Your Most Precious Treasure

The Text: Hebrews 11:1-6, 8-16

Your Faith in God Is Your Most Precious Treasure

There is a lot written in our newspapers these days about trust. Our politicalgarth leaders are calling on us to trust them even though many people feel they have betrayed our trust. Perhaps that’s why God’s Word says, “It is better to trust the Lord for protection than to trust anyone else, including strong leaders (Psalm 118:8).” So much of life is a matter of trust. If you don’t have faith in the safety of aeroplanes, you’d be reluctant to fly on them, just as it’s important to trust our doctors for our health’s sake. The playwright G.B. Shaw believes “We have not lost faith, but we have transferred it from God to the medical profession.”

Yet the remarkable thing is that so many people still see their faith in God as their most precious possession. What you believe is the most important thing about you, will make all the difference both for this life and for all eternity. The kind of faith today’s text speaks about is something we can be sure of. We are assured that “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (v1).” Faith in God is defined as a conviction that inspires confidence in God and leads to God-pleasing actions. The first example of God-pleasing faith in Hebrews 11 is that of Abel’s faith-inspired worship of God. The desire to worship God is in itself a significant form of faith. The truest expression of trust in God will always be worship.

A faith that loves to worship God pleases God immensely. One of the best ways of showing our love for someone dear to us is by praising them a lot. We show our love for God by our praise, thanks and adoration of our Creator. We say that actions speak louder than words. Worship is faith in action for the benefit and blessing of both ourselves and those around us. We can worship God on behalf of absent family members, relatives and friends, as we plead with God to be as merciful to them as God has been to us. Our worship of God together seeks to get us thinking more about others than about ourselves. Worship is education in unselfishness. Worship seeks to make us other-centred in our thinking and our actions.

This is what made Abraham’s faith so praiseworthy. His whole life was one great adventure in faith as he obeyed God and left his homeland for Canaan. Although Abraham engaged in lies and deceit on more than one occasion, his faith enabled him to think of others and put their needs ahead of his own. Abraham let his nephew Lot choose the better land for his flocks and herds. When God informed Abraham that He was going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham interceded on their behalf and pleaded with God to spare them. God encouraged Abraham to listen to his wife Sarah and heed what she said. “Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you (Genesis 21:12).”

Sarah’s faith in God enabled her to make great sacrifices. She had to wait a long, long time before she became a mother. At first she laughed at the impossibility of becoming a parent in her old age. But when God said, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”, her misgivings turned into faith as she looked forward to God fulfilling His promise. We’re told that she received strength to conceive because “she judged that God who has promised would keep faith (v11).” When her son Isaac was born, Sarah confesses, “God has brought laughter for me (Genesis 21:6).”

The heroes of faith celebrated in Hebrews 11 are less models for us than they are part of that great “cloud of witnesses” already in our Lord’s presence, urging us on to run the race of faith with diligence and single-mindedness. “And what of ourselves? With all these witnesses to faith around us like a cloud, we must throw off every encumbrance, every sin to which we cling, and run with resolution the race for which we are entered, our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom faith depends from start to finish: Jesus who, for the sake of the joy that lay ahead of Him, endured the cross, making light of its disgrace, and has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-2).”

Abraham is mentioned seventy two times in the New Testament. The writers of the New Testament believed that Christ’s coming into our world has made it possible to recapture the pristine faith of Abraham, a faith that continually pleases God. God’s Son, Jesus Christ, made it easier for us to believe by becoming one of us. The God we believe in, love and trust, is a Christlike God. Jesus Christ is God with a human face and a human heart, overflowing with a love for you that is both human and divine.

Faith in our Lord expects great things from Him. Expect little from your Saviour and you will receive little, but if you come with eager expectation, you will be blessed beyond all your expectations. In the Gospels, our Lord honours the faith of all who come to Him for mercy and help. When two blind people come to our Lord asking Him to have mercy on them, Jesus asks them, “Do you expect that I am able to do this?” After they say, “Yes, Lord”, Jesus responds, “According to your faith let it be done to you.”

The first thing that Jesus seeks from those who come to Him is faith. Faith in Christ alone is so powerful it suffices initially in the absence of other virtues. Often Jesus first wants faith, before He performs a miracle. Faith in Jesus needs to be constantly fed if it isn’t going to shrivel up and die. God’s Word says, “Faith comes from what is heard and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ (Romans 10:17).”

Christ-centred preaching strengthens our convictions about our Lord and all He has done for us and seeks to still do for us. Faith enables us to view life differently from those with no faith. Faith in our Lord gives us both insight and super-sight. Jesus said to Martha, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see God’s glory (John 11:40)?” In other words, “believing is seeing”. Faith enables us to see God all around us where we didn’t see Him before. Faith involves believing in advance what often only makes sense in hindsight. We cannot rely on our feelings, but we rely on God’s promises to sustain our faith in our Lord. We can trust God to keep His promises. Our prospects for the future are as bright as the promises of God.

One Monday a man went to his pastor to complain: “Yesterday I was filled with joy in the service but now all is gone and I do not know what to do. All is dark as night.”

His pastor replied, “I’m glad!”

“Glad?” asked the astonished man, “Glad! What do you mean?”

His pastor continued, “Yesterday, God gave you joy, and today He sees you are resting on your emotions instead of on the promises of Christ.”

You see, our feelings are like the weather; they change from time to time. They’re not necessarily reliable indicators of the state of our faith. When we feel depressed about our faith, we must focus on our Lord’s promises like John 10:27-28:”My sheep hear My voice. I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of My hand.”

For the person stressed and worried about how she’s going to care for her elderly parents, God gives a promise: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13).”

For the parents fearful about where their wayward child is, worried about whom he is with and what he is doing, He gives a promise: “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you (Hebrewws13:5).”

For the out-of-work person desperate to get a job, God offers a promise: “For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11).”

William James, a great psychologist, described a time in his early life when he was in the grip of a deep despair. “Fear was so incisive and powerful that if I had not clung to Scripture texts like “The eternal God is my refuge”, and “Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden”, and “I am the resurrection and the life”, I think I should really have gone insane.”

Our faith is sustained and strengthened by constant exposure to God’s Word, on which we can fully rely and completely trust. At present we walk by faith and not by sight. But one day soon, faith will give way to sight.

“So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).”


“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13).” Amen.

Better a Poor Farmer Than a Rich Fool

The Text: Luke 12:13-21

Few things are sadder than 20180311_103505 (1)family members fighting over an inheritance. The possibility of gaining from a substantial inheritance can turn lambs into wolves. Imagine interrupting a sermon to seek help to get more wealth! That’s what the brother in today’s Gospel does. In dispute over assets, this man wants Jesus to decide in his favour. Both brothers are captive to covetousness. The man with the lion’s share of the inheritance could have divided it equally with his brother.

No mediating of one dispute by our Lord will solve the deeper problem of the human heart. People who covet what they don’t have are unaware of their covetous attitude. A priest has reported that in 25 years of hearing confessions, he’s heard every sin confessed except that of covetousness! The man who seeks Jesus’ help wants the broken relationship between he and his brother finalised by complete separation. Jesus points out that He hasn’t come as a divider. He’s come as a reconciler. He wants to reconcile people to each other, not to finalise divisions between them. Reconciliation will require the petitioner to gain a new perspective on himself.

Receiving his portion of the inheritance won’t solve the antagonism between the brothers, for the issue is greed rather than justice. Jesus’ parable seeks to change human hearts, to free them from being possessed by their possessions. His story of a “successful” farmer is a subversive story. It calls into question so much of what we hold dear in our culture. Our culture holds up successful people as an inspiration for us. Any book with the words How To Succeed In …   in the title is assured of large popularity.

The farmer in today’s Gospel is an outstanding success in earthly terms. But Jesus calls him a dismal failure in what really matters, what matters eternally. The irony of success is that it can limit as well as expand our horizons. This farmer was locked in by his success. What he’s mastered had come to master him. No other story is so full of “I” disease. In its short space, there are eight “I”s  and four “my”s.  All goes well for him in his business. His wealth isn’t ill-gotten. There’s no mention of him being a bad employer. Many people see nothing wrong with his attitude. After all, he’s acting with prudence and common sense. Our modern society would consider him an eminent success.

