Sermon from 26th Sep 2021 (Pentecost 18)

Mark 9:38-50 (EHV)

38 John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name. We tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”

39 But Jesus said, “Do not try to stop him, because no one who does a miracle in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil about me. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 Amen I tell you: Whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in my name, because you belong to Christ, will certainly not lose his reward.

42 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to fall into sin, it would be better for him if he were thrown into the sea with a large millstone hung around his neck. 43 If your hand causes you to fall into sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed, than to have two hands and go into hell, into the unquenchable fire, 44 ‘where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ Is 66:24 45 If your foot causes you to fall into sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, than to have two feet and be thrown into hell, 46 ‘where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ 47 If your eye causes you to fall into sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48 ‘where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ 49 For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good. But if the salt loses its flavor, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may not cause others to sin, but be salt for the earth through the saving works of your Son Jesus Christ. Amen.

Every now and again Jesus says something which can be easily misunderstood.

For example, Jesus seems to suggest that, as long as people use the name of Jesus, they’re ok, even if they’re not Lutheran.

He seems to suggest we should cut off our hands and feet, and pluck out our eyes, especially if these body parts are causing us to sin.

He also seems to suggest we need more salt in our diets, which will somehow help us to be at peace with each other.

But this doesn’t seem right, does it? So how are we to understand what he’s saying to us?

Well, last week we heard Jesus tell his disciples he was to be handed over into the hands of men, be killed, and rise again. But shortly afterwards his disciples started arguing about which of the disciples was the greatest. In response, Jesus took a child into his arms and said if anyone receives a child like this particular one in his name receives him, and if they receive him, they also receive the one who sent him. The greatest will always be a servant of the one who did the sending.

Then we come to today’s text where the eager (but slow-to-learn) disciples (who were trying to figure out who was the greatest among themselves) were trying to control who’s allowed (or not allowed) to work in Jesus’ name.

They told Jesus of someone they didn’t know (and probably didn’t approve of), who was casting out demons in Jesus’ name – the very thing they failed to do the last time they tried (as described earlier in the chapter)!

It was a classic case of ‘us’ and ‘them’ where, if you’re not one of ‘us’, then you must be one of ‘them’. And, if you’re one of ‘them, well, you don’t belong to ‘us’ and therefore you’re not entitled to share our privileges!

So, despite what Jesus had already told them about serving humbly and receiving little ones into their midst, it seems they’re still thinking of themselves as the greatest, which means they thought themselves in a position to judge and exclude those around them, especially if these ‘other’ people didn’t meet their approval or fit their standards!

In response, Jesus told them if someone’s doing something in Jesus’ name, that person won’t quickly speak evil of Jesus.

This means, even if they’re not in the right ‘in crowd’ with special disciple-approval, and even if they don’t do things precisely our way, Jesus says, as long as they’re not against us, then they’re for us. After all, this isn’t your church or my church. It’s Jesus’ church. Let him be the Lord and Judge and Saviour of who can or can’t do things in Jesus’ name, even if they don’t always do things in the orthodox manner.

Then we come to a strange set of sayings which seems to suggest Jesus encourages self-mutilation.

If we were to take Jesus literally, it seems he’s telling us to cut off any body parts which sin, including our hands and feet. But, if this is truly the case, then Christian churches would be full of maimed people without hands or feet or eyes or ears because we’re all sinners. If we had to literally cut off every part of us which sins, there wouldn’t be much of us left!

Unfortunately, some Christians have wrongly interpreted this to mean it’s better to get rid of enthusiastic ‘happy-clappy’ Christians who don’t do things the orthodox way, or it’s better to get rid of the old wood of die-hard traditionalists who stand in the way of enthusiastic changes, or it’s better to get rid of anyone who offends people in our congregations so that we may be a perfect little content and peaceful community. But that’s not what Jesus is saying here, in fact it’s almost the opposite!

So, what on earth is Jesus saying?

Well, he’s using exaggeration to make a comparison. He’s making a powerful point to slow-learning, dim-witted disciples who just don’t seem to ‘get it’ and who continue to use power games of judging, dividing, and exclusion in their faith community.

Let’s look at it this way:

What’s one of the worse things that can happen to a musician, artist, woodworker, or mechanic? They could lose their hands. If someone who uses their hands for their enjoyment or work were to have their hands cut off, it would seem like the worst thing that could happen to them!

Similarly, if a sporting person were to lose their feet, or a person who loves to read or watch movies were to lose their eyesight, this would seem to be the worst thing that could happen to them!

