The Earthquake of the Resurrection

Matthew 28:1-10

Coming from New Zealand, I grew up being used to experiencing earthquakes. Some of the ones I have experienced are still vivid in my mind, as they have a lot of power to them and can have a significant impact. Last year as many of you know there was a big earthquake on the South Island near Christchurch that caused great damage. The thing about earthquakes is that they reverberate, which means that the earthquake is often felt far from its epicentre. Speaking to my dad, he was telling me that in this big earthquake, even though he lives on the other side of the Island, he felt the impact and the earth shook for 4 minutes, the biggest earthquake he had felt, which says something of the power of this earthquake.

In our modern world we know why earthquakes occur. We know that earthquakes happen because of the friction that occurs between tectonic plates under the ground rubbing against each other. But when we look, scripture earthquakes often indicated that the Lord was speaking to his people. For example, just before the Lord was going to give the Ten Commandments to Moses it says in Exodus 19:18, “Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain shook violently.” This is only one example of many with the earth shaking when the Lord spoke.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Easter has earthquakes. In his crucifixion account in 27: 51-54, right after Jesus died, it says: “51At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people. 54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”

And in this morning’s Gospel from chapter 28, after Jesus’ resurrection, and after the women had come to the tomb, it says: “2There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.”

At Easter our Lord speaks through the actions of his Son, and just like an earthquake reverberates and is felt far away, so too would this first Easter day. And it began with these women at an empty tomb of our risen Lord. “The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.”

The most powerful moment in history, the resurrection of our Lord Jesus from the dead, was seen and spoken of by just these few women at the tomb; it then spread to the disciples, then throughout Samaria, Galilee, the Mediterranean and beyond. And in fact two thousand years later it is still being spoken to us.

Right from the beginning of Jesus’ life in this world, evil was at work, as it always had been. Herod, when hearing that a king was to be born in Bethlehem, tried to kill him, sending solders to kill all the children in the region. Jesus confronted evil in his life leading up to the cross where he experienced the intensification of evil with his death on that cross. But the God who shakes the earth cannot be stopped from speaking his Word and life into our world. The story that begins with fear ends with overwhelming joy. Jesus’ birth is shadowed by many deaths, but Jesus’ resurrection from the dead brings the promise of the resurrection life for all.

When our Lord conquered sin, and death, by his death and his resurrection, it started an ‘earthquake’ that has been felt around our world for centuries. The resurrection of our Lord and the forgiveness that we now have from the chains of our sin have been changing lives, destroying death and indeed have changed the course of human history—not only the history of this world, but also changed the course of eternity.

I know that as we look around us, it seems as if evil is closing in on us again. We look at all of the churches that are near-empty, the churches that are closing, the direction that our world seems to be heading in and we wonder. Perhaps we wonder whether the effect of this earthquake has run its course. But it hasn’t, because the resurrection of our Lord Jesus is still rumbling in your life. The second reading for today from Colossians chapter 3 speaks these words to you and me: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

Through your Christian life, in which you have been baptised into Jesus’ death and his resurrection, the power of Jesus’ resurrection is at work in your life. The power of the forgiveness of your sins is still at work; the power of his spoken words to you is still at work in your life. And as a consequence, these things are still at work in this congregation, this body of believers. Through this church’s life the earthquake continues to rumble and spread. The world looks at our lives as his followers, as we continue to point to Jesus and his resurrection.

And this is the hope that we continually cling to in our daily lives. No matter what we see going on in the world around us. No matter how discouraged we may become because to us it seems that the church is dying. I encourage you to stand firm knowing that the earthquake of Jesus’ death and resurrection will continue to be felt across the world until it is ended with a trumpet call, when death for all is finally overcome.

Finally, I would like to encourage you all to remember that our God often acts and moves in ways that we don’t often see or perceive. Often we are discouraged because we don’t see the bigger picture as God does. The Good News that you and I believe and hold onto began with a man afraid to marry his disgraced fiancée; it began with a fearful king who tried to kill potential rivals for his own power; but it ended with victory over sin and death and with overwhelming joy. It ends with these women following the resurrected Jesus’ command; a command to all of us; that is: Stop being afraid! God has defeated death. Rejoice, and share the good news! As we do this the earthquake keeps reverberating.

As we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ on this day I encourage you all to rejoice, because the power of his resurrection is still being worked out in your lives as his followers today.

Good Friday Sermon

Good Friday Sermon 2017

A few years ago I was out with some work colleagues at lunch. In our conversation someone asked if any of us had ever seen a movie so bad that it made us walk out of the cinema. The response of one particular person struck me. She said that the only movie she had ever walked out of in her life was Mel Gibson’s ‘The passion of the Christ’. I asked her why she walked out, and she said that it was too violent, so violent in fact that she found it highly offensive. As I thought about what this woman said, I thought to myself the cross of Jesus is supposed to be offensive!

