“It dosen’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere”.

That is something you often hear when religion or faith is being discussed.pastorh2 Though it is interesting that you never hear that said when the discussion is about atrocities-terrorist bombings-child abuse etc.

You never hear it when people are talking about the horrors of the concentration camps such as Belsen or Auschwitz. Hitler was undoubtedly sincere in his hatred of the Jewish people but everyone except for anti Semites would say he was wrong.  The massacre of 6 million Jews in the Second World War was deliberate-ruthless and the product of a sincerely held belief.  Hitler was sincere but terribly wrong.

             An example such as this, which caused the annihilation of millions of people, should make us very cautious about saying that it does not matter what you believe as long as you are sincere. That is obviously nonsense-rubbish.

            For centuries people sincerely believed that thunder was caused by the gods at war. We now that this sincerely held belief was superstitious rubbish. They were sincere but wrong in their beliefs..

            For centuries people sincerely believed that the sun went around the earth. When Galileo, followed by the astronomer Copernicus showed that this was not the case, he was forbidden by the pope to “hold, teach or defend” such a view and was handed over to the Inquisition. I am sure that as Copernicus languished in prison he would not have agreed that it does not matter what you believe as long as you are sincere.

Now I’m not knocking sincerity. Sincerity is vitally important. Nobody likes a hypocrite. But the fact is that sincerity is not enough. I may believe that all the planes at Sydney airport will take me to New Zealand but I would be wrong.

 I may believe that eating lots of chocolate and fatty foods is the best way to recover after a heart attack but I would be wrong, -sincere may be but still wrong.

            Now if the idea that sincerity is all you need is manifestly ridiculous, why do people say it so often when the subject of religion is raised?                            

There may be several reasons.

+          For one thing, people may simply not want to get drawn into a religious discussion or argument. They think that such discussions are fruitless and so they try to avoid an embarrassing and perhaps acrimonious debate by saying that it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere.

They would never apply it to mathematics: nobody if their right mind imagines that if only you believe hard enough that 2 +2 = 5, that would make it so. It would be like the student coming out of the examination room and saying, “Please God make New York the capital of America”. In these cases, however great your sincerity you would be wrong.

It is interesting that only in the area of religion, do people talk like this. They think that it is much better to duck out of the subject altogether by saying that it does not matter what you believe as long as you are sincere.

+          Another reason may be that in Australia we are a pragmatic-practical people. We are not famous for our philosophical thinking. It’s been said that 10% of the people think; 20 % of the people think they think. And the rest would rather die than think. We are a practical people. If something works, that is okay, no matter who invented it or what he intended. As Australians we are concerned with actions, not so much with theories. So if you follow that line of logic to its conclusion you will end up by saying, “it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere”.         

+ But I think there is also a deeper reason.

Religion is about the fundamental issues of life and death and there is something in many people that makes them not want to look at those issues. Many people feel uneasy-uncomfortable and they would rather not think about them. Most people would rather live for the here-now and shut their minds to complex matters like death and life- heaven and hell.

They think it is much easier to rely on sincerity and living a reasonably decent life in the hope that this will be satisfactory and carry them through.

This attitude is very widespread. You will find a many people from all walks in life, with different occupations-with different levels of education who hold to the view that “it does not matter what you believe as long as you are sincere”.

            Where does this leave us as Christians?

The teachings of Buddha and Jesus-the teachings of Judaism and Christianity-the teachings of the Koran and the Bible point in fundamentally different directions.

You may be a sincere follower of the Buddha but what if that allegiance should prove in the end to be mistaken? Where does that leave you?

You may be sincere in thinking that Jesus Christ is out of date-or that he was merely a man as the book “The Da Vinci Code” portrays him. You may be sincere in thinking that Jesus was simply a great teacher or a wise philosopher.  But what if you happen to be sincere and wrong?

            What if at the end of your life God should say to you, “Why did you not bother about my Son Jesus who gave himself to put you right with me?

Will you mumble, “Oh well I thought that it didn’t matter what I believed as long as I was sincere”?

            The fact is that belief is the spring of action and right belief is the spring of right action. We cannot just rely of “sincerity”.

Sincerity is absolutely essential, but by itself it is insufficient.

We would never apply that to any other area of life. It would be an act of absolute foolishness.

Jesus didn’t say, “It doesn’t matter what or who you believe as long as you are sincere”. He said, “I AM THE WAY, THE THRUTH AND THE LIFE, NO ONE COMES TO THE FATHER EXCEPT THROUGH ME”.

Jesus didn’t say,” As long as you are sincere and live a good life you will get to heaven”.

He said,” WHOEVER BELIEVES AND IS BAPTIZED WILL BE SAVED BUT WHO EVER DOES NOT BELIEVE WILL BE CONDEMNED”.

            Sincerity is important but so is the Truth –the truth as we have it in the Bible and in Jesus Christ.

John the Baptist a man of conviction.

The boss was complaining that he wasn’t getting enough pastorh2respect from the staff. Later that morning he went out and brought a sign that read: “I’m the boss”. He then taped it to his office door. When he returned from lunch he found that someone had taped a note to the sign that said:”Your wife called, she wants her sign back”.

It seems that even though Herod was a King he wasn’t the boss.

Review story: John had been arrested by King Herod. Why? Because John kept reminding Herod that he wasn’t above the law. He said, “It is not lawful for you to take you brother’s wife”. Herodius, Herod’s wife resented John’s criticism and wanted to kill him. But Kind Herod refused because he regarded John as a holy man- a man of God. Finally with some scheming-manipulation Herodius was able to achieve her goal and have John killed. King Herod was pleased with Herodius’ daughter’s dancing. As a reward to the girl he made a promise he came to regret. He promised to give her anything she asked for. Herodius seized the opportunity and told her daughter to ask for the head of John the Baptist. King Herod was greatly distressed at her request but he had backed himself into a corner and couldn’t get out of it. The lesson is: be very careful about making promises.

But this story raises deeper issues-deeper questions. Questions like: “How could God let one of his servants like John the Baptist be treated in this way?” “How could God stand by and let John who had devoted his life to serving God die in this way?”

Now, this kind of question reflects the attitude of people who think that their faith is some kind of insurance against trouble-tragedy. They think that God is letting them down when some kind of severe illness-tragedy hits them. They seem to think that God is deaf to their prayers or doesn’t care about them if he doesn’t give help or healing the way they might want it.

            But no where in Scripture does God promise that just because we are Christians we can expect to be spared trouble-tragedy. You only have to read through the Bible stories to see how many of God’s servants suffered in a variety of ways. That is particularly true of the prophets-Jeremiah for example. It was also true of many of the New Testament disciples. Of the 12 apostles only John died of old age, all the others became martyrs- died for their faith in Jesus.

But is this so strange when we remember that Jesus himself suffered and died for us. Life wasn’t easy for Jesus. It was no bed of roses for him.

The thing that probably should astound us more is not that we may have to suffer at times, but that we don’t suffer a lot more than we do. And that is particularly true of us who live in Australia. Just think of what has gone on in the world in the last century: 2 World Wars-the depression-the rise of Nazism-Communism-brutal dictators like Hitler-Stalin-Mao Tse Tung- Pol Pot- several Middle East conflicts-numerous lesser wars-civil wars-and more recently Islamic terrorism. We have been fortunate in that we have escaped most of that. Unlike many Christians in some countries who suffer persecution-harassment.  And as far as personal health is concerned, considering the complicated marvel that the human body is, it is amazing that don’t have more health problems than we do.

