Sermon from 30th Jan 2022 (Epiphany 4)

1 Corinthians 13:1-13 (EHV)

1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and know all the mysteries and have all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I give up my body that I may be burned but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient. Love is kind. Love does not envy. It does not brag. It is not arrogant. It does not behave indecently. It is not selfish. It is not irritable. It does not keep a record of wrongs. It does not rejoice over unrighteousness but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never comes to an end. But if there are prophetic gifts, they will be done away with; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be done away with. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part, 10 but when that which is complete has come, that which is partial will be done away with. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 Now we see indirectly using a mirror, but then we will see face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I was fully known.

13 So now these three remain: faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may be people who love as your Son, Jesus Christ, loves us. Amen.

I don’t know if you’ve realised this, but the Lutheran Church of Australia, of whom each congregation (and hence each of you) are voluntary members of, has a tag line: ‘Where love comes to life.’

Now, even though I love this church we’re a part of, I’m not sure if our church is truly a place where love comes to life because I’ve seen and heard of many very unloving words and actions among its members. I’m not even sure if the tag line is supposed to be descriptive, prescriptive, or aspirational. That is, I’m not sure if this is describing who we are as a church, what we’re supposed to do in our church, or what we’re hoping to become as a church.

But, since we have this tag line, let’s consider if we, as a church (and as individuals within each of our congregations), are a place or people ‘where love comes to life.’

Although, in this case, let’s not judge our love from any human understanding of love, but from God’s description of love, which St Paul so famously describes in our text for today.

In this case, as individual members of this church (where love supposedly comes to life), how would you rate yourself on the following:

  • How patient are you?  That is, how good are you at being willing to wait without complaint, even in times of suffering, and are always self-controlled and calm, even when people provoke or criticise you?
  • How kind are you? That is, how willing are you to be generous and caring to irritable and fussy people, or how much mercy and forgiveness do you show to those who don’t deserve it, even when you know they’ll never show you the same?

How are you going so far? Would anyone dare rate themselves as perfect in these attributes?

Now, while love is normally a positive action, it can also be defined by what it isn’t, for example:

  • How jealous do you get? For instance, do you desire what others have, and even work out ways you can get the same? Do you compare yourself to others on the mainland, or with others within the parish? Are you always happy for others when they’ve been blessed, even if you don’t get to share in their blessing?
  • How much do you boast about yourself, or get puffed up by your own sense of opinion or importance? Do you want people to notice you, compliment you, or thank you for your service? Or are you happy for others to get more attention than you?
  • How do you behave? Are there any times you behave disgracefully, dishonestly, or indecently? Or do you always behave with dignity, honesty, and honour, even when people aren’t watching?
  • Do you insist on your own way of doing things? In other words, do you seek first what’s good for you? Do you attempt to force others to agree with you or think less of them when they don’t? Or do you seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness?
  • Are you easily irritated and snap at others at the drop of the hat? Does your stomach churn and blood pressure increase because you’re so upset at others? Or are you slow to get angry?
  • Do you find yourself dwelling on all the evil done against you and how unfair life is? Do you hold a grudge against others because of what they’ve done? Or are you willing to forgive and no longer let the incidents of the past hinder your relationships?
  • Do you delight in evil? Well, of course you don’t! Unless of course you have a laugh when you see people get hurt (including when you watch YouTube clips from ‘Fail Army’), or when people make jokes at another’s expense, or when you pass on rumours about others before checking the facts, or when you feel justified when others are caught out, or if you rejoiced when you didn’t get caught doing something wrong!

What about some other positive behaviours, such as:

  • Do you rejoice in truth, especially when the truth of your lack of love is exposed?
  • Do you willingly bear all things, including difficult situations within the body of Christ?
  • Do you believe all things without being naive?
  • Do you willingly endure all things, including times of suffering or trouble?

Ok, so how did you go? Are you someone who can honestly say ‘love always comes to life’ in all your thoughts, words, and actions?

What about collectively? Are we, as each congregation or parish, a place ‘where love always comes to life’, or do we fall short?

I’m guessing none of us have passed the high standards set by God in the ways we love, either as individuals or as Christian communities, and if you think you do, you’re fooling yourself!

So, if we’re not a place ‘where love comes to life’, what’s going wrong? Aren’t we trying hard enough? Should we try harder and write a set of policies which clearly sets out the expected behaviour of each person? Should we have a meeting and set out the facts so that we make sure those who did the wrongs things are brought to justice? And if anyone stuffs up, should we get rid of all those who don’t let their love come to life?

The truth is, by our own power we can never love perfectly, and if we ever wanted to get rid of everyone who doesn’t love us perfectly, well, there’ll be no-one left. You see, unfortunately…

  • Instead of hallowing God’s name, we often want our own names to be great.
  • Instead of seeking the kingdom of God and submitting to God’s order and reign, we often want to rule our own little kingdom where we get to be the boss, and so place high expectations on ourselves and each other.
  • Instead of seeking the will of God, we often want our own will to be done – and in our own time frame!
  • Instead of being content with the daily blessings God gives us, we often want more and more.
  • Instead of forgiving as God graciously and undeservedly forgives us, we often make our own forgiveness conditional on others doing the right thing first.
  • Instead of asking God to lead us not into temptation, we often eagerly place ourselves (and others), into situations where we’re tempted to act dishonestly, critically, rudely, irritably, and indecently.
  • Instead of looking to God to deliver us from evil, we often dwell on all the evil done to us, hold onto the hate building in our hearts, rejoice in our own attempts to get back at people, and encourage others to do the same.

This means we end up idolising ourselves and our own selfish desires, and we don’t always fear, love, or trust God above all things.

