Sermon from 25th Jul 2021 (Pentecost 9)

Ephesians 3:14-21 (EHV) 

14 For this reason I kneel before the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 from whom the entire family in heaven and on earth receives its name. 16 I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he would strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner self, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. Then, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 I pray that you would be able to comprehend, along with all the saints, how wide and long and high and deep his love is, 19 and that you would be able to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled to all the fullness of God. 

20 Now to him, who is able, according to the power that is at work within us, to do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine, 21 to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen. 

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may experience the fullness of your love for us through your Son Jesus Christ. Amen. 

Once upon a time, a young man walked into a department store. This was a very special store where you could purchase anything you want…for a price! He walked right up to the counter and placed his order, saying: “I would like to be loved.” 

The concierge behind the counter said, “Certainly sir. A very wise choice. I would be happy to help you place your order to be loved, and so that I may ensure you are loved to the fullness of your desires and expectations, I wonder if I may ask a few questions?”  

The young man agreed. 

The concierge then asked, “So that you might experience love, would you require a wife?” 

The man said, “Well, I suppose if that’s necessary, but would she love me?”  

“Oh, certainly she would love you! Although so that she might love you to the fullness of your desires and expectations, I would suggest a few optional extras at a very minimal cost. I suggest you buy her flowers on occasions and purchase gifts for her on birthdays and at Christmas.” 

The young man seemed surprised, and asked, “Why would I have to do that? If I want to be loved, shouldn’t she be the one doing things for me, rather than the other way around?” 

The concierge smiled kindly as he replied, “Well certainly, although in our experience, you would find most wives work more efficiently and provide a more satisfying service of love when their own needs for romance are also seen to.” 

The man said, “Well, ok, if I have to!” 

The concierge made a note and said, “Certainly sir. A very wise choice. May I also suggest engaging in conversations with her, listening patiently when she speaks to you (even if she speaks for long periods about seemingly mundane and ordinary subjects), and also touching her with gentle affection.” 

“What for?”  

The concierge patiently explained, “Well, again we find most wives respond very positively to these things. So that you might experience the fullness of love to your complete satisfaction, your wife will require some care and attention!” 

The young man thought about it for a while and then said, “Ok, I’ll give her some care and attention.” 

“Certainly sir. A very wise choice. Would I also be so bold as to suggest you assist her with the dishes, offer to take out the laundry, and give her the occasional compliment? We do find these things add value to the relationship and can help greatly in you being loved to your heart’s desire.” 

The young man started getting red in the face, but finally agreed.  

The concierge replied, “Excellent, a very wise choice! I can see you’re going to be loved very well and you’re going to be completely satisfied. Now, children?” 

“What?” 

“Children. Would you like to order some children?” 

The young man was getting a little upset. “Why would I want children? All I want is to be loved, and you’re suggesting children? Children are always so demanding and whingy and messy and expensive and difficult to get along with! Why would I want them?” 

The concierge gave a little giggle, smiled and said, “Yes, they certainly are that! I see you’ve come across children before. Delightful creatures, aren’t they? The reason I suggest children is because you do want to be loved, don’t you?” 

“Yes, but what’s that got to do with children?” 

“Well, in order for you to experience love to the fullest, with all those wonderful feelings of satisfaction and contentment, you may also want to experience the love of your children along with the love of your wife. While wives can provide so much love which satisfies many men’s hearts, there’s nothing like the loving trust of a child who cuddles up in your arms for comfort, who looks to you for help and support when they get hurt, or who eagerly drags you outside to play with them. If you want to be fully loved, I certainly suggest children!” 

The young man thought about it for a while, and said, “Fine. Throw in some children as well.” 

“Certainly sir, a very wise choice. If I may be as bold to presume that you’ll also want to change their nappies, blow their noses, carry them, read them stories, send them to school, teach them to drive, and walk them down the aisle at their wedding? That last one really is the icing on the cake and is a wonderful experience of love. I certainly recommend that one, but in our experience, this always comes as a package with all the rest. Would you like all these as well?” 

“Fine. Whatever!” 

“Certainly sir. A very wise choice. Now, would you like a god?” 

“What? Why would I want a god? All I want is to be loved! The gods I know are always so demanding and want you to do so much for them, like going to church, and believing in all types of stuff that doesn’t make sense! All I want, is to be loved!” 

The concierge smiled and said, “Well, if you really want to be loved, I certainly recommend having a god, although in this case, I have a particular God in mind who will serve you and love you and forgive you. When things go wrong in life, it’s certainly comforting to know God loves you and is with you always. In this case I can give you some unexpectedly good news. All the benefits of believing in this God have already been fully paid for.” 

