Twenty Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

The Text: Matthew 25: 31-34


31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 

32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.

Let us pray:

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Open our ears, O Lord,
to hear your word and know your voice.
Speak to our hearts and strengthen our wills,
that we may serve you today/now and always. Amen

The Sheep and the Goats.

What is the difference between a sheep and a goat? According to animal behavioural researchers about 50 IQ points – in favour of the sheep!

That is what is stated on a website called “Sheep 101” – with a name like that, one could guess the answer is biased towards the sheep!

It’s not hard for us to tell the difference between sheep and goats, but in Palestine it was not that easy to tell the difference between sheep and goats – only the shepherd would know.

Just in case you can’t, the website says:

Sheep have thick curly horns; goats have long narrow horns.

Sheep need to be shorn, goats don’t.

Some goats have beards.

Sheep’s tail’s hang down, but goats don’t.

Sheep tend to graze, goats browse.

Sheep hang around together more than goats.

Goats smell more and are more likely to have lice than sheep.

Sheep can be led once they know and trust their shepherd, but goats have to be driven.

Goats are very destructive, sheep aren’t.

So, separating sheep from goats is pretty simple really. Or is it….?

Today is the last Sunday of the church year on the church calendar and today is known as the Day of Fulfillment.

When we think of fulfillment we may think of completion, a promise that is made and kept, a job that was started that is now finished.

It always gives me great satisfaction to see a project completed – to see plans fulfilled and turned into reality.

When we think of God’s plan for mankinds salvation, we see that God has fulfilled his promise to the people of old by sending his Son Jesus to be the Saviour of all.

In the life death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus many Old Testament promises were fulfilled.  

For example, in the Old Testament book of Isaiah the Lord said through the Prophet that “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel—which means ‘God with us.’”

This prophecy was fulfilled when the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus.

God fulfills his promises. He has in the past and he will in the future.

There are so many promises that God makes in his word.

To those who put their faith in Jesus God promises an abundant life—life to the full.

He promises a heavenly home.

He promises eternal life.

He promises answers to prayer and deliverance.

He promises us the gifts of the Spirit: growth and fruitfulness.

He promises us his protecting care, guidance, hope, peace and joy.

He promises us an inheritance with all the saints.

He promises to strengthen us for His service and he also promises us rest.

The list of God’s promises goes on and on, and God will fulfill his promises to us.

In our creed we confess that Jesus will come again to Judge the living and the dead, we trust absolutely that God will fulfill this promise.

Verses 31-33 of our gospel says:“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory.

All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  

He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left this judgment will be the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises.

So how will God judge us?

The reality is that each of us faces judgment.

We shudder at the thought of God judging us because we know that we haven’t lived up to God’s standards.

We may want to do the right thing, but so often what we want to do and what we actually do are two different things.

That’s what makes the idea of a final judgment so scary.

We are afraid that on the basis of our record we won’t hear words of blessing and a welcome into heaven.

We are afraid that Jesus will say, “Away from me, you that are under God’s curse!

Away to the eternal fire which has been prepared for the Devil and his angels!”

If it were up to us to present a case in God’s courtroom why we deserve to be “called blessed and possess the kingdom which has been prepared for us since the creation of the world” we would fail miserably.

But there is good news!

Jesus is not only the king and judge, but he is our Saviour.

We believe and trust that he died on the cross to clear us from any accusation that will come up on the last day.

His death wiped away all guilt for the good we fail to do.

Remember, Jesus died to save us.

He has ensured us that those who trust in him will not die, but have eternal life.

If our eternal future depended on the good things we did in this life, then we would be doomed for sure.

Every good thing we do is covered with our own selfishness and pride.

Thank God that our eternal future rests solely on Jesus who saves us.

This parable gives us a good picture of what genuine faith looks like.

A genuine faith will show itself in acts of love towards others.

People who have faith in Jesus will see to it that those who are hungry, thirsty, a stranger, poor, sick, or in prison have their needs met.

They understand that to help such people is what their faith is all about.

Those without genuine faith say: “Yes I believe in Jesus” and then do nothing.

Showing love toward others and taking care of their needs is the way faith in Jesus is put into action.

Did you notice how surprised the faithful people were when told that they had been so caring toward others?

“When did we do that? When did we see you hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick or in prison?”  

Faith naturally demonstrates itself in acts of love meeting the needs of those in need.

It’s as natural as an apple tree producing apples or a tomato plant producing tomatoes.

Faith gives food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothing to the naked, welcome to the stranger, company to the sick and imprisoned, without being told, without thinking about it.

That’s how faith in Christ bears much fruit.

The parable leaves us asking.

Am I a sheep or a goat?

Am I on the right or the left?

The answer now is “yes”.

Our sin tells us we are undeniably goats by nature.

Our faith does not show itself the way God would like me to show it.

We have neglected the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned.

Our faith has not been demonstrated in our daily life.

On the other hand, we are sheep.

Our Baptism brings us into Shepherd’s flock.

We are loved dearly by Jesus who gave his life to rescue us.

We are his forgiven sheep to whom he says, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father! Come and possess the kingdom.”

Without Jesus we are condemned as goats, but with Jesus we are blessed. Today – ‘Fulfillment Sunday’ – we look forward to the day when God’s grace at work in our lives is fulfilled.

As we continue to wait for that day may we live by faith, continue to nurture faith through the God’s gift of his word and sacraments and may our faith in Christ show itself in the way we care for those in need.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Amen.

Twenty Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Zephaniah 1:7.12-18; Thessalonians 5: 1-11  Mathew 25: 14-30

The situation of the church post resurrection. Not fulfilled/fulfilled. Anxiety about the truth of Christ’s coming its immanence and/or delay.gordon3 What to do?

In the Epistle, Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, we see some of the dysfunction in the church that this situation created. Some believed the promised great Day of the Lord had come already, others believed that since the Day of the Lord was immanent there was no need to plan for the future, so they stopped work and were simply waiting for it to happen. (St Paul told his church those ‘who do not work shall not eat’. 2 Thess. 3. A phrase taken up and made famous by Vladimir Lenin in his book State & Revolution.)  Paul counters this situation by saying that the Day of the Lord will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night. That the Day of the Lord is an event in the future that is entirely unpredictable. The same seeming contradictions occur in the Gospels themselves with the coming of the Lord appearing suddenly as Paul indicates and the view that the coming of the Lord will come after certain cataclysmic events in world history which will be obvious to all. This latter view has been in the church tradition a happy hunting ground for all sorts of fanatics and religious enthusiasts convinced that they know when it will happen. Witness the many times people have followed leaders to isolated places convinced that the place they are going to is where the Lord will come. One only has to listen to religious radio/TV programmes to see this issue still stirs up controversy in our own world; so much so that some have labelled such programmes religious ‘goon’ shows.

The lectionary reading looks forward to the revelation of the coming judgment of Christ as Lord of heaven and earth. At the time of the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the beginnings of the Lutheran Reformation recently many received a graphic indication of the obsessive fascination with the final advent of our Lord by the 7th Day Adventist people, who authored an expensive book and booklet regarding this event. This book and booklet showed people more interested in dates and times of the event of Christ’s coming than the One who is to come. That is, judging people because of their orthodoxy regarding the times and nature of Christ’s final advent.

The parable which is the subject of the lectionary reading from the holy gospel of St. Matthew for today however looks back as it were from the future judgement to the present time. Here it is not a question of when Christ comes but who the one who is coming is: Not when but who. For what is revealed in this future judgment is the present but hidden form of Christ’s church in the world now. The parable looks back from the future to the present time when Jesus the coming King and Judge is still hidden, incognito, in the form in which He accompanies His people through the changes and the chances of their pilgrimage through history.

According to Jesus word it is the coming Son of Man, the Master of the household in the parable, who will come in glory with the angels and gather before his throne all the nations of the earth and divide amongst them as a shepherd divides the sheep from the goats. In the centre of the picture, drawn from among all the nations, are God’s own people. It is they who are asked concerning their life in the present age in the light the approaching end which is now come upon them. This community which acknowledges the coming Judge as its present King and Lord.

This community, the church, is sustained in the present age by its faith and hope in His coming. The church expects to be vindicated in its faith and life by His coming. The coming Judge who will vindicate the church is the same One who now in this present age speaks His word of grace and judgement in the word of the apostolic testimony of the Scriptures and the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist which He established as the foundation of His church and by which He is united with His people.

