Fifth Sunday after Pentecost 24th June

Job 38 1-11 ; 2 Cor 6:1-11; St.Mark 4:35-41

For Lutherans as for the disciples the experience of a fierce storm has an abiding meaning in terms of their lives and history of the church.20180311_103505 (1)
We know that the storm that radically changed the course of Luther’s life took place near Stotterheim on July 2, 1505. The happy go lucky law student was altered into a humble monk searching for God’s grace.
Luther had recently completed a Master’s degree and started his law studies at the University of Erfurt. He was on his way back to Erfurt after having visited his parents when he was caught in a terrible thunder storm a few hours outside of Erfurt. Lightning struck near him and he was thrown to the ground by the air pressure it created. At this moment he called to Saint Anne for help and promised her: “I will become a monk!”
Luther commented on this event later in his life. For him it must have had a lasting significance as part of other events in his life that had played a role in his decision to become a monk; events happening even before the storm and its dramatic consequences.
To his father’s disgust and anger, Luther honoured his solemn promise to St Anne; he had one last party with university friends on July 16 and the next day he entered the Augustinian Friars Monastery in Erfurt to become a monk.
The incident recorded in today’s gospel of Jesus’ stilling of the storm follows his teaching the crowds from a boat by the lakeside. His teaching as recorded by Mark is in the form of a series of parables of the Kingdom. (The parables relate to the miraculous presence of the Kingdom of God in Jesus, the One who tells the parables. All of Jesus parables are about Jesus and who he is; the One in whom the Kingdom of God has come, the One, the only One in whom God’s will is done on earth as in heaven. The parable of the sower and the farmer who sows seed and then sleeps and unbeknown to him the seed germinates and grows despite all the odds stacked against it produces a miraculous harvest.) The teaching concludes with the statement that, “With many such parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything”.
Then we are told by the gospel writer, rather optimistically, that Jesus explained privately the meaning of the parables to the disciples in terms of the Kingdom present in the One who tells them the parables. They are parables of the kingdom, come in Jesus.
But there then follows the miracle of the stilling of the storm, in which the disciples are the only witnesses, but it is now revealed how little they had learned from Jesus explanation about the presence of the Kingdom in in the world in Him.
In the miracle which follows of the stilling of the storm we are intended to see dramatically the meaning of the parables they had heard together with the crowd but obviously like the crowd didn’t understand the truth of the reality of the presence of the Kingdom in Jesus personal presence.
In this miracle the disciples are confronted with the threat of water which in the Bible is the ever-present sign in creation of the chaos (the tehom) in Hebrew, “the deep” from which God called forth the earth and the dry land as part of the created cosmos. It epitomises that element in creation which is inimical, that is implacably opposed, to God’s purposes for humankind in relationship to God’s self. God’s triumph over this element in his work of creation is signalled by the presence of the firmament which shields the earth from the waters above the earth, and thus makes life possible on the earth; further God’s triumph is signalled by the rainbow after the flood and the everlasting covenant with the earth.
There is then, in the very last book of the Bible, The Revelation of St John, the vision of the new creation, the realisation of the promised redemption from all that is opposed to God’s will. And in the seer’s vision of this reality he sees alongside the abolition of death and crying; there is no more no more night and no more sea.
It is amid this element the sea, in its most frightening form, a storm, that the disciples find themselves in the boat with Jesus. If you look at this early church icon on the screen you can see how the first Christians saw the church.
The apostolic band, representing the church, are preserved, as Noah was preserved in the Ark during the flood, so the Ark of the church remains afloat in the tempestuous sea of the world, and is preserved by the presence and the action of Jesus.
The disciples are given to experience this dramatic parable of the Kingdom which is present in Jesus. In this incident written in the holy gospel of St Mark, we see how in the church, where this gospel was read, they understood the cosmic implications of the presence in the world of Jesus Christ. The winds and the waves obey His word. They understood Him therefore as the One who created the winds and the waves, the Creator of the world. In another context the holy Gospel of St John tells us the same thing in very different language in a context and a church that was different to that of St Mark: St John speaks in the language of the philosophy familiar to the Greeks. He speaks of Jesus as The Word who was in the beginning with God and without whom nothing was made that was made and that he, the Gospel writer, with others, beheld the glory of Christ identified as the only Son of the Father in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
In these seemingly quite different ways the gospel writers in fact speak to us today of an identical truth in the form of the person of Jesus Christ who accompanies the church in its earthly pilgrimage towards the final consummation of all things in Him.
What are the practical implications of this gospel reading from the gospel this morning. Firstly, that the church and its ministry are made possible by the mystery that the resurrection of the crucified Jesus Christ was an event which opened up a future in time of unspecified dimension indicating that God does not will to set to right the creation, and in particular God’s relationship to humankind, without a response of praise and thanksgiving – an echo of thanksgiving – which reflects the truth of God’s life lived as a reconciled and reconciling fellowship – the Body of Christ in the world.
Secondly, that the cross of this same Jesus sees to it that Christians are in no position to make easy and cheap both the speaking about and the hearing of what they must attest – the Lordship of the crucified Son of God. No self-evident friendliness with which the church or Christians turn to the world can mitigate the uncomfortable fact that the glorious divine Yes of God spoken to all in Jesus, in Charles Wesley’s memorable words, “Thy sovereign grace to all extends, Immense and unconfined”; this essentially ‘good news’ never the less appears to be a word of judgment and rejection of all that the world holds dear. This word of the cross on the lips and in the lives of Christians disturbs the equilibrium of our lives and the life of the world in which it is uttered. So, Christians cannot expect their word of witness to be seen as directly illuminating, pleasing, acceptable or welcome.
The constraint of God’s call to the ministry of witness for all Christians is still a present reality which touches us all. It is same promised presence of the same Christ, who stilled the fear of the Apostles, that the church needs to keep constantly before it, to hear and take to heart. The church too often becomes filled with neurotic doubt about its future as the church, as if the church was like some business enterprise that may fall by the wayside in the race where only the fittest survive. The future of the church is assured not by the church but for the church, by Christ’s promised presence in Word and Sacrament. The church becomes befogged and befuddled by all its efforts that appear to bear little fruit; with its ‘strategic planning’ and its interminable and tiresome rounds of ‘consultation’. One can imagine the morning after the final judgment every church committee, every Synod, would resume business with a renewed sense of opportunity quite uninstructed and in no serous sense different to what it was before. The reality of the church that we experience is that we would rather place our confidence in some other person or thing than placing our confidence in, and believing our Lord’s promise to us all, “Fear not” (Matt. 10:31) We would rather believe it’s our ability that ‘manages’ the church’s future. For this sad to change we will have to learn the somewhat painful lesson that the disciples had to learn in their fear of the storm; this lesson is it is only God’s word, in the life and on the lips of Jesus Christ on his way to the cross who is able to deliver us from that fear. The same word spoken to the disciples in the boat “fear not” is spoken to us today by the resurrected crucified One.
The truth that the church must learn, albeit by painful experience, is that it is sustained through the changes and chance of history by the presence in its midst, albeit in the seeming silence and absence of the sleep of Jesus. The One through whom the world came to be, and who alone preserves its life. The one who promises his presence, with and for His people, in Word and Sacrament as the beginning of a new creation within the old. This secret, this mystery, is hidden, as Jesus was hidden though present with his disciples as he slept in the boat during the storm. Jesus’ call to discipleship today, in a far different world nevertheless involves all of us recognising the hidden but real presence of Christ with His Church in the and through the means He has chosen His Word and Sacrament as the central fact and source of our life.
Amen
Dr.Gordon Watson

