RECEIVING AND GIVING FORGIVENESS

Sunday the 17th of September

Matthew 18: 21-35

If there is one thing that is difficult to talk about within the Christian church it is the word ‘forgiveness’. When it comes to forgiving others, it is often deeply personal, and because the hurts we receive from others’ sin can affect us so deeply, it can be hard to speak about. We know that we should forgive; in fact, we know that Jesus tells us to, but that does not mean that it is easy to do.

In today’s Gospel reading from Matthew Chapter 18, Peter asks this question of Jesus: “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Have you ever wondered why Peter asked this question of Jesus? It strikes me that Peter was asking Jesus here for a boundary line. So that, when someone sinned against him for the eighth time, he would be justified in not forgiving them. In Peter’s mind, and perhaps in ours too, there has to be a limit to how many times we should forgive someone who sins against us.

Jesus’ response to Peter, I suspect, does not give him, or us, a satisfactory answer to the question. The parable that Jesus gives, however, points to the real issue: the problem is not about numbers, it is not about how many times or how often we should forgive. The real issue is that there is never a time in our lives and in our relationships, where forgiveness is not required. This is the point. Forgiveness comes with being disciples of Jesus. It is a constant. It is not an option. It is not a choice. And this is what makes it so difficult because we want it to be a choice. I believe that this is at the heart of Peter’s question to Jesus.

When we talk about forgiveness it usually brings to mind those who we know who have hurt us and our reluctance to forgive them. It also can bring about questions like: what about those wrongs which are unforgivable? And there are many. Or perhaps it causes us to be unsure what to do with these situations. But the purpose of the parable of the unforgiving servant is not so much to get us to think about the sins of others, but rather to see that forgiveness begins with us. Jesus is challenging us to think again about the purpose of forgiveness, not in others’ lives, but in my life – to see when I need it, when I give it, when I hold back; to ask myself the hard questions.

God has forgiven us so much, he has poured out his grace on us through Jesus, in a way that is incomprehensible, by taking all our sins upon himself. How then are we going to respond to those who sin against us? This is a very difficult question to answer at times, but the point is that it is hard, almost impossible at times.

Forgiveness challenges us. We live in a society that likes to have its boundaries. It likes to have things in their right places, likes to know where the limits are. And too often we are like this in our relationships with each other as well. We like knowing how much we have to give and what we will get in return. In other words, we want to know what’s in it for me. And forgiveness can at times be no different. Why should I forgive this person? What’s in it for me? Often when we are hurt we may look for controls and limitations when it comes to forgiveness. And yet somewhere here, it seems to me anyway, there is a deep sense of irony. Because in most of life we want freedom, choice, autonomy to do as we please, we don’t always like having limitations. Yet why is it different when it comes to forgiveness?

By telling the parable of the unjust servant, Jesus makes the point to Peter, and to us, that firstly forgiveness starts with our relationship with our Heavenly Father. It starts with his forgiveness of us and what that means. As much as we place controls over when and where and why we forgive others, we first must recognise and receive our own forgiveness from the Lord.

In one of Martin Luther’s sermons on this reading, he applies it to the church. He said, “In this Christian church, he daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.” Notice what Luther was saying here. Our Lord forgives my sins, but also the sins of all believers. Luther goes on to challenge people in how they see themselves. Do we see ourselves as a Christian community of forgiven sinners?

In ourselves, we know that we are sinful people. Often our sins can even burden our consciences. We know all too well and have felt all too often the weight of our own unworthiness of forgiveness; many times I believe this is what keeps people away from the church. They are aware of their own sins and struggle to believe that God would forgive them. If this is true then how can we possibly declare it for others?

But this is why we need to hear and speak about it. As a Christian community, we are all called here to this place because we have the freedom that comes from being forgiven freely through Jesus. This is the Gospel, the good news. This is something that most Christians know, but I wonder if it is spoken about. The world around us has this image of Christians as being those who preach about morals and law and doing the right thing. Preaching about how sinful we all are and that we need to stop sinning against God. This is all true, but if we do this without the gospel it becomes a barrier.

In order for Peter to understand how misguided his question was he had to understand the gospel. In other words, Peter needed to identify himself as the unjust servant, the one who had been forgiven so much and got what he did not deserve, which was mercy and grace from his Heavenly Father. We too need to identify ourselves with him and think about how we will respond.

