Sermon from 25th Apr 2021 (Easter 4)

1 John 3:16-24 (EHV)

16 This is how we have come to know love: Jesus laid down his life for us. And we also should lay down our lives for our brothers. 17 Whoever has worldly wealth and sees his brother in need but closes his heart against him—how can God’s love remain in him? 18 Dear children, let us love not only with word or with our tongue, but also in action and truth.

19 This is how we know that we are of the truth and how we will set our hearts at rest in his presence: 20 If our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God. 22 We also receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commands and do what is pleasing in his sight. 23 This then is his command: that we believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and that we love one another just as he commanded us. 24 The one who keeps his commands remains in God and God in him. This is how we know that he remains in us: We know it from the Spirit, whom he has given to us.

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may believe in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ who laid down his life for us. Amen.

If you were to offer a child their favourite food such as chocolate or ice-cream, and they say they don’t want any, would you think something’s wrong with them?

Similarly, if you were to give them a chance to do their favourite thing, such as go on holidays, visit a theme park, or get some tickets to see their favourite musician in concert, and they don’t start bouncing around the room in excitement, would you be tempted to call the doctor?

Most parents know what excites their children, and when they don’t respond as expected, they may reckon something’s wrong with them. If something’s wrong, then a visit to the doctor may be in order. Then, if you visit the doctor, sooner or later the doctor might take out that cold stethoscope and listen to their heart.

In a similar way, if you know someone who professes to be ‘Christian’ but refuses to be generous to those in need, or doesn’t love their fellow Christians, or refuses to forgive those who hurt them, well, there must be something desperately wrong with them and they should be immediately rushed to spiritual intensive care! Not surprisingly, one of the first things we need to do for a Christian who doesn’t love, or forgive, or help those in need, is to check their heart.

In our text for today the author of our letter mentions the ‘heart’ four times when talking about loving our brothers and sisters in Christ. But before we can check out what’s going on in our hearts it would help us to know how the Bible uses the word ‘heart’ and what it’s referring to.

In this case, if you were to check a Bible concordance (which lists every Bible text where certain words are used), you’ll soon discover it very rarely refers to the heart as that busy little muscle which pumps blood around our body. It also rarely talks about the heart as the place where we feel emotions.

What we discover is that most of the time when the Bible uses the word ‘heart’, it’s talking about the centre of our being as the place which motivates our words and actions. It’s the place where our will or determination resides.

This means, if our heart is set on doing something, then our mind, tongue, hands and feet will do everything necessary to achieve our heart’s desires. Everything follows the heart. Similarly, if our heart refuses to love or forgive or be generous, then our thoughts, words and actions will follow suit.

But it’s not just about what our heart is set on, but also what our heart is filled with.

For example, if our heart is filled with anger, then many of our actions will be in response to the anger which motivates or drives our heart. It’s our angry heart which make our mouths snap and yell at people. Our angry heart leads us to lash out. Our angry heart makes us stamp our feet and slam those doors. Our angry heart seeks revenge and payback.

Of course, it makes sense a heart filled with anger can’t, or won’t, love others. All the motivations to love are replaced by anger or hate and so an angry person finds it impossible to love. There’s no place for love when a heart is filled with anger. A heart filled with hate isn’t a healthy heart and therefore desperately needs to be cleansed and cured of its angry disease before it can love.

Similarly, a heart filled with hurt will be motivated by self-preservation. Some of that self-preservation might involve running away from a situation, but it may also seek to attack from a safer advantage point. In this case, those who are hurt might identify themselves as a victim of injustice and seek support from those around them through gossip or slander in order that their supporting group may fight and win the battle against their tormentor for them.

However, a heart filled with hurt can’t, or won’t, love or forgive because its focussing all its attention and energy on self-preservation. A heart seeking self-preservation is focussed on loving oneself which means it can’t, or won’t, love others rightly.

A heart focussed on its own hurt will most likely not love like Christ loves us because Christ’s love always considers the other person, including hurtful people, as worthy of laying down one’s life for him or her. A heart filled with unresolved hurt then is a heart needing a cure.

Understanding this, it’s when you honestly examine your own heart that you may be surprised to discover your heart isn’t filled with as much love and joy and peace as you might expect. Instead, your heart may condemn you because it’s filled with apathy, greed, lies, fear, distrust, pain and selfishness, which means your heart needs to be cleansed and cured before you can love like you’ve been loved by Jesus Christ.

Now, while you may think no-one can rightly judge your heart except God himself, the people around you can judge your actions. Unfortunately, your actions are mostly based on what’s going on in your heart and so in this way your actions will unconsciously reveal your heart to others.

All they need to do is ‘press your buttons to get a response’ and you’ll soon discover what’s really in your heart! In this way, your words and actions reveal your heart and so your heart condemns you because you don’t love each other the way Christ loves you. Your heart condemns you because you don’t love God, or love those whom he loves, with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.

So, what’s the answer? What’s the cure for hate-filled, fear-filled, hurt-filled, and selfish hearts? What’s the cure for unhealthy hearts which don’t love selflessly, generously, and mercifully? What’s the cure for unforgiving hearts? Where do you turn when your heart (and subsequent actions) condemns you? How might your heart learn to beat more closely with God’s own heart?

