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.

John the Baptist a man of conviction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Haydn Blass

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

The Text: Mark 6:1-13

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If we want little, we shall find little.

If we want much, we shall find much.

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

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

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

The Text: Mark 4:35-41

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Third Sunday after Pentecost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rev. David Thompson.

Second Sunday after Pentecost

The Text: Mark 3:20-35 

 

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

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

His story goes like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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