But Jesus makes the point there is something worse than losing one of these important limbs or senses or faculties.

So, what could possibly be worse than losing any of these things? Causing someone to sin or stumble in faith!

He says it’s better to lose a hand than cause a child to sin or stumble in faith. It’s better to lose a foot than cause a vulnerable person to sin or stumble in faith. It’s better to lose your sight than cause a person who is weak in faith to stumble in their faith.

So, what’s worse than losing a hand or foot or eye? Causing someone to sin or stumble in faith!

So, for all of us:

who want to be our own boss,

who want to get our own way,

who want to manipulate or control people around us,

who seek to belittle people through gossip or careless talk,

who use emotional blackmail to get what we want,

who reckon we know who should be allowed in and who should stay out,

who burden people’s consciences through intimidation and coercion,

who abuse and exploit the vulnerable,

who question the choices of others, or

who lie and steal and deceive in order to protect our reputations,

and by doing such things we cause people to sin so they in turn:

have sinful thoughts,

are tempted to respond with sinful words or actions,

doubt their worth as children of God,

despair of their trust in God’s love because God’s people don’t show that same love,

then that’s worse than cutting off our hands and feet or plucking out our eyes!

We often cause people to sin or stumble in faith by firstly sinning against them because we make ourselves out to be the greatest, the Lords of our own destiny, the gatekeepers who decide who’s in and who’s out, and we become our own judges, juries and executioners who seek to push around and punish those around us.

Unfortunately, we’ve lost too many to the faith as a result of the way they see and experience the way Christians treat each other, or by the way Christians seek to judge and condemn those who don’t agree with them or believe in the same things.

Our sins against them don’t justify their sinful responses any more than we can justify our own sins against them in the first place. Perhaps instead of pointing out everyone else’s faults and sins and inadequacies, we should first look at, and repent of, how we’ve sinned against them in our own thoughts, words, and deeds, and seek their forgiveness before forgiving them for the way they sinned against us.

But thankfully Jesus doesn’t leave us to despair over our sins and the way we cause others to sin. He says the answer for our sinful state of seeking to control and differentiate is fire and salt, but not just any fire and salt.

We know that fire can both refine and purify. In this case, the ‘fire’ of the Holy Spirit comes through God’s Word and Sacraments to refine and purify you.

The good news is that the ‘fire’ of the Holy Spirit comes to you in baptism to forgive you and purify you so you may be holy. The Spirit-filled Word of God is proclaimed to forgive you for all the times you sought to control and manipulate others so you could get your own way. The Holy Spirit works together with Jesus’ body and blood to cleanse and purify your tongues, your minds, and your hearts so you may be assured you’re forgiven and cleansed, and so you may live as God’s holy children in thought, word, and action.

Then, like salt adds flavour and has healing properties, as people inspired by the fire, forgiveness, and holiness of the Holy Spirit, you go out as holy and pure people to ‘salt the earth’.

While salt in biblical times could lose its properties through contamination, the way you might lose your effectiveness to heal the world and be at peace with those around you, is when the contamination of your own selfishness, greed, and jealousy, make you become stumbling blocks by causing them to sin or stumble in faith.

So, when Jesus says: “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another” (v 50), he’s reminding you to be the salt he’s created you to be. Not so that you may judge and curse people, but so that you may bless and heal the world through Christ’s forgiveness, hope and healing. You’ve been chosen and called and equipped by God through his Word and Sacraments to be the salt you’re called to be as you preserve the work of the Holy Spirit in and through you.

You’re not to be contaminated salt which offends and causes people to stumble, but you’re to be purified salt which heals through the peace and forgiveness of Christ. After all, when you forgive one another, you bring purification and peace from God into a troubled world.

Similarly, St James tells you today how you can be salt for the church and the world. He says, ‘Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, in order that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is able to do much because it is effective.’ Jam 5:16

You’re to remember that your holiness, your love for your enemies, and your power to forgive others, comes from Christ. He is salt that doesn’t lose its saltiness.

This means you’re not salt in yourself, but you receive his salt: the salt of his sweat in Gethsemane, the salty sweat of his obedience, and the salty blood he shed for you as he suffered and died to win your forgiveness.

Then, as you’re filled with his salt of holiness and purity, he’s given you power to purify and cleanse the world through your own forgiveness and prayers for each another.