But let me stress this. The real issue is not: “How much have I managed to accumulate this past year”. Or “How much am I enjoying a comfortable life?”

The issue is:”How much have I grown like Christ? How many Christ-like qualities have I developed in my life”?

God’s concern is not to fill our bank accounts or pander to our human whims. His concern is that we become more like his Son Jesus. And he can put us in prison like John or in hospital or in any other difficult situations.

The point is this: God’s concern is that His will be done and that his name be praised. It cost God dearly that we might have fellowship with us, the life of his own son. We should not be surprised that there might be times when it costs us dearly as he uses us to get done what he wants done.

The other main point that comes from this story is this: God would have us witness to him no matter what our situation in life. There are some people who whenever anything goes wrong lets everyone know about it. But you don’t find John the Baptist complaining-grizzling about being in prison. I’m sure that he did a lot of thinking white sitting in his prison cell. But there is no record of any grizzle session. But there is mention of John speaking to Herod about the things of God. In fact it seems that Herod’s conscience led him to have a number of conversations with John.

Now this leads to a point that needs to be made. You sometimes hear people say that it is not necessary to speak about ones faith. As long as you give a good witness with your life that will be enough to get people to think. But I am not so sure about that. There are a number of reasons.

+To begin with, the vast majority of people don’t have any clear idea at all about what the Christian faith is about. They think that a Christian is some one who tries to live a good life and who thinks they are better than others who don’t go to church. They conclude that they are just as good as those who are Christians anyway so what’s the point of going to church and being a Bible basher.

If we think that our efforts at living a good life” are going to convince anyone of the truth of God’s Word, we are being naïve and may be just a bit lazy. Especially when many people who don’t go to church live lives that are just as good if not better than our own. Christian don’t have a monopoly in living a so called ‘good life.” And frankly when we look at our own lives and our inconsistencies, our lives aren’t always such a credible witness to Christ.

            The early Apostles didn’t just go around quietly going about their work and saying nothing, witnessing to Jesus only with their lives. Their mere lives would have made little impact for there were many in those days who worked hard at developing virtue in their lives.

The Apostle had something far more profound-glorious to offer. They declared that they were sinners under God’s judgement and so was everyone else. They said they had an incredibly glorious message to proclaim. The message was that despite the fact that all people were sinners, God had sent his only Son Jesus to come to their rescue.  People could not break through to God through their own effort, but that God had broken through to them in mercy and grace.  He had given his own Son to pay the price for our sins-the sinless one took the sins of the world upon himself and died for us. Jesus conquered death and the grave for those held helpless in their grip. The he gave them the possibility of eternal fellowship with God.

These Apostles had a message to proclaim that alone could give the ultimate meaning to life now and forever.

It is in this light that we need to understand the witness of John. He was in the power of a man who could have him killed at the drop of a hat-a man who had everything- power-money-position-women. But King Herod had no peace.  And in search of peace he kept coming back to this uncompromising man of God –who told Herod the truth- about himself and God.

Ironically, John although he was in prison was free-in his conscience-mind. But Herod was a captive to himself and his lusts.

Throughout all this John did not grizzle-complain. He witnessed.  He spoke until he could speak no more. May we pray” God, use me for your glory’s sake and help me to witness like John, whatever the situation you place us in”.
Amen

Pastor Haydn Blass

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

The Text: Mark 6:1-13

 

A young couple had been married for just a few months when they engaged inchurch4 various conflicts. Neither said aloud what they were thinking – that their marriage was a big mistake. One day she burst into tears calling her husband ‘heartless’ and a ‘cheapskate’. He shouted that he’d rather be a cheapskate than a nag. Then he grasped the car keys on his way out. His parting words were, “That’s it! I’m leaving you!”

But before he could put the car into gear, the passenger door flew open, and his wife sat on the seat beside him. “And just where do you think you’re going?” he asked. She replied, giving an answer that would decide the direction of their lives for the next 43 years: “If you’re leaving me, I’m going with you.”

This story of conflict had a happy ending. As often is the case, conflict resolved can result in a closer and stronger relationship between people. In today’s Gospel we see conflict happening between the most unlikely of people, the folk of Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. Jesus was no doubt looking forward to being there and receiving the same warm reception he’d received elsewhere. The folk Jesus had grown up with thought they knew Jesus really well as the son Mary and Joseph the carpenter. As a carpenter Jesus would have had the skills to make doors, furniture, and oxen yokes. While a carpenter’s work was much appreciated, they weren’t given the respect given to religious leaders like rabbis. The townspeople were also familiar with Jesus’ brothers and sisters.

Now when they hear Jesus speaking so profoundly in their own synagogue, they wonder what this local ‘lad’ is up to. How can this man they’ve known since he was a toddler have such understanding and wisdom about the things of God? He never studied under any rabbi; he’s a carpenter. If he were the Messiah, he would be of noble origins and in glorious attire. Jesus didn’t match with their preconceived ideas of what the Messiah would look like. So, where Jesus least expects it, he experiences sarcasm, rejection, and conflict. He knows firsthand what it’s like when we too experience conflict with those close to us and feel wounded by the sarcasm of our opponents.

Jesus responds to their rejection and dismissal of him: “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honour.” Jesus didn’t demand to be honoured by his hometown residents. Rather, he was seeking to sow the seeds of faith for the future. Nevertheless, he was amazed at their lack of faith. They were too locked into their pet views about religion to want to learn new truths and insights from Jesus.

The greatest hindrance to a deeper appreciation of what Jesus means for us today is a feeling of familiarity with his life and teaching. When it has been suggested to men and women, who see themselves as “reasonably good Christians” that they could benefit from a deeper examination of what the New Testament says about Jesus, they give the impression that they know all they need to know about our Savour already. Those who, on the other hand, regularly study the Scriptures, will tell you with never-ending excitement of the new discoveries they’ve found about Jesus that deepen their devotion to him and increase their eagerness to put his teaching into practice throughout the week.

Our Lord’s unique contribution to us growing in moral integrity is himself. Jesus himself moves us to put into practice what he teaches us. He inspires a love that continually delights to show his love to others. Jesus’ words of love are life-giving and liberating. He says to us, “If you make my words your home you will know the truth and the truth will set you free (John 8:31).” Jesus himself is the centre of his message of good news to us.

After being rejected in Nazareth, Jesus didn’t let that painful result hinder his ongoing mission work in any way but went on to teach in other villages where he was warmly received. Many of our great leaders have had great difficulty dealing with ordinary people. Not so with Jesus. Our Lord found the workday environment of ordinary folk immensely attractive. He is unsurpassed in his ability to identity with ordinary people, as we can see from his parables. His parables are full of the details of daily life, but with a twist. Jesus reversed existing values: the last is now first, those who are the humblest are often the wisest, and the lowliest servant is the greatest citizen in Christ’s Kingdom, while a despised Samaritan is held up as an example of how we’re to treat a needy neighbour.

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus stopped to listen to and help needy individuals. He is deeply affected by those who need his unique help, and praises faith wherever he sees it in action. It is faith in him, above all, that Jesus seeks from us. Where faith is alive and active, marvellous things can occur. Faith opens the door to unmerited, unearned blessings to us from our Lord. To say to Jesus, “I believe, help my lack of faith (Mark 9:24)” is to ask him to do more for us than we can believe. It’s a request Jesus loves to respond to. Our Lord delights in drawing close to those for whom faith is a struggle.

