The amazing body

The Text: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31

Have you ever taken the time to reflect on the amazing creation that is thechurch4 human body? The human body is simply incredible. Research tells us a few facts about the human body:

  • Our body has over 200 bones, and over 600 muscles.
  • The human tongue has between 2,000 and 8,000 taste buds.
  • Laid end to end there are close to 100,000 km of blood vessels in your body..
  • Scientists estimate your body has about 100 trillion cells.

It’s so complex. There are so many parts, and so many systems. Yet essentially your body functions as a unit. You have one body.  

St Paul uses this reality of our human body to teach us about the church. As we work through this teaching of Paul on the church as Christ’s body, we’ll note two important things he emphasizes about what the church is, and then two important things he emphasizes about how we live with each other as members of the church.

So to begin with, what are the two more general things we learn here about the church as the body of Christ? We learn about the unity which exists between Christians, and where that unity comes from.   

This is striking right from the start. Our starting point today is usually that “I’m a Christian as an individual”. Paul’s starting point is that we are Christians collectively, as a body. Often today if someone says they are a Christian and you ask ‘where is your church?’ they will look at you strangely. ‘I don’t have to belong to a church to be a Christian’ they’ll say. But Paul says that to be a Christian means to be a part of a body, and if you’re not regularly gathering with those other members of the body to be nourished by God, something is drastically wrong. The Church is not so much an organisation, but an organism. We’re not so much members of the church, as we are membranes of the body.

But then the second part is: where does this body get its’ unity from? The answer here is very simple: ‘in the one Spirit we were all baptised’. The one God has baptised us into the one body of Christ by the power of the one Spirit. In other words, there is a common source by which people are made a part of the body, namely God. There is a common means, namely baptism. There is a common power, namely the Holy Spirit.  

This is very significant for the unity of the body of Christ. No one is a part of the body of Christ because they deserved it. No one is a part of the body of Christ because they have the funds to make a big enough donation. No one is even a part of the body of Christ because they decided to be. We are all only a part of Christ’s body the church because he has chosen us. He has baptised us by the power of the same Spirit. The church is unified as a whole because the same God has brought each person into the body in the same way – baptism – by the same Spirit for the same reason – which is his grace!

These are the two things we learn about the church in general. First that it is not a free-association of like-minded individuals, but a living unified body, complete. Second that this unity comes from the same Baptism by the power of the same Spirit.

Then Paul goes on to talk about how we are to live in the church to maintain this unity. He has two main things to say here. First a word to those who feel inferior, and second a word to those who feel superior. In reality we probably all fall into both groups at different times. So perhaps we could say, a word to each of us in those times when we feel inferior, and a word to each of us in those times when we feel superior.   

First the word to us when we feel inferior. All of us at times look around in the church and have feelings of jealousy, envy, perhaps even inferiority. We might think that a particular person has such a strong faith, and wonder, “Why is my faith so weak?” We might wonder, “Why a particular person speaks so comfortably to non-Christians, and, “Why I am so timid?” We think that without that person over there, this congregation wouldn’t be the same, without me, perhaps no one would notice. In the church we all may have these and similar feelings at different times. Paul speaks to us a word of encouragement in these times.

He says that when we feel we are different or don’t belong, it’s as if a foot says, “Because I’m not a hand I don’t belong to the body”. It’s as if the ear says, “Because I’m not an eye, I don’t belong to the body”. But that’s nonsense. Eyes are wonderful, but if all the ears wanted to be eyes, the body couldn’t hear. Ears are wonderful too, but if all the noses decided they wanted to be ears, the body wouldn’t be able to smell or breath.

God has arranged both the human body, and the body of Christ, the church, in a very particular way. He has arranged it with many different and diverse members. They all fit together to make one body.

This is an incredible word of encouragement from St Paul to us if we feel inferior. In our baptism God has made us a part of the body of Christ with our particular gifts and abilities, no matter how small or insignificant we think they are. God has arranged it this way so that the body of Christ, as represented locally by this congregation, would not be whole without each of us. What an amazing word of encouragement.

Our problem may not always be that we feel inferior. It may be that equally, possibly more often, we may feel superior. Certainly that was a big part of the problem in Corinth where people were experiencing all kinds of spiritual gifts like prophecy and speaking in tongues.  Some thought that they were superior Christians because of these special gifts. It happened then, and it still happens today in lots of different ways.

It’s not all that surprising that we tend to despise those who we think are weaker, because our world very much works on the principle of the survival of the fittest. If you’re in a sports team and there’s 11 players and only 10 spots, so that one person has to go, usually it’s the weakest player. If you are a boss or a manager and there is someone in your company or team who is just not as good at their job as everyone else and you have to let someone go, ordinarily they’ll be the first one.

As Christians we can think and act this way in the church. We may look around at other people in the church and find that person a bit annoying, think another person isn’t pulling their weight, or write yet another off as a troublemaker. We may be tempted to think we don’t really need that person in our congregation or our Christian community. In fact, we think we’d be better off without them. Many of us may think like this sometimes, and let’s be clear, this is sinful thinking and we need to repent when we find ourselves going down this path.    

Again, Paul illustrates this with his imaginary conversation between the parts of the body. An eye can’t tell the hand, or the head tell the feet, that they’re not needed. On the contrary Paul says, the weaker members of the body are indispensable, and the ‘less respectable’ members are treated with greater respect. When we get frustrated with a fellow Christian, or when we feel ourselves despising them in some way for some reason, God is actually calling us not to shun them or write them off, but exactly the opposite, to take special care for them, and to especially honour them.

This applies to all congregations and denominations as well. We need to be careful not to have a superior attitude over other congregations in our Lutheran Church, or over other denominations. This doesn’t mean we can’t speak the truth where other churches may be in error, as that’s a necessary thing too. But there’s a way of doing this with care and love for them.

Our human bodies are truly incredible. It’s worth reflecting on their complexity and how intricately God has knit our bodies together. St Paul encouraged us to mediate on our bodily reality in order to better understand the Christian Church and our place in it.

So let’s rejoice that God in his grace has united each one of us to Christ and incorporated us into his body – the church. We are all important members of Christ’s church and St Paul wants to encourage us now in that knowledge. 

And let’s grow in our ability to see each other in this same light, for the health of the whole body of Christ in our community and world.

Amen.

You said we’re a team.

The Text: 1 Corinthians 12:28

The movie Coach Carter is the true story of Ken Carter, a successful sportingac5 goods store owner, who in 1999 became head basketball coach for a high school in a poorer city suburb. The first thing he noticed was the attitude of the players he was about to coach and their extremely dismal performance on the court. So Carter sets out to change this by imposing some strict conditions including: respectful behaviour, dress code, and good academic results as a prerequisite for participation in the team.

One player, Timo, thought that all this was just over the top and quit the team, only to return later with a desire to be reinstated. Timo asked Coach Carter what he must do to play. Carter deliberately sets him an impossible task – he must complete 2,500 push-ups and 1,000 suicide drills by Friday.

By Friday, Timo had tried but hadn’t completed the tasks the coach had set him. Although impressed by the effort, Carter asked him to leave the gym. Timo has failed.

Unexpectedly, another player, Jason, who previously had a personality conflict with Timo, stepped forward. “I’ll do push-ups for him,” he tells the coach. “You said we’re a team. One person struggles, we all struggle. One player triumphs, we all triumph. Right?”

Coach Carter watched Jason drop to the floor and begin doing push-ups. One by one the entire team joined to help Timo reach his goal. They had been acting only as individuals, but now they were working together as a team.

Nature provides us with a multitude of examples of the teamwork of animals and birds. Geese fly in a “V” formation and take it in turns flying up front where the going is harder. When the lead bird gets tired it falls to the back where the updraught caused by the birds in front make flying easier. When penguins experience extremely cold weather they huddle together and as the penguins on the outside get cold they are moved further into the centre and keep on rotating so that they all keep warm. It would be a disaster for them to be selfish. When those outside died from the cold there would be none left to keep those in the centre warm.

The Bible reading from 1 Corinthians which we heard earlier makes some important points about being together.