It is significant that in light of the gregarious nature of life then, the rich man dialogues only with himself. He has no one else with whom he talks. He consults no neighbour or friend to exchange ideas. His speech is pitiful. This affluent person has arrived! He has made it! And he needs an audience for his arrival speech. He exclaims, “Who will rejoice with me?” He can only address himself, his only audience!

This self-serving individual deals only with things – things like the bigger barns he’ll build, the profit he’ll make from selling his grain when the prices go up, and the richer selection of food and drink for himself to indulge in. The greatest good he can imagine in life is maximising his own pleasure. It never enters his head to give to the needy, or to assist the poor. He has no need of anyone else. He lives only for himself. Not only does he give no thought to thanking God for his huge harvest, he reveals that he’s forgotten that his own body is mortal and he won’t necessarily live on for many years. The existence of others has totally dropped out of the picture. His formula for the “good life” is sheer stupidity. He cannot take any of his immense possessions into the grave with him. In his hour of greatest need, all his possessions will prove of no use to him.

Though this man may have had nothing to say to God, God had something to say to him: “You fool! This very night your life is being required of you (v.20).” The verb “to require” is used for the return of a loan. His life was on loan and now God, the Owner, wants the loan returned. Jesus makes it clear that our lives are not our own to do with as we like, but are a gift from God. God thunders to the rich farmer: “Look at what you’ve done to yourself! You plan alone, build alone, indulge alone and now you’ll die alone.”  The man doesn’t know who will end up with his assets and riches after his death. A fool is someone whose plans end at the grave. Was there ever a more searching question concerning the meaning of life than our Lord’s question, “What does it profit any of us if we gain the whole world, but lose our lives? (Luke 9:25)”

There are few things our Lord condemns more than greed. He attacks the false evaluation of life in economic terms. As if we can measure life in such narrow terms! Greed prevents so much generosity from occurring. Greed never delivers all the benefits it promises, benefits like peace of mind, security and happiness. We need five things for a reasonably contented life: (1) food; (2) clothing; (3) shelter; (4) medical care; and (5) the means to purchase the first four things. Jesus doesn’t oppose an appreciation of the good things of life. The best way to enjoy all the good things God has given us is by thanking Him for them. Nothing sustains joy and happiness better than gratitude.

“It is good to give thanks to the Lord” for life and health and daily food. “Life doesn’t consist in the abundance of possessions.” Life consists in the abundance of God’s undeserved goodness to us. God’s goodness is first of all evident in His gifts of family, friends, and neighbours. Where would any of us be without all that our grandparents, parents and siblings have done for us? Relationships with others are the true God-given riches of life. Relationships take time to keep together. Sadly, we see marriages breaking apart because couples are not spending sufficient time with each other. We hear of children becoming estranged from their mothers and fathers, because their busy parents haven’t spent sufficient time with them.

Advertisers give people unrealistic expectations of the benefits of material goods and possessions. God never meant these things to be the focus and goal of life. A TV interview with someone who had lost his home and possessions in a fire provides a vivid contrast to the rich fool in Jesus’ parable. He recalled that his brother had recently said they should avoid letting their possessions possess them. The victim of the house fire announced to the TV reporter with a note of unexpected triumph: “I am a free man now!” Jesus can free us from being enslaved to our possessions.

Jesus came into our world to help us become rich toward God. We become rich before God when we accept God as the Giver, and all we have as His gifts to us. We’re rich as far as God is concerned when we see the existence of everyone else in our lives as God’s gifts to us. We see and acknowledge faith, hope and love as life’s true riches, and Jesus Christ as God’s crowning gift to us. Thank God, His Son Jesus Christ shares the riches of His love, goodness and glory with us. “For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9).” Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life in all fullness and richness (John 10:10).” It’s a life too rich and wonderful to end in death. Let this good news of great joy possess you and overwhelm you with all its glorious possibilities.

Those who are contented with what God has given them are truly rich indeed. What better can we hope for in this life than God-given contentment? “Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these (1 Timothy 6:6-8).” The more grateful we are for all we have already, the more contented we will be. Saying “I love you” as often as possible to those near and dear to us fills them with a sense of contentment. We can be content in the knowledge that what God chooses for us is better than what we may choose for ourselves.

Better a poor farmer than a rich fool!

“Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that He has promised to those who love Him? (James 2:5)”

Amen.

The Good News about Prayer

Text: Luke 11:1-13

It’s wonderful, isn’t it, when someone tells you they’re remembering you inchurch4 their prayers. It can lift your spirits marvellously and transform your day. Today’s Gospel encourages us to pray. It seeks to impress on us that our prayers are welcomed by God and responded to as He sees best. Prayer is an essential part of being a Christian. Faith in our Lord and praying to Him belong inseparably together. Prayer isn’t just one expression of faith among others. To believe is to pray, because prayer is our response to God speaking to us in grace and love. The deepest expression of faith is to seek good things from God in prayer. So then think highly of your prayers, because we have God’s Word to trust that He welcomes them and encourages them.

God wants the best for you. He responds to your prayers in ways that are best for us. In prayer God either gives us what we ask for or something better. The great tragedy isn‘t unanswered prayer, but unoffered prayer. God won’t let your prayers be for nothing or be wasted. Our spiritual safety and protection lie only in prayer. It’s the strongest shield we have against the devil. Prayer is the door through which God enters our home, our workplace and our community, in order to bless us in unexpected ways. When we pray we’re, as it were, sitting at Jesus’ feet speaking to Him as one friend to another. Prayer is an expression of Jesus’ friendship with us and our friendship with Him.

Prayers in the Bible display a fervour and frankness not often seen in prayers today. They remind us that God seeks honesty from us in our prayers. God is thrilled when we honestly face ourselves and bring our real needs to Him. The weaker our faith, the more essential is prayer. The degree of our faith is the degree of our praying. Luther said, “Prayer is the most important thing in my life. If I should neglect prayer for a single day, I should lose a great deal of the fire of faith.” No one can say their prayers are poor when they’re using the language of love. There’s nothing that can lead us to love someone as much as prayer can. The most important purpose of prayer may be to let God love us as He listens to us. What a wonderful expression of love listening to someone is!

Prayer changes us in ways we never dreamed of, for the blessing and benefit of those around us. A bad prayer is better than no prayer at all because we learn to pray by praying. When we’re feeling low, prayer seeks to take us out of ourselves and into our Saviour’s healing presence. For prayer is first of all about communion with our Lord to maintain, sustain and strengthen our friendship with Him. It’s more about having a conversation with Him than about presenting Him with a shopping list. Prayer is both a gift and a duty. The Lord’s Prayer is His gift of grace to us. It is one of the greatest treasures of our Christian Faith.

Jesus’ disciples had recently heard Jesus pray a prayer of thanksgiving to His heavenly Father. So now in order to pray like Jesus did, they ask Him, “Lord, teach us to pray.” This is the only time they ask Jesus to teach them anything. Jesus knows of no better prayer He can give us. He gives it to us in two versions with the version in St. Luke’s Gospel slightly shorter than the one in Matthew 6. In this prayer, Jesus lists the things we need to pray about every day. The purpose of the petitions is that we’ll never have an excuse not to pray. The Lord’s Prayer opens our eyes to our real needs. In the first two petitions, Jesus invites us to identify with Him as God’s Son. In the next three petitions, our Lord identifies with us and our human needs.

Jesus prayed in a revolutionary way, by addressing God as “Father”. He used the title and form of address of “Father” for God more than any other. By doing so, Jesus changed the way people viewed God. “Abba” means “Dear Father”, that is, God as someone near and easy to approach rather than someone distant and aloof from us. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus invites us to either address God as “our Father in Heaven” or “Father (Luke 11:21).” A father is someone who is close at hand and approachable at all times. The Father whom Jesus reveals to us is the Father of prodigal children who continues to think fondly of us even when we’ve wandered away from him. He’s our ever-present help in trouble who sympathizes with us in our distress and wants to share it with us.

