How much faith do we need?

Sunday 1st of October 2016

Luke 17:1-10

If there is one common thing among all Christians in this world it is: faith, particularly our faith in Jesus Christ. But even though faith is something that is very important to our lives, is not the easiest thing to talk about. And I find that in private when nobody else watching or listening, people talk to me, as their pastor, about their faith. The thing about these conversations that I appreciate more than anything else is that people are usually honest. Faith is something that burdens many people. Have I got faith? How much faith does a person need? Do I have faith when all I see is my doubts and struggles in this life? How do I know that my faith real? Faith is not something that we as Lutheran’s talk about in public, perhaps like some other churches, but it something that we think about in private.

In today’s reading from Luke chapter 17 Jesus has spoken to his apostles about the fact that their sin in this world, that there will be temptation, there will be judgement and he warned them. He also spoke to them about how as followers of him we are to forgive one another. He says: “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”

Make no mistake this is hard teaching from Jesus. Living a life where we forgive those around us is not easy in fact it is extremely difficult. The Apostles response to this was to say to Jesus: “…Lord, “Increase our faith!”

I get feeling here that what Jesus is asking of his apostles, seems impossible in their eyes. Behind this request for Jesus to increase their faith, perhaps has the real question: can I really do this? What they are asking of him, might reveal that they are desperate, that they have doubts, that they have fears, that they are wondering about what faith means for them. Of course then it speaks to us as well doesn’t it. It speaks to our faith. In midst of being asked by Jesus to things that seem to us impossible, we might ask: what is our faith good for? Does our faith get us anywhere? Is our faith worth anything? We come to points in our lives we might make the same plea that these apostles did. “Lord increase our faith” in other words “help us to believe” because sometimes it just feels like it is impossible to. We are like this in those moments where only the belief in the power of God can truly make a difference; those times when our own faith is on the line both because it is being challenged but also because we have never needed it more.

The prayer “Increase our faith” comes from the fact that we do fret and we do not trust in the Lord as we should.(Psalm 37:1-9). It’s the appeal to him that comes from our anxiety. It’s the wish that gives witness to our uncertainties.

This is what we pray in those times in our lives when we just need Jesus to make things easier, when we need some answers. We pray this way when our tendencies toward self-indulgence mean that we want quickest way to get to the end; when we just want to get done and be done; when we are tired of thinking and just want assurance; wanting quick solutions instead of the making the effort that is necessary to discover the root cause.

But behind these prayer to increase our faith, what is at the heart of our prayer? What do we imagine that more faith will get us? An easier life? Less pain? More certainty? Effortless answers?

The thing is if it only about a request for faith, that would be one thing, complicated, but we could manage it. Clearly, having faith is better than not having no faith. But for us the thing is we do not leave it at that. It is not so much a question about faith, but how much faith? How do we measure faith? how do we know if we have enough? We live in a world and culture that depends of being able to define, measure and compare. But when it comes to our faith in Jesus it does not work like this. And this, in my opinion, is one of the reasons why Christians struggle with faith so much. Faith is not quantifiable and this one of the most difficult things for us to accept.

If you were to look at the disciples in the bible, you can see that not one of them has perfect faith or trust in Jesus. Rather they have what could be called mixed faith. On one hand, they have left homes and jobs and families in order to follow Jesus. They encountered hostility from many who oppose Jesus. Still they stuck around, even for this final journey toward Jerusalem, and even when they received a warning of what is to come.

But at the same time, in our own world where we experience turmoil and fear, we can empathize with the disciples when their faith wavers. When the wind roars and the waves batter their boat as they cross the Sea of Galilee, even as Jesus sleeps beside them, they are overwhelmed by terror. “Where is your faith?” Jesus asks, after calming the storm (Luke 8:25). Later, he chides their limited trust in God. “If God clothes the grass … how much more will God clothe you — you of little faith!” (Luke 12:28).

Being close to Jesus does not guarantee unwavering faith. In fact all people at times in their lives waver in their faith.

But faith is present among us and it shows itself in many ways, by a variety of people. Faith is persistence in reaching out to Jesus; trusting in Jesus’ power and authority. Faith is responding with love to forgiveness received; not letting fear get the upper hand; being willing to take risks that challenge the status quo; giving praise to God; having confidence in God’s desire for justice; and being willing to ask Jesus for what we need; and these are just some of the ways that faith expresses itself.

Some moments of faith in our lives are as insignificant as a mustard seed, so small that it is not even noticed, and there are other times when our faith seems as magnificent as if a mulberry tree were to uproot itself and be replanted in the sea. And these can depend on what seasons and places in life we are at in our journey with our Lord Jesus.

The apostles in today’s reading recognized that, in their hearts and minds, they did not have the faith required to do what Jesus was asking them. But the reality is that their faith was not the issue. After Jesus resurrection the Holy Spirit was given to them to help them and enable them to follow Jesus and what he was teaching. The same is true of you and me. If we look at our own faith, all we will see how much we lack. But the reality is that God give us faith, he enables us to trust Jesus. Jesus spoke of the faith as small as a mustard seed, how much faith they had was not the issue, it was the fact that they had been given faith. God himself works his love for us by giving us faith. God’s love and grace are immeasurable, unable to be estimated, and we cannot calculate these. God does not measure our faith any more than we can measure God’s love for us. Faith in Jesus is a gift that he gives us. The focus of our faith is not to be on our own faith, or lack of it, otherwise faith can become and idol, rather faith is always focused on Jesus Christ and what he has done for us.

In this I encourage you to keep your eyes on Jesus, the focus of your faith. Keep looking at him, rather than focusing on how much or how little faith you have. Be thankful to God that he has given you faith and be confident in the faith that he has given you. When you walk through the difficult seasons of this life, lean on and trust that Jesus is with you and upholding you. Because this is what true faith is. Trust simply that God knows what he is doing, and that he has given you the amount of faith you need.

 

 

We Have Access To God

Sunday the 18th of September 2016

1 Timothy 2: 1-7

I wonder if you could imagine a person walking into parliament house in Canberra, seeking an audience with our prime minster Malcolm Turnbull. Better yet, imagine that person is you. Imagine that you want to speak to him because of some burning issues, that are very important to you, that only he can help you with. Not going to happen is it? The fact is that there are too many barriers in the way between the prime minster and ordinary people like you and me. You would have to get through that much security, and the security would not let you in. That would not even know you name. The only way you could see the prime minster is if you knew the right person who could get you in the door so to speak. You could not just walk in and have an audience with him. Life can be like this in that often, when we really need help we feel like we don’t have the right connections with the right person and the right time, to get the important things in our lives dealt with.

One of the things about living in a Western country is that we have very strong sense of being an individual. There are many good reasons why we have this strong emphasis, but it often has a down side when people are struggling, particularly when the issues have to do with injustice. Too often people have issues that they are dealing with in life, where they need others to support them, where they need access to someone in a higher position of authority, but they can’t get this access so they struggle with these alone. People can actually feel very alone, even when they are surrounded by people. It’s like they carry things with them and they don’t have anyone to talk to or anyone who they believe will listen to them or help them. There are people that can help them, but they feel like there are too many barriers in the way, so often they do not seek help, they try to do it alone.