Well, for starters, you won’t find the answer in your own heart. Your own heart is already filled with the wrong motivations. The answer also isn’t in the other person’s heart who has hurt you because their heart and subsequent actions reveal they don’t deserve your love or forgiveness or generosity. The answer for unhealthy hearts isn’t found in anyone else except the One with a pure and perfect heart.

In this case, the cure is in Christ Jesus and his love for you. His willingness to lay down his life for his sheep reveals his loving heart. His love isn’t hate-filled or fear-filled. His love isn’t selfish, but selfless. His love is a love which is willing to sacrifice itself for me and you and even those who hurt us.

This means he loves us, and those we struggle with, even though none of us deserve it. He loves us even though we continue to hurt him and those he loves.

He loves you so much he laid down his life for you. He sacrificed himself on the cross for you. He paid for your sin – all of it. He even paid for the sin of those who hurt you – not because they deserve it but because he loves them too.

He loves you so much he chose to forgive you. He doesn’t forgive you because you’re good or loveable, since the bible teaches that you can’t earn or deserve his forgiveness. Jesus forgives you because his pure, perfect and compassionate heart compels him to forgive you.

We struggle to understand this compassionate, sacrificial and selfless love – but that’s the love which comes from God. That’s the love which moves God to sacrifice his Son for you and me. That’s the love by which Jesus willingly lay down his life for us. That’s the love which should fill our hearts. That’s the love which should motivate us to speak and act selflessly and mercifully with those around us, especially toward fellow Christians.

And the way we receive this perfect divine love into our hearts is through faith.

This means the way we learn to love as Christ loves us is by believing in Jesus’ name. Those who constantly look to, and trust, the love of Jesus, will love like he loves, forgive as he forgives, and willingly serve as he serves.

The opposite is also true in that, those who take their eyes off Jesus and trust in themselves and the world’s selfish ways, even for a short time, will of course struggle to love and forgive and be generous like Christ.

In this way, whenever your hearts condemn you because you said unloving words or performed unloving actions toward others, you look in faith toward Jesus Christ – your healer, your Shepherd, your friend, and your heart surgeon.

He knows your hearts better than you know them yourselves, and still loves you despite what’s in them. He doesn’t let what’s in your heart stop him from loving you. As you look to, and trust, his selfless love, his divine love will drive out your hate and fear and hurt and selfishness so that your heart is cleansed and renewed. By grace he forgives your sins and loosens its hold on your heart.

When you believe and trust in Jesus with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, whatever’s plaguing your heart will driven out by his love, which is more powerful than anything you’re afraid of or desiring.

As you trust in Jesus whole-heartedly, you’ll naturally love the way he loves you. As he cleanses and renews your heart through his forgiving Word, through the promises of Baptism, and through your faithful reception of Christ’s body and blood, your own heart will learn to syncronise itself with the heart of Christ himself.

When this happens, people will know you’re believers in Jesus Christ as you become givers instead of takers. People will know you’re believers in Jesus Christ when you have compassion for those in need who won’t be able to pay you back for your generosity.

People will know you’re faith-filled people when you’re ready and willing to forgive those who hurt you. People will know you’re believers in Jesus Christ when you no longer lock up your hearts from the anxieties and pains of others and instead express your love for them in deed and word.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, understand that both loving and unloving words and actions come from what’s in your hearts. If your hearts are filled with anything other than the love of Christ, then look to Christ and trust him.

As you look to him to clean and renew your diseased hearts, your faith in him will drive out any fear and hate and greed and selfishness and any other sin which has riddled your heart. As you look to Jesus in faith, your heart will be cured and filled with God’s love. By trusting the love of Jesus, you’ll not only love in theory, but love in practical ways of forgiveness and mercy.

Therefore, believe in the name of Jesus Christ who laid down his life for you, and love one another. Then people will see how much you believe in him by how much you love. Which is why…

…the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon from 18th Apr 2021 (Easter 3)

1 John 3:1-7 (EHV)

1 See the kind of love the Father has given us that we should be called children of God, and that is what we are! The world does not know us, because it did not know him. Dear friends, we are children of God now, but what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when he is revealed we will be like him, and we will see him as he really is. Everyone who has this hope purifies himself just as Jesus is pure.

Everyone who commits sin also commits lawlessness. Sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away our sins and in him there is no sin. Anyone who remains in him does not sin. The person who keeps on sinning has not seen him or known him.

Dear children, do not let anyone deceive you. Whoever does what is right is righteous just as Jesus is righteous.

Dear Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit upon us so that we may live as your righteous children who have been adopted through faith in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

If you’ve ever been to an animal rescue facility, you may have noticed some animals who have been badly treated in the past.

Perhaps you’ve seen cats or dogs cowering at the back of the shelter; shaking, whimpering and fearful. They may have had sores or scabs on their body. You might have easily seen their rib cages. Their coats may have been matted or bare. While they may have been in recovery, some of these signs gave an indication on how they’ve been abused or neglected in the past.

Out of compassion for these previously uncared-for creatures, many people have willingly adopted rescue animals, but to do so will sometimes test your patience, compassion and perseverance.

You see, what they’ve learnt in the past can take some time to undo.