First of all, it says that we are Christ’s body. Note that it doesn’t say, “we are like Christ’s body”, but “we are Christ’s body”. We are a group of people linked to Christ: that’s what we have in common.

It’s true that we are individuals and that Jesus has saved us as individuals, but we have been joined together in baptism with Jesus. We have been called together into God’s family as brothers and sisters – together we are God’s own people (1 Peter 2:9, Col 3:12).

Secondly, we all have the same Spirit who links us to each other. We have all received the same Holy Spirit who calls us to worship the one Saviour, believe in the one true God who supports and comforts all of us in our times of need.

Our “oneness” is in God our heavenly Father who created us and loves each of us with such intensity that He freed us from our sin and adopted us as His own children. Our oneness in Christ our Saviour and the Holy Spirit, who calls us into God’s Church, breaks down barriers and division

One of the most revolutionary things about Christianity in its early history was the way it broke down barriers. It turned the world of its time on its head.

For the first time: master and slave met in the same building for the same purpose, shared the same meals, stood or knelt side by side in worship.

For the first time male and female were able to worship without the marked divisions which Jewish worship demanded.

For the first time Jew and Gentile were able to meet together as equals before the one God whom they worshipped.

The reality was that the church broke down barriers which society put up and  practised. The church was at the forefront of change. It refused to follow the ways of the world, but set a different standard which eventually the world partially adopted for itself. The church did that because it was linked to Christ as one body.

The third thing this passage emphasises is that while each of us has separate, individual gifts, we all belong to each other, need each other., We, all together, make up what we call church. Paul used the picture of the body to help us grasp the reality of the church.

There are two points to Paul’s picture of the church as a body.

One: we are all of value and all have a role to play in the church. And two: we can’t do without each other. Just as a hand can’t decide to live in isolation from the rest of the body – if it does it’s either a disconnected hand or it’s not a hand at all – so we can’t live in isolation from each other. There’s no such thing as a Christian who lives in isolation from everybody else. To be a Christian means that we exist in relation to others – we need others just as they need us.

Paul summarised this new “oneness” which people shared when he said, “All of you are Christ’s body” (1 Cor 12:27). Now remember to whom Paul was writing these words. Here was a congregation of very gifted people who:

  • couldn’t get on,
  • argued,
  • showed little care for certain sections of the congregation,
  • big-noted themselves and thought of themselves as more important and more spiritual than the rest,
  • took one another to court,
  • had all kinds of problems when it came to worship and agreeing on how things were to be done.

And yet, in spite of all of this, Paul opens his letter by calling them the saints at Corinth and then says, “Each one of you is part of the body of Christ.”

He doesn’t say to them, “Now listen here, you guys, this is what it should be like and I know that you will never achieve this”. Instead he deliberately and firmly says, “You are the church, the fellowship of believers, in fact, the body of Christ, and this is how it is”.

It’s not like life out there in the world. You can’t use worldly ways when it comes to the body of Christ. Out there people use one another, unfairly and rudely criticise one other, run others down to promote themselves. Out there people get all huffy and abusive if they don’t get their own way, are jealous of those who get more attention or given greater status, or who use their skills and time selfishly for personal gain only.

  • In the church things are different. Here our function and purpose is for the good of each other.
  • If one is sad, then we all share that sadness.
  • If one is disadvantaged, we all feel that disadvantage.
  • If one is sick then we long for them to be well.
  • If one is separated, we want for them to have a sense of belonging.
  • If one is struggling to cope, we sense that struggle.
  • And conversely, if one gets a promotion we’re glad for their success.
    If a person deserves praise, we’re liberal in giving them some praise.

We encourage each other to use their respective gifts to the fullest. We look around and recognise that some don’t seem to have a particular outstanding talent but we honour them too, so that there is no discord, no bitterness and no ill-feeling in the body of Christ.

In the church, in the Christian fellowship, there’s a different set of values from those of the world which should affect the way we operate. This doesn’t happen naturally. This only happens, and can only happen, when individuals are linked to Christ. And, then it follows that the stronger the link to Christ, the more the God pleasing interaction and togetherness becomes a reality.

This is a key issue – how can we expect to be the body of Christ when we don’t know Christ and His will is for us? It is through reading the Scriptures, studying them, learning from them, receiving Holy Communion, asking Jesus in prayer for His guidance and help, and allowing the love of God in Jesus to really affect our daily lives that we know Christ and see our place within His body, the church. The church is just another group of people or club if we don’t know and follow the Saviour and recognise that He is always calling us together to be His people to bring his blessing to this community.

There is plenty of room for repentance and change. There is plenty of room to do a stocktake of what Jesus and His church means to each of us. There is plenty of room to acknowledge that we have often adopted the attitude of “what can I get out of the church” rather than “what can I give to Christ through the church”.

Some of us may have to admit that we have preferred to sit back and let everyone else do things rather than offering to work with our fellow members of the body of Christ. It is very easy to not be involved in the life of the church – after all, we do have our lives to live!

There is little doubt that there are many things which we don’t like about the human side of the church.

The church is church only because of Jesus. We are called into the church to be with Christ and with those whom Christ has saved (and for those He is yet to save). We are here because of the love which Christ has for us and the forgiveness He has won for us on the Cross. This is what makes the church different to every other organisation in the world. We are motivated by the love of Christ to be like Christ to others – welcoming the outcast, accepting the sinner, comforting a little child, welcoming the cheat, encouraging the depressed.

In many ways we do reflect the concept of the body of Christ in this church. There is a sense of caring for each other, of showing concern, of building up and encouraging and helping when it’s most needed.

But we can improve. We can be more diligent:  at building up rather than tearing down, at strengthening rather than weakening, at thinking as a body, rather than individually. We can commit ourselves to be an organism, a living body which works, and so benefit each other. In our own small way, we as “church” and as individual members of the church can shape the community in which we live.

How do we see the church and our place in it?

As this year gets under way we are challenged to think about what this congregation means to us.  We can continue to develop a sense of belonging here. Don’t just talk about this church as “(name of local congregation inserted here)” but as my church or our church (we all know it is really God’s church).

Here we try to help each other on Sunday mornings focus in the one direction as we:

  • focus on the God we believe in,
  • show each other that He’s important to us by our presence here,
  • receive strength for the days in-between worship,
  • receive a sense of being part of a big family which is important to us, which we can count on, to which we can give what we are able to give and we can be a body which functions the way God intends it to function.

Why bother with this? Because it is here amongst the people of God that we find Jesus and His love for us and the world. We tell each other through words and practical ways that God loves us and is ready to do whatever is necessary to help us be the Christians God wants us to be in this place. It is this love of God which has called us together – as different as we might all be – to be part of his church.

Paul says to us, “Together you are the body of Christ”.

And we respond, “We are the body of Christ! Amen!

How embarrassing.

The Text: John 2:1-1120180311_103505 (1)

There is nothing worse than inviting guests to your place for dinner, having a mental picture of what there is in the fridge and on the shelves, only for that mental picture to be very different from reality…like when you offer your visitors a cup of coffee only to realise you have enough milk for 4, not 6 cups…or falling short with the meat on the BBQ so that you have to pile the plates up with salad to cover up the half a sausage underneath. Embarrassing, isn’t it? Which is just what happened in today’s Gospel reading: the hosts of a wedding in Cana of Galilee had run out of wine.

How embarrassing for the hosts of that wedding celebration! What could be done? They couldn’t just duck into town to the IGA, and there were no drive thru bottle shops in the small town of Cana. What an embarrassing situation to be in! An embarrassing situation that is actually far worse than we first realise. For Jewish wedding celebrations were not just an afternoon or evening event that we are accustomed to, but could go on for up to a week! So the hosts who have run out of wine have not just run out for that day, but days! They’ve got no hope to rectify the situation!

But this is a far more serious matter than just social embarrassment. In the Ancient Near East there were strong social customs involving generosity between hosts and guests . For example it was possible to take legal action against a guest who had failed to provide the appropriate wedding gift. But on the other hand, hosts failing to fully discharge their duties of hospitality were financially liable. What the end of the wine supply means for the Groom and his family in today’s Gospel reading is that they are facing a lawsuit. They are guilty and have a debt to pay.

