We Are Children Of The Light

Sunday the 26th of March, 2017

Ephesians 5:8-14

As I sat down earlier this week and looked ahead to what is coming up, I realised that Easter is so close upon us. It is not that long to go until we celebrate one of the high points in our year as Christians. I also thought about how we are in the middle of Lent. Lent is that time in the church season where we prepare ourselves leading up to the Easter season and it is a time in which we meditate upon all that Jesus has done for you and me and think about our response to him.

This morning I am going to preach on the Epistle reading from Ephesians chapter 5, but I would like to start by looking at Ephesians 2:8. It says: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

In our lives as followers of Jesus we must always keep this in our minds. It is not by our own efforts that we are saved from our sins, but it is through the Grace of God through Jesus. This is something that is a given and we all know, but what does this mean for our Christian living?

This morning’s reading begins this way: “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” It is important that we pay attention to what is being said here. It is not only saying that before a person comes to faith in Jesus they are lost and in darkness, although this is true. It is far more confronting than that; it says that a person before faith in Jesus is darkness. “For you were once darkness…” In other words, our very being, the very essence of who we are is sin. This is why the Christian faith is so difficult for many in our world, because over the last century it is thought that we are not evil or bad in ourselves, but the environment around us makes us this way. But this is not what scripture tells us. It goes on to say: “… but now you are light in the Lord.” The gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, enlightens our darkness; it turns darkness into light. You and I are in the light of our Lord. To be light, to be “in the Lord” means we have a relationship, a connection to Jesus and his forgiveness. It is His light that produces light in the lives of God’s children.

Whist the reality of this is great news for us, the temptation is always with us to revert to darkness. We live a world where we are surrounded by those who cut themselves off from the light of Jesus; we are surrounded by those who continually live in darkness. Darkness cannot produce fruit. Those who cut themselves off from Jesus cannot produce good works. Even the works they do, what the world would call “good,” are sin. In fact this is often an argument that I have heard from those against the Christian faith. There are many people in the world who do good work, or sacrifice their lives for others, who put others before themselves, who do good things, and who don’t believe in God. You don’t have to be a Christian to do good in this world. Because of our sinful natures the good we think we do is not good in God’s sight. Why? Because of our sinful hearts.

To associate with darkness is very harmful, even detrimental to those who are in Jesus. To associate with darkness has consequences that lead us away from him. And yet this is where we struggle. How often, if we are honest, do we take part in the unfruitful deeds of darkness that is spoken of in this morning’s reading? In things that we know full well are sinful in God’s eyes. How often do we find ourselves doing shameful things that burden our consciences, things that we don’t want others to know about, and as a consequence cut ourselves off from the light of Jesus, and also from our fellow believers? These temptations that we face are very real and they are constantly with us.

It’s at these times where I believe that we as the body of Jesus underestimate the value that each person brings to the church community. Luther in his writings often writes about the importance of meeting together with the saints of Christ, not just for encouragement when things are good, but also to receive encouragement when struggling with our sins. He calls this the mutual consolation of believers. God has called all of you here to this place as children of the light of his Son Jesus; each of you are important to this church community.

The apostle John says in his first letter something that I believe is very important to listen to. He says: “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin.” (1:7) You see, our fellowship with our Lord Jesus, and our fellowship with one another as his children, is clearly important in our walk as children of the light.

Walking together as children of light is a critical witness to the light, Jesus Christ, in this world of darkness that we live in. We are not called to journey this Christian life alone. In chapter 4 of Ephesians Paul rejoiced in the unity we have as believers in the body of Christ. Together we are strong; we are not easily tossed to and fro by every wind of teaching; we are not easily pulled back into the darkness, so to speak.

But again, it is not that easy, is it? And to be honest, sometimes it is very hard and uncomfortable to be together as a Christian community. Verse 11 says: “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” And verse 13 says: “But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.”

These are strong words, and I believe they tell us that in Christian love, our duty is to expose the deeds of darkness that we see. We confront one another in our sin, not so that we judge one another, but so that we always speak of Christ’s forgiveness, so that we build each other up as his children. We go out of our way to help each other see the forgiveness that we have through Jesus, no matter what sins we have committed.