Fathers delight in giving to their children. So our heavenly Father wants above all to give us the Holy Spirit to pray for us when we’re weak and vulnerable. Our heavenly Father acts towards us as His Son Jesus acted towards little children, the sick and the needy. If someone wants to know what God is like, we point them to Christ. Our God is a Christlike God. Jesus said, “Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father (John 14:9).” He is a model for earthly fathers. There’s no one more like a father than God. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus reveals to us a Father who provides for our daily needs, forgives and protects us. Fathers know what their children want, but love it when they ask for these things. So it is with our Father in heaven. “Father! To God Himself we cannot give a holier name (Wordsworth)” That’s why Jesus wants us to honour God’s name and treat it with reverence and awe. To love and honour His name is to love and praise Him. God’s name represents His nature, His works and words. Jesus hallowed God’s name by showing us why God is worthy of our worship, honour and glory. God’s power is released on us when we do that. God’s holiness is revealed when He reveals His glory to us, especially in and through His Son Jesus. His glory is part of the majesty and beauty of His holiness.

God has vested His name on us as His children. His reputation is at stake in how we live. We praise and adore His name in our worship together because His name for us is all about His gifts of hope and love, joy and forgiveness. We hallow His name by eagerly hearing His Word and gladly putting it into daily practice.

Where God’s name is so honoured, there His Kingdom with all its unique blessings embraces us. Wherever Jesus went, He brought the good news of His Kingdom to those who welcomed Him. The secret of God’s Kingdom is that its King is our Father. Jesus says to us, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.” Through baptism we’re brought into God’s royal household as His adopted children. God advances His Kingdom through its embassies, our churches, and through us as its ambassadors. As its ambassadors, we pass on and promote God’s work of reconciliation so that living in reconciliation with one another, the routines of daily life can become celebrations of love. “In the Kingdom of God, eating and drinking aren’t important. The important things are living right with God, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17).”

The next petition concerns our daily needs, which Jesus wants us to pray about. “Give us day by day our daily bread”. The technological development of our modern world only seems to increase our sense of insecurity. The more scientific our world becomes, the more insecure we feel. God wants us to trust that He will provide for both today and tomorrow’s needs. “Our bread” reminds us of the unselfish nature of Christian prayer. We pray the Lord’s Prayer for each other, on behalf of one another. There’s no room for any prayer that seeks advantage over someone else. Gandhi said, “There is enough food in our world for everyone’s need, but not for anyone’s greed.”

“Daily bread” involves everyday necessities, not luxuries. It includes caring fathers and mothers, healthy children, pleasant people to work with, good government, good friends and good weather. Here we acknowledge that God is behind all that goes right in our lives each day. Instead of taking everyday blessings for granted, this petition leads us to receive them with gratitude. “We are conscious of that, in normal life, so much more has been received than we have given, and that it is gratitude that first makes life rich (Bonhoeffer).”

We need God’s forgiveness, God’s most characteristic quality as our heavenly Father, as much as we need daily bread. Forgiveness is God’s barrier-breaking, future-opening gift to us. “Where there is forgiveness of sins, there is life and blessedness.” Forgiveness meets our longing to make a fresh start in our relationships with God and with one another. Forgiveness means you can live as if today is the first day of your life, because God promises to remember no more the sins He has forgiven. Passing on God’s forgiveness to each other frees us from past hurts and resentments and helps our love for one another to grow warm instead of cold. A school boy, after confessing his sins to his school chaplain, was reassured of God’s love and forgiveness. He then rushed outside and turned cartwheels right across the football pitch. The reassurance of God’s forgiveness can make us want to turn cartwheels of joy, in spirit at least. What a priceless expression of love is forgiveness!

“Save us from the time of trial” is our battle cry. We realise how easily we can be tempted to sin. Here we need our Father’s help more than anywhere else. It’s a prayer we pray for each other as well, realising how vulnerable we are to giving in to what we know is wrong. Here we pray that we won’t be caught off guard when we’re tired or depressed, but ask Jesus to pray for us as He has promised. Jesus prays on your behalf to His heavenly Father: “I am not asking You to take them out of the world, but I ask You to protect them from the Evil One (John 17:15).” God’s Word reassures you, “No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing He will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13).”

Victory over a time of temptation and testing brings you closer to Christ and more grateful than ever for all that He has done for you. When you then face temptation, pray passionately, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner”. God knows how to rescue you from temptation in ways that may surprise you. In this petition, we pray that we will always remain citizens of God’s eternal Kingdom until we hear our Saviour’s words, “Come, O blest of My Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you (Matthew 25:34).”

In conclusion, remember if you’ve had an earthly parent who let you down, God is the most reliable Father you can have. “There’s no one more like a Father than God is (Tertullian).” Amen.

Easily distracted

We are a society distracted by many things, like Martha.

Text messagesFacebook messages – Twitter messages – Snapchats – come8f5d0040f261ddb1b3f281e00e1385f0 all the time to distract us.

You go out for dinner these days and the diners aren’t talking with each other, they are looking down at their phones. Conversations are interrupted by the need to check out a text message or answer a call.

They are distracted by many things.

But in today’s Gospel Reading we are talking about a different type of distraction. We are talking about a distraction away from God.

There are many distractions in our lives that take us away from God, as it did to Martha.

It reminds me of the time when Peter saw Jesus walking on the water and asked to join him. Peter was fine while he was focused on Jesus, like Mary was. But as soon as he was distracted, like Martha, by the waves crashing around him he began to sink. The waves of fear and worry distracted him. Just as the waves of worry for Martha about getting things right at home for the guests distracted her away from Jesus.

So too the waves of fear and worry distract people away from God. Martha had gotten to the point of her worry that her work had stopped being a joy and vocation to God and had become a distraction to her faith in God. It had therefore stopped being a blessing to her and others and became a source of worry and anger.

Martha obviously had the gift of hospitality, making sure everything was right to welcome Jesus, but had become distracted by the worry. Instead of being a source of blessings to others it caused a division between her and her sister Mary.

It is easy for us also to become distracted by the worries of life and believe that we have to solve our problems rather than taking them to the Lord in Prayer. Like Martha, we have all been given a vocation in life by which we can serve God and our neighbour.

However, Martha’s distraction now saw her go to Jesus antagonised and angry with Mary. The love of God and neighbour was gone.

Our human nature can easily turn our love for God and neighbour around where we love ourselves only and forget to use our gifts to serve God and our neighbour. As Christians that’s where we can easily find ourselves, as we are reminded in the Parable of the Sower –

The seeds that were sown among thorns were the ones who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the distraction of riches choke the word.

And so we need to keep coming back to the feet of Jesus and allow him to remove those thorns in the flesh in our lives.

This is where worship plays a vital role in the life of the Christian to keep breaking that cycle of distraction. We need to see our worship in the same way that Mary sees it as it nurtures our faith to keep us focused on our vocation as serving God and our neighbour.

We need to see our worship as sitting at the feet of Jesus being nurtured for our life for when we leave to go into our daily vocation and not as a duty to God.

And remember that vocation is not just employment. It is how God uses you each day as mother, father, grandfather, grandmother, sister, brother, friend.

Just look at how the distraction affected the 2 sisters of Mary and Martha. Sadly, to many Christians, church becomes another task in their already hectic lives. And when that happens we can begin to see the friction between brothers and sisters in the faith.

We become distracted by the tasks rather than the service of God. Church should never be seen in such a way.

No, it needs to be seen in the light of what Paul says about the church being the body of Christ where the riches of God’s glory have been placed.

And so the message of Martha and Mary also speaks a message to the church that its core message is always the Gospel that has freed us from our cares and burdens. The church needs to help us place our burdens on Jesus who says – come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.

The gathering around the Word and the Sacraments is not another thing for the Martha in us to add to our schedule. Remember, Jesus is the host here and we are the guests.

We are called to be Mary here and be prepared for our vocations as Marthas in the world. Martha had sadly confused the two.

The Gospel allows us to revalue our gifts to become our calling and vocation rather than a burden that distracts us away from God.

How do you see your life?

Do you see what you are doing as a burden, like Martha, or do you see it as a calling and vocation from God, like Mary. The work that Martha was doing was not the problem. It was her gift and calling. But she had let them distract her away from her service towards Jesus.

Martha does not let her gift of hospitality become a service to God but a distraction from the spiritual blessings that would come from it. The work she was doing needed to be done – but allowing them to burden her the way they did was the issue.