I wonder if for us whether sometimes the cross has in some way lost its impact on us. Many of us have a cross on the walls of our homes; the cross is prominent in our church, as it should be. The fact that the cross is central to our worship is important as its presence gives focus to our altars as holy places. Many of us even wear a cross around our necks as jewellery. But does having these crosses make the impact they should? With its exalted status as the focal point of our faith, I wonder at times whether the cross has lost its power to scandalize us, to offend us, to wake us up. Perhaps we have lost somehow the reality that the cross was an instrument of extreme torture and death and in doing so lose the fact that Jesus went through this death for our sake.

The truth is that what we remember on this day is not nice. This is not a good news story that we remember on this day. We hear and think about Jesus being abandoned by those close to him; his being bullied by the chief priests; his standing before Pilate; the ferocious anger of the crowd yelling, “Crucify him!” We hear and think about the brutal violence that was dished out to Jesus, violence that is beyond our imaginations; and we remember his brutal death. And in this we remember that Jesus, the innocent one, was punished and went through all of this for our sins. Isaiah 53 says these words about Jesus: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth”

As Jesus was being subjected to this unthinkable violence he was silent. In taking on the sins of the world, our Lord was silent. Many who are the victims of violence in our world do not speak out, they suffer alone, are unable to speak openly, but for Jesus to be silent when he could easily speak suggests that there is more going on here. The violence that many suffer in this world is not a result of their choices, the same is true for Jesus, but for Jesus it was different. It is easy to see Jesus here as a victim, that things just happened to him and that he had no choice in the matter, but the reality is that he did. He chose to walk this path. What makes the brutal violence that Jesus suffered even more remarkable is that Jesus knew that it was coming. He knew what he was going to have to walk through. This was no easy choice for Jesus to make. In fact he really wrestled with whether he was going to follow through with it and there is no doubt that if wanted to he could have decided not to go through with it; he could have chosen a different path. There is a moment when we see Jesus really wavering. You see this clearly in Matthew’s account of the prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane where we see Jesus wrestling with his Father. Jesus prays “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.” In that moment he does not want to go through with it, and yet he says, “Yet not as I will, but as you will”.

Being silent in the face of violence many would see as a weakness, but for Jesus his silence is a sign of his strength. It is a sign of his confidence in his Father’s plan. It is a sign of his trust. For Jesus this decision to walk that horrific journey to that cross was a decision as to where he was going to follow his Father’s will. And he had already decided that he was going to. Jesus did not need to defend himself because he made this decision knowing what was about to happen and what was in front of him: knowing that he would face the desertion of his disciples and feelings of abandonment; knowing that he was going to face the abuse of chief priests and hard-hearted religious leaders and face their false accusations; knowing that he would have to face the anger and the total rejection of the people before Pilate; that he was going to walk through extreme physical suffering; that he would have to face a very brutal death by crucifixion.

And knowing all of this, he silently chose to be obedient to his Father. The fact that Jesus followed his Father’s will and made this choice so that you and I would receive the benefits is incomprehensible.

Our world easily deceives itself by thinking that violence is the responsibility of others. But what Jesus’ journey to the cross clearly shows us is what our sin is capable of: the power games, cruelty, abuse, brutal violence, mockery and injustice. All of which we see all around us today. No matter how much we as humanity want to deny it, these things exist because of our sin, the very sin that Jesus was taking to that cross.

As Jesus was hanging there on the cross he spoke. And what he said shows us something of God’s heart. In today’s Gospel reading in verse 26 it says: “26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home”. Here is Jesus hanging on a cross in extreme pain and suffering, yet he speaks words of comfort to his mother and his disciple. He was thinking about them even in the midst of his suffering. This is taken further in the Gospel of Luke, where it was not just his mother that he was concerned about, but all of us, even his enemies. As Jesus was hanging on the cross in Luke 23: 34 it says: “Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’” Even as he was hanging there he was thinking of and interceding for those who had treated him with such cruel violence.

As Jesus died on the cross that day it showed the extent of God’s love, in that he loves his people so much that he gave his only Son Jesus and that Jesus willingly chose to obey his Father’s will and gave his very life for us so that our sins may be completely and freely forgiven. Through his sacrifice the very thing that hardens our hearts, our sin, is taken away so that we can be in a right relationship with our God. This is the very reason why Jesus so determinedly went to that cross, so that you and I can be right with God, so that our sins are not a barrier between us and that we can have access to God through what Jesus has done.