Not only are there barriers that get in the way accessing those in authority on and earthly level, but all the more there are great barriers that exist between us and God. And the major barrier is of course sin. If you go back to the book of Genesis before the fall you have Adam and Eve in the garden talking with God. They had full access to him, they had a perfect relationship with him, but when sin entered this world it put up a barrier between them and God, a barrier that still exists for many to this day.

The apostle Paul says this in 1Timothy 1: 15: “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst” The reality is that Paul is not the only person who is worst of sinners. You are and so am I. One of the biggest sins that we have in us is that of pride. The thing about pride is that it refuses to say the hardest words in the English language: “I was wrong”, or “ I am not perfect” or “you are right” or even “I think I need some help”, I could go on, but I am sure you get what I am saying here. The thing about this pride is that it blocks our accesses to God. It puts up barriers in our relationship with him.

If we go back, for a moment, to how I started thinking about having access to our prime minister. Imagine if you were at the doors of parliament house and Malcolm Turnbull looked out his window and saw you. And imagine that he gives the command of his security people and they escort you right into his office. And imagine that Malcolm listens to you attentively and makes all the changes you ask for. Now I know full well that this is very difficult to imagine given the state of our parliament at this time in its history. And it would be too good to be true.

When it comes to our God, who has authority over all things, the situation with between He and us is different. Hebrews 9:15 says this: “ For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant” and in today’s second reading: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time.”(2: 5-6). You see because of Jesus Christ, the one mediator between God and us, we all have access to our Heavenly Father. And how did this happen. Well it happen when Jesus Christ gave himself up for our sins on that cross and took the punishment and paid the ransom for our sins before God. Not only this because he rose again on the third day, you and I have access to our God. The barrier of our sin has been removed. Think about it this way. You and I finally have the right connections with the right person at the right time to accomplish all the right things, for the glory and honour of God!

It is because the barriers have been taken down between us and God that we urged to pray. Hebrews 4: 16 tells us to: “…approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need”. In today’s reading we are urged to pray about all things and for all people. We are even told to pray for your rulers, our government of all things. Notice how prayer is to be made for rulers, not to rulers. This is a subtle rebuke of emperor worship. After all, Jesus Christ is the Saviour, not Caesar, not Malcolm Turnbull or any other government leader for that matter. But also notice why we are to pray for them: “ that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (v 2-4).

It is fair to say as I have been doing visiting throughout this parish that I have heard many people talk about the state of our Christian Faith, and also the Lutheran Church here in Australia and the world at the moment. There are many who are deeply concerned about the decisions that our government is making and how it is impacting, or is likely to impact us as Christians. The temptation is always to think that there is nothing that we can do. There is a sense among Christians at the moment, that we are alone or powerless to do anything. However because we do have access to our Heavenly Father through Jesus, we are encouraged to pray, knowing that there is no barrier and we will be heard by him. We are told to pray for peace and quietness so that the Gospel of truth may be proclaimed and people come to know of Jesus Christ and who he truly is. It is important that we do not stop praying for our leaders and those in authority.

It is not only about praying for those in authority, we are encouraged to pray for all things in our lives. Again one of things gets in the way of our praying is that many of us feel as we are on the outside, alone, standing on that sorry sidewalk, feeling as though we have no access to the most powerful person in the universe? The reality however is that we do have access to God, because of Jesus. And our prayers are important, they are heard by him, God does indeed act on our concerns.

I encourage each of you, when you see so many things getting in the way of your relationship with God, to remember that Jesus Christ has removed those barriers. You are able come to him and any time and pray to him about anything, and he promises to listen. Be encouraged by this and encourage one another to not let pride get in the way, but to come freely to him who wants to hear you and speak to you about your concerns in this life. It is easy to be discouraged as we look at the world around us at the moment, but don’t let this take your focus away from your access to our Heavenly Father, in whom you can always pray to.

 

 

Who are the lost?

Sunday the 11th of September 2016

Today’s Gospel reading from Luke chapter 15 has one of the most popular images of the Christian faith in it. It is the picture of the shepherd and the lost sheep. In the many church buildings that have been in over the years, where there have been stain glass windows, often there is a picture of Jesus carrying the sheep on his shoulders. It is a very vivid and powerful image and it speaks to many people, which is why it is a favourite of many.

The way we use the words ‘lost’ and ‘found’ are also very powerful descriptions of how we as Christians think about the world. The popular hymn, Amazing Grace, has these words: ‘I once was lost, but now I am found…’

I wonder what comes to mind when you hear the word lost. And what do you think it means to be lost? When we as Christians speak of ‘the lost’ we are almost always referring to those who are outside the church, in other words the lost are the non believers. Often when we talk about mission we speak about reaching the lost; we think in terms of our efforts beyond the walls of our church, beyond the people gathered here and toward the reaching those outside; reaching “the lost.” Rather than “preach to the choir” or concern ourselves only with “the ninety-nine,” We can get the idea that a church that is faithful to its mission must develop a heart or perhaps a zeal for the lost: Those who do not know Jesus.

This can be very helpful for us because it is important that we pay attention to those who are hurting, to those who need to hear the gospel. There is some truth to the criticism that often the church gets stuck looking inward, directing all our efforts toward our own community rather than looking and living with an outward focus. We are called to be sacrificial and self-emptying, looking always to those who are in need; to those who are suffering; to those who we see as being lost.

The problem however, is that when we focus on those who are lost in this way we tend to become black and white in the way we see things. We tend to draw a line between those who are saved, meaning us, and those who we believe are lost. I would like to challenge you to rethink this way of thinking about ‘the lost’.

Listen again to verse one and two of today’s reading. It says: “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

The parables that we hear today, of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin are said as a direct response to the grumbling of these Pharisees and the teachers of the law who were highly offended that Jesus would receive sinners and that he would even consider eating with them. And so the “lost” in the parable—the lost sheep, the lost coin, are these people who are drawing near or close to him to hear Jesus’ words. It is these tax collectors and sinners, whose repentance brings joy into the heavenly places, who Jesus is referring to when he speaks of the lost. And so who are the other ninety-nine?  Or to put it another way: Who are those that Jesus leaves behind? Well they are the so called righteous people who need no repentance. They are the Pharisees and the teachers of the lay of course, the very ones that grumbled and complained against Jesus’ relationship with the lost.

In these parables Jesus is strongly rebuking the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. The point of these parables was to condemn them, to make their grumbling stick in their throats. Jesus was directly challenging them and their hard hearted attitudes.