The young man said, “Well, that seems more like it. Finally, I get to be loved without having to do anything in return! Yes, I’ll take this God.” 

“Certainly sir. A very wise choice if I say so myself. Now, so that you might enjoy the fullness of being loved by this God, might I suggest listening to him, learning from him, being washed by him in baptism, gathering with all of God’s people (even those annoying ones many find so hard to forgive), believing his words of forgiveness, receiving holy food and drink in the Lord’s Supper, and…sir, where are you going? You do want to be loved, don’t you? You do want the full experience of love to your complete satisfaction, don’t you?  

As the young man walked out of the store, the concierge shook his head and said, “Why do people always want to experience the fullness of love by just putting in the minimum of effort?”  

In our reading today, Paul is saying a prayer for the people of Ephesus, but it’s also a prayer for you and me.  

He prays for you so that, according to God’s vast richness of his glory, you’ll be strengthened by him so Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.  

He doesn’t want you to receive only a bit of Christ, but to receive Christ in his fullness so you may be firmly grounded in his love. He also prays you would have the strength to comprehend and know the breadth, length, height and depth of God’s love for you. He wants you to know and experience the fullness of God’s love for you. 

The trouble is, many people ask what’s the bare minimum of effort they need to put in toward their faith and yet still receive the fullness of God’s love.  

For example, have you ever heard someone say they don’t have to go to worship and mix with God’s people because they 1) believe in God, 2) can read the Bible for themselves, and 3) pray whenever they like?  

And yet, how many of these people can clearly define what they believe about their God, or have actually read the Bible from cover to cover, or who truly pray with any regularity? How many of them receive the fullness of God’s love for them by limiting their experience of God and his people in their life? 

You too might wonder why you need to gather every week with God’s people in worship and miss out on other Sunday routines such as sleeping in, going for a Sunday drive, or going fishing, especially when people in worship don’t always meet your expectations?  

Similarly, why would you need to read the Bible regularly? Why would you need to set aside some of your valuable time to go to Bible studies? Why do you as a congregation need to consider how you might be a blessing to anyone else in your parish? Why would you need to forgive someone who has hurt you when you know they’re probably going to hurt you again anyway? Why can’t you just keep your faith private and stay home so that you might watch your own choice of worship over the internet? 

Well, out of love for you, St Paul says he wants you to experience more of God’s love, not less of it. He sincerely prays for you to know and experience the fullness of God’s love and not just a portion. By choosing to limit your participation with God, his holy things, and his holy people, you also limit your experience of God’s love for you. 

Just like many of your relationships with your spouse, parents, children, and friends, would you really be happy with the bare minimum of love and effort from them? Would you be happy for them to receive the bare minimum of their relationship from you?  

Similarly, is aiming for the least effort really the best way to receive the most out of your loving relationship with God? Do you really experience the fullness of God’s love and forgiveness by withdrawing from a Christian community when troubles come? 

While God has generously saved you through Jesus’ death and resurrection without you having to ask for it, and he freely offers you forgiveness of sins and life with him in his eternal kingdom, wouldn’t you like to experience the fullness of his love for you, even though this comes through participating in a flawed community, receiving and passing on forgiveness, suffering for the sake of Christ as you bear witness to his grace, serving those around you, and faithful obedience to God’s Word?  

God wants you to experience and know the full breadth and length and height and depth of his love for you in the unity of his Church through Jesus Christ his Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit.  

Here in this imperfect community, whom God has drawn together, he cleanses consciences and creates new hearts through faith in his Word of forgiveness. He washes you with water touched by his Word in baptism. He feeds you with his own body and blood through physical bread and wine which has been blessed by his Word. He loves you and wants you to experience his love through the physical presence of those led by his Word and Holy Spirit. In this way God delights to love you through the God-pleasing words and actions of those around you. 

Instead of settling for a bare minimum, why not choose to experience God’s love with all his people in all its wonderful and awesome fullness, some of which can only be received through struggle and forgiveness.  

Here, as we gather to receive the grace, forgiveness, and life of Christ through his holy gifts of Word and Sacrament, and as we gather as one in Christ to forgive each other as Christ forgives us, we experience something of the fullness of the love of God, which is why St Paul can say: 

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever. Amen. 

