, and again on the Lord’s Day.  While the Gentile Christians saw no obligation to worship on the Sabbath, but gathered for worship on the Lord’s Day. 

Paul encourages the freedom of the choices that the early Christians made, and warned against condemning each other, which would have fractured their Christian unity.   

What Paul was most passionate about was proclaiming Christ Jesus and the Kingdom of God with the Good News of Salvation.  As we find in his letter to the Church in Colossae, ‘do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.’  (The Holy Bible: New International Version. (1984). Col 2:16–17)

I have an intuition that what Christ Jesus wants from us during the times ahead is to exercise our ability to bring forgiveness and understanding where misunderstanding would attempt to create barriers between us.  

As we consider our future, and discuss openly our thoughts and feelings, let us dismiss every cross word and angry thought in the light of the Gospel that shines through with the love of Christ Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit.  

It reminds me of a poem by  Annie Johnson Flint:

“God has not promised Skies ever blue,

flower-strewn pathways all our lives through;

God has not promised days without rain,

joy without sorrow, peace without pain.

“But God has promised strength for the day,

rest for the weary, light for the way,

grace for the trials, help from above,

unfailing compassion, undying love.”

 – Annie-Johnson Flint

As we share in God’s blessings today, may the grace and peace of our Triune God keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.   AMEN.

Rev David Thompson.

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Romans 13:8-14

There is deep, deep darkness. The surrounding fog presses against you. It is weighty, and so thick that it muffles the sounds nearby.

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David: 0428 667 754

You become conscious of someone speaking. At first their words are disjointed and muffled, then they gradually become clearer and connect.It’s the weather report, all the way from the station studio delivered right next to your bedside cupboard. The alarm has gone off! Surely not already! You bravely expose your arm to the crisp coolness and reach for the clock radio, fumbling for the snooze button to give you just five more minutes. Instead you knock the clock radio to the floor. Looks like it’s time to get up after all. Time to get dressed. The morning hours have arrived; the day is soon at hand.

In our text today Paul uses profound imagery of night and day, light and darkness, to call the church to readiness for the great day of Jesus’ return. He says in today’s text: “The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.” Night is followed with day. Just as our morning alarm sounds in the darkness, signalling that it will not be long before the day arrives, motivating us to get dressed and open the curtains so that the morning light will flood into the room, Jesus’ return to judge the living and the dead will be soon, just like that.

Paul also uses ‘night’ and ‘day’ and ‘light’ and ‘darkness’ in another sense. The darkness that is associated with the night represents the world and the present age that scoffs at God’s commandments.Just as the night is filled with darkness, so too this present age is lost, stumbling and falling in the deeds of darkness that Paul mentions: carousing and drunkenness, sexual immorality and debauchery, dissension and jealousy.

While God’s children live among those of the night they are to live as children of the day. That means there will be a struggle. At least, God-willing, there should be a struggle. For as long as this world remains and this age lasts, the works of darkness go on continually. Though we belong to Christ the night is still a power that seeks to make us sons and daughters of darkness again, constantly pressuring us to join in the works of the world. As children of the day; of the light, we are called to put aside, to rid ourselves, of the thinking and the works of the world. Paul’s appeal to awaken from sleep and lay aside the deeds of darkness is a repetition from chapter 12, where we heard Paul’s impassioned appeal a few weeks ago, for the church to not to be conformed to “this age”. Paul shows us the urgency of this today. He says the hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber. Jesus has already been handed over, crucified, dead and buried to deliver us from this present age with his holy and precious blood, and now he is with us here as he serves this holy and precious blood to you, his baptised people. The hour has already come.

Joined to him, we have access to his resurrection power now, to fight against the sinful flesh and not be conformed to the world. And so we are briefly carried back to chapter 6 where Paul asks: “What then, shall we continue to sin so that grace may increase? By no means! We who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

When the alarm goes off in the morning and we wake up, we get dressed, ready for the day ahead. That is an intentional action, and we put clothes on appropriate to the situation. Paul tells us what to wear as children of God: “let us put on the armour of light” and “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.” This is what baptismal living means. It is as if we were to go to the wardrobe and reach out and put Jesus on, covered by him, surrounded by him, motivated by him in all we do so that others see Christ, not us.

Paul’s call for the church to ‘wake up and get dressed’ comes in the midst of teaching about love in the Christian community. God’s people who are to put on Christ don’t belong to a new age with new values, they belong to the people of God from of old, with values from of old, like “Love your neighbour as yourself”. That’s God’s command from Leviticus 19:18 which Paul quotes to the Christians at Rome hundreds of years later, and to us here, today. Indeed, loving our neighbour as ourselves is the very way of living radically differently from the world, and our world desperately needs to know this love.