Walking as children of light also means that we expose the deeds of darkness in the world around us. As the light of Christ shines upon the ungodly, we see the true nature of their actions, which ultimately lead to death. As people who have the light of Christ, we are encouraged to pray that as the light of Christ shines on them, their eyes may be opened to this light as well.

The reading for today ends with the Apostle Paul quoting these words: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Now this is not a quote from Scripture, but it is believed to be a quote from one of the early hymns of the Christian church at the time. It is very powerful because it proclaims the truth of what has taken place for the believer in Jesus — an awakening by the light of the gospel.

It proclaims the reality of what Jesus has done for us in that each and every day, we wake anew with the light of Jesus shining on us. Each day, if you like, is a resurrection from death, a rescue from the deeds of darkness, a deliverance from the clutches of the evil one. Each day we wake in the light of God’s grace to us through Jesus. But again, it can be a prayer for unbelievers, for those who are in darkness, that the light of Jesus would awaken them, expose their deeds of darkness, and make them fellow children of light. Just as it is the light that produces fruit in our lives, so it is the light of Jesus’ death on a cross for our sins, and his resurrection from the dead, that enlightens unbelievers and calls them to faith and a life of good works.

To walk as children of light, means that you and I are to walk in the power of the word made flesh, the lamp for our feet and the light for our path, who shines upon us with his grace.

As we lead up to Easter, during these last few weeks of Lent, I encourage each of you to meditate on the darkness in your life, and to lift your eyes to see the light of Jesus working his forgiveness in you and in this community of believers he has called to this place.

Bible Study

For those interested there is Bible Study in Devonport this Wednesday at 1:00pm. If interested contact pastor for details.

The Bible reading we will be looking at for those who cannot make it is: Ephesians 5:8-14. I will also be preaching on this text this coming Sunday.

Jesus Words are full of Spirit and Life

Sunday the 19th of March 2017

John 4: Jesus and the Woman at the well

This morning I am going to preach on my favourite bible passage: which is the account of Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well.

One of the interesting things about John’s Gospel that differs from the others is that it has these accounts, which record conversations with Jesus, like with Nicodemus last week, today’s reading is about a Samaritan woman and her conversation with Jesus.

Conversations with Jesus in scripture were not just any normal conversation, as Jesus’ words that he spoke were full of the power the Holy Spirit. In John 6: 63 Jesus says this: “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.”

When Jesus speaks, the Spirit is at work. When Jesus speaks, things happen. In the life of this Samaritan woman, who is not named, Jesus’ words to her bring her life. To this woman who came to the well at midday to avoid all the other women, is given the opportunity to engage in a conversation with Jesus, a conversation that would change her forever. As Jesus speaks to her the Spirit is at work through his words to bring her new life that comes from him.

One of the things that stood out to me was that there are contrasts between before and after her conversation with Jesus. These contrasts highlight those things that were now different for her in her life.

Before Jesus’ conversation with her, this woman could only see life in terms of her ancestry. Her identity as a person, and her place in the world so to speak, was founded upon her religious belief of the Samaritans, who based their whole religious identity on their ancestral link to Jacob, Joseph and the blessed well, from which she was drawing water. Through the conversation with Jesus, this woman’s eyes were opened to see her life as greater than her ancestry or heritage; that her true life and identity were in her relationship with God through Jesus, who is greater than Jacob, and in her fellowship with those who put their trust in this Messiah.

Before her conversation with Jesus, this woman could only see that to be faithful to God, was to worship him at a particular Holy place (called Mount Gerizim), and in a particular way. Again this influenced how she understood what it meant to worship God. After Jesus spoke to her, the woman began to see that true devotion to God meant focusing on the Spirit and on Jesus, God’s truth. Her eyes were opened to see that since Jesus is God’s temple and presence in our midst, one looks for God neither on Mt Gerizim nor even in Jerusalem, but rather we are to look to his Son and Messiah through whom we have access to our Heavenly Father.

