Click here to watch the [Worship Video](https://bit.ly/2wOdI3l) for Sunday 22 November.
Many of you will immediately recognise the person in this picture. It is Mother Teresa or perhaps more accurately Saint Teresa. She was well known for her work amongst the poorest of the poor in India – feeding the hungry, caring for the dying as well as providing other forms of assistance. Her life revolved around living out our text this morning.
While searching for the picture of her that is on the screen, I came across one of her many quotes “At the end of our lives we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made or how many great things we have done. We will be judged by; I was hungry and you gave me too eat, I was naked and you clothed me, I was homeless and you took me in.”
She certainly lived by those words and actions like that are an important and wonderful part of the Christian life.
You might even think that quote sums up what our text today is saying, but there is small part of that quote which is not quite right – and that one little thing makes all the difference.
Feeding, clothing, and finding homes for the homeless are things that we as Christians are called to do to show we have a living faith. We are reminded of this in James 2. ‘What good is it, my brothers and sisters if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them “Go in peace, keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way faith by itself, if not accompanied by action, is dead.’
A living faith which shows itself in actions is an important thing, but if we were judged simply by our actions how would we know if we had done enough to be sorted with the sheep rather than the goats? Do you need to devote your life to it as Mother Teresa did – and how can you be sure even she did enough. How does your life compare to that of Mother Teresa?
If we look at the text like that, there is no comfort for us, we can never be sure that we have done enough. Indeed, if we look to our own efforts, we will always fall short of the perfection that God requires.
Thankfully it is not our actions that decide if we will be numbered with the sheep or the goats. That is determined simply by what we put our faith and trust in – do we look to the cross where the Son of God took on the punishment that should have been ours, where he suffered and died for your sins, where you are clothed with the righteousness of Christ and enter into a restored relationship with God. Or do we look to what we do and our actions to earn our salvation?
Putting our faith and trust in Christ the good shepherd is the only way to be numbered with the sheep, through it we have total certainty! It is not up to us and what we do because, Jesus has already done it.
That is where Mother Teresa despite all her wonderful care and compassion got it wrong. We will be judged by: if we look to and put our faith and trust in Christ and his saving work.
Our actions flow from our faith in Christ. While they are important, and they serve and show love to our neighbour, they do not in any way contribute to our salvation.
So, does this mean that we can just live as we like and not worry about other people? Certainly not! Our faith needs to be lived out – through the power of the Holy Spirit we are to reflect the love of Christ in our lives – as St Paul puts it in Galatians - faith expressing itself through love.
It is the faith in Christ and what he has done for us that comes first and that is source of our salvation. Our efforts to provide for people’s physical well-being is the Holy Spirt working through us responding to what Christ has done and continues to do for us.
However, meeting people’s physical needs is only part of the equation. People have spiritual needs as well. The verses I read from James highlighted that you can’t just address a person’s spiritual needs, similarly simply addressing a person’s physical needs isn’t enough. Feeding a person may keep them physically alive, but it is only through pointing them to Christ and bringing them to the Word of God, that they can be fed and saved spiritually.
So, let’s go back and look again at our text today, this time reading it with a focus on people’s spiritual needs.
35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,
36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
Each day we meet people who are spiritually hungry and thirsty. People who stand naked before God with their sin exposed, people who go through life spiritually alone without a heavenly home to look forward to. That was us before Jesus entered our lives.
You see, this text isn’t just talking about people’s physical needs it is talking about their spiritual needs as well.
Therefore, we need to consider both a person’s spiritual and physical needs.
But we can’t meet a person’s spiritual needs in the same way that we meet their physical needs. We can only direct them to Christ by passing on the message of forgiveness and salvation through his life, death and resurrection and entrust them to his love and mercy.
To equip us to do this, we need to spend time with Jesus ourselves.
That is why we gather together for worship. As we read in John’ Gospel – Jesus is the bread of life, he comes to us in a very special way in the Lord’s Supper and he offers the living water which we received in our baptism. It is he who feeds and sustains us.
Once we have been feed through Word and sacrament, we are strengthened and empowered through the Holy Spirit to bring his love into other people’s lives and by doing so, pointing them to Christ.
We do that secure in the knowledge that he is there to forgives us when we fall short of what is asked of us in our text today. Therefore, we don’t have to worry if we have done enough. We don’t have to compare ourselves with Mother Teresa, we can instead look at her and be inspired by her example.
We bring nothing, we simply cling to the cross of Christ! That is what covers our nakedness. Yes, Jesus died for you. That is what puts you back into a right relationship with God. That is why we have the certainty of being sheep and not goats.
And there’s more! Jesus didn’t just die for you - on the third day he rose again! Therefore, all those who put their faith and trust in him will also be raised. So, we have eternal glory to look forward to.
Consequently, we can enter into the new church year with hope and joy seeking to care physically and spiritually for our neighbours whoever and wherever they are, not to earn our salvation, but instead to give glory to Christ through whom we have salvation. And there is nothing sheepish about that!
G’day What time is it where you are right now? Some of you might recall the childhood game: What’s the time Mr Wolf It’s a great group game. One player is chosen to be the wolf and stands with their back to the rest of the players. The players then line up around 10-20m behind the wolf and call out, “What’s the time, Mr Wolf?”. The wolf replies with a time for example, “It’s three o’clock!” Then the players move forward the same number of steps before asking the question again, “What’s the time, Mr Wolf?” T he game continues until the players are very close to the wolf. Finally, the wolf replies to the question with the answer “It’s dinner time!
Immediately the wolf turns around and chases the players. Whoever gets caught becomes the wolf and the game starts again. I wonder what God would say to us if we were to ask: What’s the time God. Well in the Bible God does tell us w hat the time is: The Bible says: The day of the Lord is near This is the time we continue to live in. Let’s listen to Zephaniah 1:7,12 18 and discover what will happen at that time:
Be silent before the Sovereign LORD for the day of the LORD is near. The LORD has prepared a sacrifice; he has consecrated those he has invited.At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish those who are complacent, who are like wine left on its dregs, who think, “The LORD will do nothing, either good or bad.” 13 Their wealth will be plundered, their houses demolished. Though they build houses, they will not live in them; though they plant vineyards, they will not drink the wine.’ 14 The great day of the LORD is near – near and coming quickly. The cry on the day of the LORD is bitter; the Mighty Warrior shouts his battle cry.15 That day will be a day of wrath – a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness – 16 a day of trumpet and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the corner towers. 17 ‘I will bring such distress on all people that they will grope about like those who are blind, because they have sinned against the LORD. Their blood will be poured out like dust and their entrails like dung. 18 Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the LORD’s wrath.’ In the fire of his jealousy the whole earth will be consumed, for he will make a sudden end of all who live on the earth.
Wow these are strong words from the Old Testament. God’s judgement on sin is real. There is nothing that we can do to save ourselves from the fire of God’s Judgement Our riches cannot save us. Because of sin there’ll come a time when everything on earth will come to a sudden end. I can’t imagine what such devastation could be like. But this is the destination we and the world have created for ourselves out of disobedience. If that was the only message we were to hear we would feel trapped and cornered and have no hope.