At the end of WWII some American soldiers on duty on the outskirts of London on Christmas morning came to an old gray building with a sign that said: “Queen Anne’s orphanage”. To see what sort of Christmas party might be going on inside, the soldiers knocked on the door. An attendant told them that all the children in the orphanage had lost their parents in the London bombings. The soldiers went inside, and seeing no tree, no decorations and no gifts, they gave out whatever they had in their pockets—a coin, a stick of gum, a stubby pencil. One soldier saw a boy standing alone in a corner. He went to him and asked: “My little man, what do you want?” Turning his face up to the soldier, the little boy answered: “Please Sir, I want to be loved.”

Witnessing to God’s own love in the midst of a loveless world is what God has saved us for. It is in the light of the future day of salvation that Paul reminds the church to love our neighbour as ourselves. The situation is urgent. The night is nearly over, the day is almost here. The world needs to see authentic love, love that is different from the world’s idea of love. Love that first comes from God. That is why in today’s text Paul’s preaching on love is intertwined with his preaching on the commandments. Paul’s preaching of love does not overthrow the law but upholds it; his preaching on God’s law does not stifle love but defines it. God’s law and God’s love are not two separate tracks, but they are one and the same path. The one who actively loves does the Law as God intends. In fact it is only by loving—loving our neighbour, but loving God even more—that one puts the Law into practice as we love our neighbour in the ways God desires: by not committing adultery but honouring our neighbour’s spouse as if they were our own, even with our thoughts. It means not murdering, even with the daggers of hurtful words and the knife of un-forgiveness. It means helping our neighbour in all their physical needs, as Luther explains. Love does not harm to a neighbour. We love by not stealing but helping our neighbour maintain what is theirs. We are not to covet, nor scheme to get something from our neighbour as though we were dissatisfied with the abundance God has blessed us with.

The obligation to love is new every morning like the light of another day. Paul explains that the only debt left unpaid is to love. For that is what God in Christ has done for you. If ever anyone presented their body as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, Jesus was that man. If ever a life was an unbroken unity of love, it is the life of the Son of God, who became obedient unto death, laying down his own life even for his enemies. He did not retaliate against them or persecute them but prayed for their forgiveness. Because of Christ you can be sure that God’s mercies are new every morning, and great is his faithfulness—his undeserved faithfulness.

God is still here, bringing his love to you. He is still here serving you, through his holy supper, giving you that same holy and precious blood that he shed on the Cross. Through this meal he brings forgiveness and peace from God to you. Through this meal you have the assurance of God’s love for youa love that is not based on your performance, obedience, or capabilities. It is a love that will never change or be swayed by latest trends, public opinion or personal benefitsbut a love for you that is unconditional because it depends on the life and righteousness of Christ, who is committed to his Father’s will for you and who fulfilled it perfectly. It is a love that means when Jesus returns on the last day, he will usher you into his heavenly kingdom. That day will be a good morning, and there will be no evening or darkness to follow. On that day he will make your body like his glorious body and you will shine like the Son—not the blazing light in the sky, but he will make you shine like the Son—Jesus, his Son. That day is nearer now than when you first believed; the everlasting day of blessedness and glory which will have no end, which, through faith in Christ, you will share in forever. Amen.

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Exodus 3:10-12a
The Lord said, “I am sending you to the king of Egypt so that you can lead my people out of his country.”  But Moses said to God, “I am nobody. How can I go to the king and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”  God answered, “I will be with you”.

The call committee appointed by the congregation to seek out a new pastor was having great deal of difficulty finding a pastor for their parish.  So they did what some congregations do these days, dhuffthey sent out an email asking for expressions of interest from any pastor who might be see himself as a possible candidate to be called to the congregation.  There wasn’t an overwhelming number of responses but the committee met to work through those they did get.

One member of the committee read out one the letters:
“To the members of the call committee: 
It is my understanding that you are seeking a pastor and I would like to express my interest in filling that vacancy.  I can’t say that I preach very well.  In fact, I tend to stutter when I speak and get stuck for words.  I do have a lot of experience since I am almost 80 years old.  I have only just recently had an encounter with God.  I heard a voice which told me personally that I was the one to be your pastor.  One never knows when God will appear right before your very eyes.  As far as people skills go, I do tend to lose my temper every once in a while.