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost 17th June

2 Corinthians 5:6-8,16-17 “Faith Fencing – Before we go Home”

A farmer goes to buy supplies to build a fence — three kilometres long! He has saved up all his money and estimates how much of everything he will need.3510He buys rolls and rolls of tie wire and netting wire, apparently to stop the sheep getting out and the wallabies getting in. He buys roles and roles of plain wire and barbed wire as well as insulators to electrify these top wires to stop his bulls fighting with the next door neighbour’s bulls. He loads onto his vehicle bundles of star pickets, or steel posts. Then he goes off to the forestry. For days he works to cut out strainer posts, split posts and stay rails. He eventually arrives back at home with loads of Ironbark timber. The work has been hard and his hands are stained from sap from cutting and barking trees.
Now the farmer is ready to build his fence. He trusts he has everything he needs to complete the task of constructing the fence. For the next couple of days he digs holes for the fence posts and flogs the star pickets into the ground; two steel posts to every split post. He believes this fence is going to be the straightest, tightest, neatest and newest fence in the district. He has great faith it’s going to stop everything from lambs to bulls.
He attaches wire to the posts, section by section, until he gets to the last one-hundred metres. But tragically as he unrolls the barbed wire, the spindle whirls to a stop — he’s run out of wire. He unrolls the plain wire — the same thing happens. And likewise the netting runs out too. The wire is too short, some of it by ten metres, some of it by seventy metres, and some of it by just three metres. None of it makes the distance to the final strainer post and so the fence stands unfinished.
How many people there have been and are today, who on approaching Christ, apparently come so near to him, yet never truly touch him! Unless the final contact of faith is achieved, all is lost. Like the newly constructed fence standing as the neatest, straightest, and tightest, stops nothing, so too faith that is not bound to Christ, stops and saves no one.
St Paul tells us, “[W]e are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:6-8,16-17)
We live by faith, not by sight! Unless faith is connected to Christ what really is the faith we possess. True faith makes us one with Christ; it takes us out of ourselves, it takes us from the familiar homes of our bodies. Therefore, faith takes us away from trusting our feelings, faith leads us from our limited understanding so we might trust him alone, and faith puts no trust in the greatest works we might accomplish. We live by faith not by sight. Unlike sight, or touch, or feelings, or understanding, or physical strength, faith is not a faculty of our bodies. Faith is not at home in us but it always seeks to lead us home.
Faith comes to us from God. In fact it is sent from the Father and the Son, to you and to me, when the Holy Spirit comes to us in God’s word. Just like a removalist moving house, the Holy Spirit comes to us and is in the process of relocating us to be with God. But unlike a furniture removalist this shift is taking a lifetime. We might become frustrated with this move God is making within us. We would be frustrated if a furniture removalist took a lifetime to move our furniture from one house to another. However, God calls us to trust this lifelong shift, rather than try to understanding it and become frustrated with it. As Martin Luther once described faith as glue, we are called to let our hearts be stuck fast to the promises of God.
God moves us to be with him throughout this life, naturally we are called to be less and less reliant on the things with which our bodies are furnished.God’s will is that we look more and more to him; to live by faith and live less and less by sight and the other things we once relied on in the home of our person — the temporary home of our bodies.
The farmer’s fence was faulty, he built it by sight and his own understanding, and it came up short. He was lacking in judgement, discrimination, and discernment. However, a fence built by faith is tied to God; it protects a person from the smallest errors hopping into the heart, just as the farmer’s fence would have stopped wallabies if finished. Faith also guards us from the greatest of evils bellowing at us and barrelling us; just like a finished fence would have saved the farmer’s bull from the neighbour’s bull looking over the fence for a fight.
As people who live by faith, we are called to be discerning and make judgements over what is right and what is wrong, or what is truth and what is filled with error, so that the faith fence is not untied from Christ and the move from the home of our bodies to the home of heaven is not severed through confusion and deception.
In an age of political correctness, we are tempted to fall into line with the thinking that we must see every view as an alternative truth. We are tempted to see that “It’s all good” without stopping and discriminating false belief for what it is — deception.
It often comes as a surprise and shock to the person who thinks they are doing the right thing when they find out they have in fact been deceived — but that’s why it’s called deception. And the deception many Christians fall into is a quasi-faith that leads away from God, back into trusting personal traits and emotions as faith, and therefore leaving the fence of faith disconnected from God in a haze of confusion and chaos.
So if we are called to use sight, or feelings, or human understanding, less and less, to make sense of things, what should we use? If we are called to discern and judge without the use of our bodily faculties, then what do we use? How are we to view ourselves if sight and the other senses are things of the past? And should we discern and judge the fence building of others, or how the moving from the body to the home of heaven is going with others?
As we have already heard, faith allows us to be glued to the promises of God. To discern with faith, we don’t turn back to our human faculties, rather we view all things with, in, and through, the word of God. The word of God becomes our eyes and ears, and through it our hearts and minds are moulded toward the will of God. We hold all things up against the word of God; what others say to us, or seek to teach us, even our own Lutheran confessions can only stand under the authority of God’s word.
Through his word we are being made new creations in Christ, the old is gone, the new creation has come. In fact our re-creation is still coming to completion, and our re-creation will be finished and perfected in the future as God continues to move us from our old house into his new heavenly home.
So too we are called to see and hear each other through the lens and voice of God’s word. We are called to use the same divine word through which God has saved us and first given us faith, to judge and discern what others are doing.
Why must we do this? Not to knock each other down, but to help one another be freed from error, so we might all be built up in our saviour Jesus Christ through his word and the promise of his presence through his gifts to his church.
Why is this so important? Because through his word, the water and the word, and the body and blood, the Holy Spirit gives us the gift of faith and faith leads us out from ourselves and into the heavenly home of God the Father forever.
Live by faith not by sight! Seek the house of the Lord, and his home in eternity, over against the security we once found in ourselves. We have been baptised into Christ, so view each other in faith—with the eyes and ears of his word—and encourage each other into repentance and forgiveness, as does faith continue to encourage each of us. The ways of the world and the faculties of our bodies are doomed to death, so allow these things to be pruned off forever and be tied to Christ with the fence of faith forever. Amen.

Third Sunday after Pentecost 10th June

 

Text: 2 Corinthians 5:17
Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being; the old is gone, the new has come.

Heart transplants

It weighs about 310 grams. Normally it’s about 13cms long and at its widest point about 9 cms across. It is somewhat pear shaped, about the size of your fist. The colour is reddy-brown. It is a hard working four-chambered pump.20180311_103505 (1)

By this time you have probably recognised that I have been describing the human heart. The heart is a muscle in your chest, one of the masterpieces of the Creator. This marvellous little organ in our body beats 100,000 times each day without us even being aware of it most of the time. Each day the heart pumps blood through 96,000 klms of blood vessels.

The Bible has a good deal to say about the heart but it rarely speaks of the heart beating in our chest. The heart is the core and centre of everything we think, feel and act. According the biblical writers the heart is the source of our emotions, our intellect, the will and our moral life. The heart, as the Bible writers often say, questions, understands, meditates, plans, believes and trustsIt is the evil heart that plans and thinks and acts bad things. God says, “In your hearts do not think evil of each other” (Zech 7.10). In the New Testament Paul says Christ rules in the heart through faith (Eph 3:17).

Look into a concordance and you will be fascinated at not only the number of times the word heart appears in the Bible, but also the different ways the word is used. There are texts that speak about
a sad heart,
a proud heart,
a glad heart,
an upright heart,
a trembling heart,
a clean heart,
a faithful heart or fearful heart.
The heart for the Bible writers is a person’s whole character and personality and it is to the heart that God speaks and reveals his willGod says in Jeremiah, “I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord” (Jer 24.7).

The Bible tells us that every human being has a fatal spiritual heart disease. As descendants of Adam and Eve we have received from birth a heart full of sin and carry it with us all the days of our life here on this earth. Whether we care to acknowledge it or not, we have a heart disease that could be fatal.

This disease shows itself in our day to day life.
It shows itself in the way we speak to one another when we say unkind and hurtful things.
This heart disease shows itself in the intolerance we show toward others, the prejudice we display toward those who are different from us, our refusal to see another person’s point of view.

This heart disease is evident in the way we find it difficult to go to a person with whom we have a difference and to make amends. You and I know all too well how our proud hearts will not let us understand, sympathise, seek out the person who has offended us and to show love. Our hearts so easily become hard hearts – cold hearts – as we harbour grudges, self-righteousness and an unwillingness to admit our own faults.

Jesus summed it up like this, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (Matthew 15:19).

Heart disease is a fact. The other name for this heart disease is “sin”. It’s part of our lives. Even though we are regular members of this congregation, we are not immune to this heart disease. It can attack us at any moment. In fact, it seems to strike members of the church with a particular vengeance. Satan loves to set one Christian against another. He loves it when Christians foster a hard heart against their fellow Christians and take every opportunity to sting the other with hard words and unkind actions. Believe me when I say that over the past 30 plus years in the ministry I have witnessed how hard and cruel one Christian can be against another. I have witnessed it in myself.

This disease is not cured by surgery, or artificial valves or bypasses. Spiritual rebirth is not produced with instruments. After the prophet Nathan had pointed out David’s sin of covetousness, murder and adultery, David prays, Create in me a clean heart, O God.  Renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).
God said to Ezekiel, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (36:25).

This is not a repair job. It’s not a matter of fixing a few vices, improving a few virtues and everything will be all right. It is heart removal and replacement. We’re talking a heart transplant here. Because of his love for us, and by his power he takes out the old and puts in the new.

God says, “Any kind of do-it-yourself fix will not get to the very bottom of the cause of what ails our heart. What people need is a new heart, a new character and personality: new thoughts, feelings, ways of looking at things, new ways of doing things”.

For a person to receive a donor heart someone has to die. Jesus died to give us a new heart. On the cross of Calvary we see God acting as only he can, taking out the old heart of stone and replacing it entirely, totally, completely with a warm, living heart that loves others. It is the heart of Christ himself that now lives in our heart. It renews us, gives us new life and energy to do the things that please God.

This is what Paul is getting at in his second letter to the Corinthians when he said, We recognize that one man died for everyone, which means that they all share in his death. … Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being; the old is gone, the new has come.

The old sin-filled heart has been replaced with a new heart that gives us a new life, a new perspective on how life should be lived and a new way of treating other people, a new viewpoint of who God is and what kind of worship we should offer to him. We are joined with Christ in his death and resurrection and we are made new. The old ways and values are gone. Through Jesus’ love and forgiveness, God has given us a new heart and a new spirit.

But let’s get real here. If Jesus has given us new hearts why is there still so much pain in our lives? Why haven’t our old sinful habits and egos disappeared? Why do we keep on letting down God and other people? Why do we feel so guilty?

Sadly, the old ways die slowly. Even after years of being a Christian, particular temptations take advantage of the flaws in our character. Satan, the world and our own sinful human nature cause us to sin badly. Any Christians, who believe that because they are joined to Christ they are beyond temptation and sin, are sadly disillusioned when doubt, depression, guilt, discouragement come as a result of constantly falling into sin.

There are those who experience the sinfulness of their fellow Christians and leave the church because they didn’t expect to see such things in the church. People in the church sin and not for one minute does Jesus say that is reason enough to turn our backs on our fellow Christians, walk away and refuse to be friends again. By doing that we are just adding our own hard heartedness to the situation. Paul very bluntly says, “Do not make God’s Holy Spirit sad” (Eph 4:30) but that’s exactly what happens when we allow our own hearts to be ruled by sin.