So, in this way, as you learn the joy of being cleansed and free through the forgiveness and purity which comes through faith in Jesus, and by having his pure salt of cleansing and holiness, you also have the opportunity to be the holy and pure vessel who carries Christ’s forgiveness to others.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, you don’t need to cut off your body parts, or even cut people out of your life, but with the Holy Spirit’s help, as you receive the fire and salt of his forgiveness and holiness, you’re to live in such a way that you don’t put any stumbling blocks in anyone’s way which might cause them to sin or despair of their faith in Jesus, but you instead pass on the salt of the forgiveness of Christ so you may heal the world…even if it’s one person at a time. And in this way…

…may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard your hearts and minds, as well as other people’s hearts and minds, in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon from 19th Sep 2021 (Pentecost 17)

James 3:13-4:8a (ESV)

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

41 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. 

Dear Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit upon us so that whenever we experience quarrels and fights, we may be led by the wisdom which comes from above through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Think back to a time you were involved in an argument with someone.

It’s quite possible, as a result of your frustration, you might have yelled or raised your voice at them. You may have used colourful language or strong words. You may have sought to force them to agree with you. It could also be that you did none of the above, at least, not there and then.

Instead, you may have blurted all your frustrations about the other person to someone else who was willing (or maybe not so willing) to listen to your cries for justice. It could also be you were the only one who heard all your complaints and arguments as you went back and forth over the situation in your own mind, again and again. You may have come up with all types of bold internal responses you’d like to say to them!

It’s also possible you didn’t argue with them. Instead, they may have argued with you. As a result of their tirade, you might have felt victimised and belittled. You may have felt they questioned you and devalued your opinion or worth. As a result, you may have wanted to hide, run away, or crawl up into a ball and cry. It’s possible all those internal voices are continually echoing around in your mind as you go over and over their words and what their words mean to you. As a result, the internal voices only accentuate your feelings of pain, isolation, heartache and disgust.

In any case you’re probably thinking about yourself and your own sense of well-being. You’re thinking about your own safety and peace. You desire something to happen which would make you feel justified, in control, happy, serene, or content. Unfortunately, the other person is in the way of you getting these things. If only they would do what you want or leave you alone!

But, as you attempted to respond and deal with this situation, what was the source of wisdom you went to in order to handle the situation?

Did you rely on your own wisdom as you responded verbally or internally?

Did you attempt to manipulate or bully them in order to get what you want?

Did you seek to run away and avoid them?

Did you go to someone else and seek their advice or assistance, hoping they knew how to help you win the argument and put the other person in their place?

Did you go to a self-help book which might give you some tips and resources on how to handle difficult people or difficult situations?

Did you hope the whole issue would go away so that you could just ‘move on’?

On the other hand, did you go to Scripture to seek God’s advice on your particular situation?

For most people, the last place we’ll look is in Scripture, if we go there at all! This is despite the fact that, as members of the Lutheran Church of Australia, we all ascribe to one of the unalterable articles of our church, which states that we accept ‘without reservation the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as a whole and in all their parts, as the divinely inspired, written and inerrant Word of God, and as the only infallible source and norm for all matters of faith, doctrine and life Constitution, Article II: Confession

This means the only place we agree to seek wisdom in handling any issues relating to what we believe, what we teach and practice in the church, and any issues we encounter in our life (including times of conflict and disagreement), is in Holy Scripture. But this isn’t what we do!

St James argues that we humans don’t seek the wisdom which comes from above, but we instead mostly rely on earthly, unspiritual and even demonic wisdom as we take matters into our own hands. We want to rely on ourselves as if we know better than God. We place our trust in our own patterns of selfish behaviour, which only shows our distrust in God and his word. We show we don’t have a biblical faith, but we have faith in the ways of the world. The result of our all responses which don’t seek the wisdom which comes from above, is division, disunity, jealousy, selfish ambition, disorder, and falsehood.

Now, even though we might be hesitant to admit our common responses to fights and conflicts isn’t godly, we may reluctantly agree our responses are earthly or even unspiritual. But none of us would like to admit our responses are demonic!

Yet St James argues that if we’re not submitting to God and the wisdom he imparts through his Spirit-inspired word, then we’re a friend of the world. If we’re a friend of the world, we’re an enemy of God. If we’re an enemy of God who can’t and won’t act in a healthy spiritual way to conflict, then we’re sowing harmful works which seeks to divide and bring disharmony to the people of God, which would be evil.

In other words, we either respond to conflict using the well-practiced and natural ways of the world which is selfish, harms relationships, and breeds disorder and chaos (which is evil), or we submit to God by seeking his wisdom, which means, as we’re led by the Holy Spirit, we bear the fruit of humility, gentleness, mercy, peace, and righteousness. There’s no in-between.

