Sermon from 28th Nov 2021 (Advent 1)

Luke 21:25-36 (ESV)

Jesus said: 25 “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26 people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

29 And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. 30 As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

34 “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Dear Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit upon us so that, no matter what happens, we may continue to look for, and be confident in, the coming kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

What are you looking at?

What do you see?

What does it mean for you?

For example, you might be looking at some fruit trees.

As you look at the fruit trees, you might see trees with lots of new growth. You might see blossoms and bees busily visiting each blossom. You might see small fruit starting to form.

As you look at the fruit trees and consider what you see, what does it mean for you?

Well, it may mean spring is here, which means summer shouldn’t be far away. It may mean you’re looking forward to eating fruit during the warmer months, such as in their raw state, or packaged up in cakes and puddings and slices, or placed on top of pavlovas or yoghurt, or topped with cream or ice-cream. It may mean sharing the fruit of the earth with family and friends.

Another example is you might be looking at the constant news reports of Covid-19 cases, hearing the repeated calls for vaccinations, watching the continuous changes to border restrictions across the country, and you may be considering the ongoing effects on health and families and travel and business and opportunity.

As you look at all these reports, listen to news bulletins, and talk to each other about how this affects you, what do you see and hear?

Do you see people wearing masks and avoiding each other? Do you see plastic barriers between yourself and those serving you behind counters? Do you see QR codes popping up wherever you go? Do you see hand sanitisers and feel and smell the differences between them? Do you see and hear a lot of anger or frustration? Do you notice the restrictions placed on your life and those you love?

As you look at all this and see how much this virus has changed your life, what does it mean for you?

For some it may mean you couldn’t go on the trip you had planned to your exciting holiday destination. It may mean you couldn’t attend those face-to-face business meetings, weddings, funerals, or other precious family visits. It may mean life has changed, and not necessarily for the better, although for some, it may mean we’re able to enjoy our state without tourists clogging up your favourite spots!

It may mean some jabs in your arms in the hope this will protect you and grant you more freedom. It may mean you’re feeling watched and controlled and manipulated and isolated. It may mean you’re feeling afraid and uncertain about the future. It may mean you’re hopeful of having your freedom restored.

In other words, what is the sign you’re looking at, what do you see in this sign, and how will you understand this sign?

Today we hear Jesus tell his disciples to look and see what’s going on around them. He warns us that we’ll see some events occurring which will scare many people, such as cosmic trouble in the sky and the stars. We’ll see seas roaring and foaming. We’ll see many people fainting with fear or responding with overindulgence or anxiousness. We will be worried or anxious about much of what we see and experience, whether it’s about changes in our climate, changes to our health, or the everyday worries which cripple us with fear and trepidation.

He tells us these will be signs – signs of something greater coming our way. When we see these signs, what will we be looking at, what will we see, and how will we understand what they mean for us?

He tells us that they’ll mean something different for us as Christians because, as people who trust in Jesus, whose words and promises never change, fade, or disappear, Jesus tells us we’re to look for something else in these signs.

You see, all the troubles and turmoils and catastrophes around us are signs that our redemption is drawing near.

Therefore, all those things which scare even the most resilient of people are the very things which remind us, as the people of God, to lift our heads in confidence knowing the kingdom of God is near – this same kingdom of God which brings forgiveness, grace, mercy, and peace.

This means we’re confident in the face of trouble knowing that the devil’s kingdom will continue to be crushed, that death has lost its power over us, and that sin is being washed away by the innocent blood of Jesus!

So, knowing Jesus promises his kingdom will come, how will you, as people who trust in your Lord Jesus Christ, look at the signs around you? What will you see in them? Knowing they’re a sign of God’s coming kingdom, what will they mean for you?

For example, when you’re looking at the many Christmas decorations clogging up the shopping aisles and lounge rooms, and as you see so many people gathering trinkets and toys and trees and when you see bank balances emptying and bellies filling, how will you understand this sign? What will this mean for you as Christians?

Will this be an encouragement for you to remember the real Christmas – the real incarnation of our coming Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ? Will you be reminded of how he established his everlasting kingdom among us through his incarnation, obedience, suffering, death, and resurrection? Will you be reminded of the need to repent and believe in Jesus? Will you consider Jesus to be the greatest gift which has ever hung on a tree?

When you see the signs of broken relationships, fights between siblings, breakdowns in marriages, abuse in families, divisions in churches, and a world affected by the pandemic of anxiety and worry, what will this mean for you?

Since God’s kingdom comes to establish forgiveness and peace on earth, is the brokenness around you a sign which encourages you to proclaim the forgiveness of sin which comes from Christ? Is it a reminder to forgive each other and share the peace of Christ so that broken or strained relationships will be reconciled?

When you see the signs of sickness, injury, cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and other insidious diseases, or when you see people struggling with the ageing process as abilities are slowly stripped away, or as you watch your loved ones die, what will this mean for you?

Will these things be signs of your own mortality which lead you to look for hope outside of yourself? Will you look for, and trust in, the hope of life eternal through faith in Christ who has defeated death? Will you see death as the end, or will you see life beyond the grave in God’s eternal kingdom?

Will you see the presence of Christ who promises to be with you in your suffering and who walks beside you through this valley of the shadow of death? When you’re separated from loved ones or feeling isolated and alone through restrictions to your freedom, will you look for the presence of Christ who isn’t restricted by border controls and still comes to you in Word and Sacrament?