Then Jesus’ mother pipes up. By no means is she the centre of this account, nor is she to be reverenced in the manner some do, but there is good reason to focus on her here. Her words to her Son “They do not have any wine” show that she trusted in Jesus’ resourcefulness. What did Mary expect of Jesus? The answer must be extraordinary help. She actually doesn’t even ask Jesus to do something, she simply states the difficulty and expects Him to do something. After all she knew Jesus to be the Messiah because of what the angels spoke about Him before His birth, the virgin conception and so on. Perhaps she tried to make Him take such action so as to show Himself to all as the Messiah she knew Him to be.

Not yet time for that though. That will only be fulfilled when Jesus is crucified on the Cross and His tomb is afterward found empty. And so Jesus responds: “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” Or in other words: “The time’s not right, Mum.”

Yet Mary still anticipates that Jesus will act compassionately and so she says to the servants: “Do whatever He tells you to do.”

Then Jesus does tell them to do something: “Fill the jars with water.” These stone jars had a capacity of around 30 gallons each. They were standing nearby in accordance with the purification rules of the Jews who washed not only their hands but also dishes, cups and kettles such as we read in Mark 7:4. They thought by doing so they were being cleansed of external contamination and making themselves ceremonially clean before God. So before this wedding feast in our text, the servants would have poured water over the hands of every guest as well as washing all utensils used. A big amount of water would have been required—thus the need for these 6 jars which had a collective capacity of approximately 680 litres.

The servants do what Jesus commands. They fill these jars up to the brim with water. And when Jesus tells them to take some out and carry it to the MC, they do that as well. And upon tasting it the MC’s response leaves no doubt that Jesus has just performed an astonishing miracle. The MC summons the Groom and says: “Every person puts out the good wine first and when they have drunk, then the inferior. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This is no water. This is top shelf stuff. Better than South Australia’s Penfolds 2004 Block 42 Cabernet Sauvignon which sells for $168,000 a bottle!

Jesus has stepped in and given the wedding couple a gift worth far more than that bottle of Penfolds. He has provided an abundance of wine for the wedding and saved the family from social disgrace. But Jesus’ gift was thus doubly important. He takes away the legal judgement and penalty for the banquet hosts.

This is the first of the signs Jesus performs in John’s Gospel. Signs do not point to themselves, but to a deeper reality behind them. Jesus’ signs show us that He is true God, the Christ promised to the Jews and given as the Saviour of the world, the One who has authority and power over the laws of nature and time and space and life and death.

In doing so Jesus doesn’t just give the wedding couple a beautiful gift and compassionately free them from the judgement of the Law. He does something beautiful and special which is also for us. The purpose of these water jars was to hold so-called purifying water—water that would make people ritually clean in God’s sight. By ordering them to be filled to the brim—so that they cannot possibly hold anything else—and transforming the contents from water to wine, Jesus effectively shows that He has come to free us from the Jewish ceremonial washing rituals—and any works righteousness as a way to earn God’s favour. For this ritual washing was a useless human tradition which took the place of God’s own commands. It isn’t the uncleanliness of a person’s hands that separates them from God but our hearts. In Mark 7:17-23 Jesus says:

“…nothing that enters a person from the outside can make him ‘unclean’ For it doesn’t go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body.
“What comes out of a person is what makes him ‘unclean.’ For from within, out of people’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a person ‘unclean’.”
Jesus makes these water pots vessels of grace. He transforms the water which was used legalistically to the gift of wine that frees from debt. But we too are like the wedding hosts. We are faced with a lawsuit. Not for what we fail to provide as hosts of banquets, but because we fall short of what God requires. We come under God’s just sentence. We need urgent help. Jesus transforms the water into wine. This miracle is for you too. It points ahead to the Cross where He once for all fulfils the sacrificial system, where it is His shed blood which purifies you from all your sin.
Cana and the Cross are therefore connected. In today’s text Jesus declares that His hour has not yet come. In John 17 just before His arrest, Jesus begins His High-Priestly prayer to His Father with the words: “Father, the hour has come.” In both the wedding at Cana and His crucifixion on the Cross Jesus’ mother is present, the only two appearances of Mary in John. But Mary isn’t named. She is simply referred to as “The mother of Jesus”. None of the people are named: the servants, the disciples, the wedding couple.
Why?
Most likely, so that we, the hearers, can place ourselves in the account. The mother of Jesus is a model of faith. She trusts that Jesus will bring help in the situation they are in. She expects He will do something after she has stated the problem. The servants do as Jesus commands. The disciples put their faith in Jesus; not just a belief that He is God, but a trust, a living faith that, as the mother of Jesus says, will “do whatever He tells you to.” As you step into the Gospel account, as one of these characters, do you have the faith of Mary, the disciples, the servants?
Faith is not about being super-spiritual and having it all together. We never have it all together. Faith says to Jesus: “I don’t have it all together. Here I am again today; a stone water jar…and a cracked one at that. Do something new in me today—and every day. Help me to change…to humble myself under your word and help me to do whatever you tell me to—instead of me wanting to do what I want to do. Help me to not just believe in you, but to put my trust in you, like your disciples, expecting that you will continue to provide well beyond what I could imagine, like your mother did. Transform me every day so that I have a spark of the conviction of your servants to do whatever you say.”
For the turning of ordinary water into the best of wines reflects the radical change Christ effects in us sinners, so that by the transforming grace of Christ we don’t allow pride to take hold but release the insistence that I must always be right, and instead embrace humility. So that we don’t judge others in spite and refuse to forgive them when they wrong us. So that we do start to consider that maybe it’s me that needs to ask for forgiveness too. So that we come to Jesus and live a Christian life even when it doesn’t suit us. So that we give our time and talents with an overflowing heart to those who need them.
At Cana Jesus transformed water into the gift of wine and on the Cross He transformed death into new life for us. We share in this life—His very own—having been purified in the waters of baptism where all our sins were washed away. The wine Jesus serves us at Communion assures us of this, because it is His true blood, to assure us that nothing can separate you from His love; that we are His very own, forgiven, and holy precious children. This communion meal is a foretaste of the banquet in heaven to come, where we will be the guests of honour, because of Christ’s abundant mercy and love he has lavished upon us. Amen.

There is always a bit of a dilemma at this time of the year.

The Text: Luke 3:15-17, 21, 22; Matthew 2:11     

There is always a bit of a dilemma at this time of the year. Two importantchurch4 observances on the Christian calendar coincide at this time. On January the 6th it is the day of Epiphany. Epiphany commemorates the first revelation of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles (the non-Jews), represented by the visit from the Magi (those exotic visitors from the east, more commonly known as the three wise men). The festival of Epiphany originated in the Eastern Church (the Orthodox Church), where it at first included the actual celebration of Christ’s birth, and was second only to Easter in its importance.

But at this same time we have the first Sunday after the Epiphany which focuses on the baptism of our Lord in the Jordan River. Epiphany means manifestation and it is at the baptism of Jesus where he is clearly manifested as the Divine Son of God. So, we are left with the dilemma of which important theme to focus on: the revelation of Jesus as a Saviour to the Gentiles or the manifestation of Jesus as the Son of God in his baptism. Well, this year we can take the ‘bull by the horns’. And given that a bull has two horns we can deal with both events, making comparisons between them.

Firstly, we have the Magi from the east who sought out this new king. They saw signs in the heavens that a great ruler had been born in the land of Judah. And so, they travelled hundreds of miles to present their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. These gifts were indicative of the homage they were paying to this newborn child.

The gold was obviously a precious gift, representative of the worth the Magi saw in this child. The frankincense and myrrh were also historically associated with royalty. In the Old Testament book Song of Songs we hear both mentioned in relation to King Solomon: Who is this coming up from the desert like a column of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and incense made from all the spices of the merchant? Look! It is Solomon’s carriage… (Song of Songs 3:6-7). Gold, frankincense and myrrh were certainly gifts fit for a king.

