We’re talking about 25 millimetres of missing bread.

The Text: Luke 6:27-36

A few years ago Matt Corby’s local Subway restaurant in Perth was caughtallanb short…literally. Matt measured the sandwich he bought, advertised as a “foot-long,” and found it stopped at 11 inches. After Matt posted a photo of the sandwich next to a tape measure on Subway’s Facebook page, his photo went viral. The Facebook page was flooded with thousands of angry customers demanding to know why the sub didn’t measure up. Who would think 25 millimetres of missing bread could cause such a furore!

Across the other side of the world, two men in New Jersey saw Matt’s Facebook post and decided to sue the company because their foot-long sandwiches also allegedly fell an inch short. Their lawyer, Stephen DeNittis, said: “The case is about holding companies to deliver what they’ve promised.”1 The two men from New Jersey represented a huge class action against Subway―all persons in the United States who purchased a 6-inch or Foot-long sandwich at a Subway restaurant between January 1st, 2003 and October 2nd, 2015. The class action alleged that sandwiches sold by the Subway restaurant franchise: “…sometimes fell short of the chain’s “foot-long” marketing claims. But there was no dispute that the actual weight of the dough and the amount of ingredients was, in fact, uniform for each sandwich; and even the named plaintiffs in the lawsuit conceded that the exact length of the sandwiches didn’t affect their purchases or change their future plans to eat at Subway.2

What was the result? The class action against Subway was successful and the court approved a $US 525,000 settlement. But every cent of that amount ended up with the lawyers, reimbursing their legal fees. The people they represented didn’t get anything. So then the US Centre for Class Action Fairness filed an appeal…and to cut a long story short, the appeal ended up being dismissed.

This is all a bit of food for thought, if you’ll pardon the pun, and I found the argument of those bringing the action against Subway a bit hard to swallow. Big business does need to be accountable―but this wasn’t about a failure to meet minimum working standards or a breach of health and hygiene in food preparation. We’re talking about 25 millimetres of missing bread. Did that really warrant a tirade of over 130,000 Facebook posts—the trial by social media where everyone has a right to say whatever they want to in the name of freedom of speech, no matter how or defamatory—and the subsequent legal action resulting in over half a million dollars?

The plaintiffs’ own admissions that this wouldn’t stop them visiting Subway stores in the future says this was more about individuals defining what their rights are and enforcing them at all costs without thinking through how that might impact others around them.

The Subway saga is just one instance of today’s culture exalting ‘the great me’. Yet some 2,000 years ago, Jesus addressed the same issue, with his words in today’s Gospel reading. With a series of short statements in his ‘Sermon on the mount’, Jesus gives his audience a pattern of life that is radically distinct form the world’s way of insisting on our rights and getting even, and making our others pay for their transgressions. They are to bless those who curse them, pray for those who mistreat them. If someone slaps them on one cheek, they are to turn to them the other also. If someone takes their coat, they are not withhold their shirt from them. They are to do good to those who hate them. They are to be merciful just as their Heavenly Father is merciful.

This pattern for living that Jesus gives is not in order to earn special blessing from God. It is the pattern of life for those who are already blessed; those who are children of their Father in heaven, not children of the world, and this pattern mirrors God’s own merciful, self-giving love. With what Jesus calls the disciples to do―turn the other cheek to be slapped, or giving their overcoat as well as their shirt, or being compelled to walk with a heavy load for two miles rather than one (Roman miles at that; nearly 5 kilometres each), lending to those who cannot repay, loving one’s enemies and praying for those who persecute them―Jesus is not saying that his people should become doormats to be trampled all over.

But Jesus is giving a visualisation of how radically different from the self-centred world their lives are to be. They are not to be self-absorbed as the world is and insist on their rights while sacrificing the good of others at the altar of the self. They are not to give only if they can get something in return. They are not to breathe hatred, bear grudges, place conditions on forgiveness, or seek revenge and pursue litigation if their sandwich isn’t quite right. But they are to love all people and be merciful just like their Heavenly Father. They are even to love their enemies, Jesus says. And so are we.

Now surely that can’t be right?! We love those who love us, the ‘good’ people like ourselves. But surely not our enemies! Why would Jesus say that? If we were God, we would wipe evil out, right?

But what behaviour would be evil enough to stir us to take action? What standard, or benchmark would we use? Really big stuff, like drug trafficking, prostitution and terrorism would be fairly straight forward. Or would it? Would keeping the wrong amount of change mistakenly given to us be deplored as quickly as robbery, tax avoidance and embezzling church funds? If people did not get hurt would something that was wrong change to being OK? Would we be quick to condemn genocide, yet be more permissive about legalising abortion? Would situations, or our needs, determine what was right or wrong? What kind of behaviours would even determine who our enemies were anyway?

We would all most likely have different morals and tolerances towards evil and what is acceptable—and that is the issue. Only God’s standard is universally consistent. He gave us his commandments, to show us what his will is for our relationship with himself and others, and to curb and restrain hurt and wrongdoing. Yet the chilling shock for us is that when we reflect on the commandments we come to the realisation that the end to evil we wish for would leave none of us standing. Even the worst atrocities we witness on the news begin with a hurtful attitude, a selfish thought; attitudes and thoughts which none of us are exempt from.

Jesus says today “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” We can’t do that ourselves, for the problem of the ‘great me’ is part of our natural human condition ever since Adam and Eve listened to Satan’s temptation to distrust God’s word and want their own way. “Did God really say?” the serpent hissed, and they fell for the serpent’s lie, seeds, core and all. Ever since then we have all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.

In today’s text, Jesus is addressing his disciples…and you, his disciples of today. By ‘enemies’ Jesus means enemies of the church; those who reject Christ by persecuting and rejecting his people and his message they bring. They are whoever refuses to listen to God or worship him. The Apostle Paul explains that, because of sin, in our natural state we are all enemies of God, hostile to him (Romans 5:10 and 8:7). The problem is that in our enthusiasm to wipe out evil by hating our enemies rather than loving them, we place ourselves under the same sentence, for none of us can perfectly fulfil God’s law.

When we determine who is worthy of our love and mercy and forgiveness and to whom we should turn the other cheek or go the extra mile with―we in effect are saying to God that when we fail and fall short we should be judged by the same standards: ‘Refuse to forgive our sins as we refuse to forgive others” or “Place limits and conditions on your mercy to us as we place limits and conditions on showing mercy to others.” That’s not a good place to be for we have just passed the same judgment on ourselves. When we refuse to love our enemies, seeking revenge and retaliation; getting even with our offenders and insisting on our rights, we are only treating them the way the world does.

But God did not try to get even with us and make us pay. It was while we were sinners; while we were enemies of God, that God not only loaned to us—we who have nothing to repay him with—but opened the storehouses of heaven and poured out the treasure trove of his riches for us, sending his own Son into the world.

This is how God showed his mercy to us. It was Christ who came all the way from heaven to earth for you, to perfectly fulfil the law for us. Although he was completely innocent and righteous, he walked to the Cross to take our place, receiving the punishment for evil and sin that we deserved. It was Christ who was persecuted for us. He turned the other cheek when he was struck and slapped before the High Priest, he was forced to walk the extra mile to Golgotha and bear the crushing burden of the sin of the world upon his shoulders. Jesus came to reconcile the world―even those most wretched criminals, the least deserving―to his Father in Heaven by his precious blood.

Through faith in Jesus, we are no longer enemies of God but his friends. Even more, united to Christ and his own death and resurrection in baptism, Jesus’ Father is now our Father who loves us perfectly and calls us his own dear children. He has washed us and given us his forgiveness, freedom and fullness of life through faith in Christ. We receive Jesus’ own righteousness so that even though we can’t be perfect, our Heavenly Father says you have lived as perfectly as Jesus himself. God gives to us and does for us what we are powerless to do ourselves. He plunges the ‘great me’ into our baptism each day to be drowned. Then we shift from ‘my will be done’ to ‘Thy will be done’—and really mean it.

We are really free―not as the world defines freedom, but as God does. Jesus has made the way for us to overcome evil with good and to sacrifice self for the good of others by showing mercy to others.

He has freed us to die to ourselves and with it the human desire to get even, and make those who wrong us pay.

He has freed us to pray for our enemies rather than curse them.

He has freed us to welcome those who are not our brothers and sisters.

He has freed us to really love, not just a shallow reciprocal love like the world, showing care if we can get something in return, but loving with the merciful love of Christ, even to our enemies, just as God has first loved us and still shows us his mercy each day.

And so living out our baptism each day is a life which focuses on the extra mile rather than the missing inch―for it is a life redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, freed by God’s own mercy, and shaped by his love. Amen.

God smiled and said…Ahhhh, finally you have the idea.

The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.  Let’s  join in a word of  prayer: Loving God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; this day around the world, our fellow Christians are gathering together to celebrate the life and ministry of Your son Jesus Christ and to worship You.  Guide our time together this morning, that we may hear and understand your message for us. Gracious heavenly Father, hear our prayer for the sake of our risen Lord Jesus Christ,  Amen.