But today we can also give thanks to God for God has provided a new way to deal with sin and to set us free from the eternal destruction that has come upon the entire world because of our sin. God has provided us with a sacrifice to take away the sin of the world. Jesus is the means by which God deals with sin, rescuing us from the destruction we deserve because of sin.
In Jesus death and resurrection God deal s with our sin and begins his work of restoring his perfect relationship with us and all things.
As we live in the world of sin, God’s Holy S pirit is calling us to put our hope in the Lord Jesus and the sacrifice he has made It is the sacrifice that Jesus has made that consecrate s make s holy and sets apart all who hear and receive his gospel invitation. Today, you can praise God the Father for giving his son Jesus as the sacrifice to save you You can Thank Jesus for dying for you to deal with your sin once and for all, giving you a new life. You can also ask the Holy Spirit to help you live holy lives of love and service.
So how will we live as the day of the Lord draws near Let’s hear how the scriptures call us to be ready for the Lord’s coming in 1 Thessalonians 5:1 11
Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, 2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety’, destruction will come on them suddenly, as labour pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 4 But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. 5 You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. 6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. 9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
So what did you hear? I noticed in verse 11 that one thing we can do as we wait for the coming of the Lord is – ‘Encourage one another and build each other up…..’
In what ways are you encouraging one another and building each other up in your household? Your family, your community?
The good news is that God has appointed you to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. Yes – Salvation is yours as a free gift. Jesus has dealt with your sin – you are free to live as forgiven people and make a positive difference in the world and in the lives of others. So as you receive this good news today, what else could you do to encourage others as an act of worship to God?
Our last scripture for today from Matthew 25:14 30, will help us consider how we can effectively use our time to bring greater blessing to all
Did you notice that the master gave to each of his three servants talents that were entrusted to them A talent was one extremely large portion of money. And each of these servants received at least one. Often when we look at this parable the first thing we notice is that each one received a different number of talents. We are good at noticing things like this. ‘Oh look my brother he has a bigger serve of food than me!’ W e love to compare and notice when one receive s more than an other.
When we look at this parable we often overlook the fact that each of them received a talent and no one missed out. Today I want you to notice that each of these three servants were appointed to put to work what they had received. Each of them was called assigned given the privilege of administering the gift they had been given. Each of them was invited to make a difference in the world by putting to work what they had received.
Before we go deeper, I also want you to think of one talent as the perfect measure of the Gospel. Think of a talent as the Good news that God forgives and saves and gives us eternal life. This is the talent we have all received in Jesus. And it is this gospel that we are invited to put it to work.
We put it to work by sharing it by speaking words of hope and forgiveness and future into the lives of each other by declaring God’s promises over one another We put it to work by living our faith out loud. Yes we are forgiven, Yes Jesus has given us a future! But when we look around us we quickly start to compare ourselves with others. We will always find someone else who has more of something than us Someone who is more capable, someone who appears to be more successful. And before we know it we become disappointed with life and we bury the gift we have been given. Much like the servant in the parable
Friends Be aware of disappointment. The evil one wants us to experience disappointment The evil one will seek to ensure that we have every opportunity to experience disappointment. The evil one will want to lead us towards disappointment and will use every trick and temptation to do so drawing us to focus on how someone or something isn’t what you thought it would be or should be The evil one will lead you to bury your gift.
When we experience disappointment we ultimately dis appoint ourselves. We loose sight of the appointment we have been given to be part of God’s solution in this world The Devil knows you are here for a reason. The devil knows you are a significant part of God’s plan to rebuild and bring hope to the nations He knows he can’t strip you of that power, but he is also aware that you can strip yourself of that power. That’s why the devil wants you disappointed.
When we think things have not worked out according to our plan what are we really doing? We are putting our trust in our own understanding and timing rather than trusting in the will and ways of God. You see God’s ways are different to our ways, God is good and he is able to bring about his final desired outcome from any set of circumstances.
You and I have been appointed to share the gospel with others The Gospel is the Good news that we are unconditionally loved by God in Jesus. But as soon as I start looking to compare myself with others I quickly say I’m not good enough and I bury what I have been given When I do this, I am dis appointing myself I am letting go of the calling and responsibility and privilege that has been placed on my life. And instead of doing what I am called to do I am tempted to do the opposite.
There will be many obstacles that come our way in life, and these may lead us to experience disappointment But today Jesus parable becomes a reminder to me and I hope to you too, to remember your calling. Remember your appointment you have been appointed to use the gift God has given you You may look around and feel that there are others who are more qualified than you You may look around and consider that t heir faith or capacity or resources may be stronger or bolder or brighter. But do not disappoint yourself by comparing yourself to others.
Remember you are appointed to be stewards of the gospel he has given you. And while the enemy's trap of disappointment causes us to dis appoint ourselves, the encouragement of the Lord that we can receive through each other in community will f ill us with the courage we need to put to work what we have received. The encouragement of the lord that we receive in community will empower us to lean not on our own understanding but instead lean into the Lord, trusting in Him no matter what!
So trust in the Lord with all your heart. Refuse to be disappointed. See yourself as an instrument that God can use to bring about his solution. We may be broken by our own sin, but God in his grace comes to us and claims us as his He says to use who are broken and rejected ‘You are mine I love you’. He encourages us and restores us as instruments though which his will can be done. Remember the gift he has given you, and put it to use in your own life this may mean learning to forgive yourself. Put it to work a lso in the life of those in your sphere of influence. You will never loose the gospel talent god has given you by putting it to work and sharing it. You can only loose it by burying it. As you speak the genuine gospel out loud into the lives of those around you it will multiply maybe in ways we may not see straight away but it will happen That’s what good news does! It multiplies simply by speaking it out
Speaking the Good news that we are loved by God and demonstrating our love for love one another, Announcing that we are forgiven by God and are forgiven by one another, declaring that we have a future together with God forever all because of Jesus These are the best way s we can use our time.
You have 168 hours each week. May you use your time wisely putting t o work the gift of Salvation that God has given you by sharing it with others. Time is running out for all of us We only have so much time on this side of eternity. Now is the time to use your time well. Amen
25 ‘At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4 The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. 6 ‘At midnight the cry rang out: “Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!” 7 ‘Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.” 9 ‘“No,” they replied, “there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.” 10 ‘But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. 11 ‘Later the others also came. “Lord, Lord,” they said, “open the door for us!” 12 ‘But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.” 13 ‘Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour. Matthew 25:1-13
I’ve conducted dozens of weddings over almost 28 years of ministry. I’ve waited for plenty of brides. Most were fashionably late, up to 15 minutes or so. Perhaps it was a courtesy to allow the guests who themselves weren’t on time to find their seats. Most of the time, I think it was designed to cause just the slightest shiver of concern for the nervous groom.
The longest I’ve ever had to wait for a bride to arrive was 55 minutes, made all the more remarkable by the fact that she was being driven to the church in a Ferrari 360. But even a Ferrari could not find a way through the dreaded Melbourne weekend traffic.
I’ve haven’t conducted any weddings this year. Both that were booked in had to be cancelled because of the COVID-19 restrictions meant that only a few family and friends would have been able to attend the wedding. I’m glad to report that both weddings are rescheduled for the new year, God willing.
