Sermon from 24th Jul 2022 (Pentecost 7)

Luke 11:1-13 (EHV)

1 On another occasion, Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John also taught his disciples.”

He said to them, “When you pray, say, ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, as we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’”

He said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and tell him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine who is on a journey has come to me, and I do not have anything to set before him.’ And the one inside replies, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give it to you.’ I tell you, even if he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his bold persistence, he will get up and give him as much as he needs.

“I tell you, keep asking, and it will be given to you. Keep seeking, and you will find. Keep knocking, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives. The one who seeks finds. And to the one who knocks, it will be opened.

11 “What father among you, if your son asks for bread, would give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, would give him a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, would give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

Dear Heavenly Father, send us your Holy Spirit so that we may be persistent in our prayers through your Son Jesus Christ. Amen.

Most of us don’t like it when people bug or bother us. We don’t like it when they’re pushy or persistent.

For example, children can be pushy. They often bug their parents for things like new toys, new games, new phones, or the wrong type of foods. They can be incredibly pushy and persistent and can wear their parents down!

Husbands and wives often do the same thing. For example, how many wives have bugged their husbands to fix something, clean up after themselves, help with the dishes, or take out the rubbish? How many husbands have bugged their wives for a new car, a new tool, a new fishing rod, or a new TV to watch their favourite sport?

When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he didn’t just give them his own prayer, but he also taught them about their attitude toward prayer. In this way, he didn’t only tell them what to pray for, but how to pray.

But Jesus surprises us because, as he teaches us how to pray, he tells us a story about a persistent or pushy friend who bothers and bugs his neighbour at midnight as an example of how we should pray.

The parable goes something like this: It was about midnight and a friend unexpectedly showed up to stay for the night. The owner of the house doesn’t have any bread or wine to give his guest, so he goes to his next-door neighbour and knocks on the door loudly.

He’s persistent in his knocking until a sleepy voice is heard saying, “I’m asleep, and so are my kids and the donkeys and goats and chickens, and if you keep on knocking, you’re going to wake everybody up!”

But the owner of the first house who has the guest is so pushy and persistent, he keeps knocking until he wakes up his neighbour, his kids, his animals, and his whole household!

Jesus then said, “The neighbour will give the wine and the bread, not because they’re friends, but because of the friend’s persistence.” In the same way, we’re to be persistent and pushy, bugging and bothering God with our prayer requests!

Jesus then continues with a very famous saying: “So I say to you. Ask (and keep on asking) and it shall be given you. Seek (and keep on seeking) and you shall find. Knock (and keep on knocking) and the door will be open to you.” 

In other words, our prayer life is to be persistent and pushy toward God with our constant asking, seeking, and knocking.

Unfortunately, most Christians don’t pray like this at all.

Most likely, we’ll might politely knock God’s door once a day or once a week with some short but polite prayer requests.

This means there’s an enormous difference between the teachings of Jesus about what our prayer life should look like and what our own prayer life actually looks like!

Now, one possible reason we’re not very pushy or persistent in prayer is because we’re so busy. We think we’re too busy to pray. And when we do pray, it might be a quick mumbled selfish prayer and then we wonder why God doesn’t answer us the way we want him to!

It seems the busier we are, the less likely we’ll pray, after all, whenever we’re busy, the first thing we drop is our prayers to God. So, you could argue that if you find a busy person, most likely you’ll also find someone who doesn’t pray very much!

Another possible reason we don’t pray very much is because we doubt it’ll do any good. After all, how many times have we prayed and didn’t get what we wanted?

We may have prayed for healing, for peace, for a good experience, for people to come to faith, and so on, but it didn’t happen. Since our prayers weren’t answered the way we expected, or in our demanded time frame, we figure prayer is as effective as star gazing.

It’s possible we then think of prayer as something we’re expected to do out of duty or because we think God wants us to, but we don’t expect it to do anything. We don’t think our prayers will change God’s mind. We don’t think God will do what we ask. As a result, we tend to give up after the first couple of knocks because we didn’t get a reply or had to wait too long before we got any response.

Another possible reason we don’t pray very much is because we expect a good and loving God should protect us from all the disasters of life, to save us from cancer, save us from car accidents, save us from Parkinson’s, to save us from disease and virus, and save us from tragedies. But when God doesn’t save us or our loved ones from these things, we may want to give up on our prayer life. We think it didn’t work. We figure God isn’t listening. We wonder if God isn’t as powerful and loving as we first thought.