Even when you look at the signs and symbols of the church, such as a pastor announcing your sins are forgiven, or when you see people being baptised, or as you participate in the Lord’s Supper, what will you see? Will you see a quaint and archaic ritual, or will you see and experience God at work among you?

For example, when you were baptised, you didn’t just get your hair wet. You were joined to Jesus Christ as if you were grafted into the Vine of Christ. Joined to him you’ve received his Holy Spirit. Joined to him you were washed of your sins. Joined to him, you were joined to the resurrected Christ who already lives eternally at the right-hand side of God the Father. Joined to Jesus, you’ve been adopted as dearly loved children of God.

Similarly, when the bread and wine are touched by the spoken words of Christ, we see in, with, and under the bread and wine, the body and blood of our living Saviour who grants us forgiveness of sin through our trust in his words. As we receive his body and blood into our own bodies, our faith is strengthened to believe we’ve received Christ’s purity, innocence and life.

Here in these simple mysteries of God, we see God’s gifts of grace, mercy, forgiveness, love, and peace in action, doing what they promise to do.

This is why we also see each other differently. No matter how much fellow Christians get up our noses, hurt us, and frustrate us, we see each other as fellow sinners who have been washed clean and pure and innocent through faith. We see each other’s selfishness and attempts at self-righteousness as signs we still need to receive and pass on the forgiveness of Jesus Christ to each other.

You see, we’re to look, see and understand something different to what everyone else sees. This isn’t because we’re attempting to deny the reality of what’s happening in the world around us, but because we see and trust in the spiritual reality of what God is truly doing in and among us as he brings us into his coming kingdom.

We keep looking to, seeing, and knowing God’s unchanging and eternal Word is real and trustworthy. We know that in this mixed up, muddled up, mortal world, nothing and no-one lasts. But we know God’s Word lasts and will continue to remain true and trustworthy. We know Jesus, the Word made flesh, comes into our fragile and fractured world to give us hope and peace and joy and forgiveness and eternal life as a gift through trusting him and his words.

Through the eyes of faith, we’re to be confident in the face of every trouble and disaster, because we know God’s kingdom comes to bless us. We see God at work among us in order to bring us closer to him in prayer and faith. We see things differently because we know that today we’re closer to the time of Christ’s final coming than any other time in history.

Therefore, as the people of God who are to keep watch and stay alert, are you looking at the right things?

Are you seeing what you’re supposed to see?

What does it mean for you, knowing that the kingdom of God is near?

After all, you know that…

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

Sermon from 21st Nov 2021 (Last Sunday of Church Year)

John 5:21-29 (EHV)

Jesus said: 21 “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to those he wishes.

22 “In fact, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, 23 so that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. 24 Amen, Amen, I tell you: Anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He is not going to come into judgment but has crossed over from death to life.

25 “Amen, Amen, I tell you: A time is coming and is here now when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who listen will live. 26 For just as the Father has life in himself, so also he has granted the Son to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.

28 “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29 and will come out. Those who have done good will rise to live, but those who have practiced evil will rise to be condemned.

Dear Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit upon us so that we may hear your word, believe in you, and do good, for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Most people want to be ‘good’. We want to do the ‘good’ thing and be known as ‘good’ people.

Because we want to be good, it usually makes sense most people don’t want to get into trouble or make life difficult for anyone. If we get into trouble or make trouble, then we wouldn’t be good. This means we’ll be tempted to defend our goodness if anyone suggests we’re not as good as we thought we were.

We not only want to be good ourselves, but we also expect everyone else to be good, or at least, to be good according to our own standards of goodness. This means we’ll get angry when those around us aren’t as good as we expect them to be, especially if they hurt us. We’ll also take pride in our own goodness and feel justified in pointing out how bad other people are, after all, we often think we’re better than others because we reckon we’re good.

This is common for most people, whether they’re Christian or not.

But for Christians, this is even more important because we hear Jesus tell us today: ‘those who have done good will rise to live, but those who practiced evil will rise to be condemned.’ (John 5:29)

Therefore, it’s not just important for us to be good or have a good reputation, but it seems our eternal life is dependant on us being good enough!

It would make sense then that Christians of all people are always striving to be good people. We need to be good and feel burdened by this impossible expectation. We have to be good and fear people pointing out any lack of goodness we might have, which might threaten our eternal future. You see, if we’re not good, we figure we’re in deep trouble on the Last Day! We don’t want to rise from death only to be condemned!

However, if this is how we’re interpreting this text, we have it wrong!

This is because Scripture also tells us we all fall short of the glory of God, which means none of us will ever be good enough. We can’t be good enough. It’s impossible for us to be good enough. Our Lutheran Confessions confirm that, on the basis of Scripture alone, we’re saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, and not by our own goodness or good works!

So how do we handle what Jesus says when he tells us the good will rise to live?

Well, we need to consider what he means by what it is to be good, and Jesus himself tells us what is the good thing that we’re supposed to do which leads to life eternal.

You see, if we go back to the previous chapter in the gospel according to St John, we hear Jesus talk to the crowds who followed him after he fed the 5,000. He told them they were following him because of the miraculous sign of multiplying the bread to feed such a crowd. He also told them to no longer work for food that spoils, but they were to work for the food which endures to eternal life.

They then asked him, “What should we do to carry out the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God: that you believe in the one he sent.” John 6:26-29

Therefore, the good work required of us is to believe.

What are we to believe?

We’re to believe in the words of Jesus, which means we’re to listen to his words so that we might believe them.

