Twenty Third Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Luke 21:10-12,18,19
He went on to say, “Countries will fight each other; kingdoms will attack one another. There will be terrible earthquakes, famines, and plagues everywhere; there will be strange and terrifying things coming from the sky. Before all these things take place, however, you will be arrested and persecuted; you will be handed over to be tried in synagogues and be put in prison; you will be brought before kings and rulers for my sake. …. But not a single hair from your heads will be lost. Stand firm, and you will save yourselves.

Interruptions

Interruptions can be annoying. You are watching a movie on TV and just when the story is getting exciting an advertisement comes on destroying the moment.
You decide that it’s about time you replied to the letters thatdhuff you have received. No sooner do you get started and someone in the family is hungry, can’t find something, want some help or just want to talk, and there goes all you good intentions. Sometimes interruptions, though initially annoying, can be creative and constructive.

A pastor tells the story of how he was interrupted by a phone call at a youth meeting where he was leading a Bible study. The pastor admitted that he felt annoyed being interrupted at a critical moment when he was coming to the main point of the study and the young people were following him intently. He was gone for the rest of the meeting. Some members of the group expressed their annoyance that the pastor had even answered his phone. The pastor came back just as everyone was leaving and told them that an unknown young man had been on the line. He had decided to take his own life but wanted to give someone – anyone – one last chance at arguing why he should continue to live. The interruption to the Bible study interrupted and stopped this young man’s intentions.

The whole story of the Bible can be looked at from the viewpoint of interruptions.
The devastating effects of sin interrupt the peace and harmony of life in the Garden of Eden.

Sin interrupts God’s plans for the world and so he interrupts sin by becoming a human being who lives among us filled with grace and truth and dies for us.

Jonah was fleeing from God who had commanded him to go to Nineveh and preach repentance. His escape was interrupted by God’s big fish that swallowed him and while in the belly of the fish he repented and then went on to Nineveh.

God’s people were caught in sin and were drifting away from God and so he sent the prophets to interrupt their drift away from him and bring them back into a relationship with their Creator and Saviour.

The story of Jesus in the gospel is one of interruptions.
The announcement of the birth of Jesus interrupts a young girl’s life and her wedding plans. The silence of the night is interrupted when angels announce the birth of the Messiah.

Jesus’ sermon is interrupted by a man with an evil spirit. The sermon gives way to the power of God which interrupts the power of Satan in this man’s life and with just one word from Jesus the evil spirit is cast out.

As the disciples stroll into the town of Nain enjoying a friendly chat with Jesus and listening intently to what Jesus had to say about the kingdom of God, they are interrupted by the loud wailing and crying as a group of mourners pass by. Death is always a powerful interruption to our well-laid plans. This funeral procession and the mourners’ grief are interrupted as Jesus restores life to the dead man and gives a promise that all of us who believe will one day experience this same interruption to death when we are raised to life.

A traitor friend who needs to go and sell his Lord for the price of a slave, interrupts Jesus’ celebration of the Passover with his disciples. This same traitor and the armed guards interrupt Jesus’ prayers in the Garden. And finally the sadness and confusion after Jesus’ death is interrupted by the news that he has risen. His tomb is empty.

Interruptions are events in our lives that can’t be forced back any more than the sea can be kept 3 metres from the shore line.

In my ministry I have seen many interruptions in people’s lives.
A young 21-year-old, fit and popular with his mates, passes away during the night with an athsma attack.
An 8-year-old just disciplined by his father ran out on the road and was killed by a passing car.
The life of a young mother is interrupted as disease invades.
Without a doubt some interruptions are painful.

On the other hand interruptions can bring joy.
The Holy Spirit interrupts a young man’s life and points him to Jesus.
The birth of a baby interrupts the life a couple but it is an interruption they have waited for.
The progression of disease is interrupted by a miraculous recovery.
A married couple interrupt the downward spiral of their relationship.

Today’s difficult gospel text makes us aware of the interruption that will affect the whole world. Jesus is leaving the temple and he is looking around at one of the most magnificent structures in the world at that time. He tells his disciples that this grand monument will be destroyed. We know that this happened at the hands of the Romans, but even if the Romans hadn’t touched the building, the forces of earthquake, fire, storm, and neglect would lead to the ruin of the temple much the same as the once magnificent structures in Greece and Rome. The history of the temple will be interrupted and brought to an end, he says, and it was.

