Do think that Jesus was a good man?

Acts 10:34-43  Corinthians 15:19-26  St John 20:1-30

The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the central truth of thegordon5 Christian faith. It is also the most offensive element of the Christian faith for those who are not Christian. Many think that Jesus was a good man and taught some important ethical maxims which are as relevant today as they were there and then. But stumble at the thought that this good man who was crucified for his teaching was revealed in His resurrection as the Son, the only Son, of the eternal God through whom the world came to be. Who, post the resurrection, is given the title Lord, (which is the NT Greek translation of the Old Testament name for God. ( יהוה Translated as Yahweh but written as an unpronounceable word by the human larynx in Hebrew to safeguard God’s holiness from defilement.) The early Christians addressed this man in prayer as Lord

During the 40 days after His resurrection the disciples came to see that He had  always been with them as the Lord God, but in a form that was veiled for them. During the 40 days the presence of God in and with this man Jesus was no longer a paradox to them;  He was no longer the hidden God but the revealed God. They see, as St Paul declares, ‘God was in Christ’. (2 Cor 5:19) He had been veiled as he had moved among His disciples, but now he was unmistakably revealed to be who He was and is, the only begotten Son of the Father. Their doubts and unbelief were dispelled, never to return.

For the disciples this was not a discovery of their own, the resurrection for them was not a self-evident truth. It was a conviction that went entirely against their previous beliefs. This is made abundantly evident in the resurrection narratives that they have given to us. The resurrected Jesus not only speaks with binding authority and effectiveness, but with truth and power. Such that his speech was able to overcome, the fears the grief, the bewilderment and doubts, the unbelief of the disciples. They came to see and believe that the resurrection was not a resuscitation of a human miracle worker but such an act whose only parallel for them was the creation of the world. It was a creation out of nothing, the dead body of the man Jesus who as the veiled  Son  of God had died with the desperate cry of dereliction upon His lips ‘My God, My God, how have you forsaken Me?’ (Matthew 27:46) In this form He wills to be the representative sinner for all sinners since the creation of Adam. So much so that St Paul unhesitatingly declares in (1 Cor 15:17) that if this dead Son of God is not raised from the dead the Christian faith as a word of astounding novelty is futile, is in fact a lie. It has nothing to say to the world caught up in the deadly web of its own deceit and  estrangement from God. If there is no resurrection you are still in your sins, Paul says, and of all people Christians are the most miserable and of all people most to be pitied. (vs. 17-19)

One of the striking things about the New Testament’s account of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is that its writers reflect their difficulty in coming to terms with it. None of them attempt to give a coherent account of it. They do not in any way attempt to say what the resurrection as an event is. They tell us of the signs associated with it, such as the empty tomb, but remain silent as to the nature of the resurrection as such. Their historical narratives as we have them in the New Testament cannot be reconciled as to their chronology or geography; and no one thought it appropriate or necessary in the early church to reconcile these differences, to cover up these discrepancies. In this manner they simply point in their own way to their own incomprehension about the event to which they bear testimony

The gospel  (St John 20) speaks of Mary and Thomas in relation to the appearance to the disciples of the risen Lord. The doubt of Thomas with which his name has become associated, doubting Thomas; his doubt is no wit different from all the other disciples in relation to Jesus’ resurrection. As was Mary’s confusion about the stranger who greeted her on the first resurrection day. As was Jesus’ direction to her not to touch me.

All the accounts of Jesus post resurrection appearances demonstrate the fact that Jesus created the disciples’ faith. We can speak of the disciples’ faith in the risen Lord only in the sense in which their unbelief is overcome by the action of Jesus. So, St. Thomas’ doubt and his subsequent faith is not a unique experience in respect of the other apostles. The circumstances in which Jesus creates Thomas’ faith are his, but he is no different to all the other disciples as the risen Jesus overcomes their doubt by His own action. Jesus’ resurrection far from being a belief  created by the disciples’ ability to believe the unbelievable, it is in itself the foundation of their faith.