Over 90 times the word ‘believe’ is mentioned in St John’s account of the gospel, including John 20:30-31, which reads: ‘Jesus, in the presence of his disciples, did many other miraculous signs that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.’

It’s also consistent with what Jesus says earlier in today’s text, where he said: “Amen, Amen, I tell you: Anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He is not going to come into judgment but has crossed over from death to life.” John 5:24

This means we’re also to believe who sent him, which means we’re to believe God the Father sent his Son Jesus into this world to die for the forgiveness of our sins so that we may be reconciled to God the Father.

As a result of this saving faith in Jesus, who was sent by the Father, we listen to Jesus and believe we’ve already received eternal life. We believe Jesus is the Son of God who was to come into this world. We believe God the Father sent him to redeem us. We believe everything Jesus did for us on the cross reconciled us to the Father. We believe we’ve been forgiven for all our sins by the suffering and death of Jesus. We believe eternal life is our present possession because we’ve already died and have been raised again in Christ. We believe we receive forgiveness, life and salvation through faith in Jesus through his means of grace such as Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

We believe Scripture alone tells us we’re saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, which gives us joyful hope and a peaceful conscience.

Unfortunately, it can be tempting to shift our faith focus away from Christ alone to something or someone else.

The greatest temptation is for us to stop listening and believe it’s still up to us, as if we can somehow still make ourselves good enough.

We still want to be the best person we can be, thinking this pleases God. We still try hard and burden ourselves with the unrealistic expectation we can still be good enough. We still think we have power to change ourselves and make ourselves right and good and holy. We berate and beat ourselves up when we let people or God down.

This means we often feel like failures and try to make up for our wrongs instead of accepting the forgiveness and peace which is ours through faith. We wallow in misery as we take our eyes off the grace and mercy which is ours in Christ and instead moan about our own faults, or groan about the hurts we feel when others fail us.

What we unconsciously keep doing is we don’t always listen for, and trust in, the words and work of Jesus which would grant us joy and peace and hope, no matter how many times we let God down, but we all too often listen to ourselves, and place our trust in our own words and works, which only leads to disappointment and despair.

Do you realise there’s no limit to God’s love for you, no matter how many times you hurt him or fail him? Do you realise he doesn’t keep a record of how many times you need his forgiveness? Do you realise the greatest way to honour him isn’t to show how much you don’t need him (because you think you can be good on your own), but the greatest way to honour him is to desire and accept his help and forgiveness and mercy and peace, again and again?

This is what it means to trust in him alone. It means you’re out of the picture. It’s him alone. It’s his grace alone. It’s his love alone. It’s his forgiveness alone. It’s not meant to be him…plus whatever you’re able to do!

Those who listen to, and believe, in Jesus, and whom he sent, who believe Jesus and what he did for us through his vicarious death and glorious resurrection, believe we have everything we need as a gift. We can’t earn it or deserve it. We receive it through faith. We rejoice in the gifts God sends us, including the gift of life eternal.

But you might be wondering…where does our own good works come in? Don’t we still need to keep God’s commands or live as his obedient children?

Well, yes, we do, but our works flow from faith!

This means, if we’re placing faith in ourselves being good enough, we’ll forever be burdened with the knowledge we can never be good enough. We’ll always need to defend or deny or justify ourselves when we let God or each other down. We’ll won’t want to repent and receive forgiveness as a gift, because we still think we have to earn it. We’ll instead berate and kick ourselves for our failures.

We might try to be patient and loving and willing to serve under our own power, but it never lasts very long because it’s all too often based on our own levels of love and grace, or it’s dependent on how much we reckon others deserve it.

It also means we’ll continue to place burdens on each other because we’ll expect everyone else to be good enough. We’ll be critical of others when they show they’re not good. We’ll quickly judge and condemn and punish each other because they keep proving they’re not good enough for us or God. We won’t want to forgive because we figure they’re not good enough for our forgiveness.

On the other hand, those who keep listening to, and keep believing in the words and works of Jesus, and who believe God the Father, out of love for us, sent his dearly beloved Son to suffer and die for the forgiveness of our sins, and to raise him again to give us hope in the resurrection of the dead and life eternal, will live a life of repentance and faith.

A life of repentance is a life which is totally dependent on the divine grace, mercy and peace which God desires to lavish on us again and again.

Because we believe God desires to forgive us, we honour him through our confession of sin and we gladly and constantly receive his forgiveness, which gives us peace and joy.

We accept our life of faith isn’t about being good enough, but about repetitively listening to God so that we receive his goodness and holiness and purity.

Because we believe Jesus is loving and merciful and gracious, we’re thankful people who are grateful for all the blessings God gives us, even when they come packaged through trouble and difficulty, which only leads us to rely on him more greatly.

It also means we live out our faith of love, forgiveness, and service to those around us. Because we’ve never deserved, and can never deserve God’s forgiveness, we know those around us can never deserve it either. But we forgive as we believe we’ve been forgiven by Christ.

Therefore, we pass on the love and forgiveness we’ve graciously received from Christ through faith. We live out our faith in Jesus by forgiving those who hurt us, even though they’ll probably hurt us again.

Those fruits of the Spirit, such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, flow from this faith in Christ alone and the gifts he gives us by grace.

This is the difference between living under the Law, which always expects, always condemns, and always burdens us, and living in the Gospel, which always frees us to live and love in peace and joy.

