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.

Second Sunday after Epiphany

The Text: John 1:43-51

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David: 0428 667 754

The season of Christmas celebrates the coming of the Son of God in human flesh to save and rescue His people.

The season of Epiphany is about God revealing that this Jesus, born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth, is the promised Messiah. Jesus in the long promised and much hoped for rescuer from God, and He manifests His divine power in the spoken word, and in signs and wonders.

Epiphany begins with the sign of the star in the sky which guides the Gentile wise-men to Bethlehem, and the rest of Epiphany shows how Jesus was revealed as the Son of God to all who would hear Him.

God must reveal Himself to us or we would not know where or how to find Him. Many people think they can find God through religious experiences, charismatic leaders, and even participating in non-Christian worship practises. But such things don’t lead us to God, they lead us away from Him and place us in spiritual danger.  

God cannot be found by humans. God finds us. He often comes to us through someone who already knows Him. This someone trusts in God. They know His life changing love and they want us to have it too.

This is the pattern we see in the Bible. A Jewish servant girl told Naaman about the prophet of the Lord who could heal him and he was cleansed of his skin disease and given faith (2 Kings 5). Four friends brought their crippled mate on a mattress to Jesus and he was cured and made whole in body and soul (Mark 2:1-12). Philip spoke with the Ethiopian about Jesus and he was baptised (Acts 8:26-39). Believers in Jesus bring those in need of God’s grace to Jesus.

This is what we see happen to Nathanael when Philip asked him to come and see Jesus. Philip knew Jesus. The Lord had said, “Follow Me” and Philip did, and he knew the Lord. He heard and saw that Jesus is the One whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote about. The Spirit filled Word of God revealed to Philip who Jesus was. Everything he heard from Jesus and saw Him do confirmed it. His eyes were opened. His heart was transformed. Philip is so excited that he goes and tells his friend Nathanael that the promised Redeemer has come, and he wants Nathanael to know the Lord too.

Someone did that for you. It was probably your parents or maybe a friend. They pointed you to Jesus saying come and see. Come and see the Saviour who has fulfilled the Law and everything God’s prophets said He would. Come and hear what He has done for you.

Christian parents bring their children to be baptised, and in water and the word a child sees and hears Jesus at work—cleansing, forgiving, creating new life and giving a new identity. Without Baptism’s gifts of rebirth and faith no one could find God. The old nature is too strong for any of us to overcome.

In Baptism you received the most wonderful gift from God. You were found by Him. He gives you His salvation. The joy and comfort you have in knowing Jesus lasts more than that moment. Knowing Jesus means a life time of forgiveness and mercy. Jesus is the One who saves us, and in Him we see God.

The Jesus we don’t really want to look at, is the bloodied body of Christ hanging on the cross. Most Christians prefer baby Jesus in a manger or ‘Jesus my friend’ or glorified Jesus in heaven. And He is those things, but Jesus is no friend, and no Saviour, and has no glory, without the cross and death.  

It is not pleasant to see Jesus suffer God’s judgment for us. To see Him dying. To see on Him all those sins we shrug off or consider a normal part of life. It’s horrifying. But take a look and see.

Because once you do, then you realise the immensity of God’s love for you. Then you realise that Jesus fulfils the Law of God and the words of the prophets, and to do that is no small thing. The Father gave up His Son into death, for you. The Son laid aside His divine powers, to die as an atonement for you. And He wanted to do that, so you can have freedom and life.

And so, Philip goes to his friend Nathanael to tell him that God’s Saviour has come. But Nathanael could not believe it. This Jesus didn’t sound like the Saviour he had been looking for. After all, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

Philip doesn’t try and convince Nathanael of who Jesus is, he simply invites him to, “Come and see.”

But before Nathanael sees Jesus, the Lord sees him. Jesus knows Nathanael. He knows his heart. Jesus knows all our faults and yet in love He still welcomes us.

We heard in Psalm 139 today that God knows us. He knew us before we were born. He knows our words before we speak them. There is no where we can go to hide from Him. This can sound threatening, because God can see our darkest sins and desires. But despite this, He welcomes us that we may be made holy, washed and forgiven.

And so, Jesus sees Nathanael, and Nathanael will speak the Gospel because he saw and heard the grace of God and was changed by it. Like the patriarch Jacob, Nathanael will see heaven open before him, but not in a dream, it will take place when he sees Jesus die on the cross and be resurrected three days later. Jesus comes from heaven to open its doors by shedding His blood, so that sinners like Philip and Nathanael and you and me may believe and enter into paradise.

How often do we desire God like Nathanael did, and yet overlook Him because we can only see our problems and hurt and shame? Turn your eyes from them and look at Jesus on the cross. That’s how He wants you to see Him. Look and see your condemnation and judgment on Him, because if it is on Him, then you are declared righteous. If your sins are laid on Him, then they are not on you—you are free of them. If your death is laid on Jesus, then you will no longer die, but live. If His rising again is for you, then salvation and life everlasting are yours. Heaven’s doors have been opened wide for you to one-day pass through them. In God’s eyes you are already there.

But we are not there yet; living in eternity. We live here and have no end of troubles and pains. The sins of others impact us and we hurt others with our sins. We have fears and worries and sometimes we wonder, “where are you now Jesus. I can see you on the cross, and I’m thankful for that, but what about now; in my pain, carrying my crosses, living life here?”

The Good News is that Jesus is here now, for us. He is here, speaking, washing, feeding, forgiving. He is here strengthening our faith and growing us in hope and trust. This doesn’t mean it is going to be easy. Life is never a breeze, the devil makes sure of that.

But He who has called us is faithful. He has made us a part of His body; He cannot forget us or abandon us. He has overcome the darkness of death and He will lead us through every dark time we face.

This is the Good News of Jesus on the cross. Forgiveness and salvation are ours as a free gift and this has changed us. We are comforted by our crucified Saviour. We have joy that God smiles on us, and this shapes the way we live now, desiring others to come and see Jesus, that they would know Him too. As a child of the heavenly Father we can pray for His Spirit to open their hearts to know Jesus, even as we ask them to come and see.

The invitation to come and see Jesus is for all His disciples, throughout our whole life. There is always something new to discover, or something old to learn again, and the depth of God’s love for us is new for us every day.

And so, we need to come and see Jesus, often, and not dwell on our sins and or focus on our troubles. Come and see and hear the Gospel and be assured that He has opened heaven gates for us. Amen.

First Sunday after Epiphany

Mark:1:9-11

Down in the valleysdhuff

When you think about it, the Christmas story has a lot to do with people looking for the baby Jesus.  Shepherds go looking for the baby the angels spoke about.  Strangers from the east travelled long distances looking for a new born prince.  Even Herod sent his soldiers out to look for this new born prince and in the process looks for every small boy in Bethlehem to have him killed.

John the Baptist didn’t have to go looking for Jesus.  Jesus suddenly appears in front of John.  John is bit surprised to hear Jesus say, “Baptise me too”.  This confuses John.  He’s not even worthy to untie Jesus’ sandals, in fact, Jesus should be baptising him (Matthew 3:13).  “Jesus, you’re the great Messiah we’ve been waiting for.  You don’t have any sins to repent. You don’t need to be baptised.” 

John baptises Jesus.  The Spirit descends on Jesus like a dove and God makes a grand divine pronouncement, “You are my own dear Son. I am pleased with you.”  Here, being baptised, is the very Son of God.  This man, with water dripping from his head and face, is God himself.

No sooner had Jesus been baptised, the descending Spirit casts Jesus not upon the throne up at the palace, but alone out in the wilderness.  There he meets, not the Mayor who gives him the key to the city, but Satan who tests and tempts Jesus with “If you are the Son of God then do something to prove it”. 

The next time Jesus hears those words “If you are the Son of God then do something to prove it” will be when he hangs on a cross and hears the taunts of a howling crowd. 

What happens to the man who proclaims the good news that God has sent the Messiah?  He falls victim to the whim of a murderous king and his head is served up on a plate at a party. 

Look how quickly the mood has changed in the Gospel story.  From the glory of angels telling of a new born Saviour to the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness, the gruesome beheading of John the Baptist and much closer to Jesus’ birth is the slaughter of the baby boys of Bethlehem.

Excitement and mountaintop experiences are great but they don’t last.  They are precious and special because of the very fact that they don’t last.  Eventually we come down off the mountaintop and resume life down in the valley.  All the hoopla of Christmas has gone.  The Christmas decorations have been packed away.  There are no more angels, and stories about a miraculous birth.  We are here at church and there’s not the same excitement as at Christmas.  We are back into the ordinary days of the year and the very ordinary problems that come with life that is very ordinary.

Today we hear about Jesus standing in the very ordinary muddy waters of the Jordan River with John the Baptist pouring some of that water over him.  In that act of baptism Jesus, God in the flesh, is identifying himself with the ordinariness of this world and ordinary people and their ordinary lives of sin and temptation and trouble and sickness and dying.

This is the great thing about our Christian faith.  Christianity is not just about mountaintops and the glory and the ecstasy of being lifted up to places beyond the ordinary.  It isn’t about always singing happy songs or always being filled with so much faith that nothing can trouble us or get in our way.  Our Christian faith is also for the valleys. 

Most of us don’t live in a world of perpetual bliss and happiness; we may wish we did; we would like to but in reality we don’t.  We live down in the valley, where there is work to be done, laundry to be washed and folded, people to deal with, troubles to be confronted.  And here’s the good news: that’s where our God meets us.

And isn’t that exactly what the angel Gabriel had told Joseph in a dream.  Mary’s child would be the presence of God among his people – that he will be known as ‘Immanuel’ which means “God is with us”.  Jesus’ baptism becomes the occasion for the Holy Spirit and God the Father to state that Jesus is God’s Son who has come into the world, and through his baptism in the Jordan he is also revealed as an ordinary bloke who identifies with the ordinariness of our world.

In our baptism, God meets us in our very ordinary world.  He comes to us. He embraces us. He encounters us in the very ordinary matters of every day, not just the mountaintop moments and exhilarating spiritual experiences which we have every now and then, but he comes to us in the far more frequent ordinary moments of every day – the struggles, the boredom, the questioning, the pain, the grief, the torments, the doubting and the temptations.  That’s where he meets us.  Down there in the valleys where we wouldn’t expect to find him – that’s where he is ready to embrace us and remind us that he is our loving brother and saviour.

The heavenly Father meets Jesus in the undignified muddy waters of the Jordan saying, “You are my own dear Son. I am pleased with you”.
He meets us in our baptism and says, “You are my own dear child.  I am pleased with you”.   

Baptism is God’s work, not ours.  It’s God’s grace coming to us and adopting us as his own.  In becoming God’s own dear child, God’s grace claims us, loves us, saves us, restores our friendship with God, rescues us from Satan’s power to kill us, gives us eternal life.  

The beauty of the Christian faith is that, yes it does give us some high times of spiritual fellowship; of divine experience – what I call, mountaintop experiences, and these mountaintop experiences are different for each person.  For some the closeness of God might come through an “Aha” moment when reading the Scriptures or listening to a live rendition of Handel’s Messiah or sitting quietly in a magnificent cathedral.  For others these occasions leave them cold with no experience of God’s presence.  For some it might be a vibrant hand clapping, beat thumping, contemporary Christian band playing to a large crowd of arm waving people. 

But more importantly I believe, our Christian faith gives us strength and comfort in those rather inglorious moments when we struggle and are on the brink of defeat.  In the dark valleys our God says to us, “You are my own dear child”,
I am with you;

I will not give up on you;
I will hold you up when you are sinking;
I will carry you when you are too weak;
I will walk with you through the dark shadows of death into eternal life.

We need that kind of assurance because we are tempted to limit God’s presence in our lives to those times when we can feel his presence.  It is during these highs that we really feel that God is near and sense that God has had a powerful impact on our lives.  We are excited about this.

It’s fine that we have these stirring feelings related to our Christian faith, after all a relationship with someone is an emotional experience. But these emotional experiences are more the exception.  God’s presence in our lives is not limited to the times we are consciously aware that God is with us.  He is with us whether we are aware of him or not.

In the 1970s the people of El Salvador were down in the dark valleys of suffering.  Thousands of people were unjustly imprisoned, beaten, tortured and murdered.  Many simply disappeared never to be heard from again.  Priests and nuns were tortured and murdered.  The people of El Salvador were in a dark valley and must have wondered why God seemed so far away. 

Bishop Oscar Romero said,
God is not failing us when we don’t feel his presence.  God exists, and he exists even more, the farther you feel from him.  When you feel the anguished desire for God to come near because you don’t feel him present, then God is very close to your anguish.  God is always our Father and never forsakes us, and we are closer to him than we think (‘The Violence of Love’ – A collection of quotes mostly from sermons by Romero). Oscar Romero was assassinated in 1980 for speaking out against the injustice in his country.

When Jesus endured the agony of whip lashes and taunts of the people and then suffering on the cross, he was encouraged by the voice that he heard from heaven on two occasions, at his baptism and then on the Mount of Transfiguration.  On both occasions the voice of his heavenly Father assured him, “You and my own dear Son”.  These words gave him the strength and courage to keep on going through the darkest of all valleys as he carried the sin of all the world.  To know that in the very ordinary world of suffering and pain that he was experiencing, the Father in heaven had an extraordinary love for him, enabling him to endure all things and to show extraordinary love for all humanity.

The One who calls us his own dear children enables us to walk through the darkest valleys of our ordinary worlds. In the water of baptism he calls us “my dearest child” and he promises to walk with us through thick and thin, even when we fail to be whom we should be as his children.

It’s easy to appreciate Jesus’ presence up on the mountain tops of glory and praise but it’s down in the valleys, that’s where we really need Jesus and we really need to hear our Father say, “You are my own dear child”.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

Fifth Sunday of Epiphany

  Jesus calls out to us with the words,
 “You are the salt of the earth.”  And again, “You are the light of the world”.

The prophet Moses approached his call to be light and salt timidly,  He said, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”  To which God answered, “I will be with you.”

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The Apostle Paul, called to witness Christ Jesus to both Jew and Gentile, also approached his call to be light and salt with some reservations.  Paul writes, ‘when I came to you, I was weak and trembled all over with fear, ‍and my teaching and message were not delivered with skillful words of human wisdom.’  To which God gave Paul divine truth to share with simple words centered on Jesus Christ and his cross. 

Let’s join in a word of  prayer: Loving God our Father, today we gather to worship You and to celebrate the light that our Saviour brings into our lives and the salt that preserves the message of salvation in the power of your Holy Spirit. God our Father, guide our steps and our lives with the light of Christ, as you open our minds and hearts by your Holy Spirit.  Preserve within us the wisdom You have for us, and strengthen our  faith, to be salt and light for people around us. Gracious heavenly Father, hear our prayer for the sake of our risen Lord,  Amen.

A camera in my hands will only capture a few personally precious moments.  A camera in the hands of Ken Duncan will record a pantheon of life in Australia.   It depends on whose hands it’s in. A tennis racquet in my hands will only lob the ball into the net, but a tennis racquet in the hands of Novak Djokovic will mean a Grand Slam title.   It depends on whose hands it’s in. A staff in my hands might help knock an apple from a tree branch, but a staff in the hands of Moses parted the mighty sea.   It depends on whose hands it’s in. A sling shot in my hands is a kid’s toy, but a sling shot in the hands of the shepherd king David was a mighty weapon.  It depends on whose hands it’s in. Two fish and 5 loaves of bread in my hands is a couple of fish sandwiches, but two fish and 5 loaves of bread in the hands of  Christ Jesus fed thousands.  It depends on whose hands it’s in. Nails in my hands might produce a simple bird feeder, but nails in the hands of Jesus Christ produced salvation for all people of faith.  It depends on whose hands it’s in.

As I have repeated several times. It all depends on whose hands it’s in.  When we put our concerns, our worries, our fears, our hopes, our dreams, our gifts and our relationships in God’s hands, that will make all the difference.  Because it depends on whose hands it’s in.  (Author Unknown)

In the example of the great prophet Moses, and the great Apostle Paul, we are reminded that it isn’t by our eloquence or brilliance that we witness Christ as Lord.  But simply by the epiphany of Christ as our personal Saviour, in our simple words, our soothing attitudes, and our loving actions.  As we put ourselves in the hands of our Saviour.
It’s clear that it was no coincidence Jesus chose salt and light as examples for our life in him that is shared with others as a living witness. 

Neither salt nor light exists for themselves. They only fulfil their purpose when they are poured out and when they shine.  As I consider the combination of today’s readings, I come to the conclusion that, like savoury salt, we are to be drawn to others to make a difference in their lives, all in the Lord Jesus Christ.  And that, like light, we are to be a warm beacon for others, drawing them to the Lord Jesus Christ.  In both cases, we walk together with Jesus Christ in the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Salt remains in the background, only useful in conjunction with the food it seasons.   Once at a Bible Study, some young people were discussing this text.  They were suggesting uses of salt, and the meaning.  One said, “Salt gives flavour to food”.  Another said, “It also preserves food to keep it from decaying.” Then one girl said, “salt makes you thirsty.”   Since I encountered this, the question that has haunted me is, “have I ever made anyone thirsty for Jesus?”  Perhaps a question for each of us. We are that kind of salt when we allow our hearts to show the world the peace and joy of our salvation by what they see in our eyes.

When we allow the compassion of our attitudes reveal Christ in our interactions.  When we allow the encouraging words of hope to be what they hear from our lips.  All the result of the Holy Spirit filling and guiding us – making others thirsty for the confidence we have in living with Jesus in our hearts.

By contrast, light never remains in the background. Light fills the space it occupies with warm rays of confidence.  Light draws attention to itself by it’s very nature. When the light of Christ beams out from our lives, we cannot help to draw attention to the goodness of our Saviour.

When it comes to showing the world that we are children of God, and that we are loved by Jesus Christ, God’s Holy Spirit makes all the difference, giving us the courage to be the light to the world that cannot be hidden away.  And that will make a difference in the life of someone who desperately needs to see that light of Jesus Christ.  Someone we may not even recognise.

It would never occur to those who don’t know Jesus Christ, to turn on that light in their life.  Not unless they see the light of peace, joy, hope and love that our Saviour’s light shows them through our lives of faith.

 I am convinced they would never notice the light of Christ shining through our lives, unless we first enter their lives as quietly as salt.  Showing them our friendship and compassion.  I have seen that light streaming through the lives of so many here at St Peter’s as we engage with each other with such gentle caring.

The big question is, ‘how do we sustain this?’ 

Christ Jesus gives us the answer in what seems to be harsh words at the end of the reading for today.  Jesus says,  “Do not think that I have come to do away with the Law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets. I have not come to do away with them, but to make their teachings come true.”   

The heart of the law of Moses and the teachings of the Prophets is summed up in other words of Jesus,   “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  And Love your neighbour as yourself.’” (Mt 22:37~40 NIV84)  Jesus fulfilled the heart and the letter of the law perfectly.

What I’ve noticed is that if we approach every interaction with others, anxious about being salt and light to that person; anxious about fulfilling the heart of the law of Moses — we will spend our time concentrating on ourselves with anxiety and fear. 

From Scriptures, I am sure that is not what Jesus wants us to do, and it’s not what Jesus Christ entered our lives to do.  Jesus came to make his teachings come true.  To make the way for the Holy Spirit to change our nature to be like him.  To approach every interaction with others, just to love them. To care about them.  To show them Jesus. 

As we let each encounter with another to be a natural outflow of ourselves, we let Jesus be present.  And we let our Christian friends show us their love as well.   Just as Paul says, ‘Your faith, then, does not rest on human wisdom but on God’s power.’

So what happens, if, at one time or another,  we just can’t be salt and light?  The good news is that we have a Saviour who understands everything about being human.  Who shows us his love in all the times of our lives, whether times of failure or times of success.  We can let his forgiveness and love surround us and encourage us, rather than fill our spirit with guilt and anxiety.  Just  continue to let the Holy Spirit work in our lives.  After all, we are not a finished product and we will only be perfect when we reach eternity and stand by the side of our Saviour.

As Paul wrote in Romans,  “We are made right in God’s sight when we trust in Jesus Christ to take away our sins. And we all can be saved in this same way, no matter who we are or what we have done.”    As for me, I won’t ever know the full impact of what my living example might have on someone else.  Whether  good or bad.  Whatever I might influence them to be and do. Whether good or bad.  So I ponder the question ‘where does that leave me’?  And others as I suspect.

I suppose in the worst case, to be counted  least in the Kingdom of Heaven.    But really, that is good news. What a relief that is!  Even when I continue living in this broken world, subject to the sinfulness that is part of life, Jesus has made the way for me to enter the Kingdom of Heaven; by His own sacrifice, and our faith in him.   I can envision that being even the least in the Kingdom of Heaven as having an eternal future that is far above anything I could hope for or expect in this world. 

And that is just the starting point for every Christian.  Given the right to become children of God by our faith in his Son.  Jesus also says, “But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be great in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

I suspect there is only one who ever truly obeyed God’s laws; only one who ever rightly taught God’s laws. Jesus Christ, our Saviour.  He came to earth to “fulfil the law of Moses and the writings of the prophets.”  And rightly so, Jesus is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.  He is our High Priest, our King, and our Saviour.  We hold Him up as the example for our joyous living, and we hold the  Commandments as the law of God which is the mirror of our own sad reality. 

But our Triune God sees us through the prism of the one who fulfilled the whole law.   So our destiny is somewhere between being least in the Kingdom of Heaven and  being just short of great in the Kingdom of Heaven. 

What a wonderful and exciting destiny. And we are all in this together.  We are all destined for the eternal Kingdom of Heaven with Jesus our Lord. 

What hope this gives to all of us.   What energy it gives to know that God loves us that much.  How this Good News can fill us with renewed enthusiasm to try again to be the person that Jesus wants each of us to be.  And what encouragement it provides to try again to be salt and light to the world around us.

As we let God’s Holy Spirit make us into the salt and light for the world, the grace and peace of God, keep our hearts and minds in the calm assurance of eternal salvation in our living Lord, Christ Jesus.   Amen.
David Thompson.

Fourth Sunday of Epiphany

The Text: 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 (ESV)

18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

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21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

 

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may boast in the cross of Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

As our church attendances dwindle, our attempts at evangelism struggle, and the number of empty pews multiply, have you ever thought God should have a better marketing plan?

 

For example, why doesn’t he just give people what they want? If people pray for healing – give it to them. If people pray for success – give it to them. If people pray for rain so their crops would grow – give it to them. If people pray for a sunny day so they can enjoy a leisurely day outside – give it to them. Surely God’s powerful and clever enough to direct sun in one place and rain on another!

 

Just think, if God would give everyone what they want, don’t you think it follows that every worship service would be about receiving power, success, prosperity, intelligence, beauty, health, long life, and so on. Don’t you think this would be very attractive?

 

You’d think this would also mean every church would have impressive and charismatic preachers the people would admire and want to emulate. Everyone would get to sing the hymns and songs they want to sing. We wouldn’t even need to be choosy about which church to go to because every church would offer exactly what we want.

 

If God gave people what they wanted, then wouldn’t our own church, and the whole world, be filled with dedicated disciples who sing God’s praises at all times and in every place?

 

But what does he do instead?

 

He asks us to ‘foolishly’ believe the God who creates the universe and all its wonders, came to earth as a humble human being in order to serve us by suffering and dying on a cruel cross without even putting up a struggle, and that somehow through the shedding of his innocent blood, we obtain forgiveness of sins, peace in heart, body and soul, and life eternal through faith.

 

In other words, God markets his peace, life, and salvation through his Son’s agonising death on a cross!

 

What’s more, he then gets human beings who are weak, selfish, sinful, uninspiring, and incompetent to preach the message of Jesus Christ crucified to a doubtful and disbelieving world who would rather God would just give them what they want, and who often blame God for everything which goes wrong in their lives even though they’re more to blame than he is.

 

He also gets you, his proud, selfish, and fiercely independent people to gather together to admit to each other (and the world) that you’ve stuffed up and sinned against God and others around you. He asks you to believe his words of forgiveness are effectual even though they’re spoken by imperfect people.

 

He asks you to believe a simple washing with water in the name of our Triune God joins you to Jesus and grants eternal life in God’s kingdom. He also expects you to believe a small wafer of bread and a little sip of wine is the true body and blood of Jesus Christ!

 

Do you realise how foolish, absurd, and ridiculous this sounds to most people? And we wonder why more people don’t coming flocking to our church in order to be disciples of Christ!

 

While we might think God needs a better marketing plan of power, wealth, health, and success in order for more people to believe and trust in him, God instead, in his infinite wisdom, expects us to market the shameful and humiliating death of Jesus Christ on a cross, with all its accompanying weakness, humility, and foolishness!

 

God seems to delight in doing things all mixed up, turned about topsy-turvy, and the wrong way around! I mean, just listen to what we call ‘the Beatitudes’ in the Gospel reading for today – Jesus calls spiritually poor people, mourners, and those who seek the peace of God the ‘blessed ones’, when everyone else today thinks the rich, intelligent, beautiful and successful are the blessed ones!

 

He also doesn’t do what we expect him to do (at least, not according to human wisdom and logic), but does things in his own way and timing, including giving his divine gifts (such as forgiveness and eternal life), to undeserving people like you and me.

 

Not only this, but as people who believe in what he achieved for us on the cross of Christ, he asks you to live the way of the cross by loving and forgiving your enemies and all those who hurt you.

 

But, like it or not, this is the way and wisdom of God – and thank God for that!

 

I mean, if any of us were God (which is the original sin which got the human race into trouble in the first place, and still continues to get you and me into trouble), wouldn’t we only choose the good, strong, intelligent, beautiful, or wise to be part of this congregation or part of God’s people? Wouldn’t we only choose those who do the right thing by us or who agree with us? Imagine then, if it were really up to us, how few people there’d be here today, or even more tellingly – how few people we’d receive into heaven!

 

Part of the point is, if God were to work the same way as you and me, would he choose you? Would he choose me? Would you and I ever be good enough, strong enough, healthy enough, beautiful enough, smart enough, or even faithful enough for God? If you could only be chosen by God if you always did the right thing by God or to those around you, would God ever choose you?

 

Sure, our God demands perfection, and God makes it clear through his word (and through our own consciences) that we all fail to live according to his ways and so therefore deserve punishment. None of us deserve eternal life in heaven.

 

Yet God, in his wisdom, sent his only Son to us as a human being in order to live perfectly and obediently for us. He also took on all our sin and punishment for us and then died for us. He paid the full price for our sin so that we would be forgiven and no longer need to fear punishment from God any more.

 

In other words, we don’t need to be perfect because he was perfect for us! We’re made acceptable and worthy of heaven only because of what Jesus did for us and through our faith in this fact.

 

God, in his wisdom, gathers strangers together, like you and me, in order to receive his gifts of grace upon grace through his Word, through Baptism, and through the Lord’s Supper. He makes these strangers into family – that is, he makes us all brothers and sisters related through the blood of Christ, who not only want to receive the grace of God, but also want to share the grace of God with each other.

 

God, in his infinite wisdom, calls us to love and forgive others as he first loves us. This is foolish in a world which demands payback, put-downs, isolation, rejection, and revenge, yet he proclaims forgiveness of sins through the death of his Son so that you and I would be at peace with him. Then, as those who have been forgiven, he calls each of us to also forgive, including those who hurt us. Strangely, this forgiveness is the only way which offers true reconciliation and peace for troubled consciences, hearts and minds.

 

God, in his wisdom, doesn’t always give us what we want, because we’ll never be truly satisfied anyway. Not only this, but he doesn’t always give us what we want because getting our own way often hurts those around us.

 

God, in his wisdom, chose to love the fools of this world (like you and me). This doesn’t mean we’re all idiots or stupid, but that we have the faith to trust the wisdom of God when our own understanding falters. While this may make us all ‘fools’ in the world’s eyes; in God’s eyes our faith in him makes us the wise and blessed ones.

 

God, in his wisdom, chose the weak, because if we were strong, we might think he chose us for our strength or physical abilities. But because we’re not strong or powerful or mighty, we rely on, and trust in, his strength instead of our own.

 

Unfortunately for so many in the world today, the stumbling blocks to faith are pride, self-glory, intellect, strength and nobility, yet these are what Jesus gave up on the cross…for you and me, so that we may live with him in eternal righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

 

I mean, put it this way: when we get to heaven, and as our knees shake before God as we give an account for all our life: for all our thoughts, words and actions (or lack of them), what will we point to? Our intellect? Our strength? Our good intentions? Our good works? If we were to point to any of these, we’d be labelled a fool and laughed out of heaven!

 

You see, our only boast, our only claim for salvation in front of God, is Jesus Christ crucified on the cross.

 

In this way we boast in his suffering.

We boast in his death.

We boast in his resurrection.

We boast he’s forgiven us even though we don’t deserve it.

We boast in his gift of washing, adoption, and new-life given in baptism.

We boast in the gift of his body and blood to nourish and reassure us of his love and forgiveness through his Holy Supper.

We boast in the proclamation of Christ crucified through human beings, no matter what they look like or how long their sermons go for.

We boast in the cross of Jesus Christ, crucified for us to save us and reconcile us with his Father in heaven.

 

While it’s not the best marketing plan in the world, it’s the wisdom of God to proclaim Christ crucified. His suffering and death (which takes away all our sin), proclaims God’s love for you and me better than giving us everything we want would.

 

Therefore, if we think we’re not good enough, smart enough, or able to be a good person by our own strength, then that’s a good thing! You see, only then, as ‘fools’ who totally rely on the grace of God through Christ Jesus are we wise enough to no longer boast in ourselves or our own achievements, but we’re ready to boast only in Christ and his death on the cross so that…

 

…the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus crucified. Amen.