Do not be worried and upset.

Text: John 14:27
(garthJesus said,) “Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.”

“Peace I Leave You”

Apparently there is an element of truth in this story. A plane landed after a long flight. The flight attendant explained that there was enough time for everyone to get off the aircraft and then reboard in 50 minutes.

Everybody got off the plane except one gentleman. The pilot had noticed him as he walked by. He could tell that the man was blind because his guide dog lay quietly underneath the seat next to him. “Sir”, the pilot said to the blind man, “we will be here for almost an hour. Would you like to get off and stretch your legs?”

The blind man replied, “No thanks, but maybe my dog would like to stretch his legs.”

Picture this: All the people in the gate area came to a complete stand still when they looked up and saw the pilot walk off the plane with a guide dog! The pilot was even wearing sunglasses.

Fear took control. People scattered and queued at the airline desk trying to change planes!

Fear is a normal human response. It is a part of every person’s life – perhaps more so in some people than others – but still everyone has to deal with fear at some time. There are many things that can cause unexpected fear to grip our hearts.
The latest wave of flu strains makes us worry for our health.
The fear of terrorist attacks permeates public events.
The nuclear build up in North Korea has caused nations to fear the possibility of the use of nuclear weapons.

Mothers, fathers and children in Israel and Palestine live in constant fear of another bomb blast or being caught in crossfire.
Parents fear for the safety of their children with so many reports in the news of people who would want to harm them.
We are afraid to leave our homes unlocked, or to walk in the dark at night.
We fear failure so we scramble to meet our tight schedules, duties and obligations.

And where there is fear, there is no peace. Fear brings with it anxiety, worry, apprehension, dread, restlessness, panic and tension – none of which lead us to feel calm, peaceful, relaxed and stress-free.

One of the best newspaper cartoons is Calvin and Hobbes. One day Calvin comes marching into the living room early one morning. His mother is seated there in her favourite chair. She is sipping her morning coffee. She looks up at young Calvin. She is amused and amazed at how he is dressed. Calvin’s head is encased in a large space helmet. A cape is draped around his neck, across his shoulders, down his back and is dragging on the floor. One hand is holding a flashlight and the other a baseball bat.
“What’s up today?” asks his mum.
“Nothing, so far,” answers Calvin.
“So far?” she questions.
“Well, you never know,” Calvin says, “Something could happen today.” Then Calvin marches off, “And if anything does, by golly, I’m going to be ready for it!”

Calvin’s mum looks out at the reading audience and she says, “I need a suit like that!”

That’s the way many of us feel as we see the news and deal with life. Sometimes this world seems too violent and people seem to be at each other’s throats. A suit like that would help, so we can say along with Calvin, “Whatever may come my way, I’m going to be ready for it! Bring it on!”

Well, I don’t have a suit like Calvin’s to give you this morning, but I do have some important words from Jesus this morning to enable us to say, “Whatever may come my way, I’m going to be ready for it! Bring it on!”

It is the night of the Last Supper. Jesus has just spoken of his impending death. He tells the disciples that one of them will betray him and urges Judas to go and do quickly what he has planned to do.
Peter boldly claims that he would rather die than deny his Lord, but Jesus knows that before the rooster crows he will say three times that he does not know the man they are talking about.
Jesus talks about going where they cannot follow and they are confused about this. Haven’t they followed Jesus for the past 3 years? They have watched him heal the sick, they have seen him bring comfort to the afflicted and laughter to the faces of children. Not a day has past where Jesus has not been with them. Their sole thought and attention has been him since the day they were called. And now they are faced with the thought of life without him. Where is he going that they can’t continue to follow him in the future?
Jesus knows that what will happen – his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, his trial and tortuous death the next day – will upset them.

Like a child lost in a department store, these disciples are afraid, uncertain, confused and nervous. And so he continues saying, “Do not be worried and upset. Believe in God and believe also in me …. Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid” (John 14:1, 27).

In the New Testament, the peace Jesus gives is an unconditional, eternal gift to his followers in every time and place. That’s why he does not give peace to us as the world does – for the world, peace is often very conditional, fragile, temporary, and, is frequently reduced to mean only the absence of war and strife.

Worldly peace always has some kind of strings attached, some kind of conditions, and worldly peace lasts only as long as the conditions are kept. Two feuding neighbours can’t agree over the type of fence to be constructed between their properties. They come to an agreement about the cost, type of fence, what kind of materials are to be used and how high it should be but immediately one reneges on what was agreed, the feud starts again.

However, with Christ’s peace there are no strings attached; there is the wonderful promise that it will last forever. Peace, in the New Testament sense means: salvation, forgiveness and reconciliation between God and humanity. The sin that stands between God and us has been done away by the death of Jesus on the cross and his resurrection. We no longer fear God’s anger because of our rebelliousness. Jesus reconciles us with God – he restores the friendship between God and us.

Peace is also the Holy Spirit in our lives as friend, comforter, counsellor, teacher and healer.
Peace is knowing that no matter what troubles may come our way, God, our heavenly Father, has promised to never forget us and to always be our helper and strength. He sent his Son to go all the way and die for us in order to reclaim us as his own. He won’t give up on us now. We are his special and most loved children.
Peace is the flow on of God’s peace into the rest of our lives as we live and work with the people in our day to day relationships and activities.
This peace has a positive effect on our health and well-being. It is well documented that stress, tension, and fear have negative effects on our body.

What can we do when fear grips our hearts?

Firstly, get to know what kind of God we have. He is gracious, loving and faithful. We don’t deserve it but he loves us and will always stand by us. We see just how powerful his love for us is when we look at the cross and see what Jesus has done for us.
Get to know God as the king and ruler of the universe. There is nothing so great or too difficult for him to handle. Parting the sea to save the Israelites, saving Daniel from the lions or Jonah from the belly of the big fish, springing Peter from jail, or saving Paul from a shipwreck were all a piece of cake for him. Helping us when we are afraid is just as easy.

Secondly, get to know God’s promises and trust that he will stick by what he says. Memorise and trust words like these –
The Lord is my light and my salvation; I will fear no one. The Lord protects me from all danger; I will never be afraid. (Psalm 27:1,2).
God is our shelter and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not be afraid… (Psalm 45:1,2).
Or Jesus words of authority and power, “Don’t be afraid! I am the first and the last. I am the living one! I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever. I have authority over death and the world of the dead.” (Revelation 1:17).
Be assured that God keeps his promises; that he is with us, even in the worst possible situation imaginable on this earth.

Thirdly, realise that there are too many times when our human attempts to be bold are not sufficient. There will be times when even the texts of promise that we have learnt off by heart will do little to ease our anxiety. We may even feel that God has deserted us. It’s then we need the Holy Spirit to help us – to forgive us for our weakness of faith, to enable us to trust that God has not forsaken us, to support us while we tremble in fear and to help us get through. He even takes our cries of fear to God and pleads to him on our behalf (Rom 8:26-27).

Our strength, our mind, our skills are of no particular use. We just have to relax and wait patiently, trusting in the God who knows all of our needs and is willing to use his power to help us. The Holy Spirit reminds us – when fear is near, God is even nearer.

Fourthly, pray. Ask God to intervene in our troubles and the fear they bring. Pray for faith, for boldness and courage when we are afraid. Pray that we are able to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit who points us to the love and compassion of God, and pray that in the end God would take us from the troubles of this world into the eternal world where there will be no more fear.

When fears and worries create tension and upset your life, Jesus promises, “Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.”

Let us pray;
 May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

What’s new about the ‘new’ commandment?

The Text: John 13:31-35

What’s new about the ‘new’ commandment? Let me read to you from the Old3510 Testament, Leviticus 19:18; ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’. This is the Old Testament, and there we have the command to love. So what’s new about the ‘new’ commandment? The newness has to do with the person who gives the commandment, our Lord Jesus Christ, the one who ‘makes all things new’ (Rev 21:5). Jesus has loved, and does love us, and so he transforms our love for each other.

As we meditate on this new commandment to love, let’s consider four features of it today: (They each start with the letter ‘s,’ so we can more easily remember them):

  • Love is given a new shape,
  • Love happens in a new space,
  • Love becomes a new sign,
  • Love arises from a new source.

Shape, space, sign and source.

So first is that in this new commandment, love is given a new shape. What does that mean? Love is given a new shape in the sense of taking on a particular focus, and being characterised, in a particular way: namely the ‘shape’ of sacrifice.  

Jesus says, ‘Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.’ If we then ask ‘How did Jesus love us?’ the context of this passage tells us a lot. Jesus is speaking these words on the night before he died. Judas has just left room to begin the chain of the events that would lead to Jesus’ death. Jesus talks about loving as he loved in the context of his sacrificial death. He strengthens this connection as he repeats this command a little later where he says: ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’ (15:13)’.