Over the years of being a counsellor and now a pastor, I have seen many times when forgiveness is extremely difficult for people. And many people feel very condemned by Jesus’ words: 35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” If forgiving someone is hard for you, I offer you the following encouragement.

Firstly, Jesus is the one who forgives, and he is the only one who forgives all sins. There are times when it is okay to say to him, “I can’t do this; I need you to help me forgive.” The reality is that there are times when our Lord has to help us, but in order for him to help, we have to have willing hearts. Forgiveness is about letting go, and sometimes we need to let go so the Lord can help us do as he commands.

Secondly, I encourage you to come to the Lord’s Table. It is here that he gives us himself. He gives us his body and his blood to strengthen us. When we come to the altar we don’t come to give, but we come to receive. In my pastoral visits where I take out my home communion set, I have often had the chance to speak of how in Holy Communion it’s not just our own sins that are healed, but we also receive healing from the effects of sin that others have caused us. This is the one place where Jesus promises to give us healing in body and soul. If you have trouble forgiving, rely on the one who forgives you to help you.

Forgiveness is something that is hard to talk about, but we need to encourage each other with. Because as Jesus’ disciples, forgiveness is not an optional extra, it is something that he commands us to do. I would encourage you all to see yourselves as belonging to this church community of forgiven sinners because that is what we all are. I also encourage you to extend this forgiveness that we have so greatly received from our Heavenly Father to each other.

The Promise of Jesus’ Presence

Sunday the 10th of September 2017

Matthew 18: 15-20

As I was thinking about today’s Gospel reading from Matthew Chapter 18 during the week, the first thing I thought about was the word ‘conflict’. If you look at the world around us, it is everywhere. Turn on the news, it’s there: people in arguments with one another, taking each other to court; people strongly expressing their views on the marriage plebiscite; people making death threats and bullying others to get their own way; the international conflicts with North Korea over its behaviour; conflicts within the US over Donald Trump; the list could go on and on.

We are surrounded by conflict and yet you would think that in the church, among those who follow Jesus, there would be less conflict, but think again. There is lots of conflict within the LCA at the moment, over various issues. And of course to get closer to home there have been and there still are serious issues of conflict between people in our parish.

The fact is that sin runs rampant in the world, but also in the church.

Matthew 18 tells us as Christians how to handle conflict. It outlines for us how Jesus tells us to handle the sin of others against us. But this morning I want to take a look at this reading from a different perspective. And I am going to start by looking at verse 20 which says this: 20 “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

The significance of Jesus’ statement here cannot be underestimated. Jesus’ promise is that when we gather together as Christians in his name he is with us. We need this promise regularly, because it is so easy for us to be discouraged by the things that happen in our lives and in the world around us.

We need to hear this Gospel promise of Jesus. He is with us. This is good news, isn’t it? Well, it is dependent on where you are with Jesus. The promise of Jesus’ presence, “for where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them”, is very comforting, but only if you want Jesus to be that close to you. Jesus is with us, but I suspect that some of us, if we are honest, don’t always want Jesus in such immediate proximity to us.

It’s fine to have Jesus’ presence with us when we need him, but what about when Jesus challenges us? What about when he points out our sin? What about when we simply don’t want to hear what he has to say to us?

One of the things about living in our world, and the way of our society, is that we don’t always take time to think about what we are doing. Life is busy with so many things to do, so many distractions. We don’t think about things as much as we should, and this can affect our walk with Jesus. How much of what we do individually, but also as a church, do we do without giving these words of Jesus any thought? Perhaps we just don’t want to for whatever reason, or perhaps we are too involved in our own worlds to not give them thought. I believe that we can hear this promise of Jesus that he is with us, and take this promise of his for granted.

So I would like to challenge you. What difference does it make that Jesus is with us and present in everything we do as a community of faith? He is present with each of us in everything we talk about. Does this make a difference in the way we speak to each other? What about the decisions that we make together? Does his presence make a difference?

These are very confronting questions but they need to be asked. It is easy to just get on with life without thinking about this. We all know that Jesus is present with us in worship—that is a given, but what about when we gather together as Christians, whether it be friends visiting each other; whether it be church council meetings, Bible studies, men’s shed, women’s breakfast, prayer group, or whatever else we do together as Christians as a part of this church? Do we believe that Jesus is with us and do we act accordingly?

I would suspect that a lot of the time, we don’t give Jesus a thought.

When it comes to dealing with conflict and the sin that underlies the conflict that happens between Christians, Jesus is present. All too often we get carried away by our own thoughts, justifications of our actions; our own pride gets in the way; our refusal to admit that we are wrong, because the other person is always to blame. But what difference would it make believing that Jesus is with us in those times? Does it affect how we see others, knowing that they belong to Jesus and that he is with them as he is with us? That these are our brothers and sisters in Christ and not our enemies.

Jesus’ promise is comforting to us, but it is also very confronting at times. Sometimes Jesus’ presence with us is not what we want. We don’t want a Jesus who insists on staying close, persists in being in the middle of what we do and say, especially when it comes to those things we do and say in the name of Christ. But that is exactly where he said he would be.

If you and I were left on our own to deal with our sins, we would not be here. But the fact is that Jesus has taken our sins, he brings forgiveness and healing to us, where we cannot. This is the good news of the Gospel. We are all here in this church because we have been called by our God to be his children, through his son Jesus Christ. Jesus is the head of the church—that means he is the head of this church, and he is present with us in this life, even outside the doors of this church building. He is present with us to give us peace, forgiveness, healing, community. I do not believe that any of us are here by random chance. God has called each and every one of you here because he has a purpose for you and because he is giving each of you his word and his sacrament to strengthen you in faith.

When we gather together, by the fact of who we are as his baptised children, we carry his name. We don’t come to worship in our name, this would be considered outrageous. But we also don’t meet together outside worship in our name. Jesus is not just with us in this building on Sunday and then not with us when we leave.

The process of dealing with sins and conflict is laid out by Jesus in this reading today. I would encourage you all to re-read it and see what God is saying to you specifically through this word. However, the fact is it actually takes courage to follow through with what he says to do, but this is why it is important for us to realise that we do this in Jesus’ name, therefore he is present and leading us. We don’t do it alone.

I would encourage each of you to stop for a while and to consider what it means for you that Jesus is present when you are around your brothers and sisters in Christ. This doesn’t just have to be among us, but any Christians. I had the privilege of hosting the ecumenical ministers’ meeting here at Burnie last week, and I read this Gospel reading out and we talked about it together and Jesus was with us, because we were gathered as Christians. Knowing this was something special on that day, and we had great prayer time with and for each other.

I encourage you in those times where it is hard to trust Jesus to reach out to him, because he is the only one who has your best interest in his heart; he is the only one who gives you what you need. I encourage you not to ignore him, but to follow him even when things are difficult, because he will lead you on the right path.

And finally I encourage you to give thanks that Jesus is true to his promise of being with us, because we all need him in our lives.

 

God’s promise in the midst of unfairness

Sunday the 3rd of September 2017

Jeremiah 15: 15-21

I remember a time when I was in my first year of high school that I was in my maths class. Now I disliked maths and found this subject difficult. On this particular day, my maths teacher was trying hard to teach me and I was trying very hard to do as she was telling me. I worked really hard and concentrated the whole lesson; as far as I was concerned I was doing my best. However, in my class that day were a number of boys who were playing up, mucking around, and being disruptive. So my teacher in her wisdom decided that the whole class be kept in after school for 15 minutes.

To make matters worse this particular day I had been asked by the PE teacher to try out for the cricket team for the school. The cut off was this particular day. If you did not turn up you did not make the team. By the time I got out of the maths class the team had already gotten on the bus and had gone. As you might imagine I was not happy. I was so angry with my teacher all the way home.

When I got home my parents asked why I was not at cricket and I told them that the class had to stay in. They then assumed that I had done something wrong and, without giving me a chance to explain, got stuck into me about behaving better at school. By the time I got to my bedroom laying on my bed I was really angry. All I had done was try hard to do the right thing and I was being punished for something that I did not deserve to be punished for. I remember lying there and saying to God, “Life is so unfair”.

In today’s reading from Jeremiah chapter 15, Jeremiah was in a similar position. Except that his complaint of unfairness was not against another human, it was against God. Jeremiah had been faithfully proclaiming to God’s people what God had told him to say. He had been courageous, he had tried his best. He had put up with an enormous amount of abuse because he was following God. And he had reached a point where he reached his limit and he was freely letting God know about it. Letting him know that, according to Jeremiah, this was unfair and he bitterly complained. He was one angry young man. And he gets to the point after outlining for God all that he had done for him (as if God did not know this!), where he says: 18 “Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable? You are to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails.” In other words, he is accusing God here of making promises to Jeremiah and giving him hope, but every time he reaches out to trust God it’s like his promises vanish. And Jeremiah is questioning God on whether his promises are real, because if they were, why was he being treated this way?

As Christians, it is very easy for us to fall into the same temptation that Jeremiah did. It is easy to become disillusioned with God, because when we try to follow him, when we try to do the right thing, when we stand up for what is right, what happens? Jeremiah was speaking God’s Word to a people who did not want to hear. We live in the world where people around us do not want to hear what we as God’s people have to say.

Just look at those Christians who stand up and speak and see the persecution that they receive. Just look at the way they are treated with such disrespect and in some cases with outright hatred. It is very easy for us, isn’t it, to look around and see that here we are trying our best to follow God and we are treated unjustly. It is simply not fair. Even in our own personal lives, it can be like this; every time we try to do what is right by God, the evil one is there to push us two steps backwards. And at times if feels like we are trying our best, but we do not seem to be getting anywhere. We can complain just as Jeremiah did: ‘Why are you not keeping your promises, God?’

God’s response to Jeremiah tells us something of how God looks at things. God’s first response to Jeremiah was to say: “If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me;…” You see Jeremiah had become so fixated on his problems, on the things that were happening to him, that he failed to look to the Lord. The Lord was in control, but Jeremiah had taken his focus off him. Therefore the Lord told Jeremiah to repent; to turn back to him. The temptation is there for all of us, to take the focus off God. To see the problems that we face, the things going on in society and the world around us, as being hopeless. To start thinking to ourselves: “Well God’s not going to do anything anyway so why bother”. It is easy to become disillusioned with God because our focus is on the things in front of us and not on him. And he calls us just as he did Jeremiah to turn back to him, to repent.

The Lord says to Jeremiah: 20 “I will make you a wall to this people, a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you, but will not overcome you, for I am with you to rescue and save you,” declares the Lord. 21 “I will save you from the hands of the wicked and deliver you from the grasp of the cruel.”

As Christians living in this world, the reality is that we will face opposition. It comes with following our Lord. People will not listen to us. Decisions will be made that cause us to grieve. Things will happen that will cause us to be discouraged. But the point is that the Lord and His Word stands firm. His promise is that he will act, in his way, in his own time. In his response to Jeremiah, he says the word “I …” five times. He reassures Jeremiah that he will strengthen him, be with him, help him. These same promises are for us also. In fact through his son Jesus Christ he has redeemed us and forgiven us for our lack of faith and our doubts. He has given us his Holy Spirit to help us where we are weak and struggle.

Life is not fair sometimes, and we often can’t see from our perspective why God lets things happen. But he urges us to trust him, to keep our focus on him in the midst of all the unfairness, knowing that he has things in his hands.

As I was putting this sermon together it struck me that sometimes in life we can make the Christian faith more complicated than it is. God calls us to trust him. Keeping our eyes on him, trusting that he has things in hand is important to our faith.

My encouragement to you all is to focus on God’s words of promise that he gives in this reading, that he will act, rescue, save, deliver us from the evil ones around us. The world can be difficult at times, but we have the assurance and the promise that our God is with us.

In our Bible study that was held in Launceston this week, it was spoken about how it is important for us to be positive. To look for what God is doing in us and around us; to give thanks to him for simple things; and in doing this it helps us to shift our focus from things in front of us to having a different perspective on life and lifting our eyes to see God working in us and around us.

Focusing on the Lord and what he is doing is what he asks us as his children. So I encourage you to do just this, to focus on the Lord, and to see what he is doing.

 

 

 

 

Who Do You Say That I Am?

Sunday the 27th of August 2017

Matthew 16: 13-20

In today’s Gospel reading from Matthew chapter 16, Jesus has taken his disciples on a journey throughout the region of Caesarea Philippi. Now this region was outside the borders of Israel and it was a place that was heavily influenced by Roman gods. It, in fact, was a place where many pagan religions co-existed. It would have been an intimidating place for the disciples, who were all committed Jews, to be. Yet it is in this environment that Jesus chooses to challenge his disciples with key questions of his identity. He begins by asking them who others say that he is, getting them to give their thoughts on what others say. The disciples respond by speaking about the fact that some people say that he is John the Baptist; others declare that he is Elijah, and still others claim that Jesus is Jeremiah or some other prophet. A key thing to note here is that people don’t agree on who Jesus is.

If we were to ask people in our society, ‘Who is Jesus?’ what kind of responses would we find? While studying at ALC, I read some research which suggested that on the whole, Australians don’t have a problem with Jesus; they have a problem with the church. But I wonder if we pressed them further and asked the question, ‘Who is Jesus?’ what would they say? Many people believe that Jesus was a pious Jew who was trying to change the religion of his day. Some believe that Jesus was a wise teacher who gives us good ethics to live by. Many people respect Jesus as some kind of guru, in other words, he is right up there with Buddha, and Gandhi perhaps as a spiritual leader. Many in our society see Jesus as a religious option, you can choose to follow him, or another leader, because in the end, we all get to heaven anyway. Muslims believe that Jesus was a prophet, someone to be respected for his teaching, but he is inferior to the prophet Muhammad.

Having the freedom to choose what we believe about Jesus and not having our views challenged is a major stumbling block to the Christian faith in this country of ours. And what people believe about him is just as diverse as it was when he was walking this earth, two thousand years ago.

But Jesus does not leave it there; he challenges the disciples when he asks the more personal and perhaps confronting question, “Who do you say that I am?”

It is perhaps here that many Christians really struggle. The question Jesus asked his disciples was a very direct question. And he asks you and me the same question requiring a direct answer. I am convinced that Jesus is not wanting us to answer with things like, “My church says, or the Lutheran church says, or perhaps my pastor says”; no, that is not what Jesus is asking. He is asking, “Who do you say I am?” As Christians who follow Jesus you would think that we would be able to answer this question straight forwardly, but in my experience, many people struggle to do this. They would rather defer their answer to others’ opinions about him; refer to others who are more learned perhaps than they are, to people who will give the right answer perhaps.

But hearing Jesus’ question means answering in the moment. It means not waiting to gather the facts, weighing the consequences, waiting to decide what the best side to be on is. The fact is that when it comes down to it many of us have been more cautious and reserved than courageous and we tend to remain silent behind the security of our church walls, keeping our opinions to ourselves.

Peter’s response to Jesus’ question is quite remarkable. It says: 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Notice here how Peter says, “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.” The response of those around Jesus at the time saw him in terms of the past, referring to the greats who had gone before him. Many today refer to Jesus as a historical figure of history, someone who lived two thousand years ago. However, he is the son of the living God.

As I began to think about this it occurred to me that how you and I identify Jesus needs to be based on personal encounters with our Triune God, as he speaks to us through his word and our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. How we identify Jesus should be grounded in a lifelong conversation with God.  Our Lutheran Church, our local church, our pastors, our mothers or fathers, our siblings and others will have their opinions, but in the end, we have to decide for ourselves in conversation with God how we will identify Jesus. No one else can decide for us, or on our behalf. Jesus is the Messiah of the living God. This means that he continues to speak to us and to act in our lives to this very day.

In response to Peter’s response, Jesus says: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” (Mt 16:17). This confession by Peter did not originate with him, it is not something that he concocted, it was not based upon rumor, but his confession came from the fact that God had revealed himself to Peter. This is true for you and me also. The fact that we come to worship our God, that we confess faith in our Lord Jesus, is a result of the work that our Heavenly Father is doing in our lives to reveal who Jesus is to us.

Peter’s confession of Christ is a high point, but the reality of Peter is that even with his strong and bold confession, he struggles. In verse 22 Peter is quick to set his mind on the things of man and not the things of God. (v.23.) Peter makes the confession of who Jesus is—the Christ. But when it comes to what Jesus is going to do, he struggles. The Christ is the one who “must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.’” Confessing Peter quickly becomes rebuking Peter. He does fine with who the Christ is, but struggles with what Jesus is doing.

This is the hardest part of the Christian faith to accept. To believe that he is the son of the living God is one thing, but to accept what Jesus does is another. To admit that the Christ must suffer and die requires one to admit there is a reason for this suffering and death. God’s law shows to you and me clearly and very powerfully that the reason is us. God’s Word shows that the penalty is severe. You and I have certainly sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. You and I are dead in our sins. You and I have not lived this week according to the good and gracious will of God. You and I have not delighted fully in the gifts God offers. You and I have sought to find our own misguided solutions to that which troubles us. The truth that must treat our condition comes down to this: the Son of Man must suffer and die. This is the Christ! This is who Jesus is and what he does for all his children.

This is at the very heart of who Jesus is and who we are. This is what our world and our society find so hard about Jesus. They don’t want this kind of Jesus. The Jesus who is honest with us about who we are before God. The Jesus who comes to save us. The world wants a Jesus in their own image, one that will tell them what they want to hear, not a Jesus who tells the truth.

At the end of the day, all of us have to answer Jesus’ question, ‘Who do you say that I am?’ It is a question that will continue to challenge us as his followers. As the world around us is becoming more and more unstable, it is my belief that Christians are going to have to make a stand. But my encouragement to you all is that even in our confession of who Jesus is: the one that saves us from our sins, this confession is given to us by the Holy Spirit. We are not alone in our faith; we are called by our God to faith in Jesus and we belong to him and we belong with each other. When Jesus asked the question, ‘Who do you say that I am?’ the ‘you’ here was plural. He was asking all of his disciples, so when Peter spoke he spoke on behalf of all of them. We too stand here today united in our faith in Jesus, standing together in our confession of him.

I encourage each of you to think about who Jesus is to you from time to time, to reflect on his word to you so that you too may come to a place where you can confess that indeed Jesus is the son of the living God, but also that he is your redeemer, the one who takes care of your sins.

Facebook Group for Ladies

Coffee in one hand; Bible in the other.

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Link to Coffee in one hand; Bible in the other

NB: The above links don’t work if you’re not a member of Facebook. 

Coffee in one hand; Bible in the other is a women’s Christian-focussed group where we can get together and share not only our Bible journaling artworks, but where we can learn and grow in the Word and receive inspiration from one another as we progress on our Christian walk! Post or ask for prayers, share thoughts and links, discuss topical issues, read and share devotions, special articles – anything related to Christian living!

If you are new to Bible art journaling, in brief it is an extension of your Bible study session! You can buy wide-margin Bibles especially for the purpose of adding notes or applying artwork using a variety of media to highlight your day’s reading. Whereas you might previously have tentatively underlined favourite verses or jotted down a small note – Bible art journaling allows you to be lavish with mixed media and colour to decorate your pages which in turn, allows you to spend more time in the Word. The Facebook group allows us to share our works, to view others’ to receive ideas and inspiration.

Call out to the Lord who Saves

Sunday the 13th of August 2017

Matthew 14: 22-33

I wonder if you have had experiences in your life that have really rocked you, that have shaken you up a bit. Those times in life where everything seems to be going to plan and then all of a sudden something happens that changes things. Maybe it was the death of the loved one; the loss of a close friend; the loss of a job; maybe even the realization that life was not going to go how you hoped it would. These are only examples; I am sure there are many other things that interrupt our lives and cause us to be unsettled. It is not surprising that in these times it is not only in life that we are unsettled, but that our relationship with our Lord can also become difficult.

This morning I am going to preach on the Gospel reading from Matthew 14 which is the very well known account of Jesus walking on the water and Peter coming out to him and sinking. I have heard many sermons over the years that have put the emphasis on Peter and his stepping out in faith, but then taking his eyes off Jesus and sinking. I am sure that we can all identify with Peter here and see how this applies to our own lives. But this morning I want to take a deeper look at what’s going on in this account and look at it from a different perspective.

The beginning of Matthew 14 begins with the tragic death of John the Baptist. John the Baptist was a person of great significance for the ministry of Jesus, as it was John who told people of the coming Kingdom of God; it was John who pointed people to Jesus; it was John who spoke God’s Word about what was coming. Because of John, the expectations around what was going to happen at the time were high, and now all of a sudden he was dead.

Jesus, upon hearing this news, tried to get away (in last week’s reading), but the crowds followed him. And in today’s reading he sent his disciples out ahead of him, so that he could be alone, so that he could be by himself. The death of John the Baptist had an impact on Jesus and he needed to be by himself. At this point in time, the disciples may well have wondered about Jesus’ ministry. What did John’s death mean for the future? Did John get it wrong? Is Jesus really the messiah? How could something like this happen? They had experienced a shock and now Jesus went off to be by himself. What did this mean?

In last week’s reading, Jesus shows himself to be the incarnation of the Lord, the one who multiplies food in the wilderness and in today’s reading he again demonstrates who he is when he controls the wind and the sea (and the laws of physics). Both of these miracles are attested to in the Old Testament. Jesus was making a statement of who he is.

And yet even a disciple as bold and as courageous as Peter was not convinced. I suspect that many would think of Peter’s doubting when he began to sink in the water. But his first doubt came earlier. 25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Jesus had just spoken to the disciples, assuring them, speaking to them and yet what does Peter say?

28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Lord, if it’s you.” Even at this point Peter is not confident in Jesus’ words. He does not trust what Jesus says to him.

In the times of life where things are not going to plan, when things seem to be chaotic, where we are uncertain, do you and I trust Jesus’ words to us? Do we trust that Jesus has everything in order, that we are in his hands, that he is looking after us, that he will not leave us? We may believe that Jesus is that miracle worker, that great teacher, but do we trust his words of promise to us?

29 “Come,” he [Jesus] said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Even as Peter was walking, putting one foot in front of the other, he did not trust. Yes, he was bold, and yes, he did step out of the boat, but he still did not trust Jesus, so when the wind and waves came he sank.

I believe that it is important to see that this account is about Jesus and his identity; it is about who Jesus Christ really is, and not so much about Peter. It is easy to come to the conclusion on the surface that you and I should be like Peter in our walk with Jesus; to conclude that we can or should step out in faith or learn to walk on water, to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus so that we can overcome the struggles and storms in our own lives. The problem is, as I see it, Peter failed miserably at both these. I would not suggest following his example in this situation. The one thing that Peter did do that was right was to call out: “Lord, save me!” When he did this, “31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. Jesus chastised him for his doubt and unbelief and got back into the boat. 32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshipped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

As much as the spotlight is put on Peter in this account, the real character of the account is actually Jesus.

In the Old Testament there are various places that refer to today’s account. I would like to highlight a few.

In Job 9:8 it says of the Lord: “He alone stretches out the heaven and treads on the waves of the sea.”  Isaiah 43:16 16 This is what the Lord says—he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters…” This account is about Jesus’ confirmation of who he is, as the one who has authority of creation. This is the one who the disciples confess together is “the son of God”; this is the one who has authority and power to command his creation, but he is also the one who will save his people from their sins. He is the one who is the redeemer. In times of doubt that we all face in this life, the point is not so much thinking that we can overcome our doubts, but to do as Peter, to cry out to Jesus: “Lord, save me!” It is in the midst of these times of upheaval and uncertainties that we are ready to see Jesus for who he truly is, that is, the one who saves us.

The reality is that we face times of difficulty and times when the storms of life seem to be getting at us, and during these times it is easy to wonder about Jesus, to wonder if he will keep his word to us. But in the midst of these doubts and trials the most important thing that we can do is to call out to the one who is our redeemer, the one who saves us from our sins. Then we will know how close he actually is to us, that he is right there to pick us up.

My encouragement is to keep your attention on Jesus and who he is, rather than putting your attention on your faith, or perhaps lack of it. For it is Jesus Christ who has you in his hands; he is the one who keeps us from going under. He is the one who keeps us safe and in his care. Instead of trying to rely on your own strength, trust that Jesus has everything in his hands.

Jesus is The One Who Does the Impossible

Sunday the 6th of August 2017

Matthew 14:13–21

During the past week I have been over in Warrnambool, Victoria for pastors’ conference and while I was there, together with the other pastors, we did some work together with the Gospel reading this week, from Matthew 14. This led to some great discussions and different viewpoints around a reading that is well known, as it is Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand. So I have decided this week to preach on this reading and share with you some of the wisdom that God spoke to us through it.

Today’s Gospel reading is not the only time in scripture that God has provided bread for his people to eat, in fact throughout the Old Testament God often provided bread to his people in great time of need. An example of this that I would like to point out is in 2 Kings 4: 42-44.

In this account a man comes to the prophet Elisha with: “twenty loaves of barley bread baked from the first ripe grain, along with some heads of new grain. “Give it to the people to eat,” Elisha said. 43 “How can I set this before a hundred men?” his servant asked.

But Elisha answered, “Give it to the people to eat. For this is what the Lord says: ‘They will eat and have some left over.’” 44 Then he set it before them, and they ate and had some left over, according to the word of the Lord.”

Notice that in this account Elisha the prophet referred to what the Lord had said, and that it ends with everyone having been filled and having leftovers, “according to the word of the Lord”. This miracle was not Elisha’s doing—this was God acting through his word to bring about his purpose.

The people of Israel knew this and believed it, that their God would provide for them through his Word bringing miracles to his people.

In today’s Gospel reading Jesus was in an isolated place with a large crowd and they were hungry. So the disciples said to him: “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” 17 “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.

What did Jesus expect these disciples to do? Were they able to feed the crowd? Of course the answer is no, that was impossible. So why did he ask them?

In accounts such as this one it is easy to focus on the miracle of the multiplying of the bread and the feeding of the crowd, but miss the point. This was what actually happened to the people themselves. They had expectations that were to be fulfilled which meant they failed to see Jesus Christ the Son of God among them.

Jesus asked them to do the impossible to point to himself as the one who is the Word and speaks the word of God. 18 “Bring them here to me,” he said. 19 And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.

In every other account of God providing bread for his people in the Old Testament, the focus was on the word of the Lord bringing about his purposes; the Word of the Lord providing for his people. Hence Elisha says: “Give it to the people to eat. For this is what the Lord says…” God provided when his priests and prophets interceded for the people or where the Lord spoke through them, whereas Jesus did not do this. He said, “Bring them to me.” The disciples were to bring to Jesus what they had, no matter how small it seemed to them. He then gave thanks, broke the bread and multiplied the bread. He did not ask or intercede; he spoke and it was done. Jesus spoke and brought about God’s purposes.

Often this is missed in the hearing of this account. On many occasions I have heard many arguing about the plausibility of the miracle, rather than the point of Jesus’ actions. Jesus Christ is the Son of God and his word is the word of God.

I don’t know about you, but this is where faith in Jesus tests me. We all have times in our lives where Jesus asks us to do things, that for us seem impossible, but he still asks us. Perhaps Jesus asks us to walk through difficult times, help difficult people; perhaps he asks us to forgive those who have deeply hurt us; perhaps he asks us to treat our enemies with love. These things may seem impossible to us—we just cannot do what he is asking of us. One of the tasks that Jesus says to his pastors of his church is to feed his sheep. “You feed them” spoke to us all at the conference. This is the difficult task for all pastors, who face many difficulties and challenges and sometimes it feels impossible.

But the next thing Jesus says is, “Bring them to me.” All Christians and followers of Jesus are to trust that Jesus is the one who does what we cannot. He is the one who does the impossible, he is the one who speaks his word and brings about his purposes. We just need to bring what we have to him. And this requires faith. So often we focus on what we have to do; on what is expected of us by God and others; we often try very hard, but there are times when it is impossible for us. But it is not impossible for Jesus. I believe that this is the point being made here by Jesus to his disciples.

A few chapters on in Matthew 17 after Jesus came down from the mountain where he was transfigured, he was approached by a man who came to him because his son was suffering from a demonic attack. (v.14-21) The man said, “I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.” Jesus went on to say: “Bring the boy here to me…” and he spoke and the boy was healed. The disciples asked Jesus, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” Jesus replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Notice the similarities here. What they were trying to do was impossible, but Jesus said: “Bring the boy to me…” as Jesus said earlier with the bread and fish: “Bring them to me”. You see faith in Jesus Christ is not faith in what we can do through him, but is about trusting that he can do the impossible through us. Jesus spoke the word and the miracle happened; it brought about God’s purposes.

The miracle of the feeding of the five thousand was not so much about the actual feeding as it was about who Jesus Christ is, and his authority to speak the Word of God into the lives of God’s people. This is the challenge for all of us who follow him, not just those disciples. Do we trust that Jesus will do what he says, that the Word of God will accomplish its purpose, not only in our own lives, but in the lives of the world? Do we trust him to do what is impossible, or do we focus on ourselves, our own lack of knowledge, ability and lack of faith?

God certainly asks a lot of us as his people. As Christians we are to try to follow him and be faithful to his Word which means actually living out our Christian faith. But there are times where this means that even though we do not do all that God expects of us, that we bring what we have to him, and trust him to work his Word in us. In this way faith is a matter of trust that Jesus will work as he promises to.

I encourage each of you as you journey with our Lord through this life, to bring what you have to the Lord and let him work through his Word in your life. I encourage you to trust that Jesus is true to his promises and is working in your life bringing about his purposes, even if they are not obvious to you. I also encourage you all to take comfort in this; take comfort in the fact that Jesus can and does do what you yourselves cannot do in your own strength; I encourage you to give your burdens to him and allow him to take and carry them for you. Finally, I encourage you to rest assured that Jesus is the one who provides for all of your needs and to trust him in this.