Waiting. Not for the bride, but for the bridegroom. That’s the focus of the parable that Jesus tells us today. The bridegroom is Jesus himself, and he will, at the time of the Father’s choosing, come back for his bride, the church. And then there will be a wedding reception for the ages, for all eternity in fact. That’s the promise in the tail of the parable, although perhaps as we hear Jesus’ words today, it seems more like a sting: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” It all depends whether we are looking forward to Jesus’ return, or not? Or even whether we think much about at all.
I sense that the events of this year have made people ponder the really big questions: Where are we heading? Are our younger generations going to face a less well-off future? Are we entering a period of political instability, even conflict? And perhaps the biggest question of all: what will the changing climate mean for our global future?
The first people to read the New Testament didn’t need to be reminded about taking the promise of Jesus’ return seriously. And in part that’s because Jesus talked a great deal about it. The whole of the previous chapter of Matthew is dedicated to Jesus’ teaching about the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and the signs that point to the end of time, and Jesus’ own triumphant return. The language Jesus uses, and the pictures he paints, may seem strange and disconcerting to us, but for the first Christians they were words that brought them great hope and comfort, as they sought to be faithful followers of Jesus when there was intense pressure to compromise their confession that Jesus alone was Lord.
The hope of Jesus’ return is a thread of encouragement and hope that runs through the New Testament. Because Jesus has defeated the power of sin, death and Satan, we can live confidently and creatively in the face of what are ‘mopping up’ operations, as sin and evil thrash around in their death throes.
Jesus’ parable is set in the context of a wedding celebration, somewhat different from the way we go about things today. The bridegroom prepared for his wedding at his parent’s house. He then processed to the bride’s house, where the festivities began. In the early evening, the bride, groom and their guests would make their way to the groom’s home. But here the bride and her attendants are still waiting for the groom to turn up.
They did think to bring along their lamps. And five of them have brought jars containing extra oil for their lamps. But the other five didn’t. The ones who have extra oil Jesus calls ‘wise.’ These five have their head screwed on. The others he calls foolish. Moronic, in fact. We will soon see why.
Time passes, but nothing seems to happen. All ten fall asleep. I wonder what’s keeping the bridegroom?
Finally, the call rings out in the middle of the night at midnight. ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ So the bridesmaids trim their lamps. But the foolish, unprepared ones strike trouble. They’ve run out of oil. They ask the wise ones for some help, but they decline. “There may not be enough for both us and you.” They give them this advice: “Go and buy some of your own.” The foolish five comply, and off they go.
Wouldn’t you know. It’s right now that the bridegroom makes his grand entrance, and takes the five wise bridesmaids with him. The door is firmly shut and the party begins. When the five foolish bridesmaids return with oil in hand, no amount of pleading will get them in. There’s a chilling reply. “Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.”
This is a word no one would want to hear. Who would want to miss out on the party to end all parties-the wedding reception of the Bridegroom and his Bride, the church? Yet if we go back to the Parable of the Wedding Banquet a few chapters earlier in Matthew’s gospel, many people did reject this invitation because there were just too many other, more pressing priorities. Here, all the bridesmaids received and responded to their invitation, but only the wise ones ended up at the celebration. What was it, then, that made the wise bridesmaids wise? The word Jesus uses to describe them gives us a clue: it’s a word that means practical intelligence, resourcefulness. What they know is oriented toward putting thought into action.
Jesus’ parable of the wise and foolish builder in Matthew 7 helps us to unlock the meaning of this parable. Jesus uses the same words ‘wise’ and ‘foolish’ there too, to contrast the action of two builders. ‘Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.’ By contrast, the foolish builder is the one who heard but disregarded Jesus’ words. Jesus here links foolishness with disobedience, with listening to the word of God but not putting it into practice.
The five wise bridesmaids knew that waiting was a possibility. So they are prepared for it. They’ve stocked up with an extra flask of olive oil. We, too, know what it’s like to wait. We don’t know what held the bridegroom up in this parable. But we do have a sense about why we are still waiting.
The Apostle Peter says, “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” God’s patience means there is still time for the good news to do its saving work. And while we wait, God calls us to play our part in his mission.
So that’s what we do while we’re waiting. There have been two traditions throughout Christian history about what the oil in the bridesmaids’ lamps might mean. The first is that the oil is a symbol of good works, in the light of Jesus' words. 'You are the light of the world…Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good deeds and give glory to your Father in heaven.' Wisdom means putting into action what we believe in theory.
As Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, just before the words about wise and foolish builders that we heard earlier: “Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
When Luther interpreted this parable, he said that the oil represented faith. Faith is what is required to get you through the dark night, especially when the bridegroom seems to be putting in a no show, and where evil seems to hold the upper hand. Faith means trusting in the persevering grace of God to renew his whole creation. There's no contradiction between these two interpretations. After all, faith produces faithfulness, and faithfulness works itself out in our lives in acts of love and service.
Why are we waiting? Because God has not yet finished with his creation. God is still doing his saving work, and he has commissioned us to be part of this task. Showing gracious and patient love in a world of stresses and strains. Inviting people to Jesus, the Bridegroom who will come, who has made his people holy, and will come to gather them to himself when he returns in glory.
Waiting is not easy, and never more so than in a world which contradicts the will and way of God at every turn. Who knows how long the bridegroom will be delayed? As long as it suits God, and as long as his patience stretches for a lost world. So our waiting is purposeful, and hopeful. We know that what we are waiting for-to be with the Lord when he comes. And in the meantime, we wait well by letting our light shine brightly. Amen.
Click here to watch the [Worship Video](https://bit.ly/2wOdI3l) for Sunday 1 November.
9 After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. 10 And they were shouting with a great roar, “Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living beings. And they fell before the throne with their faces to the ground and worshiped God. 12 They sang, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and strength belong to our God forever and ever! Amen.” 13 Then one of the twenty-four elders asked me, “Who are these who are clothed in white? Where did they come from?” 14 And I said to him, “Sir, you are the one who knows.” Then he said to me, “These are the ones who died in the great tribulation. They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white.15 “That is why they stand in front of God’s throne and serve him day and night in his Temple. And he who sits on the throne will give them shelter. 16 They will never again be hungry or thirsty; they will never be scorched by the heat of the sun. 17 For the Lamb on the throne will be their Shepherd. He will lead them to springs of life-giving water. And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.” Revelation 7:9-17
Every Tuesday morning St John’s staff meet. We read God’s word and we pray together, and then we share our plans for the week ahead. We also discuss how we can care for those in need the St John’s community. We have a rolling list of people that need a visit or a phone call. And within this document are the names of members and friends of the St John’s community who have lost a loved one over the last 12 months. There are over 50 names, and some of them appear more than once. Over the last 12 months, members of our community have grieved the death of a spouse, a mother or a father, a brother or sister, a grandmother or grandfather, an aunty or uncle, a nephew or niece, a cousin, or a dear friend.
My name is on the list this year. Tomorrow is seven months since my mother died. It’s the closest, deepest grief that I’ve experienced in my life so far. More than any other year, I’ve been looking forward to All Saints Day, and to hearing this promise of Jesus: “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life. (John 5:24 NRSV) And then lighting a candle in memory of mother and thanking God for the legacy of her life, along with the other saints we remember who now live in the presence of God and of the Lamb at the centre of the throne, their shepherd, and ours too.
All Saints Day has its origin in the church’s custom of commemorating the martyrs of the church. It was the early church father Tertullian who said that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” The last century saw more Christians killed for their faith in Jesus than all the other centuries before them. This is a world unknown to us in Australia, but is the daily, lived experience of Christians who live in places like North Korea or Somalia, who are abused, mistreated and even martyred for this confession of faith.
It is imperative that we remember these, our brothers and sisters in Christ, just as we remember those whom we know personally, whom we have loved, and for whom we have grieved. At the same time, we also bring a sense of heaviness, a grief perhaps unnamed to All Saints this year, our lost hopes and opportunities, relationships that been put on hold, at least face to face. More than ever, we are acutely aware that the world in which we live is a far from fixed place, and we are frail and fallible creatures. If our hope rested in this world’s future and what we can make of it, all we have is shifting sand.
But we believe that we have a much, much more solid foundation on which to construct our lives-our hope in God, hope that is confirmed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus--a hope that stretches from the present into a longer-for, hardly imagined future. In John’s Revelation, the last book of the New Testament, God peels back the curtain of heaven and gives John a glimpse into the reality that underpins our lives.
John sees an awesome panorama of God’s preferred, secured future. A great multitude, the redeemed from across time and consisting of one humanity united from all nations, tribes, people and languages stand before the throne that counts, the one above all government and human power, the one to whom all creation will have to give an account of their lives. Nations and empires have sought to stamp out the good news, and God’s people with it, but God has triumphed.
The people John sees “have come out of the great tribulation.” Some of them have paid the price of their lives for saying that they follow Jesus, and not Caesar, or any other pretend god. But all of them, not matter how and when they died, “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” They’ve trusted their lives to Jesus, their Lord. They have trusted his sacrificial death as the act that changes history, and brings all people back to God. This is the heart of the good news that the saints are called to live out and speak out: that God wants his human family back, so that all can stand around this throne and sing, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
At the centre of this scene is God’s throne. Seated next to God is the Lamb, Jesus Christ. All those gathered are wearing white robes, signifying that they have been purified through Jesus’ holy and sinless life. They are also holding palm branches, as a way of showing their praise to God. This reminds me of the Palm Sunday procession into Jerusalem, where the crowds greeted Jesus as King on his way to rule over God’s people. But little did they know that the throne Jesus would first mount was the cross. That’s what Jesus himself says in John 12: “I, when I am lifted up, will draw all people to myself.”
First of all, though, heaven comes down to earth in Jesus, and then, through Jesus’ death and resurrection we are lifted up to be with him. The “Lamb at the centre of the throne” grounds his shepherding love in the cross. As he sacrifices his life, and is raised to new life, he makes us pure and holy, and blazes the trail to new life that we will follow. This is the destination toward which those who place their trust in Jesus are heading. John writes in his first letter: “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”
Through our baptism into the body of Christ, we’ve been given this precious name: child of God. We carry this name throughout our lives, and thus name carries us through the gates of death into the new life that God has promised all who trust their lives to him. We don’t know exactly what this new life will be like, but what we can say with confidence that we shall be made like Jesus. And that’s the most powerful and firm hope.
There are times when this good news may be feel disconnected from our lives on the ground. When things are going well, when we are fit and healthy, we feel that we don’t need to project forward to a time when we will face the death of a loved one, or indeed our own mortality. But those times will come, and we will worry, and fret, and cry and grieve. Then God’s promise that he will “wipe away every tear from their eyes” comes into its own.
It’s a promise forged through Jesus’ total identification with us in his humanity, and confirmed in his death and resurrection. And it’s the only thing that will get us through the death of those we love, and our death too.
John sees that the saints “are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple, and he who sits on the throne spreads his tent over them.” They sing on high rotation, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” This is the essence of the song we sing today, and every time we gather to worship God as his holy, redeemed community. During lockdown we missed the opportunity to weekly rehearse our heavenly worship face to face. And some of us are still in this position. Being able to worship together, or even on our own, is a dress rehearsal for what’s going on around the throne of God even now. It calls us back to our core identity as God’s children, and reminds us of our dependence on God, and our hope in him.
Today I’m looking forward to lighting a candle for my mother. I’m still sad that she has died. Her dying was painful to witness, and has deeply affected me. But I don’t light this candle to rage against the dying of the light. Rather, I do it confessing the light of Christ, who has overcome death. I do it knowing that as my mother lived and died as a child of God, she now lives to praise and worship God forever. I do it as a sign of my hope in God also, that I and all who trust in Jesus “shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” Amen.
Click here to watch the [Worship Video](https://bit.ly/2wOdI3l) for Sunday 25 October.
I want to speak about the first verse of Ps. 46. The Lord is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear.
We will not fear. Now there’s some-thing that’s easier said than done.
An old Indian fable tells of a mouse that’s in constant distress because of its fear of rats. A magician took pity on it, offering to help by turning it into a cat. No cat is afraid of rats. But this mouse-changed-into-a-cat immediately became afraid of dogs. The magician changed it into a tiger. As soon as that happened it was terrified that hunters were going to turn up. Then the magician said, ‘Look, be a mouse again. You only have the heart of a mouse, I really can’t help you.’
Somewhere I came across this paragraph on fear: When I say that during my life I have been the prey of fears, I take it I’m expressing the case of most people. I can't remember a time when fear of one kind or another wasn’t in the air. In childhood, it was fear of going to bed; later it was fear of school; still later, it was the experience of waking in the morning with the feeling of dismay at the amount of work that had to be done before night. In one form or another, fear dogs every one of us. The mother is afraid for her children; the father is afraid for his business; most of us are afraid for our jobs. Nowhere are we free of our fears. I’m ready to guess that all the miseries wrought by sin and sickness combined, would not equal those we bring on ourselves, through fear. We’re not sinning all the time. (The paragraph concludes.) But most of us are afraid always.
That’s a very bleak picture of the power of fear. If it’s true, it’s really surprising anyone can say, I won’t fear.
Don’t you find that, despite all your best intentions, fear does come to worry and disturb you, again and again? Maybe it’s just a little fear that niggles around the edges of your mind, but there it is. And sometimes it quietly grows into something that comes close to getting right out of control.
And you know what fear can do to you. You can see what it does to those you love. Fear makes us want to hide, and keep to ourselves, and try to find a place where we can be so alone that even the fear won’t be able to find us. But we know that doesn’t work. Fear seems to like finding us on our own — and find us it does — and while we’re hiding there all alone the fear seems so much worse.
Fear can make us super-sensitive and extremely defensive about our opinions and life. We hit back, show aggression, get angry, all to keep people away from the fear that fills our heart, and that we find very difficult to speak about. We don’t like to admit we're fearful and afraid. And that affects our relationships with others.
Fear can make us close our minds to new thoughts, it makes us unwilling to listen to opinions that are different from our own, it closes our ears to things we don’t want to hear, and stops us from doing things differently. And that quickly stunts us as people, and prevents us from growing in obedience to God.
No wonder the person I quoted earlier said, I’m ready to guess that all the miseries wrought by sin and sickness combined, would not equal those we bring on ourselves, through fear.
We will not fear. How on earth can this psalm, or any person, say: despite all the fears that fill life on this earth, and that fill my life and my heart, I won’t fear.
Because not fearing is a decision we make. It’s acknowledging all the scary things that come at me, but then making a firm decision not to let them determine how I’m going to act. I’m not going to let that fear rule my life, or that one, or that one. I will not fear.
And there’s a very good reason for making a decision like that. This Psalm begins, God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble, therefore we will not fear. Because God is there as our refuge, to protect us, to provide a place of safety — because he can be relied on — that’s why I can make that decision. There is no need to be afraid.
Even though big changes may be going on in our world, changes that don’t seem to make life better for the human race, or make this world a more peaceful or kind or loving place, I will not fear. Even though I’m afraid of the kind of world my children and grandchildren will have to live in, I won’t fear. God is with us, he’s our refuge and strength.
I‘ll go on living for him, doing my duty for God, serving him and giving of myself to other people. And even though some people may not like me for serving and obeying God, and my life may become more and more difficult, I’ll go on serving and obeying, and I won’t fear. I won’t let any fear determine how I act.
Even though there are changes going on in our congregations, and in the church, changes that make me nervous and uncomfortable and make me wonder about the right way to go to maintain what I like about my congregation — I won’t fear. God is with us, he’s our refuge and strength.
Even though I may be afraid about doing things differently (and I know congregations have to find new ways to go out into the world around us) I won’t fear. I won’t let fear determine how I act, or stop me from joining with my fellow members in being the church God has made us. A church where the first thing isn’t worship, or fellowship, or Bible Study, but being equipped and strengthened by worship and fellowship and Bible study for carrying out God’s mission of inviting others to join us in following Jesus. I won’t fear, so I can do that.
About 12 years ago Dawn and I were in Hamilton, and on the Saturday night we had the job of babysitting 2 of our grandchildren while their Mum and Dad went to a concert. Sonia, then 5 years old, went to bed contentedly, but soon came to find me to tell me through her tears that she’d had a scary dream. Well, it was ages since I had to deal with a fearful 5 year old, but I bumbled on and tried to reassure her. Fortunately, after I tucked her in bed again, she slept soundly. The next morning as we spoke with her Mum and Dad about the previous night, Sonia said that what helped were the 3 hugs Poppy gave her — one from him, one from Mum, and one from Dad.
I wonder if the writer of this psalm is saying what Sonia said — or something like it. God, whom we know is our refuge and strength, comes to us in our fear and hugs us. The water of baptism is a great hug from God as he welcomes us into his family. The great promises, given again and again, of forgiveness and of his presence with us always are wonderful hugs from God. His gift to us of work to do for him and his assurance that he’ll go with us and give us what we need for that work is God hugging us. He hugs us in Holy Communion as he comes right into our hearts and lives, dwelling there among all the fears that race around inside us, and bringing us his peace.
Because of all that, because of the kind of God he is, there’s no reason for fear. He frees us to make that decision. You can face any fear, you can even go into situations that terrify you, without letting that fear dictate how you act, or stop you from obeying God. God is your refuge and strength, your safe haven, whenever you need him.
Click here to watch the [Worship Video](https://bit.ly/2wOdI3l) for Sunday 18 October.
1 Paul, Silas and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you. 2 We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. 3 We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4 For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. 6 You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. 7 And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. 8 The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia – your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore, we do not need to say anything about it, 9 for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead – Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath. 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
In times of great uncertainty, we look for security. With the decline of the church and other institutions in wealthy western wealthy countries like ours, many are looking to their government to step up and lead us out of an economic wasteland. In this state, we’ve been blessed with a sensible and wise response to the pandemic. That’s not the case everywhere across the world. Some leaders have let power go to their heads, and used their authority not to help but to harm their people.
COVID-19 has raised so many questions about who’s in charge of something that seems impossible to control. Today’s Bible readings speak to our situation. They reassure us that God is the ultimate authority figure-he continues to creatively watch over the world he made. And he’s given his church the commission to live confidently in his authority, and to live selflessly for the wellbeing of all people, through his Son, Jesus Christ.
Let’s begin with Isaiah. We may think we live in a time of disorder, but the period during which Isaiah prophesied was tumultuous in the extreme. The Assyrian empire was the global superpower, and had conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 721BC. They, in turn, were conquered by the Babylonians, who destroyed Jerusalem in 587. God’s people were inconsolable, and saw no possible future. Exiled from the promised land, and especially God’s temple, there simply was nothing left to live for. Best to adapt to the times, and adopt the gods and the practices of their new homeland, Babylon.
But God had not rejected his people for good, though. Through his prophets, he let his people know that this situation was temporary. Keep the faith. Keep the practices that make you distinctly my people. Keep treasuring my word. I will work a way back for you.
But I’m not sure that God’s people could not have possibly conceived that God was crafting a rescue plan that would involve the ruler of yet another empire, Persia. And so it turned out exactly as God had spoken through Isaiah.
What can we learn from Isaiah’s words today? Firstly, that God sits above all the political machinations taking place across the world. And that today, despite what we see, he still works out his purposes, for the sake of the people of his new covenant in Jesus, for his church. That’s because the church is the means by which God continues his healing and saving work. God appointed Jesus, his crucified, risen, victorious Son, to be the head over everything for the sake of the church.
The second thing we learn from Isaiah is that those who lead, our governments at various levels and in various places, are not the ultimate authority. God is. As Psalm 146 reminds us: “Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing. Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God.”
This question of who’s in charge never goes away. In today’s gospel reading, the Pharisees bring it up too. “Tell us, Jesus,” the Pharisees ask, “what is your opinion. Is it right to pay the poll-tax to Caesar or not?” Tax is an unpopular topic, then and now. But Jesus isn’t interested in tax rates. He wants to point his questioners back to the God who is behind and over everything. Jesus asks them to produce a coin.
“Whose image is this? And whose inscription?’ ’Caesar’s,’ they replied.” This is what was inscribed on the coin: Tiberius Caesar, Son of the Divine Augustus Pontifex Maximus. Caesar is claiming he has ultimate authority. But he’s only a pretender.
Jesus goes on: “’Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s.’” Caesar has the right to extract tax from you. It’s his job to govern. But that’s where it stops. Caesar is only a king, even an emperor. He is not worthy of worship. Full stop. “Give to God what is God’s.” Money, possessions, Caesar, all governments and the countries they rule, the earth itself and the universe, belong to God, and are under his authority. As Paul himself writes in Romans 13, “'there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.”
The only authority we can trust is God. That’s something we human beings struggle to do. Instead, we place our trust in substitutes. The Bible has a name for this: idolatry. It’s the original and besetting human sin. We know the First Commandment: “I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other gods before me.” Our first human parents chose to listen to the voice of the snake, the great pretender, who challenged them, “Did God really say” before misrepresenting God and misleading them. The rest, as we say, is history. Unfortunately, it’s our history too.
This is not just an issue for the ancients, but for us in our sophisticated modern world too. We might not bow down in front of a shrine or a statue, but we all fail to place God first in our lives. We look for security in all the wrong places: in other people and their opinions of us, in the prestige of our work, the kind of house we live in, the places we’ve been.
Knowing Jesus changes everything. Paul says to the Christians in Thessalonica: “You turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” You now serve the God who has shown us his servant love in the cross of his Son Jesus. Idolatry is all about placating, cajoling, begging the object of our worship to give us something. But the one true God gives us life as a gift, and now we are free to live, fully secure in him, and free to live in such a way that honours his authority in our lives by blessing others.
That’s why Paul can write to this church: “We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
See how Paul links together faith, hope and love. This is something he often does. In Colossians 1 Paul reminds us that “faith and love spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven, and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you.” The gospel gives us hope in the face of the stresses and concerns that could so easily overwhelm us in this year of pandemic.
In this kind of world, God has given us work to do. “Work of faith” refers to a faith that is active, not passive, a faith that is public, not private. This ‘work’ is motivated by the energy of God in us through the Holy Spirit. Luther once wrote that faith is “a living, busy, active, mighty thing…It is impossible for it not to be doing good works incessantly.” The definition of these good works in remarkably simple: love God, and love your neighbour.
This, Paul says, is our “labour of love.” Labour is a word that speaks of strenuous activity, of carrying a great burden of concern for other. And love is the ‘agape’ love that flows from the Father to the Son, and then to us through the Holy Spirit. Serving our neighbour, caring for one another is hard work. It’s motivated by a love that comes from outside of us, from God himself. And it’s founded on the peace we experience through a secure relationship that come through the cross of Christ.
The fact that this love can keep on keeping on is because it empowered by an “endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” The life of the Christian community is begun, continued and ended in Christ. It’s our relationship with God through Christ that is the impetus for service. Faith, hope and love finds a pathway out of here into the wider community, whether through our individual lives at work or among friends, or in the outreach ministries in which our congregation is involved. Paul delights in the way that the Thessalonian church has done just this: “The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere.”
What an encouragement this is for us. From groups of Christians dotted throughout the Roman empire, the good news spread through the way that these people demonstrated their allegiance to the God who was in charge of everything but working in faith, and laboring in love. 2000 years later, we can also be hopeful that as we go about loving faithfully and serving sacrificially, that the Lord’s message will ring out from us. That’s his promise. He’s still in charge. Amen.
Click here to watch the [Worship Video](https://bit.ly/2wOdI3l) for Sunday 11 October.
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends! 2 I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. 4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:1-9
In 1960, the architect Robin Boyd published a book entitled: The Great Australian Ugliness. It was an attack on the poor architecture that characterised the vast and sprawling suburb of Australian cities. This book launched a thousand criticisms, not just about triple-front brick veneer houses, like the one I happily grew up in, but about the ugliness and laziness of Australian culture.
A few years ago the book was re-released, with a new cover and a foreword by the Melbourne author Christos Tsiolkas. You might have heard of him. His books like The Slap and Barracuda paint a gritty and unrelenting picture of the dark underbelly of contemporary Australian life: the anger, selfishness and revenge, infidelity and greed. And of course he’s right-all that that stuff is there, often hiding behind closed doors or office walls. We all know that there’s ugly stuff out there, but it’s also in us.
2020 has been an ugly year. I believe we desperately need to hear what the Apostle Paul has to say to us today. Paul’s watchword is joy. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” He needs to say it again because joy is hard to come by right now. Bad news dominates the 24-hour news cycle, and the good news we see is often forced, trite and only skin-deep.
Being a Christian doesn’t mean papering over the cracks of modern life, or pretending that everything’s just fine when it isn’t. Instead, Paul’s call to rejoice is built on the rock solid foundation of the action of God in Jesus Christ. We need to go back to the previous chapter to see how Paul sets out the reasons that Christians have to be joyful in the face of ugliness.Being a Christian doesn’t mean papering over the cracks of modern life, or pretending that everything’s just fine when it isn’t. Instead, Paul’s call to rejoice is built on the rock solid foundation of the action of God in Jesus Christ. We need to go back to the previous chapter to see how Paul sets out the reasons that Christians have to be joyful in the face of ugliness.
Chapter three begins with these words: “Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord.” Bu immediately, Paul warns about the false teachers who are seeking to undermine the only thing that can give the church confidence and hope: gaining Christ and being found in him, “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ.” And underlying these words is Paul’s conviction that the existence of the universe is not random and that it is the product of God’s creative hand. And we are created in God’s image, and God longs to share his life with us.
But Paul is also honest about the way in which sin mars God’s good creation. Paul speaks of those “who live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame.” Evil has perverted what God intended to be good, and this has resulted in all kinds of ugliness in attitude and action.
So then, how can we rejoice in the face of this ugliness? Because God didn’t shirk the reality of human sin and entered into this sad and sorry world in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ. Only through the cross and the resurrection of Jesus are the scales tipped toward hope and a future, despite what we see happening around and within us, in this year above all years. Paul reminds us that “our citizenship is in heaven.” This means that our life is bracketed by the fact that we have been created by God in love, and that because of our relationship with him through his Son, we are on the trajectory to eternal life. And right now, in this messy middle, we know that God cares passionately and personally for us, and also for this broken world. And he is rebuilding the whole creation through the good news that he calls the church to live and proclaim.
Today Paul calls us to stand firm, as we are firmly held in his loving grasp. That’s the grounds for our joy. It’s a deep confidence in the nurturing love of God. This joy results in gentleness, which flows over into our relationships. The word Paul uses here is remarkably broad in meaning. Let your goodwill, friendliness, patience, forbearance be evident to all. What an antidote to ugly this is.
“The Lord is near…” Paul is thinking of the imminent return of Jesus to “bring everything under his control, [who] will transform our lowly bodies to be like his glorious body.” I don’t think many of us think a lot about Jesus’ second coming, but this is one of the key Christian teachings. It’s important because it means that the world will not running down to an inevitable, ugly end, but that God will intervene at a time of his choosing, to announce that time’s up and that he’s creating a brand new heaven and a new earth, full of grace, beauty and joy in his presence. But at the same time, it is also true that the “Lord is near” through his gifts of grace that he continues to lavish on us, his word and holy meal, his presence within, the gift of each other, the way that the Holy Spirit lives in us and links us together.
This then leads to the next point. “Do not be anxious about anything.” I struggle with anxiety, and especially so this year. For me, anxiety is the sense that the world is out of control and I’m not on top of things. So firstly, Paul’s words really unsettle me, challenge me. But then I hear the grace in what Paul is saying. He is calling me, and you, to anchor in the safe haven of the one who loves us beyond measure and who has our lives in his hands, and whose intentions for us are always and only for our good.
From that thought, Paul moves next to prayer. Prayer is the clearest expression of God’s interest in the intricacies of our daily lives, warts and all. Paul writes, “In every situation by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God.” and by that I’m assuming he means every situation, the good, the bad, and the ugly of each day. We pray for ourselves in our struggles, and for others too, as they wrestle with the ugliness, knowing that God isn’t deaf to our cries. Seeing Jesus dying on the cross shows us that God cares, and that he has embraced the ugliness our sin in order to fill our lives with the beauty of his love and grace. If God’s Son would dare to suffer and die for us-if that God is for us, who can be against us. This is peace for all people, for the whole universe, but it’s also peace at the micro-level, in our day to day lives. Paul says that God stands like a sentry and guards not just our hearts, but our minds too, with his strong peace.
Finally, Paul gives a list of beautiful thing to think about in the middle of the ugliness of this morning’s news, and the things that are going on for us personally. Considering these things reframes our thinking about our lives and our relationships, and how the good news impacts everything we do and say.
- Whatever is true- Jesus calls Christians to pray: “Lord, sanctify us by your truth. Your word is truth.” And so that’s why we dwell in God’s word, today, and, I ray, daily during the week.
- Whatever is worthy of respect-who do you admire for their integrity in this community-how can you thank them, even seek to be mentored by them?
- Whatever is right-Paul is thinking of right and wrong in terms of those right behaviours and attitudes that come from a right relationship with God. This kind of right isn’t interested in pointing out the wrong in others, but letting the right lead the way and point to the beauty of God’s righteousness.
- Whatever is pure-purity is the core of God’s being. God is perfect love and beauty, and he wants to share this with us. I think of James’ words here: “the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure, then peace loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.
- ”Whatever is lovely-literally, whatever bends toward love of others. How can you ‘be lovely’ to others. It’s attitudes and actions that our world so desperately needs?
- Whatever is admirable or virtuous-think of the classic virtues taught by the church: chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness, and humility. These habits incarnate God’s loving nature and build up the common good?
- Whatever is praiseworthy-how have you thanked and encouraged those who have served and cared for you; and how have you praised God for all his love. And how might your life elicit that reaction from others, praising not you, but God working through you?
The other day Facebook reminded me that it is 20 years ago that the band U2 released the album, All That You Can’t Leave Behind. This one song, called “Grace” spoke powerfully then, and still does to me today, of the power of God’s grace to bring hope, share peace and change life for the good. There’s one line that sticks with me: Grace makes beauty out of ugly things
There is much in contemporary Australian culture that is ugly and life-draining. We all know and experience it. But it’s Jesus, and trust in him, which brings beauty out of ugliness, and healing out of brokenness.Grace makes beauty out of ugly things. God has done this through the ugliness and pain of the cross, from which flows the amazing beauty of resurrection life. God calls us to share his beautiful grace with others. As you do so, may the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Click here to watch the [Worship Video](https://bit.ly/2wOdI3l) for Sunday 4 October.
If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, 14 I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:4b-14
I’ve returned to work this week after a short holiday. It was good to get away from regular routines and responsibilities for a while, and reflect on the kind of year that it has been. I had hoped, like many of you, that 2020 would have been very different from the way it has played out.
During my leave, I read a biography of the Apostle Paul. I’ve always loved Paul’s writings, his passion, his struggles, his honesty, his grasp of the good news, his concern for the truth but also his compassion for people, his hard work, his suffering and his endurance. His letters are full of life and energy, and speak so clearly about the power of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, not just to transform Paul’s own life but to create the church and bring a new future for all creation. I believe Paul has something vital to share with us today as we head toward the conclusion of this messed up year.
The words we hear from Paul today are written from a prison cell in Ephesus. Paul had time to think long and hard about how his trust and faith in Jesus fitted in the middle of his suffering. Suffering always forces us back to bedrock. Perhaps the advent of COVID-19 has raised big questions for you? What security is there in life when my plans for work, travel, retirement, can be so quickly turned on their head?
Or you may have experienced other difficult things this year, as in every year. My mother died in early March, and the question of future hope in the face of death is not an academic one for me. As it wasn’t for Paul, who faced death many times throughout his ministry. And of course all of us await an appointment with our own death, which is getting closer every day, no matter how young or old we are
The heart of Paul’s letter to the Philippians is Jesus himself. Paul is totally amazed at the way that Jesus changes everything about our future through his life, death and resurrection, God was putting the world to rights. “Christ Jesus, who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” And even more unexpectedly, amazingly, God raised him from the dead, to confirm his victory and to hold before us the certainty of eternal life.
For Paul, the faithful Jew, this came as a huge shock. Paul believed that God had revealed his covenant love to Israel, and had given them his law, and called them to be a light to all nations. Sadly, God’s people kept on making one wrong decision after another. Their hearts were led astray, and because of their behaviour, their idolatry and injustice, God eventually turfed them out of the promised land, and into exile. Yet Paul, as a committed Pharisee, worked as hard as he could to push his own people toward a renewed obedience to God. And that’s also why, when he first heard about Jesus and his claims, he was convinced that they were totally wrong and their teaching had to be stamped out.
It took some pretty dramatic intervention from God to turn Paul around-an encounter with the Risen Jesus himself as Paul was on his way to imprison some of Jesus followers in Damascus. Suddenly, blinded by God’s light, and shaken by the voice of Jesus himself, Paul’s spiritual vision was slowly healed as Barnabas, one of the first Christians, lovingly shared the story of Jesus with him. And so, bit by bit, as Paul reflected deeply on the Old Testament he knew and loved, he began to understand that the life and death of Jesus was actually the fulfilment of everything God had promised.
It’s not possible to overestimate how challenging this was for Paul. It required a completely new world view. You see, Paul was a star performer in the world of first century Judaism. He ticked every box. “If others think they have reason to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church, as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.”
I’m sure that we, too, all have our list of personal achievements, and we rely on these for our sense of esteem or security-our academic achievements, our work, our homes and surroundings, our social network. We also hold them up to God as a way of showing him that we are worthy of his love. But what Paul learnt, through meeting Jesus, is that this is putting everything the wrong way around. It leads to a dead end. What Paul would have once placed in the profit column-his qualifications and achievements, are really only junk bonds in God’s eyes. All that we’ve accomplished, no matter how impressive it is in the eyes of others, or even in our own eyes, can’t deal with our biggest issue-the debt of obedience we owe to God. And all of what we consider good is shot through with self-interest, let alone those things we know are bad. No one living can work their way up to God through their own behaviour.
God’s covenant people were incapable of keeping his law. And so are we. And God’s law itself comes to a dead end too, because it can’t change our hearts. It only hammers us in our disobedience or fuels our misguided pride that we are on top of things.
Paul knows that this religious game is up. That’s why he writes: “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.” Whatever I thought was credit to me I now realise is loss. But I’m willing to give up that up because it really is worthless when I think about everything that I’ve been given by God through his Son, Jesus. There is really no comparison. Jesus became Paul’s passion, and his rock-solid confidence. And this is what he was bursting to share. It was good news not just for him personally, but for all people. It’s not just a nice idea, but something that changes the way we live, as well as the way we think. Knowing that God holds us in his love, through Jesus, is good news in the worst of situations. Knowing Jesus, personally, powerfully, gives Paul the strength he needs to endure. You can hear it in his words today, “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.”
Paul’s life itself is testimony to the grace of God, in the midst of suffering. And so is your life, and mine. Our experiences, and our inner thoughts, may not be so well known to others beyond our close family and friends, but the story of God’s grace at work is also written in and through us. I’ve had the privilege of hearing some of your stories of faith under pressure, of suffering sanctified by the presence of Jesus.
In my own life, I think I’m beginning to understand what Paul is saying through journeying with my mother toward her death, and now in my own grief, experiencing that strange, mixed up world of loss but also of sure hope through Jesus. This side of heaven, that’s the way it is for also, perhaps acutely so in this COVID-19 world and its ongoing implications.
Like Paul, we know only too well that we have not reached the end yet. But we do know that whatever life holds into the future, our lives are intertwined with Jesus’ life. Paul writes, “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” Just savour that sentence, which to me sums up life as a follower of Jesus: taking hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. God reaching down to you and me, in grace and mercy, his grasp strong and secure, never letting us go, always hanging on even when we feel that we can no longer hold on to him. This enables me to deal with the difficulties of the here and now, in the light of God’s love that I know will never let me go.
“But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” We will find ourselves on the victory dais, receiving the fullness of the gift Jesus has already given to us. And so, right now, as 2020 heads to a longed for conclusion, and 2021 beckons, we live, we love, and we serve, on the basis of this certain future. We have been grasped by God for good.This is the future from which we live fully in the present. Amen.
Click here to watch the [Worship Video](https://bit.ly/2wOdI3l) for Sunday 27 September.
Today we are going to reflect a little more on our Gospel reading: To help us understand, let’s have a brief look at it’s context. Jesus had entered into Jerusalem riding on a donkey. The people welcomed him as a king!
Jesus went into the temple. He saw how it had become a corrupt marketplace. He was not happy. In holy anger he overturned the tables! Jesus was disgusted to see how the people were expected to pay ridiculously high prices to purchase the perfect animals for the ritual sacrifices and how they had to exchange their money for the temple offering. This was not a fair marketplace. The poor worshipper had no choice but to pay the inflated prices….
Now, the Chief priests and elders, were responsible for operations at the temple. They were powerful and wealthy people. In response to Jesus’ actions, they came to Jesus saying: “By what authority do you do these things and who gave you this authority?” …
As followers of Jesus we confess that Jesus’ authority comes from God the Father. …
Still today, authority remains a big issue in our world.
We find it hard to exercise our authority and we find it hard to live under authority.
A person who is given a position of authority will quickly learn that just because you have been given the position, does not mean people will automatically respect you or listen to you or do what you ask. …
Just think of the father and his two sons in our reading. Neither of the sons showed 100% respect for the authority of their father. One said yes dad and then did nothing. The other said no dad but later changed his mind and did what he was asked to do.
But Jesus willingly lived under the authority of his father. He did what his father asked him to do and in the end, was highly exalted! Jesus shows us there is blessing in living under authority.
So who are the authority figures in your life? Who are the people in your life you listen to and do what they ask you to do? Our number one authority is God who speaks to us primarily through the Holy Bible. The Bible is the means by which we can discover God’s will for our life. Under God, there are many in positions of authority in our society that exist to care for us. There is the government, civil authorities, teachers and employers. But the simplest and most common authorities are fathers and mothers.
Positions of authority will bring the greatest blessing to others when the person in the position puts themselves under the authority of God and his word. When people who are in positions of authority listen to the word and let God’s spirit speak into their lives, then everyone under their authority will be blessed.
Parents have authority over their children. The commandments say to children: “Respect your father and mother and all in positions of authority. – so that it may all go well with you!” So for example, how are fathers called to exercise their authority? Ephesians 6:4 says: Fathers do not make your children angry. Instead train them and teach them in the ways of the Lord.
The challenge in our world is that sin hates authority. Some of our biggest social issues are a testament to this. Sin leads us to reject the authorities that God has placed over us for our own good. Sin leads us to appoint ourselves as the number one authority in our lives. And we make our own rules to suit our own desires. Sin effects all of us. Sin leads us to say one thing and do the other.
Sin leads us to reject the authorities above us and ignore the needs of those we are called to care for.
In our reading from Philippians we learn that Jesus never assumed to be his own authority. He always remained under his Father’s authority and did the will of his father - first time, every time, without fail for the sake of all humankind.
Jesus is so different to the two sons in our Gospel who were asked by their father to work for him. One of the sons said yes to his father, but did not carry through. The other said no but then changed his mind and only later went to work in his vineyard.
But Jesus said Yes to his father and obeyed his father! And we are blessed because of it! …
Now, when the Chief priests and the elders heard this parable they knew that Jesus was talking about them. This made them angry. They wanted to arrest Jesus but were afraid of the crowd who supported him!
In the parable, the son who said yes but did nothing - was most like the Chief priests. They say all the right things – ‘Yes God, Yes God’, - but then go back and live as their own authorities and find more ways to feather their own nests at the expense of the poor.
In the parable, the son who initially said no and then chose to do what he was asked to do is most like the people who ignored the commandments but later heard John the Baptist’s call to repent and turn away from their evil ways. These people previously rejected God’s authority. They lived under their own authority and made a dishonest and destructive living. But upon hearing the message of John the Baptist they turned away from their evil ways and believed. They changed their ways and submitted to God’s authority.
The good news in our gospel today is seen in the life of the son who said no. God pursues us to show his grace to us even after we first reject his authority. Even after we have gone our own way living as our own authority, he shows us a better way. He renews in us a joy and a peace that comes from receiving forgiveness, he reminds us that he is with us and our life is hidden in him. He equips us to live under his authority and do his will by the power of the Spirit.
We have every reason to thank God the Father for Jesus who humbly submitted to the authority of his father. As a result of Jesus’ obedience, the father raised him up and gave him authority over all things so that all people may be drawn to him, receive forgiveness as his baptised sons and daughters and worship him with all creation forever.
As Philippians 2:9-11 says: Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
This is amplified at the end of the Gospel of Matthew when Jesus says to his disciples, ‘All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me….” Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and in earth by his father! He now calls us to live as his disciples. To go and work in his vineyard and do his will. His will is that we may care for others so they too may discover God’s love and become his disciples.
Now is the time to recognise his grace to us and to position ourselves under his authority and do what he has called us to do.
Jesus always recognised the authority of his father. He did not just say yes to his father, he obediently did what his father wanted him to do: He humbled himself and was obedient to the will of his father, even if it meant suffering and dying for the sake of others.
Often we think authority is exercised by telling others what to do. But Jesus teaches us otherwise. True authority is exercised by recognising the needs of others and caring for them according to their greatest need.
Friends, we have no authority in the lives of others: unless we too are willing to serve them at their point of need. We have no authority, unless we are willing to forgive as Christ has forgiven us and build them up so that they too may live with an eternal hope.
True authority never looks down on others or thinks only about self.
True authority will always help. It will show love and respect. It will extend care and compassion to those who need it the most.
Today as we celebrate the confirmation of 8 young people at St John’s God is calling all of us to live our lives in service to him under his authority for he truly cares for us and has shown his grace and love to us in Jesus.
When we have come to understand the grace of God, then we too will be able to say: Jesus rescued me when I was lost and sentenced to death. He set me free from all my sins, from death and from the power of the devil. It cost him more than gold or silver; it cost him his life. Even though he was holy and innocent, he suffered and died for me.
Jesus did this so that I can belong to him, and he can rule over me as my king (as my number one authority). All I can do is live under him and serve him, innocent and happy forever, just as he was raised to life, and lives and rules forever.
Today our confirmation students are saying Yes to Jesus and his authority over all things. And they will do so in obedience and thanks to God the Father for his love and grace! May we all do the same and support each other in honouring Jesus as our king – by Celebrating in worship, by Growing in Faith, by Caring for one another and by Telling others about Jesus. Together may we share Jesus love under the authority of Jesus who loved and cared for us first.
May we do so with joy under his authority! Amen