This is the difference between living under the burden of impossible expectations, and the freedom of knowing we’re loved and forgiven, again and again.

This is the difference between the fear of not rising to life eternal because we’re not good enough, and the joy of knowing life eternal is given to us as a gift because we listen to, and believe, in the words and work of Jesus Christ.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, you don’t have to be good, but you’re made good when you believe Jesus Christ and his words. You also believe his promise that he will raise those who listen to him from your graves and graciously receive all those who believe in him into life eternal with him in heaven, so that…

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

Sermon from 14th Nov 2021 (Pentecost 25)

Mark 13:1-8 (EHV)

1 As Jesus was leaving the temple courts, one of his disciples said to him, “Teacher, look what impressive stones these are, and what impressive buildings!”

Jesus said to him, “Do you see these large buildings? There will not be one stone here left on top of another. They will all be thrown down.”

As he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be fulfilled?”

Jesus began by telling them, “Be careful that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many.

“Whenever you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be troubled. Such things must happen, but the end is not yet. In fact, nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places. There will be famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.

Dear Heavenly Father, knowing many of our dreams will be shattered and our plans will come tumbling down, send your Holy Spirit on us so that we may be comforted and built up in you, through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour. Amen.

Have you ever been impressed by what humans have been able to do?

Maybe you’re impressed by the fact we’ve put men on the moon, sent machines to Mars and beyond, or that we can communicate over long distances with loved ones via video chats on tablets and phones. Maybe you’re impressed by some of the artwork popping up on silos, the grand designs of buildings and machinery, or how fast the world has responded to a threatening virus.

Just like us, the disciples were impressed. They’ve been impressed by what Jesus has said and done, but today we hear they’re impressed by a building – the temple in Jerusalem.

This temple could be seen from anywhere in the city and was the defining landmark and religious focal point of the whole region. In fact, it was even recognised as one of the wonders of the world at the time. No wonder the disciples marvelled at it!

But, as Jesus, the living heavenly Temple, left that earthly temple building for the last time on his way to the cross, he said this impressive building and primary location all for their worship of him would be demolished, destroyed, and thrown down into a pile of rubble!

Now, try putting yourselves into the disciples’ shoes and consider how this might affect them as they heard these shocking words from Jesus.

I mean, how would you feel if you’ve just heard this church building; the centre for all your religious life; where you and your children may have been baptised, confirmed, or even married; and where you regularly sing God’s praise and receive the precious and holy grace of God, was going to be a pile of rubble?

Can you imagine how demoralising and upsetting this news must have been for the disciples? After all, now that the promised Christ had come, shouldn’t this be the time of glory for the temple and its people? Now that they have Jesus, the Son of God, at their side, isn’t this the time when everything will finally go right for God’s chosen people?

Similarly, have you ever thought that, with Jesus at your side, everything should always go right? That, if you worship him rightly, if you follow all his instructions, and if you keep gathering to sing his praise, that God will always answer your prayers and bless you the way you want him to?

But have you instead discovered that, even with Jesus by your side, your own life can feel like it’s falling into a heap?

For example, you may have thought your health would last. You may have looked after yourself, done all the right things, but now your health suffers. It could be through sickness, injury, old age, or a single silly moment which affects the rest of your life. As your health suffers you may feel as if your independence is being stripped away and you’re becoming a burden to others. Your plans for the future may have now fallen in a heap.

Or perhaps work isn’t what you planned – whether it’s your paid employment or your voluntary service. You’ve worked hard, but you feel as if you’re not appreciated by others. People criticise your efforts. You’re sick of constant bickering and demands for political corrected-ness. The pressures and stresses have started affecting your health and robbed you of joy in your service. Your plans for success, or being recognised for your efforts, have fallen in a heap.

Perhaps your marriage is struggling. You had this ideal picture of what marriage would be like, but now it’s strained or threatened or destroyed. Maybe your spouse won’t change or changed too much. It could be your spouse has started withdrawing from you and seems to invest more and more emotional energy into something or someone else. You might argue and fight, or perhaps you purposely spend time away from each other to avoid those fights. The fairy tale of ‘living happily ever after’ is now only a childish memory replaced by the painful reality of today. Your plans for a happy marriage have been shattered and fallen in a heap.

Maybe your children’s lives haven’t turned out the way you had hoped. You tried to bring them up the right way. You provided for them. You did your best for them. But something went wrong. Your best-laid plans for your children have been shattered in their moments of weakness or they criticise what you did for them. You watch with agony as your children, grandchildren, siblings and relatives wander from things you consider important and vital. Your dreams and plans for them have been demolished and fallen in a heap.

Perhaps your experience of church isn’t what you hoped for. Maybe you thought all Christians should love each other and get along well, but you’ve seen and experienced the bitter pains of unforgiveness and disharmony within the body of Christ. While the church building may still stand firm, your hopes to constantly experience love and peace and joy and forgiveness within these walls have been shattered by the reality of worshipping with fellow sinners. Your desires for peace and love and harmony lie fallen in a heap.

Or perhaps a loved one’s died. You still had so much to say and do with them. You miss them and their physical presence. You miss their conversations, advice, and jokes. Your dreams for them, and your dreams you had with them at your side, have disappeared. You feel as if the pieces of your shattered heart now lie in a jumbled heap.

Although Jesus’ words came true and the temple was destroyed around AD70, the people and things we look to, and hope for, still come tumbling down today. Our best laid plans, our carefully constructed ideals, our faithful methods, our high standards, our beautiful homes, our precious belongings, our loving relationships, our Christian fellowships, and every earthly thing we rely on and look to for comfort and security, are all too often demolished, destroyed, taken away, shattered, or fall in a heap.