I’m also inclined to want things done my way, and can get impatient and cranky if it’s not taken care of right away.  Once I even killed somebody.  But since I know you are gracious people, I know you will believe me when I say that’s all behind me now.  Although I am kind of reluctant to work with you folk, I will turn up in a few weeks to lead you into a brighter future whether you call me or not.”

Silence fell over everyone in the room. 
An old bloke with no seminary training, who is arrogant, temperamental, hears voices, an ex-murderer as their pastor?  Hardly the right kind of person.
Finally, someone spoke. “By the way, who did you say wrote that letter?” 
The answer came, “It’s signed, ‘Moses’.” 

Of course, the setting of this story is fictional but it does go to show that no committee would have picked Moses to be the leader of God’s people.

What can we learn from God’s call to Moses?

  1. When God calls, he calls ordinary people. 
    Moses was the least likely candidate to receive a call from God, especially such an important call. 
    He wasn’t all that young anymore (about 80 years old); he wasn’t an especially pious man. 
    He did have a good education, but he had lived out in the wilderness looking after sheep for the past 40 years, hiding from the authorities because he had killed a man in a fit of rage.
    He certainly didn’t regard himself as a leader. 

Moses wasn’t looking for a closer relationship with God.  He wasn’t interested in a special, risky task for God. So, God takes the initiative.  The call was all God’s idea. It was a gracious call that took the gifts and abilities that Moses had, along with his weaknesses, and used them all for the good of others.

In fact, God did this kind of thing on a number of occasions in the Bible. 
Jeremiah was still a young lad. 
Mary was just a young girl. 
Amos was a shepherd.
Gideon was a wheat farmer.
David was a shepherd boy. 
Peter, James and John were just ordinary fishermen. 

When I went to the seminary (remember this was a long time ago) I was surprised to see in my class blokes who were more than twice my age.  They had given up their careers and come to the seminary.  One evening over a glass of red the topic came up why these “old blokes” had decided to go back to study.  One had been a farmer.  He had left school as soon as he could and taken over the farm from his father.  There were good seasons and bad seasons – that’s how farming is but as he went around the farm on his tractor ploughing or harvesting or whatever, a kind of uneasy feeling came over him.  At first he didn’t know what it was and hoped it would go away.  He was an elder and lay reader in the small local congregation and someone said one day, “You ought to be a pastor”.  Suddenly that uneasiness took on a focus.  He described how he argued with God.  “I’ve got a farm.  I’ve got a family. I’m not a scholar.  I hated school”.  It took a while, but God finally got his attention.

Age, gender, status, qualifications are not important.  When God calls, he calls the person who is most suited to do the job. 

That day in the wilderness, on an average ordinary working day, something happened.  A bush burst into flame.  A voice came from the bush.  God was grabbing Moses’ attention.

God reaches down and grabs the ordinary lives of ordinary people for extraordinary purposes.
Is it possible that God is trying to get your attention? 
Is God calling you to do something very specific, very different, something out of the square?  Maybe it’s not something so out of the ordinary, so way out there, but for you it’s a challenge.
When God calls there is nothing unkind or harsh about it; he’s not being unrealistic or hard to gone on with; behind every call there is always God’s love.

  1. When God calls, he has a very definite purpose in mind.  
    That day in the wilderness, God wasn’t interested in just a friendly chat.  God introduces himself, “I am the God who was worshiped by your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”  And then he revealed something of the pain in his heart as he told Moses how his people were being cruelly treated.  He had heard their cries for help.  Now he was sending Moses to lead the people out of Egypt to a new home.

When God calls, he has something very definite in mind.   
He has called you to be his disciples.  Do you sense that God is calling you to do something very specific as his disciple? 
What is God’s special call to you?  Don’t think for one minute that he doesn’t have something special for you to do in his Kingdom.
Is he calling you to be a peacemaker, a reconciler in the sandstorms of anger, jealousy, ill feeling, and anxiety?
Is he calling you to be life-giving water in the wastelands of the lives you come across in the classroom or office or wherever love and kindness and mercy and understanding are needed? 
Is he calling you to be his word of comfort to someone crossing a wilderness of sickness and grief? 
Is he calling you to be the voice of those who have no voice – the homeless, the hungry, the refugee, those caught in slavery to addiction of every kind.
Is he calling you to lead someone to the promised land of eternal life through Jesus? 
In what way is God calling you to be Moses-like and speak for God to others?