When God gives us a new heart we mess it up with sin and so every day we need to undergo a heart transplant. Daily we sin, every day we repent, turn to Jesus and are made new and clean again. We join with David, God’s chosen servant, acknowledging our sinfulness, repenting and praying, “Create in me a clean heart, O God”.

We receive forgiveness and salvation through Jesus’ own words, through baptism and Holy Communion. We are forgiven. The guilt of our sin has been wiped away. We have been made clean. We have been adopted into God’s family and so now as God’s children our lives reflect that we belong to God, that we have new hearts that are keen to do the will of God.

Today God is reminding you and me that he has given us new hearts. The Spirit-filled life that he gives makes changes to the way we live everyday. This new life is ours!

In fact, when we are ruled by our new God-given hearts, I believe we will be surprised at what God can accomplish through us.
God gives us Spirit-filled hearts that burn with a longing to see the children of our church and community come closer to Jesus.
God gives us Spirit-filled hearts that burn with a desire to see more and more people come to worship.
God gives us Spirit-filled hearts that burn with compassion for those who are sick, in hospital, grieving, facing tough times.
God gives us Spirit-filled hearts that burn with understanding and love for our spouses, our children and people who cross our path everyday, fellow church members.
God gives us Spirit-filled hearts that don’t make excuses but gladly honour and worship God and love others as Jesus has loved us.
God says to us through the prophet Ezekiel, “I will give you a new heart … I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees … 
You will be my people and I will be your God.”

Let me conclude with this prayer.
Lord God,
give us a heart that understands your love in Christ, your Son,
a heart that accepts your forgiveness,
a heart that responds to your kindness and grace
with new love,
new understanding,
new kindness toward others,
and new life filled with the joy of your salvation,
through Christ our Lord. Amen.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy

Deuteronomy 5:12-15 God’s provision of rest in the third commandment

12    Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you.

15 Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.

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David:0414521661

The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.  Our Lord Jesus Christ proclaimed, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”   And Paul encourages us with the words: “do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.’ (Col 2:16–18 NIV)

Let’s  join in a word of  prayer:
Loving God our Father, we join with our fellow Christians around the world on this Lord’s Day to celebrate your son, Jesus Christ, to witness his life and ministry, and to worship You.  Guide our time together that we may receive the light of the knowledge of your glory in the face of your Son. Gracious heavenly Father, in you we have life. Hear our prayer for the sake of our risen Lord, Christ Jesus, Amen.

There was a story I once watched on a reality TV program about a sweet-natured and friendly older couple with a strange habit. They never seemed to discard anything.  They had completely filled their front yard and driveway full of trash, bags of plastic bags, broken refrigerators, stoves, worn out sofas, lawn mowers and a car they never drove.

And then one morning a sign was posted on the entrance to their front yard that read, ‘Moved Next Door.’ And they had–they had moved literally next door!  It seems the inside of their house was just as full of clutter and trash as the yard and so they had no choice but to move.

It’s sad that sometimes people’s lives can be that way–so cluttered with unnecessary and useless stuff that a full normal life seems impossible. They may even talk about needing a fresh start or a clean break. Just like that couple who picked up and moved ‘next’ door. They moved, but you know they took some of their old stuff with them, and it wasn’t long until their new house was as trashy as the old one!!  Moving ‘next’ door–wanting a fresh start or a clean break with the past–is sometimes just what we need. But unless some deep change takes place at the level of our very being, we end up cluttering up our lives with the same sort of stuff as before.

When God freed the Israelite people to begin a new life in freedom from slavery in Egypt, God gave them a new way of living.  Trusting God completely, and caring for each other.

Through Moses, in the first books of the Bible, God shared with the Israelites what that new way of living was all about.  The Ten Commandments have at the heart, a way of meaningful, joyous, loving and faith-filled living.  In the reading from Deuteronomy, Moses was preaching his last sermon.  Advice to those who would be entering the promised land.  Advice about staying in touch with the God of their salvation from slavery.

But like that sweet-natured older couple, the people of Jesus day seem to have overlooked the new way of living, in favour of returning to slavery.  They instituting the Ten Commandments as a matter of rules.  And turned the festivals established by God to remind the them of their relationship with Him, into a burden of observances.

In the reading from the Gospel today, Jesus our Saviour, in his simple, compassionate way, tried to point out something important.  That observing the Sabbath, as an ordinance rather than a connection with a wonderous and majestic God, was returning to slavery, rather than expressing freedom to worship.

“The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”

Then Jesus replied again to the Pharisees, in the Synagogue, but with a bit more sternness “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?”   I am convinced that Jesus wasn’t just speaking about the miracle he was about to perform.   I believe he was talking about the difference of trusting God for good and for spiritual life.  Rather than denying the one God sent, and turning to harm and spiritual death.

We sometimes go through life looking inside of ourselves for some ray of light and some ray of goodness by which we could make ourselves acceptable to God.  But then, by the Holy Spirit working in our spirits through Word and Sacrament and Intuition, God shines in our hearts. He shows us the light of his glory in the face of Jesus. He lets us see with our ‘eyes of faith’ the face of Jesus which reminds us that his promises and work for us is real. As Paul writes in 2nd Corinthians, ‘For it is God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone his light in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.’

1st Corinthians 2 says, “as it is written, ‘No eye has seen, now ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him’, but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.”

As we gather each Lord’s Day for worship, praying together, singing together, sharing the Word of God together, and receiving the Lord’s Supper together, we are reminded that this is not a matter of slavery to observance, but freedom to worship.  As Paul writes to us in Colossians, “do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.’

There are days when our lives seem so cluttered and cracked and broken, that we just can’t add one more thing to it. Yet, we still have this treasure of Christ Jesus in jars of clay. We can resonate with what Paul describes in our reading today, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” In the most difficult days we ever face in life, the treasure we have in Christ shines brightest.  And we join together, honouring the Lord’s Day, remembering the Sabbath, to be strengthened for the day to day challenges of living in a broken world.

As Scripture reminds us from Hebrews, ‘ let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another.’  (Heb 10:19–25 NIV)

By the miracle of God’s grace we possess the greatest treasure in the world. We have the riches of forgiveness and peace with God and the hope of eternal life found only in Christ. We have this treasure in jars of clay not just to cherish, but pass on to other people.

Listen now to these words of Paul and think of the high honour and privilege that is given to each of us. “We always carry around in our bodies the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.”  Why does God use jars of clay to bring the treasures of Christ to our dying world? It is simply because he loves us so much. He loves us by bringing these treasures to us, and he loves us by asking us to pass these treasures on to other people. By our attitudes, actions and words we use in our everyday living.

We struggle every day to live for Jesus. As we struggle, people watch. By the fruit and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives they will see the greatest treasure in the world. Faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. The greatest treasure in the world!

We are alive in Christ.  And so our daily lives, under Christ, give witness to this new reality and hope that now lives within us.  Especially as we honour the Lord’s Day and gather faithfully in worship and fellowship.

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.

 

Second Sunday after Pentecost 3rd June

2 Corinthians 4:5-12
“Treasures in Jars of Clay”

For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.20180311_103505 (1)

 

It happened in the Gold Country of Northern California in February of 2013. A man and his wife were walking their dog on their property when they saw the cover of a small, rusty tin canister beneath an oak tree. They dug it up and then opened it at home. It was filled with gold coins minted in the 1800’s. They went back and found more canisters under the tree, 1400 gold coins in all, worth over ten million dollars. Why would someone hide valuable gold coins in tin canisters under an oak tree?

Do you want to hear something even more strange to our human way of thinking? God in his love and mercy entrusts the greatest treasure in the world, his love for us in Jesus his Son, to people like you and me. The Apostle Paul calls us jars of clay. My dear Christian friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, we are broken people, people broken by sin, broken by troubles in life, broken by our anguish over not living the lives the Lord has called us to life. Yet, even though we are broken and cracked jars of clay that should be cast aside, we possess the greatest treasure in the world. We have Jesus. Yes, we are jars of clay, but special jars of clay because the treasure of Christ has come to us and the treasure of Christ is passed on through us.

Usually people find treasure, but the treasure you have in Christ Jesus your Saviour is different. This treasure finds you! Paul says, “We do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” Paul did not preach and brag and boast about himself. He did not try to thrill the crowds with how he had found the greatest treasure in the world by accepting Jesus into his heart. It was all about Jesus Christ being his Lord and God who came to him and found him. In a previous letter to the Corinthians he said, “For I resolved to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” In one of our hymns, we sing,

“Oh the height of Jesus’ love,

Higher than the heavens above,

Deeper than the depths of sea,

Lasting as eternity,

Love that found me-wondrous thought!

Found me when I sought him not.”

Paul was certainly not boasting about himself when he says in verse 7, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” Jars of clay! That’s how Paul saw himself and that is how we see ourselves. We cannot boast about being some beautiful Ming Dynasty vase that deserves to put up on the shelf and admired by other people and even by our God. Our lives are broken by sin just as a hammer can easily break any clay plot.

Oh, to be sure, there was a time when Paul thought he was a beautiful vase highly admired by his God because he followed rules and regulations of Jewish law meticulously. But then Jesus came to him and showed him how shattered and broken he was and how far short he fell of God’s glory. We read in Romans chapter 7 where Paul confessed that he did not know what sin was or how broken he was until he realized that coveting or even the desire to do something wrong made him unacceptable to God.

What do you do with a piece of pottery that is broken and cracked? You throw it away. What does the Lord our God do with jars of clay that are broken and cracked by sin? He gives them the greatest treasure in the world. He gives us his Son, Jesus, so we can be beautiful – not because of who we are, but because of the treasure that has been given to us.

How did this treasure come to you? Listen to what Paul says, “For God who said: ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” Remember the first day of creation. First God created the heavens and the earth, but it was formless and empty and dark. Then miraculously he said, “Let there be light” and there was light. Something similar has happened in your life and mine. Into this world of darkness into which we were born, totally clueless to the greatest treasure in the world, God brings light and shows us his glory in the face of Christ.

We were born into this world looking inside of ourselves for some ray of light and some ray of goodness by which we could make ourselves acceptable to God. There was no hope in that darkness as Ephesians says, “We were without God and without hope.” Isaiah tells us, “Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like those without eyes.”

But then God shined in our hearts. He showed us the light of his glory in the face of Jesus. He lets us see with our ‘eyes of faith’ the face of Jesus and that his promises and work for us is real. Some Sunday school children in their Pentecost Sunday lesson recently, made eyes with tongues of fire inside them to show how the Holy Spirit gives us eyes of faith. 1 Corinthians 2 says, “However, as it is written, ‘No eye has seen, now ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him’, but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.”

The greatest treasure in the world is to have this light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. Your eyes see Jesus! You look into a manger in Bethlehem and believe with all your heart that a tiny baby is Lord and God from all eternity. Your eyes see Jesus loving and respecting his parents, showing kindness to people, and loving them in a way you have never been able to love people. Your eyes look at his face as he hangs on the cross and cries out, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” You see him suffering and dying for the curse of your sin. You see Jesus with joyful face on the night of resurrection appearing to the disciples and to you and saying, “Peace be to you.” You know that someday when Jesus returns you will see him face to face in all his glory. Even though your physical eyes do not see him, you see him in faith as your Shepherd who holds you in his loving arms. You know that nothing will ever separate you from his life.

There are days when our lives seem so cracked and broken. Yet, we still have this treasure in jars of clay. We can resonate with what Paul describes in our reading today, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” In the most difficult days we ever face in life, the treasure we have in Christ shines brightest. That was sure the case with Job. In the darkest days of life when he lashed out in anger against God, he bursts forth with the triumphant words, “I know that my Redeemer lives.” He wanted to have the words carved in stone so all could see. He wanted people to see him not as “poor Job”, but as the man who possessed the greatest treasure in the world, a Redeemer who lives. During his many low moments of life Martin Luther encouraged himself with the one Latin word “Vivit” which means ‘he lives’.

My friends, there is a huge difference between being a ‘crackpot’ and been a cracked pot. A crackpot is someone who is crazy, loony and eccentric. A cracked pot is a broken piece of pottery. We are cracked pots. We are broken people. But by the miracle of God’s grace we possess the greatest treasure in the world. We have the riches of forgiveness and peace with God and the hope of eternal life found only in Christ. We have this treasure in jars of clay not just to cherish, but pass on to other people.

Listen now to these words of Paul and think of the high honour and privilege that is given to you and me. “We always carry around in our bodies the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” If I were God I think I would have chosen more beautiful creatures to bring the treasures in Christ to the world. Why limit the angels to just announcing Jesus’ birth or his resurrection from the dead? Why not have an angel stand before you for the sermon this morning and bring you the treasures you have in Christ? Why not have an angel visit your family members or friends who have given up believing these treasures? Let God’s holy angel shake up their world and warn them about the judgment to come and then show them again the glory of God in the face of Jesus, the Jesus they may have once valued so highly?

Why does God use jars of clay to bring the treasures of Christ to our dying world? It is simply because he loves us so much. He loved us by bringing these treasures to us, and he loves us by asking us to pass these treasures on to other people.

Listen further to what Paul says as he speaks about his privilege and the privilege also given to us. “For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.” You have seen the treasures you have in Jesus and your life has never been the same since. You are alive. Yet at the same time, you are constantly giving yourself over to death. That seems like a contradiction, but it is not. Because you are alive in Christ you want to see sin die in your life. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus shows itself in how you handle sin when it surfaces in your life. You want to see it die, just as you would want some dangerous bacteria to die instead of infecting your body.

And so our daily lives, under Christ, give witness to this new reality and hope that now lives within us.

I am reminded of a young man with cerebral palsy, with a twisted body, sitting in a nursing home, wearing a T-shirt that said, “I love Jesus” and singing songs like “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” The words that came from his mouth sounded strange but they were not. His twisted body, like an old clay pot, cracked and broken, witnessed boldly to the treasures he had in Jesus.

Jars of clay. Cracked pots. We struggle every day to live for Jesus. As we struggle people watch. If they will look into this jar of clay they will see the greatest treasure in the world. Jars of clay. That is what we are. Jars of clay with greatest treasure in the world!

Amen.

Trinity Sunday 27th May

Holy Trinity.

John 3:1-17

It is quite common for pastors or secretaries in church offices to get phone calls from trinitytelemarketers.   Often they will ask a question like, “Are you the owner of this business?” How does one respond to a question like that? Try to enlighten them by saying that the church is not a ‘business’? Tell them if they want to speak to the ‘owner’ they can do that anytime they wish – it’s called prayer?   Such conversations highlight how different the ways of God’s kingdom are from the ways of the world.

Nicodemus, a member of the ruling Jewish council, discovered that too when he came to Jesus at night and wanted to discuss the ways of God’s kingdom.  The ways of God’s kingdom cannot be described in human terms, but must be comprehended, believed and received in Spiritual terms.

Nicodemus was not antagonistic toward Jesus like other members of the Jewish ruling council were. There were things about Jesus and his ministry that genuinely intrigued him and drew him to Jesus, like the miracles Jesus had been doing, which Nicodemus could only conclude were ‘from God’ (v.2). However, in the ensuing conversation, Jesus gently corrected Nicodemus and guided him toward some deeper spiritual blessings of his kingdom.

While Nicodemus had learned and taught that ‘the kingdom of God’ was the nation of Israel, whom God promised to rescue from their enemies by means of a Messiah king, Jesus spoke to him of an eternal ‘kingdom’ that did not belong to this world (v.3, 16).

While Nicodemus was proud to have been born as a child of Israel, Jesus spoke about being ‘born again’ by a spiritual rebirth ‘from above’, very different from a natural birth, which would enable him to ‘see’ and ‘enter’ God’s eternal, spiritual kingdom (v.3-7).

While Nicodemus concluded that Jesus had ‘come from God’, and recognized that ‘God was with him’, Jesus spoke to him about the divine mystery of a God who makes himself known as three persons of the one God.

  • As the Father in heaven, whose love for mankind is way beyond the bounds of human capacity and comprehension (v.16).
  • As the Son who comes down from heaven, speaks to people about ‘heavenly things’ (v.12), and offers his divinely-human nature to be ‘lifted up’ on a cross for the world’s redemption (v.14-15).
  • As a powerful and life-giving ‘Spirit’ whose ways are more mysterious and mighty than the wind that blows in this world (v.8).

Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about the divine purpose of an ever-loving God, who does not want to ‘condemn’ sinners to ‘perish’ eternally, but rather wants all people to ‘believe’ in Jesus and what he has done, and ‘be saved’ to ‘eternal life’ (v.16, 17).

Jesus showed Nicodemus that God is truly gracious, in that he makes his divine mysteries known to people through tangible, earthly means; things we can see, hear, taste, touch and experience; things by which ordinary human beings can receive the spiritual blessings of God’s kingdom.

Here is what Jesus told Nicodemus:

  • Even though ‘the Kingdom of God’ is an eternal, spiritual kingdom, Jesus said that it is also something that people can ‘see’ and ‘enter’ through a spiritual rebirth (v.3, 5).
  • Even though the second birth is a spiritual rebirth ‘from above’ (v.3), it is something that people can know and experience here below. Jesus said to Nicodemus, “You must be born again” (v.7); then you can ‘see’ and ‘enter the kingdom of God’.  Jesus said that this new spiritual birth is available through the earthly element of water, applied with the audible Word of God in baptism. The earthly means of Word and water convey the mighty working of God’s Spirit in us.
  • Even though the ‘love’ of God ‘for the world’ is beyond human comprehension (v.16), it is graciously shown to the world through the earthly means of His ‘only Son’, born of human flesh and blood; and given to live and die for the sins of the world. This saving act was foreshadowed by an earthly event many years before, through a visible bronze serpent that Moses ‘lifted up’ on a pole in the desert, so that people who were bitten by snakes could look to it and live.  God’s love is remembered and received anew even today in the same flesh and blood given in and with the earthly elements of bread and wine.  The good news of God’s love is told to the world through the visible and audible Word of God, printed on the pages of a Bible, read silently or aloud, proclaimed, explained and explored, or sung in psalms, hymns or spiritual songs.
  • Even though the concept of an ‘eternal life’ beyond this world, free from the condemnation that our sins deserve, is not something we can believe – let alone receive – on our own, Jesus promises to give and nurture a saving faith through those same earthly means; words in a book, on human lips, joined with water in baptism, and with bread and wine in Holy Communion. These earthly means graciously convey to us, in very tangible ways, the spiritual blessings of God’s kingdom.

