Are you getting ready to come to church today?

The text: John 12:1-8

As you were getting ready to come to church today, perhaps you splashedallanb some after shave on, or a squirt or two of perfume.
Some of the world’s most unique and expensive fragrances are these:

  • Hermes’ 24 Faubourg {foe-borg} The limited edition comes in crystal bottles. Just 1000 bottles sold all around the world for the price of $1,500
  • “Sacred Tears of Thebes”. {Thebees} The bottle is handmade by Baccarat artists and is capped by an amethyst crystal. The bottle holds just over 7 millilitres and sells for $1,700.
  • Jean Patou’s Joy Baccarat is next on the list. Only 50 limited-edition bottles are created each year. For two short weeks in summer the 10,600 flowers required for just one bottle of Joy are harvested in the French countryside. For a 15ml bottle it costs $1,800.
  • Caron’s Poivre {Pwoav} Created by Michel Morsetti in 1954, comes in a 2ounce bottle that is beautified with crystal with white gold around the neck and sells for $2000.

To put things into perspective, the perfumed ointment Mary uses in today’s Gospel reading is far more expensive than these. It is from the Spikenard plant, a species of highly-prized, aromatic, grassy-leafed plants from India. A small bottle was worth 300 denarii―about a year’s wages. Consider that the average base wage today is somewhere around $40,000. That’s what Mary poured out on Jesus’ feet.

Is the complaint Judas makes, then, legitimate? “Why was this perfume not sold and the three hundred denarii given to the poor!?” Perhaps Judas’ thinking that doing such a thing is a waste and could be better sold and spent helping the poor is understandable. Such extravagance is not something that we usually associate with Lent―a season where we traditionally focus on doing without, of refraining from luxuries.

But Judas is not really concerned about the poor. He says this because he is concerned with what he’s missing out on. John tells us that Judas was a thief―having charge of the money bag he used to help himself to what was in it. If this ointment was sold for the poor the money would go in the bag and he could dip his hands in again―imagine how much he could do with a year’s worth of wages! Judas wasn’t concerned about the poor, he was concerned about himself! This isn’t good for Judas. Think of what Jesus said in Matthew 6:21: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”.

John tells us that this all takes place six days before Passover—the Saturday before holy week. The time is getting closer to Jesus’ suffering and death. As Jesus’ betrayer, Judas plays a significant part in this. He loves money so much that he would betray Jesus for 30 silver coins. Judas’ god was money. That was his treasure and that was where his heart was, and like everything else that people fashion an idol out of, it did not bring him freedom, but enslaved him and cost him his life.

But at the supper we are shown a profound contrast, in Martha and Mary, who serve Jesus by showing hospitality to him. They have experienced the love of Jesus and they want to honour him with this meal as their special guest.

Mary shows honour to Jesus in a special way. It was ancient custom to wash the feet of all invited guests, who usually had to travel a considerable distance by foot. This task was viewed as common courtesy. Mary takes this customary cultural practice of the day and extends it into a profound confession of faith. Jesus explains what this is with his defence of Mary: “Leave her alone; she has reserved it for the day of my burial.”

In the ancient world, bodies of the dead were prepared for burial by washing and anointing with a combination of spices and perfumed oils. Mary knew that Jesus was soon going to his death―and when he was crucified, it would be impossible to anoint him on the Cross. So she pours out the extravagance of what she has, such costly love, withholding not one drop. Unlike Judas, who is devoted to the self, Mary is devoted to Jesus. In contrast to Judas who is concerned only for himself, Mary spares no expense, honouring Jesus above herself. Mary didn’t count this perfumed ointment as too costly for Jesus.

And so the perfume—usually contained in an alabaster jar that was broken open—was entirely emptied—symbolic of Mary’s broken and contrite heart from which all the contents were poured out for her Lord. The task of foot-washing was a menial task reserved to the lowliest servant. Mary wasn’t―but now she makes herself to be. But it is what Mary does next that is just as profound. She uses her hair to dry Jesus’ feet. The hair on our head is the highest point of our body. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11 that a woman’s hair is her glory. Mary used her crowning glory, her honour, as a towel for her King. To do this at the very feet of Jesus suggests an act of complete devotion and humility. In doing so, she is an example for us all.

How do the vastly different attitudes of Mary and Judas lead us to reflect on where our treasure is? In this season of Lent, a season with a particular emphasis on reflecting on God’s word; his word that calls us to repentance—do we kneel at the feet of Jesus and pour out our hearts to him—surrendering our selfishness by which we betray Jesus just like Judas did, with our thoughts and attitudes, words, our lack of serving others and instead serving ourselves? Do we pour out our devotion to Jesus like Mary did, withholding nothing? Where is our starting point for our giving to Jesus―extravagance or thriftiness? Where is serving God on our list of priorities, with our money and time and talents? Whatever we give―or hold back from God, and whether we do it joyfully or reluctantly and with resentment shows what our heart holds dear. God wants our broken and contrite hearts, humble hearts, servant hearts. What treasure does our heart cling to? This is a crucial question that today’s text puts before us.

Our faith in Jesus is not just a mental acknowledgement. It is not merely verbal confession. It is an outpouring. Mary’s outpouring of the expensive perfume which cost her so much showed where her heart was; who she was devoted to. She was more concerned about giving away than keeping for herself.

Yet Mary’s devotion to Jesus is only possible because it is empowered by God’s own devotion to her. Mary’s extravagance is a response to, and is empowered by God’s own extravagance in Christ. In Christ God poured out the riches of heaven upon the world, especially through his holy and precious blood. There are so many connections with this in today’s text.

The supper that was prepared for Jesus as the guest of honour, who was served by Mary, is close to Passover, when we hear that it was Jesus who put himself at the lowest place, that of a servant, washing his disciples’ feet. It was on the night of the Passover, the night that Jesus was betrayed by Judas, that we hear Jesus was at another supper. This time he is not the guest of honour but the host. Jesus took bread and said: This is my body given for you, do this in remembrance of me, and after the supper he took the cup and said: This is my blood of the new covenant which is shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in remembrance of me. It was the meal that Jesus instituted before he would be unjustly arrested, tried, beaten, mocked and crucified, bearing the sins of the world to reconcile the world to God.

It is through Christ that God shows his extravagant devotion to the world; those who reject, betray and mock him. Although he is the Son of God and King of heaven, Jesus did not think of himself, but he showed God’s commitment to free us from sin, death and the devil. It is there on the Cross that we see that God was not concerned with what he might lose. Like the perfume from Mary’s Alabaster jar, God in Christ poured out the fullness of his love for the world. There he shows us the extravagance of his lavish love. Paul says in Ephesians 1:7-8 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.”

Mary’s extravagance is a glimpse of God’s extravagance, who in Christ, held nothing back for us, and continues to pour out the fullness of his divine grace, lavish love, and ever-present help for us. We see what a good and loving Lord he is with the presence of another person at the table in our text; that of Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised. There are so many connections in today’s short passage that point ahead to Jesus’ imminent death, but the presence of Lazarus points further; –three days after Jesus died.

For the presence of Lazarus, eating at the table, is a glimpse of Jesus’ own resurrection; the resurrection he would win for all people, and share with us in baptism. There he has washed not only our feet but our whole body, and he anointed us not with perfume but with the Holy Spirit our Father in heaven poured out upon us through Jesus. Joined to Jesus and made new through water and the word, we share in his own death and resurrection, and indeed, he has brought life out of death for us! By holding firm to Christ in faith we will join with Mary and Martha, Lazarus and all the other saints of all times and places in the heavenly banquet without end, the banquet at which we are the Lord’s guests of honour.

May the death and resurrection of Jesus always be the strength and source of our love to others, so that rather than lamenting over what we lose out on, we rejoice in what we can give away. And may the death and resurrection of Jesus always strengthen, inspire and work in us, so that, like Mary, we too pour out love on him who died and rose again for all people, and for us. Amen.

This man receives sinners and eats with them.

