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.