But following this logic, we figure God should have saved St Paul from his ‘thorn in the flesh’ which was never removed from him despite his persistent prayers. We think God should have protected Job from the disasters which he experienced despite his faithfulness and regular prayers. We reckon God should have saved his specially chosen apostles from their cruel deaths. We might also wonder why God didn’t save his own Son Jesus Christ from unjust treatment, false accusations, cruel suffering, and a humiliating death!

The truth is, God hasn’t always spared his people from suffering, and we don’t always know why. But when God doesn’t deliver us or our loved ones from experiencing evil to body or soul we’re tempted to give up on our prayers.

As Jesus responded to his disciple’s request to teach them how to pray, Jesus knew his own prayer life was vital for him and for his relationship with his Father, and he knows it’s also vital for us and our faith. In fact, when the disciples asked Jesus to teach them about prayer, he had just finished praying.

If you were to read through the gospel according to St Luke and highlight every time he prayed, you’d discover he was very persistent in his prayers. He prayed in the morning. He prayed at night. He prayed before every important event. He thanked God at mealtimes. He prayed from the cross for me and you. Jesus teaches us a lot about prayer through his own teaching and his practice.

But Jesus also wanted his disciples, including you and me, to be people of prayer. This is why he teaches us how to pray. If Jesus didn’t want us to pray, he wouldn’t have taught us. But he taught us so we may learn how to pray.

Jesus wants us to be pushy and persistent in our prayers, but not just for ourselves.

For example, the prayer Jesus gives us never uses the singular pronoun ‘I’ or ‘me’. We pray ‘Our Father’, ‘give us’, and ‘lead us’. In Jesus’ example of a pushy and persistent neighbour, we note the neighbour kept on knocking because he needed help to serve something he didn’t have for his visiting guest.

Jesus wants us to bug and bother God the Father for the needs of those around us. This is also why St Paul keeps teaching people through his letters to the churches to be constant in prayer, to pray at all times, to be steadfast in prayer, and to pray constantly. We’re to pray, and pray, and pray, and not lose heart. We’re to keep knocking, keep asking, and be pushy and persistent as we pray for ourselves and those God places in our lives.

Of course, there’ll be times our prayers will be answered differently to our expectations. This doesn’t mean God doesn’t answer our prayers, but since he’s God and we’re not, he’s the one who decides when and how he’ll answer for our own good and the good of those around us. The teaching here is for us to be pushy and persistent in our prayers, fully believing God will hear and answer in his way and in his time.

Jesus ends his teaching by telling us the most important prayer request is for God to give us his Holy Spirit, because he knows the resource and energy behind all faithful and persistent prayer is the Holy Spirit living within us.

So, we Christians ask for the Holy Spirit to be given to us so we might pray rightly and faithfully and persistently and in full trust. We pray the Holy Spirit will enable us to pray in such a way our prayers aren’t mere mental exercises, or dreary duty, but needed daily conversations of faithful trust in our Triune God.

If any of you haven’t been persistent in your own prayer life, then hear the good news that you’re forgiven by Jesus Christ for not praying as you should. On the other hand, may you also hear Jesus’ encouragement for you to be faithfully persistent in your prayer life.

God always listens to your prayers and will answer them. He may answer them in the way you ask and expect, but he may also answer your prayers in surprising ways which will deepen your love and trust in him.

He knows what’s best for you, which is why he doesn’t always give you what you want. God knows your needs better than you do, and he’ll provide what you need with (or without) your payers. But he still wants you to recognise him as your prime source of everything good and necessary for you and those around you. He desires you would want to deepen your relationship of faithful trust with him by asking him for what you need through prayer.

So sure, most of us don’t like pushy people, but God encourages us to be pushy and persistent in our prayer life. After all, Jesus is! And it’s through the persistence of Jesus’ love for you and me that…

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

Sermon from 17th Jul 2022 (Pentecost 6)

Luke 10:38-42 (EHV)

38 As Jesus and his disciples went on their way, Jesus came into a village, and a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who was sitting at the Lord’s feet and was listening to his word. 40 But Martha was distracted with all her serving. She came over and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her to help me.”

41 The Lord answered and told her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but one thing is needed. In fact, Mary has chosen that better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may not be so worried and upset about so many things, but help us choose to do the one thing which is needed as we listen to our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

There’s a temptation to divide the world between the ‘Martha’s’ and the ‘Mary’s’.