Yet how many times do we respond in these evil ways? How many times have we neglected to obey God’s word which tells us to love as we’ve been loved by God and to forgive as we’ve been forgiven by God? How many times have we responded by straining or ending relationships instead of showing mercy and grace to our enemies? How many times have we trusted in the world’s answers to our problems when we really needed to rely on God’s answers?

So, what’s stopping us from living the ways of humility, peace and harmony that God intends for us?

Well, St James reveals the problem we have, but it’s not what we’ve been taught, it’s not what we practice, and it’s not what we expect.

You see, we’re nearly always being taught it’s not our fault. The world teaches us that we can shift the blame onto someone or something else. We can blame our upbringing, our society, our genetic dispositions, our mental health, our emotional hang-ups, our lapse of judgment, and so on.

We think we can blame our enemies for making us respond like we do. This means, as long as we’re not at fault, we never have to take responsibility for our actions. If we never have to take responsibility for our actions, then we never have to repent. If we don’t need to repent, then we don’t need Jesus and what he offers us.

But St James stuns us with an honesty and truth which shocks us all and drives us to our knees in shame!

He asks the question as to what’s the cause of all our fights and arguments and conflicts and quarrels. His answer is that it’s not the other person! They’re not at fault for the way we respond to all our trouble and strife. Instead, we’re to take responsibility for our own reactions to them because you and I are responding the way we do because of our own passions and desires. We don’t have problems with other people, but we have problems with our own hearts which are ruled by our own desires. We’ve found the enemy, and the enemy is us!

So, why do we get so upset at the other person? Because they’re getting in the way of what we want!

In all our fights and arguments, we normally attempt to elevate ourselves to be the one who should be obeyed (as if we’re the god who everyone needs to answer to), and we use all the tricks of our own selfish flesh, the ambitious and self-sufficient ways of the world, and the deceptions of the devil to get what we want.

This always results in division and disunity. And the reason we don’t want to go to the wisdom of Scripture is because it won’t just reveal the other person’s evil, but it will also reveal our own evil. We don’t want to go to Scripture because it will call us to repent of our own sinful ways.

This is also despite the fact there’s no divine mercy or grace in the ways of the world. There’s no divine mercy or grace where the Spirit isn’t present. There’s no divine mercy or grace in the devil’s deceptions.

Yet we’re told the source of the divine mercy and grace of God and his ways of reconciliation, healing and peace for all our relationships, including our relationship with God, are in Scripture!

The wisdom of God which comes from above are revealed to us in the words of Scripture. It doesn’t just reveal the fact we’re the true enemy, but it also reveals the mercy and grace of God for you and me through faith in the suffering and death of our dear Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ!

The wisdom of God is that he knows just how depraved and sinful we are and that we can’t save ourselves. The wisdom of God is that God knows this inborn virus of sin affects everything we do and everyone we come into contact with, which all too often results in division and strained relationships. The wisdom of God is that he knows we need an antidote for our selfish ways, and he sent his own dearly beloved Son into this troubled world to pay the full price for our rebellion through his own death.

Jesus is the wisdom of God who came from above into our own conflicted world in human flesh. Jesus lived among us as pure, peaceable, obedient, full of mercy, impartial and gracious. He welcomed sinners, healed sinners, forgave sinners, suffered at the hands of sinners, was abandoned by sinners, was crucified for sinners, and was raised from the dead for sinners.

By his wounds we sinners are healed, by his death we’ve been made right with God, by faith in Jesus we continue to receive grace upon grace and are justified.

Through his gift of baptism, we’re cleansed of sin, adopted as dearly loved children of God, and joined to our Lord Jesus Christ and his grace. Through our participation at the Lord’s Supper, we receive the body and blood of Jesus for our forgiveness, life and salvation. And by grace he’ll take us home to be with him in his eternal kingdom.

Despite the way we respond to those around us when we’re in conflict, there’s always more grace! And by grace we seek out the wisdom of God which comes from above which leads us to repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation, and peace with God and each other.

Instead of submitting ourselves to earthly, unspiritual or demonic wisdom, we submit ourselves to the wisdom of God who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. We seek the wisdom which comes from above as he seeks to restore us in peace and love. We draw near to the God who draws near to us so that we may experience his grace.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, there’s grace for every hurtful moment. There’s grace for every strained relationship. There’s grace for every time you’ve sinned against those around you. There’s grace for those who have sinned against you. There’s grace for all those times you didn’t seek God’s wisdom. There’s grace for your struggles in faith. There’s grace for you which you can share with those around you as you learn to seek the wisdom of God. There’s enough grace for you to love, forgive, and persevere in faith during all your troubles.