But did you really think that if you looked after your health properly, if you worked hard enough, if you did a lot for your spouse, if you brought up your children in the right way, if you believed in the right God, if you prayed the right prayers, and if you went to church every Sunday, that everything would be ok? Where did you get this expectation from? Haven’t the people of God always suffered disaster, heartache, and troubles?

When did Jesus ever promise you a perfect hassle-free and happy life? Didn’t he warn his disciples of troubles, pains, heartache, and strife? Didn’t he tell you buildings and kingdoms will come tumbling down? Didn’t he say wars and disease and disasters would happen? Didn’t he warn you not to place your trust in people or temporary things because they’ll let you down? Didn’t he warn you nothing in this life lasts? Didn’t he encourage you to put all your trust in him and his words which are the only things which truly last forever?

You might be tempted to think that when your beautiful buildings and dreams come crashing down that God’s abandoned you or doesn’t care, but this is far from the truth!

It could be that, like the disciples, your focus has shifted away from the living Temple who walks beside you, and you’ve instead been busy marvelling at, and trusting in, your own man-made temples and efforts and plans and dreams.

You may have been looking to the temporary people and things around you as your source of comfort and strength and joy and blessing instead of the eternal God who is with you. As you’re warned by the Psalmist, ‘Those who chase after another god will increase their sorrows’ Ps 16:4

Everyone places faith in something or someone. We’d like to think we’re always placing our trust in our Triune God, but we’re also always easily impressed by what we see and hear and experience. We’re easily impressed by technology, design, and grandeur. We’re captivated by convincing and emotional arguments. We’re spellbound by the love we feel for people.

This also means we’re frightened to lose what we’re looking to, impressed by, or relying on. And if any of these things are destroyed or lost, if any of them are taken away from us, or if people ever let us down, we’re devastated, overwhelmed, and frightened.

Then, if we keep looking for hope in the shattered remains of our buildings, our health, our plans, our efforts, and our relationships, of course we’ll lose hope. In them there’s no future. There never was. We were never meant to rely on them! We’re meant to rely on our Lord Jesus Christ who lives forever and never goes back on his word.

But how does this help you when your efforts and plans and relationships and hopes all lie in a crumbled heap?

Well, by faith in Jesus Christ, you believe Jesus is with you in your suffering. By faith in Jesus, you believe you’re forgiven for falling short of God’s glory. By faith in Jesus, you believe you have a great high priest who prays for you and with you to your heavenly Father. By faith in Jesus you know your prayers are heard because the Father listens to his Son. By faith in Jesus, you believe death and destruction don’t have the final word. By faith in Jesus, you believe because Jesus lives eternally, you’ll also live eternally in the house of God. By faith in Jesus, you believe when all your buildings and lives collapse, God has already fit you carefully into the new living temple of Christ himself. By faith in Jesus, you believe the pains you experience are like birth pains which are replaced by the joy of what Jesus delivers to you by grace.

Therefore, for you, suffering and death and destruction never have the final word. Even if your own constructions and hopes and plans were to collapse, you’re to trust in your God who cannot be defeated, even by death. When your world crumbles around you, you’re to look to Jesus who remains faithful and loving to you, even when you’re not.

When people let you down, when empires collapse, when viruses and political pressures rage around you, when churches become empty or close, and when your health suffers, you’re not to be alarmed or despair! Even if death itself were to stare you in the face, you don’t need to be afraid because you look to your eternal and unchanging God of love and peace and hope.

You do this because Jesus revealed himself as stronger than death. In the face of destruction, suffering and death, he is victorious. That stone which the builders rejected from their beautiful man-made temple, now becomes the cornerstone of a new and living Temple, a Temple made up living flesh like you and me as we’re now joined, brick by stubborn brick, into the ever-living Temple of Jesus Christ.

And here in his living Temple, you still receive forgiveness, life and salvation through faith as you continue to hear his Word and receive the benefits of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

You’re to look to Jesus as your cornerstone, the one solid and unchangeable Saviour who gives you hope and a future. Only through faith in him do you know sin, death and the devil are defeated. Goods, fame, churches and life may fall in a heap, but through faith in Jesus Christ you trust that life and forgiveness and salvation is still yours through faith.

Therefore, when you experience times of suffering, destruction and even death, you’re not to be alarmed or troubled, but you trust Jesus will lead you through this valley of the shadow of death into his resurrection, glory and everlasting life so that…

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

Sermon from 7th Nov 2021 (All Saints)

John 11:32-44 (EHV)

32 When Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and troubled.

34 He asked, “Where have you laid him?”

They told him, “Lord, come and see.”

35 Jesus wept.

36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

38 Jesus was deeply moved again as he came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said.

Martha, the dead man’s sister, told him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, because it has been four days.”

40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone.

Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 After he said this, he shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

44 The man who had died came out with his feet and his hands bound with strips of linen and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus told them, “Loose him and let him go.”

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may believe Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has defeated death and gives us life eternal through faith. Amen.

Can you say two, three, four, and five,

as Lazarus walks out alive?

From out the grave his body came

when Jesus shouted forth his name!

You wonder why we start with two,

but here I give to you a clue:

you might think this to be absurd,

but count the letters of each word.

When faced with trouble, pain and grief

we often ask the question ‘if’?

