18th Sunday after Pentecost 23rd September

DEPRESSION

‘You are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you’ (Isaiah 43:4a).

Introduction

pastor

            There’s an old legend which tells of a good angel being sent to Satan to take away all of his favorite temptations. After much argument, the devil agreed. But he begged to be allowed to keep the least important of all his temptations.

            ‘Which is…?’ asked the angel.

            Satan shrugged. ‘Depression’, he said.

            Satan got his wish, and was allowed to keep depression.

            ‘Good!’ laughed Satan to himself. ‘In this one gift I have secured all’.

            Yes, depression is a difficult condition. It can shatter our zest for life and our faith in Jesus.

Depression is a common problem. So today we would ask, what is depression? What are some of the causes of depression? What are the results of depression? How can we find a way through depression?

I  WHAT IS DEPRESSION?

 First, what is depression? The word itself means to press down, to sink, to slump. Depression means a reduction in strength, vitality and spirit. It is a mood of hopelessness, inadequacy and failure. One wants to give up on life. Depression is often accompanied by physical symptoms.

            Depression is very widespread. One survey showed that 56% of factory workers had suffered from depression in the previous three years. I’m sure all of us know of people who have suffered from depression. Maybe we are one of them.

            Many of the great heroes of faith suffered from depression. The great prophet Elijah once told God, ‘It’s too much, Lord. Take away my life; I might as well be dead’ (1 Kings 19:4). Job said, ‘O God, put a curse on the day I was born… I wish I had died in my mother’s womb’ (Job 3:2, 11). Jeremiah said, ‘Cursed the day in which I was born’ (Jer 20:14). King Solomon lamented, ‘I have seen everything that is done under the sun. It’s all a vapor, like trying to catch the wind’ (Eccles 1:14).         

            These examples give us heart. They show us that depression is not a sign we have lost our faith. Nor should we say that if only a depressed person had faith, they wouldn’t be suffering from depression. Although depression may be painful, it needn’t extinguish faith; and faith can help us in our darkest hour.

II  ITS CAUSE

Second, what are some of the causes of depression? One of the greatest causes of depression is loss.

  1. You lose your boyfriend or girlfriend. You feel down in the dumps. Depression.
  2. You lose your children as one by one they leave home. After the last one goes, you have a good cry. Depression.
  3. You lose your best friends when they move elsewhere. You miss them badly. Depression.
  4. You lose your job; you feel useless. Or you lose your job when you retire. You still find things to do, but you feel empty inside. Depression.
  5. You lose things from your house after it is burgled. As you walk through the mess, counting all the things that were stolen, a cloud of gloom comes down on you. Someone else has been touching your things. Depression.
  6. You lose your health. You feel miserable. Your mind gets focused on your ailment. Will I ever feel well again? Depression.
  7. You lose the respect of your family. You are not appreciated at home. You are treated as a fixture, a piece of furniture. Your children or grandchildren rarely visit you. You feel forgotten, unloved, lonely and passed by. Depression.
  8. You lose the vitality of a younger life. You are getting old. You can’t get around as you once could. You need a walker. Your hearing is bad. Your eyesight is poor. Your memory is slipping. It takes you twice as long to do even simple jobs. Depression.
  9. You lose your house. You can’t safely stay there anymore. You have to go into aged care. Depression.
  10. You lose someone through death. You had a miscarriage, maybe years ago. You think about the child that might have been. You go through a painful divorce. Your spouse dies. Everything is different. The empty space at your table; no one to consult when you have an intimate problem; no one to share your life with. Or maybe you never married and now you’re old. Life has become lonely. Or your best friend dies. Their absence leaves a gaping hole in your life. Depression.

            Another major cause of depression is sin. We know what God’s will is. But when we examine our lives we see blunders and failures. There is a huge gap between who we are and who we ought to be; a big gap between what we do and what we ought to do. The devil uses these failures to promote depression.
 So loss and sin all cause depression.