Sermon from 18th Jul 2021 (Pentecost 8)

Ephesians 2:11-22 (EHV)

11 Therefore, remember that at one time, you Gentiles in the flesh—the ones who are called “uncircumcised” by those called “the circumcised” (which is performed physically by human hands)— 12 remember that at that time you were separated from Christ, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of the promise. You were without hope and without God in the world.

13 But now in Christ Jesus, you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace. He made the two groups one by destroying the wall of hostility that divided them 15 when he abolished the law of commandments and regulations in his flesh. He did this to create in himself one new person out of the two, in this way making peace. 16 And he did this to reconcile both to God in one body through the cross by putting the hostility to death on it. 17 He also came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

19 So then, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household. 20 You have been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the Cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you too are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so that we may continue to be built up as your living temple of peace and grace for the sake of Jesus Christ, our chief cornerstone. Amen.

There have been, and are, many dividing walls of hostility in our world, such as the Great Wall of China, the wall of demarcation between South and North Korea, the wall between North America and Mexico, and also the imposing walls which have been put up around parts of Palestine.

While we don’t normally see these types of walls in Australia, we have our own natural wall as we’re surrounded by lots of water. We use this body of water as a political and security-conscious wall to stop refugees and other unwanted people from coming into our ports and airports.

This has been magnified due to fears of infection by Covid-19. We don’t just stop refugees, but we also limit how many of our own citizens we allow to re-enter our shores. It’s ironic that, despite the fact so many people once said: ‘We’re all in this together’, we actually struggle to get-together because each state government has been carefully controlling who it allows across its borders!

But it’s not just governments who build or use walls for protection and safety. We also have our own walls that we manufacture around us.

When we’re afraid we put up different types of invisible barriers around ourselves, such as:

  • Barriers of strength and might as we insult and shout at those around us.
  • Barriers of distance by keeping away from anyone who has, or who might, hurt us.
  • Barriers of silence by ceasing communication with those who have offended us, hoping the silence will hurt more than our words.
  • Barriers of expected behaviours by only relating to those who measure up to our own standards, and harshly judging those who don’t.

We build these types of walls around us in order to make us feel more secure. We put up these barriers hoping we’ll be protected from insult, abuse, injury, and betrayal. Unfortunately, those same walls might also stop us from receiving love, care, and compassion. Those same walls place other people on the outer and they feel excluded, unwelcome, uncared-for and strangers to us. And sometimes we’re the ones who are on the outer as people put up their barriers and walls of hostility against us.

What we often forget is God also erected walls to protect us.

His commandments and instructions tell us what to do and what we’re not to do. Keeping his instructions protect us and his gifts from becoming soiled with sin. His instructions also guide us on how to worship him rightly or how to show love and compassion.

One of his instructions, originally given to Abraham, is about circumcision. God said that all Israelite males were to be circumcised. This would identify them as God’s holy people and separate them from all the Gentile nations who weren’t circumcised.

But, for the fledgling New Testament church being built on the foundations of the Jewish apostles and prophets of Israel, this presented a problem for Gentiles who became Christian.

Sure, some Jews were trying to include them in a biblically faithful way by demanding Gentile converts keep this instruction as well, but it wasn’t as simple and painless as a vaccination injection! So, this particular teaching presented a barrier between Jews and Gentiles. It also became a hostile barrier between those seeking to remain faithful to God’s commands and those who were wishing to be more graceful and welcoming to Gentile converts.

So, how does St Paul seek to settle this argument and bring peace between these hostile groups of people? How does he remain faithful to God’s commands and yet show grace and mercy to those ‘outside people’ who, for many reasons, feel God’s command was a significant barrier to faith?

Well, he pointed to Jesus.

He reminded them that those who were once far off, and on the outer, have now been brought near to God through the blood of Jesus. Jesus’ blood paid the price of our access to God. Jesus’ blood made them holy and set them aside as God’s chosen people.

Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day in accordance with Jewish customs and so bled the price for all those who weren’t circumcised. But even more than this, the barrier of sin which had previously separated us from God the Father, has been fully paid for through his blood shed on the cross!

In this way, Jesus not only fulfilled the commands of God, including the command to be circumcised, but he’s now set aside this particular command as no longer necessary because through faith in him, the two groups of people once separated and hostile to each other, have been made one through his blood. This means both Jew and Gentile now have equal and unrestricted access to God through the blood of Jesus. All nations, including us, have access to God the Father through faith in Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the One who has broken down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile. Jesus has also broken down the wall which had separated us from God.

We, who were once far off and separated from God, have been brought near to him through the peace and reconciliation which was won for us through the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. He has abolished the laws and ordinances which had previously separated us, making peace between these hostile groups of people.