But in the life of the Israelites these items were significant for another reason. Worship was the lifeblood of the people and their worship took place in the Temple in Jerusalem. This was an elaborate building made according to the specifications of God himself. God was both the architect and the interior decorator of the Temple complex and he determined the way worship was to be conducted. And in Exodus chapter 30, we read of three important items featuring in this worship: gold, frankincense and myrrh.

The myrrh was used in the high priest’s anointing oil which was used to consecrate the most important vessels in the Most Holy Place in the Temple (Ex.30:22f). The frankincense was used at the entrance to that same Most Holy Place to help symbolise the presence of the Almighty God with his people (Ex.30:34f). And the altar upon which the frankincense was to be burnt, and which was itself anointed with myrrh, was overlaid with pure gold (Ex.30:3f). So, these were fitting gifts for a king, but they were also items that represented the presence of God with his people.

These were very appropriate gifts to be presented to the child who was also known as Immanuel – which means, ‘God with us’! We have no idea whether the Magi were aware of the symbolic significance of their gifts. But it is more than a little ironic that these non-Jewish, Gentile visitors bowed down and worshipped Jesus as king with the same items used in the Jewish Temple worship! Quite a significant offering!

And then some 30 years later we come to the baptism of Jesus. Even though only three decades separate them, this event in the Jordan River seems worlds apart and centuries removed from the visit by the Magi. It is hard to imagine that the two events occurred in the same lifetime. The visitors from the East seem almost mythical and unreal in comparison to the baptism of Jesus – as though they were mere phantoms in the night.  

Far more believable and indicative of human nature is the incident at the Jordan River. The people in this instance travelled for miles to come and hear what John the Baptist had to say – but from the surrounding region rather than from an exotic land far away.

The response of the people was reserved and uncertain. They were waiting expectantly for something – but they weren’t sure what. They wondered in their hearts if John himself might possibly be the Christ. On the other hand, the actions of the Magi in worshipping Jesus were far more decisive. And the people did not come to the banks of the Jordan bearing any elaborate gifts. They came empty-handed, unless of course you count the offering of their sin and their need to repent. Hardly gifts fit for a king!

But herein lies the unique nature of this king Jesus. John the Baptist indicated that Jesus was the one more powerful than he, the thongs of whose sandals he was not worthy to untie. But although he deserved all honour and glory and praise Jesus did not come to receive gifts from his people. He came to bring them.

Jesus does not in the first instance require us to offer him our wealth, for he came to seek us out in our poverty. Augustus Toplady, the author of the hymn Rock of Ages, recognised this truth when he wrote:       

Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to your cross I cling;

Naked, come to you for dress; helpless, look to you for grace.

Jesus our King comes bearing gifts more valuable than gold, frankincense and myrrh. He comes bearing a cross. He comes bearing our salvation. And having won for us our salvation through his death and resurrection he now gathers us into his kingdom and bestows on us his wealth through the gift of baptism.

As John the Baptist declared: He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Luke 3:16). And when it comes to our baptism into Jesus Christ the gifts from the Magi can help us get a handle on what we receive through baptism.

Firstly, we have myrrh which was used to anoint kings and special items in the Temple. At his baptism Jesus was anointed by the Spirit and God declared: you are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased (Lk.3:22). In baptism, Paul told Corinth, God anoints us, sets his seal of ownership on us, and puts his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come (2 Cor.1:21-22). Our baptism therefore acts as our coronation. To the Galatians Paul wrote: You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (3:26-27). In baptism we receive royal robes of righteousness, fit for those belonging to the kingdom of God. 

In addition to this, myrrh was also used in embalming. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes to help preserve the dead body of Jesus (John 19:39). This acts as a good reminder of the death that takes place in our baptism. The old Adam is drowned and a new creation arises from the water. As Paul wrote to the Romans: Don’t you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised 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 (6:3-4).

Secondly, the frankincense symbolising the presence of God acts as a reminder of how we receive God’s presence in baptism. We hear in the book of Acts the call to: Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).

God’s Holy Spirit is the abiding presence of God received by us in baptism. As Paul told Titus: God saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour (Titus 3:5-6). We might not see a manifestation of the Spirit on us as Jesus did in the form of a dove at his baptism. But we do see evidence of the Spirit in us as we make our confession of Jesus as Lord (1Cor.12:3) and as the Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children, as Paul told the Romans (8:16)

And finally, the gold is symbolic of the precious and eternal nature of God’s kingdom to which we belong through baptism. Martin Luther in the family seal he developed, known as Luther’s Rose, had his seal circled with a ring of gold to symbolise that the bliss of heaven is endless and eternal, more precious than any other joy or treasure.

Through our baptism into Christ we inherit that eternal life. That is what it means to be sons and daughters of God through our connection to Jesus Christ. We have, in the words of the Apostle Peter, been given new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for us (1Peter 1:3-4). 

So, there you have it, those who are baptised into Jesus Christ the King of kings receive more than they could ever hope for. Jesus was revealed at his birth as a Saviour to all the peoples of the earth. The gifts he received from the Magi, the gold, the frankincense and the myrrh, were really only tokens of the wealth that was to be found in him. And later, when he was revealed at his baptism as God’s only Son, it soon became apparent how great a gift to our world he is.

We are baptised children of God. Our King has come to us through our baptism and he has come bearing the gifts of his kingdom. As Paul told the Corinthians: Your body is now a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God. You are not your own; you were bought at a price (1Cor.6:19-20). We are now gifts to the world because as a baptised, holy children of God we represent the presence of God in the world. May we offer our lives in service to God and to the world so that others can come to know and experience the incredible riches of God’s kingdom of grace. Amen. 

‘ God’s Glory’

Text: John 1:10-18

‘God’s Glory’

There was once a gentleman who would drop into a church office asking20180311_103505 (1) questions about God and faith. The people who worked for the congregation didn’t know whether this gentleman was honestly searching for answers to his questions, or whether he was just looking to have a religious argument with someone. Whatever his reason might have been, his questions were good and challenged the people in the office to search for a deeper understanding of God and the way he is at work in the world.

One question this gentleman asked was one that has perplexed humanity for thousands of years: if God is all-good, all-loving and all-powerful, then why are children and other innocents dying everyday all around the world from war, hunger, abuse, preventable diseases, and other evils? The thinking behind his question was that if God is actually all-good, all-loving and all-powerful, then he would somehow eradicate evil so that everyone, especially the innocent victims of human hatred and greed, could live safe, happy, lives that are free of suffering.

We can understand this gentleman’s struggle with the paradox of God’s love and power because we can see it playing out in a wide range of different circumstances, from personal struggles to global issues of justice and peace. The problem with simply getting rid of evil is that, if God were to do that, God would also need to get rid of human will which is often the cause of the evils in the world. We would end up with a God who controls people instead of a God who gifts people with freedom. People who have no will are people who are unable to love, and if God’s desire is that we live in loving relationships with him and with others, as we hear Jesus teach in passages such as Matthew 22:34-40, then taking away our will also means taking away our capacity to love. In fact, because we are all sinful in our natural condition, and the wages of that sin is death—God would have to get rid of everyone.

Rather than do that, God deals with the problem of evil in a different way. Instead of magically getting rid of suffering in the world, God shows us his glory by doing something that we don’t expect and that no-one else could do.

We would expect God to display might and power and obliterate evil. Instead, God comes hidden in the vulnerability of the manger and the cross. He empties himself of all His heavenly glory and experiences all our vulnerabilities (at his birth, in his ministry and in his suffering, torture, shame and even death).

This is God hidden from the proud and self-reliant who makes himself known through humility to those who trust in him.

That God should do the unthinkable coming to as a child in a manger, go to the Cross and die for the sin of the world is the only way we know that God does care. It’s the only way we know that he rolls his sleeves up and gets his hands dirty. That he should be become one of us and for us. This is not a ‘pie in the sky’ God of our own imagining. This is God that surpasses all human understanding.

So, God enters into the suffering of the world as an infant. In Jesus, God joins us in our suffering, meet us in our pain and confusion, and then gives us the hope of something better.