‘If only this…’, ‘If only that…’

Here Mary with this question sat!

‘If’ only has two letters, true!

You wonder what this means for you,

but let me ask if you have cried

the word of ‘if’ when someone died?

For example, have you ever asked such questions, or said some comments such as:

“If only I had said this or done that! If only I had spent more time with them. If only I had listened to them. If only they had listened to me! If only I didn’t do or say those hurtful things. If only God had reached down and healed them, saved them, or at least been there for us all.”

The word ‘if’ has only two letters and is a very natural question to ask, but there’s rarely a happy answer to it; that’s if there’s an answer at all!

Our questions based on the word ‘if’ often leave us hanging and only adds to the emptiness we feel inside. The unanswered question only serves to drive us deeper into despair or grief.

If we’re waiting for an answer to this question before we’re able to get on with our lives, most likely we’ll never move on, because all we’re left with is speculation and uncertainty, which never deals with our guilt, our shame, our grief, and our anger.

Like Martha had already asked earlier, Mary also asked Jesus this most basic and heartfelt question to Jesus – the only one who should have known the answer, or at least the one who could have done something about her brother’s sickness and death.

But like our own cries of ‘if only…’, Jesus never answered her question. Jesus never answers with uncertainty, doubt, or speculation. Instead, he asked her a different question: ‘Where did you put him?’, which brings us to the next word in our series based on the numbers 2, 3, 4, and 5:

A word with three; what can it be?

The word of ‘see’, has letters: three!

And even when we see he saw,

the word of saw – it has no more.

They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see!’

Yet when he did, he had no glee.

This Jesus, he was deeply moved;

his anger showed he disapproved!

He didn’t like their lack of trust;

when faced with death – we turn to dust.

His anger also raged at death

which takes away our final breath.

He saw. He sees.

Jesus doesn’t turn his eyes away from you or your loved ones, not even in times of death. You’re not left alone to wallow in misery. In answer to all your speculations and doubt based on the questions of ‘If’, he gives you something certain and assuring. He tells you he’s there with you – seeing you, watching you, and knowing you intimately.

He not only sees your tears on the outside, but he sees the turmoil, grief, anger and emptiness inside. He truly sees you, which means there’s nothing and nowhere you can hide from him – either in guilt or shame, emptiness or anger, fear or grief. He comes to see you as you are.

There’s some comfort in the fact Jesus doesn’t run away from death or even attempt to avoid it. He walks right up to death, stares death in the eyes, and there’s a hint of anger in the word which is often translated as ‘deeply moved’.

But what could Jesus possibly be angry with? Is he angry with death and the grief it causes us? Is he angry when he sees our faith faltering in the face of death?

Along with any anger, Jesus was also deeply moved by the experience of death, but not in such a way it defeats him. Which brings us to the next word…

Four letters do we now accept,

and see them here when Jesus ‘wept’.

Another word we count to four;

the word of ‘dead’ we won’t ignore.

It moves us now to hear he cried.

He stood at tomb with friend inside.

That Jesus shed his tears of grief

might comfort us, and grant relief.

The God who came to earth for us,

has feelings too, which we’ll discuss.

He’s moved by love yet feels no shame

when tears upon his face they came.

Have you ever stopped and considered this shortest text of the Bible and what it means for us?

Here is our God in human flesh…crying!

This is such a startling picture, because many people consider God to be somewhat removed from us as if he’s impassive and devoid of emotion. Yet here we have an insight into how God feels. Firstly, Jesus may have been deeply moved with a hint of anger, and now he’s so deeply moved he weeps!

In our western world which wants to hide from suffering, pain, and death, and often wants to keep a stiff upper lip in times of trouble and grief, this is shocking!

Our God cries!

When we’ve been told big girls and boys don’t cry, it seems God is giving us permission to cry. If tears are good enough for our God in human flesh, then why would we want to limit our own tears? Do we think we’re better than our own God who is bold enough to cry in the face of grief? Do we think we have to show more control of our own emotions than our God who sees and suffers and cries and dies?

Here our God in human flesh cries outside the tomb of a friend. He’s touched by the tragedy of death, yet this doesn’t deter him in his own journey toward death for our forgiveness and salvation. The tears aren’t a sign of defeat or despair. They’re a sign he loves.

He loves you too, and he loves those who have gone before you.

Death doesn’t stop his love. He’s not a God of the dead, but a God of the living. Even though Lazarus has been dead for four days, his love and his word is more powerful than death.

It would be a nice picture to imagine him standing outside your loved one’s graves (and one day beside your own grave too), waiting to call the names of those he loves; to call the ones who died trusting him, which brings us to the final word…

A final word we’d like to hear;

five letters in this word we’ll cheer.

One word which helps us when we grieve:

so Jesus prays that we ‘believe’.

This must be wrong, for if you count,

this word has just the wrong amount!

This word it numbers five plus two!

You might protest: ‘This will not do!’

But other words for this ‘believe’

give us the strength when we do grieve:

for ‘faith’ and ‘trust’ they number five;

we trust in one who makes alive!

He prays for us to trust in him

who cares for us – our soul and limb.

When we believe, we say we trust

in him who loves – for love he must.

Since the fall, death haunts us all;

God climbed the cross and drank the gall.

Our Saviour died to set us free

so sin and death and snake may flee.

This God we trust when we believe

that death has lost its power to thieve.

Can you say two, three, four, and five,

believing God will make alive?

Jesus said to Mary, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.”

When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” (John 11:40-44 ESV)

The point of this account is so that you may believe, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Through faith, through trust, through believing in the words and work of Jesus, death isn’t the end, which is why Jesus and the early Christians often talk about the dead as those who have ‘fallen asleep’.

By faith we believe Jesus will one day call our names and we’ll wake up from the sleep of death to find ourselves in his holy presence. Through faith we believe that the voice of our risen Lord Jesus will awaken us to live forever in his holy presence. That will be a great and glorious day for all those who believe in Jesus!

But for now, like Jesus, you’re allowed to grieve and mourn in the face of death, but this doesn’t mean death has won, because we believe Jesus has defeated death and gives us the gift of eternal life through faith.

Through trusting Jesus’ death and resurrection, our own death is like going through a doorway. Jesus Christ is the doorway through whom we receive the gift of eternal life that’s already ours. There we’ll meet all those kept safe by their faith in Jesus; all those who have already passed through the sleep of death to life eternal.

Jesus says, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The person who believes in me, even though he dies, will live. Indeed, everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe that?’ Jn 11:25-26

Which means…

The peace of God he gives to you,

which you don’t fathom through and through.

This peace, it guards you: mind and heart,

so you and Christ will never part.

Amen.

Sermon from 31st Oct 2021 (Reformation)

Romans 3:19-28 (EHV) 

19 Now we know that whatever the law says is addressed to those who are under the law, so that every mouth will be silenced and the whole world will be subject to God’s judgment. 20 For this reason, no one will be declared righteous in his sight by works of the law, for through the law we become aware of sin.

21 But now, completely apart from the law, a righteousness from God has been made known. The Law and the Prophets testify to it. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all and over all who believe.

In fact, there is no difference, 23 because all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God publicly displayed as the atonement seat through faith in his blood. God did this to demonstrate his justice, since, in his divine restraint, he had left the sins that were committed earlier unpunished. 26 He did this to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so that he would be both just and the one who justifies the person who has faith in Jesus.

27 What happens to boasting then? It has been eliminated. By what principle—by the principle of works? No, but by the principle of faith. 28 For we conclude that a person is justified by faith without the works of the law.

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so that we may not try to seek your approval by what we do, but trust that through the perfectly completed work of Jesus Christ, we have been made right with you. Amen.

I’m going to tell you something you don’t want to hear, but I want you to listen anyway.

When you hear what I’m about to say, you may react, so I want you to note carefully how you react. Take note of what you think, including wanting to argue with me about what I say.

Take note of your body language, such as a stiffening of your body because you don’t like what you hear. Or if tears well in your eyes because it’s a truth you can relate to. Or even if it’s a growing redness to your face in anger.

Take note of how you’re affected by what I tell you. But, however it affects you, please don’t walk out, because I need to tell you something else a little later, which is just as important for you to hear.

Are you ready?

Oh, and before I do, I want you to know what I say is the truth. I’m not lying or making it up. I’m not trying to be clever or argumentative, but I’m telling you something Scripture holds to be true but none of you want to hear.

Ok, are you ready?

And I want you to be ready because this is really important to get right. In fact, you may even like to write down what I’m about to say. I know it’s only four words, but if you get this right, you’ll get to understand more fully what I’m going to say a little later.

Now, are you ready? Ok…

…you’re not good enough!

To make this point clear: You’re not good enough for God. You’re not good enough for the person next to you. You’re not good enough for your husband or wife. You’re not good enough for your parents. You’re not good enough for your children. You’re not good enough for your friends. You’re not good enough for your government. You’re not good enough for your pastor, and your pastor isn’t good enough for you.

Do you get it? You’re not good enough! And you never will be!

In fact, just to make sure you’ve got this right, repeat after me:

I’m not good enough!

This is the truth revealed through the whole of Scripture. The Bible is a listing of people who aren’t good enough.

Adam and Eve? Made in the image of God, but they wanted to be like God.

Noah? Good boat builder, but too easily tempted by wine.

Abraham? Faithful, but made out his wife was his sister.

Jacob? Father of the tribes of Israel, but a trickster.

King David? Faithful, but got in trouble flirting with a neighbour.

Peter? Bold speaker, but denied Jesus three times.

Do you see a pattern here? The people of God keep stuffing up! Even God’s favourites kept getting it wrong! They can’t help it. They’re genetically flawed to fail because of their innate selfishness, greed, lust, and fears.

And, if they’re not good enough, even though they were specially chosen by God to be part of his opening act before the headline act arrived in Jesus, what makes you think you’re any better? You’re not good enough either!

There’s only One who’s good enough, and it isn’t you! Don’t worry, it isn’t me either. I don’t care how great or awful you think I am. I’m not good enough either. I too get in trouble no matter how much I try to do the right thing, and I let people down.

As St Paul clearly says, ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (v23). If you and I are falling short, doesn’t this mean we’re not good enough? Doesn’t it mean we’re not always going to do the right thing? Doesn’t this mean we’re going to let God, and each other, down, no matter how hard we try not to?

But may ask, why do we need to know this? How is this supposed to help us?

Well, you and I spend a lot of time and energy trying to be good enough. We want to do the right thing and we don’t want to get in trouble. When anyone tries to point out we’re not good enough, we spend even more time and energy arguing we are good enough by making excuses, justifying ourselves, or denying what we’re accused of. We also spend a lot of time and energy criticising others because we reckon they’re not good enough.