Through faith in Jesus Christ, we can all approach God the Father with full confidence and without fear. We’ve been joined to Jesus and been washed clean of any defilement through our baptism into Jesus. In this sense, you and I and God are at peace because we meet together in the flesh of Jesus Christ.

Now, this doesn’t mean God has gotten rid of the roles and functions of males and females or the roles of people and pastors (since St Paul talks about these roles later in his letter to the Ephesians), but Paul is making it clear we all have the same access to God the Father through faith in Jesus Christ and therefore no longer need to meet the requirements of circumcision.

We are all one in Christ and the barriers of hostility have been removed through the blood of Christ. But this also means Jesus is the foundation for our peace with each other and through whom any other walls of hostility may come down.

You see, Jesus received the full hostility of God’s anger against us for our sins because he bore our sins on that cross of suffering and death, and since he paid for the price for all people’s sin, if you still hold a grudge or won’t forgive someone for hurting you, especially a fellow Christian, then since Christ carries all people’s sins; Jesus is the one whom you’re holding a grudge against!

You see, no matter what you think of another person and how much they’ve hurt you (and how you want to build walls of hostility against them), Christ now bears all their sins and punishment. Who are you to say that the suffering and death of Jesus is no longer enough to pay the price for their sin against you?

Who are you to stand in God’s place to judge who is worthy or unworthy of Christ’s sacrificial death and the forgiveness of their sins?

What if, by building up walls of hostility between yourself and fellow Christians through your own unforgiveness, you actually block the blessings of Christ’s forgiveness out of your life and also from other people’s lives?

Earlier in this chapter, St Paul reminds you who you once were, and now in these verses he’s reminding you what this means for your life of faith in Jesus Christ.

All God’s anger against you has been taken by Jesus. All your anger and hatred against God has been taken by Jesus. All your anger toward those who have hurt you has been taken by Jesus. There on the cross, Jesus Christ dealt with all the barriers between you and those you build walls against. Christ then rose to become your only true source of peace without the need for any more walls of hostility.

Jesus is the foundation of all your peace and rest – both your peace with God and your peace with everyone around you. He’s your only hope of forgiveness and reconciliation in this world of conflict, terrorism and where walls of hostility threaten to divide us.

So now, through Christ, who breaks down all the barriers between us and brings true peace, we’re now being built up as one in Christ. He’s building us up into something more useful together than we can be apart.

We’re being built up as the new holy temple built on the foundations of the prophets and the apostles. We’re being assembled together with all the other faithful people of past, present, and future who have been washed in the blood of Jesus. We’re not to build up more walls of hostility between each other, but see each other as those who have been chosen by God and who are equally precious and holy in his sight.

Together, with Jesus Christ as our cornerstone, we’re being built as one in him as his living holy temple which brings his forgiving and reconciling peace to the whole world.

Through his forgiveness, Christ has broken, and still breaks down, all the barriers which keep us apart, and through his grace, he brings us together as one in him.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, this means:

Through Christ alone we have access to the God the Father.

Through Christ alone we have peace with God.

Through Christ alone we have hope of true healing and reconciliation in a world filled with so many walls of hostility.

Through Christ alone our walls of hostility can be taken down and we may experience true peace and unity and rest.

Through Christ alone are we made into one body, into one holy forgiven and forgiving family.

And through Christ alone…

… the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in peace and love and unity. Amen.

Sermon from 11th Jul 2021 (Pentecost 7)

Mark 6:14-29 (EHV) 

14 King Herod heard about the authority Jesus gave his disciples to perform miracles, because Jesus’ name had become well known. Herod was saying, “John the Baptizer has been raised from the dead! That is why these powers are at work in him.”

15 But others were saying, “He is Elijah.” Still others were saying, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.”

16 When Herod heard this, he said, “This is John, the man I beheaded. He was raised.” 17 For it was Herod who had sent men to arrest John. He had him bound in prison because Herod had married Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. 18 Indeed, John had been telling him, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”

19 Herodias held a grudge against John and wanted to put him to death, but she could not, 20 because Herod feared John. He knew that John was a righteous and holy man, so he kept him safe. When Herod listened to John, he was perplexed in many ways, yet he gladly kept listening to him.

21 An opportune day came when it was Herod’s birthday. He gave a banquet for his nobles, the military officers, and the prominent men of Galilee. 22 When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. The king said to the girl, “Ask me whatever you want, and I will give it to you.” 23 With an oath he promised her, “Whatever you ask of me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.”

24 She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?”

Herodias said, “The head of John the Baptizer.”