This might sound a bit too depressing or philosophical for a message during the Christmas season. We expect and look for Christmas to be light and happy most of the time. If we just want to have a good time at this time of year, then we miss the real significance and power of the Christmas story. Jesus wasn’t born in a sanitized, air-conditioned birthing suite at a hospital. He came into a broken world still tearing itself apart, a world captive to sin and blinded by it, a world paralysed by selfishness so much that some people stop at nothing to get their own way—even the murder of innocent people. Jesus came into a world such as this. He was born in a dirty, smelly, unhygienic cattle shed. The circumstances of Jesus’ birth were shameful in their culture as his mother became pregnant before she was married to her fiancé. At the time, the people among whom Jesus was born were living under the oppression of the Roman Empire which maintained control through brutal and oppressive violence. We can sanitize the Christmas story so much that we forget that God entered the world in a humble way, immersed in shame, and into the suffering of an occupied and oppressed people. The Christmas story is really a story of shame, dirt, and conflict.

We see God’s glory in the story of Jesus’ birth because when we are suffering from shame, dirt or conflict, God is with us through the birth of Jesus to give us hope and peace, love and even a deep sense of lasting joy. Jesus shows us the glory of God who isn’t removed or distant from the realities of our lives. He is right here with us, walking with us every step of the way, because he has been there before us in the person of Jesus. God doesn’t just leave us there either. In Jesus, God promises us a life that is free from shame, in which we are made clean through his forgiveness and healing, and is free from the oppression of sin, death and all the evils of this world.

When that gentleman went into the office and asked where God was when the innocents are suffering and dying, the Christians in that church could tell him that God was right there with them in the person of Jesus. This is not an empty platitude to try to win a philosophical argument, but the glory of God at work in the world. In Jesus, God shows us his power by joining with everyone who suffers, including us. God surrenders his power to meet us in the middle of the circumstances of our lives, and then gives us the hope of a better life in this world and in the next. We see the love of God in Jesus as he sacrifices everything – his heavenly glory as well as his own life on the cross – to suffer at the hands of evil in order to free us from the power of evil. We encounter the glory of God in Jesus who meets us where we are, journeys with us to carry our shame, dirt and conflict for us, who sets us free from their control, and gives us life that never ends.

Where is God when the world, or when we, are hurting? Through the birth of Jesus, God is right there with us. Amen

What better New Year’s Resolution could there be.

The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.          

  Let’s  join in a word of  prayer:

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David:0414521661

Loving God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; this day around the world, our fellow Christians gather to celebrate the human family of Your son Jesus Christ, and our own families, as we worship You.  Guide our time together that we may hear and understand your message for us.   Gracious heavenly Father, hear our prayer for the sake of our risen Lord, Jesus Christ, Amen.

Here we are, on the verge of a new year, saying good-buy to the old one.   This is often a great feeling.  Especially when the old year had been filled with the uncertainty of COVID. When we can look back on all the challenges, mistakes, difficulties, and broken relationships of the past year and just let go. When we can look at the new year ahead with a clean slate, as Isaiah writes in Chapter 43:   This is what the LORD says— “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.   See, I am doing a new thing!”

Of course the new thing that Our God has done was to enter humanity in his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.  To make a difference in our future, day by day, and moment by moment.  And so, we can trust in Christ Jesus, as we allow the Holy Spirit to bind our will to his.  Since, as Paul writes in Colossians, ‘as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.’   

As Paul also reminds us, ‘the Lord forgave each of us, so we must forgive others, as we let love bind us together in harmony, and let the peace that comes from Christ rule in our hearts.’  What appropriate words for us as we end the old year, and begin a new year. As Carl Brand was quoted, “Although no one can go into the past and make a new beginning, all of us can start from now to make a new beginning.”

In Luke’s Gospel, chapter 2, Mary and Joseph seem to be honouring the traditions of the past, and looking forward to a new beginning.  At eight days old, they brought their baby son, Jesus, to be circumcised, as required by Jewish law.  Then forty days later, they took him to Jerusalem from Bethlehem to offer sacrifices, seeking God’s blessings upon the baby Jesus.

In today’s Gospel reading, we find Mary and Joseph once again returning to the Temple for Passover, when Jesus was about 12 years old.  I must admit that this is a passage that I often take for granted.  To look at this account as just a story of the Lord’s younger years, to round out the Good News of Christ Jesus.  But this year it has been different.  As I confront the visit of this special family to Jerusalem, I have received some very interesting insights.

The Augsburg Confession tells us in Article 3 ‘Our churches teach that the Word, that is, the Son of God [John 1:14], assumed the human nature in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  So there are two natures—the divine and the human—inseparably joined in one person.’  (McCain, P. T., ed. (2005). Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (p. 32). Concordia Publishing House.)

We celebrated yesterday the birth of the divine Son of God, Jesus, accomplished by God our Father at just the right time, at just the right place, to just the right mother, and just the right man to guide him through his early life to fulfil God’s plan for all of us.

And today, we discover the Bible telling us that Mary and Joseph were a devout couple, fulfilling all the requirements of the Law of the Lord.  My intuition tells me that they were a loving couple caring for their children with equal compassion and affection.

With the wonder of Christmas, we often see images of even the baby Jesus in art with a halo surrounding his head.  And we overlook the absolute humanity of Jesus that joined with his divinity as fundamental to his character.  Jesus was truly the child of Mary, and the Son of God. So I see this little story of the family travelling to Jerusalem at Passover, as an  affirmation of the humanity of Jesus.  Which turns this little story into a thrilling addition Gospel of the Christ.  

By the time of today’s reading from Luke’s Gospel, Jesus would have brothers and sisters travelling with the family.  Matthew tells us of the comments of his neighbours in Nazareth,  “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas?  Aren’t all his sisters with us?”  (The Holy Bible: New International Version (Mt 13:55–56). (1984). Zondervan.)

When our family travelled any distance as a youngster with two brothers and a sister, we were relied upon to keep track of each other.  I remember when our family travelled to Washington DC from Ohio, it was a big deal.  My mother dressed all us boys and my dad in the same distinctive blue shirts to make it easier for us to keep track of each other.  And I can imagine that Mary and Joseph would have depended on their kids to do the same. 

Luke tells us that as the family were returning home, they noticed that Jesus was not with the caravan.  Luke tells us that after searching diligently for Jesus, they returned to Jerusalem.  Can you imagine the anxiety and frustration that Mary and Joseph are now feeling.  But they continued  their search until ‘After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.  Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.’

This is where I struggle with the dialogue between Jesus and his parents.  ‘When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”  Jesus asked “Why were you searching for me?” “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”  But they did not understand what he was saying to them.’

In Jewish families, young men, join the adult world at 13 years old with a ‘Bar mitzvah’.  They spend a lot of their twelfth year preparing for this event.  Jesus would have been no different.  I can imagine that he would have engulfed himself in the writings of the Law, Prophets, History, and Psalms that as the Word, God inspired through the history of life, leading up to his birth.   

I can also imagine that Jesus, being the eldest child, might have felt different from the other kids, and somewhat out of place growing up in the family.  In most families, there is that one child that seems to be a bit different.  After all, Jesus was the Son of God who received a tremendous wisdom by the time he was weaned. 

I can read the response of Jesus in two ways.  “Why were you searching for me?” “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” Responding in a very human teenage way.   Or perhaps,  “Why were you searching for me?” “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”  Responding in the compassion of the divine Christ Jesus that we know today.  Both ways would be valid, and there is no right or wrong.   

As Christians in a world that is more and more anti-Christian, it wouldn’t be unusual to feel a bit different, out of place in this broken world.  Especially our children growing up in this 21st Century.  The way we respond to the world around us, and especially our family that surrounds us does make a difference.  Luke tells us that the parents of Jesus, could not understand the response of Jesus.  As parents we all know how that feels, dealing with our teenage children.

Jesus’ parents were immersed in the human world of life in Nazareth, years after the birth in Bethlehem. Raising and caring for their family. 

The world we live in may never really understand our approach to life. We have an opportunity to show our quiet determination, wisdom, and humility.    

As we begin the new year, we can also, ‘Let the words of Christ, in all their richness, live in our hearts and make us wise. Use his words to teach and counsel each other. And whatever we do or say, let it be as a representative of the Lord Jesus, all the while giving thanks through him to God the Father.’