This emphasis becomes like an echo throughout the New Testament, where again and again love is talked about in connection with the theme of sacrifice. To mention just one more example, in Ephesians 5:1 Paul writes,  ‘…live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God’. The love Jesus calls for is characterised by sacrifice. That means: total and utter self-giving love for another.  

Let’s just think for a moment about how radical this love is. Think of membership at a football club. Actually in a place like a football club there can be some strong forms of love – strong comradery and this sort of thing. Around Anzac day, football coaches might try to inspire the players by talking of the Anzac spirit and so on. But then think about this: when finals time arrives and there are two players were left competing for the final spot in the A grade team, could you ever imagine one player saying, ‘I’ll give up my spot in the team for him’. It’s virtually inconceivable. Not only would it not happen, it would probably be looked on as weakness.

In contrast, this is the very sort of love that is to be cultivated in Christian community. We love by sacrificing our time, sacrificing our money, sacrificing our own desires and pleasures, sacrificing different parts of our life, for others.

So the first thing Jesus does is that love is given a new shape, that of sacrificial love.

The next point is that in Jesus’ new command, love happens in a new space.

Jesus says love ‘one another’. What does that mean? Who is the ‘one another’? Where, and with whom does Jesus want this new commandment of love to happen? The simple answer is that he seems to be referring to the Christian community – to love specifically within the church. Only his disciples are in this room, and he says, love ‘one another’. A parallel passage might be Galatians 6:10, ‘So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.’

Now this can strike some people as a bit confusing. We hear Jesus teach about loving one’s neighbour, as the Old Testament does, which seems fairly general. We even hear about Jesus radical call to love one’s enemies. So then it almost feels to some people like we’re going backwards here, retreating into a “holy huddle” or something. So it’s worth asking, why this particular command to love one’s brothers and sisters within the Christian family?

Here’s one way to think about it. Isn’t it true, that it can often be hardest for Christians, to love other Christians? Think of the sad history of conflict and division within Christian congregations. Think of the various debates we’ve had in our own LCA in recent times, and how quickly our lack of love for one another can rear its ugly head. Now St Paul does always remind us that love ‘rejoices in the truth’ (1 Cor 13:6), so we do need to have robust discussions in the life of the church. But he also calls us to ‘speak the truth in love’ (Eph 4:15). Think, too, of the way we have sometimes acted towards Christians of other denominations and traditions. Maybe Jesus is onto something more important than we at first realise, when he points us to the Christian community as the space for love.

It’s worth noting too, that this new commandment of Jesus is framed in John 13 by two spectacular failings within this first Christian community. Firstly, Judas betrays Jesus, and secondly, Peter denies Jesus! This, too, can help us understand why Jesus focuses on love within the Christian community.

We find a parallel in human family. Most people would say the people they love most in the world are their family. But if we’re really honest, isn’t it also true that our families are the hardest people to love? After all, we’re stuck with them! We live in close proximity to them. We know their flaws and they know ours. We can’t hide things from each other. We expect more from each other.

There’s a specific focus here in Jesus’ new commandment on living in love within the Christian community. Love is given a new space.

Then Jesus gives another reason why this focus on the Christian community, and this is our next point, that love becomes a new sign. ‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another’. How interesting and mysterious and even seemingly paradoxical, that if we want to reach out to the world with the love of Christ, the first step is that this love is lived within the Church, with each other. Jesus says in effect, ‘people will notice this, and love will be a sign to the world.’

This has been true throughout Church history. The early church father Tertullian reported that one of the things outsiders said about the early Christian church was, ‘See how they love each other.’ One of the Roman leaders said about the early Christians in one of his letters, ‘They love each other almost before they even meet.’ Love truly has been and will be a sign to the world.

Sadly, we know this today also in a negative sense don’t we? When we fail to love, it will likewise be noticed by the world. We know that it can be incredible damaging to the Church’s witness.

Now Jesus presumably teaches us this because it’s always going to be true. But maybe this is true and even more relevant for us in 21st century Australia than at other times and places. Because one thing we are seeing in our culture today is that people, especially young people, are searching for and craving community in which they can experience true love. This is perhaps because so many of our traditional communal structures have broken down.

So love is given a new shape. Love happens in a new space. Love becomes a new sign. Finally, love arises from a new source. All this teaching we covered so far is good stuff, the only problem with it, is that it’s really, really hard! It’s an incredible, if not impossible task to live a life of sacrificial love within the Christian community, and to become such a sign to the world! When we truthfully examine our hearts, do we find much of that sort of sacrificial love within? It’s interesting how central the issue of love is in one of our prayers of confession of sins: ‘We have not loved you with our whole heart, and we have not loved our neighbour as ourselves.’ That’s the truth of the matter!

But the good news is, is that in Jesus we find not only a new shape for love, but a new source of love. We find not only a new pattern for love, but a new power for love. Jesus’ sacrificial death on the Cross is not only our example of love, it is his love acted out for us. Jesus is pointing to this when he says, ‘Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another’. The ‘as I have loved you’ is not only saying: ‘Look and follow my example’, but it’s also saying, ‘By going to the Cross for you, I am actually enabling and empowering you to love. That’s what makes it possible for you to even begin to live these lives of self-sacrificial love.’

Because it’s as Jesus gives his life for us on the Cross, that there is forgiveness of sins for us, and that he defeats the powers of evil for us. So he frees us all from this life turned in on ourselves. He rescues us from the path of love-less-ness. Jesus has loved us and continues to love us, so that we can love one another. Jesus himself is a deep well of love from which we draw. In 1 John 3:16 it is said like this: ‘We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for one another’.

And as we think about how we actually receive his love, it’s worth considering an interesting, or rather vital, connection here. The same night Jesus gives us this new commandment, is the night he also institutes a new meal saying this is the ‘new covenant’ in my blood. There is a connection between the new command of love and the new covenant meal of love. It’s through this Sacrament that all the benefits of what Jesus accomplished on the Cross are given to us, so that we continually receive the love of Christ as we attend this meal. Jesus has left us his meal of love, and he has sent us his Holy Spirit. We remember that the first fruit of the Spirit is… love.

St Paul say in Romans 5 that ‘…God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.’  This means that this is something anyone can pray for with great confidence when love seems to be lacking. Are you struggling to love your spouse? Your family? Someone in your congregation? Come to Holy Communion. Receive the love of Christ anew. Pray to God, and ask for the Holy Spirit to work in you his fruit of love. In Jesus there is a new source of love. You’ll be amazed at how receptive people can be in reconciling differences after sharing in this holy and love-filled meal!

So, love is given a new shape – that of sacrificial love. Love happens in a new space – the Christian community. Love becomes a new sign – of where Jesus’ disciples can be found in the world. And love arises from a new source – from Jesus himself, for he has loved us all to the end. ‘I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ Amen.

“I know my sheep”

Text: John 10:27
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me”.

“I know my sheep”

How often are you identified with a number?dhuff
At the bank you have account numbers, PIN numbers to access your accounts, and credit card numbers.
The taxation department identifies you by your Tax File Number.
You have a Medicare number.
When you enquire about your power or phone bill the first thing you are asked is, “What is your customer number?”
When you go to the meat section of the supermarket you are required to pick up a number and will be served when your number is called.
If you are in business you need an ABN (an Australian Business Number);
on internet sites and for email you need usernames and passwords, and we could go on.
If you are pulled over by a police officer for speeding, he/she is interested in numbers – your licence number, your registration number, and … the number on the radar gun indicating how fast you were
travelling.

Numbers are so impersonal. Isn’t it nice when someone remembers your name, or when you are known by name rather than by a customer account number?

In John’s Gospel we hear Jesus speak words that give us that kind of warm feeling that we have when someone cares for us, is interested in what is happening in our lives, empathises and encourages us. Jesus tells us about the very personal and intimate relationship that he has with us. He says, “I am the good shepherd. As the Father knows me and I know the Father, in the same way I know my sheep and they know me” (John 10:14).

Jesus describes his relationship with us using the closeness and intimacy that he and the Father in heaven share as an example of the personal way he knows us and what is happening to us. However, we can only know the close relationship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in a limited way because our knowledge of the Trinity is very incomplete so Jesus also uses the description of the relationships between a shepherd and his sheep. I believe that this kind of description is easier to understand because it is something that comes from everyday life and in Jesus’ time everyone knew about shepherds and sheep. He says, “My sheep know my voice, and I know them. They follow me, and I give them eternal life, so that they will never be lost. No one can snatch them out of my hand.  My Father gave them to me, and he is greater than all others. No one can snatch them from his hands, and I am one with the Father” (John 10:27-30 CEV).