25 The girl hurried right back to the king and made her request: “I want you to give me the head of John the Baptist on a platter right now.”

26 The king was very sad. But because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 The king sent an executioner at once and ordered him to bring John’s head. He went, beheaded John in prison, 28 brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother.

29 When John’s disciples heard about this, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so that we may truly fear, love, and trust you above all things. In the name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

What on earth are we to gain from hearing about the gruesome death of John the Baptist?

It seems to suggest bad people will often get away with their unjust behaviour and that faith in God won’t always save us from trouble!

But I wonder if we can use this sordid event to learn something about how much fears and desires can control our thoughts, words, and actions.

You see, fears will often result in self-protective behaviours, even to the point of sacrificing relationships, reputations, positions, or even life. On the other hand, fear’s counterpart, desires, will often seek to gain advantages for oneself by using other people to get what one wants.

But before we look more closely at the fears and desires of this Herod, it may be helpful to know which Herod we’re talking about here since there are a number of Herods mentioned in the New Testament.

For starters, when Jesus was born, the man in power over Judea was Herod the Great. He had a reputation for being a master of deception, murder, and political intrigue. He also had ten wives.

His title of ‘greatness’ wasn’t because of these things, but because he was responsible for a large and impressive building program, including the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. He died a few years after Jesus was born, so he’s not the Herod referred to today.

However, after his death, the area he once ruled was split into four areas, known as Tetrarchs, and ruled by four of his sons. Two of his children are mentioned in today’s text, but they were born of different mothers. Herod Antipas (the Herod mentioned in our text) was the tetrarch of Galilee and Perea, while Herod Philip was tetrarch of other areas.

Another of Herod the Great’s children, Aristobulus, had a daughter named Herodias. Therefore, Herodias was a step-niece to both Herod and Philip. She first married her uncle Philip, but then abandoned that marriage for her other step-uncle, Herod Antipas. Herodias had a daughter named Salome, but we’re not sure if she’s the daughter mentioned in today’s text, or whether her daughter’s father is Herod or Philip.

At some stage, the Herod of our story met John the Baptist, who pointed out that according to Jewish law (cf. Lev 18:16; 20:21), a man must not marry, or have sexual relations with, his brother’s wife, because it dishonours his brother.

Now, you’d think this Herod would simply get rid of John the Baptist, but it helps to understand that fear (and its counterpart, desire) controls a person, making them do all types of things which defy logic or reason.

In this case, despite what John the Baptist said about Herod and his wife Herodias, Herod wouldn’t kill John the Baptist because he feared him (v20). He feared him because he knew John to be a righteous and holy man. In this case, Herod’s fear actually saved John the Baptist…at least for a while.

On the other hand, Herodias’s fear was expressed in different ways. She didn’t like what John the Baptist said, so she sought to get rid of him and his accusing voice. Again, fear was controlling her actions, but in a way which would seek revenge on John the Baptist and get rid of him for good.

Now, as you heard in the text, Herod gave a great banquet in honour of his own birthday and invited many important leaders of the community to celebrate. During this festive meal, Herodias’s daughter danced.

Since this dance delighted him and the gathered guests, he offered her a reward for her dance, even up to half his kingdom.

But the young dancer, not knowing what to ask for, asks her mother. In this case, her mother, seeing her chance, convinces her daughter to ask for John the Baptist’s head – on a platter!

Herod, when he hears of her request is frightened. And remember; fear controls him and his relationship with John the Baptist, but now another fear enters the equation.

You see, on the one hand, he fears John the Baptist because he knows him to be righteous and holy. On the other hand, he fears what people will think of him if he says no, knowing he had promised to give this young girl up to half of his own kingdom.

The fear of God or the fear of man. Which would win?

Like so many of us, the fear of man won. The fear of man won because this fear matched his desire to make people (including his wife) happy. Where Herod’s fear of God had once kept John the Baptist alive, now Herod’s fear of man will cost him his life.

But how does this relate to us?

In this case we might ask ourselves:

How does fear control our own words and actions?

How does the fear of man affect what we say and do?

For example:

  • When we’re afraid people will find out we’ve done something wrong, we’re tempted to lie and deceive.
  • When we’re afraid people might hurt us, we’re tempted to either avoid them or attack them and their reputation.
  • When we’re afraid we can’t keep people happy (which means they might not like us), we may feel the need to give in to their desires, even if this isn’t the best for them or compromises what we believe.
  • When we’re afraid of not getting our way, we might yell at people, threaten them, or attempt to manipulate them in order to get what we want.
  • When we’re afraid our own reputation is under threat, we might want to question or challenge the reputation of others.
  • When we’re afraid of conflict, we might go to great lengths in order at avoid any situation or person who might threaten our peace and comfort.