One of the things that I have noticed is that when we talk about the picture of the Jesus the shepherd and the lost sheep, we tend see ourselves and indentify with the sheep. So we are the ones who were lost, but Jesus came into our lives and rescued us, saved us, brought back into the fold so the speak; but it is very rare that someone would identify with the Pharisees, in other words the ‘ninety nine’ in this picture. The ones who like to say who can come in to God’s kingdom and who can’t; the ones who judge others who are not like them; the ones who set standards of behavior for the true people of God; the ones who focus on the sins of others, while blatantly ignoring their own. It is easier to identify with the lost sheep, than to admit that at times we can very much be like the Pharisees. We might indentify ourselves with the lost sheep, but our actions can often be that of the Pharisees and the scribes.

You see the line between the lost sheep and the ninety-nine, the lost coin and the other nine coins is not, as we like to think, between Christians and non-Christians, or between churched and unchurched. This, in my opinion, is not what these parables are about. However, there is a line. The line is between those who, on the one hand, draw near to hear Jesus and his Word, who repent, those who need Jesus, those with whom Jesus chooses to have fellowship with; and, on the other hand, those who have no need of Jesus, who see themselves as having no need to repent, and are secure in their own righteousness.

That was always Jesus issue with the Pharisees, they thought that they were better than others and were okay with God because they saw themselves as being better than others; they saw themselves and being better than those ‘sinners’ Jesus was eating with and having fellowship with.

The reality is that the same temptation faces you and me. We make a serious error when we speak as if the lost is a line that simply divides church members from non-members. We make a mistake if we see our church as one that asserts that we can know who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’ of the body of Christ; that we can identify who are ‘lost’ and who are ‘found’ You and I simply do not have the right to judge others like this, to do so is simply arrogant on our part.

There are strong lessons from these parables for you and me as followers of Jesus. We are not to draw lines and label people. We are not to have and ‘us’ against ‘them’ attitude. Rather we are to be to the true lost ones, who come to Jesus to hear his Word to us, we are ones who need to repent and recognize our own sins before God.

This is where the Gospel is so important. The Gospel is this: That we are forgiven our sins because of Jesus Christ and his death for us on that cross. As Lutherans we believe that we cannot hear this Gospel without knowing our own sin before God. The Pharisees could not hear the Gospel because they simply did not believe they needed forgiveness for their sins. We won’t hear the Gospel either unless we recognize our own sins.

When we turn to Jesus and repent then we can stand alongside the world—not over against it—and bear witness to this Jesus who has come only for sinners—he has given himself for us all.  Then will the world be able to look at us and begin to see in our midst is: “this man who receives sinners and eats with them.”

God in his mercy, searches out those who are lost. Through Jesus Christ he comes to them and they listen to him. Jesus says of those who are lost: I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. And again in verse 10: “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

To be an effective witness to Jesus Christ in our world, we need to see ourselves as those who are lost, not those who are found and believe we do not need saving; those who need to come close in order to hear Jesus and his Word and respond. And as we do this we point others who do not know Jesus to him as the one who comes to search for them to save them as he saves us. And when we do this there will be much rejoicing in heaven.

 

The potter and the Clay

Sunday the 4th of September 2016

Jeremiah 18:1-11

If I were to ask you: How would you describe God’s character? Or to put it another way: what image do you think about when you think about God? I suspect that there could be many different ways of responding. When it comes scripture itself there are many different images that are used to describe him. God is often described as a Judge or a Ruler; a teacher; a builder; a father, and even a bridegroom. All of these pictures invite us to think about God and his character in different ways and to ponder on the different ways that these relate to us as his people.

In today’s Old Testament reading from Jeremiah chapter 18 we are given another picture of what God is like, and the image is of a clay artist. A God who creates from clay and shapes and moulds it into what he desires it to be. This is not a new image, in fact it goes right back to Genesis chapter 2 where God first shapes clay, sculpting and forming humankind from the dust, or we could say clay, of the earth. God formed and shaped us and then breathed his life into us.

As a child growing up in Feilding in NZ an elder of our church owned a little shop that he had in the front of his property. In this shop he used to sell crafts which included pottery, which he made himself using his own potter’s wheel. Regularly he would come to our youth group and teach us how to use the wheel and make things from clay. Once the clay was shaped and formed on the wheel our creations were then taken back to his place and put in a kiln where they would be heated at high temperatures so that the clay would then become strong and once cooled our creations would be set.

Once clay set like this the only way to change is to destroy the creation and start again from scratch. As I was thinking about this, these words from verse 4 stood out to me: “But the pot the potter was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him”

The clay here had not been fired. Clay that has not been fired is mouldable and is able to be changed. It can be shaped and reshaped over and over. It is a material of possibility: it is mouldable, flexible, and responsive.

God himself made us and breathed life into our nostrils, but he did not fire the clay from which he made. Life is not as set as we often think it is. We all have aspects of our own sinful natures that we struggle with and the temptation is that we begin to think that things cannot change; that this is just who we are. The reality however, is that God is able to shape us and reshape us, and God labours tirelessly at the wheel on our behalf. God assesses our character, perceives our strengths and our weaknesses, builds on our strengths, and, when flaws are found in us, works diligently to remedy them.

How often is it that people often talk about how in hindsight they can see how God had used an experience in their life, to shape and from them to the way they are in the present. I am sure that we could all in some way look back and see how God has shaped and formed us even when we were not aware that he was doing so.

When clay is spinning on a wheel, the clay responds to the potters touch. Clay does not always do what it should, it often goes different directions and needs to be reshaped by the potter. In today’s reading God’s plans for a nation, a people, or a kingdom are not fixed, and they are not determined apart from our own choices. God says to his people: “If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned” So on one hand, we see that God’s good plan to build up a people may be thwarted by their choice to do what is evil. On the other hand, God may plan to pull down a kingdom that has made itself great on the backs of the oppressed, but if that nation turns from its evil, God may change his mind concerning the destruction he had planned. What this tells us is that just as we, the unfired clay, respond to the potter’s touch so God responds to us.

One of the remarkable things about our God is that he is a relational God. In our journey through life with him there is interaction between him and us. God is the artist and the maker and we are the clay in this image. But God does not control everything; there is room for us to move in our relationship with him. In other words, we have free will. We can choose not to follow God, to not listen to him, to sin against him, and when we make these choices there are consequences to them. Our lives are definitely shaped by our own choices that we make and the actions that we do. But at the very same time God is always there next to us and he has the ability to shape and reshape our lives. He can use the consequences, the hard times, the bad times in our lives to reshape us as he sees fit. He can reshape the things that happen to us in our lives for good. God is the potter and he is always ready to work, we sometimes just need to be willing to respond to his touch.

I have heard many people say to me over time that they believe they are not able to change. They say things like: “God made this way”, “this is just who I am” “I can’t change” or maybe even “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” The reality is however the shape of our character and our lives is not fixed. As God’s creation we are not set and hardened. We always remain supple or mouldable. We, as individuals and as communities, may be formed through education or life experiences. We may be strongly impacted through abuse of others or ambition. We are susceptible to influence, suggestions, temptation, and even corruption. And we are also resilient, and capable of doing great and Godly things in our lives. Through it all, even in the company of others and even in relationship with God, each of us forms our own intentions and exercises our own free will. Again even in these God is there and willing to work with us, if we are willing.