He goes on and says that everything we cherish, every institution and tradition, every treasure that we count on and store up will be interrupted and brought to an end. Wars, earthquakes, famines, and other disasters in nature, persecutions when family members will rise up against other members of a family, will interrupt our way of life and the peace we enjoy. Families will be interrupted, businesses will be interrupted, governments will be interrupted.

We can see this happening in our world.
Peace and safety in our world and in our community are very fragile things and can easily be interrupted by hostility, bloodshed, robbery and fear.
The place that Christ had in the hearts of the people of our nation has been interrupted and replaced with all kind of other religious values that can easily be understood as Christian or compatible with Christianity when clearly they are false.
The strength and harmony in families has been interrupted and eroded by violence in the home, divorce, pressures, stresses, rebellious children, and the need for parents to work longer and harder.

The interruptions that we experience almost on a daily basis are reminders that things in this world are very uncertain. We are reminded that at any time our own life will be interrupted and that there will come a time when the history of our world will be interrupted. This last and final interruption will happen when Jesus comes again and this world will pass away.

When you think about it, the interruptions that we experience in life can make us feel very insecure and uncertain. But I want to make it clear to everyone today that there is one thing that will never be interrupted, that is, the love that our Father in heaven has for us.

St Paul says, “Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present or the future, nor powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Whoever believes and trusts in Jesus and his saving work on the cross,
and whoever holds on to the Good Shepherd’s hand as they walk life’s journey, and listens to his voice and follows his ways when everything else passes away will receive the crown of eternal life. Even though the history of our world will be interrupted, nothing is able to interrupt God’s love for us.

The Bible states clearly that the saving work of Jesus endures for all time and that God has promised that because of Jesus he will not hold our sin against us, that he has established an eternal covenant of love with us and that he will stand beside and help us no matter what kind of interruption will disrupt our lives.

Nothing can destroy this fact. All kinds of disasters may happen to us in our lives and to our world, but that one fact stands forever. God loves us and his saving work will not be interrupted.

When Jesus could see only death ahead interrupting his life on this earth he turned to the heavenly Father in prayer. He was led to see that there was no way he could avoid what was about to happen but he was strengthened by God and enabled to endure what had to be endured. Likewise we are strengthened.

No amount of interruption in our world can take away from us the grace and love of Jesus. It is that love that he has given to us freely on the cross that will stand by us when disasters in our world threaten us and overwhelm us like a giant tidal wave. Every possession, every power and authority, everything that we cherish in this world will disappear some day, either at our death or when the last day comes, but what will not disappear is this – God’s kingdom and our place in it as citizens of heaven and heirs of eternal life.

When Christ bursts into this world on the last day, that will be the last interruption that we will ever experience. There will no more interruptions by sickness, death, wars, natural disasters, accidents, crime or whatever. We will be taken into God’s presence and join those gathered around the throne of God.

The words of the psalm are very helpful when we think of this final interruption, “We will not be afraid, even if the earth is shaken and mountains fall into the ocean depths; even if the seas roar and rage, and the hills are shaken by the violence. … The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge (Psalm 46).

In the meantime we need to deal with the interruptions that take place in our everyday life, especially those interruptions that bring us fear and grief. The apostle Paul had to deal with these kinds of interruptions often. Shipwrecks, jail, hostile people, sickness interrupted him in the work God had given him to tell the good news about Jesus. But nothing interrupted his trust in Jesus.

How easily is our faith in Jesus interrupted?
How readily do we allow our pet sins interrupt the newness that we have in Christ?
How often do we allow or even try to find interruptions that keep us away from reading God’s Word, praying and worshipping together with our fellow believers?
How willingly do we allow our sinful nature and Satan interrupt our walking God’s ways?

God grant that the Holy Spirit would interrupt every sin, every temptation, every fear and doubt, and remind us everyday that God’s love for us is uninterruptible. God grant that our commitment and faith be as uninterruptible as God’s commitment to us.


© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

 

Twenty second Sunday after Pentecost

The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.  Let’s join in a word of prayer: Loving God, speak to us and bless the words we hear, the thoughts we accept, and the meditations of our hearts that we receive.  Let them be of value to us and be acceptable to You.  Gracious heavenly Father, hear our prayer for the sake of our risen Lord,  Amen.

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David:0414521661

 One day late in the afternoon a missionary in Africa had a surprise visit. When he entered his small hut he discovered a very large python on the floor. He left the hut and went to his truck and returned with his pistol.

Even though he had his gun, he still had one important problem. He only had one bullet left in the gun. He could not afford to miss. All of his skill would be required in order to rid his hut of this deadly creature. If he missed, there was no telling what would happen next. He took careful aim and pulled the trigger ever so gently. He shot the python in the head. The python, which would soon die, was at this point only wounded. It still had some life and some fight within itself. The python began to throw itself violently about. The missionary left the hut and listened for some time as the python broke furniture and destroyed lamps and other personal items as it unleashed one last burst of energy. After some time, things got quiet and the missionary assumed that the snake was dead. When he went back into his hut he found the snake was indeed dead, but his home was in shambles. (Source: Dr. James Dobson, When God Doesn’t Make Sense (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.), p. 194. Used by permission.”)

 I suspect this is a reminder of our spiritual battles with the enemies of God. The victory has been won in Jesus Christ.  But until his return, the battle continues, making a mess in our ordered Christian lives. So, let’s rejoice in the knowledge that Christ has won the battle, and keep our brooms and mops of prayer and fellowship and Scripture handy to face the mess of living in our broken world.

 Even in the freedom we enjoy in Australia, we face the mess of living in a society which, for the most part, fails to recognise the Lord of all life. Paul faced an even more severe mess in Thessalonica.  He had shared encouragement with them in his first letter.  That although they faced the persecution of unbelievers around them, they would be blessed when Christ returns.

He wrote to them that, ‘you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.’  (1 Th 1:9–10 NIV)

It appears this letter so impressed them, that many simply gave up the fight against their mess, and just decided to wait for Christ’s return.  In his first letter, Paul wrote, ‘the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.  Therefore encourage each other with these words.’  (1 Th 4:16–18 NIV)
We know the devil works to turn every encouragement into discouragement.  Like the python, writhing and pulsing with dying energy. Rumours started flying among the believers from false teachers.  Rumours that Christ had already come.  That these believers in Thessalonica were the ones left behind for judgement.  That they missed out on being with Christ Jesus forever.And so, Paul writes this second letter to the Thessalonians, trying to straighten some of the mess left behind by these rumours. 

He now writes, ‘Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers,  not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way.’

 And then Paul reminds them of some very specific and frightening events that will precede the end times.  Things he had shared with them when he visited Thessalonica.   He isn’t trying to give any indication about the timing of the end, but only to relieve their fears, that it had already happened.  Those events surely have not even happened yet today. 

 And even when they do happen, they will only be the  markers of God’s plan for the transition of the world’s time into God’s eternity.   God is in control.  And, as Jesus himself said,  ‘God is God of the living’.  God cares about us and moves us ever closer to the time when we will be with him in perfect eternity.  Every day that I wake up in the morning, I give thanks to God that I am one day closer to eternal life with him.  And then I get out of bed and begin to live the day with all the energy, faith, and caring that I can muster. As I live out the day, I make my mistakes and then turn to God’s Holy Spirit to guide me in my attitudes, actions, and the words I use.   

 As we approach the end of the Church year, and enter Advent, we will be sharing a number of readings proclaiming the end of times, and the beginning of God’s eternity.  But as Paul shares, we shouldn’t get too upset and disturbed by these readings.  They are a reminder that this age will not last forever, and God has the final victory over even time itself.

 Even so, unlike the Sadducees who discounted any kind of life after death, we wonder what eternity will be like.  It’s hard for us to imagine what heaven will be like.  What an eternal future in the presence of God will be.  It’s a human trait to be curious about the future.    A popular song recently captured our imagination, in words directed toward Christ Jesus.