You see, we often become slaves to our fears. Our fears control us and make us do many things which are wrong and hurtful. Fears force us to make hasty decisions which we might later regret. Fears make us lie and cheat and accuse and avoid and even murder, especially when we understand Jesus defines hate for another person as a type of murder. Letting the fears of man win ironically doesn’t make us any more friends. Allowing our fears to win often means the sacrifice of our relationships, including our relationship with God.

Knowing how much fear can control our lives, Martin Luther teaches us in his explanation to the 1st Commandment that we’re to ‘fear, love and trust God above all things’.

He knows that when we fear the things of men more than we fear the things of God, it exposes our idols – the things or people we’re placing our trust in for our happiness, security, and fulfilment.

In this case, idols aren’t always made of gold or silver or wood, but our idols could be our beauty, our youth, our popularity, our reputation, our position, or even our loved ones. The trouble with idols is they always demand sacrifices to satisfy one’s own fears or desires.

In Herod’s case, he feared his wife, his daughter, and all the guests. The idol he was seeking to protect or satisfy could have been his popularity, his position, his reputation, or his acceptance in the community. The sacrifice for his fears to satisfy his idol was John the Baptist’s life.

In this case a godly person is sacrificed in order to pay for the idolatry of another. But in this way, this last sacrificial action of John the Baptist pointed to the greater sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ who died for the sins and idolatrous actions of the whole world.

Even though Jesus isn’t mentioned much in today’s text, we need to remember this text sits within the wider context where he’s just sent out the Twelve apostles to preach repentance, heal the sick, and drive out demons.

The call to repentance is a call back to safety and peace before God through the forgiveness of sins. Repentance is a call to abandon the idols and fears which control us, and to receive a restored relationship with God; a relationship where you trust the sacrifice for your sin has already been made through Jesus’ death.

Jesus sent his apostles to heal people, but when you look at the ministry of Jesus, you see how often the healing of people is closely related to the forgiveness of sins. When fears control your actions and you do things which sin against God and against others, this can affect your body and your health.

Now, this doesn’t mean every disease, sickness or injury is a direct result or punishment for sin, but some undealt-with-sin and fears may affect your health. For example, undealt-with bitterness or fears can lead to upset stomachs, anxiousness, nervous dispositions, depression, or outbursts of anger which hurt you and the people around you.

On the other hand, when you truly believe your sins are forgiven for the sake of Jesus Christ, you can sometimes feel an affect in your body – a sense of warming, relief, freedom, unburdening, and healing. The forgiveness of sins heals crippled hearts and lives which were once trapped by fear. Through faith in Jesus, miracles to body and soul still happen today!

The forgiveness of sins can also drive out the demons of your past. Now this doesn’t deny the existence of real demons which can possess people (which needs to be dealt with carefully and prayerfully), but like Herod was haunted by the demons of his past, you can also be haunted by the regrets of your own past. Jesus’ sacrifice for your sins, even those sins you committed because you were afraid, can bring about forgiveness and peace for your own past.

You see, where idols demand sacrifices, the greatest sacrifice has already been paid. Jesus died in order to pay the death price for your sins. Jesus died to save you from the devil who seeks to separate you from God and enslave you with your fears. Jesus even died to save you from death and the fear of death.

Fears may control you and your thoughts, words, and actions, but the love of Jesus can calm your greatest fears which in turn leads you to respond differently when faced with fears, because you now respond with faith, hope, and love because you fear, love and trust in God alone.

As we’ve heard in our text today, bad things happen to people, even the greatest servants of God, but this doesn’t mean you have to fear them!

You see, through your trust in Jesus Christ, your fears no longer have to control you. When you fear, love and trust God above all things, no-one can harm you or snatch you away from the love of God given to you through Jesus Christ. You’ve been chosen and adopted as his children, and you’ve received redemption through Christ’s blood for the forgiveness of sins.

Grace and peace is yours through faith in Jesus Christ. Don’t let fear control you, but through your faith in Jesus Christ, who was sacrificed for you and all your sins, may the love of Christ control you and all you do…

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

Sermon from 4th Jul 2021 (Pentecost 6)

2 Corinthians 12:2-10 (ESV) 

2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows.  3 And I know that this man was caught up into paradise — whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows — 4 and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.  5 On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses.  6 Though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me.  7 So to keep me from being too elated by the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from being too elated.  8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.  9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so that when we’re weak, we may boast in the strength we have in Jesus Christ. Amen.