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David:0414521661

Someone wrote: 

I asked God to take away my pain. God said, No.
It’s not for me to take away, but for you to give it up.
I asked God to make my handicapped child whole.
God said, No. Her spirit is whole, her body is only temporary.
I asked God to grant me patience. God said, No.
Patience is a by-product of tribulation; it isn’t granted, it is learned.
I asked God to give me happiness.  God said, No.
I give you blessings. Happiness is up to you.

I asked God to spare me pain. God said, No.
Suffering draws you apart from worldly cares and brings you closer to me.
I asked God to make my spirit grow. God said, No.
You will grow in my word, but I will prune you to make you more fruitful.
I asked God for all things that I might enjoy life. God said, No. I will give you life, so that you may enjoy all things.
I asked God to help me love others, as much as He loves me.      

God smiled and said…Ahhhh, finally you have the idea.

As we were blessed by the readings today from Jeremiah and 1st Corinthians, some may consider themselves fortunate the liturgy for Epiphany 6 does not come around very often.  Because Easter is pretty late this year, we experience both the 6th and 7th Sundays of Epiphany.  Today’s reading from Luke captures a glimpse of the power and the passion that eminates whenever we come to understand the love of God, and wherever we reflect this love to others.  Whenever the Gospel is proclaimed, and wherever God’s personal touch is felt by people in need.

Luke reports that Jesus has now moved from the Peter’s boat on the sea shore to a flat clearing. We find Jesus seated on that clearing surrounded by a multitude of people.  People who followed Him and hungered after a word of hope; stretching out arms and hands to perhaps receive the personal touch of the one who brings life and healing to all.

They followed Jesus, and they were cured; they were freed from the demons that held their hearts and minds captive; they were given hope for a renewed future in the glow of a gracious saviour; they were made whole.

At this time in Luke’s account of the life and ministry of Jesus, He had just selected the 12 that would become His Apostles.  These chosen Disciples were called to follow Him, set apart to learn from Him and then to share with many others the Good News of Jesus, the example of Jesus, the love of Jesus, the personal touch of Jesus.  Yes, the powerful healing touch of Jesus was shared with the Apostles, along with the authority of His spoken testimony of God’s presence in the world. 

Now Jesus begins to teach these Disciples, in the hearing of the multitude.  He taught the core truths of Christian living.  Of living in faith to face the challenges that lay ahead of every Christian in every time and every place.  Matthew describes these teachings a bit different from Luke.  In Matthew, we have the gentle teacher, presenting the beatitudes from the mount, within a context of spirituality and God’s grace.  Luke describes a more human Jesus, conscious of the human needs that surround him. 

Jesus begins this teaching by describing the blessings of God for those who are disadvantaged.  And the woes of those who have set God aside from their advantaged lives.  Essentially, Jesus is talking about human suffering.

All too often, people are caught in their human circumstances.  All too often people suffer because it’s so difficult to see beyond these circumstances. 

Jesus points out that both the poor and the wealthy dwell on possessions; the poor because of their need and the wealthy because of their abundance. 

Jesus proclaims the truth that both the hungry and the well fed dwell on food; the hungry because of empty bellies and the well fed because they are over filled.  Both the disadvantaged and the advantaged dwell on their circumstances; the disadvantaged because of their anger and envy, and the advantaged because of their pride and arrogance. 

I suspect that Jesus was trying to tell us that all too often people suffer because they cannot see God in their circumstances; or because they see God dimly through the reflection of their circumstances.  They grieve because they feel God has forsaken them in their need; and they discount God in favour of their own initiatives in their abundance.

Luke describes Jesus beginning his lengthy teaching from that quiet place on clearing with these truths of the human condition, because Jesus wants to minister to all people at the very heart of human suffering – the poor, the hungry, the disadvantaged, the grieving, the abandoned.  

Jesus almost cries out that “Nothing stays the same for ever.” Except life in eternity, of course.    If things are going good – enjoy the time because things will likely get tough and all that will change.  If things are going particularly tough – take heart and don’t despair because they will get better.   

We only need look to the droughts in one place and the floods in another to find an example of this polar disparity.  We should always hold to our faith and remain steadfast to our testimony that Jesus is sharing in our lives, sharing in our celebrations, and sharing in our suffering.   

The thought for this week, should be “The secret of contentment is knowing how to enjoy what you have, and seeing Jesus in our lives, no matter how much or how little we have or need.  And always hold on to our hope.” 

The next time we begin to feel discouraged or even when we feel especially encouraged; the next time we feel disadvantaged, or especially advantaged;

the next time that we feel especially blessed or especially afflicted; consider that Jesus is beside each one of us, in our life, sharing those feelings; that He understands our condition; and that He continues to love us without limit or condition. 

We can recognise God’s presence in everything that we do, think and feel.  Then we can take courage and rejoice that God is with us – Emanuel.  The true epiphany of Christian living.

In the epiphany of Christ Jesus, may God make us ever mindful of the multitude of ways that we  receive His love.   His love that is working in our lives every day as a witness that Jesus Christ is Lord.  And may God enable us to represent that love to others as a witness to them, in every circumstance of life.  Caring where we find need and reaching out when we are in need.  Knowing that our Saviour is present with us always.

  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.

Is a person a fisherman if he or she never goes fishing?”


The Text: Luke 5:1-11ac5

 

Do you have a favourite food to eat? In the times of Jesus, fish was most commonly eaten. There were many boats on the Lake of Gennesaret trying to catch fish during the night when the fish came closer to the surface of the water. Fish were even exported to Rome. The opening letters in the Greek word fish (ICTHUS) were used to symbolise what was central to the Christian Faith: Jesus Christ, God’s Own Saviour”. Boats were seen as symbols for the Christian community, the Christian Church.

It’s fascinating to watch people catch fish from a jetty. We can’t help but admire their dedication, patience and persistence. I wonder if this doesn’t have something to do with Jesus calling fishing folk to become His full-time disciples. Just before this event, Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law. Now Jesus is preaching at the lakeside, where a great crowd has come to hear Him speak God’s Word to them. He hops onto Peter’s boat and continues teaching from it so the people crowded around them can hear Him better.

Jesus is especially keen to make an impact on Peter, so after His preaching, He asks Peter to go out into deeper waters and let his nets down for a catch. Peter shows a bit of reluctance initially, because they had caught nothing all night, but ends up obeying Jesus and discovering what a blessing it is to obey our Lord. In today’s Gospel we see how Jesus calls the most unlikely and most unexpected of people to assist Him in the most important work in the world. Our Lord does His best work through those who have no tickets on themselves, those who are initially reluctant to serve Him because they feel not up to the task. Jesus can do wonders through such folk because they, in their humility, depend on Christ from start to finish. Jesus values those who come to Him only too aware of their failures and faults.

Jesus enters the workplace of Peter and his fellow fishermen, just when they’d been unsuccessful in their daily work. It’s there that He finally gets through to Peter and changes his life forever. When Jesus has finished preaching, he asks Peter to resume his work. Will you also do what Jesus wants you to do once today’s sermon is finished? Jesus asks Peter to do something contrary to regular practice. Now Peter often puts his foot in his mouth and speaks without thinking. He responds to Jesus’ request, saying, “Master, we have worked all night long, but caught nothing. Yet, if You say so, I will let down the nets.” Peter is no doubt tired from a night of unsuccessful fishing and is unsure about what to do. Who can blame him? Sometimes Jesus asks us to do something for Him when we feel too tired to do it. But when Jesus wants us to do something for Him He will provide us with the energy needed to obey Him.

Miracles often occur when someone takes Jesus at His Word and obeys Him. Taking on board our Lord’s agenda for our lives becomes a privilege rather than an interruption, the privilege of winning followers for Jesus among the people around us, and a privilege that creates persistence. Monica, the mother of Saint Augustine prayed for the conversion of her son for 30 years before her prayers were answered and he became Saint Augustine, the greatest biblical scholar who lived between New Testament times and the time of Martin Luther.  

Peter and his fishing friends experience the greatest catch of fish ever. They’re overwhelmed, not just at the catch of fish, but more so at discovering who Jesus is. Jesus isn’t just another teacher or preacher. Rather, He is the Lord of everyone, worthy of our wholehearted, lifelong loyalty and devotion. Peter, instead of being filled with immense joy and happiness at his good fortune, is overwhelmed with his own unworthiness and sinfulness. He feels he doesn’t deserve Jesus’ bountiful goodness and generosity. He feels all he can do is to kneel at Jesus’ feet and say, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Peter feels he is in God’s presence, full of regret for his failure to do what God expects of him.

Peter now realises that Jesus, the Son of God, treats him so much better than he deserves. Jesus is delighted with Peter’s confession and instead of rejecting him, calls him into lifelong service. We too are never more pleasing to our Lord than when we confess to Him our own unworthiness and feelings of inadequacy. He then welcomes us with open arms and helps us do things for Him that we never thought possible before. With Christ as part of our daily lives, we can do so much more than we could ever do on our own.

Jesus also says to us, “Do not fear, from now on you will be catching people alive”, that is, bringing them into close connection with Christ Himself, so that He can bestow on them life abundant, life that’s a joyful foretaste of eternity.