For example, when we listen to this account of Jesus’ life, we might recognise the people like Martha.

We think of those who are always busy doing things, you know, those people who just can’t seem to sit still! They’re the achievers, the fixers, the busy-bodies, or the reliable ones you can count on to get things done. They’ll be the ones always serving on committees, doing volunteer work, serving in the kitchen, going the extra mile, and working in the background.

On the other hand, we might think of some people like Mary.

When we think of people like Mary, it might be tempting to think of all those who like to sit on their behinds and let the Martha’s do all the work. They don’t volunteer to serve on committees or go the extra mile. They only do what’s necessary when it suits them. They’re on their phones, or reading books, or binge watching the latest Netflix series.

If this is what we hear in this account of Jesus’ life, then we might interpret the meaning of this story is that all the busy people of this world should slow down, take it easy, and spend some time listening to Jesus. We may also be tempted to think we’re all the good little Mary’s because we’ve stopped our busy lives to come here to listen to Jesus. We may want to criticise the rest of the world which is busy with its many distractions and avoids attending church.

But is this what’s really going on in this reading?

Well, no it’s not!

There’s nothing wrong with being busy. There’s nothing wrong with people who love to welcome, serve, or clean up. There’s nothing wrong with those who serve God’s people by holding various positions in church. There’s nothing wrong with people like Martha welcoming Jesus and his followers into her home. If only more people would do some of these things!

So, take careful note: Jesus never criticised Martha for all her hospitality and service! He never criticised her for her busyness.

But Jesus did criticise her because she was worried and upset.

And suddenly we have the key to understanding what’s really going on here!

The difference between the two women wasn’t between busyness and laziness. It was between someone who was worried and upset which distracted her from spending time with Jesus, and someone who chose to listen to Jesus.

This might change who each of us think we are in this story. It’s no longer about how busy we all are, but about how worried and anxious we all are.

In this case, like it or not, many of us are anxious and troubled by many things. We’re often distracted and worried about so many things which too often take us away from listening to Jesus.

Now, of course things still need to get done, and being concerned about people and time-schedules and tasks and priorities isn’t always a bad thing; in fact, it can be a good thing. But it doesn’t take much for our concerns or our worries to become our master.

Our worries and concerns become our master when we demand people attend to our own worries and concerns. Our worries and concerns become our master when we allow our own fears to restrict who we’ll love or serve or associate with. Our worries and concerns become our master when our love and service toward others becomes a hated chore.

Since we can only serve one master at a time, when our worries and concerns become our master, then Jesus isn’t our Lord and master. We’re no longer listening to Jesus’ promises of forgiveness, mercy, peace and love, because we’re instead listening to all our anxieties, insecurities, and fears.

Whenever our self-centred fears or selfish desires or misplaced trusts in our own self-interested ways rule over us, we sin against the First Commandment. Instead of fearing, loving, and trusting God, we fear what others think of us, desire or expect praise for our willing service, and probably trust we’re the only ones who can do it properly.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there because our misplaced fears and trust has side-effects, and so we often break every other Commandment as we sin against those around us through our disrespect, neglect, misplaced judgments, murderous thoughts, careless words, or resentful grumbling.

Whenever fears, worries, and other anxious distractions rule over us, we’re robbed of joy and peace and security. In turn, we also seek to steal it from those around us through our demands for them to take notice of us and attend to our worries and concerns!

This showed up in today’s reading when Martha judged and criticised her sister for not helping her with what she considered more important at the time. Not only this, but she also criticised Jesus for not encouraging Mary to get up off her behind and help Martha with everything she considered to be so important in her own life!

Even though her intentions may have been good, she judged Jesus and Mary incorrectly and missed the more important opportunity she had to listen to Jesus who would have assured her he was the answer to all her fears and anxieties.

You see, the Lord knows there’s a time and place for everything. He knows there’s a time to work and a time to play; a time to serve and a time to be served. He knows many of those things she was worried about are important, needed, and helpful, in fact so much so, Jesus didn’t criticise her for her willing service or frantic efforts.

Her busyness wasn’t wasted, but he knew her worries and concerns had become her master, which led her to sin against Jesus and Mary because of the way she judged them.

The opportunity before her (which was more important than the tasks of running a household), was the Lord of life and hope and forgiveness and peace and joy was here in her own house.

He wasn’t going to be there for long. While her work wasn’t going away, he was. His face was still set toward Jerusalem where he would suffer and die for her and all people. Sure, there’s a time for everything, but because of the task ahead, his time was now short. Mary had chosen the better portion of his time with them.