Our lives are going to be busy and burdensome at times. But in our busyness and burdens we are energised by our worship life and seeing our work as a vocation and calling by God.

Jesus didn’t say – you shouldn’t be burdened – but come unto me you who are burdened and I will give you rest. You can find that rest in your worship but you can also find it each day.

Luther in his Catechism teaches us how:

In the morning when you get up, make the sign of the holy cross and say: In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Then, kneeling or standing, repeat the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. Then go joyfully to your work,

In the evening when you go to bed, make the sign of the holy cross and say: In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Then kneeling or standing, repeat the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. Then go to sleep at once and sleep in peace.

Begin each day at the feet of Jesus. End each day at Jesus’ feet – and see how a new perspective of life comes on you. Our identity comes from Jesus Christ not from the work we do.

So when our work becomes our identity, like Martha, then the burdens take over as it did to Martha.

When our identity comes from sitting at Jesus feet, like Mary, then the burdens are easily transferred to Christ to receive his rest.

So choose the better part – choose to sit at Jesus’ feet and it will not be taken away from you. Amen

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A strange question indeed.

Text: Luke 10:25-37 – Helping the outcast

I find the question asked by the lawyer a strange question indeed. Obviously20180311_103505 (1) this lawyer didn’t specialise in family law otherwise he would have known the answer to his question.

He asks “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

If it’s an inheritance then there is nothing YOU have to do.

It’s not a question of doing – it’s a question of being. Being a child of the one giving the inheritance or be listed in the will.

Likewise, to inherit eternal life there is nothing YOU can do except to wait for the person from whom you are inheriting to die, which for us as Christians is Jesus.

An inheritance is passed on at the death of the one giving.

Unless of course you are brazen like the Prodigal Son who demanded his inheritance now.

Nevertheless the question asked by the lawyer is or should be a question everyone asks.

How do I receive eternal life?

I believe that no one wants to die. We do everything we can to prolong life. We eat right – watch our cholesterol, watch our salt and sugar intake. We exercise.

The plastic surgery industry is alive and well as is the pharmaceutical business both medical and alternative medicine – just look at the health aisle in the supermarket – to make us look and feel younger. To live forever would be everyone’s dream.

So what is stopping people from understanding the eternal life that Jesus offers?

Why is there so much antagonism and rejection of the Christian faith when that is the central message we have?

People should be queuing to hear about eternal life.

Isn’t that our sole purpose – to live in heaven forever?

Isn’t that God’s sole purpose for us?

Remember John 3:16 – our most famous text – For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

So why has the focus on the Christian message by the world been one of seeing us as wowsers and legalists who object to everything?

Why has our message of how to receive eternal life changed from that of “being” and receiving eternal life as an inheritance to that of “doing” and earning eternal life?

Maybe we have been too focused on the wrong message ourselves and forgotten the Great Commission that Jesus left us with – go into all the world and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:20).

As we look at the Parable of the Good Samaritan that Jesus used to explain his teaching we see an example of devout religious people who had lost their mission.

We hear of an Israelite who had been bashed and robbed and left to die. Three people pass him by – the first two being his fellow countrymen. In fact more than that – they were religious leaders of the community. They see him and walk by on the other side of the road.

Why would they do that? Sadly it wasn’t because they were afraid for their lives in case the robbers were still around but because of their religious duties. The priest and a Levite were on their way to the temple. As a priest and Levite they had temple responsibilities but if they made contact with a dead body that would have made them ceremonially unclean. And that would then disqualify them from their temple duties.

So they don’t risk going near the man just in case he is dead. They placed their religious duties above their love for their neighbour in need.

And so this question is constantly put before us to ensure that we have not forgotten to love our neighbour in our zealous desire to fulfil our religious observance.

There may be some situations we disagree with because of our religious values but that can never give permission to not love our neighbour. As Jesus points out, our neighbour is anyone who is in need, even if it is someone with whom we fundamentally disagree.

And the need may not necessarily be physical but also spiritual.

The Samaritan had every right to walk by on the other side of the road because of the way Samaritans were treated by the Jews. But he puts that to one side and helps his neighbour and follows up his care.

Sometimes we may be tempted to walk around an issue because it’s an easy solution or it means we don’t have to become involved.

Or what happens if the person I help is in a lifestyle I disagree with.

You may be able to think of examples where you were challenged to express love to someone while disagreeing with their lifestyle or other situation.

Let us remember that God totally disagreed with our lifestyle and yet showed the greatest of love to us that he could by sending his Son and allowing him to die for our sins. And even while we continue to sin despite this love having been shown to us God continues to love us and forgive us, as Paul reminded us:

God has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:14).

So the inheritance that the lawyer eagerly desired has been given to us already.

God is not going to wait till the end of our life to see if we are good enough to have earned our eternal life.

Notice Paul’s emphasis – God HAS rescued us – God HAS transferred us into the kingdom – we HAVE redemption and the forgiveness of sins. So even while we continue to live lives that God disagrees with, he continues to love us.

And there is our challenge – to show love despite the situation we are confronted with.

And it’s not just physical needs but spiritual – the need for love and understanding. Our struggle to act with justice toward the hurting is always going to be challenged by the tendency to stereotype people and associate only with those who meet the criteria that we have set.

It is very easy to discriminate in our hearts and let that guide our actions.

Jesus calls us to imitate the actions of the Good Samaritan, who was despised by all Hebrew society and in the Jewish mind was the least likely to act and demonstrate compassion.

Yet, it is the outcast who acts rightly when others, concerned possibly more for their own needs than right action, failed in their responsibility to be a neighbour.

Let us consider our actions, act rightly, and refuse to stereotype others.

Let us be compassionate toward all in keeping with Jesus’ message of love and peace and go and do likewise. Amen.

It’s God’ mission, not ours!

Text: Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

In the latest census of the Australian population (2016), the question about20180311_103505 (1) people’s religious affiliation showed that those who identified as Christians declined again to just over 50% with the next highest response being “no religion” at over 30%.

It can be difficult as we live in a world that is growing more and more anti-Christian with many people wanting less Church involvement in state matters such as teaching Christian Studies in state schools.

So how should Christians react?

Do we just sit back and say – well there’s nothing we can do about it.

It’s tough to know what we should do.

But we need to be careful that we don’t take up a fight that really doesn’t belong to us.

Paul had a similar situation happening in Galatia. A group of people known as the Judaizers were infiltrating the Christian community. They were introducing ways that were against the Christian gospel.

You may recall Paul warning the Galatians – beware of anyone who comes preaching a gospel different to the one that I came to you with. But he didn’t tell them to take up arms against them.

He simply told them to be sure of what they believe and don’t be misled by anyone. Let God deal with what needs to be dealt with.

That’s what “anathema” means.

He encouraged them to live a godly life and let God fight the fights that need to be fought. He didn’t in any way say that the fight wasn’t important. But he encouraged them to not let anything distract them from what God has called them to do.

He said: Don’t be deceived – God is not mocked. But as for you: Don’t grow weary in doing what is right.

Let us work for the good of all, especially the family of faith. Let us support and encourage one another here in our congregation, our parish, and the wider church – the family of faith – because we are all in this mission together.

Let us always be focused on the cross of Christ – otherwise we will be distracted from what God asks us to do.

In last week’s Gospel reading we heard James and John get distracted by a fight they were not called to fight.

The Samaritans rejected Jesus and they wanted to rain down fire from heaven to destroy them.

But Jesus rejected that.

Today the disciples were distracted also. They went out as missionaries for God. When they returned they were ecstatic. But they were excited about the wrong thing.

They were distracted.

Lord – in your name even the demons submit to us.

But Jesus reminded them of what was important:

Don’t rejoice that the demons submit to you. Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.

When we watch the news on TV, or to read the newspaper, it can create a feeling of helplessness with all the crises of the world.

We are all involved in Christ’s mission of renewing the world, of bringing hatred and injustice to an end. Establishing God’s reign of love and peace. But in the face of the real problems of the world we often feel that our efforts are like a drop of water in the ocean.

Does what we do really make any difference?

In the struggle between the love of Christ and the powers of Satan, the battle between good and evil, are our efforts of any significance at all?

Does God see us as important factors in bringing about change in the world?

Of course he does.

Just as Jesus sent out the 72 into the world, Jesus left us with the Great Commission:

Go into all the world baptizing and teaching.

Jesus does however provide advice on how we are to go into the world as his people:

First, Jesus says that we are like Lambs in the midst of wolves: Jesus doesn’t hide the fact that the world is going to oppose our message.

For a long time Christianity was a dominant voice in the world, but that is not how Jesus originally saw it. In fact he said: The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. We should never see the church as failing because it is struggling.

And we shouldn’t see the world as our opposition to fight against. Jesus calls it the harvest and we are called to reap. To go out into the world even though the world will not receive us.

We are called to be salt and light in the world. Changing the world by how we live our lives, not by fighting those with whom we disagree.

As Jesus says – they will know we are Christians by our love. (John 13:35)

Carry no purse

When Jesus sent out the 72 he told them not to take any provisions with them.

Why not?

Because God would provide them with all they needed.

How do we know what to take when it is God guiding the mission? Too often, we have an agenda of what needs to happen – but this may not be God’s agenda.

Too often we go out into the world and believe we know what needs to happen.

Jesus is saying – take nothing with you. Let God guide every step and every word and every action.

We don’t know what God is going to do so we take nothing and let God lead the way.

We don’t want to be like James and John demanding God rain down fire every time someone objects to us or criticizes us. Then we would have no mission. There would be no harvest to bring in; it would all be destroyed.

The mission is God’s. We are his workers. We are bringing in God’s harvest.

If we start to work with our agenda then we can interfere with how God is planning the harvest.

Farmers will adjust their harvest strategy according to how the season is. God too has a mission plan and asks us to let him guide our words and actions.

Dealing with rejection

Jesus then tells the disciples how to deal with rejection. It’s not by calling down fire from heaven. No, he says when you enter a town that doesn’t welcome you, go into the street and wipe the dust off your shoes.

In other words, don’t let that rejection weigh you down. Move on.

Don’t take the baggage with you and let the anger and thoughts of revenge distract you from the mission. Keep focus on the mission. Keep doing good, even to those who oppose you.

The Final Victory

Finally Jesus reminds us as to what it is all about.

When the disciples return to tell of their victorious mission work, Jesus is again worried about the distraction.

Too often we become focused on the successes. The success can become our motivation. The success can easily distract us and become our measurement of God’s plan. When churches find success and grow they can become focused only on the growth.

Jesus says to the disciples – don’t rejoice at your success. Rejoice that your name is written in heaven.

And so that becomes our motivation. Not success, but the desire to have others have their name written in heaven.

We can become disheartened at the result of our mission when the results don’t happen.

When we are rejected we can feel hurt. But remember what Jesus said, they are not rejecting you, they are rejecting the one who sent you.

That is where the true hurt is, by God.

So, let us ask once again the Lord of the harvest to send us as labourers to his harvest

– to make us all faithful in our public witness to Jesus;

– to make each and every one of us faithful in bearing Christ’s name and witness to all.

It is in the honour of bearing his name that we rejoice and that our names are written in heaven. Amen.

The cost of following Jesus

THE TEXT: LUKE 9:51-62

As the time approached for him to be taken up to Heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went into a Samaritan villagechurch4 to get things ready for him. But the people there did not receive him because He was heading for Jerusalem. Seeing this, the disciples James and John said “Lord do you want us to call fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them. And they went to another village.
As they were going along the road someone said to Him: “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied: “The foxes have dens and the birds of the skies have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay the head.” And he said to another: “Follow me.” But he said to Jesus: “Lord, first allow me to go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him: “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.” And another said: “I will follow You, Lord, but first let me farewell my household.” And Jesus said to him: “No one who puts their hand to the plough and looks to the things behind is useful in the Kingdom of God.”

Footy season has been back in full swing now for a while. There’s been enough games to get a sense of whether or not the high priced recruits were worth the money, or who should be dropped and maybe culled from the playing list at the end of the year. Mike Brady’s famous song Up there Cazaly captures the fickle nature of supporters so well:

“you either love or hate it, depending on the score.”

Champion players who are lauded and decorated with all manner of awards are cheered when they’re playing well but jeered when they’re having a bad game. Champion players, after years of sacrifice on the training track, source of income for the club through promoting membership and marketing, and in some cases contributors to a premiership, are then mercilessly discarded from the playing list once they’ve hit the age of 30ish.

But this doesn’t just happen in footy. Celebrities who are idolised are just as quickly dumped depending upon what the current social fad or trend is. Some years ago, arguably the highest profile golfer in the contemporary game, Tiger Woods, went from hero to zero after it came to light that he had cheated on his wife and had several affairs.

However the hypocrisy of that reporting was simply gobsmacking. The same media who desperately desires, promotes and rejoices in all manner of sexual promiscuity and unrestrained pleasure all of a sudden became a pillar of morality, and self-righteously savaged him over a sustained period for the sake of ratings.

And then there is the world of politics -leaders from both major parties over recent campaigns have risen up against party leaders, only to shortly after themselves be wearing a knife in the back, depending on how loudly popularity polls and surveys speak.

We would like to think that human faithfulness would be a natural response in all of these situations, but the reality is the natural human response is instead fickleness – and today’s text shows that it is one that even shows itself in matters of faith.

As Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, a man approaches Jesus and declares: “I will follow you where ever you go.” This man is a believer; he trusts in Jesus, he commits to following him. However, his confession of faith is reminiscent of the Apostle Peter who trumpeted that he would never fall away from the Lord – but who would later deny him three times.

This man’s confession is bold, but premature. Jesus is, after all, going to Jerusalem – to be handed over to the chief priests and to Pilate, to be sentenced to death. To die a brutal and agonising death through crucifixion on a cross. Is this really what this man wanted and meant when he says he will follow Jesus wherever he will go?

With his reply: “The foxes have dens and the birds of the skies have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay the head” Jesus uses his own lack of a permanent home as an illustration of the path his followers must walk – the path of humility and self-emptying, of dying to the self; choosing the life with eternal purposes instead of the temporal; choosing heavenly treasures instead of earthly wealth. We don’t know if this person ended up following Jesus.

Then Jesus calls another man to follow him. This man is already a disciple – we know this because Jesus wants him to proclaim the Kingdom of God, and he doesn’t ask just anyone who hasn’t already been sufficiently instructed in the faith. But then we see the fickleness of the human heart again. This person makes excuses: “Lord, first allow me to go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him: “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.”

Jesus’ words here seem harsh, but He is not forbidding the disciples to attend funerals – particularly of parents. But if this man’s father had already died, the man would already be making funeral arrangements and not having this conversation. So it seems that he wanted to wait until after his father did die, before he followed Jesus, which might have yet been years away. That sounds like so many people today who put off following Jesus until some other day; usually in old age. But how do we know precisely when our last day will be? So this man in the text has divided loyalties. Jesus in effect tells him that the spiritually dead should bury the physically dead, and that the spiritually alive should be proclaiming the kingdom of God. What would you have done?

Still another says: “I will follow You, Lord, but first let me farewell my household.” Here, again, we see the fickle human heart with its divided loyalties. And you might be asking “How can Jesus be so harsh and force the guy’s hand into choosing between two things. But when this man gets back among his people, tells them of his intention to follow Jesus, and starts to say goodbye, will he be able to resist their pleading to stay with them and to give up Jesus? That’s why Jesus replies: “No one who puts their hand to the plough and looks to the things behind is useful in the Kingdom of God.” The phrase ‘looks the things behind is really in the sense of continually looking behind, longing, regretting for a former life before knowing Jesus.

Jesus calls us to follow Him. There is to be no divided loyalties. And following Jesus is costly. It all sounds like loss and slavery, doesn’t it? In a way it is. But ironically, it’s actually freedom. True freedom. Because if we’re not following Christ, we ultimately following ourselves. And following ourselves is a greater cost to us than following Christ. Because when we follow ourselves, our fickle hearts are not a reliable guide. We wander from Jesus and His Word and become lost, ultimately a slave to ourselves – to what our own reason makes of God’s Word and to our deficient systems and definitions of morality.

That’s just what Paul talks about in our Galatians reading today: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. You were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature.”

The options that Jesus gives to the men in our Gospel reading today are only two—follow Me or self. We don’t know what they did. What about you?

In 1519, Hernando Cortez led the Spanish conquest of Mexico. When Cortez disembarked his men off of the east coast of Mexico, he set fire to the ships that had brought them there. His men, watching their means of return to their homeland going up in flames, consequently knew that they were committing everything, even their lives to the cause of conquering a new world for Spain. There was no putting of the hand to the plough and looking back as it were. So also with you and me. When Christ says “Follow Me”, we are also called to burn our ships in the harbour—that we would be free from all worldly loves and loyalties that might come between us and our Christ.

Jesus’ call to the men in our text to follow Him is His same call to each one of us.

What are the loyalties that distract your attention from your Lord? Do you call Jesus ‘Lord’ yet still indulge the fickle heart?

Does His Word have authority over your reason, even when that Word stands for the opposite of being ‘progressive’ as society defines being progressive.

 In what ways will you follow Jesus in proclaiming the Kingdom in this place and community? How can we – and you – better do that?

What are some of the opportunities that you see?

Jesus calls us to Jerusalem, to the Cross, every day. To daily baptismal living, of dying to the self and to what the world cherishes. Of crucifying the sinful self through daily repentance, and following Him in daily rising to the newness and fullness and freedom of the resurrection life that He won for you through His own death and resurrection.

He calls you to proclaim that same message to a world that desperately needs to hear it; which has no real life, purpose or meaning, lost in the insecurity and unpredictable nature of fickleness, where people try to measure up to appearances, popularity and a purpose for life based on the swirling winds of changing social fads.

Is this not a greater cost than that of following Christ?

Following Jesus has a cost. But Jesus paid the cost himself, so as to reconcile us to the life of God and draw us to follow him, our leader. Our text says that Jesus resolutely set his face to Jerusalem. Jesus wasn’t a victim of circumstance. It was God’s will that he go to Jerusalem, go to the Cross, to pay the cost for the sins of the world through his death, even for those who did not receive him and reject him, like the Samaritans whom the Jews hated so much.

He died for those who did not deserve his love and grace; for those who did not measure up, for those whose love for God flickers and smoulders.

Then, triumphing over the grave, which we rejoice in, in this splendid season of Easter, our risen Lord calls you to follow him in a daily journey in his word, and to come to worship to follow him as he leads you as the holy host and chief actor in the worship service, to forgive, bless and strengthen you, giving you all the blessings and favour of God.

There is no other way that leads to life except to follow Jesus. It is because of Jesus who went to the Cross, to bring forgiveness, life and salvation to the world that we see God is not fickle.

He is faithful and loyal, with mercies that never end but are new each morning, who loves us unconditionally, dependant not on how well we have performed or measured up, but dependant solely on the merit of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He treads the path before us.

We follow him who has already paid and bore upon himself the cost of discipleship; we follow him who goes before us and leads us through suffering and death to resurrection and life everlasting.

Amen!

Is Satan real?

Text: Luke 26-39
As Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a man from the town who had demons in him. For a long time this man had gone without clothes and would not stay at home, but spent his time in the burial caves. When he saw Jesus, he gave a loud cry, threw himself down at his feet, and shouted, “Jesus, Son of the Most High God! What do you want with me? I beg you, don’t punish me!” He said this because Jesus had ordered the evil spirit to go out of him dhuff(verses 27-29a)

Two 6 year olds struggled with the problem of the existence of the devil.
One boy said, “Oh, there isn’t any devil.”
The other, rather upset, said, “What do you mean, there isn’t any devil? It talks about him all the way through the Bible!”
The first replied, “Oh that’s not true, you know. It’s just like Santa Claus, it’s only dad.”

How do you picture Satan? When you think of the devil, do you think of him with horns, a goatee beard, a devilish grin, a pointed tail and a pitch fork? I think that the devil would be quite happy being portrayed like this. He would be easy to pick out in a crowd and so easy to avoid. There would be no chance of the devil sneaking up and catching us unprepared. We would be able to see him coming a mile away.

The Bible doesn’t picture Satan as being like this at all? Someone once wrote, “If I were an artist illustrating the story of Jesus being tempted by the devil, I would draw Satan as a very pleasant-looking person … so nice that it would be difficult to tell which was Satan and which was Jesus in the picture”. This person is saying that the devil comes in disguise. When he tempts, he does it in such a way that you don’t even know you’re being tempted.

But hey, wait a minute! We are living in the 21st century. All this talk about the devil and demons was all right for the people back then in Jesus time and even people in 15th & 16th centuries, but we have come along way since those times. We joke about the devil, but we don’t take him seriously. Besides what was once called demon-possession in Jesus’ time can be explained by modern medicine. We know that epilepsy was thought to be a form of demon possession and many other sicknesses as the result of sin and the influence of Satan.

Probably the most famous depiction of demon possession is the movie The Exorcist. I have heard that it is based on an actual case, but the amazing part is the amount of effort required to beat the devil. He is powerful. Satan is a cunning enemy. He is not some cute cartoon figure, but he real and dangerous. The Bible urges us to take him seriously.

Jesus takes Satan seriously. In fact, he sees his whole ministry as a conflict with Satan. He teaches about the power of Satan. He saw his death as the supreme battle with the evil one. Jesus isn’t just a child of his age and is repeating what he had learnt from others. He speaks definitely and personally about the power of Satan and continually warns others about this power. If Jesus takes him seriously then I think we should also.

Today’s Gospel reading tells us of one of the occasions when Jesus confronted Satan. It was a very scary situation. Jesus and the disciples had just sailed across Lake Galilee and had put ashore, when suddenly a naked wild man came rushing toward them screaming and yelling. He lived liked an animal in the nearby burial caves in the cemetery. We are told demons had taken over his life. He became uncontrollable and dangerous. The townspeople rugby tackled the man and chained his arms and feet, but the wild man had super human strength and snapped the chains. He cried out in loud, often inhuman voices, cutting himself with stones as he gave out wild screams.

It seems the townspeople and the wild man had come to some sort of understanding. The wild man would live outside of the town in the burial caves, so when the man was tormented by demons and he became wild and uncontrollable he would not harm anyone else. Everyone knew that the place where Jesus had landed was, by common consent, a no-man’s land.

As the wild man rushed downhill from the tombs, eyes crazed, screaming at the top of his lungs, it must have been a frightening sight for the disciples. Perhaps they considered jumping back into the boat or jumping on the man as a group, hoping their combined strength would contain him. The demons recognised Jesus. They were afraid; they knew that Jesus’ had the power to send them back to where they came from. Jesus demonstrates his power by simply asking, “What is your name?” The demons were in control of the wild man but Jesus was in control of them. He commands them to come out of the man and enter a nearby herd of pigs.

When the local people from the town come out to see what was going on they were shocked at what they saw. This once wild man was “sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind” (Luke 5:35).

There is much that can be said about this text, but there is one clear message – even though Satan is powerful; the power of Jesus is even stronger. In fact, Luke has placed this event in amongst other demonstrations of Jesus’ power. Immediately before this story, we find Jesus commanding the wind and waves to be quiet. Jesus need only speak the word and a great calm fell on the lake (Luke 8:22-25). Jesus was more powerful than the destructive forces of nature.

Then immediately after the expulsion of Satan from the wild man, Luke tells us that Jesus has the power to heal. He restores to health a woman who had been ill for 12 years. She had examined by an untold number of doctors but they were unable to heal her; but Jesus did. He did what had been humanly impossible. He has the power to control disease, viruses, bacteria, bleeding, epilepsy, leprosy, and cancer. He has the power to heal the incurable.

In fact, he has the power to raise the dead. He went to the home of a twelve-year-old girl who had died. No one could do anything for her now except to mourn the passing of this young life. They had been powerless in the face of death. They could not stop it taking this girl’s life. They even made fun of Jesus when he said she was only sleeping. Dead was dead, as far they were concerned. They underestimated the power of Jesus. He took the child by the hand and to everyone’s amazement, he brought her back to life. Jesus could even command the dead to rise. He was more powerful than death itself.

I’m especially glad that Jesus has all power and authority when it comes to Satan. I’m especially glad simply because Satan is far more powerful than we are.

Satan blinds us. St Paul says, “The god of this age (the devil) has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor 2:4 NIV). We might have heard the same message from the Bible over and over, but Satan blinds us to what God is trying to say to us. We close our ears; we interpret what is said in our own way, we refuse to apply what God is saying to our own lives.

Satan wants to control us,
to possess us,
to tempt us to do what is against God’s plan for our lives,
to lead us astray by telling us that wrong is right, that the truth is a lie, that God does not love us, to influence us, to hinder us from doing what we know God wants us to do.
Satan loves bitterness, hatred, violence, arguments; he loves dividing people and especially dividing families and the church.
He can enter the hearts of people and cause so much harm. Drunkenness, drug abuse, greed, road rage, vulgar language, racial prejudice, abusiveness, despair, sexual promiscuity; I’m sure you get the picture.

The power of Satan is nothing to mess around with. Séances, ouija boards, witchcraft, the occult, are dangerous. Using these is an invitation to Satan to take control.

Having said all this you might be beginning to wonder whether we have any chance against such a formidable foe. We all know how easy it is for us to succumb to his temptations. When we think everything is going okay, bingo we suddenly realise that Satan has been leading us along by the nose. Sometimes we aren’t even aware that he is having such a powerful influence in our lives. So how can we stand up against something so powerful?

The answer is simple – we can’t! Not by ourselves anyway. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t try to resist Satan and his temptations and not give in to his attempts to lead us astray. James says, “So then, submit yourselves to God. Resist the Devil, and he will run away from you” (4:7). We need a power that is far greater than any power we have in ourselves. We need the power of Christ on our side if we are going to resist the devil.

Satan wants to draw us away from God’s kingdom into his own dark realm. Daily he tempts us; he tries to draw us away from God. He tempts us so that we fall under God’s condemnation and be sent to hell.

But Jesus has broken Satan’s power. Remember I said before that the whole life of Jesus is an attack against the domination of the devil and the climax of the battle occurred on the cross of Calvary. On the cross, Jesus broke the stranglehold that Satan can have over.
He has won for us forgiveness for all the times we give into Satan.
He has redeemed us – that means he has bought us back from sin and Satan with the price of his own blood.
He has reclaimed us as his own and made us his dear children.
He has made us new, given us a fresh start, and given us his Holy Spirit to help us resist Satan’s power.
Satan may tempt us and we will give in, we deserve God’s punishment, but through his death and resurrection, through the water of baptism we belong to God; we are forgiven and free. We are called to follow in Jesus’ footsteps and likewise resist the devil. Paul says
, “Let the mighty strength of the Lord make you strong. Put on all the armour God gives, so you can defend yourself against the devil’s tricks. … And when the battle is over, you will still be standing firm (worth reading all of Ephesians 6:10-17).

Our story from Luke’s Gospel concluded, “The man went through the town, telling what Jesus had done for him” (Luke 8:39). Just as Jesus commissioned the once wild man to “Go back home and tell what God has done for you”, he has also commanded us to share the good news of freedom from Satan’s power to anyone who would listen. Jesus wants every person in this nation, in the whole world to say with Paul, “God rescued us from the dark power of Satan and brought us into the kingdom of his dear Son” (Col 1:13 CEV).

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

“Sunday of Fulfilment”

The Text: John 5:21-29

  1. Has this past year lived up to your expectations? What was the best thing thatallanb happened to you this year? And what are you most grateful for this morning? Do you have a special prayer for the new Church Year that commences next Sunday? We can all be grateful that we are here today in God’s presence in His House, to hear the good news He has for us, in a world where bad news features prominently. Today we especially remember people near and dear to us who have departed this life. Today is called the “Sunday of Fulfilment”. We thank God that His plans and purposes for us are being fulfilled.

The Bible says “the memory of the righteous is a blessing (Proverbs 10:7).” It’s a blessing indeed to remember before God those loved ones whom we have treasured over the years and are no more with us. As sad as it is that they’re no longer with us on earth, it would be sadder still had their presences never enriched our lives. So we’re grateful to God for all the blessings these people have brought into our lives. They are still loved by our Lord Jesus Christ. Nothing, not even death, can separate us from the love of Christ. If they are with Christ and Christ is with us, they cannot be far away. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His people (Psalm 116:15).”

As well as a day of remembrance, today is a day of hope. Our hope in Christ isn’t just wishful thinking. It is a sure and certain reality based on what happened to our Saviour at Easter. Hope is a strong word in the Bible, because it is able to thrive in the face of pain and suffering, and the hope we have in Christ keeps bouncing back in the face of tragedy and loss. In the Bible, our Christian hope is associated with terms like assurance, confidence, boldness, anticipation and endurance. Hope is pictured as a rock, a strong tower or fortress, or an anchor for our souls (Hebrews 6:19). Hope is easier to maintain when we know we’re loved. “Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us (Romans 5:5).” That’s why we can face the future free of fear.

“Perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18).” Jesus is God’s perfect Love, come to save us rather than to condemn us. In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus gives us His assurance and certainty about the eternal destiny for all who eagerly hear and embrace Him and His saving Word. “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears My Word and believes God who has sent Me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life (v24).” Millions of Christians over the years have found profound comfort from these words.

Natural human life is a progression from life to death. Faith in God our Father and His Son Jesus is the reverse: we go from spiritual death now, into life that has no ending. Some people ask “Is there life before death?” From time to time we see those who have lost the joy of living. Critics of Christianity have sometimes referred to its message of eternal life as a case of “maybe, someday”. Jesus is not only in the business of offering us His gift of eternal life by faith in Him. Our Lord has also come to give us life, new life now, in all its fullness and richness before we die. Christ’s astonishing forgiveness means we can live as if our life has only just begun. His forgiveness of our sinful past makes us brand new in God’s sight. “If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation: everything old has passed away (2 Corinthians 5:17).”

Many converts to Christianity have joyfully exclaimed “Only then did I begin to live, to really live”, when speaking of the time Christ first entered their lives. We eagerly accept Christ’s gift of forgiveness because it enables us to face the Last Day without fear. Before any other judge we probably would seek to defend ourselves. But before Jesus Christ, we plead: “Lord, have mercy on me.” Christ is not only our Judge. Above all, He is our Advocate and Saviour. He, as a fellow human being who shared all the trials and temptations of a human life, is the best qualified to judge us. Jesus, who suffered terrible injustice and unfairness at His trial on Good Friday, is the person most qualified to be our own Judge. On the cross, Jesus offered up a perfect confession for our every sin and accepted the penalty we deserved.

From time to time we hear of terrible acts of injustice. In a world of sinful and imperfect people, acts of injustice will naturally occur. We’re often not in a position to judge accurately because we don’t know the full facts of the case. A Day of final, just and fair judgment will occur. When God’s law shows us where we’ve sinned and fallen short of God’s glorious standard, we flee to Christ because “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).” What incredibly welcome good news that is, news that while we’re able, we must share with others. “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Judgment Day has been presented almost entirely in terms of repent or be damned, gloom, doom, retribution, hell-fire and brimstone. In response, let me say two things:

1:     Judgment Day must be seen in the light of the Cross. There Jesus took our place and our judgment. In Christ, our Judgment has already taken place and we have been declared forgiven. That is at the heart of the Gospel; we are the recipients of undeserved grace.

2:     So what happens on the Day of Judgment? Basically it is the day of truth. Now we see the truth in part … then we shall see it in its fullness. Now we see our sin in part … then in its fullness.

It will be a Day of awesome awareness of how far we fell short of the standards of God. It will be honest. It will be tough. And just because of that it will at the same time be a Day of unbelievable release, relief, and catharsis. Did not Jesus say “The truth will make you free”?

For countless people the Day of Judgment will be a Day of unimaginable relief and catharsis, because for the first time, their story will be heard by all. The whole story! Not distorted pieces … with a perception here and a prejudice there … but the whole story, and nothing but the story. Now the story is heard in part … then it will be heard in full.

For countless people it will be the first time they have ever been understood and given a fair go. Think of what this will mean for those poor beggars who have never had the ego-strength, or the words, or the opportunity to tell their story. Those people who have never known what it is to be listened to and to be heard. Those whose cries to be understood have gone unheeded.

Romans 8:33-37 spells out the reasons why Christians can face the Day of Judgment with confidence and hope: “Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for His own? Will God? No! God is the One who has given us the right standing with Him. Who will then condemn us? Will Christ Jesus? No, for He is the One who has died for us and was raised to life for us and is sitting at the place of highest honour next to God, pleading for us. Can anything separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean He no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or are hungry or cold or in danger or threatened with death? … No, despite all these things overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.”

With St Paul we can eagerly look forward to our Lord’s visible appearance on the Last Day in all His majesty, glory and splendour. “From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for His appearing (2 Timothy 4:8).” Then, all that Jesus has done for us will be vindicated and gratefully celebrated. Can we receive any greater reward than to hear Jesus say to us on that Day: “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord” – a joy that will at last never, ever end. Amen.

Can you believe the size of this thing?

“Can you believe the size of this thing?” you say to the person next to you.garth
The courtyard you’re
standing in nearly swallows you; a vast rectangular space that measures nearly 180 metres east to west and about 185 metres north to south. You gaze in awe at the buildings towering around you, seemingly larger than life itself, built with massive stones, some measuring 11 x 5½ x 3½ metres.
Some are made from white marble, others are covered with gold, reflecting the sunlight in dazzling splendour. It is Herod’s Temple, one of the most impressive man-made structures of the ancient world. As Jesus comes out of the Temple, you hear one of His disciples say to Him, "Look, Teacher, what great stones and what great buildings!" You hear Jesus respond with an answer you did not expect: “Do you see these magnificent buildings? Not one stone in this place will remain on another, they will surely be thrown down.”
Later, Peter, James, John and Andrew, sitting on the Mount of Olives across from this grand building, ask Jesus privately: “Tell us—when will these things happen and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be fulfilled?” The disciples thought that the destruction of the temple would be the event that ushered in the end times; when Jesus would save God’s people
Israel. However Jesus didn’t tell them when. He simply describes some of the events that were going to happen, with the destruction of the Temple being one of those, along with wars, earthquakes and famines. Jesus said that these things are merely the birth pains. In other words, the time is not yet. The contractions are here but the birth is still in the future, when the Son of God
will come with his final victory, judging the living and the dead.
The destruction of the Temple would happen for two reasons. First, Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem and His visit to the Temple has failed to find the response of repentance and faith among the Jewish leaders and people that God required. Here was the Saviour He promised but they had thrown God’s gift back in His face. They refused to accept Him as the promised Saviour and in doing so the people as a whole had turned against God and His prophets again. The destruction of their prized temple as part of the devastation wrought on the city of Jerusalem by the Roman army in 70 AD was therefore part of God’s judgement on the nation. But the destruction of the Temple would happen for a second reason. Now, with the coming of Jesus, the Temple is redundant. It is useless for it is no longer the place of God’s presence. It therefore has ceased to serve the original purpose God established for it: the meeting place between God and His people where He would graciously be present to bestow His blessing and favour upon them. The Most Holy Place, the place of God’s presence is now in His Son, where the fullness of the Godhead dwells in bodily form. The Temple is out and the Son of Man is in.
At the centre of the Temple was the sanctuary, which was elevated and was reached by 12 steps, and divided into the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. Only the priests were allowed to enter the Holy Place. The Most Holy Place was where God resided. He demanded that His presence be contained in a room that ordinary priests and people could not enter. This room was blocked off by
a thick curtain, about a hand thickness, that prevented people from entering and defiling God’s holiness and therefore bringing themselves under God’s just sentence of death. Only the High Priest was consecrated to enter the Most Holy Place, and on only one day a year—the Day of Atonement, when he made payment for the sins of all Israel with the blood of an animal sacrifice.
Jesus is both our High Priest who has entered into the heavens, but also the sacrifice. He made payment for the sins of the whole world with His very own holy and precious blood. When Jesus died the Temple curtain was torn in two, showing us that access to God is now by the death of Christ who has fulfilled the former sacrificial system. There is no barrier between God and people
through faith in Jesus.
God rendered the Temple useless because now His presence is not in a building but in the Person of Christ. When the disciple exclaims in our text: "Look, Teacher, what great stones and what great
buildings!" he is addressing an even greater, more precious stone, Christ the cornerstone, where the fullness of God dwells, a temple that could not be destroyed. “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up” Jesus says of Himself. And He meant it. When that Temple was crucified and buried, it was not destroyed. It rose on the third day and still stands.
And here we see God’s great theme of reversal, where things are upside down and back-to-front according to the thinking of the world. What is attractive to the world, what is grandiose and awesome, magnificent and spectacular, is not God’s chosen means of operating. For Jesus, our High Priest, who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be
grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness, humbling Himself and becoming obedient to His Father’s will by dying on a cross.
Where the world evaluates the success of its leaders according to their wealth, their army and weaponry, their media campaigns and opinion poll ratings, God chooses weakness to be the most powerful rule this world will ever see. In God’s theme of reversal, the most glorious home was no skyscraper or elaborate architecture, but a feed box in a stinking stable which held the Christ child.
The world reveres the powerful and popular but in God’s great theme of reversal the most powerful reign this world will ever see is the reign of Christ from the throne of His Cross. For in being abandoned to death, Jesus overcame death for you. He paid the wages of your sin to rescue you from the dominion of Satan. How glorious is the Cross, yet not in the way the world looks for glory.
The Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing:
When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. And sitting down, they kept watch over him there. Above his head they placed the written charge against him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Two robbers were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, & quot;You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! Come down from the cross, if You are the Son of God!& quot;
But to us who are being saved, the message of the cross is the power of God.
“Look! What great stones and what great buildings!” is the cry of the world which sees power and might and success and security in the impressive, in the big and strong, in the materially rich and spectacularly entertaining. The disciple’s words could be anyone’s from today’s world. The world loves buildings like the Temple, but in God’s great theme of reversal, He is well pleased with the little church with the leaky roof and cracked windows, because wherever the word of God and sacraments are, Christ is truly present, and He indeed pronounces all those who receive them to be truly righteous in His sight.
And in such a place God’s heart is for those who are not esteemed according to what the world’s values.
Yet gathered around the Most Holy Place, Jesus the Christ, are repentant sinners, frail, failing, in need of God’s mercy, those who need healing or who have lost their jobs, those whose families are falling apart, those who have anxiety disorders and those who are on the brink of despair under the weight of their sins.
But such as these God has chosen to belong to Him in whom He makes His power perfect. Such as these are frowned upon by the world, but in God’s great theme of reversal, these are the holy ones who have overcome the world in Christ. These are the ones to whom is given the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. These are the ones to whom will be awarded the crown of righteousness. In the eyes of the world the modest church buildings hosting dwindling numbers of mostly senior people are ridiculous, a sign of failure. Church is only for the weak. And they are right! For we are weak, yet in our weakness the power of Christ is made perfect in us. We gather around Christ, the Most Holy Place, as He washes us sinners clean and joins us to Him in Holy Baptism. Through the Word and as He serves you His body and blood, Jesus meets you to do what is humanly impossible: free you from sin, bless you and grant salvation. This is true power, splendour and grandeur.
As you hear the words of the world: “Teacher, Look! What great stones and what great buildings!” hear Jesus’ reply: “Do you see these magnificent buildings? Not one stone in this place will remain on another, they will surely be thrown down.” This has been fulfilled for you. So when we hear of
wars, storms, strife and disaster, hear Jesus words today: Do not be alarmed. It is necessary for these things to happen, but it will not yet be the end. For nation will be raised against nation and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places, there will be famines. These things are the beginning of birth pains.”
Jesus is coming again and He is coming for you so that you may see the Most Holy Place, the fullness of the glory of God, face to face. So take heart, stand firm to the end whatever your burden today…for in the words of the Apostle Paul: “We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not
crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.”
The time is not yet. Jesus is still coming. May we all pray: “Come Lord Jesus, into our world that tears itself apart. Come anew into our lives and rule our hearts with your word each day, giving us courage and peace as we long for your return.” And as we do long for His return, know that He has ascended to the right hand of the Father where He prays for you. Know that He will lead you through every trial and tribulation and suffering and even death and to bring you safely home to your heavenly Father’s waiting arms! Brothers and sisters, trust in Christ and in Christ alone, for the Temple stones have been thrown down and in Christ the way to heaven has been opened for us.
Amen.