If you approach an animal who has previously been abused or neglected with a loud and angry voice, or with a stick in your hand, or with a raised arm, you might see the animal shake, whimper, run away or soil themselves. On occasions they might get defensive by barking, snarling, hissing or biting. These are probably the behaviours they learnt for self-preservation under their previous masters.

However, with much care, gentleness, reassurance, compassion and perseverance, these animals might learn to be happy, obedient, and loving. Your persistent care and love and patience for these abused and neglected creatures might earn you their respect, obedience and loyalty. Through your gentle care, they might learn (or perhaps re-learn), how to relate to those around them in a much healthier and positive way.

Now, if this is how animals can respond when we adopt them into a caring, loving environment, what do you think our own response would be when we’ve been adopted by God as his dearly loved children?

As we live in the security and protection of our loving God who grants forgiveness of sins, cleansing from past abuse, rescue from our enemies, nourishment for our faith through his Word and precious Sacraments, peace and fellowship with himself and his holy people, and the promise of life after death, wouldn’t you think our own behaviours might change as we learn to live as God’s children?

We don’t live a new healthier way simply because this is the way we can earn our way into God’s good books. We’re already in his good books because of what Jesus Christ, his own dearly beloved Son, has done for us through his bitter suffering, his vicarious death, and his glorious resurrection. We’ve already been adopted into God’s own holy family and we’ve already been forgiven, cleansed, saved and promised life eternal. Nothing we do can make God love us any more or any less.

But, as God’s dearly beloved children who constantly receive his forgiveness, care and protection; as children who listen carefully and attentively to his holy Word which defines how God calls us to live in righteousness and holiness; and as children who receive grace upon grace, surely a bit of God’s goodness and graciousness would rub off on us!

Now you might be thinking it already does, and maybe this is so.

It could be that people can see how you’ve changed in the way you live and love and serve as a child of God. It could be that you no longer have any of those self-protective behaviours by which you would snap and snarl at those who threaten you. It could be that you no longer whimper or whinge or cry or throw tantrums in order to get what you want. It could be that you’re no longer selfish and self-seeking and will willingly and generously give of your time, energy and money for the sake of God’s kingdom.

It could be that you’re able to forgive all those who offend and trouble you. It could be that you don’t need people’s attention because you know you have God’s attention and that’s all you need. It could be that you’re not afraid of what people think or say or do to you because you already have all the love, approval and care from your heavenly Father, which is enough for you. It could be that you’re already living a righteous life just as Jesus Christ is righteous.

But it could also be that you struggle to live this way.

It could be that your old habits of self-protective behaviours, your selfish attitudes, and your desires for justice from those around you still keep rising from the dead to haunt you. You might still snap and snarl and bite back at those who hurt you. You might struggle to forgive your enemies. It could be you’re not as righteous in your actions, words and thoughts as God expects.

Just to show how serious this is, if we read a little further, we hear John say:

The one who continues to sin is of the Devil, because the Devil has been sinning from the beginning. This is why the Son of God appeared: to destroy the works of the Devil. Nobody who has been born of God continues to commit sin, because God’s seed remains in him. He cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. 10 This is how the children of God and the children of the Devil are obvious: Everyone who does not do what is right is not from God, along with everyone who does not love his brother. (1 John 3:8-10)

This means, if we’re struggling to love our brothers and sisters in Christ, despite what they’ve done which hurt us, then we’re not of God. If we’re not constantly doing what’s right and good according to God’s Word, then we’re not of God. If it’s not obvious that we’re of God through our righteous thoughts, words and actions, then we could be accused of being of the Devil!

And yet, how many of us continue to struggle to forgive those who sin against us? How many of us struggle to live according to God’s righteous ways?

If the choice is between being children of the Devil and children of God, the answer would be pretty obvious! But, if we’re honest with ourselves, we all struggle to live as righteous children of God in all our thoughts, words and deeds!

How can we then live according to these verses? How can we live in righteousness? How can we forgive those who hurt us? How can we demonstrate we’re truly children of God by the way we live out our faith every day?

Well, let’s think back to the analogy of a rescue animal. If the abused or neglected animal is still controlled by fear, the animal won’t change its old behaviours. On the other hand, as the animal learns to trust the new master’s love and compassion, the animal will learn healthier behaviours.

Therefore, the answer for us is to no longer be led by the old masters of fears and desires, which always lead to sin. The answer for us is to trust our loving heavenly Father and be led by his love and righteousness.

While fear controls us, while selfishness controls us, while our desires control us, while past hurts control us, and while we continue to trust ourselves and our own well-practiced unhealthy protective behaviours, our faith won’t be obvious to anyone because the old sinful nature will continue to rule our lives.

On the other hand, as we learn to trust our loving heavenly Father who supplies all our needs for our body and soul, then we may learn to live as the righteous children of God whom he has called us to be.

You see, despite the fact God knows how deeply imbedded our sinful behaviours are, he still chose to adopt us as his dearly loved children anyway. Instead of refusing to forgive us in the vain and futile hope we’ll ever change our ways and repent, he willingly sacrificed his own dearly beloved Son as full payment for our sin. Even though he knows how much the abuses and neglections of the past continue to scar us, he still chooses to love us, and support us, and nourish us so we may live a new life of hope and peace and love.

