Fifth Sunday after Easter April 29th

  • “I am the true vine”

    John 15:1-8. Can’t bear fruit by ourselves! 10/5/09“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. {2} He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. {3} You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. {4} Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. {5} “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. {6} If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. {7} If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. {8} This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.20180311_103505 (1)Today I have brought along a branch off of our grape vine at the manse. It is a branch that I cut from the vine this morning: part of a vine that I am sure has produced good fruit. Now at the moment this branch looks alive and well. Well, as good as can be expected at this time of the year: but in reality, now that it has been cut from the vine, it is good for nothing. It is dead – fit only for burning or mulching into compost. There is no way that I can leave it out in front of our church and think that next summer we will get fruit from it. Now that this branch is off the vine, it is dead – fit only for burning. There only one way that this branch could produce fruit next season and that is if it were still connected to the vine. By itself now, it can do nothing but die. We know that don’t we; this branch is now useless. It would only have survived if it remained in connection to vine.Now our Lord Jesus Christ wants us to learn an important lesson from this illustration. Jesus is saying that the same principle applies to our lives as Christians as it does to this branch. Now if that is case then we had better do a lot of serious thinking. Have you taken note of the attendance figures of this congregation over recent years and related to that the number of members that we have on our books? Have you thought about how many times you yourself have missed church in that same period of time? Now sure, attendance every week does not necessarily mean that we are Christian, just as missing the odd Sunday mean that we are not a Christian. But it is indicator that we need to do some serious thinking as individuals and as a congregation, in light of these words from Jesus.

    The main word in this reading is remain; or abide – 8 times in this short reading. So, here Jesus is trying to make a very important point. He says there is a close connection between remaining and bearing fruit: that is, having peace, hope, love, joy and more. Jesus is trying to really impress on us the importance of our remaining connected to him, if we want to live and be happy and fruitful. He says, apart from him – if we think we can live without him, ignoring him much of the time – we in reality do nothing but die. To remain means to dwell; to be present with continually; to not wander away or have broken contact with. This is what Jesus here encourages us to do in relation to him: Particularly if we want to live and bear fruit in our lives. This illustration of the branches and the vine makes the point so well for us.

    So who are we to think that we can have only occasional contact with our Lord and still be strong and healthy – happy and content? Surely, we cannot expect to only have little connection to our Lord in worship but still be able to bear the fruit in our lives that we, and God, would want? Who are we trying to kid? It seems that we often have this idea that as long as we say that we believe, then that all that matters: then everything should be rosy for us; and everything should fall into place for us. After all, we think we are baptised and so are a part of God’s family, therefore everything is well. Now as long as we keep some contact; some faith; we will be right. Well think again!

    Look, what happens to a branch that is broken, even if it is still connected; is it possible for it to be as healthy as if it was completely connected? The greater the break, the worse off the branch would be. What happens to a branch that is only just hanging by a little bit bark and not much more? It barely gets enough sap stay alive, far less grow and bear fruit. On top of that, it is in far greater danger of being broken off completely. Yet many us seem to think that as long as we have a small connection with our Lord and his Church, we’ll be right. Who are we trying to kid? Ourselves it would seem.

    If it were you or I that were caring for that vineyard, we would cut that branch off completely and burn it. We would get rid of it because it is of no value, but is simply using up valuable resources. However, not our Lord, he still sees great potential in us; he still sees the possibility of much fruit. So he prunes the branch: perhaps he might even have to prune it very heavily, for its own good; so that it can live and produce: So that we can still live and produce the fruit that he seeks from us.

    Now sure, we do not like the troubles and pains that come our way, and we often blame God when things go wrong. But the broken branch has an important message for us. If we are not pruned, there will not be enough sap and nutrients to keep us from withering, and we may not even survive, far less produce any fruit. If we are not pruned, when the storms of life come, we will soon be torn away from the vine and die. But if we are cut back, we will be able to withstand the forces that come to bear against us. And with time, the Lord can even strengthen that broken wound and even enable us to bear the fruit that is so important.

    But now back to the main point: the importance of our remaining connected to the vine – our Lord Jesus Christ. Why is this branch dead, even though it still looks green? It has severed all connections with the vine. It cannot get the sap and nutrients that it needs to stay alive. Even though at the moment it does not look too bad, it is in reality dead. Because it is no longer connected to that which gives it its life and vitality, it is dead. There is no way that it can get what it needs for itself to be able to survive, so it will wither and die, even though it looks alive at the moment.