Talking about shepherds who know each sheep individually, even calling them by name, is not so familiar to us Aussies. The Australian sheep farmer is not one bit like the shepherds we read about in the Bible. The modern day sheep farmer has his large mob of sheep, let’s say a thousand sheep, in a paddock and he occasionally goes out to check if everything is all right. When he wants to shift them he hops on his motorbike and with the help of his dog he drives them to where he wants them to go. He doesn’t call them by name though he might call them names when they act stupidly and go where he doesn’t want them to go, but you wouldn’t say they are affectionate names. This is nothing like the picture that Jesus gives, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me” (John 10:27).

A shepherd in ancient times firstly didn’t have thousands of sheep to look after. He had a small flock and he knew each sheep individually. One of the most meaningful pictures in Christian art depicts Jesus as a shepherd. We don’t know if Jesus ever really shepherded sheep – maybe he might have done something like this if he had a shepherd friend when he was a lad and they spent time out in the fields with sheep.  Whatever Jesus’ experience was as a shepherd, he uses an image that everyone could relate to. 

Artists have taken up this theme and pictured Jesus holding a lamb, or carrying a lamb across his shoulders, or watching over sheep. Jesus is the one who cares, the one who saves the lost, and rescues from trouble. He is the one who is intimately and individually concerned about each one of his sheep. He provides his sheep with everything they need. He is the one whose staff and rod defend the sheep if any danger should come their way. We are led to think of what would have happened to a lost lamb if Jesus did not rescue it. Even if that lamb was wild and independent of all help, the shepherd doesn’t give up.

A party of tourists was on its way to Palestine and the guide was describing some of the customs of the East. “Now,” he said, “you are accustomed to seeing the shepherd driving his sheep through the English lanes. Out in the East, however, things are different, for the shepherd always leads the way, going on in front of the flock. And the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.”


They reached Palestine, and, to the amusement of the tourists, almost the first thing they saw was a flock of sheep being driven along by a man. The guide was astonished and immediately made it his business to approach the shepherd. “How is it that you are driving these sheep?” he asked. “I have always been told that the Eastern shepherd leads his sheep.” “You are quite right, sir,” replied the man. “The shepherd does lead his sheep. But you see, I’m not the shepherd, I’m the butcher.”

The sheep depended on the shepherd. They gladly followed him because they knew he could be trusted because he lived among his sheep,
slept among them,
walked with them,
fed them,
guided, directed and protected them,
knew each sheep by name.
All this builds up a mental image of someone with an intense love for our total well-being at every turn of our life. This is a description of how Jesus feels about each one of us. Big business thinks of us as a number. Jesus knows us by name.

By using this shepherd imagery Jesus is connecting himself to the Old Testament imagery that we read of in Psalm 23. The writer refers to the Lord as my shepherd. There nothing else I need. I will not be afraid be you are close beside me.


It’s obvious that the writer is expressing the personal relationship that God has with him. The real presence of God in his life is not something theoretical or even wishful. It is real. Especially in this Easter season we are reminded that we have a living and all-powerful Saviour who is walking beside us every day through thick and thin.

No doubt there are times when it seems that Jesus is a million miles away.
We have prayed for help in times of sickness and the pain is as intense as ever.
We have asked him to guide us through some difficult decisions but we have blundered on making one mistake after another.
We have wanted him to watch over our loved ones, but they have still been caught up in trouble and accidents.
We may feel as if we are losing our faith in Jesus, stop going to worship and lose touch with the people at church.
But the fact is Jesus hasn’t gone anywhere. He is right here with us. He knows what is happening in our lives. He knows what is going through our minds and how restless and anxious we are – he will use his power to help and support us. Jesus’ promise is good even when we are doubting and despairing, 
“I am the good Shepherd, I know my sheep”.

Even though we are down and almost out, we are assured that we are in the arms of the everlasting shepherd who lovingly supports and strengthens us in our weakest and most painful moments. Like the lamb that is often pictured in Jesus’ arms, we can be at peace and feel safe in the arms of our loving shepherd.

This reminds me of a passage from the prophet Isaiah in the Old Testament where the people are in trouble and ask, “Has God forgotten us”? God answers, “Never! Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for a child she has borne? But even if that were possible, I would not forget you! See, I have written your name on my hand” Isaiah 49:15-16 NLT).
Those words are just as applicable to us today as they were three thousand years ago. God feels the same way about us as he did back then. He even gave his life for the sheep.

The image of the Good Shepherd is one of love, care, protection, intimacy and closeness. This text about the Good Shepherd has implications for us who are followers of Jesus. We are challenged to share his concern for those who are in trouble, for those who suffer injustice, for the sick and for the poor. It is not good enough for us to say to those suffering “You should trust in Jesus to make things work out for you”. As his followers, we share the same concerns as he has, and show our love in very practical ways, as Jesus did. It may be inconvenient to offer assistance, it may cost us time, effort and money, but love demands that this be done.

What I am saying is that we become shepherds to one another. We are to be shepherds to one another as members of this congregation. We are to be shepherds to one another in our families, to one another at work, amongst our friends.
Just as Jesus guides and protects his sheep, mothers and fathers guide and protect the lambs he has given to us in our families.
Just as Jesus shepherds us with patience and love, we shepherd those lives whom God has entrusted to us.
Just as Jesus comforts and helps us, husbands and wives comfort and help one another.
As I said, we become shepherds to one another.

We don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but we do know that we have a loving shepherd who walks with us through the good and bad. And one day when we must walk through the valley of darkness and death he will walk with us and lead us to the glorious new life beyond the grave. Because we have a loving shepherd, goodness and love will follow us all our lives and we will live in the house of the Lord forever.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

Why were there 153 fish?

The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.  Three times, Jesus asked Peter: “Simon son of John, do you love me?”  Let’s  join in a word of  prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, our loving Saviour, by your presence in our lives, you touch us, you teach us, and you renew us.  We continue to celebrate your resurrection and to worship You.  Guide our time together this morning that we may not be overwhelmed by trivial details as we discover your grace and mercy in your presence with us. Loving Lord Jesus Christ, hear our prayer for the sake of your name.  Amen.

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It is so easy to get caught up in trivial messages and interpretations of scripture and miss the point.

We find in John 21:11, that: ‘Simon Peter went aboard and dragged the net to the shore. There were 153 large fish.’   

Have you ever wondered why there were 153 fish? I must admit that I haven’t. But others have.

Cyril of Alexandria in the 5th century said that the 100 represented the fullness of the Gentiles, the 50 symbolized the remnant of Israel and three of course was there for the Trinity.

Augustine’s theory, also in the 5th century, was a little more complicated. He said, there are 10 commandments and 7 is the perfect number of grace and that totals 17. If you add all the numbers from 1 to 17 together in a series, you know 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 all the way up to 17 you’ll get 153. And not only that but if you were to arrange them with 17 fish in the first row, and 16 in the next row, and 15 in the next row, all the way down to a row of 1 you get a perfect triangle which represents the Trinity.

A third 5th Century scholar, Jerome, suggested that there were 153 different types of fish in the sea and it was symbolic of the church reaching all the people in the world. 

Perhaps it’s mentioned in the Gospel simply because John counted 153 fish in the net. What do you think?  (Adapted from Brett Blair, http://www.Sermons.com, from the sermon “Live for Today” by Denn Guptill.)

You see we can get so caught up in really trivial stuff and miss the point.  That the disciples needed to be obedient to the Lord Jesus Christ, and toss the net on the other side of the boat.  In the same way, we need to be obedient to Christ, today.

When Jesus appeared to the Disciples in the upper room, after his resurrection, he was passing on the baton of Christian faith.  Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”   Jesus never wants us to be startled by his presence in our lives.  Our Saviour wants us to eagerly accept his call to live our faith and share the Good News of Salvation.  And not get caught up in the trivial, overlooking the heart of the Gospel message.

That baton of the race of life eternal has been passed down from generation to generation from Jesus Christ himself, to the disciples, to the patriarchs of the faith, to the families where faith is nurtured from parents to children, to their children.  Faith in Jesus Christ who was dead but is now alive, and is with us forever.

After receiving the baton from Christ Jesus, it appears that  Simon Peter became fearful of their future, and tried  to return to what he knew best.  He  said, “I’m going fishing.”  The other Apostles agreed,  “We’ll come, too.”  So they returned to Galilee and went out in the boat, but they caught nothing all night.  After which, Jesus affirmed his care for them and his authority, and called them back to what was important.

Jesus told them to toss the net on the over side.  They finally agreed, and as they recognised it was Jesus, Peter rushed to be with him.  I  can imagine a flood of memories filled his head.  During their last supper before his suffering, Jesus warned Peter, “Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”   Then Jesus prophesied, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.” (Lk 22:31–34 NIV)

Just as was prophesied, filled with fear, three times Peter denied knowing Jesus.  Despite his best intentions.  And like Peter, with the best of intentions, we often fail too. 

No Christian engages with Word and Sacrament with the intention to ignore Christ Jesus, and follow after the trivial matters of life.  No Christian enters a life with Christ to rebel against his plan at some critical moment.  But, being human, we so often do.

