“Sunday of Fulfilment”

The Text: John 5:21-29

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you believe the size of this thing?

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

Anything more than a “blip”along the way?

The Text: Mark 10:46-52

Today in the Gospel reading we are introduced to a certain beggar namedac5 Bartimaeus. It is a very simple story on one level; it seems like just another brief healing that Jesus does on his way from Jericho to Jerusalem. When compared to his Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem, should we consider this account anything more than a “blip” along the way? But actually, Jesus uses this healing to achieve two purposes. Firstly, to heal Bartimaeus, making him a follower of Jesus, and secondly, to teach James and John a thing or two about arrogance and blindness.

The reader of Mark’s Gospel knows of James’ and John’s act of pride. Just before this healing story they tell Jesus that they want to sit either side of him in glory in heaven. The cheek of it all, and the arrogance! They are puffed up, spiritually blind in seeing what it is to be a follower of Jesus.

So when they see Bartimaeus—this beggar on the roadside—James and John (we assume) are probably some of the ones who try to silence this unclean nuisance of a man from their glory trip into Jerusalem. Beggars in Jewish society were considered unclean, dirty and to be avoided. In original Hebrew, Bar-timaeus means ‘son of the unclean.’’ But there’s a twist! In Greek his name means ‘son of honour, respect and reverence.’

Jesus sees Bartimaeus according to his true value and identity as a loved child of God. Conversely, the disciples and some of the crowd see him as the lowest of the low. Though Bartimaeus is unable to physically see, he can spiritually see that Jesus, as God’s Son, is passing by. The disciples are simply still blind in seeing who Jesus came to save and heal. And so the disciples then watch and see just how much Jesus loves this beggar. Jesus heals him totally and lets him see light once again.

Bartimaeus then flings away his outer garment, the garment he would lay out to collect money, and keep him warm at night. He doesn’t need it anymore, because he can see that Jesus is all he needs; he now has a family to belong to. He belongs! He is no longer an outsider!

In the original Greek language, to be blind has a second meaning. It means to be ‘smoky, puffed up with the fumes of arrogance’. Smoke gets in your eyes and clouds your vision so you can’t see properly. Actually, James and John are a bit smoky themselves! This whole scene is quite shocking as Jesus’ disciples and the crowd are clearly too puffed up with self-importance and desire to enter Jerusalem with glory, rather than stop and bother with an annoying beggar.

We can remember Bartimaeus as he who threw off his outer garment. The author of the Book of Hebrews would later say this about throwing off: ‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith’ (Heb 12:1-2a). This section of Hebrews is practically a commentary on Bartimaeus’ healing of sight and subsequent following of Jesus. St Paul would add that we do not just “throw off” but also “put on.” Paul said, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ’ (Galatians 3:26-27).

Of you are baptized, then you have the wonderful clothing of Jesus – his robes of righteousness upon you. As you go away with today, imagine that white clothing to be placed over people you personally struggle with, or don’t ever associate with. We can easily see many people as unclean beggars. How many times have we been guilty of being physically put off from ministering to them? Have we been too busy and too puffed up to care because of our busy schedule and important things to do.

On Reformation Sunday we remember the time the church became puffed up and blind and lost the Gospel. Martin Luther was key to removing the garment of blindness and revealing to the people the robe of Baptism and righteousness in Christ that they always had. Just like the past, sometimes the detailed and administrative business of doing church today can get a bit smoky. We can get puffed up with pride and self-importance and are blind with smoke in our eyes to the needs of real people who need Jesus.

Jesus calls and sends you to get out of your comfort zone and reach out to the homeless, to refugees, or the disabled, or mentally ill or anyone who doesn’t quite fit the bill of a comfortable predictable church. We may all have a heart for that, but practically it is not always easy.

But Jesus helps us and does the leading. We need to follow him along the way like Bartimaeus, casting off our smoky garments of self-righteousness, and putting on the white royal baptismal robes of adoption into God’s family. It is in those robes we are forgiven and cleansed through the Holy Spirit. Amen.

It was a shortage in chicken supply.

The Text: Mark 10:35-45

 

A few years back there was absolute uproar on the streets of London.image001-300x225 Emergency services were inundated with calls, Members of Parliament were contacted by angry citizens, and social media went into meltdown, with some even claiming this was a sign of the apocalypse.

What was the calamity that sparked such frenzied panic?