We don’t need to understand everything Jesus said and did in order to keep following him. He calls us simply to believe and trust him. We often find Jesus is closer to us when we’re depressed rather than when every thing’s going well. May we come to him as soon as we can when life is a burden as he invites us to: “Come to me, all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).” All those who came to Christ in desperate need received from him more, much more than they expected. God grant that you will experience this too so that you can act as Jesus’ ambassadors as did his twelve apostles.

Jesus didn’t let his disappointment in Nazareth hinder his work. Instead, he extended his work by means of his twelve apostles, sending them out two by two, giving them authority over evil spirits to cast them out in his name and to preach his message wherever they’re warmly welcomed. Their casting out of evil spirits authenticates the message they preach. Before this, Jesus had spent time with them preparing them for this specific ministry, and they would continue to learn so much more by putting all they’d previously been taught into practice. Jesus sends them out in the full confidence that their work will be effective. To encourage them, Jesus says to them, “Those who listen to you are hearing me (Luke 10:16).”

Jesus says the same to us today. We are his ambassadors and advocates. The Gospel he’s given to us is too good to keep to ourselves. He is delighted, thrilled, when we take risks for him. We’re not to remain within the safe confines of our church building, but rather to put into practice out in the world, from Monday to Saturday, what we learn here in his house on Sunday. Jesus’ family, who initially rejected him in Nazareth, would come to believe in him after Easter. With our witness, we too sow seeds of faith for a harvest to be reaped in God’s good time in the future.

Whatever we do in Jesus’ name is an extension of his work in our world. Remember, whatever you do for our Lord is never in vain but will bear fruit for eternity. Henry Benjamin Whipple once said:

“All we want in Christ; we shall find in Christ.

If we want little, we shall find little.

If we want much, we shall find much.

But if, in utter helplessness, we cast our all on Christ, he will be to us the whole treasury of God.”

May you enjoy learning more and more about Jesus as long as you live and take great joy in putting what you learn into practice, for it is Jesus who is at work in you, and through you. Amen.

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

The Text: Mark 4:35-41

 

The sinking ship is an image that can represent our greatest fears in situations of panic. The image of a sinking ship stirs in us a fear that our refuge at seachurch4 may not be that safe after all. For the famous ship the Titanic that sank in 1912, the ship was boasted as unsinkable, and having enough lifeboats on the deck for all on board was seen to spoil the look of the ship. What a tragic mistake that was! So many lives could have been saved if there were simply enough boats; the pride of human achievement blinding them from common sense.

But as we might picture the stern of this great ship sticking out of the water, we can be reminded of the near sinking of the boat that Jesus and the disciples were in on the Sea of Galilee in our text today. It’s not too different in fact from Titanic. Their boat was beginning to flood at the bow or front, with the disciples desperately trying to stop the stormy water from filling it up. Jesus is tucked up and sleeping at the stern, still dry. Jesus is raised up at the stern, the disciples down low feeling the icy cold threat of death and drowning as the water takes over.

The situation in their eyes has reached tipping point, and so they force Jesus to wake up. The disciples might be thinking a few things: ‘How is Jesus is managing to sleep through all this? Yes he’s exhausted from the crowds that keep following him, but surely he cares and knows what’s happening?’ Jesus’ sleeping in the storm makes the disciples doubt Jesus’ character and love. 

What we are seeing here in the disciples is what we would possibly all do when we have reached our limit or our tipping point. We see our security begin to vanish, we panic, accuse and misunderstand each other in our attempt to survive. Anger flashes like lightning, and in the storm the devil gets the better of us as he increases the fear and panic of the situation. But this storm was very real indeed for it to make experienced fishermen panic for their very lives. Squalls, high winds and storms were quite common on the Sea of Galilee, but there was something about this one that felt very different than normal.

When Jesus actually gets up his language indicates that something supernatural is in operation. When he orders the wind and waves to be silent, in the original language he is saying: ‘Be muzzled!’ It is as if the sea were alive as a demonic creature who wanted to swallow up Jesus and his disciples in one gulp. So as Jesus commands the storm and sea to be muzzled, just like he says to the demons earlier on, Jesus is showing that a spiritual power is at work as they cross to the other side. And remember that Jesus had an original mission to go the other side didn’t he? Just imagine the light bulb moments going on in the disciples once they see Jesus casting out a whole legion of demons out of one man in Mark chapter 5. ‘I see, that’s why we had the storm! Satan was trying to stop us coming!’

And so that opening line from Jesus at the beginning of our text has now some meaning and weight to it: ‘Let us go over to the other side’. That one phrase contains an entire plan of Jesus to take his disciples and us through a journey that maybe tricky and scary and unpredictable at times. Jesus knows the storm but he also knows the other side too.

It is on the other side on the shore where we can take stock and reflect how the storm is now gone, that we survived it, and how we might begin to understand what the storm was for, and what it did inside us. In the storm we got to know what we felt our limits were, and what our tipping points were. We began to work out at what point our faith held us fairly well until the trauma of what we experienced started to make us doubt whether God still cared about us.

We all have our tipping points; those times we want to shout out loud to a seemingly sleeping God and tell him how panicked we feel about our situation. But interestingly those prayers we shoot up in panic don’t ever go unheard. So many times God gets up in our drowning boats and makes something change. And you may have noticed over your lifetime that your tipping points of panic may have shifted. Some of you may panic at the sight of thunderstorm clouds, and others when the water is right up to your necks, as in Psalm 69.

Every one of you can have different reference points when you decide you can’t control the boat you are in, and you need God to either grab your hand and steady the boat or stop the storm completely. But sometimes God doesn’t stop the storm.

For unknown reasons he can sometimes let the storm rage on, but… he is always there with us, and he helps us survive it. After a while we may find that God makes us able to weather storms better as we grow in our faith. That is all well and good once we get to the shore, but in the thick of the storm it’s very hard to trust God isn’t it?

So whatever storms are running in your life at the moment, Jesus is there. He’s not sleeping. He’s right there saying to you: ‘Now don’t look over the side of the boat and be terrified by the waves and storm. Just look at me, keep focused. We’ll be through this soon’.

Finally, try to be open with others who look after you about the storms in your life. We can be very good at hiding our sinking ships in our hearts, and sometimes we can have no idea such as storm is whirling around in someone; gradually eroding their faith from within. So in the service today, I pray that whatever the storms you are going through, you will feel the peace of the Lord and his authority and power over the wind and waves inside you. Remember you are not a sinking ship, but a child of God whom Jesus loves. Jesus will be with you always over the sea of this life, but whatever happens he will always navigate you towards the final shoreline of heaven, where the storms cease and true life begins. Amen.

Third Sunday after Pentecost

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

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2nd Corinthians, ‘if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone,

the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ.’

Let us pray:  O God our Father, we thank you that by faith in your son, we are in Christ, and are renewed each day by the work of your Holy Spirit.  Open our hearts and minds to receive all that you have for us today.  We pray in Jesus’ name.Amen.

Psalm 92 encourages us with the words, ‘It is good to praise the LORD and make music to your name, O Most High.      For you make us glad by your deeds, O LORD; we sing for joy at the works of your hands.’   