John’s first letter chapter 3:16 says: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”

Knowing all that Jesus went through for our sake should compel us to respond to him by seeking to follow him, walking in the path that our Heavenly Father wants us to walk, and seeking to follow Jesus by laying down our lives for our brothers and sisters. Jesus’ death on that cross should not be just navel gazing and marvelling at what he has done for us, though we all need to do this from time to time, but as Christians and followers of Jesus it calls for us to respond to others in their need, and not to become complacent, just as he has responded to our deepest need for salvation and life.

Violence, sin and death are clearly seen in the crucifixion account of our Lord; there is no way of escaping it, because this is the reality of life that we live in this sinful world. In order for Jesus to conquer death and sin it meant going through this. And it is here that the heart of the matter is. Jesus went through all of this, to conquer sin and its violence which leads to death, once and for all. Jesus went through this so that you and I could have life. He went through all of this so that you and I could have complete forgiveness of sins.

On this Good Friday I encourage you to meditate and think about these things.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Maundy Thursday Sermon

1 Corinthians 11: 23-26

On this Maundy Thursday, when we are thinking about the very night that our Lord Jesus was sitting with his disciples around a table where he first instituted Holy Communion, it makes sense that tonight I am going to preach on the epistle reading from 1 Corinthians 11.

One of the strengths as Lutheran Christians is that traditionally we have been very strong in the area of teaching the faith. To have the right teaching is important to us as it helps us to live our Christian lives knowing what we believe and why. If I was to ask you, ‘Why do we come to Holy Communion?’ you would all be able to answer me quite well. But if I was to ask you, ‘What happens in Holy Communion?’ many would find this question harder to answer. This is the question that I would like to focus on this evening.

As we are a church community who partakes of the Lord Supper regularly, you will know the words that are spoken. But have you ever thought about the first words that are spoken in the words of institution. “Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night he was betrayed…” Jesus was having his last Passover meal with his disciples, the very ones who would betray him. We know that Judas betrayed Jesus and handed him over to the authorities for money. But he was not the only one who betrayed Jesus this night. Peter made the bold claim that he would not deny the Lord, but he did. The disciples who had followed Jesus, been with him, known him, received from him, were in a short amount of time going to abandon him and leave him on his own. These disciples that were full of all the right words, but in reality cowards, were the ones sitting with Jesus at that table. Before we condemn these disciples though, we need to realise that we are also like them coming to the same table. Yes we are Christians and followers of Christ, but we are also sinful people. We too like the disciples, run from Jesus at times; we don’t listen to him; we give up on him when the going gets tough; we too can often say the right words, but underneath in our hearts we can be cowards like them. Yet it is to the disciples and to us that Jesus gives his body and his blood. Many people tend to think that being a Christian is living the perfect life and that we come to communion because of our faith, but this is not true. Jesus gives to us his body and blood because we are sinners and he strengthens our faith through this. None of the disciples were worthy to receive the body and blood of Jesus that night, just as none of us are worthy to receive now. But he gives it to us.

St Paul says: “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (v.26). Tomorrow on Good Friday we remember the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus on that day as he was crucified. As his body was beaten and broken; as his blood was shed on that cross for all our sins. On that day he gave his body and his blood for you and me, yet it is in this meal at the Lord’s table that you and I receive what he did for us. You see as we come to the altar, we eat and drink his body and blood that was given and shed for you and me. In Holy Communion we receive all that Jesus has done for us on that cross. Jesus comes to us in the midst of our sin and gives us his gifts that he won for us. He gives us strength and he gives us faith; he gives forgiveness; and he gives us life. Every time we partake in Holy Communion we proclaim the Lord’s death: meaning all that he has done for us through his death on that cross, you and I now receive.

This reading also says we proclaim his death “until he comes”. We all know that Jesus has been resurrected from the dead; we know that he will come back again at the end of time. We know that we live in what is sometimes called an in-between time. We live between Jesus’ ascension and also his second coming where we will be called home to live with our Triune God in heaven. But one of the remarkable things about our worship services, where Holy Communion is partaken of is that at this very altar, Jesus comes to us and gives us now here in the present, what we will also receive at the end of time. In this meal the future that we will have with our God, one in which there will be forgiveness, peace with God, healing, and life eternal, all because of what Jesus has done on the cross, is given to us every time we come to this altar.

It was no accident that Jesus instituted Holy Communion right before he walked down the path to his death. The path where he took on all of the world’s sin onto himself, as he carried all of our sins to that cross, so that God’s anger and punishment that should be directed towards us, now is laid on him; where the death that we deserve was instead given to Jesus. Because he won the overall victory over sin and death, and they do not have any power over him, he is able to give us life with our God. In Holy Communion he comes to us and he gives us this life, by giving us himself.

