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

First Sunday in Lent

The text: Mark 1-9-15

 

Today’s sermon is about baptism and Lent. It’s about our journey of life and Jesus’ journey to the cross.

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David: 0428 667 754

In Mark we hear of Jesus’ baptism. One thing that we should notice about Mark’s account of Jesus baptism is that everything happens very fast, ‘immediately’, the spirit descends and the Father speaks, ‘immediately’ the Spirit sends Jesus into the wilderness.

Then comes Jesus’ temptation by Satan. Jesus is tempted to deny God and rely on himself, and worship Satan. Jesus does not succumb to temptation, and he resists temptation for us.

Our journey of faith also begins in baptism, by water and the spirit, but in contrast to Jesus journey our journey begins with death. The death of the sinner, in the water and by the word, the union of each Christian to our Saviour’s death and resurrection for us. This death continues for the whole of our life until we breathe our final breath, as Luther puts it in the hymn ‘Lord Keep us steadfast in thy word’, we are taken out of death to life.

As Christ was tempted after his baptism, so too are we. For in our sinful state, before our baptism, before we are claimed by Christ and have the gospel proclaimed to us, temptation is not a factor. For sin reigns before we are claimed by Christ. We have no regard for doing God’s will, we have no desire to resist evil, so we are free to sin without the need for temptation.

After baptism, after Christ has placed his mark on us, after we have heard the Gospel, temptation begins. Because Satan knows that he has lost another soul and wants to win it back.

We should be reminded here of the petition from Lord’s Prayer: “And lead us not into temptation.”

In his explanation in the Small Catechism, Luther taught this to mean: “God tempts no one to sin, but we pray in this petition that God may so guard and preserve us that the devil, the world, and our flesh may not deceive us or mislead us into unbelief, despair, and other great and shameful sins, but that, although we may be so tempted, we may finally prevail and gain the victory.”

For Luther, and for St Mark, it is not God who does the tempting. God leads us on his path of truth. But it is the devil, the world and our flesh that tempt us to sin. They tempt us by saying:

  • Jesus’ words are not trustworthy;
  • You don’t really believe that do you?
  • How could one man’s life 2000 years ago be relevant to you today?
  • You don’t deserve his gifts!
  • He doesn’t really love you;
  • It’s not a big deal, the world has changed and that sin doesn’t matter now;
  • You must work harder for your salvation, it’s up to you!

Many of us even become complacent in our faith. Satan can take a holiday. We look to the world and find in it such compelling evidence that we walk away from our Saviour who suffered, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God. So after being brought to God by our Saviour we walk away and follow the ways of the world.

Others of us are so turned in on ourselves that Satan need not do any work at all. We continue in our sin, happily breaking each and every commandment, succumbing to our own fleshy temptation and refusing ever to repent.

Or we do repent with the best intentions, yet when we walk out the door we slip back into our sins again?

Brothers and sisters, we must return to our Saviour, to our walk of faith. When we are tempted, by Satan, the world or our sinful self, we must flee to our Saviour. For he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.

We must return to the Cross, for that is the task of Lent. To turn away from our own sins, temptations, agendas, and turn back to our Saviour on the cross. Lent is about repenting of our turning away from God, and turning back with a good conscience granted by our Saviour Jesus Christ in our baptism. The task of Lent is to repent of our unbelief and lack trust, believe that he has done all this for us; that he has taken on our flesh, been baptized, walked through the wilderness, experienced and resisted all manner of temptations and even in the face of death did not turn back, but turned his face to Jerusalem and followed the path all the way to the cross, all for us.

Our journey of Lent follows Jesus’ journey. We follow him through our baptism, into our temptations, right to his Cross. Yet our journey doesn’t end in death—our journey ends in resurrection, as Jesus shares his own resurrection with us. We don’t receive what we deserve, that is eternal death, we receive what he deserves, eternal life with God.

As we take this journey of Lent again, and we lift our eyes to Jesus our Saviour on the Cross, we must always be aware that Lent is really a condensed form of the Christian life.

  • Our baptism is not just relevant in Lent;
  • Our temptations are not limited to Lent;
  • Our sin is not limited to Lent;
  • Our spiritual disciplines are not limited to Lent.

Lent is a chance to hone our spiritual disciplines, to be reminded of them so that we might make them a habit throughout our years of dying to ourselves and rising again to new life each day, in righteousness and purity forever.

As you join Jesus on his journey to the Cross, you might consider how the disciplines of prayer, fasting and giving to the needy help you focus on Jesus during Lent. Fasting, for instance, helps you focus on Jesus because you have free time when you would usually eat, time that is free so that you can read and meditate on his word. By reading the word, (you might focus your reading on Jesus’ suffering and death) you are immediately looking to him and away from yourself. You could also be free in that time to serve your neighbor with acts of service. You also free up some money by not purchasing food and this too could help you focus on the needs of others rather than your own needs.

The spiritual disciplines were never meant to focus you on yourself; we are good enough at doing that already. Spiritual disciplines are supposed to make you look outside of yourself, to look to Jesus and to your neighbor, to see in Jesus Christ the pain and suffering he endured for us, the temptations he resisted, so that he could bring us to God with a pure and clean conscience. What an incredible gift!

Amen.

Fifth Sunday of Lent

Text: Luke 7:36-50

Theme: “Love of Another Kind” (Part 3)

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rob2“Love of another Kind” – that’s been the theme of our sermon series over these last 2 weeks, and today we’re going to complete this series.  In a nutshell, the purpose of the series has been to show us the kind of love that transforms lives and that transforms churches.  It’s the kind of love that Jesus showed, and it’s the kind of love that he asks us to show to each other.

 So far we’ve looked at different facets, different aspects of this love of Jesus.  We’ve seen that it is a love that has no limits, no filters and no conditions.  And we’ve seen that it is a love that doesn’t get fazed by interruptions.  Rather, it’s a love which is open to a change of plans, a love which seeks opportunities to serve in the midst of interruptions.

 And that brings us to the last facet of Jesus’ love that we’re going to be looking at in this series.  As we heard earlier in the passage from Luke 7, Jesus is invited to the home of a religious leader . .  but this leader doesn’t want to show kindness to Jesus.  He wants to get into an intellectual debate with him.  Why?  So that he might catch Jesus saying something inappropriate.  He’d then report this to the authorities so Jesus could be discredited.

 Now Jesus, he’s reaching out to anyone he can, so he says, “Yes, I’ll come to your home.”  So he goes to the house of the Pharisee.  A lot of people are waiting outside.  They want to watch, to listen in to see if Jesus puts his foot in his mouth.  Well Jesus, he goes inside, sits down, and just as dinner is about to begin, the neighbourhood hooker, the neighbourhood prostitute – everybody knows her, they know the street corner she hangs out on – she comes in, falls down at Jesus’ feet, and starts crying.  And she’s got some perfume, and she opens it up and starts pouring it onto Jesus feet.  And Jesus is stuck there.  And it’s awkward.  Really awkward.

 What do you do when you get stuck in one of those awkward situations, when you’re confronted by the undesirable or the disreputable?  It happened to me.  I remember the time when Beryl and I were on holidays in Fiji.  We had gone to the capital – Suva – and as we got off the bus – we were accosted by a whole group of young kids who were begging for money.  They were dressed in rags and they looked undernourished and they looked up at us with pleading eyes.  And it was awkward.

 And what about for you?  What do you do when needy people get in your way and you can’t disentangle yourself?  What do you do when there’s a moral foul-up?  What do you do when someone has abused grace, and they’ve fouled up – not once or twice or three times – but plenty, and you’re sick of it?  What do you do with Christians who say that they’re going to clean up their act and who don’t?  What do you do with fellow members who go around undermining your work for God?  What do you do when you’ve straightened out that kid or that person for the 5th time, and they foul up again?  Does your grace have a limit?  Do you say – “That’s enough!  I’m outa here!”

 Well, it’s interesting in this situation here in our text.  Here’s the neighbourhood hooker.  And we note that Jesus doesn’t pry her away.  He doesn’t shove her to the side.  He doesn’t moralize.  He doesn’t give her a sermon.  The Bible says in Luke 7 that he discerns that her tears of repentance are genuine.  And you know what he says?  “You’re forgiven. It’s over.  It’s done.”