So, who will save us from all the evil of ‘unlove’ done to us (and by us)? Who will save us from the devil’s deceptions who loves to call evil ‘good’ and good ‘evil’? Who will save us from the death we deserve for not being people where ‘love comes to life’?

Well, thanks be to God for Jesus Christ!

Jesus, the incarnation of God’s perfect love, was the one who received the punishment you deserve for your lack of patience, your lack of mercy, your pride, your irritability, and your selfish behaviour. Because he took your punishment of suffering and death, he forgives you for not loving as you should.

You see, Jesus is the only one who is patient and kind. Jesus isn’t jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Jesus doesn’t demand his own way. Jesus isn’t irritable, and he keeps no record of being wronged. Jesus doesn’t rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever God’s truth wins out. Jesus never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

You want to know the only place ‘where love truly comes to life’? Well, it’s only in Jesus Christ, and it’s this Christ who patiently, faithfully, and eagerly loves you, whether you like it or not!

The only way we can be congregations or a parish ‘where love comes to life’ is when Jesus Christ, and his gracious love, is central to all we think and say and do.

It’s when we keep seeing the love of Christ fully demonstrated through his death for the forgiveness of sins for all the times we failed to love as expected, and rejoice in his resurrection, which gives us hope of life eternal with him, that we may learn to love others as he loves us.

So, this means each of our places of worship, is to be where we hear of our continuing failure to love as we should, as well as the place where we hear of his gracious and merciful love for you and me (and those we serve), again and again.

This means we’re to keep hearing his Word, especially his words of warning, promise, justice, mercy, love, and forgiveness.

We’re to be washed in his love as he baptises us in order to cleanse us from all our sin and graft us to himself to receive his love like a lifeblood.

We’re to taste his love as he nourishes us with his very own body and blood, given and shed for us for the forgiveness of our sins, and as a sign of steadfast love for his loveless people.

This means, here, as we empty ourselves of ourselves, and repent of all our selfish idolatry, pride, and envy, and look to Christ to fill us through his trustworthy Word and holy Sacraments with his faith, hope, and love, and as we share the love which only comes from Christ, that we may be the people ‘where love comes to life.’

Of course, this doesn’t always mean all your own loving actions, born out of the love of Christ for you, will always be readily accepted. Even Jesus wasn’t well accepted in his hometown.

Therefore, the hardest places to practice your love (as you’ve been loved by Christ), is in your own home and in your own church.

You see, they already know you too well. They’ve already seen you at your most impatient, unmerciful, jealous, proud, rude, indecent, irritable, self-seeking, and untrustworthy worst. You also know them very well and have probably also seen them at their worst (which makes it hard to love them)!

But no matter what you experience from them (or them from you), this is where God wants you to live out the love of Christ. You’re the vessel who has receive God’s love, and you’re the servant whom God has placed among them to share his love, patience, kindness, mercy, forgiveness, and compassion.

So, is this church a place ‘where love comes to life’? No, it isn’t! At least not to God’s exacting expectations, but it’s never been about us and our love. It should always be about Christ because he’s the only one where love truly comes to life.

So, even when we fail to love as we ought, this is the place where Christ’s love is proclaimed, and where Christ’s love is communicated in word, water, bread, wine, and in our humble service to each other as we learn to love like Christ loves us.

With the help of the Holy Spirit, may our parish, our congregations, and our homes, be places where Christ’s patient, merciful, humble, and sacrificial love comes to life.

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

Sermon from 23rd Jan 2022 (Epiphany 3)

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10 (EHV)

1 When the seventh month came and the Israelites were in their cities, all the people gathered together at the public square that is in front of the Water Gate. They told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded Israel. So on the first day of the seventh month, Ezra the priest brought the Law before the congregation, both men and women and all who were able to understand what they heard. From dawn until midday in front of the public square in front of the Water Gate, he read from the scroll, while facing the men, the women, and those who could understand. All the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law. 

All the people could see Ezra as he opened the scroll, because he was elevated above all the people. As he opened the scroll, all the people stood. Then Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen! Amen!” while they lifted up their hands and then knelt and bowed down with their faces to the ground.

So the Levites read from the Book of the Law of God clearly and interpreted it, and the people understood what was read.

Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites, who helped the people understand, said to all the people, “Today is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or cry!” because all the people were crying as they heard the words of the Law. 10 Nehemiah said to them, “Go, eat rich food and drink sweet drinks and send portions to those who have nothing prepared, because today is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, because the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Dear Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit upon us so that we may hear, understand, and faithfully respond to your Word, for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

This might be a bit presumptuous, but I’m guessing most of you don’t know much about Ezra and Nehemiah and why they, and what they did, are important for us today.

They once lived in exile in Babylon, along with most of the Israelites. God had punished the Israelites for not keeping their covenant with him and they lived in exile for many years as rebellious and defeated people. In the meantime, since they had no access to God through the sacrificial worship system at the temple in Jerusalem, tradition suggests that during their exile in Babylon they established worshipping groups, which was the beginning of what we call synagogues today.

Meanwhile, a few poor Israelites had been left behind in Jerusalem. The temple, once chosen to bear the holy name of God, had fallen into disrepair. The Lord stirred the heart of the Babylonian King, Cyrus, to rebuild the temple, and he sent one of the exiled Israelites, Zerubbabel, to do this. He was largely successful, but not without problems being stirred up among the residents of Jerusalem. The temple also was nowhere near as impressive as it had been formerly.

Sixty years later, another Babylonian King, Artaxerxes, sent Ezra, who, as a scribe, was a man well-versed in God’s Law, to teach the people of Jerusalem. He also sent Nehemiah to organise the rebuilding of the walls surrounding Jerusalem.

The scribe and the layman worked to re-establish the people of Jerusalem into a worshipping community, and an important part of this included the reading of the Word of God as we hear today. But something new occurred in today’s reading which is important for us as Christians.

After the Law was read to the people, verse 8 says: ‘they gave the sense (or interpreted it), so that the people understood the reading’. So, they didn’t just read God’s Word, but they also interpreted it so the people could understand what God was saying to them.

We also do this in our own Christian worship today. We still hear the Word of God read from various parts of the Bible, including the Old Testament, the Psalms, one of the gospel accounts, and from one of the New Testament letters of the early church. But we don’t always clearly understand what God’s saying to us. This is why we have the sermon soon after the readings to help us understand and apply God’s Word to our own lives.

The sermon helps us understand what God’s saying to us, and how the age-old human problem of sinful disobedience should grieve us and make us long to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The sermon will also proclaim how God answers our human problems with the good news of forgiveness, life, and salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. As we hear the Word of God explained and interpreted using the tools of Law and Gospel, we learn to take what God says to heart and apply it to our own lives.

This is even more important today because there are so many other words we read and watch and listen to which don’t give us so much hope and peace and joy. There are many other words and visions which terrify us and lead us astray from truth and compassion and forgiveness and unity. There are so many other words which deceive us by encouraging us to place our hope and trust in people and things which don’t last. There are so many words which are encouraging us to divide and judge and belittle and put down and condemn.

Led by the deceptions of the devil who wants us to doubt God’s Word, the critical words of the world which wants us to place our hopes in politics or science or medicine or power or glory or influence, and the self-centred and doubtful words on our hearts which want us to trust only our own selfish opinions, we become distrusting, judgmental, and afraid of each other.

So, God offers us his Word which is perfect, sure, right, pure, clean, true, and trustworthy. God’s Word revives our souls with peace and hope because it’s reliable and gives us lasting hope. God’s Word makes simple people into wise people who can discern and know what’s good and right and true. God’s Word causes us to rejoice in what God’s doing for us. God’s Word gives light for our eyes to see how God blesses us, which is hidden from most people. God’s Word warns us when we stray from God’s ways and comforts us with his forgiveness and compassion. The sermon helps us understand so we trust God’s Word.

Therefore, what was introduced by Ezra and Nehemiah when they not only read God’s Word but also helped the people understand what it meant for them, is still important for us, even today.

The scribes continued to read from the Scriptures and interpret what it says for the people of God who gathered in their synagogues. This happened for many generations and is the context of the gospel reading today where Jesus, who regularly met with people in their synagogues, was asked to read from Scripture and interpret what it meant.

After he read from the scroll of Isaiah, which spoke about the Spirit anointing his chosen servant to proclaim good news to the poor, pardon those who are captive, give sight to the blind, and release those who were oppressed, he sat down, which is how the scribes would normally teach the people.

Everyone was waiting to hear what he had to say so the people could understand what they just heard.

Then Jesus said: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”.

But this isn’t an interpretation! This is an announcement that what Isaiah had spoken of has suddenly been fulfilled. This is a proclamation that the words they heard from Scripture have just come true. Jesus is the interpretation of Scripture!

In other words, Jesus is declaring this Scripture reading is all about him. He’s the One chosen and anointed by God to preach the good news of God’s kingdom to the poor. He’s the One sent to pardon the captives. He’s the One who will help the blind see. He’s the One who will release the oppressed.

This is the day when Jesus began his ministry of preaching good news to those who have nothing to offer God. He preaches the good news of mercy, forgiveness, and love to all of us who can’t make up for what we’ve done, who can’t justify forgiveness or mercy, or who struggle with obedience. We, the spiritually poor, can’t buy or bargain our way into God’s presence, but we receive it as a divine gift when we believe and respond to God’s Word.

Jesus begins his ministry of proclaiming freedom for the prisoners. While we think we live in a free society, many people are imprisoned with restrictions to their freedom, with high walls of expectations built around them, and are shackled with the threats of abuse and manipulation. Other times we imprison ourselves out of fear, or guilt, or shame. We want to hide and avoid getting into trouble or we want to avoid suffering or death. We endure lockdowns forced on us by others, but sometimes we lock ourselves down with the result that joy and peace and freedom elude us.

But Jesus forgives and frees us so that we’re no longer bound and shackled by our fear or guilt or shame. For all of us who’s conscience is being held captive by the devil, or by others, or by ourselves, we have been freed from our slavery by Christ to love and serve him in his everlasting kingdom. For in Christ, we’re free to be children of God, free to come to him and ask for forgiveness, and free to be bound to Christ in service to him and those he loves.

Similarly, Jesus begins his ministry of giving back sight to the blind. While he restores physical sight, he also gives us spiritual insight to see the truth about our sinful condition and the truth of his grace and love and peace. He heals us through the precious words of forgiveness and cleansing so we may live as people who live in his light and truth.

Jesus begins his ministry of releasing those who are oppressed, burdened, shattered, and weakened by life’s struggles with sin – the sin by which we hurt God, the sin by which we hurt those around us, and also the sin which has been done against us.

Through the power of Christ’s words of forgiveness and cleansing and freedom, we’re released from those who oppress and burden us – whether it be the binding power of Satan, the binding power of troubled consciences, or the manipulative power of others. We’re free to live under our Lord Jesus Christ who shares our yoke and lightens our burdens.

But freed and released by Christ, he places us into a community – his chosen and sanctified community called the Church which continues to read God’s Word and helps us understand what he’s saying to us.

Here in the Church, he’s bound us to each other through our baptism into the one holy body of Christ. He’s made us one with Christ and one with each other.

The Holy Spirit has gifted us with different gifts so that we complement each other and makes us inter-dependent to each other. This means we can never say one, or another, isn’t welcome or needed or valued or loved. After all, if we hurt or exclude or criticize one member of his body, the whole body of Christ suffers. Like it or not, we need each other. Who are we to say whom God doesn’t need within his holy body?

This means that even those we struggle with, or those who embarrass us, or those who trouble us, are to be treated with special honour and respect and mercy. So instead of removing them or saying we don’t need them, we treat them with extra grace and forgiveness. We dare not seek to divide or separate what God has joined together without offending the God who joined us together.

Since God, in his infinite wisdom, chose to include each of us into the body of Christ, we’re all equally important and valuable, no matter what our function or spiritual gifting may be. He’s gathered us into Christ; not so that we may serve ourselves and our own fears and desires, but so that we may participate in the ministry of Jesus Christ as we serve each other.

Since we’re all one in Christ, on whom the Holy Spirit rests to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour, we’re all called to proclaim the good news of the forgiveness of sins through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to each other, without favour or compromise.

So, as we journeyed through the readings for today, beginning with Ezra and Nehemiah, we learn that we’re all called to hear God’s Word. We’re called to listen to the interpretation of God’s Word so that we understand what it means for us. We’re called to receive and believe the good news of the forgiveness of sins and our release from oppression through faith in Jesus Christ. We’re called to receive the Holy Spirit as we use God’s gifts for each other’s good. We’re called to share the forgiveness and freedom of Christ among God’s chosen and valued people without division or favouritism.

Which is why the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will continue to guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon from 16th Jan 2022 (Epiphany 2)

John 2:1-11 (EHV)

1 Three days later, there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there. Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding.

When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no wine.”

Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does that have to do with you and me? My time has not come yet.”

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Six stone water jars, which the Jews used for ceremonial cleansing, were standing there, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus told them, “Fill the jars with water.” So they filled them to the brim. Then he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” And they did.

When the master of the banquet tasted the water that had now become wine, he did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew). The master of the banquet called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when the guests have had plenty to drink, then the cheaper wine. You saved the good wine until now!”

11 This, the beginning of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed in Cana of Galilee. He revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him.

Dear Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit upon us so that, as we consider this first sign of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, we may believe in him. Amen.

I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed it, but there’s a regular pattern to our church readings.

For example, on Christmas Day we always hear about the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.

On the Sundays after Christmas, we always hear about the childhood of Jesus, even though we have very few stories of this part of his life.

On the day of Epiphany, which is always on the 6th of January (although we might celebrate it on one of the Sundays near it), we hear how Jesus was worshipped by Wise Men as their King and God. This officially ends the season of Christmas, which is why Christians usually take down their Christmas decorations on this day. Orthodox Christians do their gift giving on this day.

On the first Sunday after Epiphany, we always hear how Jesus was baptised in the Jordan river.

And today, on the second Sunday after Epiphany, we normally hear how Jesus prepares for his public ministry. Except today we hear something unusual and unexpected.

You see, in Matthew’s account of the gospel of Jesus Christ, after Jesus was baptised, he was tempted in the wilderness before he began his ministry of proclaiming: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”. He then chose his disciples.

Mark’s account is very similar where Jesus says after the temptation: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

Luke inserts the genealogy of Jesus between his baptism and the temptation, but Jesus begins his public ministry by proclaiming: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor” (which we’ll hear more of next week).

So, today we would normally expect to hear from the synoptic gospel accounts how Jesus is tempted and begins his public ministry by proclaiming the gospel about the coming kingdom.

But today we hear from John, and John doesn’t follow this regular pattern of temptation and proclamation. John doesn’t mention any temptation after Jesus is baptised. Instead, John tells us how Jesus calls his first disciples, including Nathanael to whom he says: ‘You will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man’, and then three days later, he attends a wedding.

It’s one of the very few times we hear Jesus participating in the life of those around him as he attends the joyous celebration of a wedding between a man and a woman. Normally he’s got something to do, such as preaching, teaching, and healing, you know, kingdom of God stuff, but today he’s a guest with no divine purpose. He’s simply mixing with family and friends.

So, why does John break the regular pattern to include this part of Jesus’ life which doesn’t seem to be connected to the important life-saving and sacrificial ministry of Jesus at all?

Well, John sees Jesus’ miracle at the wedding as a sign of his divinity. This first sign helped his disciples believe in him.

And what was the problem which led to the sign? Well, the wedding celebration had run out of wine! How dare the wine run short at a wedding! This is a very embarrassing situation for the couple and their families!

However, Jesus’ mother, Mary, notices the problem. But she also knows this hasn’t got anything to do with Jesus and his salvation mission, so she simply states the fact to her son: “They have no wine.” She doesn’t even ask Jesus to do anything about it.

Jesus also asks, “What’s this got to do with me?”

It’s not his responsibility. It’s not his fault. It’s not his mission.

So, while we’d all like Jesus to grant us happy days filled with good people, good food, and good wine; make the lights turn green when we’re running late; stop us from getting sick or injured; grant us the right portions of rain and sunshine on days which would be convenient for us; and bless our everyday activities, it’s not his primary purpose. This isn’t what he’s here to do.

He’s here to suffer and die for the forgiveness of our sins so we would be reconciled to God the Father. That’s his job. That’s his purpose. And the time for his suffering and death hadn’t yet come.

But despite this isn’t the time or place or situation for Jesus to do anything, Mary tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them.

In other words, she’s calling them to trust him. But their trust wasn’t to be a passive trust as if there was no response needed. It was to be an active trust. This means, if they trusted his words, they would faithfully do what he says.

Jesus directed them to six stone jars which were there for the Jewish rite of purification – each of them capable of holding between 70-100 litres. This was where cooking utensils and hands were to be washed to ensure they were ritually clean. They should have been full of water for this purpose. The fact Jesus tells them to fill them up with water may have indicated this was another problem.

In other words, not only had the wine run dry, but the jars of water to purify people’s hands and utensils may have also dried up.

Jesus tells them to fill them with water, then to draw some out and take it to the master of the feast to taste. They trusted Jesus’ words and did what they were told, and the resulting wine was of exceptional quality!

Although I can’t help wonder why one jar wouldn’t have been enough. I mean wouldn’t you think 70-100 litres of wine would be enough for a wedding, but no! Jesus provides them with between 420-600 litres of exceptional wine! But then again, this is a sign of God’s abundant grace and mercy and how much he wishes to bless his people.

While the master of the feast was unaware of the miracle, the servants (and later the disciples) were aware of it. This miracle is a sign we’re to believe in the one who performed the sign – Jesus Christ.

We believe it was the first sign which points us to the fact Jesus is much more than human. This is a miraculous glimpse of the glory of God in human flesh who comes to save us all from sin through his death and resurrection. And even though this wedding (and the problem of them running out of wine) had nothing to do with his purpose of salvation, it shows his love and compassion.

His hour of glory would come at the right time, but it wasn’t like what happened at this wedding feast. His most glorious moment wasn’t turning water into wine, or walking on water, or healing the sick, or raising the dead, but his greatest glory was when he hung on the cross to die for our sins so we may be forgiven.

In his hour of glory, he wouldn’t be offered water, or even some of this good wine. He would be offered sour wine instead, and he drank from this bitter cup.

His glorious hour came as he suffered and died because someone had to pay. Someone always has to pay, and we can’t pay or make up for all the times we don’t trust God or do what he says.

And so, Jesus paid that price by taking our place of punishment: the maker of the good wine was sacrificed for those who ran out of wine; the vine-keeper gave up his life for the good of those attached to the true vine; the Son of God died so that the sons and daughters of men would be forgiven and granted the inheritance of eternal life in his kingdom where the wedding feast never ends.

When everything is going well and we have all we need, we don’t feel the need for Jesus, or his miracles, or his forgiveness, or his gift of life. When our life is rosy and full of celebration, we don’t feel the need for Christ or his saving work. When we figure we’re living good lives, we don’t feel the need for his forgiveness. Of course, the need for our forgiveness and mercy is still there, but we don’t, or won’t, acknowledge our need.

But it’s when the wine and celebrations run dry, when we feel our inadequacy and incompetence, when we realise we’ve failed our God and those around us, when we’re in need of mercy, when we feel the sting of death as our bodies slowly break down, when we feel the bitterness of injustice, when our hearts are emptied of love or peace or hope, and when unforgiveness makes our hearts a cold and as empty as those stone jars, our need for a Saviour is exposed once more and we eagerly turn to our Lord and look for a sign of his presence and grace to fill our hearts once more with his Spirit.

You see, under our own power, we’ll always run dry and won’t attain the holiness and perfection demanded of us, but the hour of Jesus’ glory has already come, and he gives us his holy gifts of grace and love and hope in abundance.

While we don’t always get to witness any miraculous changes to our situation or health, we’re still encouraged to listen to Jesus and do what he says.

We’re told to make disciples by baptising and teaching. In baptism the holy name of God miraculously binds itself to the waters and in turn binds us to Jesus himself so we may receive the benefits of his death and resurrection through faith. The teaching goes hand in hand with baptism as we listen to Jesus, and do what he says.

We’re told to take and eat and drink. In the Lord’s Supper we don’t have the miracle of water turning into wine, but the body and blood of Christ miraculously binding himself to the bread and wine. We faithfully receive his body and blood into our mouths and bodies for the forgiveness of our sin through faith.

We’re told to forgive as we’ve been forgiven. If we forgive based only on our own goodness, or the goodness of others, we’ll very quickly run dry and won’t forgive. Yet filled with the grace and mercy of Christ’s forgiveness through his death for our sins, we pass on that sweet and heavenly forgiveness to those around us and so they too will marvel at the miracle of God’s grace.

Whether our lives are abounding with God’s good gifts, or we feel empty and have run dry in our faith, we’re told to pray trusting our heavenly Father hears us for the sake of his dear Son Jesus Christ. God will hear us. He’s promised it. We trust it. We do it faithfully.

In today’s reading the hour of Christ’s glory hadn’t come, yet Jesus acted to bless those around him and gave us the first sign which encourages us to listen to him and do what he says.

If he was able to bless this wedding celebration so much, even though his hour hadn’t yet come, how much more will he bless us now that his hour has come? How much more will he bless us as we trust in his words and do what he says?

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

Sermon from 9th Jan 2022 (Epiphany 1)

Isaiah 43:1-7 (EHV)

1 But now this is what the Lord says,
the Lord who created you, O Jacob,
the Lord who formed you, O Israel.
Do not be afraid, because I have redeemed you.
I have called you by name. You are mine.
    When you cross through the waters, I will be with you.
When you cross the rivers, they will not sweep you away.
When you walk through fire, you will not be burned,
and the flame will not set you on fire.

    Because I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior,
I gave Egypt as your ransom,
Cush and Seba in exchange for you.
    Because you are precious and honored in my eyes,
and I myself love you,
I will give people in exchange for you,
and peoples in exchange for your life.
    Do not be afraid, because I am with you.
From the east I will bring your offspring,
and from the west I will gather you.
    I will say to the north, “Give them back!”
and to the south, “Do not hold them.”
Bring my sons from far away
and my daughters from the end of the earth—
    everyone who is called by my name,
everyone I created for my glory,
everyone I formed,
yes, everyone I have made.

Dear Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit upon us so that we may trust you love us as much as you love your own Son, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

How much are you worth? What is your value? And how would you figure this out?

I suppose one way to figure how much you’re worth is to consider how much someone might be prepared to pay for you as a ransom amount. So then, how much would someone pay for you? $1,000,000? $100,000? $1,000? $100?

Another possibility of measuring your worth is to consider your usefulness. What skills do you have? What sports or games are you good at? What musical instruments can you play? How much do you do for those around you? How much joy and pleasure can you bring to the people you love? Although, if you’re old, differently able, or limited in what you can do, how does this affect your value?

Another possibility is your presence on social media. How many followers or ‘friends’ do you have? How many likes or views do you get for your posts? How many comments do you make or receive? And what if you’re not getting as many as you used to? How does that affect your value? How does that affect your sense of self-worth?

Perhaps you might consider how many friends you have, or how many interesting topics you can engage in, or what names of impressive people you’ve met whom you can bring into your conversations, or how many jokes you can recall, or perhaps even your ability to remember and quote from Scripture or discuss theological topics meaningfully?

What is your worth, and how would you measure it? How could you increase your worth, or is it out of your hands?

Part of the trouble is we don’t usually value ourselves very well. We either value ourselves too highly and have inflated egos and pride, or we’re tempted to put ourselves down and have a poor sense of self worth.

Another part of the problem, but also part of the good news, is that your worth isn’t up to you. Just like any artwork, your value is in the eye of the beholder, not in the work itself.

In other words, you don’t decide your ransom amount. That’s up to the one who pays your ransom. You don’t decide whether you’re likeable or not. That’s up to those who are willing to like you. You don’t decide how valuable you are. That’s up to those around you to decide how precious you are to them.

As we consider this reading from Isaiah and how God values his people, we’d also benefit from understanding the context into which it was first spoken.

In this case we don’t have to go very far into the previous chapter to realise the value of God’s chosen people isn’t very high.

God calls his people deaf, blind, and disobedient. (Is 43:18-25)

They had heard God’s word but chose not to listen to him, which made them spiritually deaf.

They had seen the miracles of God but chose not to take notice of them, which made them spiritually blind.

They had heard and seen how much God loves them and how much he wanted his chosen people to live according to his ways so that they might bless the world through them, but they rejected his ways and wanted to live like everyone else around them, which made them disobedient.

As a result of their spiritual deafness, blindness, and disobedience, God had sent them away from his land and they were living as exiles among foreigners. They had been looted and plundered by other nations and treated as outcasts and worthless people. They even felt as if God no longer considered them worthy.

And it’s into this context which God speaks his words of love and mercy and compassion.

The One who had created them, and who had built them into a nation, was going to buy them back. He was going to pay the ransom price for them so that he would restore them.

Even though they were spiritually deaf, blind, and disobedient, he still considered them precious, valuable, redeemable, and worthy of paying their purchase price…again.

This wasn’t because of anything they did to make themselves worthy or valuable or redeemable, but because this is what God chose to do. God had chosen to reveal his glory through them. God was going to call them by his own name.

He was going to be with them as their Immanuel, their ‘God-with-us’ so that when they passed through dangerous waters or damaging flames, they wouldn’t be harmed.

This means that, while he wouldn’t always let them escape troubles and hardship, he will accompany them through those times. There would be no reason for them to be afraid, no matter what they faced, because with God at their side, who could be against them?

The good news is that God did redeem his people and bring them back to his land. He gathered these homeless and worthless people and restored them so that he could be among them as their God. With his help, the city of Jerusalem was rebuilt, and the temple was restored. While it wasn’t to their previous glory, God did what he promised.

More than this, God himself came to be with his people in the person of Jesus Christ who was baptised among his own people in the river Jordan, which we heard in the gospel reading today.

Now this is all good and dandy, but how does this apply to you? How does this affect your worthiness, even though you’re not an Israelite?

This means, when we consider God’s word which was first spoken to the Israelites, we can’t automatically apply the same words to our own situation because we’re not the people whom he originally spoke to.

However, instead of dismissing God’s word, these words can, and do, apply to us for a simple reason:

Baptism.

Our baptism into Jesus Christ, the true and fully obedient Israelite, is the watery and effective glue which binds us all together with the people of God; past, present, and future.

Our baptism into Jesus Christ is the conduit of God’s love and mercy to foreigners like you and me.

Our baptism into Jesus Christ is the means by which God adopts us as honorary Israelites because we’re now joined to Jesus, the obedient Israelite who truly hears and sees.

Our baptism into Jesus Christ is how God places his own holy name on us and claims us as his own possession to cherish and protect and grow in knowledge, faith, and spiritual maturity.

Our baptism into Jesus Christ is the lens we put on to read God’s Word, the hearing aid which help us hear God’s Word, and the faithful reception and obedient response to God’s Word as if it were spoken directly to us, even though it was originally spoken to others.

This means that, just like the rebellious Israelites, we’re also all too often spiritually deaf. We simply don’t listen to each other very well, and we definitely don’t listen to God very well. We’re all too busy listening to our own selfish opinions and our own critical thoughts and judgments to listen properly. Our selective hearing gets us into all types of strife and problems in our relationships, including our relationship with God, which only lessens our worthiness.

We’re also spiritually blind. We don’t look at the right things and we don’t see what we’re supposed to see. We see viruses threatening and we become afraid. We see long line ups and empty shelves and we blame the government. We see sports stars turned around at airports and we arrogantly mock them and criticise them.

When we look around at what bothers us so much, we fail to see God’s activity in our lives, and we fail to look to him in all our troubles. We fail to see the blessings God gives us every day so that we might trust him when we’re afraid. We fail to see how he offers us strength and peace and hope during times of trouble.

But we also fail to see each other through the eyes of Christ and value each other the way God values us. Because we fail to see each other in this way, we also fail to act with mercy, compassion, and forgiveness. Our spiritual blindness to God’s abiding presence in our lives and failing to see each other through the eyes of Christ only lessens our worthiness.

Because we don’t hear and see very well, we don’t respond with faithful obedience. We’re selective which words of God should apply to us, and we’re also selective which words should apply to others. We’re all too often critical and judgmental. We’re also all too often reluctant to love and serve and forgive, which only lessens our worthiness.

So then, how much are you worth to God? What is your value?

Well, spiritually you’re bankrupt, but you don’t get to decide your worth, and neither does anyone else on this earth. You don’t decide what price God decides to pay to purchase you as his own dearly loved precious child. You don’t get to decide whether you’re forgiven or loved or worthy of saving. God is the One who decides!

And God decided to send his own dearly beloved Son, with whom he is well pleased, to pay the price for you, your forgiveness, your life, and your salvation. The price was his beloved Son’s innocent blood and atoning death.

You’re worth much more than $100, $1,000, or $1,000,000 to God. Your price is the death of the one and only dearly loved begotten Son of God.

Not because you deserve it, but because God decided that’s the price he was willing to pay for you so that you would belong to him and that he would rule over you as his King.

This is the price he was willing to pay so that you would be forgiven and be set free from death and the power of the devil. This is the price God decided to pay so that you would live under him and serve him, innocent and happy forever, just as he is raised from death to life and now lives and rules eternally.

The connection between this payment for you and Jesus Christ is through your baptism into him. God gives forgiveness of sins, freedom from death and the devil, and life with God forever to all who believe what he promises.

As God’s word reveals our deafness, blindness, and disobedience, we learn that we need to keep drowning the old sinful nature in those same waters of baptism. God continues to call all those who bear his holy name to repent and believe because he knows everything selfish and sinful in us has to keep dying.

But by faith we also rise again with Christ every day so that, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can live anew as God’s obedient, loving, forgiving, and serving people who truly hear, see, and respond with mercy and grace.

No matter how worthy or unworthy you think you are, God has created you and shaped you. He tells you not to be afraid because he’s with you. He’s called you by name, placed his own holy name on you at your baptism, and you’re now his own cherished and valuable possession.

When you cross the threatening floods and go through fiery trials, God is with you. He’s paid a valuable price for you and he’s not going to give you up.

God has chosen to love you and he will, at the right time, gather you from the ends of the earth to be where he is. Because you’re joined to Jesus through baptism and faith, you know that you are also his beloved child.

Because you’ve been covered with the righteousness of Christ, you know that he’s pleased with you, which is why…

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

Sermon from 2nd Jan 2022 (Christmas 2)

Jeremiah 31:7-14 (ESV)

For thus says the Lord:

“Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts for the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, ‘O Lord, save your people, the remnant of Israel.’

Behold, I will bring them from the north country and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, the pregnant woman and she who is in labour, together; a great company, they shall return here.

With weeping they shall come, and with pleas for mercy I will lead them back, I will make them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble, for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.

10 “Hear the word of the Lord, O nations, and declare it in the coastlands far away; say, ‘He who scattered Israel will gather him, and will keep him as a shepherd keeps his flock.’

11 For the Lord has ransomed Jacob and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him.

12 They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall be like a watered garden, and they shall languish no more.

13 Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.

14 I will feast the soul of the priests with abundance, and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, declares the Lord.”

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may be filled with joy knowing you will satisfy us with your goodness through your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

We celebrated Christmas recently. It may seem like a long time ago, but I pray you were all blessed as you celebrated the incarnation of our Lord – the Word-made-flesh.

I wouldn’t be surprised if, as part of your celebrations, you all indulged a little over Christmas or New Year’s as you feasted on some tasty food. If you did, most likely you would have had some leftovers, you know – the ‘Remnants of Christmas past’.

Perhaps you’ve been finishing off Turkeys, Hams, Christmas puddings, and any number of delights which have a habit of making the belly swell through excessive calories and lazy days. As time goes on, you may have needed to get a little creative to use up the leftovers before they go off, or before everyone is sick of the same food!

Another reason you may want to finish off the leftovers is that you know the remnants, the leftovers, and the scraps may start to go off. The previously tasty and delicious food changes to be something we tolerate, and then becomes something unwanted, unhealthy, and discarded.

But why do I talk about Christmas leftovers?

Well, because the bible reading today is preached to the remnants, the leftovers, and the scraps of Israel. It’s proclaimed to the black sheep, the ostracised, the excluded, the shunned, and the unwanted.

You see, they were once part of the holy people of God whom God went to great efforts to free from slavery so that he might bring them into his Promised Land, but now, as a result of their disobedience, they were exiled, kicked out, carted away, and left to rot far away from family, friends, and even from their God as they could no longer worship him in his temple.

Now, even though these words are proclaimed to the remnants of Israel and doesn’t seem to apply directly to you, it may also depend on how you perceive yourself or how others might perceive you.

For example, it could be you’re considered to be popular, fit in well with others, and are often surrounded by family and friends, but maybe you’re not.

Maybe you feel like a black sheep and often feel left out or ostracised. Maybe you feel shunned, banished, ignored, detested, or out of favour with friends or family. Maybe you feel you don’t quite fit in and aren’t as liked as you wish. Even as a congregation, parish, or State, you might feel uncared for or isolated. You might feel as if you only get the dregs left over from other people’s spoils.

And, even if you don’t feel like this, it could be you have family or friends who feel, or act, like they’re on the outer and are often the subject of rumour and lament.

In a sense then, this text is written to all the black sheep who feel punished or banished by others, or even by God.

It might surprise you how many people feel like they’re the black sheep and don’t feel welcome by their own families, friends, or even their own worshipping community.

There are many reasons some of you feel this way:

  • It could be because something was said to you, or about you, which made you question the way people perceive your worth.
  • It could be a difference of opinion you’ve had with someone which seems to force a separation between you.
  • It could be something you did which makes you feel ashamed or unworthy, especially as you compare yourself with those around you whom you value and respect.
  • It could be something was done to you by someone else which troubles your sense of worthiness.
  • It could be you’re hypersensitive to any disapproving frowns or vocalised judgments because of a fragile sense of self-worth.
  • It could also be because you’ve banished yourself because of your own sense of disapproval or judgment.

Now of course, theologically, none of us are truly worthy, and so we all stand equally condemned by God because of our sinfulness. None of us deserve to be part of the family of God. So, in effect, we’re all exiles and excommunicated from God because of our sin, but we come here because we believe we’ve all been made worthy and holy through faith in Jesus Christ.

However, in our moments of exile, of banishment, of exclusion, or separation, and ostracism, we might relate to the exiled community of God’s people who were being spoken to by God through the prophet Jeremiah.

These people were troubled because they felt left out, shunned, and judged – not only by those who were still living in Jerusalem (who could still worship in relative peace, and who may have thought they could keep on worshipping because they’re ok with God), but they may have also felt detested and cold-shouldered by God. They felt God had let them down, chased them away, and had chosen not to bless them.

But what’s the message God speaks?

God says you’re to sing aloud with joy, praising God by saying: ‘Lord, save your people, the remnants!’ You’re to look with faithful expectation God will save his leftovers, the scraps of humanity.

He promises he’s going to gather all his people from the furthest places on earth. No matter what dark cave you want to crawl into, and no matter how you’re perceived by others, God says he searches for you in order that he might gather you as a precious and highly valued member of his family to be where he is.

Even those who normally can’t travel because they’re blind, lame, or heavily pregnant – they’ll also be gathered. It doesn’t matter whether you feel broken, feeble, depressed, or burdened. God searches for you in order to bring you home to him.

God himself will lead his people as you pray for mercy. He’ll lead you beside streams of living water – water which cleanses and nourishes you.

The streams of the waters can be likened to the waters of baptism which cleanse you of your sins, refresh you with his washing of forgiveness, adopt you as God’s holy child, and join you to Jesus himself who carries you in his body to his heavenly home.

These waters not only wash away your own sins, but they cleanse you from any unrighteousness done toward you in order to purify you and make you holy and innocent. God won’t let any unrighteous acts leave you abandoned and excluded. God washes you clean and brings you into his presence.

Even if you feel picked on or abandoned by God, then, like the people he once scattered among the nations, he’ll gather you into his arms in order to restore you to fullness and wholeness – not only for your own sake, but for the sake of the whole community. He wants the whole flock of his wayward sheep to be reconciled into a newly restored and wholesome community. Black sheep, white sheep, brown sheep, and coloured sheep are all gathered and welcomed by God.

The whole community, including you, will be filled with joy. Not because of your own goodness, because you’ll never be good enough, but because of the Lord’s goodness.

He loves you – warts and all. He chose to gather the scraps of humanity to be his own people.

It’s like loving the discarded leftovers from Christmas so much, he chose to grab them out of the bin and restore them to their former glory through the power of his loving mercy.

And that’s what he does for you. Even though you might sometimes feel unwanted and discarded, he wants to gather you to himself, restore joy and peace to you, and reinstate you into his holy community.

You experience a taste of this here on earth as you feast on the grain and wine of his Son’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper and through the oil of the Holy Spirit, but the fullness of this joy and peace is reserved for you in heaven where you get to gather around the Lamb of God and feast on his goodness.

It’s only in the goodness of the Lord, where the troubled, the lonely, the depressed, the young, the old, the mourning, and the cast out remnants, will have their joy and peace restored through faith.

Your joy isn’t restored by dwelling on your own unworthiness, or on what others have done to you, or on what you’ve done, or on your fears or desires for human approval and love, but your joy is restored by dwelling on and trusting in the Lord’s goodness, the Lord’s compassion, the Lord’s mercy, and the Lord’s steadfast love for broken, imperfect, scared, and scarred people like you and me.

I don’t know how you view yourself or how others view you. It could be you feel useless, unworthy, sorrowful, sad, depressed, ashamed, unwanted, or like a discarded remnant. The good news is: the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is for you too.

You are the people God comes to save.

You are the people he loves.

You are the people his Son Jesus died for.

You are the people he forgives.

You are the people he washes clean in the waters of baptism.

You are the people he restores.

You are the people promised to be received into his eternal kingdom.

You are the people he wants to gather around himself to feast on his Son’s body and blood in perfect fellowship.

You are the people he wants to see rejoice and be glad for your Lord comes to gather you and reinstate you as one of his own dearly loved children.

You are the people who will experience his joy, comfort, and peace through faith in his promises.

Therefore, by faith in your loving Triune God, may …

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