One of the great temptations that we face as Christians in this life is that we think that we can live life as a Christian on our own. That when we struggle with sin that we somehow have the ability to overcome the sin in our lives. After all Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins. We stand forgiven before God because of Good Friday. The reality is that we continually need Jesus to give us all that he won for us that day, as we still battle our sin each day. We need him to continually come to us and strengthen us in faith; build us up; assure us of our forgiveness before God. It is in Holy Communion that Jesus does this. In other words we as Christians need to come to the altar with open hands and receive all that he promises to give us. Often the evil one gets in people’s heads and tries to convince them not to come, because they are not worthy because of their sins. But this is precisely why we need to come and receive from him because through it he gives us faith and strength. The problem is rather when people come to Holy Communion thinking that they deserve to receive from him.

So I encourage you to regularly think about Good Friday when you come to Communion, even when it is not the Easter season, and to reflect on all that Jesus is giving to you through his body and blood.

Theology of Glory vs Theology of the Cross

Sunday the 9th of April 2017

Matthew 27: 32-56

On October the 31st this year many churches, and of course our church, will be celebrating the beginning of the reformation of the Christian church. It is five hundred years since Martin Luther wrote his now famous ninety-five theses, which was to go on to have a great impact, not only on the church, but society as a whole. Some of the most significant after-effects came from Luther’s ability to see the world through the lens of Jesus, rather than the lens of our humanity. One of his most famous teachings is what he calls the ‘theology of the cross versus the theology of glory’. Now I suspect that some of you may have heard of this; others may not even know what I am talking about, and others may think, what does this mean? So in my sermon today I am going to unpack this in a way that I trust will highlight this very important teaching of Luther.

This morning on what is sometimes known as Passion Sunday, in our Gospel reading we have heard the crucifixion account from Matthew. Jesus’ death on that cross for our sins, and the sins of the world, is something that we know and have heard and that we believe. The crucifixion of Jesus is at the heart of our Christian faith; without the death of Jesus, there is no forgiveness of sins. But this morning I would like to look at this crucifixion account from a different angle.

In Matthew chapter 20 as Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem for the final time, and he had told his disciples for the third time what was going to happen, that he would suffer and die on the cross, Matthew says this: 20 “Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favour of him.21 “What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” 22 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”

As I read the Gospels I get a sense that the closer it came to going to Jerusalem for the last time, the more the disciples knew that this was going to be the deciding moment for Jesus. And so James’ and John’s mother comes to Jesus and asks for special treatment for her sons. The expectation that Jesus is going to be entering his kingdom is on her mind. But it tells us something else. She knew that Jesus was going to be a king; she knew that he would rule, and she wanted her sons to be in on the action. But what kind of king was she expecting? I suspect that being a typical Jew of that time, she would be expecting Jesus to be an earthly king, who would rule with power; who would rule with justice; who would keep the Jews safe from their enemies; who would bring peace and prosperity to the people so that they did not have to suffer anymore; who would bring relief to those who were poor in that country. This woman was thinking about the benefits that this king would bring to her and her nation and she wanted her children to be a part of it. This is an example of what Luther calls the theology of glory. We want a king to be what we want and expect; we want from a king one who will glorify our expectations and wants and needs.

When we think about Jesus as a king, what kind of king do you and I want Jesus to be? Perhaps we want Jesus to come and fix all of our life problems, to fix the government maybe, to stop the craziness of the world at the moment. Perhaps we want Jesus to be a king of action, a king who will bless us and give us peace and prosperity and safety. Maybe we want Jesus to be a king who demonstrates his power. The problem is that the focus of this way of thinking is on us; thinking about Jesus as the king we want him to be, the king who will do our will.

As Jesus is crucified and is hanging on that cross, there is a sign above his head that reads: “this is jesus, the king of the jews.” And who is next to him, but two sinful criminals, one on his left and the other on his right. This is not insignificant I believe.  Jesus is the true king in that he trusts his Heavenly Father fully, so much so that he was willing to go through and drink the cup of extreme suffering, so that others can be saved. Jesus is the king who dies for the sake of his people, so that they can live.

This is the kind of king that Jesus is. He is a king who is willing to walk in suffering for the sake of others; he is a king who gives up his life for others; he is a king who is willing to die a criminal’s death on a cross, a death that all people deserve, so that we do not have to. This is a king who does what we are not capable of because of our sin. He is a king who trusts his Father’s will and is willing to follow him where he leads; this is what Luther calls the theology of the cross.