Our Lord Jesus Christ can be the source of our joy of living through this next year.  Because we can trust that Christ Jesus has been there with us through all of last year. 

Knowing that we are God’s forgiven children, we can make allowance for each other’s faults and show the world that we are disciples of Christ Jesus determined to cherish each other.   We can let the peace that comes from Christ rule in our hearts, and always be thankful.  In all our attitudes, actions, and words, we can let life be to the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.  

What better New Year’s Resolution could there be.

As we prepare to enter a new year, may the grace and peace of our God keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.   AMEN.

Rev David Thompson

‘Where is Johnny?’….  ‘I don’t know. Wasn’t he with you?

The Text: Luke 2:41-52

I’m wondering whether some of us can call to mind those arguments andallanb panic stations that ensue when parents realise their child is missing. The pattern between husband and wife in this example usually goes something like this: ‘Where is Johnny?’….  ‘I don’t know. Wasn’t he with you? … No! He was supposed to be with you! You were supposed to keep an eye on him…. Well actually I did, and then I when I didn’t see him I just assumed Johnny went over to you…… Well he didn’t, and it is entirely your fault’….etc. etc. 

Sound familiar to anyone? It is panic stations when a child is lost. So often, blame kicks in even before a strategy is developed to try and solve the problem. Now I’m not sure what dialogue Mary and Joseph were having once they discovered that Jesus was not where he was supposed to be after an exhausting day of travel from Jerusalem, but the whole thing is not quite as simple as we might assume. Mary and Joseph had good reason to assume Jesus was coming home with them, so it is not as simple as thinking that Mary and Joseph were way too laid back or irresponsible parents.

But before we get to the part of Jesus being found some background is helpful. Firstly, our Gospel writer Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph and thousands of other Jews went to Jerusalem for the festival of Passover year after year after year. It was a set piece, the same routine. In those days people travelled together in groups and there was no such thing as two parents doing all the child rearing and formation by themselves. Whole communities were involved and so it was normal for children to hang out with lots of adults and other children.

And so, every year Jesus would have travelled as part of his community without seeing much of his parents along the way. The only time one could do a head count was the evening meal at the end of the day where everyone came together and camped for the night. This was the moment that Mary and Joseph knew something was wrong. He wasn’t with the relatives and family, and he wasn’t even with acquaintances and friends.

After a day’s journey imagine how you would feel having to travel back with all that worry about a missing child! And keep in mind the psychological profile of Mary and Joseph. Remember that they would have good reason to be anxious and extra concerned because of their early trauma of fleeing to Egypt. They know they have a son whom Herod tried very hard to get rid of. Perhaps Mary and Joseph think that Jesus might have been finally abducted or even killed.  

And so, the time it takes to find Jesus is three days in total. One day’s travel, another day travelling back and then another day looking for him in Jerusalem. Now it is interesting that Mary and Joseph didn’t try the Temple first since this pilgrimage for Passover was a very special one for Jesus. He had turned twelve.

This was the time he was officially an adult in Jewish eyes. This meant that during the pilgrimage Jesus would be required to attend classes in the Temple with the teachers of the law. This was a sort of youth development program and a way for the young men to become well versed in the Torah and to debate and discuss its content.

So, in verse 47 Jesus’ parents stumble upon a session in the temple courts and they witness the teachers of the Law being completely knocked out of line, and flabbergasted by Jesus’ answers and his understanding. Jesus and the teachers were clearly having a lot of extra time together. In the original language it describes Jesus as being remarkably able to ‘put all the pieces together’, to ‘connect all the dots’ in the Scriptures. And so, when Mary and Joseph see all this, the original language expresses their reaction as an image of a ‘mouth gaping open in surprise’. However, this astonishment is short lived, because the blame game kicks in very quick: ‘Son why have you treated us like this?’ they say to Jesus. For them Jesus has not only caused hassle, and worry, but in front of the teachers of the law they are likely embarrassed that Jesus has disrespected them by not telling them where he was.

But then comes Jesus’ reply, and this is the turning point of his life. It is the first time Jesus speaks in Luke’s Gospel; and he, like always, answers a question with a question. ‘Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I had to be in my Father’s house?  His calm response silences that voice of an anxious and confused parent. His reply completely perplexes them, and they can’t answer him. They can’t even connect the dots together and make sense of it all.

Jesus the young adult has arrived. Jesus also now reveals another key parental relationship: That is Jesus’ relationship with his heavenly Father. Jesus’ time in the temple marks the beginning of a new chapter of his mission and ministry, but despite his time in Jerusalem, Jesus submits to his parents and goes home with them.

Things will never be the same again for Mary and Joseph, and Luke tells us that Mary is still doing her internal processing as she stores up all these events in her heart. Stop and think for a moment of how hard it must be for her to try and make sense of who Jesus really is. How hard it must have been for them to try and let go of their son as Jesus followed his Heavenly Father’s call? They wanted him to come home like he always did, but this time he didn’t come with them. He signalled to his parents that things would become different from then on.

Jesus’ transition from his earthly family is something we can identify with in our own families. Many of us have transitioned from our original family into a new world of marriage with another person. That can be difficult for parents to adjust to. Similarly, it can be hard for us to let our friends and family members transition into their calling with the Lord too. It is especially very hard for sons or daughters from a non-Christian family who then become Christians. Parents can become very hostile and even disown their children because of this change. Christian parents aren’t immune from this attachment problem either. Some struggle greatly that their dear son doesn’t wish to be a lawyer or doctor and get a secure job, but instead wants to be a pastor or a missionary overseas. Even though there is joy in one sense, there is also an odd sense of loss, and parental expectations compromised. 

This sense of expectation being compromised is something that Mary in particular would suffer as she would eventually see Jesus, the Messiah of the whole world being put to death for our sins. This is a calling no parent would ever wish for their child, but Mary had to come to terms with the fact that Jesus was God’s Son and she and Joseph had that privilege of being able to care and nurture him in his early years. They were a key part of his formation, and soon they would have to let him go into his ministry.

Jesus was safe and sound in God’s house, and all those who are baptised are baptised into the Christ, the Lord’s house, his temple. This is not a physical building, but the spiritual house of God that we all are part of. So let us not dwell in worry and anxiety over our children and our dear friends but commit them to the Lord’s care. We pray for many of the people we love to be able to follow God’s call on their life; not always expecting that they will follow us in our walk, but that we pray that they will dwell in Christ Jesus the place of true care and comfort. May all of you who are grieving over prodigal sons and daughters whom we might think are lost, keep on engaging in prayer for them so that one day they might be found safe in Christ’s arms. For we truly have a wonderful saviour who goes out to seek his children and bring them home.

Amen.   

It’s all about Mary

Micha 5:2-5a    Hebrews 10:5-10    Luke 1:38-45
The lectionary reading for today, the fourth Sunday of Advent is ostensibly about Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist and her meeting with Mary, the mother of Jesus, her cousin.gordon5

 St Luke 1: 41-44. “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.

But the reading it is not about Elizabeth or John her son who leaps in her womb when Elizabeth hears Mary’s greeting, it is about Mary, It is about Mary’s faith, her obedience in response to the angel’s word to her. For Elizabeth concludes the reading with these words. (verse 45. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”) It is about what Mary said when visited by the Angel Gabriel and her response to the Angel Gabriel’s words of promise to her. (verse 38. “And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”)

In the figure of Mary, because of Mary’s faith, that the early church found an archetypal figure of the church in her. It viewed the first Eve, the mother of all the living as representing disobedient humankind, and Mary the mother of Jesus, the new Eve, representing the beginning of a new humanity, the church. She is seen as the archetypal mother of all the faithful and thus they called the church ‘the mother’ of us all.

In the Protestant tradition the figure of Mary has had a chequered history; ranging from a benign admiration to ferocious opposition. This came about through the way in which Mary has been portrayed in the Roman Catholic tradition. In some places in that tradition, particularly in a place like Italy, Mary is seen as someone bordering on a goddess. We hear phrases such as ‘Coredemptrix’, together with the Papal announcement, after the first Vatican Council in the mid 19th. century, concerning Mary’s bodily assumption into heaven as a dogma of the church. That is it became an article of the Catholic faith. These developments have confused and dismayed Protestants in their evaluation of Mary as she is portrayed in the New Testament. The handmaid of the Lord who hears and obeys the angelic promise.