Because God loves us, he adopted us as his children. In fact, it’s more than this. We’ve actually been born again as his children. We know this because this is what he tells us in his Word, and we can trust his Word because he never lies to us. What God says is true.

This means if God says you’re his children, then that’s who you are. If God says you’ve been reborn, then that means your old nature has died and you’ve been raised to live with him in righteousness, innocence and blessedness. If God says you’re forgiven and made holy through the blood of Jesus, then you’re now innocent and holy in God’s sight.

But, since the old nature with all its doubts and fears keeps wanting to entrap you in the old sinful nature, you need to constantly repent and believe. There’s a need to drown the old nature every day and there’s a need to look to God’s holy provisions to strengthen your faith every day.

As children of God, we no longer want our old selfish life of sin to rule our lives. As reborn Christians, we reject our own sinful natures and instead desire to grow in the righteousness of Christ, which is credited to us through faith in Jesus. As children of God we learn to forgive as we’ve been forgiven.

We forgive, not because anyone deserves our forgiveness, but simply because this is how children of God love and live. We forgive those around us because this is the way God forgives us. Our new loving and forgiving nature isn’t dependant on anyone else’s words or works (or lack of them). Our loving and forgiving nature is totally dependant on the words and work of our Triune God.

Fellow children of God, if rescue animals can learn new behaviours based on their new master’s love and compassion, then how much more can we learn to live a new life! After all, we’ve been rescued by our heavenly Father so that we may live a new life of faith and hope and love in his eternal kingdom of grace, which is why…

…the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon from 4th Apr 2021 (Easter)

Acts 10:34-43 (ESV) 

34 Then Peter began to speak: “Now I really am beginning to understand that God does not show favoritism, 35 but in every nation, anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 He sent his word to the people of Israel, proclaiming the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.

37 “You know what happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached. 38 God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the Devil, because God was with him.

39 “Indeed, we are witnesses of all the things he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem, yet they killed him by hanging him on a cross. 40 But God raised him on the third day and caused him to be seen, 41 not by all the people, but by the witnesses God had already chosen—by us, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify solemnly that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that, through his name, everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins.”

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so that we can see how you don’t favour us over others, but how you equally favour all people who have faith in your Son Jesus Christ. Amen.

As humans, we like to play favourites. We have our favourite cars and holiday spots. We have our favourite football teams and TV shows. We have our favourite friends. We even differentiate between family members as we show favouritism toward some more than others.

Of course, if we play favourites, we also naturally do the opposite. If we like something or someone, then it normally means that we don’t like other things or other people as much. For example, if someone likes Holdens, they normally don’t like Fords. Or, if they follow a football team such as Collingwood or Richmond, then all the other teams aren’t as good. It also naturally follows that if we favour some people at church, then there are others we may not want to get along with.

This is quite natural. As humans we normally like or love some things and dislike or hate other things. We often show our partiality, our bias, or our prejudice in many ways, and all too often we have to deal with the favouritism, partiality or prejudice of others against us.

But how do we handle something which has no partiality or favouritism?

For example, droughts, floods, earthquakes, or tsunamis show no partiality.

These types of events don’t differentiate between people. It doesn’t matter if we’re good or bad, young or old, beautiful or ugly, Asian or European, male or female, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Christian or Atheist. If we ever get caught up in one of these events, it can challenge our ideas of favouritism!

For instance, we may think that because we’re Christian, God will save us from drought, flood or other disasters. But when widespread tragedies occur, this type of thinking can be challenged because wind and water and wave and virus often show no favouritism or partiality. The young, the old, the good, the bad, and the indifferent are all affected. Sure, sooner or later we might hear of some miraculous escapes that some Christians put down to God’s divine intervention, but we’ll also hear stories of Buddhists, Muslims or atheists among the survival stories as well.

Even a personal crisis such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, long periods of sickness, or death is sometimes hard to deal with. Sure, some of these things can be a result of life choices or genetic dispositions, but often there’s no logical place or person to blame. Some forms of sickness and disease show no clear favouritism. Even death itself shows no prejudice. Quite simply all will die. No-one escapes this world alive.

We struggle when there’s no rhyme or reason. We struggle when we can’t blame someone for their favouritism, sexism, and other forms of prejudice (which is becoming more and more popular to do these days). We always figure someone’s to blame and they’re going to pay for all the pain and grief we’re experiencing as we feel picked on or maligned or judged by those around us!

This means when we figure no-one is to blame, we might turn on God and blame him. We might want to question him and challenge his power, his love or his partiality. Some people rage at God or his followers and expend their fury and grief toward God or his church. It’s not always a personal attack, but a deep expression of heartache and anger at the injustice of whatever they’re going through that had to focus its bitter energy somewhere.

When we, or the people around us, ask ‘Why God?’, we might be tempted to answer, but unless we truly know the mind of God, it would be better to remain silent. When people experience tragedy or death, it can be helpful to let them rage. Let them question. Let them grieve.

Although we desire to explain everything so that it makes some kind of sense to us, some things will remain a mystery. We know the only clear and certain way God speaks to us is through Scripture, but he doesn’t reveal the reasons for every tragedy in his Word. God sometimes remains silent to allow us time and space to express our sorrow and anguish. God is big enough to defend himself and he doesn’t need any of our pitiful speculations or arguments in his defence.