At the time of this reading God had planned an end for the kingdom of Judah because of their sinful behaviour, but even this future was not fixed. Just as the potter returns to the wheel, so God asks the people to return, each one, from the evil path they have chosen, and to make their paths and their deeds good ( 18:11). Even in the midst of his judgement God is ready to work with them in their lives for good if they return to him.

No person is beyond God working with them. No matter what mess people make of their lives, not matter how many sins they have committed, nothing is beyond the ability of God to reshape for good. As Christians who stand here forgiven, because of Jesus Christ, can hold on to this hope even more so, that the hearers of these words by Jeremiah. We can stand confident that our God the creator is working in us to shape us and mould us into the people that he wants us to be and when we sin and make mistakes, he does not hold them against us because of Jesus, but he continues to reshape us. Yes we do have to face consequences for our choices and actions, but nothing is beyond God’s repair.

I encourage you to think about your life with God. The journey that you are on with him and to think about the ways in which our God, the one who creates, is moulding you and shaping you in your life. I also encourage you to look at others in the same way, to look for the ways that God is shaping others around you, so that you can speak words of encouragement and build them up. Finally I encourage you to be willing to let God work with you wherever you are in your life, to trust that he can and will, shape and reshape you for his good.

 

Where is your focus in life?

Sunday the 7th of August 2016

Luke 12: 32-40

I wonder if you have ever been in a place in your life where you have struggled with not having enough headspace. Times where life seems so busy, where there is so much to be done. Perhaps people have made demands upon you wanting you to do this or that; Times when decisions have to be made about important things and it feels like the decisions have to have been made yesterday, but you have not had enough time to even think about things properly. A time where everything needs attention, but you don’t know where to start. This is often a reality for many people as we live in a world where there are so many things clamouring for our attention that it is easy to get caught up in things and lose our focus.

We can easily find ourselves pouring all our energy into life; being busy with many things, but pouring this energy into things that are not important to us. We can easily lose our focus of what actually matters in this life.

Today’s Gospel reading from Luke chapter twelves is addressing this very issue. Knowing full well that in this life there are many things that will distract us and demand our attention, Jesus is calling us to pay attention and to prioritize the things we do and the choices we make that lead to eternal life. When Jesus says: “Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” he is not only talking about what we do with our possessions. But it is a call to us as his disciples, in and among the distractions of this world that demand our attention to centre, or perhaps to re-centre, our lives on God and What Jesus has done for us and what he wants to do with us. And although this sounds, and at times is, extremely difficult to do in our lives it is essential for us as Christians. If we don’t, as Jesus goes on to suggest, we will be caught unprepared!

I sometimes wonder if for many, when they hear Jesus speaking about being prepared, or being ready, watching, or being alert, they automatically think the he is speaking only about our salvation. For example when Jesus says: : 35 “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning…” some hear: “ be prepared and you will be saved”. As though this is a warning for all those who are in doubt about the faith and where they stand with Jesus, that they better focuses harder to make sure that they do not fall away. Now it is true that we do need to watch so we do not walk away from Jesus, but here in this reading this is not primarily what Jesus is talking about.

Jesus is speaking here to believers, ie you and me. And when he speaks about being ready, it is simply that we are to be ready so that when God calls you and me to action, we can respond and take the opportunities that he gives us to spread the good news. Being alert and being ready have everything to do with the gospel. It is about being ready and prepared to see how and when he brings people across your paths, people who need to hear the good news. It is about being ready and alert to serve others in their needs when he shows them to you. It is about being ready and prepared for the way that God may choose to work in your life.

One of my favourite lectures at Sem was Dr John Kleinig, he used to say that when you read the bible, you need to read it with an attitude that always expects the unexpected. So often God does and says things that do not conform to the way we think he should be doing things, or the way things should happen according to us;  in today’s reading we see another classic example of this. Listen again to what Jesus says: 35 “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, 36 like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. 37 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them” Notice what is actually said here. Those who are ready for the return of the master will be served by God. This totally contradicts our usual notion that we are to serve God. Instead, it says God will be serving you! This is not about us getting ourselves right with God and earning our salvation here. Rather, it is a promise of what will happen when one has begun to re-center life around God; To put it another way the good news of Christ and what he has done for you and me, will serve you in your life so that you are not afraid. The return of the master in this parable by Jesus ends by him saying: “40 You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” Now that sounds to many like a strong warning, which it is, but is must be understood in terms of what it means to be ready.

The very first verse of this Gospel reading today gives you and me confidence and comfort. It says this: 32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom” Our Heavenly Father is pleased to give us the Kingdom. Jesus promises that God has given everything so that we do not need to be afraid. He reinforces this by talking about how God will serve us. This is the key to understand what Jesus is talking to us about.

What does it mean to be ready? What does mean to keep our lamps burning? We keep our lamps burning by continuing to re-focus our lives and thinking back on God. Particularly, what Jesus Christ has done for us. He is the one who has done and is doing the work, but we easily become distracted, we forget, we lose focus, or we focus on other things in life.; we so often get ourselves lost in the thoughts of the world around us. Being ready or prepared and keeping our lamps burning has less to do with us getting ourselves right before God, getting our behaviour in order, stopping our struggle with sins, although these are important things to do. But it is about remembering and refocusing on what really matters: What Jesus Christ has done for us.

God has poured out his love and grace on us in many ways: through the gift of life and creation; through the gift of eternal life with him; through the gift of the Holy Spirit who comes to us and lives in us through our baptism; through the gift of Jesus’ body and blood, given and shed for us in Holy Communion; these are just a few examples. We have been abundantly gifted by our God who loves us and desires good for us. These are all the gifts that our God does for you and me, with the emphasis being on God’s actions not ours. And these are the things that we need to continually remind ourselves of.

The call for us as God’s dearly loved children to focus our hearts on eternal things and to keep focused on being ready and keeping what Jesus has done for us at the front of our thoughts, is what this Gospel reading from Luke is all about.

So when you are going through times where things seem to be getting on top of you, where there feels like there are too many things that need your time and attention; where things in life are taking your thoughts away from Jesus. I encourage you to take some time to take a breath and to refocus on what really matters, to refocus your attention back on Jesus and what he has done for you. Then you will find yourselves open to walking the way he wishes to lead you. And you will know that you are prepared and ready for his return.

Hold on to What you Have Been Taught

Sunday the 24th of July 2016

Colossians 2: 6-19

Today I am going to preach on the Epistle reading from Colossians chapter 2. This word of God was written at a time where the Christian church at  Colossae was under stress because of a number of Judaizers. And not only this, but there were the added problems of “philosophy, empty deception, traditions of men, and elemental world principles.”

Now we do not live in a world where Jews are attacking and disrupting the Christian Church, so it would be easy to think that the problems they were facing have nothing to do with us. For example, not one of us here is being urged to undergo circumcision for promised spiritual benefits as were the church as Colossae. However, I believe that we need to think more deeply on a reading like this one, because I do believe that it speaks very much to us today and helps us to see the ways that the culture around us is influencing the church.

As I was thinking about this reading the very first verse stood out to me. It says this: “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him”.

As Christians we speak of Jesus Christ being our Lord. When we come to worship we pray in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord as scripture tells us to do. But how often do we stop and think about what this means for our everyday life. Why is it that this church has to be told to continue to live their lives in Jesus? Should they not be doing that? Isn’t this basic to our understanding of the Christian life? It goes on to say that we are to live our lives: “rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught…’

The fundamental issue for the church at Colossae was that they moved away from what they had been taught and that this made them open to attack. It made them open to be lead astray. The seriousness of it was that they were open to be lead away from Jesus himself, without really realising that this was happening.

We all here today, are here because we have been taught the Christian faith. We are gathered here as believers in Jesus because we have received Jesus through his Word; his word to us as taught by others. Whether it be parents, pastors, Sunday school teachers or friends, we all have had our Christian belief passed on to us. God has used significant people in our lives who He has used to teach us the Christian faith. It would be an interesting exercise sometime to think about who these people are for you that God has used. And we know and we believe in Jesus Christ and we know that he is Lord. We know that this is true, but we have a real problem.

We have the same temptation placed before us, which is to forget what we have been taught, which make us open to same attacks on our faith, as the Christians at Colossae faced.

The culture around us does not accept our faith. Jesus Christ is not their Lord. Our cultures dominant philosophy of life, is more and more based on their own human tradition and thinking. In our culture Jesus is not God, they are. According to this world we are all individuals and we find our own meaning in this life, without being accountable to anyone else. We choose what we want to do, how we want to live. No one else can tells us how to live our lives. As Christians we say that Jesus Christ is our Lord. Since Jesus is our Lord his reign should extend over all of our lives, there should be no area of life that does not come under Jesus authority—even the mundane, routine, and secular parts of their lives.

 

But we all struggle with this because the culture around us, like that of Colossae so easily deceives us. Our reading says: See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.

This verse is one that we need to mediate on, because it is something that we all struggle with. d there is real danger here for us. If we are honest how often do interpret Jesus Lordship of our lives in terms of just the “spiritual” or churchly things. Yet choose to let the driving forces of our culture guide the rest of life, what we might say are the practical and relevant parts. This is not what it means to say Jesus is Lord. If he is Lord his is Lord over all of our lives, we cannot go around justifying ourselves by separating our church life from the other parts of life. This means that all of our lives, whether it relationships, money, work, etc all come under Jesus Lordship. We are to seek him out and ask him what he wants us to do in these things. You and I are not the god of our lives and as followers of Jesus we need to recognize this and remind ourselves of this because this is what the culture tells us.

Another very subtle way Christians can so easily stray is by seeing Jesus and the church as a tool for finding a meaningful and fulfilling life. Where we come to Jesus wanting him to provide meaning for our life, strength for the important things that need doing during in our lives , and perhaps we might even want refuge from the hurts and sorrows of our lives. We want help from him, and all these can be good things to want. But the issue that often we want Jesus to do what we want, not what He wants from us.

However Jesus sets that agenda for his children. He is the one who takes hold of our lives and conforms them to his image. He is the one who includes us in his life. He is the one who redefines, reshapes and sometimes re-orientates our lives. When Jesus is our Lord, we don’t demand from him, but we receive from him what he wants to do with our lives.

Verse 14 says: He forgave us all our sins, 14 having cancelled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

In response to what Jesus Christ has done for you and me, the life of Christian discipleship, or following Jesus, means that we learn to walk with him though this life.  Allowing him to lead the way, allowing him to direct our path in life.

Jesus is God and He has authority. And in that authority that he has he lived died and rose again for your sins. But more than that you are joined to him in baptism. We as his children who belong to him. We are God’s children through Jesus Christ, and Jesus has been given authority and we are to submit to his authority and let him conform us, let him work in us, let him shape us and let him conform us to his reality.

Letting Jesus work in us, means that we make a stand. That we stand on and keep what we have been taught by God through his Word. It means that we continue to focus our attention on Jesus Christ and where he is leading us, and not being distracted or diverted by the culture around us. We are to let Jesus impact every aspect of our lives.

It is a challenge to live life as a Christian and there are struggles so I encourage each of you to actively thinking about the ways in which you are tempted to be lead away from Jesus and to remember again what you have been taught and hold on to it tightly. I also encourage you to encourage one another in the same way, encouraging each other to remain firm in the faith. And finally to be open to seeing where Jesus wants to lead you in your life at this time, and to keep your eyes on him and follow him.

Listening before Serving

Luke 10: 38-42

Today I am going to preach on the Gospel reading which is the account of Jesus interaction with two sisters, Martha and Mary. Jesus as he was travelling was invited by Martha into their home. Martha was welcoming Jesus and showing hospitality. Now while he was at their home Mary was sitting as Jesus feet listening to him speak. Martha was outraged because all of work of serving was left to her, all the meal preparation, the getting things organized, the making sure things were running smoothly were left to Martha and she did not think that it was fair. So she complains to Jesus wanting him to tell her sister off, so Mary would help her serve Jesus. Jesus however responds by saying: 41 “Martha, Martha you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

I don’t know about you, but when I think about this account I really feel for Martha. She is the one who opens their home to Jesus and welcomes him in. She is the one who is serving him. Can you imagine her inviting Jesus into her home and not serving so there is no food and drink. This would have been, and is still today, considered rude. Martha was serving her Lord, while her sister Mary was not helping her. And yet it seems like Jesus chastises Martha, not Mary. But the question is why?

Throughout the last 2000 years many Christians have had difficulty with this account. Some Christians have understood that Mary chose the right thing: that is to sit as Jesus feet and listen to his Word. This is all that matters, so they close themselves off to the world, live monasteries where they can dedicate themselves to meditating on the Jesus. But this does not sit well with others. They will say Jesus came to serve us, and we are to serve others. This involves actual work, it involves us actually doing things, we can’t just sit back and contemplate God’s Word; we actually have to live it.

Martha’s serving was not the issue here, it was right for her to be serving Jesus as she was. The issue was that in her serving she became distracted. In serving her Lord, she took her eyes of him and focused on the service its self.

We get distracted at times don’t we? We can easily focus on all the things that we are doing, or perhaps we need to be doing, for Jesus to serve him but in the process take our eyes off him. The temptation we all face is the get lost in the ways that we are to serve him, to the point that we are not longer listening to him. We neglect to be in God’s Word, we neglect to read and to ponder what Jesus is saying to us so that we can respond, because we are so busy trying to serving him.

Martha had a good heart she really wanted to serve her Lord, but because she had taken her eyes away from Jesus, she was serving her own way in her own strength. The emphasis of her welcoming of Jesus was on her actions for him. What she was doing for him; the way that she was serving him.

Mary on the other hand, was not distracted. She realised that whilst Jesus was with them it was important to be where he was, to put herself in a position so that she could listen to him speaking. Mary was going all out to do this. Whilst it may not look like it to us she was taking a big risk. In that time and in that culture, for a woman to put herself in that position, where she is sitting at the feet of a man who entered her home, would have simply been scandalous. For a woman to put herself at the feet of a man implied closeness and intimacy. Mary was making herself vulnerable to Jesus. She wanted to connect with him, to listen to him in an intimate way. Mary had her eye on the prize so to speak.

And she was in a position where she was receiving from Jesus his Word to her. She made the choice to want to be close to Jesus and to listen to him. This is something that Martha could never do because she was so busy in her actions of serving.

It is easy for us to hear this account and think that Mary and Martha are the main characters in this account, but again, as with the case with the Good Samaritan, the main character here is Jesus himself. The one thing that is needed to according to Jesus, was hearing the word of God’s messenger and this had priority over providing for his physical needs (also Luke 8:15, 21). And while being focused on hospitality and serving others are very important parts of being a disciple it is even more important to have followers who attend to Jesus’ Word. In this way this saying of Jesus is less a condemnation of Martha’s busy acts of service and more a commendation of Mary’s attitude as a disciple.

Again here is the lesson for you and me. As Australians we live in a culture that says to us that we need to be productive. We can never be idle. And churches also fall into this habit of believing that the church as to be productive. We have to be doing things, we have to be busy, we have to be serving. And even as faithful Christians we can be caught up in the busyness of everyday living and the result is that the study of the Lord’s word is neglected. We lose sight of the one thing that is needed because we focus on all that there is to do.

We need to listen to Jesus and his Word to us. We need to put ourselves at his feet; the feet of the word of the Lord Jesus Christ himself, the very Son of God. As he is the one who fulfilled what was written by Moses and the prophets, and he did it all for you and me. He lived the obedient life for you; he set his face to go to Jerusalem to suffer and die for you; he was raised from the dead and exalted for you; and he will come again in glory for you. His word will save you and transform your life. It is the one thing needed. Like Mary we need to let the Lord’s powerful and saving word mesmerize us.

The question is not so much what do I need to do for Jesus? But: What does Jesus do for me?

It is important here that we do not get the wrong impression. You and I as Christians are called to live a Holy life, we are called to follow Jesus with our actions, but it does not start with us serving him, but it starts with us receiving from him through his Word to us, then we go out and serve. We need to, like Mary, put ourselves at his feet first. This is not about one other here. It is not just listening to Jesus and neglecting to serve our Lord with our actions. No they belong together we serve him because he first comes and serves us.

And this is what worship for us is all about. We all come here this church building in midst of our often busy and sometimes complicated lives. We come here to put ourselves at Jesus feet. We don’t come here so much as to do, but as to listen. We listen to his words of forgiveness, we listen to his Word read out, we listen to my preaching in which his Word comes, we come to the Lord’s table to receive his body and blood, to help us and to strengthen us. Our Worship has to do with receiving from him in order that when we leave here we then serve him in our everyday lives. We come to worship to put ourselves at his feet. We also do this when we read our bibles at home, when we read it, we put ourselves at his feet, we let him speak to us, then we try to serve him.

So I encourage you all to think about how you can get yourselves into his Word. To think about how you can put yourselves at his feet, so that you can listen to him speaking to you. So that when you do serve others around others around you as you are called to do, you can know that our Lord is with you in your serving him and that you’re serving the way the he wants you to.

 

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

Sunday the 10th of July 2016

Luke 10:25-37

When I was little my mum and I lived with my Grandfather, until I was 6 years old. As a child I had a habit of talking to strangers, I would just walk up to anyone and talk to them. I remember my Grandfather one day having stern words to me, and what he said stuck with me for a very long time. He told me that I was not to speak to strangers, because we don’t know them and we cannot trust everybody. When I was a teenage I asked him about this and he told me that he lamented how society had changed. He grew up in Liverpool a large metropolitan city, but even as a child he and brothers and sisters were free to roam the neighbourhood, they knew people in his street, families knew other families. But by the time I was a child according to my Grandfather, the world was no longer safe for children. I found this very sad for him. But there is some truth to it. But it is not just children but society as a whole. We tend live lives in our own homes and not interact with others who we do not know. Our society is very much like this. And this makes it hard for us to be a Christians who are called by God to love and serve our neighbours. Unfortunately in our world it does not come naturally to us.

In living life as Christians there many things about God and his Word that we do not understand. There are many things that we wrestle with. But there are also things which we assume are basic to our understanding of what the Christian life is all about. One these is: we are to love God, and we are to love our neighbours. Life following Jesus involves service. It means serving others. It happens on the path of everyday living. It is directed to those who we encounter on that path—our neighbors, or those whom God has put around us.

But just because we know this does not make it easy to do it?

In today’s Gospel reading from Luke chapter 10 we hear of a Lawyer having a discussion with Jesus about this very thing. The teacher of the law new that he was to love God and love and serve his neighbour. But when it came down to doing it, he wanted a way to avoid the difficulty. He wanted to come up with a way in which he could serve only the people that he wanted to serve. He wanted to come up with an excuse to get him of the hook of serving others that pushed him out of his comfort zone. He wanted to serve on his terms, not on God’s. So he asks the question: “who is my neighbor”

Jesus responds with the famous parable of the Good Samaritan.

A man is traveling the winding road through the rocky desert from Jerusalem to Jericho. He is accosted by thugs who attack, assault, rob, and beat him. They leave him as if he were road kill. Later he is approached by two men:

The first one is a priest, when he saw the bloodied fellow. He ignored him. If the man was dead, to touch him, or to have blood on him would be taboo. The priest would experience ceremonial defilement, he would become unclean. He would have to go through the process of becoming clean again. He would lose his priestly prerogatives. It would cost him too much. The reality for this priest is that this situation was just too messy! It was just too complicated. It was easier to ignore the situation and not become involved.

The second man was a Levite (a religious worker) who would have kept very busy in religious activities. His duties were to clean the temple and synagogue; maintain the holy furniture and vessels, direct the choirs and musicians for worship; maybe even organize the sacred library. Like the priest he was working for God. But when he saw the beaten man, he passed by. Maybe he was just too busy working for God; he did not have the time to waste.

As Jesus disciples we have opportunities to serve those around us. And this is where this parable Jesus speaks so clearly to us, because the Priest and the Levite in this parable can so easily describe you and me.

To serve others, to become involved can be too messy, or we can be too busy.

How often do we hesitate to get involved with people’s problems: those around us whose marriages are struggling, a neighbour who struggles with parenting and their children are undisciplined, a teenager who looks odd and does not seem to fit in, an older person who is struggling, whose house is run down; a neighbor or friend who is struggling with mental of physical health issues. How often do we say to ourselves, it’s too complicated it is easier not to become involved. Someone else can help them.

We live in a word that is busy. To help and serve others takes our time. We’ve got life scheduled to the minute. So we can’t fit the needs of others into our schedules. We’ve got other obligations and deadlines meet. We can’t afford to stop and get involved, because we can’t afford the time. We have more important things to think about and to do.

Jesus continues his parable bringing into it a Samaritan.

Samaritans were the hated enemy of Jews, considered half-breeds, traitors, and heretics. So when Jesus introduces this character, I would suggest to you that those who heard this expected the Samaritan to be a villain. Perhaps they expected the Samaritan to finish off the injured fellow. They had not time for Samaritans at all, they were the enemy.

And yet in this story, the Samaritan “has compassion” or mercy (v. 33). He rescues the Jewish victim, serves him, and goes out of his way and counts the cost for the injured man so that he is cared for.

Having completed the story, Jesus asks the pointed question to the lawyer: “Which proved to be a neighbour?” The lawyer responded: “The one who showed mercy.” Jesus then directs, “Go do likewise” (vv. 36–37).

It is not just to the lawyer that he says this, but he says: “Go do likewise” this to you and me. The problem is, we often don’t. The lives of others are too messy! Ours are too busy! We fail to serve. We fail to love our neighbors as ourselves.

But there is one in this account who does not fail, it not the fictional Samaritan of the parable, but the real-life one telling this parable. Jesus came into this messy world and connected with messed up people; prostitutes, publicans, tax collectors, lepers. More than that, he connected with sinners. Those who were outcasts in God’s sight.  Jesus was known as “friend of sinners.”(this title was given to him by his enemies).  He served them—healed, forgave, and released them from the mess of sin and the peril of death.

Again this is not just about them it is about you and me, Jesus serves us sinners! He heals, forgives, and releases us from our sin and its deadly consequences. “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10:45).

This was Jesus’s mission: he saw us in our need (dying in sin), loved us, and took on himself the mess of our sin. He was beaten and bloodied so that we might be rescued, so that we might live. So that we now receive compassion, mercy and grace.

Now in response, to what Jesus has done for us, we now join Jesus’ mission, and serve in his name. We are called to serve in the messiness and busyness of life. And we are to do this because Jesus first served us.

The parable of the Good Samaritan is not much about actions, as it is about the attitude of our hearts. When we understand the compassion and mercy that we are shown, then we reach out to those around us with the same compassion and mercy. We do this for Jesus’ sake.

I came across a article about the famous Mother Teresa, where a man was observing Mother Teresa cleaning the wounds of a leper. He turned away in revulsion and said, “I wouldn’t do that for a million dollars.” Teresa looked at him and replied, “Neither would I. But I would do it for Jesus.”

I encourage you when you think about his parable to think about how you have been rescued by Jesus. To ponder on the fact that he gave his all that you might live. And to think about how you can serve others in the messiness and busyness of your life. Always remembering that we are to serve others for Jesus’ sake

Following Jesus together

Sunday the 3rd of July 2016

Luke 10: 1-11; 16-20

I wonder if many of you are like myself, in that sometimes when you read or hear Jesus speaking in the bible, you don’t first get what Jesus is on about. Jesus did and said some strange things didn’t he? Today’s Gospel reading from Luke Chapter 10 where Jesus sends out the seventy two is one of these places where it can be confusing and difficult for us to understand.

I suspect that over the years you would have heard many sermons on the importance of Jesus commanding us to go out and to reach out to those around us who do not know him. This is one of the major commands of Jesus to all his disciples, which includes all of us.

The mission that Jesus sent those seventy two, of his followers out on, is not a mission I could imagine wanting to do. It sounds more like orders received from central command on the series “Mission Impossible.” Listen to what he says and the language he uses “Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.” What a tough ask! Basically they were to have no provisions, not even a decent pair of walking shoes, danger was close to them, they were going into places where they would be open and vulnerable to attack, and they were not even allowed to stop to ask for directions. This sounds like some military exercise of survival that he was sending them on, rather than being sent spreading the Good News.

While Jesus’ demands may seem rather extreme, they should make us pause and think and I wonder if maybe that is exactly Jesus’ point. Maybe this is what Jesus is getting at. Stop and think. As you and I are sent by Jesus into the world in which we live in: What is it that you and I think we need? What are those things that you and I suppose we just have to have for a life lived in service to Jesus. What do we think we need to have to follow Jesus in this life?

To be honest this is where many Christian’s struggle because they think that they do not have what it takes. They don’t think that have what they need, or what is required. I have a passion for global mission. I have friends who are living overseas in the Middle East, in some very dangerous places. I have friends who have been in places and come back to Australia. Often when they come back the go to churches and tell of what God has been doing and believe me I have heard some modern day miracles that God has been performing in their lives. But one of the problems is that we can often see these people as hero’s. As these super Christians that are doing these amazing things, but we can’t be like them. Often verse 2 of today’s reading was quoted and used to try and motivate people: “the harvest is plentiful , but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into the harvest field” Most Christians live normal everyday lives, and I have found that often when missionaries share, it leaves others feeling inadequate and even burdened, not that this is intentional.

As I was pondering this I started thinking about Jesus mission of Seventy Two from a different angle. I wonder whether it should also make us stop and think that maybe we are asking the wrong question. You see we like to know what we are to do. Just give us the instructions and we can then attempt to follow them. However in this case what God asks us to do is often far beyond what we could even imagine then we think it is simply unrealistic. Maybe God’s expectations are too high of us on this one, we might say. But what if the real question is not what you need? But, who you need?

Often when we read and hear scripture we so easily skip over important details. And one that we skip over here in this Word is the fact that he sends seventy two of them.

You see they we were not sent out alone, they were not on their own. Each of those sent had seventy one fellow disciples, friends in the faith, on whom to rely, to depend. That’s a lot of people, on which to count on if the going got rough. No one was doing this alone. Jesus was preparing and also teaching his disciples already this early on in his ministry of how important it was (and is) to rely on each other, especially in Jesus absence.

We don’t do this alone.

You and I need to hear this. Our Christian journey with our Lord in not walked in isolation; we have our brothers and sisters in Christ with us for a reason. We are in this mission field together. But we don’t always find this easy do we because we do not like to be interdependent upon others. We tend to find things to put in place of people. We can fill our lives with stuff so that we actually avoid having to depend up on others. Relying on others does not come naturally to most of us, but in God’s Kingdom and in his way of working it is important.

In this world that we live in today, I believe that as Christians we are going to be more a more in need of our brothers and sisters in Jesus, particularly in this period of time when as a Church we are fast becoming, if we have not already become the minority in our society. Where we may begin to feel even more isolated and discouraged, it is even more urgent that we see the people God has placed around us to encourage us.

If you look in the book of Acts at how the Christian Church began, you can see here in today’s reading the Jesus was preparing them. He was preparing them for the fact that there was going to be a lot of travelling when it came to spreading the gospel, as it says: “Jerusalem, in all Judaea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). These disciples needed to be prepared, they needed to know what was necessary to carry out this mission of the Gospel. And what did they learn, well as it turns out, when they had returned with joy, they learnt that all they needed is the name of Jesus and each other.

The nature of our Christian faith is communal. The Church of Jesus is made up of people for a reason. Too often in our world, the way we think about faith and spirituality are isolationist and independent. Like saying “my own faith, my own religious system, even my own God, are what matters” And, too often without thinking about this we can become dangerously autonomous. Yet, the nature of who we are as God’s people is to be in community with each other. We are called as His children, to be a part of this congregation and parish together. We are called to share in the life of Jesus together. We are called to carry each other’s burdens as it says in today’s Epistle reading from Galatians.

At the heart of this reading today is the reason why you and I are here in this place. We come here to this church because this is our group ‘of seventy’ if you like. We come to this church to journey with this diverse group of people whom God has put us here with; to be here with each other as we together journey with our Lord Jesus Christ. Whilst Jesus commands us to go; to be Christians here in this world; to spread Jesus Christ and the Gospel to those around us who do not know him, we don’t do this alone by ourselves, rather we do it together.

I encourage you to take the time to think about those who God has place in your life, to help and encourage you on your Journey with Jesus. To think about how God is working in this very community amongst you all working together for his purpose. Know that you are not alone in your journey, but that God has given you this community to support you, as you seek to follow what Jesus.

What does Christian Freedom Look Like?

Sunday the 26th of June

Galatians 5:1, 13-25

If I were to ask you the question: what is freedom? I wonder how you would answer. In our culture freedom is very important to us. We want and we long to be free. Maybe it’s free from financial restraints; free from the demands of work; free from the hassles of family life, particularly where there is conflict. But it can also go further than this: people want to be free to do what they want, without anyone else telling them what to do; the gay marriage movement often talks about his kind of freedom, and they want to be free to marry without having others tell them that what they are doing is wrong.

And if you take this one step further, we get to the heart of sin don’t we, we want to be free from God and his law to do what we want to do with our lives. We want to be free to do as we please, what makes us feel good; what suits our goals in life. We want to be free from others telling us what to do; we want to be free from any accountability. This type of freedom is something that is very important to our culture.

Our God tells us that we are free because of Jesus. Today’s epistle reading from Galatians chapter 5 says this: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Because Jesus has forgiven our sins we are free. But it is not a freedom as the world around us understands freedom. It goes on to say: “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another humbly in love” (v13). You and I have been freed by the gracious and loving action of Jesus from the burden of pleasing God with our works and trying to earn salvation, we are called to use our energy and our lives not in an exercise of self-gratification but rather in service and love to each other. This is truly what freedom in the gospel and service to our brothers and sister Christ is all about.

Freedom from the requirements of the law does not constitute an “anything goes” freedom; our freedom still has constraints. The constraints are the responsibility and commitment to the welfare of others in the community. In other words we free for a purpose, this purpose is to love and serve others, not focus on our own self indulgence of our sinful natures.

As you well know we are coming up to an election, and I don’t know about you but election campaigns grate me, they annoy me. You would have herd and you will definitely hear in the next week all sorts of the sins that are mentioned in today’s reading. Here are some examples: hatred, discord; jealousy; fits of rage; selfish ambition; dissensions; factions and envy. These are just some of the ways that sin shows itself, and in elections campaigns we see many of these on public display.

But while we might point the finger at our politicians and political parties, the truth is that each of us suffers from the same sinful hearts and minds: our sinful nature’s battle the Spirit, The Spirit is inhibited by our sinful nature. And this affects our own hearts, but also can play out in our own Church community. We so easily fall into the trap of behaving the same way with each other.

We have freedom in Jesus. But what do you do with this freedom? What do I do with mine? This is key question. Jesus has freed us from the burden of our sin, from our earning God’s love, from our pulling ourselves up by our own strength to approach God. With all that energy, no longer needed to earn a new and healthy relationship with God, what do I do with it? What do you do with it?

 

The reality is that we have this freedom, but we also have choices about what we do with it.  You and I could make the choice to go after our own desires, indulge in our sinful natures (17–21).Go for it! We are free! We have the freedom to do this. We can say: Don’t anyone tell me what to do. I am the one who is control here; I am in charge of my own destiny. We live in the land of freedom, so don’t tread on me. I have rights.  I can do what I like. If you don’t do it the way that I want I’ll leave, because I have that freedom. And this is true we have this freedom.

You and I could make the choice to use our freedom go after the fruit of the Spirit (22–25.) Go for it! We are free! Just do it! Love God, serve your neighbour. Give at least some of your money to the poor. Listen closely to those with whom we disagree, so closely that we can really understand why their position is so important to them. Take some time to find out about the person who you don’t know very well. Begin, or continue, praying for others. Invite your neighbors over for food and talk, show hospitality. Engage those with whom you work in the name of Christ who set all of us free. We have the freedom to do this also.

We all have choices to make about how we use our freedom in Jesus. Let’s be honest here it is not easy. But here in this reading God is urging us to reflect on this reality. To ask the hard questions, like: How much difference do our Christian faith and the work of the Holy Spirit make to our life together in this Christian community? How do they affect our lives “out in the world” so to speak? Do you and I make use of of God’s gift in Christ of the fruit of the Spirit. Do we steadfastly resist the works of our sinful natures both within and without?

How well do we love ourselves and exercise the fruit of the Spirit in our internal relationship with and to ourselves? Do we substitute self-love for self-indulgence? How well do we actively go against our culture, which puts the entire focus on self-interest? And do we love and serve each other in a way which builds up the Christian community and enables us to “bear one another’s burdens”? (Galatians 6:2).

As God says through Peter in his letter:” Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. (1 Peter 2:16). We are to use the freedom that we have to serve God and to love others. As it says in today’s reading 13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful; nature; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

Jesus went through his journey to that cross, to free us from the burden of our sins. Jesus paid the price for you and me to make us free, so that we are no longer enemies of God. But we are to use that freedom to love one another, to serve our others, not to indulge in our sinful nature. And what does this love look like, well it is the fruit of the Spirit as it says: “22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

As Christians, who live together in this Christian community are encouraged by God, through his Word, to walk with him. To recognise that we: “…who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires” and that “…we live by the Spirit” therefore “…let us keep in step with the Spirit” and we know that we are doing this when the fruit of the Spirit is evident among us.

The freedom that you and I have is not to be used as the freedom that the world around us understands, it is not about being independent, doing what we want. Rather because we have received this freedom of our sins because of God’s grace to us in Jesus Christ, we are to use our freedom to love him and serve others. We are to use our freedom in an attitude of humility and thankfulness to God for what he has done for us and share it with others.