But Mary was also the subject of a long running controversy in the early church, a dispute that was not resolved until the mid fifth century by the Council of Chalcedon 451. This dispute was between those who held that Mary through the gift and power of the Holy Spirit became the mother of the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, as we say in the Creed of Nicea, ‘conceived by the Holy Ghost born of the Virgin Mary’ and therefore as the decree of Chalcedon declared, Mary is rightfully called ‘theotokos’: but there were others who maintained that Mary was only the mother of the flesh of Christ and that the Word of God, the second person of the Trinity became simply associated with the human Jesus after the birth or was united with Jesus only by moral association. The spokesperson of this view was one named Nestorius. Nestorius’ opponent and upholder of what became accepted by the Council of Chalcedon was St Cyril of Alexandria, whom the Orthodox church call St Cyril the Theologian.. Cyril held that if Mary was not the mother of the divine Word of God, if she was not theotokos, God bearer, then our humanity is unredeemed precisely because in the incarnate Word our humanity was not truly united with God. If our humanity was and is not united with God then what Jesus Christ is and does, what he became has no relationship to who we are, who are conceived and born of our earthly mothers. St Cyril therefore insisted that Mary must be truly described as ‘theotokos’, which literally means ‘God bearer or as it is translated ‘Mother of God’.

What St Cyril saw so clearly, and the importance of Mary derives from this, he saw that Mary becomes the human created means whereby the One who is both God and man, Jesus Christ, shares our humanity from conception to death and thus is able to be the Mediator of all our relationship with God at every stage of our human development from conception to death. The reason why we baptise infants is that at every stage of our human development our Lord perfected our relationship with the Father and gives it to us through His Word and the sacrament of Baptism. For He is the one that traversed our way from conception and birth to death and beyond death, not for His own sake but for ours, and gives us by the Spirit to participate in His new humanity, he has created for us in His risen life

By his participation in who we are He gives us to participate in who He is, the eternal Son of the eternal Father. In Him our alienated humanity is brought into such a relationship with God that through his being born, as we are born, and living in obedience to the Father in our place, fulfilling the law for our sakes, and at the same time assuming the burden of our guilt, even to death upon the cross, we are given to participate in His righteousness and eternal life.

So the significance of Mary for us is that our fallen human nature is present with God. But present not in the form of sovereign creative humanity, but in the nature and form of one who can only receive. That is in Mary’s words in relation to the angel’s promise, “Be it unto me according to your word”.(v.38)

Thus our humanity through Mary’s faithful obedience is made one with the Son of God who fulfils once and for all, God’s purpose of reconciliation for humanity: all this through His unique identification of Himself with us: a unique union with us begun in Mary’s womb, Jesus conception by the Holy Spirit, for our eternal salvation. It is not Mary’s faith and obedience that saves us, but we are not saved without it. Mary’s “Be it unto me according to your word”, establishes in our flesh that miracle of grace whereby the Son of God assumes our fallen humanity and, from the moment of His conception, begins the process whereby He establishes a relationship with the Father for us at every stage of our life from birth to death.

In Mary’s womb there is re-created that relationship between God human beings that was destroyed forever by the fall in the garden of Eden. The One who is conceived in Mary’s flesh begins from the moment of conception the sanctification of our humanity, the re-establishment of our relationship with the Father. This journey will take Him from Bethlehem to Golgotha and beyond death to the right hand of the Father as our Great High Priest who ever intercedes for us and unites us with Himself by the gift and power of the Holy Spirit. This is the substance of the miracle of Christmas about which the Angels sing at Christmas.

And at the beginning of this new work of God is the unique work of Mary whose faith and obedience enables her to become indeed the Mother of God. As such, in relationship to the work of her Son, she is the representative figure of all believers. With her response she defines the truth of our human being in relationship to the miracle of Christmas. We along with Mary can only receive the work of God for us in Jesus Christ as Mary received it from the angel.  ‘Let it be to me according to your word.’

It is only in faith, like that of Marys’, that we can appropriate or receive this promise. Since God promises nothing more or less than the recreation of our fallen human nature in and through the birth, life, death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ. This is a work of atonement and reconciliation that can only be undertaken by the One who was our Creator in the beginning, the eternal Word of God. In and through Mary’s faithful obedience to this promise we too may become children of God. We are offered this miracle today, by receiving, as Mary received the promise of the Angel word, “Be it unto me according to your word”, in this holy sacrament. “This is my body” “This is my Blood” given and shed for us. Amen
Dr. Gordon Watson.

  Where do  we find the joy of living? 

Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all .
  Paul writes to us from his letter to the church at Philippi.
whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about‍‍ these things.’         

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David:0414521661

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Let’s  join in a word of  prayer:

O God our Father, we give thanks for the life and ministry of Your son, our Lord Jesus Christ.  Help us to hear his words, think of these things, and express the joy we have in Him, even in the continuing upheaval of our broken world.  Guide our time together, at this Sunday of Joy, that we may rejoice together in harmony as we listen to your message for us with our attention toward all that is worthy of praise about our relationship with you and with each other. Gracious heavenly Father, hear our prayer for the sake of our risen Lord, Christ Jesus, Amen.

Advent gives us a unique opportunity to visit Jesus in a cradle in Bethlehem, through the lens of Jesus Christ the ascended Lord of all creation.  We find the joy of Jesus, as we are reminded of the wondrous birth in Bethlehem and we worship him.   We  also find the joy of our life in Christ, with the Disciples as they witnessed his ascension, and  ‘Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.’ 

I find so much joy as I join in worship, with our songs, Scripture, prayers, and fellowship.  But what about those times outside of our worship, as we face the challenges of living together in a broken world.  Where do  we then find the joy of living.  I suggest that we find this joy in our fellowship, our mission in the community, and our growing together in faith.

One pastor once formed a “mutual encouragement” fellowship at a time of stress in his parish. The members subscribed to a simple formula applied before speaking to any person on any subject.  

To think about what they were intending to say: 

  • T – Is it true? · H – Is it helpful? · I – Is it inspiring?  
  • N – Is it necessary? · K – Is it kind?

If what they were about to say did not pass these tests, they were to reframe their thinking into something commendable, excellent and encouraging.

Paul encourages us not only to reframe our thinking on what we will say to one another, but what we will hear from one another.  What we will say and hear in the world around us.   Just think of how many disagreements and misunderstandings we can avoid if we simply reframe what we hear and what we say.  

If we determine not to listen to all the things that are not worthy of consideration.   If we determine not to say all the things that would only stir up unhealthy dialogue.  By doing this, the peace of God will be with us, as Paul says.

Every word that we speak or write originates in a thought – whether consciously or unconsciously.  Our thoughts, formed from our attitudes, will make friends or turn people away. God created our minds with incredible power.  But he gives us free will about what we’re thinking. If we think good thoughts, our words will be positive. And we can experience joy of sharing those words.

Each of us has a unique perception of the world we live in. This is because our perceptions are formed from our past thoughts.  Thoughts introduced by what we have seen and what we have heard.  The Bible tells us in Proverbs that  “As a person thinks in his heart, so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7)

Our spiritual battle is most often in the world of our thoughts. Overcoming the unhealthy perceptions of our past by filling our minds and hearts with healthy perceptions created by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.  By the joy of our salvation.   

The Holy Spirit creates and strengthens faith in our world of thought, as we hear the word of God, share in the sacraments of Christ Jesus, and experience life changing fellowship with like minded Christians.  But the battle only begins there. 

The battle continues with the Holy Spirit training our conscience with ‘whatever is true, honorable, excellent and worthy of praise’.  The Holy Spirit training our conscience to filter out all thinking that is not in line with God’s will for us.  Forming us into the best people that God wants us to be. Joyful people.  But be sure this training will not always be easy or painless.