As Jesus spoke to her, the Spirit worked in her to open her eyes to see. But to take it a step further in today’s reading, it is not just the Woman herself whose eyes are opened through his speaking to her. Before Jesus speaks, I get the sense that this woman was perceived in a negative way. What did the disciples see in this woman? Perhaps they saw her life as one that had many limitations and disappointments. Maybe they saw her failures and her sins. It would be an interesting question to ponder how these disciples’ perceptions of this woman influenced their thinking. Their attitude to the woman is given away when it says in verse 27: “Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”

Yet Jesus was talking to her. He was not only talking to her, but he was allowing her to ask him questions. He was allowing her to engage in a conversation with him about things that were important to her. Jesus was treating this woman with dignity and respect, rather than talking down to her. After Jesus’ conversation with the woman, the disciples see the work of God in the life of a despised outsider; they were able to see her new life in Jesus and the extension of that life through the woman’s bold witness to her countrymen and the way they responded to her and to Jesus.

When Jesus says: “But whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life”, he uses a picture here of the Spirit of God at work in the hearts of people. The water that is life-giving, are the words that bring with them the life-giving gift of the Spirit to the Samaritan woman and to all of us who believe.

This Jesus, who spoke those life-giving words to this woman, is the same Jesus that speaks to you and me today through his word to us. This Jesus who came to this woman, met her where she was at, listened to her questions and spoke words of life to her, is that same Jesus who does this for you and me. This Jesus who came to this woman in all her misunderstandings, in all of her sin, in all of her shame, and treated her with understanding and respect and grace, is the same Jesus who comes to us in the same way.

The woman in today’s reading was bold and she responded immediately by leaving her water jar and running out to tell others what Jesus had told her and she invited them to come and see for themselves. Now I don’t know about you, but I am someone who certainly does not feel confident in speaking to others like this woman did, as I suspect many of you don’t either. But the more I thought about it the more I thought about how maybe it is a matter of how we have come to a place where we don’t recognize the Holy Spirit working in us. I wonder if we are guilty at times of living life as if we have not been given the Holy Spirit. In other words we get stuck thinking only about the physical world around us, a bit like the disciples, rather than being open to God’s leading.

The fact is that even though we know that we sin, that we let God down at times, that we struggle to do what is right, we have been given the Holy Spirit who is with us in these times. We have been given Jesus’ words to us. And Jesus promises that he is with us and that he works in us, because of all that he has done for us. Like the conversation with the woman, when Jesus speaks, his word is powerful because his word brings the Sprit of life to us, every time he speaks.

One of the reasons why this is my favourite account of Jesus, is that he shows us how far he is willing to go, to reach out to those who the world may think are beyond reach. And at times I think it is a good idea to think about ourselves this way. Jesus comes to us and gives us his Spirit-filled word that brings us life in him.

I encourage each of you to read through again the account of Jesus and the woman at the well and to think about how Jesus comes to you and gives you the same life-giving water that he gave her. And I encourage you to think about what this means for your life as you follow him.

 

Times in the Wilderness

Sunday the 5th of March 2017

Matthew 4: 1-11

A number of years ago I was a part of a small bible study group, at the Lutheran Church at Glynde in Adelaide. At one of our meetings someone brought along a friend who had just come to faith in Jesus. Of course on this night this person shared her journey, and it was a memorable occasion as she shared how she had moved from being a total nonbeliever, to coming to faith. This woman was very excited and she was full of enthusiasm for God and getting into his Word, which inspired all of us there that night. After she had left, a good friend of Julie’s and mine, whose name also happens to be Julie, said that we needed to pray for this woman. I asked her why and she said that because all the people that she had met who had come to faith in Jesus, started out with enthusiasm, but eventually they went through times of testing.

I thought about this woman and the conversation and prayer that I had with Julie, as I was looking at the Gospel reading for this week from Matthew chapter 4 where, just after Jesus had just been baptised in the previous chapter, he was led into the wilderness to be tested/tempted by the evil one.

It was not accidental that Jesus was led into the wilderness after his baptism. It is not as if he was wandering around and suddenly got lost. And he was not in the wilderness because he was being punished for doing anything wrong. No; Jesus was there because he had been led there for the very purpose of being tested. I get the impression that Jesus in his debate with the evil one, was in the process of preparation. A place of preparation for the mission entrusted to him.