Joshua 5:9-12; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; St. Luke 15:1-3 & 11b-32. a 5:9-12

There will be many sermons preached on the Prodigal Son this Sunday.gordon5 But what is the meaning of this well-known parable and its place in the lectionary during Lent. What new thing has this word of Jesus to say to us in this season of Lent, who are so familiar with the words that before we hear them we believe we know what it all means.

Perhaps it is this familiarity which prevents us at times from seeing its meaning for us. The parable is understood by St. Luke as an answer to the question posed by the Scribes and Pharisees that “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” (v.2.)

One of the difficulties in understanding the parable is that so often it is transposed into a story about the general beneficence or love of God, an abstract notion whose content remains in the sphere of generalities, as is so much of Jesus teaching when its meaning is divorced from WHO He is in himself.

I would suggest that we think of the parable as Jesus own self interpretation of the way that he goes from Bethlehem to Golgotha. That is to cease separating the parable from Him who speaks it and turning it into an abstract moral metaphor of God.

You will recall the Pharisees words which precipitate the parable. It is this accusation levelled at Jesus, “This man receives sinners and eats with them”. This is the question which, in one form or another throughout the period of Lent, is understood, by the gospel lectionaries to be the crux of the issue for Jesus. The 40 days of Lent recall Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness consequent on His Baptism where the question of the nature of His being as the Son of God is put to the test.

In Jesus Baptism He is declared to be God’s well-beloved Son as He receives at the hand of John the Baptist a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin. Jesus the holy Son of God who knew no sin receives a baptism of one who confesses sin is a penitent! In this first act of His public ministry Jesus declares His solidarity with sinners and therefore embraces the cross as the fulfilment of this way to the depths of the godforsakenness which He now shares with all people. The temptations are directly related to the Baptism since they raise in various forms the possibility for Jesus of Him being the Son of God in some other way than the way of penitential obedience which will lead to the cross.

In Sunday’s lectionary, the Pharisees question raises the same issue. The association of Jesus with sinners. His identification of His way with their cause before God with all that involves in terms of His sharing to the uttermost the shameful corner in which God finds all of us.

In the parable Jesus speaks of a journey into the far country taken by a Father’s son. The reason he departs the father’s house is he sees an opportunity in half the father’s wealth he is given, to become ever more deeply involved in the dissipation of his life in fulfilling his self-serving desires. This is the story of all people, the sin of Adam who wanted to be his own Judge and Saviour as, according to Genesis 3, he wanted to know good and evil and not to rely upon the faithfulness of God as the basis of life. And this is the journey with which Jesus identifies Himself in His Baptism, this is the way that He takes to its depths, stated in the parable of the prodigal son as sinking to be associated with and feeding with that most unclean of all animals; swine.

The Son’s return to the Fathers house is initiated by His coming to Himself. His repentance. But who is it that repents? When penitence is abstracted from the work of Jesus, His penitence on our behalf, we are back in the monastery cell with Luther who found that by inward reflection there was no way from our ability to repent to reconciliation with God. He found through bitter experience that all our penitence is simply a more pious form of self justification. Long before Sigmund Freud, Luther discovered the truth of what Jeremiah declared, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?” (Chp. 17:9.) Jesus is the One who comes to Himself for the sake of us all; He takes the way of penitential obedience which finds its fulfilment in the cross.

St. Luke then uses the word used by the New Testament writers of the resurrection – anastasis anastasis – to describe the return of the Son from the far country to the Fathers house. In the resurrection of the dead Jesus, as St. Paul says in Romans 4:5, God is a God who “justifies the ungodly.” The Father welcomes the Son even while he is still absent from Him “a great way off.” The Fathers action is that of free unmerited grace. The Father wills to be the Father not as one who is against His Son, though in terms of a natural view of justice He would be in the right to reject the son, the Father wills to be in the right not over against His Son but for His Son, allowing him to share in the riches of his house without any preconditions.

The elder Son of course finds this extravagance of the Father too much to bear. The Son who has always been with father, working the fathers farm, rejects his reckless acceptance of the rebel and refuses to accept the invitation to rejoice in the younger son’s return. Here the claim of Israel is raised, the voice of the Pharisees who had accused Jesus of “receiving sinners and eating with them.” But there is no attempt to denigrate the elder son, He remains a son. The Father does not call into question his relationship to him as a son. As St. Paul says in Romans Chaps. 9-11, Israel compared to the gentile church is God’s natural olive tree, Gentiles are grafted by grace into this natural olive tree. Israel’s election and calling as His people are irrevocable. The mystery to which the parable points is the rejection by God’s people of His gracious action on their behalf, the elder son’s rejection of the Father’s gracious acceptance of the returning prodigal’s return prefigures Israel’s rejection of their crucified Messiah, through whom the gentiles are reconciled to God.

It is now the Gentile church’s purpose, our purpose, to celebrate this extravagant gracious election by God of Gentiles in the crucified Messiah Jesus. Through his journey into the fart country of the world in its alienation from God has reconciled not only Israel, but all people to Himself. Clothing them with the righteousness of Christ as they accept this unbelievable gift; becoming His beloved children.

This question translated into our own situation as the church of the gentiles, dependent upon our living by and celebrating the truth of our life in the extravagant condescension of God, is to imagine that we are any different to Israel, epitomised by the Pharisees and their accusation against Jesus. We too find it extremely uncomfortable to know that the crucified Lord of the church is the one who still goes His strange journey of obedience into the far country of the world’s godforsakenness, there to come to Himself for the sake of the least and the lost and to take us back to the Father’s house. The question this poses for us is the same as that which Jesus’ being posed for the Pharisees. Certainly, they rejected the claim to lordship of One who was a friend of sinners. But the fact of their accusation must remain for us the truth of our life: “this man receives sinners and eats with them.” It is precisely this scandal that offends us as we gather around the table of which He is the host and receive His broken body and shed blood in elements of bread and wine for us “this man still receives sinners and eats with them.” That He still does this today is for our eternal salvation!

Pastor Dr. Gordon Watson.

Sounds crazy doesn’t it.

The Text: Luke 13:1-58f5d0040f261ddb1b3f281e00e1385f0

There is no doubt Jesus drew a crowd. At the beginning of Luke 12, we are told a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another. Sounds crazy doesn’t it. Just like reporters asking questions of a presenter, the crowd asks Jesus all sorts of questions for Jesus to answer or comment on. In this Gospel reading for today, there were some present who sought Jesus’ opinion on Pilate sending his soldiers to kill Galileans while they were offering sacrifices. Jesus’ response is: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you No. Unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Jesus reminds them of a tower collapse in Siloam that killed eighteen people, asking: “Do you think they were more guilty, than all the others living in Jerusalem?” It was around 20 years since terrorists took control of four aircraft. Two of them flew them into the twin towers in New York. In total, 2,977 people died that day.  

We could easily hear Jesus say: “Those people on those four American airlines, those people who were killed in the twin towers, were they more guilty, than all the others who lived in New York? Were they more guilty than us that they deserved to perish on the 11th of September 2001?” In his speech to the nation, the then-American President, Bush said “Today, our nation saw evil, the very worst of human nature.

Another more recent event is when a gunman entered mosques in Christ Church New Zealand and killed 51 people and left 40 injured. What entered the minds of these people, that made them think that these people deserved to die? In all these deaths at the mercy of evil minds, the evil mind of Pilate, the evil mind of the terrorists involved in the collapse of the twin towers, the evil mind of Brenton Tarrant which resulted in the deaths of people who were simply going about their business, when suddenly and brutally they were killed.

While there are deaths because of the evil intent of others, Jesus also refers to the accidental death of those killed because accidents, such as a tower collapse. We hear many news items like that don’t we? People were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. I wonder how many times we have been close to death without realizing it. When a branch dropped from a tree and we weren’t under it. When we have looked up and noticed a power line and made sure we kept machinery clear. When we have walked away from an accident while others have been killed.

Did they die because they were worse sinners than us? What is Jesus’ response? I tell you NO. But rest assured that unless you repent, you will die just as they did.” Can you imagine how tragic that would be? To die without repenting of the sin that holds us captive which could cause us to perish and be forever removed from the one who can save us from our sin. Because when we die, that is it. There is no returning to this life to try and change our ways.

Yet our Gospel reading reveals we have a God who is patient. Jesus says, “Listen, there was a man who planted a fig tree. Three years passed by, and the man is looking forward to the taste of a ripe fig. But he sees that the fig tree still hasn’t produced any fruit. He calls to his gardener, ‘Why is this tree still here? It’s taking up soil and moisture and everything else. Cut it down, right now.’”

But the gardener pleads “Leave it alone for one more year”, “and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year fine! If not, then cut it down.” Jesus isn’t giving us a lesson in horticulture, but is talking about God’s judgement on sin.

Rather than be impatient, dig up and disperse of a person immediately because they have sinned, God sent Jesus to proclaim love and mercy to the world through his sacrificial love for us. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Just as Jesus keeps on being patient with us and forgiving us, he gives us another chance to bear the fruit of love and mercy in our lives.

Today Jesus is telling us to turn away from our sin, repent or we will die. The thing is though, we can’t do it on our own. It would be like the fig tree saying, “Leave me alone! I can bear fruit next year. I’ll just try a bit harder.  In Jesus’ story, the tree does nothing. It is the gardener who puts in the effort to change the fig tree to something that will please the owner. Only then is the tree able to produce fruit.

So, Jesus says to God on our behalf, I have died for this person. Don’t give up on them yet. Let’s give the Holy Spirit time to dig around at the roots of their thoughts and values. Give the Holy Spirit time to fertilise the foundation of their existence with the things that will produce the fruits of the Spirit. Give them another chance to repent from old ways and produce the fruit of faith.

This is what Jesus does for all of us. He becomes the fertiliser for us as he is rejected, laughed at, crucified as a criminal. On the Cross, nails and spear dig into him. His blood was spilt for us to grow and be nurtured by his tender love and care for us to bear the fruit of faith. He is the One who was taken down and buried in a tomb. But he rose again on the third day that we may have life in him. He does everything.

Like gardener with the fig tree, Jesus gives us second chances, third chances and even more. It is all thanks to God’s patient grace in Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit nourishing us, nurturing us so that we do produce the fruits that Jesus desires in us. All done for us so that we can be assured that we will not be cut down on the day of judgement but will stand safe and secure because of what Jesus did for us.

So, how does Jesus end his story about the fig tree and the gardener who applied the manure and dug around the tree? Did the tree bear fruit? How did the fruit tree respond to the gardener’s careful attention? We aren’t told. Jesus leaves the story open-ended.

There is good reason for this because it draws us into the story.

“How have we responded to the generous application of God’s grace?

How have we responded to the care and love that Jesus has shown for us when he gave his life on the Cross so that we might have life?

How has God’s grace worked in us to the point of bearing good fruit?”

How have we responded to one chance after another to respond to God’s Word, to repent and believe, to bear the fruit of the Christian life?

While we have life in this world, we have time. Time to not worry about the reports of what is going on around us and speculating how Jesus might respond to that crisis, but time to respond to our relationship with Jesus. After all he is the one who gives us life. Amen.

About hens and chickens

Text: Luke 13:31-35

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You kill the prophets, you stone the messengers God has sent you! How many times I wanted to put my arms around all your people, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not let me! And so your Temple will be abandoned. I assure you that you will not see me until the time comes when you say, “God bless him who comes in the name of the Lord.’ “

 About hens and chickens

A few years ago twin hippos were born in a zoo. A local celebrity was asked to name the two babies. The only hitch was that the mother hippo wouldn’t let anyone close enough to determine whether the babies were male or female – an important piece of information when it comes to giving names. The two 18 kilo babies paddled or walked just under their mother and no one wanted to upset the hippo mother. Mother hippos can get very agitated if there is any threat to their babies and no one was prepared to risk tangling with an animal built like a truck.

The mother hippo didn’t mind the crowds that gathered every day to view her babies so long as they were at a safe distance and on the other side of the fence.  She continued to care for her babies: feeding them, protecting them, keeping them close to herself and away from danger. And the babies, untroubled by their nameless state, didn’t stray from their mother. As young as they were, they still knew a good thing when they saw it – that good thing being the two ton grey creature that always seemed to provide for them just what they needed. Why should they stray?

Chickens don’t stray far from mother hen because they know that when danger menaces them, or a cold night threatens their lives there is no better place to be than under the protection of the hen’s wings. They know that mum provides food, protection, warmth, and nurture. They rely on their mum to watch over them while they are so small and helpless. This kind of protection and nurture is nature’s way of caring for the young. For a chicken to stray from the protection that the wings of mother hen would be counter to nature’s plan – counter to the way God planned to care for the young.

It’s like that throughout the animal world and it doesn’t matter if you’re talking about baby hippos, kittens, puppies, chickens or any other animal you’d care to mention, it seems that the young have sense enough to stay close to their mum. That also applies to human babies and toddlers. God created families so that offspring can receive protection and nurture.

But when it comes people and their heavenly parent – that’s another story. Only humans exhibit the unnatural behaviour of turning away from the love and protection of the God who made them. Offspring in the animal world know where their protection and nurture comes from and don’t stray far from their mothers, but it’s a different story when it comes to God and his children.

I believe that one of the most impassioned speeches of the New Testament are Jesus’ words that we find in our text today from Luke 13.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You kill the prophets, you stone the messengers God has sent you! How many times I wanted to put my arms around all your people, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not let me!”

These words remind me of a mother whose child has broken all ties with her and has ventured on his own into all kinds of danger and trouble. She pleads, “I want to help you and protect you, put my arms around you, but you won’t have anything to do with me.” Or a lover who is rejected, his/her love unreturned; who wants to hold the other person close, but is unwanted.

Each of these scenarios is packed with emotion, just as the scene in the Gospel does when Jesus is looking toward Jerusalem. He is looking at people who really need what he has to give. They’re caught up in a stressful world, filled with anxiety and despair, searching for meaning and purpose in life. He is offering them everything they need. And yet, says Jesus, the children have strayed: they have killed the prophets and stoned those sent to them. They rejected his love. John writes, “He came to his own country, but his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11).

As a mother hen spreads her wings over her brood, so God would spread protective wings over his people. What chickens and kittens would not do – could not do – God’s children have done: they have counted the love and protection of God as nothing, choosing instead to go their own way.

How could such a thing be? How could the children of Israel have been so foolish, so unnaturally rebellious as to turn away from the warm wings offered to them? Those wings had protected them from the dangers of the wilderness for 40 years. Those protecting wings saved them from one enemy after another. Those wings that came with a promise, “Even though a mother should forget her child, I will never forget you” (Is 49:15).

Hard questions these. But harder yet is this question: How could we do such a thing? How can we be so foolish or behave so unnaturally as to stray from the sheltering love of God? How many times has God said about us, “I wanted to put my arms around you, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not let me!”

At times even the strongest among us desperately feel our lack of security, the absence of protective wings over us, the unnatural distance that seems to exist between ourselves and the calming presence of God.

What is it that leads us astray from our heavenly parent? What is it that causes us to leave the warmth and security of God’s protective wings, to say “no” to all that our heavenly Father wants to offer us? What is it that causes Jesus to say of us, “I wanted to put my arms around you but you would not let me!”

This text today tells us two things (amongst others).
Firstly, it reminds us of the power of sin. I know that this isn’t a popular subject for some and others are saying, “Oh no, here he goes again talking about sin.” But the reality of the fact is that it is our sinful nature that causes us to reject God’s love. Sin has the power to take control of our lives and distorts what is true and what is false. The people of Jerusalem had rejected the prophets, God’s messengers, because they could not see that they were speaking God’s Word to them. They had been blinded and become confused because of sin.

Some of you may recall the graphic scenes beamed from USA of riots, the beatings, wanton destruction, wholesale looting, people breaking into stores, stripping them bare of their merchandise, and laughing as they did it. And all the time reporters were there with TV cameras rolling, interviewing the looters.

One interview showed a man who had broken into a music shop. As he came out carrying a box, a reporter shoved a microphone in front of him and asked, “What did you take?” He answered, “I took gospel cassettes & CDs. I love Jesus. Praise the Lord!”

See how sin had blinded this man. He couldn’t see that he was sinning. Sin blinds us to the fact that God loves us ever so dearly. He wants to help us, protect us, guide us, and comfort us; he wants to be like a mother hen and fold his wings over us, but we won’t let him. Our stubbornness, our pride, our over inflated view of our own strength and ability blind us to the fact that we need God’s help.

The fact that we need God’s help is shown

  • when we toss and turn through a troubled night;
  • when a friendship turns sour;
  • when we are filled with dread at the thought of the death of someone close, or even our own death.

We need God’s help

  • when we are uneasy about our health and what the future will hold for us;
  • when we worry about the future of our children, our jobs, our finances and the hope of a secure retirement;
  • when we look in the mirror in the morning and are ashamed because of something we’ve said, or done; ashamed because of how we’ve hated, envied, lusted, or lied.

How often Jesus must say to us, “I wanted to put my arms around you, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not let me!” This text reminds us that God speaks so clearly to us about his love for us, yet on a daily basis we are like a chicken who strays away from God and all that he can do for us.

The second thing that this text tells us is that Jesus loves us more than we can imagine. Otherwise why was he so upset over Jerusalem? Passionately Jesus lamented, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…How many times have I wanted…” How many times do you suppose Jesus looked at the crowds and saw them as sheep without a shepherd? How many times do you think he was filled with compassion as he saw their need for love, forgiveness, healing and purpose in life? “How many times…,” he said.

As God is unchangeable so also is his love for us. No matter how far we have wandered from him; no matter how deep our sin might be; no matter how far into the far country we have gone, Jesus loves us. He will never leave us nor forsake us. He continues to love you and me even when we’re not very lovable.

Jesus doesn’t want us to go it alone. No self-made men and women. No individualists who don’t want anyone else’s strength, just there own. We are just a brood of helpless hatchlings, baby birds hidden under our Saviour’s protective wing. He calls us again and again to duck under his wing, to find shelter and safety under his outstretched arms.

Those arms were extended on the cross bearing your sin. They extended over you in your Baptism. They extend over you when the sign of the cross is made and the pastor declares God’s forgiveness for all your sin. His arms extend over you in Holy Communion as Jesus feeds you his own body and blood.

The baby bird that tries to go it alone, that stubbornly insists on doing its own thing away from its mother’s protective wing, will die. Jesus words in our text also contain a word of judgement for those who persistently reject God and his love and stray from his protection. Jesus gives this warning to help us realise that God is dead serious when he says he is our mother hen who wants to embrace us under his wings.

Let us join with the psalmists who sums everything up like this,
He will keep you safe from all hidden dangers …
He will cover you with his wings,
you will be safe in his care;
his faithfulness will protect and defend you. (Ps 91:3,4)
How precious, O God, is your constant love!
We find protection under the shadow of your wings. (Ps 36:7)

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

What two days start with the letter T   

The grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you always.  This week’s Memory Verse from Romans is ‘”Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Paul also tells us in Philippians,  ‘Above all else, live in a way that brings honour to the good news about Christ.’ (Philippians 1:27 CEV)

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Today, we confront the challenge of temptation and the power of God’s Holy Spirit to aid us in overcoming temptation.  So that we can honour Christ Jesus by living in a way that brings him honour.

Let’s join in a word of prayer: O God our Father, this morning we gather to worship You and to begin our journey with Your Son from His victory over temptation to His victory over the cross.  We praise you for the gift of salvation that He has given, and for His life and ministry that we witness together through the Scriptures.   Father, guide our time together so that we may confront our own temptation with confidence. We pray together in the name of our risen Saviour, Jesus Christ our Lord.    Amen.

An American local sheriff was looking for a new deputy.  One of the applicants – who was not known to be the brightest candidate, was called in for an interview. “Okay,” began the sheriff, “What is 1 and 1?” “Eleven,” came the reply. The sheriff thought to himself, “That’s not what I meant, but he’s right.”

Then the sheriff asked, “What two days of the week start with the letter ‘T’?”   “Today and tomorrow,” replied the applicant, smiling confidently. The sheriff was again surprised over the answer, one that he had never thought of himself.

 “Now, listen carefully, who killed Abraham Lincoln?”, asked the sheriff. The candidate seemed a little surprised, then thought really hard for a minute and finally admitted, “I don’t know.” The sheriff replied, trying to be gentle, “Well, why don’t you go home and work on that one for a while?” The applicant left and wandered over to his mates who were waiting to hear the results of the interview.

He greeted them with a cheery smile, “The job is mine! The interview went great! First day on the job and I’m already working on a murder case!”

When Jesus was baptised in the Jordan River, we heard the words of God, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”   I am convinced that these words from God the Father would have rang true throughout the spiritual realms.  And that would have perked the attention of the devil.   It appears he was permitted to test Jesus, just as he was given permission to test Job.  And just as he often is given permission to test us.

In our Gospel reading this morning it is Jesus’ first days on the job of ministering to a wayward people. Immediately he is confronted with three major temptations. Ultimately Jesus is confronted with a choice: Would he take the crown without the cross?   Would he allow his humanity to overcome his divinity.

We are often confronted with a similar choice.  Would we enter the Kingdom of God in eternity, without a commitment to the community of believers here.  Would we go through this life holding onto the Good News of our own salvation without reaching out together with that Good News of Jesus Christ bringing honour to his name.

Like Jesus, we are confronted with the most basic temptations in life that bring us ultimately to this choice.  We face these temptations in our attitudes, actions and words we use every day. We don’t need the devil to bring on these temptations.  We do a fine job by ourselves.  But when we are intentional and serious about following Christ Jesus, the devil will surely try to distract us.

Thank God, we have three very strong supporters in our confrontation with temptation. We have the Holy Spirit who will encourage our faith, we have the law of God which will point out when we fall to temptation, and we have each other to share our journey, remind us of God’s forgiveness and strengthen our resolve to live our Christianity.

The devil has been active in the world for almost as long as God himself.  Their purposes are opposite from each other, of course.  God created the world and preserves it.  Satan desires to destroy the world.  God loves and nurtures His people, while Satan is filled with a consuming hatred for God and all his creation. 

God provides for the justification of all believers through the gift of His own Son as a sacrifice for our sin.  Satan tries his worst to distract Jesus and then to destroy him.    Scripture tell us that God ‘will remember our sin no more’.  Satan stands as a constant, hollow but hounding accuser, trying to heap guilt upon us for every failure.

And here we are.  Living the tension of our Christian challenge.  To live in community as forgiven children of God, with both the guilt over sin and the freedom of forgiveness.  God hates the sin but will never hold back his love and forgiveness for every person with faith in Jesus Christ. 

Through our faith we already have a place in eternity with Jesus.  We don’t even need to fret over that.  But we still live with a certain tension every day.  As we live our faith in community, we feel the urgency to offer others this freedom and joy of salvation.  We also often feel fearful about sharing our life of faith openly. Showing our neighbour the care we have for them.   Reaching out together with an intentional attitude of compassion, and care is easier together.  As we follow the example of our Lord Jesus Christ.

God saw that the world was captivated by sin, and he grieved for the humanity that he loved so much.    In the same way, we often see the brokenness around us, in our families, among our friends, and throughout our neighbourhoods. 

In order to account for the human will that was captivated by sin, God took this sin upon himself.   God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The Father shares in what the Son experiences.  The Son acts in unison with the Spirit to accomplish the will of the Father.  And all three in their eternal unity, share in our joy and sorrow.  In the same way, we can gather in community to pray.  To assist where we are able to reach out with both compassion and the Gospel.  

Pray intentionally and specifically for those around us who are still wandering in the dry and dark places.  In community, we can make a difference by being available and ready to introduce the reality of God’s grace together. In what the world witnesses about our love for one another.

