Where is your focus in life?

Sunday the 7th of August 2016

Luke 12: 32-40

I wonder if you have ever been in a place in your life where you have struggled with not having enough headspace. Times where life seems so busy, where there is so much to be done. Perhaps people have made demands upon you wanting you to do this or that; Times when decisions have to be made about important things and it feels like the decisions have to have been made yesterday, but you have not had enough time to even think about things properly. A time where everything needs attention, but you don’t know where to start. This is often a reality for many people as we live in a world where there are so many things clamouring for our attention that it is easy to get caught up in things and lose our focus.

We can easily find ourselves pouring all our energy into life; being busy with many things, but pouring this energy into things that are not important to us. We can easily lose our focus of what actually matters in this life.

Today’s Gospel reading from Luke chapter twelves is addressing this very issue. Knowing full well that in this life there are many things that will distract us and demand our attention, Jesus is calling us to pay attention and to prioritize the things we do and the choices we make that lead to eternal life. When Jesus says: “Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” he is not only talking about what we do with our possessions. But it is a call to us as his disciples, in and among the distractions of this world that demand our attention to centre, or perhaps to re-centre, our lives on God and What Jesus has done for us and what he wants to do with us. And although this sounds, and at times is, extremely difficult to do in our lives it is essential for us as Christians. If we don’t, as Jesus goes on to suggest, we will be caught unprepared!

I sometimes wonder if for many, when they hear Jesus speaking about being prepared, or being ready, watching, or being alert, they automatically think the he is speaking only about our salvation. For example when Jesus says: : 35 “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning…” some hear: “ be prepared and you will be saved”. As though this is a warning for all those who are in doubt about the faith and where they stand with Jesus, that they better focuses harder to make sure that they do not fall away. Now it is true that we do need to watch so we do not walk away from Jesus, but here in this reading this is not primarily what Jesus is talking about.

Jesus is speaking here to believers, ie you and me. And when he speaks about being ready, it is simply that we are to be ready so that when God calls you and me to action, we can respond and take the opportunities that he gives us to spread the good news. Being alert and being ready have everything to do with the gospel. It is about being ready and prepared to see how and when he brings people across your paths, people who need to hear the good news. It is about being ready and alert to serve others in their needs when he shows them to you. It is about being ready and prepared for the way that God may choose to work in your life.

One of my favourite lectures at Sem was Dr John Kleinig, he used to say that when you read the bible, you need to read it with an attitude that always expects the unexpected. So often God does and says things that do not conform to the way we think he should be doing things, or the way things should happen according to us;  in today’s reading we see another classic example of this. Listen again to what Jesus says: 35 “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, 36 like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. 37 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them” Notice what is actually said here. Those who are ready for the return of the master will be served by God. This totally contradicts our usual notion that we are to serve God. Instead, it says God will be serving you! This is not about us getting ourselves right with God and earning our salvation here. Rather, it is a promise of what will happen when one has begun to re-center life around God; To put it another way the good news of Christ and what he has done for you and me, will serve you in your life so that you are not afraid. The return of the master in this parable by Jesus ends by him saying: “40 You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” Now that sounds to many like a strong warning, which it is, but is must be understood in terms of what it means to be ready.

The very first verse of this Gospel reading today gives you and me confidence and comfort. It says this: 32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom” Our Heavenly Father is pleased to give us the Kingdom. Jesus promises that God has given everything so that we do not need to be afraid. He reinforces this by talking about how God will serve us. This is the key to understand what Jesus is talking to us about.

What does it mean to be ready? What does mean to keep our lamps burning? We keep our lamps burning by continuing to re-focus our lives and thinking back on God. Particularly, what Jesus Christ has done for us. He is the one who has done and is doing the work, but we easily become distracted, we forget, we lose focus, or we focus on other things in life.; we so often get ourselves lost in the thoughts of the world around us. Being ready or prepared and keeping our lamps burning has less to do with us getting ourselves right before God, getting our behaviour in order, stopping our struggle with sins, although these are important things to do. But it is about remembering and refocusing on what really matters: What Jesus Christ has done for us.

God has poured out his love and grace on us in many ways: through the gift of life and creation; through the gift of eternal life with him; through the gift of the Holy Spirit who comes to us and lives in us through our baptism; through the gift of Jesus’ body and blood, given and shed for us in Holy Communion; these are just a few examples. We have been abundantly gifted by our God who loves us and desires good for us. These are all the gifts that our God does for you and me, with the emphasis being on God’s actions not ours. And these are the things that we need to continually remind ourselves of.

The call for us as God’s dearly loved children to focus our hearts on eternal things and to keep focused on being ready and keeping what Jesus has done for us at the front of our thoughts, is what this Gospel reading from Luke is all about.

So when you are going through times where things seem to be getting on top of you, where there feels like there are too many things that need your time and attention; where things in life are taking your thoughts away from Jesus. I encourage you to take some time to take a breath and to refocus on what really matters, to refocus your attention back on Jesus and what he has done for you. Then you will find yourselves open to walking the way he wishes to lead you. And you will know that you are prepared and ready for his return.

A History

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Launceston

Reminiscences of the Early Years

The Lutheran Church in Launceston developed by word of mouth. There was no church building, no manse and no pastor. Ministry  to the influx of migrants following World War 2 was conducted from Victoria, first by Pr W.H. Paech.  Gertrud Apostolovic came into contact with the church via Mr T Marckovic whose son Stephan needed baptising. The baptism was held in the old Launceston Library, as were other early services.