 I can only imagine what it will be like when I walk by Your side.  I can only imagine what my eyes will see when Your face is before me.  Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel.  Will I dance for You Jesus, or in awe of You be still.  Will I stand in Your presence, or to my knees will I fall.  Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all – I can only imagine. As human beings, we are not yet able to grasp the complexities or the pleasures of the resurrection and the life beyond. Sometimes all we can do is recognize the mystery of the unknown and the limitations of our own understandings.

 The apostle Paul writes “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I reasoned as a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully”.  God of the living created human life, complete, with a future in mind. 

God has provided life after death for those who respond to his love.  Until that time is fulfilled, we will just have to accept the promises of God with faith.  Let’s hold onto the hope, that the heart and soul of the relationships we hold sacred in this life will be affirmed in eternity.  I can only imagine that the love that we hold for each other as family, friends and neighbours will surely accompany us into eternity. In any case, we can take comfort that Jesus has already made the way for us to be included in the resurrection.  By His sacrifice on the cross, He gives us forgiveness for our sins and a renewed relationship with God.  And as Jesus said in the reading,  Our God “is the God of the living, not the dead.

 May God the creator of time and controller of destiny give each one of us today unfaltering trust in our living Lord and Saviour.   Trust to allow Jesus to help us hold in our hearts the faith that He gives to us as a gift.  Trust to allow the Holy Spirit guide us in our challenge of Christian Living, even in the mess of our broken world.  Trust also to help us yield our lives to God with Joy in our hearts.  Trust to follow our God of the living into eternal life with Him.

 May the grace and peace of God, which passes all our human understanding, keep our hearts and minds in the calm assurance of eternal salvation in our living Lord, Christ Jesus.   Amen.

David Thompson.

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: 2 Timothy 3:15-17

 

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

Embarrassed by your Bible?

 

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Luke 17:15-16

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Luke 17:5,6

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

Faith the size of a mustard seed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In other words, through faith we can move mountains.

But is that right?

Is that a correct conclusion?

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

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

The disciples were facing their own mountains that needed moving.

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

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

The disciples were worried about this and quite rightly.

Who hasn’t caused someone to sin?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That kind of forgiveness goes right against our human nature.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

Sixtheenth Sunday after Pentecost

    Luke 16:19-31
  :Gifted to give

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Jeremiah 8: 18-9:1 ; Timothy 2:1-7; St Luke 16:1-13

Have you been scammed? Scams are ubiquitous these days with the advent of electronic communications and internet banking the field is endless for scammers to get to work on the vulnerable or the gullible in our community.gordon The fact that scamming is a very profitable business entails that there is now a host of strategies by which people are encouraged to use to avoid being fleeced of their hard-earned cash. But one thing we learn from scammers is that they are single minded in conducting their business. They don’t give up easily but continue to try and deceive you. They are single minded in their nefarious endeavours.

There are many parables in the gospel which indicate that the children of this world are more alert to their situation than the children of God. They can make decisive decisions in the light of the situation which confront them. Here in this parable a steward of a certain rich man has been told that he has been found out defrauding his employer. So as is the usual custom for the children of this world he immediately decides to secure his future by making friends with some influential people who are customers of his employer. Immediately, he sets about doing some creative accounting. Loading up their invoices with goods for which they don’t have to pay. This is a common case of fraud and it is not unusual today to read of similar situations in the commercial life of the community.

But what is remarkable about this situation is that Jesus praises the action of this fraudster and He does so on the basis that he is very much alive to the situation in which he finds himself. He is about to get the sack and so he sets about securing his future by his unlawful action. He knows how to secure his wellbeing in the changed circumstances of his life that are about to happen and makes a decisive decision to abandon his previous way of living and become a fraudster without any compunction or guilt but with a single eye on his self-preservation.

The point being that this crook is more alert to his situation than those who are eyewitnesses of an event the equivalent of which is the creation of the world. These are the people who see and hear Jesus the Son of God who has come into this world to redeem it from corruption by allowing Himself to be made one with their sin that they may be forgiven and renewed by God. This miracle of grace, the incarnation of the eternal Son of the eternal God, is not acknowledged by these people since He appears to be just another itinerant teacher that can be assessed, debated or ignored depending on our whim or inclination. This parable concerns the situation of the church in the time between the first and final appearing of its Lord. This is the time when Christians grow weary and ask themselves whether it is all worthwhile. Wouldn’t it be easier simply to go with the flow and forget about the faith, we are all in the same boat, aren’t we are all going the same way? This problem of uncertainty, and indecision about our relationship to God’s act of redeeming grace in Christ, whether there is anything in it, is a manifestation of the brokenness of the relationship between God and ourselves in Christ.  It echoes the suggestion of the serpent in Gen. 3 to the effect of introducing an element of uncertainty in the relationship between God and humankind.  “Did God say?”

Another saying of Jesus’ tells us the same thing. The single eye (Mat. 6:22, 23 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”) the single eye or double vision is that which defines the wholeness and the light of the body.  It too raises the problem of uncertainty in the relationship between Christ and the Christian, it too manifests or shows the brokenness of the relationship.  Likewise, the suggestion of the serpent in Gen. 3, the archetypal original sin is to the effect of introducing an element of uncertainty in the relationship between God and humankind.  “Did God say?” The single eye and the implied concentration of sight on the one thing that fills the body with light: but if the sight of the eye is not singular but divided the body is full of darkness. Here it is either or, not both and.

Throughout the history of God’s relationship with his people Israel the question is continually posed by prophet and judge to King and people concerning their vacillation as to the location of their trust – either in God who had promised himself to them as their God or  in other god’s or alliances of a political and military nature to protect and secure their lives.  The question was and is for Israel and the Church whether people would or would not allow God to be the God he had promised himself to be for them. So, Jeremiah laments the fact that Israel raises the question is God really God? “Is the Lord not in Zion? Is her King not in Her?” He then goes on to say that through and in the indifference of Israel God Himself suffers loss. “For in the wound of the daughter of my people my heart is wounded.” Jeremiah 8: 19 & 21. 

And it is the same question raised by Jesus in the context of the fulfilment of that history of God’s relationship with Israel in Himself, as the Messiah of Israel, the Son of God who assumed flesh in order that he may take to his own heart the alienation, the estrangement, of God’s people.

The question which Jesus’ parable about the crooked book keeper poses for us is in relation to Jesus Himself: do we believe in the decisive action undertaken by God on our behalf.  Is this God really God for us? Is this journey of the Son of God into the far country for our sake, the shedding of His blood, the gratuitous violence of the Roman soldiers, the suffering the rejection, the abandonment by men and above all by God: is all this necessary for God to be our God? Is all this nastiness necessary, this divine self-humiliation, for the sake of God’s relationship with God’s own creation? The answer of course is that this is the way God has acted, there is no other way that human beings and creation can be recreated, than through this divine act of humiliation for our sakes, identifying himself with godforsakenness of the human condition?

The issues raised by Jesus words; the crooked employee who makes a risky but decisive decision to safeguard his future by committing a fraud on his employer, the issue of the single eye alone filling the body with light: these words of Jesus are about our attitude to God’s self-revelation in the most contradictory form of suffering, abandonment and death. Is this God God; if so, what does that mean in defining who we are in solidarity with all people in our wretchedness and alienation from God and each other? The singleness of our eye and the luminosity of light of who we are, depends on the risk we are prepared to take in making a decision, like the fraudster, about whether our life’s purpose and its future is determined  by acceptance or rejection of God’s action in Christ, the once for all fulfilment of his purposes, for Israel, the Church, and Christians, in the way of Jesus to the cross. Will we allow this God to be God?  Will we accept that we live as God’s people by this, his gracious judgement, alone. Luther’s sola gratia and sola scriptura mean precisely this. Here there is no middle pathway between faith and unbelief, light and darkness, Gospel and Law. In relationship to the truth which he brings there is only the possibilities of receiving Him as the truth of our life or not.  Here the possibilities are limited by this choice. It is the risk of faith or unbelief; the single eye, and the whole self full of light: or continuing to labour with our hearts divided and thus choose to live in the darkness of unbelief and guilt

Dr Gordon Watson.