After we’ve turned back, like Peter, we repent, regain our focus on Jesus Christ, and live again with confidence that we are following his plan for our lives.  Because God forgives us, accepts us, and through our faith in Jesus Christ he gives us the right to be called his children.

Toward the end of their time together here in the world,  Jesus asked three times if Peter loved him.  After each response from Peter, Jesus guides Peter to stay with the main thing.  “Feed my lambs” and “Take care of my sheep”.  Jesus ends with the same words that he first spoke to Peter when they met at the lake of Galilee “follow me”.  

Like Peter, as modern Disciples of Christ Jesus, we are called not to lose sight of the most important things.  Not to be caught up in the less important things. 

That we continue to strive to share the wonderful Good News of Jesus Christ with each other and with the next generation.  By our everyday actions, words and attitudes.  We can trust that God’s plan will prevail, but we do need to keep our attention on the main thing with a hopeful heart – the person of Jesus Christ our Lord. 

From his letters to us, we recognise that Peter never again lost his attention to Christ Jesus.  Peter begins his second letter with the words, ‘Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have received a faith as precious as ours through the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ:  May grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.’ (2 Pe 1:1–2 NRSV)

We have received the same precious faith as the Apostles, grounded in the person, the life and the ministry of Jesus Christ.   The most important person and the most important message.

Paul discovered these same most important truths.  After being blinded, then seeing the light, Paul was baptised, and engaged with the Christian life with the passion of an Apostle, and the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Paul later wrote, ‘I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.  By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”  (1 Cor 15:1–4 NIV)

As a Worshipping Community, we have a mission and as  individual members of our Worshipping Community, Jesus Christ wants us to further his mission.  To keep our actions, attitudes and words active and obedient to Christ Jesus. Rather than counting fish.

As a worshipping community, we have a calling from our Saviour to be active in each other’s lives.  To hold consistent in his plan for the Mid North Coast.  To fulfil our vision of “Inspiring people to LIVE a purposeful LIFE, growing TOGETHER in JESUS CHRIST”.  And to assist our District in fulfilling its vision of “Going, Growing and Enabling mission for Christ Jesus’.

Christ-filled hope gives us a clear picture of our vision, and energises us to fulfil our mission. The Holy Spirit gives us strength to make the best decisions about what’s important, and helps us to work together as God’s children.  And so we pray that the Holy Spirit will fill our lives and our hearts with a passion for Christ Jesus, to the glory of God our Father. 

May the grace and peace of God keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, the most important person in our lives.   AMEN.

Rev David Thompson

Easter forgiveness

Text: John 20:20-21
Jesus came and stood among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. After saying this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy at seeing the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I send you.”

Easter forgiveness

One of the strangest and perhaps most counter allanbcultural aspects of the Good Friday are Jesus’ words from the cross just moments before he dies. He is in extreme agony as the nails bearing his weight tear at his flesh and he gasps to fill his lungs with air; the crowds gathered on Golgotha are mocking with loud laughter and taunting him to come down from the cross if he is truly the Son of God. The soldiers are laughing and joking at the foot of the cross as they gamble for his clothes as Jesus was dying. Most of his disciples – his closest friends – are nowhere to be seen; they are afraid and scatter to find somewhere to hide. In excruciating pain and in his dying moments Jesus says, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing”.

When Jesus says, “Father forgive them” – the ‘them’ are all those who have been involved in his crucifixion – leaders of the community and the church, government officials, soldiers, disciples and friends – those who were mocking, jeering, taunting, gambling, hiding. The ‘them’ Jesus is referring to is every person who has had a hand in causing such extreme pain and torture. He prays that they would be forgiven.

That’s not supposed to be how things work – forgiveness in the face of so much hatred and shame. That’s not normal. Anger, hatred, abusive language, shouts about his innocence, cursing his tormenters – that would be normal behaviour.

Today we hear of when Jesus comes into the room where his disciples were hiding. They had deserted him in the Garden of Gethsemane, one had denied that he ever knew Jesus three times, others had said they were prepared to give up their own life for Jesus but in the end fear overcame them, not one of them stood up to defend Jesus and declare his innocence. Jesus’ first words to them are, “Peace be with you”.

Jesus had come back from the dead and cannot resume talking with them until he says exactly what he said on the cross to his tormentors and his failed disciples, “Father forgive them.” He puts their guilt and their shame and their fear aside and says, “Peace be with you” – “The peace of God that brings forgiveness and reconciliation and calmness fill your hearts and quieten your fear”.

These first words of the risen Jesus to the disciples are so much at odds with the way the world thinks of forgiveness. The way forgiveness works for most of us is like this, “Let the person who has offended me, say that he or she is sorry, then I might be prepared to offer my forgiveness”.

When Jesus appeared the disciples didn’t say,
“Oops, I guess we really let you down;”
or “I’m sorry we ran away when you needed us the most;”
or “I beg your forgiveness for not supporting you in your greatest hour of need – in the garden I couldn’t even stay awake and pray for you;
or “I’m sorry that when Judas appeared my confidence disappeared”.
Neither do we hear any reprimand from Jesus for their betrayal; no criticism of their absence to encourage and support Jesus.

There is none of that. Only “Peace be with you. I forgive you, now let’s talk”. These words indicate more than just peace of mind and the absence of fear and guilt. The peace that Jesus offers heals the desolation, the hurt and sorrow that Jesus himself must have felt as saw no sign of his closest friends from the cross. The peace Jesus offers heals the guilt, the fear, the mistakes and misguided loyalties of the disciples.

The peace that Jesus gives puts all of that in the past; it is forgotten and it’s time to start again. We often think that Jesus’ work of forgiveness was confined to the cross but it’s clear from the Easter appearances of Jesus that Jesus’ work of forgiveness continues after Easter. The first words he says to his disciples are words of forgiveness.

Today we also have this whole incident with Thomas who missed seeing the resurrected Jesus the first time. He can’t believe that Jesus could be dead one day and alive the next. It is impossible. It is illogical. It is stupidity at its worst. He had heard Jesus talk about this kind of thing happening and he had heard the eye witness accounts of his friends but he states firmly, “Unless I see the scars of the nails in his hands and put my finger on those scars and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later Jesus appears again and this time Thomas is there and what are Jesus first words? “Peace be with you”. These are words of forgiveness and grace and Jesus treats Thomas the same way he treated the disciples on his first appearance – with grace and love. That’s enough for Thomas. Jesus offers to let Thomas touch his scars but there is no need. All Thomas needed was to hear Jesus’ words of forgiveness and healing. Thomas’ faith is the result of nothing but grace, the grace of Jesus Christ who did not wait for Thomas to “come to faith” but who came to him.

One day Jesus told a story about a farmer who had a fig tree (Luke 13:6-9). The farmer came looking for fruit. For three years he’s been looking for fruit and there has been nothing. “Cut it down!” he says. His servant pleads, “Master, let it alone. I’ll dig around it, give it a good dose of manure, and then let’s see what happens”. The word Jesus used for “Let it alone” is the same as “forgive it”.

“Cut it down!” That would have been the logical and right thing to do. However, the story ends with, “Master, forgive”. And that’s what Jesus does with us. When we are up to our necks in the muck and manure of sin or we have not been bearing the fruit that comes as a result of the love Jesus has shown to us, he could quite rightly say “Cut it down!” but instead he permits us to begin again with forgiveness and a new start. He did that with the disciples the first Easter and he does that with us.

No matter how you have failed in your walk with God, no matter how you have betrayed Jesus, remember what he said to those who had let him down so badly – “Peace, I forgive you. Sisters and brothers, I still love you”.

But it is not only the nature of God to forgive but it is also the nature of the Christians to forgive. “Jesus breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive people’s sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’” Jesus breathes on his disciples reminding them how God breathed into Adam and gave him life. Here Jesus is breathing over his new creation and giving the invigorating life-breath of the Holy Spirit to those who will continue Jesus’ work of forgiveness and reconciliation after he is gone.

Jesus says, “I am sending you on a mission to announce the gospel of forgiveness but not only to talk about it but to make forgiveness a part of your everyday life. It is through forgiveness that the Holy Spirit cleanses, makes new, restores relationships and give us the peace that only Jesus can give”. In other words, Jesus is passing on to us the ministry of sharing forgiveness; to deal with others with grace and mercy even though it’s hard work especially if we feel we are the people who have been wronged.

We live as if every day is Easter Day. Just as forgiveness was very much a part of Jesus’ Easter appearances likewise forgiveness is very much part of the life of the disciple as we live out the victory of Jesus’ death and resurrection every day.

Bruce Prewer tells this story. A friend of mine was touring in England.  Among his delights was visiting not just cathedrals, but village churches which were steeped in generations of the joy and sorrow of ordinary Christians. Arriving in one village, he headed for the parish church, opened the door and stepped into its secluded beauty.

