If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.

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

Let’s join in a word of prayer:

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O God our Loving Father, we live in your presence, we share in our fellowship, and we look to your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ to discover wisdom.    By your Holy Spirit, guide our time together that we may engage with your message for us, and discover some small measure of your plan for our lives, and our worshipping community.  Gracious heavenly Father, hear our prayer for the sake of our risen Lord, Christ Jesus, Amen.

Jesus speaks to us with words that appear to the world around us as a contradiction.   “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”   But, as people of faith, we recognize this as the work of the Holy Spirit in us to care for one another with humility toward God and each other.

Some years ago St. Paul School of Theology in the United States was seeking a new president. Over one hundred candidates applied for the position. The search committee narrowed the list to five eminently qualified persons. Then somebody came up with a brilliant idea: “let’s send a person to the institutions where each of the five finalists is currently employed, and let’s interview the janitor at each place, asking him what he thinks of the man seeking to be our president.”

This was done and a janitor gave such a glowing appraisal of one of the candidates that he was selected President of St. Paul’s School of Theology.

Somebody on that search committee understood that those who live close to Christ become so secure in his love that they no longer relate to other people according to rank or power or money or prestige. They treat janitors and governors with equal dignity. They regard everyone as a VIP.

Children seem to do this intuitively; as adult Christians, we need to re-learn it,  most often over and over again.

And Paul prays for us today in the reading, ‘I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.’ 

Paul reminds us in Galatians that we can be  wise and humble by letting God’s Holy Spirit cultivate his fruit in us.   Paul writes, ‘the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. … Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.’ 

At one point, Jesus even confronted the conceit, and jealousy simmering among the apostles.  After they settled in Capernaum for a time, Jesus ‘asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?”  But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.’  It is clear that the apostles are ashamed of their discussion.

Now, before we think poorly of the disciples for their banter, we need to expand our view of chapter 9 of Mark.  Jesus went up to the mount of transfiguration with Peter, James and John.  Why Jesus chose these three to reveal his greatness in that special way, we are not told.  It  could have been that they were ready to receive that kind of revelation, or it could have been that they needed to receive it.  In any case, it appears that this set these three apart from the other apostles.

And while they were up on the mountain, the other apostles and disciples are in the valley trying to drive out a violent evil spirit driving a young man  into convulsions.  But the disciples could not help the young man.   So, we see an atmosphere of competition and insecurity among the disciples.

And so, Jesus spoke gently to the Twelve that “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and be the servant of all.” 

I smile when I read what Jesus did to demonstrate his message for the Apostles and to us.  ‘He took a little child and had him stand among them. ‘Taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”’

Coming out of isolation, we still can’t even shake hands.  It is OK to want contact with other people.  To shake hands, feel an arm around our shoulder,  and even receive a gentle hug.  Jesus took a small child in his arms.  I must admit that a strong memory rose up for me when I read this passage over the past week.  One that hadn’t even entered my mind for such a long time, and I have never shared. 

I can remember that after I first heard this passage as a child in Sunday School, I would sometimes cuddle in my blanket at night and fall asleep thinking about being held in the arms of Jesus.  That was such a comfort on a cold night. I didn’t even think about what was going on with the apostles.

Even during the recent isolation to combat the pandemic, I have been privileged to witness all the comforting attitudes and actions that display God’s presence in our lives. United by our faith in our Lord Jesus Christ who makes life, and fellowship, and family possible.  Displays of comfort during difficult times that make us feel as secure as that child being held in the arms of Jesus.

It’s kind of like the story of a tribe of aborigines who were living next to a very swift and dangerous river. The current was so strong that if somebody happened to fall in or stumbled into it, they could be swept away downstream. 

One day the tribe was attacked by a hostile group of settlers. They found themselves with their backs against the river. They were outnumbered and their only chance for escape was to cross the rushing river.

They huddled together and those who were strong picked up the weak and put them on their shoulders. With the weak on their backs, those who were strong waded out into the river.  To their surprise they discovered that the weight on their shoulders from carrying the least of their brothers and sisters, helped them to keep their footing and to make it safely across the river.

Paul shares with us, that ‘Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.’  Whether we are dancing together in the good times or carrying each other through the hard times.

One thing that comes out clearly during this difficult time, is that even in all our faults and frailties, we are still united in the love of Jesus.  And Jesus never abandons us, even when we feel all alone in our homes. Or that we are coming up short in our care for one another.

May the grace and peace of our Triune God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.   AMEN.

Rev. David Thompson.

Words are all I have To take your heart away.

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

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Let’s  join in a word of  prayer:  God our Loving Father, we are so blessed to fellowship 
together again, and celebrate our Saviour, Jesus Christ.  We honour You, our creator and redeemer.  We rely upon your Holy Spirit to help us know how to live your way, and encourage us in all the times of our lives.  Break down all the barriers we experience so strongly in our isolation, and meet us with the power of Your precious Word.   God our Father, hear our prayer for the sake of our risen Saviour, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

As I was thinking about the sermon for today, I kept thinking of the words to a song from the BeeGees:    

‘It’s only words, and words are all I have To take your heart away.

You think that I don’t even mean a single word I say –  but words are all I have to take your heart away’.

Some of the things I most missed during our isolation, were the words of songs remembered during worship, words of Scripture heard during worship, words of prayers shared during worship, and the kind words and smiles we shared in our fellowship during worship.  We are so blessed to be together again. 

Today, we have words to bind our hearts and minds to our Lord Jesus Christ.  As Paul once wrote in Romans, ‘faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.’

But, during the lockdown, we also heard a lot of words, and we held out for our 11am ‘days of our lives’ briefing.  Most of those words were not words we wanted to hear.  Words that couldn’t encourage our faith like the message of Christ Jesus.

Words can be both good and bad to hear and to share.

There’s an old story that the Jewish rabbis tell. As the story goes, one day a rabbi asked his cook to go and buy some good food for him in the market. When the cook returned home, he presented the rabbi with beef tongue. The next day, the rabbi tried it a different way, and told the cook to go the market and buy some bad food. Again, the cook returned with beef tongue.

The rabbi then asked the cook why he returned with beef tongue on both occasions. The cook answered and said, “Good comes from it and bad comes from it. When the tongue is good there is nothing better, and when it is bad there is nothing worse.” 

(From a sermon by T. Scott Womble, Careless Speech Sins, 7/27/2010)

If we were to ask each other, I am sure that we would agree wholehearted with the Rabbi’s Cook.  In any Congregation that has been around as long as St Peter’s, there are always times when heated words bring hurts, and soothing words bring comfort.  Coming out of isolation, we look forward to the soothing words that will overcome the stress and anxiety of our lockdown.

James speaks about controlling our words, ‘People can tame all kinds of animals and birds and reptiles and fish, but no one can tame the tongue. Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it breaks out into curses against those who have been made in the image of God.’  