Throughout the scriptures, the wilderness can often be seen as a place where God’s people are going through preparation; a place of waiting to see where God will lead next; a place of people growing and learning to trust in God’s mercy. For forty days and nights Jesus remained in the wilderness, without food, getting ready for what comes next.

For forty days and nights Noah and his family endured being on board the ark, after which God made a covenant never again to destroy the earth with a flood; for forty days and nights Moses fasted on Mount Sinai as he inscribed the words of God’s covenant for the Israelites; for forty days and nights Elijah fasted in the desert before receiving a new commission from God; for forty years the Israelites wandered the wilderness in preparation for their arrival in the Promised Land. Time spent in the wilderness was important.

So in today’s reading we see Jesus is facing a time of testing as he was being prepared. Taking advantage of Jesus’ hunger, the devil tries to entice him to change the stone into bread; he tries to entice Jesus to demonstrate his close association with the powerful, by proving that God’s angels will keep him from injury, by tempting him to throw himself off the temple top. And finally he tempts Jesus, with the promise of a false glory, by tempting him to bow down and worship Satan, and then he would rule the kingdoms of the world. Jesus did not give in; he did not lay down to the temptations being thrown at him. Rather, they made him stronger.

The lessons from these temptations which Jesus went through, he then used in his ministry to all. For example, in today’s reading Jesus refuses in the wilderness to turn stones into bread to fulfil his own hunger, but in time he would feed thousands in the wilderness with just a few loaves and some fish. Also he would teach his disciples, which includes us, to pray to God for their “daily bread.”

Jesus refused to take advantage of his relationship to God by hurling himself down from the heights of the Temple, but at the end of his earthly ministry he endures the taunts of others, while trusting God’s power to the point in which he ends up dying on a Roman cross.

Jesus turned down the devil’s offer to have the power over the kingdoms of the world, but instead he offers the kingdom of heaven to all those who follow him in the way of righteousness.

The point that I am getting at here is that this time in the wilderness, where Jesus faced temptations, was not a one-off experience for him to get through, but the temptations were tests of preparation for the choices Jesus would make in his earthly ministry. Time and time again we can see, how the wilderness experience formed Jesus’ interactions with those who were sick, hungry or in need; with those who use their connections to power (this would include the lawyers, Pharisees and Sadducees who test him in various ways; to challenge his loyalty); with people who too easily got caught up in world’s view of greatness rather than God’s (which included his own disciples at times).

Time spent in the wilderness did not just happen to Jesus. It happens to all of us. It may not be a physical place, but it is a time where we are tested. It is those times in life where we feel that we are vulnerable, searching, and perhaps even under spiritual attack. It is those times in life where God can often feel like he is far away, and that we cannot see him. It’s those times in life where we can be tempted to take the easy way out; to stop praying to God and look for answers elsewhere; to give up on coming to church because in those times it is just too hard to. It is those times when we are tempted to doubt God’s goodness and that he has a plan for our lives. Those times where we struggle to trust God.

When we go though these times as Christians it is tempting to think that we are alone, that nobody else understands what we are going through. But here, the thing to remember is that our Lord Jesus, that one whose promise is that he is with you always, even to the end of the age, has already gone before you. He has already gone to the most forsaken places of the wilderness, and he meets you there in the most difficult temptations and times of testing in your life. There is no place that is too far, too distant, or too challenging that Jesus has not already been there. There is no test or temptation that is so great that Jesus has not already overcome. So when you go through these time in life, you can be assured and confident that Jesus is also there walking with you.

The way that Jesus was attacked by the evil one, by his being tempted to focus on his own needs instead of God, his temptation to put God to the test, and the temptation to want to have all the glory for himself, to want to be the god of his own life, are all very real ways the evil one still attacks us, as his followers, today, particularly when we are vulnerable. But because Jesus is with us, we can walk through these times knowing that God is in fact preparing us for the plans he has for our lives. How many times have you been able to look back on your life and see that if you had not gone through difficult times, you would not be where you are today? This is because God is continually at work building up his people.

The ultimate test that Jesus faced through his temptations, I believe, was the temptation to give in so that he did not have to face his journey to that cross. It would have been easy for him to give in and avoid following his Father’s will. But he did not give in, and therefore because he went to that cross, where he took all the punishment for all of our sins, which includes every time that we have given in and not trusted God, we now have forgiveness.