It’s like we spend the whole of our life trying to deny this biblical truth! But, if we accept you and I aren’t good enough, and we expect no one else will be good enough, we’ll spend a lot less time and energy on trying to make ourselves, or expecting anyone else, to be good enough. We’ll learn to accept ourselves and those around us, despite their flaws and failures. We’ll also learn to accept, and pass on, the grace Jesus offers us.

So, I want you to get this right: you and I aren’t good enough! By ourselves, we’ll never be good enough, so let’s stop making out we’re any good or fooling ourselves we’ll ever be good enough, but accept this truth. Being a Christian is never about being good enough.

So, did you take note how this truth affects you?

Do you feel angry or upset? Do you want to disagree with what I said because you think you are good enough? Although, if this is the case, you don’t need to argue with me. I’m only passing on what God tells you in his Word. Have it out with God. But, if you do, I’ll give you a hint…God will always have the last word, so don’t be surprised if you lose the argument!

On the other hand, do you feel depressed, or discouraged? Did I touch a sensitive spot because you already have a low opinion of yourself and are worried you’re not good enough? Does this deflate your pride or self-esteem?

Do you feel uncomfortable because I said something that isn’t politically correct, after all, we live in an age where we’re not allowed to say anything negative about anyone, no matter how true it is. If this bothers you, are you tempted to excuse yourself, blame your upbringing or genetics or culture, or simply deny this truth?

Or did you feel some strange sense of relief knowing you’ll always fall short of God’s expectations and therefore no longer feel the pressure to be good enough or smart enough or successful enough or pretty enough?

Anyway, no matter what your reaction, would you like to hear some good news?

Well, like before, what I’m about to tell you is important and I want you to note your reaction to what I say, whether it’s mentally, physically, emotionally, or spiritually.

Are you ready?

Oh, and before I do, I want you to know what I say is the truth. I’m not lying or making it up. I’m not trying to make you feel better because I feel sorry for you, but I’m telling you something Scripture holds to be true which you all need to hear.

Ok, are you ready?

And I want you to be ready because this is really important to get right. In fact, you may like to write this down as well. Like before, I know it’s only four words, but if you get this right, you’ll have peace with God now and for an eternity.

Now, are you ready? Ok…

…Jesus is good enough!

Why do you need to know Jesus is good enough?

Because trusting Jesus’ perfect obedience, and his fully completed suffering, death, and resurrection for you is the basis for all your forgiveness, hope, peace, and life with God and everyone around you.

When you trust Jesus is good enough, he gives you his goodness and righteousness and holiness as a gift without you ever deserving it. This means you’re at peace with God, after all, as St Paul says: you ‘are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus’ (v24).

You see, yours and my salvation is not about being ‘good enough’. It never was and never will be. Or, as St Paul puts it, you and I aren’t saved through keeping the law or through our attempts at good works.

Our forgiveness, life, and salvation is only through faith in Jesus Christ, who is good enough.

This is the truth which changed Martin Luther’s life who didn’t think he was good enough. This is the truth which led Luther to question his church about buying or earning forgiveness. This is the truth which captured the hearts of many people as the Reformation spread like wildfire across the world about 500 years ago.

This is the truth people still need to hear and believe so we can all receive true peace and hope and life, especially in a time and culture where there’s so much pressure on us being ‘good enough’.

The radical and life-changing message of the bible is that you and I aren’t good enough, but through faith in Jesus Christ alone, you and I receive his goodness and innocence, and so we’re made good enough in God’s sight.

When we get this right – that is, when we believe we’re not good enough, but we trust Jesus is good enough, we can receive true peace and comfort.

But like Luther, this has an impact on how you live here and now because, as Christians, this means your relationships with each other also isn’t to be based on whether you, or they, are good enough for each other either. The Christian church is full of people who aren’t good enough, but it’s also full of people who have been made good enough through their faith in Jesus.

Because of the grace of Christ, which you receive through faith, you can love and forgive each other because God loves and forgives you first.

In fact, you can boldly say ‘I’m not good enough’ and it shouldn’t bother you, because you’re convinced that, no matter how imperfect, incompetent, useless, troublesome, or sinful you may be, God still loves you and covers you with the goodness and righteousness of Jesus.

You can also accept and forgive all those people around you because they’re not good enough either. You’re able to love, forgive, and serve them, not because they’re good enough, but because Jesus is good enough and because Jesus loves, forgives and serves them anyway.

Only Jesus Christ is good enough. He alone fulfilled the whole law for you and he did this for you because he knows you’re not ‘good enough’ and you never will be.

He took all your sin into himself on the cross. Which meant that he became the guilty One; he became the One not good enough – for you and me. And then he gave the results of his perfect obedience, suffering, and death to you and me as a free gift, which is received through faith.

Whether you’re aware of it or not, you and I have well and truly fallen short of God’s glory, and there’s nothing you and I can do about it! Yet God’s glory and righteousness is given to us as a free and undeserving gift through faith in Jesus Christ.

Through faith in Jesus Christ, we can boldly and truthfully say these two simple truths: “I’m not good enough, but I know, and trust, Jesus is good enough”, and this faith frees us from any of the Law’s demands, from any unfair expectations, and from any troubled conscience.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, you’re saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Only he is good enough, and he chose to be obedient to death on the cross for you and me so we may be free of the condemnation of the Law and from all our vain attempts to be good enough. He did this so we may live in peace with God into eternal life. He did this so that…

…the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus – the One who is good enough. Amen.