The best example I could come up with of this is the Gospel for this morning.  Peter demonstrates the words of James perfectly.  When asked by Jesus, “Who do you say I am?” It was Peter who spoke up, “You are the Messiah.”  Jesus commended Peter for his words and said he was blessed by them.

Then, when Jesus explained what it meant to be the Messiah, once again it was Peter who spoke up, taking Jesus aside and telling him he shouldn’t say things like that.

I have been blessed to listen to the words of Christ Jesus in response to Peter as I received an intuition of the Gospel in those words.  In the New Revised Standard Version, it reads:  “Get behind me, Satan!   For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”  The intuition that I received was that Jesus was truly speaking to the devil when he said “Get behind me, Satan!”  Jesus was placing himself between Peter who was being tempted, and Satan who was trying to divert Christ Jesus from his journey to the cross. 

Then Jesus turned to Peter and called him to task for holding onto a human definition of the death on a cross, rather than the divine plan of God to bring salvation by this gruesome task.

But Jesus wasn’t finished.  Jesus spoke to all of his disciples and followers, and to us, passing on words saying that “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross, and follow me.”  Within the context of minding our words,  I would say that taking up our crosses means that we should hold back from every angry word that would feel so good.  And withstanding the mixed messages of others without malice.   

John Crawford once wrote, ‘Decisions are public displays of our character’.  

Isaiah wrote for today, ‘The Sovereign Lord has given me his words of wisdom, so that I know what to say to all these weary ones.  Morning by morning he wakens me and opens my understanding to his will.  The Sovereign Lord has spoken to me, and I have listened. I do not rebel or turn away.’

God has given to each of us his Holy Spirit, to guide our words and display his fruit in our actions and attitudes.  We are without excuse when we decide to speak words of cursing, of gossip, of lies, and of anger. 

Matthew records Jesus saying: “whatever is in your heart determines what you say. I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak.”  (Matt 12:36)

Billions of words will be accounted for.  And we accumulate this massive total without really thinking about it. It’s been said, humorously, that it takes about two years for a baby to learn to talk, but it takes fifty years for a person to learn when to keep silent.  Thank God, we’re constantly talking; constantly communicating. So it is no wonder that Scripture pays close attention to this topic.  Our passage today is one of the classic texts that address this.  

It’s pretty clear that James takes a serious view of the words we use. His view comes from the particular way in which he describes how God gives us salvation.  Earlier in his letter, James spoke out that ‘Our heavenly Father made us his children by the powerful word he addressed to us, ‘the word of truth’ (1:18).  ‘As his children, we should be marked out by carefully controlled speech’ (1:26). What James says in his letter, the rest of the Bible also says in so many other ways, that there is hardly a greater temptation than that of idle speech.

Words can be used to promote the Gospel or they can be used to condemn the Gospel message.  We use God’s words combined with water to bring God’s gift of salvation and life eternal in the baptism of our precious children.  We use God’s words, combined with the elements of Holy Communion as they become for us the body and blood of our Saviour. 

We can be reminded that Jesus sits at the centre of the Kingdom of God, as the light of all life.  His words sustain us in this life, when we hear him saying, “God so loved the world that He gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him shall be saved.” And we look forward to those special words from him, we will hear from him in eternity,  “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

As we come out of isolation, we hold onto the reality that, the words we use are so much more than what we actually say out loud.  We cannot speak without formulating thoughts into words; we cannot plan without describing to ourselves step by step what we intend to do; we cannot imagine without painting word-pictures before our inward eyes; we cannot write a letter or a book without ‘talking it through’ in our minds before committing it to paper. 

But if our words are so well under control that we refuse to formulate the sense of self-pity, the images of lustfulness, the thoughts of anger and resentment, then these temptations are disarmed before they have a chance to live: discipline has deprived these words of any power to control our lives, and our attitudes.

So, I thank God that we can rely upon the Holy Spirit to train our hearts and our words, as we cling to our gift of faith, even in those times when we slip and fail to control our words. 

Because we have a God who provides us with wonderful words of absolution, of forgiveness, of compassion and of love from his nature and his heart of love for us.      

As we take up our crosses and follow our Saviour, may we honour our Lord Jesus Christ with the words that He puts in our hearts.    And may the grace and peace of our Triune God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in our Great High Priest.   AMEN. 

Rev David Thompson.

15th Sunday after Pentecost

Mark 7:24-378f5d0040f261ddb1b3f281e00e1385f0

 Are there times you have prayed to God, and you end up confused and even wonder if God has even heard your desperate prayers. Have you ever wondered why God has allowed to happen the very thing you prayed to God not to happen?

Like the woman whose daughter was possessed by a demon, our most anxious prayers to God are for the sake of a loved one. For them to be relieved of the suffering that we see them go through. For them to be healed so they can be free of the sickness, the pain, the suffering, the oppression that has overcome them.

Have you prayed over a friend and couldn’t understand why it feels as though you weren’t heard?  Have you prayed for healing, but it appeared God was not listening, not to the way we wanted them healed anyway? You persisted in prayer for even a crumb. But they became worse a lot quicker than predicted.

So, why do we pray? It’s because like the Syrophoenician woman we pray to Jesus because we know he alone can heal. We read the acts of healing Jesus performed in the bible, we hear how people are healed in Jesus’ name, so why not heal our friend. Why then are loved ones not healed or still gripped by depression and anxiety?

Many say: “I can’t believe in a God who allows bad things to happen to innocent children.” Perhaps these people have prayed to God for their child and felt as if their request fell on silent ears. Have you ever felt like the Psalm writer in Psalm 22? My God, … why are you so far away? Won’t you listen to my groans and come to my rescue? I cry out day and night, but you don’t answer, and I can never rest (Psalm 22:1-2).

Then there are the times we can see how God has responded. We can all probably think of times where we have seen God answer our prayers in amazing ways. Some people would realise an amazing coincidence how things worked out. There are no co-incidences. They are all God-incidents. Even if they don’t turn out how we expect they are all God-incidents as God has said he works for the good of all those who love him.

It’s easy to ride on the highs of our Christian experience and be elated over the way we have seen God work in our lives. There was once a news item where a man walked away from what looked like a mangled car resting against a tree. Posts on social media were saying he should buy a lottery ticket, others said it wasn’t his time, and yet another, somebody was watching over him.

Our experiences of prayer and answer to prayer can seem like a roller coast experience. It can be smooth and calm where things are going well in our lives and we give thanks to God for his goodness. Then all of a sudden there are twists and turns in our life that cause us to be anxious and plead for Jesus to help us get through these twists and turns.

Today we hear where Jesus was in Gentile territory and had gone into a house for a rest and to get away from the crowds. But as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet.

While we cannot know exactly what Jesus was thinking, as this Syrophoenician woman came to him, Jesus’ immediate response is to appeal to the limits of his mission, his call to serve his own people. In Matthew’s version of this story, Jesus begins by saying, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). In Mark 7 Jesus says, “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

That’s sounds a bit nasty of Jesus.