Through Jesus Christ, God renewed our relationship with himself.  But here’s the rub – that renewal didn’t stop the brokenness of the world.  Jesus calls us to join together to bring a small bit of calm and order out of the chaos of that  brokenness. We reach out better together.  And in those times when we feel powerless to present the love and grace of God to others we can remember the words of Christ to Paul:  “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9 NIV)

I am sure that after the waters of the floods that affect our coastline and rivers recede there will be so much opportunity to assist our neighbours on the Mid North Coast with sustenance and clean-up.  But we can only do this in community with others, working together.  Trusting Christ Jesus for his grace, power, and presence. 

Today, we were to confront the decision to call a pastor for part time service to our Congregation to bring a new energy to our outreach in Port Macquarie. And to join with the community of Lutherans in NSW to support that pastor’s part time service to the Gospel through the District initiative of Frontier School of Mission.  Again, trusting Christ Jesus for his grace, power, and presence.

The Gospel tells us today that after His baptism, Jesus spent forty days preparing for his journey to the cross, in the solitude of the desert hills. In Lent, we embark on forty days as well.  To prepare for the remembrance of God’s sacrifice.  Forty days for Jesus, and forty days for us.  But for many, those forty days are little more than tradition.  And for so many more, these days go by without even a notice. 

Thank God, he sets no time limit for our preparation for eternity.  When we receive the gift from our triune God of baptism, God will use our whole lifetime to prepare us to receive his ultimate gift of eternal life.  And God gives us each other to journey together through our life of faith, hope, and love.   Especially during these forty days of intentional Christian living.  They say that it takes about six weeks of intention to break a bad habit.  And it takes about six weeks of intention to build a good habit into character of living.

When we are faced with the temptation to ignore our commitment to Christ and to community, we can turn to the scriptures and to each other for encouragement.  And we can remember the words of James, ‘Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.” (James 1:22 NIV)

When we are faced with the temptation to accept the Kingdom of God without living our commitment to Christ and to each other here in this broken world, we can gain strength against temptation.  Jesus responded to the devil, “The Scriptures say, ‘Do not test the Lord your God.’”  We test God when we act contrary to God’s will for our lives and still expect every blessing from God for the here and now.  We already have God’s blessings for eternity by our faith in Jesus Christ.

We can also take courage from Paul’s letter to the Romans.  ‘If we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in our heart that God raised him from the dead, we will be saved.  For it is by believing in our heart that we are made right with God, and it is by confessing with our mouth that we are saved.’ 

The great English statesman and man of God William Wilberforce once wrote that “Christianity can be condensed into four words: admit, submit, commit, and transmit.  Admit Christ as Lord,  submit to Christ as Lord, commit our lives to Christ as Lord, and transmit the Love of Christ to a dying world.  (Draper’s Quotes, Accessed QuickVerse Platinum 2010) Samuel Wilberforce (1805–1873)  We transmit the love of Christ to the world better when we hold onto each other and reach out together.

We can pray, “Thank You Jesus! For entering humanity for us.  For holding strong against the temptations that so easily beset us.  For holding fast to bring salvation into this broken world.  And then for loving us even when we fall victim to temptation.”   The grace and peace of God, keep our hearts, our minds and our voices in, Christ Jesus.   Amen.

Rev David Thompson

It’s all a bit old fashioned. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And what are these acts?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who is he? A nice guy? An inspiring teacher? A social reformer?

The Text: Luke 9:28-36

Who is he? A nice guy? An inspiring teacher? A social reformer? Many of his20180311_103505 (1) opponents thought he was demon-possessed and raving mad. Who is he?

The question isn’t whether Jesus existed or not. There is too much ancient evidence—even from non-Christian sources such as the Jewish historian Josephus and Roman historian Tacitus—to be able to dismiss the fact that Jesus lived on earth. Even a recent internet study declared Jesus to be the most famous person on earth .

Yes, Jesus’ life on earth is well documented. But who is this carpenter from Nazareth; the son of Joseph and Mary? Just before our text today, Jesus himself had asked his disciples this very question: “Who do the people say that I am?” They answered, “Some say John the Baptist; but others say, Elijah; and others, that one of the prophets has risen. “But what about you?” Jesus asked them. “Who do you say I am?”

“Who do you say I am?” That is Jesus’ question to you also. The most important question anyone will ever be faced with.

Who is Jesus? Today Luke takes us to the mountaintop with Jesus, Peter, James and John for the most dazzling show and tell presentation ever. As Jesus was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendour, and were talking with him.

For Luke’s original audience, familiar with the Old Testament and longing for the Messiah it pointed to, this conversation with Moses and Elijah is most significant. In Exodus 24, it was Moses who took three companions (Aaron, Nadab and Ahibu) up the mountain to meet with God where the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain. A cloud covered the mountain and Moses went up into it and there God spoke to him. Afterwards Moses’ face shone after being in God’s presence. And it was believed by the people of old that Elijah would literally return as the forerunner to the coming of the Saviour, based on what the prophet Malachi had said: “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes.” (Malachi 4:5).

So Luke tells us that there on the Mount of Transfiguration, Elijah stands in the presence of the Saviour his return was supposed to herald. Moses, also, stands in the presence of one who is greater than he. For whereas Moses could only give the Ten Commandments—which cannot save us but only show us how much we need a Saviour—Jesus has brought his saving help to the world by fulfilling them perfectly for all people, and freeing us from the condemnation of the law with his sacrificial death, to win forgiveness of sins for the life of the world.
This is the ‘departure’ which Jesus was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem, which Moses and Elijah were speaking with him about—his betrayal, arrest, trial and crucifixion where he bore the sins of the world on his shoulders. This is what Jesus had already explained to his disciples himself, just before today’s text: that he must suffer many things, be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
But his disciples didn’t understand. Jesus’ talk of his departure seemed impossible. It all sounded like such a defeat—as today’s colloquial language would put it—“an epic fail.” Up until this point, Jesus had brought people freedom, life, hope and peace by miraculously triumphing over the forces of nature, the demonic realm, sickness and even death itself. If he had overcome even death how could he now possibly succumb to it? They didn’t understand that Jesus could only be the Saviour of the world by taking our place on the Cross, dying to save us.

So the disciples are given a fleeting revelation of Jesus’ glory to assure them about Jesus’ identity and mission. Jesus was shown plainly to be much more than merely a special person; a good moral teacher or social revolutionary—but in Christ, the glory of God has come to earth and is in the midst of his people. He is not merely Joseph and Mary’s son, but the Son of God from all eternity, confirmed by the booming voice from heaven: “This is my Son whom I have chosen, listen to him.”

This fleeting revelation of Jesus’ divine glory was to assure the disciples that even though he would be handed over to the ruling authorities to unjustly suffer and die, this was no failure—in fact the very way he would conquer sin, death and the devil. His death would not end with death, but with his resurrection, and new life with God for all those who trust in him. All that was shown on the mount of Transfiguration, preserved for us in today’s Gospel text—the presence of the key Old Testament figures Elijah and Moses, the mountain, the glory cloud, the voice of God, Jesus’ shining face and garments—all powerfully show that Jesus is the fulfilment of everything that God had promised his people from of old.

Peter said to Jesus: “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters–one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Peter was right. It was good to be there, in the presence of the Saviour of the world. But Peter hasn’t listened. He can’t hang on to the moment. They can’t have glory without the Cross. Jesus must continue on the pathway of God’s mission and go to Jerusalem to suffer and die for the sins of the world, and restore the world to God through his own precious blood. Just as he did with Moses and his companions from ancient days, God again speaks to those on the mountain top. “This is my Son, whom I have chosen” he says of Jesus. “Listen to him.”

We’ve heard the profound connections that the Old Testament has with our text today, showing God’s glory in Jesus, and Jesus being the fulfilment of all that was promised. Yet there is a noticeable difference too. In Exodus, when Moses went up on the mountain, and the glory of the LORD dwelt on Mount Sinai, the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day God called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud (Exodus 24:15-16).

Seven days. That reminds us of the six days of creation and God’s resting on the seventh day—the pattern of our 7 day week. Yet in today’s text Luke speaks of 8 days. It was about 8 days after Jesus had spoken of his death and resurrection that he went up the mountain with Peter, John and James.

In the theological journal First Things, Dale Coulter explains: “…the eighth day signals a day that is beyond the seven-day cycle of weeks and thus stands outside of the normal movement of time. It is the dawn of a new age in which time comes to be fulfilled in a kind of eternal stable movement around God. This kind of talk about the eighth day underscores the in-breaking of the divine into the movement of history to bring it to a final consummation.” In simple terms, the 8th day represents Gods eternal ‘out of this world’ realm that is beyond our worldly time of 24 hours 7 days a week.

Who is Jesus? The dazzling manifestation of his glory and the mention of 8 days shows he is the Son of God from all eternity; the Christ in whom God’s 8th day of eternal reign of glory and grace has come into our world that is trapped in bondage to sin, death and decay. Although we don’t have the sound and light show that the disciples did on the Mount of Transfiguration in our Gospel reading, we don’t have to ascend the mountain to find God.

He comes down to us. While we gather in this simple church building, we don’t see Jesus in radiant glory with clothes as bright as a flash of lightning. Nonetheless, God who is present everywhere is personally present here working in a special way unlike anywhere else. He brings his grace and divine help and salvation through his word, through baptism and Holy Communion, bringing divine forgiveness, favour, help and blessing for us.

And so it is good for us to be here…in the presence of Christ who faithfully followed his Father’s will all the way to the Cross, suffering and dying for the sins of the world, and triumphing over death with his mighty resurrection. Here, and now, in the Person of the risen, crucified Christ, the 8th day that is God’s reign of grace and his realm of eternity comes into our world and our time, and the Christ continues to bless his people.

Even though he is invisible to human eyes Jesus stands before us, in the fullness of his glory, at the font. It is not the pastor that baptises a person, but really it is Jesus. That is why from the earliest times, baptism fonts were Octagonal in shape—with 8 sides, symbolising the reality that by baptism into Christ, God brings about a new creation; ransoming sinners from the prison of sin, death and hell and bringing them into his kingdom of light and life, giving them ears to hear God’s word and mouths to proclaim it, recreating hearts to love and serve him, and incorporating them into the eighth day of Jesus’ resurrection, and eternal life.

That is what he did for all of us in our baptism. But baptism is not a magic act that saves apart from faith. Baptism and faith go together. Baptism is the means by which God promises to send his Spirit to begin the work of faith that justifies us in God’s presence; faith that must be nurtured throughout life. Faith that comes from gladly hearing and learning God’s word.

And so it is vital that we all keep coming to continue to listen to Jesus, for if we keep firm in our faith by continuing to listen to him, we share in everything that he promises, and what Peter James and John saw in today’s Gospel reading is a preview of what we will see. Through faith in Christ, we will be in the company of Moses and Elijah and Peter and James and John, and all the saints throughout time. Through faith in Christ, we will see his shining face and clothes as white as lightning. We will see our Saviour in all his glory, not just for a fleeting glimpse, but for all eternity. Amen.

Transfiguration of Jesus.

Exodus 34: 29-35; 2 Corinthians 3:12 -4:2 Luke 9:28-36gordon5

Today is the last Sunday in Epiphany – the season of the Christian year which celebrates, as the name implies, the revelation of Christ’s glory, the shining forth of God’s glory in Him. The lection from the holy gospel of St. Luke directs our attention to the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain top where the apostles behold his glory and hear the confirming voice of God.

The gospel lesson is associated with the reading from the book of Exodus (chp.34) which relates God’s confirming of the covenant made on Sinai with Moses which the people broke, and how, descending from his second mountain top meeting with God, Moses’ face shone with the reflected glory of God; who is revealed to Moses on the mountain: God preserves Moses as the representative of rebellious Israel in the presence of God’s holiness by hiding him in the cleft of the rock. God’s glory shining in Moses’ face is the glory of a God who remains faithful to a faithless people, preserves them as God’s own in the midst of their sin. This reflected glory of God was such that every time he addressed the people Moses had to put a veil over his face in order that God’s reflected glory may not overwhelm them because of their rebellion in the presence of God represented by the reflected glory of Moses’ face.

It is no accident that the New Testament account of Jesus transfiguration on the mountain echo this experience of Moses in the foundational event of God’s covenanted faithfulness to his people, in spite of their faithlessness.

There is the scene itself, the cloud on the mountain top as the place of revelation, where God’s glory is revealed. The conversation between the transfigured Jesus and Moses and Elijah speaks of an “Exodus”, a “departure”, which Jesus will accomplish in Jerusalem. The gospel writer says the event on the mountain took place after eight days. The eighth day, the day after the Sabbath, is the Resurrection Day, this day which was understood in the early church as the fulfilment of the seven days of creation.

In the transfiguration therefore we are to understand that the God who created the world, called a people to be a light to the nations, now, in God’s only Son, brings to a conclusion the divine creative and reconciling purpose. In Christ’s face we see unveiled, the glory of God the Father.

The basis of this congruence between the Old Testament narrative concerning the story of God’s purposes for humankind in creation and covenant and the account of Jesus’ transfiguration is the ground swell of God’s faithfulness. It is that we might see that God is not put off by Israel being, as they are described in the 34th., chapter of Exodus from which we read the Old Testament lesson, “a stiff-necked people”. God remains faithful to the promise, “I shall be your God”. This promise stands, come what may, whatever the cost. Moses’ prayerful plea to God now comes to fulfilment, his prayer that God, “Go in the midst of us……pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for thy inheritance”. (v.9).

In Jesus that is precisely what God does: he is the way in which God answers Moses’ prayer. The glory of the mount of transfiguration consists in this: God is not only the God who promises to be Israel’s God in utter faithfulness as God, but now in Jesus God’s Son enters into the situation of God’s rebellious people; identifying God’s flesh with their godforsaken cause, the godforsaken cause of all people, and in their place, for their sake, confesses the truth about the untruth of the human situation. He responds in perfect obedience to the Father, not for his own sake, He as the Son is ever one with the Father, He responds for the sake of all humankind. He does what is right in our place for our sakes. This is the manner in which Moses’ prayer of (v.9)., “Go in the midst of us……pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for thy inheritance” is so decisively answered.

Thus, Moses and Elijah speak to Jesus at the very moment of His transfiguration of his “Exodus”, his “departure” which he is to accomplish in Jerusalem. The Exodus to which they refer is now not that journey from the bondage of slavery in Egypt to the freedom of the promised land, but the Exodus of the Son of God through death to the freedom of life in relationship to God for our sake, an Exodus from sin to righteousness from death to life: accomplished once and for all people.

In this strange way, by the journey of God’s Son into the far country of our fallen humanity, God not only remains faithful to the covenant with Israel and with creation from God’s side he also establishes the faithfulness of our humanity to God in the humanity of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

It is this miracle of grace which is the subject of Jesus transfiguration. The revelation of God’s glory, the shining forth of his light in the darkness of the world, is the glory of his grace; God’s self-abandonment to the cause of the creature in the shameful corner where God finds us all. The utter faithfulness of God, God’s determination to be our God, no matter what the cost, is the essence of the glory of Christ which the Apostles, behold on that mountain of transfiguration. What they see is the transfiguration of our humanity in the humanity of the crucified God. They see in some manner the uncreated light in which God dwells for which the writers of the gospel are lost for words to describe. In St Mark’s version of the transfiguration Chp 9:3, he says, “His garments became gleaming, exceedingly white, such that no Fuller on the earth could whiten them.”

But what the Apostles see and what they understand are two different things. At this decisive moment in Jesus’ ministry, when his glory is revealed, they are asleep, as in the moment of his passion, so here too the apostle’s sleep. How incomprehensible it is to us that here the Apostolic foundation of the church is asleep at this critical moment of divine revelation: but there it is. No one thought it expedient or in the interests of the church’s good government that the account of such an embarrassing situation should be omitted from their record of this event. But the matter is compounded. Peter suggests in his confusion that perhaps it would be a good thing to build houses there, but, as the gospel writer says, he says this because “he didn’t know what to say!”

The apostle’s incomprehensible ignorance and inappropriate response represent the truth about the church in every age. As Luther once put it, when we meet with the grace of the gospel, we are all “like cows staring at a new gate”. The depth of the mystery of God’s presence with us and for us, in the way of Jesus to the cross as the revelation of his divine glory, the uncreated light of His presence, is never a reality the church can manage or programme for its own purposes. Though the Lord only knows we, like Peter, are always attempting to build houses to contain and manage the presence of his glory in Christ. To turn the Christian faith into a religious aura which surrounds our self-chosen life styles, to make the Christian faith into a programme that can be packaged and sold as another consumer item in the great supermarket of ideas, where one pays your money and takes your pick.

Or we have had our senses so dulled by what we take to be our pious fantasies, our assumed familiarity with the Jesus who accompanies us on life’s way, as if He were a well-known part of our everyday domestic routine so that, like Peter, we become insensitive to His glory and are found in fact to be asleep in His transfigured presence.

But Jesus glory is revealed; not in spite of but precisely because the church is present and represented in the Apostolic incomprehension and unbelief. For Jesus is there present with them in their incomprehension and unbelief:  in His own strange way Christ constitutes, rules and renews His church. As Luther put it in his own inimitable way “the church lives and grows when I am drinking beer with my friend Philip of Armsdorf!”

So, despite themselves, the apostles and therefore the church, are given to share Christ’s transfigured glory. For it is precisely for such as these, the uncomprehending and unbelieving, that Jesus is there. His transfiguration is the shining forth of the light of the glory of God who justifies the ungodly. The church is truly Apostolic when the glory of this mystery of God’s grace is found at the centre of its life and witness; when the church acknowledges that it has no other obligation or purpose than that this should be shown to be the case in every sphere of its life. It is this reality that is celebrated and realised in the mystery of the proclaimed word of the scriptures and the holy eucharist in which we receive nothing more or less than Christ’s own body and blood, broken and shed for us. 

Dr. Gordon Watson.

We’re talking about 25 millimetres of missing bread.

The Text: Luke 6:27-36

A few years ago Matt Corby’s local Subway restaurant in Perth was caughtallanb short…literally. Matt measured the sandwich he bought, advertised as a “foot-long,” and found it stopped at 11 inches. After Matt posted a photo of the sandwich next to a tape measure on Subway’s Facebook page, his photo went viral. The Facebook page was flooded with thousands of angry customers demanding to know why the sub didn’t measure up. Who would think 25 millimetres of missing bread could cause such a furore!

Across the other side of the world, two men in New Jersey saw Matt’s Facebook post and decided to sue the company because their foot-long sandwiches also allegedly fell an inch short. Their lawyer, Stephen DeNittis, said: “The case is about holding companies to deliver what they’ve promised.”1 The two men from New Jersey represented a huge class action against Subway―all persons in the United States who purchased a 6-inch or Foot-long sandwich at a Subway restaurant between January 1st, 2003 and October 2nd, 2015. The class action alleged that sandwiches sold by the Subway restaurant franchise: “…sometimes fell short of the chain’s “foot-long” marketing claims. But there was no dispute that the actual weight of the dough and the amount of ingredients was, in fact, uniform for each sandwich; and even the named plaintiffs in the lawsuit conceded that the exact length of the sandwiches didn’t affect their purchases or change their future plans to eat at Subway.2

What was the result? The class action against Subway was successful and the court approved a $US 525,000 settlement. But every cent of that amount ended up with the lawyers, reimbursing their legal fees. The people they represented didn’t get anything. So then the US Centre for Class Action Fairness filed an appeal…and to cut a long story short, the appeal ended up being dismissed.

This is all a bit of food for thought, if you’ll pardon the pun, and I found the argument of those bringing the action against Subway a bit hard to swallow. Big business does need to be accountable―but this wasn’t about a failure to meet minimum working standards or a breach of health and hygiene in food preparation. We’re talking about 25 millimetres of missing bread. Did that really warrant a tirade of over 130,000 Facebook posts—the trial by social media where everyone has a right to say whatever they want to in the name of freedom of speech, no matter how or defamatory—and the subsequent legal action resulting in over half a million dollars?

The plaintiffs’ own admissions that this wouldn’t stop them visiting Subway stores in the future says this was more about individuals defining what their rights are and enforcing them at all costs without thinking through how that might impact others around them.

The Subway saga is just one instance of today’s culture exalting ‘the great me’. Yet some 2,000 years ago, Jesus addressed the same issue, with his words in today’s Gospel reading. With a series of short statements in his ‘Sermon on the mount’, Jesus gives his audience a pattern of life that is radically distinct form the world’s way of insisting on our rights and getting even, and making our others pay for their transgressions. They are to bless those who curse them, pray for those who mistreat them. If someone slaps them on one cheek, they are to turn to them the other also. If someone takes their coat, they are not withhold their shirt from them. They are to do good to those who hate them. They are to be merciful just as their Heavenly Father is merciful.

This pattern for living that Jesus gives is not in order to earn special blessing from God. It is the pattern of life for those who are already blessed; those who are children of their Father in heaven, not children of the world, and this pattern mirrors God’s own merciful, self-giving love. With what Jesus calls the disciples to do―turn the other cheek to be slapped, or giving their overcoat as well as their shirt, or being compelled to walk with a heavy load for two miles rather than one (Roman miles at that; nearly 5 kilometres each), lending to those who cannot repay, loving one’s enemies and praying for those who persecute them―Jesus is not saying that his people should become doormats to be trampled all over.

But Jesus is giving a visualisation of how radically different from the self-centred world their lives are to be. They are not to be self-absorbed as the world is and insist on their rights while sacrificing the good of others at the altar of the self. They are not to give only if they can get something in return. They are not to breathe hatred, bear grudges, place conditions on forgiveness, or seek revenge and pursue litigation if their sandwich isn’t quite right. But they are to love all people and be merciful just like their Heavenly Father. They are even to love their enemies, Jesus says. And so are we.

Now surely that can’t be right?! We love those who love us, the ‘good’ people like ourselves. But surely not our enemies! Why would Jesus say that? If we were God, we would wipe evil out, right?

But what behaviour would be evil enough to stir us to take action? What standard, or benchmark would we use? Really big stuff, like drug trafficking, prostitution and terrorism would be fairly straight forward. Or would it? Would keeping the wrong amount of change mistakenly given to us be deplored as quickly as robbery, tax avoidance and embezzling church funds? If people did not get hurt would something that was wrong change to being OK? Would we be quick to condemn genocide, yet be more permissive about legalising abortion? Would situations, or our needs, determine what was right or wrong? What kind of behaviours would even determine who our enemies were anyway?

We would all most likely have different morals and tolerances towards evil and what is acceptable—and that is the issue. Only God’s standard is universally consistent. He gave us his commandments, to show us what his will is for our relationship with himself and others, and to curb and restrain hurt and wrongdoing. Yet the chilling shock for us is that when we reflect on the commandments we come to the realisation that the end to evil we wish for would leave none of us standing. Even the worst atrocities we witness on the news begin with a hurtful attitude, a selfish thought; attitudes and thoughts which none of us are exempt from.

Jesus says today “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” We can’t do that ourselves, for the problem of the ‘great me’ is part of our natural human condition ever since Adam and Eve listened to Satan’s temptation to distrust God’s word and want their own way. “Did God really say?” the serpent hissed, and they fell for the serpent’s lie, seeds, core and all. Ever since then we have all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.

In today’s text, Jesus is addressing his disciples…and you, his disciples of today. By ‘enemies’ Jesus means enemies of the church; those who reject Christ by persecuting and rejecting his people and his message they bring. They are whoever refuses to listen to God or worship him. The Apostle Paul explains that, because of sin, in our natural state we are all enemies of God, hostile to him (Romans 5:10 and 8:7). The problem is that in our enthusiasm to wipe out evil by hating our enemies rather than loving them, we place ourselves under the same sentence, for none of us can perfectly fulfil God’s law.

When we determine who is worthy of our love and mercy and forgiveness and to whom we should turn the other cheek or go the extra mile with―we in effect are saying to God that when we fail and fall short we should be judged by the same standards: ‘Refuse to forgive our sins as we refuse to forgive others” or “Place limits and conditions on your mercy to us as we place limits and conditions on showing mercy to others.” That’s not a good place to be for we have just passed the same judgment on ourselves. When we refuse to love our enemies, seeking revenge and retaliation; getting even with our offenders and insisting on our rights, we are only treating them the way the world does.

But God did not try to get even with us and make us pay. It was while we were sinners; while we were enemies of God, that God not only loaned to us—we who have nothing to repay him with—but opened the storehouses of heaven and poured out the treasure trove of his riches for us, sending his own Son into the world.

This is how God showed his mercy to us. It was Christ who came all the way from heaven to earth for you, to perfectly fulfil the law for us. Although he was completely innocent and righteous, he walked to the Cross to take our place, receiving the punishment for evil and sin that we deserved. It was Christ who was persecuted for us. He turned the other cheek when he was struck and slapped before the High Priest, he was forced to walk the extra mile to Golgotha and bear the crushing burden of the sin of the world upon his shoulders. Jesus came to reconcile the world―even those most wretched criminals, the least deserving―to his Father in Heaven by his precious blood.

Through faith in Jesus, we are no longer enemies of God but his friends. Even more, united to Christ and his own death and resurrection in baptism, Jesus’ Father is now our Father who loves us perfectly and calls us his own dear children. He has washed us and given us his forgiveness, freedom and fullness of life through faith in Christ. We receive Jesus’ own righteousness so that even though we can’t be perfect, our Heavenly Father says you have lived as perfectly as Jesus himself. God gives to us and does for us what we are powerless to do ourselves. He plunges the ‘great me’ into our baptism each day to be drowned. Then we shift from ‘my will be done’ to ‘Thy will be done’—and really mean it.

We are really free―not as the world defines freedom, but as God does. Jesus has made the way for us to overcome evil with good and to sacrifice self for the good of others by showing mercy to others.

He has freed us to die to ourselves and with it the human desire to get even, and make those who wrong us pay.

He has freed us to pray for our enemies rather than curse them.

He has freed us to welcome those who are not our brothers and sisters.

He has freed us to really love, not just a shallow reciprocal love like the world, showing care if we can get something in return, but loving with the merciful love of Christ, even to our enemies, just as God has first loved us and still shows us his mercy each day.

And so living out our baptism each day is a life which focuses on the extra mile rather than the missing inch―for it is a life redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, freed by God’s own mercy, and shaped by his love. Amen.

God smiled and said…Ahhhh, finally you have the idea.

The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.  Let’s  join in a word of  prayer: Loving God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; this day around the world, our fellow Christians are gathering together to celebrate the life and ministry of Your son Jesus Christ and to worship You.  Guide our time together this morning, that we may hear and understand your message for us. Gracious heavenly Father, hear our prayer for the sake of our risen Lord Jesus Christ,  Amen.

david3
David:0414521661

Someone wrote: 

I asked God to take away my pain. God said, No.
It’s not for me to take away, but for you to give it up.
I asked God to make my handicapped child whole.
God said, No. Her spirit is whole, her body is only temporary.
I asked God to grant me patience. God said, No.
Patience is a by-product of tribulation; it isn’t granted, it is learned.
I asked God to give me happiness.  God said, No.
I give you blessings. Happiness is up to you.

I asked God to spare me pain. God said, No.
Suffering draws you apart from worldly cares and brings you closer to me.
I asked God to make my spirit grow. God said, No.
You will grow in my word, but I will prune you to make you more fruitful.
I asked God for all things that I might enjoy life. God said, No. I will give you life, so that you may enjoy all things.
I asked God to help me love others, as much as He loves me.      

God smiled and said…Ahhhh, finally you have the idea.

As we were blessed by the readings today from Jeremiah and 1st Corinthians, some may consider themselves fortunate the liturgy for Epiphany 6 does not come around very often.  Because Easter is pretty late this year, we experience both the 6th and 7th Sundays of Epiphany.  Today’s reading from Luke captures a glimpse of the power and the passion that eminates whenever we come to understand the love of God, and wherever we reflect this love to others.  Whenever the Gospel is proclaimed, and wherever God’s personal touch is felt by people in need.

Luke reports that Jesus has now moved from the Peter’s boat on the sea shore to a flat clearing. We find Jesus seated on that clearing surrounded by a multitude of people.  People who followed Him and hungered after a word of hope; stretching out arms and hands to perhaps receive the personal touch of the one who brings life and healing to all.

They followed Jesus, and they were cured; they were freed from the demons that held their hearts and minds captive; they were given hope for a renewed future in the glow of a gracious saviour; they were made whole.

At this time in Luke’s account of the life and ministry of Jesus, He had just selected the 12 that would become His Apostles.  These chosen Disciples were called to follow Him, set apart to learn from Him and then to share with many others the Good News of Jesus, the example of Jesus, the love of Jesus, the personal touch of Jesus.  Yes, the powerful healing touch of Jesus was shared with the Apostles, along with the authority of His spoken testimony of God’s presence in the world. 

Now Jesus begins to teach these Disciples, in the hearing of the multitude.  He taught the core truths of Christian living.  Of living in faith to face the challenges that lay ahead of every Christian in every time and every place.  Matthew describes these teachings a bit different from Luke.  In Matthew, we have the gentle teacher, presenting the beatitudes from the mount, within a context of spirituality and God’s grace.  Luke describes a more human Jesus, conscious of the human needs that surround him. 

Jesus begins this teaching by describing the blessings of God for those who are disadvantaged.  And the woes of those who have set God aside from their advantaged lives.  Essentially, Jesus is talking about human suffering.

All too often, people are caught in their human circumstances.  All too often people suffer because it’s so difficult to see beyond these circumstances. 

Jesus points out that both the poor and the wealthy dwell on possessions; the poor because of their need and the wealthy because of their abundance. 

Jesus proclaims the truth that both the hungry and the well fed dwell on food; the hungry because of empty bellies and the well fed because they are over filled.  Both the disadvantaged and the advantaged dwell on their circumstances; the disadvantaged because of their anger and envy, and the advantaged because of their pride and arrogance. 

I suspect that Jesus was trying to tell us that all too often people suffer because they cannot see God in their circumstances; or because they see God dimly through the reflection of their circumstances.  They grieve because they feel God has forsaken them in their need; and they discount God in favour of their own initiatives in their abundance.

Luke describes Jesus beginning his lengthy teaching from that quiet place on clearing with these truths of the human condition, because Jesus wants to minister to all people at the very heart of human suffering – the poor, the hungry, the disadvantaged, the grieving, the abandoned.  

Jesus almost cries out that “Nothing stays the same for ever.” Except life in eternity, of course.    If things are going good – enjoy the time because things will likely get tough and all that will change.  If things are going particularly tough – take heart and don’t despair because they will get better.   

We only need look to the droughts in one place and the floods in another to find an example of this polar disparity.  We should always hold to our faith and remain steadfast to our testimony that Jesus is sharing in our lives, sharing in our celebrations, and sharing in our suffering.   

The thought for this week, should be “The secret of contentment is knowing how to enjoy what you have, and seeing Jesus in our lives, no matter how much or how little we have or need.  And always hold on to our hope.” 

The next time we begin to feel discouraged or even when we feel especially encouraged; the next time we feel disadvantaged, or especially advantaged;

the next time that we feel especially blessed or especially afflicted; consider that Jesus is beside each one of us, in our life, sharing those feelings; that He understands our condition; and that He continues to love us without limit or condition. 

We can recognise God’s presence in everything that we do, think and feel.  Then we can take courage and rejoice that God is with us – Emanuel.  The true epiphany of Christian living.

In the epiphany of Christ Jesus, may God make us ever mindful of the multitude of ways that we  receive His love.   His love that is working in our lives every day as a witness that Jesus Christ is Lord.  And may God enable us to represent that love to others as a witness to them, in every circumstance of life.  Caring where we find need and reaching out when we are in need.  Knowing that our Saviour is present with us always.

  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.