Jesus says they are blessed who unlike Thomas ‘have not seen and yet believe.’ The blessedness of which Jesus speaks is the fact that all those,  apart from the apostles, who are not witnesses of the resurrection have no possibility of touching or handling Jesus the resurrected One, as they did. The blessedness of which Jesus speaks is that all others, this includes us of course, who apart from the apostles, have only the Apostolic word of testimony and the promised Holy Spirit as the basis of their faith, their union with Jesus.

Unlike Thomas and the other disciples including Mary of Magdala, these others of whom Jesus speaks do not face the temptation to which they all were subject. This is the temptation they all wanted to know: how the truth of their faith in Jesus as the risen Lord could be established for them by something other than Jesus own word of promise. Their request to touch the resurrected Jesus indicates their desire to settle the truth of their belief in Jesus Lordship by their ability to trust their physical sense of touch.

 Mary Magdalene, whom Jesus met in the garden near the tomb wanted to touch Jesus. He refused to let her touch or hold Him, refused to have a direct relationship with Him, this meeting also speaks to us of the same question, faced by Thomas on that evening in Jerusalem so long ago when, on that first Easter Day, where the disciples gathered behind closed doors for fear of the Jews. The temptation of both Thomas and Mary consisted in their wanting to know that the truth of their faith in Jesus as the risen Lord could be established for them by something other than Jesus own word of promise. They wanted to see Jesus as some sort of object that could be grasped, touched like any object in this world, and so find a basis of their faith apart from Jesus’ word about who He is. They wanted their belief in Jesus to be verified or confirmed by their touch.

The apostles, and Thomas and Mary in particular, show how they were caught in the natural dilemma of wanting to seek a foundation for their faith in something other than Jesus’ word of promise to them concerning Himself.

They sought the veracity of their belief in the truth of their experience, a belief in their belief ; and in this way give their faith a basis of certainty in themselves. Thomas and Mary in their own way are the examples of an affliction that affected all the disciples, as they became witnesses of the resurrection.

We, on the other hand, hear a word of promise that comes to us from the apostolic witness of the scriptures. This word invites us to place our confidence in the One to whom they testify as the Lord of life. We are invited to obey the promise of this One whose word bears witness to Himself, that He is the risen victor of Gethsemane and Golgotha. This word of promise invites us to believe that Jesus is who He is for us; and that this is the only basis for understanding the truth of our faith. The certainty of our faith lays precisely in the uncertainty that we have in our selves. Certainty consists in the veracity of the word of promise that we hear from the One speaks it to us, as it is given to us in the scriptures. He it is who alone creates for us the basis and certainty of faith. Unlike St. Thomas or Mary of Magdala we have no possibility of establishing our faith by believing in the veracity of our senses by touching Jesus and thus, like Thomas and Mary, attempt to find an independent point of reference for the truth of Jesus word.

It is for this reason that Jesus calls those who have not seen or touched him blessed. ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe’ (John 20:29); we unlike Thomas or Mary are given the freedom to obey the Word of Jesus as the sole basis of faith. In this word and nothing else we find the truth of our life. This truth is no abstract proposition, but the truth of our life before God and each other, as grounded in Him who was raised by God for our sake. This means we  recognise the truth of our life before God and each other is established not by us but for us.

I believe that by my own reason or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and preserves it in union with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. (Luther M The Small Catechism.)

It is this mystery of grace that we celebrate today by the means Jesus has given to us. His very body and blood which, given and received, makes us to be what we are not naturally, beloved children of the Father for the sake of His crucified and risen Son.

Dr. Pastor Gordon Watson.

F-E-A-R has two meanings … 

The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.    Let’s join in a word of prayer: Loving God our Father, today we gather with all those who mourn over the sin of humanity.  Sin that required the sacrifice of a sinless Son of God, our Saviour Jesus Christ.  Help us to experience, in a tangible way, Your presence in our lives and our worship.  Open our hearts and minds that we may once again be drawn to the ‘lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’. Gracious heavenly Father, hear our prayer for the sake of our risen Saviour and Lord,  Amen.

david3
David:0414521661

I remember an image on Facebook that quoted Zig Ziegler.
 F-E-A-R has two meanings … 

Forget Everything And Run
                  Or       
Face Everything And Rise.

Today especially, we discover the reality of what Ziegler shares with us.   Good Friday vividly shows the contrast between our Saviour Jesus Christ, the believers who followed him, and the society who determined to destroy him.  And it poses a unique opportunity for us to face everything that would try to destroy our faith, and rise above it to preserve our trust in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Our Lord Jesus Christ faced everything when he sacrificed himself in crucifixion.  He protected us from all that separates us from God, by being separated himself when he covered himself with our sin.  He opened eternity for us when he spent three days confined to hell offloading all those sins in a place designed for Satan and his dominion.  He made all the difference when he was raised again in victory and promised to be with us until the very end of the age. We have been redeemed from destruction when God entered humanity in his Son our Saviour. We received life eternal when Jesus died on a cross as a sacrifice for us. 

In Matthew’s Gospel, we discover a description of the redemption we have in Christ Jesus.  The temple curtain was torn in two when Jesus breathed his last.  God removed every obstacle between people and himself.  God  demonstrated that the death of Christ Jesus opened up for us access to the Holy of holies—to the very presence of God.  

The writer of Hebrews recalls this event, “we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus.”

John’s Gospel tells us that when Jesus was baptised in the Jordan River, God spoke to him, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” These were words of promise and victory.  When Jesus died on the cross, he cried out the words “It is finished”, this too was a cry of victory.  Jesus accomplished what God, his Father, had sent him into humanity to do. 

Jesus faced everything and overcame the final temptation in accepting death on our behalf.  Like others who face everything and rise.  It is like the athlete who enters a marathon race with the single-minded intention of both reaching the finishing line and coming in first. It is like the student who finally reaches the goal of graduation with a degree after years of study. It is like the author or artist, who after years of research and struggle finally complete their masterpiece, their most significant and enduring work. It is like a survivor after great suffering who recuperates completely.

For John the words of Jesus, “It is finished,” are the epitome of Christ’s life and ministry; the words are spoken by the King of kings on his throne of pain, which was the cross.

Jesus won the victory over sin, evil and death by willingly, and lovingly allowing himself to submit to these powers. In so doing, he defeated them.  People no longer need priests or holy men to stand between us and God.  Because of Jesus’ death on the cross, we can boldly enter into God’s presence.  As the writer of Hebrews tells us, ‘dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. This is the new, life-giving way that Christ has opened up for us through the sacred curtain, by means of his death for us.’  Because he faced everything and rose to the challenge.

As we confront the gruesome death of Christ Jesus, we also confront our response to the new relationship we have with God through his sacrifice.  We can determine not to take God for granted.  Not to live our lives as if Jesus had never entered humanity.  But instead to celebrate our new relationship with God every day through the words we use, the actions we take, and the attitudes we adopt.  We can face everything we encounter in our Christian life, and we can rise above the temptation and challenge to live with joy in our lives.   

We are all part of God’s plan.  We are all destined for a place in eternity with our Saviour.  We only need accept that plan.  And let the Holy Spirit guide us day by day, step by step, bravely toward our destiny as children of God.

It will not be easy, and we will never be perfect, but we can be confident that God is not finished with us yet.

It is clear to me that if I am to faithfully fulfil my part in God’s plan, I need to be steady in my relationship to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  I can do this by remaining in fellowship with Christ Jesus and  with others in our community who also believe in Jesus as Saviour. 

As Hebrews puts it, ‘Without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promise.  Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds.  And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming back again is drawing near.’ 

By his death on the cross, Christ Jesus faced everything and rose to his rightful place in eternity.  He will return once more, briefly, to bring all things to conclusion in the plan of God our Father.  Yes, “It is finished,”  But it is far from over.  By his death, life has begun.

Each day we live, we are closer to the day that Christ Jesus will return in glory.  Whether he calls us home, or he returns, we will glorify him with our knees bowed, our hearts filled with song, and our lives surrounded with his love.  And for this, our only response can be “Thank you Jesus!”  

As we face every difficulty in our lives, our Saviour is calling us to face everything and rise, and to respond by living our salvation;  by loving each other, caring for those around us, as we let it begin with us, in our worshipping community.

May the Holy Spirit 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.

Feet have a reputation, don’t they?

The Text: John 13:1-17, 31b-3520180311_103505 (1)

If you were asked to take off your shoes and socks I imagine you might be a little reluctant to do so. Feet have a reputation, don’t they? We don’t just cover them to make it easier to walk around. We tuck them away out of sight and out of smell. We can probably handle the smell of our own feet but the thought of a roomful of exposed feet is probably not what we want at the end of the day.

And it is the end of the day. Chances are some of us have been on our feet for much of it and that tends to take its toll. Look at the burden our feet have to bear. They carry our weight around from A to B and everywhere else we need to go.

In Biblical times they used their feet much more than what we do these days. Feet were the primary mode of transportation. They didn’t have cars or buses or trains and even horses and donkeys were available only to the privileged few. So if you wanted to get anywhere, from a kilometre to 100 kilometres, you had to walk.

The Romans were known for their road construction, enabling the efficient movement of their legions. But in Palestine this was the exception rather than the rule. There was the Via Maris, the coastal road, and the King’s Highway, a trade route, but that was about it for major roads in that area. The Jews were not into road construction as the Romans were. A beaten, worn out dirt path was basically considered a road to them. A goat track was sufficient to get around.

So we can understand why the washing of feet was as much a part of their culture as the washing of hands is in ours. It must have been a huge relief to wash away the grime of a day spent on your feet. Think of the relief you feel when you can kick off your shoes and socks at the end of the day and put your feet up.

With this cultural background, it shouldn’t be that surprising to find Jesus at the feet of his disciples, offering to wash them. Yes, it was a task normally reserved for a servant of the household or the wife of the host. Failing that, the host would at least provide a bowl of water and some towels for his guests to wash their own. 

But Jesus had told his disciples: ‘the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Matt.20:28).

Jesus had got dirty in the past as he touched lepers, healed the demon-possessed and mixed with non-Jews. He had eaten with tax-collectors and sinners. So why should the washing of feet be so repulsive? ‘No, you shall never wash my feet’!   

Well, the symbolism happening here is more significant and deep-seated than we realise. As the lowest part of the body feet were considered inferior. This wasn’t so much in terms of the function of the feet but their position. Feet acted as the interface between the individual and the ground, the dirt, they walked upon.

That is why the ultimate rejection is to wipe the dust from your feet, indicating that the other person’s dirt doesn’t even deserve to be on your feet.

It is also why it was considered to be an act of submission, reverence and humility to be found before the feet of another person. You can’t get any lower. It was expected for some people to be at the feet of others but not the other way round.

Throughout his ministry Jesus had people at his feet and for a variety of reasons.

Some of them were there because they needed his mercy. A beggar came before the feet of a lord or master in the hope of some morsel. So it is that the woman who was suffering from severe bleeding fell at Jesus’ feet (Mark 5:33). A woman whose daughter was possessed by an evil spirit fell at his feet (Mark 7:25). Even a synagogue ruler, Jairus, whose daughter was dying fell at his feet (Mark 5:22).

Others were at his feet out of sheer gratitude for the mercy that had been shown to them. The Samaritan leper fell at Jesus’ feet when he had been cleansed (Luke 17:16). Mary was at his feet, pouring perfume on them and wiping them with her hair after Jesus had raised her brother Lazarus from the dead (John 12:1-3). 

Still others were at Jesus’ feet in submission to listen to his teaching and wisdom, as was Mary that day when Martha was busy doing all the work (Luke 10:39).

It was entirely appropriate for people to be at the feet of Jesus. After all, he is the King of kings and Lord of lords. You come before a king in all humility to seek his mercy and wisdom and to give him the praise and honour he deserves.

And let’s not forget that a conquering king would literally put his feet on the neck of his enemies (Joshua 10:24). This demonstrated the ultimate humiliation and defeat of that enemy. As Jesus taught in the Temple during holy week, he himself quoted Psalm 110 to refer to this kind of thing: “The Lord said to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet’” (Mark 12:36).

Think also of the first prophesy connected to the Messiah. In Genesis God said to the serpent: ‘I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel’ (3:15).

With all of this in mind, it is truly fitting and right that ‘at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord’ (Philippians 2:10).

And yet, here was Jesus, bowed before his disciples and at their feet!

It didn’t seem right. This wasn’t just a gracious act of service. This was a position of submission, reverence and humility. That is not where Jesus should be. This was a position of vulnerability, a place where those who are defeated get trampled on in disgrace. Surely not! ‘No, you shall never wash my feet’!

But Jesus answered: ‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with me’. Unless Jesus can serve us in such a way where he is trodden underfoot and humiliated and rejected and despised; unless he can be pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities – we can have no part with him. The full extent of his love was not shown in the washing of their feet but in the piercing of his.

‘He did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant…he humbled himself and became obedient unto death – even death on a cross’ (Philippians 2:6-8).

This Easter as we come before the cross once again we will find ourselves at the feet of our Lord. But truly it is on the cross where he is at our feet. He is there in all humility to submit and to serve. He is there to show us the full extent of his love. Amen.  

Jesus our king

Text: Matthew 21:8, 9
A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest!”

Jesus our kingdhuff

As you look through history books you soon realise that when it came to kings and queens that some are remembered for the way they abused their power and used the people of their kingdoms.

One notorious ruler in England was King John who was born on Christmas Eve 1167, the youngest son of Henry II. When his brother, King Richard, was killed in France and Richard’s son was murdered, John became king. (Many believe that he was responsible for his nephew’s death).

John faced one disaster after another.
His army was defeated in France and had to retreat.
To rebuild his army he imposed incredibly high taxes.
The country broke into civil war when his nobles rebelled.
John even managed to get the church offside and was excommunicated by the pope and no baptism or marriage performed in England would be legitimate until the pope said so. And without church approved baptisms or marriages the people were afraid that they would all end up in hell. They blamed John.
John’s life was at risk when the pope declared that if anyone overthrew King John they would be legally entitled to do so.
After John was again defeated in France his barons were fed up. John was forced to sign the Magna Carta at Runnymede in 1215. This guaranteed the people of England rights that the king could not go back on.
When John tried to ignore the Magna Carta the barons rebelled against him again and soon after John died.

Today we hear about another king. This king is nothing like bad King John. He was quite the opposite. There was nothing arrogant or evil about this king. He demonstrated nothing but humility and kindness. He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, a work animal used to carrying loads for farmers and traders. The disciples and those who lined the roads hailed him as the king – ‘the king who comes in the name of the Lord!’

Even before Jesus was born the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that her son would be a king, a descendant of King David.
When the wisemen were looking for the Christ-child they asked King Herod, ‘Where is the baby born to be king of the Jews?’ When they found the child-king they knelt down and worshipped him, presenting him with royal gifts – gold, frankincense and myrrh.

King of the Jews! That title followed him into the trials before the Sanhedrin, King and Herod Pontius Pilate. The Sanhedrin, the Jewish Council, had found Jesus guilty of blasphemy on the basis that he claimed to be the Messiah. But they knew that the Roman Governor wouldn’t be interested in any of their religious reasons for getting rid of Jesus, so they brought a charge against Jesus they knew would interest Pilate. They accused Jesus of treason. He claimed to be a king and was a traitor to the Roman Empire.

Pontius Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus looked nothing like a king. In chains, beaten – having been slapped in the face, and with spit in his hair and beard.

Jesus’ answer is unexpected. He soon sets Pilate right about who he is and affirms clearly that he is a king. But not a king as Pilate might expect. John’s Gospel reports Jesus saying, “My kingdom does not belong to this world; if my kingdom belonged to this world, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish authorities. No, my kingdom does not belong here!”

Such an idea doesn’t make sense to Pilate. With puzzlement written all over his face, he asked a second time and Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. I was born and came into the world for this one purpose, to speak about the truth. Whoever belongs to the truth listens to me” (John 18:36-38).

So you see, Jesus admits to being a king but a king with a kingdom and a kingship quite different to anything that we have seen in history. Jesus wasn’t interested in power or politics, pomp and pageantry. His kingdom was not an earthly kingdom but one that existed in the hearts of people.

Pilate was puzzled.  The people outside were quite clear about what they wanted done with Jesus. They called for the death of this meek and gentle king and the release of the brutal and murderous Barabbas.

Something is wrong here. Jesus hasn’t been brutal and oppressive. The crowd had hailed him as king when he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and now they were asking for this king’s blood. Here is king who is on the side of the people, the friend of the poor, the sick, the guilty, the sad but the people turn against him. A murderer goes free, while a king like no other king, loving and kind, is heading for execution.

Pilate mockingly placed a sign at the top of the cross, “This is the King of the Jews.” This was truer than he imagined. This bleeding broken man on the cross really is a king. The criminal crucified beside him recognises Jesus as a king and says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. And Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

When we were baptised, through the simple water and the Word of God we were made members of God’s kingdom. Jesus became our king. Not a ruthless and pompous king like bad King John, but a king who was so generous that he gave his life for us.
A king whose throne was the cross,
whose crown was made of thorns,
who was dressed in a royal robe as a king and mocked by Herod and his soldiers,
whose blood was called for by the crowds when they said, “Take him away! Crucify him! We have no king but Caesar. …!
Jesus is our king who loved us so much that “he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8).

What does it mean to have Jesus as our Lord and King?

    • With Jesus as our king we enjoy a royal pardon for all our sin. This pardon means that there is nothing that stains our lives. We have been made clean with the righteousness of Jesus. When God looks at us he doesn’t see sin and weakness; he only sees the purity and newness that have received through the blood of Jesus shed on the cross of Calvary. When Jesus declared from the cross “Father, forgive them” he was also saying that to us.

    • With Jesus as our king, he says to us as he did the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise”. He promises that we too will share in his eternal kingdom where there will be no more pain, or crying or dying.
    • With Jesus as our king – our ever present and living king – he promises all those who belong to his kingdom that he will always be there for us in times of joy, in times of sadness, and in times of suffering. When we are discouraged and weak, ‘the King of kings and Lord of lords’ (1 Tim 6:15, 16) assures that there is nothing that can stand between God and us; nothing that can stop him loving and forgiving us; nothing that can harm us. Even when we face death we can confidently say, “I have a king and a friend who will never give upon me and when the time comes for my departure, I am confident of his love for me.”
    • With Jesus as our king he lovingly rules and directs our lives as citizens of his kingdom. He has bought us with his blood, made us his chosen people and urges us to lives of repentance, faith and love. In the Small Catechism Luther says after describing how Jesus rescued us from sin and death through the events of Good Friday and Easter, “Jesus did this so that I can belong to him, and he can rule over me as my king. I can live under him and serve him, innocent and happy forever” (1996 Openbook).

    • With Jesus as our king we are joined together in his family, his kingdom, his church. He has placed us in a baptismal relationship with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
      We have been called to care for one another and to show compassion and understanding wherever it is required.
      We have been called to work together sharing the Good News about Jesus with those who need to know of his love for them.
      Through us, he calls them out of the darkness of sin into his marvellous light.
    • With Jesus as our king we have an advocate before the throne of God. He hears our prayers and answers them. He sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty and has the authority and the power to answer all of our petitions.

    • One day the king will return. He will come on the Last Day and will reward those who have trusted his love and been faithful to their calling as disciples. He will say, “Well done good and faithful servant. … Come and share your master’s happiness” (Matt 25:23).

As we enter this Holy Week it’s a good thing to ask ourselves where we stand in our relationship with our Lord.
Does he rule our lives?
Is he truly the Lord of our lives, Lord in the sense that he directs our actions, our words, and our thoughts?
Does the Lord of lords rule every corner of our lives; not just a small part but every part – our family life, our work life, our church life, our leisure life.
Because Jesus is our Lord and King no doubt there are some things that we need to change, some things we would stop doing, and there are other things that we could take up, all because Jesus rules our lives completely.

This is serious stuff that we don’t take seriously enough. We are good at giving all kinds of excuses. But Jesus is our Lord and King now. As Saviour he has committed himself to us, and as Lord he wants us to be committed to him.

But if we are honest, often we are like the people of Jerusalem – sometimes we are all excited about Jesus being our saviour and king but there are other times when our faith has grown cold (at best lukewarm) and we find ourselves distant from Jesus. Instead of Jesus ruling our words and actions we find ourselves so self-focussed that sin rules our lives as our words and actions hurt others.

When this happens this is a time for repentance – turning back to Jesus, his love and forgiveness, and his rule in our lives. It is a time for renewed faith and trust in him as the one who loves us, died on the cross for us, and calls us to be his people in the world around us.

We have a king who has done so much for us. Today let’s welcome Jesus with shouts of “Hosanna!” He is our Saviour from sin.
Let us also shout “Hosanna!” and welcome him as the Lord and King of our lives.
Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna!

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

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)

david3
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

It’s all a bit old fashioned. 

The Text: Joel 2:1-2; 12-17

Christmas is over.  The holidays have passed.  The recurring waves of heat ofgarth late summer and early autumn have well and truly set in.  It’s back to the daily grind of work.  And to top it off, Lent is here.  That church season of the year where it’s all a bit gloomy.  Lots of focus on Jesus’ passion.  The readings speak more of trial and suffering than joy and fulfilment.  And if we are not careful, we either sit around miserable because either we have convinced ourselves we should give up something we really like… or because we feel just a bit guilty that we are not as good as all those other Christians who have. 

On Ash Wednesday we hear a reading from the prophet Joel. What do we make of it? It’s a sort of ‘angry God’ reading typical of the no nonsense Lenten season.  It implores people to tremble, it speaks of a day of darkness and gloom, of clouds and blackness.  It tells us to fast, weep and mourn.  It’s not uplifting… indeed, many people in our world would say this sort of thing is the very thing that turns them off of God.  And many Christians would say “It’s best if we don’t spend too much time on this sort of thing – too much fire and brimstone is not good for getting people into God”.  “Besides”, they might go on to say, “it’s all a bit old fashioned.  We know a bit better now”.

Do we?  If we focus on that side, have we really heard the text?  I don’t think so.  So tonight we are going to explore this text, especially what it says about God’s work of repentance.  Why? Because  God’s work of repentance brings us back to life. 

In the text the prophet Joel speaks on God’s behalf at a ‘knife edge’ moment in Judah’s history.  The nation has just suffered an extensive locust plague.  This evil seems to be a result of their sin.  The plague is so extensive they don’t even have their grain and drink offerings to worship God.  So they are cut off from what they think will bring them back.  And worse is to come if they don’t repent.  More trembling, darkness and gloom.

But to stop and hear just that from this text would be an example of how good we are at hearing the law.  It would be to caricature God as angry and out to get humans.  In the same way, to treat Lent as a season in which we focus on a punishing God is to fall into a similar mistake.  But to treat Lent for what it is – a special season for self-examination, repentance and growth in faith and grace – is to find who God really is.  He is God for us.

 Our text from Joel draws us into this ‘God for us’.  For after this plague God calls his people to repent.  His call itself is super important.  That’s because it is our first hint of his grace working through repentance – grace found in the fact that it is God calling… In this call he is reaching out to us and making the first move.  Listen carefully to what the text says:

Even now declares the Lord, return to me with all your heart.  (Joel 2:12)

And did you hear   who the call is made to?  The call goes up to ‘consecrate the assembly’; that is, make everyone holy.  To make sure it   lists everyone from the elders to the tiny child suckling from its mother (v16)… even the bride and groom in the very process of getting married.  So encompassing and important is this call, everyone is to hear it and act.

And what are these acts?

 The word used for repentance literally means ‘to turn’.  Turn away from self and toward God.  God is asking the nation – and through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, us – to turn onto his path.  But it’s not just a quick 180 like we do in our car when we realise we are going the wrong way.  It has a quality dimension to it as well.  This is because God is speaking of an action required of the heart.  He says “Return” – repent – “to me with all your heart” (Joel 2:12b). 

And this is the crucial point.   The OT notion of the heart is so much more than just emotions and feelings.  It is also mind, intentions and will.  So let’s substitute those words into our text where the word heart appears.  It then reads: ‘Return to me with all your mind, intention and will’.  God doesn’t just want our sentimentality.  He asks us to hear his call and turn all our intentions and   our desires, to him.  God and his ways are to call the shots.  Not us.

Now it’s here that two things happen in this text.  There is the call for an outer and inner response. 

You’ll be familiar with the outer responses.  The sackcloth and ashes of Nineveh in Jonah is the classic outward sign of repentance.  Here in Joel, God calls the people to repent with fasting, and weeping and mourning.  We are physical creatures.  Doing things in practice helps reinforce what is needing to happen in our hearts.  This is why Luther can say in relation to fasting and other outward signs that they are fine preparation for communion , but that, nevertheless, faith is the more important.

And it’s here we come back to the heart.  God tells us in Joel to:

Rend your heart and not your garments (2:13)

Remember how the heart means ‘mind, intention, will’?  So here the Lord is reinforcing that we are to tear up our own mind, intention and will.  And he is contrasting it against tearing garments.

Rend your heart and not your garments (2:13)

In the Old Testament a sentence like that still means that it’s ok to rend the garments— it’s not excluded—but more important to tear up the old agenda and plans and turn to the Lord.

This is about going God’s way.  It is about trusting him.  This is about exercising our faith muscles… through his guidance and trusting in him.

God is more interested in whether our hearts have really inclined to him rather than whether we just look like it to outsiders.  Our gospel account tonight of Jesus teaching from the sermon on the mount showed that.  He said:… when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what it is doing (Matt6:3).

… when you fast… do not … disfigure [your faces] (Matt6:16)

But then, the question comes up… why tonight would we put Ashes on our head?  Isn’t it just another outward show of repentance that God isn’t interested in? 

No. 

Importantly, the imposition of the ashes signify something different to repentance, even though it is related.  They are an admission that God is God and we are created by him.  They are an admission that we know we will die, and that without him, we would be lost.  They represent that we are mortal.  Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  But they also represent that as his created beings we have put our trust in him.  In our deaths, when we return to the earth, we will return to him in every sense.  We will enter his steadfast love eternally.  And how do we know this?

Well let’s come back to Joel.  Despite the risk that we can make God out to be angry and stingy, based for example on a poor reading of texts like this one in Joel, in fact mostly this text is about God’s generosity.  For it goes on to say:

Return to your God for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love… (v13)

These words are God’s very self-identification.  They are spoken throughout the OT.  For example, remember when God passes in front of Moses on Mount Sinai?  This is exactly how he proclaims his name – his identity.  And God’s identity is ‘what he does’.

We have already seen how in this text we have a loving and gracious God that initiates repentance and includes everyone.  Here he is promising his steadfast love.  You might know this steadfast love by its other titles: his ‘undeserved love’, or simply, ‘grace’.  It is this generous God to whom we repent.  Not the angry and foreboding God.  For his actions show He is way more about mercy than anger.  They show he is patient.  Did he not give the Ninevites 40 days? Did he not give Judah 500 years between King David and the exile to Babylon?  That’s hardy impetuous is it?

No.  God is patient.  He is abounding in compassion.  As our text tells us, we have every reason to turn to him  because God himself turns around… For our text says he relents from sending calamity.

In fact, as history has shown, he has indeed relented from sending calamity.  Rather than sending calamity he sent his Son.  And in his son he has demonstrated his love for us.  St Paul declares in Romans:

While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  (Rom 5:8)

So use this Lent as time to return to God.  Ask what it is in your will and intention you need to turn from.  Know that it is the Lord’s steadfast love and slow angering nature you are trusting in.  Of course, if you want to follow the practice of giving something up – for Christ gave up his life for us – use what you go without as a reminder to turn your intention and will to God.  Rend your heart and not your garments.  And if want to take something up – for Christ tells us to pick up our cross and walk – ask how whatever you take up will build your faith in him who saves. 

Whatever you do, bask in God’s grace as you “Rend your mind, your intentions, your will, and not your garments…” and hear clearly his promise through Christ that “he relents from sending calamity”. 

And may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.