But this desperate mother comes back at him with a clever response, “Sir, even the little dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs” (Mark 7:28), Jesus can only agree. “For saying that, you may go”, Jesus says. The demon has left your daughter” (Mark 7:29). Jesus shows that God’s love and healing power know no ethnic, political, or social boundaries. Jesus praises the woman’s faith, and tells her, her daughter is healed. She receives the gift of salvation.

Like the Syrophoenician woman we come to Jesus assured of the promise to ask and you shall receive, and whatever you ask for in my name it will be given. Even though we are not even worthy to come into Jesus’ presence because of the sin in our lives, it because we have heard about Jesus, we come to him with our prayers.

In boldness we ask for even a crumb of mercy. As Martin Luther approached his death, he spoke these words. ‘We are beggars this is true’. As beggars we open ourselves to Jesus’ mercy.

Just as the Syrophoenician women received far more than just a crumb, we have confidence Jesus will answer our prayers according to his goodness and mercy. So, what is it that gives us the confidence to persist in prayer even though sometimes it appears Jesus is not interested in helping?

Let’s look at this way. If you need help with something, whether it’s at work, or home, or you’re in the middle of doing something and you need help, who do you call upon? Why do you ask that person and not some else? Is it because you know they are trustworthy and you can confidently call upon in a time of need?

That’s the reason we continue to pray to Jesus. We believe he hears our prayers, and gives us much, much more than crumbs. Even though we all come as beggars to the table, it is solely by God’s grace that we receive healing and salvation. Even though as beggars we could only ask for crumbs, Jesus has given more than enough. He gives to us abundant life.

Jesus does not leave any of us in a state of beggarliness. He seats us at the table and claims us as God’s beloved children — children from every tribe and language and nation. God’s table is immeasurably larger than we can imagine.

Because we know God’s heart and his character of love and mercy, we have confidence to come to God through Jesus in prayer. Even though there are times when God may appear silent, or perhaps even appear cruel, it is then when we cling to what Jesus words of promise, ‘Behold I am with you always’.

It’s what gives us the confidence to know that even though our loved ones didn’t receive temporary healing in response to our prayers, they did receive complete healing, of no more pain, no more suffering, no more death, and are living in God’s eternal presence free from any evil spirit.

In faith and confidence, in our weakness, we can continue to bring our requests to God through Jesus, because we know we will receive far more than crumbs.

Amen.

What makes people unclean.

The Text: Mark 7:1-23church4

 

When we read this Gospel, we get the impression that the Pharisees were talking about hands, but Jesus talks about hearts.

Hands and hearts seem to have totally different functions, so why does Jesus do this? Why does he talk about the cleansing of hearts when the Pharisees want to talk about the washing of hands?

Well, firstly let’s consider the accusation of the Pharisees.

We often picture the Pharisees as bad people. They’re always hanging around in the background of Jesus’ work, criticising him, questioning him, and accusing him and his disciples. But the Pharisees are like you and me. They’re faithful people of God trying to do the right thing. They’re trying to be faithful to God’s teachings.

So, when they see someone doing something incorrectly, such as not performing the ritual of washing their hands in the right way, or not sitting still during the sermon, or not singing theologically correct songs, or not wearing appropriate clothes for worship, or anything else that wasn’t faithfully true to their religion, they were going to say something about it!

They’re deeply concerned about doing the right thing in accordance with their understanding of what God says in his Word. But this meant the Pharisees can seem like theological police who took it upon themselves to make sure everyone behaved the correct way.

We still do this today, both in our own church context, but also in public life. We communicate religious or cultural expectations on each other thinking that, if only everyone did the right thing, no one would get hurt.

For example, the wider church has been appropriately criticized for their inaction (or bad reactions) to reported abuse. A common reaction is to communicate clear expectations of how everyone should behave through sermons or newsletters or magazines or professional standards. If only we all behaved properly, then nothing will go wrong.

Now, this isn’t necessarily wrong, because we should seek to treat each other with love and concern and respect and compassion, but it doesn’t get to the heart of the issue. It’s just making sure we know how to perform the right actions with our hands – at least when anyone is looking.

Similarly, the secular world is doing similar things. There are secular Pharisees trying to restrict or control or guide what we do or not do, or what we say or not say. Many would call this ‘political correctness’, but it’s still another way we communicate clear expectations of each other so everyone will do the right thing, that no one gets hurt, and we’ll finally live in a perfect world!

Again, it doesn’t get to the heart of the issue. It either makes more Pharisees who are concerned with doing the right thing when anyone is watching, or it encourages people to hide or justify their sin of rebellion as they disobey these expectations and laws and guidelines.

But more importantly, it denies a basic truth we’re told in Scripture.

It denies the biblical teaching on original sin which can’t be controlled by laws or rules or commandments or directives or rituals or guidelines or political correctness.

You see, we’re not sinners just because we fail to control our feet or lips or eyes or hands from doing the wrong thing, but we’re sinners because of what’s going on in our hearts. We’re all born with the sickness of sin which was inherited from our original ancestors. Our outward actions are only the symptoms of a deeper disease which affects the very centre of our being – our hearts!

Now, when Jesus speaks about our hearts, he isn’t so much talking about that fleshy muscle which repeatedly pumps blood through our veins, but he’s referring to the place where our will or motivation or self-determination resides which will affect what we do.

For example, if our heart is set on having one more piece of cake, our hands and mouth will often follow suit. If our heart is afraid of something or someone, our body will seek to avoid that situation or that person. If our heart trusts the only way to get what we want is by throwing a tantrum, then our lips and hands and other parts of our body will follow suit. If our heart is set on thinking we’re right and everyone else is wrong, that judgment will sooner or later leak out our rolling eyes, our arrogant lips, and our offended body actions.

You could say, the sin which we do with our hands or lips or any other part if our bodies is the ‘what’, but the sin behind the sin is the ‘why’ which lies within our hearts.

For instance, if we were to apply Luther’s explanation of the first commandment to any sin we do, which is: ‘we should fear, love and trust God above all things’, this means we will sin with our body whenever our heart fears, loves or trusts anything else apart from God, even for a moment.

So, let’s say you didn’t like it when your father grounded you for doing something wrong. In response you openly criticised him behind his back, trying to make others think badly of him. In that case you broke the fourth commandment by not honouring your father.  You also broke the eighth commandment by bearing false witness.

This was the ‘what’ which you did, but the ‘why’ is because you may have feared losing face in front of your friends and you’d rather your father lose face instead of you. It could be you’re missing out on something you love or desire, and so you’re going to punish him for stopping you from getting what you want. It could also be you trust others will now do the fighting for you so they can convince your father to give you what you want.

But it also works when you don’t think you’re sinning but trying to live a holy life (just like the Pharisees)!