Many people throughout all of history, including you and me, would long to have the opportunity to sit at Jesus’ feet like Mary and see and hear our Lord and Saviour with our own eyes and ears, even for a few precious moments. Many of us long to see our Lord and Redeemer in the flesh so we may hear him clearly speak his words of grace, forgiveness, and wisdom with our own ears!

But, despite this wonderful desire, would all of us truly choose to sit at Jesus’ feet so he could serve us and speak to us, or are we still worried and distracted by many things, such as our commitments at work or home, or watching the latest TV show, or sleeping in, or spending time at the beach or lake, or fiddling around in our shed or kitchen or garden, or checking out what’s happening on Facebook or Snapchat, or some other seemingly ‘important’ priority?

Aren’t we all tempted to do all these things instead of spending time with Jesus and his words during the week for our devotions?

Now of course some of these things are important and helpful for us and those around us, but as selfish and self-centred humans we’re often tempted to allow so many less important things, including our worries and concerns, crowd out the one necessary thing: spending time with Jesus so we may hear how he answers our fears and anxieties through his words of forgiveness, love, healing, security, life, and salvation.

For example, today Jesus tells you you’re forgiven. You’re forgiven for all those times you became so distracted by earthly worries and desires that you neglected to listen to him in your devotions.

You’re forgiven for criticising others for not helping you. You’re forgiven for being lazy and not helping when you should have. You’re forgiven for being distracted from fearing, loving, and trusting God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength by allowing your fears, worries, and desires to become your master.

You’re forgiven because Jesus went to Jerusalem to pay the full blood-price for all your sin. For every Martha among you who’s so worried and distracted by so many tasks, he tells you the most important work is already done when he said: ‘It is finished!’ Nothing you do or say can make God love you any more or any less.

You’re also made whole because he was fully obedient to fulfil the laws of completely fearing, loving, and trusting God on your behalf. He gives you his perfection and holiness through baptism and faith.

He tells you to come to him and rest in his promises. Then, when it’s time to work again, he doesn’t ask you to take on all your own worries and concerns once more, but he asks you to serve alongside him. In this way, instead of you attempting to bend the Lord and those around you to your own selfish will, you pray the Holy Spirit would align you to the will of God.

Jesus didn’t come to be served, but to serve, and he serves you through telling you all his work has been completed before, during, and after his death on the cross. He still serves you today and you listen to him and his words of wisdom, forgiveness, promise, and peace. He still serves to take away your fears and anxieties as you learn to trust him more and more. He still serves to strengthen your trust in him as you receive his body and blood through faith.

Martha was worried and upset over many things. In the same way, many of you may be worried and upset over many things.

May you all long to be more like Mary and consider the one necessary thing for you to do is to sit at your Lord’s feet in worship and during your daily devotions. As you do so, he’ll serve you by taking away all your fears, anxieties, worries, distractions, shame, and guilt.

In this way, as you listen and learn from Jesus, may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon from 10th Jul 2022 (Pentecost 5)

Luke 10:25-37 (EHV)

25 An expert in the law stood up to test Jesus, saying, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the law?” he asked him. “What do you read there?”

27 He replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; Deut 6:5 and, love your neighbor as yourself.” Lev 19:18

28 He said to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this, and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho. He fell among robbers who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 It just so happened that a priest was going down that way. But when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 In the same way, a Levite also happened to go there, but when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 33 A Samaritan, as he traveled, came to where the man was. When he saw him, he felt sorry for the man. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them. He put him on his own animal, took him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day, when he left, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him. Whatever extra you spend, I will repay you when I return.’ 36 Which of these three do you think acted like a neighbor to the man who fell among robbers?”

37 “The one who showed mercy to him,” he replied.

Then Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so that we may show love and mercy to our neighbours for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.

It happened on the Jericho Road. 

It always happens on the Jericho Road. 

The Jericho Road is the twenty-seven-kilometre road which connects Jerusalem to Jericho – about the same distance as between Burnie and Ulverstone, Launceston and Exeter, or Devonport and Sheffield.  It’s not far by car, but remember, they didn’t have cars in those days and this road drops about a kilometre in that same distance.  It’s a steep, winding, little travelled road which gave plenty of opportunities for robbers and the like to practice their evil craft.