What great words to describe the joy of worshipping our God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit with passion.

One Pastor, Steve Shepherd, relates a story he overheard:  ‘A good Pastor, of the staid and orthodox type, had a passionate older woman in his congregation who was in the habit of saying, “Praise the Lord,” “Amen,” when anything particularly helpful was said.

This practice began to disturb the Pastor, and one New Year’s day he went to see her. “Betty,” he said, “I will make a bargain with you. You call out, ‘Praise the Lord’ just when I get to the best part of my sermon and it upsets my thoughts. Now if you will stop doing it all this year, I will give you a pair of nice warm woolen blankets.”

Betty was poor, and the offer of the blankets sounded good. So she did her best to earn them. Sunday after Sunday she kept quiet. But one day a pastor came to preach who was bubbling over with joy.

As he preached on the forgiveness of sin and all the blessings that follow, the vision of the blankets began to fade and fade, and the joys of salvation grew brighter and brighter. At last Betty could stand it no longer and jumping up she cried, “Blankets or no blankets, Hallelujah!” “Praise the Lord!”  “Amen!”

(From a sermon by Steve Shepherd, A Trustworthy Saying, 11/13/2010)

I can imagine that the bubbly Pastor was preaching on the sentiments we have today from Paul’s 2nd Letter to the Church at Corinth. ‘Christ’s love compels us to live the faith we have in Christ, because we are convinced that Christ died for all, and  was raised again.’   

Just so we can see each other from a different regard than the world sees us.  As we praise the Lord Jesus Christ, we can feel our hearts sing together, and see the light of Christ in each other’s eyes.  And even more, we can look at the world all around us from a different regard.  With hearts of compassion and understanding, rather than judgement and suspicion.

St Mark, the Evangelist, tells us that Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables, but explained things to his disciples. I suspect that this would set the stage for the Apostles and Disciples to make plain the plan of God for all people. Exhibiting the same hearts of compassion and understanding. 

Every time we approach the people in our share of the world with our attitudes, actions and words cultivated by the Holy Spirit, we become living parables of God’s love.  It is my prayer that we nurture the seeds that the Holy Spirit sows in our spirits. 

In the parable described by Mark, we find  ” the kingdom of God” being described as a field scattered with seeds.  “ All by itself the soil produces grain… As soon as the grain is ripe, the sower puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”

But, in reality, ‘neither the sower or the earth  actually produce growth “by itself”. The plant owes its growth to the power of God, who both creates and sustains the natural order.’  In the same way, spiritual growth is similarly the result of God’s Word and Spirit, not the speaker or hearer. But we do need to pay attention to what seeds we sow.

(Engelbrecht, E. A. (2009). The Lutheran Study Bible (p. 1663). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

Some time ago “Reader’s Digest” shared the story about a company who mailed out some special advertising business post cards with a couple of mustard seeds glued to it.  A caption was printed on the card that went something like this: “If you have faith in our product as small as this mustard seed, you are guaranteed to get excellent results and be totally satisfied.” — Signed, The Management.

A few months later one recipient of this promotional piece wrote back to the company and said, “You will be very interested to know that I planted the mustard seeds you sent on your advertising card and they have grown into a very healthy vine producing wonderful tomatoes!”

(From a sermon by Terry Blankenship, Kingdom Building God’s Way, 5/16/2011)

Sometimes we grow things we didn’t expect, because we plant that wrong seeds.    We are being called to ‘Grow, and Go, and Administer’ for Christ Jesus, in the small things we do here in Port Macquarie.  I suggest we can be reminded to scatter seeds of compassion and care among our neighbours that will be cultivated and nourished by God’s Holy Spirit.  ‘Night and day, whether we sleep or get up, even when we cannot figure out how that happens.  We can trust God to bring the harvest.’

But we can also be intentional, praising God and offering the blessings of God to those we meet. As the Lord spoke through Ezekiel:  ‘“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it; I will break off a tender sprig from its topmost shoots and plant it.”’  Ezekiel shared that God was speaking words of comfort to Israel that a return from captivity was imminent.  But also a prophecy of the forthcoming incarnation of that tender shoot from the very top of the ceder that we recognize is Christ Jesus,  Even so, we can also recognize that it is no accident we are here in our place and time, planted by God our Father.   

As in the parable, God’s kingdom grows mysteriously of itself, at its own pace, in the power of the Holy Spirit, through Word and Sacrament.  We may become frustrated at times with the cycles and seasons we see around us. But, like the precious farmers that fill our tables with fine food, we can be patient, trusting God’s blessings.

God’s kingdom grows according to His plan and timetable. And it is a great blessing that things ultimately depend on Him and not us, for only God our Father, is able to bring home a great harvest for life eternal, through the sacrifice of his Son our Lord Jesus Christ and through the leading of the Holy Spirit.  So, let’s just praise the Lord, like Betty.

And let us pray: O God our Father, give us hearts that understand your love demonstrated  in Christ Jesus, your Son.  Hearts that accept your forgiveness, hearts that respond to your kindness and grace with fresh love for one another.  Hearts that are renewed by the Holy Spirit to show kindness toward others.  Life together filled with the joy of our salvation, through Christ our Lord. Amen. 

As we honour the wondrous creator of every heart, may the grace and peace of God keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, the Saviour of all.

Rev. David Thompson.

Second Sunday after Pentecost

The Text: Mark 3:20-35 

 

Let me introduce you to an American man named Bob Bassler. He is anchurch4 Evangelist.

He describes himself as a born-again Christian who fell into sin.

His story goes like this:

When he was 12 years old, Bob Bassler made a new friend and the two soon developed a strong bond. It would be a friendship that would have a huge impact on Bob’s life, for the father of Bob’s friend was a high ranking leader of the Detroit Mafia, and it wasn’t long before Bob was in the grip of their influence. He soon became fascinated with the Mafia underworld, which Satan used to keep Bob prisoner in the spiritual underworld. Bob became well known as a man of power in all the strip joints and on the streets. He formed a cocaine habit and soon began dealing to fund his habit, selling up to 100 ounces a week, at $2,000 an ounce. He was making a killing…literally—destroying the lives of those he dealt to as well as his own, having overdosed five times himself.

The police put a sting operation on Bob. One day he was pursued after leaving a restaurant. After he fled he was caught in a parking lot, just like on TV. Bob was charged over 7 different crimes and sentenced to a combined 150 years in prison. How Bob longed to be a 12 year old boy, and start all over again. When Bob was locked in his cell, freshly painted words on the wall grabbed his attention: “Jesus loves ya!” Bob knew that message was for him. He began to spend time in prayer and Scripture. He started a church in prison. Because of Bob’s exemplary conduct, he was given a letter of commendation from the State, honouring his character, and consequently he served only 2½ years of his original sentence before being released. Afterwards, Bob founded the ministry of New Life Deliverance Centre.

Can you imagine what life would be like if you were trapped like Bob was? Satan tried to devour Bob Bassler. Where would have Bob ended up, if Jesus had not rescued him? Bob said: “I had been empowered by the devil and was well known as a man of power in all the strip joints, on the streets, and in the underworld…The devil was holding me for ransom, but the Lord paid the price and redeemed me. Jesus rescued Bob from the kingdom of darkness, when Bob was helpless to help himself.