Have you ever noticed how much we boast to each other?

It’s not always obvious, but we often compare ourselves, our abilities, our experiences, our faith, or our relationships, as more favourable than those around us. My car is newer or more economical. My garden has a greater variety of flowers. My dog is more loyal. Our congregation is better than another one, and so on.

In fact, we may even boast in reverse. For example, someone might say ‘I’ve got a sore finger’ or ‘I’ve got a headache’, but you might be tempted to respond by saying: ‘That’s nothing! I’ve got a sore leg’ or ‘I’ve got a migraine’!

Now it’s quite natural to compare ourselves with others, but it seems to be a game we have to win because, if we can’t win this game, we feel inferior to others.

So, in order to feel better about ourselves, or in order to be noticed or valued or loved, we feel the need to boast and brag about ourselves. We also feel the need to hide any weaknesses, failures, inadequacies, frailties, or insecurities so that people will appreciate us.

Unfortunately, when we boast about ourselves, or hide the truth of what’s really going on for us, it can also put other people off. People around us may figure out we’re not telling the full truth, and that we’re not trustworthy. Our boasting may also make them feel small, insignificant, ignored or unworthy. We may give the impression they don’t measure up to our standards, even though our standards are false because we’re not being true to ourselves.

The strange twist is, although we may be put off by some people’s boasts, we’re often attracted to those who seem to be in control. We’re often attracted to the strong, the brave, the wealthy, the beautiful, the successful, and the intelligent, even if what they show us is just a fancy façade which hides their own insecurities and fears.

However, when we boast about ourselves, or attempt to hide our weaknesses in the Church, we end up giving a false and dangerous witness.

It often works this way: We all know Jesus is the only Way, Truth, and Life. We know Jesus is our Saviour. But when we boast about ourselves, we’re not inviting people to ‘come and see Jesus’. We’re inviting people to take notice of us.

Also, when we boast about ourselves and puff ourselves up, we bear witness we don’t need Jesus very much because we’ve got all things under control. We bear witness that others should be more like us than more like Jesus. When we defend ourselves and attempt to hide any weakness, fault or frailty, we bear witness we’re trusting in ourselves and don’t need the forgiveness, wholeness or peace Jesus offers.

Similarly, when we invite people to come to worship, we don’t normally want to invite people to be part of a fractured and frail bunch of sinners. We instead might say something like: ‘We’ve got a good pastor, come and hear him!’, or ‘Our pastor’s away and we can finally listen to someone else!’ Or perhaps ‘We’ve got great musicians’ or, ‘We have lots of fun’ or, ‘We’re a bunch of friendly people’ or anything else than actually offering what only Jesus offers through his Word or Sacraments.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with having these things, but the trouble is we boast in them. When we boast in them, we take the focus off Jesus.

The other thing is that, when we boast in all the good things we might have, it can backfire. You see, sooner or later people discover the truth that, no matter how much we might boast in about ourselves and what we offer, people will eventually find out we’re a bunch of sinful self-centred people who can often get up each other’s noses!

If you listen to St Paul speaking to us today about boasting in his weakness, I wonder if we’ve being going about this the wrong way. Perhaps, if any church should boast, it should boast that it has the worst bunch of sinners, the blandest sounding music, and the most boring preacher!

Now while this may sound stupid, think of it this way: if we’ve got nothing else to boast in except Jesus Christ, then we’re a church who finally has the correct focus, because a church which focuses only and clearly on Jesus (and not on ourselves and our own abilities, resources and talents), then we become a church which only wants to share the pure grace, love, patience, and forgiveness which Jesus himself offers!

While all of us want to avoid suffering and troubles, we shouldn’t be scared of admitting our failures, problems, struggles or inadequacies, because God has a habit of using weakness, failure, fights, and pain for his own purposes in order to strengthen our faith in him alone.

For example, notice that Paul talks about a thorn in the flesh which makes sure he can’t boast.

Paul knows he could boast about all his extraordinary visions, revelations, and spiritual encounters, but he has this thorn which stops him from boasting or bragging in these experiences. He asked for the Lord to take it away from him, but Jesus replied his grace is sufficient. God’s grace is the only thing he needs to boast in.

Now we’re not told what this thorn or splinter of Paul’s is, but maybe that’s a good thing. Since we don’t know what it is, it leaves the possibilities open for interpretation. It may also help us to think about our own thorns or splinters which irritate us.