However, it’s when we struggle with the impartial tragedies of our life that we should turn to something or someone who also shows no favouritism or partiality. In our case, no matter how some will blame and rage at God, where else can we turn for comfort and peace and hope except God? In our case, we return to the impartial loving and compassionate nature of God in Christ Jesus, which includes the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the impartial waters of our baptism.

You see, while we might differentiate between each other, God doesn’t differentiate between us. He doesn’t favour some of us over others. He wants to give us all hope and life and peace.

God will eagerly receive the young, the old, the beautiful, the ugly, and both males and females as his dearly loved and precious children. He’ll also receive any former Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Atheists and wants them to also turn to him in faith. Like an earthquake or a tsunami, God shows no favouritism, but instead of bringing death and destruction, he sends his waves of love, peace and forgiveness over the whole earth from the epicentre of Jerusalem.

It was there at Jerusalem death was overcome through the powerful resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Where death always seems like the final outcome, now death is no longer the end. Through faith, death becomes nothing more than a doorway into life with Jesus himself and the whole company of heaven. Jesus Christ has risen from the dead and all those joined to Christ through faith have already crossed that chasm of death and will live in his eternal kingdom.

This means, unlike the reminders of our fragility and mortality such as flood, earthquakes, tsunamis or disease which bring so much death, chaos and destruction, God’s impartial love through Jesus brings life, hope, and purpose through discipleship and vocation.

So, where conflict and tragedy breaks up families and communities, God’s love and forgiveness brings restoration and true equality between previously warring and prejudiced people.

Where devastation brings despair, lost-ness and feelings of helplessness, God brings hope, patience and comfort.

We know that there are many events in our lives where we will feel the effects of suffering or tragedy.

Sickness, troubles, and death will constantly work away at us and sometimes threaten to overtake us. But by God’s grace, the good news of forgiveness, healing, peace, and life will also keep working away at us, giving us hope in even the darkest times. Even when the waves of death threaten to overwhelm us, we know that through faith in Jesus Christ, we’ll live in peace with Jesus forever. God’s promises are stronger than even the most powerful and destructive forces of nature or of humans!

The reality is that we live under the constant threat of chaos, despair, destruction and death, but we also live with the reality of God’s continual grace and mercy. To ignore one is to lessen the other. When death and chaos seem to win, that’s the time to return to the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and the eternal and ultimately victorious promises given to us in our baptism.

We know if we were to only look at tsunamis, earthquakes, fire, floods, famines, and other national or personal catastrophes, then all we will know about God is that he is angry, incomprehensible, and impartial. But we know that’s not true.

This is why the church continues to proclaim God’s message of the gospel – the good news that through Jesus’ death we’re promised forgiveness, and that through his resurrection we’re promised life eternal.

Without this good news we wouldn’t know of God’s impartial love.

Without God’s Word, how would we know whether God is for us or against us? Without baptism, how might we be joined to Jesus? Without the Lord’s Supper, how might we enjoy peaceful fellowship with our Triune God on this side of the grave? Without parents telling their children about Jesus or without Christians sharing their faith in their crucified and risen Lord, how will they know of God’s merciful and gracious love?

Therefore, the church continues to bear witness to the grace and mercy of God to all people so they might believe in Jesus. We proclaim the good news that God’s forgiveness, grace, and life, is impartial. While we might say God doesn’t have any favourites except his own dearly beloved Son, it’s through faith that all those who live in Christ receive the same favour that God’s only Son deserves.

This means, since we’ve been touched by God’s impartiality, we’re also challenged to show the same impartiality to each other. Just as God has shown us that he doesn’t favour one of us over anyone else, we’re to do the same.

Therefore, we’re not to show favourites. All of us are equally brothers and sisters in Christ. We all receive the same favour from God.

When someone has felt the partiality or prejudice of people or nature, we’re to remind them of God’s unconditional and impartial nature. We proclaim the resurrection of our Lord which reminds us death doesn’t win. We proclaim and demonstrate to each other, and to everyone we come into contact with, that all those who believe in Jesus Christ will receive forgiveness of sins and life eternal in his name.

As we face any tragedies of past, present or future, and whether those tragedies are across a community or are deeply personal, we’re reminded that through faith in Jesus Christ we live in the impartial waters of grace and mercy given to us in our baptism. We live in the comforting knowledge of the forgiveness of our sins. We live in Christ who has been raised from death to live eternally, which means we will too. Therefore we live in hope. We live in peace. We live forever as children of God through faith in Jesus Christ.

We live in…

…the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, which will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon from 2nd Apr 2021 (Good Friday)

Hebrews 10:16-25 (ESV) 

16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them

        after those days, declares the Lord:

    I will put my laws on their hearts,

        and write them on their minds,”

17 then he adds,

    “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.  23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.  24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may draw near to you with a true heart in full assurance of faith through the living way of your dear Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Covenants, offerings for sin, entrance to holy places, the use of blood, receiving a new living way, being served by a great priest, having hearts sprinkled clean, and having our consciences and bodies washed with pure water. We have such rich sacrificial language in a few short sentences!

But, do you understand what the author is getting at? Do you know what’s happening here and what it means for us?