As Jesus led Nicodemus toward the goal of saving faith in him as the Suffering Servant Saviour, it seemed that the challenge for Nicodemus was to learn to see beyond life in this world and to comprehend things from a ‘heavenly perspective’.  In many ways, that is our challenge too.  We live in this world, as human flesh and blood, with a naturally sinful human nature, surrounded by worldly things and worldly ideas. So, it is very easy for us to be found thinking about things – even spiritual things – from a purely natural, human perspective.  In fact, the more we become immersed in life in this world, the opinions of others, the ideas constantly put forward in media, and our own life-experiences, the more foreign the ‘heavenly things’ of God can seem to be.

It’s hard to stay focussed on a ‘Kingdom of God” that is not actually visible, when the pressure all around us is to be busy building and securing our own little kingdoms on earth with house, money, employment, possessions and a good superannuation.

It’s hard to walk in the ways of that kingdom revealed in God’s Word when the world around us seems to be marching to a completely different set of values and ideas.

It is hard to see ourselves as new people, ‘born of the Spirit’, when we all we can see is our earthly life with its weaknesses, temptations and failures.

It is hard to comprehend a ‘God who loved the world’ when people around us – and our own sinful natures – want to blame him for the things that go wrong in the world.

It is hard to live our lives in view of a time of ‘divine judgement,’ a time when God will ask, “What have you done with the life that I gave you?”; or to believe in the reality that without faith in Jesus, people will ‘perish’ eternally, when the general line of thinking in the world around us is that we are all basically good people and will therefore all go to heaven – or to nothing at all – when we die.

It’s hard to keep ‘believing’ in and seeking God’s ‘only Son’ – and his forgiveness – as the only way to be set free from sin’s eternal consequences and to secure our eternal future, when the devil, the world and our own sinful natures keep on telling us that there are more urgent and important things with which to concern ourselves in life.

Like Nicodemus, Christian people can even find ourselves asking, “How can these things be?” in relation to the spiritual truths of God’s kingdom (v.9).

The first challenge for each of us is to ask, “Where am I getting my thinking from?”  Is it from the Spirit or from the flesh?  The second challenge is to come to Jesus, like Nicodemus did, and learn of the divine mysteries that bring us ‘new birth’ and ‘eternal life’:

  • to open our hearts and minds to understand the ‘heavenly things’ of his kingdom;
  • to learn that we can indeed ‘see’ God’s kingdom and ‘enter’ it when we are ‘born of water and the Spirit’ in Holy Baptism;
  • to open our hearts and minds to the ‘wind’ of the ‘Spirit’ so that it may blow through his Word and daily renew us in heart and life;
  • to go daily and prayerfully to God’s Word, so that we can grow in the grace and knowledge of our loving God and of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ;
  • to make use of the visible, audible and tangible earthly means that God gives us in this world to nurture our saving faith – his Word, revealed in the Scriptures, and added to the water in baptism, and the bread and wine of Holy Communion.

Then, even as we live in the natural world, we will be able to comprehend and receive ‘heavenly things’ through the earthly means that God so graciously gives us.  Amen!

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

Seventh Sunday after Easter 20th May

TEXT:  Ezekiel 37:1-14

 

I felt the powerful presence of the Lord, and his Spirit took me and set me down in a valley where the ground was covered with bones. pastor1 (1) He led me all around the valley, and I could see that there were very many bones, and that they were very dry.  He said to me, ‘Mortal man, can these bones come back to life?’

I replied, ‘Soverieign Lord, only you can answer that!’

He said, ‘Prophesy to the bones.  Tell these dry bones to listen to the word of the Lord.  Tell them that I, the Sovereign Lord, am saying to them: I am going to put breath back into you and bring you back to life.  I will give you sinews and muscles and cover you with skin.  I will put breath back into you and bring you back to life.  Then  you will know that I am the Lord.’

So I prophesied as I had been told.  While I was speaking, I heard a rattling noise, and the bones began to join together.  While I watched, the bones were covered with sinews and muscles and then with skin.  But there was no breath in the bodies.

God said to me, ‘Mortal man, prophesy to the wind.  Tell the wind that the Sovereign Lord commands it to come from every direction, to breathe into these dead bodies, and bring them back to life.

So I prophesied as I had been told.  Breath entered the bodies and they came to life and stood up.  There were enough of them to form an army.

God said to me, ‘Mortal man, the people of Israel are like these bones.  They say that they are dried up, without any hope and with no future.  So prophesy to my people Israel; and tell them that I, the Sovereign Lord, am going to open their graves.  I am going to take them out and bring them back to the land of Israel.  When I open the graves where my people are buried, and bring them out, they will know that I am the Lord.    I will put my breath into them, bring them back to life, and let them live in their own land.  Then they will know that I am the Lord.  I have promised that I would do this – and I will.  I, the Lord, have spoken.’                                                                                                   (TEV)

 

‘The Lord and giver of life.’  That’s what the Nicene Creed calls God’s Holy Spirit.  It’s a good description – one that comes straight out of the Bible.

This ‘Lord and giver of life’ is the subject of a graphic vision recorded in the 37th chapter of Ezekiel.  Our text takes us into the heart of this vision, and shows us what can happen when the Spirit of God goes to work.  In a striking way, this vision of God’s Spirit in the valley of dry bones shows what we mean when we confess that he’s: The Lord and Giver of life.

The Hebrew word for Spirit is ruach.  It’s one of those Old Testament words that’s wonderfully expressive.  The word ruach means ‘breath’.  The Spirit of God is the breath of God.  In the beginning, God formed Adam out of the dust, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.  That’s when Adam became a living being.  Unless God breathes life into a person, there’s no real life there.

Many people who think they’re enjoying life to the full are simply walking corpses because they haven’t received the Spirit of God’s breath of new life.  In some ways they’re like Matchbox cars.  Put them on a downhill slope and they run alright;  but they come to a stop when they hit the bottom because there’s no motor in them.  The Spirit of God is the motor of your life!  He makes you actually come alive, instead of just looking alive!

The Holy Spirit ‘breathes’ life into a person by pointing that person to the breathless body of the crucified Christ, and then to the living, breathing body of the same Christ, who was raised from the dead to never-ending life.  The Holy Spirit points you to the Christ who died for you, to pay the wages of your sin.  He’s your only way to forgiveness and salvation.  The Holy Spirit breathes the name ‘Christ’ into your ear, and brings you to spiritual life through faith in him.  And then he keeps Christ right at the centre or your life.  He’s the Lord and giver of life!

The Hebrew word ruach also means wind.  The Spirit of God is like the wind, Jesus once said: invisible, but powerful.  You can’t see the wind, but you can see what the wind does to trees and house roofs in a cyclone … or to a candle when you blow on it.

You can’t control the wind, and you can’t limit the Spirit of God.  Like the wind, he goes where he wants and does what he chooses.  He gives his gifts and powers where he chooses, and not necessarily where some people in their presumption try to program him!

You mightn’t be able to see the wind, but you know where it’s been because you can see what it’s done.  You mightn’t be able to see the Spirit of God, and you mightn’t necessarily see the extraordinary signs of his presence that some Christians insist on.  But you can always see where he’s been at work in the lives of ordinary people like yourself.

The Holy Spirit’s like fire.  Wherever he is, life starts to crackle.  Like fire, the Holy Spirit refines away sin.  And like fire, the Holy Spirit has to be treated with respect.  You daren’t grieve the Spirit of God with persistent unbelief.  That’s the one sin our Lord said would not be forgiven!

Jesus called the Holy Spirit the ‘Counsellor’, the ‘Comforter’ – the great strength-bringer.  He breathes new spiritual life into the dead bones that litter this world.  He creates a new breed of strong and enduring people – people who know how to take the discomforts of life wthout giving in to despair.  The Holy Spirit is the Lord and giver of real life!

In a vision, the prophet Ezekiel was taken on a tour of a valley where the bones of dead soldiers were scattered everywhere.  It may have been some place where the Babylonian army had smashed the resistance of God’s rebellious people.  The prophet looked at the bones of his countrymen with a heavy heart.  As he looked, the Spirit asked him: ‘Can these bones come back to life?’

 ‘Sovereign Lord, only you can answer that’, the prophet replied.  But then God commanded Ezekiel to proclaim new life in those dry, bleaching bones.  He did so, and they sprang to life.

The people to whom Ezekiel described this vision knew very well what he meant.  Their nation was dead, and they felt dead themselves, living in exile in a strange country.

‘Can these bones come back to life?’ they were asking.  ‘Yes’, Ezekiel said to them, ‘they can be restored to life again.  The people in exile can be set free.  They can return to their homes.  The Spirit of God – the Lord and giver of life – can put flesh and sinews back on those dry bones.  He can, and he will.’

The people to whom Ezekiel told this vision knew they couldn’t restore themselves to life – life that’s more than just walking around like the living dead.  Ezekiel said that when the Spirit of God goes to work it’s like coming back from the dead.  It’s receiving a heart of flesh instead of a heart of cold stone.  It means coming to life, as life was intended to be – warm, vibrant, and loving.  This is possible only through the Lord and giver of life: God’s Holy Spirit.

I wonder if your life seems dreary at times … whether you feel you haven’t got much to live for.  If so, you’re asking the question of our text: ‘Can these bones come back to life?’  The answer’s a ringing ‘Yes’!  The Spirit of God gives life to dry bones, and he’s already done that for you: put warm flesh and sinews on what might seem to you to be nothing but a skeleton.  He did that in your baptism.  He’s the Lord and giver of life!

‘Can these bones come back to life?’  Do you ever feel that it’s a battle to hold onto your faith, to keep on believing?  Take fresh heart!  The miracle of Ezekiel’s vision can happen to anyone!  No matter what low point you may reach in your life, no matter how weathered the bones may be, the strong, life-breathing Spirit of God can join bone to bone, and bring you to life again, in Christ.  He can change what may seemto be impossible deadends in your life into roads that are bright with joy, and promise, and service!

‘Can these bones come back to life?’  Has the spiritual life the Holy Spirit implanted in you somehow become paralysed?  Have you lost your energy to live for and serve Christ and his church?   The Spirit of God can change that!  He can inject new life and energy through his dynamic gospel word about the living Christ.  Through this word, he can change you into someone pulsing with new joy and new spiritual vitality.  Those creaking limbs of yours can become supple and flexible again!

‘Can these bones come back to life?’  This is a question that’s often asked at the graveside of someone who’s been near and dear.  Ezekiel’s vision gives a confident ‘Yes’ to mourners. As St Paul wrote to the Romans: ‘If the Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the grave will give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you’.  Those dry bones you see lowered into the grave or committed to the elements will live again in a new and glorified life.  Ezekiel assures you of that!

The Holy Spirit is the Lord and giver of life.  He gives his gift of spiritual life to a person in much the same way as a baby’s born.  In fact, rebirth or regeneration is the theological term that’s often used to describe this process, whether it takes place through baptism in infancy or through a meeting with the living Christ in his word, later in life.

A baby’s life normally begins in the setting of other people – father, mother … family.  The new life that comes through God’s Spirit also generally begins in the setting of people – the church.  A lot of people today see the church as simply some sort of human ‘establishment’ or ‘institution’.  Some criticise the church because it’s made up of people just like themselves!  They can only see the flaws and hypocrisy in other members!

The church has its weaknesses because it’s made up of people like you and me.  But the church is the creation of the Spirit of God.  Wherever the church is, proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ the great sin-bearer, and offering his sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, there the Spirit of God himself is at work, bringing new life to dry bones.

By his Spirit, God brings new life to the dry bones of individual sinners.  By his Spirit he links people with that new life into fellowship – the fellowship of faith in his church.  Those dry bones become a vital part of the Body of Christ as they begin to move and function together in him.

This is your call, and this is your role in the church and in your congregation.  Christ’s people aren’t just like carrots in a garden: each one distinct and each one growing separately. They’re like branches, growing together out of and drawing nourishment from the one Vine, which is Jesus Christ himself!

‘I am the vine, you are the branches’, Jesus once said.  In a vine, each branch grows from the trunk and produces fruit for the overall good of the whole vine.  In the church, when the sap rises in those branches, when dry bones come to life again, things happen!

When the Spirit of God brings this kind of life to you, Christian love takes on a new dimension.  Confidence takes over from fear.  Doubt gives way to Spirit-given conviction. Uncertainty gives way to hope.  Lethargy gives way to action, sluggishness to service.  Indifference turns into a vital concern for people – their welfare, their faith, and their spiritual life.  You live as you’ve never lived before, giving and extending yourself in loving service to others … and to Christ.

That’s why the Spirit of God has called you to follow Christ and has sealed this call in your baptism.  That’s why he’s built you as a living stone into his church and into this congregation.  It’s why the church exists.

And so Ezekiel’s challenge to you today is to let the Spirit of God continue to rejuvenate you and fill you with a new measure of his life.  Let the Spirit of God use you in a mighty way to build up and extend the whole Body of Christ, and particularly this congregation.  Take his call seriously, and God will take you seriously, and work in and through you in a mighty way!

The unbelievable happened there in the valley of bones.  The unbelievable can always happen where God’s Spirit goes to work in and through people who’re committed to Jesus Christ.  The very fact that you’re here – a sinner, now a saint – is unbelievable when you stop and think about it!  And this kind of miracle can keep right on happening every day, as through the power of his word, the Spirit of God frees you more and more from the death-grip of sin, and makes your new heart of flesh beat with a new life, a new love, and a new power to serve.

The Spirit who brings new life to dry bones can and will do this because he’s the Lord and giver of life.  Amen.

Robert J Wiebusch

Sixth Sunday after Easter 13th May

TEXT:  Mark 16:19, 20

‘After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.  Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.’  

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As the evangelists record, on the day of his ascension Jesus was with his disciples in Jerusalem.  He gave them some final instructions during a meal, then when they’d finished the meal, he led them out to Bethany.  He continued his instructions on the way and repeated his promise to send them the Holy Spirit.  They should go to Jerusalem, he said, to wait for the Spirit to come.  Then he raised his hands in a final act of blessing, and as they watched, he was taken up from them until a cloud hid him from their sight.

Jesus’ ascension is the final act in God’s great drama of salvation.  God the Father received his divine Son back to the glory of his right hand, and in doing this, he gave his stamp of approval to everything Jesus had accomplished here on earth.

In his letter to the Ephesians, St Paul points out that the Jesus who ascended that day is the same person ‘who descended to the … earthly regions’.  The Son of God descended from the glory of heaven to the lowliness of earth as the infant of a young woman.  He descended into the sin, sorrow and suffering of this world, for us.

God had seen us in our need.  He’d seen us trapped in the tragedy of our sin.  He’d seen that, try hard as we would, we could never bridge the gap that we’d created between us and himself by our sin.  The only way we could be spared the punishment that sin brings was for someone to take our place – to keep God’s law perfectly on our behalf, and yet to suffer its punishment in full.

That’s why the eternal Son of God came from heaven to earth, from glory to humility.  That’s why he gave up his life on Calvary.  And God accepted this sacrifice of his Son, and raised him to life again on the third day.

To convince people that the sin of all humanity’s been paid for, Jesus showed himself alive on a number of occasions during the 40 days after his resurrection.  In effect, he was saying to his disciples, and us: ‘I’m alive!  I’ve taken all your guilt on myself … all your weaknesses.  I’ve suffered all your temptations for you.  I’ve been punished most cruelly for you.  But I’m no longer dead!  I’ve conquered death and Satan.  I’ve cancelled out all your sin.  Just believe this and you’ll have life with me and my Father in heaven.’

Jesus’ resurrection proves to us that our sin has been paid for.  But to make us even more sure, our Lord ‘was taken up into heaven’.  Because he was completely satisfied with what Jesus had done, God the Father received him back to his right hand side … restored him to the full exercise of his divine authority and power.

As St Paul says, ‘He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe’.

That’s why Ascension is a festival of joy.  It shows us that God’s saving work for us is complete.  There’s nothing more to be done.  Our sin’s been paid for – all of it!  You are forgiven!  Christ’s work is perfect.  No matter how many times we may still fall into temptation – even though we try hard to fight against it – God’s taken all this into consideration.  Jesus’ death has covered it all.

By faith you can be at peace with God – in spite of your many weaknesses and failings.  By faith you have God’s own assurance of a place in heaven, where your risen Lord’s now gone on ahead of you,  You don’t have to work for it; and you don’t have to have any anxieties about whether or not you’re worthy of it.  In yourself you’re not worthy, and you never can be.  But Christ has removed all your unworthiness so you can now have the certainty of faith to say with St Paul:  ‘I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord’.

Our text tells us that ‘after the Lord had spoken to [the disciples], he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God’.  What this means has been well described by St Paul in his letter to the Ephesians.  ‘[God] raised [Christ] from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms far above all rule and authority, power and domin-ion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age, but in the one to come.  And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body.’

The fact that the ascended Christ is now at God’s right hand doesn’t mean he’s confined somewhere ‘up there’ beyond the stars!  The picture we often have of God the Father sitting on a shining white throne above the clouds is poetic imgagery.  Jesus himself described what’s meant by his sitting ‘at the right hand of God’ when he said: ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me’.  As ascended Lord, the God-Man Jesus Christ now fully shares in the rule of earth and heaven.

In a sense, his ascension was like a coronation, by which he was unmistakably declared almighty ruler over heaven and earth.  Within the eternal trinity of the Godhead, the ascended Christ now controls all things throughout Creation, according to his unlimited wisdom and grace.

Now … what does all this mean for you and me?

Think back for a moment to what St Paul wrote in Ephesians!  ‘[God] seated [Christ] at his right hand in the heavenly realms … and … placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church …’

Jesus Christ, the exalted ‘King of Creation’, who is both ‘Son of God and Mary’s Son’, as we sing in one of our hymns, now rules over all things in this universe.  He controls all the forces in this universe, and directs everything that happens in the interests of his church – and that includes you and me.

The ascended Christ is vitally concerned about his church here on earth, and about you and me who’re members of it.  He’s vitally concerned about his church because God the Father’s given him to the church as its Head.

There’ a wonderful reassurance in this thought for all of us who’re members of Christ’s church through faith.  We can have this very real assurance that our ascended Lord is directing everything that happens – on a global and national level, and in our community and our own personal life – he’s directing it all in our best interests.  We can confidently say with St Paul: ‘In all things God works for the good of those who love him’.

In spite of continuing unrest in various parts of the world, in spite of shootings, in spite of increasing drug use, in spite of road deaths, in spite of AIDS, the ascended Christ is still ruling at the right hand of his Father – channelling our lives in our best interests.

So … if you’re sick or have some disability, don’t despair!  Christ is still in control;  God is working for your good!

If you have financial problems, or you’re out of work, or your income’s taken a dive, don’t lose courage!  God knows!

If your children let you down, or your marriage has broken up or is under stress, don’t throw in the towel!  Christ is on your side, and he’s still in control.

So often when trouble comes we give in to despair.  ‘What’s the use?’ we ask.  ‘Where’s God?  Why doesn’t he help?’

Your heavenly Father is always there, and Christ is at his right hand.  He’s in charge, and he rules everything in this universe in the best interests of those who’re his.  He only has your good in mind in the way he deals with you.  You mightn’t always see it at the time, but you will … with the wisdom of hindsight!

And beyond this life he’s prepared a place for you in the never-ending glory of his Father’s presence.

So …you can face each day confidently, trusting in the almighty rule of your ascended Lord and King.

However, Jesus’ ascension to God’s right hand doesn’t mean he’s left his disciples – ancient or modern – to our own devices, to flounder around by ourselves in a world that by and large is antagonistic to all he stands for.  Shortly before he parted from his disciples he assured them: ‘I am with you always, to the end of the age’.

True, he did withdraw his visible presence from them, but as the ever-present God he continued to be with them, and he continues to be with his disciples of all ages.

As those early disciples went out to preach his gospel in all the world they realised more and more how close the ascended Christ was.  Mark tells us:  ‘The disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by signs that accompanied it’.

Those men were very much aware of the presence of their Lord, and of his Spirit, in their lives.  On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came to them, as Jesus promised.  They went out to preach and teach with new boldness … to witness and baptise. And as they did this, the ascended Lord himself worked through them.  He confirmed and strenthened their spoken word with signs – a lame man healed, Saul the persecutor converted to Paul the Apostle, lives changed, faith strengthened, deeds of love and service.  The mass conversion on Pentecost, and the spectacular growth of Christianity in spite of strong opposition – even persecution – all this testifies to the fact that the ascended Christ works mightily in and through his followers.

The same Lord is still close to each one of us today.  He’s put us into this world for a special purpose – just as the apostles had a special purpose.  His purpose for you is not that you should selfishly live just for yourself.  You’ve been called to live under Christ and serve him and witness to his love.  And he wants to work through you as he worked through his chosen 12.

There’s a story that tells of Jesus’ return to heaven.  The angels Michael and Gabriel were there to welcome him.  They congratulated him on his victory over Satan, and for having drawn so many disciples to follow him.  ‘But’, they asked, ‘what’ll happen now that you’ve withdrawn from the world?’

‘I’ve provided for that’. Jesus told them.  ‘I have Peter and John and the other Apostles to go out and preach in my name.’

‘But how will people of later ages come to know what you’ve done for them?’ Gabriel asked.

‘I’ve arranged for that, too.’ Jesus said. ‘ I’ve charged my people throughout history to be my witnesses and tell people about my love for them.’

‘But what if they let you down?’ Gabriel asked in awed tones.

‘I have no other way’, Jesus replied.

It’s just a story, but it makes a challenging point.  To each of us the Lord says, ‘Go into all the world, starting with your own home and community.  Go and preach and live my gospel, and witness to my grace.  And don’t be concerned about your weaknesses and inadequacies, because “I am with you …”

As you respond to this call as a member of Christ’s body and of this St Peter’s congregation, you too will see the signs of your Lord’s mighty presence, and of his power at work in and through you and your fellow members: children and adults drawn into the body of Christ through baptism; some friend or relative who comes to new life in Christ; growth in your own faith and in the love that expresses that faith; prayers answered; lives changed.  These are the kind of signs that show the ascended Lord is still mightily active in his church, and in you today.

Rejoice that your salvation has been completed, and that you are a forgiven child of God, with an eternal destiny in heaven!  Rejoice that the ascended Christ rules over all in his powerful, loving way.  Rejoice that he continues to work in and through his church on earth to draw people to himself!  And rejoice that he works also in and through you, in spite of your all-too-human frailties!

Rejoice, the Lord is King!

Your Lord and King adore!

Jesus, the Savjour reigns,

The God of truth and love;

His kingdom cannot fail,

He rules o’er earth and heaven.

He sits at God’s right hand …

Lift up your heart, lift up your voice!

Rejoice, again I say, Rejoice!

Amen.

Rev Robert J Wiebusch

30th Anniversary of St Peters.

 

Text:  Psalm 26:8
‘I love the house where you live, O Lord, the place where  your glory dwells.’

                                                                                                                                          

A lot has happened in the 30 years since this fine church was officialy opened and dedicated.  Most people who died before 1998 wouldn’t have known much about drones and solar panels, desalination plants and even Lutheran bishops in Australia! pastor1 (1) And one could go on adding to this list, showing the tremendous changes that have occurred in both church and society in that time.

One of the significant changes here at St Peter’s in more recent years has been the way pastoral ministry has been provided, largely by visiting pastors.  And it’s my privilege to be with you again for a few weeks, and for this special anniversary service.

I’m sure that all of you would echo the words ascribed to David in Palm 26:  ‘I love the house where you live, O Lord, the place where your glory dwells’.  That’s why you’re here today.

The ‘house’ David was talking about was the tabernacle – that portable tent-church the Israelites used during their 40 years in the desert.  At Sinai God had told Moses how the tabernacle was to be built.  The materials it was made from came largely from from the wilderness – acacia wood and animal skins.  These were overlaid with gold and silver, brass and linen, all given by the people.

The tabernacle proper was like a large tent.  It was surrounded by a courtyard that had rich curtains all round it.  A gold-plated wooden frame gave strength to the back and side of the tent.  Ten embroidered linen ‘curtains’ were draped  over this, with a goatskin covering over the top.

Inside there were two parts:  the sanctuary or ‘holy place’, and – curtained off at one end – was the ‘holy of holies’, where the Ark of the Covenant was placed.  This was seen as God’s  special dwelling place.  It was where showed his presence as a ‘glory cloud’ whenever the Israelites made camp.

This portable ‘church’ was the first thing the Israelites set up when they made camp.  It was where God met his people in a special way.  He’d promised:  ‘There I will meet with you and speak to you … and the place will be consecrated to my glory.’

Right down until Solomon’s time this tabernacle was the worship centre for God’s people.  Here God revealed his gracious presence among his people.  Here the people brought their sacrifices, and their prayers and praises.  That’s why David could say: ‘I love the house where you live, O Lord, the place where your glory dwells’.  David knew that in the tabernacle he was close to God, and so he truly loved this tent church.  He said in Psalm 122: ‘I rejoiced with those who said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord”’.

I hope you can say the same about this fine church where we’re gathered for worship on this anniversary Sunday.  Of course, you don’t have to have a church building to worship God.  Over the years, I’ve led people in worship in many a secular hall or private home.  Jesus promises:  ‘Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them’.  And what a promise that is!  God, the almighty, holy Creator of all things, is pleased to be with us, his people – even though we’re sinful!  He doesn’t overlook us. He’s not ‘too good’ for us, too ‘high and mighty’, or ‘too busy’.  He comes to us where we are.

He came to us as one of us when his eternal Son took on our human flesh and blood as the Son of Mary.  In his life as one of us he felt the pain of our sorrow and sin.  He identified with us to the point of taking our guilt on himself, and then dealing with it once and for all on a cross.  That’s your God:  not far off,  but with you in your kind of life, remaining with you, and constantly coming to you in a special way as you gather round his word and sacrament.

Like many other congregations, St Peter’s started life without a ‘church home’ of its own.  It began in 1981, and in its early years members gathered for worship in various schools, and in churches of other denominations. But the God who came into this world in a borrowed shed in Bethlehem was just as much present with his people in borrowed surroundings as he’s with us now.  But just as God took delight in the tabernacle of old, and then the magnificent temple in Solomon’s time, so he also delights in the church that the members of this St Peter’s congregation have erected and maintained to his glory, and which is the focal point of your corporate life and worship.

I’m sure that, like David, you love this house of worship because it, too, is a ‘place where [God’s] glory dwells’ … where God reveals himself in a rich and gracious and powerful way.  Again and again God’s come to you here, to make himself known in his grace, to reassure and strengthen you, to bless you with his love, to motivate you, and build you up for your life of service and witness.

Here at this font children have received the gracious cleansing of Holy Baptism and been sealed into God’s family.   Here the word of God has been proclaimed and taught, and its central message of God’s love has been expounded again and again.

You’ve heard the judging word of God’s Law touch your conscience, to show up your spiritual bankruptcy … and you’ve heard the sweet and comforting word of the gospel that I bring you again now: that in Jesus Christ God forgives you.  Your sin is wiped out.  God accepts you and recreates you in Jesus Christ, and makes you new in loving service.

The glory your God reveals to you here in this dwelling place isn’t just the fearful glory of an all-powerful Judge, but the glory of a Father who sent his only Son to a cross for you.  That’s the word you hear from this pulpit again and again.

Here, too, you’ve had a visible sign of God’s glory among you over the past 30 years – a sign just as powerful as the cloud that filled the Holy of holies in the tabernacle.  You’ve had the precious body and blood of your Lord Jesus himself, given to you in the Holy Supper, and in those blessed moments of communion our gracious and saving God has come to dwell with you and within you.

Young people have affirmed their faith here before this altar.  Some have farewelled loved ones here – family members or friends whom God’s called to their eternal home.  They’ve experienced the powerful and sustaining presence of God at this sad time, as well as the support of Christian friends – brothers and sisters in their church family.

So …as you look back on these experiences, you surely have every reason to say with David: ‘I love the house where you live, O Lord, the place where your glory dwells’.  You love this church, not just because it’s your church, but because it, too, is the place where God’s saving glory in Jesus Christ is made known, and where the Christ who came into our world in Bethlehem, and who will come again at the end of time, comes to meet you in the here and now.

‘I love the house where you live, O Lord, the place where your glory dwells.’  These weren’t just empty words for David.  They reflected his whole life.  He regularly came into that tent church in worship.  In fact he contributed to the worship of God’s people through the many psalms he wrote.  They’ve become part of the hymnal of the Old Testament, and we still sing or say them in our worship today.  And David dreamt of the day when he could replace the humble tabernacle with a magnificent temple that would be a worthy tribute of worship to God.

Our attitude to the house of God also shows up in our actions.  Our attitudes and actions will very plainly show how important it is for us that this church is a place where God’s glory is revealed.  As you recognise more and more just what a gracious and saving God you have, and how richly he provides for you with spiritual food in his word and sacrament … just as he provided food for the Israelites on their desert trek … then you’ll constantly be found in his presence here in worship.  It’ll be your delight, as it was David’s, to be in regular communion with your loving God in his special dwelling place among you.

You’ll hear with joy those words of absolution Sunday by Sunday, assuring you that God forgives you and sees you as one of his holy children.  You’ll thrill to that close and tangible link our Lord establishes with you as he gives you his body and blood in the Holy Supper.  You’ll celebrate here with joy in your heart.  You’ll open your heart to the word of your God.  You’ll listen as he speaks his gracious words of life to reassure you in your need … to strengthen you in your hope … and to empower you for service.

You’ll also maintain your church and its grounds as beautifully as you can, because this too is an act of worship. Perhaps you’ve never thought of wielding a broom or a duster, or arranging flowers as an act of worship, but it’s also a way of honouring God.  It shows what God’s worth to you!   It shows God himself, and it shows others around you.  An unkempt church tells a community that the people who worship there don’t care all that much about God.  A church that’s lovingly maintained tells people that its members love their God.

In the New Testament, of course, ‘church’ is more than buildings.  It’s people.  And the more you know and appreciate the saving glory of your God … the more you receive from him, the more you’ll want to share with others.  You’ll share in worship with one another; you’ll share in caring for and supporting and nurturing one another, and in bearing one another’s burdens.  You’ll share your insights into God’s word with each other.  You’ll share your faith and convictions with others, and you’ll invite them to come in with you and know and feel the saving glory of our God.

And so this building will continue to be a powerhouse of the Holy Spirit, and a dynamic focal point for worship, witness, nurture and caring for you who’re part of the famiy of God in this congregation.  And it’s as this happens that the true church of God – the one ‘holy Christian church’ that we confess in the creeds, will continue to be built by the Spirit, stone by stone, brick by brick.

As St Paul wrote in Ephesians, in this church, you are fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.  In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.  And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.’

May God grant you this, in Christ!  And may this building of bricks, timber and tiles also continue to be a ‘tool’ used by the Master Builder – the Spirit of God himself!

Amen.

Robert J Wiebusch

Fifth Sunday after Easter April 29th

  • “I am the true vine”

    John 15:1-8. Can’t bear fruit by ourselves! 10/5/09“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. {2} He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. {3} You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. {4} Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. {5} “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. {6} If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. {7} If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. {8} This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.20180311_103505 (1)Today I have brought along a branch off of our grape vine at the manse. It is a branch that I cut from the vine this morning: part of a vine that I am sure has produced good fruit. Now at the moment this branch looks alive and well. Well, as good as can be expected at this time of the year: but in reality, now that it has been cut from the vine, it is good for nothing. It is dead – fit only for burning or mulching into compost. There is no way that I can leave it out in front of our church and think that next summer we will get fruit from it. Now that this branch is off the vine, it is dead – fit only for burning. There only one way that this branch could produce fruit next season and that is if it were still connected to the vine. By itself now, it can do nothing but die. We know that don’t we; this branch is now useless. It would only have survived if it remained in connection to vine.Now our Lord Jesus Christ wants us to learn an important lesson from this illustration. Jesus is saying that the same principle applies to our lives as Christians as it does to this branch. Now if that is case then we had better do a lot of serious thinking. Have you taken note of the attendance figures of this congregation over recent years and related to that the number of members that we have on our books? Have you thought about how many times you yourself have missed church in that same period of time? Now sure, attendance every week does not necessarily mean that we are Christian, just as missing the odd Sunday mean that we are not a Christian. But it is indicator that we need to do some serious thinking as individuals and as a congregation, in light of these words from Jesus.

    The main word in this reading is remain; or abide – 8 times in this short reading. So, here Jesus is trying to make a very important point. He says there is a close connection between remaining and bearing fruit: that is, having peace, hope, love, joy and more. Jesus is trying to really impress on us the importance of our remaining connected to him, if we want to live and be happy and fruitful. He says, apart from him – if we think we can live without him, ignoring him much of the time – we in reality do nothing but die. To remain means to dwell; to be present with continually; to not wander away or have broken contact with. This is what Jesus here encourages us to do in relation to him: Particularly if we want to live and bear fruit in our lives. This illustration of the branches and the vine makes the point so well for us.

    So who are we to think that we can have only occasional contact with our Lord and still be strong and healthy – happy and content? Surely, we cannot expect to only have little connection to our Lord in worship but still be able to bear the fruit in our lives that we, and God, would want? Who are we trying to kid? It seems that we often have this idea that as long as we say that we believe, then that all that matters: then everything should be rosy for us; and everything should fall into place for us. After all, we think we are baptised and so are a part of God’s family, therefore everything is well. Now as long as we keep some contact; some faith; we will be right. Well think again!

    Look, what happens to a branch that is broken, even if it is still connected; is it possible for it to be as healthy as if it was completely connected? The greater the break, the worse off the branch would be. What happens to a branch that is only just hanging by a little bit bark and not much more? It barely gets enough sap stay alive, far less grow and bear fruit. On top of that, it is in far greater danger of being broken off completely. Yet many us seem to think that as long as we have a small connection with our Lord and his Church, we’ll be right. Who are we trying to kid? Ourselves it would seem.

    If it were you or I that were caring for that vineyard, we would cut that branch off completely and burn it. We would get rid of it because it is of no value, but is simply using up valuable resources. However, not our Lord, he still sees great potential in us; he still sees the possibility of much fruit. So he prunes the branch: perhaps he might even have to prune it very heavily, for its own good; so that it can live and produce: So that we can still live and produce the fruit that he seeks from us.

    Now sure, we do not like the troubles and pains that come our way, and we often blame God when things go wrong. But the broken branch has an important message for us. If we are not pruned, there will not be enough sap and nutrients to keep us from withering, and we may not even survive, far less produce any fruit. If we are not pruned, when the storms of life come, we will soon be torn away from the vine and die. But if we are cut back, we will be able to withstand the forces that come to bear against us. And with time, the Lord can even strengthen that broken wound and even enable us to bear the fruit that is so important.

    But now back to the main point: the importance of our remaining connected to the vine – our Lord Jesus Christ. Why is this branch dead, even though it still looks green? It has severed all connections with the vine. It cannot get the sap and nutrients that it needs to stay alive. Even though at the moment it does not look too bad, it is in reality dead. Because it is no longer connected to that which gives it its life and vitality, it is dead. There is no way that it can get what it needs for itself to be able to survive, so it will wither and die, even though it looks alive at the moment.

    The point here being, that we need a good supply of sap in order to be happy, healthy and fruitful; and that we cannot get by and for ourselves. This only comes from our remaining in the Lord Jesus Christ. Those nutrients that we need come to us in the form of God’s Word and the Sacraments. They are the key ingredients for us as Christians and we need a constant supply of this for our well-being. That is why regular attendance at worship is so important: That is why Bible Study and home devotions are essential. There we get what we need to give us the strength and vitality that is necessary for our survival as Christians: There we are given what is needed for us to find love, joy, peace and all the rest for our lives. There in the Word and Sacraments we find the love and forgiveness that we need, extended to us by our Lord. And only then are we truly able to love and forgive – bear the fruit that is an essential part of our Christians life.

    That all comes as we remain connected to our Lord Jesus. As we hear, and are extended, God’s love and forgiveness, we come to know that without him we are nothing; that we are dead. But primarily that Jesus Christ alone is the source and only means of survival and happiness. It is there as we regularly attend worship that we are fed with his Word and his Body and Blood in the Lord’s Supper and receive the nutrients that we need to stay alive and healthy as Christians. There we are enabled to go out and produce the fruit that our Lord seeks from each of our lives.

    Yes, there are many who might look green and healthy at the moment, but do they see Jesus as their life giver – every day? Do they see the importance of remaining in Jesus – knowing that in him alone they have life? Do they believe that it is the Word and Sacraments that are the important means that our Lord uses to feed us and keep us alive and healthy? To ignore him and what he has to give us, and to think that don’t need him is disastrous: It is to cut ourselves off from all the goodness that our Lord has to give to us; and that can lead to only one ultimate end – to be burnt in the fires of hell.

    But on the other hand, in living in that constant relationship of love, trust and friendship with the Lord Jesus means life and fruitfulness – it means stability, strength, peace and hope. Above all, it brings great glory to our God who is the source and being of everything that is good within us.

    Here then is an important message for us to consider now and in the days ahead; and this I ask you to not take lightly. Look prayfully to this illustration of the vine and its branches and see what Jesus wants us to always keep in mind. As we remain in him may we produce that fruit that is so good and necessary. In so doing, may all glory go to our Lord Jesus Christ who is our source of life and vitality. For to him alone belongs all glory and honour, now and always. AMEN.
    Pastor Roger Atze