Our sinful hearts don’t like this kind of king. It is easier to want a king in our own image, than one who takes the punishment for our corrupt sinful hearts. Jesus is a king who comes to us in our darkest moments in life, when our sins overwhelm us and says, ‘I have taken care of your sins; you are forgiven because of me.’ Jesus is a king who seeks out sinners, the ones who are lost, who have rejected him. He is the king that seeks out us.

The people in the crowd called out to Jesus, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” In other words show us your power. It says: 41 “In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. 42 “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.”

These people wanted to see a theology of glory moment; they wanted to see Jesus use his power to save himself to prove to them who he was. Even though they had admitted that they had seen him save others. A king without power would not suit their image, so they mock him.

They say, 43 “He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” It is here that the greatest irony is seen. The very fact that Jesus was on that cross was precisely because he trusted his Father; it is because of his love for his Father and us that he did not throw himself down off that cross. At that precise moment he was trusting God more that they could ever know or realise. Those around him could not see this. We still find this two thousand years later in the world we live in. How many people accuse God, curse him and mock him. How many people say, ‘I can’t believe in a God that allows suffering;’ or ‘I can’t believe in a God who…. .’ How many people treat our Lord as if he has no relevance to their lives because in their view he is impotent? They want a king of glory, but we know that we have a true king, who is the king who went to death on a cross for us.

Luther says, “If you want to look for God in this world, you will find him on the cross.”

As we come into this Passion Week leading up to Easter, we think about Jesus and who he is and what he has done for you and me. I encourage you all to look at the cross and see. For me this is the high point of our year, because it is here at this time that we see just how far our Triune God would go, out of his love for us, to save us from death and hell because of our sins. It is here that we see the true heart of our God, that his son Jesus does not come in our own image, but comes to us to suffer and give his life for our sins to set us free to have life, not only here but also life eternal.

 

 

We Are Children Of The Light

Sunday the 26th of March, 2017

Ephesians 5:8-14

As I sat down earlier this week and looked ahead to what is coming up, I realised that Easter is so close upon us. It is not that long to go until we celebrate one of the high points in our year as Christians. I also thought about how we are in the middle of Lent. Lent is that time in the church season where we prepare ourselves leading up to the Easter season and it is a time in which we meditate upon all that Jesus has done for you and me and think about our response to him.

This morning I am going to preach on the Epistle reading from Ephesians chapter 5, but I would like to start by looking at Ephesians 2:8. It says: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

In our lives as followers of Jesus we must always keep this in our minds. It is not by our own efforts that we are saved from our sins, but it is through the Grace of God through Jesus. This is something that is a given and we all know, but what does this mean for our Christian living?

This morning’s reading begins this way: “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” It is important that we pay attention to what is being said here. It is not only saying that before a person comes to faith in Jesus they are lost and in darkness, although this is true. It is far more confronting than that; it says that a person before faith in Jesus is darkness. “For you were once darkness…” In other words, our very being, the very essence of who we are is sin. This is why the Christian faith is so difficult for many in our world, because over the last century it is thought that we are not evil or bad in ourselves, but the environment around us makes us this way. But this is not what scripture tells us. It goes on to say: “… but now you are light in the Lord.” The gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, enlightens our darkness; it turns darkness into light. You and I are in the light of our Lord. To be light, to be “in the Lord” means we have a relationship, a connection to Jesus and his forgiveness. It is His light that produces light in the lives of God’s children.

Whist the reality of this is great news for us, the temptation is always with us to revert to darkness. We live a world where we are surrounded by those who cut themselves off from the light of Jesus; we are surrounded by those who continually live in darkness. Darkness cannot produce fruit. Those who cut themselves off from Jesus cannot produce good works. Even the works they do, what the world would call “good,” are sin. In fact this is often an argument that I have heard from those against the Christian faith. There are many people in the world who do good work, or sacrifice their lives for others, who put others before themselves, who do good things, and who don’t believe in God. You don’t have to be a Christian to do good in this world. Because of our sinful natures the good we think we do is not good in God’s sight. Why? Because of our sinful hearts.

To associate with darkness is very harmful, even detrimental to those who are in Jesus. To associate with darkness has consequences that lead us away from him. And yet this is where we struggle. How often, if we are honest, do we take part in the unfruitful deeds of darkness that is spoken of in this morning’s reading? In things that we know full well are sinful in God’s eyes. How often do we find ourselves doing shameful things that burden our consciences, things that we don’t want others to know about, and as a consequence cut ourselves off from the light of Jesus, and also from our fellow believers? These temptations that we face are very real and they are constantly with us.