In this case, what, or whom, is your splinter or ‘messenger of satan’ which stops you from boasting? In other words, what do you struggle with that God hasn’t taken away so that you’re led to boast more in him alone?

It could be your physical afflictions, such as sickness, physical limitations, hearing or sight difficulties, or the problems related to ageing.

It could be your emotional difficulties, such as depression, anger management, shyness, fear, or low self-esteem.

It could be your relationship problems at work, within your family, your friendships, or even within the church community.

You may have even asked God to take away your splinter and make everything ok. You may have wanted God to take away those difficult people, but he didn’t. Is it possible God hasn’t taken your splinter away so that you can’t boast in anyone or anything else except Jesus?

Ironically, instead of whingeing about our splinters, Paul is challenging us to not only be content with them, but even boast in them! Maybe we should boast about our physical problems, our emotional hang-ups, or about those people who really annoy us!

For example:

  • Thank God I’m short, because it forces me to be humble as I ask for help!
  • Thank God I can’t do as good a job as Mr Puddleduck, because it helps me realise I’ve got so much more to learn, even from people like him!
  • Thank God I’m depressed, because it leads me to seek supportive and caring people who can pray for me!
  • Thank God I can’t handle this situation, because this means I need to rely on God’s strength to carry on!
  • Thank God I’m getting old, because as I lose my independence, I’m being prepared to depend solely on God alone and his eternal promises!
  • Thank God for crabby old Mrs Griffenpuffle who really gets up my goat, because I’m being taught patience and the need for forgiveness!
  • Thank God we’ve experienced conflict and turmoil in our parish, because it’s leading us to appreciate how to receive and pass on the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ!

In this way, we can boast about our splinters and weaknesses and troubles and frailties because they reveal just how valuable and important the grace of God is to us.

You see, God doesn’t love you because you’re always able to handle situations. God loves you whether you can handle them or not.

God doesn’t love you because you’re perfect (which you’re not!), but only because Christ is perfect!

God doesn’t love you because you’re able to love and forgive and get on with everybody, but he loves you even when you’re struggling to love and forgive and get on with everybody.

God loves you not only when you’re happy and well-behaved, but for the sake of Jesus Christ, he still loves you when you’re grumpy, disobedient, irritable, or crumpled in a heap!

Perhaps, if you’re going to boast at all, you might consider boasting in Christ’s suffering for you.

  • Boast in the thorns which pierced Jesus’ brow as he was crowned as your king.
  • Boast in his innocent blood which washes your sins away.
  • Boast in his cry for your forgiveness from the cross.
  • Boast in his humiliating suffering and death which paid the full blood price for your forgiveness.
  • Boast in his glorious resurrection which assures you that you will also rise with him through faith.
  • Boast that everything needed for your life and salvation has been done by God and there’s nothing more for you to do except receive his gifts through faith, especially through the means of grace in his Word, through Baptism and at the Lord’s Supper.

In other words, you’re encouraged to boast in what looks like the weakness of Jesus because it’s in Christ’s apparent weakness on the cross where God’s greatest strength lies. There on the cruel cross is the power of God. There on the cross of suffering and death is the power of grace, love and forgiveness.

While you may not like suffering in any way, God has a habit of using your thorns and splinters and weaknesses in order to draw you closer to him and depend on his grace. After all, if you’ve got everything under control, what do you need God for? But when you have nothing, God is everything to you.

While it’s tempting to hide them, every day you’ll be reminded of your greatest weaknesses – your own impatience, your greed, your selfishness, your ungratefulness, your pride, your arrogant and empty boasts, and so on. You’ll also be reminded of each other’s weaknesses and how much they hurt you.

But every day you’ll also have an opportunity to boast in these weaknesses because they lead you to the cross of Christ.

This is because, when you’re led to the foot of the cross, you’re led to the grace of God. When you’re dragged to your knees in humbleness and desperation, pleading for God to take away your splinters, God will tell you his grace, shown on the cross, is enough for you. Because God’s grace is made perfect through weakness, you’re to draw strength from his grace shown on the cross so that you can cope with your weaknesses.

I suppose another way to put it is this:

When we boast in ourselves, the need for Christ in diminished.

On the other hand, when we acknowledge our weakness and humility, and trust in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, he is the one who is glorified.

If we’re going to boast about anything, let’s boast and delight in our weaknesses, our thorns, and our splinters, so that the strength of Jesus Christ, and his gracious mercy and forgiveness, may dwell in us and through us, so that…

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