Most people struggle to understand, so, in order for us to understand these rich verses, we’re going to make-believe we’re in the desert with the Israelites and that this church building is the Tabernacle.

Let’s see…the walls of this church up to the back doors is the boundary of the courtyard for the Tabernacle, which means most of the church would be in the open air, except for the Tabernacle, which was a tent-like structure. The only people allowed in this courtyard would be the Levitical priests. Everyone else had to stay outside, which is where the twelve tribes of Israel lived surrounding the Tabernacle. They could only come to the entrance and no further.

About half-way between the courtyard entrance and the Tabernacle is the altar for sacrifices.

We’ll make out the area from the front pews to the altar is where the Tabernacle is. This is made up of two parts – the holy place (where the Levitical priests would come to pray), which we’ll make out is between the front pews and the raised section of the altar; and the Most Holy place, or the Holy-of-holies, which would be the raised altar area.

Now, in the Most Holy place stood the Ark of the covenant and it was on the lid of the Ark where God sat. It was known as the mercy seat. And since God sat here, and God is in heaven, then this is the one place on earth where heaven comes down to us. Here at the mercy seat is heaven on earth!

Between the Holy place and the Most Holy place is a curtain which separates the earthly realm from the heavenly realm. The only person who could enter the Most Holy place (or the Holy of Holies) was the High priest, and this was only once a year, on Atonement Day.

Atonement Day was very special because the sins of all the Israelites would defile or spoil these holy things, the holy objects in the Tabernacle. All these holy things, the High priest and the Israelites had to be ‘atoned for’ or made clean or holy again. In fact, Atonement Day is like the Jewish equivalent of our Good Friday.

On Atonement Day, the people would bring a Red heifer and two goats to the priests. The High priest would enter the Most Holy place with incense and burning coals and place them on one of the poles of the Ark, going a certain way through the curtain to make sure he didn’t touch the Ark or allow the people to see into the Most Holy Place. In fact, this path through the curtain was known as ‘The Way’.

It’s important to note anyone who touched the Ark died. So, a rope was often tied around the High priest just in case he touched the Ark of the Covenant. If he accidentally touched the Ark of the Covenant and died, well, at least his body could be dragged out, because no-one else was allowed into the Holy-of-Holies.

Also, since no-one could see God in his glory and live, the Most Holy place would need to be filled with smoke from the burning coals and incense while the High priest went out and got the blood of the Red heifer. The smoke was important as it would hide God from the High priest so that the High priest wouldn’t see God and die.

The High priest would take the blood of the red heifer, which was to atone for, or make clean, the sins of the High priest and all the priests only. He would re-enter the Most Holy place and sprinkle this blood on the Ark of the Covenant and the floor surrounding the Ark.

He would then go out and get the blood of one of the goats and re-enter with its blood, which would atone for the sins of all the Israelite people. Now that the sins of the priests and people have been atoned for, and now that the Most holy place is purified by the blood of these sacrificial animals, the High priest would then come out and sprinkle blood on the sacrificial Altar, which would purify the Altar as well.

Then he would place his bloody hands on the head of the other goat, which was known as the ‘scapegoat’. This goat was then set free into the desert, signifying that all the Israelites and priests were forgiven and all their sins were literally ‘set free’.

This direct access to God and the forgiveness of their sins was very visual to the Israelites, but yet very limited. This access only happened once a year. But the fact it had to be repeated showed it wasn’t very efficient.

What the letter writer to the Hebrews is saying in today’s text is, we now have even greater access than the Israelites ever had. This access is so efficient that no more sacrifices need to be made, ever!

This is because on Good Friday, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world was sacrificed. He was both the sacrifice for sin through the shedding of his innocent and holy blood, but also the scapegoat. Our sins were taken by him into his own body to effect the greatest and most unfair swap of human history.

God the Father laid on Jesus the sins of us all. The death penalty for every sin you and I have ever thought, said or done, as well as every good thought, word and action which we should have done but we never did, was paid by Jesus Christ. It is finished. There’s nothing more to pay. For Christ’s sake you’re forgiven all your sins.

Not only this, but as our Great High Priest, he entered into the Most Holy place, the heavenly sanctuary (of which the earthly Tabernacle was only a limited copy). He sprinkles his own pure and holy blood in the sanctuary where his Father sits. The earthly curtain which separated the earthly and heavenly realms is torn and replaced by Jesus’ own body for he is the new and living way. The way of access to God the Father and all his heavenly glory is now through Jesus’ own flesh, who is both true God and true man. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. There’s no other way to get to the Father (and the kingdom of heaven) except through him!

From now on it’s in Jesus where earth meets heaven. He is where we have access to the mercy seat. He now forever intercedes for us to our heavenly Father, and it’s in in him through whom we come into the Most Holy place, into heaven itself, confidently standing in front of the Creator and Judge of the whole earth; our loving heavenly Father.

But what was done as an historical event continues to be effective for you and me today.

You see, you might feel as if there’s still a barrier between you and God. The barrier of fear. The barrier of guilt or shame. The barrier of a troubled conscience. The barrier between an imperfect, sinful person and a holy God. The barrier between ancient sacrificial rituals and a contemporary world which likes to question or reject the justice of a God who demands sacrifices.

