Seventh Sunday after Pentecost 8th July

 

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

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Fighting with love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost 1st July

Mark 5:21-43. Who touched me?? 

A large crowd followed and pressed around him. {25} And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. {26} She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. {27} When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, {28} because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” {29} Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. {30} At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” {31} “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?'” {32} But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. {33} Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. {34} He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

 
Who touched me? Or more accurately; “Who touched my clothes?” In a whole crowd of people, what an amazing statement.20180311_103505 (1) Yet here again we hear two stories that point out to us just how amazing and great this Jesus truly is. Here is One who is far more than a good example; or even a great prophet. Here is God Almighty himself, letting himself be touched and touching the lives of people who were in deep, deep trouble. He brought peace and life to people who had no hope of either.

And it is this same Jesus who comes to us today with the same words of peace and life: Despite who we are and how terribly unworthy and insufficient we really are. We are in no better a position than this woman and this child in our reading today: unclean, unhealthy and having no further human way out of our predicament. Yet Jesus comes to us as God Almighty and his power is transmitted into our lives; giving healing, life and peace. Now at this, are we too, astonished; or do we simply take it all for granted as a right?

Let as look a little more closely again at this woman with here serious health problem that had impacted her whole life, and left her with no human possibilities or hope. Now, we are told, that she had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. Not only could the doctors not help her situation, they just added to her suffering. Poor woman! But by now her finances had ran out and there was no Medicare to fill the gap. So now, every human source of relieving her from her ailment was gone.
Her only hope left was now God Almighty himself. But even here, what could she do. She could not go to the Temple, because she was unclean. Here bleeding and God’s command had deemed that. God would have struck her down. She could not afford to buy the sacrifice that was needed, so all avenues here seemed to be exhausted also.

But when she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Here in Jesus, God himself was at work. If she could sneak up from behind un-noticed and touch his garments she would be OK. She wouldn’t have to disclose to everyone what her uncleanness was about, and all would be well. Without being noticed and without a word spoken, she touches Jesus’ clothes, and immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

But then it all goes wrong. At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?'” But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. She had been caught out, and now would have to ‘face the music.’ She knew she was not worthy or acceptable to receive from God. She knew that she should and would be looked on with scorn.

But to her amazement she hears Jesus say to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” This Jesus; God – had allowed her to touch him and receive what she so desperately needed. He has done far beyond what she was able to even hope to get: not only did he heal her, but he accepted her and gave her his peace. She was now not only whole and healthy physically, but spiritually as well. All by the goodness of God Almighty himself, through this Jesus. Though she was helpless and hopeless, through the touch, she now had healing and could go in peace. To God be the glory great things he has done.

Likewise with the little girl who had died, the touch of Jesus brought life and joy to her and her family. What was laughed at, became reality. That which was beyond all human help and hope, God’s touch has again done the impossible. That which was dead, has been brought to life. Here in Jesus; great things he has done.

But that was back then; what about here today? Can we expect Jesus to walk into our midst and touch us in our sickness and death: as individuals and as a congregation? Surely, this is laughable to our world around us? Surely, we might be tempted to think that this story is only here to give us some psychological encouragement and to point out that this Jesus was in some way special?

But here let us remember that Jesus comes to us today and extends his touch to us in even greater ways. He comes to gives us much more, than a healing from a sickness, or even raising us to life. Yes, in some circumstances he will heal and perform great miracles. But to each of us he comes to touch us and give us forgiveness of sins and the assurance of life and salvation. He comes to extend his peace to us so that we can go through life with that peace which is beyond understanding.

Think about it: we too are again and again at the end of our tether. We too have exhausted all human possibilities of being able to have the wholeness and peace in our lives that we know should be there. No matter how good and great we might be, we often come as walking dead. Too may things in the past weeks and years have crushed us and caused us suffering. Many times, we also have brought great shame on ourselves and others, and left us feeling worthless and alone, beyond human help and hope: Even knowing that we are completely unworthy to come into God’s presence.

Yet we know and hear that this Jesus Christ is the only one who truly can help us and give us what we need. So we sneak in the back and sit in those last pews seeking God’s healing, and long for his touch and his power: longing for the freedom to again go forward and live. We tremble with fear at the prospect of going away no better than we came. But we come because we know that it is he alone who can help us.

As we sit, we look up and see the cross: we see that which reminds us of a God who has suffered in our place: who died our death. Yes, here is our God who knows our pain and our hurt. He came to be with us and to help us through.

Then as the Service begins, we are not only reminded of our baptism into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, but here is a reminder that this God is here in our very midst and his name is placed on each one of us.

This surely then makes us very uncomfortable for we are sinful and unclean: unworthy to have God touch us. So, we are entered into a time of confession, so that our troubles are laid bare before God, so that he can deal with them. And he does! Through the pastor he pronounces us forgiven: our sin is removed so that we can live at peace with our God here in this service.

From there he leads us into his Word, so that which he wants us to know, can touch us and encourage us forward. He continually leads us through Law and Gospel to see and know Jesus Christ and all that he has done for us through his life, death and resurrection. He reminds us of the healing, hope and power that he has won for us. He encourages us forward into the coming week to again live and be the people that he wants us to be, so that others in the community around us can see and know the Good News of Jesus Christ also. He wants to touch them through us.

Before he does, however, he invites us to a special feast so that he can touch us in a very real way. He invites us to join with him, the angels and all the faithful who have gone before us. All, so that he can give himself: his very body and blood which he shed on the cross, so that we can know that we are forgiven and that eternal life with God in heaven has been won for us.

Then once again, before we leave, he places his touch on us. Through the Benediction he gives his blessing to us so that we can go forward with confidence and certainty to face the week ahead. Now, no matter how bad things were when we arrived, we now are healed: forgiven and given life and salvation. That which was sick, dead and unclean, has been made whole. Now we are at peace with God; and we can go in peace once again.

Yes, the world out there is still going to be tough. We still have a sinful nature and the consequences of sin will be ever around us. But now we know, God’s touch has the final say in our life. Now we know that we are loved, forgiven and assured of eternal life, no matter what the devil, the world and our sinful self can throw at us. Nothing now in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Who touched me? As we came here to seek his help we have come into contact with his touch, and have been given healing and wholeness. God has again touched us so that we can go in peace. To him again then be all glory and honour, now and always. AMEN.

Pastor Roger Atze

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.  [1]

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.