But these words of Jesus concerning the last judgment appear to indicate that contrary to what the New Testament proclaims as the basis of our relationship with God through the word and work of Christ to be one of grace, God’s unmerited goodness justifying the ungodly; here we are confronted by a series of sayings which indicate that it is our action or inaction in relationship to the talents given to each of us by the Lord, in the parable the Master of the Household, which is the determinative factor in our relationship to eternal life before God. Not the Lords free grace.

Like the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, which precedes this parable in St Matthew Chp. 25., the parable of the talents concerns the situation of the church in the interregnum between the first and final appearing of its Lord and the importance of what happens in this space between the first and final appearing of the Master of the Household.

In the parable the property holder, the Master, divides his wealth between his servants according to his judgment. His goods are not evenly distributed, as if the Master were bound to deal with his servants in terms of some abstract notion of equality or justice. He entrusts his property to whomsoever he wills according to his choice and not the assumed natural abilities of the servants or their understanding of “rights”.

The focus of the parable is on the servant, who from fear of the Master simply buried his property and then returned it to him in its original form, unchanged. This parable indicates in its reference to the place of the church in view of the coming rule of  Christ that the grace of its Lord by which it lives, is not its property simply to allow it to be buried in the ground.

In burying the master’s property, the servant believed that being free from the master’s presence he could do nothing with what he had been given, bury it in the ground and wait for the Master’s return.  His excuse to the Master of the House when he returns is that he feared the Master and the best thing he could do was to do nothing with the Masters wealth in case he made a mistake, then at least the Master would get what is his back in full.

What are we meant to understand in this exchange between the Master and the servant who buried the master’s money? It did not have a very good outcome for the servant. It ended rather badly for him, He had his money taken from him and he was unceremoniously thrown out of the master’s house. We are meant to see precisely same thing occurs when the church treats the master’s property, in this case the treasure of His grace in the gospel, as if it were something it could preserve. Possessing the precious gift of the Lord in Word and Sacrament but at the same time ignoring this precious gift. Hearing the word of promise but not believing it. Looking to preserve its life by simply being content to survive.

As once the children of Israel (Exodus 16:13) found with the manna God gave them to preserve their life in the wilderness, it had to be gathered new every morning; else it went rotten in their hands. So too the grace of the church’s coming Lord, when the church seeks to possess it and by possessing it believes it can justify its own indolence, indifference or unbelief..

The same applies to our Lutheran Tradition of worship and confession, the rich tradition of life and thought to which we are heirs as members. I felt some of the comments made in the recent discussion of cooperating in a common task with other Christians, the Point  Church, there were those who, maybe following a suggestion in the Bishop’s letter that we would be swallowed up in the larger numbers of the other group resolved to stay apart. The opportunity to share the rich tradition of the Lutheran Church with other Christians would dilute its truth or spoil its riches. But the riches of the Lutheran tradition are not ours, whilst we are temporary caretakers of it, it will dissolve to nothing in our hands if we are not prepared to share its truth with other Christians.

Thus, the word of Jesus in this parable warns us that such a church has no future in the master’s House. We cannot think that we can possess the master’s treasure and not use it for the Master’s purpose. The parable of the talents, is a clarion call to be alert to how we treat the precious gifts the Lord has given the church for its life, the gift of His Word and Sacrament, by  which alone the church is sustained on its earthly pilgrimage to the coming promised land of fulfilment, in the realised presence of the risen Christ in all His glory.

Dr. Gordon Watson.

Twenty Third Sunday after Pentecost

The Text: Matthew 25:1-13

 

Anyone who goes shopping at this time of year will know that Christmas is allanbjust around the corner. Decorations are out, gifts are being bought and all those delicious Christmas treats are probably tempting us to start our Christmas celebrations already.

Christian churches which follow a liturgical calendar dedicate the four Sundays before Christmas to prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus in the season of Advent. The readings for the Sundays leading up to Advent have a focus on Jesus’ promise to come back at the end of time to complete his work of redeeming the world. When Jesus returns, evil will be overcome once and for all and creation will be restored to the way God intended it in the beginning.

Jesus’ teachings about his return from Matthew 25 is part of a longer section of Matthew’s gospel which began in chapter 24, when his disciples asked Jesus about the end of the world. Jesus concluded his teaching with three parables: the ten bridesmaids or virgins, the three servants, and the final judgment between the sheep and the goats. Today we will begin by looking at Jesus’ Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids in Matthew 25:1-13.

It’s possible to read this parable and think that Jesus must have made a mistake. As children, many of us might have been taught that it’s always good to share, so we can easily think that the bridesmaids who didn’t share their oil with those whose oil ran out must not have been good Christians.

This parable isn’t actually about sharing what we have with others. Instead, one way we can understand this parable is that it is about whether we think about our salvation in the short- or long-term.

The five ‘foolish’ bridesmaids who didn’t bring extra oil were thinking short-term. They had received and accepted the invitation to participate in the Kingdom of Heaven, which Jesus describes here as a wedding feast. However, these girls are like people going on a camping trip who don’t take spare batteries for their torches. You never know when your old batteries will run out, so it would make sense to take spares, just in case. These girls weren’t expecting to wait so long for the bridegroom, so they didn’t take spare batteries. When he eventually turned up to take them into the eternal wedding feast, they weren’t able to greet him because they are busy looking for more to keep their lights going. The result of their short-term thinking was that they were locked out of the party.

On the other hand, the five ‘wise’ girls who took extra oil with them were thinking longer-term. They were so joyful about being invited to the wedding feast that they wanted to be prepared. They wanted to make sure they got in. They took extra oil with them just in case the bridegroom was late, so they wouldn’t miss out on the party. Because these girls wanted to be ready for his arrival, they thought about the future, prepared for what might happen, took extra supplies and were ready when the bridegroom arrived.

One message that comes through in all three parables in this chapter is that not everyone makes it into the celebration. A lot of people can think that a loving and forgiving God would never exclude anyone from an eternity with him. The good news of Jesus tells us that everyone is welcome to be part of God’s Kingdom.

However, these parables, as well as other teachings of Jesus, tell us that not everyone makes it. Remember, all ten of these girls were invited to the wedding reception. The five who eventually made it into the feast were those who were prepared and ready when the bridegroom arrived. Those who weren’t ready for him missed out. That wasn’t the bridegroom’s fault. He had done everything he could so they would be able to come. They didn’t make it in because they weren’t prepared. The message Jesus is giving us is that everyone’s welcome, but if we’re not ready for him when he returns, then we are the ones who are responsible.

So how do we prepare for Jesus’ return? We start just by thinking beyond the here-and-now and getting ready for Jesus’ return. It is easy for us to get caught up in everyday concerns, pressures and problems. However, in this parable we can hear Jesus telling us to lift our attention beyond the here-and-now and keep in mind that he will return one day.

In one way, that means working out our salvation now. We can get so focussed on the here-and-now that our spiritual lives can slip. The busyness, pressures and demands of life can mean that we don’t prioritize spiritual disciplines like worshipping with our Christian family, listening to God in his word and talking with him in prayer. One way we prepare for the coming of Jesus is to remain constant in worship, in reading our Bibles, in prayer, and in meeting with other Christians. When we practice these disciplines, the Holy Spirit keeps our spiritual tanks full so our lights can burn brightly in faith and in love.

Another way we can prepare for the return of Jesus is to view our lives now through the lens of what is to come. Life as we know it now will not last forever, even thought it might seem like there is no way through the struggles, pains or difficulties that we experience in this world. In this parable Jesus is reminding us that we have something far, far better to look forward to: an eternal wedding reception with ‘the best of meats and the finest of wines’ that Isaiah 25:6 describes in perfect fellowship with God and his people. We prepare for Jesus’ return by living in the faith that this is our future, our eternal destiny. We will still have struggles, difficulties and suffering in this life, but when we see them from an eternal perspective, we can also find the hope and joy we need to get us through.

Are we living as wise or foolish people? Are we so concerned about the here-and-now that we forget about Jesus’ return and the joy he will bring? Or are we looking ahead to when Jesus will come back and welcome us into the eternal wedding reception he promises? As we hear and reflect on these parables from Matthew 25, God wants to prepare us for what is to come, because when Jesus returns, he wants us to join in the celebration he will bring with him—a celebration that will have no end!

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

Twenty Second Sunday after Pentecost. All Saints Day

The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us all.

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  The Apostle John received a vision of the saints who gathered at the throne of God our Father, ‘
one of the twenty-four elders asked me, “Who are these who are clothed in white? Where do they come from?”  And I said to him, “Sir, you are the one who knows.” Then he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white. That is why they are standing in front of the throne of God, serving him day and night in his Temple.

Let’s join in a word of prayer: Loving Father, as we worship you, our thoughts are drawn today to the saints in our lives, and the saints in the world who are being persecuted for their faith in your Son our Lord Jesus Christ.  Help us understand your plan for our lives, and rejoice over the presence of your Holy Spirit who makes real the faith you put into our hearts. Gracious heavenly Father, hear our prayer for the sake of our risen Lord,  Amen.

We are blessed to be living in Australia.     A nation that treasures freedom.  A nation that honours diversity.  A nation that supports the downtrodden.  A nation that welcomes the refugee.  If is my fervent prayer that Australia will always be this way.  But we know the world changes over time.  It isn’t the same today as it was in the days of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, or Christ Jesus. 

In the days of Adam, trust in God was broken when Adam and Eve determine to become like God.  Yet God cared for them and clothed them.

In the days of Noah, the world was filled with violence, evil, and unfaith, when God saved Noah and his family from annihilation. 

In the days of Abraham, the world was filled with idolatry, when God saw the trust of Abraham and counted it as righteousness to him.

In the days of Moses, the Israelites were held in slavery and persecution, when God heard their cries and sent Moses to free them from Egypt.

In the days of Christ Jesus, the world was held captive to tyrants like that of the Caesars.  It was the right time and the right place for God to intervene once and for all for the salvation of all who would believe in the one whom God sent.  Christ Jesus our Lord and Saviour. 

In his great Sermon on the Mount, our precious Saviour began with words of encouragement and warning.  He spoke of a world that was so different from the one in which he sat and preached.  A world of blessings.  A world where those held captive are given citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Where those who mourn are comforted.  Where those who express humility before God are given courage before the world.  Where those who yearn for justice and mercy are satisfied.   Where those who seek a right relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ will see God.  And those who live in peace even in the face of persecution are called the children of God, and will share in the Kingdom of Heaven.

What a gift it must have been for those who heard Jesus speak such wonderful words.  Especially as they lived under the domination of Rome.   

But what of today.  When we live under the domination of fear mongers who threaten the world with destruction.  When we live under the threat of world pandemic of Ebola and CoronaVirus.  When we live on the thin edge of world economy that seems to be heading for a meltdown.   What do the beatitudes mean to us today.  Are they just precious words that give us encouragement, or do we receive these words of Jesus Christ as something more.  Perhaps as attitudes that could identify us as Christians and bring us into solidarity with every Christian throughout the world.

But if the be-attitudes show the world who we are, what would the world filled with unbelievers really describe about us?

“Blessed are the meek”, says Jesus, but in our world the meek seem to get left behind in the drive to subdue and inherit the world.

“Blessed are the merciful”, says Jesus, but in our world mercy is seen as weakness by those who strive to achieve by injustice.

 “Blessed are the pure in heart”, says Jesus, but in our world such people are dismissed as hopelessly naïve.

“Blessed are the peacemakers” says Jesus, but in our world those who pursue peace risk having their patriotism called into question.

It seems that most in our beloved Australia live by another set of be-attitudes.  Blessed are the well-educated, for they will get the good jobs.   Blessed are the well-connected, for their aspirations will be noticed.  Blessed are you when you know what you want, and go after it with everything you’ve got, for the rule of this world is for people to help themselves. 

The Beatitudes stand as a daring act of protest against the current order.  If we are honest, we must admit that the world Jesus speaks about is counter-cultural.  But it is a world that God truly blesses.  It is the world of our Spirit.  Where the Holy Spirit turns the world’s be-attitudes to God’s be-attitudes.  Where the Holy Spirit nurtures his fruit of ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.’ (Ga 5:22–23) 

On All Saints Day, the beatitudes testify that it matters deeply whom we call “saint.”  We cannot expect the world to understand or to accept us.  But we keep our attention on our Lord Jesus Christ.   Because Jesus fulfilled every be-attitude he described in Matthew.   And we can hold onto his words to us, “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers.  Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven.” 

Today, we remember the saints in our lives who have already received their great reward at the foot of the throne, awaiting the final resurrection.  And we stand in solidarity with all the saints living under the persecution that Jesus describes at the end of the reading from Matthew today.  Especially the Christians in Africa, Syria, Sudan and Iraq. 

Even as we remember and celebrate all the saints today, we also accept the witness to us that we are saints as well as sinners in the world today.  The Gospel and Sacraments in which Christ comes to us speak plainly to us that we are loved, and we are accepted and received by our God in trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  All this by faith in our Saviour, Jesus Christ.  Trust that God lives in each of us. 

And we remember the words of Paul to the Church at Corinth, and to us:

16  Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are‍‍ being renewed every day. 17 For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

And we cherish the words of John’s first letter, How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3 Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.

May the grace and peace of God, which passes all our human understanding, keep our hearts and minds in the calm assurance of salvation in our living Lord, Christ Jesus. Amen.

Rev. David Thompson

Twenty First Sunday after Pentecost: Reformation

The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with all. Our Lord, Jesus Christ tells us, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples;

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 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”  Today, we celebrate the truth of the Good News.  Good News that sets us free to be in a right relationship with God our Father.  Good News that ‘the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets,  the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ‍ for all who believe.’ 

Let’s join in a word of prayer: Loving God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit:  we live our continuously new covenant of salvation received through faith in the sacrifice of your Son, our wonderful Saviour, Jesus Christ.  Guide our time together this morning as we remember the remarkable history of the reformation spurred on by your presence in the world through your Holy Spirit.  Help us to embrace your word, and receive once again the reforming power of your Gospel message as we worship You. God our gracious Father, hear our prayer in the name of our risen Lord, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

In these trying times of virus pandemic, it’s commo to experience many of the feelings that would have been evident during the time of the Reformation in Europe.  They were experiencing a plague that kept arising over the past two hundred of years.  Suspicion and isolation were often a part of life in the urbanisation of Europe as they evolved from the Medieval Age to the Modern Age.  Some even call the 14th and 15th Century the Reformation Age.

We discover in a biography, that Martin Luther spent his younger years isolated as a monk battling his personal demons. Luther felt utterly worthlessMartin Luther and incapable of carrying the burdens of priesthood. He was often, he wrote, pursued and tormented by Satan and his cohorts.

Before his spiritual reformation, Luther was discovered in his monk’s cell weeping because of his sins. His confessor, another young monk, simply didn’t know what to do, so he began repeating the Apostles’ Creed.  When he came to the last part of the creed, he spoke with reverence the words, “I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy Catholic Church; the communion of Saints; the forgiveness of sins; ” when Luther interrupted him, “Wait!” “What did you say?”

 And the dialogue continued, “What do you mean, what did I say?”  “That last part. What was it again?” “Oh, that. ‘I believe in the forgiveness of sins.'”

“The forgiveness of sins,” Luther said as if savouring each word. “The forgiveness of sins. Then there is hope for me somewhere. Then maybe there is a way to God.”

In his search for that ‘way’, while reading Paul’s letter to the Romans, Luther suddenly understood the meaning of God’s grace and how it is appropriated by faith. In that moment he came to understand that he was justified before God through faith and not by his works.

Luther discovered the way to God. Jesus Christ died to provide that way. The reality that mended Luther’s broken heart.  That gave him a passion for Scripture which would remain a hallmark of his life.  That there is one who sees our broken hearts and cares, who forgives and heals, who makes whole.  (ChristianGlobe Illustrations, King Duncan, ChristianGlobe Networks, Inc.)

But Luther was not alone.  The wondrous discovery of the truth of Christ was awakened in others as well.  Even another Martin.  At the beginning of the Reformation, Martin of Basle came to a knowledge of the truth.  But, afraid to make a public confession, he wrote on a leaf of parchment: “O most merciful Christ, I know that I can be saved only by the merit of thy blood. Holy Jesus, I acknowledge thy sufferings for me. I love thee, I love thee.”  Then he removed a stone from the wall of his chamber and hid it there. It was not discovered for more than a hundred years.

What made the difference between these two Martins?  When Martin Luther affirmed in his heart that truth as it is in Christ. He said: “My Lord has confessed me before men, I will not shrink from confessing Him before kings.” The world knows what followed, and today we remember that  Martin Luther made a difference.  But as for Martin of Basle, who difference did he make?  —Sunday School Times

‘Jesus said to those who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”  This truth makes us free.  Free to trust in Jesus. Free to express our right relationship with God every day by living in Christ.

Living without Christ is like driving a car with its front end way out of line. You can manage to stay on the road, if you grip the steering wheel with both hands and hang on tight. Any lapse of attention, however, and you’re out of control. It’s a constant struggle.  

I can imagine that we are sometimes like Luther, almost weeping over the wrong that seems to be happening in our lives.

Living in the truth that brings the freedom in Christ, is like getting a front-end alignment. The lack of control is corrected from the inside. Not to say there won’t be bumps and potholes ahead that will still try to jar us off the road. Temptations and challenges will always test our alertness to steer a straight course. We can hardly afford to fall asleep at the wheel. But the basic flaw in the moral mechanism has been repaired.  In a way we can never do ourselves.  By Christ Jesus our Saviour.  (adapted from Robert Schmidgall:  Illustrations from ChristianGlobe, ChristianGlobe Networks, Inc.)

The Apostle Paul gives us the best example of this.  He began his service to God with complete assurance in his own righteousness and piety.  He just knew he was right in putting his energies toward the destruction of the followers of Jesus.  Like that car that was out of alignment.  And then he encountered Christ Jesus in his full power.  And Paul realised just how frail and useless his misguided trust in himself had been.  When Paul turned his complete trust in and reliance upon  Jesus, his passion, energy, and will were transformed into the powerful servant and apostle that Christ Jesus knew he would be.

Paul wrote in his Letter to the Church at Rome:  ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. .. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”  (Ro 1:16–17 NIV)

For Christians in the 21st Century, speaking of righteousness has become a challenging proposition.  When we speak of being righteous before God, it appears to be a two sided coin.  On the one side, it almost seems to be boasting about our piety and purity.  And on the other side, it almost seems to be placing an obstacle to God.    And so, most Christians are really timid about sharing our righteousness before God.

In reality, righteousness simply speaks of our right relationship with God.  That right relationship with God, was sealed at the cross, and offered to us as children of God by our faith in Christ Jesus.  That is the only way to experience righteousness.  There is no other way.

Just as Paul received from Christ Jesus and explained to us.  And as Luther discovered in Paul’s letter to the Romans and reinforced so often.  A right relationship with God and with each other is the clear understanding of God’s love and mercy displayed in the Gospel that spurred the Reformation. 

The Reformation wasn’t about religion, or society, political power or culture. The Reformation was simply about returning to the freedom given to us through the Gospel.  Freedom to trust in Jesus Christ and live with confidence.  As Jesus said, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”    

When Martin Luther penned the great hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is our God” I believe he was expressing his faith in the truth that makes us free. 

‘A mighty fortress is our God, a trusty shield and weapon, our faithful helper in all need, our stay, whate’re may happen.’    And later, ‘for us fights the valiant one whom God himself elected.  Ask ye: who is this?  Christ Jesus it is.’

That hymn, first published in 1529, has been called “Battle Hymn of the Reformation” and with good reason. It is said that the Reformation touched off one of the most influential movements in world history.  And yet, in the 21st Century we are hard-pressed to discover any worshipping community, outside of Lutheran, to remember and celebrate.  Because it is also said that the Reformation set the spark of disunity and discord among Christians that has diminished the Church’s authority to effect positive change in the world today. 

Certainly, I would agree, that if Reformation Day only celebrated the pride we have in being Lutheran, then it shouldn’t be a matter of celebration.  But if Reformation Day is about truth, than the Reformation can be celebrated with both humility and confidence. The truth that Martin Luther rediscovered from Scriptures.  The truth that was hidden by centuries of faulty doctrine.  The truth that Jesus says ‘will make us free’.

And so, for me, the Reformation does matter, and Reformation Day still matters too. It matters, because confessing the truth of our salvation still matters.  And also confessing the truth about our sins still matters.  Confessing the truth about God’s grace at work to save us still matters.   The truth that the Scriptures tell us about every human being, as both a saint and a sinner at the same time still matters.  A saint, who has been brought into a right relationship with God.  And a sinner, who still falls far short of all that God wants from those who are his children.

A sinner who know sins, who feels regrets, who suffers from the broken heart of broken relationships with God and with each other. 

And a saint who knows God’s love, who feels God’s forgiveness, who releases guilt to God’s grace.  God who says, “I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”

Through Christ we have received what we could never, on our own, earn or deserve – eternal salvation.  Because of Christ Jesus we have been given the gift of eternity, through faith, by God’s grace, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Here at St Peter’s we have been through a rough year, from the last Reformation Sunday.  First by drought and fire, then by pandemic and isolation, and finally by a decision that was brought before us that has affected all of us.  As we now engage with the road ahead to discover what is next for St Peter’s, we are reminded that we are united in Christ and the love of God.  United by the confession of our faith and the Gospel of grace.  United by the body and blood of Christ Jesus, and the care we have for each other.  Let’s enter this new year as one body in Christ Jesus, and see what brings before the next Reformation Sunday.

We are free to receive and share, to believe and confess, to teach and promote the truth of God’s grace.  A message we are honour bound to carry forward, as disciples of Jesus Christ in our time and this place.

As we both remember and celebrate the reformation, and become its voice in our day, the grace and peace of God keep our hearts and minds in the calm assurance of salvation in our living Lord, Christ Jesus. Amen.

Rev. David Thompson.

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Matthew 22:19-21
Jesus said, “Show me the coin for paying the tax!”  They brought him the coin, and he asked them, “Whose face and name are these?”  “The Emperor’s”, they answered.  So Jesus said to them, “Well, then, pay to the Emperor what belongs to the Emperor, and pay to God what belongs to God.” 

What shall I do?

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A nine year old girl returned from Sunday School and as her father was sitting down with the Sunday Mail after lunch, she asked,
“Daddy, why did God make all the leaves green?”  He thought a moment and replied, “I don’t know.” 
Then she asked, “Daddy, if God made the world and everything else who made God?”  Again he said, “I don’t know.” 
Again she asked, “Daddy, how did Noah catch the two snakes and put them in the ark?”  He put down the newspaper and said with a smile, “Honey, I don’t know.” 

Like many children, this little girl was asking her dad some very important questions.  Dad was right in answering, “I don’t know” because there are certain questions for which we have no answers, at least until that day when we can ask God face to face (and most likely they won’t be important to us any more).

The Pharisees had a question for Jesus.  It’s one about religion and politics.  They asked, “Is it right, according to God’s will, to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”  This was no minor matter.  The Jews were taxed heavily by the Romans – not only were grain, oil and wine taxed but every male from age of fourteen and every female from the age of twelve had to pay a tax for just being alive.  This was a trick question.  Whichever way Jesus answered he would get into trouble. 

If he said, “Yes, it is lawful to pay taxes to the Roman emperor,” he would be in trouble with his own Jewish countrymen who deeply resented the oppression Rome had imposed on their nation.  Paying taxes to the Emperor was tantamount to kneeling at his feet – a posture reserved only for the worship of God.  Clearly, Jesus would be a traitor to his own people and to God, if he answered yes.

On the other hand, if he said, “No, it is not lawful to pay taxes to the Roman emperor,” he would be a traitor to Rome.  Whether they liked it or not, the Roman Empire had now taken control of Palestine. If Jesus spoke against paying taxes, he would be arrested and imprisoned.  Make no mistake about it; the Pharisees were out to get Jesus.

And how does Jesus answer?  He asks for a coin.  “Whose picture is stamped on the coin?  The emperor’s!  Well then it’s simple.  He must own it if he’s got his picture stamped on it.  You give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.  But be careful!  Don’t give to Caesar what belongs to God”.  End of discussion. 

Jesus cleverly states there are those things that belong to the state and those that belong to God. 
Someone summarised Jesus’ words saying, “The coin bears Caesar’s image; man bears God’s image, so give the coin to Caesar” – meaning pay tax – “but give yourself wholly to God.”  Serving God covers all of life.  It also includes serving Caesar in a way that brings honour to God.

In his answer Jesus is giving some broad principles but notice he doesn’t give any slick answers about how we are to carry out this responsibility.  Jesus leaves the details wide open.  He refuses to give two neatly divided lists of duties relating to God and those relating to Caesar that leave no doubt about what we are to do.    (Something that the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law would have liked – they liked rules that were black and white).

However in Jesus’ answer, the question about what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God remains open.  You and I must decide that for ourselves – struggle with and assess each new situation. 

Making a choice between two options that are appealing, logical and where there are arguments both for and against is not an easy task.  We might wish that there were some black and white guidelines that would make the decision for us.  It is true there may be some general rules, or principles, like the Ten Commandments, or the Sermon on the Mount, that make matters look simple and clear, but when it comes to applying these to the individual circumstance that we are faced with in our lives making a decision isn’t all that clear. 

Why doesn’t Jesus make things so much easier for us?  Why doesn’t he make a decision once and for all in this whole matter of paying taxes and giving to God, and with authority set up percentages and limits, say something about tithing, talk about our responsibility to God, and our responsibility to the government and so on?  We long for a clear ruling, one that is binding, one that will relieve us all the headache of making a decision.  But Jesus doesn’t make the decision for us.  He doesn’t want us to blindly follow a set of rules. 

He challenges us to find out again in each new situation what action we ought to take.
Situations like
whether to reveal to a very sick friend that he/she will soon die or to say nothing;
whether to turn off a life support system or hope for a miracle;
whether to join an IVF program or remain childless;
whether to protest about a government policy or to remain silent;
whether to stay in an unhappy marriage and hope for a change or to get out,
whether to accept this new job or not because of the impact it will have on family life,

whether to be tough on a drug-addicted child or show tenderness, love and support to bring him to his senses. 
Everywhere in life – in our marriage, in visiting the sick, as a teacher in a school, as an executive doing his tax return, as a mother or father – we have to discover what is the will of God for us at this time and in this place and in this set of circumstances.

Often we can’t answer the questions that confront us, by thumbing through the Bible to find crisp, clear answers.  Or referring to an answer found on Schedule C. There is no dictionary we can look up what we have to do here and now to be in tune with the will of God.  Again, the burden of making responsible decisions falls on us. We know how difficult that can be because we are sinners.  We are biased and critical; we prefer to take the easier path; we avoid going against the crowd and simply sidestep making hard choices. 

As Christians we are joined with Jesus and we share in his love and take on his way of looking at the moral dilemmas that challenge us and so for us the issue always is, “What would Jesus do if he were in my situation?”  And sometimes we might not like the answer that we get back. 

You see, Jesus was always shocking people in the choices he made as he reflected the will of his Father. 
When he came across a prostitute, instead of quoting the Ten Commandments to her, he befriended her and said, “Your sins are forgiven”. 
When he met the white-collar cheat Zacchaeus, he loved him and went to dinner with him. 
To those who were exiled from their community because of a dreadful disease, he showed compassion and gave them healing.  The word that summarises Jesus ministry is “love”.

You see God doesn’t give us a list of laws and detailed instructions for carrying them out.  He doesn’t lead us around by the nose in every detail of our lives.  Rather he desires to make us mature sons and daughters, confident of his love, confident of our relationship with Jesus our Saviour and in his love we discover what is the right thing to do that reflects the love of Jesus that is in us.

We need to be diligent in coming to know God’s mind ever better through studying the Scriptures. 
We need to be unceasing in our prayers asking for the Spirit’s guidance.
We need to listen to the prompting of the Spirit as he shows us the way of love in the choices we make.

Some years ago a man talked about the tough decision he and his wife had made when they decided to terminate a pregnancy.  They had three daughters and their unborn child was the son they had wanted so much, however, doctors told them that something was terribly wrong and that if the pregnancy continued the mother’s life was in danger and if the baby survived he would most likely be severely brain damaged. 

The father said something like this, “I had such strong opinions about abortion –   no unborn life should be terminated.  I firmly believed God would always take charge and if the baby was born as a result of rape or was disabled that God would provide a way. 

But now what was God thinking?  This wasn’t fair.  This didn’t fit into any of my ideas.  To think of terminating the life of our son was unbearable.  And the possible death of my wife, June, was just as unbearable.  Our girls needed their mother.  June and I prayed.  We wrestled with the decision.  The doctor, a member of our church, prayed with us.  We decided.  And I don’t know if what we decided was the right thing but our pastor assured us that God knows what was in our hearts and how we wrestled with this situation and if we chose wrongly, his love burns even stronger for us.  It is precisely for the wrong choices we make that Jesus died on the cross.  At the funeral he admitted he didn’t understand God’s ways but he did say that Jesus loved our son as much as we did”.

I’m sure that many of us have made and will make many mistakes as we search for the right answers to many of life’s perplexing problems.  It’s ever so hard at times to know what God wants and to make a decision confidently knowing we have done the right thing. 

We make decisions about some of those tough questions in life in the knowledge that he forgives us when we do blunder and bungle.  It is a comfort to know of the forgiving love of God, otherwise we would be frightened to make any decisions at all.  Let’s remember that God can still bless us through those decisions that are poorly made.

In today’s gospel Jesus doesn’t give us rules but the permission to struggle with the question of what is appropriate for us to do in the world that God created.  Jesus gives us an assignment to seek out the will of God as best we can and go forward entrusting the choices we make into the hands of our loving and forgiving God.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Text:    Matthew 22:1-14 

You’re invited. You’re invited to a celebration. You’re invited to join in God’s great celebration.allanb

People sometimes think that Christian faith is all very sad and solemn. Yes, there is a side of Christian faith that is very deep, that goes to the depths of human experience, beyond the depths of human experience, to the point where God confronts every evil in all its terror.
The cross of Jesus is the stark symbol of the terror and tragedy of human life, of human life turned against its maker and lover.

And yes, there is a side of Christian faith that is all about self-denial, of facing and even embracing hardship and suffering, because comfort and indulgence can become a huge barrier between us and our God.

But at its very heart Christian faith is all about life, wonderful life, life as a gift, as a gift from God, life given a second time, life restored, life saved from death, by the loving forgiveness of Jesus Christ.

If you think about our celebrations, celebrations are all about life. We like to celebrate life, celebrate the special events of life, celebrate the milestones of our lives.

We want to celebrate by coming together, by sharing with other people. We want to capture some of the joy of living, the joy, the deep emotion that bubbles up when you experience the goodness of life. Joy comes from deep within. But joy is multiplied when it is shared.

We want to be able to laugh and smile and sing together. Joy is infectious. We receive joy from one another, and we give joy to one another. When we have something to rejoice about, we want to rejoice together.

And how we will share our joy? How will we celebrate? Somehow most celebrations involve food, good food and drink. Because sharing food is a very practical way of sharing joy.

So we put on a feast, a banquet, a party. Food is something we all need. But when we celebrate we pile on more food than we need. Celebration is more than survival. Celebration is all about a life that is richer and fuller than survival. Celebration is all about sharing the gift of life that is fulfilled and enriched.

Sadly many celebrations today become an excuse for self-indulgence, for drunkenness and abuse and selfishness, which is taking the good things of life and turning them into something selfish and destructive.

Celebration is a true celebration when it embraces the very best of life. Celebration is a true celebration when it gives glory to our God as the giver of life.

The Bible readings for today are all about celebrating the goodness of our God.

The first reading was from the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah has many harsh things to say, because he is talking to a people at a time when they had turned away from God, He has many gloomy things to say, because he warns the people that they will be defeated and life will become very hard. But he points the people to a time when God will rescue them. God will defeat their enemies. God will save the people from their distress.

At the same time, Isaiah is painting a picture of God’s final victory over all evil, of God’s salvation from all misery. He speaks of deliverance and salvation for the whole world:

On this mountain the Lord will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations, he will swallow up death forever. The sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of this people from all the earth. The Lord has spoken.

God will save people from death and he will bring people to his celebration of life:

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all the peoples, a banquet of aged wine – the best of meats and the finest of wines.

And people will join in the celebration, praising God:

Surely this is our God; we trusted in him and he saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him. Let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.

Our psalm today is Psalm 23. You all know it as the Psalm of the Good Shepherd. But did you notice how the psalm ends? With a great celebration!

The Lord who leads us and guides us through life, like a shepherd providing for and protecting his sheep, brings us to a great celebration of his victory:

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head will oil. My cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

We celebrate when we share in the salvation of our God. That is a celebration that we share in now. And a celebration that continues into all eternity.

The second reading takes us to the New Testament, to Paul’s letter to the Christians in Philippi. Of all the letters in the New Testament, this letter to the Philippians has the deepest sense of joy.

We heard it in the reading: Rejoice in the Lord always! I say it again: Rejoice!

Rejoice in the Lord, means rejoice in your relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. You are living in his forgiveness and his salvation. That is the very best reason to rejoice.

Throughout this letter Paul speaks about taking this spirit of joy into every part of your life. Celebrating can be a special time of coming together. Celebration is also an attitude to life.

It is a life of trust and prayer in a spirit of thanksgiving.
It is knowing the peace of God that goes beyond all human understanding.

It is looking for everything that is noble, pure, right good, holy, admirable – focusing on all that is good, on all that comes from God, and building your life around them.

And the Gospel of course is about a wedding celebration. Jesus tells a parable about a wedding banquet. He tells of a man who puts on a wedding banquet for the marriage of his son. He tells of a king who celebrates the marriage of the prince.

The story is obviously a parable about God, and about Jesus Christ as the Son of God.

But why a wedding feast? The people knew weddings as one of the great celebrations of life. In the cycles of life, for two people to come together, to join their lives, to continue the cycle of life, that was a celebration that the whole town would join in and celebrate. It was a celebration that would continue for several days.

The Bible uses the wedding feast as a picture of the celebration between God and his people. Jesus is sometimes called the bridegroom.

If Jesus is the bridegroom, who is the bride? The Bible speaks of the Christian church as the bride of Christ. The Christian church, which is all people who are brought to share this new love of God through the forgiving love of Christ is called the bride of Christ.

Christ loves his bride, and his bride is devoted to Christ. They share a life of wonderful, selfless love and deep, serving devotion.

So now Jesus tells this story of a father who gives a wedding banquet for his son, of a king who puts on a wedding feast for his prince.

But like many of the parables of Jesus, there is a twist.

The father prepares the feast, kills the fatted calf, lays out the tables, decorates the banquet hall. Then he sends his servants to summon the guests, the guests who have already been invited to share in the celebrations.

But they do not want to come. They refuse the invitation.

There seems to be two strands to the story, two different versions that have been brought together.

In the local village version, the guests just cannot be bothered. They have work to do. They are too busy, on their farms or in their businesses. They are preoccupied with what they want to do for themselves. They seem to have no idea of what they are missing out on. So they just ignore the invitation.

In the royal version, the guests turn on the servants, and beat them and kill them. If they refuse to come when they are summoned, their refusal is an act of rebellion against the king. That is why it says that the king was furious, and sent his soldiers to punish their city.

Here Jesus is thinking especially of how the religious leaders of Jerusalem turned against the prophets that God sent, and then turned against Jesus himself. By the time Matthew wrote this Gospel, the city of Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Roman army.

Either way, this parable tells of the goodness of God, providing a banquet, celebrating of the most wonderful life. And the tragedy of people who say: No, we don’t want that life. We don’t want to share your celebration. We don’t belong to you. We will not come and share in your wedding. We will not share in the relationship of joy that is faith in Jesus Christ.

But now there is something totally unexpected.

The father sends the servants out again, out into the streets and the laneways, out to find the people who are poor and struggling. He sends his invitation to people who never, ever thought that they would be invited to this wedding banquet.

Jesus says that the servants were told to bring in all the people they could find, both bad and good. So it was not a question of who deserved to be invited.

Here we see a picture of the grace of God. God’s invitation to come and share his life and salvation is an invitation to all people, an invitation that reaches far beyond who we think should be invited, who we think is worthy to be invited.

This story reminds us that none of us deserve to be invited into the life that God gives. God has gone out to find us wherever we are. It is not a question of how good or bad we are. None of us deserve the invitation.

We come only because God has come to us with his grace, with his love, with the undeserved privilege – God wants us to share in his life. God wants us to celebrate with our Lord Jesus Christ.

But there is one more twist. The father goes into the banquet hall and mingles with the guests. There he sees one guest who is not dressed in wedding clothes, in clothes that are appropriate for a royal celebration.

He has this guest thrown out, thrown into the outer darkness of wailing and moaning. Which is the Bible’s way of speaking about an existence without the life of God, an eternal punishment.

It sounds strange, after such a wonderful invitation. Why was he dressed so poorly? Why was he treated so harshly? It is not because this person was dragged in off the street, and could not be expected to dress up for the occasion.

The point Jesus is making here, is that the only way we can come into the presence of God, the only way we can share in the joy and life of our Saviour, is through the grace of God.

God gives grace. God clothes us, wraps us up in his forgiveness. To be there without wedding clothes means to come and to still ignore and refuse the grace of God. Which is an insult to God and a rejection of the grace of God. Which places us again under the judgement of God, and outside his life.

Our Lord invites us to celebrate with him, to share in his life, the life of sins forgiven and fellowship with our God and Lord.

We live a life of celebration. We express this relationship with our God in a special way when we come to worship. Here we are with God. Here we receive from God. Here we celebrate the grace of God. Here we even taste the banquet of God, as we receive the life-giving food and drink of Christ giving himself to us.

Here we rejoice, and we take that joy with us. Here we look forward to the eternal feast, the heavenly feast, where we share in the perfect joy of life with our God. Amen.

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost


Text: Phil 3:10a
“All I want is to know Christ.”
Pursuing what is important

What was Sir Donald Bradman’s batting average? (99.94)
In what city did the Commonwealth Parliament first sit? (Melbourne)
Which band has received an Australian of the Year Award? (The Seekers)
What Australian movie includes the phrase “Tell him he’s dreaming”? (The Castle).
What is the tallest waterfall in Australia? (Wallaman Falls, Qld).
Where is the Big Prawn? (Ballina).

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If you ever want to go on the TV show Million Dollar Minute that’s the kind of knowledge you would need.  You don’t have to be academically brilliant.  In fact, there have been contestants on the show whom I would consider to come from professions that require a good deal of intelligence.  Those who win are the people who can absorb and recall trivia – small details from everyday life that other people simply overlook as unimportant.  If someone asked me, “What nationality was the person who invented the dual flush toilet?” I wouldn’t know because it’s a piece of trivia that I’ve considered not important enough to want to store in my memory forever.  (By the way, it is an Australian – Bruce Thompson in 1980).

When you think about it, our daily lives are made up of quite a bit of trivia – lots of little insignificant things.  I’m thinking of things like brushing your teeth, combing your hair, eating breakfast cereal, hanging out the washing, doing the dishes, having a shower and so on.  None of these events will ever be recorded in a biography of our life.  When our obituary is read at our funeral all those little mundane things that make up 90% of our life won’t get a mention

Even though those ordinary events make up so much of our life, they aren’t anywhere near as important as the day we were married, or the birth of our children, the happy times we’ve spent together as a family, or the marriage of our own children and the arrival of grandchildren. 

What is more important – a trendy expensive overseas holiday that masks underlying family tension or a low key holiday where family members share, support and help and enjoy one another’s company and the whole event enhances their relationships? 

Which is more enjoyable – a lavish dinner with all the trimmings in an atmosphere of anxiety and bitterness, or fish and chips eaten in an atmosphere of love and understanding all round?

The world is really good at making unimportant things seem important.  The people involved in advertising know exactly how to make trivial things seem so important.  In fact, they make it seem that our lives wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t follow their advice.  They keep telling us in their advertising that if we really want to have a happy and complete life then it’s not possible unless we use their product.
Drive this kind of car.
Buy this brand of cleaning product.
Use this insurance policy.
Buy these and you’ll be as happy meerkat eating a Happy Meal at McDonald’s!  

It’s so easy to turn anthills into mountains.  We get all mixed up.  Little things are treated as big things and big things are treated as little things.  We get side-tracked and our lives are given direction by the small things, the unimportant things.  Well, what really are the important things?

For a start God is important.  Now I know I hardly need to say that in the present company.  Everyone here in this church knows that!  But we all know how often we forget what is really important and get everything out of perspective.

The existence of God and his love for you and me is far more important than knowing the exact age of the earth, as interesting and as important as that information might be. 
The undeserved and unmerited love of God for us is far more important than knowing all the details of how vast and awesome the universe is. 
That God has adopted us into his family through the water of baptism and promised to always walk by our side during the good and bad times in our journey through life is more important than how much we are earning or what brand labels are on our clothes. 
There is nothing more important in the entire world than the special love that God has for each of us.  And yet somehow we manage to get side-tracked. Paul says in Romans 12, “Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world” and yet that’s exactly what we do. We copy what other people consider to be the most important and place them before God and his love for us.  It’s easy to copy the world’s values and not even now we’re doing it.  Because everyone else is doing it, it’s natural to think it’s ok, when in actual fact, it’s not God’s way.

Satan attempted to side-track Jesus in the wilderness with all kinds of temptations and get him to focus on fame and saving himself and not on being the Saviour of all people. 
The disciples at times were side-tracked by trivialities (like the discussion about who will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven).   
The Pharisees and leaders of the Jews tried to discredit Jesus in front of the people with all kind of unimportant issues but Jesus always focussed on what was important. He always came back to the main reason for his presence on earth, “I have come in order that you might have life—life in all its fullness” (John 10:10). 

Jesus reached out to people in love.  He healed people. He raised people from the dead.  He forgave their sins.  He taught them and challenged them to “take up their cross and follow him”.  Thesewere great things but the greatest was still to come.  He died on a brutal cross and in doing so paid the price for our failures and our over emphasis on the unimportant things of life.

Jesus died.  And he was raised again.  There is nothing trivial about what is happening here.  This is the most important piece of news to have ever come into our world.  Jesus died for our sakes.  He went through all of that just for us, simply because he wants us all to share in the joy of eternal life.  If you want to know what the most important thing in this life is – this is it.  Jesus and everything he has done for us.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul put it this way, “Everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ” (Phil 3:8-9a).   

Whatever Paul had considered as important prior to his conversion is no longer his first priority.  Once Paul thought his heritage as a Jew, the festivals and ceremonies of the Jewish religion, and obedience to the law, were the most important things.  But in comparison with the Christ, all of this pales into insignificance, or to use Paul’s word, “I consider it all as mere garbage.”

One of the reasons we need regular and faithful commitment to church attendance is that here we can make a time for a weekly mini-retreat to a place where the ordinary business of living is set aside to re-focus on what is really important.  It is a time to find forgiveness, to celebrate, to give thanks and to hear what he has to say to us through his Word. This is a time when we can place Jesus and the work he has given us as the one thing that is truly important in our lives.  This is the one time we can be served by Jesus as he gives us his body and blood and we are totally focussed on him and his love for us.  While the world around us is screaming, “Make me the most important part of your life”, the time we spend with Jesus here on Sunday and every day in prayer and devotion time, keeps us focussed.   

Paul is making it so clear to his readers.  “Everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord … All I want is to know Christ”.  That is the most important thing for him.  Everything else is not important – it’s rubbish.  It is Christ and only Christ who can give hope.  When it comes down to it everything in this world will pass away, even this body, and it is then that we only have Christ and he gives us everything we need.

It’s so easy to get everything upside down and our values and priorities topsy-turvy and end up regarding Jesus and his love for us as less important than we should. 
Today we are challenged to put first things first. 
We are challenged to take another look at what we regard as important and to recognise those things that we have elevated to take the place of the most important of all things.
There is nothing trivial about Jesus Christ – his suffering and dying for us. 
There is nothing trivial about the special relationship that our heavenly Father has with us and this is made clear to us in Baptism and in Holy Communion. 
There is nothing trivial about the presence of our Saviour in our everyday lives as he comforts, guides and supports us.
There is nothing trivial about the promise Jesus gave that “All who live and believe in him will never die” but will enjoy life in heaven forever.

Keeping Christ central in a world that demands that so many other things are more important is hard work and it’s becoming more and more difficult to make Christ central in our ever increasing secular society that has no understanding of God whatsoever.  The apostle knew that as well as anyone because he also lived in a non-christian world and talked about constant striving and to never think that this business is a pushover – because it’s not. 

He knows how important Jesus is and so he keeps on reminding himself, “All I want to know is Christ” and he keeps on telling those whom he loves, “All you need to know is Christ – he is the most important”.

In Jesus Christ there is life.  There is nothing trivial about that!

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost.

The verses read for the scripture from St Matthew’s gospel chapter 21;verses 23-27, concern a puzzle, a conundrum, posed by Jesus to the Jewish leaders. It is on these verses I wish to concentrate our attention this morning. They gordon3relate to a meeting between, we are told, Jesus and “the Chief Priest and Elders of the people,” (v23) and the incident occurs in wider discussion by Jesus about the nature of faith in God the Father of Jesus Christ, the question of faith in God is the context in which this encounter is recorded.

The encounter between Jesus and the “Chief priests and the Elders”, concerns the question of authority. With this question they seek to elicit from Jesus an explanation by which they can understand the basis of  His actions and teachings. On the surface this seems a perfectly simple and understandable question to ask of Jesus who comes amongst them doing and saying many things without any recognisable credentials that they can understand or accept. It is there right as the custodians of the community’s wellbeing that they should ask of Jesus, ‘Well, why should we believe what you say? Tell us by what authority you preach and teach?’ Give us an explanation of your right to be teaching and acting in the manner of one who speaks on behalf of God.

 The way the question is posed means that Jesus authority needs to be explained in terms that they, the Jewish leaders, understand their own authority. For their authority is understandable, they stand in a long line of traditional authority stretching back to appointment by Moses. They can point to their descent and lineage of priesthood and eldership which originates in the formation of Israel itself. But what of Jesus, the itinerant teacher from Nazareth? Their assumption is that since Jesus cannot point to any recognisable or understandable authority or tradition He will not be able to say by what authority he teaches and thus be shown to be a fraud.

But in Jesus reply to their clever question about authority, we are meant to see the impossibility of faith in God as a human possibility, a human undertaking. This incident between Jesus and the Jewish leaders in the Temple confirms the well-known words of Martin Luther concerning knowledge of and faith in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when he makes, to us, the somewhat puzzling statement,

“I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth……… This is most certainly true.” (Commentary on the Third Article of the Creed in the Small Catechism)

You may well ask the question, but Jewish leaders that day in the Temple questioning Jesus authority did not have Luther’s Smaller Catechism in their pocket to which they could conveniently refer? Of course, they did not. But Jesus reply indicates the same understanding of knowledge and faith in God as Luther’s statement in the Catechism.

According to Jesus reply to the Jewish leader’s question about His authority they are directed  to their view of John the Baptist’s Baptism. Was John’s baptism of God or man? The Jewish authorities know they cannot answer that it was from God because if they did, they would be shown to be unbeliever’s in Israel’s God for whom they claim authority to speak.  They did not recognise John as a prophet who’s coming is directly related to Jesus as the promised Messiah. They cannot admit that John spoke in the name of God, as it would show them up as unbelievers and their authority a fraud.

But on the other hand, they cannot say that John’s baptism was a human action because if they did their credibility, their authority, amongst the people would be questioned since the people recognised John as sent by God. So, the Jewish leaders are seen to be caught between a rock and hard place and thus they refuse to answer Jesus question.

The point of Jesus question, in answer to the Chief Priests question about His authority, is that the witness of the Baptist, His preaching and baptism, raises the possibility of God coming to His people in grace and judgment: a God whose will and purpose is expressed, not in some far off heaven but here and now in the midst of His people. The word of the Baptist was that this reality was soon to be realised and realised in Jesus who came to him on the banks of the Jordan river whom John recognised as the Son of God. John told his disciples Jesus was “the Lamb of God”. In St John’s gospel Chp. 1:29, we read “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

The Jewish leaders in rejecting the possibility that the witness of the Baptist to God’s coming to them in gracious judgment denies the very reason for Israel’s existence. For Israel’s very existence in the world was witness to the fact that their God comes to them and acts for them, creating them as a people in the world for His redemptive purpose for all people. The God of the Jews is a God who acts in the world. He lives and acts in the historical relationships in which His people are involved. That is the whole purpose of the witness of the Old Testament scriptures. The God of the Old Testament is a living acting God who comes to His people in grace and judgment throughout their history, even to this present day.

Jesus refusal to answer their question concerning His authority is intended to heighten the dilemma in which the leaders of God’s people find themselves. Jesus silence, His refusal to answer the question as to the basis of His authority, proclaims what the Baptists word indicated, that God’s action is ungrounded in anything but God’s freedom. God’s action is grounded only in the inexpressible freedom of God to be the God He determines Himself to be for His people.

The great declaration of God to Moses question as to who God’s identity is, in the book of Exodus, “I am who I am.” or “I will be who I will be” is God’s response to Moses’ request for His name. He gives Moses an unpronounceable name which indicates He determines Himself to be the God of Israel in the inexpressible freedom of His grace. So, to Moses He gives Himself a name which the human tongue cannot pronounce based on the consonants and vowels of the Hebrew verb “to be”. And to this day the Jews do not take the name of God on their lips since it is not only holy but is unpronounceable. So, when reading the scriptures, they say “Ha Shame”, “the Name” when they come to the word signifying Israel’s God. The authority of God’s presence in the world is ungrounded, precisely because God’s presence was and is the activity His free grace, His realised salvation for His people. His voluntary, free action, towards them in Jesus cannot be demonstrated by any authority in this world since it is the authority of the ungrounded love of God, His free grace. If we are to know this God then we must recognise this fact and know Him only by believing Him and not try to establish His authority by something we regard as authoritative aside from the action of God Himself who has come to us in the humility of His free grace.

Jesus silence does not simply confront his questioners with a puzzle. This puzzle reflects the contradiction of their existence before God. Their question shows the impossibility of their faith in God being real. For faith, and therefore knowledge of God, presupposes that God’s coming to His people is not motivated or grounded in who they are or in what they understand the world to be; but simply in His free condescension, His grace. Jesus silence is an invitation to the Jews to again allow themselves to be grasped by the mystery of their being the people of God. God’s unfathomable mercy toward them which in terms of who they are is completely inexplicable, ungrounded. In Charles Wesley’s memorable words, God’s grace is His “undistinguishing regard, that is immense, unfathomed and unconfined.” Its nature cannot be conceived even by the angels, for “In vain the first-born Seraph tries to sound the depth of love divine”, “Tis Mystery all that thou my God shouldst die for me.”

For Jews will again be confronted with Jesus silence to which His silence here points. This silence is before Pilate in the judgment place, Gabatha, where Jesus is asked the same question as the High Priest in the Temple. Jesus refuses to answer precisely because the mystery of God’s grace deepens and widens in that now God Himself becomes in His Son identified with His people’s sin. He refuses to justify Himself. He thus allows Himself to be put in the wrong in order that His people in their god forsakenness may be given to participate in His own eternal righteousness.

What does this incident in the Temple teach us about our faith in terms of Luther’s words: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him.” It teaches us that we cannot give a reason for our faith and hope in Christ that is related to who we are or what the world is. Faith in God is something created by God’s action, His grace toward us in His action in Christ. It cannot be demonstrated by anything in this world but comes to us by God’s free grace. The Jews refused to live by this mystery of grace and sought to make Jesus tell them how his authority is based in what they regarded as their authority as leaders of the people of Israel. This was an impossible request, because Jesus presence in the world is grounded in the unfathomable action of God’s condescension in grace to redeem and renew His people. We must heed Luther’s words and understand that faith is not some magic trick which we perform because of some religious skill or motivation we have.  Faith is true knowledge of God  because it is not our knowledge, it is God’s knowledge of us in Christ.

Dr. Gordon Watson.

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.  Let’s  join in a word of  prayer:
God of such amazing grace and mercy, we know from Scriptures, the certainty of your care for us.  Help us express this care for others
as your children,  seeking to be compassionate and setting aside our pride.  God of all mercy, help us to hold onto the faith that your Holy Spirit puts into our hearts by word and sacrament.  Gracious heavenly Father, hear our prayer for the sake of our risen Lord,  Amen.

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David:0414521661

Two brothers were born into a middle class Christian family here in Australia.  The brothers grew apart, with one embracing Christianity as a teenager, while the other became interested in experimenting with all that living in a broken world offered.  As life progressed the Christian tried to encourage, warn, and even frighten his brother into accepting faith in Christ Jesus.   Nothing seemed to make a difference.

As they matured and became older, the wayward brother became ill, and faced death.  The Christian brother sat at his bed side through the last days of his brother’s life, and spoke gently of Jesus.  In the last moments of his life, the brothers prayed together and the dying brother expressed a reborn faith in our Saviour.  He closed his eyes for the last time with the shadow of a smile on his face, and contentment in his heart.

At the funeral, the Christian brother was sad and angry.  The Pastor spoke to him with concern over his grief.  The Christian explained that he was angry because his brother had lived his life devoid of faith, but at the last moment received life eternal.  It was clear that the Christian brother was resentful of his brother’s wayward life and deathbed conversion.

The Pastor gently related the parable we shared in the Gospel today.  It made all the difference, because the reality of God’s grace and love for every believer shines through, no matter how confused our life becomes.   In the Kingdom of God, it may even seem that ‘the first will be last, and the last will be first,’ as Jesus relates to us.

This does raise an interesting question though.  Can we disregard our relationship with Christ Jesus until we are near the point of meeting Him?

 In light of such a question, I am reminded of Paul’s words, ‘what ever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.’  And so, I suggest that it does make a difference.  We don’t believe in Jesus just for the eternity we will share with Him.  We believe in Jesus for the hope we have each day we live with Him here and now.  ‘To live is Christ and to die is gain.’

I am convinced that when we get to heaven, there will be no contest to see who was the most deserving of God’s grace because no one deserves it.  We receive it because of God’s nature, not because of our’s.

I suspect there will only be one contest in heaven. When we look back and see what we were before, when we see how Jesus rescued us, when we recall how confused we were, when we remember how God reached out and brought us into His family, and how he upheld us in his hand, and when we see Jesus who loves us and gave himself for us, the only contest will be to see which of us will sing the loudest:  “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.”  Grace that set our hearts free to trust and believe.

God’s generosity is limitless.  His forgiveness has no boundaries.  His love is eternal. He is not a respecter of merit.  And yet, Jesus ends the parable with the words, ‘the last will be first, and the first will be last.’

From the words of Christ Jesus, I have a sense that there is an order to things in eternity.  That we have a foretaste of this in the parable.  The followers of Christ Jesus can be assured of the promises of life eternal from God.  Life that is special, joyous, and exciting.

In the parable, we see workers who are hired in the morning, the afternoon, and the evening, all receiving the same reward for their commitment to the landowner.  In the reality of salvation, I expect the same generosity from God, for those who come to faith in Jesus Christ, and receive the gift of baptism.  Whether as a baby, a child, a teenager, an adult, or on their deathbed, the same salvation is offered and received. There are no levels to salvation, and there is no purgatory where we must work away our sins.  Jesus fulfilled the entire law, and took our punishment to free us from judgement.  Nothing is impossible for God.

I suspect that there is not one Christian who would disagree with the mercy and grace of our loving God.  After all, God sent his Son to die on the cross to offer us this salvation.

And yet, among the workers, those last hired, are first paid, and they receive the same reward as all the others.  In our minds, this seems unfair.  We most often work an hour for an hour’s wage.  In the parable we have the words of the landowner, “Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a normal days wage?  ‍ Take your pay and go.”    Jesus died on the cross for all humanity.  Because of this universal act of sacrifice, God offers the same unlimited salvation to every person individually.  And we receive this gift individually, by faith in our Saviour, Jesus Christ.    

When the landowner went out to hire labourers, he did not pick and choose among those who were there.  Everyone who was standing there was hired, and the landowner returned again and again to discover those who were ready to begin work.  Yet the landowner made the agreement with each worker individually, when they were hired. 

God’s Holy Spirit has been poured out upon the whole human race at Pentecost.  God keeps every person in his view, and when we are ready to receive his grace and mercy, He is ready to receive us.  And the angels in heaven shout for joy as a new child of God is registered in the book of life.

But let’s not be confused about this.  When God chooses us to join the Kingdom of God, our work on earth is not finished.  It is just beginning, and will continue as long as we have breath.  Paul writes, ‘For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.  If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labour for me.’

While we labour in the field, God’s Holy Spirit gives us different gifts and abilities. It must have been in the parable that some of the workers tilled the land, some cultivated the crop, and others harvested the fruit.   As the Scriptures tell us, ‘we are to use our different gifts in accordance with the grace that God has given us. If our gift is to speak God’s message, we should do it according to the faith that we have; if it is to serve, we should serve; if it is to teach, we should teach; if it is to encourage others, we should do so.’   
Whatever gifts God has given to us, and whatever we do, we do all to the glory of God.  And we do all with love for one another.  All to the glory of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  There is no reason for any Christian to complain about God’s grace from envy or resentment, as the workers did in the parable. And as the Israelite people whom God led to freedom from Egypt.  

In Christ Jesus, we have the spiritual freedom to do our best to align our priorities with God’s will for our lives and our world.  We can give thanks to God for his mercy in offering salvation through our Saviour.  It’s only wise to use whatever gifts we have been given to promote the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the harvest fields where we have been placed.  Our generous and loving God who wants everyone to be saved.

Over the weeks and even months ahead, we as a worshipping community will rely upon the gifts we have been given, and the spiritual freedom we are blessed with.  We see from the Contact, and other testimonies that the Lutheran Church especially in New South Wales are facing a future with hope, faith, and confidence.  Facing the challenge and the opportunity to re-imagine worship and mission as Lutherans of the 21st Century. 

I am excited to witness what that future will bring.  New expressions of worship with word and sacrament.  New opportunities of mission right here in New South Wales and even Port Macquarie.  And new challenges of working closely with the District and the Lutheran Church of Australia in redefining the LCA Constitution and identity.   I have a keen desire to be part of this new initiative, and I hope that we will all move forward with faith, hope and expectation, rather than anxiety, fear, and lost familiarity.  And as we open ourselves to the work of the Holy Spirit to go out and call others to join us in our little vineyard of the world, we can rejoice along with the angels in heaven.    

So, for today, for tomorrow, and for the future, may the grace and peace of our Triune God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.   AMEN.

Rev David Thompson.