Whatever the case, how can you be assured of your open and unhindered access to your gracious and loving God? How can you be assured of your access to the heavenly sanctuary through the curtain of Jesus’ flesh? How can you be assured of your forgiveness?

Well, the Way is through Jesus Christ, but he gives us our heavenly access through him through very real means.

You see, the author of this letter to the Hebrews goes on to say: ‘let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water’ (Heb 10:22).

The sprinkling once done in the Tabernacle is now done to your hearts through God’s chosen means which God gives us through the holy Sacraments.

The sprinkling is done through the waters of baptism and through the words of forgiveness. The sprinkling is done through the body and blood of Jesus which is given to you for the forgiveness of your sins. In other words, the promises of forgiveness through water and the blood of Jesus give you a clean heart and a good conscience.

Through your baptism into the body of Jesus Christ, who is the Way to God the Father, you’re now children of God who have the same right of access into heaven as the only Son of God deserves.

Through your baptism into Jesus, you’re eternally joined to his death on Good Friday (whose warm and freshly sprinkled blood still clings to the heavenly sanctuary), and you’re also eternally joined to his resurrection. Your baptism into Jesus Christ brings you into the very presence of the Father, because that’s where Jesus is.

But now, since baptism joins you to the body of Christ, you can’t be a Christian by yourself. You’ve been joined to each other through baptism, and so, like it or not, you need each other.

In this case, the best Christian communities aren’t a collection of moral or spiritual police who judge everyone else’s sin, they’re not just an efficient club of like-minded people, and they’re not a bunch of blame shifters who act as if they’re more noble or holy than anyone else. Instead, the best Christian communities keep on gathering together physically in faith in order to encourage each other’s faith.

The church community is where God’s purified people reassure each other of our heavenly access to God through our baptism into Jesus. It’s where God’s people, who have been sprinkled with his innocent and holy blood, reassure each other of God’s forgiveness. It’s where God’s people, who have this divine access to God’s grace, confess the common faith in our loving Triune God.

While it’s special to gather today on Good Friday to remember the death of our Lord, let’s never lose the precious gift of meeting together in worship where we can be reminded of our baptism, reminded of the grace which is ours through confession and absolution, reminded of the significance of Christ’s death and resurrection to cleanse our consciences, reminded of the grace which is ours as we eat and drink in faith, and reminded of our right of access through prayer to the mercy seat – the eternal throne of God the Father.

It’s here in Christ-centred worship where Christ brings us into the very presence of God himself, where we can stand before God with a good and clean conscience.

Here we come into God’s holy presence with complete confidence through the blood of Jesus who became human flesh and ‘tabernacled’ among us, because our sins have been forgiven and our bodies purified by the cleansing waters of baptism.

And this is why…

…the peace of God which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds confident in your access to him through our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Sermon from 1st Apr 2021 (Maundy Thursday)

John 13:1-17, 31b-35 (EHV)

1 Before the Passover Festival, Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved those who were his own in the world, he loved them to the end.

By the time the supper took place, the Devil had already put the idea into the heart of Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus.

Jesus knew that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God. He got up from the supper and laid aside his outer garment. He took a towel and tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

He came to Simon Peter, who asked him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus answered him, “You do not understand what I am doing now, but later you will understand.”

Peter told him, “You will never, ever, wash my feet!”

Jesus replied, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with me.”

“Lord, not just my feet,” Simon Peter replied, “but also my hands and my head!”

10 Jesus told him, “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet, but his body is completely clean. And you are clean, but not all of you.” 11 Indeed, he knew who was going to betray him. That is why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

12 After Jesus had washed their feet and put on his outer garment, he reclined at the table again. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me Teacher and Lord. You are right, because I am. 14 Now if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 Yes, I have given you an example so that you also would do just as I have done for you. 16 Amen, Amen, I tell you: A servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

31 After Judas left, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify the Son in himself and will glorify him at once.”

33 “Dear children, I am going to be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.

34 “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, so also you are to love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so that we may love as you love us through Jesus Christ. Amen.

St John’s account of the Last Supper Passover meal is surprising because something’s missing, and something’s added, compared to what we would normally expect.

You see, we expect to hear Jesus instituting the Lord’s Supper during this Passover meal with his disciples as he does in every other gospel account.

But in John’s account we don’t get to hear Jesus taking bread, breaking it and saying, “Take, eat; this is my body.” We don’t hear Jesus taking the cup, giving thanks, and saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins”.

We don’t hear it because John assumed all his readers knew this already. He wrote his gospel account around 25 years after the other gospel accounts and so could assume his readers already remembered Jesus did these things, and had already been regularly receiving this meal together, but John wants his readers to remember a different and most surprising act of Jesus which isn’t mentioned in the other gospel accounts.

You see, what no-one else mentions is that, in the middle of that special meal, Jesus rose from the table, took off his outer clothing, tied a towel around his waist, and began to wash his disciples’ feet.

Now, this is surprising because people who were living at this time were always walking on dusty roads in sandals. This means that of course they had dirty feet, but they would normally wash their feet when they first entered someone’s home and not in the middle of dinner!

Also, this demeaning job of washing guests feet was normally be done by non-Jewish servants only (because it was such a demeaning and humble task), and certainly not by one’s Lord and Teacher!