 Folks, that’s love of another kind.  That’s a 70 times 7 love.  That’s the love of someone who truly understands grace.  And yet . . . and yet how often don’t people, don’t Christians take that grace in vain.  How often don’t they respond to God’s amazing grace to them with a condemning attitude towards others.  Remember that classic parable in Matthew 18 where this bloke owes his master a fortune, and one day the master comes and says, “Pay all of it!”  And the bloke says, “I can’t.”  So the master says, “Fine.  You and your family are going to gaol for good.”  And as he’s being led out, he gets this little wry grin on his face and he says, “You wouldn’t be in the mood for being merciful, would you?  I know it’s a long shot, but you wouldn’t feel like being merciful, would you?”  And the master says, “OK.  I’ll cancel the whole thing.  I’ll absorb the entire debt.  Paid in full.  You’re free to go.  Go, tell the wife and kids.  Have a celebration.”

 You know what he does?  He goes home, tells the wife and kids.  And then his neighbour goes by who owes him $5.   And he says, “Hey you!  Come here!  Pay me what you owe me!”  The neighbour says, “Well I don’t have it on me right now.  I could probably go across the street and raise the cash.”  “No, no”, the bloke says, “You’re going to gaol!”  And he throws him in the slammer.

 And then the master finds out about it.  Not good.  NOT GOOD!  You can read about it in Matthew 18.  The master hauls him back, and he says, “Excuse me. . .  excuse me, can I ask you a question?  Weren’t you the fella who owed me a fortune?  Weren’t you the fella who was going to be thrown into the slammer – with your family – forever?  You didn’t have a ghost’s chance to repay me.  And I cancelled the whole debt and set you free!  I took the burden off your shoulders.  And you go out and you throw a bloke in the slammer for $5!!!?  Something didn’t register in your heart the way it should have.  Had it registered properly, you would have gone back and forgiven any debt anyone owed you.  And there’d be a pattern of forgiveness and grace for the rest of your life.”

 Folks, human love  . . love of a human kind  operates like that.  It keeps saying, “You’d better not foul up.  Better do it right.  Better not let me down.  Better not hurt me.  You’d better impress me with your goodness, ‘cause if I catch you slipping up  . .  I’m going to slam you!”

 That’s love of a human kind.  And here’s Jesus  . .  and he looks at this lady who’s slipped up big-time – this neighbourhood hooker – and he discerns that her tears of repentance are real, so he says, “It’s over.  Grace for you.  What I’ll do on the cross will be applied to your life.  And you are free.  You’ve never been so free.  Free from the sins of your past.  Free to start anew.  Free to enjoy this life.  Free to enjoy eternity.”

 You know how you can tell when love of another kind is present, operating in a church?  It’s when each person walks around overwhelmed by the nature of grace  . . just overwhelmed by it.  Where grace just doesn’t get old.  Where we say to each other, “Do you know what I’ve been forgiven from?  Do you have any idea of what I’ve been released from?  Do you have any idea of the mountain of debt that has been erased in my life through the cross?”   And where we freely share that love and grace with the undesirables, with the disreputables who come our way  . . .  because we know that – in God’s eyes – we are just as undesirable, just as disreputable as they are . . .  and that they need God’s grace just as much as we do.

 And that brings us to the end of this sermon and of the sermon series.  What a Saviour we have  . .  a Saviour who loves us with love of another kind.  And if that love is operating in the hearts and lives of each one of us, this community will be awesome.  It will have that feel of the love of Christ about it.  It will have grace at the core.  It’ll be that kind of community that breathes life into people.  That kind of community that looks for the hand of God in upsets, in interruptions.  That kind of community that doesn’t have limits or filters to put people through.  That kind of community that is always looking for new ways, more ways to show love to others.

 May you, may we be known as people, as a community that radiates love of another kind.  Amen.

Pastor Rob Paech.

Fourth Sunday of Lent

Text: Luke 7:11-15

Theme: “Love of Another Kind” (Part 2 in sermon series)  

love

 

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How do episodes of TV soapies begin?  Like “Home and Away”, or “The Bold and The Beautiful”?  I’m told – I mean, I wouldn’t know from personal experience – but I’m told that they begin with a 1 minute compilation of the previous episode.  10 second grabs of the previous episode are shown – one after another – so that, even if you missed that episode, it gives you enough of the action to make sense of the present episode.

Since we’re in a sermon series – this is the 2nd in the series – I thought that a 1-minute compilation might be helpful. That way – if you missed the previous sermon – you should still be able to make sense out of this one.

Well, in the first message we saw that love is at the heart of an extra-ordinary church, that when a church is alive and effective and impacting, you can be sure that love is flowing through the lives of its members.  Not an ordinary kind of love.  Not a human kind of love.  But love of another kind.  The kind of love that Jesus showed as he rubbed shoulders with people.  And we looked at the first person in Luke chapter 7 that Jesus rubbed shoulders with – the Roman soldier who had a sick servant.  And the main point we learnt was that – while human love is so often limited, bound up by filters and conditions – Jesus’ love, the love he wants us to show, it’s unlimited, filter-less, unconditional.

That pretty much brings us up to speed and to day’s message.  The 2nd person in Luke 7 that Jesus rubs shoulders with almost happens by accident.  Jesus is going on a journey, and he gets 1 suburb away, and he’s got plans and he’s going somewhere, but his path is interrupted by a funeral procession.  Did you ever have your path, your journey cut short because you had to wait for a funeral procession?  It’s what happened to Jesus.  He’s going through a little town called Nain, and he comes across this funeral procession with a woman walking behind a casket.

What do you do when you’re in a hurry, when you’ve got some important business to attend to  . .  and somebody interrupts your plans?  What do you do?

I probably shouldn’t say this – because it doesn’t reflect too kindly on me – but I remember some time ago when I was interrupted by a funeral procession.  I was in a side street and I wanted to turn out onto the main road, and this funeral hearse drove slowly past.  And I remember looking down the line of cars to see how many friends this person had, hoping he or she didn’t have many . . . ‘cause I had to get to the office to talk to some people about Jesus . . . .  Curious, isn’t it!!  I got impatient, upset  . .  because I got interrupted by that funeral.

That’s . . .  that’s me at times.  What about you?  When you’re leading a busy life, when you’ve got appointments or a job and people expect you to be efficient and punctual  . .  what do you do when interruptions and complications and delays come your way?  What happens to your heart and mine, what happens to love of a human kind when something or someone gets in our way?  This is what often happens to our heart.  If our heart is normally this big, when someone interrupts our plans, our heart shrinks real fast.  In a matter of seconds, we can go from being calm and kind to being irritable and selfish.

Want an example to test this out?  Let’s suppose, let’s imagine that you’re at Woolies and you’ve gone there to stock up on some extra supplies in case the Covid-19 really runs rampant.  And you’re making your way up and down the aisles when a voice comes over the store intercom: “New stocks of toilet paper have just been put on the shelves.  But there is only a very limited supply.  Enough for the first 30 customers only.  Oh, and it is first come, first served.”  And you just happen to be standing right in front of those newly stocked shelves.  And you know there are at least 100 other people in that store.  And you know you probably don’t need any more rolls; you’ve got dozens stockpiled at home.  But you can hear the stampede coming your war.  And you can sense their urgency.

Now, what’s going to happen to the size of your heart?  Is your heart going to get big?   Are you going to step aside and say; “Oh please, you . . .  you go first.  Your need is greater than mine”  Probably . . . . probably many of our hearts would be shrinking.  Probably we’d be jumping forward and grabbing a pack with our right hand.  And then grabbing another pack with our left . . .  just in case!  And that would be love of a human kind  . . love of a human kind.

What did Jesus do in Luke chapter 7?  He’s busy.  He’s heading somewhere.  He’s just given his tremendously successful Sermon on the Mount, and lots of people thought that he was a big-time star.  So, he’s going along, and he gets interrupted by this funeral procession, and there’s some woman walking behind the funeral casket.  What does Luke 7 say Jesus did?  Jesus stopped  . . and he saw that woman’s broken heart.  Her son – her only son – was in that casket.  Vs 13 says, “When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her.”  In a sense, his heart grows.  And then you know what he did?  He made his way into that procession and he touched the casket and he raised her son, and he gave him back to his mother. 

Now it takes a lot of power to pull off a resurrection!  But what really hits me in this story is not Jesus’ power, but his love.  What really stirs me is the love behind this miracle.  Jesus didn’t let this interruption shrink his heart.  Instead, he saw this interruption as an opportunity to expand his heart, to share his love with someone in need.  And that’s a powerful, powerful lesson for people like you and me.  Jesus is showing us – by example – that if you’re busy, if you’re going through the day and someone throws a spanner in the works, somebody interrupts you, there’s a complication  . . and you have love of another kind operating in your heart – then you look for the person or the people or the opportunity in the middle of that interruption.  What’s first on your mind is not “What am I going to miss out on now?”, but “Who might need my love right now?  How might I show it to them?”  Instead of shifting up a gear and trying to escape the interruption, you find yourself open to a change of plans.

I realize only too well that this is no small ask.  The pace of life for most of us these days – even for those of us in retirement – is frantic  . .  and we need interruptions like a hole in the head.  But there are times each week when I’m convinced that God arranges things, when he puts us in situations with other people who need the kind of love that we can uniquely give.  They are ‘divine interruptions’, ‘divine opportunities’.  And if we have Jesus’ love operating in our hearts, we can make such a difference to people’s lives, we really can.

Can I – in closing – can I ask you this week – each day this week – can I ask you to be on the lookout for interruptions, for complications.  And the numbers of those are certain to escalate in the times ahead as the tentacles of Covid-19 reach further and further out.  When those interruptions, those complications occur, can I encourage you – before your heart shrinks and you get hot under the collar – can I encourage you to ask yourself these questions: “Lord, is this an opportunity for love of another kind?  Is this one of your divine interruptions?  Did you arrange it?  Lord, should I be putting my plans on hold here and focus on the person?  How can I show love to this person right now?”

They’re mighty important questions when interruptions come our way.  And if we can respond to those interruptions with love of another kind – with Jesus’ love – we can bring some mighty important blessings into people’s lives.

May God bless you in your interruptions this week.  Amen.

Pastor Rob Paech

Third Sunday of Lent

Love of another kind – Series Theme Introduction

15th March, 2020


Over my 40 years in parish and locum ministry, I’ve come across many, many churches.  Large churches and middle size churches and small churches.rob  Inner city churches and suburban churches and rural churches.  And – at least this is my experience anyway – there is one factor that sets some churches apart from others.  A factor that raises them above the category of “ordinary” and places them in the “extra-ordinary” category.  And this factor, it’s got nothing to do with church size or location.  I’ve found these “extra-ordinary” churches in large, urban centres, and also in small country congregations.

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So, what is this critical factor that sets some churches apart?  It’s LOVE!  Love!  Love is at the heart of every vibrant, impacting church that I know!  Bar none!  Churches can have the best location and plant and multiple staff members, but if they don’t have love beating strongly at their core, they will never be the “salt and light” church that God calls them to be.

And what is this love?  It’s the critical factor, the essential ingredient to an “extra-ordinary” church, but what is it?  What does it look like?  Where can you find it?  Well, you won’t see it on TV – on “Home and Away”, or on “The Bold and the Beautiful”.  You won’t see it demonstrated in the corporate or business world.    Nor in the various levels of government.  To see this kind of love, you need to go to another place.  Or – more correctly – to another person.  You need to go to Jesus.  To Jesus.  Because it’s another kind of love that he shows.  It’s another kind of love that he offers.  The only kind of love that makes a lasting difference in people’s lives.  The only kind of love that can truly transform churches and communities. love

So, can I invite you to join with me today – and over the next 2 Sundays – to journey through the 7th chapter in Luke’s Gospel and see Jesus interacting with various people.  And as we journey with Jesus in these interactions, we’ll see clearly what this love looks like.  And we’re going to do this under the sermon series theme of “Love of Another Kind”.

 

Love of another kind #1

Luke 7:1-10

15th March, 2020


In introducing the theme for this sermon series at the beginning of the service, I made this statement: “love is at the heart of an extraordinary church!”  And that statement is so true!  “Love is at the heart of an extraordinary church!”  When a church is alive and effective and impacting, you can be sure that love is flowing through the lives of its members.  And this love, it’s not an ordinary kind of love.  It’s not a human kind of love.  Rather, it’s “love of another kind”.  The kind of love that Jesus showed as he rubbed shoulders with people as he went about his daily business.

And that brings us to the first person in Luke chapter 7 that Jesus rubbed shoulders with.  He was a Roman soldier who had a sick servant.  So this Roman soldier – who the Jews hated – he approaches Jesus and says; “I don’t have a problem, but my servant does.  Would you consider healing him?”

Now let me ask you a question; what do you do when somebody you don’t know who has a friend of a friend of a friend comes to you and asks for a favour?  What do you do?  If you live a hectic sort of life – and many of us do – of if you’re an important kind of a person – your first reaction might well be to think to yourself; “I don’t have time to be bothered with this.”  And so you’ll say; “I’ll have my people call your people.  I’ll have someone in my organization contact someone in your organization.” …. Or what do you do when your neighbor gets a truckload of dirt dumped on his front lawn and he asks you to help him cart it round the back? …. Or when you’re asked to help some person in need in the community who you’ve never even met?  What do you do?  What do you do when you’re important or busy and people want some of your time?

Well, what did Jesus do?  Did he fob this Roman soldier off?  Did he ask one of his disciples to deal with him?  You could excuse him if he did.  I mean, Jesus is an important person.  And he’s on an important mission.  He’s on about his heavenly Father’s business.  And there’s so much for him to do.

So, what did Jesus do?  Jesus says; “Oh, there’s a hired hand you want healed?  No problem!”  And he heals him.

I’ve got to be honest; that’s not my natural way of operating.  If somebody comes to me for help, I’m likely to throw up some filters and conditions.  I don’t try to, but it just happens sometimes.  I can find myself saying; “OK, let me check these people out.  They’d better be legitimate.  They’d better be this.  They’d better be that.  And if they fit through all these conditions and filters that I put up and run them through, well, I might respond positively to their request”.

My love …. my love at times can be so limited, so restricted.  And then there’s Jesus’ love, and it has no filters or conditions.  In its scope, it is unlimited and unrestricted.  Jesus performs no background check to find out his credentials.  He disregards conventional prejudice about this person’s race and occupation.  He just helps him.  In the midst of his important schedule, he shows “love of another kind”.

I suspect that I’m not the only one who struggles with giving love, with giving time and energy and care to those who come in need.  Many people struggle with it.  They say; “I’ll love people if they’re white.  I’ll love people if they’re middle class.  I’ll love people if they’re educated.  I’ll love people if they vote the right way.  I’ll love people if they have the right tastes in music or in fashion.  I’ll love people if they’re young, or if they’re old.  I’ll love people if, if, if, if, if”.  And it affects, it limits the quality of relationships we have with others.

For starters, it limits our relationships within the family unit.  “If you put out the garbage, or if you do this job for me, then I’ll love you.”  But that kind of conditional love, it stunts relationships between husbands and wives.  It cripples relationships between parents and children.

 What our families need, what they desperately need, is mums and dads and teenagers and children who have “love of another kind” … who love unconditionally – without filters or limits.  Because when that kind of love is present in a family, people blossom and relationships deepen.  It makes all the difference when kids and teenagers know that – despite their way-out hair style or clothes or body piercing, … that even if they bomb out in school or drop out of uni or mess up their relationships – it makes all the difference when kids and teenagers know that their parents still love them with everything they’ve got,  … and that they’ll never stop loving them…..   It makes all the difference when spouses know that – even if they’re depressed or out of sorts or if they’ve failed their spouse big time – it makes all the difference when a spouse knows that their partner will keep on loving and loving and loving them. 

Not only does love of a human kind limit relationships in the family, but it also limits relationships in our community.  Love of a human kind responds to pop stars and movie stars and sports stars.  It makes time for the rich, the powerful, the popular.  But if you don’t fit into any of these categories, then that’s just bad luck.  If you happen to be unemployed or uneducated, if you happen to belong to the underclass or deviate from the socially accepted norm, it’ll probably mean that you’re going to be by-passed, over-looked, under-loved by the community.

What our community needs is “love of another kind”. … where people are treated equally – irrespective of their social standing … where people are given equal opportunity – irrespective of who they know or don’t know … where people are valued for who they are, not just for what I can get out of them … where people are respected and cared for because they’re people, not inconveniences or anonymous entities … where people can come to us with their requests – as did that Roman soldier – and we say – as Jesus did; “No problem.  I’ll help!”

And then there is the church community.  And where church communities run only on love of a human kind, they can be pretty tough places to exist in.  I’ve been privileged to be connected with some wonderfully loving and caring churches in my time.  But I’ve also seen the damage that happens in churches where the “in crowd” excludes the “out-crowd” or the new-comers ….  where the hand of fellowship is extended only as long as people are prepared to conform …. where people place all sorts of conditions on their support.

This is the 3rd year that Beryl and I have been coming for a stint here at St Peter’s Lutheran Church, Port Macquarie.  And I’ve got to say that we have felt welcomed and embraced and valued from day 1!  You have something special here!  But this church family – like any church family – needs to constantly be looking at the mirror and asking questions like: How serious are we about building relationships with those in our various communities so that we can share ourselves and our Saviour with them?  Like, how open are we to newcomers when they do come?  How much are we prepared to give, to serve, so that they might come to know Jesus and what it means to be a part of his family?    Like, how prepared are we to put aside hurts and disappointments from fellow members so that we can move on to health and wholeness?

What’s needed in our families?  What’s needed in our community?  What’s needed in our church?  It’s “love of another kind”.  It’s Jesus’ love.  It’s the sort of love he showed to that soldier’s servant, to that hired help.  A love that has no filters, no conditions.  It’s a risky kind of love, an unpredictable kind of love, because you don’t know who’s going to come around the corner, you don’t know who’s going to come your way with a request, a problem, a hurt.  But if that “love of another kind” is operating in your heart and life, it’s awesome!  It’s awesome!  It makes an immeasurable difference to the quality of life in our homes and in our community and in our church.

This “love of another kind”, it comes from Jesus.  And it’s available to you today.  Over the next 2 Sundays we’re going to look at it more closely, but you don’t have to wait till then to receive it.  It’s available to you right now.  All you need to do is to ask Jesus for it … to acknowledge that your human love is too limited, too filtered, too conditional …. and that you need his unconditional love to fill you and to flow through you.

It’s worth thinking about and asking for, wouldn’t you agree?

Pastor Rob Paech.

 

Second Sunday of Lent

The Text: John 3:1-17

God’s Family and Our Family

How often do you stop to think about what God is like? As far as eternity is concerned, what you believe about God is the most important thing about you. Knowledge of God is the most important knowledge you can possess.dhuff Knowledge of God is momentous knowledge because of its power to change lives in so many wonderful ways. The better you know God personally, the stronger will be your convictions on moral matters and the keener you will be to act on these convictions. The Bible says, “The people who know their God will stand firm and take action (Daniel 11:32).”

 A group of university students were asked for their definition of God. Some gave very complicated definitions; others gave very vague definitions. Finally a normally quiet, shy girl said with a big smile on her face: “God is the One without whom I cannot exist!” What we believe about God makes all the difference to how we live from week to week. God wants to be our refuge and strength amid the stresses and strains of daily life. Our Triune God isn’t remote or aloof from contemporary life, but is deeply involved in what’s happening in our lives now. Our God is behind all the things that go right in our lives each week.

 In His Son Jesus Christ, God has all the time in the world for individuals. In today’s Gospel about Nicodemus’ conversation with Jesus, we have the first of many conversations Jesus has with individuals on a one to one basis. What’s more, many of the greatest truths Jesus ever told were shared with individual men and women. Perhaps this is Jesus’ way of saying that these priceless messages of good news are meant for each one of us personally.

 Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night-time, fascinated by the miracles Jesus performed. In those days, religious issues were often debated at night-time, even on a roof-top to take advantage of a refreshing evening breeze. Nicodemus has come to question Jesus. Instead, He ends up being questioned by Jesus. Nicodemus begins by paying Jesus a compliment, and is taken aback by Jesus’ unexpected reply. Jesus ignores the compliment and focuses instead on the new birth we all need in order to join God’s Kingdom. Jesus says, “No one can see the Kingdom of God without being born again.”

 Poor Nicodemus! He, almost humorously, takes Jesus’ words literally. He naively comments that no adult can enter their mother’s womb a second time. Jesus takes the focus from Himself and gives it to the Holy Spirit when He says, “No one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.” This is an example of the selfless way the three members of the Trinity operate. They honour each other by pointing to the work the other members of the Trinity do.

 God the Father points to the saving work of His Son Jesus and glorifies Him. Jesus takes the focus from Himself and glorifies His heavenly Father, while the Holy Spirit points us to Jesus and all that Jesus has done for us. God is no single person, but a social being, a Family of three persons. Just as it takes three persons to make a family, so the Trinity models family life for us. At the beginning of creation, God said, “It is not good that anyone should be alone (Genesis 2:18).” God never meant us to be alone, but rather to find our purpose and meaning in life and our fulfilment in relationships with one another.

 Our Father in heaven has given all authority, wisdom and love to our Saviour Jesus.  Jesus, in turn, is totally committed to doing His Father’s will. He says, “My food is to do the will of the Father who sent me (John 4:34).” The Holy Spirit reveals the Father and the Son to us and does all He can to bring them praise and glory. The chief characteristic of the Triune God is that of a community reaching out to include us in their love for each other. They want us to enjoy the fellowship they have with each other. You cannot have one member of the Trinity without also having the other two.

 None of us is self-made. We all began life in a triangular relationship with a mother and father. Most of us are involved in a threefold set of personal relationships. For example, I am a husband to my dear wife, a father to my children and a brother to my own siblings. Jesus says to each of you, “As the Father has loved Me, so I have loved you (John 15:9).” When the Bible says “God is love”, it affirms God’ social and Trinitarian nature, for love needs both a giver and a receiver.

 True love is mutual. Yet it is also more than mutual. Its outgoing nature is eager to bless as many other persons as possible. Self-sacrificial love is love at its best. Out of love for the whole world, God the Father sacrificed His dearest possession, His only Son, for us. This was the most glorious act of love by the Father in heaven. The glory of John 3:16 is in the special relationship between the Father and His Son. Jesus is God’s greatest gift of love to us, given to us so that we won’t perish. To “not perish” means that our lives won’t be wasted, but will enjoy life forever with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

 This hope that is ours through faith in Christ Jesus is a robust and resilient hope offered without limit. TV advertisements sometimes tell us “This offer is limited” or “Available only as long as supplies last”. Into our world of limited resources, limited time and limited opportunities Jesus tells us of God’s limitless love for the whole world. It would have been mind-blowing for Nicodemus to learn that God loves the whole world and that the very person he was listening to was proof of this love. “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not withhold His own Son, but gave Him up for all of us, will not God with Him also give us everything else? (Romans 8:31-32)” When we believe this with our whole being, then our lives become radiant with an indestructible hope.

 Rachel, a secondary school student, is an example of this. Seventeen-year-old Rachel wrote to her cousin, “If you had to make a list of the top 5 things most important to you, what would you put? Here’s mine: (1) God, (2) Family, (3) Friends, (4) My future, (5) Myself.”

 For Rachel and many other believers, God is No. 1 and all else is secondary. Rachel grew in grace and love. Her remarkable journal and her letters show that she understood what it meant to put God first in everything. She exhibited a deep spiritual life and wrote about her faith, her awareness of the fragility of life and the strength of God.

 Soon after, Rachel became one of fifteen victims in a tragic massacre at Columbine High School in America. Her attacker asked, “Do you believe in God?” She responded, “You know I do”, whereupon he said, “Then go be with Him”, and shot her.

 Earlier, Rachel had faced difficulties because of her faith and wrote, “I am not going to apologize for speaking the name of Jesus, I am not going to justify my faith to them, and I am not going to hide the light that God has put into me. If I have to sacrifice everything … I will. I will take it. If my friends have to become my enemies for me to be with my best Friend Jesus, then that’s fine with me.”

 What a heroic faith in a teenage girl, and what an inspiration for Christians of all ages. As the Lord’s Prayer reminds us, our Father in heaven is at the centre of everyday life, there to bless it and fill it with meaning. The Triune God can be found in our hospitals, our welfare centres, and near to the sick and dying. Jesus is on the side of the poor and needy, and we will discover Him there when we minister to them.

 God has created us so that we thrive in the company of others and they in turn bring out the best in us. It’s in our relationships with each other and with those closest to us that we find our true identity. It’s been said that a happy home life is our greatest source of satisfaction here on earth. God has given us families to teach us something about His own threefold Family. Healthy family living is other-centred in nature, where we’re more concerned to show love than to receive it. As the Prayer of St. Francis says, “It is in giving that we receive”; we receive the joy of blessing others with our gifts of love.

 “We love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19).” God’s love for us, given to us in richest measure in His Son Jesus Christ, is the best foretaste of Eternity we will experience in this life. And we look forward to eternal life when we will be “lost in wonder, love and praise” of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

 “O, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways! … From Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:33, 36)