In this case, let’s say you’re trying to please your father and will do everything possible to please him. Sounds great doesn’t it? Isn’t this trying to keep the fourth commandment? There’s no sin in doing this, is there?

But what if the motivation for doing this isn’t because you fear, love and trust God, but because you fear your father is going to punish you if you don’t? What if you’re doing this with the hope he’ll give you what you love or desire as a reward? What if you’re trusting this is the only way you can get your father to finally love or approve of you?

This means, we not only sin when we’re doing the wrong thing, but even when we’re doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. This means what’s going on in our hearts is always going to give us away!

But, how does Jesus know what’s going on in our hearts?

Well, apart from the fact he’s God and God alone can see what’s truly in our heart and all our motivations for everything we say or do, he judges our hearts, not so much with what goes into it, but what comes out of it.

Now, we might think as obedient and faithful people of God our heart is always filled with love and compassion and respect; but all someone needs to do is ‘push our buttons’, or present us with a temptation, or threaten whatever we’re trusting in and we’ll soon see what comes out of our hearts!

This is why Jesus lists the things which come out of people’s hearts (which by the way isn’t an exhaustive list), but it indicates that out of the selfish desires, anxious fears, and misplaced trusts of our hearts come all these impure thoughts, words and actions.

Since our hands and lips and thoughts only do what our heart directs them to do, this means our hands and lips and thoughts betray where the motivations of our hearts truly lie. The ugly truth is our words, actions, and thoughts end up convicting us our heart is in fact far from God!

No wonder King David, when convicted of his sins, prayed:

‘Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.’ (Ps 51:10)

This means we don’t have behaviour management problems in our church or society. We have sick and selfish hearts which need to be cleansed, healed and sanctified. The healthy don’t need a doctor, but the sick do, and the work of Jesus through the church is to cleanse and heal people’s hearts.

Jesus didn’t come to make sure we’re all behaving the right way, but to perform heart surgery on you and me through his gracious forgiveness which transforms our stubborn and pride-filled hearts into clean and pure hearts which love and serve others with that same grace and mercy.

How does he do this? He does it this way:

The good news is, by the free and undeserving grace of God, we’re all forgiven for our actions which hurt others.

  • We’re forgiven for ostracizing others as outcasts from our circle of approved friends.
  • We’re forgiven for criticizing others because they didn’t live up to our standards.
  • We’re forgiven for thinking ourselves better than others because of our own arrogance or pride.
  • We’re forgiven for not honouring our parents properly.
  • We’re forgiven for our failures as parents.
  • We’re forgiven for spreading those juicy pieces of gossip and for speaking those swear words when we got frustrated.
  • We’re forgiven for all our indecent and wrongful actions and words and thoughts.

The next time we’re offered the very body and blood of our Saviour, we’ll see him come to us in the form of bread and wine. We’ll take his holy body in those same hands which hurt others, and so those hands will be purified by him.

We’ll also receive his holy blood on those same lips which have criticised and insulted and gossiped, and so our lips will be purified to speak holy words of love and forgiveness to others.

His holy body and blood will be absorbed into our blood stream to pulse through our hearts so that, by faith, our hearts will beat with the same love, and determination to serve, as Jesus’ own heart.

Through trusting these precious and holy means of grace – his Word and Sacraments – we and our hearts are made pure and clean and holy once more. By God’s grace, which is revealed through the willing actions of Jesus Christ (who truly reveals God’s own heart to us), he comes to restore his relationship with us and bring our hearts closer to his own heart.

No matter how far our hearts were, or are, from God, only God can cleanse and create new hearts which truly fear, love, and trust God.

Only God, through the work of Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, can restore our relationship with God, and our relationships with others. Only God can draw our hearts closer to his own heart. 

For this reason, we can pray along with King David, that God would create in us clean hearts, and renew a right spirit within us. Amen.

So, to whom shall we go?

The Text: John 6:56-69

 

So, where are you going to go? Who are you going to turn to? Whosechurch4 words are you going to believe?

In a sense, this is what faith boils down to. Who are you going to trust and believe?

In response, you might be tempted to say: ‘Well, we must all believe in Jesus Christ!’ And you’re right, but it’s not that easy!

You see, we don’t always want to trust in Jesus. There are a lot of other enticing and appealing voices in our world today which attract people, even though they’re ultimately empty of hope and peace.

On top of this, what Jesus says doesn’t always make perfect sense – we don’t always get what he means, and we don’t want to live according to his words and ways.

It’s like we think we know better, and what the world offers is more enjoyable. We seem to trust our own thoughts, understanding, and logic rather than trust what Jesus says. We don’t want what he offers.

In our text today, Jesus has just been teaching a crowd of his disciples – you know, the types of people who actually wanted to learn from him – they weren’t just curious passers-by. In a sense they’re like us – followers of Jesus. But even though they were following him, they didn’t like what they heard.

They heard they had to eat his flesh – swallow the truth about him, so to speak. But they’d seen him grow up. They saw how human he was. They knew his parents. And now he was saying he came from God! In fact, he was saying he was God in human flesh! He was the great and holy God: the ‘I Am’!

This was hard for them to swallow; hard for them to believe. Apart from his miracles and his wise and authoritative teaching, he just seemed so…normal!

Since they were offended by the teaching that Jesus came from heaven, then Jesus teased them with a question of what if he went up into heaven? Would they finally be convinced then, or would they still have trouble swallowing this?

What’s more, they heard they had to drink his blood – swallow the truth about what he came to do. In this way, he wasn’t going to be the king and miracle worker they wanted, but he was going to shed his blood as a sacrifice for their sin.

This meant they needed him to die for them, but they didn’t think they needed this. They were God’s chosen people. They were good people. They thought themselves faithful people. They didn’t think they needed anyone to take their place at an execution.

Then again, perhaps it offended them because it all seemed too easy. Eternal life simply by believing? But what about being good enough for heaven?

Surely only the good, faithful, obedient, and specially chosen people of God get this eternal life, or is God really offering this heavenly privilege to everyone simply through faith? What’s the point of all our obedience and servitude then?

Well, after hearing all this, they figured he wasn’t giving them what they wanted, so they stopped following him. What he said about himself was too much. What he wanted them to believe is ludicrous and absurd. So, they left him to find someone or something else who would give them what they wanted.

Despite Jesus himself proclaiming the gospel in its truth and purity, they left him. The gospel will turn some people away – especially those who want a different type of good news for their own desires, or a different type of good news that fits their own thinking.

In the end just the twelve were left. Well, there may have been other disciples who didn’t leave, but Jesus specifically turned to his chosen twelve. Would they leave too?

If so many stopped following Jesus, how would Christ’s obedience, suffering, and death save the world if there were so few to believe…and even some of those were suspect!

Then Peter confessed there’s nowhere and no-one else they can turn to. Even though what Jesus says is hard to believe, trusting his word is the only way to eternal life.