Jesus’ authority to deliver people from the grip of Satan is at the centre of the controversy in our text. It’s also at the heart of Mark’s presentation, from the outset, of who Jesus is: the long-promised Saviour who has come into the world. Mark recounts how Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time has come, and the kingdom of God is near” (that is to say, the reign of God has arrived and is present wherever Jesus is). Indeed the gospel is Christ, flesh and bones, standing among people with complete divine rescue and help. We see this in the earliest stages of Jesus’ ministry in Mark’s Gospel. Jesus and his disciples went to Capernaum and on the Sabbath Jesus enters the synagogue to teach, and calls an unclean spirit out of a man in their midst. They were all were all amazed and said: “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” That evening at sundown they brought to Jesus all who were sick or oppressed by demons. And the whole city was gathered together at the door. And he healed many who were sick with various diseases.

Jesus has been on a pretty successful preaching tour in which he’s not only proclaimed that the Kingdom of God is near but has also reigned over sickness and evil. His fame has spread throughout the region and he has caused such a sensation that crowds of people want to see him, jostling to catch a glimpse of who this Jesus is, so that when Jesus and his disciples enter a house they are not even able to eat. Some of those with Jesus start to think he has lost it and flipped out, as they said: “He is beside himself.”

Who is this Jesus? Is he out of his mind? The scribes coming down from Jerusalem make a far more sinister assertion: “He is possessed by Beelzebub. By the chief of demons He casts out the demons.” They recognise Jesus’ supernatural power but believe he is able to cast out demons because he is working for Satan and drawing power from him. They are in effect saying that Jesus is so far from being the Messiah that he is in league with Satan himself. They contend that Jesus is not the holy Son of God who bestows Divine saving help, rather they have rejected him as evil and impure. They have rejected the Holy Spirit’s guiding them into the truth about Christ, which is why Jesus says: Truly, I say to you that all the sins and blasphemies by the sons of men will be forgiven them, as much as they have blasphemed. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit does not have forgiveness but is guilty of an eternal sin” (verses 28-29).

Jesus explains it is not by Satan’s power that he does what he does. Why would the devil allow his power to be used against his own forces? An attack on any part of Satan’s domain is not a sign of collusion with him but a threat to his power. Jesus says: “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom is not able to stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. So how could he be working for Satan? How can Satan cast out Satan? “If Satan opposes himself and has been divided, he is not able to stand but his end has come. But no one is able to enter the house of the strong man and rob him of his possessions unless he first binds the strong man; then he will plunder his house.”

The exorcisms that Jesus performs shows that Satan’s kingdom is under attack, not internally, but from outside: the reign of God in Christ. Jesus’ power and authority over illness and frailty has shown that he is one with his Father as the author and sustainer of his created world, revealing his power and authority also over sickness and suffering’s end point—to even bring about a new creation by bringing life out of death. Now the exorcisms that Jesus performs shows that his power and authority extends over even the kingdom of darkness itself, to rescue sinners from Satan’s grip.

Perhaps in today’s day and age it might seem that Jesus is anything but in control. It seems that it is usually evil that rages out of control. We live in a society where crowds do not flock to Jesus, and do not want to come to him and hear him. It often seems like evil is the victor and perhaps even has the upper hand on the church, which is so fiercely persecuted in some places, or suppressed in others, or it’s buildings simply crumble and close. But it is Satan’s kingdom that is unable to stand. Not because of any internal unrest, but because Jesus has destroyed its power. Jesus’ exorcisms in Mark’s Gospel point ahead to the Kingdom of God reigning over Satan by Christ’s death on the Cross. That’s why the Apostle Paul says: “Having disarmed the powers and authorities, Jesus made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the Cross” (Colossians 2:15).

We were all trapped like Bob Bassler was. But Jesus plundered Satan’s house when he died on the Cross and redeemed the whole world by his holy and precious blood. Paul says in Colossians 1:13: “He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

Since that time, God brings the redemption he won for the world to people personally in baptism. That’s why in the rite of baptism we say: “until Christ claims us in baptism through his Holy Spirit, we are under the power of the devil. Therefore I say: Depart, you unclean spirit, and make way for the Holy Spirit.” It is Satan who is the strong man but Jesus, who is far stronger, entered Satan’s house, bound him, and rescued you, so that now you belong to God, joined to Jesus.

It was in our baptism that your heart was sprinkled and made new, regenerated by the Holy Spirit so that we are able to trust God’s word are therefore justified by faith, so that the benefits of Jesus’ saving work on the Cross and empty tomb become part of our life.

In this sense, every baptism is an exorcism. Every baptism is a rescue. The devil’s hold over us has been broken. But we are more than freed slaves. Jesus has given us a new identity. He has brought us into his Kingdom as his own siblings, and therefore, the Father’s own dear children, so that with Jesus, we can pray to his Father: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” As Luther explains, when we pray those words “We ask in this prayer that God would watch over us and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful self may not deceive us and draw us into false belief, despair, and other great and shameful sins. And we pray that even though we are so tempted we may still win the final victory and that our heavenly Father would save us from every evil to body and soul and at our last hour would mercifully take us from the troubles of this world to himself in heaven.”

The church is God’s. It is his and he builds it by calling people to Christ through the Gospel, and sending his Spirit to enlighten people in truth and create saving faith in their hearts, so that, like Luther, and Bob Bassler, we might make a difference as a child of God to those around us.

As the host of the Lord’s Supper, Jesus nourishes us by serving us his very own holy body and blood, to bring to all those who receive in faith that which they believe—the benefits of Jesus’ death and resurrection: forgiveness, life and salvation. In this foretaste of the victory feast to come, Jesus assures us that there is no person, circumstance, force of nature, or even the devil himself, which can ever separate us from God’s love in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Every time we eat and drink at the Lord’s Table we proclaim that his Kingdom cannot fail, and it will have no end—for we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Amen.

Twenty Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

The Text: Matthew 25: 31-34


31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 

32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.

Let us pray:

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Open our ears, O Lord,
to hear your word and know your voice.
Speak to our hearts and strengthen our wills,
that we may serve you today/now and always. Amen

The Sheep and the Goats.

What is the difference between a sheep and a goat? According to animal behavioural researchers about 50 IQ points – in favour of the sheep!

That is what is stated on a website called “Sheep 101” – with a name like that, one could guess the answer is biased towards the sheep!

It’s not hard for us to tell the difference between sheep and goats, but in Palestine it was not that easy to tell the difference between sheep and goats – only the shepherd would know.

Just in case you can’t, the website says:

Sheep have thick curly horns; goats have long narrow horns.

Sheep need to be shorn, goats don’t.

Some goats have beards.

Sheep’s tail’s hang down, but goats don’t.

Sheep tend to graze, goats browse.

Sheep hang around together more than goats.

Goats smell more and are more likely to have lice than sheep.

Sheep can be led once they know and trust their shepherd, but goats have to be driven.

Goats are very destructive, sheep aren’t.

So, separating sheep from goats is pretty simple really. Or is it….?

Today is the last Sunday of the church year on the church calendar and today is known as the Day of Fulfillment.

When we think of fulfillment we may think of completion, a promise that is made and kept, a job that was started that is now finished.

It always gives me great satisfaction to see a project completed – to see plans fulfilled and turned into reality.

When we think of God’s plan for mankinds salvation, we see that God has fulfilled his promise to the people of old by sending his Son Jesus to be the Saviour of all.