Near the back of the building, a man was kneeling and weeping. Without saying a word, my friend knelt a few paces away. When with a heavy sigh the villager sat up, the visitor put his hand gently on the man’s shoulder and said, “My friend, you seem to be doing it tough. Can I be of any assistance?”  The stranger, recognising genuine compassion, blurted out his story. Ten years earlier when he was in his late teens, he had committed a crime, was arrested, tried and sentenced. He had been free for nine months. But he still felt terribly ashamed and came (not on Sunday with others) but alone during each week to pray for the Lord’s help.

The visitor said, “But God forgives you. Forgives you utterly. You know that, don’t you? You don’t need to pray alone, you should be here on Sunday with other Christians.”

The stranger commenced to sob again, and then whispered, “Yes, I know God forgives me, but the people in my church and village don’t. Until they do, I am trapped with a feeling of ongoing disgrace. I cannot face them on Sunday. That is why I come here alone to pray during the week.” 

This is precisely what Jesus was saying to his disciples, “If you forgive people’s sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” This is where the rubber hits the road and this whole business of forgiveness becomes very challenging. Christ has commissioned us to offer forgiveness when relationships go wrong. And there is no doubt that friendships do go pear-shaped more often than we care to admit. We have a choice – either we make real the forgiveness of Christ in our lives and offer it to those who have offended us or we withhold our forgiveness and so tie everyone involved in the bonds of guilt.

We might say, “I don’t care if he/she feels guilty – it serves them right after what has been done to me”. But is that what Jesus is telling us in his Easter appearances? It’s easier to be unforgiving than to reach out with kindness and mercy and be reconciled with another person. That’s why Jesus says, “Receive the Holy Spirit” before he commissions his disciples to forgive people’s sins. It is only under the power of the Holy Spirit that this kind of forgiveness is possible.

To conclude, I’m sure that there are many amongst us here today who have had issues with people in the past and it seems that as much as we would like to do something about it, it is too late to be reconciled with that person. If that is the case, then we need to listen to Jesus as he speaks to his disciples. He knows our hearts and he knows our guilt and he says, “Peace be with you. Your sins are forgiven.”

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy


Do think that Jesus was a good man?

Acts 10:34-43  Corinthians 15:19-26  St John 20:1-30

The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the central truth of thegordon5 Christian faith. It is also the most offensive element of the Christian faith for those who are not Christian. Many think that Jesus was a good man and taught some important ethical maxims which are as relevant today as they were there and then. But stumble at the thought that this good man who was crucified for his teaching was revealed in His resurrection as the Son, the only Son, of the eternal God through whom the world came to be. Who, post the resurrection, is given the title Lord, (which is the NT Greek translation of the Old Testament name for God. ( יהוה Translated as Yahweh but written as an unpronounceable word by the human larynx in Hebrew to safeguard God’s holiness from defilement.) The early Christians addressed this man in prayer as Lord

During the 40 days after His resurrection the disciples came to see that He had  always been with them as the Lord God, but in a form that was veiled for them. During the 40 days the presence of God in and with this man Jesus was no longer a paradox to them;  He was no longer the hidden God but the revealed God. They see, as St Paul declares, ‘God was in Christ’. (2 Cor 5:19) He had been veiled as he had moved among His disciples, but now he was unmistakably revealed to be who He was and is, the only begotten Son of the Father. Their doubts and unbelief were dispelled, never to return.

For the disciples this was not a discovery of their own, the resurrection for them was not a self-evident truth. It was a conviction that went entirely against their previous beliefs. This is made abundantly evident in the resurrection narratives that they have given to us. The resurrected Jesus not only speaks with binding authority and effectiveness, but with truth and power. Such that his speech was able to overcome, the fears the grief, the bewilderment and doubts, the unbelief of the disciples. They came to see and believe that the resurrection was not a resuscitation of a human miracle worker but such an act whose only parallel for them was the creation of the world. It was a creation out of nothing, the dead body of the man Jesus who as the veiled  Son  of God had died with the desperate cry of dereliction upon His lips ‘My God, My God, how have you forsaken Me?’ (Matthew 27:46) In this form He wills to be the representative sinner for all sinners since the creation of Adam. So much so that St Paul unhesitatingly declares in (1 Cor 15:17) that if this dead Son of God is not raised from the dead the Christian faith as a word of astounding novelty is futile, is in fact a lie. It has nothing to say to the world caught up in the deadly web of its own deceit and  estrangement from God. If there is no resurrection you are still in your sins, Paul says, and of all people Christians are the most miserable and of all people most to be pitied. (vs. 17-19)

One of the striking things about the New Testament’s account of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is that its writers reflect their difficulty in coming to terms with it. None of them attempt to give a coherent account of it. They do not in any way attempt to say what the resurrection as an event is. They tell us of the signs associated with it, such as the empty tomb, but remain silent as to the nature of the resurrection as such. Their historical narratives as we have them in the New Testament cannot be reconciled as to their chronology or geography; and no one thought it appropriate or necessary in the early church to reconcile these differences, to cover up these discrepancies. In this manner they simply point in their own way to their own incomprehension about the event to which they bear testimony

The gospel  (St John 20) speaks of Mary and Thomas in relation to the appearance to the disciples of the risen Lord. The doubt of Thomas with which his name has become associated, doubting Thomas; his doubt is no wit different from all the other disciples in relation to Jesus’ resurrection. As was Mary’s confusion about the stranger who greeted her on the first resurrection day. As was Jesus’ direction to her not to touch me.

All the accounts of Jesus post resurrection appearances demonstrate the fact that Jesus created the disciples’ faith. We can speak of the disciples’ faith in the risen Lord only in the sense in which their unbelief is overcome by the action of Jesus. So, St. Thomas’ doubt and his subsequent faith is not a unique experience in respect of the other apostles. The circumstances in which Jesus creates Thomas’ faith are his, but he is no different to all the other disciples as the risen Jesus overcomes their doubt by His own action. Jesus’ resurrection far from being a belief  created by the disciples’ ability to believe the unbelievable, it is in itself the foundation of their faith.

Jesus says they are blessed who unlike Thomas ‘have not seen and yet believe.’ The blessedness of which Jesus speaks is the fact that all those,  apart from the apostles, who are not witnesses of the resurrection have no possibility of touching or handling Jesus the resurrected One, as they did. The blessedness of which Jesus speaks is that all others, this includes us of course, who apart from the apostles, have only the Apostolic word of testimony and the promised Holy Spirit as the basis of their faith, their union with Jesus.

Unlike Thomas and the other disciples including Mary of Magdala, these others of whom Jesus speaks do not face the temptation to which they all were subject. This is the temptation they all wanted to know: how the truth of their faith in Jesus as the risen Lord could be established for them by something other than Jesus own word of promise. Their request to touch the resurrected Jesus indicates their desire to settle the truth of their belief in Jesus Lordship by their ability to trust their physical sense of touch.

 Mary Magdalene, whom Jesus met in the garden near the tomb wanted to touch Jesus. He refused to let her touch or hold Him, refused to have a direct relationship with Him, this meeting also speaks to us of the same question, faced by Thomas on that evening in Jerusalem so long ago when, on that first Easter Day, where the disciples gathered behind closed doors for fear of the Jews. The temptation of both Thomas and Mary consisted in their wanting to know that the truth of their faith in Jesus as the risen Lord could be established for them by something other than Jesus own word of promise. They wanted to see Jesus as some sort of object that could be grasped, touched like any object in this world, and so find a basis of their faith apart from Jesus’ word about who He is. They wanted their belief in Jesus to be verified or confirmed by their touch.

The apostles, and Thomas and Mary in particular, show how they were caught in the natural dilemma of wanting to seek a foundation for their faith in something other than Jesus’ word of promise to them concerning Himself.

They sought the veracity of their belief in the truth of their experience, a belief in their belief ; and in this way give their faith a basis of certainty in themselves. Thomas and Mary in their own way are the examples of an affliction that affected all the disciples, as they became witnesses of the resurrection.

We, on the other hand, hear a word of promise that comes to us from the apostolic witness of the scriptures. This word invites us to place our confidence in the One to whom they testify as the Lord of life. We are invited to obey the promise of this One whose word bears witness to Himself, that He is the risen victor of Gethsemane and Golgotha. This word of promise invites us to believe that Jesus is who He is for us; and that this is the only basis for understanding the truth of our faith. The certainty of our faith lays precisely in the uncertainty that we have in our selves. Certainty consists in the veracity of the word of promise that we hear from the One speaks it to us, as it is given to us in the scriptures. He it is who alone creates for us the basis and certainty of faith. Unlike St. Thomas or Mary of Magdala we have no possibility of establishing our faith by believing in the veracity of our senses by touching Jesus and thus, like Thomas and Mary, attempt to find an independent point of reference for the truth of Jesus word.