    The point here being, that we need a good supply of sap in order to be happy, healthy and fruitful; and that we cannot get by and for ourselves. This only comes from our remaining in the Lord Jesus Christ. Those nutrients that we need come to us in the form of God’s Word and the Sacraments. They are the key ingredients for us as Christians and we need a constant supply of this for our well-being. That is why regular attendance at worship is so important: That is why Bible Study and home devotions are essential. There we get what we need to give us the strength and vitality that is necessary for our survival as Christians: There we are given what is needed for us to find love, joy, peace and all the rest for our lives. There in the Word and Sacraments we find the love and forgiveness that we need, extended to us by our Lord. And only then are we truly able to love and forgive – bear the fruit that is an essential part of our Christians life.

    That all comes as we remain connected to our Lord Jesus. As we hear, and are extended, God’s love and forgiveness, we come to know that without him we are nothing; that we are dead. But primarily that Jesus Christ alone is the source and only means of survival and happiness. It is there as we regularly attend worship that we are fed with his Word and his Body and Blood in the Lord’s Supper and receive the nutrients that we need to stay alive and healthy as Christians. There we are enabled to go out and produce the fruit that our Lord seeks from each of our lives.

    Yes, there are many who might look green and healthy at the moment, but do they see Jesus as their life giver – every day? Do they see the importance of remaining in Jesus – knowing that in him alone they have life? Do they believe that it is the Word and Sacraments that are the important means that our Lord uses to feed us and keep us alive and healthy? To ignore him and what he has to give us, and to think that don’t need him is disastrous: It is to cut ourselves off from all the goodness that our Lord has to give to us; and that can lead to only one ultimate end – to be burnt in the fires of hell.

    But on the other hand, in living in that constant relationship of love, trust and friendship with the Lord Jesus means life and fruitfulness – it means stability, strength, peace and hope. Above all, it brings great glory to our God who is the source and being of everything that is good within us.

    Here then is an important message for us to consider now and in the days ahead; and this I ask you to not take lightly. Look prayfully to this illustration of the vine and its branches and see what Jesus wants us to always keep in mind. As we remain in him may we produce that fruit that is so good and necessary. In so doing, may all glory go to our Lord Jesus Christ who is our source of life and vitality. For to him alone belongs all glory and honour, now and always. AMEN.
    Pastor Roger Atze

Fourth Sunday after Easter April 22nd

The Good Shepherd

Sermon for Easter 4 (Good Shepherd); 3 May 2009
Bible reading: John 10:11

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. Today our Lord Jesus shows us a most precious illustration of how God relates to his people.20180311_103505 (1) He comes to us as a shepherd, to gather us together, to defend us from all harm, to put his life on the line for us. Here at Bethlehem, we have this fabulous stained-glass window portraying Jesus the Good Shepherd – it really is a sermon in visual form.

Many of us remember the parable of the lost sheep from childhood – a passage closely related to our gospel. And after lunch today, go and dig up your old Baptism or Confirmation certificates – I bet many of you will find an illustration of Jesus caring for little lambs and children there.

The bible mentions shepherds in a number of places; way back even in Old Testament times. Adam and Eve had two sons initially, and one was a shepherd.

Many years later Moses saw the vision of the burning bush. What was he doing at that time? He was tending his father-in-law’s sheep. Yes, Moses was a shepherd about to embark on a much more challenging task. With staff in hand he would shepherd the people of Israel out of slavery to the safety of the Promised Land.

David was a shepherd before he became King of Israel. He who wrote that most treasured of Psalms, The Lord is my Shepherd, knew the life of the shepherd: protecting the sheep from predators and thieves; leading them to where the best pasture grew and finding water for them to drink in the arid countryside of Israel. Like Moses, he eventually defended God’s people at a time of great political instability in the region.

Later on Israel had other leaders – priests and kings who were supposed to be shepherds over Israel, seeing to people’s spiritual and physical wellbeing. Sadly they neglected the people’s needs. The corrupt ones frequently took advantage of the weak for their own gain. Through the prophets God condemned these false shepherds and promised to step in himself to shepherd the sheep of Israel.

… he came to save the whole world. That’s why he is indeed the GoodShepherd.

In time Jesus came to do just that: God born as a human being to gather and save the vulnerable people of Israel – an event, incidentally, announced to shepherds on the first Christmas. And his concern was not just restricted to Israel; he came to save the whole world. That’s why he is indeed the Good Shepherd.