III  ITS EFFECTS

  Third, what are the results of depression? What happens to the person who is depressed? This poem gives us a glimpse of the depressed person.

  Depression is:
defeat,
deepening gloom.
Surveying an unbelievably messy house,
Piles of laundry,
work undone, and not being able to lift a finger.

            Doubting that God cares,

            Doubting in my prayers,

            Doubting he’s even there.

            Depression leads to lethargy. We can’t motivate ourselves to do anything. We sit in our chair or lie on our bed and can’t get up and go.

            Depression often leads to self-pity. We feel sorry for ourselves. Then this spreads to anger. We get angry with ourselves and others for the way we think about ourselves. So we may lash out at a victim for no apparent reason at all.    Another result of depression is that we give up trying. Depression tells us that we won’t succeed so why bother trying in the first place. It’s no use looking for another job – we won’t get it. It’s no use trying to please our husband or wife, or our parents – they will always find some fault in what we do. It’s no use trying to please the boss – he or she won’t praise me. It’s no use inviting others to church – they won’t listen to us. Thus depression discourages, weakens and paralyses.

            Depression often makes us believe things won’t get better. It sees no light at the end of the tunnel. Things will continue as they are or may even get worse. Such a bout of depression makes us sour, unhappy, defeated. It’s a good recipe for driving away friends, which only serves to increase depression as we are left alone.

            Depression also affects our health. Bad health can lead to depression, but depression can also lead to bad health. Our appetite may decrease. Our return to health may be slowed. We may be less likely to survive an operation. Indeed, studies in a Sydney hospital showed that 80% of patients who died after surgery were depressed at the time of the operation.

            Severe depression can also lead to suicide or attempted suicide. The great hymn writer William Cowper, was one of these. Several times Cowper tried to commit suicide. On one occasion he went to a river to drown himself. But when he reached the river, he found a man seated at the exact place where he intended to end his life. He returned home and threw himself on his knife, but the blade snapped. He then attempted to hang himself, but the rope broke. Yes, depression can be a cruel master.

Depression affects our faith. We may begin to doubt the love of God. The clouds of life block out God and we are no longer warmed by his goodness. Faith can be shattered by deep and constant depression.

            Naturally depression also affects hope. The future looks bleak and tasteless. Even the joys of heaven don’t seem all that great. Depression is a serious threat to our standing as children of God.

 

IV  THE REMEDY FOR DEPRESSION AND ITS EFFECTS

            Finally, what is the remedy for depression? There’s no use being told, ‘Snap out of it; things aren’t as bad as you think. Or, don’t feel like that; others are a lot worse off than you’.

            Drugs and counseling may help. But today I want rather to talk of God’s help for the depressed. God meets us when we are depressed. We would like him to fix things in our lives with a wave of his arm: better health, wealth, a job or new job, great hopes that are fulfilled, patched up relationships. But sometimes God leaves us with his word only. As if to say, ‘My grace is enough for you. When you are weak, my power is doing its best work’ (2 Cor 12:9).

            God gently tells us, ‘Yes, you are a sinner, but my Son Jesus took your sin to his cross; Jesus died in your place so you are free from the penalty of sin – death. Jesus rose from the dead and lives in you. Because of Jesus ‘I will remember your sin no more’ (cf Is 43:25). Those sins which weigh you down into depression – forgiven, washed away by the blood of Jesus. More, my Son Jesus has clothed you in his holiness and righteousness. When I look at you I see Jesus. So I am no longer angry with you. I am your loving God. “You are precious in my eyes and honored, and I love you”’.  

            God’s Word is a powerful antidote against depression. Write some Bible texts and put them on your fridge, or behind the toilet door. Memorise them, and let God speak to you through them, especially when you are down.