The key to triumph in the challenge of Christian living is learning how to let God guide the free will of our thoughts and align our attitudes with his Word.

While it is important to speak in line with God’s will, it is also important to listen in line with God’s will.  To have strong faith, and operate in the Christian principles that will empower us to be  victorious in the way we think, and live.

Psychologists tell us that our life goes in the direction of our most dominant thoughts. We cannot expect to be kind, gentle, loving, or patient without thinking the right things. Without hearing and experiencing the right things.  Without speaking the right things.  The Scriptures agree with these Psychologists, in describing the fruit of the Holy Spirit imparted to us by faith.

Praise God.  God knows that we will always make mistakes.  He gives us permission to fail, to repent, to be renewed, and to learn the discipline that comes with failure and  forgiveness.  Training us to look  at others with joy in our heart. 

That is why we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, the life he lived, the sacrifice he made to atone for our failure, and the resurrection that gives us victory of life in eternity.     

But we still need to be active in the process to gain control over what we hear, what we think, and what we say.  Trusting in Christ Jesus, and listening to the Holy Spirit, is active Christian living. Not passive living with a ready excuse for our human behaviour.  

There is really no excuse for ignoring the Holy Spirit as he trains our conscience.  There is every reason to rejoice when we feel the sharp tinge of reprimand within our conscience for the angry words that we say with intention, or the wicked things we accept to hear and view with interest. 

This rebuke witnesses to us that the Holy Spirit is active in moulding us into the person that our Saviour wants each of us to be.  And so, we can hear the words of Paul in Philippians with a new insight.  ‘Rejoice‍‍ in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.’

We can follow the advice of Paul when he encourages us to ‘‍ Let our gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.’  Our Saviour smiles every time we speak with gentleness, respond with gentleness, act with gentleness.  Because this is how we witness the hope, peace and joy that are the core of our Christian character.

And even when we do slip, and need reprove, Paul encourages us ‘not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let our requests be made known to God.’  Because we have his assurance of forgiveness and renewal every time we come to him in repentance.  And, thank God, his peace ‘which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus,’ restoring the joy of our salvation.

As we turn our thoughts to all the good things that captivate our attention, we can follow the advice of Paul and ‘rejoice in the Lord always’.  We can set our will to celebrate our Christianity.  We can make the choice to live our life of faith in Jesus with joy, even in the face of life’s cruellest disappointments and heartaches and grief’s.   We can face each new day, with a sense of victory and energy, as we speak with encouragement and listen to others with gentleness, as we cling to the character of Jesus Christ. 

The grace and peace of our Triune God keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.   AMEN.               

Rev David Thompson 

“No fake news”.

The Text: Luke 1:78-79

‘Peace’

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David: 0428 667 754

Being the season of Advent, this sermon is based on the imagery of the advent candles.

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Today’s theme is peace – a major aspect of life with God. 

The Words of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, are good to start us thinking about this:

By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. Luke 1:78–79 (NRSV)

In the church we often use the greeting: ‘The peace of the Lord be with you’, and the response: ‘And also with you’.

When we are greeting with those words we may not be feeling very peaceful. It might be we have had another difficult moment with someone, or a troubling circumstance has happened, even on the way to worship.

One of the reasons we have this greeting in worship this way is, that, through God’s people, Jesus bestows his peace upon us.

Peace is at the heart of God and God’s word to us.

In the Old Testament it is the word ‘Shalom’. Shalom is beautiful term, pregnant with meaning. Not just peace, but also wholeness, welfare and deliverance. 

To wish someone Shalom says: “I want you to have not only peace, but also come into physical, mental and spiritual wholeness and deliverance’. So not just a feeling, but a process too. It’s beautiful.

Who creates the beauty though? Who makes SHALOM it what it is?

It won’t surprise you to know that this sort of peace is something that is made possible by God. In the beginning God lived at peace with us in the garden. God used to walk with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day. Such was the peace that existed! Ever since we disrupted that peace by reaching for that fruit we were told not to have, God has been trying to bring us back into peace. You see, God wants to walk in the garden with us once more.

Peace is a very relational thing. A side-by-side concept.  No surprise – God is entirely relational. And so God comes to be amongst us in a very side-by-side way. Why? So he can bring us back into his garden.

One of the well-known prophecies about Jesus says:

‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light…For unto us a child is born…And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’  (various verses from Isaiah 9).

Jesus is our Prince of Peace.

But he is not a prince like William or Charles waiting for the Queen to die. This description of prince in the Hebrew language refers to one who exercises dominion. It’s not a second-rate power, but first rate.

Now as much as I like the idea of having the first-rate power on my side, its what he has achieved that is the really important thing. To see what his achievements are we might start with Jeremiah 6:14:

“They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace”.

The context to this verse is this: The prophets and priests are saying there is no problem in Israel. In fact however, serious sin abounds; but the prophets and priests are washing over it.

Donald Trump used to talk about fake news. What these priests were doing was fake peace.

What Jesus achieved for us was anything but a washing over of our condition. He wasn’t into merely dressing our wounds. One doesn’t dress the wounds of a dead person and expect them to get better.

And that applies to us.  Ephesians 2:1 tells us this pretty stark news: ‘As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins’. Or as Romans 6:23 puts it: ‘The wages of sin is death’.

Jesus did not just dress our wounds. Instead, he received deep terminal wounds on our account. The scourge of the lead tipped whip of a Roman torturer. ‘With his wounds- his stripes – we are healed’ (Isaiah 53:6).

Then the nails from the Roman Execution squad: ‘But he was pierced for our transgression. He was crushed for our iniquities’ Isaiah 53:5a

And the glorious conclusion: ‘The punishment that brought us peace was upon him’.

There was no fake peace with Jesus.

He entered deeply into our condition and took deep, deep wounds in our place. So deep they went through his wrists, feet and side!

So let’s paraphrase Jeremiah in terms of what Jesus did for each of us, starting with the original:

‘They dress the wounds of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.’

Now imagine Jesus reporting to the Father on what happened on Calvary and in the open grave: “I address the wounds of my people because they are serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ I say, for there is NOW complete peace.”

So what we now have is peace with God. Romans 5:1 puts it like this: Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.’

Peace with God given to us when we believe God is the foundation of all peace. If people lived out of it more there would be a lot more peace. If people were determined to put it into action there would be a lot more peace.

But let’s come back to a day today when we might feel as though we lack real peace. Unsettled. Even questioning of God and why life is not more ‘outwardly’ peaceful.

We need to remember these words of Jesus from the night before he died. They come from John’s gospel. He said to his disciples: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33.

What we have here is Jesus telling us that despite what he will do on the cross, the day-to-day rubbish we have to put up with won’t change. There will always be trouble.  “But take heart … or ‘be of good comfort’ as some other translation put it… I have overcome the world!”

That is what Jesus tells us. We shouldn’t have an expectation of some sort of global mega peace. And certainly in our own lives a sort of ‘feet up lying around the pool on kabanas cocktail in hand’ peace. Sometimes we get glimpses. It’s nice when it comes along. 

But to think it is all the time is just unrealistic. Why doesn’t God bring me more peace? Less disagreement in my family? At my workplace? On the road? In the stories I hear on the news?

Well the problem is not God but our distorted view of what he has said. There is no promise of final peace now. There is however the promise of peace in the midst of a tumultuous world. That’s why Jesus tells us some of this will almost be with us. “There will always be trouble” (John 16:33b)

But because he partners with us as he changes us to be more like him, he also shows us how we can make a difference as people who receive peace from him. And that’s by sharing his peace.

He says:  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9).

There might be trouble, but we are also blessed by Christ to be Christ to each other.

And how about this: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18

Is that too demanding?

No! God is generous to us here.

In this world there will always be trouble.       Yet, nevertheless, this side of eternity, we have important work to do in as far as it depends on us, live at peace with everyone. Share his peace.

And sometimes, that’s as simple as apologizing and asking for forgiveness.

Jesus brought us peace!

No superficial band-aid for the deep terminal wound of our sin and separation from him, so that now, brought back into the garden by our prince of peace, we are his agents of peace in his world. Therefore:  May the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Amen.