If we are to make one conclusion from today’s reading it is surely how much God loves his people.

We often hear that message: God loves you so much. But it doesn’t seem to have much of an impact on people’s lives. People are tired and indifferent to this most basic message of the church. And yet we are still convinced that this little sentence is the best message ever. We do whatever we can to share it effectively through a variety of media. It’s like green grass to a hungry flock, or clear water on a hot day.

Why then, has it come to be so impotent in its effect? Why has something so nourishing for the human soul become so insipid to many?

Basically it’s because people know little about the quality of this love. We can tell the world about the enormity of God’s love until we are blue in the face. Until they understand the human predicament, and the quality of God’s love for the world, the message falls on deaf ears.

In John 10, Jesus shows us the unmatched quality of God’s love in such simple terms even little children can grasp it – “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” That’s God’s love in a nutshell.

You see, the Good Shepherd is not in it for money. In fact it cost him everything – even his very life. Neither did he come down from heaven to the dangerous valley of this world under compulsion. He came willingly.

No-one takes [my life] from me, says Jesus. I lay it down on my own accord. I have power to lay it down and I have power to take it up again.

He didn’t follow the lure of popularity or prestige. He lost friends for speaking the truth. He even battled Satan and the forces of evil while in the fragile frame of human flesh. Who else could stand such an array of attacks for the sake of love? Jesus shepherds us not because we deserve it, for we all, like sheep, have gone astray. The world is either hostile or apathetic towards God’s extending arms of love.

Our hostility and apathy is the reason why we become lost, lonely, or tangled in the thorns of our sins, which separates us from the love of God.

When we follow our own impulses we consequently find ourselves in shadowy valleys of trouble: off side with our parents; in trouble with the police or the law; ostracized by those we had hoped would be our friends; caught in the brambles of addiction or self-hate; pestered by doubts – frightened at the uncertain and ever darkening future.

In love, Jesus came to gather a scattered humanity back from such a situation, and return people to God.

The King of Love my Shepherd is, whose goodness faileth never.
I nothing lack if I am his, and he is mine forever.

So do you ever doubt that you are among God’s elect, one of his dear sheep? Read the words of the Good Shepherd again, and hear with assurance that Jesus has gathered you into his flock. Nothing can his power withstand. None can pluck you from his hand.

Or do you think you are here because of a decision you made for Christ? The readings today dispel the proud delusion that thinks being a Christian is all about our devotion to God. It’s not. It’s clearly about his devotion to us.

In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 
—1 John

And for those of you who imagine God as distant, aloof, static, silent, watching and waiting to see what you will do, the Good Shepherd shows that he is right here in the thick of things with us. He gets his hands dirty and risks his wellbeing coming after us.

Jesus seeks us out. He wanders with tireless determination over hill and plain, through hazardous terrain to find us, to gather and protect us. He stood in the breach when death closed in like a pack of wolves, and he took the punishment for our wayward folly.

That is the meaning of God’s love friends. And David’s Psalm, which was written long ago, makes so much more sense in the light of Jesus’ words:

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

Here, we not only acknowledge God’s providence for our daily needs, but we also trust him to lead us in right paths of living as he calls us to follow his voice and no other.

The life-giving water of baptism has become a clear and refreshing pool of goodness and mercy to refresh us all the days of our life.

Even the darkest valley of death cannot harm us. Easter has made sure of that!

Our Lord’s words, his vicarious suffering and death, these are his comforting rod and staff.

So safe are we in his presence, we can feast before our enemies – gathering together as onechurch, one flock under one Shepherd as we share in the one bread and one cup together in the Lord’s Supper. Sweet fellowship divine!

But what has taken place in our hearts to open our ears, to bring us to an appreciation of this good news? Did someone say to us, ‘Hey, you’d better hop to it and get in line, the shepherd’s coming’? No. A harsh shepherd would only drive us further from God. A harsh shepherd would be more in line with the false shepherds who have harassed God’s people from ancient times.

Rather it is the tender nature of this shepherd that wins us. He is strong, but he uses his strength for us, not against us. He has trained our ears by the Holy Spirit to hear and recognise and love his voice.

We want nothing more than to be near this one who is full of grace and truth – like those sheep in Bethlehem’s stained-glass window. We live in an age when people are searching for spirituality. There is no higher spirituality than to believe the Gospel. The gospel makes us want to follow the Good Shepherd all the days of our life – to cherish and emulate his great love for us.