But here, right in the middle of the meal, Jesus, their Master and Messiah, humbled himself to the lowly position of foreign servant, and washed his disciples’ feet!

But this isn’t the only surprise! The greater surprise is John wants us to know Jesus also washed the feet of Judas, even though Jesus knew of his impending betrayal by him.

In fact, to make it clear, John tells us before Jesus got up from the table, Satan had already entered Judas and that Judas would betray him. So, as Jesus washes their feet, John writes, Jesus “knew who was to betray him” (Jn 13:11).

John wants us to know Jesus not only does the undignified work of a servant in the middle of a meal, but he also does this humiliating work for the very one who would betray him.

Jesus takes into his hands the feet of his enemy, the one who was about to betray him, and he washes them in humble service and in holy love.

But why would Jesus wash the feet of the one who was to betray him?

For John, the answer is simple. He writes at the beginning of our text tonight, “Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love” (v 1 NIV).

Jesus, in this humble servant role, is showing the full extent of his love.

Jesus loves them all. He loves those who follow him as well as the one who betrays him. He loves those who ran away from him as well as the one who denies him. Jesus loves them all, in the fullest way possible to the last moment possible. This is the full extent of Jesus’ love.

Putting this into our own perspective, we probably all know someone who goes on and on about the wrong which was done to them. You know, perhaps their spouse was unfaithful, their father was abusive, they were bullied at school, or they experienced an accident or failure or disability which still hinders their life.

They seem to be defined by the evil which was done to them. They keep on portraying themselves as the victim or the one who is always treated unjustly. They’re constantly angry or depressed by what was done to them. They seem to go on and on about what happened and bear a grudge against the world, or at least against the perpetrators.

Jesus could have done that. He was certainly justified in any criticism against those who betrayed him, abandoned him, denied him, abused him, falsely accused him, and crucified him.

Even at this meal he could have put hatred for Judas at the centre of his life. He could have tried to turn the other disciples against Judas. He could have gossiped about Judas or spoken sarcastically. He could have hidden from Judas when he and the temple guards came to arrest him. He could have fought against Judas or excluded him from this precious meal. He could have passed over him when washing everyone else’s feet.

Jesus could have done any of these things. He could have placed Judas and his act of betrayal at the centre of his life and become filled with hate and resentment.

But Jesus chose to use this critical time of betrayal as an opportunity to love and serve.

His act of love is a divine, self-sacrificial love. His is a love which is patient and kind, a love which doesn’t envy or boast, a love which isn’t arrogant or rude, a love which doesn’t rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth, and a love which bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things (1 Cor 13:4–7).

This is God’s surprising and selfless love, which has come into our world in the person of Jesus Christ. The love Jesus enacts surprises us when we hear how he loved and served those who opposed him, including us, after all, St Paul says: “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).

When faced with hatred and betrayal, Jesus responds with love and service. And this love didn’t end with the disciples that evening. Jesus’ love continues today. Every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, Jesus enacts his loving service as he cleanses us from sin and creates new hearts within us through faith.

As those touched, cleansed, and healed by the love of Christ, he calls us to live and love like him. As we hear how he loved those who betrayed him, denied him and abandoned him, he gives us that challenging command to love one another, including those who betray, deny and abandon us, because that’s the way he loves us.

Now, of course to love and serve those who hurt or betray us seems an impossible task, but remember, with God all things are possible.

You see, we often focus on the wrong things. As long as we’re focusing on the other person’s act of betrayal, on how much they’ve hurt us, then of course we’re not going to love or serve them, or even forgive them.

While we dwell on all the reasons not to forgive and love and serve, then of course we won’t do so. But remember what Jesus says to us: “As I have loved you…”

Therefore, we’re not to focus on how much we’ve been wronged, but we’re to focus on Jesus’ love for us.

We’re to focus on how Jesus forgives us and cleanses us from all unrighteousness. We’re to focus on how Jesus welcomes sinners like us at his holy meal and personally hands us the bread as the host for his body. We’re to focus on Jesus’ precious blood which has been poured out for us for the forgiveness of our sins.

Instead of letting any evil done toward us define us, we’re to let the love of Jesus define who we are and whose we are.

When we focus on Jesus’ surprising act of love on that very night he was betrayed, and respond accordingly, we may end up surprising those around us because we don’t act like everyone else. They may be surprised by the grace we share because we don’t hold grudges, we don’t attempt to get back at people, and we don’t gossip and complain. Instead, we love and serve as ones loved and served by Christ.

In a world where trouble, and hatred, and acts of revenge are commonplace, and in a life where we all sin and fall short of the glory of God, our Lord comes to offer us his grace-filled love to cleanse us.

In a world where all people have come to expect certain behaviours in the face of betrayals, abuse, bullying, and other forms of ‘unloveliness’, Jesus calls us to love as we have been loved by him, and so pass on the sacrificial love of God to fellow sinners.

In a world always dwelling on evil, we surprise them by living differently. This is because we instead dwell on the sacrificial love of Christ which compels us to humble ourselves in loving service to each other because we’ve been commanded to love as we’ve been loved by Jesus.

And it’s in this way, that the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in the love and service of Christ Jesus. Amen.