You could say this Jericho Road is representative of some of the violent and oppressive roads we also travel on. It’s the road of suffering, victimisation, abuse, and abandonment. It’s the road of robbery, manipulation, deception, and death.

The Jericho Road is the long road of recovery after sickness, accident, or surgery. It’s the invasive road of repetitive cancer treatments and prods and pokes by doctors. It’s the downhill road of suffering we experience as we get older and more fragile.

The Jericho Road is the declining battle of those suffering from Dementia, Motor Neurone Disease, and Parkinson’s. It’s the slow robbing of memories and physical abilities which steal a person’s dignity and independence.

The Jericho Road is the place where the homeless and drug addicted reside. They’ve been abandoned by their families and their friends. They feel like love, hope, and mercy have abandoned them. They no longer trust anyone and feel alone and discarded.

The Jericho Road is the frightful boat trip by asylum seekers, or the road people travel when escaping war or family violence. Looking for a life of freedom and hope and peace, they often encounter suspicion, hostility, racism, and rejection instead.

The Jericho Road is the road of depression. Each joy, each hope, and even one’s faith are stolen by the whisperings of accusation, guilt, shame, doubt, and despair. For some, death would be a relief, and many die on that Jericho Road.

So, for many, the Jericho Road is a tragedy, a traumatic event, a time of suffering, struggles with health, a troubling place, or a nightmarish memory. The troubles of the Jericho Road are lived by all of us sooner or later. It’s that time or place or memory which robs us of joy, love, peace, health, sanity, dignity, and hope. After all, it always happens on the Jericho Road!

But what do we do with the people we meet on the Jericho Road?

Well, we have our door knocks, telethons, fund raising appeals, touching TV adverts, and walks around an oval to we show we care. We talk about others who are suffering behind their backs in hushed tones out of respect or horror, or we get passionate about them, urging others to do something about those we hear about on the Jericho Road.

But they’re still there feeling alone and abandoned. No matter how many times we shake our head in sorrow at their plight, no matter how many sermons preachers preach, no matter how many petitions we sign and demonstrations we attend, and no matter how much we’re moved by what we see on TV, they’re still on that Jericho Road.

Out of compassion, we might donate toward their plight. This seems like a noble thing. Sometimes it’s the only thing we can do. It makes us feel as if we’ve done our bit. Dipping into our pockets to hand over some money appeases our consciences and makes us feel good.

But money doesn’t always make things better. Money doesn’t always take away cancer or make the suffering disappear. Money doesn’t always save asylum seekers or provide for all war refugees. Money can’t turn back the clock or undo a tragic mistake. Money can’t make you young again. And what’s more, money is often stolen by the robbers who take advantage of those travelling on that Jericho Road.

Jesus tells a story about the Jericho Road. Or rather, he tells the story of just one person travelling the Jericho Road. No names are mentioned, but the suffering is clear – this man is beaten, robbed, stripped, and abandoned for dead.

Some people come by. Good people. The ‘churchy’ types of people who are usually moved with mercy and compassion. You know, people like us!

But these people walk on by.

It could’ve been you. It could’ve been me. We’ve all done it. There are times we’ve all walked on by. We’re too busy, too tired, too uninterested, or too afraid. Maybe it’s just too inconvenient. Maybe we don’t know what to do, so we don’t do anything and attempt to move on with our lives as if nothing happened. Whatever our excuse, we’ve all turned a blind eye and walked on.

But Jesus isn’t interested in excuses. He doesn’t list any of them, even though there are good reasons why some people don’t get involved. He knows we’re being good Christians by going to worship, having devotions, and being faithful, but so were the Jews of the day.

They did all the right things except one – they didn’t always show mercy to the poor. There were too many on that Jericho Road being ignored and abandoned by God’s faithful people. Sin isn’t always doing the wrong thing. Sin is also not doing the right thing.

So, it seems, the main point of this story was a direct attack on our non-involvement, apathy, indifference, and lack of concern.

Jesus knows we’re all sick with the disease of apathy and non-involvement. We see too much pain on TV or in our personal lives and we no longer know what to do or how to handle it, so we often do nothing. We turn the TV channel. We make out we didn’t hear their pain. We don’t contact our politicians about controversial proposals because we don’t think it’ll do any good. We turn our heads and walk the other way.

Even though we’ve experienced Jesus’ gracious love and have been taught to love as we’ve been loved, we still struggle to do it, especially to those on the Jericho Road.

To shame us even more, the only one who helped was one of ‘them’. You know the sort of people – the people we look down on, argue with, or stay clear of. They’re the ones we avoid and gossip about. They’re the ones we don’t want to associate with. We usually consider these people as our enemy.

But what puts us to shame is that Jesus says it was one of these people who helped the victim on the Jericho Road while we ‘good people’ walked on by.

It’s like a Palestinian helping a Jew, an Aboriginal man helping a young white person, or a Ukrainian widow helping a Russian soldier. It’s shocking! It’s meant to be shocking! Sometimes a shock is what we need to wake us out of our apathy and move us to action.

So, when we hear this parable, we often hang our heads in shame. We too have let people down. We’ve walked on by showing indifference to people’s plight. We’ve thrown money at them when we could have thrown our arms around them in love and service instead. We’ve been shamed by our enemies because they helped the needy when we didn’t!

But there’s more to this Jericho Road than meets the eye.

For starters, sometimes we’re on this Road. Sometimes we’re the victim; beaten, robbed, and feeling half dead. Sometimes we’re the one doing the abusing and stealing out of selfishness. Other times we’re one of those walking on by. Perhaps out of a moment of compassion we’ve also been the Samaritan.

But where is Jesus on this Road?

Well, like us, he also plays different roles.

Jesus is the victim. He was beaten by his own people, robbed of his clothing, deprived of justice and dignity, and left for dead on the cross. Accordingly, he identifies with all the victims on that Jericho Road. He’s travelled that Road of suffering and death. He hangs out on that Road so that every traveller on that Road never truly travels alone.

Jesus is also the Good Samaritan. He was abandoned on the cross because the Jews considered him an enemy – an enemy to the state, an enemy to their faith, and an enemy of God. But Jesus suffered and died for all his enemies, including you and me. He’s the One who gave up his place in heaven to come down and save us. He’s the One who paid the full price for our forgiveness, our healing, and our salvation.

Jesus is also the innkeeper, receiving us into his Church so he may care for us, comfort us with his Word, heal us with his forgiveness, and renew us with the holy medication of his body and blood. He gives us security, hope, and the promise of eternal life where the troubling Jericho Road no longer exists.

In this way, as we’re helped by those who have compassion on us as we’re travelling that Jericho Road, we’re helped by Christ himself. Even if the hands are Aboriginal, Muslim, Atheist, young or old, they’re the hands of Christ coming to help us in our time of need.

In the same way, whenever we help out the needy, we’re helping Christ himself. As we offer a glass of water, bind up a broken bone, or wipe away the tears of those on that Jericho Road, we’re doing these things as if we’re doing them to Jesus.

We don’t have to go very far to find people travelling on that Jericho Road. We all travel that Road sooner or later, and some of us travel it more than others. This Jericho Road doesn’t distinguish between bad or good, old or young, friends or enemies. The only difference lies between those who indifferently walk by those who are suffering, and those who respond with love and compassion.

In this world criss-crossed by Jericho Roads, imagine the difference this world might experience if we not only have our hearts filled with the gracious forgiveness and love of Christ in worship, but those same hearts would move our lips and hands and feet to forgive and love and serve as we’ve been forgiven, loved, and served by Christ.

Imagine all of us going out from this holy place with hearts filled with the love of Christ which long to tend the poor, help the needy, aid the suffering, and bring comfort to the dying, no matter what their race, creed, colour, age, gender, situation, or relationships.

Imagine a Jericho Road filled with good Samaritans like you and me who bring the forgiveness, love, mercy, and compassion of Christ to those who suffer, even if we once considered them our enemies.

Imagine us doing this, not out of shame or because we must, but because our hearts, filled with the loving compassion of Christ, simply act that way, naturally, because that’s what God’s people do when touched by the love and mercy of Christ, the true Good Samaritan.

Fellow travellers on the Jericho Road, may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard and tend your hearts and minds and hands in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon from 3rd Jul 2022 (Pentecost 4)

Galatians 6:1-16 (EHV)

1 Brothers, if a person is caught in some trespass, you who are spiritual should restore such a person in a spirit of humility, carefully watching yourself so that you are not also tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way fulfill the law of Christ. For if someone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Let each person test his own work, and then he will take pride in regard to himself and not his neighbor. For each man will bear his own burden.

Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with his teacher.

Do not be deceived. God is not mocked. To be sure, whatever a man sows, he will also reap. Indeed, the one who sows for his own sinful flesh will reap destruction from the sinful flesh. But the one who sows for the spirit will reap eternal life from the spirit. Let us not become weary of doing good, because at the appointed time we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who belong to the household of faith.

11 See what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand. 12 Those who want to look good in the flesh are the ones who are trying to compel you to be circumcised. Their only reason is so that they are not persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 As a matter of fact, those who are circumcised do not keep the law themselves. But they want to have you circumcised, so that they can boast about your flesh.

14 But far be it from me to boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world. 15 In fact, in Christ Jesus circumcision or uncircumcision does not matter. What matters is being a new creation. 16 Peace and mercy on those who follow this rule, namely, on the Israel of God.

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may not boast in anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

SNAP!

The trap goes off and the leg of the animal is caught between the iron jaws of the trap. It howls and whimpers as it investigates its predicament. It tries to get away, but soon discovers it can’t get out by itself. It’s trapped. It’s injured. It’s now at the mercy of those who trapped it, but will it receive mercy?

For many people, the answer might be: “Of course not!” Some may reckon: “Good riddance!” or “Serve itself right!”

But the problem is, it isn’t a pest caught in the trap, but the beloved family dog!

So, out of love for our injured pet, what will we do? How might we approach it knowing an injured animal, even one who knows and trusts us, might snap and snarl when we come close or start investigating its injuries? Yet, because we love this animal, we know we must help it, because to leave it there in its painful trap would be cruel and heartless!

We’ll need to think carefully about how we might approach our trapped pet in such a way we don’t cause more harm or threaten its relationship with ourselves by associating us with causing more pain. So, we gently and calmly approach our injured pet and work toward freeing it, healing it, and restoring it to the family.

This is the picture St Paul gives us in his letter to the Galatians, but the one caught in the trap is one of our own members of the body of Christ.

In this case our brother or sister in Christ might be caught in the trap of satisfying him or herself with pleasure. They’re caught in the idolatry of pleasing oneself which is inconsistent with the self-control of the Christian faith. His or her actions indicate they no longer trust in the words and ways of the Lord.

We might be tempted to think: “Well, each to his or her own!” and reckon it’s got nothing to do with us.

But to leave them trapped in their delusional predicament would be cruel and heartless. Their faith, their witness to Christ by their living, and their eternal salvation, could be in danger! Out of love and mercy for our brother or sister in Christ, what will we do?

How will we express our faith in God as we learn to love our neighbour as ourselves as we approach this person, knowing this person might ‘snap’ and ‘snarl’ at us for seeking to help them? To help a person caught in the trap of satisfying themselves won’t be easy, so, as spiritual people, we’ll need to do it gently if we truly want to restore this person within the fellowship of the Church.

Similarly, if someone’s been hurt by others, and is now responding in a hateful, vindictive, and unforgiving way by spreading rumours, causing division, inciting hatred, or creating conflict, well, any attempt at approaching their fragile and hurting hearts, will also be received with much ‘snapping’ and ‘snarling’. Their pain is raw and currently central to that person’s thoughts, words, and actions.

Again, to leave them trapped in their bitterness and resentment would be cruel and heartless. Their love toward others, their witness about God’s love, and perhaps their faith in God’s mercy for all people, could be at stake.

We love our pets enough to help them, so why don’t we love each other enough to serve them when they’re trapped in their desires for pleasure or in their responses to pain? Out of love for our brothers or sisters in Christ, and as people bearing the fruits of the Spirit, how will we approach our neighbours with the hope of restoring them to forgiveness, peace, and joy?

In this case, St Paul gives us a list of instructions – not so much to prepare the person who’s been caught, but to prepare and warn you and me as the spiritual people who are to gently restore our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ caught in the trap of sin.

Firstly, he tells us to restore them gently.

We’re always more concerned for them, their healing, and their faith in Christ, than for ourselves. We attempt to soothe them with assurances of God’s love, God’s forgiveness, and God’s peace. After all, the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is the greatest healing balm we have access to. We do this patiently, yet persistently.

Paul also knows when we’re seeking to help someone, especially in matters of faith and love, we’ll experience spiritual warfare. We’re not just battling with the person in front of us, but we’re also battling with the ways of the world, the deceptions of the devil, and our own selfish and self-centred nature. This means we’ll also face spiritual temptations.

We’ll be tempted to get caught up in their desires for pleasure or their responses to pain. Out of compassion or a desire for justice and fairness, we’ll be tempted to give approval to their sinful responses and desires, and so become party to their sinfulness. If they’re reluctant to repent and believe, we may also be tempted to give up on them and let them wallow in their state of entrapment.

Paul also tells us to carry each other’s burdens.

This means we’re not to add to their burden or even let them carry it alone. We’re to take an active part in their healing process, especially through listening with the intent to understand, being courageous enough to gently confront sin with the appropriate word of God, but also handing over the burdens of sin, justice, and restoration to God in prayer.

All the time we’re not to get a big head or arrogantly think we’re better than them. Because, if we approach them having with an air of pride because we figure we’ve got better self-control than them, we won’t approach them with love, but with judgment and condemnation.

For this reason, we’re to humbly approach them as a fellow sinner knowing each of us are also in need of God’s grace and mercy.

This humbleness will help us love our fellow sinner and, knowing grace and healing is available at the foot of the cross of Christ, we guide our brother or sister to that same cross – not just for their benefit, but also for our own.

Even if they’re reluctant to go to that cross with us, we may ask God to give us the strength, grace, patience, and wisdom we need so that we may be His spiritual vessel of forgiveness, peace, and grace which God might use to show his love and mercy to this troubed person.

God isn’t to be mocked by the way we and our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ live out our faith. We can’t call ourselves ‘Christian’ and then live in a way contrary to the Christian faith.

Similarly, for those seeking to live the Spirit-filled life, if we truly love our neighbour (as Jesus commands), especially as we love our Christian neighbours, then we can’t sit by and let fellow Christians remain caught in their sinful behaviour. This is because sin isn’t just about doing the wrong things, but it’s also sinful to not do the good thing.

For this reason, the Spirit won’t let us remain indifferent or unresponsive to people’s needs. And if we’re feeling indifferent or uncaring toward our brothers and sisters in Christ, then perhaps we’re already one of those trapped in a state of selfishness, pride, apathy, or worse.

What we discover is that, neither you, nor I, can truly love God the right way. We don’t fear, love, or trust him as we ought, but keep going back to sinful human behaviour which leads to decay, division, despair, and death. We often get caught in the trap of sinfulness and need a Saviour to save us from the sticky quagmire of guilt and shame.

In the same way, you and I have failed to love our neighbours rightly. We’ve neglected to love, serve, and care for them as God commands. Our selfishness, arrogance, and apathy has too often gotten in the way. We’ve judged instead of loved. We’ve failed to act out of fear and misplaced priorities. We’ve criticised, attacked, and condemned instead of seeking to understand, forgive, or lead our Christian brothers and sisters to the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

So, in the light of St Paul’s instructions, we’re faced with the uncomfortable truth: You and I aren’t good enough and we’ve failed to live the Spirit-filled life.

But this is also part of the point!

You see, no matter how good St Paul was, did you notice what he boasts in?

Even though he gave these great spirit-filled instructions on how to care for our brothers in sisters in Christ, did he boast in actually getting it right? As a fellow sinner who fails again and again like you and me, he knew his only hope, peace, joy, and salvation was in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ!

So, in a strange twist, even though we’re talking about how to care for fellow Christians who are trapped, we all ultimately look to the One who willingly, obediently, and lovingly, became the One trapped for you and me on the cross so that we may be free from our sins.

Our goodness and perfection doesn’t come from avoiding sin and doing everything right, but it comes from trusting our Lord Jesus Christ who, despite living obediently and lovingly while bearing such fruit of the Spirit, ended up on that cross of pain and suffering to pay the full price for all our failures to obey properly or love rightly. Through faith, we all receive his forgiveness, goodness, and perfection as a gift.

Therefore, we don’t boast in ourselves for getting everything right or good, but we boast in the One who willingly allowed himself to be trapped, injured, and killed for you and me so that he would pay the blood price for us through his suffering and death.

We could say that the cross of Christ is the tree where the fruit of the Spirit grows, and we receive the benefits of those heavenly fruit through faith as we hear and trust his words of forgiveness, mercy, and love; as we’re washed and adopted as dearly loved children of God in the waters of baptism; and as we’re nourished with his body and blood in the Lord’s Supper.

By all means, let’s love our Christian neighbours enough to courageously seek to gently restore them in the fellowship of Christ. But also know, when we fail (and fail we will), we’ll need to accompany our brothers or sisters to the cross – that tree of death and life where our Lord suffered and died in order to give us all his forgiveness, goodness, and perfection.

It’s by looking to, and trusting in, the cross of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ in faith that…

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