  1. When God calls, we object.
    When Moses heard what God wanted him to do, he said,
    “What?Who?  Me? 
    People won’t believe me. 
    I’m no one special. 
    No-one will listen to me.   
    I’m not a leader. 
    I’m a poor speaker and I can never think of what to say”. 
    What a list of objections.  Moses tried all the excuses he could think of and not one of them is original.  God had an answer for them all.

Moses would have done anything to dodge God’s challenge. 
When we start to do this, I suggest that we need to stop for a moment and remind ourselves that through dodging God’s call, we may miss a valuable moment to make a difference in a person’s life, or make a valuable contribution to the life of this community.

We may not always see the reason why God is calling us to do a specific thing, but be assured that when he calls us then it is for some very good reason.  When God calls, love is always behind his calling.   

  1. When God calls, he reassures. 
    Moses was given assurance that God would help him speak, find the right words and what to do along the way.  God never promised that this would be an easy assignment, however, he promised to always be present to help. 

When God calls are you ready to listen to the guiding of the Holy Spirit, take up a challenge, to step out in faith, even though you could easily give ten good reasons why you can’t? 
Even though you think you are the most unlikely person for a particular task, are you game enough to take up the challenge trusting that God will help you and that the person doing the asking is Jesus in disguise? 
Even when the task seems too big or too hard are you able to get past your initial fear and hesitation and step outside your comfort zone?

We may not understand the reasons why God calls us to take up certain tasks, but one thing we do understand – it’s not beyond God to call you or me to do something that we wouldn’t have thought of doing in our wildest dreams.

And at the moment when we’re busy thinking up all kinds of excuses, we can be assured God has very good reasons for placing that challenge in front of us.  Remember at the back of every one of God’s call to do something is his love.

He knew that Moses would be able to handle the job – with his help. 
When God calls us, he knows that we can handle the challenge – with his help.  When God calls, he also promises, “I will be with you”.   And you can be certain of that promise.  Just look at Jesus and the cross.  There you see God’s commitment and promise to us in the flesh. There you see God’s promise of forgiveness and renewal for the times when we fail just as Moses and all the others failed.  Even when we blunder badly fulfilling the task of being his disciples, and we know that Moses did this often, we also know that we have a Saviour who is ready to forgive and set us right again and refocus as we get back on track.

When God calls, as difficult as it might be to say, may our response be,
“I don’t think I’m the best person in the world to do what you are calling me to do.  There are plenty of others better than me. But at this moment I believe I am the person you are calling to do the job and I know you will help me do it.”

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

Twelth Sunday after Pentecost

The text: Matthew 16:13–23

 

What kind of person do you warm to? Someone who brags about their achievements and never seems to mess things up? Or someone who makes mistakes, but is quick to admit them and stands by you when the going gets tough? We can more easily identify with someone who is very human, can’t we?20180311_103505 (1) Someone who displays weaknesses common to many of us, and yet remains an inspiration to us. We may often wonder about the kinds of people Jesus calls to serve him.

They seem to us to be the most unlikely of candidates to achieve great things for Christ. Simon Peter was the most unlikely of candidates to lead a religious revolution. He’s been called ‘the apostle with the foot-shaped mouth’. Peter was eager and enthusiastic, bold and outspoken, with a habit of revving his mouth while his brain was still in neutral. Our four gospels are remarkably candid about the faults and failures of the first leaders of the Christian church. Their weaknesses and shortcomings aren’t smoothed over by some public relations expert.

Rather, the candid recording of erring disciples by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John is part of the evidence for the reliability of their narratives about our Lord. Both their strengths and weaknesses are revealed to us to give hope to all of us. In a sense, there are no great Christians, only the great grace of Christ, which is either eagerly embraced and used to make a life Christ-like, or is sadly neglected and underused. Our world isn’t looking for perfection from those of us who bear Christ’s name – it is looking for reality, for people who quickly admit what they’ve done wrong instead of blaming others for what’s happened. No Christian is a finished product. We’re all learners with a lifelong learning process still ahead of us to ‘grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ’, as St Peter urges us out of his own experience.

When Jesus called Peter to be his disciple, the life of Simon Peter the fisherman changed dramatically. He became not only the most prominent of Christ’s followers, but also later became the leader and principal spokesman of the fledgling Christian church. He’s a fascinating Christian because of his fallibility, and yet impetuous enthusiasm. Peter wasn’t born a giant of history, but became one through his lifelong love for Christ and his desire to cling to Jesus Christ, no matter what happened.

One day, when many of Jesus’ disciples deserted him, Jesus asked his 12 apostles: ‘Will you also go away?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God’ (John 6:67–69). In other words, Peter’s saying that he could not contemplate following anyone but Jesus. There’s no other option worth considering!