            The whole 43rd chapter of Isaiah is a wonderful tonic for the depressed. Listen, ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine. When you pass thru the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you … For I am the Lord, your God … I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more’ (Is 43:1-3, 25). Or think of this beautiful verse from Isaiah 32:2, ‘You, O God, are as a hiding place from the wind, and a covering from the storm, as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land’. And in John’s gospel, Jesus says, ‘Believe in the light (me!) while you have it, so that you will be people of the light’ (John 12:36).

            So when the gloom of depression begins to cover us, we can look up to God and say, ‘Jesus died and rose to make me your son, your daughter. Through Jesus I am born anew, I am righteous and holy. Through Jesus I can call you Father. And, Father, you call me, yes, me, precious, honored, loved’.

            As we reflect on God’s love in Christ, our faith begins to bloom again. We are not alone in this world. We are not forgotten. God is here. And he loves us in Jesus. The causes and results of depression begin to lose their power over us.

            Take loss. Whenever we suffer loss, we know that God is with us in the midst of that loss. He reassures us that he is concerned for us. He tells us, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you’ (Heb 13:5). You may lose everything, but you will never lose me. ‘I am with you always to the close of the age’ (Mt 28:20).

            Take loss of respect. The whole world may be against us, but God is for us (Rom 8). Our life depends not so much on others as on God, who claims us as his own in Christ. We are God’s precious children, honored and loved by him.

            As faith controls our life more and more, our hope will be renewed. We can exult, ‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead’ (1 Pet 1:3). We are baptized! We belong to God! Precious, honored, loved! That’s us!

            Depression is also eased if instead of shutting ourselves up we make the effort to visit someone else. Their presence helps to lift depression.

            Renewed faith and hope also foster good health, both physical and emotional. Remember, too, that Holy Communion helps us, not only spiritually, but also physically. It gives health to our bodies and emotions too. The early church fathers called the Lord’s Supper ‘the medicine of immortality’. Yes, the gospel of Jesus affects our health. Christians still get sick, of course. But the general rule is true that a healthy faith helps one have a healthy body.

            Another remedy for depression is singing. Singing produces a happy heart which then beams its light into our life. Do know which hymn in a worship service is sung the loudest? The last hymn! Not because it is the last one, but because it is sung soon after we have communed. How can we not sing when we have tasted Christ’s body and blood given and shed for the forgiveness of our sins?

            Yes, music lifts our spirits. William Cowper, who tried to commit suicide as we heard, was a hymn writer. The love of God raised him from his depression and enabled him to write the hymn, ‘There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel’s veins, and sinners, plunged beneath that flood, lose all their guilty stains’ (Hymn 68). He also wrote the hymn, ‘God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform’ (Hymn 414). What a hymn, written by a man whom God brought out of suicidal depression!

Conclusion

            Martin Luther once became depressed. One day he came to breakfast to find his wife Katie dressed in black. Usually she said good morning to him, but this time she said nothing.

Luther asked, ‘What’s wrong?’

Katie announced sadly, ‘God is dead’.

‘Katie, how could you say such a terrible thing? God is not dead, nor does he sleep. Heaven and earth may pass away but God will remain’.

            Katie then said, ‘Why do you wake each morning with such a sad expression on your face. You appeared to know God well, but from the expression on your face, God must surely have died’.

            She said this with a sad look on her face. Suddenly Luther burst out laughing. ‘You have convinced me, Katie, dear. So, if ever you see me again with a sad face, remind me that God is living and that he will live forevermore. I promise you that I shall try not to appear as sad-faced as a shriveled turnip’.

            Depression hits us too from time to time. This doesn’t mean we have no faith. But in Christ depression will not defeat us. Jesus died and rose to forgive our sins and bring us to God the Father. He puts joy in our hearts as he tells us, ‘You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you’.

 

Peter Kriewaldt

17th Sunday after Pentecost 16th September

WISDOM IS CALLING

 

We are joyful today

            Through God’s strength to direct us,

            God’s might to uphold us,pastor

            God’s wisdom to guide us,

            God’s eye to watch us,

            God’s ear to hear us,

            God’s Word to speak to us,

            God’s hand to guard us,

            God’s way to lie before us,

            God’s shield to protect us,

            God’s angels to keep us from the snares of the devil.