His words were enough. Even if there were no more miracles, his words would truly satisfy them in this earthly life, and they were the only words which would guarantee their eternal life.

But what about us? Do we also want certain miracles, different teachings, or to live out our faith another way? Or are Jesus’ words enough for us? Do we trust what he says, even if what he says is the opposite to what we want to hear, or are difficult to believe?

Well, let’s consider his words in relation to baptism.

If you think about it, it’s just a little splash of water. What on earth can that do? It wasn’t even a very good wash! Most likely you were already clean anyway!

Yet, as Luther says, it’s not just water. It’s water used according to God’s command and connected with God’s word. Because of its connection to the Word of God—the Word made flesh—baptism brings about forgiveness of sins, redeems from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe it.

The power of baptism lies in trusting the Word of God, as ludicrous and far-fetched as it may seem. Without this trust in God’s Word, it’s only a quaint ceremony which is easily forgotten. But with trust in God’s Word, it grants heavenly blessings of forgiveness, life, and salvation.

As simple and earthly as it seems, it brings heavenly benefits through faith: after all, those who believe and are baptised are saved, but those who don’t believe will be condemned (Mk 16:16).

Similarly, let’s consider Jesus’ words in connection with Holy Communion.

On the surface it’s just a wafer of dry and almost tasteless bread (which can easily stick to the roof of our mouth), and a sip of wine. It’s not even enough to call it a snack, let alone a meal which satisfies!

Yet, it’s not just bread and wine, but it’s these simple elements used according to God’s command and again connected to his Word. Even the eating and drinking itself doesn’t do anything, but the power of God’s Word and your trust in his Word.

This is why Luther says of everyone who eats and drinks this meal in faith: whoever believes in these words: ‘given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sin’, has what they declare and state, namely, the forgiveness of sin.

Again, it’s about trusting God’s Word, even though it sounds absurd. We eat and drink according to God’s command and trust what he says actually happens.

Through faith in God’s Word, you receive what he promises. Through faith we feast on Christ’s body and blood and receive all the benefits of his life, death, and resurrection. Through faith we gather with angels, with all the other people who eat and drink in faith across the world, and with all the residents of heaven.

A simple and earthly meal, yet the benefits of trusting God’s Word brings heavenly benefits.

In fact, in every stage of life, his words of the Old and New Testaments, as the means by which God gives his Holy Spirit, grants faith to trust even when things go wrong in your life. His words have power to satisfy, comfort, and nourish broken hearts.

For example, when we’re being tempted or tested, we can trust what God says through his apostles, that we’ll experience no temptation except those common to all. God is faithful; he won’t let us be tempted beyond what we can bear. And even when we’re tempted, he’ll provide a way out so that we can stand (1 Corinthians 10:13).

When we’re facing spiritual attack; we trust God clothes us with the full armour of God, which includes the sword of the Spirit – the word of God (cf. Ephesians 6:10-18).

When we’ve sinned against others and hurt them deeply, or even when people have abused or hurt us deeply, we trust and know the Lord is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

When a loved one who trusts in Christ is dying, we trust the promise of Jesus who says ‘those who believe in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die’ (John 11:25-26).

When we’re suffering in your body, feeling depressed, or simply struggling with getting old, we trust God’s promises so we don’t lose heart. Because St Paul says even though outwardly we may be wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed every day. Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that outweighs all our troubles. So, we trust him by fixing our eyes on what is unseen, because what is seen is temporary, while what is unseen is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

When we’re afraid, trust the Lord is our light and salvation. The Lord is the stronghold of our life, so of whom should we be afraid? (Psalm 27:1) Since we trust the Lord is our helper, there’s no reason to be afraid, after all, what can humans do to us to separate us from the love of God through Christ Jesus? (Psalm 118:6-7 and Romans 8:38-39)

When we’re struggling with direction and purpose in your life, trust Jesus that we should first seek his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to us as well (Matthew 6:33).

As hard as some of God’s words are, especially those spoken and fulfilled by Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, who else can offer so much?

His word brings comfort, direction, warning, forgiveness, and peace. Our trust in his word stabs the devil. Our trust in his word brings life – even life with him in his eternal kingdom. The alternative to trusting his words aren’t as nearly as good as we first think!

So, to whom shall we go? The Lord has the words of eternal life! Amen.

12th Sunday after Pentecost

MODERN MYTHS  3- “ALL RELIGIONS LEAD TO GOD”

  Modern Myth 2 – “All religions are much the same”.
Myth 3 is really thepastorh2 other side of the coin and follows from Myth 2. “All Religions lead to God”.
We saw that Myth 2 was false and I shall show that Myth 3 is also false. That in fact all religions do not lead to God.

Myth 3 is a result of muddled thinking.
For a start there are quite different religions with very different objectives-goals.

+There are occult religions-such as animism, witchcraft-magic some elements of new Age. These are concerned with spirits, often evil spirits that need to be placated-manipulated. Occult religions are about spirits, not about God.

+Secondly there are “Imperial religions”. They are not about God either. They are about the highest political authority which demands total allegiance. Examples are the divine kings of Egypt-Caesars, Roman Emperors –Shinto Emperors of Japan. In recent times there were Hitler-Stalin-Mao. Stalin and Mao had giant pictures of themselves plastered everywhere.  Hitler used messianic language about himself and predicted a 1,000 year Reich.

+ Thirdly there are the “ascetic religions” such as Buddhism, some strand of Hinduism. They are not about God either but about renunciation. The self is renounced-mortified-disciplined to diminish its grip of being tied to this world. These kinds of religions have nothing to do with God.

+ Fourthly there are the fertility cults-they worship sex.  This is a very ancient as well as modern religion. The fertility cults of the Canaanites in Biblical times-to today’s XXX films and videos and the astronomical sales of pornography.  The most widespread use of the internet is for pornography.

+ There are the prophetic religions which arise from the dynamic leadership and moral challenge of a great leader. Islam which made enormous inroads into the Middle East and North Africa within a few decades of the death of Muhammad is one example. Marxism is another. It influenced many people within a few decades of Marx’s death. Although it was atheistic Marxism had a creed-ideals, it promoted self sacrifice for the cause and clear convictions about the future in common with many religions. Its adherents would gladly die for it as would the devoted followers of Islam. But even Islam despite its high view of God does not offer the worshipper intimacy with God; ”Allah reveals his will, he never reveals himself”. The worshipper prays to Allah but cannot be said in any way to know him or have a relationship with him. Such a claim is blasphemous to a Muslim and you could get yourself killed for making it.

+ Finally there are the revelatory religions. Judaism and Christianity both teach that God can be known by the believer. Judaism tells of God’s revelation of himself through his mighty deeds of deliverance for Israel and through the words of the prophets. But with not temple today, Judaism is reduced to religious law and synagogue worship.

            Christianity teaches that God has given a reliable-personal disclosure of himself to people through his Son Jesus Christ. Jesus is the fulfilment of all God’s promises to Israel and is the final revelation of God. Jesus was “Emmanuel”-“God with us”. Being able to have a personal relationship with God through Jesus is what the Christian faith is all about. That cannot be claimed for any of the other religions.

            So it really is ludicrous to suppose that “all religions lead to God”; when Buddhism does not believe there is any God at all; when Islam makes him a very distant God with whom one cannot have a relationship’ when Hinduism offers extinction  after many reincarnations and encourages idolatry on a massive scale.

            How can all religions lead to God when they have such different beliefs about God- the after life and how one can attain it?

Take for example the two views of history represented by Christianity and Hinduism. This is shown by the difference between the wheel and the road. The great emblem for Hinduism is the wheel embodying the cycle of birth-growth-death-rebirth. And the cycle is repeated endlessly.  You keep going around and around in ceaseless movement.  It’s a bit like a merry go round that never stops. So you can never get off-you just have to keep going around and around-in different forms of reincarnation, getting nowhere. 

The emblem for Christianity is the road.  That is the view of history taken by Christianity. It has a clearly defined beginning in time-(Creation); a midpoint (the coming of Jesus Christ) and a goal-the end of time. The Christian view is that history is going somewhere. It has a conclusion-purpose.

The goal for Christians is to enjoy fellowship with the Lord and his people forever in heaven. For the Christian there is birth-growth-death-heaven

            There are two powerful reasons why all religions do not lead to God.  The first is the nature of God. The prophet Isaiah describes a majestic God: (40:21,22,15)

How can we possibly climb up to him? It cannot be done. Far from all religions leading to God, no religion can lead to God. He is too great. The creature cannot possibly discover the creator unless He chooses to disclose-reveal himself. That is one reason why all religions are bound to disappoint.

Since “religion” is humanity’s search for the Divine, it is bound to fail. We do not need a religion, but a revelation. And that is precisely what Christianity claims to be. Unlike the other “holy Books”, the Bible does not record the story of humans searching for God but of God searching for man- Adam hiding in the garden-Abraham etc.

The second reason why no religion will ever reach through to God is because of the nature of humans. The does not give a very flattering description of humans but one that is uncomfortably close to the mark. It tells us that we are sinners- that the human heart is deceitful and wicked.  It tells us that murders-adulteries-lies-evil actions do not come from our circumstances, but from our hearts. It tells us that there is no room for us to be judgemental because all have sinned and come short of God’s standard.  It tells us that people love the darkness rather than the light. It tells us there is a serious flaw in our nature alongside with much that is good. As a result we do not want God interfering in our lives. We want to paddle our own canoe. We do not want to acknowledge God as our master we want to be our own master.

            No one can find God through their own search because He is too great for us. And also because as humans we are too self centred –too ego centric to really want to get close to God. We want God on our terms not on his and consequently our searching does not discover the true God only our images of what we think God should be like.

So the greatness of God and the sinfulness of human beings are two massive reasons why all religions do not lead to God.

            People all claim that all religions lead to God use the image of a mountain with a number of routes going to the top. It does not matter what route you take because they will all get you to your destination. But as we have seen, that view is untenable- it simply is not true. A more accurate image would be of people trying to find their way through a maze.  There are lots of different paths in a maze but most of them bring you to a dead end.  They fail to get you out of the maze and find the exit. There is only one way through

That is the astounding claim of Christian. As Jesus said, “I am the Way, Truth and the life, No one comes to the Father but by me”.

The Bread of life that satisfies.

People have been known to make outlandish-bizarre claims. When I waspastorh2 studying Psychology at Adelaide University we made a visit to Parkside mental home.

I remember meeting a man who claimed to be Napoleon. And there was woman cradling a doll in her arms. She said she was the Virgin Mary and the doll was the baby Jesus. Because of their mental illness, these people were obviously deluded.

 Jesus also made some rather striking-unusual claims. On one occasion he said, “I AM THE BREAD OF LIFE”. And he wasn’t the baker at the local mental hospital.  This statement is in fact the first of the 7 great “I am” statements of Jesus recorded in John’s gospel.

I am: “The Light of the world” -”The Door”-“The Good Shepherd”-“the Vine”-“The Resurrection and the Life”-“The Way, Truth and the Life”.

Now these are tremendous claims. They are saying that Jesus I not a mere mortal man. They are in fact claims to be divine. It is Jesus’ way of saying that he was the Son of God-that he was One with God.

 This morning we focus on the first of these claims-“I am the Bread of Life”.

Note that Jesus didn’t say, “I am the medicine of Life”. That would have implied

that he was only for emergencies-sickness-particular needs.  Unfortunately that is how many people treat Jesus. They only turn to him when they are in trouble-desperate.

Jesus didn’t say, “I am the desert of life”. That would have implied that Jesus was an extra, but not really necessary.

He didn’t say, “I am the tea-coffee of life”. He says, “I am the Bread of life”.

 Throughout history, bread has been the staple –basic source of nourishment.. It was called the “staff of life”. It was nutritious-healthy. For the people of the Middle East food meant bread. So it was culturally appropriate for Jesus to say, “I am the Bread of Life”.

Cultural versions:

Italy: The pizza of life.  America: The MacDonald’s of life. Asia: The Rice of life:

Germany: the Schnitzel of Life.  Sound better than the sauerkraut of life:

Ireland: the Potato of life. Hungary: The goulash of life. Australia: The BBQ-meat pie.

In Israel at the time of Jesus it was appropriate to say, “I am the Bread of life” because bread was the basic-essential food of those times.

The day before Jesus made this remarkable claim was the time when he fed the crowd of 5,000 with the 5 small loaves and two fish. And as a result of that miracle the crowd wanted to make Jesus their King. But it wasn’t for the right reason –it wasn’t because of their commitment to him-it wasn’t because they wanted to be his loyal subjects. They simply saw Jesus as providing an easy life for them. They wanted Jesus to be their King who would provide for all their needs. They then could have an easy-care free life.

 It is in this context that Jesus makes this striking statement. “I AM THE BREAD OF LIFE; HE WHO COMES TO ME WILL NEVER GO HUNGRY AND WHO BELIEVES IN ME WILL NEVER THIRST”.

 It is quite clear that Jesus was not talking about ordinary bread.  You can eat bread (any food) and that will satisfy you hunger for a little while-stop you stomach from rumbling.  But after you have eaten and your stomach has digested the food you begin to feel hungry again. That is the pattern with ordinary food.

But Jesus says quite emphatically, “HE WHO COMES TO ME SHALL NEVER HUNGER”.

 What Jesus means is that he can meet all our needs. Not just the physical needs the people were focussing on but in particular our spiritual needs. Jesus can satisfy all our hungers-thirsts.  He said, “Blessed are those that hunger-thirst for righteousness”. Those who want to know God-to have a relationship with God.

 It is interesting to note that that many people who seem to have “made it” in the world-people who have acquired fame-wealth-status-power-influence, often don’t seem to be very happy-satisfied. Many of these “high flyers” have made psychiatrists very wealthy. To be having “therapy” was the “in thing-trendy-fashionable thing for many of the Hollywood set. Pop stars commit suicide in large numbers-Janis Joplin-Jimmy Hendrix-brain Hutchence-the comedian Tony Hancock. The list is endless.
 Fame-wealth-success is no guarantee of happiness-satisfaction. Take Howard Hughes-Paul Getty for example. Success with material things does not-cannot- bring true satisfaction-happiness.

Jesus said it many years ago, “  A MAN’S LIFE DOES NOT CONSIST IN THE ABUNDANCE OF HIS POSSESSIONS”.

Perhaps you have experienced that for yourself. There was something you really wanted –a large screen TV-DVD player-new car-new furniture-new hobby etc. But once you have got it-once you have reached your goal, it soon looses its appeal.  It doesn’t seem as important as it once did.

The reason why we don’t often find satisfaction is that we are looking for satisfaction from things that ultimately are unable to satisfy.  When Jesus says, “HE WHO COMES TO ME SHALL NOT HUNGER-HE WHO BELIEVES IN ME SHALL NOT THIRST”, he is claiming that he can satisfy All our needs-spiritual-emotional.

But for this to happen we need to come to him- accept his invitation-believe-trust in him. His promise is that he will meet our unsatisfied longings.

The spiritual hunger that we have, can only-will only be met when we really come to know Jesus personally. That is when we experience his love-concern for us. Then and only then, will the restless soul find rest-the hungry heart be satisfied.

You know it is a strange thing. Our generation is probably the best off as far as material possessions-comforts are concerned. And yet so many people don’t seem to be happy-satisfied- despite all the things they have.

That is why some people flock in droves to the various New Age alternatives-astrology-Buddhism-Eastern religions-even witchcraft-Between 1996-2001 there was a 140% in people turning to witchcraft in Australia.

The reason is quite simple. More and more people are discovering that material possessions-outward success don’t and can’t ultimately satisfy the human spirit.

St Augustine knew the reason for that. He said, “OUR HEARTS ARE NOT AT REST UNTIL THEY REST IN GOD”.

And the only way our hearts can rest in God is when we come to know Jesus who is the Bread of life.   

            There is a song by Andy Park
                             “Only You” .

            No one but you Lord can satisfy the longing in my heart.

            Nothing I do Lord can take the place of drawing near to you.

            Only you can fill my deepest longing

            Only you can breathe in me new life.

            Only you can fill my heart with laughter.

            Only you can answer my heart’s cry”.

All Religions are much the same.

One of our current buzz words is “globalization”. It refers to the fact that ourpastorh2 world is closely interconnected. What happens in one part of the world affects the rest of the world. The cost of petrol in Australia is affected by what happens on the other side of the world. Western Pop music is played in China and India as much as in the Western world. Our world is increasingly become a “global village”. 

Australia is a multi-cultural society and multi-religious society. In the cities we find Jews, Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists walking our streets and staffing our shops. They are as much citizens of this country as those of us born here with the same rights and duties.

This has led some people to think that the various religions are much the same. They see the different religions as merely different ways of understanding the same God.

            This is a very attractive idea for some people. Far too many disagreements-wars-persecutions have arisen because of religious differences. So let’s assume that there is one God whom the different religions are seeking in their particular ways. Let the Christians, Muslims. Buddhist, Hindu’s agree that they are worshipping the same God but in different ways and leave it at that.

To some people that would be the common-sense view and the tolerant view. Tolerance is a very attractive view, especially these days when traditional religious beliefs and morals are widely discounted and ignored by so many in our communities.

            Furthermore most of the great religions have a lot of moral-ethical teachings in common. They generally teach respect for others-kindness-peace etc. So why not take the common ethical teachings of the different religions and build up a composite picture of God. Surely that would lead to world peace and understanding.

            This view has wide appeal and was espoused by the late Indian Hindu leader Mahatma Ghandi who said, “The soul of religions is one but it is encased in a number of forms”. This is quite an old view. The Roman Emperor Septimus Severus hedged his bets by having statues of the former Roman Emperors’ but also miracles workers including Jesus Christ.  It is a popular and widely spread view today.

This view is called Syncretism. The Hebrew people were tempted by this view. God made it clear that this was totally unacceptable. The First Commandment (You shall have no other gods) was specifically given to counter the view of Syncretism. It was not acceptable to God then and is not acceptable today.

Why not? There are a number of reasons.

+ Firstly if you ask the actual worshippers of the different faiths whether all religions are the same you will get an emphatic denial. They know very well that Christians are different from Muslims and Hindus. Some are so emphatic about the rightness of their religion they will even attack members of other religions and burn their churches-mosques-temples. Fanatical Muslims have burnt a number of churches in Indonesia in recent times. The Quran says sura 9:5 “Fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them”. And that has happened to Christians in Indonesia, Nigeria and the Sudan in recent times. It is only Academics who write books saying that all religions are the same or people who don’t have any particular faith.  But people who actually practice their religion certainly don’t say that.

+ Secondly the different religions hold diametrically opposing views of what God is like. The Hindus believe there are 350 million gods or deities, but they are not personal as the God we worship.                                                                     Buddhism is a religion without a personal God and without even a final existence.

The Muslims worship Allah and believe he is the only God. They acknowledge Jesus as a prophet but not the Son of God.

Christianity teaches that we have a personal God who forgives and also offers supernatural aid. Whereas in Hinduism and Buddhism there is no concept of sin-forgiveness only ruthless karma –fate.

Islam denies that Allah ever reveals himself in person to people; he only reveals his Will and the proper response to Allah’s will is “Islam” which means “submission”.

Christianity teaches that God not only reveals his will but his person.  Indeed he revealed himself to us thought his Son Jesus so we could know what God is like. That after all is what Christmas celebrates.

+ There is also a great difference between the religions in the goal of our lives and where we are heading after this life on earth.

The goal of all existence in Buddhism is Nirvana-extinction or the complete cessation of all desire and personality-“nothingness”. Incidentally it took the Buddha 547 reincarnations to attain that state.

Muslims look forward to a sensual paradise with wine, women and song.

The goal of Christianity is to live forever with God and his redeemed people in eternity. So what the different religions teach differs enormously.

+ But the greatest difference is in the area of salvation.

Christianity teaches that none of us can save ourselves or make us acceptable to God, try as we might.

Whereas all the other religions assert that by keeping their teachings a person can be saved or in the case of Buddhism they can be reborn.

            Nothing spells out this contrast more powerfully than the Buddhist story which starts of like the parable of the Prodigal son. The spendthrift boy comes home after wasting his inheritance. He is met by his father and then has to work off the penalty for his past misdeeds by years of servitude to his father. He virtually becomes a slave to his father.

How different this is from forgiving love of the father in the gospel story who gives a great party to celebrate the sons return. And far from making his son work as a servant, the father reinstates the prodigal as his son-party-ring-sandals-robe.

Indeed the basic world view of Christianity, that a loving personal God longs to have a relationship with his people, is in irreconcilable contrast with the view of Eastern religions that there is no personal God and the best we can hope for is extinction- to be absorbed into nothingness.

            These are some of the differences between the different religions. And they clearly show that many people who say, “All the religions are the same”, have never thought deeply about it or are totally ignorant of the differences as I have outlined them.

            The fact is that Christianity stands out from all other faiths. It maintains that the living God has come to share our human situation-which he died an agonizing death in which he took upon himself the penalty for human sin-wickedness-that he broke the power of death on the first Easter day-and that he is preparing a place for to spend eternity in the presence of God and his redeemed people.

No other faith claims anything like that. Nobody with their head screwed on can claim that it is just like other religions.

Whether people like it or not, we cannot honestly say that all religions are much the same. Amen

God can do a lot with a little.

THE LOAVES AND THE FISHES-JOHN 6:1-13pastorh2

            Prayer: “Lord as you fed the crowd with loaves and fishes; please feed us today with your Word”.

            What is the difference between an optimist and a pessimist? Glass of water-is it half full or half empty?

The optimist sees an opportunity in every difficulty. The pessimist sees a difficulty in every opportunity. Which one are you?

            In the gospel lesson for today we meet two of Jesus’ disciples-one is a pessimist-the other is an optimist.

Background: Significant story-apart from the resurrection accounts this is the only story to appear in all four gospels.

            There are times when we all need to have a break-get away from the pressures-routines of daily life. We need time to recharge our physical-spiritual-emotional batteries. It was much the same with Jesus and the disciples.

There were times when Jesus needed to get away from the pressure of ministry- from teaching-preaching-healing-ministering to people. His work was demanding-exhausting.

            Jesus favourite place for these times of R and R were the hills around Lake Galilee. On this occasion Jesus set sail with the disciples for the hills on the far side of the Lake for some rest and recreation.  But this was not to be. The crowds that were following Jesus could see the direction the boat was taking. So they followed along the shore of the Lake.

            At the sight of the vast crowd, Jesus felt compassion for them. He could see that they were tired-hungry. Many had walked long distances to see him. So Jesus decided they should be fed.

            Now there are many aspects of this story that we could look at-concern for those in need-the miracle of feeding such a large crowd with such meagre resources-5 barley loaves and 2 small fish. That wouldn’t feed a family leave alone a crowd of over 5,000.

            But what I want to do is to consider the reaction of 3 people-two disciples and the boy.

Philip: Jesus turns to Philip and asks him where they could buy sufficient food to feed the crowd. Philip was the natural person to ask because he came from Bethsaida-a nearby town and would have local knowledge. John-the gospel writer makes it clear that Jesus asks Philip the question as a means of testing him. Jesus already knew what he would do. He asked the question to see how much faith-trust

Philip had in him.

And we notice that Philip doesn’t do very well. His answer is full of pessimism.  He says that even if they had sufficient money- 8 months wages (which they don’t) and even if they could find a place to buy food (which they can’t) –there still wouldn’t be enough for everybody to have a bite. That was Philip’s contribution to solving the problem. In effect he was saying, “It’s impossible! It can’t be done!” Its a hopeless situation”. 

            The problem with Philip of course was that he couldn’t think outside the square. He could only see the human resources-he didn’t even consider God’s resources. That is why he gave up so easily. Perhaps there are times when we respond like Philip: Times when we can only see the difficulties-impossibilities and we give up too easily. We forget the promises God makes:

“MY GOD WILL SUPPY ALL YOUR NEEDS”.

Andrew: If Philip was the pessimist, Andrew was the optimist. Andrew said, “I’ll see what I can do and trust Jesus to do the rest. Andrew had what I call the ministry of “bringing people to Jesus”. It was Andrew who brought his brother Peter to Jesus and you know how significant that was. 

On this occasion Andrew brought the young lad to Jesus and in doing this made the miracle possible. Andrew wasn’t exactly sure how Jesus could use this small offering but the trusts that Jesus will be able to do something.

No one knows what will happen and what the outcome will be when we bring someone to Jesus. If parents bring up their children to know-love God who can say what great things that child may one day do for God-Timothy-St Augustine-Isaac Watts-John Wesley.

The story is told of a German school teacher in the late 15th century who when he entered the classroom on the morning would take off his cap and bow to the boys. When asked why he did this he replied, “You never know what one of these boys may someday become”.

He was right because one of the boys in his class was Martin Luther.

            Andrew really had no idea what the result would be when he brought the young lad with his 5 bread rolls and 2 small fish to Jesus that day. But what he was doing was to provide the materials for a miracle.  Let us never forget that. We never know what possibilities we are releasing when we invite someone to come and meet Jesus. We don’t know how God might use such a person.

Albert McMakin was a 24 year old farmer who had come to faith in Christ. Albert was keen to get his friend to come to a meeting to hear about Jesus but this young man was hard to persuade. Eventually Albert managed to persuade the young man to come by letting him drive the truck. The young man was attracted by what he heard and one night gave his life to Christ. The young man who drove the truck was Billy Graham. The year was 1934. Since then Billy Graham has presented the gospel to millions around the world.

Now we cannot all be like Billy Graham but we can be like Albert –we can bring our friends to Jesus and leaving the result to him. That is what Andrew did.

            May this example encourage us to share our faith with others-to tell others about Jesus. Our job is to offer the invitation –the result we leave to the Holy Spirit.

            Let us not be a pessimist like Philip who could only see the impossibility in the situation. Rather let us be an optimist like Andrew who knew that Jesus could turn impossibilities into possibilities.

The Young lad:

He did not have much to offer-5 barley loaves-the size of bread rolls and two small fish-not tuna or barramundi, rather the size of sardines. That was not a very promising start-in fact it was a rather meagre offering. Yet out of that small amount Jesus was able to work a miracle.

            In some ways we are rather like that young man. We may not think that we have much to offer to God. But the point is that God can make use of whatever gift we have to offer. It doesn’t have to be large-great-spectacular. Look what Jesus did with the young lad’s small offering.

            So don’t feel embarrassed –inadequate that you don’t have more to offer to God. Simply bring to God who you are and what you have. And God will do the rest.

            Remember: 5 small bread rolls and two small fish in the hands of Jesus fed a crowd-and there were 12 baskets full left over after they had filled themselves up.

Key Thought:  A little can become a lot in the hands of Jesus.

Who knows what miracle the Lord might do with the little that we offer to him.

“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.