It is for this reason that Jesus calls those who have not seen or touched him blessed. ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe’ (John 20:29); we unlike Thomas or Mary are given the freedom to obey the Word of Jesus as the sole basis of faith. In this word and nothing else we find the truth of our life. This truth is no abstract proposition, but the truth of our life before God and each other, as grounded in Him who was raised by God for our sake. This means we  recognise the truth of our life before God and each other is established not by us but for us.

I believe that by my own reason or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and preserves it in union with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. (Luther M The Small Catechism.)

It is this mystery of grace that we celebrate today by the means Jesus has given to us. His very body and blood which, given and received, makes us to be what we are not naturally, beloved children of the Father for the sake of His crucified and risen Son.

Dr. Pastor Gordon Watson.

F-E-A-R has two meanings … 

The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.    Let’s join in a word of prayer: Loving God our Father, today we gather with all those who mourn over the sin of humanity.  Sin that required the sacrifice of a sinless Son of God, our Saviour Jesus Christ.  Help us to experience, in a tangible way, Your presence in our lives and our worship.  Open our hearts and minds that we may once again be drawn to the ‘lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’. Gracious heavenly Father, hear our prayer for the sake of our risen Saviour and Lord,  Amen.

david3
David:0414521661

I remember an image on Facebook that quoted Zig Ziegler.
 F-E-A-R has two meanings … 

Forget Everything And Run
                  Or       
Face Everything And Rise.

Today especially, we discover the reality of what Ziegler shares with us.   Good Friday vividly shows the contrast between our Saviour Jesus Christ, the believers who followed him, and the society who determined to destroy him.  And it poses a unique opportunity for us to face everything that would try to destroy our faith, and rise above it to preserve our trust in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Our Lord Jesus Christ faced everything when he sacrificed himself in crucifixion.  He protected us from all that separates us from God, by being separated himself when he covered himself with our sin.  He opened eternity for us when he spent three days confined to hell offloading all those sins in a place designed for Satan and his dominion.  He made all the difference when he was raised again in victory and promised to be with us until the very end of the age. We have been redeemed from destruction when God entered humanity in his Son our Saviour. We received life eternal when Jesus died on a cross as a sacrifice for us. 

In Matthew’s Gospel, we discover a description of the redemption we have in Christ Jesus.  The temple curtain was torn in two when Jesus breathed his last.  God removed every obstacle between people and himself.  God  demonstrated that the death of Christ Jesus opened up for us access to the Holy of holies—to the very presence of God.  

The writer of Hebrews recalls this event, “we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus.”

John’s Gospel tells us that when Jesus was baptised in the Jordan River, God spoke to him, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” These were words of promise and victory.  When Jesus died on the cross, he cried out the words “It is finished”, this too was a cry of victory.  Jesus accomplished what God, his Father, had sent him into humanity to do. 

Jesus faced everything and overcame the final temptation in accepting death on our behalf.  Like others who face everything and rise.  It is like the athlete who enters a marathon race with the single-minded intention of both reaching the finishing line and coming in first. It is like the student who finally reaches the goal of graduation with a degree after years of study. It is like the author or artist, who after years of research and struggle finally complete their masterpiece, their most significant and enduring work. It is like a survivor after great suffering who recuperates completely.

For John the words of Jesus, “It is finished,” are the epitome of Christ’s life and ministry; the words are spoken by the King of kings on his throne of pain, which was the cross.

Jesus won the victory over sin, evil and death by willingly, and lovingly allowing himself to submit to these powers. In so doing, he defeated them.  People no longer need priests or holy men to stand between us and God.  Because of Jesus’ death on the cross, we can boldly enter into God’s presence.  As the writer of Hebrews tells us, ‘dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. This is the new, life-giving way that Christ has opened up for us through the sacred curtain, by means of his death for us.’  Because he faced everything and rose to the challenge.

As we confront the gruesome death of Christ Jesus, we also confront our response to the new relationship we have with God through his sacrifice.  We can determine not to take God for granted.  Not to live our lives as if Jesus had never entered humanity.  But instead to celebrate our new relationship with God every day through the words we use, the actions we take, and the attitudes we adopt.  We can face everything we encounter in our Christian life, and we can rise above the temptation and challenge to live with joy in our lives.   

We are all part of God’s plan.  We are all destined for a place in eternity with our Saviour.  We only need accept that plan.  And let the Holy Spirit guide us day by day, step by step, bravely toward our destiny as children of God.

It will not be easy, and we will never be perfect, but we can be confident that God is not finished with us yet.

It is clear to me that if I am to faithfully fulfil my part in God’s plan, I need to be steady in my relationship to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  I can do this by remaining in fellowship with Christ Jesus and  with others in our community who also believe in Jesus as Saviour. 

As Hebrews puts it, ‘Without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promise.  Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds.  And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming back again is drawing near.’ 

By his death on the cross, Christ Jesus faced everything and rose to his rightful place in eternity.  He will return once more, briefly, to bring all things to conclusion in the plan of God our Father.  Yes, “It is finished,”  But it is far from over.  By his death, life has begun.

Each day we live, we are closer to the day that Christ Jesus will return in glory.  Whether he calls us home, or he returns, we will glorify him with our knees bowed, our hearts filled with song, and our lives surrounded with his love.  And for this, our only response can be “Thank you Jesus!”  

As we face every difficulty in our lives, our Saviour is calling us to face everything and rise, and to respond by living our salvation;  by loving each other, caring for those around us, as we let it begin with us, in our worshipping community.

May the Holy Spirit set our hearts and lives ablaze for Christ Jesus to the Glory of God our Father, and may the grace and peace of  God keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.   Amen.

Rev David Thompson.

Feet have a reputation, don’t they?

The Text: John 13:1-17, 31b-3520180311_103505 (1)

If you were asked to take off your shoes and socks I imagine you might be a little reluctant to do so. Feet have a reputation, don’t they? We don’t just cover them to make it easier to walk around. We tuck them away out of sight and out of smell. We can probably handle the smell of our own feet but the thought of a roomful of exposed feet is probably not what we want at the end of the day.

And it is the end of the day. Chances are some of us have been on our feet for much of it and that tends to take its toll. Look at the burden our feet have to bear. They carry our weight around from A to B and everywhere else we need to go.

In Biblical times they used their feet much more than what we do these days. Feet were the primary mode of transportation. They didn’t have cars or buses or trains and even horses and donkeys were available only to the privileged few. So if you wanted to get anywhere, from a kilometre to 100 kilometres, you had to walk.

The Romans were known for their road construction, enabling the efficient movement of their legions. But in Palestine this was the exception rather than the rule. There was the Via Maris, the coastal road, and the King’s Highway, a trade route, but that was about it for major roads in that area. The Jews were not into road construction as the Romans were. A beaten, worn out dirt path was basically considered a road to them. A goat track was sufficient to get around.

So we can understand why the washing of feet was as much a part of their culture as the washing of hands is in ours. It must have been a huge relief to wash away the grime of a day spent on your feet. Think of the relief you feel when you can kick off your shoes and socks at the end of the day and put your feet up.

With this cultural background, it shouldn’t be that surprising to find Jesus at the feet of his disciples, offering to wash them. Yes, it was a task normally reserved for a servant of the household or the wife of the host. Failing that, the host would at least provide a bowl of water and some towels for his guests to wash their own. 

But Jesus had told his disciples: ‘the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Matt.20:28).

Jesus had got dirty in the past as he touched lepers, healed the demon-possessed and mixed with non-Jews. He had eaten with tax-collectors and sinners. So why should the washing of feet be so repulsive? ‘No, you shall never wash my feet’!   

Well, the symbolism happening here is more significant and deep-seated than we realise. As the lowest part of the body feet were considered inferior. This wasn’t so much in terms of the function of the feet but their position. Feet acted as the interface between the individual and the ground, the dirt, they walked upon.

That is why the ultimate rejection is to wipe the dust from your feet, indicating that the other person’s dirt doesn’t even deserve to be on your feet.

It is also why it was considered to be an act of submission, reverence and humility to be found before the feet of another person. You can’t get any lower. It was expected for some people to be at the feet of others but not the other way round.

Throughout his ministry Jesus had people at his feet and for a variety of reasons.

Some of them were there because they needed his mercy. A beggar came before the feet of a lord or master in the hope of some morsel. So it is that the woman who was suffering from severe bleeding fell at Jesus’ feet (Mark 5:33). A woman whose daughter was possessed by an evil spirit fell at his feet (Mark 7:25). Even a synagogue ruler, Jairus, whose daughter was dying fell at his feet (Mark 5:22).