Christ called Peter to follow him when he was having no success in his work as a fisherman. When he obeyed Jesus, Peter had an extraordinary catch of fish. He instantly realised that he wasn’t just having good luck in fishing. Rather, in Christ, he was in the presence of a power beyond his comprehension. His immediate response was one of unworthiness. He fell down before Christ and said, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord’.

But Jesus didn’t depart. It was precisely such a person as Peter, a man who knew his own weakness and sinfulness, but could at the same time recognise and acknowledge the presence of God’s power that Christ wanted. Leaders are involved in the middle of the action. They are curious and love asking questions as did Peter. His readiness for adventure means he had the potential to be a great leader. He had the habit of opening his mouth when he should have opened his ears instead. From time to time, he didn’t fully understand what he himself was saying.

One such occasion was when Christ was transfigured in all his heavenly glory before his eyes. After Peter spoke, St Mark bluntly tells us that Peter didn’t know what to say! His great confession of faith in today’s gospel is all too soon followed by Peter’s unguarded and unthinking tendency to protest what Jesus says. As the proverb states: ‘Fools rush in where angels fear to tread!’ Jesus had just lavished great praise and blessing on Peter for his profound, Christ-centred confession of faith. Jesus then addresses Peter as a minister and says, ‘On this rock [that is, on this ministry] I will build my church’. Then Jesus adds the hope-filled, comforting and encouraging promise that the Gates of Hell can never overpower Christ’s church.

This promise has sustained and empowered the martyrs and missionaries of the church ever since. All the organised opposition and hostility towards Christ’s church will never wipe it out. Christ guarantees his bride, the church, will remain forever.

The first Director General of the BBC, Lord Reith, was visiting a group of people, preparing a radio program. One of the group members told Dr Reith what the program was all about. It was to be about ‘giving the church a decent burial’. ‘Young man’, Dr Reith responded, ‘the church of Jesus Christ will stand at the grave of the BBC’. We might add ‘and at the grave of every other secular organisation!’ Christ’s church is like an anvil that has worn out many hammers.

Jesus gave to Peter and the ministers of his church the ‘Office of the Keys’, that is, the authority to forgive the sins of those who repent. Peter would especially treasure his own forgiveness by Christ, and his rehabilitation at Easter after Peter had so cruelly denied he ever knew Jesus. Prior to his denial of Jesus, Peter was super-confident that he alone would never deny our Lord. No thoughtful Christian will want to point an accusing finger at Peter, because the depths of his failure to be faithful to his Lord is matched by the depth of his repentance when he realised what he’d done. When Jesus turned to look at him, Peter went out and wept bitterly. Peter repented because Jesus prayed for him.

A sense of our own vulnerability to letting Christ down is essential. If we don’t recognise and acknowledge our own vulnerability, and plead constantly for Christ’s help, we too set ourselves up for failure.

An alcoholic had been sober for a number of years. He was asked what the secret was to his recovery. He replied, ‘As simple as it sounds, it was the hardest lesson for me to learn. Every time I crave a drink, the last thing in the world I want to do is pray. I will do anything not to pray. But I finally discovered that when the pressures build up to get drunk and go on a binge, if I will force myself to pray for five minutes, the temptation will fade away. But you don’t know how hard that is. When a man needs a drink, the last thing he wants to do is pray about it’.

Peter learned that same lesson in the Garden of Gethsemane when he failed to join our Lord Christ in prayer. In his two letters, where he shares with us all the marvellous things he learned from our Lord, Peter writes, ‘Keep sane and sober for your prayers’ (1 Peter 4:7). He starts his first letter off with the marvellous difference Christ’s resurrection can make for all of us. He writes, ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy, he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time’ (1 Peter 1:3–5).

In St Peter, the New Testament gives us a portrait of a disciple who, through weakness, was made strong. In our weakness, we too can discover Christ’s strength and the inexhaustible sufficiency of his grace. Jesus says, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Corinthians 12:9).

The life of St Peter reminds us that church leaders are weak and human like every other Christian and need the prayers of their people for their ministry to be truly blessed by Christ. When Christ called Peter the ‘rock’, he was referring to what Peter would become. Christ views all of us in light of what we can still become by his grace alone. Thank God for that mercy! Instead of sacking us when we fail, our Lord Jesus longs to forgive us and recommission us for his service.

What a marvellous incentive that is – to continue in the work of the Lord knowing that in the Lord, our labour is not in vain. Amen.