… people will notice God’s unique love at work in your lives and be drawn to the Good Shepherd

And others will see that: Others who are strays; or those who have never known Jesus Christ but are beginning to hear his voice bit by bit. Today people are searching for love and community. It can’t be found in hours spent glued to cell phones or chat rooms; or in front of the mirror after a gym workout; or fantasizing in cyberspace about power or pleasure; or in any other soul-destroying pass time.

But people will notice God’s unique love at work in your lives and be drawn to the Good Shepherd. They will come to hear with willing ears the gospel through the church, providing the church continues to tell it. They will gladly part company with the pervasive brambles of individualism and consumerism in exchange for the safe arms of the Good Shepherd, and the joyful community of his everlasting flock. Amen.

Pastor Simon Cooper

Third Sunday Easter read 15th April.

We are witnesses

Sermon for Easter 3
Bible reading: Luke 24:48

I’m not sure I’d be prepared to die for my country … but I hope that I’d be prepared to die for my Lord. I’m not sure that I’d be prepared to die killing people … but I hope that I’d be prepared to die bringing eternal life to people.20180311_103505 (1)

The Christian faith is built entirely on Jesus Christ who was prepared to die bringing eternal life to people. Since the death of Jesus Christ it is estimated that 40 million disciples of Jesus have been martyred because they were not prepared to stop following Jesus, they were not prepared to stop confessing Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, they were not prepared to stop witnessing, and telling and teaching others about Jesus.

A Christian who is killed because of their faith in Jesus and confession of his name is called a martyr. Eleven of the twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ died as martyrs. Little did they know, as they gathered with Jesus to celebrate the resurrection, that they would all die for seeing and believing and living and telling that truth. Little did they know, as Jesus said to them in the Upper Room: “you are witnesses of these things”, that it meant far more than that they had seen Jesus, and they would tell others that Jesus was alive again. “You are witnesses of these things”, would come to mean, ‘you will die for telling others that Jesus died and rose again’. The word martyr, means to witness, to see and hear and tell of the resurrection. But since that led to being killed for speaking out, the word martyr gradually took on the meaning of one who dies for confessing the faith.

I have never met a martyr who has been killed for their faith. I once met Pastor Richard Wurmbrand who was imprisoned for 14 years for confessing his faith in Romania. I once heard Brother Yun, The Heavenly Man, speak in Adelaide, after being released from many years in Chinese prisons for spreading the Christian faith. I have been inspired by reading the stories of countless Christians who were killed for witnessing to Jesus. But they all lived in other countries. I’ve never heard of a Christian being killed for telling others about Jesus in Australia. It is so easy to tell others about Jesus in Australia. They may not believe what we say. They may not even like what we say. They might even ridicule us for saying it. But they will not put us in prison. They will not kill us. We can be witnesses to Jesus without being killed for it. So why are we so slack at witnessing?

Jesus’ disciples had all deserted him when he suffered and died. They huddled together in fear, even after it was reported by the women that Jesus had been raised from the dead.

Then Jesus stood among them and said, Peace be with you. They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. … Look at my hands and my feet … Touch me and see … and while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, do you have anything here to eat? They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence. … Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.

Jesus is so patient with his frightened disciples … Jesus did not condemn them. He forgave them.

Jesus is so patient with his frightened disciples. They had deserted Jesus. They were burdened with guilt. They were torn between fear and joy at seeing Jesus. But Jesus did not condemn them. He forgave them. He showed them the wounds of his crucifixion. He ate in their presence. He explained the Scriptures to them, how he had to suffer and die and rise from the dead. Jesus nursed his disciples to faith.

Faith in Jesus may not come easily to you. Perhaps you have trouble believing that Jesus could be raised from the dead? Perhaps you find it hard to believe that Jesus suffered and died and rose again from the dead for you, to forgive you, to give you a new life, to give you eternal life? Perhaps you are so used to the ways of this world, that you can’t believe Jesus’ resurrection brings a whole new way of living, for you and for the whole world?

A man came home from work to find that his wife had hung a plaque on the wall that said: Pray changes things. The man took it down. His wife was astonished and asked, ‘Don’t you like prayer?’ ‘Sure, I like prayer,’ he replied, ‘but I don’t like change.’

The resurrection of Jesus changes things … changes everything. Life is no longer a rat race ending in death.

The resurrection of Jesus changes things … changes everything. Life is no longer a rat race ending in death. Life is no longer the round eternal: going to work to make money, to build a bigger home, so you have to go to work to pay for it, before you die and lose it.