This is because…

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

Sermon from 12th Sep 2021 (Pentecost 16)

Mark 8:27-38 (EHV)

27 Jesus went away with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”

28 They told him, “John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others say one of the prophets.”

29 “But who do you say I am?” he asked them.

Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.”

30 Then he warned them not to tell anyone about him.

31 Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things; be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the experts in the law; be killed; and after three days rise again. 32 He was speaking plainly to them. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But after turning around and looking at his disciples, Jesus rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! You do not have your mind set on the things of God, but the things of men.”

34 He called the crowd and his disciples together and said to them, “If anyone wants to follow me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it. But whoever loses his life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 After all, what good is it for a man to gain the whole world and yet forfeit his soul? 37 Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 38 In fact, whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Dear Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit upon us so that we may deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Let’s imagine for a while that you could choose what God looks like and what he does.

If you could do so, what type of god would you want? What type of god would you follow?

Would you like a god who heals all your diseases and ailments? Wouldn’t that be nice? Just imagine – you could pray to God and ‘zip-a-dee-doo-dah!’ no more Coronavirus! No more cancer! No more Alzheimer’s! No more hay fever! No more getting old with all those aches and pains and limitations! Wouldn’t you think this type of god would be popular and worth following? He could be our miracle dispenser god!

Or would you like a god who makes you feel good? Wouldn’t this be a good type of god to have in a world filled with so much anxiety and depression? You wouldn’t need drugs or drink to help you escape from all those crazy and troubling thoughts. You wouldn’t need to find some other type of addiction to escape from uncomfortable situations or aggravating people. All you need to do is look at a picture of this god and you’d experience some form of heavenly feeling which fills you with joy and love and peace and hope. He could be our therapeutic god!

What about a god who grants success? Running late and the traffic light turns red? Pray to this god and the light turns green! Didn’t do the homework assigned to you? Pray to this god and you’ll know all the right answers! Stuffed up at work? Pray to this god and your mistakes will end up being the best decisions you’ve made! He could be our fix-it god!

How about a god who vindicates you and punishes all your enemies? This type of god would guarantee you’d never have to defend any of your words and actions because your god would come to your defence and make sure the other person gets what’s coming to them. You could feel some sense of smug self-satisfaction knowing the good get rewarded and the bad get punished. You could sleep easy knowing all the terrorists, criminals and scumbags will get their just punishment! He could be our Attorney General god!

So, what would your god look like? A Champion? A King? A Judge? A Freedom-fighter? A Climate changer? A Wilderness defender? A Friend? A Lover? An everlasting Tim-Tam Genie?

Of course, there’s a problem with this type of speculation.

We don’t get to choose who or what God really looks like or what he does. He’s God and we’re not. We either get to accept and follow the God who reveals himself to us, or we don’t. If we don’t like what he offers, we’ll look elsewhere for the god of our own choosing, which is what many people do.

This is the reason why, when we’re looking to God for healing and he doesn’t give it, we’ll look to someone or something else who offers what we’re looking for. When God doesn’t make us feel good, we’ll look to other people or things to make us feel good. When God doesn’t grant us success and blessings, we’ll search for this elsewhere. When we don’t like God’s instructions for how we’re to get on with each other, we’ll take matters into our own hands, and so on.

But when I offered the opportunity for you to think about what type of god you’d like to follow, did any of your internal speculations include a god who suffers?

Did any of you think: ‘Yes! I want to have a god who will suffer. I want a god who’ll be beaten and insulted and victimised and neglected and bullied and ostracised! I want a god who will die for me!’

Did any of you think this is the type of god you want? Did any of you think this is the type of god you’ll be willing to follow, even if this means you’ll also suffer as you follow him?

Yet this is the God who is revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ!

He not only said he’s going to suffer, but he must suffer many things. It’s like this is the divine plan from the very beginning for the Son of God. He must be the Suffering Servant who was spoken about in the Old Testament through prophets such as Isaiah. This means he’s going to submit his back to those who beat him. He’s going to offer his cheeks to those who’ll pull at his beard. He’s not going to hide his face from disgrace and spittle.

Not only this, but his own chosen ones, including the elders, chief priests, and experts in the law are going to reject this Suffering Servant. They’re not going to recognize him and follow him, but they’ll call for his blood and death.