Others were at his feet out of sheer gratitude for the mercy that had been shown to them. The Samaritan leper fell at Jesus’ feet when he had been cleansed (Luke 17:16). Mary was at his feet, pouring perfume on them and wiping them with her hair after Jesus had raised her brother Lazarus from the dead (John 12:1-3). 

Still others were at Jesus’ feet in submission to listen to his teaching and wisdom, as was Mary that day when Martha was busy doing all the work (Luke 10:39).

It was entirely appropriate for people to be at the feet of Jesus. After all, he is the King of kings and Lord of lords. You come before a king in all humility to seek his mercy and wisdom and to give him the praise and honour he deserves.

And let’s not forget that a conquering king would literally put his feet on the neck of his enemies (Joshua 10:24). This demonstrated the ultimate humiliation and defeat of that enemy. As Jesus taught in the Temple during holy week, he himself quoted Psalm 110 to refer to this kind of thing: “The Lord said to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet’” (Mark 12:36).

Think also of the first prophesy connected to the Messiah. In Genesis God said to the serpent: ‘I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel’ (3:15).

With all of this in mind, it is truly fitting and right that ‘at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord’ (Philippians 2:10).

And yet, here was Jesus, bowed before his disciples and at their feet!

It didn’t seem right. This wasn’t just a gracious act of service. This was a position of submission, reverence and humility. That is not where Jesus should be. This was a position of vulnerability, a place where those who are defeated get trampled on in disgrace. Surely not! ‘No, you shall never wash my feet’!

But Jesus answered: ‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with me’. Unless Jesus can serve us in such a way where he is trodden underfoot and humiliated and rejected and despised; unless he can be pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities – we can have no part with him. The full extent of his love was not shown in the washing of their feet but in the piercing of his.

‘He did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant…he humbled himself and became obedient unto death – even death on a cross’ (Philippians 2:6-8).

This Easter as we come before the cross once again we will find ourselves at the feet of our Lord. But truly it is on the cross where he is at our feet. He is there in all humility to submit and to serve. He is there to show us the full extent of his love. Amen.  

Jesus our king

Text: Matthew 21:8, 9
A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest!”

Jesus our kingdhuff

As you look through history books you soon realise that when it came to kings and queens that some are remembered for the way they abused their power and used the people of their kingdoms.

One notorious ruler in England was King John who was born on Christmas Eve 1167, the youngest son of Henry II. When his brother, King Richard, was killed in France and Richard’s son was murdered, John became king. (Many believe that he was responsible for his nephew’s death).

John faced one disaster after another.
His army was defeated in France and had to retreat.
To rebuild his army he imposed incredibly high taxes.
The country broke into civil war when his nobles rebelled.
John even managed to get the church offside and was excommunicated by the pope and no baptism or marriage performed in England would be legitimate until the pope said so. And without church approved baptisms or marriages the people were afraid that they would all end up in hell. They blamed John.
John’s life was at risk when the pope declared that if anyone overthrew King John they would be legally entitled to do so.
After John was again defeated in France his barons were fed up. John was forced to sign the Magna Carta at Runnymede in 1215. This guaranteed the people of England rights that the king could not go back on.
When John tried to ignore the Magna Carta the barons rebelled against him again and soon after John died.

Today we hear about another king. This king is nothing like bad King John. He was quite the opposite. There was nothing arrogant or evil about this king. He demonstrated nothing but humility and kindness. He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, a work animal used to carrying loads for farmers and traders. The disciples and those who lined the roads hailed him as the king – ‘the king who comes in the name of the Lord!’

Even before Jesus was born the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that her son would be a king, a descendant of King David.
When the wisemen were looking for the Christ-child they asked King Herod, ‘Where is the baby born to be king of the Jews?’ When they found the child-king they knelt down and worshipped him, presenting him with royal gifts – gold, frankincense and myrrh.

King of the Jews! That title followed him into the trials before the Sanhedrin, King and Herod Pontius Pilate. The Sanhedrin, the Jewish Council, had found Jesus guilty of blasphemy on the basis that he claimed to be the Messiah. But they knew that the Roman Governor wouldn’t be interested in any of their religious reasons for getting rid of Jesus, so they brought a charge against Jesus they knew would interest Pilate. They accused Jesus of treason. He claimed to be a king and was a traitor to the Roman Empire.

Pontius Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus looked nothing like a king. In chains, beaten – having been slapped in the face, and with spit in his hair and beard.

Jesus’ answer is unexpected. He soon sets Pilate right about who he is and affirms clearly that he is a king. But not a king as Pilate might expect. John’s Gospel reports Jesus saying, “My kingdom does not belong to this world; if my kingdom belonged to this world, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish authorities. No, my kingdom does not belong here!”

Such an idea doesn’t make sense to Pilate. With puzzlement written all over his face, he asked a second time and Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. I was born and came into the world for this one purpose, to speak about the truth. Whoever belongs to the truth listens to me” (John 18:36-38).

So you see, Jesus admits to being a king but a king with a kingdom and a kingship quite different to anything that we have seen in history. Jesus wasn’t interested in power or politics, pomp and pageantry. His kingdom was not an earthly kingdom but one that existed in the hearts of people.

Pilate was puzzled.  The people outside were quite clear about what they wanted done with Jesus. They called for the death of this meek and gentle king and the release of the brutal and murderous Barabbas.

Something is wrong here. Jesus hasn’t been brutal and oppressive. The crowd had hailed him as king when he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and now they were asking for this king’s blood. Here is king who is on the side of the people, the friend of the poor, the sick, the guilty, the sad but the people turn against him. A murderer goes free, while a king like no other king, loving and kind, is heading for execution.

Pilate mockingly placed a sign at the top of the cross, “This is the King of the Jews.” This was truer than he imagined. This bleeding broken man on the cross really is a king. The criminal crucified beside him recognises Jesus as a king and says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. And Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

When we were baptised, through the simple water and the Word of God we were made members of God’s kingdom. Jesus became our king. Not a ruthless and pompous king like bad King John, but a king who was so generous that he gave his life for us.
A king whose throne was the cross,
whose crown was made of thorns,
who was dressed in a royal robe as a king and mocked by Herod and his soldiers,
whose blood was called for by the crowds when they said, “Take him away! Crucify him! We have no king but Caesar. …!
Jesus is our king who loved us so much that “he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8).

What does it mean to have Jesus as our Lord and King?

    • With Jesus as our king we enjoy a royal pardon for all our sin. This pardon means that there is nothing that stains our lives. We have been made clean with the righteousness of Jesus. When God looks at us he doesn’t see sin and weakness; he only sees the purity and newness that have received through the blood of Jesus shed on the cross of Calvary. When Jesus declared from the cross “Father, forgive them” he was also saying that to us.

    • With Jesus as our king, he says to us as he did the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise”. He promises that we too will share in his eternal kingdom where there will be no more pain, or crying or dying.
    • With Jesus as our king – our ever present and living king – he promises all those who belong to his kingdom that he will always be there for us in times of joy, in times of sadness, and in times of suffering. When we are discouraged and weak, ‘the King of kings and Lord of lords’ (1 Tim 6:15, 16) assures that there is nothing that can stand between God and us; nothing that can stop him loving and forgiving us; nothing that can harm us. Even when we face death we can confidently say, “I have a king and a friend who will never give upon me and when the time comes for my departure, I am confident of his love for me.”
    • With Jesus as our king he lovingly rules and directs our lives as citizens of his kingdom. He has bought us with his blood, made us his chosen people and urges us to lives of repentance, faith and love. In the Small Catechism Luther says after describing how Jesus rescued us from sin and death through the events of Good Friday and Easter, “Jesus did this so that I can belong to him, and he can rule over me as my king. I can live under him and serve him, innocent and happy forever” (1996 Openbook).

    • With Jesus as our king we are joined together in his family, his kingdom, his church. He has placed us in a baptismal relationship with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
      We have been called to care for one another and to show compassion and understanding wherever it is required.
      We have been called to work together sharing the Good News about Jesus with those who need to know of his love for them.
      Through us, he calls them out of the darkness of sin into his marvellous light.
    • With Jesus as our king we have an advocate before the throne of God. He hears our prayers and answers them. He sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty and has the authority and the power to answer all of our petitions.

    • One day the king will return. He will come on the Last Day and will reward those who have trusted his love and been faithful to their calling as disciples. He will say, “Well done good and faithful servant. … Come and share your master’s happiness” (Matt 25:23).

As we enter this Holy Week it’s a good thing to ask ourselves where we stand in our relationship with our Lord.
Does he rule our lives?
Is he truly the Lord of our lives, Lord in the sense that he directs our actions, our words, and our thoughts?
Does the Lord of lords rule every corner of our lives; not just a small part but every part – our family life, our work life, our church life, our leisure life.
Because Jesus is our Lord and King no doubt there are some things that we need to change, some things we would stop doing, and there are other things that we could take up, all because Jesus rules our lives completely.