Above all, our Lord is seeking teachable people of all ages, people who never want to stop learning more about Him. That’s why He called Peter to follow Him. Peter becomes someone who is never satisfied with what he knows about Jesus so far. He wants to know all he can about Jesus, asking more questions of Jesus than does anyone else in all our four Gospels. Luther says, “God’s Word is a beautiful flower, the longer I have to enjoy it the better.” In the Book of Acts we see how Peter grew in his knowledge and understanding of God’s Word. For all Peter’s weaknesses, Jesus calls him to be His lifelong apostle because He sees Peter as He sees us, in terms of our future potential.

It’s so exciting to think that our best days of serving our Saviour may still be ahead of us. To encourage us, we’re assured that whatever we do for our Lord will never be in vain. Jesus reassures us that our service for Him will bear fruit beyond what we may see in our lifetime. Our best way forward is simply to serve Him faithfully day by day, week by week. It’s a contradiction is terms, is it not, to be a Christian and yet not serve Christ as best we can.

The story of the Fishless Fishing Folk illustrates this:

There were fishing folk who lived by a big lake full of fish.

They met regularly and spoke of their call to fish. They defined what fishing means and what were the best fish to catch.

They built beautiful places called “Fishing Centres”, where everyone was encouraged to go out into the lake and fish.

One thing they never did, though, was to go and catch any fish.

They appointed boards of enquiry to find out why this was so. The thick reports of these boards took lots of time to study and make recommendations.

Some folk felt their job was to relate to the fish in a good way so that the fish would know the difference between good and bad fishermen.

After a meeting on “The Necessity for Fishing”, one young person went fishing and caught two outstanding fish. He was honoured for his catch and, as a result, quit fishing to tell others of his experience. They were all shocked when someone asked one day: “Is a person a fisherman if he or she never goes fishing?”

Don’t let this be true of you. Today or tomorrow, pray for the conversion or return to God of one of your friends or family members who has wandered away from Him. Ask God to give them a living, active faith in Jesus. And pray, “Revive Your Church, O Lord, beginning with me.”

Amen.

See how they love each other

The Text: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

In the early centuries of the Christian church, Christians were a minority. Theygarth were seen as a strange little group of people and often met with hostility from the outside world. A man named Tertullian documented the early church, noting a common reaction from people who came into contact with these early Christians. He quoted them as saying about these early Christians: ‘See how they love each other’. ‘See how they love each other’. Despite the problems people had with the early Christians they could not help but be surprised by the love in their communities. This was something different. This was something powerful. It was love of Christians for each other that made people sit up and take notice and ask: what makes these people tick?

St Paul speaks to us today about love, which he called ‘the more excellent way’. There are many different ways or paths in this life on which we can choose to travel. Christians are called to travel the way of love. As St Paul speaks about love today there’s three clear sections. First he’s talking about the absolute necessity or the supreme value of love. Second he’s giving us a description of the character of love. Third he speaks about the permanence of love.

First is the absolute necessity or supreme value of love. This is where Paul references speaking in the tongues of angels and having prophetic powers and understanding all mysteries and having incredible faith and giving away all one’s possessions and even giving away one’s very body, and in all this Paul says, ‘if I do not have love, it is nothing’.

What’s Paul’s getting at here? You might remember Paul is writing to the Corinthian church which had all these spectacular spiritual gifts like speaking in tongues, but the gifts had made them arrogant. They weren’t using them for building up others but just to build themselves up. There was plenty of impressive stuff happening in Corinth, but they were lacking in the more excellent way, the way of love. If God’s people are a temple, then love is God’s cement which holds everything in place. If God’s people are a body, then love is the vital oil which keeps every ligament and joint working smoothly.

It’s actually quite easy in the church to get so carried away with the busyness of our activities that we lose our love for God and for people. I wonder if St Paul might say to the modern church: ‘you can have lots of fancy buildings, you can have all sorts of impressive programs, you can be on the cutting edge of technology, but if everything in the church is not begun, continued, ended and permeated by love, it’s nothing’.

This is the absolute necessity and supreme value of love. 

Then Paul goes on to give us this famous and beautiful description of the character of love that begins, ‘love is patient, love is kind’. At this point you all wanted to look to the church entrance for the bride to come in for the wedding didn’t you?! That’s where we’ve heard this so often. Indeed, this is a beautiful passage for couples to reflect on as the sort of love which makes for a healthy marriage. However that’s not actually Paul’s main concern here. He’s talking about the whole Christian community.

The description of the character of love is just so beautiful that it can best simply to let the original words speak for themselves. But let’s make a few brief comments on each phrase.  

Love is patient – long suffering. It doesn’t ‘write people off’ but goes the journey with them.

Love is kind – there’s a gentleness with love, and compassion to love.

Love is not envious– so rather than envying what others have, love is able to rejoice and give thanks for other’s joys.

Love is not boastful or arrogant or rude – this is the other side, that when things go well, love doesn’t use these things to boast or become arrogant or rude because love is continually looking outward to the other, not inward to the self.

Love does not insist on its own way – love is willing to take a back seat sometimes and let others have their way, and then not say, ‘okay you can do it that way but I’m not going to help you’. Love doesn’t insist on its own way but still hangs in there.

Love is not irritable – ‘not easily provoked’ is another translation. Love can turn the other cheek. Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing – that’s either our wrongdoing or more so others’ wrongdoing. Love is not like the Pharisee rejoicing in the sins of the publican. Love doesn’t take some perverse pleasure in seeing others fall into sin but love grieves over sin.

Love rejoices in the truth – this is the tough side to love. Love is kind but that doesn’t mean not caring about the truth. Truth is important, especially truth about God. It’s life-giving, and so love doesn’t say ‘oh well you’ve got your truth and I’ve got mine, it’s all relative’. No – love rejoices in THE truth.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things – this is whole picture is of the character of love.

Then Paul’s third section is about the permanence of love. Love never ends. Love is a piece of eternity which is shared with us here in this life. Have you ever thought about this, that there are things in our Christian life now that are only for this life? As examples here Paul says prophecies, tongues and knowledge will come to an end. Now we have a need to study and learn and grow in our knowledge of God’s word. We need pastors and teachers to help us delve deeper into God’s word. This is because, as Paul says, we know only in part now. In our relationship to God, we only see in a mirror dimly. When eternal life comes, we will see God face to face. We will know fully. Then teaching and studying, which are very important parts of our Christian life now, will no longer be needed. But not love. Love never ends. Love begins in this life but continues on into eternity. Love is the air you breathe in heaven itself.

This brings us to an absolutely crucial point. To say that love is a piece of eternity in time, or a piece of heaven on earth, is to say as it does in First John that, ‘love comes only from God’ (1 John 4:7). And even stronger: ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:16). And most importantly of all, ‘In this is love, not that we love God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be an atoning sacrifice for our sins’.

We need to see this, because the problem is that as beautiful as Paul’s description of love is, we all know we don’t even come close to living this way. Just try putting yourself into that passage where it describes love. Imagine putting ‘I’ wherever it says love. So it would say, ‘I am patient, I am kind, I am not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. I don’t insist on my own way. I’m not irritable or resentful’. And on it goes. Friends, we can hardly even get through the passage reading that way –  it is just so humiliating. Our hearts can be so cold, our hearts can be so lacking in love. This is why we need our Saviour Jesus Christ, who the embodiment of God’s love.

If your measure yourself against this description of perfect love, you fail miserably. But now put Jesus in there. Jesus is patient. Just think of the way he hung in there with his disciples even when his chief disciples denied him three times. That’s patience.  Jesus is kind. He had compassion on the crowds because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus was not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. The one person in the world who had something to boast about was completely humble. Jesus did not insist on his own way – instead he obeyed the way of his Father even though it meant his own suffering and death. Jesus endured all things and even hung on the cross and said ‘Father forgive them for they know not what they do’ – that’s love.

Paul says he wants to show us the more excellent way of love. Jesus said He is the way, the truth and the life. Paul’s description of love is a portrait of our Saviour who comes to reveal to us the love of God. As we are united to Christ, as our identity becomes wrapped up in Christ, then the love of Christ begins to ‘control’ us as Paul says elsewhere in 2 Corinthians. Love comes from God and is revealed in Christ who sends us the Spirit who creates and sustains this love in our hearts. The first on the list of the fruit of the Spirit is love. Remember, it’s not the fruit of you, it’s the fruit of the Spirit in you.

There’s a scene in the story Les Miserable which demonstrate this point so powerfully. The story really hinges on powerful act of love that the main character John Val Jean receives. He’s out of prison having a tough time and a kindly old Christian Bishop welcomes him in. But Val Jean has been so hardened by the knocks of this world that he turns to crime again and steals the Bishop’s silverware during the night and takes off.

He’s caught and hauled back to the Bishop. And what does he do? With one word he could’ve send Val Jean back to prison for life or maybe worse. But instead he says, ‘You left so quickly, you forgot I didn’t just give you this silverware, I also gave you the best items, the candle sticks.’ And so Val Jean is free.

It’s a powerful moment. An act of love that the Bishop shows to Val Jean, and an act of love that comes from God through the Bishop. The rest of the story then is about that love working itself out in Val Jean’s life, so that slowly the love of God ripples out through him and his heart is turned from being full of hate to being full of love. 

God has shown his love for us in Jesus Christ, let us pursue this more excellent way of love. May our church and our congregation be so permeated by love that people in our world take notice and say ‘See how they love each other’. Amen.

The amazing body

The Text: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31

Have you ever taken the time to reflect on the amazing creation that is thechurch4 human body? The human body is simply incredible. Research tells us a few facts about the human body:

  • Our body has over 200 bones, and over 600 muscles.
  • The human tongue has between 2,000 and 8,000 taste buds.
  • Laid end to end there are close to 100,000 km of blood vessels in your body..
  • Scientists estimate your body has about 100 trillion cells.

It’s so complex. There are so many parts, and so many systems. Yet essentially your body functions as a unit. You have one body.  

St Paul uses this reality of our human body to teach us about the church. As we work through this teaching of Paul on the church as Christ’s body, we’ll note two important things he emphasizes about what the church is, and then two important things he emphasizes about how we live with each other as members of the church.

So to begin with, what are the two more general things we learn here about the church as the body of Christ? We learn about the unity which exists between Christians, and where that unity comes from.   

This is striking right from the start. Our starting point today is usually that “I’m a Christian as an individual”. Paul’s starting point is that we are Christians collectively, as a body. Often today if someone says they are a Christian and you ask ‘where is your church?’ they will look at you strangely. ‘I don’t have to belong to a church to be a Christian’ they’ll say. But Paul says that to be a Christian means to be a part of a body, and if you’re not regularly gathering with those other members of the body to be nourished by God, something is drastically wrong. The Church is not so much an organisation, but an organism. We’re not so much members of the church, as we are membranes of the body.

But then the second part is: where does this body get its’ unity from? The answer here is very simple: ‘in the one Spirit we were all baptised’. The one God has baptised us into the one body of Christ by the power of the one Spirit. In other words, there is a common source by which people are made a part of the body, namely God. There is a common means, namely baptism. There is a common power, namely the Holy Spirit.  

This is very significant for the unity of the body of Christ. No one is a part of the body of Christ because they deserved it. No one is a part of the body of Christ because they have the funds to make a big enough donation. No one is even a part of the body of Christ because they decided to be. We are all only a part of Christ’s body the church because he has chosen us. He has baptised us by the power of the same Spirit. The church is unified as a whole because the same God has brought each person into the body in the same way – baptism – by the same Spirit for the same reason – which is his grace!

These are the two things we learn about the church in general. First that it is not a free-association of like-minded individuals, but a living unified body, complete. Second that this unity comes from the same Baptism by the power of the same Spirit.

Then Paul goes on to talk about how we are to live in the church to maintain this unity. He has two main things to say here. First a word to those who feel inferior, and second a word to those who feel superior. In reality we probably all fall into both groups at different times. So perhaps we could say, a word to each of us in those times when we feel inferior, and a word to each of us in those times when we feel superior.   

First the word to us when we feel inferior. All of us at times look around in the church and have feelings of jealousy, envy, perhaps even inferiority. We might think that a particular person has such a strong faith, and wonder, “Why is my faith so weak?” We might wonder, “Why a particular person speaks so comfortably to non-Christians, and, “Why I am so timid?” We think that without that person over there, this congregation wouldn’t be the same, without me, perhaps no one would notice. In the church we all may have these and similar feelings at different times. Paul speaks to us a word of encouragement in these times.

He says that when we feel we are different or don’t belong, it’s as if a foot says, “Because I’m not a hand I don’t belong to the body”. It’s as if the ear says, “Because I’m not an eye, I don’t belong to the body”. But that’s nonsense. Eyes are wonderful, but if all the ears wanted to be eyes, the body couldn’t hear. Ears are wonderful too, but if all the noses decided they wanted to be ears, the body wouldn’t be able to smell or breath.

God has arranged both the human body, and the body of Christ, the church, in a very particular way. He has arranged it with many different and diverse members. They all fit together to make one body.

This is an incredible word of encouragement from St Paul to us if we feel inferior. In our baptism God has made us a part of the body of Christ with our particular gifts and abilities, no matter how small or insignificant we think they are. God has arranged it this way so that the body of Christ, as represented locally by this congregation, would not be whole without each of us. What an amazing word of encouragement.

Our problem may not always be that we feel inferior. It may be that equally, possibly more often, we may feel superior. Certainly that was a big part of the problem in Corinth where people were experiencing all kinds of spiritual gifts like prophecy and speaking in tongues.  Some thought that they were superior Christians because of these special gifts. It happened then, and it still happens today in lots of different ways.

It’s not all that surprising that we tend to despise those who we think are weaker, because our world very much works on the principle of the survival of the fittest. If you’re in a sports team and there’s 11 players and only 10 spots, so that one person has to go, usually it’s the weakest player. If you are a boss or a manager and there is someone in your company or team who is just not as good at their job as everyone else and you have to let someone go, ordinarily they’ll be the first one.

As Christians we can think and act this way in the church. We may look around at other people in the church and find that person a bit annoying, think another person isn’t pulling their weight, or write yet another off as a troublemaker. We may be tempted to think we don’t really need that person in our congregation or our Christian community. In fact, we think we’d be better off without them. Many of us may think like this sometimes, and let’s be clear, this is sinful thinking and we need to repent when we find ourselves going down this path.    

Again, Paul illustrates this with his imaginary conversation between the parts of the body. An eye can’t tell the hand, or the head tell the feet, that they’re not needed. On the contrary Paul says, the weaker members of the body are indispensable, and the ‘less respectable’ members are treated with greater respect. When we get frustrated with a fellow Christian, or when we feel ourselves despising them in some way for some reason, God is actually calling us not to shun them or write them off, but exactly the opposite, to take special care for them, and to especially honour them.

This applies to all congregations and denominations as well. We need to be careful not to have a superior attitude over other congregations in our Lutheran Church, or over other denominations. This doesn’t mean we can’t speak the truth where other churches may be in error, as that’s a necessary thing too. But there’s a way of doing this with care and love for them.

Our human bodies are truly incredible. It’s worth reflecting on their complexity and how intricately God has knit our bodies together. St Paul encouraged us to mediate on our bodily reality in order to better understand the Christian Church and our place in it.

So let’s rejoice that God in his grace has united each one of us to Christ and incorporated us into his body – the church. We are all important members of Christ’s church and St Paul wants to encourage us now in that knowledge. 

And let’s grow in our ability to see each other in this same light, for the health of the whole body of Christ in our community and world.

Amen.

You said we’re a team.

The Text: 1 Corinthians 12:28

The movie Coach Carter is the true story of Ken Carter, a successful sportingac5 goods store owner, who in 1999 became head basketball coach for a high school in a poorer city suburb. The first thing he noticed was the attitude of the players he was about to coach and their extremely dismal performance on the court. So Carter sets out to change this by imposing some strict conditions including: respectful behaviour, dress code, and good academic results as a prerequisite for participation in the team.

One player, Timo, thought that all this was just over the top and quit the team, only to return later with a desire to be reinstated. Timo asked Coach Carter what he must do to play. Carter deliberately sets him an impossible task – he must complete 2,500 push-ups and 1,000 suicide drills by Friday.

By Friday, Timo had tried but hadn’t completed the tasks the coach had set him. Although impressed by the effort, Carter asked him to leave the gym. Timo has failed.

Unexpectedly, another player, Jason, who previously had a personality conflict with Timo, stepped forward. “I’ll do push-ups for him,” he tells the coach. “You said we’re a team. One person struggles, we all struggle. One player triumphs, we all triumph. Right?”

Coach Carter watched Jason drop to the floor and begin doing push-ups. One by one the entire team joined to help Timo reach his goal. They had been acting only as individuals, but now they were working together as a team.

Nature provides us with a multitude of examples of the teamwork of animals and birds. Geese fly in a “V” formation and take it in turns flying up front where the going is harder. When the lead bird gets tired it falls to the back where the updraught caused by the birds in front make flying easier. When penguins experience extremely cold weather they huddle together and as the penguins on the outside get cold they are moved further into the centre and keep on rotating so that they all keep warm. It would be a disaster for them to be selfish. When those outside died from the cold there would be none left to keep those in the centre warm.

The Bible reading from 1 Corinthians which we heard earlier makes some important points about being together.

First of all, it says that we are Christ’s body. Note that it doesn’t say, “we are like Christ’s body”, but “we are Christ’s body”. We are a group of people linked to Christ: that’s what we have in common.

It’s true that we are individuals and that Jesus has saved us as individuals, but we have been joined together in baptism with Jesus. We have been called together into God’s family as brothers and sisters – together we are God’s own people (1 Peter 2:9, Col 3:12).

Secondly, we all have the same Spirit who links us to each other. We have all received the same Holy Spirit who calls us to worship the one Saviour, believe in the one true God who supports and comforts all of us in our times of need.

Our “oneness” is in God our heavenly Father who created us and loves each of us with such intensity that He freed us from our sin and adopted us as His own children. Our oneness in Christ our Saviour and the Holy Spirit, who calls us into God’s Church, breaks down barriers and division

One of the most revolutionary things about Christianity in its early history was the way it broke down barriers. It turned the world of its time on its head.

For the first time: master and slave met in the same building for the same purpose, shared the same meals, stood or knelt side by side in worship.

For the first time male and female were able to worship without the marked divisions which Jewish worship demanded.

For the first time Jew and Gentile were able to meet together as equals before the one God whom they worshipped.

The reality was that the church broke down barriers which society put up and  practised. The church was at the forefront of change. It refused to follow the ways of the world, but set a different standard which eventually the world partially adopted for itself. The church did that because it was linked to Christ as one body.

The third thing this passage emphasises is that while each of us has separate, individual gifts, we all belong to each other, need each other., We, all together, make up what we call church. Paul used the picture of the body to help us grasp the reality of the church.

There are two points to Paul’s picture of the church as a body.

One: we are all of value and all have a role to play in the church. And two: we can’t do without each other. Just as a hand can’t decide to live in isolation from the rest of the body – if it does it’s either a disconnected hand or it’s not a hand at all – so we can’t live in isolation from each other. There’s no such thing as a Christian who lives in isolation from everybody else. To be a Christian means that we exist in relation to others – we need others just as they need us.

Paul summarised this new “oneness” which people shared when he said, “All of you are Christ’s body” (1 Cor 12:27). Now remember to whom Paul was writing these words. Here was a congregation of very gifted people who:

  • couldn’t get on,
  • argued,
  • showed little care for certain sections of the congregation,
  • big-noted themselves and thought of themselves as more important and more spiritual than the rest,
  • took one another to court,
  • had all kinds of problems when it came to worship and agreeing on how things were to be done.

And yet, in spite of all of this, Paul opens his letter by calling them the saints at Corinth and then says, “Each one of you is part of the body of Christ.”

He doesn’t say to them, “Now listen here, you guys, this is what it should be like and I know that you will never achieve this”. Instead he deliberately and firmly says, “You are the church, the fellowship of believers, in fact, the body of Christ, and this is how it is”.

It’s not like life out there in the world. You can’t use worldly ways when it comes to the body of Christ. Out there people use one another, unfairly and rudely criticise one other, run others down to promote themselves. Out there people get all huffy and abusive if they don’t get their own way, are jealous of those who get more attention or given greater status, or who use their skills and time selfishly for personal gain only.

  • In the church things are different. Here our function and purpose is for the good of each other.
  • If one is sad, then we all share that sadness.
  • If one is disadvantaged, we all feel that disadvantage.
  • If one is sick then we long for them to be well.
  • If one is separated, we want for them to have a sense of belonging.
  • If one is struggling to cope, we sense that struggle.
  • And conversely, if one gets a promotion we’re glad for their success.
    If a person deserves praise, we’re liberal in giving them some praise.

We encourage each other to use their respective gifts to the fullest. We look around and recognise that some don’t seem to have a particular outstanding talent but we honour them too, so that there is no discord, no bitterness and no ill-feeling in the body of Christ.

In the church, in the Christian fellowship, there’s a different set of values from those of the world which should affect the way we operate. This doesn’t happen naturally. This only happens, and can only happen, when individuals are linked to Christ. And, then it follows that the stronger the link to Christ, the more the God pleasing interaction and togetherness becomes a reality.

This is a key issue – how can we expect to be the body of Christ when we don’t know Christ and His will is for us? It is through reading the Scriptures, studying them, learning from them, receiving Holy Communion, asking Jesus in prayer for His guidance and help, and allowing the love of God in Jesus to really affect our daily lives that we know Christ and see our place within His body, the church. The church is just another group of people or club if we don’t know and follow the Saviour and recognise that He is always calling us together to be His people to bring his blessing to this community.

There is plenty of room for repentance and change. There is plenty of room to do a stocktake of what Jesus and His church means to each of us. There is plenty of room to acknowledge that we have often adopted the attitude of “what can I get out of the church” rather than “what can I give to Christ through the church”.

Some of us may have to admit that we have preferred to sit back and let everyone else do things rather than offering to work with our fellow members of the body of Christ. It is very easy to not be involved in the life of the church – after all, we do have our lives to live!

There is little doubt that there are many things which we don’t like about the human side of the church.

The church is church only because of Jesus. We are called into the church to be with Christ and with those whom Christ has saved (and for those He is yet to save). We are here because of the love which Christ has for us and the forgiveness He has won for us on the Cross. This is what makes the church different to every other organisation in the world. We are motivated by the love of Christ to be like Christ to others – welcoming the outcast, accepting the sinner, comforting a little child, welcoming the cheat, encouraging the depressed.

In many ways we do reflect the concept of the body of Christ in this church. There is a sense of caring for each other, of showing concern, of building up and encouraging and helping when it’s most needed.

But we can improve. We can be more diligent:  at building up rather than tearing down, at strengthening rather than weakening, at thinking as a body, rather than individually. We can commit ourselves to be an organism, a living body which works, and so benefit each other. In our own small way, we as “church” and as individual members of the church can shape the community in which we live.

How do we see the church and our place in it?

As this year gets under way we are challenged to think about what this congregation means to us.  We can continue to develop a sense of belonging here. Don’t just talk about this church as “(name of local congregation inserted here)” but as my church or our church (we all know it is really God’s church).

Here we try to help each other on Sunday mornings focus in the one direction as we:

  • focus on the God we believe in,
  • show each other that He’s important to us by our presence here,
  • receive strength for the days in-between worship,
  • receive a sense of being part of a big family which is important to us, which we can count on, to which we can give what we are able to give and we can be a body which functions the way God intends it to function.

Why bother with this? Because it is here amongst the people of God that we find Jesus and His love for us and the world. We tell each other through words and practical ways that God loves us and is ready to do whatever is necessary to help us be the Christians God wants us to be in this place. It is this love of God which has called us together – as different as we might all be – to be part of his church.

Paul says to us, “Together you are the body of Christ”.

And we respond, “We are the body of Christ! Amen!

How embarrassing.

The Text: John 2:1-1120180311_103505 (1)

There is nothing worse than inviting guests to your place for dinner, having a mental picture of what there is in the fridge and on the shelves, only for that mental picture to be very different from reality…like when you offer your visitors a cup of coffee only to realise you have enough milk for 4, not 6 cups…or falling short with the meat on the BBQ so that you have to pile the plates up with salad to cover up the half a sausage underneath. Embarrassing, isn’t it? Which is just what happened in today’s Gospel reading: the hosts of a wedding in Cana of Galilee had run out of wine.

How embarrassing for the hosts of that wedding celebration! What could be done? They couldn’t just duck into town to the IGA, and there were no drive thru bottle shops in the small town of Cana. What an embarrassing situation to be in! An embarrassing situation that is actually far worse than we first realise. For Jewish wedding celebrations were not just an afternoon or evening event that we are accustomed to, but could go on for up to a week! So the hosts who have run out of wine have not just run out for that day, but days! They’ve got no hope to rectify the situation!

But this is a far more serious matter than just social embarrassment. In the Ancient Near East there were strong social customs involving generosity between hosts and guests . For example it was possible to take legal action against a guest who had failed to provide the appropriate wedding gift. But on the other hand, hosts failing to fully discharge their duties of hospitality were financially liable. What the end of the wine supply means for the Groom and his family in today’s Gospel reading is that they are facing a lawsuit. They are guilty and have a debt to pay.

Then Jesus’ mother pipes up. By no means is she the centre of this account, nor is she to be reverenced in the manner some do, but there is good reason to focus on her here. Her words to her Son “They do not have any wine” show that she trusted in Jesus’ resourcefulness. What did Mary expect of Jesus? The answer must be extraordinary help. She actually doesn’t even ask Jesus to do something, she simply states the difficulty and expects Him to do something. After all she knew Jesus to be the Messiah because of what the angels spoke about Him before His birth, the virgin conception and so on. Perhaps she tried to make Him take such action so as to show Himself to all as the Messiah she knew Him to be.

Not yet time for that though. That will only be fulfilled when Jesus is crucified on the Cross and His tomb is afterward found empty. And so Jesus responds: “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” Or in other words: “The time’s not right, Mum.”

Yet Mary still anticipates that Jesus will act compassionately and so she says to the servants: “Do whatever He tells you to do.”

Then Jesus does tell them to do something: “Fill the jars with water.” These stone jars had a capacity of around 30 gallons each. They were standing nearby in accordance with the purification rules of the Jews who washed not only their hands but also dishes, cups and kettles such as we read in Mark 7:4. They thought by doing so they were being cleansed of external contamination and making themselves ceremonially clean before God. So before this wedding feast in our text, the servants would have poured water over the hands of every guest as well as washing all utensils used. A big amount of water would have been required—thus the need for these 6 jars which had a collective capacity of approximately 680 litres.

The servants do what Jesus commands. They fill these jars up to the brim with water. And when Jesus tells them to take some out and carry it to the MC, they do that as well. And upon tasting it the MC’s response leaves no doubt that Jesus has just performed an astonishing miracle. The MC summons the Groom and says: “Every person puts out the good wine first and when they have drunk, then the inferior. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This is no water. This is top shelf stuff. Better than South Australia’s Penfolds 2004 Block 42 Cabernet Sauvignon which sells for $168,000 a bottle!

Jesus has stepped in and given the wedding couple a gift worth far more than that bottle of Penfolds. He has provided an abundance of wine for the wedding and saved the family from social disgrace. But Jesus’ gift was thus doubly important. He takes away the legal judgement and penalty for the banquet hosts.

This is the first of the signs Jesus performs in John’s Gospel. Signs do not point to themselves, but to a deeper reality behind them. Jesus’ signs show us that He is true God, the Christ promised to the Jews and given as the Saviour of the world, the One who has authority and power over the laws of nature and time and space and life and death.

In doing so Jesus doesn’t just give the wedding couple a beautiful gift and compassionately free them from the judgement of the Law. He does something beautiful and special which is also for us. The purpose of these water jars was to hold so-called purifying water—water that would make people ritually clean in God’s sight. By ordering them to be filled to the brim—so that they cannot possibly hold anything else—and transforming the contents from water to wine, Jesus effectively shows that He has come to free us from the Jewish ceremonial washing rituals—and any works righteousness as a way to earn God’s favour. For this ritual washing was a useless human tradition which took the place of God’s own commands. It isn’t the uncleanliness of a person’s hands that separates them from God but our hearts. In Mark 7:17-23 Jesus says:

“…nothing that enters a person from the outside can make him ‘unclean’ For it doesn’t go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body.
“What comes out of a person is what makes him ‘unclean.’ For from within, out of people’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a person ‘unclean’.”
Jesus makes these water pots vessels of grace. He transforms the water which was used legalistically to the gift of wine that frees from debt. But we too are like the wedding hosts. We are faced with a lawsuit. Not for what we fail to provide as hosts of banquets, but because we fall short of what God requires. We come under God’s just sentence. We need urgent help. Jesus transforms the water into wine. This miracle is for you too. It points ahead to the Cross where He once for all fulfils the sacrificial system, where it is His shed blood which purifies you from all your sin.
Cana and the Cross are therefore connected. In today’s text Jesus declares that His hour has not yet come. In John 17 just before His arrest, Jesus begins His High-Priestly prayer to His Father with the words: “Father, the hour has come.” In both the wedding at Cana and His crucifixion on the Cross Jesus’ mother is present, the only two appearances of Mary in John. But Mary isn’t named. She is simply referred to as “The mother of Jesus”. None of the people are named: the servants, the disciples, the wedding couple.
Why?
Most likely, so that we, the hearers, can place ourselves in the account. The mother of Jesus is a model of faith. She trusts that Jesus will bring help in the situation they are in. She expects He will do something after she has stated the problem. The servants do as Jesus commands. The disciples put their faith in Jesus; not just a belief that He is God, but a trust, a living faith that, as the mother of Jesus says, will “do whatever He tells you to.” As you step into the Gospel account, as one of these characters, do you have the faith of Mary, the disciples, the servants?
Faith is not about being super-spiritual and having it all together. We never have it all together. Faith says to Jesus: “I don’t have it all together. Here I am again today; a stone water jar…and a cracked one at that. Do something new in me today—and every day. Help me to change…to humble myself under your word and help me to do whatever you tell me to—instead of me wanting to do what I want to do. Help me to not just believe in you, but to put my trust in you, like your disciples, expecting that you will continue to provide well beyond what I could imagine, like your mother did. Transform me every day so that I have a spark of the conviction of your servants to do whatever you say.”
For the turning of ordinary water into the best of wines reflects the radical change Christ effects in us sinners, so that by the transforming grace of Christ we don’t allow pride to take hold but release the insistence that I must always be right, and instead embrace humility. So that we don’t judge others in spite and refuse to forgive them when they wrong us. So that we do start to consider that maybe it’s me that needs to ask for forgiveness too. So that we come to Jesus and live a Christian life even when it doesn’t suit us. So that we give our time and talents with an overflowing heart to those who need them.
At Cana Jesus transformed water into the gift of wine and on the Cross He transformed death into new life for us. We share in this life—His very own—having been purified in the waters of baptism where all our sins were washed away. The wine Jesus serves us at Communion assures us of this, because it is His true blood, to assure us that nothing can separate you from His love; that we are His very own, forgiven, and holy precious children. This communion meal is a foretaste of the banquet in heaven to come, where we will be the guests of honour, because of Christ’s abundant mercy and love he has lavished upon us. Amen.

There is always a bit of a dilemma at this time of the year.

The Text: Luke 3:15-17, 21, 22; Matthew 2:11     

There is always a bit of a dilemma at this time of the year. Two importantchurch4 observances on the Christian calendar coincide at this time. On January the 6th it is the day of Epiphany. Epiphany commemorates the first revelation of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles (the non-Jews), represented by the visit from the Magi (those exotic visitors from the east, more commonly known as the three wise men). The festival of Epiphany originated in the Eastern Church (the Orthodox Church), where it at first included the actual celebration of Christ’s birth, and was second only to Easter in its importance.

But at this same time we have the first Sunday after the Epiphany which focuses on the baptism of our Lord in the Jordan River. Epiphany means manifestation and it is at the baptism of Jesus where he is clearly manifested as the Divine Son of God. So, we are left with the dilemma of which important theme to focus on: the revelation of Jesus as a Saviour to the Gentiles or the manifestation of Jesus as the Son of God in his baptism. Well, this year we can take the ‘bull by the horns’. And given that a bull has two horns we can deal with both events, making comparisons between them.

Firstly, we have the Magi from the east who sought out this new king. They saw signs in the heavens that a great ruler had been born in the land of Judah. And so, they travelled hundreds of miles to present their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. These gifts were indicative of the homage they were paying to this newborn child.

The gold was obviously a precious gift, representative of the worth the Magi saw in this child. The frankincense and myrrh were also historically associated with royalty. In the Old Testament book Song of Songs we hear both mentioned in relation to King Solomon: Who is this coming up from the desert like a column of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and incense made from all the spices of the merchant? Look! It is Solomon’s carriage… (Song of Songs 3:6-7). Gold, frankincense and myrrh were certainly gifts fit for a king.

But in the life of the Israelites these items were significant for another reason. Worship was the lifeblood of the people and their worship took place in the Temple in Jerusalem. This was an elaborate building made according to the specifications of God himself. God was both the architect and the interior decorator of the Temple complex and he determined the way worship was to be conducted. And in Exodus chapter 30, we read of three important items featuring in this worship: gold, frankincense and myrrh.

The myrrh was used in the high priest’s anointing oil which was used to consecrate the most important vessels in the Most Holy Place in the Temple (Ex.30:22f). The frankincense was used at the entrance to that same Most Holy Place to help symbolise the presence of the Almighty God with his people (Ex.30:34f). And the altar upon which the frankincense was to be burnt, and which was itself anointed with myrrh, was overlaid with pure gold (Ex.30:3f). So, these were fitting gifts for a king, but they were also items that represented the presence of God with his people.

These were very appropriate gifts to be presented to the child who was also known as Immanuel – which means, ‘God with us’! We have no idea whether the Magi were aware of the symbolic significance of their gifts. But it is more than a little ironic that these non-Jewish, Gentile visitors bowed down and worshipped Jesus as king with the same items used in the Jewish Temple worship! Quite a significant offering!

And then some 30 years later we come to the baptism of Jesus. Even though only three decades separate them, this event in the Jordan River seems worlds apart and centuries removed from the visit by the Magi. It is hard to imagine that the two events occurred in the same lifetime. The visitors from the East seem almost mythical and unreal in comparison to the baptism of Jesus – as though they were mere phantoms in the night.  

Far more believable and indicative of human nature is the incident at the Jordan River. The people in this instance travelled for miles to come and hear what John the Baptist had to say – but from the surrounding region rather than from an exotic land far away.

The response of the people was reserved and uncertain. They were waiting expectantly for something – but they weren’t sure what. They wondered in their hearts if John himself might possibly be the Christ. On the other hand, the actions of the Magi in worshipping Jesus were far more decisive. And the people did not come to the banks of the Jordan bearing any elaborate gifts. They came empty-handed, unless of course you count the offering of their sin and their need to repent. Hardly gifts fit for a king!

But herein lies the unique nature of this king Jesus. John the Baptist indicated that Jesus was the one more powerful than he, the thongs of whose sandals he was not worthy to untie. But although he deserved all honour and glory and praise Jesus did not come to receive gifts from his people. He came to bring them.

Jesus does not in the first instance require us to offer him our wealth, for he came to seek us out in our poverty. Augustus Toplady, the author of the hymn Rock of Ages, recognised this truth when he wrote:       

Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to your cross I cling;

Naked, come to you for dress; helpless, look to you for grace.

Jesus our King comes bearing gifts more valuable than gold, frankincense and myrrh. He comes bearing a cross. He comes bearing our salvation. And having won for us our salvation through his death and resurrection he now gathers us into his kingdom and bestows on us his wealth through the gift of baptism.

As John the Baptist declared: He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Luke 3:16). And when it comes to our baptism into Jesus Christ the gifts from the Magi can help us get a handle on what we receive through baptism.

Firstly, we have myrrh which was used to anoint kings and special items in the Temple. At his baptism Jesus was anointed by the Spirit and God declared: you are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased (Lk.3:22). In baptism, Paul told Corinth, God anoints us, sets his seal of ownership on us, and puts his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come (2 Cor.1:21-22). Our baptism therefore acts as our coronation. To the Galatians Paul wrote: You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (3:26-27). In baptism we receive royal robes of righteousness, fit for those belonging to the kingdom of God. 

In addition to this, myrrh was also used in embalming. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes to help preserve the dead body of Jesus (John 19:39). This acts as a good reminder of the death that takes place in our baptism. The old Adam is drowned and a new creation arises from the water. As Paul wrote to the Romans: Don’t you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life (6:3-4).

Secondly, the frankincense symbolising the presence of God acts as a reminder of how we receive God’s presence in baptism. We hear in the book of Acts the call to: Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).

God’s Holy Spirit is the abiding presence of God received by us in baptism. As Paul told Titus: God saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour (Titus 3:5-6). We might not see a manifestation of the Spirit on us as Jesus did in the form of a dove at his baptism. But we do see evidence of the Spirit in us as we make our confession of Jesus as Lord (1Cor.12:3) and as the Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children, as Paul told the Romans (8:16)

And finally, the gold is symbolic of the precious and eternal nature of God’s kingdom to which we belong through baptism. Martin Luther in the family seal he developed, known as Luther’s Rose, had his seal circled with a ring of gold to symbolise that the bliss of heaven is endless and eternal, more precious than any other joy or treasure.

Through our baptism into Christ we inherit that eternal life. That is what it means to be sons and daughters of God through our connection to Jesus Christ. We have, in the words of the Apostle Peter, been given new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for us (1Peter 1:3-4). 

So, there you have it, those who are baptised into Jesus Christ the King of kings receive more than they could ever hope for. Jesus was revealed at his birth as a Saviour to all the peoples of the earth. The gifts he received from the Magi, the gold, the frankincense and the myrrh, were really only tokens of the wealth that was to be found in him. And later, when he was revealed at his baptism as God’s only Son, it soon became apparent how great a gift to our world he is.

We are baptised children of God. Our King has come to us through our baptism and he has come bearing the gifts of his kingdom. As Paul told the Corinthians: Your body is now a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God. You are not your own; you were bought at a price (1Cor.6:19-20). We are now gifts to the world because as a baptised, holy children of God we represent the presence of God in the world. May we offer our lives in service to God and to the world so that others can come to know and experience the incredible riches of God’s kingdom of grace. Amen. 

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

The text:  Isaiah 40:31

Ever wondered what it would be like to fly?  I don’t mean flying in a plane orjohnmac dangling beneath a kite or parachute.  I mean sticking your arms out like a bird, or out front like superman if you like, and soaring above the earth; banking over the forests; skimming over the rivers; darting through mountain canyons; diving down and scaring the living daylights out of the members of your family; breathing deeply in the fresh air of free and effortless flight!  And if you are someone who is scared of heights, imagine if you had no such fear. You could come and fly with the rest of us.

From the early pages of history people have looked at the birds and wanted to fly.  You have seen people jump out of perfectly good planes and ‘fly’ at least for a while, but gravity does its job and the skydiver has no choice but to pull the ripcord on his parachute.

I’m sure every kid at some time has wanted to fly.  Maybe it’s been a theme in your dreams but like all dreams there comes a rude awakening when you wake up and discover that you are still a prisoner of gravity.  As much as we really wish we could fly, we have to walk to the bathroom, walk out to the kitchen for breakfast and walk to school or work.  We aren’t built for flying.

As adults we don’t think about flying as we did when we were kids.  Not only aren’t we built for flying but we also carry a lot of baggage – we carry too much weight.  Not only the kind of weight that shows up on the bathroom scales but the weight of worry, anxiety, paying bills, keeping the boss happy, and how our health crisis will turn out.  All this weighs us down.

Then there’s your family.  The people you love.  You see your parents getting older; perhaps becoming infirm.  You see your children struggling in this or that. Perhaps you’ve hit a rough patch in your marriage.  When you were a kid love wasn’t so difficult and so demanding.  But that’s because you were mostly on the receiving end of it.  And now you are called to be the one who gives it; called to be the one who loves.  This too can weigh you down.

So what about those dreams of flying high above the world in complete freedom and in the open spaces where there is not a worry in the world?  Nah!  Not anymore!  Life is way too heavy to entertain such thought.  Flying – that’s okay for kids to dream about because they don’t have the worries we have but for us the world is too real.  A bit like gravity – we can’t ever get away from it.

And yet, what does the text from Isaiah say?  “Those who trust in the Lord for help will find their strength renewed.  They will rise on wings like eagles; they will run and not get weary.”  Hmmm.  “They will rise on wings like eagles”.  With renewed strength they will soar above the earth with the powerful wings of an eagle.  I don’t know about you, but Isaiah’s got my attention!  Suddenly my childhood interest in being able to fly is renewed.  Floating, drifting, circling, free as a bird.  Is there a way to overcome the gravity of our lives, a way to lighten our loads, a way rise above it all?  Is this just a dream, wishful thinking, belonging to the world of fantasy along with fairies, flying dragons and magic carpets?

Just to put these words about flying like eagles into context.  The prophet Isaiah was writing to the people of Israel during a time when they felt like their strength was sapped and they had no hope.  Like us, they were worried.  The news wasn’t good.  The dreadful Assyrians were breathing down their necks, and later it would be the Babylonians who would take them all away to live in exile. As they thought about all the stuff that was happening around them, they were weighed down and overwhelmed by the seriousness of their situation.

They started to say things like, “God doesn’t really care about me!  How can he? Look at all this bad and difficult stuff that is happening all around us.  He’s not really in charge of things!” (Isaiah 40:27).

You see what was happening here?  They began to see their problems as being bigger than God himself.  They forgot that the creator of everything, the everlasting Lord, whose love for his people means he will never grow tired of helping them, just might be able to help them with all their worries.

You see over the years a subtle exchange had taken place.  They exchanged their faith in God for a kind of do-it-yourself kind of attitude.  We do the exact same thing!  This DIY kind of Christianity excludes God from certain areas of our lives. I know God is there but I can handle this myself.

“Let’s see, my work, hmm, no that’s not God’s problem.

Finances, no. I can fix that.

Relationship problems, no.  That’s my responsibility.

My love life, no God doesn’t know anything about that, that’s my area.”

Without even giving it too much thought we exclude God from different aspects of our lives.  We can fix it we say and maybe it works okay for a time. But then we begin to feel the weight.  Our blood pressure rises.  We toss and turn. We get sick.  We become depressed.  The joy goes out of our lives.  We despair.  We slowly realise that the DIY approach isn’t all that successful after all. 

I’m sure that a lot us, including myself, have to admit to doing this at some time, if not more often than we care to admit.  We sideline God and try to be our own god.  We believe that we can do it alone, but that’s something God never intended for us.  God didn’t make us to stand alone against everything that threatens our safety and happiness.  God made us to rely on him.

This is where Isaiah comes in and we have this wonderful passage that was read earlier.  He asks, “How can you be so dumb.  Don’t you know who stretched out the heavens, made the earth and filled it with people?  Don’t you know that it is God who created the stars?  There are millions of them, and yet he knows when one of them is missing and if God knows each individual star, it follows that he knows each one of us personally and calls us by name.  He knows when we are in trouble.  No one can ever accuse God of turning a deaf ear to our needs. 

Then comes these wonderful words,
“Don’t you know?  Haven’t you heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God; he created all the world.
He never grows tired or weary.
No one understands his thoughts.
He strengthens those who are weak and tired.
Even those who are young grow weak; young people can fall exhausted.
But those who trust in the Lord for help will find their strength renewed.
They will rise on wings like eagles;
they will run and not get weary;
they will walk and not grow weak.” (40:28-31)

Jesus affirmed what Isaiah said when he said: “Come to me, all of your who are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest”. 

Jesus assures us that there is not a moment when we are not under his love and care.  Yes, there will be times when we could have saved ourselves a heap of stress and pressure if only we had trusted in the Lord for help and realised that he is ready, willing and able to give us renewed strength and a fresh outlook on life and its problems. 

The apostle Paul realised that he knew what he ought to do and trust God more, but found more often than not, that he did what he knew he shouldn’t do.  There were times when he was physically exhausted and drained, not knowing what would happen to him next.  But in each case he came back to this one point, “God can raise me above all this.  His love is so powerful that I can be confident, content, and certain no matter what the circumstances.  The Lord will help me to face each thing that terrifies me and give me the strength to continue”.  In the end Paul says, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).

As Isaiah said, Those who trust in the Lord for help will find their strength renewed. They will rise on wings like eagles; they will run and not get weary; they will walk and not grow weak”. 

In other words, trusting in God to give us the strength that is beyond our own strength to deal with any situation, we can rise on wings like eagles.  We can fly.  We can soar high above our problems; we can fly free with the sky as the limit. God wants us to fly like eagles.

When we trust in God and his love for us and entrust our lives to the one who gave his life for us on the Cross, everything else is dwarfed in comparison to the largeness and authority of the Lord.  He is bigger than any problem we might face.  And as we learn to trust him, we begin to see things from his perspective. He draws us upward in faith, so that we begin to get a bird’s eye view of things, or more correctly, a God’s eye view of things.

Remember the dreams about flying, the fantasy stories like Peter Pan where children could fly? Well they are not too far off the mark.  We too can fly even though our feet never leave the ground.  We can rise above everything that threatens our security with a strength that comes from God.  “Those who trust in the Lord for help will find their strength renewed. They will rise on wings like eagles”. Amen!

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

Like the first book of the Bible Genesis, the most ancient text of thegordon5 Gospel,
St Mark, upon which the other two gospel writers Matthew & Luke base their narrative, it begins with the word Άρχη. The beginning of the gospel Mark is Άρχη τού έυάνγγέλιου. After mentioning the work of John, the Baptist and his arrest, He introduces Jesus announcement concerning the fulfillment, the fulfilment of time, the basic structure of created nature. Time is fulfilled when Jesus comes into Galilee and says, ‘The time is fulfilled, repent and believe the gospel’. Then on the seventh day, again a reference to the creation narrative, for the seventh Day is the fulfillment of creation. On this day as God rests and rejoices in Creation’s goodness. But on this Seventh day, representing the goodness of creation, Jesus is confronted in the Synagogue at Capernaum with the fallen creation, it’s being subject to sin and death. He meets the demoniac. In the healing miracle that follows we see what the fulfilment of time means in Jesus.

In the creation narrative this fulfilment of the time is witnessed to by the seventh day of God’s creative action; this is the Sabbath rest of God’s peace and reconciliation with His creation. This promise of God’s rest and peace with His creation is the promise witnessed to by the seventh day. This is time’s purpose. It is the created form, ‘on the seventh day’, of the purpose of creation. The rest and rejoicing of God with His creation. This time according to Jesus is now fulfilled. It is no longer lost time, time without purpose tumbling down into an abyss of nothingness. The creations time is now no longer determined by its guilt and its being subject to death and decay as is all our time.

Jesus existence in time as the Son of God who shares to the full the creations alienation from the source of its true life in God, the crumbling away of our time into what Shakespeare calls “dusty death”. But in Jesus humanity God recapitulates, recreates  in Him the relationship creation had with its Creator at the beginning. His relationship with the Father for our sakes is the basis of times redemption and thus human redemption.

The ‘fulfilment of time’  witnessed to by the Sabbath, comes in Jesus, appropriately after his identification with Israel in the baptism of John. From John he receives a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. It is at this time that His unity with the Father and the Spirit is revealed. He is then driven into the wilderness to be tempted by the suggestion that there is some other way for Him to be the Son of God than the way of penitential obedience which ends in the cross. As the One who rejects this demonic temptation for our sake, Jesus comes into Galilee and proclaims that the time is fulfilled. Consequently, our time is not lost time but full of promise for it is the sphere in which God is present with and for us for our eternal salvation.

All this is a background to understanding the meaning of the text which relates to the healing of the demoniac on the Seventh Day, the Sabbath. Further, background to understand the miracle which is the subject of the gospel lesson for today; I want to talk for a few moments about cosmology. Cosmology you ask. ;what on earth has cosmology to do with the lesson from the holy gospel of St Mark chapter 1? We get the word cosmetics from this word and it means something with meaning and intelligibility as opposed to Chaos, which is unintelligible, chaotic. God’s creation is intelligible, understandable. Einstein, it was who said, “The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible”.

The world view of the writers of the New Testament, their cosmology, is that of the Old Testament. Accordingly, they believed lived in a three-storied universe. Heaven, earth and hell under the earth. The space in between was inhabited by all sorts of spiritual beings, malevolent. In the creation accounts of the Book of Genesis God brings forth the dry land from a chaos which was composed of water. The dry land was established and safeguarded from the encroachment of the watery chaos by God’s promise and covenant witnessed in the story of Noah. So, water was an ever-present sign in creation of the threat of Chaos from which it was protected by God’s providential rule.

One of the more remarkable features of the accounts of the miracles associated with Jesus ministry arises from the fact that those who are the subject of his action are in need. They are sufferers. Jesus does not ask concerning their past or their present sin. He acts, and his action creates for them a new future. The help and the blessing that He brings are quite irrespective of their attitude to him. Jesus miracles are thus to be seen to encapsulate the fact that God in Christ acts toward us in our need by God’s free grace God moves towards the threatened and rebellious creature in the freedom of God’s grace.

What Jesus miracles reveal is that God has chosen to be God in such a way that He makes Himself responsible for the creature not simply in its need as a created, mortal and frail, but in its need as subject to the thraldom of sin and death. This is the God with whom we have to do in the miracles of Jesus, and it is this element that constitutes their strangeness; against which any questions we may have as to the nature of miracle as such pales into insignificance. That God is such a God never entered into the heart and mind of humankind. The true miracle of miracles is their testimony to this unheard-of reality

One of the difficulties in understanding the miracle is that so often it is transposed into a story about the general beneficence or goodness of God, an abstract notion whose content remains in the sphere of generalities, as so much of Jesus teaching when its meaning is divorced from His person.

I would suggest that we think of the miracles that Jesus performs as insights into His own self-interpretation of the way that he goes from Bethlehem to Golgotha. That is to cease separating the miracles from Him who speaks and acts in them: turning them into abstract moral ideas about God.

What Jesus saw and experienced of the human condition as He fulfils the purpose of His coming amongst us as God’s Son who assumed our flesh was an abyss of darkness that is not merely supposed, invented, or imagined. He saw and experienced the human condition as it really is; and as we have seen and experienced it in the space of our lifetimes. We have come to know our humanity and its capabilities through world wars, revolution, famine, genocide and terrorism. World War 1, the war to end all wars and make the world safe for democracy, then the Nazi terror and push for world domination, their genocide of the Jewish people in Europe, and before that as  a consequence of the first word war the Turkish genocide of Armenian Christians, Stalin’s mass murder by starvation of Ukrainian peasants and the wicked brutality of the deportations  of ethnic minorities and other undesirables to the death camps; the gulag archipelago, Mao Tse Tung and the millions he starved and killed in his so called great leap forward, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Osama Bin Laden Saddam Hussein, Kim Il Sung, so we could go on. We have come to know our humanity and its propensity for evil.

 Jesus saw and experienced the human condition as claimed and imprisoned by the actuality of visible and invisible powers of darkness and death. He understood human beings to be possessed by the negative power of evil, delivered up to it and corrupted by it.

In this miracle it is not the sufferer in his need who speaks. But on the tongue and lips of the sufferer that which imprisons and torments him, the demons. Sickness does not speak. Death does not speak. But the demons speak, the indefinable concretions of chaos: the true enemies of God speak and cry out. They do not do so on behalf of or in the name of the sufferer; they are the sufferer’s tormentor. They are the sufferer’s enemy not his friend. They speak out on their own behalf; in the form of cries and shouts of blasphemies because they see and know themselves threatened by the presence of Jesus. The inspirer of fear and torment is now itself afraid and tormented. What is shown in the presence of Jesus is that the trans-personal concretion of evil and chaos has nothing to say in its own cause; it can only seek to flee from the presence of God in Jesus.

Jesus ranges himself alongside the demoniac who in his torment epitomises the concretion of evil and chaos which are the true enemies of God, because they hold the human creature in subjection. Here, in Him, the life of the threatened and enslaved creature becomes the personal cause of God Himself. By means of His identification with the creature’s need and torment Jesus’ action brings forth a new human being. Not simply in the healed demoniac, he is but a sign of the healing of our humanity that Jesus has taken to Himself.

It in this new humanity of His that we are given to participate in God’s own eternal life. The miracle of the healing of the demoniac in the synagogue on the seventh day, is a sign of this new human being, our humanity present in the world in Jesus Christ. In Him humanity is endowed with a new being whose future is determined by the action of God Himself.

In this and similar miracles of Jesus God himself defies the power of destruction that enslaves human beings. God’s power revealed in Jesus is not a neutral force; it is the omnipotence of His mercy. Not quiet and passive mercy but active, vibrant and hostile to that which enslaves the creature. It is with this that we have to do in Jesus. What is new, incomprehensible and miraculous is that God is a God who victoriously combats evil in its banal negativity for our sake. In worship today, it is the same One who meets us here; we who are immersed in and struggle daily with the causes and effects of evil, He meets us with His same healing and saving power. He meets us in His Word and in His holy sacrament.

Dr. Gordon Watson.