The Son of God came to this earth with one purpose in mind: to suffer and die for you and me. The Son of Man will die, and rise again after three days for us. This is God’s plan. This is God’s justice. This is God’s way of reconciling you and me to him.

Do you find this offensive?

St Peter did! This is why he told Jesus off!

Peter didn’t want to accept a suffering Christ. He probably wanted Jesus to be a healing miracle worker, a powerful warrior, or a conquering King. That Jesus would instead need to suffer and die wasn’t in Peter’s plans. In response he attempts to silence Jesus.

I wonder if we too would do the same. Wouldn’t we also prefer a healing Jesus, a warrior Jesus, a feel-good Jesus, a shepherd Jesus, a friend-of-children Jesus, a punish-all-the-bad-people Jesus, or an equal rights Jesus?

Do we struggle with the idea our Lord and Saviour not only chose to die in our place, but that there was no other choice? That he had to die for you and me? That someone had to pay the blood price for our disobedience, and Jesus is the only one who could do it?

Do we also struggle with the idea our Lord and Saviour would die for our enemies? That he would forgive those we don’t want to forgive? That he would grant eternal life to those who believe, even if we reckon they don’t deserve this?

Do we struggle with the idea that, if we follow this Suffering Servant Jesus, we’re going to suffer too? And here we’re not talking about the stub-your-little-toe type of suffering, but the suffering which comes because we bear the name of Jesus?

The suffering we receive because we’re choosing to love and forgive and be gracious and patient and loving to recalcitrant and difficult people? The suffering we receive because people like to insult those who trust in Jesus and his gospel message? The suffering we receive because he asks us to die to our own desires and expectations and submit to God and his Word?

Our human problem is that we often want to fashion God into our own image of what we think he should look like, which always excludes suffering and death. We’re too busy thinking about the things we humans want and we’re not thinking about God and his word and ways, which use suffering and death for his redemptive purposes.

We spend a lot of energy worrying about and seeking to avoid any type of suffering and death, which is why so many people are struggling with the threat of viruses, diseases, long-term medical conditions, restrictions to our freedoms, anything which affects our sense of self-worth, or anything which reminds us of our inevitable end.

We avoid conversations about pain or death or the suffering which comes with it. We avoid conversations which asks us to die to ourselves through admitting fault or seeking repentance. We avoid showing or admitting weakness. We avoid the necessity to forgive when we feel as if we’re the victim of injustice.

Yet all the things which we want to avoid, Jesus welcomes. He welcomes it because there’s something worse than suffering. There’s something worse than death.

Now, you might ask: what’s worse than suffering and death?

Eternal separation from God!

When we don’t want what God offers, when we look to other people or other things to give us what we want, when we don’t live according to God’s word, when we neglect to care and love and forgive those around us, and when we don’t accept suffering and death as part of his plan for us, we rebel against God and deserve his anger and punishment. We deserve eternal separation from God.

But our eternal separation from God was too much for Jesus to bear, so he stepped in and said he’ll pay the bill for our rebellion. He did this even though he knew this would cost him suffering at the hands of those he came to save, and even though he knew he would need to die for the ones who sought his death.

He did this because he loves people like Peter who struggled with the idea Jesus would suffer and die. He did this because he loves the people who hurt him, abuse him, and reject him. He did this because he loves you and me, even though we struggle to love and follow him as we ought.

Jesus suffered and died for you and me so that we might be forgiven and reconciled to our Heavenly Father. He rose from the dead so that through faith we might be raised with him and be eternally welcome in God’s presence.

Jesus calls us to deny ourselves and our selfish nature which wants to fashion our own god. He calls us to take up our own cross of suffering as we imitate our loving, forgiving, and gracious Christ to those around us. He calls us to follow him because there’s no other way to receive forgiveness, peace and life in his eternal Kingdom.

While we wish and pray for a life without suffering and death, this isn’t what God promises us. He promises his presence, his forgiveness, his cleansing, his healing, his peace, and his life through faith in Jesus, which remain ours long after we’ve suffered and died. Suffering and death don’t negate his promises. In fact, some of his promises can only be fully received on the other side of the grave.

Even though we fear suffering and death and would like to fashion a god in our own image, we know eternal separation from God and all his goodness is worse than suffering and dying.

We thank God for Jesus who suffered and died in our place, and we’re not ashamed of what he did for us. We’re also not ashamed of the fact we need to be forgiven; that we need to be saved. We’re not ashamed of Jesus and his gospel of forgiveness, life and salvation through faith in him.