It wasn’t terrorism, rioting, or financial or political collapse. It was a shortage in chicken supply throughout the UK, which meant more than half of Britain’s 900 KFC stores had to be temporarily closed. You know when an event is truly catastrophic in the minds of the public when people attribute its own hashtag to it—in this case: ‘#KFC Crisis’. Helena Horton of the Telegraph reported: “Frustrated chicken lovers resorted to contacting their MPs and calling the police” resulting in the Essex police posting this statement on Facebook:

 “999 is only to be used for an emergency where someone’s life or property is at risk. KFC not having any chicken is not an emergency and is not a police matter.”

In the meantime, KFC were bombarded by angry customers on social media telling them to get their act together—or words to that effect. It seems that it was their right to have KFC whenever they wanted it…and their right to really vent their fury when they couldn’t have it.

This might all seem hilarious, but there’s a lot about this issue that’s also deeply disturbing. The perceived personal right to self-service can be expressed in very harmful ways and when a person’s right to what they want becomes the basis for a society’s moral code, it can have devastating consequences.

When the Queensland Parliament passed laws decriminalising abortion a few years ago—including full term abortion—the decision was reported as “historic” and progressive. Queensland’s Deputy Premier, Jackie Trad said: “The right of women to control their own reproduction, their own bodies, is such an important part of equality in our society. To prioritise the rights of a fetus [sic] above that of a woman is something that I find offensive.”

Other state jurisdictions have passed similar legislation. From a human point of view, there may be understandable reasons why an abortion may be sought, but legislation in the name of equality actually promotes inequality. Psalm 139 teaches us that every individual is unique and has the same worth, dignity and purpose God ordains for us as his creation of us in his own image, whether a foetus or an adult. God knits each person together in their mother’s womb with intricate and purposeful detail, so that they are fearfully and wonderfully made by him; and he appoints all the days of every person before one of them came to be. He has given the 5th commandment by which he expresses his will that all people be protected and cared for and helped in all their physical needs.

But this legislation is a new commandment that legislates against equality—one that views the children impacted as less than human— ‘just a foetus’—whose value and worth in life is not, as God says, in their own being as his creation, but which is dependent on the estimation imposed by others, on how useful, or wanted…or unwanted others deem them to be.

It is ironic that in the name of rights, the rights of these unborn children have failed to have been upheld. Who makes a choice for those who are unable to choose for themselves whether they should live or die? May God have mercy on those who preach from the social pulpit that this is about equality and rights and choice.

Yet before the church can claim the moral high ground, we need to recognise that we are also not exempt from the problem of deciding what our rights are and insisting on them. That self-focus has been part of all human beings ever since Adam and Eve replaced God’s will with their own in the Garden of Eden and bit off more than they could chew. It’s been a problem for the church from the earliest times, as today’s Gospel reading shows. Two of Jesus’ disciples, James, and John, came to Jesus and said: “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked. They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory” (verses 35-37).

How human of them to ask Jesus for this self-indulgence in positions of prominence without first considering what his will for them might have been.

Power, glory, self-indulgence, rights, the demand to decide what human needs are and how that can be met has all resulted in the most sinful actions within the church. On the 22nd October 2018, the National Parliament in Canberra, our Prime Minister Scott Morrison delivered a national apology to people who were sexually abused as children in institutions, including in the church. This apology was a major outcome of the 5-year-long Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Shocking for us is that the Commission identified the Lutheran Church of Australia among the churches that need to acknowledge their past failures to provide children with adequate protection from sexual abuse.

As we hear and reflect on that, perhaps there are several emotions within us. Perhaps one of the immediate thoughts is shock and outrage that such evil could happen within the very body of Christ, the very place where refuge and care for all people is supposed to happen. Why has this happened? Why does any form of abuse continue to happen not only for children but all people in the church?

God shows us that his will for relationships is one of good order within which there is consideration, and service, and care and love for one another. In Ephesians 5 & 6 Paul says that children are to obey their parents in the Lord, for this is right, and is also for their own blessing, for honouring one’s father and mother is the first commandment with a promise—that their life on the earth may be good and long. Fathers are not to exasperate their children; but encourage them as they bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. Workers are to serve their employers as if they were serving Christ, not merely other people, and employers are to treat their workers in the same way. Paul says: Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favouritism with him.

Wives are exhorted: “submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.” But too many husbands have left aside Paul’s next words: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Just as Christ gave up his life, Husbands are to love their wives not by demanding their own way but by dying to themselves— putting to death their sinful selfish motives and desires that results in all kinds of idolatry and physical, sexual, emotional, and spiritual abuse—because God has called husbands to be his instrument of blessing to their wife. Paul explains that this is the order God has established through which God brings blessing and he summarises all of this by saying that the church is to submit to its head, who is Christ.

Whether it is expressed through demands that emergency services re-establish a supply of KFC, or in the manifestation of the most extreme forms of abomination, the natural human condition of focusing on its own will and desire for self-service, demanding our rights, whatever we perceive those rights to be—without concern for how that might exploit the most vulnerable—is sinful human will, but it is not God’s will.

God’s will is completely opposite to the ways of our world’s thinking of chasing after greatness and personal rights and choice at the expense of others. It is to die to ourselves and serve others, rather than lording it over others. Even if we are in leadership positions, we are to seek to do what we can for the benefit of others rather than our own.

Jesus does not just say that his people are to serve others, but he goes even further and says: whoever wants to be first must be servant of all. We are to see ourselves as last of all, and willingly to do what is needed for the benefit others. God’s will has always been to rescue us from this enslavement to the human desire for power and greatness. The only way God could do that was by sending his only Son. Jesus says: For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

We’re not just talking about a really good guy here. This is God…who didn’t wait for us to serve him, but who came down from heaven in the person of Christ to serve us. He experienced the full brunt of human abuse when he was mocked, beaten, whipped and crucified. He did this out of love for all people, to rescue the world with the only satisfactory ransom price to pay: his own holy and precious blood. He did this for all people—the outcasts and socially shunned, the tax collectors and sinners, the most insignificant in society; the frail and vulnerable, the disabled, and even those who are living but are yet unborn. 

He did it for those who cannot see past their own self-importance, those who are sinned against and abused, and those who are abusers themselves, who cannot fix what is broken within and are incapable of stopping themselves hurting others. He laid down his own life for those who do the most evil and reprehensible things, and even for those who would reject and mock him as he hung from a cross. All these Jesus put before himself.

Jesus put us before himself, too. In fact, he put himself last, when he ransomed the world humbling himself to the point of death, even death on a cross. Then he claimed us to be his very own in baptism, where he brought all the benefits of his saving work to us personally.

Jesus who gave his own body on the Cross for the life of the world, through simple bread gives his body to us. It is the meal by which Jesus proclaims that “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” It is the meal Jesus gives to his church as a proclamation of the foretaste of the feast to come, where we, together with all his people, will see him in glory. Then there will be no more worry about who will have the places of prominence, for we will all have a room in our Heavenly Father’s mansion, and Jesus our Saviour will seat us all at his table at the places he has reserved for us as his special guests. Amen.

There was a miserly man who made good money all of his life.

The Text: Mark 10:21-22

There was a miserly man who made good money all of his life but hoarded it.allanb He wouldn’t spend a cent of it. He kept his wife to a strict budget so she could only buy the barest of essentials at the supermarket and just enough to pay for the electricity and council rates. He wouldn’t even keep his money in a bank because he didn’t want to pay the bank fees. He kept his money hidden away in a box behind some loose bricks in the fireplace.

As it turns out, the man suffered a heart attack and was dying. He called his wife and told her about the money. She was ecstatic until he told her to put it by the upstairs bedroom window so he could grab it as he went by on his way to heaven.

Despite his miserly way, his wife loved him very much and decided to comply with his last request. He died about two hours later. Three days after the funeral, she happened to be in the upstairs bedroom doing some cleaning when she remembered the box. It was still there. So was the money. She clutched the box, shook her head and in her grief said, “Oh, George, George, George. I knew I should have put it down by the cellar door.”

How many of you have ever fantasized about being filthy rich or independently wealthy? So wealthy that you didn’t have to plan to make the payment of the bills coincide with payday?

Have you ever said something like, “If I had half the money that some of the top sports players or models have, the first thing I would do would be to pay off everything I owe, buy a house, retire, travel, and give lots away to my children and set them up for life?”

Wouldn’t you like to have unlimited resources not just for yourself but also to have the ability to help make other people’s lives better? Wouldn’t it be great to be able to dish out millions of dollars to build a hostel for the homeless, or to make a difference in the lives of those people in some overseas village where people are so poor and lack the essentials to sustain life – maybe providing fresh water, electricity, schools, health clinics, and an orphanage? There’s a certain joy in being able to help others.

Today’s gospel reading tells us about a man who didn’t just wish he was rich but he was already a wealthy man. It’s worth noting what people thought of those who were wealthy in Jesus’ time. It was assumed people became rich because God had especially blessed them. It was also thought that if anyone was going to heaven it was the wealthy person because their riches were proof that God favoured them. It must have seemed rather strange that a rich man – a man so obviously blessed by God – should ask, “What must I do to receive eternal life?”

Jesus at first responds with the conventional answer that any rabbi would have given: obey all the commandments. Of course, obeying all the commandments would be no small order, and yet surprisingly, this young man says that he has done just that from the days of his youth. Then, in the words of the gospel writer, Jesus looked straight at him with love and said, “You need only one thing. Go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven; then come and follow me.” (Mark 10:21,22)

Those words must have hit the rich man full force in the face. Go, sell, give, come, follow. Those five small words must have been like five powerful blows from the gloves of a champion boxer. Bam, bam, bam, bam, bam! Go, sell, give, come, follow. “Go, sell all of your assets, give the money to the poor, and come and follow me. Do this and you will have riches in heaven.”

I don’t know how you find these words but to me they are some of the most difficult and confronting that Jesus ever spoke. Not so difficult to understand but impossible for mere human beings to carry out. Put yourself in that rich man’s shoes. What a situation for the rich man to be put in – to choose Jesus or to choose what he had inherited from his father, his comfortable lifestyle, his properties and bank accounts, the way of life that he had grown up with and now enjoyed. It’s easy to say that he should have immediately given it all up and followed Jesus, but how easy would we find it if we were in his situation?

When Jesus says, Go, sell, give, come, follow he is speaking to all of us regardless of how wealthy we are. As he did to the wealthy young man in our text, Jesus is exposing the false gods – the idols – that we worship. He is calling us to repentant of our idolatry, and by faith in him receive his forgiveness for our sin. And he calls us to a life of faith in him.

Make no bones about it, this young man was confronted with a tough choice – humanly speaking, an impossible choice. We are told, “When the man heard this, gloom spread over his face, and he went away sad, because he was very rich.” (Mark 10:22) Other translations, like the Revised Standard Version, say that “his countenance fell, and he went away sorrowful.” This young man comes to Jesus filled with hope and goes away sad.

Can you visualise the expression on the man’s face?

We’ve seen gloom come over people’s faces before. A student comes up to the teacher eagerly awaiting the results of their exam. The teacher says, “I’m sorry, you didn’t do that well. You got an F.” What happens to the student? Their countenance falls.

You are looking at the car you would really love to have and ask the salesman, “How much?”

“You are in luck. That one’s on sale. We have slashed $10,000 off the price.”

Your face brightens. Is it possible you can afford this dream car?

The salesman happily says, “You can get that little baby for a mere $75,000”.

Your face drops.

I can imagine that if Jesus was here today, and we asked him the same question, and he gave the same answer as he gave the man in the story, more than likely our faces would also drop. This is tough thing to ask of any one. These are the toughest five words. Go, sell, give, come, follow.

Jesus goes on and says, “My children, how hard it is to enter the Kingdom of God! It is much harder for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.” (Mark 10:25). People have tried to explain what Jesus meant here.

Some say the word camel in Greek is very similar to the word for “rope” and so Jesus is saying how difficult it is to thread a rope through the eye of a needle.

Others refer to a small door in the walls of Jerusalem. It was so small that it was impossible for a fully loaded camel to go through.

But why not let the imagery stand as it is. Jesus is trying to get across the idea of something that is impossible. The camel was the largest animal found in Palestine; the eye of a needle the smallest opening. A rich person has about as much chance of entering the Kingdom of God as a camel has of passing through the eye a needle.

And it is at this point that we find out how the disciples felt about all of this. We hear that they were “shocked” and “completely amazed and asked one another, “Who, then, can be saved?” You can see that everyone is absolutely flabbergasted at Jesus command to go, sell, give, come and follow. They are shocked, even appalled. And who can blame them?

You see, Jesus is laying it on pretty thick that discipleship means having faith in Jesus and being totally committed to following his ways – loving as he loves, forgiving as he forgives and serving as he serves. Jesus is warning that it is Satan’s delight to use the things we possess and our work and our leisure activities to possess us and so distract us from following Jesus. We might not think of ourselves as rich but we are indeed rich compared to the vast majority in the world. We don’t have to be millionaires for our work, our sport, our hobbies, and even our families to stand between us and our loyalty to God.

A widow once bought a parrot called Chirpy from the local pet store to keep her company. She returned to the store the next day with this complaint, “The parrot you sold me yesterday hasn’t said a word.”

“Does he have a mirror in his cage?” the store keeper asked. “Parrots love mirrors. They see their reflection and start a conversation.” The woman bought a mirror and left.

The next day she returned; the bird still wasn’t talking. “How about a ladder? Parrots love ladders. A happy parrot is a talkative parrot.” The woman bought a ladder and left.

But the next day, she was back again with the same complaint. “Does your parrot have a swing? No? Well, that’s the problem. Once he starts swinging, he’ll talk up a storm.” The woman reluctantly bought a swing and left.

When she walked into the store the next day, her countenance had changed. “The parrot died,” she said. The man at the pet shop was shocked.

“I’m so sorry. Tell me, did he ever say anything?” he asked.

“Yes, right before he died,” the woman replied. “In a weak voice, he asked me, ‘Don’t they sell any food at that pet store?’”

Chirpy had everything that a parrot could want to make him happy, everything except the most important thing of all. Without that one important thing Chirpy was doomed.

We too can have everything – good income, success at work, school or on the sports field, honour, money, fame and happy families – and don’t get me wrong Jesus isn’t saying that any of these things are bad in themselves. However, if having these things means we endanger our relationship with Jesus and therefore our hope of eternal life, then we are better off without them. Chirpy’s cage was full of all the gadgets that a parrot could want, but he ended up dead. That’s like what Jesus is saying today. We can be rich in a worldly sense but miss out on what makes us truly rich – life with Jesus.

As the disciples were listening to Jesus, their countenance dropped. They, and we, know that we humans let all kinds of things get between us and our walking with Jesus. All of us are constantly in danger of filling our hearts with everything else except Jesus. We admit that we find it impossible to keep the First or any of the Commandments. Luther explains: ‘We should fear, love and trust in God above all things’. There isn’t one person here who has done just that. For us to get to heaven by our own efforts would be like trying to squeeze a camel through the eye of a needle – an impossibility.

Jesus looked at his disciples straight in the eye and answered their question of “who can be saved then?” saying, “This is impossible for a humans, but not for God; everything is possible for God.”

God loves us! He sent his Son to die for us, to forgive us for failing to ‘go, sell, give, come, follow,’ and for putting other things first before Jesus. He calls us to repentance. As his new people with new priorities and a new love in our hearts he challenges us to go, sell, give, come, and follow. He forgives us for all of our misplaced priorities. He forgives us for the idols we cling to. He welcomes us into his kingdom saying, “All those who live and believe in me have eternal life.” Amen.

In all this, Job did not sin.

The Tchurch4ext: Job 2:10

 

Job was an exceptional man.  He was extremely loyal to God.  In chapter one of Job we are told that he was blameless and upright, who respected God and refused to do evil”, his children liked to party and every morning after one of their parties, he got up early and offered a sacrifice in case they had sinned or silently cursed God”, and that God himself has nothing but accolades to shower on Job.  God says: No one on earth is like him—he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (1:8).

Job was a wealthy man. He was “the richest man in the East” (1:3) with thousands upon thousands of sheep, camels, cattle and donkeys as well as a large number of servants.  God had indeed richly blessed Job. 

We also know that Job was blessed with seven sons and three daughters, a number which seems to indicate that this was the perfect family, a sign of God’s pleasure. He was a good father and had taught his children about God.  He wasn’t wasteful and was very generous and hospitable to those who visited him.

Job enjoyed a good life.  God’s protection rested on his family and everything he owned.  Everything he did prospered with God’s help.  Job’s wealth continued to grow and grow.  He was enjoying life, everything was just right, life couldn’t be sweeter, when bam, out of the blue, his life is turned upside down.

Raiders from the south stole all his stock and killed his servants. A storm destroyed the house where his children were having one of their parties and all ten were killed. The normally healthy Job broke out in terrible painful running sores.  He now sits on a heap of ashes, the only place where he could express his grief after losing so much.  Job is sitting alone—perhaps because he has been excluded from the community, who presume his wickedness for all of this to have happened. 

In one day, Job has gone from riches to rags. From the story, we know that it was Satan that had inflicted all of this on Job, the most God-fearing and loyal man that one could find, while it seems that God has allowed this to happen.

We might well ask, “What had Job done to deserve all this?”  “Why have so many disasters happened to a man who was so good?” 

These are good questions that people are still asking today. We hear of the untimely death of a child and we ask, “What had that child done to deserve that?”  Why should that happen to someone so young when there are so many other evil people who get away scot free?”

Jesus was confronted with the same problem (Luke 13:1-5). Some of those following Jesus referred to disasters that were headlines in the news. One tragedy happened at the temple. There were some pious and honourable folk offering sacrifices at the temple and yet they came to a cruel end.  Pontius Pilate had them killed right there in the temple as they worshipped. 

And then there was the collapse of the tower at Siloam.  Eighteen people were in the wrong place at the wrong time and were killed.  We are no strangers to that kind of thing. Like a surfer who has surfed on the same beach a thousand times, one day finds himself in the same spot as a hungry shark. 

It’s reasonable to ask, “Why do these bad things happen for no obvious reason?”  If we could say that they happened because bad people were getting what they deserved, then the problem would be solved and that would be end of it.  But we can’t.  We know that good people, people like Job, suffered.  We are horrified and can find no logical explanation why a defenceless child should die at the hands of a parent. 

Neither bad health nor the present drought have come as a result of some terrible sin.  Neither can we say that because we are church-going and committed Christians, we will never experience any hardship.

The question that arises in our minds now is this – we can’t explain why bad things happen to us so then how do we cope with tragedies when they do occur?  How did Job cope with the disasters that happened in his life?  We hear:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.

The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”

In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing” (Job 1:20-21).

Job has two responses to all this bad news. 

First, as can be expected, Job is grief stricken.  He has lost so much so quickly.  In record time, the once rich man has become a pauper.  He has lost his most precious possessions of all—his children, all ten of them at once.  No wonder his grief is so intense.

Job’s second response is one of faith.  While his wife and his friends tell him to give up on God, he doesn’t focus on his grief but states clearly that God is Lord of all things.  He gives freely and generously and he is able to take it all away again.   We are told, In all that happened, Job never once said anything against God” (2:10).  Job grieves but he doesn’t lose confidence in God’s justice and love.

At times our response to events in life aren’t Job-like at all.  The events and the grief are overwhelming and we blurt out, “It’s not fair!  I don’t deserve any of this!  Why won’t God do something and change things?”  We question God’s idea of what is fair and just.

Philip Yancey tells the story in his book, Disappointment with God, about a friend and faithful Christian named Douglas who went through a series of terrible events. First, his wife developed breast cancer.  Then one night, he and his family were involved in a head-on crash with a drunk driver.  His wife and daughter were injured in the smash.  Douglas received a severe head injury that caused sudden and debilitating headaches that kept him from working a full day and enjoying his passion for reading.  More than anything, it affected his ability to care for his wife.  None of this made any human sense.  If anyone had a right to be angry at God, Douglas did.

Yancey thought Douglas would be the perfect person to interview about being disappointed with God. So he began, “Could you tell me about your own disappointment?”

To Yancey’s great surprise, Douglas said, “To tell you the truth, Philip, I didn’t feel any disappointment with God…. The reason is this. I learned, first through my wife’s illness and then especially through the accident, not to confuse God with life.”

He continued, “I’m no stoic.  I am as upset about what happened to me as anyone could be.  I feel free to curse the unfairness of life and to vent all my grief and anger.  But I believe God feels the same way about that accident—grieved and angry.  I don’t blame him for what happened.”

He goes on to point out that we believe that God is fair and so assume that life also ought to be fair.  The fairness of life was disrupted when sin came into the world.  Sin invaded the peace and harmony of our world and our bodies.  All kinds of things come out of the blue that seem completely unfair but they have nothing to say about God loving us any less or that he doesn’t feel the pain as any parent feels the pain of their child.

It’s not God who is unfair—he is as loving and as just as he has always been.  It is life that is unfair—our world and our lives have been affected by the disastrous consequences of evil. 

The question that faces us is this: can we continue to love and trust God—in pain, in sickness, in grief and in any bad times? 

Can we love God in spite of what life brings? 

What will our reaction be when something hits us that really rocks us?  It strikes us so deeply that our love and trust in God is shaken.  We don’t have the human resources to hang on to God and to keep on trusting.  We don’t have the trust that Job had that firmly believes that God’s loves us more than ever.

When tragedy strikes, when we don’t understand, when we think it is unfair and we do end up blaming God, thank goodness God keeps hanging on to us.  Even when our trust is low and our doubts are overwhelming us, God keeps on loving and keeps on holding on to us and supporting us and helping us through that crisis.

The reason why God doesn’t give us specific answers to all our questions is something we have to grapple with even though we would dearly love to know the answers to the questions that we have about the tragedies and crises in our lives.  Maybe the answers are too complex for us to understand. 

The answer we do understand though is the one he gives us in his Son.  He gave his body and spilled his blood for us on the Cross.  He is God’s love for us.  He is present for us right here with his mercy and compassion through his word, and in his body and blood in the sacrament of Holy Communion.  He will always be with us through times of hardship and tragedy.  This is the way he responds to our questions—not with answers that make the world simpler, not with slick, neat answers to the question “why”, but he answers with his love, and with his life, given for us.  Amen.

“There” is the mount of Transfiguration.

Psalm 124; James 3:13-4:3; St. Mark 9:30-37

The context of this argument amongst the Apostles is that they had justgordon5 descended from the mount of transfiguration where they had seen Jesus’ glory, the glory, as St. John has it, “as of the only Son from the Father”. Mark 9: says “They went on from there” Where is this “there”? The “there” is the mount of Transfiguration where the three disciple, Peter, James and John, had witnessed the glory of Jesus transfiguration. Now they were travelling from “there” with Jesus, going with him up to Jerusalem where He was to die. To achieve his “exodus”, his departure indicated by Moses and Elijah in the conversation with Jesus accompanying the transfiguration vision which the disciples heard and witnessed

The problem with the disciples was that they completely misread the meaning of Jesus’ transfigured glory. By their actions toward one another it would appear that they understood glory in the this worldly sense of power or greatness. But Jesus glory is exactly the opposite. He who shared the inconceivable uncreated glory of the Father from all eternity, in inestimable condescension makes himself one with humanity, not in a neutral sense by simply of becoming a human being, but sharing our humanity in the condition in which God finds it in alienation, estrangement, living in the darkness of sin and separation from God, the true source of human life. T

This is Jesus glory that in obedience to the Father, in that unity of will and purpose which is God’s essential nature, Jesus undertakes His strange journey in to the far country of this world. There he descends to the depths of the abandonment of the human condition. It is here, according to John’s gospel that we see what Christ’s glory is, the glory which the disciples beheld on the mount of transfiguration. It was on that mountain that the figures of the Old Testament, Moses and Elijah, spoke to Jesus of His departure, His exodus that He was soon to accomplish in Jerusalem. His exodus, his departure through the humiliation of his death on the cross. The truth of this mountaintop experience for the disciples is hidden in the deep mystery of Christ’s impending humiliation as the glorified Son of the Father. There is this false and misleading view abroad about Christians’ Mountain top experiences, of emotional highs that are meant to indicate experiences of God’s grace in a person’s life. Well, the disciple’s incomparable mountain top experience is one which completely hides form them the truth of the reality that is taking place before their eyes. They are blind to the truth of Jesus glory consisting in his abject humiliation in the cross as the eternal Son of the Father. This should make us pause and realise the highly questionable nature of all religious experiences as revealing anything, apart from our own psychological state rather than the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ

But amazingly, all this is hidden from the apostles. They dispute with one another; they argue about preferment in the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus whose glory they have just witnessed in His Transfiguration. So, Jesus takes a child and teaches his disciples an unforgettable lesson. But just what is it that Jesus teaches His disciples?

Here it is not a question of the disciples becoming infantile. Their arguing amongst themselves is already a sign of their infantile understanding of Jesus purpose and presence in the world. The child represents one who is weak and vulnerable, who is defenceless in the world. It is a child whom Jesus chooses to represent Himself to his disciples. “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me”. The receiving of a child as representative of Jesus means that the disciples must learn that their life before God depends upon them not counting it too small a thing to receive that gift from One who, like this child, is weak and vulnerable in the world; one who is defenceless against its predations, deceptions and subversion.

This One of course stands before them. The child is witness to Jesus in the form He assumes for our sake as the weak and defenceless one whose glory is in His weakness, His victory in His defeat. But it is these very characteristics of the child which the disciples despise; as is indicated by their arguments among themselves. But it is precisely this with which they must come to terms with if they are to receive truth of their life before God as mediated to them by one who has this form and no other. The form of a weak, vulnerable, defenceless child.

These words of Jesus about the child and the disciples receiving Him in the form of a child occur in the context of the gospel record alongside Jesus’ quite direct indication, in his own words to them which cannot be misunderstood, that the purpose of his ministry will find its fulfilment in the cross. “The Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him; and when He is killed after three days He will rise.” St Mark 9:31. But from their totally incongruous behaviour, their discussion about who is the greatest, we see that what the disciples see in Jesus words is either nothing at all or only a frightful paradox, a radical contradiction and destruction of any idea they might have of Jesus as the Son of God.

But these same disciples, blind to the reality of Jesus purpose in being among them as the true son of the Father, subsequently came to confess the crucified Jesus as the hope of the world, as apostolic witnesses of the resurrection. What they came to see as a hopeless contradiction and meaninglessness, they come to see as Jesus kingly coronation. Where now they started back in incomprehension at Jesus words, they then understand in the light of His triumph: That is, they now saw His cross, which had been the subject of their experience of the transfiguration and Jesus own testimony concerning His future, being a great source of their blindness, disturbance and a fundamental contradiction for them, they came to see the cross as the solid basis and sign of their temporal and eternal hope, by which they could live and proclaim to the world as its hope too.

The encounter between Jesus and His disciples concerning the place of a child in this context, which refers in such dramatic and direct way to His passion and death, has a particular meaning for us. It raises for us the question of the power and meaning of the existence of the one-man Jesus Christ for all people. The relevance of this reading for us today may be summed up in this way: How is it that what Jesus was and is and will be can reach and affect us as an act of divine power?

“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me.” Receives………… in my name. The question of Jesus presence and purpose for us and the world can be received by us in our relationship with a child. But here we must distinguish between the relationships which we have with children by nature, either as parents or friends, and our receiving a child in Jesus’ name. To receive a child in the name of Jesus is to receive a gift which radically calls into question the basis of our life before God and each other. The child as a child is not identical with Jesus, in fact there is no inherent relationship between Jesus and children apart from Jesus’ will that we receive Him and all He wills to be for us in this form: The form in which a child confronts us is in its dependence and vulnerability, its weakness in the world. For the child is a witness to Jesus in it being who it is, a child. For in its being who it is; in its dependence and vulnerability in the world, who without resolute protection by family and society would fall prey to the powers of negation at work in our society, the child in being who it is in this way witnesses to whom Jesus Christ is for us today.

For the child, in being a child, points to the astounding fact upon which depends the existence of the world before God: that our life before each other is grounded in and sustained by the fact that in Jesus Christ the eternal God accommodated Himself to the weakness and vulnerability of our mortality. That for our sake He traversed our way from birth to death in order that our being, our lives, which in their alienation and corruption are tumbling down into the non being and nothingness of death should be preserved and renewed in relationship with God. It is precisely because this One who went this way lives as the Lord that the child can become for us the source and testimony to the Truth of our life in Jesus Christ.

But it was just this truth which the disciples rejected as they companied with Jesus on the road up to Jerusalem as they argued amongst themselves as to who was the greatest. Jesus’ action and words regarding the place of the child in their understanding of themselves and their relationship to Him is just as relevant for us in the church today who own this One as Lord. We need to realise that the church in its mission in the world, in its word and its service, cannot escape from the same judgment as that to which the disciples were subjected when Jesus took a child and uttered those memorable words. For the church both as individual members and as a community of Christians are constantly intent on securing ourselves over against vulnerability and dependence, seeking ways and means of escaping from the narrow path of costly disciple ship to which Jesus calls us. We all, in one way or another, refuse to receive Him and His promised presence as the only resource the church needs to live and endure in its earthly pilgrimage.

Our life before God as a church and before each other is totally dependent upon us receiving Jesus becoming, like a child, weak and defenceless for our sake; vulnerable and exposed, to the power of darkness for our sake. The Christian claim is that only as we acknowledge this One as Lord, as the truth of our life before God and each other, can we be set free from ourselves to serve Him in the distressing disguise which he assumes in the vulnerability of a child in the world. Jesus comes to us and we receive Him in this disguise or we cannot receive Him at all, as the One He wills to be as our Saviour and Lord.

Dr.Gordon Watson.

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:

David:0414521661

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

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 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.