Are you getting ready to come to church today?

The text: John 12:1-8

As you were getting ready to come to church today, perhaps you splashedallanb some after shave on, or a squirt or two of perfume.
Some of the world’s most unique and expensive fragrances are these:

  • Hermes’ 24 Faubourg {foe-borg} The limited edition comes in crystal bottles. Just 1000 bottles sold all around the world for the price of $1,500
  • “Sacred Tears of Thebes”. {Thebees} The bottle is handmade by Baccarat artists and is capped by an amethyst crystal. The bottle holds just over 7 millilitres and sells for $1,700.
  • Jean Patou’s Joy Baccarat is next on the list. Only 50 limited-edition bottles are created each year. For two short weeks in summer the 10,600 flowers required for just one bottle of Joy are harvested in the French countryside. For a 15ml bottle it costs $1,800.
  • Caron’s Poivre {Pwoav} Created by Michel Morsetti in 1954, comes in a 2ounce bottle that is beautified with crystal with white gold around the neck and sells for $2000.

To put things into perspective, the perfumed ointment Mary uses in today’s Gospel reading is far more expensive than these. It is from the Spikenard plant, a species of highly-prized, aromatic, grassy-leafed plants from India. A small bottle was worth 300 denarii―about a year’s wages. Consider that the average base wage today is somewhere around $40,000. That’s what Mary poured out on Jesus’ feet.

Is the complaint Judas makes, then, legitimate? “Why was this perfume not sold and the three hundred denarii given to the poor!?” Perhaps Judas’ thinking that doing such a thing is a waste and could be better sold and spent helping the poor is understandable. Such extravagance is not something that we usually associate with Lent―a season where we traditionally focus on doing without, of refraining from luxuries.

But Judas is not really concerned about the poor. He says this because he is concerned with what he’s missing out on. John tells us that Judas was a thief―having charge of the money bag he used to help himself to what was in it. If this ointment was sold for the poor the money would go in the bag and he could dip his hands in again―imagine how much he could do with a year’s worth of wages! Judas wasn’t concerned about the poor, he was concerned about himself! This isn’t good for Judas. Think of what Jesus said in Matthew 6:21: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”.

John tells us that this all takes place six days before Passover—the Saturday before holy week. The time is getting closer to Jesus’ suffering and death. As Jesus’ betrayer, Judas plays a significant part in this. He loves money so much that he would betray Jesus for 30 silver coins. Judas’ god was money. That was his treasure and that was where his heart was, and like everything else that people fashion an idol out of, it did not bring him freedom, but enslaved him and cost him his life.

But at the supper we are shown a profound contrast, in Martha and Mary, who serve Jesus by showing hospitality to him. They have experienced the love of Jesus and they want to honour him with this meal as their special guest.

Mary shows honour to Jesus in a special way. It was ancient custom to wash the feet of all invited guests, who usually had to travel a considerable distance by foot. This task was viewed as common courtesy. Mary takes this customary cultural practice of the day and extends it into a profound confession of faith. Jesus explains what this is with his defence of Mary: “Leave her alone; she has reserved it for the day of my burial.”

In the ancient world, bodies of the dead were prepared for burial by washing and anointing with a combination of spices and perfumed oils. Mary knew that Jesus was soon going to his death―and when he was crucified, it would be impossible to anoint him on the Cross. So she pours out the extravagance of what she has, such costly love, withholding not one drop. Unlike Judas, who is devoted to the self, Mary is devoted to Jesus. In contrast to Judas who is concerned only for himself, Mary spares no expense, honouring Jesus above herself. Mary didn’t count this perfumed ointment as too costly for Jesus.

And so the perfume—usually contained in an alabaster jar that was broken open—was entirely emptied—symbolic of Mary’s broken and contrite heart from which all the contents were poured out for her Lord. The task of foot-washing was a menial task reserved to the lowliest servant. Mary wasn’t―but now she makes herself to be. But it is what Mary does next that is just as profound. She uses her hair to dry Jesus’ feet. The hair on our head is the highest point of our body. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11 that a woman’s hair is her glory. Mary used her crowning glory, her honour, as a towel for her King. To do this at the very feet of Jesus suggests an act of complete devotion and humility. In doing so, she is an example for us all.

How do the vastly different attitudes of Mary and Judas lead us to reflect on where our treasure is? In this season of Lent, a season with a particular emphasis on reflecting on God’s word; his word that calls us to repentance—do we kneel at the feet of Jesus and pour out our hearts to him—surrendering our selfishness by which we betray Jesus just like Judas did, with our thoughts and attitudes, words, our lack of serving others and instead serving ourselves? Do we pour out our devotion to Jesus like Mary did, withholding nothing? Where is our starting point for our giving to Jesus―extravagance or thriftiness? Where is serving God on our list of priorities, with our money and time and talents? Whatever we give―or hold back from God, and whether we do it joyfully or reluctantly and with resentment shows what our heart holds dear. God wants our broken and contrite hearts, humble hearts, servant hearts. What treasure does our heart cling to? This is a crucial question that today’s text puts before us.

Our faith in Jesus is not just a mental acknowledgement. It is not merely verbal confession. It is an outpouring. Mary’s outpouring of the expensive perfume which cost her so much showed where her heart was; who she was devoted to. She was more concerned about giving away than keeping for herself.

Yet Mary’s devotion to Jesus is only possible because it is empowered by God’s own devotion to her. Mary’s extravagance is a response to, and is empowered by God’s own extravagance in Christ. In Christ God poured out the riches of heaven upon the world, especially through his holy and precious blood. There are so many connections with this in today’s text.

The supper that was prepared for Jesus as the guest of honour, who was served by Mary, is close to Passover, when we hear that it was Jesus who put himself at the lowest place, that of a servant, washing his disciples’ feet. It was on the night of the Passover, the night that Jesus was betrayed by Judas, that we hear Jesus was at another supper. This time he is not the guest of honour but the host. Jesus took bread and said: This is my body given for you, do this in remembrance of me, and after the supper he took the cup and said: This is my blood of the new covenant which is shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in remembrance of me. It was the meal that Jesus instituted before he would be unjustly arrested, tried, beaten, mocked and crucified, bearing the sins of the world to reconcile the world to God.

It is through Christ that God shows his extravagant devotion to the world; those who reject, betray and mock him. Although he is the Son of God and King of heaven, Jesus did not think of himself, but he showed God’s commitment to free us from sin, death and the devil. It is there on the Cross that we see that God was not concerned with what he might lose. Like the perfume from Mary’s Alabaster jar, God in Christ poured out the fullness of his love for the world. There he shows us the extravagance of his lavish love. Paul says in Ephesians 1:7-8 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.”

Mary’s extravagance is a glimpse of God’s extravagance, who in Christ, held nothing back for us, and continues to pour out the fullness of his divine grace, lavish love, and ever-present help for us. We see what a good and loving Lord he is with the presence of another person at the table in our text; that of Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised. There are so many connections in today’s short passage that point ahead to Jesus’ imminent death, but the presence of Lazarus points further; –three days after Jesus died.

For the presence of Lazarus, eating at the table, is a glimpse of Jesus’ own resurrection; the resurrection he would win for all people, and share with us in baptism. There he has washed not only our feet but our whole body, and he anointed us not with perfume but with the Holy Spirit our Father in heaven poured out upon us through Jesus. Joined to Jesus and made new through water and the word, we share in his own death and resurrection, and indeed, he has brought life out of death for us! By holding firm to Christ in faith we will join with Mary and Martha, Lazarus and all the other saints of all times and places in the heavenly banquet without end, the banquet at which we are the Lord’s guests of honour.

May the death and resurrection of Jesus always be the strength and source of our love to others, so that rather than lamenting over what we lose out on, we rejoice in what we can give away. And may the death and resurrection of Jesus always strengthen, inspire and work in us, so that, like Mary, we too pour out love on him who died and rose again for all people, and for us. Amen.

This man receives sinners and eats with them.

Joshua 5:9-12; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; St. Luke 15:1-3 & 11b-32. a 5:9-12

There will be many sermons preached on the Prodigal Son this Sunday.gordon5 But what is the meaning of this well-known parable and its place in the lectionary during Lent. What new thing has this word of Jesus to say to us in this season of Lent, who are so familiar with the words that before we hear them we believe we know what it all means.

Perhaps it is this familiarity which prevents us at times from seeing its meaning for us. The parable is understood by St. Luke as an answer to the question posed by the Scribes and Pharisees that “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” (v.2.)

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

I would suggest that we think of the parable as Jesus own self interpretation of the way that he goes from Bethlehem to Golgotha. That is to cease separating the parable from Him who speaks it and turning it into an abstract moral metaphor of God.

You will recall the Pharisees words which precipitate the parable. It is this accusation levelled at Jesus, “This man receives sinners and eats with them”. This is the question which, in one form or another throughout the period of Lent, is understood, by the gospel lectionaries to be the crux of the issue for Jesus. The 40 days of Lent recall Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness consequent on His Baptism where the question of the nature of His being as the Son of God is put to the test.

In Jesus Baptism He is declared to be God’s well-beloved Son as He receives at the hand of John the Baptist a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin. Jesus the holy Son of God who knew no sin receives a baptism of one who confesses sin is a penitent! In this first act of His public ministry Jesus declares His solidarity with sinners and therefore embraces the cross as the fulfilment of this way to the depths of the godforsakenness which He now shares with all people. The temptations are directly related to the Baptism since they raise in various forms the possibility for Jesus of Him being the Son of God in some other way than the way of penitential obedience which will lead to the cross.

In Sunday’s lectionary, the Pharisees question raises the same issue. The association of Jesus with sinners. His identification of His way with their cause before God with all that involves in terms of His sharing to the uttermost the shameful corner in which God finds all of us.

In the parable Jesus speaks of a journey into the far country taken by a Father’s son. The reason he departs the father’s house is he sees an opportunity in half the father’s wealth he is given, to become ever more deeply involved in the dissipation of his life in fulfilling his self-serving desires. This is the story of all people, the sin of Adam who wanted to be his own Judge and Saviour as, according to Genesis 3, he wanted to know good and evil and not to rely upon the faithfulness of God as the basis of life. And this is the journey with which Jesus identifies Himself in His Baptism, this is the way that He takes to its depths, stated in the parable of the prodigal son as sinking to be associated with and feeding with that most unclean of all animals; swine.

The Son’s return to the Fathers house is initiated by His coming to Himself. His repentance. But who is it that repents? When penitence is abstracted from the work of Jesus, His penitence on our behalf, we are back in the monastery cell with Luther who found that by inward reflection there was no way from our ability to repent to reconciliation with God. He found through bitter experience that all our penitence is simply a more pious form of self justification. Long before Sigmund Freud, Luther discovered the truth of what Jeremiah declared, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?” (Chp. 17:9.) Jesus is the One who comes to Himself for the sake of us all; He takes the way of penitential obedience which finds its fulfilment in the cross.

St. Luke then uses the word used by the New Testament writers of the resurrection – anastasis anastasis – to describe the return of the Son from the far country to the Fathers house. In the resurrection of the dead Jesus, as St. Paul says in Romans 4:5, God is a God who “justifies the ungodly.” The Father welcomes the Son even while he is still absent from Him “a great way off.” The Fathers action is that of free unmerited grace. The Father wills to be the Father not as one who is against His Son, though in terms of a natural view of justice He would be in the right to reject the son, the Father wills to be in the right not over against His Son but for His Son, allowing him to share in the riches of his house without any preconditions.

The elder Son of course finds this extravagance of the Father too much to bear. The Son who has always been with father, working the fathers farm, rejects his reckless acceptance of the rebel and refuses to accept the invitation to rejoice in the younger son’s return. Here the claim of Israel is raised, the voice of the Pharisees who had accused Jesus of “receiving sinners and eating with them.” But there is no attempt to denigrate the elder son, He remains a son. The Father does not call into question his relationship to him as a son. As St. Paul says in Romans Chaps. 9-11, Israel compared to the gentile church is God’s natural olive tree, Gentiles are grafted by grace into this natural olive tree. Israel’s election and calling as His people are irrevocable. The mystery to which the parable points is the rejection by God’s people of His gracious action on their behalf, the elder son’s rejection of the Father’s gracious acceptance of the returning prodigal’s return prefigures Israel’s rejection of their crucified Messiah, through whom the gentiles are reconciled to God.

It is now the Gentile church’s purpose, our purpose, to celebrate this extravagant gracious election by God of Gentiles in the crucified Messiah Jesus. Through his journey into the fart country of the world in its alienation from God has reconciled not only Israel, but all people to Himself. Clothing them with the righteousness of Christ as they accept this unbelievable gift; becoming His beloved children.

This question translated into our own situation as the church of the gentiles, dependent upon our living by and celebrating the truth of our life in the extravagant condescension of God, is to imagine that we are any different to Israel, epitomised by the Pharisees and their accusation against Jesus. We too find it extremely uncomfortable to know that the crucified Lord of the church is the one who still goes His strange journey of obedience into the far country of the world’s godforsakenness, there to come to Himself for the sake of the least and the lost and to take us back to the Father’s house. The question this poses for us is the same as that which Jesus’ being posed for the Pharisees. Certainly, they rejected the claim to lordship of One who was a friend of sinners. But the fact of their accusation must remain for us the truth of our life: “this man receives sinners and eats with them.” It is precisely this scandal that offends us as we gather around the table of which He is the host and receive His broken body and shed blood in elements of bread and wine for us “this man still receives sinners and eats with them.” That He still does this today is for our eternal salvation!

Pastor Dr. Gordon Watson.

Sounds crazy doesn’t it.

The Text: Luke 13:1-58f5d0040f261ddb1b3f281e00e1385f0

There is no doubt Jesus drew a crowd. At the beginning of Luke 12, we are told a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another. Sounds crazy doesn’t it. Just like reporters asking questions of a presenter, the crowd asks Jesus all sorts of questions for Jesus to answer or comment on. In this Gospel reading for today, there were some present who sought Jesus’ opinion on Pilate sending his soldiers to kill Galileans while they were offering sacrifices. Jesus’ response is: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you No. Unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Jesus reminds them of a tower collapse in Siloam that killed eighteen people, asking: “Do you think they were more guilty, than all the others living in Jerusalem?” It was around 20 years since terrorists took control of four aircraft. Two of them flew them into the twin towers in New York. In total, 2,977 people died that day.  

We could easily hear Jesus say: “Those people on those four American airlines, those people who were killed in the twin towers, were they more guilty, than all the others who lived in New York? Were they more guilty than us that they deserved to perish on the 11th of September 2001?” In his speech to the nation, the then-American President, Bush said “Today, our nation saw evil, the very worst of human nature.

Another more recent event is when a gunman entered mosques in Christ Church New Zealand and killed 51 people and left 40 injured. What entered the minds of these people, that made them think that these people deserved to die? In all these deaths at the mercy of evil minds, the evil mind of Pilate, the evil mind of the terrorists involved in the collapse of the twin towers, the evil mind of Brenton Tarrant which resulted in the deaths of people who were simply going about their business, when suddenly and brutally they were killed.

While there are deaths because of the evil intent of others, Jesus also refers to the accidental death of those killed because accidents, such as a tower collapse. We hear many news items like that don’t we? People were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. I wonder how many times we have been close to death without realizing it. When a branch dropped from a tree and we weren’t under it. When we have looked up and noticed a power line and made sure we kept machinery clear. When we have walked away from an accident while others have been killed.

Did they die because they were worse sinners than us? What is Jesus’ response? I tell you NO. But rest assured that unless you repent, you will die just as they did.” Can you imagine how tragic that would be? To die without repenting of the sin that holds us captive which could cause us to perish and be forever removed from the one who can save us from our sin. Because when we die, that is it. There is no returning to this life to try and change our ways.

Yet our Gospel reading reveals we have a God who is patient. Jesus says, “Listen, there was a man who planted a fig tree. Three years passed by, and the man is looking forward to the taste of a ripe fig. But he sees that the fig tree still hasn’t produced any fruit. He calls to his gardener, ‘Why is this tree still here? It’s taking up soil and moisture and everything else. Cut it down, right now.’”

But the gardener pleads “Leave it alone for one more year”, “and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year fine! If not, then cut it down.” Jesus isn’t giving us a lesson in horticulture, but is talking about God’s judgement on sin.

Rather than be impatient, dig up and disperse of a person immediately because they have sinned, God sent Jesus to proclaim love and mercy to the world through his sacrificial love for us. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Just as Jesus keeps on being patient with us and forgiving us, he gives us another chance to bear the fruit of love and mercy in our lives.

Today Jesus is telling us to turn away from our sin, repent or we will die. The thing is though, we can’t do it on our own. It would be like the fig tree saying, “Leave me alone! I can bear fruit next year. I’ll just try a bit harder.  In Jesus’ story, the tree does nothing. It is the gardener who puts in the effort to change the fig tree to something that will please the owner. Only then is the tree able to produce fruit.

So, Jesus says to God on our behalf, I have died for this person. Don’t give up on them yet. Let’s give the Holy Spirit time to dig around at the roots of their thoughts and values. Give the Holy Spirit time to fertilise the foundation of their existence with the things that will produce the fruits of the Spirit. Give them another chance to repent from old ways and produce the fruit of faith.

This is what Jesus does for all of us. He becomes the fertiliser for us as he is rejected, laughed at, crucified as a criminal. On the Cross, nails and spear dig into him. His blood was spilt for us to grow and be nurtured by his tender love and care for us to bear the fruit of faith. He is the One who was taken down and buried in a tomb. But he rose again on the third day that we may have life in him. He does everything.

Like gardener with the fig tree, Jesus gives us second chances, third chances and even more. It is all thanks to God’s patient grace in Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit nourishing us, nurturing us so that we do produce the fruits that Jesus desires in us. All done for us so that we can be assured that we will not be cut down on the day of judgement but will stand safe and secure because of what Jesus did for us.

So, how does Jesus end his story about the fig tree and the gardener who applied the manure and dug around the tree? Did the tree bear fruit? How did the fruit tree respond to the gardener’s careful attention? We aren’t told. Jesus leaves the story open-ended.

There is good reason for this because it draws us into the story.

“How have we responded to the generous application of God’s grace?

How have we responded to the care and love that Jesus has shown for us when he gave his life on the Cross so that we might have life?

How has God’s grace worked in us to the point of bearing good fruit?”

How have we responded to one chance after another to respond to God’s Word, to repent and believe, to bear the fruit of the Christian life?

While we have life in this world, we have time. Time to not worry about the reports of what is going on around us and speculating how Jesus might respond to that crisis, but time to respond to our relationship with Jesus. After all he is the one who gives us life. Amen.

About hens and chickens

Text: Luke 13:31-35

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You kill the prophets, you stone the messengers God has sent you! How many times I wanted to put my arms around all your people, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not let me! And so your Temple will be abandoned. I assure you that you will not see me until the time comes when you say, “God bless him who comes in the name of the Lord.’ “

 About hens and chickens

A few years ago twin hippos were born in a zoo. A local celebrity was asked to name the two babies. The only hitch was that the mother hippo wouldn’t let anyone close enough to determine whether the babies were male or female – an important piece of information when it comes to giving names. The two 18 kilo babies paddled or walked just under their mother and no one wanted to upset the hippo mother. Mother hippos can get very agitated if there is any threat to their babies and no one was prepared to risk tangling with an animal built like a truck.

The mother hippo didn’t mind the crowds that gathered every day to view her babies so long as they were at a safe distance and on the other side of the fence.  She continued to care for her babies: feeding them, protecting them, keeping them close to herself and away from danger. And the babies, untroubled by their nameless state, didn’t stray from their mother. As young as they were, they still knew a good thing when they saw it – that good thing being the two ton grey creature that always seemed to provide for them just what they needed. Why should they stray?

Chickens don’t stray far from mother hen because they know that when danger menaces them, or a cold night threatens their lives there is no better place to be than under the protection of the hen’s wings. They know that mum provides food, protection, warmth, and nurture. They rely on their mum to watch over them while they are so small and helpless. This kind of protection and nurture is nature’s way of caring for the young. For a chicken to stray from the protection that the wings of mother hen would be counter to nature’s plan – counter to the way God planned to care for the young.

It’s like that throughout the animal world and it doesn’t matter if you’re talking about baby hippos, kittens, puppies, chickens or any other animal you’d care to mention, it seems that the young have sense enough to stay close to their mum. That also applies to human babies and toddlers. God created families so that offspring can receive protection and nurture.

But when it comes people and their heavenly parent – that’s another story. Only humans exhibit the unnatural behaviour of turning away from the love and protection of the God who made them. Offspring in the animal world know where their protection and nurture comes from and don’t stray far from their mothers, but it’s a different story when it comes to God and his children.

I believe that one of the most impassioned speeches of the New Testament are Jesus’ words that we find in our text today from Luke 13.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You kill the prophets, you stone the messengers God has sent you! How many times I wanted to put my arms around all your people, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not let me!”

These words remind me of a mother whose child has broken all ties with her and has ventured on his own into all kinds of danger and trouble. She pleads, “I want to help you and protect you, put my arms around you, but you won’t have anything to do with me.” Or a lover who is rejected, his/her love unreturned; who wants to hold the other person close, but is unwanted.

Each of these scenarios is packed with emotion, just as the scene in the Gospel does when Jesus is looking toward Jerusalem. He is looking at people who really need what he has to give. They’re caught up in a stressful world, filled with anxiety and despair, searching for meaning and purpose in life. He is offering them everything they need. And yet, says Jesus, the children have strayed: they have killed the prophets and stoned those sent to them. They rejected his love. John writes, “He came to his own country, but his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11).

As a mother hen spreads her wings over her brood, so God would spread protective wings over his people. What chickens and kittens would not do – could not do – God’s children have done: they have counted the love and protection of God as nothing, choosing instead to go their own way.

How could such a thing be? How could the children of Israel have been so foolish, so unnaturally rebellious as to turn away from the warm wings offered to them? Those wings had protected them from the dangers of the wilderness for 40 years. Those protecting wings saved them from one enemy after another. Those wings that came with a promise, “Even though a mother should forget her child, I will never forget you” (Is 49:15).

Hard questions these. But harder yet is this question: How could we do such a thing? How can we be so foolish or behave so unnaturally as to stray from the sheltering love of God? How many times has God said about us, “I wanted to put my arms around you, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not let me!”

At times even the strongest among us desperately feel our lack of security, the absence of protective wings over us, the unnatural distance that seems to exist between ourselves and the calming presence of God.

What is it that leads us astray from our heavenly parent? What is it that causes us to leave the warmth and security of God’s protective wings, to say “no” to all that our heavenly Father wants to offer us? What is it that causes Jesus to say of us, “I wanted to put my arms around you but you would not let me!”

This text today tells us two things (amongst others).
Firstly, it reminds us of the power of sin. I know that this isn’t a popular subject for some and others are saying, “Oh no, here he goes again talking about sin.” But the reality of the fact is that it is our sinful nature that causes us to reject God’s love. Sin has the power to take control of our lives and distorts what is true and what is false. The people of Jerusalem had rejected the prophets, God’s messengers, because they could not see that they were speaking God’s Word to them. They had been blinded and become confused because of sin.

Some of you may recall the graphic scenes beamed from USA of riots, the beatings, wanton destruction, wholesale looting, people breaking into stores, stripping them bare of their merchandise, and laughing as they did it. And all the time reporters were there with TV cameras rolling, interviewing the looters.

One interview showed a man who had broken into a music shop. As he came out carrying a box, a reporter shoved a microphone in front of him and asked, “What did you take?” He answered, “I took gospel cassettes & CDs. I love Jesus. Praise the Lord!”

See how sin had blinded this man. He couldn’t see that he was sinning. Sin blinds us to the fact that God loves us ever so dearly. He wants to help us, protect us, guide us, and comfort us; he wants to be like a mother hen and fold his wings over us, but we won’t let him. Our stubbornness, our pride, our over inflated view of our own strength and ability blind us to the fact that we need God’s help.

The fact that we need God’s help is shown

  • when we toss and turn through a troubled night;
  • when a friendship turns sour;
  • when we are filled with dread at the thought of the death of someone close, or even our own death.

We need God’s help

  • when we are uneasy about our health and what the future will hold for us;
  • when we worry about the future of our children, our jobs, our finances and the hope of a secure retirement;
  • when we look in the mirror in the morning and are ashamed because of something we’ve said, or done; ashamed because of how we’ve hated, envied, lusted, or lied.

How often Jesus must say to us, “I wanted to put my arms around you, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not let me!” This text reminds us that God speaks so clearly to us about his love for us, yet on a daily basis we are like a chicken who strays away from God and all that he can do for us.

The second thing that this text tells us is that Jesus loves us more than we can imagine. Otherwise why was he so upset over Jerusalem? Passionately Jesus lamented, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…How many times have I wanted…” How many times do you suppose Jesus looked at the crowds and saw them as sheep without a shepherd? How many times do you think he was filled with compassion as he saw their need for love, forgiveness, healing and purpose in life? “How many times…,” he said.

As God is unchangeable so also is his love for us. No matter how far we have wandered from him; no matter how deep our sin might be; no matter how far into the far country we have gone, Jesus loves us. He will never leave us nor forsake us. He continues to love you and me even when we’re not very lovable.

Jesus doesn’t want us to go it alone. No self-made men and women. No individualists who don’t want anyone else’s strength, just there own. We are just a brood of helpless hatchlings, baby birds hidden under our Saviour’s protective wing. He calls us again and again to duck under his wing, to find shelter and safety under his outstretched arms.

Those arms were extended on the cross bearing your sin. They extended over you in your Baptism. They extend over you when the sign of the cross is made and the pastor declares God’s forgiveness for all your sin. His arms extend over you in Holy Communion as Jesus feeds you his own body and blood.

The baby bird that tries to go it alone, that stubbornly insists on doing its own thing away from its mother’s protective wing, will die. Jesus words in our text also contain a word of judgement for those who persistently reject God and his love and stray from his protection. Jesus gives this warning to help us realise that God is dead serious when he says he is our mother hen who wants to embrace us under his wings.

Let us join with the psalmists who sums everything up like this,
He will keep you safe from all hidden dangers …
He will cover you with his wings,
you will be safe in his care;
his faithfulness will protect and defend you. (Ps 91:3,4)
How precious, O God, is your constant love!
We find protection under the shadow of your wings. (Ps 36:7)

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

What two days start with the letter T   

The grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you always.  This week’s Memory Verse from Romans is ‘”Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Paul also tells us in Philippians,  ‘Above all else, live in a way that brings honour to the good news about Christ.’ (Philippians 1:27 CEV)

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David:0414521661

Today, we confront the challenge of temptation and the power of God’s Holy Spirit to aid us in overcoming temptation.  So that we can honour Christ Jesus by living in a way that brings him honour.

Let’s join in a word of prayer: O God our Father, this morning we gather to worship You and to begin our journey with Your Son from His victory over temptation to His victory over the cross.  We praise you for the gift of salvation that He has given, and for His life and ministry that we witness together through the Scriptures.   Father, guide our time together so that we may confront our own temptation with confidence. We pray together in the name of our risen Saviour, Jesus Christ our Lord.    Amen.

An American local sheriff was looking for a new deputy.  One of the applicants – who was not known to be the brightest candidate, was called in for an interview. “Okay,” began the sheriff, “What is 1 and 1?” “Eleven,” came the reply. The sheriff thought to himself, “That’s not what I meant, but he’s right.”

Then the sheriff asked, “What two days of the week start with the letter ‘T’?”   “Today and tomorrow,” replied the applicant, smiling confidently. The sheriff was again surprised over the answer, one that he had never thought of himself.

 “Now, listen carefully, who killed Abraham Lincoln?”, asked the sheriff. The candidate seemed a little surprised, then thought really hard for a minute and finally admitted, “I don’t know.” The sheriff replied, trying to be gentle, “Well, why don’t you go home and work on that one for a while?” The applicant left and wandered over to his mates who were waiting to hear the results of the interview.

He greeted them with a cheery smile, “The job is mine! The interview went great! First day on the job and I’m already working on a murder case!”

When Jesus was baptised in the Jordan River, we heard the words of God, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”   I am convinced that these words from God the Father would have rang true throughout the spiritual realms.  And that would have perked the attention of the devil.   It appears he was permitted to test Jesus, just as he was given permission to test Job.  And just as he often is given permission to test us.

In our Gospel reading this morning it is Jesus’ first days on the job of ministering to a wayward people. Immediately he is confronted with three major temptations. Ultimately Jesus is confronted with a choice: Would he take the crown without the cross?   Would he allow his humanity to overcome his divinity.

We are often confronted with a similar choice.  Would we enter the Kingdom of God in eternity, without a commitment to the community of believers here.  Would we go through this life holding onto the Good News of our own salvation without reaching out together with that Good News of Jesus Christ bringing honour to his name.

Like Jesus, we are confronted with the most basic temptations in life that bring us ultimately to this choice.  We face these temptations in our attitudes, actions and words we use every day. We don’t need the devil to bring on these temptations.  We do a fine job by ourselves.  But when we are intentional and serious about following Christ Jesus, the devil will surely try to distract us.

Thank God, we have three very strong supporters in our confrontation with temptation. We have the Holy Spirit who will encourage our faith, we have the law of God which will point out when we fall to temptation, and we have each other to share our journey, remind us of God’s forgiveness and strengthen our resolve to live our Christianity.

The devil has been active in the world for almost as long as God himself.  Their purposes are opposite from each other, of course.  God created the world and preserves it.  Satan desires to destroy the world.  God loves and nurtures His people, while Satan is filled with a consuming hatred for God and all his creation. 

God provides for the justification of all believers through the gift of His own Son as a sacrifice for our sin.  Satan tries his worst to distract Jesus and then to destroy him.    Scripture tell us that God ‘will remember our sin no more’.  Satan stands as a constant, hollow but hounding accuser, trying to heap guilt upon us for every failure.

And here we are.  Living the tension of our Christian challenge.  To live in community as forgiven children of God, with both the guilt over sin and the freedom of forgiveness.  God hates the sin but will never hold back his love and forgiveness for every person with faith in Jesus Christ. 

Through our faith we already have a place in eternity with Jesus.  We don’t even need to fret over that.  But we still live with a certain tension every day.  As we live our faith in community, we feel the urgency to offer others this freedom and joy of salvation.  We also often feel fearful about sharing our life of faith openly. Showing our neighbour the care we have for them.   Reaching out together with an intentional attitude of compassion, and care is easier together.  As we follow the example of our Lord Jesus Christ.

God saw that the world was captivated by sin, and he grieved for the humanity that he loved so much.    In the same way, we often see the brokenness around us, in our families, among our friends, and throughout our neighbourhoods. 

In order to account for the human will that was captivated by sin, God took this sin upon himself.   God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The Father shares in what the Son experiences.  The Son acts in unison with the Spirit to accomplish the will of the Father.  And all three in their eternal unity, share in our joy and sorrow.  In the same way, we can gather in community to pray.  To assist where we are able to reach out with both compassion and the Gospel.  

Pray intentionally and specifically for those around us who are still wandering in the dry and dark places.  In community, we can make a difference by being available and ready to introduce the reality of God’s grace together. In what the world witnesses about our love for one another.

Through Jesus Christ, God renewed our relationship with himself.  But here’s the rub – that renewal didn’t stop the brokenness of the world.  Jesus calls us to join together to bring a small bit of calm and order out of the chaos of that  brokenness. We reach out better together.  And in those times when we feel powerless to present the love and grace of God to others we can remember the words of Christ to Paul:  “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9 NIV)

I am sure that after the waters of the floods that affect our coastline and rivers recede there will be so much opportunity to assist our neighbours on the Mid North Coast with sustenance and clean-up.  But we can only do this in community with others, working together.  Trusting Christ Jesus for his grace, power, and presence. 

Today, we were to confront the decision to call a pastor for part time service to our Congregation to bring a new energy to our outreach in Port Macquarie. And to join with the community of Lutherans in NSW to support that pastor’s part time service to the Gospel through the District initiative of Frontier School of Mission.  Again, trusting Christ Jesus for his grace, power, and presence.

The Gospel tells us today that after His baptism, Jesus spent forty days preparing for his journey to the cross, in the solitude of the desert hills. In Lent, we embark on forty days as well.  To prepare for the remembrance of God’s sacrifice.  Forty days for Jesus, and forty days for us.  But for many, those forty days are little more than tradition.  And for so many more, these days go by without even a notice. 

Thank God, he sets no time limit for our preparation for eternity.  When we receive the gift from our triune God of baptism, God will use our whole lifetime to prepare us to receive his ultimate gift of eternal life.  And God gives us each other to journey together through our life of faith, hope, and love.   Especially during these forty days of intentional Christian living.  They say that it takes about six weeks of intention to break a bad habit.  And it takes about six weeks of intention to build a good habit into character of living.

When we are faced with the temptation to ignore our commitment to Christ and to community, we can turn to the scriptures and to each other for encouragement.  And we can remember the words of James, ‘Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.” (James 1:22 NIV)

When we are faced with the temptation to accept the Kingdom of God without living our commitment to Christ and to each other here in this broken world, we can gain strength against temptation.  Jesus responded to the devil, “The Scriptures say, ‘Do not test the Lord your God.’”  We test God when we act contrary to God’s will for our lives and still expect every blessing from God for the here and now.  We already have God’s blessings for eternity by our faith in Jesus Christ.

We can also take courage from Paul’s letter to the Romans.  ‘If we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in our heart that God raised him from the dead, we will be saved.  For it is by believing in our heart that we are made right with God, and it is by confessing with our mouth that we are saved.’ 

The great English statesman and man of God William Wilberforce once wrote that “Christianity can be condensed into four words: admit, submit, commit, and transmit.  Admit Christ as Lord,  submit to Christ as Lord, commit our lives to Christ as Lord, and transmit the Love of Christ to a dying world.  (Draper’s Quotes, Accessed QuickVerse Platinum 2010) Samuel Wilberforce (1805–1873)  We transmit the love of Christ to the world better when we hold onto each other and reach out together.

We can pray, “Thank You Jesus! For entering humanity for us.  For holding strong against the temptations that so easily beset us.  For holding fast to bring salvation into this broken world.  And then for loving us even when we fall victim to temptation.”   The grace and peace of God, keep our hearts, our minds and our voices in, Christ Jesus.   Amen.

Rev David Thompson

Fifth Sunday after Lent

The Text: Mark 11:1-11

 

This coming week we will be commemorating the greatest week in the history of our world. The events of the first Holy Week are still being re-enacted andallanb remembered all over the world because of the lasting impact they’ve had on the lives of so many people. Can you remember a pre-Easter week that stands out in your memory still today? The atmosphere of today, Palm Sunday, anticipates the even greater joy of Easter Sunday, the greatest Sunday of the Church Year. Our Lord’s opponents were concerned that, if they didn’t get rid of Him, everyone might come to faith in Him. Such was Jesus’ impact on huge numbers of people. The Pharisees and their supporters said, “What are we to do? This man is performing many miraculous signs. If we let Him go on like this, everyone will believe in Him (John 11:48).” They then plotted to put Jesus to death.

Jesus was aware of what His enemies planned to do with Him. He could therefore have easily entered Jerusalem quietly. Instead, He deliberately enters the centre of opposition to Him publicly to reveal who He really is. So He enters the city with immense courage, in order to make one last appeal to the people there to believe in Him. People might not bother listening to Jesus, but they could hardly fail to see the humble way He was coming to them. No doubt Jesus was remembering Zechariah’s prophecy: “Your king comes to you … humble and riding on a donkey (9:9).”

Kings rode on donkeys when they came in peace. Jesus enters Jerusalem claiming to be our King, but as the King of Peace, to bring us peace such as this world can never give us. He enters Jerusalem deliberately refusing the role of a political saviour. He came appealing for a throne; the throne of our hearts. He is in control of the events of this special day. He sends two of His disciples to borrow a young donkey that had never been ridden before. Jesus regularly sends His followers on errands, two of them together, no doubt to cheer each other up and support each other, and then to share the load of the task. Each and every Christian needs the support and encouragement of a fellow Christian. When Jesus’ disciples are asked why they want to borrow a donkey they reply “The Lord needs it.” The fact that Jesus needs it was reason enough to agree to their request.

Your Lord needs you too. No one else can replace you. Jesus needs you, your time, your talents and gifts, and above, your prayers for others. Please don’t be tempted to say to Jesus: “I’m not very gifted. After all, what difference can an ordinary individual like me make?” Christ’s cause in this community is suffering because of those who think they have nothing worthwhile to contribute to the work of His Kingdom. Jesus needs the contribution of every one here today. To paraphrase J.F. Kennedy, “Ask not what your church can do for you, but rather what you can do for your church.”

This week is a superb time to pray for the return to God’s House of your prodigal relatives, family members and friends who have drifted away from worshipping God. Pray that they will be sitting here with you Thursday evening, Friday or Sunday. Not only does Jesus need your loving devotion and service, Jesus loves it when you need Him more than anything else. He treasures your company and loves listening to your prayers and praises. Your Lord will multiply with His blessing whatever you do for Him or give to Him. Treasure the fact that He needs you and your unique contribution.

In an age when people around us are reluctant to commit to anything long-term, lifelong commitment isn’t praised and commended as much as it deserves to be. It’s so easy in our modern environment to be lukewarm about life’s most important matters. Jesus wants you to be fair dinkum about your faith. Whole-hearted commitment to Christ can work wonders for Him. We fulfil God’s plan and purpose for us when we’re committed to Him, “for better, for worse, in sickness and in health, as long as we live.”

Recall a time when you were full of enthusiasm for Jesus Christ. Wouldn’t it be great if that could happen again this Holy Week? Why is it, for example, considered to be okay to be enthusiastic about your favourite sport or hobby but not about your Saviour Jesus Christ? Enthusiasm for Jesus has a wonderful way of diminishing your worries and anxieties. “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say, rejoice!”

There was no shortage of joy and jubilant acclamation on that first Palm Sunday. Those round Jesus spread their garments on the road before the donkey He was riding. To do so was considered an act of homage to a King, as also were the waving and spreading of palm branches on the way ahead. The people shouted a royal acclamation from Psalm 118, a psalm every child learned back then: “Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord.” “Hosanna!” is a petition to God to “save us now!” It could even be translated as “three cheers for Jesus!” The crowd was so enthusiastic because it saw Zechariah’s prophecy, “Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem. Lo, your King comes to you” being fulfilled before their eyes.

The story is told of an American travelling on a bus in Sweden. He was bragging to the Swedish man sitting next to him, how accessible, in theory, the American president was to his citizens. After the Swede got off the bus, someone else said to the American: “In Sweden, its King rides on a bus with his subjects.” The American tourist had been talking to the King of Sweden.

Jesus is a humble King, who loves spending time with those who need His healing power and help most of all.  He is as accessible to us as that Swedish King riding on a bus was to his people. Jesus lets Himself be vulnerable to ridicule and rejection Instead of being aloof and above the hassles and frustrations we face from week to week, He is thrilled to be with us amid the mess and muddle of daily life. Jesus redefined kingship in terms of loving service, humility and accessibility.
He is
“the Servant King
He calls us now to follow Him
to bring our lives as a daily offering
of worship to the Servant King.” 

If our Lord enters Jerusalem with a ragtag group of tax collectors, poor people and fishing folk, who can tell with whom He might associate next? He’s likely to be with the most unlikely of people, those neglected by the high and mighty but greatly treasured by Him. He shares common cause with them and doesn’t act as if He’s better than they. He went out of His way to go to the remote towns of the land to meet the needs of the disabled and the mentally distressed, to widows uncared for by others. All these people saw in Jesus their only hope for a better future.

Gandhi, the great leader of India, was asked, “If you were given the power to remake the world, what would you do first?” Following Jesus’ example, Gandhi replied, “I would pray for the power to renounce that power.” He preferred to be a servant of his people rather than a power-broker, and operate by the power of love.

So then, the best title for our Palm Sunday King is “the Friend of Sinners.” Jesus’ friendship with you makes you one of His Church’s living treasures. He invites you to treasure those He calls you to serve and see them as His gifts to you. Make the joyful discovery of how, as you help others carry their burdens, your own become lighter. May you be Jesus’ “donkey” carrying Him to the people who need Him the most.

Jesus has promised to remain faithful to you, even when you find being faithful to Him tough going. Faith and faithfulness belong together like a lock and a key. Acts of faithfulness like regular prayer, worship, receiving Holy Communion, keep faith alive and thriving. It is faithfulness in these things, rather than success, that our Lord looks for from us. Jesus has promised that the blessings received from our faithfulness will be infinitely greater than all our acts of faithfulness. As far as our Lord is concerned, faithfulness in small things is indeed a great thing. 

This Palm Sunday let the words of The Prayer of St. Francis be your prayer of recommitment to your Lord:

  Make me a channel of your peace: where there is hatred, let me bring your love;  where there is injury, your pardon, Lord, and where there’s doubt, true faith in you. Make me a channel of your peace: where there’s despair in life, let me bring hope; where there is darkness, only light, and where there’s sadness, ever joy.

  O Master, grant that I may never seek so much to be consoled, as to console,  to be understood, as to understand, to be loved, as to love with all my soul.

 Make me a channel of your peace; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, in giving to all men that we receive, and in dying that we’re born to life.

We pray:
Come, Lord Jesus, come.
Come to us through the word of the cross, the word of reconciliation, and the Gospel of peace.
Come to us with wisdom from above to enlighten and inspire us, so that all we say or do may be solely to Your glory, in Your holy name. Amen.

Fifth Sunday after Lent

The text: John 12:20-33

Glory – on God’s Terms

What would you see as the most glorious thing that could happen to you?garth Receiving an Australia Day award? Being praised in the presence of others? Gaining recognition in the newspaper for something you’ve done? One of our daily newspapers has a 15 Minutes of Fame column. A person was randomly chosen by a reporter who wrote up a brief sketch of that person’s life for the newspapers. But human fame and glory is quickly forgotten.

God’s idea of glory is totally different. Prior to their wedding day, a pastor was discussing marriage vows with a young couple. The man objected to the words in the vow “’til death do us part”. “Can’t you change the words?” he asked. “I don’t want death mentioned on my wedding day.” For God, death and glory aren’t incompatible. Nothing brings God greater glory than the death of His Son Jesus Christ for us. Jesus wanted God to be glorified by His perfect obedience to the will of God, no matter what the cost.

God doesn’t seek glory by means of a spectacular, sensational public relations stunt. Instead, God hides His glory in the life, suffering and death of Jesus our Saviour. Our world glorifies power, success, strength and affluence. God reveals Himself most fully in the humiliation, vulnerability and weakness of the Cross. The cross of Christ is the hiding place of God’s saving power and glory. We see our Saviour’s glory in His suffering because it shows how much He loves each and every one of us; we see His love in His excruciating agony on the Cross, as it reveals how He sacrificed everything for us. We cannot really understand Jesus apart from His Cross. It is central to why He came to our earth to be one of us, with us.

The Cross of Christ is the climax of His identification with us as mortal men and women. There, Christ carried out His mightiest work of salvation for us. The Cross both reveals and condemns our sin and guilt, and takes it away. We are eternally indebted to Jesus for what He did for us there. In the words of the famous hymn, Rock of ages:       

“Nothing in my hand I bring Simply to Your cross I cling.” (LHS 330)

In this morning’s text, some Greek visitors come to Jesus’ disciple Philip, perhaps because of his Greek name, and ask him: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” What a praiseworthy request! Philip is so excited that folk from the most intellectual and artistic nation of the time come to make contact with Jesus, that he quickly shares the news with his friend Andrew. At last Jesus is going to be recognised as a celebrity! They can’t wait to tell our Lord. Jesus responds that the great hour of His life has arrived.

These Greeks represent us, the Gentiles of the world. Their arrival anticipates Christ’s post-Pentecost mission. Jesus isn’t the latest philosopher or newest religious guru with a trendy recipe for self-advancement or self-enlightenment. Like a wheat crop, before there can be a harvest, grain must be buried in the ground. Jesus compares His mission to a grain of wheat. Before there can be the fruit of mission, of many people being won for Christ, He must sacrifice His life for us.

The sacrifice of His life on the Cross for each of us, and for all people of every race, has and will continue to draw more men and women to Jesus than all His miracles or unsurpassed moral teaching. Jesus wants us to be drawn to Him because of His suffering with and for us, and the sacrifice of His life instead of us, rather than because of His amazing miracles. We’re so reluctant to think or talk about our own or anyone else’s death. Jesus, however, views His death, as the greatest thing He’s done for us. We read in John 15:13, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends.” 

At the same time, giving His life for us wasn’t at all easy for Jesus. For us, often the anticipation of something painful, like going to the dentist, is worse than the event itself. Jesus doesn’t hide the anguish His imminent sacrifice of Himself for us was causing Him. The thought of it filled Him with deep agony: “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour?” was His painful plea as He anticipates his awful agony in the garden of Gethsemane. Who wants to die at the age of 33? Jesus’ obedience to God’s will came at great personal cost. But as today’s second Bible reading says, “He learnt obedience from what He suffered.” His private agony is transformed into a public confession of His obedience to God: “Father, save me from this hour? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.” (v27)

By His obedience to God the Father, Jesus came to undo and repair the damage caused by Adam and Eve’s disobedience to God. Nothing less than the future of all of us, of all humankind, was at stake. At any moment, Jesus could have said “no” to the Cross. But for our sakes, He was “obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” This gift of sacrificial love gives us a hope nothing can destroy. Martin Luther King Jr has said, “There are some who still find the Cross a stumbling block, others consider it foolishness. I am more convinced than ever that it is the power of God to social and individual salvation.”

We focus on the Cross of Christ during Lent because it speaks to us primarily of a fellow-sufferer who understands what it’s like for us to suffer and to be afraid of dying. Jesus hears your pain from His cross and not from the cosy comfort of an armchair. Jesus shares your suffering, physical or emotional, however great or small, in ways you can only begin to imagine. Your Saviour’s Cross means you can trust Jesus with your suffering, and discover that trusting Him is life-transforming. Jesus didn’t come to our world to answer your questions about why you’re suffering, but to fill it with His life-changing presence. No other sacrifice has changed as many lives as has Christ’s sacrifice for us. His sacrifice of Himself on the Cross attracts our gratitude because it was so undeserved. Jesus said, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I’ll draw all kinds of people to me (v32).” His death is the magnetism of an utterly selfless sacrifice. There’s something deeply moving about self-giving love, isn’t there? 

Life without sacrifice is a mean existence. We can either hoard what we have or sacrifice it in love for someone else. Jesus invites us to follow Him on the path of sacrificial service. “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves me (v27).” What a marvellous incentive to join Jesus on the path of sacrificial service. God will exceedingly honour such service. What’s more, Jesus calls those His friends, who serve Him in a way that sacrifices their preferences, their priorities and their inclinations. He says in John 15:15, “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing, but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from My Father.” To be called Jesus’ friend makes all we do for Him and for each other so very worthwhile, and fills life with meaning and purpose.

Jesus’ cross has transformed how we view life. Life isn’t about what we can get out of it for ourselves, but what we can give for the sake of others. Think of how much poorer our world would be without all those selfless folk whose first concern is always the welfare of others. They invite you to share their discovery, that “life’s happiest hours are those of self-forgetfulness.” We can lose ourselves in serving Jesus because He will never forget us.

Amen!

Fourth Sunday after Lent

The text: Ephesians 2:1-10

“By grace you have been saved”—one of the most well-known verses in the church, especially amongst us Lutherans. Or is it?johnmac

What does being saved by grace mean?

The assurance of salvation by grace was the message that Duke George of Saxony heard in July 1517.

He had requested a “learned and eloquent preacher” to preach in the castle chapel at Dresden.

Who was sent? None other than Martin Luther! Luther preached on the assurance of salvation.

In his sermon he said: “Our salvation must ever remain our foremost concern.

Man can obtain it only through faith in Christ Jesus, not by his own good works.”

Later that day at the dinner table, Duke George asked his wife’s attendant, Barbara von Sala: “How did you like the sermon?”

“Ah” she replied, “let me hear just one more like it, and I can die in peace!”

But Duke George was not impressed. In fiery indignation he exclaimed:

“I’d give much money not to have heard it.

It makes men secure and reckless in sin!”

I’m not sure that being ‘secure and reckless in sin’ was what Barbara von Sala was advocating, and Luther certainly wasn’t either.

In fact, Barbara wanted the opposite. If Barbara was secure and reckless in sin, she wouldn’t have cared for the gospel at all and have longed for the comfort and peace of God’s promise of forgiveness and righteousness with him.

“Let me hear just one more [sermon] like it, and I can die in peace!”

Barbara said. She had heard the gospel and it had given her such great joy.

The gospel message Barbara von Sala rejoiced in is summarised by today’s verse in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:

“It is by grace you have been saved through faith—and this is not of yourselves; it is the gift of God—not by works so that no-one may boast.”

It is a verse that is at the heart of the reformation and at the identity, theology and culture of the Lutheran church.

But what is the gospel?

Paul gives us a key word in today’s text:

The gospel is that we have been saved.

Someone who has been saved can’t save themselves; they need another to save them.

Often the gospel is explained this way: because of sin we are separated from God, but God throws a life buoy to us—Jesus—and when we grasp hold of him, we are saved.

But in today’s text Paul says: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.”

We weren’t only drowning with one arm above the waves reaching for a life buoy.

We had already drowned, as it were—we were already spiritually dead, at the bottom of the sea of human sin.

Now someone who’s dead can’t do a whole lot.

They can’t raise themselves to life and contribute anything to change their situation.

Paul says that’s what the natural human condition is like.

The only life we had was in sin, and we followed the ways of this world and the ruler of the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts.

Amazing that what Paul writes centuries ago is the exact diagnosis of society today — a society which mere humans create God in their image and who even want to be God, being the final authority and worshipping the self.

No wonder Paul says we were objects of wrath. God’s sentence of death for our transgressions is just. Why?

Because sin is not restricted to a particular culture or time, but entrenched in what it means to be a human being after the Fall.

Sin is a spectrum that we are all part of.

When God’s law shows us the ways in which we sin it shows us, at the same time, that we are no better than the society we lament over.

The Ten Commandments show us how God wants us to live in every area of life, in our spiritual life, family life, work life, in all our interactions with God and neighbour.

There’s no such thing as a little lie. It’s a lie.

Or, as Jesus taught, just thinking about something sinful but not following through in action is no better than actually doing the wrong thing.

We are truly among those who need saving because we cannot save ourselves and we need saving from ourselves.

Barbara von Sala knew that—that’s why she cherished the gospel she heard that day in the Dresden castle chapel.

It’s the same gospel we need to hear too, and we hear it in our text today: “we have been saved.”

For it was while we were dead in our sins that God showed his rich and unconditional mercy and lavish love to us through his Son.

It was while the human race was unable to reach out to Jesus that God reached out to us by sending Jesus into the world, not to condemn the world—but to save the world through him.

Jesus kept the law for us perfectly then traded places with us to take the Father’s wrath on our sin for us and save us from his just sentence of death that we might have his very own righteousness.

This was a past event that has already happened for us, a complete gift, totally undeserved: “by grace you have been saved.”

We could never do anything to deserve God’s love, never contribute anything to life with God or earn a pat on the back from him.

We are not saved because of our kindness to our neighbour or by our service in the church or how often we donate to community service programs or by how much we put in the offering plate.

We are not saved because of our faith as if our faith were a work by us that is pleasing to God;

we are not saved because of any decision we make,

or our piety,

or the eloquence

or frequency of our prayers,

but faith is itself an undeserved gift from God brought into effect by the Holy Spirit as he speaks to us through the Scriptures to enlighten us to see we are saved by Christ and because of Christ, and we receive all his saving work through faith.

But what of Duke George’s response to Luther’s sermon?

Remember what he said?

“I’d give much money not to have heard it.  It makes men secure and reckless in sin!”

Duke George’s concern, Christians abusing their freedom, is a valid one, even though I feel he misunderstood what Luther had said.

For the gospel is certainly not the reason to discard the law, but only to strive harder to keep it.

The danger in the church is the temptation to think that because we are saved apart from the Law, we should disregard the Law and don’t need to strive daily to lead a holy life.

That because good works aren’t necessary for salvation that they aren’t necessary at all.

They were thoughts the church at Rome entertained.

But in chapter 6 of his letter to the Christians there, Paul insists:

“What shall we say then?

Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?

No way!

How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (v1-2).

And in today’s text he says: “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith—and this is not of yourselves; it is the gift of God—not by works so that no-one may boast.

For we are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works which he has prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (v8-10).

We’re not saved by good works but saved for good works.

The gospel doesn’t mean a doing away with the law, but upholding it.

That’s really what we ourselves confessed again this morning.

Did you notice the careful wording and order of the questions of confession?

Having been redeemed by Christ from all our sins means that we will strive daily to lead a holy life.

We don’t strive daily to lead a holy life that God might redeem us—in Christ, he already has.

And we can’t daily strive to lead a holy life apart from Christ, who has already brought us to share in his holiness that we may walk in it.

What does walking in holiness look like?

How do we know what the good works are that God has called us to do?

Again, God’s law shows us.

The 10 commandments show us God’s design for what good works are to be.

We are to use God’s name to pray,

we are to desire His word and gladly hear and learn it.

We are to honour and respect our parents and all those in authority.

We are to help our neighbour in all their needs.

We are to uphold God’s design for marriage so that in matters of sex, our words and conduct are pure and honourable and husband and wife love and respect one another.

We are not to gossip but defend our neighbour and speak of them in the kindest way possible and help them protect and even increase what is theirs, and to be satisfied with what God has blessed us with, and to use it to bless others.

This is all completely different to the way of the world but it is what God rescued you for.

So, we can say that Lent and the Christian life is all about good works.

And we can even say it is about being saved by good works—that is, Christ’s good works.

He is the one who perfectly kept the commandments for you and showed both perfect submission to his Father’s will and perfect love and compassion, even to the point of laying down his own life on the Cross for you, to free you from sin, death and Satan.

Grace is not cheap, for the ransom price God paid to make you his very own was the holy and precious blood of his Son Jesus.

Then he actually made you his own at your baptism, where the crucified, risen, exalted Christ stood in the sanctuary space in the church here on earth, baptising you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, to make you who were once dead now alive, with him.

In your union with Christ you already share in Jesus’ own enthronement and have a place of belonging and permanency in heaven, so that while you wait for the day he comes again, you already receive every spiritual blessing that comes from your Father in heaven through Jesus.

In union with Christ you are indeed covered in his holiness, and walk with him as his holy priests for the sake of the world, partners with him in his mission of prayer for it, and service to it through the good works he prepared for you beforehand.

Why has God done all this for you?

Simply because of his love for you, and because he was determined to shower the inexpressible riches of heaven in Christ upon you.

May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Amen.

Third Sunday in Lent

The texts from scripture in today’s reading from the Book of Exodus and the holy gospel of St John speak to us of two significant events in the people ofgordon5 Israel and the Apostle’s history: the destruction of the second Jewish Temple and the coming to faith of the Apostles in the fulfilment of the Jewish people’s history in Israel’s Messiah the Lord Jesus the Christ.

Firstly the 20th chapter of Exodus relates the well-known account of God’s giving the tablets of the Law on Mt Sinai to Moses as the sign of the bond between God and God’s people Israel. This event formed the foundation of God’s covenant with Israel. But of course, this event is subsequent to the great deliverance by God of Israel from 400 years of slavery in Egypt through the Passover of the Angel of Death. In this event whereby, under the instruction of Moses, the Israelites were to put the blood of a sacrificial lamb on the door posts of their houses as a sign through which they would be delivered from the terrible  consequences of the Angel of Death’s visitation on the first born of their Egyptian captors. The ensemble of these events became known as the Exodus of Israel from Egypt under the leadership of Moses and is celebrated in the yearly memorial liturgy of the Passover. It is to this annual event that in St John 2 Jesus is said to have come up from Capernaum to attend in Jerusalem.

The gospel also tells us when he arrived at the Temple forecourt, he found traders selling various kinds of animals and birds used in the liturgical celebration of the Passover. Now these traders were providing a legitimate service for the worshippers who were celebrating the Passover. Since the Jewish authorities would not allow the Gentile coins, with the deified image of the Emperor stamped on them, to be used in the purchase of the temple offerings. So, the traders supplied, by means of exchange, the alternative kosher coinage to buy the required sacrificial offerings.

This business, legitimised by the Temple authorities, is disrupted by Jesus’ action. Overturning the money changers tables and driving out the animals from the Temple forecourt. Of course, the Jewish authorities were not pleased and asked Jesus by what authority was he acting to disrupt the accepted order of Passover celebration. Jesus action was not as many have described it an anti-capitalist act, designed to demonstrate Jesus’ affinity with the downtrodden poor and show his social justice credentials. No, Jesus action indicates a far deeper issue. His action indicates that the whole system of Temple sacrifice as a method of dealing with Israel’s relationship with God is at an end. Temple worship as the means of God’s forgiveness and reconciliation for His people is about to end.

The Passover, while it was the reason for Jesús presence in Jerusalem, was not the only important focus of the Jews worship of God. The existence of the Temple itself was at stake, in Jesus action. It is Temple worship itself that Jesus action indicates is ending. In response to the Jews enquiry as to Jesus authority for taking such violent action against the traders, He says, “Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up”. (John Chp. 2:19)

What sort of answer is this? The Jews ask the perfectly logical question; How is this possible? Since it took 46 years to build the Temple? The disciples are no less puzzled. They only come to know later after the resurrection what meaning Jesus statement had at that time.

Well, what is the meaning? To understand we must see what Temple worship was and why it existed at all in Israel. We have already indicated how in Exodus 20, today’s reading from the OT, God gave the Law on the tablets of stone to Moses as a sign of the covenanted relationship established with Israel by means of their Exodus from Egypt on the night of the Passover. But we seldom read Exodus 34 where God renews the covenant with Israel because Israel broke the first covenant. For as Moses descended from Mt Sinai with the first tablets of the Law Israel was down below with Aaron worshipping an idol, the Golden Calf or Bull. (The Bull being an expression of power and sexual promiscuity) When Moses heard the noise of music and dancing and saw what was happening, he smashed the tablets of the covenant in pieces and ordered a slaughter of the idolators. Moses is distraught with grief at the broken covenant and pleads with God to take his life in place of what remains of idolatrous Israel. But God mercifully renews the covenant with Israel with new tablets of stone given by God: and a regime of forgiveness for Israelis put in place. Initially this arrangement was the tent of meeting in which God met with Moses and then a tabernacle and ark in which the tablets of the Law were kept. This original system of consultation between God and Israel through the mediation of Moses was superseded in Israel’s history by Solomon’s temple in which the descendants of Aaron became priests offering sacrifice for the people as they confessed their sins. This system expanded and became more elaborate over time, but  essentially it expressed how God and Israel maintained the covenant in the midst of their sin and rebellion against God. The great festival of forgiveness and reconciliation between God and sinful Israel was called Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It happened annually (some might remember that it was on Yom Kippur 1973 that Egypt attacked Israel in an attempt to reclaim land lost in the initial 1967 war.) This was an opportune time for Egypt to start a war with Israel. For on Yom Kippur everything came to a standstill, no one worked, it was such a solemn day. On this day the High Priest would take two animals, usually goats or  bulls, slaughtering one of them since God required a blood sacrifice  to atone for sin.

(As we are told in Leviticus 17:11, “For the life of the creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your lives – for it is the blood that makes atonement because of the life”. This is restated again in Hebrews 9:22, “And nearly everything is purified in blood according to the Torah, and apart from the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness”.)

But the other animal, the scapegoat, the priest set free. This was a sign of the forgiveness through blood sacrifice, since the scapegoat on whom the Priest laid the sins of the people was driven into the wilderness, symbolising the life of the sinner lived before God. The High Priest would then take the blood of sacrifice and with the emblems representing the 12 tribes of Israel displayed on his vestments, and on this one day of the year  go in behind the curtain of the temple into the Holy of Holies, the very presence of God. There he would sprinkle or daub the blood of sacrifice on the Mercy Seat  made of gold situated on top of the ark of the covenant. He would then come out to face the people and with his arms raised pronounce upon them the Aaronic blessing.

The Lord bless and keep you the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you” (Numbers Chapter 6:22-27)

The liturgy of the Day of Atonement, the very reason for temple worship, had its origins in Israel’s sin against God at Mt Sinai, this act of rebellion has  haunted Israel’s memory throughout the generations. Both kinds of sacrifice, blood sacrifice of one goat and the laying of the sin of the people on the scapegoat which was driven into the wasteland of the wilderness to exist in a kind of nonexistence before God. In both these images the people saw themselves on the one hand as guilty and on the other as preserved in their guilt by God’s mercy. The function of the liturgy was to bear witness to the fact that the holy and living God could not be approached apart from an act of atonement and reconciliation. The liturgy as laid down by God’s command, showed that the ultimate ground of Israel’s reconciliation with God lay deep in the mystery of God’s own being and will. The rich pattern of the liturgy gave the worshippers something to lay hold of even though it pointed far beyond what they could grasp. For it witnessed to what God alone could do and would do for His people.

Jesus words in John chapter 2, indicate that He Himself is that act of God in person to which the liturgy of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement pointed. He Himself will be the sacrifice, slain for His people’s sin, but also, He Himself will be the scapegoat driven into the wilderness of death laden with his people’s guilt. Jesus himself as God’s servant and Son, as the great 53rd chapter of Isaiah Vs 4-9 indicates,

 “ he would be cut off from the land of the living, yet he bore our sufferings and was pierced for our transgressions. He made Himself a sacrifice for sin, for the Lord laid on Him the guilt of us all”.

In an incomprehensible reversal of all righteous and pious thinking, God declares himself guilty to the world and thereby extinguishes the guilt of the world. God himself takes the humiliating path of reconciliation and thereby sets the world free. God wants to be guilty of our guilt and takes upon himself the punishment and suffering that this guilt brought to us. God stands in for godlessness, love stands in for hate, the Holy One for the sinner. Now there is no longer any godlessness, any hate, any sin that God has not taken upon himself, suffered, and atoned. Now there is no more a world that is not reconciled with God and in peace. That is what God did in his beloved Son Jesus Christ. We see in Jesus, the incarnate God, the unfathomable mystery of the love of God for the world. God loves the world—not ideal human beings but people as they are, not an ideal world but the real world.

This is what the disciples saw and believed and proclaimed to the world this side of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. What they saw and believed, what they proclaimed was always in the framework of the history of the Israel and their relationship with God. For the Body of which Jesus spoke is His own Body delivered up to death for our sake but raised on the third day to be forever the One through whom our relationship to the Father is mediated by His word and the sacrament of His body and blood. In this mystery is the mystery of God for us: His unfathomable goodness and faithfulness to Israel and through Israel to and for us.

18 The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this? Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days”…. When he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. (St John 2:18-22)

Dr. Gordon Watson.

Second Sunday in Lent

The grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you always.  Our Lord Jesus Christ tells us “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Let’s join in a word of prayer:

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  Loving Father, this morning we are together to worship You and to continue our journey with Your Son on his way to the cross.  We trust in your promise that by our faith in your Son, we will be counted among the righteous and be given the right to be called children of God.  We praise you for the gift of salvation that Jesus Christ has given, and for His life and ministry that we encounter.  Guide our time together so that we may take up our crosses and follow our risen Saviour, in whose name we pray.  Amen.

John Mark writes of a time when Jesus journeyed with his Disciples.  It appears that his more casual followers straggled along at a distance.  Waiting for the next witness of his divine authority by another healing or miracle.   

As they walked along, Jesus engaged the Disciples with a dialogue that ended with the question, “Who do you say that I am?” 

Mark records Peter’s profound response with well known words, “You are the Christ.”  Matthew adds a bit more to Peter’s words, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Mt 16:16 ESV)   It is then that Christ Jesus commends Peter in Matthew “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” (Mt 16:17 ESV)

As I prayed over this passage of Scripture, I was blessed.  The Holy Spirit opened my understanding of this passage of Scripture in a new way.  I saw in my minds eye that it was at this point the ears of the devil were perked up, and his attention was drawn to Peter, who is blessed to receive the wisdom of God.  Peter who has now revealed Jesus as the Christ, Son of the Living God.

I am convinced that the devil was also listening as Jesus spoke about what it meant for him to be the Christ, the Son of the Living God,  The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.   How he must suffer, be rejected, be killed, and then rise again on the third day.  The devil would have understood exactly what Jesus meant.  But these words would have confused Peter and would have planted the seed of doubt.

Doubt in the destiny of the Christ, Son of the Living God.  But even in the beginning of doubt, Jesus demonstrated his love, concern, and care for Peter.  Just as he loves us, is concerned over us, and cares for us, in our times of both doubt and certainty.  Times of fear and of faith. 

I am convinced that Jesus was actually speaking to the devil, when he said, “Get behind me, Satan.”  Placing himself as a barrier between the temptation of the devil and dear Peter.  Just as Christ Jesus living in our hearts by his Holy Spirit, presents an unmovable barrier between the devil and our spirit.  Joined with us through faith in Christ Jesus, and his sacrifice for us.  A reality that Peter was beginning to question, which made him vulnerable to the influence of Satan.

It was after this, that Satan obeyed the Christ, Son of the Living God, as he must always do.  He separated himself from Peter, at least for a while.  Then Jesus warned Peter, “You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”  That warning is for every Christian.  Every casual follower of Christ Jesus.  Every dedicated and disciplined Disciple. 

When we set our minds on the things we see around us in the world, we become vulnerable to the worst temptations.  Temptations to doubt the reality of Christ Jesus, of our baptism, of our faith.

Of God’s love for us.

When Jesus called all the followers and disciples together, he spoke a hard truth, a strict reality, almost a command. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”  

Words that have become so real to us in people of faith around the world.  Just as it would to the Disciples in the early Church in Jerusalem during their persecution.   The image from a few years ago still haunts me, as I read these verses.  An image of 21 Coptic Christians, in their orange prison jumpsuits, kneeling with heads bowed.  And standing behind each one an Islamic Terrorist with machete or sword or knife, ready to inflict a fatal blow.   Also the recurring images of Christians, in Africa, China, and around the world who are imprisoned, humiliated, persecuted and matyred for sharing their faith.

These are the modern witnesses for Christ Jesus.  These are the ones who embraced the grace of God, rather than deny their faith in Jesus Christ.  Who became vivid portrayals of our Lord’s words, “whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the Gospel’s will save it.”

In the shadow of the cross of Christ, and the witnesses of these modern martyrs, how are we to order our lives to take up our cross and follow Jesus?  To live the grace of God in Christ Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit? 

To discover the answer, we search the Scriptures and we turn to a prolific Lutheran writer, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. 

In  the Scriptures, we discover the words of Paul, ‘We know that our old self was crucified with Christ in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.’  (Romans 6:6–7 ESV) 

Taking up our cross and following Jesus, reminds us that we can resist every temptation, set our hearts to the discipline of discipleship, and live our faith, because Jesus has set us free by his sacrifice. A life renewed each moment by the grace of God.

In his book, “The Cost of Discipleship,” Bonhoeffer describes the Grace of God. He writes of the concept of “cheap grace.”  Listen to how he defines it: “Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our church.  Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.”

In many ways, I agree with Bonhoeffer, that we are blessed when we respond to God’s grace with our lives of repentance, discipline, discipleship, and faith.  That is what the season of Lent is all about. I also agree with Bonhoeffer, that the enemy of the Church is ‘cheap grace’, when people abandon the teaching of the hard truths and flock to others who speak only of the blessings of Christianity. 

But the grace of God is never cheap … because it cost the death of God’s Son on the cross.   The grace of God is a given in the life of a Christian, as we confront our sinfulness and God’s forgiveness.  But we must never take the grace of God for granted. 

When Jesus was tempted in the desert, He responded to the devil with the words, “The Scriptures say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.’ ”  (Mt 4:7 NLT) We test the Lord our God, when we live without the discipline of faith and yet expect God to receive us with forgiveness and acceptance when we meet Him in eternity.

As baptised Christians, receiving God’s gift of faith in our Saviour, we are given eternal life with our Saviour.  But, living in this broken world,  we will still confront the cross of Christ.  When we hear Jesus’ call to live out our discipleship in our actions and attitudes, I hope the each of us will decide to live our lives in the shadow of the cross.  As the New Living Translation quotes Jesus, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross, and follow me.”

I was told once that most Christians are intimidated by the concept of discipleship.  It’s just too difficult for us to consider ourselves disciples. 

That it is easier to remain casual followers, who are certainly Christians by their faith in Christ Jesus.  But are reluctant to take up the discipline of Discipleship.  Reading the Bible, Praying, Worshipping, Living Repentant Lives, Serving the Church, Caring for Each Other, and Supporting the Church with their finances.

Lent is a time when we can set aside time to confront the parts of our lives that are not under submission to Christ Jesus.  To let the Holy Spirit show us the ways we can revive the momentum of our own discipleship.  To see discipleship as something to be desired rather than to be feared.

As people of Jesus Christ, we are reminded that salvation, by the grace of God, binds us to his will for our living.  By the grace of God, we are free to surrender our will to the will of God and to submit ourselves to the authority of Jesus Christ.  To celebrate the promises of God.

At our baptism, we receive the full promise of God to be joined with Christ Jesus in eternity.  And we invite God’s Holy Spirit to be a vital part of our living.  We are declared righteous with God, because of faith.  But it was only the beginning of our life with Christ Jesus. 

We can hold onto our faith in Christ Jesus, trust God, and follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit through all the challenge that our discipleship will bring.

Over the few weeks of Lent, lets ask the Holy Spirit to set our hearts and lives ablaze for Christ Jesus to the glory of God our Father.  And may the grace and peace of God,  keep our hearts and minds in, Christ Jesus.   Amen.

Rev David Thompson