This is serious stuff that we don’t take seriously enough. We are good at giving all kinds of excuses. But Jesus is our Lord and King now. As Saviour he has committed himself to us, and as Lord he wants us to be committed to him.

But if we are honest, often we are like the people of Jerusalem – sometimes we are all excited about Jesus being our saviour and king but there are other times when our faith has grown cold (at best lukewarm) and we find ourselves distant from Jesus. Instead of Jesus ruling our words and actions we find ourselves so self-focussed that sin rules our lives as our words and actions hurt others.

When this happens this is a time for repentance – turning back to Jesus, his love and forgiveness, and his rule in our lives. It is a time for renewed faith and trust in him as the one who loves us, died on the cross for us, and calls us to be his people in the world around us.

We have a king who has done so much for us. Today let’s welcome Jesus with shouts of “Hosanna!” He is our Saviour from sin.
Let us also shout “Hosanna!” and welcome him as the Lord and King of our lives.
Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna!

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

Are you getting ready to come to church today?

The text: John 12:1-8

As you were getting ready to come to church today, perhaps you splashedallanb some after shave on, or a squirt or two of perfume.
Some of the world’s most unique and expensive fragrances are these:

  • Hermes’ 24 Faubourg {foe-borg} The limited edition comes in crystal bottles. Just 1000 bottles sold all around the world for the price of $1,500
  • “Sacred Tears of Thebes”. {Thebees} The bottle is handmade by Baccarat artists and is capped by an amethyst crystal. The bottle holds just over 7 millilitres and sells for $1,700.
  • Jean Patou’s Joy Baccarat is next on the list. Only 50 limited-edition bottles are created each year. For two short weeks in summer the 10,600 flowers required for just one bottle of Joy are harvested in the French countryside. For a 15ml bottle it costs $1,800.
  • Caron’s Poivre {Pwoav} Created by Michel Morsetti in 1954, comes in a 2ounce bottle that is beautified with crystal with white gold around the neck and sells for $2000.

To put things into perspective, the perfumed ointment Mary uses in today’s Gospel reading is far more expensive than these. It is from the Spikenard plant, a species of highly-prized, aromatic, grassy-leafed plants from India. A small bottle was worth 300 denarii―about a year’s wages. Consider that the average base wage today is somewhere around $40,000. That’s what Mary poured out on Jesus’ feet.

Is the complaint Judas makes, then, legitimate? “Why was this perfume not sold and the three hundred denarii given to the poor!?” Perhaps Judas’ thinking that doing such a thing is a waste and could be better sold and spent helping the poor is understandable. Such extravagance is not something that we usually associate with Lent―a season where we traditionally focus on doing without, of refraining from luxuries.

But Judas is not really concerned about the poor. He says this because he is concerned with what he’s missing out on. John tells us that Judas was a thief―having charge of the money bag he used to help himself to what was in it. If this ointment was sold for the poor the money would go in the bag and he could dip his hands in again―imagine how much he could do with a year’s worth of wages! Judas wasn’t concerned about the poor, he was concerned about himself! This isn’t good for Judas. Think of what Jesus said in Matthew 6:21: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”.

John tells us that this all takes place six days before Passover—the Saturday before holy week. The time is getting closer to Jesus’ suffering and death. As Jesus’ betrayer, Judas plays a significant part in this. He loves money so much that he would betray Jesus for 30 silver coins. Judas’ god was money. That was his treasure and that was where his heart was, and like everything else that people fashion an idol out of, it did not bring him freedom, but enslaved him and cost him his life.

But at the supper we are shown a profound contrast, in Martha and Mary, who serve Jesus by showing hospitality to him. They have experienced the love of Jesus and they want to honour him with this meal as their special guest.

Mary shows honour to Jesus in a special way. It was ancient custom to wash the feet of all invited guests, who usually had to travel a considerable distance by foot. This task was viewed as common courtesy. Mary takes this customary cultural practice of the day and extends it into a profound confession of faith. Jesus explains what this is with his defence of Mary: “Leave her alone; she has reserved it for the day of my burial.”

In the ancient world, bodies of the dead were prepared for burial by washing and anointing with a combination of spices and perfumed oils. Mary knew that Jesus was soon going to his death―and when he was crucified, it would be impossible to anoint him on the Cross. So she pours out the extravagance of what she has, such costly love, withholding not one drop. Unlike Judas, who is devoted to the self, Mary is devoted to Jesus. In contrast to Judas who is concerned only for himself, Mary spares no expense, honouring Jesus above herself. Mary didn’t count this perfumed ointment as too costly for Jesus.

And so the perfume—usually contained in an alabaster jar that was broken open—was entirely emptied—symbolic of Mary’s broken and contrite heart from which all the contents were poured out for her Lord. The task of foot-washing was a menial task reserved to the lowliest servant. Mary wasn’t―but now she makes herself to be. But it is what Mary does next that is just as profound. She uses her hair to dry Jesus’ feet. The hair on our head is the highest point of our body. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11 that a woman’s hair is her glory. Mary used her crowning glory, her honour, as a towel for her King. To do this at the very feet of Jesus suggests an act of complete devotion and humility. In doing so, she is an example for us all.

How do the vastly different attitudes of Mary and Judas lead us to reflect on where our treasure is? In this season of Lent, a season with a particular emphasis on reflecting on God’s word; his word that calls us to repentance—do we kneel at the feet of Jesus and pour out our hearts to him—surrendering our selfishness by which we betray Jesus just like Judas did, with our thoughts and attitudes, words, our lack of serving others and instead serving ourselves? Do we pour out our devotion to Jesus like Mary did, withholding nothing? Where is our starting point for our giving to Jesus―extravagance or thriftiness? Where is serving God on our list of priorities, with our money and time and talents? Whatever we give―or hold back from God, and whether we do it joyfully or reluctantly and with resentment shows what our heart holds dear. God wants our broken and contrite hearts, humble hearts, servant hearts. What treasure does our heart cling to? This is a crucial question that today’s text puts before us.

Our faith in Jesus is not just a mental acknowledgement. It is not merely verbal confession. It is an outpouring. Mary’s outpouring of the expensive perfume which cost her so much showed where her heart was; who she was devoted to. She was more concerned about giving away than keeping for herself.

Yet Mary’s devotion to Jesus is only possible because it is empowered by God’s own devotion to her. Mary’s extravagance is a response to, and is empowered by God’s own extravagance in Christ. In Christ God poured out the riches of heaven upon the world, especially through his holy and precious blood. There are so many connections with this in today’s text.

The supper that was prepared for Jesus as the guest of honour, who was served by Mary, is close to Passover, when we hear that it was Jesus who put himself at the lowest place, that of a servant, washing his disciples’ feet. It was on the night of the Passover, the night that Jesus was betrayed by Judas, that we hear Jesus was at another supper. This time he is not the guest of honour but the host. Jesus took bread and said: This is my body given for you, do this in remembrance of me, and after the supper he took the cup and said: This is my blood of the new covenant which is shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in remembrance of me. It was the meal that Jesus instituted before he would be unjustly arrested, tried, beaten, mocked and crucified, bearing the sins of the world to reconcile the world to God.

It is through Christ that God shows his extravagant devotion to the world; those who reject, betray and mock him. Although he is the Son of God and King of heaven, Jesus did not think of himself, but he showed God’s commitment to free us from sin, death and the devil. It is there on the Cross that we see that God was not concerned with what he might lose. Like the perfume from Mary’s Alabaster jar, God in Christ poured out the fullness of his love for the world. There he shows us the extravagance of his lavish love. Paul says in Ephesians 1:7-8 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.”

Mary’s extravagance is a glimpse of God’s extravagance, who in Christ, held nothing back for us, and continues to pour out the fullness of his divine grace, lavish love, and ever-present help for us. We see what a good and loving Lord he is with the presence of another person at the table in our text; that of Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised. There are so many connections in today’s short passage that point ahead to Jesus’ imminent death, but the presence of Lazarus points further; –three days after Jesus died.

For the presence of Lazarus, eating at the table, is a glimpse of Jesus’ own resurrection; the resurrection he would win for all people, and share with us in baptism. There he has washed not only our feet but our whole body, and he anointed us not with perfume but with the Holy Spirit our Father in heaven poured out upon us through Jesus. Joined to Jesus and made new through water and the word, we share in his own death and resurrection, and indeed, he has brought life out of death for us! By holding firm to Christ in faith we will join with Mary and Martha, Lazarus and all the other saints of all times and places in the heavenly banquet without end, the banquet at which we are the Lord’s guests of honour.

May the death and resurrection of Jesus always be the strength and source of our love to others, so that rather than lamenting over what we lose out on, we rejoice in what we can give away. And may the death and resurrection of Jesus always strengthen, inspire and work in us, so that, like Mary, we too pour out love on him who died and rose again for all people, and for us. Amen.