            Lord Jesus, save us

            From temptation of vices,

            From everyone who shall wish us ill,

            Afar and near,

            Alone and in a multitude.  (Attributed to St Patrick. Mediacom, April 2000)

 

Introduction

 

            One of the saddest chapters in the Bible is Genesis 19. Here God sent an angel to warn Lot and his family to flee from the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. The angel told them, ‘Flee for your lives. Don’t look back’ (Gen 19:17). However, Lot’s wife ‘looked back and she became a pillar of salt’ (Gen 19:26). How foolish was that?

            Our text, Proverbs 1:20-33, features no angel, but rather wisdom, personified as a woman. That is, a woman is featured as wisdom itself and calling out for people to flee wickedness and follow the Lord and so be wise. May God’s Holy Spirit enable us to hear the call of wisdom and so be wise.

 

I  THE FOOLISH DO NOT LISTEN

 

            Sadly many people do not listen to wisdom. They follow folly instead.

The book of Proverbs gives examples of how people follow their fleshly appetites. But it warns that although sin seems pleasurable at first, it has a deadly sting in its tail. It kills.

            For instance, Proverbs lists the abuse of alcohol as a foolish pursuit. Alcohol is a good gift of God when used in moderation. But when abused it has terrible results. I don’t need to go into detail here about the dangers of drinking too much. Alcohol addiction leads to stupid actions, deadly fights, memory loss and other physical problems. Moreover, in Australia 52% of road deaths are caused by alcohol.

I will never forget visiting a man in hospital who was addicted to drink. He told me that he was about to go home by ambulance and he would instruct the driver to stop at the first hotel so he could have a drink. How foolish. Indeed, a few months later he was dead. Alcoholism shortens one’s life by an average of 12 years.

            Sin is very sneaky. It seems attractive. It appeals to our human nature. For a time it is exciting. Maybe that’s why a company put out a perfume called ‘My Sin’. The promotion blurb said that it’s a fragrance ‘so alluring, so charming, so exciting that we could only call it “My Sin”’. Sin may seem exciting but as Proverbs says, ‘So then (you sinners), you will get what you deserve, and your own actions will make you sick.  Foolish people die because they reject wisdom. Stupid people are destroyed’. Proverbs also says that foolish people are even more stupid than birds which walk into a trap they watch being set. True, foolish people get caught in the trap they themselves have set! (1:17f)

            Foolishness abounds in our society. We think of people, even pensioners, who allow one arm bandits to rob them of nearly all their money. Or I think of a woman who divorced her abusive husband, but then ended up marrying another man who also abused her. Yes, foolishness is all around us!

            Wisdom calls out to foolish people. But they don’t listen. Their ears are blocked. So calamity rushes upon them like a storm. They cry out for help, but it is too late. 

            What about us? It is easy for us to point our fingers at others. But it is true we have often acted the fool too. That’s because we are sinners. ‘Sin makes us stupid’. You know how foolishness has touched you, and I know how foolishness has touched me.  Whether it is a careless word, angry response to some remark, even a scaled down version of road rage, annoyance at the checkout counter when someone lines up at the 12 or less items with 20 – yes we counted them one by one, or occasionally drinking too much, we have often let the Lord down and ourselves as well. As Proverbs tells us, sin ‘bites like a snake and stings like an adder’ (Prov 23:32).

            Most foolish of all is when people reject our Lord and Master, Jesus the Christ. It is sad that most Jews have rejected Jesus as Messiah. Many have given up all hope of any Messiah. Others are still waiting for the Messiah to come. When Helen and I were in Israel some years ago we were taken around the country in a small bus. As we were going along we noticed light poles that had arrows on them. The arrows finally pointed to a large house. We noticed that all the lights were on. We asked our driver what this meant. He said that many Jews believed that the New York Rabbi (Rebbe) Schneerson was the Messiah. After he died he would come back alive again as Messiah to Israel. The arrows on the poles were to guide him to his house. And the house had its lights on day and night so he would know which house was his! Some Messiah who needed help to find his house!

They are quite wrong of course. Since then Rabbi Schneerson has died and he certainly hasn’t come back to live in that house as the Messiah.

            Jesus is the Messiah. The only Messiah. Those who do not welcome him are fools. In the end they will miss out on life with Jesus in his eternal and glorious kingdom.

 

II  THE WISE LISTEN

 

            Wisdom. How does one become wise? Through education? Not necessarily. Some of the stupidest people around are very well educated. Think of Stephen Foster. He wrote such popular songs as ‘Sewanee River’, ‘Oh, Susanna’, ‘Beautiful Dreamer’, and 200 more. He became wealthy. But he ended up as a penniless drunkard, got into a brawl and died after someone slashed open his throat.

            There are also some very well educated people in jail. You see, education does not guarantee wisdom. Schools are deluding themselves if they think sex education, or drug education alone will ensure young people make the right choices. 

Nor does experience guarantee wisdom. Sure, many old people are wise and experienced. But it’s also true that there is no fool like an old fool!

True wisdom comes through being attached to Jesus Christ. As St Paul says, God ‘gave you your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, righteousness, holiness and ransom from sin’ (1 Cor 1:30). Jesus alone makes us wise unto salvation. Jesus alone died and rose for us and forgives our sins. Jesus alone is the way to heaven. Jesus alone took the poison from the cobra of death for us so that we shall not die but live. Jesus alone was slain and raised from the dead for us, so that God the Father does not condemn us but pardons us, stands by us, strengthens us, protects and preserves us and will one day take us to joy and glory in heaven that no mind can fathom or tongue can tell. There is no other, Jesus Christ is our true Wisdom.

We could go on: Christ dealt with our old self which makes us stupid. He took our foolishness to his cross. He forgave us the many times we refused to listen to wisdom. He gave us a new nature, one filled with the Spirit and therefore wise.

In today’s gospel reading Jesus asks his disciples, ‘“Who do you say I am?” The place where Jesus asked this question was Caesarea Philippi. It was here that the universal Greek god of ‘All’ was venerated next to a temple of Emperor Augustus who had claimed to be divine. This place was also near the source of the River Jordan, the river in which Jesus was baptised. So the place where Jesus asked his disciples whom they thought he was, was steeped in paganism.  Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, answered for them all, ‘“You are the Messiah”’ (Mark 8: 29). 

            Christ also asks us, ‘Whom do you say I am?’ What will our answer be? We who live in the midst of paganism and false religions? May God’s Spirit move our hearts to respond, ‘You are the Christ, the Messiah, the only wise Savior of all’.

            Christ our wisdom calls us to act wisely, morally and sensibly. Through Christ our actions are based on the fear of the Lord. For it is also true that ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’ (Prov 1:7). Our whole life is thus controlled by the Lord. This touches every aspect of our life: the way we use alcohol, prescription drugs, speech, money, relationships,  sex, everything.

            A medical student was asked whether he ever went on binge drinking. What do you think of his answer? He said, ‘No, I hope to be a neurosurgeon. Alcohol kills brain cells. I need all the brain cells I can to get to get where I hope to be one day’. So was that a wise answer? It was, but an even better answer would be, ‘I don’t go on binge drinking because I am a follower of Christ. I need all the brain cells I can get to be a faithful disciple’.

I am also reminded of a High School student who was out with classmates. They tried to entice him into joining their binge drinking. Each time they tried, he answered with a word of Scripture. At last one of them said to the others, ‘Leave him be. He’s so full of the Bible we can’t do a thing with him! It’s great when young people do the wise thing for Christ’s sake.

In Christ we are wiser than the smartest intellectual without Christ. But thank God many Christian intellectuals are wise. Some of the wisest people were both great Christians and scientists. Isaac Newton – mathematician, the discoverer of calculus and the founder of classical physics – dedicated his life to Christ. Michael Faraday – the discoverer of benzene, electromagnetic induction and the generator – was a firm believer in Christ. William Perkin – the great organic chemist who discovered the first synthetic dye, known as Perkin’s mauve – was a great Christian. On his deathbed he said, ‘The children are in Sunday School. Give them my love and tell them always to trust Jesus. Louis Pasteur, who gave us pasteurized milk and other good things, was a Christian. Samuel Morse, who gave us Morse code and the telegraph, was a Christian, Charles Babbage, who was the forerunner of computers and the speedometer, was a Christian. I could mention many other famous scientists who believed in Christ. You don’t have to sacrifice your intellect to be a Christian. As Wisdom says, I ‘give you good advice and share my knowledge with you’.

 

Conclusion

 

            Alexander Grigolia emigrated from the former Soviet Union Georgia to the USA. He became a successful professor at a University. As a non-believer in Christ he had a longing in his heart he couldn’t pinpoint. One day while getting a shoe shine he noticed that the lad had a joyful heart. Dr Grigolia finally could stand it no longer. He asked, ‘What makes you so happy?’

            The shoe shine looked up and said, ‘Jesus. He loves me. He died for me so God could forgive my badness. He makes me happy’.

            Dr Grigolia could not escape those words. They were words that wisdom was calling out to him. The Holy Spirit later brought him to Christ and true wisdom. Later Dr Grigolia taught at a Christian College. One of his students was a young man called Billy Graham.

            True wisdom is to follow Christ, to live in Christ, to obey Christ. Those who listen to wisdom ‘will have security.  They will be safe, with no reason to be afraid’. Listen, wisdom is calling!

Pastor Peter Kriewaldt

16th Sunday after Pentecost 9th September

FAITH AT WORK

Introduction

Some things belong together: strawberries and ice cream, coffee and cake, horse and carriage, bow and arrow, love and marriage.pastor

So also faith and works belong together. Faith and works are the two feet with which a person walks in Christ. One without the other produces a spiritual cripple. Our text from James 2 also proclaims this truth: faith and works belong together. You can’t have one without the other. Faith without works is dead; works without faith is not pleasing in God’s sight. May God’s Holy Spirit give us a faith that produces many good works.

 

I  FAITH ALONE SAVES

 

Although faith and works belong together, faith alone saves. What is faith? Basically, faith is trust. By using all the letters of the word faith, we get: ‘Forsaking all I trust him’. That’s FAITH.

Faith has to do with believing in Christ. The word ‘believe’ means to entrust your life to Christ. Another way of looking at the word ‘believe’ is given by Dr Paton, a Bible translator. He was translating the Bible into the language of some South Sea Islanders. He searched for a way of expressing the word ‘believe’ in their language. Just then one of the locals came in, hot and tired from a long walk. The man threw himself on a chair. He put his feet on another chair and used a local word which meant, ‘I am resting my whole weight here’. Instantly Dr Paton had the words he needed for ‘believe’. The people of that Pacific island now know that to believe in Jesus, or to have faith in Jesus, means that you rest your whole weight of mind and heart on Jesus.

Faith or belief in Christ is a gift of the Holy Spirit. As St Paul says, ‘No one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit’ (1 Cor 12:3). If the Holy Spirit were absent from our lives, we would never come to faith in Christ. Our Spirit-less heart is too hard and corrupt to put its weight on Christ. But the Holy Spirit has called us to faith through the word of Christ and led us to trust him.

Through faith we believe that Jesus came to earth as sin bearer, devil- slayer, death destroyer. Jesus came as our  substitute. All that he did, he did for us.  He copped God’s judgment over sin in our place. He was tempted by Satan in our place. He died in our place. By trusting Jesus, we receive the fruits of his cross – forgiveness of sins, life with God and freedom from the power of Satan. More, Jesus rose from the dead for us. Faith brings with it the sure hope of our resurrection from the dead.

Faith justifies us or puts us right with God. As St Paul says, To be put right with God ‘is through faith from beginning to end’ (R. l:17).

The Bible makes it very clear that faith alone saves. Our works cannot save us. As St Paul says, ‘a person is put right with God through faith, and not by doing what the Law commands’ (R. 3:28). Indeed, ‘Those who depend on obeying the Law live under a curse. For the Scripture says, “Whoever does not always obey everything that is written in the book of the Law is under God’s curse!”’ (Gal. 3:10) Well, no one can keep God’s law perfectly. As St James says,  ‘Whoever breaks one commandment is guilty of breaking them all’. Apart from faith we would be doomed. Faith alone connects us to Jesus who kept the law in our place. Yes, faith alone saves. May God’s Holy Spirit give us such a saving faith in Christ.

 

II  FAITH IS NEVER ALONE

 

Although faith alone saves, faith is never alone. Faith always produces good works. It is always doing something. As Martin Luther says, ‘Oh, a living, energetic, active, mighty thing is this faith. It is impossible for it not to do good constantly. Nor does it ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is put, it has already done them and is forever doing them’ (Plass 1:499).

Works show the reality of our faith. This is shown by the story of the queen of Sheba who came to visit king Solomon. It is said that one day during her visit she decided to put king Solomon to the test. She brought artificial flowers so perfectly formed that no human eye could detect them from real flowers. She put them in a vase on Solomon’s table, in his throne room next to real flowers. As he came in, the queen of Sheba is reported to have said, ‘Solomon, you are the wisest man in the world. Tell me without touching these flowers, which are real and which are artificial’. Solomon studied the flowers for a long time and said nothing, until finally he said, ‘Open the windows and let the bees come in’. Only true flowers have a genuine scent which attract bees.

Brilliant. That, too, is how to tell genuine faith from dead faith. Only people with true faith give off the aroma of Christ. Dead faith gives off no aroma of Christ.

Works flow from true faith in Christ. Works come from a cleansed and redeemed life. We rejoice to produce works which please God.

How different is Islam. In Islam the only way to get to Paradise is through good works. But here is the catch: your good works have to outweigh your bad works. If your good works aren’t heavy enough, you cannot enter Paradise.  To ensure enough good works are done, some countries even have religious police. In Saudi Arabia you’d better carry your marriage certificate with you to show that the woman who walks alongside you is your wife. If she isn’t, you’re in big trouble. In Malaysia teams of volunteers patrol the streets of Kuala Lumpur looking for people who offend Islamic law – like Muslim couples showing affection in public like holding hands. The patrols cannot make arrests but will alert police officers to this so-called breach of morality (Cf Asia Focus March 2006). As you can imagine, one can never be sure one has enough good works to get you to Paradise.

How different is Christian morality and good works. We do good works because we are already citizens of heaven. We believe that no amount of good works will get us into heaven. That’s why we hang on to Christ. For Christ alone was perfect and he credits his goodness to us! Christ’s death and resurrection make us certain that we will go to heaven.

At the same time we believe that if faith does not produce works, it is dead. As James says, ‘If (faith) is alone and includes no actions, then it is dead’. It is a pretend faith. Even demons have that kind of faith (Js. 2:19).

What’s your faith like? Is it producing many good works? Or are your works few and far between? Is your faith alone, or is it accompanied by works? Your answer is one of life or death!

 

III TWO EXAMPLES OF FAITH AT WORK

 

James gives two examples of faith at work. The first one has to do with the treatment of the rich and poor. He says, ‘As believers in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, you must never treat people in different ways according to their outward appearance’.

Apparently members of the congregation were treating the rich and poor differently. The rich were feted and made welcome; the poor were neglected and left in the corner. Looks like money spoke in those days too.

James rebukes these Christians for doing this. He tells them, ‘You are guilty of sin’. ‘You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great’ (Lev. 19:15).

Actually rich people are often blinded to Christ by their wealth. They tend to invest their time in their business and trust in their wealth rather than in Christ. As Jesus said, ‘It will be very hard for rich people to enter the kingdom of heaven… it is much harder for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle’ (Mt. 19:23-24).

At the same time poor people may find it hard to enter the kingdom as well. They may blame God for their poverty. Or waste their money on lotto tickets or one arm bandits in a vain attempt to get rich. They may try to milk the social security system by claiming money that is not rightfully theirs.

Whether we are rich or poor, we all need an active faith. For it is our faith in Christ that sends us with good works to serve others. Such service attracts people into the church. Generally people come into the church not because the pastor is a great guy or preaches great sermons. It’s not because the building is nice. It’s because someone cared for them. They saw Christ in that person. They felt at home, even if they were poor, or had little to offer.

James then gives a second example of faith at work. It also has to do with care for the needy. He says, ‘Suppose there are brothers or sisters who need clothes and don’t have enough to eat. What good is there in your saying to them, “God bless you! Keep warm and eat well!” – if you don’t give them the necessities of life?’

Good wishes and sympathy are not always enough. There’s a Peanuts cartoon where Snoopy is out in the cold. He’s shivering. Charlie Brown comes along dressed in a thick coat and gloves. He says to Snoopy, ‘Be of good cheer, Snoopy. Be of good cheer’. And then walks off leaving Snoopy to shiver in the cold. Snoopy needs a coat, or to be invited into Charlie Brown’s warm house.

If Christians don’t act, they harm the church. Scoffers see this and are quick to condemn. Thus it was that a needy lad wasn’t helped by fellow Christians. A skeptic tried to shake his faith. ‘How can you be a Christian when no one helps you?’ He replied, ‘God tells his people to help, but they forget.’ Do we forget to help? God forbid!

Faith active in good works is desperately needed today in our society. Our society is sliding further and further into moral decline. What can we do? We can write letters to the editor or to our politicians. We can speak up for good when the opportunity arises. But whatever the situation we face, may God’s Holy Spirit help us to maintain the good and be rich in good works. May the Spirit give us a faith that is active in good works.

 

Conclusion

 

Just as an ocean liner was putting out to sea, a young woman fell overboard, and was heard to scream that she couldn’t swim. No one jumped in to help her. Then, to the astonishment of all present, an elderly man of over 70 went hurtling after her. Eventually, amid rousing cheers, he brought her to safety. Such was the admiration felt for the old man’s heroism that a banquet was held in his honor at which the captain of the ship made a speech. Amid the applause which followed, the old man was urged to reply. He rose and said, ‘I’ve only one thing to say. “Who pushed me?”’ No one on board went to help the young woman. An old man did. But he had to be pushed!

No, faith never has to be pushed into good works. Faith has received the salvation Jesus won on his cross. A new life is received. A life which is always doing good things. Freely. Willingly. Faith alone saves. But faith is never alone.

So what’s our faith like? Alone? Or hard at work?

 

Peter Kriewaldt

 

15th Sunday after Pentecost 2nd September

TRUE CLEANLINESS

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

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

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

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

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

I:  NOT LAW OR TRADITION CENTERED

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

II:  GOSPEL CENTERED

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

Dads Turn Out All Right – In Time.

 4 years: My Daddy can do anything.

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

  8 years: Dad doesn’t know quite everything.

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

14 years: Father? Hopelessly old-fashioned.

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

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

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

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

50 years: What would Dad have thought about that?

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

Rev. Peter Kriewaldt

14th Sunday after Pentecost 26th August

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rev. David Thompson.

13th Sunday after Pentecost 19th August

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Dr Gordon Watson

12th Sunday after Pentecost 12th August

Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read by David Pfeiffer