Because we’re not ashamed of Jesus and his gospel message, we carefully consider the words we speak, even when we’re suffering. We don’t speak to tear down or insult or abuse. We instead speak to forgive, to bless, and to encourage. We love as we’ve been loved by him. We forgive as we’ve been forgiven by him.

So, let’s all deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus. After all, as Jesus said, whoever wants to save his life will lose it. But whoever loses his life for Jesus’ sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it, which is why…

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

Sermon from 5th Sep 2021 (Pentecost 15)

James 2:1-17 (ESV)

1 My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?

If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. 11 For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. 13 For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

Dear Heavenly Father, send us your Holy Spirit so that we may not show favouritism or partiality, but love all people in the same way Christ loves us. Amen.

Let’s imagine the following scene:

You’re sitting down to watch a highly anticipated finals match between Geelong and Melbourne.

You look around the ground to see everyone dressed to support their teams – they’re either in their navy blue and whites or their red and blue. They loudly taunt each other as to who’s going to win. As their respective teams run onto the field, their supporters cheer at the top of their lungs. There’s great excitement in the air as the two teams and their supporters battle for supremacy!

But when the umpires take to the field, the whole crowd falls totally still and silent.

They’re not wearing their usual lime green shirts and grey shorts. Instead, they’re dressed in navy blue and white!

Once the crowd get over their shock, they start booing and throwing things at the umpires. The Melbourne supporters and players angrily charge toward the umpires, yelling all sorts of obscenities, and the place is threatening to break into a riot!

The whole arena is turned into an uproar because, despite their own favouritism and bias toward their own team, the spectators and players had come for a fair game. The umpires are supposed to show no partiality or favouritism, yet here they are proudly showing who they’re going to give their bias and preference to!

Everyone’s angry because umpires aren’t supposed to have favourite teams! I mean, how can you umpire and judge fairly if you favour one team over the other one? They’re supposed to treat everyone with equal justice and objectivity!

Now imagine a second picture:

Two different people walk into church this morning – one is well dressed, well-spoken, and smiling, while the other looks glum or depressed, is dressed in faded or tattered clothes, and perhaps even smells as if he or she hasn’t washed or shaved for a month.

While I know it’s tempting to only talk to the people you know and love here at worship, you know (or at least should know) the first impressions of your welcome may make the difference whether guests will ever choose to come again, so, what will you do? Who will you approach and welcome?

Will you first go and welcome the well-dressed, clean and smiling person, or will you approach the smelly, sad-looking, dirty and poorly-dressed person?

This is a time to be honest with yourself. What colours will you show? Will you show favouritism toward the rich and friendly, or the poor and depressed?

You see, the twist is, as a Christian you’re not allowed to be the spectator who can choose sides. You’re supposed to act according to your faith in your Saviour Jesus Christ who shows no favouritism or bias. And if you’re ever to show any distinction or favour, it should always be toward the one who needs to receive mercy.

You’re not allowed to sit by and let someone else show mercy to the poor and needy because, as one who has received mercy from God, you’re now also supposed to be the merciful one without bias. Anything different to this would show you don’t truly practice what you believe.

You’re no longer the spectator. Instead, everyone else in your life are the spectators who are watching your every action and are judging every word you speak because they know you bear the name of Christ as a Christian. They know that just coming along to worship and pretending you’re a good person for an hour a week isn’t good enough. Only hypocrites do that. Your faith in God who has been merciful to you is supposed to be lived out in every hour of every day, no matter where you are and who is watching.

Unfortunately, it’s easy to show favouritism in your family life, in your workplace, as we talk about sport or vaccinations, and yes, even in church. You might want to include some people into your lives, but you want to exclude others from that opportunity. You wish to serve some people with a generous heart, but let others help themselves. You might willingly gossip and criticise some people, but you might defend and protect others.

What you’re doing is drawing a distinction between people, which is a form of judgment. Yet you know there’s only one judge, and it’s not you or me. To judge anyone as worthy or not of your attention and energy is to replace God’s judgement with your own.

Only God can truly judge people and he’s chosen to be merciful to the blind, the dumb, the foreigner, the sick, and the poor. He’s chosen to love and forgive people who don’t deserve such mercy. As people who believe in this merciful God, you’re to live according to your faith in our merciful God.

Now all this sounds very harsh. It sounds like you’re being burdened with the expectation that you have to live a certain way simply because you’re a Christian.