In the life death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus many Old Testament promises were fulfilled.  

For example, in the Old Testament book of Isaiah the Lord said through the Prophet that “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel—which means ‘God with us.’”

This prophecy was fulfilled when the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus.

God fulfills his promises. He has in the past and he will in the future.

There are so many promises that God makes in his word.

To those who put their faith in Jesus God promises an abundant life—life to the full.

He promises a heavenly home.

He promises eternal life.

He promises answers to prayer and deliverance.

He promises us the gifts of the Spirit: growth and fruitfulness.

He promises us his protecting care, guidance, hope, peace and joy.

He promises us an inheritance with all the saints.

He promises to strengthen us for His service and he also promises us rest.

The list of God’s promises goes on and on, and God will fulfill his promises to us.

In our creed we confess that Jesus will come again to Judge the living and the dead, we trust absolutely that God will fulfill this promise.

Verses 31-33 of our gospel says:“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory.

All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  

He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left this judgment will be the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises.

So how will God judge us?

The reality is that each of us faces judgment.

We shudder at the thought of God judging us because we know that we haven’t lived up to God’s standards.

We may want to do the right thing, but so often what we want to do and what we actually do are two different things.

That’s what makes the idea of a final judgment so scary.

We are afraid that on the basis of our record we won’t hear words of blessing and a welcome into heaven.

We are afraid that Jesus will say, “Away from me, you that are under God’s curse!

Away to the eternal fire which has been prepared for the Devil and his angels!”

If it were up to us to present a case in God’s courtroom why we deserve to be “called blessed and possess the kingdom which has been prepared for us since the creation of the world” we would fail miserably.

But there is good news!

Jesus is not only the king and judge, but he is our Saviour.

We believe and trust that he died on the cross to clear us from any accusation that will come up on the last day.

His death wiped away all guilt for the good we fail to do.

Remember, Jesus died to save us.

He has ensured us that those who trust in him will not die, but have eternal life.

If our eternal future depended on the good things we did in this life, then we would be doomed for sure.

Every good thing we do is covered with our own selfishness and pride.

Thank God that our eternal future rests solely on Jesus who saves us.

This parable gives us a good picture of what genuine faith looks like.

A genuine faith will show itself in acts of love towards others.

People who have faith in Jesus will see to it that those who are hungry, thirsty, a stranger, poor, sick, or in prison have their needs met.

They understand that to help such people is what their faith is all about.

Those without genuine faith say: “Yes I believe in Jesus” and then do nothing.

Showing love toward others and taking care of their needs is the way faith in Jesus is put into action.

Did you notice how surprised the faithful people were when told that they had been so caring toward others?

“When did we do that? When did we see you hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick or in prison?”  

Faith naturally demonstrates itself in acts of love meeting the needs of those in need.

It’s as natural as an apple tree producing apples or a tomato plant producing tomatoes.

Faith gives food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothing to the naked, welcome to the stranger, company to the sick and imprisoned, without being told, without thinking about it.

That’s how faith in Christ bears much fruit.

The parable leaves us asking.

Am I a sheep or a goat?

Am I on the right or the left?

The answer now is “yes”.

Our sin tells us we are undeniably goats by nature.

Our faith does not show itself the way God would like me to show it.

We have neglected the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned.

Our faith has not been demonstrated in our daily life.

On the other hand, we are sheep.

Our Baptism brings us into Shepherd’s flock.

We are loved dearly by Jesus who gave his life to rescue us.

We are his forgiven sheep to whom he says, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father! Come and possess the kingdom.”

Without Jesus we are condemned as goats, but with Jesus we are blessed. Today – ‘Fulfillment Sunday’ – we look forward to the day when God’s grace at work in our lives is fulfilled.

As we continue to wait for that day may we live by faith, continue to nurture faith through the God’s gift of his word and sacraments and may our faith in Christ show itself in the way we care for those in need.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Amen.

Twenty Third Sunday after Pentecost

The Text: Matthew 25:1-13

 

Anyone who goes shopping at this time of year will know that Christmas is allanbjust around the corner. Decorations are out, gifts are being bought and all those delicious Christmas treats are probably tempting us to start our Christmas celebrations already.

Christian churches which follow a liturgical calendar dedicate the four Sundays before Christmas to prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus in the season of Advent. The readings for the Sundays leading up to Advent have a focus on Jesus’ promise to come back at the end of time to complete his work of redeeming the world. When Jesus returns, evil will be overcome once and for all and creation will be restored to the way God intended it in the beginning.

Jesus’ teachings about his return from Matthew 25 is part of a longer section of Matthew’s gospel which began in chapter 24, when his disciples asked Jesus about the end of the world. Jesus concluded his teaching with three parables: the ten bridesmaids or virgins, the three servants, and the final judgment between the sheep and the goats. Today we will begin by looking at Jesus’ Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids in Matthew 25:1-13.

It’s possible to read this parable and think that Jesus must have made a mistake. As children, many of us might have been taught that it’s always good to share, so we can easily think that the bridesmaids who didn’t share their oil with those whose oil ran out must not have been good Christians.

This parable isn’t actually about sharing what we have with others. Instead, one way we can understand this parable is that it is about whether we think about our salvation in the short- or long-term.

The five ‘foolish’ bridesmaids who didn’t bring extra oil were thinking short-term. They had received and accepted the invitation to participate in the Kingdom of Heaven, which Jesus describes here as a wedding feast. However, these girls are like people going on a camping trip who don’t take spare batteries for their torches. You never know when your old batteries will run out, so it would make sense to take spares, just in case. These girls weren’t expecting to wait so long for the bridegroom, so they didn’t take spare batteries. When he eventually turned up to take them into the eternal wedding feast, they weren’t able to greet him because they are busy looking for more to keep their lights going. The result of their short-term thinking was that they were locked out of the party.

On the other hand, the five ‘wise’ girls who took extra oil with them were thinking longer-term. They were so joyful about being invited to the wedding feast that they wanted to be prepared. They wanted to make sure they got in. They took extra oil with them just in case the bridegroom was late, so they wouldn’t miss out on the party. Because these girls wanted to be ready for his arrival, they thought about the future, prepared for what might happen, took extra supplies and were ready when the bridegroom arrived.

One message that comes through in all three parables in this chapter is that not everyone makes it into the celebration. A lot of people can think that a loving and forgiving God would never exclude anyone from an eternity with him. The good news of Jesus tells us that everyone is welcome to be part of God’s Kingdom.

However, these parables, as well as other teachings of Jesus, tell us that not everyone makes it. Remember, all ten of these girls were invited to the wedding reception. The five who eventually made it into the feast were those who were prepared and ready when the bridegroom arrived. Those who weren’t ready for him missed out. That wasn’t the bridegroom’s fault. He had done everything he could so they would be able to come. They didn’t make it in because they weren’t prepared. The message Jesus is giving us is that everyone’s welcome, but if we’re not ready for him when he returns, then we are the ones who are responsible.

So how do we prepare for Jesus’ return? We start just by thinking beyond the here-and-now and getting ready for Jesus’ return. It is easy for us to get caught up in everyday concerns, pressures and problems. However, in this parable we can hear Jesus telling us to lift our attention beyond the here-and-now and keep in mind that he will return one day.