Amy Buttery arrived in 1952 and had to contact her former pastor in Hopetoun, Victoria, to find out where Lutheran services were being held. The first divine service was conducted in St. Andrew’s Sunday School hall. Pr Paech visited Tasmania on a regular basis and gained support for the new spiritual venture by contacting folk in their homes. Most of the visiting was done on foot, because cars and buses were not readily available at the time.

The congregation was formed on 17 November, 1949.

In the early fifties, services were conducted once a month, in German and English. There were only five members then. Some of the early attenders were Mrs A Woodman, Mrs Bartley, Mr H Trey and his mother, and A Buttery. Some services were held in private homes such as Mrs Ida Begrovs’ in George Town. In time, services were moved to more ecclesiastical sites. Firstly, St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, then the side chapel at St John’s Anglican Church, circa 1954. Pr A.W. Wundersitz continued the work, serving all of Tasmania’s Lutheran preaching places until he left due to his wife’s ill-health.

Ten years after the Launceston congregation was formed, Pastor R Thiele arrived as the first Lutheran minister for Northern Tasmania. He stayed with  Mr and Mrs Trey and continued to live in the Trey home with his new wife. While single, members helped with his domestic responsibilities so that he could be free to do his work.

In time, a church residence was built for the new pastor, R Kempe, in Braeside Street, Prospect. Mr T Baulis built this fine home in 1965/1966. It was later sold so that new lodgings could be established closer to town.

The Treys were instrumental in establishing a church plant at our present site. The congregation obtained the workshop/garage next to their home and Mr T Baulis converted it into a centre for worship. The pit was filled with concrete, and Pr Thiele told us recently that C Wohlgenuth, a George Town builder, constructed the pews, alter, pulpit, font and other furniture. Mr H Vocke made the cross above the altar. Pastor L Griege, who preceded Pastor Thiele, constructed the candlesticks himself. He also purchased a reed organ for 48 pounds. The floor remained as uncovered cement for some time, which caused the room to be quite cold.

The congregation purchased the land adjacent to the garage and this later became the site of the existing church.

Services in Launceston were held every second Sunday to enable Pr Thiele to serve George Town, Devonport, Burnie, Gowry Park and Poatina. John Lunstroo remembers his first service i the present hall. Pr Thiele had contacted him when he discovered him worshipping in the Presbyterian Church, since John did not know about the availability of the Lutheran services. Pr Thiele not only preached the sermon, but would also play the organ and collect the offering during the services.

In 1963 an active Ladies Guild was formed and the youth met in the Trey home, which later became the manse. The cottage next to the garage was purchased and dreams of owning the whole corner of the block were nearing fruition. In the early sixties, a Sunday School was formed to cater for the growing congregation. Mrs A Woodman was the first Sunday School teacher.Baptisms were administered in the garage/church, just as they were in the little St John’s chapel. Weddings took place in the converted workshop.. One such wedding was Walter and Gerda Winkler’s in 1963. Gerda arrived from Germany with her mother Mrs Marie Peters only two weeks before the wedding.  and Walter arranged with her that he would tap her with his foot when she needed to say ‘yes’ or ‘I do’. As things transpired however, Pr Thiele conducted the service in German, much to their surprise!

In due course, new members took up ministries with the church and assisted the pastor in the Lord’s work. Mr L Herbig and J Lunstroo became elders, as did W Winkler. They would travel with Pr Thiele to Devonport and Burnie.

The present hall did great service for the church. The Latvian and Estonian communities used the church, but with growth in numbers, a newer and larger facility was needed.The architect for the new church was Mr V Ziersch of Melbourne the new building was opened in 1972, during Pr John Schultz’s ministry. During Pr Schultz’s ministry, he organised a drop-in place for the neighbourhood. It attracted a few bikies. Some of them attended services seated at the rear of the church where they thought they could get away with a smoke until the pastor stopped them. Later, one of them left Launceston for Adelaide to study for the Lutheran ministry. During Pr Schultz’s  ministry also, Fred Veerhuis chose to enter the ministry as a mature-aged student, having converted from Roman Catholicism earlier. He spent two years in the congregation (1972, 1973) teaching at Prospect High School.

Visitors sometimes seemed to outnumber the small congregation, but the regular members contained many who had been members of Bethlehem since the beginning. Mrs A Woodman played the organ with faithful and dependable service. In the sixties, the regular members comprised John and Flo Lunstroo, Rosalie Bartley and children Barry, Dawn and Anne, Mr and Mrs Gerhard Bohn who married in the garage/church, The Crawford family, the Zelcs family, Mrs Trey, Dick and Amy Buttery and children John, Graham, Robert and Anne. Jordan and Gertrud Apostolovic, Walter and Gerda Winkler, Mrs Walker, Valentina Kulla and children Helmi and Helgi and Leon and Anne Herbig.

In 1965 the name of the congregation was changed from ‘St John’s’ to ‘Bethlehem’.

In the late seventies, during Pastor R Voight’s ministry, the northern parish was divided to form the Burnie and Launceston parishes.

Compiled by Pastor Wayne Muschamp from the reminiscences of Gertrud Apostolovic, Amy Buttery, Leon Herbig and John Lunstroo. Further information was obtained from the 40th anniversary history compiled by David J Burger and the 35th anniversary bulletin written by Dr J Thiel. Pastors R Thiele and L Burger assisted with written and verbal material. Mrs R Boerth assisted with the verification of some of the detail.