In this case you might want to argue that you’re not saved by what you do. You don’t have to be perfect because Christ was perfect for you. You might want to hear the Gospel about your forgiveness and salvation instead of what you have to do as one who has received God’s grace!

Well, it’s indeed true you’re saved by grace through faith for the sake of Jesus Christ. You’re not saved by anything you do or don’t do. Being merciful to others doesn’t save you. Salvation comes through trusting the grace and mercy and forgiveness of your Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

You trust he was perfect for you so that you don’t have to be perfect. You trust he died to pay for all the wrong things you do as well as all those good things you failed to do. You trust Jesus showed no partiality toward you, but he freely suffered and died for the forgiveness of all your sins, including your sins of favouritism!

This is all part of what we believe when we say such things as: Christ alone, grace alone, and faith alone. But you see, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, faith doesn’t come alone. You can’t have faith by itself. It always comes with attachments.

It comes with attachments because what you believe will always affect the way you live.

It works this way: If you believe God loves you because of your own good works of goodness or faithfulness or service, then you’ll naturally gravitate toward those who you think will be good to you through their own goodness or faithfulness or who might return your grace and favour.

On the other hand, if you believe you can never deserve the grace of God, and have only received forgiveness, life, and salvation as a free and undeserving gift, you might be more willing to give attention and service to those who might be considered as ‘undeserving’.

This means, if you live out what you believe, then when you show favouritism or partiality toward certain people, you end up revealing something of what you believe about God or about yourself.

As a largely middle classed church, we’re often challenged by the fact Jesus didn’t mix so much with the rich or successful or even obedient. In fact, he often criticised them for their misplaced trust in themselves and their own goodness.

Instead, he came and lived and worked and taught among the poor, the sick, the frail, the sinful, the unloved, the rejected, and the frowned upon – the very people we often want to avoid because we might think they’re not as good or faithful or attractive or easy to get along with as we think we are!

Now, I know we’re naturally impressed or attracted to those who are rich, successful, or who seem to do all the right things, even if they’re the type of people who might take advantage of us. We may also feel uncomfortable being with the smelly, the dirty, the poor and the unshaved. We don’t like the way they smell, the way they dress, or the way they look, or the way they act. We might consider them unworthy of our attention, service, or love.

Yet, if God were to treat us in the same way we treat others, well, there’d be little hope for any of us, no matter how good we think we are!

The good news is, the Creator of the world loves you, and considers you worthy of his holy gifts, but not because of anything you’ve done or will ever do. He doesn’t love you because you’re lovely or beautiful or obedient or worthy of his attention. He sees you as a poor, helpless sinner who can’t live up to his expectations, and still loves you anyway!

He knows you can’t save yourself, or come to him under your own power, or be worthy of him through your efforts, so he came to you as a fellow human. He came in the person of Jesus Christ to save you, a poor, helpless sinner.

He then showed a radical justice toward you – a justice which opens the eyes of the blind, heals the sick and injured, grants hearing to the deaf, gives clear speech to those with speaking difficulties, heals foreign people of their demonic possessions, loves the unlovable, grants eternal life to those who die, and forgives serial offenders like you and me.

None of this is because any of us deserve it, but because the Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love – a love which is determined to love no matter how unworthy the recipient is.

Now, as people loved by God, who have been graciously forgiven, who have been washed in his holy waters of grace, who have received his holy body and blood which now courses through our veins, and as those who have received the radical justice and impartiality of God, we’re to pass on this same love and service to others.

You see, we know faith never comes alone, but faith in Jesus Christ will always act according to God’s radical justice toward others, especially the poor, the undeserving, the smelly, the misunderstood, the lonely, the widow, the refugee, and the sinner.

So, while we can’t have ‘just’ faith, the faith we have will always be ‘just’, that is, it will always act with the same justice and impartially and mercy of Jesus Christ toward others in need of justice and mercy and grace.

Just like any outward shows of success or power never impressed Jesus, they shouldn’t impress us either. We, as members of the body of Christ, are supposed to live out our faith in Christ by being impartial and unprejudiced toward those who don’t deserve it. In fact, if we’re ever to show any partiality at all, we show it toward those whom others shun or avoid.

It doesn’t matter about your age or ability or knowledge or availability. Be impartial as Christ has been impartial with you. Show no favouritism, but freely show God’s merciful and undeserving love to all. Treat all people as you’ve been treated by Jesus. Love and serve those whom most people in society reject, oppress, or consider worthless. In the daily battle between favouritism and mercy, let mercy and love rule. Let mercy triumph over judgement.

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