It’s at these times where I believe that we as the body of Jesus underestimate the value that each person brings to the church community. Luther in his writings often writes about the importance of meeting together with the saints of Christ, not just for encouragement when things are good, but also to receive encouragement when struggling with our sins. He calls this the mutual consolation of believers. God has called all of you here to this place as children of the light of his Son Jesus; each of you are important to this church community.

The apostle John says in his first letter something that I believe is very important to listen to. He says: “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin.” (1:7) You see, our fellowship with our Lord Jesus, and our fellowship with one another as his children, is clearly important in our walk as children of the light.

Walking together as children of light is a critical witness to the light, Jesus Christ, in this world of darkness that we live in. We are not called to journey this Christian life alone. In chapter 4 of Ephesians Paul rejoiced in the unity we have as believers in the body of Christ. Together we are strong; we are not easily tossed to and fro by every wind of teaching; we are not easily pulled back into the darkness, so to speak.

But again, it is not that easy, is it? And to be honest, sometimes it is very hard and uncomfortable to be together as a Christian community. Verse 11 says: “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” And verse 13 says: “But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.”

These are strong words, and I believe they tell us that in Christian love, our duty is to expose the deeds of darkness that we see. We confront one another in our sin, not so that we judge one another, but so that we always speak of Christ’s forgiveness, so that we build each other up as his children. We go out of our way to help each other see the forgiveness that we have through Jesus, no matter what sins we have committed.

Walking as children of light also means that we expose the deeds of darkness in the world around us. As the light of Christ shines upon the ungodly, we see the true nature of their actions, which ultimately lead to death. As people who have the light of Christ, we are encouraged to pray that as the light of Christ shines on them, their eyes may be opened to this light as well.

The reading for today ends with the Apostle Paul quoting these words: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Now this is not a quote from Scripture, but it is believed to be a quote from one of the early hymns of the Christian church at the time. It is very powerful because it proclaims the truth of what has taken place for the believer in Jesus — an awakening by the light of the gospel.

It proclaims the reality of what Jesus has done for us in that each and every day, we wake anew with the light of Jesus shining on us. Each day, if you like, is a resurrection from death, a rescue from the deeds of darkness, a deliverance from the clutches of the evil one. Each day we wake in the light of God’s grace to us through Jesus. But again, it can be a prayer for unbelievers, for those who are in darkness, that the light of Jesus would awaken them, expose their deeds of darkness, and make them fellow children of light. Just as it is the light that produces fruit in our lives, so it is the light of Jesus’ death on a cross for our sins, and his resurrection from the dead, that enlightens unbelievers and calls them to faith and a life of good works.

To walk as children of light, means that you and I are to walk in the power of the word made flesh, the lamp for our feet and the light for our path, who shines upon us with his grace.

As we lead up to Easter, during these last few weeks of Lent, I encourage each of you to meditate on the darkness in your life, and to lift your eyes to see the light of Jesus working his forgiveness in you and in this community of believers he has called to this place.

Jesus Words are full of Spirit and Life

Sunday the 19th of March 2017

John 4: Jesus and the Woman at the well

This morning I am going to preach on my favourite bible passage: which is the account of Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well.

One of the interesting things about John’s Gospel that differs from the others is that it has these accounts, which record conversations with Jesus, like with Nicodemus last week, today’s reading is about a Samaritan woman and her conversation with Jesus.

Conversations with Jesus in scripture were not just any normal conversation, as Jesus’ words that he spoke were full of the power the Holy Spirit. In John 6: 63 Jesus says this: “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.”

When Jesus speaks, the Spirit is at work. When Jesus speaks, things happen. In the life of this Samaritan woman, who is not named, Jesus’ words to her bring her life. To this woman who came to the well at midday to avoid all the other women, is given the opportunity to engage in a conversation with Jesus, a conversation that would change her forever. As Jesus speaks to her the Spirit is at work through his words to bring her new life that comes from him.

One of the things that stood out to me was that there are contrasts between before and after her conversation with Jesus. These contrasts highlight those things that were now different for her in her life.

Before Jesus’ conversation with her, this woman could only see life in terms of her ancestry. Her identity as a person, and her place in the world so to speak, was founded upon her religious belief of the Samaritans, who based their whole religious identity on their ancestral link to Jacob, Joseph and the blessed well, from which she was drawing water. Through the conversation with Jesus, this woman’s eyes were opened to see her life as greater than her ancestry or heritage; that her true life and identity were in her relationship with God through Jesus, who is greater than Jacob, and in her fellowship with those who put their trust in this Messiah.

Before her conversation with Jesus, this woman could only see that to be faithful to God, was to worship him at a particular Holy place (called Mount Gerizim), and in a particular way. Again this influenced how she understood what it meant to worship God. After Jesus spoke to her, the woman began to see that true devotion to God meant focusing on the Spirit and on Jesus, God’s truth. Her eyes were opened to see that since Jesus is God’s temple and presence in our midst, one looks for God neither on Mt Gerizim nor even in Jerusalem, but rather we are to look to his Son and Messiah through whom we have access to our Heavenly Father.

As Jesus spoke to her, the Spirit worked in her to open her eyes to see. But to take it a step further in today’s reading, it is not just the Woman herself whose eyes are opened through his speaking to her. Before Jesus speaks, I get the sense that this woman was perceived in a negative way. What did the disciples see in this woman? Perhaps they saw her life as one that had many limitations and disappointments. Maybe they saw her failures and her sins. It would be an interesting question to ponder how these disciples’ perceptions of this woman influenced their thinking. Their attitude to the woman is given away when it says in verse 27: “Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”

Yet Jesus was talking to her. He was not only talking to her, but he was allowing her to ask him questions. He was allowing her to engage in a conversation with him about things that were important to her. Jesus was treating this woman with dignity and respect, rather than talking down to her. After Jesus’ conversation with the woman, the disciples see the work of God in the life of a despised outsider; they were able to see her new life in Jesus and the extension of that life through the woman’s bold witness to her countrymen and the way they responded to her and to Jesus.

When Jesus says: “But whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life”, he uses a picture here of the Spirit of God at work in the hearts of people. The water that is life-giving, are the words that bring with them the life-giving gift of the Spirit to the Samaritan woman and to all of us who believe.

This Jesus, who spoke those life-giving words to this woman, is the same Jesus that speaks to you and me today through his word to us. This Jesus who came to this woman, met her where she was at, listened to her questions and spoke words of life to her, is that same Jesus who does this for you and me. This Jesus who came to this woman in all her misunderstandings, in all of her sin, in all of her shame, and treated her with understanding and respect and grace, is the same Jesus who comes to us in the same way.

The woman in today’s reading was bold and she responded immediately by leaving her water jar and running out to tell others what Jesus had told her and she invited them to come and see for themselves. Now I don’t know about you, but I am someone who certainly does not feel confident in speaking to others like this woman did, as I suspect many of you don’t either. But the more I thought about it the more I thought about how maybe it is a matter of how we have come to a place where we don’t recognize the Holy Spirit working in us. I wonder if we are guilty at times of living life as if we have not been given the Holy Spirit. In other words we get stuck thinking only about the physical world around us, a bit like the disciples, rather than being open to God’s leading.

The fact is that even though we know that we sin, that we let God down at times, that we struggle to do what is right, we have been given the Holy Spirit who is with us in these times. We have been given Jesus’ words to us. And Jesus promises that he is with us and that he works in us, because of all that he has done for us. Like the conversation with the woman, when Jesus speaks, his word is powerful because his word brings the Sprit of life to us, every time he speaks.

One of the reasons why this is my favourite account of Jesus, is that he shows us how far he is willing to go, to reach out to those who the world may think are beyond reach. And at times I think it is a good idea to think about ourselves this way. Jesus comes to us and gives us his Spirit-filled word that brings us life in him.

I encourage each of you to read through again the account of Jesus and the woman at the well and to think about how Jesus comes to you and gives you the same life-giving water that he gave her. And I encourage you to think about what this means for your life as you follow him.

 

Times in the Wilderness

Sunday the 5th of March 2017

Matthew 4: 1-11

A number of years ago I was a part of a small bible study group, at the Lutheran Church at Glynde in Adelaide. At one of our meetings someone brought along a friend who had just come to faith in Jesus. Of course on this night this person shared her journey, and it was a memorable occasion as she shared how she had moved from being a total nonbeliever, to coming to faith. This woman was very excited and she was full of enthusiasm for God and getting into his Word, which inspired all of us there that night. After she had left, a good friend of Julie’s and mine, whose name also happens to be Julie, said that we needed to pray for this woman. I asked her why and she said that because all the people that she had met who had come to faith in Jesus, started out with enthusiasm, but eventually they went through times of testing.

I thought about this woman and the conversation and prayer that I had with Julie, as I was looking at the Gospel reading for this week from Matthew chapter 4 where, just after Jesus had just been baptised in the previous chapter, he was led into the wilderness to be tested/tempted by the evil one.

It was not accidental that Jesus was led into the wilderness after his baptism. It is not as if he was wandering around and suddenly got lost. And he was not in the wilderness because he was being punished for doing anything wrong. No; Jesus was there because he had been led there for the very purpose of being tested. I get the impression that Jesus in his debate with the evil one, was in the process of preparation. A place of preparation for the mission entrusted to him.

Throughout the scriptures, the wilderness can often be seen as a place where God’s people are going through preparation; a place of waiting to see where God will lead next; a place of people growing and learning to trust in God’s mercy. For forty days and nights Jesus remained in the wilderness, without food, getting ready for what comes next.

For forty days and nights Noah and his family endured being on board the ark, after which God made a covenant never again to destroy the earth with a flood; for forty days and nights Moses fasted on Mount Sinai as he inscribed the words of God’s covenant for the Israelites; for forty days and nights Elijah fasted in the desert before receiving a new commission from God; for forty years the Israelites wandered the wilderness in preparation for their arrival in the Promised Land. Time spent in the wilderness was important.

So in today’s reading we see Jesus is facing a time of testing as he was being prepared. Taking advantage of Jesus’ hunger, the devil tries to entice him to change the stone into bread; he tries to entice Jesus to demonstrate his close association with the powerful, by proving that God’s angels will keep him from injury, by tempting him to throw himself off the temple top. And finally he tempts Jesus, with the promise of a false glory, by tempting him to bow down and worship Satan, and then he would rule the kingdoms of the world. Jesus did not give in; he did not lay down to the temptations being thrown at him. Rather, they made him stronger.

The lessons from these temptations which Jesus went through, he then used in his ministry to all. For example, in today’s reading Jesus refuses in the wilderness to turn stones into bread to fulfil his own hunger, but in time he would feed thousands in the wilderness with just a few loaves and some fish. Also he would teach his disciples, which includes us, to pray to God for their “daily bread.”

Jesus refused to take advantage of his relationship to God by hurling himself down from the heights of the Temple, but at the end of his earthly ministry he endures the taunts of others, while trusting God’s power to the point in which he ends up dying on a Roman cross.

Jesus turned down the devil’s offer to have the power over the kingdoms of the world, but instead he offers the kingdom of heaven to all those who follow him in the way of righteousness.

The point that I am getting at here is that this time in the wilderness, where Jesus faced temptations, was not a one-off experience for him to get through, but the temptations were tests of preparation for the choices Jesus would make in his earthly ministry. Time and time again we can see, how the wilderness experience formed Jesus’ interactions with those who were sick, hungry or in need; with those who use their connections to power (this would include the lawyers, Pharisees and Sadducees who test him in various ways; to challenge his loyalty); with people who too easily got caught up in world’s view of greatness rather than God’s (which included his own disciples at times).

Time spent in the wilderness did not just happen to Jesus. It happens to all of us. It may not be a physical place, but it is a time where we are tested. It is those times in life where we feel that we are vulnerable, searching, and perhaps even under spiritual attack. It is those times in life where God can often feel like he is far away, and that we cannot see him. It’s those times in life where we can be tempted to take the easy way out; to stop praying to God and look for answers elsewhere; to give up on coming to church because in those times it is just too hard to. It is those times when we are tempted to doubt God’s goodness and that he has a plan for our lives. Those times where we struggle to trust God.

When we go though these times as Christians it is tempting to think that we are alone, that nobody else understands what we are going through. But here, the thing to remember is that our Lord Jesus, that one whose promise is that he is with you always, even to the end of the age, has already gone before you. He has already gone to the most forsaken places of the wilderness, and he meets you there in the most difficult temptations and times of testing in your life. There is no place that is too far, too distant, or too challenging that Jesus has not already been there. There is no test or temptation that is so great that Jesus has not already overcome. So when you go through these time in life, you can be assured and confident that Jesus is also there walking with you.

The way that Jesus was attacked by the evil one, by his being tempted to focus on his own needs instead of God, his temptation to put God to the test, and the temptation to want to have all the glory for himself, to want to be the god of his own life, are all very real ways the evil one still attacks us, as his followers, today, particularly when we are vulnerable. But because Jesus is with us, we can walk through these times knowing that God is in fact preparing us for the plans he has for our lives. How many times have you been able to look back on your life and see that if you had not gone through difficult times, you would not be where you are today? This is because God is continually at work building up his people.

The ultimate test that Jesus faced through his temptations, I believe, was the temptation to give in so that he did not have to face his journey to that cross. It would have been easy for him to give in and avoid following his Father’s will. But he did not give in, and therefore because he went to that cross, where he took all the punishment for all of our sins, which includes every time that we have given in and not trusted God, we now have forgiveness.

I would encourage each of you in these 40 days of lent, to think about everything that Jesus went through, including his temptation in the wilderness, for you. To think about how he did this for your sake and that because he followed through with his Fathers’ will, that you now stand forgiven and what this means for your life.