I would encourage each of you in these 40 days of lent, to think about everything that Jesus went through, including his temptation in the wilderness, for you. To think about how he did this for your sake and that because he followed through with his Fathers’ will, that you now stand forgiven and what this means for your life.

ASH Wednesday Sermon

Wednesday 1st of March

2 CORINTHIANS 5:20-6:10

Ash Wednesday as we well know brings us to the beginning of the season of lent. Now given the fact this day is upon us so early this year it can be a bit of a challenge to move from Christmas to Lent so quickly. The heart of this season is thinking about who Jesus really is as he makes his journey to that cross, and also about who we are as sinful people that caused him to make that journey. So consequently in lent we hear about our sin and also about our need for repentance.

Tonight’s reading from 2 Corinthians 5 says this about Jesus: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). Now as Lutherans this kind of verse speaks to us because we know it puts the right emphasis on Jesus. It describes Jesus as a sacrificial victim, the One who fulfilled the sacrifices and the Law of the Old Testament, and as a result we have righteousness given to us because of what he did for us.

This is the Christian faith we know: We have a list of sins, Jesus came and made his journey to the cross so that our sins are not counted against us, therefore we are now free from the anger of God because of what Jesus has done. All of this is true, but the truth is there is more going on here than merely keeping a tally of our sins and forgiveness. There is more here than the fact that we are saved because God makes a correcting entry in his ledger on account of Jesus for us. This is what we deserve because of our sins, but God through Jesus has taken care of the cost. This is the very strong image that is behind much Lutheran preaching on God, sin and forgiveness. Perhaps that is because this image does make it clear that salvation is accomplished by Jesus alone, and not by our own works. This however, does not include all of the biblical witness about the forgiveness of sins.

Just before today’s reading from 2 Corinthians God’s word says this: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Cor 5:17). This, I believe, sets up a different image to describe Jesus’ sacrifice. One that suggests that Jesus’ sacrifice for us involves us being a new creation.

Jesus’ sacrifice on that cross for you and me gives us forgiveness but it changes our identity. Who we are as people of God is now determined by what God says of us. God is the one who created us by breathing life into us, and now He is the One who is recreating by His speaking as well. You see, when God works in us through Jesus, He reconciles us to himself by forgiving our sins and in doing so he is not employing an accounting trick, evening up the scales if you like, but he is giving us a new identity. You and I are a new creation because he says we are.

And a new identity brings with it a new way of looking at the world. And this is to make a difference in how we view Jesus, his work in us and also in how we view each other. Paul mentions a number of examples of this in the verses before today’s reading. He speaks of how the life that we live in this world is very fragile and temporary and how as followers of Jesus we face many hardships and we carry many burdens. He encourages us to be of good courage in the face of these hardships we face (2 Cor 5:1–10). He also speaks, in verse 12, of how because we are new creations through Jesus and he is working in us that we work for him, not to make a big thing of ourselves and how good we are, but to point to Jesus. He speaks of the importance of our hearts being more important than outward appearances. This is at the heart of this evening’s Gospel reading from Matthew, where Jesus is directly challenging us to look at our own hearts rather than how we appear in the eyes of others.

A reading like tonight’s calls on us as his followers to, yes, to seriously look at our sins, but also to look at the way that God himself is working in us to reconcile us to himself, by recreating us, giving us new identities.

When Jesus took that journey to the cross for you and me to take our sins upon himself he did this so that we could have not just a rigid forgiveness before a harsh judge, but a life of forgiveness that also brings us true life. A forgiveness that doesn’t remain stuck in the mud, but forgiveness that gives us a new identity so that we can be close to God and can reach out to those around us.

So during this time of lent as you reflect on all that Jesus has done for you, remember to also reflect on all the things that he is still doing for you in your life, the way that he has given and is also giving you a new identity and as the reading today says: “we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain”. Think about all that has been done, all because of Jesus and death on that cross for you.

I would like to leave you with a short quote from Luther out of his Small Catechism that, I believe, gets to the heart of this sermon. Luther says this: “Where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.”

I encourage all of you to think on this, as we journey through lent together.