The ways of this world are littered with failure. Wars solve little or nothing. “Money can’t buy me happiness.” Relationships often fail to satisfy. Church seems dull, and less and less people see it as a place to find meaning.

I’ve been speaking to a few of my relatives. They are very godly people. But their grandchildren have little or nothing to do with the church. Yes, some of my cousins’ children are active Christians, but others have no contact with the church. Parents and grandparents worry for their descendants, living without faith and God and the church – living as though Jesus has not died and been raised to give them eternal life – living like the rest of the world. In Australia, Anzac Day has become more important to us than Good Friday.

Jesus stood with his disciples in that upper room on the day of his resurrection and showed them he was really alive – and this changed everything. He said: “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be preached to all nations in my name, beginning in Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And I’ll give you the Holy Spirit.”

The resurrection isn’t just a doctrine we believe. The resurrection of Jesus is a new life we share in, and are empowered to go out to call every one else to share in, beginning at home. Studies suggest that too many people who sit in church and hear the story of the resurrection and confess the creed, are not changed by it, and don’t speak about it in their homes.

A chap started going to church and his mates said: ‘I suppose that now you’re going to church you’ll start acting different!’ ‘No, I’m still the same old bloke,’ he replied.

To believe in the resurrection is to be changed by it, to live like Jesus, and daily point people to Jesus by our lives and words.

We are witnesses. We’ve met with the risen Lord …

“We are witnesses”, said Peter and John and the other disciples as they preached the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They saw it, they spoke it, they lived it, they died for it. The resurrection changed them so much that even the skeptics said: “we can see you’ve been with Jesus.”

We are witnesses. We’ve met with the risen Lord in Holy Communion. We’ve seen him at work in Baptism. We’ve heard him speak to us through his word. Holy Spirit, help our lives and words call others to follow Jesus Christ. Amen.

Pastor David Christian

Third Sunday after Easter 15th April

Like him

Each year we celebrated ANZAC Day – the occasion when we remember those who gave their lives in war and express our thanks to those who went to war and survived.20180311_103505 (1)

We have heard on our news in recent times that a mass grave has been discovered in the north east of France near the place where the Battle of Fromelles was fought in July 1916. This was the first action that Australian troops saw on the Western Front in Europe. The attack was foolish, badly planned with the enemy in a superior position. The troops had to cross a wide ‘no-man’s land’ in broad daylight. One survivor wrote, “The air was thick with bullets, swishing in a flat, crisscrossed lattice of death. Hundreds were mown down in the flicker of an eyelid”. Over five and a half thousand soldiers were killed in just one day. One hundred and ninety-one were hurriedly buried by the enemy and it is this grave that is about to be opened, the remains of those soldiers identified and reburied in a new memorial cemetery.

The lives of these men were brought to a violent end in a stupid and foolish battle that was a complete defeat for the Australian and British troops. Why is so much effort being put into the exhumation and reburial of those who died so long ago? This is not an easy or inexpensive task. Why do we need to honour what is left of these men, treat those remains with so much dignity and show respect?

We could answer saying that these men gave their lives in the service of their country and deserve this kind of dignity. No one would argue with that.
What is more, this will certainly bring closure for some families who have wondered all these years where their loved one is buried.
The fact remains, however, that retrieving these remains won’t bring the person back. These remains are all that’s left of a life.

Whatever our religious convictions may be deep inside we know that our body is special and so we treat it in a special way even after it has died. When we attend a funeral we give honour and respect to the body, or what’s left of it (as in the case of those soldiers), and treat it with dignity.

Our bodies are miracles. In fact, the body we have was designed and created by God, and carries the mark of his genius. Just think of what our body can do, how complex and balanced, how strong and yet how capable of fine control.
Think about the brain and everything that it does and controls without any effort on our part.
Think about our eyes, ears, heart and lungs that are all so complex and amazing and do such marvellous things and we hardly give them a thought as we go about our daily tasks.
When one part is injured in some way, the body has its own repair mechanism. Our bodies are more than the result of an evolutionary process and are so wonderful and amazing that it’s not hard to believe that we are what we are because the hand of God the Creator made us.

The Bible sees human beings as one of God’s miracles. We are body, soul, mind, spirit, personality, DNA, flesh and bone, all wonderfully and mysteriously integrated and knit together, working in complex harmony. Think of a smile. You can’t separate the different components of a smile and if you were able then it would no longer be a smile. Muscle and bone and spirit and mind and personality all combine in one of the most powerful yet subtle things we can ever experience – a smile.

The psalmist wrote this to express how wonderfully made our bodies are, “You created every part of me; you put me together in my mother’s womb. When my bones were being formed, carefully put together in my mother’s womb, when I was growing there in secret, you knew that I was there— you saw me before I was born” (Psalm 139 13,15-16).

God made Adam and Eve with his own hands and intended them to live forever in happiness and harmony with God and the world in which he placed them. As we know that all changed when sin entered the world and our bodies became infected with all kinds of sickness and the process of aging began. However, even though we are marred and disfigured by sin, this doesn’t diminish the uniqueness of our bodies one bit.

God didn’t put us in this world simply to grow old, wear out and die. He made us to live forever. And in faith, we say as we confess what we believe – ‘I believe in the resurrection of the body’ – yes, my body will live forever.

Today we hear, as we have heard since Easter Day, how Jesus appears to his disciples in his resurrection body. To say the least the disciples were terrified. When someone is dead they stay dead. And so Jesus went to lot of effort to show them that he is not a ghost or a spirit or figment of their imagination but the flesh-and-blood Jesus they have known when they walked and talked together as they travelled around Galilee. This is the same Jesus who has real skin; skin that now bears scars from nails and a spear and who eats and drinks in the same way he did when he ate with Zaccheus or with the disciples at the last supper. He says, ‘Look at my hands and my feet and see who I am! Touch me and find out for yourselves. It’s me Jesus’.

The New Testament tells us that our resurrection too (following the pattern set by Jesus) will be a resurrection of the body. In today’s second reading, John says that when Jesus is revealed at the last day ‘we will be like him’ (John 3:2b).

There are some popular ideas about what happens to us after death that are so wrong.
One that raises its head every so often is the idea of reincarnation, that is, after we die we come back in another life. There are even some Christians who have expressed this idea to me. There is nothing to suggest in the Bible that we come back to live another life on this earth again. In fact, I don’t find this a particularly attractive idea compared to the joy of heaven.
Neither does the Bible talk about the dead hanging around as ghosts, or spirits, or forces or whatever.
Neither does the Bible say that we become angels when we die.

What the Bible does say is that the body that is capable of so many wonderful things is a creation of God and that through Jesus’ death and resurrection we are redeemed body and soul. That means that eternal life involves our bodies. This teaching about the resurrection of the body is something unique to the Christian faith.

You see, when Jesus died on the cross and rose again from the dead he didn’t do all this to save just our souls. He gave his body on the cross to save us in our totality. He has made us, body and soul, holy and right with God. We believe that this weak clay pot of a body will one day be transformed into the likeness of the perfect and eternal Son of God himself, nothing less. Yes, we will be like him.

Paul tells us that, like Jesus, our old body that is now so riddled with faults and weaknesses will be made new and perfect and eternal and beautiful and healthy and strong in every way. I’m not just talking about the physical side of our bodies which on this earth suffer from all kinds of ailments but also our personality, our character flaws, our selfishness and all the dark blots that spoil and hold us back, that trip us up here in this life where sin still hangs on to us.

Our will and our minds will be made new. We will know God’s will perfectly and so be in complete harmony with God and with everyone else. All these things will be made new and beautiful and we will be finally what God has always wanted us to be. We will be the beautiful and lovely person that God has always known we would one day become. In fact, that’s not to say that God doesn’t love us now. In Christ, we have already been new and clean because of the blood of Jesus, but while in this life we will always have to deal with sin and sickness and aging.

Paul uses the illustration of a seed that is planted in the ground but rises from the ground as a lush green plant with heads of grain. When you look at a daffodil bulb there is nothing attractive about it. Wrinkly, dry, brown, so ugly but when it is planted and rises from the ground there are green leaves and on the tall, straight stems are the most beautiful flowers. Listen to what the apostle says, This is how it will be when the dead are raised to life. When the body is buried, it is mortal; when raised, it will be immortal. When buried, it is ugly and weak; when raised, it will be beautiful and strong” (1 Cor 15:42-43).

This is great encouragement and comfort for us as we struggle with aging and illness.
These bodies that wear out in a few short years and leave us creaking and groaning with pain and losing our mobility are headed for complete and radical renewal. No arthritis, no heart problems or diabetes or cancer or Alzheimer’s disease.
No fear of that day when one of these will finally catch up with us and we die.

What a great encouragement and comfort all this is when we must sit at a deathbed or attend the funerals of family and friends.
In Christ and only in Christ is there the hope that beyond death there awaits a new life, a new body and a new home for all those who trust in Jesus as their saviour.

One day all of us will go through the dark valley of death.
We don’t know what our bodies will go through along the way.
We don’t know when this will happen.
We don’t have a precise description of what our new bodies will be like. After all how can you describe something out of this world with worldly words?
But what we do know is that when Jesus is revealed, we will be like him.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

 

Second Sunday after Easter 8th April

Text: John 20:24-25
One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (called the Twin), was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”  Thomas said to them, “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.”

Harriet, the town gossip, knew everything about everybody. 20180311_103505 (1) People didn’t like the way she talked about everybody behind their backs, but they were afraid to say anything because they knew they would be her next topic of gossip.

But Harriet made a mistake, when she saw George’s ute parked all afternoon in front of the town’s only bar. She commented to George and others in no uncertain manner that since it was parked there so long everyone knew that he was an alcoholic.

George, a man of few words, stared at her for a moment and then just walked away.  He said nothing.  Later that evening, George quietly parked his ute in front of Harriet’s house and left it there all night.

Seeing is believing.  Harriet believed that and would jump to all kinds of wild conclusions from what she saw.  Thomas, Jesus’ disciple, thought the disciples had done the same – seen something and jumped to some wild conclusions.

Put yourself in Thomas’ shoes for a minute.  After someone whom you have loved dearly has died, you were there when this happened, and then some other friends come to you and say, “You know so and so who died yesterday, well we have seen him.  He is alive.  Isn’t that exciting?”

If someone said that to you, how would you react?  Would you join them in their excitement or perhaps say, “That’s nice”, but think that the person has become a bit delusional, perhaps too much stress that comes with grief.

The Gospel writer John recalls the time when the disciples told Thomas how seeing the wounds in Jesus’ hands and in his side convinced them that Jesus was really alive again.  Excitedly they told Thomas that there was no doubt about it – the crucified, dead and buried Jesus is alive.

But Thomas can’t believe what he was being told.  Jesus was dead.  He had seen this with his own eyes.  It isn’t logical – when you’re dead, you stay dead.  This defies all human reason.

Thomas doesn’t want wishful thinking; he doesn’t want to believe something that will turn out to be just the wild imagination of some over-stressed friends.

Grief can do some strange things to people’s minds and so Thomas is adamant, “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”. 

“I want to believe what you guys have seen, but I need proof.  I won’t believe it’s true until I see the scars in his hands and his side for myself.”

Let’s give credit where credit is due.  Thomas doesn’t dismiss the possibility that the disciples had seen Jesus.  He could have said, “You’re all mad.  I don’t want to hear another word of this nonsense.”

Thomas wants to be convinced.  He wants proof that what the disciples had witnessed was true and real and not just some trick.

Let’s think about this for a moment.  There are times when our faith in God is strengthened and we become convinced more than ever before of God’s presence because we have seen the hand of God at work in our lives.
Perhaps you have had a prayer answered in an amazing way.

Or you have experienced a healing – someone has had a wonderful recovery from a serious illness that could have taken their life or left them with a serious disability.
A family member whom you have encouraged in their Christian faith suddenly opens their heart to the saving news of the gospel and become involved in the church.
Some of you have had amazing experiences of the closeness of God at a time when you were feeling lonely, or sick, or grieving.

At times like this, we are convinced that God is real and that his love and care for us could never be doubted.  We have experienced his love and power close at hand.

But there are also times when our experiences cause us to wonder, even doubt, whether God knows us at all.

We struggle to find the love of God when a child, who is just starting out in life, meets a tragic death.

Someone who is loved and very much needed in a family is struck down with a terrible disease.

We lose our jobs; we are broke; our marriage breaks up, a child causes us terrible stress.  How many people have prayed for healing but nothing happens.

Thomas had experienced Jesus’ crucifixion, death and burial; he had become confused about who Jesus was.
Like any of us in the face of a senseless tragedy (as Jesus’ death was) Thomas’ experience of the closeness of God was at an all-time low.
Like any of us, most likely he too was asking, “Where was God when all this was happening?”  Even when the disciples told him that Jesus had risen from the dead, he still would not believe until he had experienced this for himself.

Can you see that there is a bit of Thomas in all of us?  The strength or weakness of our faith often depends on our experiences, – on the evidence which convinces us that God is real and that he loves us, or on the other hand, our experience tells us that God is distant and doesn’t care.  We like to have positive experiences of God in our lives.  We like it when our faith is bolstered by the clear evidence of the power of God at work in our lives.  Thomas needed to experience it, to see with his own eyes the scars of the nails and feel the wound in Jesus’ side.

I believe that’s the way God made us to be – practical, down-to-earth people who rely on the experiences of this life.  God has given us feelings and emotions and these feelings and emotions often determine how we experience the presence or absence of God in our lives.
We have learnt at Sunday School, confirmation classes and Bible studies all the facts about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
Maybe you have learnt Bible verses off by heart, and can quickly find the promises of God in the scriptures – this is the foundation of our faith.  This kind of head knowledge is good but if it doesn’t have an impact on our daily lives, then of what use is it?

Our experience of God is extremely helpful in our relationship with God.  It’s good to experience a prayer that has been answered in the way we had prayed.
It’s good to be certain of the presence and power of God at work when we are recovering from sickness, or getting over a tragedy.  God gives us these experiences to show us that he does what he promises.

The experience of the disciples that day when they saw the risen Jesus must have been amazing and their faith and trust in Jesus rose to new heights.

When Thomas didn’t have that same experience and he was still left sad and depressed, Jesus could have taken the attitude, “Well, Thomas, you have the word of the disciples that should be enough.”  But Jesus isn’t like that.  He doesn’t ridicule Thomas for wanting to experience firsthand the resurrected Jesus.  He invites Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands; then reach out your hand and put it in my side. Stop your doubting, and believe!”  He goes out of his way for this one man and lets him experience the resurrection first hand.  Jesus provides this experience to reassure the troubled and doubting Thomas that the disciples were speaking the truth.  Thomas believes and exclaims, “My Lord and my God!”

This incident tells us clearly that seeing, touching, experiencing God in dramatic ways strengthens our faith, confirms our understanding of God, reassures us of the power and love of God but is not the basis of our faith.  If our faith in God rested only on our experiences then our faith would yoyo up and down every day, depending on whether our experiences were good or bad.  If we depended on our experiences of God to prove his love for us, then what would we do when the only evidence we see is sadness, tragedy and death.

You see, there comes a time when we have faith in God in spite of the circumstances we are experiencing.  Even when there is no immediate proof from your experience that God is powerful and that he loves you, you continue to trust in him.  We believe even though we can’t see it.  Faith keeps on trusting in spite of the fact that we can no longer see God’s hand at work.  Faith keeps on believing that God is faithful to his promises.

In spite of being jailed and his life threatened, Paul continued to trust God.
In spite of being imprisoned in 1943 for his political and Christian opposition to the Nazi regime, Dietrich Bonhoeffer continued to trust God.  He became pastor to fellow prisoners, spoke about God’s love and prayed with them.

Mother Teresa continued to help the poor and dying of Calcutta.  All she saw, day in and day out, was human misery.  She never lost sight of the loving God.
A mother continues to trust God even though her two small children were killed in a car accident.
A man continues to pray to God even though his body is filled with disease and daily struggles with pain.  He says, “God knows what he is doing”.

There comes a time when we believe even though there’s no immediate, obvious evidence that God is nearby.  We believe even though we can’t see.  That’s what Jesus was getting at when he said, “How happy are those who believe without seeing me!”  Faith in the New Testament is just this – trusting and relying on God even when our experience of God barely exists.  This is where Thomas came unstuck.  He should have believed that Jesus would rise again because Jesus had said he would.  In fact, all the disciples should have believed this in spite of what they had experienced.

Faith has to do with relying on a promise, trusting a word, holding on to what we know about God and believing that, regardless of what happens.

Faith believes that God is true to his word.  He never deserts us.  His love always burns strongly for us.  Even when the circumstances in our life might tempt us to think otherwise, faith holds on to believing that God knows what he is doing.

Jesus came to Thomas with understanding and compassion.  He helped Thomas in his faith, just as he helps us when we begin to wonder about God’s genuineness. He has given us the Holy Spirit to help us when our faith wavers. He helps us trust God’s promises even though our experience tells us otherwise.

From time to time, we are actually allowed to see him touch our lives and feel his presence; other times we rely on our experience of God from the past.
That’s okay but there will also be times when we rely solely on God’s Word of promise.  He said that he would always be our helper and strength, and we need to simply rely on the promise.

Jesus says to us as he said to Thomas, “Do you believe because you see me?  How happy are those who believe without seeing me!”

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy