How you could have been so blind.

Epistle: I Corinthians 3:1-9garth

It is time to move on from the basics, says the Apostle. It is time to sink your teeth into some theological meat and understand He is working in those baptized into Christ.

At one time in your life, just like mine, you have been impressed by someone who in the end turned out to be toxic; who, for all his or her charisma and supposed knowledge and wisdom, bamboozled you. And now, now you have matured, now you have perspective on the person and that season of your life, you cringe and wonder how you could have been so blind.

Understand that shame and embarrassment, and you have got a grip on this third chapter of 1 Corinthians. This is where the Corinthians are headed. Paul is preparing them for a great sobering and weening them from the breasts of celebrity spiritualists. In these verses, Paul is bringing his discussion of wisdom and folly, and spiritual maturity and immaturity, right down to where the Corinthians themselves are. They have been using the drug of sophistry (of rhetorical flash and pizzazz; of high-mindedness and elitism peddled by smooth-talking sectarians) and by it supposing themselves more “spiritual” than others. But Paul says it has proved they are only even more worldly and infantile. As he will make plain in chapter 13, their juvenile squabbling showed a lack of love, which was a sure sign of immaturity: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. But when I became a man, I put away childish things” (13:11). The Corinthians were making mud pies, playing with imaginary friends, and blindly following know-it-alls who were leading them into theological and moral pitfalls.

They were eager for the kind of teaching the sophists were giving, imagining themselves as super-believers. But they were deceived. The more they take the drug, the more immature they show themselves to be. The proof of it all is their in-fighting about different Christian teachers.

At first, and as their spiritual father, Paul fed these babes in the milk of Christ. He did not push the infant believers beyond their capacity, but gave them soft, easy teaching which suited their state: Kindergarten Christianity. There was nothing blameworthy in their being, “not yet ready for it.” But some four or five years had lapsed since Paul first planted the church in Corinth. By now they should have developed the capacity for rich fare — solid theological food. So, there is a strong reproof in his words: “But you are still not ready” (v.2).

The preacher now has rhetorical tools at his disposal. Questions can be asked of your auditors: Have you been a Christian longer than five years, too? How long have I numbered myself among the baptized? Am I given to a life of the Word in Bible study and devotion to the sacramental life of the Church? Do I read theology? How have these things influenced my service to Christ’s Kingdom and people?

The mature believer is, Paul says, “characterized by spirit—the divine spirit—the Holy Spirit.” That is what characterizes the Christian: Holy Spirit kind of thinking and living. This same Holy Spirit leads us into the deep things of the mind of Christ. The worldly Christian is the person who lives by the same morality, agenda, ideology, cares and concerns as the unbelieving and godless world in all its supposed wisdom. The basic difference Paul describes is between people in whom God’s Spirit has come to dwell, opening them up to new depths and dimensions of truth and experience, and people who are living as though the world and human life were rumbling along in the same old tired way. And in case the Corinthians were to put up a defense and say, “Oh, that is not what we are thinking or doing,” Paul presses home his point by reminding them of what he had heard from Chloe’s people: one person saying, “I belong to Paul,” another saying “I belong to Apollos” (v.4). Such self-assertion over-against one another was a sure sign the Corinthians were conducting themselves like people devoid of the Holy Spirit and, therefore, antithetical to the, “mind of Christ.” They are still infantile. How could they even comprehend the mind of Christ, the deeper things of God; His will and ways in the world? The Corinthians are not ready for it and they should be.

After upbraiding the Corinthians for their carnal ways, Paul redirects their thinking by addressing them as Christians who still do, by God’s grace, possess the Holy Spirit and the manifold gifts graciously given them by God. The way he does it is by explaining who and what they are in three analogies: God’s field, God’s building, and God’s temple.

The Corinthians were making far too much of their teachers. Their fawning, immature attachment to one or the other cried out for some reality therapy from the Apostle. Paul’s abrupt questions are designed to draw their attention away from the person to his office. Therefore, he asked not “who?” but “what?”: “What, after all, is Apollos? What is Paul” (3:5)? Sure, there is a sense in which Paul did indeed found churches, but the foundation he put down was Jesus Himself, the Messiah of God. This, he says in v.11, is the only “foundation” there ever can be. Anything else simply is not the Church but some warped social club with religious trappings.

Here is the point: Apollos and Paul are simply servants of Christ and His people (3:22). Holy Ministry is modeled on that of Jesus, who came not to lord it over others but to wait on them, not to be served but to serve (Mark 10:41-45). The Lord empowers all legitimate ministry. The Lord’s power yields all. Paul carefully chooses his words in 3:5: “Through whom you came to faith,” not, “in whom you believed.” In other words, the missionaries and priests were merely instruments through whom God called the Corinthians to faith. They were not to become objects of faith. The real work is done by God.

The attention of the Corinthians should have been fastened on God, who alone effects all spiritual work and growth.

Paul now describes his and Apollos’ different roles using an analogy from agriculture. Paul had planted the seed of the Word during his eighteen months in the city, when he became the young church’s first spiritual father. Then Apollos “watered” the sprouts Paul had sown. However, as everyone knows from agriculture, no gardener or farmer actually causes plants to grow; all he does is provide the conditions under which growth can take place by the blessing, power and design of God. Paul plants, Apollos waters, but God is the real farmer, the One who gives dynamic growth. Hence verse 7: “Neither the planter is anything nor the waterer, but only God, who does the growing.”

It is the triune God who is actually working in a continuous fashion through His Word and Sacraments. God desires for us to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is time to move on from the basics, says the Apostle. It is time to sink your teeth into some theological meat and understand He is working in those baptized into Christ. Our Heavenly Farmer, as it were, requires fruit for your own good and for the good of the farm.

The Hard Sell

The ‘Hard Sell’

1 Corinthians 2:1-5 – The Cross of Christ

Have you ever encountered a really good salesperson? The kind of person whopastor could convince someone to buy almost anything? Most of us would like to think we are beyond being swayed simply by a good talker. But, if you are like me, there will have been times when you have come home with an item, wondering how in the world you were convinced that it was such a necessary thing to have at the time. Perhaps you have a gadget or two tucked away in a kitchen drawer at home that worked near miracles when demonstrated by the vendor in the shop, but that you have never quite been able to get the hand of. Perhaps you have an exercise machine that you were persuaded would not only be easy to use, but would change your life. Perhaps you were even one of the thousands who bought a crystal years ago to put under the bonnet of your car because Peter Brock said they worked. Then afterward you wondered what you were thinking. There turned out to be little if anything behind the smooth and convincing words.

Some people are able to sell ideas as easily as a smooth and well-rehearsed salesperson can sell kitchen implements and home exercise equipment. Sometimes you might find yourself agreeing with an idea, or signing a petition, simply because you can find no fault in the logic, passion and eloquence of the argument as it is presented.

The history of religious sects and movements is littered with groups that have sprung up around the quirky ideas of some very gifted and eloquent speaker. In many cases these movements fade away as soon as the gifted speaker moves on or passes from the scene. Followers begin to disperse as they realise that behind the lofty rhetoric, there was really little of substance. In fact, the ideas might have even been hopelessly self-contradictory or harmful.

In the ancient world one of most popular and fundamental of all skills to study was the art of rhetoric. This involved learning how to write, and especially how to speak, in such a way as to move others to great emotion and to convince them of your case. Those who could afford it spent months with teachers of rhetoric learning these skills. Those who aspired to high political office, to military leadership, to be successful in law, or simply to be influential in their community or business would devote much time to learning the art of rhetoric.

The apostle Paul clearly had some basic training in rhetoric. We can see it in his letters. He employs many techniques that make his letters moving and memorable even today. But when it came to the most valued aspect of rhetoric in the ancient world, the gift of public speaking, Paul admitted that he simply did not have that gift. He often mentioned his lack of eloquent and lofty language. Paul knew enough of the skills of public speaking to know that this was not his strength. He knew that to win over a crowd you had to not only get their attention, but keep it, and you had to keep them with you to the end. But in the accounts in the book of Acts we learn that many of Paul’s speeches were cut short. Just as he was gathering momentum and the interest of the crowd, he would mention that this Jesus whom he was exhorting people to follow had been executed on a cross as a criminal. That seldom went over well. And if he got past this point, he would claim that Jesus was raised bodily from the dead. This was something that everyone knew was not only impossible, but also not necessary to a Greek way of thinking since the body was not seen as important, but only the soul. On a good day the crowds would simply wander off or mock Paul. On a bad day, they would try to kill him.

When Paul writes to the church at Corinth, they already knew him well. He had spent a year and a half among them (Acts 18:11). He made tents to earn a living with his friends Aquila and Priscilla. In his free time he argued about Jesus with anyone who would listen. And he taught the young Christian church in the house of a Roman convert, Titius Justus, who happened to live next door to the synagogue, which Paul and been banned from after the synagogue leader, Crispus, converted to Christianity. Paul’s themes and way of speaking were well known to the recipients of his letter. So when he reminded them that his talks were not particularly eloquent, they would have nodded in agreement.

But Paul turns what most would see as a weakness into a strength. ‘Brothers and sisters,’ he says, ‘when I came to you I did not come speaking lofty words or espousing great wisdom.’ (1 Cor 2:1). That is to say, Paul neither spoke with great eloquence, nor did he espouse some impressive philosophical system, which so many speakers were famed for. So, if it is not the skills of the speaker that changed so many lives, it must have been the message itself.

So what message did Paul, the bold but not so eloquent speaker, present?

Paul could have devoted his time to retelling Jesus’ most famous parables. He could have expounded on the beauty of the Sermon on the Mount. He could have talked about the great ethical example Jesus set. But he didn’t focus on any of these things, even though it would have been pleasing and entertaining to most listeners. Instead, Paul harped on about a single theme: Jesus Christ crucified on a cross. Admittedly, it was a hard sell as a message. Who wants to hear a story about an execution? Who wants to put their trust in someone who died a shameful death? Who wanted to follow a king who not only did not defeat the Romans, but didn’t even appear to put up a fight? Nothing about the message Paul was compelled to preach was easy.

It was not a feel good message.

It was not a soothing visual image.

It was nonsense to the Greeks (I Cor 1:23)

It was a stumbling block to the Jews (1 Cor 1:23)

Nevertheless, that was the focus of Paul’s preaching. Everything always came back to the cross of Christ.

Like Paul, it was also a message that Luther could not get around. He, too, contended that our preaching should be focused on the cross of Christ. One of the greatest compliments paid to Luther was not by another theologian or a preacher, but by a layperson in the congregation in Wittenberg where he often preached. It was his friend, the painter Lucas Cranach. After Luther’s death Cranach painted an image for the altar emphasising Word and Sacrament. For the ‘Word’ part of the painting he depicted Luther pointing the congregation to a bare wall with nothing on it apart from Christ on the cross.  Paul would have been pleased.

This is the same message Paul wanted to convey to the Corinthian church in his letter. Everything was about Christ and Christ crucified. The power to transform our lives is in that simple message. No fancy words, no tricks of logic, no impressive philosophy, no celebrity endorsement.

Just Jesus.

On a Roman cross.


For us.

Apart from this, Paul told the Corinthians, there was nothing else he preached to them. There was nothing else he talked to them about. Everything was about Christ on the cross.  “I knew nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (verse 2). This simple yet unlikely message, without any polished speaking or rhetorical tricks, turned the world upside down. And continues to this day to transform lives. In this we see the wisdom and power of God (1 Cor 1:24), which is so different from human wisdom. We might very well find the image of Christ crucified unattractive. It would be hard not to. We might find the message of the cross difficult to understand. It is certainly not what we expected from the Creator of the Universe. We might find the idea of a crucified God a hard sell.  Just try explaining it to someone who has not heard the story before! But anything else is not the good news. Anything else, however polished and uplifting, is not what transforms lives. Anything other than the message of the cross is merely human wisdom and elegance.

We believe and proclaim Christ, and him crucified. The unlikely and unexpected power of the cross does the rest. Quite literally, the cross sells itself. Because no fancy words ever could.

And as Paul reminds us, that’s not a bad thing. It is a reminder that the message of the cross in not some hyped up human wisdom and pretty story. It is nothing less than the wisdom and power of God.

May Christ the crucified keep your hearts and minds and draw you always to himself. Amen.

Pastor Mark Worthing.



True happiness.

Text: Matthew 5:3-10 (NIV)

True happiness8f5d0040f261ddb1b3f281e00e1385f0

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

No doubt, some of you have watched Survivor. This immensely popular TV real life game show is watched by millions of people around the world.

Imagine putting 16 people together from different backgrounds – trying to survive together and at the same time competing against one another for individual survival. After each round, the participants meet together to cast their votes to see who will be dismissed from the group. It can be for any number of reasons such as –
I think you’re not pulling your weight; you cheated by having some kind of contraband; you are too old, too selfish, too uncooperative; or simply, because I don’t like your face.

The ultimate goal is to not get voted out. And the way to survive is to make sure that there are people on your side – alliances are made – and broken – leaving behind a trail of betrayal and suspicion. This is real life played out in a game show. That’s perhaps the reason why Survivor has been so popular – it brings out the best and worst in people – more often the worst than the best. The winner is not the person who is kind and considerate, but who makes friends, uses them and then turns against them. The winner is not the person who is the better or the nicer person but the one who is ruthless and hurtful, who has no feelings for the others.

One person who was asked about his view of the show hit the nail on the head when he said, “It’s sorry that our society is this way, but the people who are conniving and back-stabbing are the ones who make it. Unlike the movies where the scriptwriter controls the plot and good triumphs over evil, in Survivor, no one controls the plot and how things eventually turn out. It is a sad commentary on the way the world is.”

As we think about what it means to be happy or blessed we might say —
Blessed are those who earn six figure incomes.
Blessed are the famous.
Blessed are those who don’t have anything to worry about.
Blessed are the powerful.
Blessed are those who have the determination and ruthlessness to eliminate everything that hinders the fulfilment of their dreams.

Our view of happiness depends so much on our circumstances and environment. A young woman might think that true happiness is to find the right man, to marry and have a family, only later to find herself thinking that true happiness would come if she could divorce her abusive husband.

Teenagers may think true happiness is getting their first car, but it’s not too long before they think that they would be truly happy if they could have a certain car that was sleeker and faster.

Happiness is a common desire. Yet, so few people seem to have true happiness that we put happiness in the same category as four-leaf clovers and the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow – that which is elusive, unattainable, and impossible. Happiness is a goal that we all strive for, but when that goal is reached, we realise that there is always something else that we think would make us truly happy.

I’m sure you can think of things that you would like to see changed in your life so that you can be truly happy. So we go about arranging and re-arranging our environment and circumstances so that we will be happy. On this basis, people have assumed that, if they are unhappy, it is because of this wretched washing machine, this wretched heart, this wretched person I am living with… They believe that they will become happy by changing their lot in some way.

Seeking happiness becomes a never-ending quest. Happiness, we assume, must be fun and laughter and expressing our own personalities by “doing our own thing”. In order to be happy, we think, we must be free from suffering, sorrow and hardship. It’s no wonder that we can’t ever say that we have reached our goal – true happiness. There is nothing wrong with the desire to be happy; there is everything wrong with the way we often go seeking it.

And that’s exactly what Jesus is talking about today in the Sermon on the Mount when he talks about true happiness. He says,

“Blessed are the poor in spirit.”

We would hardly regard ‘the poor in spirit’ as “happy” because they are aware of how much their sinfulness is out of control; their faith often wavers; they lack the spiritual resources to cope with the upsets in life and easily become depressed and miserable.

“Blessed are those who mourn.”

They are the least likely to be called “happy” because they are upset by the injustices in our world; they grieve for the starving, the homeless, refugees and those suffering in wars; they are distressed over their own stupidity and sinfulness; they are sad because of what death has done.

“Blessed are the humble,”

Those whom the world regards as the least likely to be “happy” because they are always busy doing things for others; they are gentle in their dealings with others, refusing to do anything for their own personal gain at the expense of others;
they don’t push themselves forward and are satisfied helping others.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”

These people can hardly be called “happy” because of their deep sense of what is right; they are passionate about justice for the underdog and won’t rest until something is done. They are unhappy about the treatment of refugees, unnecessary logging, the treatment of prisoners. They are also those who are “unhappy” with their own lives and want to live more as God intended them to live.)

“Blessed are the persecuted.”

Being persecuted can hardly be called a “happy” experience. Persecution is an unhappy event when you are suffering because you are a peacemaker, or because you have shown mercy and compassion on someone whom everyone else thinks doesn’t deserve it, or because you are pure in heart – you know what is the right thing to do but no one else sees it that way.

Can you see that Jesus’ definition of what it means to be blessed doesn’t depend on us and what is happening around us? The Beatitudes present us with a whole new idea of what it means to be happy and blessed. True happiness has to do with knowing God, belonging to God’s Kingdom, being a part of God’s family. You might say that this is hardly a popular view, especially when worldly happiness depends so much on money, a house, the right car, and being free from sickness, death and anything that upsets our “happiness”. But Jesus was one for making true statements. True happiness is to be found in God. The fact is that we don’t find happiness by seeking happiness. We find God, and discover a deep level of happiness.

Or it is better said that God finds us.

In the middle of all the difficulties we have living out our Christian faith in our daily lives; when we are sad and upset; when we are despondent and depressed;
when others reject us and ridicule us for our faith or for sticking up for what we believe is right; when we are trying to show mercy and love or bring about peace and we are told to butt out; God meets us, he strengthens us, he comforts, he helps us endure, he gives us the courage to move on.

A woman was the victim of abuse as a child. She understood what had happened – she didn’t like it – she had been angry but God had helped her through her anger and now she prayed for her father. She also helped her brother to come to terms with what had happened and to rebuild his relationship with his father. She had suffered a great deal and yet she would say that she was blessed. The inner and outer scars will always be there, but she was happy because God was with her. He had helped her though it all and now God was using her to be a peacemaker.

George Matheson was a great preacher and hymn writer who lost his sight at an early age. He thought of his blindness as his thorn in the flesh, as his personal cross. For several years, he prayed that his sight would be restored. Like most of us, I suppose, he believed that personal happiness would come to him only after the handicap was gone. But then, one day God sent him a new insight: The creative use of his handicap could actually become his personal means of achieving happiness!

So, Matheson went on to write: “My God, I have never thanked you for my thorn. I have thanked you for my roses, but not once for my thorn. I have been looking forward to a world where I shall get compensation for my cross, but I have never thought of the cross itself as a present glory. Teach me the glory of my cross. Teach me the value of my thorn.”

George Matheson had found God’s kind of happiness—the kind of happiness that is not only a future hope, but also a reality in the here and now.

That’s the kind of happiness that enabled the apostle Paul to write to the Philippians from his gaol cell, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (4:4).

That’s the secret of true happiness!
You may be suffering a great deal from sickness; you may be persecuted for doing what you consider the right thing; you may be upset about your own sinfulness or the weakness of your faith; you may even be upset by those who have failed to show love toward you; whatever the case, you can still be “happy” in the knowledge that you are one of God’s precious children, that he sent his Son to die for you, and that when all is said and done, there is a place for you in heaven where there will be no more unhappiness.

This is the kind of “blessedness” or “happiness” that no circumstance or person can take away from those who trust in Christ.


Jesus begins his work.

MATTHEW 4:12  Jesus, having heard that John had been imprisoned, withdrew8f5d0040f261ddb1b3f281e00e1385f0 into Galilee.
13And having left Nazareth He went and lived in Capernaum by the seaside in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali,
14in order that it may be fulfilled what had been said through Isaiah the prophet:

15 Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,

way of the sea across from the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—

16 The people dwelling in darkness and gloom have seen a great light

And among those dwelling in the field of the shadow of death

A light has risen for them

17From then Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” 18Then walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and Andrew, his brother, casting a large fish net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19And Jesus said to them ‘Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of people.’ 20And they immediately left their nets and followed Him. 21And moving on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with their father Zebedee, repairing their nets, and Jesus called them. 22And they immediately left the boat and their father and followed Him. 23And Jesus went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the Good News of the Kingdom and healing every sickness and every infirmity among the people.

Apparently, as seen from space, Las Vegas is the brightest city in the world. In New York City, Times Square is home to the ABC ‘SuperSign’ a whopping 3,685-square foot screen with wavy LED ribbons. The Eiffel Tower in France is illuminated by 20,000 bulbs. Closer to home the light towers of the MCG have a total of 844 2000 Watt lamps. Each have an individual angle that is computer generated to provide maximum coverage of the arena without any shadowed areas or dark spots. A few years ago, Sydney’s cloudy night sky was seemingly turned into bright day when the city ushered in the New Year with 7 tonnes of fireworks including 1000 that were launched from the Opera House sails, as well as glittering waterfalls of fire that cascaded over the harbour. This paled into insignificance when compared to Dubai’s Guinness World Record effort in which over half a million fireworks were used spanning 94 kilometres of the Dubai Coast, costing nearly $7 million.

All this light in the world – it is not true light. The world is still in darkness—the darkness of greed, selfishness, broken homes, violence, theft, destruction, substance abuse, injustice and exploitation…and everything else that comes with worshipping the self as number 1. And so these man-made lights are a symbol of the extravagance and decadence that place the self on a pedestal to be served with whatever society wants to be served with.

A few years ago it was questioned by one mainstream newspaper why millions habitually flock to parties and what they actually celebrate when the same selfishness characterised by injustice and violence and family and social breakdown continues and calamity and strife surround us on a daily basis. Really isn’t this the picture we hear of from the prophet Isaiah cited by Matthew today?

The people of the Land of Zebulun and Naphtali are dwelling in darkness and gloom—God’s chosen people, the Jews, as well as Gentiles, were in darkness, error, unrighteousness—that 3 letter ‘s’ word that dare not be mentioned: sin. The people are ‘living’—that is, barely existing—in the state of sin, and therefore dwelling in the field of the shadow of death. That was the situation of the human race during the time of Isaiah’s prophecy. It was the situation when Matthew wrote…we see that with the opening verse of our text: John the Baptist had been imprisoned by Herod because John was faithful to God’s Word and reproved Herod for unlawfully taking Herodias, the wife of his brother Herod Philip I. On Herod’s birthday, Herodias’s daughter Salome danced before the king and his guests. Her dancing pleased Herod so much that in his drunkenness he promised to give her anything she desired. Prompted by her mother, she asked for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Although Herod was appalled by the request, he reluctantly agreed and had John beheaded in prison. What had John the Baptist done? Faithfully proclaimed God’s Word.

As our nation celebrates its greatness and the achievements of its people today, how much room will be made for public thanksgiving to God for His blessings? For all our greatness as a nation, the Australia I see is the land and the people Isaiah and Matthew spoke of centuries ago—a country that is desperately in need of the light of Christ. A country that rejects God’s Word—lost, stumbling, consumed with the decadence and self-worship of the Western world that will do away with anything that stands in the way—even God Himself.

It’s a chilling thought, but we too have inherited that condition—the condition that has the potential for us to be the next tyrant who we are sickened by. The condition that makes us all enemies of God because it shows itself in all the ways we know of or deny that are contrary to God’s will expressed in His Word. We were among the people of Zebulun and Naphtali who sat in gloom and darkness, even in the very shadow of death, needing rescue. So behold, the gospel, for you this day:

Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,

way of the sea across from the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—

The people dwelling in darkness and gloom have seen a great light

And among those dwelling in the field of the shadow of death

A light has risen for them

That light is Jesus and His Gospel. The first words Jesus proclaims in our text is: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” Jesus is talking in a geographical sense. In the person of Christ, heaven has come to earth. Wherever Jesus is, God’s kingdom is present and at work. Every other religion requires us to ascend to God through our good works. God shows his grace in that even though the world is darkened by sin and in bondage to it, blind to the true God and unable to free itself, God came down with love in the person of Christ, to bring freedom from the bondage of sin and dare I say it—ourselves. He came to trample over death with His own and make a mockery of the demonic realm of darkness with His redeeming work on the Cross.

Matthew tells us today that this Christ went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the Good News of the Kingdom and healing every sickness and every infirmity among the people. This is the light that has risen for the people. These healings are a witness that Jesus is indeed the Son of God with all authority over the created order, over sin, death and Satan, and the authority to forgive sins. The forgiveness of sins which is the greatest of blessings even in the depths of our brokenness and despair because it is only through forgiveness that we enter into God’s presence as His holy children and have peace and life with Him forever.

All of this is an undeserved gift to a people helpless to help themselves. So repentance is the only appropriate response to such lavish love; a love that none of us deserve but a love that is given without condition, a love that does not count our wrongs against us but counts them against the Christ who was crucified in our place to take our sin from us and exchange it with His holiness and righteousness. A love that welcomes the least into the family of God through His Son to be co-heirs with Him. Entry is through faith alone in the promise that there is a righteousness apart from the Law; the righteousness that comes through faith in this Messiah, Christ the light of the world.

Jesus says to us today: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” Where is the Kingdom of Heaven? Wherever Jesus is, the Kingdom of Heaven is present—God’s gracious rule. Where is Jesus? In His holy word and sacraments. Just as He taught in the synagogues, preaching the Good News of the Kingdom, Jesus is truly present again today, preaching and enacting the gospel through the readings, the liturgy, this sermon. Preaching the Gospel to you that will not return to Him empty but accomplish everything He desires it to do. He is the host of the holy meal we are about to receive, speaking His word that does what it says, making ordinary wafers and wine His true body and blood that He places in your hands, so that as you eat and drink there is no mistaking that the forgiveness and redemption that He won for the world He gives to you and you receive personally through faith in His promise: given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.

You too have seen this great light shining in the darkness. It is not spectacular in the way the world understands spectacular, but it is far more powerful for this light has freed you so that you are no longer captive to your sinful nature but captive to Christ, who made you His very own in the waters of holy baptism. What a gracious God we have to come into our world and give us these holy gifts to bring us into personal relationship with Him! And in these waters, you too were called by our Lord to be His followers in your daily life and work. Just as Jesus called Simon Peter and Andrew, James and John who immediately follow Jesus, not because they have a better faith or greater willpower or have sinned less than others, or for any quality within themselves. They are able to follow Jesus because He calls them to do so. The words that Jesus, God Himself utters: “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of people” are not just words, but words that do what they say they will do…because what Jesus says, happens. We are reminded of God’s words in the creation of the universe: “Let there be light…and it was so; let there be…and it was so; let there be…and it was so.” Here in our text the Lord of creation brings about a re-creation in these fishermen through His speech: “Come, follow me”—the same re-creation He works in your life.

Not only has Jesus won forgiveness and salvation for undeserving sinners, but in His task of building His church, chooses to use them in this work, leading and guiding them in the harvest of souls. And so the people you live and work with see a great light when they see how you live God’s word in your life. Just before our text today was Matthew’s account of the devil’s temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. Without food for forty days Jesus is hungry. The devil knows Jesus has the power to turn the stones around Him into loaves of bread and tempts Him to do it. But Jesus answers: ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.

Jesus isn’t talking about simply existing. He doesn’t say ‘Man does not exist on bread alone, but live on bread alone; real living. And so when you live—really live—meeting with Jesus Himself through His word, receiving the Holy Spirit He sends through the Scriptures, you have peace and contentment and strength no matter what your situation is because the Spirit is at work bearing His fruit. People see that in your life and they know there’s something different about these ‘churchy people’ as we’re often referred to. They see the light of Christ at work because you are a little Christ, to borrow Luther’s terms, in the darkness of the world around. When others see how you say grace at Maccas because you want Christ to be present and bless the food for you, when others see you come to church on a Sunday instead of sport or sitting on the header or sleeping in, when others see how you interact in a patient and forgiving way to those who have wronged you, when others see how you care for others, when others see how you respect authority, when others see how you cherish God’s name rather than using it habitually, when others see how you handle a crisis or live in integrity, when others see you feasting on the Word of God to really live, they see Christ the light of the world, living in and building His church among you.

It is not because of any effort on our part, but this only happens because Jesus has first preached the good news to you, and as he continues to preach to you and teach you through the scriptures, he continues to inspire and enable you to serve others and witness to him. Again today, He is in this church right here and He sends forth His gospel to make you everything He wants you to be, so that even as we live in the shadow of the valley of death of this life, His eternal light lights our way and—by his work in us and through us—shows the world a glimpse of the incredible love of its Saviour. Amen.

Behold the Lamb of God

The Text: John 1:29-42

‘God’s lamb who takes away our sin’


There were two different people on a particular week who came to talk to their8f5d0040f261ddb1b3f281e00e1385f0 pastor about some issues with in their families. In both cases the situation was a big fight with one of their grown up children.

The first person was a lady who was struggling with guilt about the whole thing, because she had lost her temper, things had gotten out of hand, and she had said some things she should’ve have.

The second visitor was a man, and his situation was the reverse in that he wasn’t struggling with the guilt of having lost his temper, but with the anger at his daughter over how she could’ve said the things she did to him.

In both cases the things that had happened ate away at these people whether it was sin they had committed, or sin that been committed against them. In both cases their question was, how can I get rid of this sin in our relationship and the effects of it?

And in both cases the pastor be a little John the Baptist and point to the ‘Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’.

Sin is like rubbish that clings to our souls.

And the problem with rubbish and waste, is that the longer it hangs around, the worse it gets and the more problems it brings. Rubbish and waste not properly dealt with can make people sick, it can spread disease, if you leave too much of it in the backyard it will even attracts nasty creatures like rats.

Do you remember the pictures from England during the strikes of Margaret Thatcher’s time when she had stand-offs with the unions? Piles of rotting rubbish on the streets of London. Rubbish needs to removed for us to be healthy and live in a functioning society.

Now sin is spiritual rubbish. It needs to be taken away or it is unhealthy, and it even attracts nasty visitors. The spiritual rats are the devil and his demons. Have you noticed how they’re sometimes called ‘unclean spirits’ in the Bible?

Sin is the devil’s raw material, it’s all he’s got to work with. The devil’s strategy is to use our sin against us. So when we sin, he tries to bring it to our minds and accuse us with it, He says, ‘And you call yourself a Christian, how could you do that?’

That’s the accusation of the devil in our conscience, where he uses our sin to bring us guilt and shame, which are spiritually unhealthy, as well as in every other way. But he also uses the sin that has been committed against us, by making us angry about it and not being able to let it go.

He does this by bringing the sins of others against us to our minds so that we think, ‘how could that person do that to me?’

And so he gets in there and rummages around in the garbage of our lives, stirring it all up and making an even bigger mess.

So how do you get rid of rats?

You can set rat traps and such things, but then eventually if there’s still rubbish and waster laying around, more rats will come. If you really don’t want them around, you’ve got to get rid of the rubbish.

Jesus came to destroy the devil’s work, but in the first place he does it in a way we wouldn’t necessarily expect. He deals with the devil by removing the garbage of sin.  God gets rid of the rats by removing the rubbish from our souls.

‘Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.’

Now let’s think for a few minutes about this this picture of the lamb.

What is John the baptizer trying to bring to mind when he calls Jesus the ‘Lamb of God’?

Well the short answer is that it’s to do with sacrifice.

But the longer answer is that this picks up on a very rich series of images from the Old Testament which all roll into Jesus being the Lamb of God.

So first we might think of Abraham and Isaac. Where Abraham is tested by being asked to sacrifice his son Isaac. Remember Isaac’s question to Abraham? Dear little Isaac says, ‘Dad, look here’s the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’ And Abraham’s wonderful faithful response was, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering…”

Which God did! Abraham is stopped by an angel from sacrificing Isaac and all of a sudden there’s a ram nearby caught up in a bush which was their sacrifice.

Then we might think of the Passover in Egypt.

When all the Israelite families were to take a lamb without blemish, to sacrifice this lamb and to put some of the blood on the doorposts.

The blood was a sign that God would pass over their houses so that the plague coming on the Egyptians would not touch them.

We might think of the lambs sacrificed at the Temple later on, making atonement for the people.

Then there was the scapegoat. Where once a year on the great Day of Atonement, Aaron the priest was to confess the sins of the people over the scapegoat, and it this goat would bear the sins of the people and carry them away out into the wilderness.

And then finally we remember the prophecy of Isaiah that we hear every Good Friday about the suffering servant of the Lord who was promised to come,

Surely he has born our griefs, carried our sorrows…

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth, like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before it’s shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth…’

All of this is in the background and flows into the loaded statement John makes when says about Jesus, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’.  Jesus is the once for all sacrifice for the sin of the world, he is our substitute, he gave his life for ours.

The story is told of a tourist who visited a church in Germany and was surprised to see the carved figure of a lamb near the top of the church’s tower. He asked why it was there and was told that when the church was being built, a workman fell from a high scaffold. His co-workers rushed down, expecting to find him dead. But to their surprise and joy, he was alive and only slightly injured. How did he survive? A flock of sheep was passing beneath the tower at the time, and he landed on top of a lamb. The lamb broke his fall and was crushed to death, but the man was saved.

So the figure of the carved lamb stood atop the church in memory of this miraculous escape, but even more to remember that in Jesus just such a life-saving event has taken place.

Now let’s just point out a few of the specific words in this sentence that Jesus is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.  

First notice Jesus is the lamb… of God

In other words it’s just as Abraham had said, God will provide the sacrifice.

‘For God so loved the world that he sent his Son.’ John 3:16

Amazingly, the sacrifice for our sins is not provided by us, but by God himself.

Next, notice again what this lamb does with sin?

He takes it away.

This word is different than the one for forgive. It includes forgiveness but it’s bigger than that. This word is to do with taking something away, getting rid of it, removing it, even carrying it and bearing it. Now if that is what the Lamb does, then it means we don’t do it. Which is what we tend to think.

That to deal with the sin in our life we must just be better, try harder, pray harder, believe harder, pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. 

But it doesn’t work and we don’t need to be the ones to deal with sin because that what Jesus the Lamb has come for.

And notice what this Lamb takes away, it’s not sins plural but sin singular. In other words it’s not just the symptoms of bad behaviour here and there – ‘sins’ – but this is the much deeper disease of ‘sin’ singular.

And it’s not just for one group of people or one type of person, but for the whole world.

This is the once for all sacrifice.

If this Jesus can remove the sin and garbage of the whole world, how surely can he take away the sin in our life? And he does, he removes our sin from us as far as the east is from the west.

Sin happens by us and to us, and the rubbish accumulates, and we hide it away, we try to forget about it. But it doesn’t go away, the symptoms of guilt and shame or anger and bitterness keep arising, reminding us there is a deeper problem. We need to bring these things to the Lamb of God for them to be taken away.

Where do we go to have our spiritual rubbish removed by the Lamb of God?  If all this still sounds a bit theoretical or spiritual to you and not terribly practical, I want to show you just how relevant and practical it is for our lives today.

Where do we go to have our spiritual rubbish removed by the Lamb of God? Well you get a hint by thinking about where we use those words.

We use them here in worship don’t we?

‘Jesus Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.’

Specifically we sing that or pray those words right before we receive Holy Communion.

Why do we do that? Why do we in worship pick up on these words of John Baptist and pray them right before we receive the body and blood of Jesus? It’s because it is here in worship, culminating in Holy Communion, where Jesus the Lamb of God invites us to come to him to have the rubbish removed from our souls.

And again that goes for the rubbish we are responsible for creating, and for that which has been dumped on us. When we say ‘Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us’, what we’re praying is that just as he has taken away the sin of the whole world by his death on the cross, so now as we receive his body and blood given and shed on the cross, would he take away the sin in our lives, the rubbish clinging to our souls.

Let’s consider: is there any rubbish hanging around the recesses of our heart, scrunched up and stuffed away? Are we reminded it’s there every now and then by some wave of guilt or outburst of anger? What is the rubbish in our life that we need the Lamb to take away?

What’s so amazing is that not only does Jesus take away the rubbish, but he gives you immeasurably more valuable stuff in return. Imagine a council who paid you to take away your rubbish. He takes the ‘yuck’ stuff, and in return he gives you his purity, his holiness, his freedom and his peace.

‘Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.’

Let us pray…
Jesus Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, so take away our sin and destroy its power in our lives, in our families, in the church. Amen. 

The Baptism of Jesus

The Text: Matthew 3:13-17


Matthew 3:13-17 (ESV)allanb

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so that we might rejoice in the way you use water for your holy purpose of cleansing and adoption through baptism into your Son Jesus Christ. Amen.

It’s a known fact water can make dirty things clean, but it can also make clean things dirty.

Take for example floodwaters. They can cause damage and leave a lot of mess behind. The stinky silt and mud sticks to the ground and makes walking through it hazardous. Running floodwater digs away at foundations, fences, and roads; leaving holes and chasms. Anything touched by floodwaters is usually ruined.

The irony is; what do we often use to clean up after such a mess left behind by water? We use more water! We use water to wash away silt and mud. We use water to wash our muddy clothes and cars and properties. So, water can bring mess and muck, but water can also be used for cleaning.

In our text for today (which happens in the wilderness alongside the river Jordan), John the Baptist was using water to clean God’s people. In fact, ‘to baptise’ means to wash or purify something, but instead of sitting there in his camel-hair dinner jacket doing everyone’s dishes and dirty laundry, he was washing and purifying people in preparation for the coming Messiah.

But before you get a picture of John washing people’s hair or scrubbing behind people’s ears, he was using water to wash their sins away.

You see, the invitation John gave was for people to repent and be baptised, that is, to turn away from, and confess their sinful thoughts, words, and actions, and have those same thoughts, words, and actions washed away by water so the people would be holy for the coming of the Messiah.

This washing with water continued an old biblical teaching where there were two ways to wash or purify something in order to make it pure for God’s holy purposes.

The first method of cleansing was passing it through fire. But if it was going to burn in fire, then the alternate way of washing with water was to be used in order to purify it.

It makes sense that, since we humans don’t go so well in fire, the obvious way for us to be washed and purified is washing through water. Therefore, John was following God’s instructions to wash the people of their sins with water. It was a spiritual washing using the physical means of water used together with the teachings of the Word of God.

So the picture we have is: here’s John, reminding people of their sins and urging them to repent and be baptised so they could be clean and holy for the time when the coming One arrives who will take away the sins of the whole world: but then the next person to step forward to be baptised is…the man Jesus!

Now, remember, John and Jesus were related. John knew all about Jesus. When the pregnant Mary (with Jesus in her womb) met the pregnant Elizabeth (who had John in her womb), the baby John leaped inside her. John knew Jesus to be the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world, and here he stands in front of John to be baptized. This puzzles John!

You see, this baptism was for those who have sinned, for those who repent of their sins, and for those who need to be washed of their sin. But Jesus isn’t a sinner. He had nothing to confess. He has no sinful thoughts, words and actions. Although he is fully human and so is like us in every way, the only (and very significant) difference is; Jesus wasn’t born with the taint of sin that infects everything we do. 

So, what’s John to do? This baptism was a baptism of repentance, but Jesus doesn’t need to repent because he has nothing to repent of. Even though John had refused to baptise the self-righteous Pharisees (who didn’t think they needed repenting), here stands the only One who truly has nothing to repent of!

John realises Jesus doesn’t need to be baptised because he’s already clean, pure, and holy. He’s already been set aside for God’s holy purposes. He’s already bearing the fruit in keeping with repentance because he was already bearing the right fruit! So, in fact, if anything, John needs to be baptised by Jesus, and he tells him so!

But Jesus tells him to leave it this way for now. It’s fitting and right that he be baptised in order to fulfil all righteousness—to make everything right and fulfil the will of God, right there in the water of baptism. There in the Jordan, Jesus fully identified with us sinners, and in those very waters began his ministry of taking the sin of the world upon himself, so that his sacrificial death on the cross would pay the full penalty of it.

How does this happen? Remember—water makes dirty things clean and clean things dirty.

Therefore, if these baptismal waters were washing away the sins of sinners to make them clean and holy, what would you expect to happen when the pure and holy One is placed in the same water?

Well it’s here when Jesus was baptised that the great exchange took place. In baptism you’re washed of your sins, and those sins are taken by Jesus. The sinful people like you and me become pure, clean and holy, while the pure, clean and holy One of God becomes the bearer of our sin.

But you might argue that you weren’t baptised in the Jordan River where Jesus was baptised, so how can baptism using ordinary water from out of the tap work the same way?

Well, remember, it’s not just the water which does this great and mysterious exchange, but it’s water used together with the Word of God, and our faith which trusts the Word of God when it’s used this way.

In this way, every baptism which uses water together with the Word of God, which is received through faith, is now part of this great exchange of sin. Faith trusts what God promises in this action of baptismal washing. Here in baptism our sins are washed away because Jesus takes on all our sins of thought, word, and deed and receives the punishment we deserve for them on the cross.

Therefore, although Jesus stands sinless before John the Baptiser and so didn’t need to be baptised, it was through his baptism for the sake of all righteousness where Jesus becomes the greatest sinner of all; not because he was a sinner himself, but because he bore the sins of the whole world, including yours and mine.

So here he takes his place, being baptised among sinners, and will later take his place and die between sinners on the cross. Here God comes down to us to make things right and good through the work of Jesus Christ, which begins here at his baptism.

He continues to enact this cleansing work among us as we’re reminded of our baptism when we speak his holy name at the beginning of worship, when we repent of our sins and hear his gracious and undeserving words of forgiveness, and when he welcomes us at his holy banqueting table as forgiven and holy people of God through faith.

Here we celebrate the fact God’s goodness, love, mercy and righteousness is greater than our capacity to sin!

But wait, there’s more!

You see, something else happens which changes John’s baptism of repentance into something new.

We hear the heavens open, and the Holy Spirit comes down from the newly opened heavens to rest on Jesus in the form of a dove.

Here the Holy Spirit came down and rested on Jesus, reaffirming he is the loved, chosen, and well-approved Servant and Son of God. He is now the font of the Holy Spirit, which means we come to the incarnate Jesus Christ to receive his Spirit so that we may live a life of righteousness. We do this so that, with the Holy Spirit’s help, we’re able to do the good, perfect, and salutary will of God.

At the same time, the voice of God the Father (who completes the Holy Trinity miraculously present at this world-changing baptismal event), declares this Jesus to be his priceless Son, with whom he’s deeply pleased.

Amazingly, much of the same sentiment is conveyed to each of us in our own baptism, as he adopts us as his holy and dearly loved children, speaking his words of love and pleasure over us as we fulfil his will; his holy will and command that we would be baptised and continually learn from his Words and ways on how to live as his holy children.

So here, when Jesus was baptised, baptism itself was changed. It’s no longer a simple washing, but it’s a means of the Holy Spirit which brings about forgiveness of sins, redeems from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe it, as the Word and promises of God declare.

For this reason we can rejoice and thank God for all the gifts we receive from our baptism into Christ Jesus, so that we can say or even sing:

“Jesus loves me, this I know,
for his washing tells me so.
Baptised ones to him belong;
we are weak, but he is strong.”

And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus who has made us right before God through baptism. Amen.

We’re talking about 25 millimetres of missing bread.

The Text: Luke 6:27-36

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Someone wrote: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rev. David Thompson.

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

The Text: Luke 5:1-11ac5


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The story of the Fishless Fishing Folk illustrates this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


See how they love each other

The Text: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

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

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

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

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

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

This is the absolute necessity and supreme value of love. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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