In one way, that means working out our salvation now. We can get so focussed on the here-and-now that our spiritual lives can slip. The busyness, pressures and demands of life can mean that we don’t prioritize spiritual disciplines like worshipping with our Christian family, listening to God in his word and talking with him in prayer. One way we prepare for the coming of Jesus is to remain constant in worship, in reading our Bibles, in prayer, and in meeting with other Christians. When we practice these disciplines, the Holy Spirit keeps our spiritual tanks full so our lights can burn brightly in faith and in love.

Another way we can prepare for the return of Jesus is to view our lives now through the lens of what is to come. Life as we know it now will not last forever, even thought it might seem like there is no way through the struggles, pains or difficulties that we experience in this world. In this parable Jesus is reminding us that we have something far, far better to look forward to: an eternal wedding reception with ‘the best of meats and the finest of wines’ that Isaiah 25:6 describes in perfect fellowship with God and his people. We prepare for Jesus’ return by living in the faith that this is our future, our eternal destiny. We will still have struggles, difficulties and suffering in this life, but when we see them from an eternal perspective, we can also find the hope and joy we need to get us through.

Are we living as wise or foolish people? Are we so concerned about the here-and-now that we forget about Jesus’ return and the joy he will bring? Or are we looking ahead to when Jesus will come back and welcome us into the eternal wedding reception he promises? As we hear and reflect on these parables from Matthew 25, God wants to prepare us for what is to come, because when Jesus returns, he wants us to join in the celebration he will bring with him—a celebration that will have no end!

And the peace of God which passes all understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Twenty Second Sunday after Pentecost. All Saints Day

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

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David:0414521661


  The Apostle John received a vision of the saints who gathered at the throne of God our Father, ‘
one of the twenty-four elders asked me, “Who are these who are clothed in white? Where do they come from?”  And I said to him, “Sir, you are the one who knows.” Then he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white. That is why they are standing in front of the throne of God, serving him day and night in his Temple.

Let’s join in a word of prayer: Loving Father, as we worship you, our thoughts are drawn today to the saints in our lives, and the saints in the world who are being persecuted for their faith in your Son our Lord Jesus Christ.  Help us understand your plan for our lives, and rejoice over the presence of your Holy Spirit who makes real the faith you put into our hearts. Gracious heavenly Father, hear our prayer for the sake of our risen Lord,  Amen.

We are blessed to be living in Australia.     A nation that treasures freedom.  A nation that honours diversity.  A nation that supports the downtrodden.  A nation that welcomes the refugee.  If is my fervent prayer that Australia will always be this way.  But we know the world changes over time.  It isn’t the same today as it was in the days of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, or Christ Jesus. 

In the days of Adam, trust in God was broken when Adam and Eve determine to become like God.  Yet God cared for them and clothed them.

In the days of Noah, the world was filled with violence, evil, and unfaith, when God saved Noah and his family from annihilation. 

In the days of Abraham, the world was filled with idolatry, when God saw the trust of Abraham and counted it as righteousness to him.

In the days of Moses, the Israelites were held in slavery and persecution, when God heard their cries and sent Moses to free them from Egypt.

In the days of Christ Jesus, the world was held captive to tyrants like that of the Caesars.  It was the right time and the right place for God to intervene once and for all for the salvation of all who would believe in the one whom God sent.  Christ Jesus our Lord and Saviour. 

In his great Sermon on the Mount, our precious Saviour began with words of encouragement and warning.  He spoke of a world that was so different from the one in which he sat and preached.  A world of blessings.  A world where those held captive are given citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Where those who mourn are comforted.  Where those who express humility before God are given courage before the world.  Where those who yearn for justice and mercy are satisfied.   Where those who seek a right relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ will see God.  And those who live in peace even in the face of persecution are called the children of God, and will share in the Kingdom of Heaven.

What a gift it must have been for those who heard Jesus speak such wonderful words.  Especially as they lived under the domination of Rome.   

But what of today.  When we live under the domination of fear mongers who threaten the world with destruction.  When we live under the threat of world pandemic of Ebola and CoronaVirus.  When we live on the thin edge of world economy that seems to be heading for a meltdown.   What do the beatitudes mean to us today.  Are they just precious words that give us encouragement, or do we receive these words of Jesus Christ as something more.  Perhaps as attitudes that could identify us as Christians and bring us into solidarity with every Christian throughout the world.

But if the be-attitudes show the world who we are, what would the world filled with unbelievers really describe about us?

“Blessed are the meek”, says Jesus, but in our world the meek seem to get left behind in the drive to subdue and inherit the world.

“Blessed are the merciful”, says Jesus, but in our world mercy is seen as weakness by those who strive to achieve by injustice.

 “Blessed are the pure in heart”, says Jesus, but in our world such people are dismissed as hopelessly naïve.

“Blessed are the peacemakers” says Jesus, but in our world those who pursue peace risk having their patriotism called into question.

It seems that most in our beloved Australia live by another set of be-attitudes.  Blessed are the well-educated, for they will get the good jobs.   Blessed are the well-connected, for their aspirations will be noticed.  Blessed are you when you know what you want, and go after it with everything you’ve got, for the rule of this world is for people to help themselves. 

The Beatitudes stand as a daring act of protest against the current order.  If we are honest, we must admit that the world Jesus speaks about is counter-cultural.  But it is a world that God truly blesses.  It is the world of our Spirit.  Where the Holy Spirit turns the world’s be-attitudes to God’s be-attitudes.  Where the Holy Spirit nurtures his fruit of ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.’ (Ga 5:22–23) 

On All Saints Day, the beatitudes testify that it matters deeply whom we call “saint.”  We cannot expect the world to understand or to accept us.  But we keep our attention on our Lord Jesus Christ.   Because Jesus fulfilled every be-attitude he described in Matthew.   And we can hold onto his words to us, “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers.  Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven.” 

Today, we remember the saints in our lives who have already received their great reward at the foot of the throne, awaiting the final resurrection.  And we stand in solidarity with all the saints living under the persecution that Jesus describes at the end of the reading from Matthew today.  Especially the Christians in Africa, Syria, Sudan and Iraq. 

Even as we remember and celebrate all the saints today, we also accept the witness to us that we are saints as well as sinners in the world today.  The Gospel and Sacraments in which Christ comes to us speak plainly to us that we are loved, and we are accepted and received by our God in trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  All this by faith in our Saviour, Jesus Christ.  Trust that God lives in each of us. 

And we remember the words of Paul to the Church at Corinth, and to us:

16  Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are‍‍ being renewed every day. 17 For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

And we cherish the words of John’s first letter, How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3 Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.

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

Rev. David Thompson

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Matthew 22:19-21
Jesus said, “Show me the coin for paying the tax!”  They brought him the coin, and he asked them, “Whose face and name are these?”  “The Emperor’s”, they answered.  So Jesus said to them, “Well, then, pay to the Emperor what belongs to the Emperor, and pay to God what belongs to God.” 

What shall I do?

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A nine year old girl returned from Sunday School and as her father was sitting down with the Sunday Mail after lunch, she asked,
“Daddy, why did God make all the leaves green?”  He thought a moment and replied, “I don’t know.” 
Then she asked, “Daddy, if God made the world and everything else who made God?”  Again he said, “I don’t know.” 
Again she asked, “Daddy, how did Noah catch the two snakes and put them in the ark?”  He put down the newspaper and said with a smile, “Honey, I don’t know.” 

Like many children, this little girl was asking her dad some very important questions.  Dad was right in answering, “I don’t know” because there are certain questions for which we have no answers, at least until that day when we can ask God face to face (and most likely they won’t be important to us any more).

The Pharisees had a question for Jesus.  It’s one about religion and politics.  They asked, “Is it right, according to God’s will, to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”  This was no minor matter.  The Jews were taxed heavily by the Romans – not only were grain, oil and wine taxed but every male from age of fourteen and every female from the age of twelve had to pay a tax for just being alive.  This was a trick question.  Whichever way Jesus answered he would get into trouble. 

If he said, “Yes, it is lawful to pay taxes to the Roman emperor,” he would be in trouble with his own Jewish countrymen who deeply resented the oppression Rome had imposed on their nation.  Paying taxes to the Emperor was tantamount to kneeling at his feet – a posture reserved only for the worship of God.  Clearly, Jesus would be a traitor to his own people and to God, if he answered yes.

On the other hand, if he said, “No, it is not lawful to pay taxes to the Roman emperor,” he would be a traitor to Rome.  Whether they liked it or not, the Roman Empire had now taken control of Palestine. If Jesus spoke against paying taxes, he would be arrested and imprisoned.  Make no mistake about it; the Pharisees were out to get Jesus.

And how does Jesus answer?  He asks for a coin.  “Whose picture is stamped on the coin?  The emperor’s!  Well then it’s simple.  He must own it if he’s got his picture stamped on it.  You give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.  But be careful!  Don’t give to Caesar what belongs to God”.  End of discussion. 

Jesus cleverly states there are those things that belong to the state and those that belong to God. 
Someone summarised Jesus’ words saying, “The coin bears Caesar’s image; man bears God’s image, so give the coin to Caesar” – meaning pay tax – “but give yourself wholly to God.”  Serving God covers all of life.  It also includes serving Caesar in a way that brings honour to God.

In his answer Jesus is giving some broad principles but notice he doesn’t give any slick answers about how we are to carry out this responsibility.  Jesus leaves the details wide open.  He refuses to give two neatly divided lists of duties relating to God and those relating to Caesar that leave no doubt about what we are to do.    (Something that the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law would have liked – they liked rules that were black and white).

However in Jesus’ answer, the question about what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God remains open.  You and I must decide that for ourselves – struggle with and assess each new situation. 

Making a choice between two options that are appealing, logical and where there are arguments both for and against is not an easy task.  We might wish that there were some black and white guidelines that would make the decision for us.  It is true there may be some general rules, or principles, like the Ten Commandments, or the Sermon on the Mount, that make matters look simple and clear, but when it comes to applying these to the individual circumstance that we are faced with in our lives making a decision isn’t all that clear. 

Why doesn’t Jesus make things so much easier for us?  Why doesn’t he make a decision once and for all in this whole matter of paying taxes and giving to God, and with authority set up percentages and limits, say something about tithing, talk about our responsibility to God, and our responsibility to the government and so on?  We long for a clear ruling, one that is binding, one that will relieve us all the headache of making a decision.  But Jesus doesn’t make the decision for us.  He doesn’t want us to blindly follow a set of rules. 

He challenges us to find out again in each new situation what action we ought to take.
Situations like
whether to reveal to a very sick friend that he/she will soon die or to say nothing;
whether to turn off a life support system or hope for a miracle;
whether to join an IVF program or remain childless;
whether to protest about a government policy or to remain silent;
whether to stay in an unhappy marriage and hope for a change or to get out,
whether to accept this new job or not because of the impact it will have on family life,

whether to be tough on a drug-addicted child or show tenderness, love and support to bring him to his senses. 
Everywhere in life – in our marriage, in visiting the sick, as a teacher in a school, as an executive doing his tax return, as a mother or father – we have to discover what is the will of God for us at this time and in this place and in this set of circumstances.

Often we can’t answer the questions that confront us, by thumbing through the Bible to find crisp, clear answers.  Or referring to an answer found on Schedule C. There is no dictionary we can look up what we have to do here and now to be in tune with the will of God.  Again, the burden of making responsible decisions falls on us. We know how difficult that can be because we are sinners.  We are biased and critical; we prefer to take the easier path; we avoid going against the crowd and simply sidestep making hard choices. 

As Christians we are joined with Jesus and we share in his love and take on his way of looking at the moral dilemmas that challenge us and so for us the issue always is, “What would Jesus do if he were in my situation?”  And sometimes we might not like the answer that we get back. 

You see, Jesus was always shocking people in the choices he made as he reflected the will of his Father. 
When he came across a prostitute, instead of quoting the Ten Commandments to her, he befriended her and said, “Your sins are forgiven”. 
When he met the white-collar cheat Zacchaeus, he loved him and went to dinner with him. 
To those who were exiled from their community because of a dreadful disease, he showed compassion and gave them healing.  The word that summarises Jesus ministry is “love”.

You see God doesn’t give us a list of laws and detailed instructions for carrying them out.  He doesn’t lead us around by the nose in every detail of our lives.  Rather he desires to make us mature sons and daughters, confident of his love, confident of our relationship with Jesus our Saviour and in his love we discover what is the right thing to do that reflects the love of Jesus that is in us.

We need to be diligent in coming to know God’s mind ever better through studying the Scriptures. 
We need to be unceasing in our prayers asking for the Spirit’s guidance.
We need to listen to the prompting of the Spirit as he shows us the way of love in the choices we make.

Some years ago a man talked about the tough decision he and his wife had made when they decided to terminate a pregnancy.  They had three daughters and their unborn child was the son they had wanted so much, however, doctors told them that something was terribly wrong and that if the pregnancy continued the mother’s life was in danger and if the baby survived he would most likely be severely brain damaged. 

The father said something like this, “I had such strong opinions about abortion –   no unborn life should be terminated.  I firmly believed God would always take charge and if the baby was born as a result of rape or was disabled that God would provide a way. 

But now what was God thinking?  This wasn’t fair.  This didn’t fit into any of my ideas.  To think of terminating the life of our son was unbearable.  And the possible death of my wife, June, was just as unbearable.  Our girls needed their mother.  June and I prayed.  We wrestled with the decision.  The doctor, a member of our church, prayed with us.  We decided.  And I don’t know if what we decided was the right thing but our pastor assured us that God knows what was in our hearts and how we wrestled with this situation and if we chose wrongly, his love burns even stronger for us.  It is precisely for the wrong choices we make that Jesus died on the cross.  At the funeral he admitted he didn’t understand God’s ways but he did say that Jesus loved our son as much as we did”.

I’m sure that many of us have made and will make many mistakes as we search for the right answers to many of life’s perplexing problems.  It’s ever so hard at times to know what God wants and to make a decision confidently knowing we have done the right thing. 

We make decisions about some of those tough questions in life in the knowledge that he forgives us when we do blunder and bungle.  It is a comfort to know of the forgiving love of God, otherwise we would be frightened to make any decisions at all.  Let’s remember that God can still bless us through those decisions that are poorly made.

In today’s gospel Jesus doesn’t give us rules but the permission to struggle with the question of what is appropriate for us to do in the world that God created.  Jesus gives us an assignment to seek out the will of God as best we can and go forward entrusting the choices we make into the hands of our loving and forgiving God.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy