15th Sunday after Pentecost 2nd September

TRUE CLEANLINESS

Some people are obsessed with cleanliness. They are always dusting, cleaning, scrubbing and vacuuming. Now I’m not knocking that. I’d sooner live in a clean house than in a pig sty.girls3

Before God, however, we have to be absolutely clean. We can’t approach God if there is the slightest sin in our heart.

How do we become clean? There are only two methods.
First, it is up to us to clean ourselves. We clean up our lives and hope such cleanliness is good enough.

Second, God cleans us. He gives us a new and clean heart.

Our text from Mark 7 shows us that the first method doesn’t work. We can’t clean ourselves sufficiently to come before God. Only Jesus can make us clean enough to enter God’s presence. May we come to Jesus for true cleanliness.

I:  NOT LAW OR TRADITION CENTERED

At the time of Jesus there was a group of religious leaders called the scribes. They dated from about 500- 400 BC. They were legal experts. They devised dozens of rules and added to the ten commandments. They thought that these additional rules would help them to keep God’s law perfectly. These became known as the tradition of the elders. By obeying them they thought they would have clean lives. They thought they were now good enough to come near to God. They were quite wrong, of course.

Let me give you an example of some of the rules they made up in connection with the third commandment, ‘Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy’. Women were forbidden to look into a mirror for fear they might see a gray hair and be tempted to pluck it. You couldn’t trim your beard or finger nails, or carry a burden such as earrings or even false teeth. You could not walk more than 3,000 meters from your home. Parents could pick up a child, but not if the child had a toy in its hand. You were not allowed to eat an egg a hen had labored to produce on the Sabbath. If a wall collapsed on a person, it was permissible to clear away the rubble only to see if the victim were still breathing. And what could one carry  out of a burning house? Only the clothes on one’s back. You could rush naked back into the flames, however, to put on another set of clothes.

Orthodox Jews still try to follow some of these rules today. One President of an AFL football club was an orthodox Jew, hence he couldn’t attend the Grand Final on the Sabbath, the Saturday. Do you know how he got the football scores? He instructed two non-Jewish security guards to tell each other the match scores as they walked past his open window. Apparently it is all right to overhear such things on the Sabbath!

Helen and I discovered some of these rules in Israel one Sabbath. We had to drink coffee without milk because it took work to milk cows and so the hotel didn’t have any milk. Also some of the lifts in our hotel stopped automatically at each floor even if no one got on or off. The reason, orthodox Jews wouldn’t have to press the lift button to get to their room as this was regarded as work!

In our text Jesus and his disciples were accused of not observing the tradition of the elders. They were eating food with unwashed ‘hands’. This hand washing was not in the interests of hygiene; it was ceremonial cleanness. Before every meal, and between each of the courses, the hands had to be washed. The water for washing was kept in special large stone jars and kept clean.

First, the hands were held with the finger tips pointing upwards; the water was poured over them and must run at least down to the wrist; the minimum amount of  water was 1½ egg shells full of water. While the hands were still wet each hand to be cleansed with the fist of the other. This made the water on the hands unclean.

So, second, the hands had to be held with the finger tips pointing downwards and the water had to be poured over them in such a way that it began at the wrists and ran off at the finger tips. After all that had been done the hands were clean.

            The point is, if you didn’t wash your hands like this you were unclean in the sight of God. And you would be subject to the attacks of a demon called Shibta (Barclay, The Gospel of Mark, 166-167).

            You can see why Jesus often got into hot water with these strict Jews. He didn’t observe all the tradition of the elders.

            And you can also see why Jesus called the scribes and Pharisees hypocrites. They were more interested in their scribal laws than the laws of God. As long as they kept these man-made laws they were clean. It didn’t matter if they hated someone, or were full of envy, jealousy, pride and bitterness.

            Jesus said that what makes us unclean is not neglecting to keep these made-up rules. They are outward things. What defiles us is what comes from inside, from the heart. The heart is the source and center of life. It is the spring from which either good or evil flows.

            Take a child, for example. It might push or punch its brother or sister. Dad comes along and tells this child, ‘Say sorry’. The child says sorry, but it is clear that the sorry doesn’t come from the heart.

            So the orthodox Jews thought washing their hands would make them clean before God. How foolish. But we can also fall into the same sort of trap. We can think that clean living makes us right with God. If we go to church, if we give generously, if we work hard on the job, if we read the Bible, if we say table grace, if we live a decent life – then we are clean enough to enter God’s presence.

            A do-it-yourself religion doesn’t work. Our attempts to clean up our act are not good enough. We can never make ourselves clean enough to come before our holy God.

            On the contrary, our heart is full of sin. It is dirty. And that means all kinds of evil pour forth – evil thoughts, motives, interests and actions.

II:  GOSPEL CENTERED

            So how can we get ‘clean hands and pure hearts’ (Ps 24:4) to approach  our holy God? There’s only one way. And that is to confess our sinful attempts to please God and with a humble heart receive the  clean heart he gives us. When did God give us a clean heart? When we were baptised. Baptism links us to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the only one who has ever really lived a ‘good, clean life’ before God. He alone is the spotless Lamb of God who never dirtied himself with the stain of sin. Yet in spite of his own cleanliness, he chose to cover himself with all the dirt and filth of every other person’s sin. and God chose to give him our punishment for that sin, and us his cleanliness.

            In the waters of God’s holy washing, baptism, He gives us Jesus’ clean, holy life as our own and washes away the stain and dirt of our sin. That’s what you call cleanliness.

            Now, by the power of forgiveness in baptism we are enabled really to do what the religious leaders of Jesus’ day and our own hypocritical natures can only mimic – offer a life to God that is clean or godly. Now, in Christ, our actions as God’s people – from the rituals of our worship to the duties of our daily tasks – are clean in God’s sight. No wonder St Paul calls baptism a ‘washing of regeneration’ and ‘renewing of the Holy Spirit’ (Titus 3:5).

            In the power of our baptism we can say daily, ‘Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me’ (Ps 51:10). That’s exactly what God does for us.

As you know today is father’s day. Their role is vital. There are three things fathers need to do with their children. Much of this applies to grandparents too.

First, take time with them. As one son writes, ‘When I was around 13 and my brother was 10, father promised to take us to the circus. But at lunch time there was a phone call. Some urgent business required his attention downtown. My brother and I braced ourselves for the disappointment. Then we heard him say, “No, I won’t be down. It will have to wait”. When he came back to the table, mother smiled and said to our Dad, “The circus keeps coming back you know”. “I know”, said father, “but childhood doesn’t”’.

Second, fathers need to teach their children spiritual truths. They need to teach children that we cannot make ourselves clean before God. We are all sinners. We all need to repent, that is to own up to our sins before God. We can only become right with God through the cleansing blood of Jesus.

Children will never forget what they learned from their fathers. They will follow Jesus. Some may for a time depart from the way of Jesus, but through God’s Spirit, most of these will come back.

Third, fathers need to model Jesus by the lives they lead. If so, the following incident should never happen. Two boys were walking home from church and sharing their reflection on the lesson. They had been studying the temptation of Christ in the wilderness. Little James said to his friend John, ‘Do you believe that stuff about the Devil? Do you think there really is a Devil?’ John looked at him and said, ‘Naah, it’s just like Santa Claus – it’s your dad’ .

Ahh, model Jesus. And this goes for grandparents too. It means decent language, honesty, concern for others, a spirit of forgiveness, all laced with love. (This also means that you will monitor the internet when your children surf it. There is so much evil on the internet which is so readily available.)

This reminds me of some children who wanted to watch a movie on TV. The father said no. They came up with all the regular reasons as to why they should watch it. Everyone else was seeing it. The language was pretty good – the Lord’s name was only used in vain three times in the whole movie. They admitted that there was a scene where a building and a bunch of people were blown up, but the violence was just the normal stuff. The father still said no.

A little later that night the father asked his children if they would like some biscuits he had baked. He explained that he’d taken their favorite recipe and added a little something new. The children asked what it was. The father calmly replied that he had added dog droppings. However, he quickly assured them, it was only a bit. All other ingredients were of the highest quality. He was sure the biscuits would be superb.

The children said ‘Thanks, but no thanks’. The father acted surprised. After all, it was only one small part that was causing them to be so stubborn. He was certain they would hardly notice it. Still they held firm and would not try the biscuits.

The father then told his children how the movie they wanted to see was just like the biscuits. Our minds are telling us to believe that just a little bit of evil won’t matter. But, the truth is even a little bit of dog droppings makes the difference between a great treat and something disgusting and unacceptable.

Now, when this father’s children want to see something that is of questionable material, the father merely asks them if they would like some of his special dog biscuits. That closes the subject.

I cannot overemphasize the importance of fathers for the Christian upbringing of children. No one else has a greater effect on children than their father.  

Conclusion

            Some parents were visiting their newly married daughter. They noticed a turkey thawing in the kitchen sink under a dish drainer.  The father asked why the drainer was being used this way.

The daughter turned to her mother and said, ‘Mum, you always did it’. ‘Yes’, her mother agreed, ‘but you don’t have a cat’!

Traditions! Traditions may be good; but some are not helpful. The traditions in Jesus’ day were not helpful. The people thought that by keeping the traditions of the elders they were clean and their life pleasing to God. They didn’t realise that their traditions were drawing them away from God.

Only Jesus takes away our sin. Only Jesus makes us clean. Only Jesus gives us clean hearts. His death on the cross and his resurrection have made us altogether new. Through Jesus and his Spirit we walk in newness of life. That’s what you call true cleanliness.

It being father’s day I thought I would finish with this little piece: 

Dads Turn Out All Right – In Time.

 4 years: My Daddy can do anything.

  7 years: My Dad knows a lot, a whole lot.

  8 years: Dad doesn’t know quite everything.

12 years: Oh, well, naturally Dad doesn’t understand.

14 years: Father? Hopelessly old-fashioned.

21 years: Oh, that man is out of date; what would you expect?

25 years: He comes up with a good idea now and then.

30 years: Must find out what Dad thinks about it.

35 years: A little patience; let’s get Dad’s input first.

50 years: What would Dad have thought about that?

60 years: I wish I could talk it over with Dad.

Rev. Peter Kriewaldt.

14th Sunday after Pentecost 26th August

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

I would like to begin the message with the words of the alternate Old Testament reading this morning from Joshua 24:1,2a,14-15.

24 1Joshua summoned all the people of Israel to Shechem, along with their elders, leaders, judges, and officers. So they came and presented themselves to God.  2 Joshua said to the people, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says:   14 “Honor the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord alone. 15 But if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the davidAmorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.”

 

Joshua spoke words of commitment, “As for me and my family, we will serve the Lord”.  And Peter echoed these words to our Lord Jesus Christ, “Lord, to whom would we go? You alone have the words that give eternal life. We believe them, and we know you are the Holy One of God.”
Let us pray together:   O God our Father, you have always held to your commitment to bind us together in your love and compassion toward us.  Help us to maintain our commitment to serve you and your Son, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.  Strengthen our fellowship with each other as we live our faith in you, your Son, and your Spirit.  Amen.

 There was a beggar who was found sitting at the doorstep of a baker. As the baker unlocked the shop door to enter, the beggar looked up and said, “I want bread.” “How wise you are,” the baker assured him. “Bread is what you need. And you have come to the right bakery.” So he ushered the beggar into the bakery shop front, and pulled his cookbook down from his shelf and began to tell the beggar all he knew about bread. He spoke of flour and wheat, of grain and barley. The baker’s knowledge impressed even himself as he cited the measurements and recipe. When he looked up, he was surprised to see that the beggar wasn’t so impressed. “I just want bread,” he pleaded. “How wise you are.” The baker applauded his choice. “Follow me, and I’ll show you our bakery.” Down the hallowed halls he guided him, pausing to point out the rooms where the dough is prepared and the ovens where the bread is baked.
“No one has such facilities. We have bread for every need. But here is the best part,” as the baker led him back to the front door of the bakery. “What I have to say next is very important,” the baker told him as they stood just outside the bakery. “Up and down this street you will find other bakeries. But take heed; they don’t serve the true bread. I know of one who adds two spoons of salt rather than one. I know of another whose oven is three degrees too hot. They may call it bread,” the baker warned, “but it’s not according to the recipe book.” The beggar turned and began walking away, shaking his head. “Don’t you want bread?” the baker asked him. He stopped, looked back, and shrugged, “I guess I just lost my appetite.” The baker shook his head and returned to his office. “What a shame,” he said to himself. “The world just isn’t hungry for true bread anymore.”

(From a sermon by Douglas Phillips, I Am The Bread Of Life, 1/25/2010)
Jesus spoke with authority when he said, “Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.”  For us, we seek to witness Jesus Christ, Saviour to all, rather than just keep telling others about Jesus, until they lose their appetite.  We do that by living our faith with our attitudes, words and actions in line with the love of Christ. And yet, at this time in his ministry among us, Christ Jesus began to share the hard truths of his journey to the cross, his resurrection, and his return to his rightful place at the center of God’s Kingdom. Most of this was shared most vividly with his intimate Apostles.  But certainly, Jesus was calling his followers to understand their new relationship with God, initiated when he entered humanity and became one of us. By this time, Jesus had gathered three groups of followers.  The casual followers who met Jesus as he travelled, seeking healing, blessings, and comforting words.  Other Disciples followed Jesus wherever he went, with a level of commitment to him and his ministry among them.  Also there were the treasured Apostles, whom Jesus chose to carry on his message of Good News after he fulfilled his mission among us.
As we discovered in the Gospel today, many of his followers could not accept the hard truths of faith in a crucified Savior.   Even among his disciples, some said, “This is very hard to understand. How can anyone accept it?”  Then it ‘appears’ from the Gospel that Jesus became unsure of even his Apostles.  He says, “Are you going to leave, too?” I am convinced that Jesus didn’t say this out of a sense of insecurity.   Instead, he said this to bring an awareness to the Apostles.  To strengthen them against the criticism of the casual followers who were abandoning Christ Jesus.  Many of the critics of the hard truths of the Saviour would one day turn against the Apostles too.    ‘Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You alone have the words that give eternal life.  We believe them, and we know you are the Holy One of God.” I’m sure those words would have brought a smile to our Lord.   But rebellion against the hard words of God didn’t begin with Christ Jesus. 

Scripture tells us that Joshua spoke to the people, “destroy the idols among you, and turn your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel.”   The people said to Joshua, “We will serve the LORD our God. We will obey him alone.” (Joshua 24:23–24 NLT)
And they did, at least for a time.  The Bible tells us, ‘The people of Israel served the LORD throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him—those who had personally experienced all that the LORD had done for Israel.’
(Joshua 24:31 NLT)
At the point when Joshua brought the people together, they had experienced a significant past.  Times of trusting and following God.  But also times of forsaking their trust and following false gods. The people faced an exciting future.  Nestled in the land that God had promised to Abraham.  Called to great tasks of clearing this land of idols and distractions, to subdue the peoples that occupied the land, and to establish God’s laws as their laws. But at the point when Joshua brought the people together, there was an even more important focus than the past or the future.  It was the present. Joshua spoke for God when he said, “choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the LORD.”

I am reminded that there is no tomorrow or yesterday with God.  God is always the present with those who trust Him, and in our time and place, those who have faith in Jesus Christ our Lord.  God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is present today. Here. With us. In every moment of our lives, we face the challenge  “Choose today whom you will serve.” That doesn’t mean that every day will be easy, meaningful, or purpose-filled.  But it does mean that we can choose to trust God in the hard decisions of our lives.  To let God lead us.  To let the Holy Spirit strengthen our witness of Christ Jesus with the fruit and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  So that we can witness Christ Jesus, and not just talk about our Saviour like the Baker describing bread instead of sharing that bread to the beggar. Of course, that also doesn’t mean that every one will accept and celebrate the choice we make to trust God in the hard decisions of life.  We are seeing this in the news and the culture today. But, like Joshua, we are encouraged to serve the Lord.  To set our hearts and minds to worship God our Father, to live in the grace of our Saviour, God the Son, and to follow the leading of our conscience that is led by the Holy Spirit to stand up for Christ Jesus and for the Word of God. And like Solomon at the dedication of the Temple, we call out to God our Father, as the glory of the Lord fills our heart, as it did ‘the house of the Lord’ back then.    O Lord our God, there is no God like you, in heaven above or on earth beneath, “keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart.”

God gathers His chosen people today just as He gathered the Israelites. Just as Jesus gathered His disciples around him during His earthly ministry.   God gathers us today around the sacred person of Jesus Christ, around the vital and living word of God, around the holy sacraments, and around the fellowship of believers. Jesus said, “That is what I meant when I said that people can’t come to me unless the Father brings them to me.”  

We are drawn to our Lord Jesus Christ, by what we hear and accept in the Scriptures, what we see and discern in the life of Jesus Christ, what we experience in the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion, and what we are led to recognise in the presence of God’s Holy Spirit. We can accept and trust God in the way he extends his grace to us, and we can give thanks that God is part of our lives, every day, in every moment, as we confess with Peter, “Lord, to whom would we go? You alone have the words that give eternal life.  We believe them, and we know you are the Holy One of God.” And we can follow in the footsteps of those who joined with Joshua proclaiming, “we, too, will serve the Lord, for he alone is our God.” Even with the best motivations, sincere faith will always be tested.  Our God is always in the present moments of our lives to help us if we let him.  In order to stand firm in our faith, we gird ourselves with the spiritual armour that the Holy Spirit provides, and we engage with evil in the world.  Paul reminds us to ‘Put on all of God’s armor so that “we” will be able to stand firm against all strategies and tricks of the Devil.’   

We can look at our confession of faith, … at  the Lord’s prayer,  … at the ten commandments, … and at our sharing in the body and blood of Jesus Christ .. as our armour against deception.  And we all put on the armour of God as we celebrate our Christianity, live our faith, and  share in the fellowship of Jesus Christ in our worship.    Even protected by the armour of God, and covered over with the blood of Jesus, we will still be tempted and our faith will be challenged.  It is inevitable that we will fall to temptation from time to time.  When we do, we can call upon our Saviour Jesus Christ to be in the moments of our weakness, in the moments of our strength, and in the moments of our humble confession and repentance. Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for the sin of the world.  And He is the very personal sacrifice for our very personal and individual failure to meet our pledge to God.  We can take heart that we have a God worth serving, a Saviour worth following and a Holy Spirit worth listening to. Even as we endure the slings and arrows of a culture that stands against the hard truths of God.

My hope is that in all we say and do, the grace and peace of God will keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.   AMEN

Rev. David Thompson.

13th Sunday after Pentecost 19th August

  Jesus conversation with his disciples in the context of his feeding the five thousand comes to a climax in his declaration to the Jews and the disciples that their relationship to eternal life is dependent upon their relationship to Him, His flesh.

“Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you have no life in you.” (v.53.)gordon

This is an exclusivist declaration, some might call it an elitist claim. (σκανδαλον 1 Cor. 1: 21 ‘stone to trip over’ ‘to stumble’) It runs directly counter to the culture in which we live in the church and in the world. In contemporary post-modern culture we live in a world in which truth claims are not simply ‘50 shades of grey’, it is ‘a night in which all cats are grey.’ This is a foundational dogma of our world. As in Judges 17:6, ‘everyone does what is right in their own eyes’.Everything is relative; there can be no moral or ideological distinctions or judgments because individuals or groups rights or views are as good as or as valid as any other. This is the contemporary anti dogmatic dogma of inclusivity; some call it multi culturalism or the politics of identity or victimhood. It is the catch cry of contemporary ideologies generally categorised under the label of post modernism, for such there is no truth that is external to the knower; so to some feminist ‘all men are rapist’, to some ethnic groups ‘all white Anglo Saxons are racists; such judgments are held to be true by definition, because they conform to the individual or group think of the persons associated with such views. And so like ‘the many disciples who turned back and no longer went about with Jesus’, as we read in verse 66, we, and the world, are offended by this claim which ties eternal life to the person of Jesus. A person, external to us, who claims eternal life is not some idea which we imagine, not an idea about God, but an action of God in Him for our sake and the sake of the world. Such a claim is drastically counter cultural, it is offensive to our self-understanding and self-sufficiency and that of the world.

While it is true that in this same chapter Jesus says, ‘It is the Spirit that gives life, the flesh is useless.’ (v.63) This saying does not in any way qualify the particularity of the flesh of Jesus. For when Jesus says, ‘the words which I have spoken to you are Spirit and life’: What are these words which are ‘Spirit and Life?’ They are, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you have no life in you.” (v.53.)

But this has not stopped some people at the time of the Reformation, and in today’s churches, attempting to establish an independent interest in the human Jesus; apart from the fact that He is the Son of God, the Saviour of the world. With these words of Jesus, ‘It is the Spirit that gives life, the flesh is useless.’ the ‘Jesus of history’ movement so prominent in 19 century Protestantism and again so much in vogue in many forms of Christian and secular piety today, promotes the idea that the most important thing about Jesus is that He was a historical figure, like Caesar Augustus, Plato or Aristotle. Jesus is understood without remainder, simply as a historical person with whom we can relate in terms of our self-understanding in either psychological terms (as a friend) or socio-political terms (as a social justice warrior). The Jesus of history movement was created or invented to indicate an approach to Jesus Christ that circumvents or avoids the embarrassment that in this man the Creator of the universe is present with and for us as saviour and judge. It was and is an attempt to make God’s action in Christ manageable in terms which we define and understand and feel comfortable with. It answers in the negative the decisive question Solomon’s asks in his prayer at the dedication of the Jerusalem Temple, “But will God indeed dwell on earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain Thee.” 1 Kings 8:27)

The gospel lesson insists we cannot understand the flesh of which Jesus speaks in verse 53, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you have no life in you,” and that this flesh is the flesh of God”, apart from the gracious condescension of God’s incarnation in His Son for our redemption. If the flesh of Jesus Christ, His humanity, is not understood in terms of who the eternal Word of God is, then His humanity becomes a cipher, a container, for whatever religious disposition or feeling we care to put into it. We make Jesus Christ into our own image, into an image of our own religious or non-religious disposition and lose Him who, as the eternal Word of God, gives His humanity to be the source of our life before God and each other. It is the particularity of Jesus flesh, which defines the action of the triune God, and that is offensive to us and the world in our understanding of ourselves in relationship to God. For the scandal of Jesus’ claim is that our relationship to eternal life is conditioned by this unutterably miraculous free condescension of the triune God; and not by the decisions or experience of the divine with which we would want to qualify and define the truth of our relationship with God. This offends us because our relationship to eternal life is taken out of our hands and placed in the hands of another, who wills to relate to us in this unheard of and offensive manner. That is in the form of one who is on His way to the cross as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and therefore as One who has ‘no comeliness that we should look at Him and no beauty that we should desire Him”, is One, ‘from whom men hide their faces.’ (Isaiah 53:2-3)

The particularity of the relationship that Jesus establishes with people because of His condescension brings to expression Jesus relationship with the Father. Jesus’ scandalous words about our relationship with God “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me” (v.57): These words are grounded in and bring to expression Jesus exclusive and therefore unique relationship to the Father. The personal relationship of the Son to the Father which establishes the relationship the Son has with people as particular and personal. The eternal life of which Jesus speaks, is not participation in an eternal sea where persons are engulfed in an undifferentiated sameness. It is an eternal life in which the personal relationship of the Son to the Father, in which God constitutes His own being as God in the unity of the Spirit, this relationship in the person of Jesus is accommodated to the godforsakeness of our human condition in such a way that, through  the atonement and reconciliation achieved in Him, we are given to participate in the Son’s unique relationship with the Father. Jesus insistence upon the uniqueness of his flesh and blood being the basis of our relationship to eternal life is grounded in the uniqueness of His relationship with the Father and is given in Him to each one of us. His unique relationship with the Father is made ours at the infinite cost of His self-humiliation even to the cross.

A further consequence of this mystery of grace is that our relationship to eternal life cannot be thought of apart from the church, since those who are united to Christ in their eating and drinking of His flesh and blood are thereby constituted the Body of Christ. If Christ is the source of our eternal life by His gift of Himself and as such is the source of our relationship to the Father, then we must see that He is the mediator of our relationships with each other in the fellowship of the church which is His body. Our relationship to eternal life is not apart from our relationship to those with whom we are joined by Christ in Baptism and Eucharistic fellowship. These earthly relationships are the means that Christ provides by which we are enabled to understand the nature of eternal life as particular and personal. In their own way these relationships, as mediated by Christ, become the human created instruments of our relationship to Christ within His Body; and thus, also of our relationship to the Father, and consequently our relationship to eternal life.

It is in the central act of Christian worship called the Eucharist, the thanksgiving, that this reality of life in Christ, of which both the gospel and the epistle speak we are invited to participate.

Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you have no life in you.” (St. John:6 v.53.)

Pastor Dr Gordon Watson

12th Sunday after Pentecost 12th August

Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2

In family life, it is paramount that parents give and show their children unconditional love. Our children need to be told and learn to accept that we love them unconditionally.3510  Could you imagine a family, however, where children were only told they were loved in words? That being told they were loved was all they needed to know? It’s clear that parents also need to show their children what love looks like in real life.  Parents lead by their example of loving attitudes and actions.  They teach children to practice such things as respect, truthfulness, honesty, courtesy, kindness and forgiveness, so that they know how to live in and respond to their unconditional love.
God our Father has made his unconditional love known to us in Jesus Christ and in the good news of our salvation.  We need to hear and learn to accept that God loves us unconditionally. Sometimes, however, the question arises among God’s children: Isn’t the good news of God’s unconditional love in Jesus all we need to hear?  Isn’t that all we need to know? Doesn’t the Gospel leave us free to choose our own behaviours and actions?  Just like in the human family, God our heavenly Father teaches us how to put that love into action.  He teaches us what his love means, not just for our salvation, but for our earthly life and relationships.  He uses his love for us, in Jesus, as an example or pattern of how to behave toward others.
The New Testament letters contain a considerable amount of teaching on the appropriate response to the good news of Jesus.  They outline patterns of behaviour that will show due honour and respect to God for what he has done for us.  Often, the apostolic teaching follows a familiar pattern.  A particular problem is identified, arising out of the local congregation or the wider Christian community. The problem is addressed by applying a broader principle – Scriptural truth – arising out of God’s Law and/or his Gospel.  The Scriptural principle gives rise to a practice or behaviour which is consistent with the principle.  Finally, a prognosis – or outcome – is often given, explaining the consequences of either ignoring or heeding that practice.
Our text from Ephesians 4 today fits that pattern exactly and helps us answer that question: Isn’t it enough that we simply know the unconditional love of God?  The problem being addressed is that, even in Christian congregations and relationships, the old human nature raises its ugly head.  Christians too are prone to telling lies, anger, dishonesty, a critical spirit, a hot temper, slander ‘along with every form of malice’.  This was obviously also a problem among the Ephesians.
The principle that Paul applies to address the problem is the good news of what God has done for us in Jesus.  It is summarized well in the verses immediately preceding our text: “You heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus… to put off your old self and to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph 4:21-24).  God has made us ‘new people’ in Jesus!
Now comes the big ‘therefore’.  The good news of Jesus is all we need for eternal salvation, but that Gospel has a ‘therefore’ when it comes to living the new life we have in Christ.  It calls for a particular pattern of behaviour that is consistent with God’s unconditional love for us.  The word ‘therefore’ occurs over 100 times in the New Testament letters alone (i.e. the NIV.  Other translations have e.g. “So then”).  A familiar saying goes: When you see a ‘therefore’ in Scripture, you need to ask, “What is that ‘therefore’ there for?”  It usually leads from a principle to a practice.
Paul begins verse 25 with that familiar ‘therefore,’ addressing the problem by outlining the practices that arise from the principle of our new life in Christ.

  • You “are all members of one body” (v.25) because of ‘the truth that is in Jesus’ (v.21), “therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak the truth with your neighbour.” (i.e. live like members of one body!)
  • You have been shown God’s mercy and not anger for your sin, therefore “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry” (v.26).
  • You have received God’s free gift through the work of God in Jesus Christ, therefore “Those who have been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands” (v. 28).
  • You have been made whole and built up in God’s love through the good news of Jesus, therefore “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs” (v. 29).
  • You have been ‘sealed by God’s Holy Spirit for the day of redemption,” therefore let him seal your lips and your heart against “all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice” (v. 31).
  • You have been shown undeserved kindness, compassion and forgiveness in Christ Jesus, therefore “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (v. 32).
  • You have been loved by God who “gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (5:2) for your sin, therefore “Be imitators of God… as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love” (5:1)

The only proper response to the good news of Jesus is to take notice of that “gospel therefore” and pattern our lives on the practices that arise from the principle of God’s undeserved and unconditional love in Christ Jesus.
But does it really matter if we do this or not?  Isn’t God’s love for us, in Jesus the only thing that really matters?  Well, yes, it does matter because for each of the practices Paul teaches, he outlines the prognosis or ‘outcome’; what will happen when Christian people either follow – or fail to follow – them.  Therefore Paul writes:

  • If we indulge in falsehood and fail to speak the truth to our neighbour, Paul warns that we choose to ‘injure’ or even ‘dismember’ the body – God’s church – of which Christ has made us all members (v.25).
  • If we dwell on our anger, Paul warns that we ‘sin’ and ‘give the devil a foothold’ (v.27). We bring harm to our own relationship with God and allow the devil to wreak destruction both in our own lives and in the church.
  • If we choose not to steal, but work honestly and usefully, the prognosis is good. We will “have something to share with those in need” (v.28).
  • If we choose to talk in ways that build others up, the prognosis is also good. Our helpful talk will “benefit those who listen” (v.29).
  • If we let bitterness well up to become anger, rage, brawling or slander, the prognosis is not good. By allowing ourselves to be so aggrieved, we also “grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom we were sealed for the day of redemption” (v. 30-31).  The Spirit gladly adopted us into God’s family in Baptism and sealed us with the promise of eternal life.  The ongoing sin of bitterness toward others breaks that seal and puts our very salvation at risk.
  • If, on the other hand, we are “kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other,” the prognosis is again good. We will be found to be living in God’s compassion and forgiveness ourselves (v. 32).

The Gospel of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ always has a very big “therefore” when it comes to the practice of our faith personally and in the congregation. That is why the apostle continues: Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Eph 5:1-2).  The good news about Jesus’ loving sacrifice for us compels us to behave toward others in the same way God has behaved toward us – in loving, willing, humble service, sacrifice and forgiveness.  That is as desirable and as pleasing an aroma to God as was the loving sacrifice of Jesus himself.
In God’s family, as in the human family, the news of the Father’s unconditional love has a “therefore”.  The good news about Jesus does set us completely free from all sin.  It brings us the truth of God’s love and makes us new people in Christ.  Therefore, let us live according to our new nature, not the ‘old nature’ or the ways of the world. We have a compelling reason to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love others as God has loved us in Jesus. 
So the question we must all consider is: What is “the gospel ‘therefore’” saying to us as members of God’s family?  As dearly loved children of God, how can we best imitate our heavenly Father, “walk in the way of love” and live lives that are a “fragrant offering and sacrifice” to God and to others?  Amen!

And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Read by David Pfeiffer

11th Sunday after Pentecost 5th August

THE BREAD OF LIFE THAT SATISFIES-JOHN 6:35.

            People have been known to make outlandish-bizarre claims. When I was studying Psychology at Adelaide University we made a visit to Parkside mental home. I remember meeting a man who claimed to be Napoleon. pastorh2And there was woman cradling a doll in her arms. She said she was the Virgin Mary and the doll was the baby Jesus. Because of their mental illness, these people were obviously deluded.
 Jesus also made some rather striking-unusual claims. On one occasion he said, “I AM THE BREAD OF LIFE”. And he wasn’t the baker at the local mental hospital.  This statement is in fact the first of the 7 great “I am” statements of Jesus recorded in John’s gospel. I am: “The Light of the world” – ”The Door” – “The Good Shepherd” – “the Vine” – “The Resurrection and the Life” – “The Way, Truth and the Life”.
Now these are tremendous claims. They are saying that Jesus I not a mere mortal man. They are in fact claims to be divine. It is Jesus’ way of saying that he was the Son of God-that he was One with God.
This morning we focus on the first of these claims-“I am the Bread of Life”. Note that Jesus didn’t say, “I am the medicine of Life”. That would have implied that he was only for emergencies-sickness-particular needs.  Unfortunately that is how many people treat Jesus. They only turn to him when they are in trouble-desperate. Jesus didn’t say, “I am the desert of life”. That would have implied that Jesus was an extra, but not really necessary. He didn’t say, “I am the tea-coffee of life”. He says, “I am the Bread of life”.
 Throughout history, bread has been the staple –basic source of nourishment.. It was called the “staff of life”. It was nutritious-healthy. For the people of the Middle East food meant bread. So it was culturally appropriate for Jesus to say, “I am the Bread of Life”.

Cultural versions:
Italy: The pizza of life.
America: The MacDonald’s of life.
Asia: The Rice of life:
Germany: The Schnitzel of Life.  Sound better than the sauerkraut of life:
Ireland: The Potato of life.
Hungary: The goulash of life.
Australia: The BBQ-meat pie.

In Israel at the time of Jesus it was appropriate to say, “I am the Bread of life” because bread was the basic-essential food of those times.
The day before Jesus made this remarkable claim was the time when he fed the crowd of 5,000 with the 5 small loaves and two fish. And as a result of that miracle the crowd wanted to make Jesus their King. But it wasn’t for the right reason –it wasn’t because of their commitment to him-it wasn’t because they wanted to be his loyal subjects. They simply saw Jesus as providing an easy life for them. They wanted Jesus to be their King who would provide for all their needs. They then could have an easy-care free life. It is in this context that Jesus makes this striking statement. “I AM THE BREAD OF LIFE; HE WHO COMES TO ME WILL NEVER GO HUNGRY AND WHO BELIEVES IN ME WILL NEVER THIRST”.
It is quite clear that Jesus was not talking about ordinary bread.  You can eat bread (any food) and that will satisfy you hunger for a little while-stop you stomach from rumbling.  But after you have eaten and your stomach has digested the food you begin to feel hungry again. That is the pattern with ordinary food. But Jesus says quite emphatically, “HE WHO COMES TO ME SHALL NEVER HUNGER”.
 What Jesus means is that he can meet all our needs. Not just the physical needs the people were focussing on but in particular our spiritual needs. Jesus can satisfy all our hungers-thirsts.  He said, “Blessed are those that hunger-thirst for righteousness”. Those who want to know God-to have a relationship with God.
  It is interesting to note that that many people who seem to have “made it” in the world-people who have acquired fame-wealth-status-power-influence, often don’t seem to be very happy-satisfied. Many of these “high flyers” have made psychiatrists very wealthy. To be having “therapy” was the “in thing-trendy-fashionable thing for many of the Hollywood set. Pop stars commit suicide in large numbers-Janis Joplin-Jimmy Hendrix-brain Hutchence-the comedian Tony Hancock. The list is endless. Fame-wealth-success is no guarantee of happiness-satisfaction. Take Howard Hughes-Paul Getty for example. Success with material things does not-cannot- bring true satisfaction-happiness. Jesus said it many years ago, “  A MAN’S LIFE DOES NOT CONSIST IN THE ABUNDANCE OF HIS POSSESSIONS”.
Perhaps you have experienced that for yourself. There was something you really wanted –a large screen TV-DVD player-new car-new furniture-new hobby etc. But once you have got it-once you have reached your goal, it soon looses its appeal.  It doesn’t seem as important as it once did. The reason why we don’t often find satisfaction is that we are looking for satisfaction from things that ultimately are unable to satisfy.  When Jesus says, “HE WHO COMES TO ME SHALL NOT HUNGER-HE WHO BELIEVES IN ME SHALL NOT THIRST”, he is claiming that he can satisfy All our needs-spiritual-emotional.
 But for this to happen we need to come to him- accept his invitation-believe-trust in him. His promise is that he will meet our unsatisfied longings.
The spiritual hunger that we have, can only-will only be met when we really come to know Jesus personally. That is when we experience his love-concern for us. Then and only then, will the restless soul find rest-the hungry heart be satisfied.
You know it is a strange thing. Our generation is probably the best off as far as material possessions-comforts are concerned. And yet so many people don’t seem to be happy-satisfied- despite all the things they have. That is why some people flock in droves to the various New Age alternatives-astrology-Buddhism-Eastern religions-even witchcraft-Between 1996-2001 there was a 140% in people turning to witchcraft in Australia. The reason is quite simple. More and more people are discovering that material possessions-outward success don’t and can’t ultimately satisfy the human spirit.
St Augustine knew the reason for that. He said, “OUR HEARTS ARE NOT AT REST UNTIL THEY REST IN GOD”. And the only way our hearts can rest in God is when we come to know Jesus who is the Bread of life.   

            There is a song by Andy Park-“Only You” .

            No one but you Lord can satisfy the longing in my heart.

            Nothing I do Lord can take the place of drawing near to you.

            Only you can fill my deepest longing

            Only you can breathe in me new life.

            Only you can fill my heart with laughter.

            Only you can answer my heart’s cry”.

Pastor Haydn Blaess

10th Sunday after Pentecost 29th July

THE LOAVES AND THE FISHES-JOHN 6:1-13

            Theme: “ GOD CAN DO A LOT WITH A LITTLE”pastorh2

            Prayer: Lord as you fed the crowd with loaves and fishes; please feed us today with your Word”.

What is the difference between an optimist and a pessimist? Glass of water-is it half full or half empty?
The optimist sees an opportunity in every difficulty. The pessimist sees a difficulty in every opportunity. Which one are you?
 In the gospel lesson for today we meet two of Jesus’ disciples-one is a pessimist-the other is an optimist.
Background: Significant story-apart from the resurrection accounts this is the only story to appear in all four gospels.
 There are times when we all need to have a break-get away from the pressures-routines of daily life. We need time to recharge our physical-spiritual-emotional batteries. It was much the same with Jesus and the disciples.
There were times when Jesus needed to get away from the pressure of ministry- from teaching-preaching-healing-ministering to people. His work was demanding-exhausting.
 Jesus favourite place for these times of R and R were the hills around Lake Galilee. On this occasion Jesus set sail with the disciples for the hills on the far side of the Lake for some rest and recreation.  But this was not to be. The crowds that were following Jesus could see the direction the boat was taking. So they followed along the shore of the Lake. At the sight of the vast crowd, Jesus felt compassion for them. He could see that they were tired-hungry. Many had walked long distances to see him. So Jesus decided they should be fed.
Now there are many aspects of this story that we could look at-concern for those in need-the miracle of feeding such a large crowd with such meagre resources-5 barley loaves and 2 small fish. That wouldn’t feed a family leave alone a crowd of over 5,000. But what I want to do is to consider the reaction of 3 people-two disciples and the boy.
Philip: Jesus turns to Philip and asks him where they could buy sufficient food to feed the crowd. Philip was the natural person to ask because he came from Bethsaida-a nearby town and would have local knowledge. John-the gospel writer makes it clear that Jesus asks Philip the question as a means of testing him. Jesus already knew what he would do. He asked the question to see how much faith-trust Philip had in him.
And we notice that Philip doesn’t do very well. His answer is full of pessimism.  He says that even if they had sufficient money- 8 months wages (which they don’t) and even if they could find a place to buy food (which they can’t) –there still wouldn’t be enough for everybody to have a bite. That was Philip’s contribution to solving the problem. In effect he was saying, “It’s impossible! It can’t be done!” Its a hopeless situation”.
  The problem with Philip of course was that he couldn’t think outside the square. He could only see the human resources-he didn’t even consider God’s resources. That is why he gave up so easily. Perhaps there are times when we respond like Philip: Times when we can only see the difficulties-impossibilities and we give up too easily. We forget the promises God makes:
“MY GOD WILL SUPPY ALL YOURNEEDS”.
Andrew: If Philip was the pessimist, Andrew was the optimist. Andrew said, “I’ll see what I can do and trust Jesus to do the rest. Andrew had what I call the ministry of “bringing people to Jesus”. It was Andrew who brought his brother Peter to Jesus and you know how significant that was.
On this occasion Andrew brought the young lad to Jesus and in doing this made the miracle possible. Andrew wasn’t exactly sure how Jesus could use this small offering but the trusts that Jesus will be able to do something.
No one knows what will happen and what the outcome will be when we bring someone to Jesus. If parents bring up their children to know-love God who can say what great things that child may one day do for God-Timothy-St Augustine-Isaac Watts-John Wesley.
The story is told of a German school teacher in the late 15th century who when he entered the classroom on the morning would take off his cap and bow to the boys. When asked why he did this he replied, “You never know what one of these boys may someday become”. He was right because one of the boys in his class was Martin Luther.
Andrew really had no idea what the result would be when he brought the young lad with his 5 bread rolls and 2 small fish to Jesus that day. But what he was doing was to provide the materials for a miracle.  Let us never forget that. We never know what possibilities we are releasing when we invite someone to come and meet Jesus. We don’t know how God might use such a person.
Albert McMakin was a 24 year old farmer who had come to faith in Christ. Albert was keen to get his friend to come to a meeting to hear about Jesus but this young man was hard to persuade. Eventually Albert managed to persuade the young man to come by letting him drive the truck. The young man was attracted by what he heard and one night gave his life to Christ. The young man who drove the truck was Billy Graham. The year was 1934. Since then Billy Graham has presented the gospel to millions around the world.
Now we cannot all be like Billy Graham but we can be like Albert –we can bring our friends to Jesus and leaving the result to him. That is what Andrew did.
May this example encourage us to share our faith with others-to tell others about Jesus. Our job is to offer the invitation –the result we leave to the Holy Spirit.
 Let us not be a pessimist like Philip who could only see the impossibility in the situation. Rather let us be an optimist like Andrew who knew that Jesus could turn impossibilities into possibilities.
The Young lad:
He did not have much to offer-5 barley loaves-the size of bread rolls and two small fish-not tuna or barramundi, rather the size of sardines. That was not a very promising start-in fact it was a rather meagre offering. Yet out of that small amount Jesus was able to work a miracle.
 In some ways we are rather like that young man. We may not think that we have much to offer to God. But the point is that God can make use of whatever gift we have to offer. It doesn’t have to be large-great-spectacular. Look what Jesus did with the young lad’s small offering.
So don’t feel embarrassed –inadequate that you don’t have more to offer to God. Simply bring to God who you are and what you have. And God will do the rest.
 Remember: 5 small bread rolls and two small fish in the hands of Jesus fed a crowd-and there were 12 baskets full left over after they had filled themselves up.

Key Thought:  A little can become a lot in the hands of Jesus.Who knows what miracle the Lord might do with the little that we offer to him.

Pastor Haydn Blaess

 

9th Sunday after Pentecost 22nd July

“COMPASSION-THE VITAL INGREDIENT
Mark 6:30-34

Motive-  Agatha Christie and other crime writers are usually interested in the question of motive-the reason why a crime was committed. pastorh2Most of the things we do as individuals have a reason or motive that led us on a particular course of action.

The gospel lesson indicates Jesus’ motive for his ministry. We are told that when Jesus saw the large crowd he had compassion on them. The word “compassion” describes the very “heart” of Jesus for his people. It describes how Jesus “feels” about us.

“Compassion” is also the word that is most appropriate in describing God’s feelings for his people. The psalmist says, “Our God is full of compassion”.(Psalm 116:5)

That is just one of many passages that describe how God feels about his people. Similar words used in the Old Testament to describe God’s character are “mercy” and ‘pity”. They are virtually synonyms for compassion.

In the New testament the Apostle Paul speaks of God as, The Father of compassion, the God of all comfort”.(2. Corinthiasn 1:3). The Apostle James says, “The Lord is full of compassion and mercy”.

Apart from the word “love” “compassion” would be the most widely used word to describe the character of God-the essential core of God’s being-the very heart of God.

The New Testament describes Jesus as the “exact representation” of God’s being ( Heb 1:3) and ,”the image of the invisible God”.(Col1:15).

Now if Jesus is the “ exact representation” and the “image of the invisible God”, it then follows that Jesus would have the same qualities as God the Father. So since God the Father is described as being “full of compassion”, it follows that Jesus would also be “full of compassion”. And this is in fact what we find.

Matthew 15:32”When Jesus saw the hungry crowd he said, “I have compassion for these people, they have been with me for 3 days and have nothing to eat”.

Matthew 20:34: “When Jesus saw 2 blind men he had compassion on them and touched their eyes and restored their sight”.

Mark 1:41: “When a man with leprosy begged Jesus to heal him we are told, ”filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man and healed him”.

Luke 7:13: When Jesus saw the widow at Nain at the funeral of her only son, “his heart went out to her”

As well as demonstrating compassion to the sick-hungry-hurting-needy, Jesus also taught his disci-les the importance of showing compassion-example-the parable of the Good Samaritan-“he took pity” on the injured victim. In this parable Jesus teaches  that his disciples are to show compassion to anyone in need. He also taught them that their compassion was to be like his-it was to be practical-it was to meet the person’s need.

A very important biblical principle is that God blesses us so that we in turn can be a blessing to others. This is clearly spelt out in 2. Corinthians 1:3-4

the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort comforts us in all our troubles, so that can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort that we ourselves have received from God’. In other words, since God has had compassion on us, we are to have compassion for others/ What we have received we are to pass on.

Ephesians 4:32 “be kind and compassionate to one another”.

Colossians 3:12: “clothe yourselves with compassion”.

1.Peter 3:8,”be sympathetic-be compassionate and humble”.

What exactly does compassion mean?  The Collins English Dictionary defines compassion as a “feeling of distress and pity for the suffering and misfortune of another, often including the desire to alleviate it”. It comes from the Latin word to ‘suffer with”. And Jesus is our model for compassion. Twelve times in the gospels it says that Jesus was “moved with compassion. And our Lord sends us out into the world to be “compassionate as your heavenly Father is compassionate”.

How does compassion work? How do we show compassion?

In the same way that Jesus did. Compassion isn’t just something you talk about. It is something that is demonstrated. The difference between sympathy and compassion.

Sympathy means feeling sorry for some else. Compassion goes a step further than sympathy. Compassion is more that just “feeling sorry. It is more than just “feeling pity”. While sympathy is a feeling word, compassion is a doing word. You might express sympathy to someone who has lost a loved one. But you demonstrate compassion. Sympathy is about words. Compassion involves deeds. The story of the Good Samaritan shows the difference between sympathy and compassion. The Good Samaritan just didn’t feel sorry for the injured man, he “took pity” on him. He showed compassion by picking him up, putting him on his donkey-treating his wounds-and providing care- paying the innkeeper to look after him until he was well.

Jesus showed compassion by feeding the hungry crowd-healing the sick-lepers-blind –those with all kinds of diseases and sickness.

What situations-events-happenings would lead you to have compassion? It might include seeing people suffering-distress-starving children in refugee camps in Darfur-Somalia. It was compassion that motivated Bob Geldof- Live Aid -Band Aid. It is compassion for the suffering that leads LWS to assist the needy in Africa. Generally what arouses a sense of compassion in us is seeing physical need.

But Jesus takes compassion to a higher level. Jesus had compassion on the people because, “they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd”.

He saw that people were living in sin-ignorance-without a relationship with God. They had no one to teach-guide them. But Jesus did more that just ‘feel sorry “ for the people. He did something about their situation. He instructed his disciples to go and proclaim the Good News to people who generally only heard bad News.

Don’t Jesus’ words ring true for people in our communities today. Aren’t there people in our communities-streets-neighbourhoods-work places who are just as Jesus described-“sheep without a shepherd’. And the sad thing about it is that they are so lost that they don’t even recognize that they are lost.

The question we need to ask ourselves is, “Do I have compassion for my lost neighbours-collegues-work mates in their ignorance of Jesus?

After speaking about his compassion for the lost Jesus turns and says to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few .Pray the Lord of the Harvest to send out workers into his harvest”. The first thing to do is to Pray. Because prayer tunes us into the heart of God. Prayer helps us to focus on others and their needs. As the songs says, “Change my heart O God may I be like you”-full of compassion.

“Change my heart O God, make it ever true.

            Change my heart O God may I be like you,

            You are the Potter I am the clay,

            Mould me and make me this is what I pray’

May the Holy Spirit change our hearts to be like Jesus-full of compassion. Amen.

Pastor Haydn Blaess

8th Sunday after Pentecost 15th July

JOHN THE BAPTIST-A MAN OF CONVICTION.

MARK:6:14-29

The Boss was complaining that he wasn’t getting enough respect from the staff. pastorh2Later that morning he went out and returned with a sign that said, “I’m the boss”. He taped it to the office door. When he returned from lunch he found that someone has taped a note to the sign that said, “your wife called-she wants her sign back”.   

Review story: John had been arrested by King Herod. WHY? Because John kept reminding Herod that he wasn’t above God’s law. He said,”It is not lawful for you to take your brothers’ wife”. Herodius, Herod’s wife resented John’s criticism and wanted to kill him. But Herod has refused because he regarded John as a holy man-a man of God. Finally with some scheming-manipulating she was able to achieve her goal and have John killed. Herod was please with Herodius’s daughters dancing.  As a reward he foolishly made a promise he came to regret.  Herodius seized the opportunity and told her daughter to ask for the head of John the Baptist. Herod was greatly distressed at her request but he had backed himself into a corner and couldn’t get out of it. The point is: be careful about making promises. But the story raises deeper issues: Questions like:” How could God let John the Baptist be treated like this? How could God stand by and let John who had devoted his life to serving God die like this? This question reflects the assumption of people who think that their faith is some kind of insurance against trouble-tragedy. They think that God is letting them down when problems-illness-tragedy hits them. They think that God is deaf to their prayers or doesn’t care about them if He doesn’t give help-healing right away. But nowhere in Scripture does God promise that just because we are Christians we can expect to be spared trouble or tragedy. You only have to read the Bible to see how many of God’s faithful servants suffered in a variety of ways. Eg Prophets-Jeremiah. Of the 12 disciples only John dies of old age. All the others became martyrs-died for their faith in Jesus. But is this so strange when we remember that Jesus himself suffered  and died for us-crucifixion was one of the most horrible ways to die. Life wasn’t easy for Jesus-no bed of roses. The thing that should astound us is not that we have to suffer at times but that we don’t suffer a lot more than we do.  That is particularly true of us here in Australia.  Dictators like Hitler-Stalin Mao Tse Tung –Pol Pot-and more recently Islamic Terrorism-ISIS i Iraq-Syria-Christians persecuted-killed. We have been fortunate in that we have escaped unlike Christians in some countries who suffer harassment-persecution. As far as our personal health  is concerned, considering how complex the human body is it’s a wonder we don’t have more health problems than we do.

We sometimes forget that God’s concern is not to fill our Bank accounts-to give us a comfortable enjoyable life-not to pander to our whims. His concern is that we serve him-become more like his Son Jesus. God’s concern is that His Will be done and that his Name is praised. It cost God dearly that we might have fellowship with him-it cost the life of his Son. We need to think about that when we think we are hard done by­-facing troubles-difficulties.

The main point is this: God would have us witness to him no matter what our situation in life. There are some people who whenever things go wrong let everyone know about it. But you don’t find John complaining-grizzling about being in prison. I’m sure he did a lot of thinking-praying while in his prison cell. But there is no mention of him complaining about his lot. But we are told that John speaks to Herod about the things of God. In fact it seem that Herod’s conscience led him to have a number of conversations with John. You sometimes hear people say that it is not necessary to speak about your faith. As long as you give a good witness with your life. I don’t believe that. The fact is most people don’t have any clear idea what Christianity is about. They think that as long as they try to live a “good life” they will be right. As long as they “do their best” God will treat them kindly. So if we think that our efforts to live a “good life” are going to convince people about the truth of Xianity- we are being naive. Especially when non Xians live lives that are just as good as ours if not better. We don’t have a monopoly in living a “good live. Frankly when we look at our own inconsistencies, our lives aren’t such a credible witness to Christ. The early apostles didn’t rely on the witness of their lives –they knew that many people worked hard at developing a virtuous life. They had something more glorious to offer. They declared that they were sinners under God’s judgement and so were others. The message was that despite the fact that all people were sinners, God sent his only Son Jesus to rescue them from their hopeless situation. Because sinners could not come to God through their own efforts, God came to them with his mercy-grace. He had given his own Son to pay price for our sins-the sinless One took upon himself the sins of the world and died for us. And to top it off Jesus had conquered death by his resurrection and given us the promise of eternal life. The apostles had a message to proclaim that gave hope-meaning for people’s lives.

It is in this light that we need to understand the witness of John. He was in the power of a man who could have had him killed at the drop of a hat. But Herod had no peace. In search of peace he kept coming back to this uncompromising  man of God-who told him the truth –about himself and God.  Ironically, although John was in prison – he was free-in his conscience-mind. While Herod was a captive to his weakness- ambition. Throughout this period of Imprisonment, John did not complain-whinge.  Instead he witnessed to the Truth. May we pray: God use me for your glory’s sake and help me to witness like John, whatever situation  you place us in. Amen. 

Pastor Haydn Blaess

Strength through weakness.

 2. CORINTHIANS 12:7-10.

PROBLEMS are PART OF LIFE. They are INESCAPABLE. No one is immune. We all have to learn to COPE with problems.pastorh2

Since the fall there has not been ONE FAMILY-INDIVIDUAL that hasn’t had to learn to deal with problems. Problems are part of life.

Problems are very DEMOCRATIC. They come to all kinds of people-rich-poor-unemployed-employed-highly educated-illiterate.

Problems come in different forms-intensitiessome are mild-extremely painful. Some are short termothers drag on for years.

Problems can arise in 4 areas.

1.PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS- personality clashes-difficulties in relating .

2.PHYSICAL PROBLEMS: physical disabilities-handicaps-back pain-migraine- a whole host of physical problems.

3.EMOTIONAL PROBLEMS: hurts from past experiences. feelings of inadequacy-low self esteem-inferiority-rejection. These kinds of problems can affect our self perception-ability to relate to others.

4.MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS; unhealthy attitudes-though patterns-depression etc.

We all have to deal with problems-of one kind or another. And we are not EXEMPT just because we are Christians. In fact some problems may increase-INTENSIFY-SPIRITUAL WARFARE-TEMPTATION.

In the Bible reading we meet a man of God who had a problem-his name was Paul. We don’t know what his problem was. Paul doesn’t spell out the details. Scholars suggest it might have been malaria-failing eyesight-epilepsy.

Although we don’t’ for sure what it was. It was very real for Paul. He regarded it as a handicap in his work for the Lord.  It obviously wasn’t a minor problem. Paul in fact called it his “thorn in the flesh” which implies something very painful-festering sore- a messenger of Satan. This was no minor thing. Paul felt that Satan was using this problem to attack him-to interfere with spreading the Gospel. Satan was using this problem to TORMENT-BUFFET Paul. The word used here literally means to be struck a blow from a fist. In other words it caused Paul a great deal of pain-suffering.

           

            How did Paul deal with this situation? What can we learn from the way Paul handled the situation.

  1. The first thing Paul did was 3 TIMES I PLEADED WITH THE LORD”. You might think that to pray is rather obvious. But there are many who use prayer as a LAST RESORT, rather than being the first course of action. So Paul prayed and asked God to remove the problem that was causing him so much DISTRESS-BOTHER.

So did God answer Paul’s prayer?   YES. verse 9.

Although it was not the answer Paul was looking for-hoped for. It was nevertheless an answer. The answer to Paul’s request was NO.

God has 3 answers to prayer- “YES” “NO” “WAIT”.

The answer Paul received was NO. Yet it wasn’t “NO” in a totally negative sensean uncaring way.

In effect God said, “I WLL NOT REMOVE YOU THORN IN THE FLESH BUT I WILL HELP YOU COPE WITH IT”. “ I WILL USE YOU PROBLEM,YOUR DIFFICULTY IN A POSITIVE WAY”.

I WILL DO SOMETHING EVEN BETTER THAN REMOVING THE PROBLEM. I WILL GIVE YOU MY GRACE –UNCEASING FAVOUR”. So when ever the “thorn in the flesh gets to you, I WILL GIVE YOU THE POWER-COMFORT OF MY GRACE. AND I PROMISE THAT IT WILL BE QUITE SUFFICIENT. IN FACT IT WILL BE MORE THAN SUFFICIENT TO HELP YOU COPE”.

Do you see what God is saying? In effect he is saying that the difficulties thorns in the- flesh that we experience in life can be learning experiences. If the problem is simply taken away we wouldn’t learn anything from that experience. You don’t grow  by running away-avoiding difficult situations.. You only learn to grow-mature in your faith-relationship with God by learning how to cope, by learning to be an ‘OVERCOMER’ (letters to 7 the churches Jesus concludes with the words ‘to him who overcomes”.

The people who have most impressed me in life are those who have had some real difficulty-hardship-thorn in the flesh. And yet they have not allowed that difficulty-hardship to stop  them living a fulfilling-meaningful life. They have not allowed their personal difficulties to stop them serving God. I find such people a real inspiration.

           

Quote: “DIFFICULTIES-HARDSHIPS-TRAGEDIES- EITHER MAKE US BITTER OR BETTER PEOPLE. And the choice is ours.

Paul certainly didn’t become bitter when God said “ NO”. In fact he said,

“I WILL BOAST ALL THE MORE GLADLY ABOUT WEAKNESSES SO THAT CHRIST’S POWER MAY REST ON ME. THAT IS WHY FOR CHRIST’S SAKE, I DELIGHT IN WEAKNESSES, IN INSULTS, IN HARDSHIPS, IN PERSECUTION, IN DIFFICUCLTIES. FOR WHEN I AM WEAK, THEN I AM STRONG”.

Now that is a most interesting paradox. On the surface that statement doesn’t seem to make sense. It seems to be a contradiction. What Paul is really saying is that “God’s power works best through human weakness”. It is when we are at the end of resources, that God provides his resources”.

Paul explains this in another passage where he says,

“ I CAN DO ALL THINGS THROUGH CHRIST WHO STRENGTHENS ME”.In other words his strength came not from himself but from Christ. It is when our strength fails that Christ provides his strength.

How do you cope with your problems? Where do you get strength from in times of weakness?

            Let us learn from the Apostle Paul here. Remember in times of weakness-stress-difficulties, to turn to God and gratefully receive his grace-power-strength that can meet our every human need.

“Remember that HUMAN WEAKNESS and DIVINE GRACE GO HAND IN HAND. In fact human weakness is a pre-requisite for Divine grace.

The thing to remember is this. The important thing is not that we are strong. But that we have a strong-gracious God. And that we call upon and rely upon HIM.

Let us thank God that we don’t’ need to be over come by life’s problems-difficulties, but that by his grace and through the strength that He supplies, we can become “OVERCOMERS”.

Pastor Haydn Blaess

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost 8th July

 

Text: Mark 6:2,3
When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue. Many people were there, and when they heard him, they were all amazed. “Where did he get all this?” they asked. “What wisdom is this that has been given him? How does he perform miracles! Isn’t he the carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here?” And they rejected him.

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Fighting with love

A young couple had been married a few short and disappointing months. He never dreamed there were so many ways to ruin chicken. She couldn’t imagine why she ever thought his jokes were funny. Neither one said aloud what they were both thinking – the marriage was a big mistake.

One hot afternoon, they got into a terrible argument about whether they could afford to paint the living room. Tempers flared, voices were raised, and somehow one of the wedding gift plates crashed to the floor. She burst into tears, called him heartless and a cheapskate. He shouted that he’d rather be a cheapskate than a nag, then grabbed the car keys on his way out. His parting words, punctuated by the slam of the screen door, were, “That’s it! I’m leaving you!”

But before he could coax their rickety car into gear, the passenger door flew open and his bride landed on the seat beside him. She stared straight ahead, her face tear-streaked but determined.

“And just where do you think you’re going?” he asked in amazement.

She hesitated only a moment before replying, just long enough to be sure of the answer that would decide the direction of their lives for the next forty-three years.

“If you’re leaving me, I’m going with you.” 

This story about conflict has a happy ending. As so often is the case, conflict can result in a stronger and closer relationship between people. But as we know conflict can have an opposite effect. We can all tell of stories where conflict has led to a total breakdown of friendship between the people involved. So what is it that makes conflict a positive or a destructive force in our lives?

The question that should be asked first of all is whether Christians should ever be in conflict – in situations of confrontation, tension and agitation?
Whether you answer that with, “No they shouldn’t” or “Yes they can it depends on how they handle it” the fact remains conflict is part of our world and our life in this world. God never intended there to be conflict when he created the human race. Conflict came when Adam and Eve set on a course wanting to be like God. That ended in a headlong clash with God.

Well let’s look at what happens in Mark’s Gospel. Here we see Jesus in conflict with the people in his own hometown. The people of Nazareth knew him. They knew him as the son of Mary and Joseph the carpenter. They were familiar with his brothers, James, Joseph, Judas and Simon and his sisters. When they heard Jesus speak in the synagogue they wondered what this local bloke was up to. How can this man whom we have known since he was a toddler have such understanding and wisdom about the things of God? He didn’t even go to seminary; he was just a carpenter. How dare he speak as if he was an authority in these matters? In his own hometown, Jesus experiences sarcasm, rejection, and conflict. We are told he was rejected.

In John’s account of Jesus ministry we hear Jesus speaking about his relationship with the Father and that he himself was God in the flesh. And when he said, “Before Abraham was, I Am” (John 8:59) his listeners picked up stones to throw at him. Jesus must have known that his words would cause conflict.

In a seminar on Jesus, the group was reading some of Jesus’ parables. “Why did Jesus speak so many parables?” the seminar leader asked.
“Well,” said one member of the group, “he was trying to communicate with simple, rural people so he had to tell them everything in these little stories, so they could get his point.”
“If that’s so,” spoke up another, “then Jesus failed because most of the people didn’t get it.”

The group finally came to the conclusion that Jesus must have been using parables for some purpose other than to ensure that everyone got his point. He was willing to be misunderstood, rejected because the truth had to be spoken whether people were ready to hear what he had to say or not. The truth of what Jesus said didn’t depend on the acceptance of the listeners to give it validity. He spoke the truth with love even though it might lead to conflict. You and I know from experience that even when we try our hardest to speak with love to someone about an important issue, there is always the possibility that the other person will not receive it with the love that was intended and so conflict arises.

The English word conflict comes from a Latin word which means “to strike together”. Whenever two or more people go after goals that they perceive to be correct and whenever one person’s ideas and needs collide with another’s, conflict arises. If people did not make a move to fulfil their ideas, goals, or desires and they were not prepared to put forward ideas and test to see what others thought about them, then there is conflict.

We know that there is always a tension between the Christian and the rest of the world. Just as Jesus was faced with opposition and he was in conflict with the people of his time so are we faced with similar conflict. The values of the world are not necessarily those of the Christian.
The community in which we live might believe that casual sex, taking advantage of others, cheating, abusive behaviour and language, crude jokes, stories and actions are normal and so are okay. Everyone else thinks it’s okay so it must be okay.
I recall a discussion with a young teenage couple who attended a church where I was pastor asking me if it was okay for them to have sex since everyone else at school was doing it. They were stunned when I told them that God intended sex for marriage – for couples who were committed to each other for life – for those who were ready to take on the responsibilities that go along with having sex.
But it is clear that the standards of the Christian and that of the world can be poles apart.
The world may think that it is weak to seek reconciliation when it is clear that you are the one who has been wronged. The way Christ wants us to respond in a situation like this is to act in love and to make amends where there has been a falling out no matter who is in the right or the wrong.

The fact remains – no one likes conflict. No one likes to be ridiculed as “old fashioned” and “out of touch with the real world”, but in the end there can be no compromise. If we are followers of Jesus, then we will want to be what God intended us to be and to live the new life that we have in Christ. And there will be times when we will find ourselves in conflict with others because of our faith in Jesus. As long as we are in this world there will always be tension between the followers of Christ and the world. Doesn’t Jesus say, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword”? To know Christ will more than likely put us at odds with the world and its values. Jesus even says that this conflict may even occur between members of the same family.

But what about tension in the church? Is there a place for conflict and unease in the church? The response I’m sure we would all give is that there should not any tension and conflict in the church. However, I was challenged with this thought I read recently.
In conflict, a group is energised. As an old pastor once said, “You can put out a fire easier than you can raise the dead”. Where there is absolutely no dissatisfaction, no vision of anything better, no pain, there is little action. A church in which there is a healthy amount of tension and conflict is a church alive.” The writer went on to say that the church needs to be exposed to the demands of Scripture, to be assured that there is a power for change, for good, and for meaning in our world, and that … there is something better than merely present arrangements.
Do you see his point?
A church that is no longer challenged;
a church in which there is no tension;
a church where there is no healthy conflict,
no critical examination of its ministry and mission,
no pain as it seeks out better and even more appropriate ways of fulfilling its mission in the world;
that church will do very little.

You see in the church there should always be pastors, lay people, or committees who will ask the question, “How can we do what we are doing in a better way”. There will always be those who will propose with conviction a certain direction the church should go in order to fulfil its mission more effectively. And there will be those who will propose a different direction. That is conflict.

If we didn’t care about Jesus, our faith, one another, the church, our own congregation or even those in our community and in the world, then there would be no conflict. We would be happy to go along doing what we always have done even if it doesn’t work very well. But we do care; we do have our own individual ideas of how the mission of the church should be carried out. We care about the kingdom of God and that’s why conflict in the church can be so vigorous. That’s is why two people, both sincere, both concerned about God’s work in their congregation, both dedicated to serving God can have opposing views. Both are seeking the best way to do God’s work.

The Gospel, the love of God for us sinners, the love that Jesus demonstrated on the cross, our faith in Jesus will not let us sit on our hands and do nothing to improve the way we are doing things. When there is tension because the church is being confronted with new ways to carry out God’s mission, then the gospel is being truthfully preached and enacted, and we are participating in the same kind of conflict that characterised much of Jesus’ ministry.

But the problem is this – we are afraid of conflict. We try to go out of our way to ensure that peace, calmness, acceptance and harmony reign supreme. There is a reason for this fear of conflict. Too often we allow conflict to become personal and we quickly label people as “hard to get on with” because they challenge our point of view. People get hurt, things are said that shouldn’t be said, harm is done to relationships, dirty tricks are used to get the upper hand, and some leave the church because of what has happened and the way the conflict got out of hand. What that happens Satan has won the day.

There are those times when either we have created conflict or fanned the flames of conflict, not for the good of the church and its mission, but because we have some personal need. There are times when we have let creative tension in the church or our families become destructive. When Jesus found himself in the midst of tension and challenges of his authority he always acted in love. Our wills and God’s collide more frequently than we are aware. But God always loves even though we are in conflict with him. He died for us, and forgives us.

Our prayer should always be this. Lord, stir us up and disquiet us by your Holy Spirit. Help us to learn to fight for what’s important and, in our disagreements with one another, to fight like Christians, that is with love, with truth, and with the conviction that we are all brothers and sisters here, all of us trying to be faithful to the One who has called us to be his church. Amen.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy