Click here to watch the [Worship Video](https://bit.ly/2wOdI3l) for Sunday 28 June.
How do you greet someone when you first meet them? It used to be automatic to shake a person’s hand as a gesture of welcome. And if we knew someone really well, we might give and receive a hug, or a kiss on the cheek.
But since the advent of COVID-19, we’ve not been able to do any of these things. So, when we come to meet someone, there’s an awkward pause as we work out what kind of gesture we are going to use. Do we bump elbows? Place our hand on our heart and extend it out? Just say hello? Whatever we do, it is going to be with us for quite some time.
For some time, we weren’t able to have guests in our home, nor were we able to score an invite to someone else’s house for a meal. Perhaps we have gained a renewed appreciation of the gift of hospitality when it has been denied us.
St John’s Church is working hard on growing into our vision statement: We are a Christ-centred, welcoming, vibrant, intergenerational community, empowered and equipped by God to serve and share Jesus’ love. One of the questions we’ve asked ourselves is: “How can we welcome people better?”
We’ve recruited a team of people to serve as welcomers at our worship services. Members of the congregation to give the formal welcome when the service starts. When new people come to our community, we invite them to a Welcome Lunch. Over a meal shared with those who are already part of our church, we get to know one another, and we share our stories, and the story of who St John’s is, and where we believe God is calling us to head as we carry out our mission.
We’re not going to be able to hold a Welcome Lunch for some time, given the current restrictions. And at the moment, we can’t welcome people to a church service in either of our buildings. But if you are watching this video, you know that we’ve been able to invite both members of the St John’s community and many other people too, to join us in worship. And every week different members of the St John’s community have welcomed us to this service.
This week it was my turn to welcome you. And Jesus’ words today got me thinking about another side of welcome. Each one of you, by the very act of turning on your laptop or phone, is welcoming us into your home, and into your life. Each one of you is providing the space for the word of God to speak into your life. This is as much an act of gracious hospitality as is our welcome to you.
We’ve spent the last few weeks digging into the detail of Matthew 9 and 10. We’ve seen Jesus call his disciples to share in his mission to care for a harassed and helpless world that desperately needs the compassion that Jesus bring. Jesus is the good and faithful shepherd, leading all people back to God. This is more than a one-person job, which is where the disciples come in. They are God’s messengers, as Jesus reminds us today.
Today’s text is the shortest gospel reading in the entire three-year series of readings that we use every Sunday, is Jesus’ encouragement to his disciples. “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” In the ancient world, the king’s messenger was treated as if he or she was the king, and their message as if the king was actually speaking. Jesus is reminding us that as we go about the task of being his messengers in our day to day world, we go out with his authority and with his good news. We never just represent ourselves- we always wear our baptismal identity as God’s children, as brothers and sisters of Jesus, and his followers.
What Jesus says to us today mirrors the way that he went about interacting with people and sharing the good news of the kingdom with them. Jesus was always out and about, in villages and towns, all over the place, with all kinds of people. It’s surprising how many times Jesus scores an invitation to a meal at someone’s place. And in the case of Zacchaeus, who Jesus spies in a tree, he says, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today,” Jesus appears to invite himself over!
Jesus is comfortable receiving the hospitality of others. He’s happy to place himself at their disposal. He loves the opportunity to bring the good news out of the temple and synagogue, and into the lives of ordinary people. He’s happy to make himself vulnerable, to place himself at the mercy of others, because he knows that his Father is already at work in the world.
The fact that God sent his Son to become one of us is itself the greatest sign that God wanted to engage with the world he loved. This wasn’t without its risks, of course. Not everyone was happy to see Jesus or hear from him. Yet that didn’t stop Jesus from stepping into the difficult spaces, where there was illness, grief, death itself. Finally, he entered into the most inhospitable of conditions, in the cross, where he was abused, rejected and put to death by those to whom he came to show the Father’s love.
Even in death, Jesus displayed the hospitable, welcoming love of God by stretching out his arms to embrace the whole world. In his suffering, he soaked up all our suffering and sin, our inhospitality toward and others, our tribalism and the way we so easily dismiss or reject those who are different from us, the way we keep the door of our hearts closed and our compassion shut off. In sacrificing his life for us, he welcomed us into his Father’s house. “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would have I told you that I go to prepare a place for you.”
Lutheran Christians well know Robin Mann’s baptismal song: “Father welcomes.” “Father welcomes all his children, to his family, through his Son, Father giving his salvation, life for ever has been won.”
It’s God’s welcome, his hospitality, that changes our lives. His invitation is pure gift. The invitation itself changes our hearts, and reorients our lives from a quest for self-advancement and self-preservation, to a journey of showing God’s hospitable love, and to embody this love through all the circumstances of life.
Like many congregations, St John’s wants to be known as a welcoming community. We’ve sought to express this, first of all, in the welcome that we share with others when they join us in worship. That’s important of course, but it’s not the whole picture of divine hospitality. I believe that God is teaching us much while we can’t gather in our church buildings. He’s reminding us the ministry of welcome is far broader than the doors of the church or chapel. As we worshipped in our homes for the last three months, I hope that we have seen the place where we live as another door through which God’s hospital love can both enter our lives, and from which that welcoming love can be shared with others. People have commented that our world has become more local. It can’t get more local than neighbourhood, friends, wider family.
The church has left the building, as I said some weeks ago. And perhaps that’s exactly what God intended for this time. His welcoming love is far broader and wider than the confines of church and home. His Spirit is at work in the world, in ways that we can hardly imagine, sowing seeds, planting hope, raising questions, meeting needs.
We follow Jesus’ path both in our hospitality, and in receiving the hospitality of others, as we enter a neighbour’s door, as we strike up a conversation with someone on a walking track, or a person who serves us in a shop. The fact that other people receive us, are hospitable to us, is proof that God is at work in the wider world, his Spirit going before us, his welcoming good news doing its work.
The other week I visited a member of St John’s who was in Flinders Medical Centre. I had to pass through the welcome desk and answer the COVID-19 questions: “Are you well? Have you, or anyone you know been overseas in the last 14 days etc…” After these questions, one of the nurses asked me about this cross, which I happened to be wearing. What a wonderful opportunity God gave me to share about what it was, and why I wore it. To be asked the question was an act of hospitality on the behalf of my listeners. God was at work right there, sharing his welcome through me.
Jesus says, “Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward.” These words give us encouragement as we seek to share the prophetic good news of God’s kingdom, leading people to understand that they are not stuck in their sin, but welcomed by the God we confess, the God who loves them through his Son Jesus. We go into a world where God is already at work.
What Jesus says today also has resonance for us when we can return to worship in our church buildings. How is God calling us to welcome others, not just through our building, but in the community that surrounds our church, and especially the community of Concordia College? One theologian says that the “church needs to submit to the neighbourhood…so that you understand where you are and, by extension, what God is doing.” This is true for each of us in our own location too.
Jesus calls us to be both good hosts and good guests: people who gives thanks to God for the gift of being able spend time with others, neighbours, strangers, and who reciprocate with the welcome of God for those we meet along the way. “You’re welcome,” God says to us. And that’s what we share with others too. Amen.
Click here to watch the [Worship Video](https://bit.ly/2wOdI3l) for Sunday 21 June.
Claire Nelson was a young woman in her thirties, a journalist. She was hiking in the remote Joshua Tree National Park, in California, when she fell and broke her pelvis. Way off a regular trail, she hadn’t told anyone where she was going. Now, lying under the scorching sun, she was convinced that she was going to die. In that moment, she found a clarity that she had long searched for. She wrote: “I had spent so much of my life not doing the things I wanted to do, or not pushing myself as far as I could have gone because I was so afraid…In the moment of feeling that real fear of what was going on around me, it was easy to see how ridiculous those other fears had been.”
Claire was rescued, with only hours to spare, and she has written a book about her experience, called “Things I’ve Learned from Falling.” She was convinced that she had been given the precious gift of being able to re-make her life. She writes, “I still feel those little niggly fears, I feel them creep in,” she says. “But they're so much smaller now. I've realised that I'm so much bigger than the fears and the fears are not bigger than me.”
The fear of dying puts the precious gift of life into perspective, that’s for sure. But this is a fear that never truly goes away, because death still comes knocking, for Claire, and for us too.
Today Jesus talks about fear. To be human is to be afraid at times, knowing there is so much in our lives and in our world over which we don’t have control. Perhaps your fears have ramped up because of COVID-19.
We journey with Jesus and his words today as he sends out the twelve apostles. He’s given them all the resources they will need for their mission-his authority and his power. But he’s honest with them. “I am sending you like sheep among wolves.” These very words would strike fear into any heart. However, Jesus says, be shrewd. Be people of peace. Don’t fight fire with fire. When it comes to giving account of what you’re doing, know that my Spirit will give you the words that you need to say.
“Don’t be afraid,” Jesus says twice in today’s gospel reading. Don’t be afraid of those who accuse you of doing evil rather than good, as they do me. Don’t be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. These are chilling fears, the kind of fear that Christians in some parts of the world live with daily because the cost of confessing Christ can mean death.
But the third time Jesus raises the topic of fear, it is in fact to tell us to fear. “Be afraid of the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell.” This certainly made me sit up and think. And perhaps you too. Is Jesus telling us that we should cower in fear before God, uncertain of our fate?
Jesus makes this controversial statement to enable is put our fears in perspective. True fear, in the sense of respect, awe and worship belong to God alone, who has the power over life and death. And yes, we do stand condemned before God because we have failed to honour him: in the way that we haven’t worshipped him wholeheartedly, nor loved our neighbour as ourselves. Every person, dead or alive, stands under this sentence.
Jesus gives us a jolt because he wants us to understand that God has addressed this deepest of all human problems: the fear and the reality of death. Jesus himself is that answer. That’s why Paul can say to us today in the reading we heard from the Book of Romans: “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”
This new life gives us a brand new perspective. We know that God dearly, deeply loves us, and the whole of his broken creation. A sparrow doesn’t fall to the ground against the Father’s will. Yet you are infinitely more precious to God. Jesus’ cross proves it, and our baptism seals it.
Our relationship with God is the pre-eminent relationship in our lives, calling us to a higher loyalty than even that of our families. For a child of God, the water of baptism is thicker than blood. We are part of a new household, no longer “foreigners or strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household.”
Members of the household follow the leader. “Students are not above their teacher, nor servants above their master.” So we are called proclaim from the housetops the words Jesus has given us. “Repent and believe the good news,” and the back story to this. Now everyone likes the sound of good news. Until, that is, we realise that this particular good news challenges things we don’t want to get rid of. Calling people to repentance means challenging the ideas that we hold to be self-evident, but which do not allow us to reach human fulfilment in the way God intends. You are not the most important person in the universe. God is. You are not in charge of your destiny. God is. Your life project is not the fulfilment of your own needs. You have been created to love God and your neighbour.
Lutheran Christians talk about Law and Gospel. We know that there is something deeply flawed inside each one of us. The Bible calls this sin. We invariably see things from our own self-focused perspective. We can see the fault in others, but we think we are fault free. The Law of God says that “all people have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” The good news, also universally true, says that “all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
This is the kingdom message. This is what drives us, addresses our fears and places them in the context of God’s saving work. We can be confident in the power of good news to transcend all opposition and to bring the grace and love of God into people’s lives. We may indeed have fears about our church, our faith, our place in the world. Powerful voices are challenging key tenets of Christian belief: that all people have been created in God’s image and have an equal dignity; that we are broken creatures who need the restoring touch of God; that the Bible is a trustworthy record of God’s heart for us. We worry about what will unfold as individual self-expression becomes king, and our society no longer holds to an agreed set of values and behaviours? What kind of society is it when whoever can shout the loudest wins? Social media is exactly like this. And what about those who don’t have a voice: the poor, those who live in third-world countries, those who are refugees?
It is for all people that Jesus refused to be silenced, and committed to the course of doing his Father’s will. He did this out of a place of absolute trust and security in relationship with his Father. His delight was to do his Father’s will, even at the cost of his life. And he calls us to live, serve and speak out of the same place of security and gracious love.
Yet there is no escaping that this won’t have its challenges. But what we experience will be nothing that Jesus has not first gone through for us. Paul has this mysterious phrase in Colossians that in his own body he fills up “what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” It’s not for us to choose what this suffering looks like. It could be something as simple as saying no to something we know God has told us not to do, a little loss of self-autonomy. It could be the scorn of those who belittle our faith commitment. And certainly for Christians in other parts of the world, it could mean, as it did for Jesus, giving up one’s life.
John Piper writes that “God really means for the body of Christ, the church, to experience some of the suffering he experienced so that when we offer the Christ of the cross to people, they see the Christ of the cross in us. We are to make the afflictions of Christ real for people by the afflictions we experience in offering him to them, and living the life of love he lived.” This looks different for different people. The peace that Jesus brings between us and his Father cuts like a sword when people we love don’t share this faith or actively oppose. It is seen as a threat because it disrupts the comfortable status quo, or calls the things people trust into question. This is true particularly with those nearest and dearest. Some of you know what this is like. And so do many Christians in Muslim majority countries. To trust Jesus can mean being estranged, or even expelled from one’s family for good.
If we want to have an easy, cushy life, we might want to think twice about being or remaining a Christian. But if we want a meaningful, authentic and God-pleasing life, then stay on the path of discipleship. Recognise that we are out of step with the world. Know that we will be different, and seen as so, and that this difference is likely to become more pronounced. That’s what taking up our cross looks like.
Don’t be afraid…the God of all creation hold you secure through his Son Jesus. You have found fullness of life in his cross and resurrection. And you bring life to others as you carry this cross in your own life. Amen.
Click here to watch the [Worship Video](https://bit.ly/2wOdI3l) for Sunday 14 June.
How are you sleeping at the moment? Not right now, I mean, but at night. Since the advent of COVID-19, I’ve been sleeping quite fitfully. Often I’ll wake up feeling quite tired. Other times I’ve woken in the early hours, mind active and heart racing, and haven’t been able to get back to sleep for some time. At other times. I’ve been conscious of experiencing vivid dreams. I’ve put it down to my subconscious needing to process the complexity and uncertainty of living through this experience.
I’m not alone, it appears. Australian researchers have found that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the sleep patterns of almost half of us. “46 per cent are sleeping poorly during the pandemic…41 per cent are waking during the night three or more times a week, a symptom of insomnia.” They put this down to “pandemic stress, anxiety, job changes and financial distress.” And the vivid, disturbing dreams? Scientists think this is due to an excess of adrenalin in our systems, as we respond to the stress of the pandemic and learning how to live with a heightened threat. And adrenalin assists in memory recall, hence the dreams.
While the COVID-19 restrictions are slowly lifting, we are still living with great uncertainty. Now that we can travel more freely, and have more people in our homes, and eat out at a restaurant or pub, perhaps we are more frustrated because we are closer to the old normal, but we are not there yet, and nor do we know how long we are going to have to wait. There’s a lack of clarity, and a lack of control, and we don’t like either of these feelings.
St John’s congregation was supposed to have held our Annual General Meeting two weeks ago, on Pentecost Sunday, after a combined service of our whole community. But we couldn’t worship together in Concordia College Chapel, and we couldn’t share lunch, and nor could we meet to reflect on how we have carried out God’s call in 2019, and look forward to 2020.
We do plan to meet via Zoom today. It won’t quite be the same as being face to face. We also know that the environment we face will be nothing like 2019, and 2020 is nothing like the year we had planned for. We face a raft of new challenges. When will we be able to use our church buildings? When will our ministries be able to resume? What will be the long term financial and spiritual implications of COVID-19, for each one of personally, and for our as a church community?
You might be familiar with the poem, “Said Hanrahan,” by the Australia bush poet, John O’Brien. It was written in July 1919, during the Spanish Flu pandemic. "We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan in accents most forlorn, outside the church, ere Mass began one frosty Sunday morn.” Droughts, fires, rain, then floods. “We’ll all be rooned, before the year is out.” 2020 has not been a great year so far. We’d like to return it for a refund. All around there are swirling currents of pessimism, anxiety, frustration and boredom. We look around the world and see that civil society seems to have a thin veneer, and below that there is a cauldron of resentment caused by racism and poverty. What kind of people are we called to be in the face of all these challenges?
On Pentecost Sunday God’s word reminded us of the gift, and gifts of the Holy Spirit. God breathed his church into life-the life of the Risen Lord Jesus, through the Holy Spirit. And the Spirit distributes gifts to the church, to enable us to fulfill God’s mission. Last Sunday Pastor Nigel spoke of God’s call on our lives. We are Jesus’ disciples. We learn from him, we grow through the discipling we receive, and the way that we seek to grow others.
This Sunday marks the beginning of the Sundays after Pentecost. We’re on a journey of listening to Jesus and observing the commands he has given us. Week by week, we sit at Jesus’ feet, if not in our church buildings, then in our lounge rooms or around our kitchen tables. Day by day, we learn how to put what we hear into practice, through the prompting and strength that the Holy Spirit gives us.
Today we meet Jesus midway through his ministry journey. Matthew, himself a newly called disciple, has shared with us what he has heard Jesus teach, through the Sermon on the Mount, his kingdom manifesto, and what he has seen Jesus do to bring the kingdom to life: in the healing of a man with leprosy, which meant for him a doubly renewed life, not just a clean bill of health but restoration back to his community. A storm is stilled, and calm is restored to Jesus’ disciples, and amazement. A blind man, and someone who can’t talk, and a woman who has been bleeding for 12 years are healed-grace and mercy in action. Two people possessed by evil spirits are set free by the power of Jesus’ word. And a dead little girl is raised to new life, Jesus paying forward his resurrection.
So far it had been Jesus at work. His words. His healing. But there was far more need than one person could address. “When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” People were burdened by the demand to keep God’s commands perfectly. Driven down by guilt at their failures. Disheartened by their Roman oppressors. Their religious leaders did nothing to offer to them the comfort and mercy of God.
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Jesus uses the word harvest to describe those who are ripe for God’s compassion and mercy.
Do we see the same thing? Concerned, anxious, vulnerable people, dealing with questions that this strange time have caused to bubble to the surface. Am I really happy with my former frantic life? Do I really need all the stuff that I considered essential? How am I going to pay the mortgage or the rent? How long term is this going to be? Will I return to work? What will the job market be like for me? It’s not fair that I’m going to have to pay back the debt racked up by this virus? Is this disease still lurking, waiting to pounce on me?
Jesus’ calls his disciples to pray. “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” God is recruiting, and there are plenty of vacancies. So much so that Jesus immediately presses the disciples into action. As he recruits, so he equips. They are given a new title: apostles-the sent ones. They are given his authority-Jesus shares his power to proclaim the kingdom and to heal with them. He uses the very same words that Matthew uses of Jesus’ own word and work in verse 35. Jesus knows them. Jesus loves them. He knows their names, their backgrounds, their gifts and their flaws. He loves them nonetheless and he commissions them to do what he is doing. In the first instance, they are to focus on the community of their own kind-the people of Israel. Later, in the Great Commission he gives to them at his ascension-the mission extends to all nations.
The key word is generosity. “Freely you have received. Freely give.” They have been chosen by Jesus to follow him. They’ve been granted his power and authority. They’ve been given the freedom to be bearers of his grace and mercy. They been called to share the story of how his sacrificial love changes everything. Their calling points to the future, to the church that God will create through this work that they will do.
We are recipients of the same generosity, the same authority, the same story. It’s the story that Paul outlines for us today in all its profound beauty. We know that despite the difficult time through which we are all travelling, we won’t be rooned.
In a time of chaos, “since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Our future, both short and long term, has been secured by Jesus’ death and resurrection, and confirmed by the Holy Spirit’s presence. This peace, God’s shalom, means much more than the absence of violence. It’s a sense of wellbeing based on the way that God has reconciled the whole of his creation through Jesus’ saving death on the cross.
In a time of uncertainty about work, livelihood, our place, our productivity, “through faith in Jesus we have gained access by grace into the faith in which we now stand.” Grace means that we can rest in the work God has done when we can’t work. We are not responsible for the management of the universe; God is. Faith is the sure and certain confidence about this.
In a time of deep concern for some, despair for others, “we boast in the hope of the glory of God.” We look at the circumstances around us, and we worry deeply about where the world is heading. However, our hope is that God the Creator will usher in his new creation at a time of his choosing. With hope in our hearts and minds, we can live creatively and positively. We are convinced that God’s justice will prevail. The evil that we see around us will not have the last word.
In a time when many of us have suffered a series of losses, because of the suffering death and earth shattering resurrection of Jesus, we “know that suffering [our suffering even] produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” We frame our present circumstances, and that of the world today, against the backdrop of God’s victory over the forces of chaos and evil. We can persevere because Jesus has persevered in love for us.
“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” This fact fortifies us in faith, and forms our character in ways that enable us to show by our words and action that God has got us, and his world, and he is putting things to rights, through Jesus.
And this is the hope that “does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” This hope energises us to be a force for God, for good, followers of Jesus who spread love, who incarnate grace, who suffer with and for others. Whose lives say to others, contrary to Hanrahan: “We won’t all be rooned.” Quite the opposite. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Click here to watch the [Worship Video](https://bit.ly/2wOdI3l) for Sunday 7 June.
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, The love of the Father and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Have you ever found yourself repeatedly reflecting upon a bible reading and each time noticed something different?
Well, Today’s Gospel reading is a little like that for me. It is one we hear often. It is shared at almost every baptism.
On this occasion, I notice, that making disciples is not as simple as ‘just adding water.’ Imagine if making disciples was as easy as whipping up a batch of instant pancakes, like ‘just adding water’ and following some simple instructions on the back of a pack.
Well, a part of making disciples does involve adding water and washing in God’s name. We call this Baptism. It is God’s way of unconditionally welcoming people into his community and sharing his love with them. But making disciples also includes leading one another into a way of life where we learn to love as God has loved us.
And so making disciples is not necessarily instant. Making disciples is an ongoing, lifelong partnership with God and others in community.
In today’s Gospel reading the risen Jesus appeared to the eleven disciples. He had spent three years with them, encouraging them and teaching them so much. We might compare today’s Gospel to a graduation ceremony. After three years of living as students of Jesus his first group of disciples receive their ‘bachelor degree’ and are commissioned to disciple others just as Jesus disciples them.
But, when the disciples were up on the mountain and they saw the risen Jesus approaching, what did they do? Some worshipped him, others doubted. If you were there, what would you have done? Would you have worshipped or doubted?
We might be tempted to play one off against the other. But what I notice is that Jesus comes to them – worshipers and doubters alike - and shows his grace in the way he speaks to them. Regardless of whether they worshipped or doubted, he commissions them to disciple others as they go about their daily living.
So how do we learn to disciple people?
We can learn to disciple people by looking at how Jesus discipled people and by allowing people who are being discipled by Jesus to disciple us.
Jesus invited a handful of people to do life together with him. ‘Come follow me’ he said to his first disciples ‘and I will make you fishers of people’. (Matthew 4:19) Andrew, Peter, James and John were the first of twelve people whom Jesus discipled. Jesus grew a deep relationship with them. Jesus taught his disciples everything that he received from his Father in heaven.
By discipling the twelve, Jesus established community. Jesus brought these twelve into a common union with God and each other. They came to understand the truth about who God is and his gracious plans and purposes for all people. They came to understand that ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8.) ,… that God is to be known and named as: Father, Son and Holy Spirit,… that God has made us, has saved us and brings us into relationship with himself. And … that God is to be worshipped above all.
But right now, like those first disciples on the eve of ‘their commissioning’, I find myself oscillating between doubt and worship. For as long as I am alive in this broken world, my faith, knowledge and experience of God remains incomplete.
Over these months of social distancing, I have come to the conclusion that discipling is God’s way of gathering us into safe communities of love and grace for the eternal benefit of all.
You see, when we live in isolation and the troubles of this life come along, we can easily be overpowered. When we have someone who walks with us and troubles come, we can help each other and defend each other. Ecclesiastes 4:12 shares this wisdom and then goes on to say: ‘A cord of three strands is not quickly broken’.
In this picture of a cord with three stands we have a picture of community! When troubles come our way and we live in a community of love and grace, the troubles will not easily break us for we are stronger together. So when we live in community we are at our best.
A couple of months ago our understanding of community may have been ‘large groups’ of people coming together in one place for one purpose. But now after all that we have experienced , we need to rethink our picture of community.
What is Community? What are the essential components of community? And how does community grow?
May I suggest that Community can be as small as two people gathering together in God’s name. And Community can grow one person at a time. (Matthew 18:20)
In this season, God is calling each of us who are being discipled in Jesus’ love to be part of his mission of rebuilding community, one person at a time. We can do so by intentionally building relationship, doing life together, by loving another as Jesus loved us. By intentionally sharing with another what Jesus has shared with us.
In this season I believe God is inviting us to rebuild community with him and with each other - one relationship at a time.
As we look to rebuild community, we will discover that community is built by disciples who make disciples. Therefore, I need to ask: Who is discipling me? And who am I discipling?
Jesus commissions you who are being discipled in his name to disciple someone else as you go about your daily life. As you receive love and grace from Jesus through those who are discipling you, so you too can show love and grace to those you disciple. As you remain teachable by learning from Jesus and his word, so you are able to teach those who accept your love and grace.
Discipling is not a quick one off transformation. Discipling is an ongoing, lifelong partnership with God and with others in community.
As restrictions are slowly easing, I wait patiently for the day when we can physically come together as a ‘larger community’.
As I wait for that day I also look forward to the great eternal day when we will finally experience the perfect unity of community that God shares as: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This mystery of community in the Godhead is beyond our understanding.
This unity is so perfect that no human can even begin to fully describe it.
I can only imagine what it will be like to stand in the beauty of heaven and truly discover what it means to live in perfect community with God and with each other forever.
The closest we can come to such a perfect unity now is by discipling one another. When we learn to support, care and listen to others the way Jesus supports, cares and listens to us; When we learn to share with others in word and action what Jesus has shared with us. When we forgive one another as the lord has forgiven us, then we experience a foretaste of the perfect community.
So as we start to come out of our restrictions, let’s ask one another: What sort of community do we want to engage in? What sort of community do we want to help rebuild?
The best community we can possibly rebuild will be: One that has the unity of God at it’s heart. One were people celebrate God’s love and presence. One where people disciple one another by loving one another as we are loved by Jesus.
The greatest mystery of God is that God is love. His love has no end! We will find refreshment and renewed imagination and creativity in our communal lives by entering into this mystery of faith and experiencing the wonder of what we see God doing. We will again thrive as community as we appreciate the incomprehensible nature of God’s love and as we join God in what we see God doing!
How precious it is to know that God made us to be in relationship with him and with each other in community. How comforting it is to know that God is with us and desires to draw all people into his eternal community of love. How reassuring it is to know that our Triune God gives us the Grace, love and fellowship that we need to live together in the unity of community even now.
May we once again learn to live and practice the gifts of grace, love and fellowship. May we again learn to value God’s eternal gift of community and live as disciples who make disciples. To the glory of God. Amen
Click here to watch the [Worship Video](https://bit.ly/2wOdI3l) for Sunday 31 May
Welcome to St John’s Church. Of course, the St John’s community haven’t been inside this building, or our other worship space, Concordia College Chapel, for well over two months now. I can guarantee you that St John’s church doesn’t usually look anything like this. Normally there are rows of chairs neatly placed, with the carpet carefully vacuumed and the hall tidy so that it can be used for various meetings.
To be frank, it looks a bit of a mess right now. But there’s a reason for it. We are just commencing long-awaited repair and renovation work on what is a 62-year- old building. Late last year new doors went in so that people could see in from the outside, and see that we were open for business. Until we had to close, that is, due to COVID-19. In early autumn, the galvanised iron roof was repaired and repainted, and the gutters replaced. And just in time too, as Adelaide received its best autumn rains for quite some time.
Now we are getting on with essential work on the interior of the ministry centre. Members of our congregation are doing the work that they can, and tradespeople are coming to do the specialized repairs; renderers, ceiling repairers, electricians and painters.
I’m no handyman, and I am amazed at how practically gifted some people are. I’m looking forward to seeing how each person’s work will come together to produce a more welcoming, fit for purpose, renewed ministry space. And I’m also looking further forward to St John’s being able to use the building to its fullness, as ministries return and we can worship communally again.
While we are currently doing work on our church building, God is continuing to work on us and do his work in and through us, through the Holy Spirit. Even and especially when we are not in building. As I said last week, “the church has left the building. But the church is very much alive and active in our households, and in our interactions with friends, neighbours and workmates.”
Today is the festival of Pentecost, the birth day of the church. Jesus’ 12 disciples were all together in one place, Luke tells us. Social distancing and the 10 person gathering rule did not apply. Suddenly the Holy Spirit blows into the room. Tongues of fire overshadow the disciples. This was the gift Jesus had instructed his disciples to wait them to wait for, so that “repentance and forgiveness of sins could be proclaimed to all nations in his name.”
The Holy Spirit gets to work quick smart. The Pentecost festival had attracted Jewish people from across the known world. They heard the sound of the Spirit-wind, and then the voices of the disciples, speaking in languages they had never learnt, telling them, in their mother tongue, the good news about Jesus. God starts where their natural ability ends.
Pentecost tells us that God breathes his church into being through his Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit’s work is take the words and work of Jesus and translate that into faith in the heart of those who hear this good news. All the work that the church does, all our worship services, our ministry events, our pastoral care, our buildings-is founded on the Spirit’s work. The Spirit is the master craftsman of faith.
The Holy Spirit ensures that the church understands that it has one plan: to confess that Jesus is Lord. The Holy Spirit gets the church going, through calling people to faith. “No one can say, “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit…” It’s the Holy Spirit who join us, one with another, in the church: “For into the one Spirit we were all baptised into one bodywhether Jew or Greek, slaves or free- and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”
Baptism is the starting point for the kingdom of God. It connects us to the saving work of Jesus, and unites us, one with another. As Luther’s Small Catechism teaches us: “I believe that I cannot by my own understanding or strength believe in Christ Jesus my Lord, or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy, and kept me in true faith. This work the Spirit does for the whole church. We’re all in this together, as we’re fond of saying in these days, through the Spirit.
That was Paul’s experience, in his own life, as Jesus caught up with him on the road to Damascus, and completely transformed his life. From persecuting the church, Paul became its chief advocate and following the direction of the Holy Spirit to bring good news to the then known world.
Corinth was one of the places where Paul had pitched his tent and shared the good news. Despite the heartache this congregation caused him, Paul always returns to the facts-the church is the creation of God, made holy through the work of Jesus, and breathed into life through the Holy Spirit. Paul begins this letter with these encouraging words: “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given to you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him…so that you are not lacking in any grace-gift.”
Sadly, this congregation had turned their giftedness into an occasion for human pride. Everyone was pulling in a different direction. The chaos was worse than any mess that our church building might be in right now. The situation was beyond belief- sexual immorality, believers taking one another to civil court, spiritual arrogance destroying the faith of young Christians, the Lord’s Supper becoming a food fight.
Thankfully our Renovation Task Force have a plan for our ministry centre refurbishment. They’ve set out the specification of the work. They’ve obtained a number of quotes for each job. They’ve set up a schedule, so that things run smoothly, in the right sequence. And we have one person managing the tradespeople and volunteers so that we can give of our best by working together.
God works in the same ordered way. God equips each one of us through the Holy Spirit to work together in God’s mission, through sharing gifts of grace, the charismata, with us. “There are different kinds of gifts,” Paul says, “but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.”
It will be interesting over the next weeks to observe the tradespeople and St John’s members working together to transform our building into a space through which we can grow and also serve our community. It’s the same spiritually. Paul writes, “Now to each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” The Spirit gives grace-gifts that build up the house of God. Paul goes on to list some of these gifts:
- To one is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom- a word given by the Spirit to speak into a particular situation in someone’s life.
- to another a message of knowledge according to the same Spirit- a word that grows someone in their understanding of God.
- to another faith by the same Spirit- clearly we’ve have all received the gift of faith but this a special measure of faith to encourage or sustain, to heal or to work miracles.
- to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit-Jesus healed people as a sign of his compassion and of his kingdom, in which he heals our sin-sickness through his death and resurrection,
- to another the working of miracles-God acts in ways far beyond our comprehension and our ability, to point to his power to save
- to another prophecy- to make clear what God’s will is for a community of faith.
- to another distinguishing between spirits- to know what is evil and what comes from God in the spiritual realm so that the community of faith is not led astray
- to another speaking in different kinds of tongues- a supernatural language given by the Spirit to help us to pray,
- to another the interpretation of tongues- a way that others can be blessed through this prayer
God gives these gifts in order that the body of Christ may function in the way that he intended: that it may be a community of love that exists not just for its own sake but for the world. These particular grace-gifts are by no means the only things God gives to his church. We are also graced to bear the fruit of his Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. And to top of that there is the overlay of our particular personality, or natural talents, abilities and passions.
God calls such a diversity of people into his church. Look at the people of different ages and stages on the screens of our St John’s Worship@Home videos. We’ve heard people’s personal stories, we’ve seen them lead our singing and various elements in our worship. Then there’s those behind the camera and labouring over the computer to produce what we see on Sunday. And then there are those amongst us who’ve committed to share God’s compassion and concern through care calling.
I’ve been so encouraged by what I’ve seen the Spirit doing amongst us in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. God has graced us each one of us with gifts to participate in his mission to the world. We are being the church in different ways to normal, in different spaces. And God’s still busy at work through the Spirit and his grace-gifts. Amen.
Click here to watch the [Worship Video](https://bit.ly/2wOdI3l) for Sunday 24 May
I grew up only two streets away from Adelaide airport. Every morning at 6.00am, after the night curfew had ended, I would hear the first flight out of Adelaide as they taxied to take-off. I used to often walk or ride to the airport boundary fence and watch the planes take off and land.
But I didn’t get to fly until I was nine years old. Which wasn’t unusual as flying was considered a luxury back then. I was travelling across to Melbourne. My mother was receiving some medical treatment in a hospital there, and my aunty and uncle and cousins lived there too.
Well, the time had come. As I sat in my assigned seat, the air hostess gave me a special pack. It contained a colouring in book, coloured pencils, and my favourite thing of all: a TAA junior flyer badge. You need to be my age to remember that Australia once had an airline called TAA, which stood for Trans Australian Airlines. From memory, it was swallowed up by Qantas. You may also be old enough to remember TAA’s advertising slogan. “Up, Up and Away, with TAA, the friendly, friendly way.”
“Up, up and away.” There won’t be much of that happening for a while. We’re not going anywhere that requires flying, not even within Australia for the time being. We’ve only just been granted permission to travel around our own home state. We may not be locked down any more, but we do still feel hemmed in. We’d love to escape somewhere, anywhere.
We are taking the opportunity this Sunday to celebrate a significant festival in the life of the church, Jesus’ ascension. Ascension Day fell on last Thursday, which was forty days after Easter. And ten days later, next Sunday, the church celebrates Pentecost, when we praise God for the gift of his Holy Spirit, and the birthday of the church.
“Up, up and away.” I wonder if we could apply these words to Jesus’ ascension. Luke tells us, “Jesus lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.” And that was that. Jesus was going back to where he belonged. Was this goodbye.
Well, yes and no. Let’s start with yes. Yes, God’s Son, Jesus is again up where he belongs. He came from God, down to earth, to be born as a human being, born of the Virgin Mary, as Christians confess in the Apostles’ Creed. Jesus spent his life revealing the heart of his Father, showing us through his words and actions that God had come to deal in person with the broken mess in each one of us, and in our world too, that is caused by sin.
In the very first sermon he preached, Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor…the year of the Lord’s favour.” Everything that Jesus said and did was pointing to, leading to the cross. There Jesus freed the world and everyone in it from being locked in to our sin. Come travel with me, he said. Let me lead you on a new, expansive, free life in my grace and love.
Jesus rose from the dead to confirm the truth of everything he stood for and everything he did. He spent the forty days after Easter showing them that what looked like such a crazy roller-coaster of a life was God’s exact plan from the beginning. “This is what I told you while I was still with you” Jesus says, “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.”
It’s easy to look at the details of Jesus’ life in the gospels and be confused. If Jesus is the Son of God, what was he doing being born in a feeding trough? Why did his family have to flee from Herod when he was only 18 months old or so? Why didn’t his Father give him a free ride through life? Why didn’t he surround himself with the rich and famous, who could have progressed his career? Why did he choose such unqualified and uninspiring disciples? Why did God let him walk down a road that lead to his death?
When Jesus’ mother Mary found out she was pregnant with God’s Son, the biggest shock you could imagine, she sang: “God has brought down rulers from their thrones, but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.” The truth displayed in Jesus’ life is that God is on the side of those who have no one to stand up for them, for those who know they’re broken. Jesus, the Son of God, is totally down to earth.
But if that’s true, why is Jesus waving goodbye to it all, and heading back home. Is it a case of I’ve gotta get out of this place, if it’s the last thing I ever do? No, the Ascension is not Jesus’ escape plan. But it is an essential part of God’s plan to allow people everywhere to hear the good news about what Jesus’ life means. That’s why Jesus tells his disciples: “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”
For three years, Jesus had taught his disciples so many things about God. But the stories, the miracles, the interactions, only made sense to them in hindsight, in the light of his cross and resurrection. Jesus was able to show them that the Scriptures, what we know as the Old Testament, contained promise after promise about him. Now it would be their turn to lay down the tracks of a new album, a New Testament, beginning with the story of his birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and then…
And then…them. What comes next is them telling his story through their life: “You are witnesses of these things.” I am going, and “I’m going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” This power is the precious gift of the Holy Spirit. No one can believe in me except through the Holy Spirit. Before he died, Jesus made this promise to the disciples, which we heard in last week’s service: “I will not leave you as orphans. I will come to you…The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:18, 25). They didn’t understand then, but they will now.
And that’s why Jesus leads them out of Jerusalem toward a little town called Bethany, just past the Mount of Olives. It’s not far, but it’s heading away from Jerusalem, which is exactly the direction of Jesus’ mission. From Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, which is what Luke tells us when he retells this story in the beginning of the Book of Acts. And Acts is all about what the precious promise of the Holy Spirit means for the fledgling church. And how the good news travels, across the world, across, all the way down to us.
And that’s why, when the disciples are standing there, heads craned upwards, watching Jesus going up, up and away, there’s not sadness but worship, and overwhelming joy. As Jesus leaves them, he’s not waving goodbye. Instead, as Luke tells us twice, he’s blessing them. Jesus’ blessing is empowerment; it’s his ongoing gift of the power and mercy of God for the mission he has given them. While Jesus is up, up, and away, he’s also, always, here to stay.
The church confesses in the Apostles’ Creed: “Jesus ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.” “He sits” is the only phrase in the Creed that’s in the present tense. Jesus is not sitting down on the job, but active in ruling our creation, active in praying for us constantly, and active through his Holy Spirit. The promise he gave to his first disciples is still true today for us.
These last months have been difficult, and then are many months of uncertainty ahead. But there are two things that we can confidently say: one, that our world and the way we go about daily life will be changed into the future, and two, that Jesus, the Lord of all creation, is with us always. He has taken up our humanity into God. He has committed to praying for his church. We have the same good news to proclaim: repentance and forgiveness never goes out of fashion when all human beings still struggle with sin and selfishness, and need to know that there is hope for a new start. We have the same Holy Spirit to take the things we say and do because of Jesus’ life and love in us, and create the fruit of a faith and a new and life-changing relationship with God. And we’ve had so many opportunities to do this in an up, close and personal way in our homes and with our neighbours in recent times. The church has truly left the building. And that’s good.
And that’s why, although the last months have been demanding, I’m more than hopeful that God is bringing blessing to all people through his good news. I’m encouraged by the fact that we are gathering in our homes to bless and praise Jesus for his word and his ongoing work in the world, just like the first disciples. And also going out and worshipping him by serving and loving our neighbour.
Ascension Day. Jesus is up, up and away. And here to stay. Forever. For you and for the world. Amen.
Click here to watch the [Worship Video](https://bit.ly/2wOdI3l) for Sunday 17 May
Today we have heard Jesus speaking to his disciples in John chapter 14. The first thing we heard Jesus say was, “If you love me, keep my commands.” (14:15)
The last thing we heard Jesus say was: “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” (14:21)
Now, if we had stayed in the room just a little longer we would have heard Jesus respond to a question from one of his disciples. Jesus said: “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. (14:23)
How do you feel when you hear Jesus speak words like this? These are strong words. In this conversation Jesus shows the close connection between love and action. Our love for Jesus will show by the way we live according to his commands. And what are Jesus commands? What are his teachings?
Well, Jesus has not given a new list of Commands and rules like those given in the Old Testament. Jesus does not lay down a new list of laws that we must keep in order to win God’s favour. Rather, Jesus is calling his disciples to a new way of living that is grounded in God’s unconditional love for us. Jesus is calling us to participate in God’s plan to bring hope salvation to all.
In John 15:12 Jesus clarifies this new way of living saying: 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. In 1 John 3:22 we read of God’s new way for us to live: 23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.
Keeping Jesus commands means living to see God’s will be done. It means remembering who we are, whose we are and to whom we are sent to love and serve. Keeping Jesus commands is to believe that Jesus is the Christ our saviour who has made us friends with God forever. It means living with the confidence that Jesus has taken away our sin and has given us eternal life.
Keeping Jesus commands means celebrating the victory Jesus won for us in his death and resurrection.In short, keeping Jesus commands can be understood as loving one another in ways that reflect Jesus’ sacrificial and self giving love for us.
Now, Peter was one of Jesus first disciples. Peter recognised how hard it is to keep the commands of Jesus: When Jesus was on trial, Peter denied knowing Jesus three times. Peter denied knowing Jesus out of fear that he too would be arrested. But Jesus love for Peter was greater. After Jesus resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples and asked Peter three times – ‘Do you love me?’ To which Peter replied three times. ‘You know I love you.’ And each time Jesus commissioned Peter to care for and feed Jesus own flock. In love and grace Jesus reinstated Peter.
Now, one of the other readings set down for today that we have not yet heard is 1 Peter 3:13-22. In Peter’s Pastoral letters it is so clear that Peter’s life and proclamation was shaped by his experience of the grace Jesus showed to him.
Peter writes: “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.’ But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.
Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.”
Friends, the same Peter who in fear denied Jesus wrote these powerful words. So what happened to Peter between the time he denied Jesus and he wrote his letters? Well, Jesus gave him an advocate, a helper, a counsellor – Jesus gave him the Holy Spirit to help him do what he could not do on his own.
The Holy Spirit leads us to believe and helps us to live as God’s children. The Holy Spirit alone can turn our attention away from our love for self-preservation and self-satisfaction. The Holy Spirit alone can help us to truly love Jesus and do his will.
Luther described the work of the Holy Spirit this way: ‘I believe that on my own I can never come to Jesus my Lord, or believe in him, no matter how hard I try. But the Holy Spirit has called me to Jesus by the good news about him. The Holy Spirit has led me to know and trust Jesus, made me holy, and kept me in the Christian faith.’
Today we have heard Jesus saying to his disciples: ‘I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth.’ (v17, 18a)
An advocate is a helper - one called or sent to assist another; one who pleads the cause of another. In the legal sense an advocate is someone who defends a person who cannot defend themselves.
In the Bible we are introduced to our two advocates. God the Father sent Jesus to be our first advocate: Jesus came to make us right with God our heavenly father by taking away our sin. In 1 John 2:1 we read: ‘My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.’ So, think of Jesus as our first advocate, standing before our heavenly father. Picture, Jesus defending us before God the father. Picture Jesus saying: “Father, I died and rose again to take away the sin of the world so that - all who believe in me can live with us forever!” How wonderful it is to have Jesus as our advocate before God the Father.
But today: Jesus says, ‘the Father will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. We are in need of this helper, each and every day. For as long as we live in this world we will live as both the saints that God declares us to be because of Jesus and the sinners that we are because of the nature we were born with. We need the spirit of truth to be our helper .
When the world and our inner voice condemn us for our mistakes and errors, we need another, stronger inner voice that will advocate within us for our own self worth. – That advocate is the Holy Spirit.
When our world is tipped upside down because of COVID 19 and we question our own worth, we need the Spirit of God to remind us of our eternal worth. When we have experienced rejection from those we care most about or when like Peter we fall short and experience shame, nothing other than the Spirit of the living God can give us the inner confidence to start again and keep on keeping on. The Holy Spirit will daily renew our faith, hope and passion for living. The Holy Spirit will encourage us and lift us up.
Today, God gives us his Spirit to be our advocate and helper to empower us forever! The Holy Spirit will remind us that we are loved by God.According to the verses following our Gospel reading: the Holy Spirit will teach us and remind us of the person and work of Jesus.
In John 14:25-26 Jesus said: ‘All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.’
It is the Holy Spirit who leads us to understand and appreciate the Bible. It is the Holy Spirit who fills us with wonder, joy and peace even in unsettling times. It is the Holy Spirit who enables us to discern God’s will for our lives. It is the Holy Spirit who interrupts our wayward plans, intervenes for us, inspires us and calls us back to Jesus and the loving arms of our gracious Heavenly Father.
All over the world, the Holy Spirit is at work leading people of back into relationship with God through the Good news of Jesus death and resurrection for all. And one day the world will look very different. There will come a day when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. This will happen not by force, but by the grace of God that all people will experience as the Holy Spirit leads us into the truth of who Jesus is, who we are, how much we need a saviour and how much God loves us!
As the spirit points you to Jesus you will come to realise just how life giving it is to Love Jesus and keep his commands for he has loved you first. Amen.
Click here to watch the [Worship Video](https://bit.ly/2wOdI3l) for Sunday 10 May
This is a street directory. It’s the way that we used to find our way from Place A to Place B. I remember when I moved from Tasmania to Melbourne some 20 years ago. The first thing I did was to purchase a Melways. This was an absolutely essential tool to navigate my way around what was a city of almost 4 million people at the time. I wore out at least two street directories over my 20 years there, constantly paging through them. On a trip across town I’d have to stop a couple of time to check what the next steps were.
It’s different now. I used Google Maps in the car through my phone. A map appears on a screen in my car and a calming voice directs me each step of the way. There’s no need to stop and work out where I am. It’s set and forget. Yet, I have to say that I feel less comfortable with this technology than I did with a street directory. I always felt more confident when I had prepared for it thoroughly, memorising which roads to take. I felt more responsible for the journey. It wasn’t just about the destination. It was also about the way there.
We’ve been on the journey through the COVID-19 Pandemic for almost two months now. At the beginning, we really had no real idea where we were heading and we were all anxious about how hard the journey would be. We’ve been living with but not enjoying physical distancing, the shutting down of many workplaces and public spaces, and our church building too.
Thank God, these restrictions have made a difference to the course of the pandemic. In Australia we’ve been blessed with a low numbers of infections and death compared to many countries. But there are there are things that we want to get out and do. It’s Mother’s Day. We want to see our mums, our grandmothers, to give them a hug, let them play with grandchildren. Is it safe to do that, or not? When will we be back to normal? How far are we along the COVID-19 road?
In a recent press conference, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he believed that Australia was on the “road back” from tackling the coronavirus with some restrictions starting to lift. The Prime Minister pointed to the reopening of elective surgery, schools starting to come back and says it won’t be long before some businesses are opening again. “We are definitely on the road back now,” the prime minister told ABC radio.
The way in was deeply concerning. The way through has been challenging. Now we are starting to talk about the way out. What way are we going to live through, and thrive in, the long way out?
In today’s gospel reading, we are taken back to the time before Easter, less than a day before the cross. But only Jesus himself knows what lies on the way immediately ahead of him. So he explains to his disciples both the way that he will travel, and the way that this will also impact on the journey ahead of his disciples.
Jesus washes his disciples’ feet, and shows them him that he is a servant king, not a royal bully. He then announces three things: “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.” This glory is the fulfilment of his mission-to show the world how much God loves it, as Jesus is crowned King on the throne of his cross. Secondly, and as a consequence, Jesus says: “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me…where I am going, you cannot come.” And thirdly, to cap it off, Peter, you who are the leader of the pack, you will deny that you even know me three times, before the rooster crows the next morning.
I’m not surprised then, by what Jesus says next to his disciples: “Do not let your heart be troubled.” It’s a word to each of them as individuals. I know your heart, Jesus is saying. I know your circumstances. I know your path. Don’t panic. Stay calm. Yes, there will be a hard road ahead, but you are not going to walk it alone. I will walk with you. Jesus himself knows what it’s like to be troubled. That’s the word used of Jesus when he’s standing in front of Lazarus’ tomb. It sums up all the heaviness and grief that he feels, and we do too, in the face of death, but also right now, as we wonder how difficult, and how long the way back to normal might be, and even what a new normal might look like.
The starting point, Jesus says, is this, “Believe into God. Believe also into me.” Lean into me. Let me take the strain of what you are experiencing. My Father and I are in this together, Jesus is saying. My whole life, the way I’m walking, is all about bringing glory to my Father, and doing something amazing for all of you.
“In my Father’s house are many rooms, many dwelling places.” Think more mansion than 3-bedroom brick veneer. My Father has plenty of real estate and I’m getting a space ready for you. About a year ago I bought a house. It had bothered me for years that I needed to get a foothold in the housing market. Our family home has been a great blessing. But if I thought that taking this step would banish worry about the future I was wrong. What happens if the pandemic drives real estate values down? What about how much I still owe? Bricks and mortar might be a good investment, but they don’t provide the eternal security that Jesus promises. “Trust on God. Trust also in me” are the words I need to keep hearing.
Jesus goes on, “I am going there to prepare a place for you.” You individually. My journey will take me to the depths of the cross, and then to the heights of heaven again as I rise from the dead, and return to my Father. This is my way, and this will be your way too because “I will come back and take you to be with me, so that you may be where I am.”
These are certainly powerful and encouraging words, but one of Jesus’ disciples, Thomas hasn’t got a clue what Jesus is talking about and isn’t afraid to say so: “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way.” It’s better to be straight than to stay silent and confused. And it’s true. The disciples certainly don’t know the way that Jesus will walk in the next 24 hours. And if that’s not clear, nor is the rest of it, which just sounds like pie in the sky when you die. Thomas is nothing if not a pragmatist. He wants something concrete. He wants something that works right now, not at some indeterminate time in the future.
I like Thomas’ honesty, because I feel the same things. It’s bit like the difference between Google Maps and a street directory. Google Maps makes me feel like an observer of the journey. I know where I will end up, but have no idea exactly how I’m getting there. With a street directory I feel more part of it. I get to see each segment of the trip. Perhaps that’s what Thomas’ wants. Some help, some guidance, Jesus’ presence right now, each day.
Thomas gets a mind-blowing answer to what is a big question. Jesus says to him, “I am the way, and the truth and the life.” I’m everything you are ever going to need. Right now, through the journey of your life, right to the destination, my Father’s house.
I am the way. The way to the Father. The way home. And the one who is beside you, dwells with you through each and every step. Jesus can say this because he is the “Word made flesh, who has made his dwelling among us.” Jesus has committed himself to experiencing and redeeming our humanity, and to share his relationship with his Father, with us. If you want to arrive at God, Jesus is the way. Better than that, Jesus doesn’t just point you in the right direction. He takes you there personally. “Brothers and sisters...we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, opened for us through the curtain, which is his body.”
The way Jesus did this was to walk the lonely and painful way to the cross. We had to bail long ago. In and of ourselves, we couldn’t love purely. We didn’t want to sacrifice. We couldn’t serve God with a pure heart. Only Jesus could. And did. Jesus forged a new way through his obedient life and suffering death, He went way down, even into death and into the place of God’s judgement against our sin. It’s a way that we would never want to go, that we will never have to, because of him.
Jesus is the truth. In him, we know the truth about God, that he is loving, forgiving and merciful. We also know the truth about ourselves. That we are lost in life without him. That following his way, through his word, is what a meaningful and fulfilling life is all about. Jesus is the life-the one who lived fully for us, and whose life enlivens us. He accompanies us every step of the journey. We have a permanent home in him with God our Father. A place for which the mortgage has been paid in full, and where we will never be kicked out.
One of the first names given to early church was people of the Way. Paul was on his way from Jerusalem to Damascus to find “any there who belonged to the Way” to arrest them. He wasn’t successful in his mission because God pulled him up and set him on a new journey-to share the good news of Jesus. We are people of the Way. Jesus is the Way. Jesus is with us on the way. And the way where we are headed is our home with God, permanently, eternally, thankfully. Amen.
Click here to watch the [Worship Video](https://bit.ly/2wOdI3l) for Sunday 3 May
The farmer slows down, stops his ute and opens the door. The car’s suspension squeaks and groans as he climbs out. It’s a long time since this ute saw some grease. The Falcon’s paintwork is faded and dirty. It would never pass a roadworthy. The tyres are bald and studded with three-corner jacks. They balloon under the weight of the hay bales, stacked in the ute.
The farmer opens the gate, slides back onto the vinyl seat, crunches the car into gear and idles through. He doesn’t need to worry about closing the gate because the last thing the sheep have on their mind is freedom. There’s little feed left as summer stretches into a dry autumn. Despite some recent rain, the grass is yet to grow.
As the car ambles through the paddock, the sheep start to stir. They know this car and they know the driver. At first, they are a little hesitant because there’s someone they don’t know standing on the opened tailgate. He’s a little hesitant too, because he doesn’t know much about sheep. He’s a city boy, and the straw is rough on his soft skin. He’s worried about getting his hands dirty.
The farmer stops the car. The sheep come closer. The boy cuts the twine that holds the straw bale together. He pushes it over the edge of the tray. The farmer gets out and observes his flock. The summer has been hot and long. He looks for any sign of weakness or exhaustion.
After he feeds the sheep he’ll need to check the water trough and ensure that it’s full, and that the windmill is functioning properly. It’s been a silent sentinel watching over the farm for decades, faithfully bringing water up from deep below ground.
The little boy wonders out aloud about the sheep. ‘Do you know all their names?’ he asks the farmer. There’s silence for a while. ‘No.’ ‘Do you know how many there are?’ Again, some silence. ‘About 300.’ The boy saves the other questions for another time.
I was that little boy, and this is a memory from 45 years ago. Whenever I hear Psalm 23, or Jesus’ words in today’s gospel, I am transported back to this farm in the Murraylands in South Australia. Sheep could never survive here left to their own devices.
Only in the winter months stretching into spring is there enough feed to nourish them, and perhaps some water flowing in the creek that comes down from the hills. But the rest of the time there is little feed, and during the summer months, and well into autumn, the sheep must be hand-fed. Without the farmer-shepherd’s diligence and care, and left to their own devices, they would simply die.
I’ve often wondered whether this is a helpful image to carry into my meditation on Psalm 23. After all, the psalm speaks of ‘green pastures and quiet waters,’ a kind of verdant paradise, with not a blade of grass out of place. And for a few months each year, in a good winter, that’s what this country looks like. But the rest of the year the feed dries off, and the paddocks become bare.
Just like our lives and our world appears right now. At the beginning of 2020, we may have had plans for the year-the path of our career, travel, time with family and friends. All of us these have been turned on their heads, as we find ourselves locked into this time of isolation. Some of us are no longer working, others can’t see children and grandchildren, travel has been cancelled, social events are on hold. Where are the green pastures? It’s more like a dark valley, and it actually is a journey through the valley of the shadow of death for some in our wider community. But it’s when we find ourselves in this harsh environment that we find the psalm speaks the loudest words of comfort.
The agricultural country of Israel and Palestine is not dissimilar to the Mallee with which many of us would be familiar. It’s dry and dusty. Watercourses flow only sporadically and there is little permanent water. Farming sheep in this kind of environment requires a great deal of care. In contrast to our settled parcels of farmland, ancient shepherds drove their sleep from place, looking for pasture and security. But along the way they would have faced great danger, not only from lack of food and water, but also from predators in human and animal form.
We may feel that the COVID-19 pandemic is like one of those enemies about which the psalm speaks. In today’s gospel reading Jesus also speaks of thieves ‘who seek to steal and kill and destroy.’ In these days, hopes, plans, dreams may have been stolen. And also a sense of security in the things we own, in the work we do perhaps, in our bank balance, our superannuation or investments. We thought these things were indestructible, but now we are forced to look somewhere else for the hope, security and future that we crave.
God’s people, starting with King David, who penned these words, would have understood the difficulty of a life lived against many threats. Israel was a precarious people, squeezed by stronger political powers. This was their story from the very beginning. It was God who shepherded them and led them from their captivity on Egypt through to the land that he had promised. Moses reminds them,
‘Surely the Lord your God has blessed you in all your undertakings; he knows your going through this great wilderness. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you; you have lacked nothing.’ (Deut. 2:7)
But during this time when God faithfully shepherded his people, they showed their true colours. They were cranky and recalcitrant. They created a rod for their own back when they stampeded toward the danger of idolatry, and stubborn refused to thank God for his shepherd care.
One September school holidays I helped to drive some sheep from my grandfather’s farm to the shearing shed on another farmer’s property. All was going well until we came to the creek, flowing perhaps half a metre wide over the culvert. The sheep backed up, and began to turn and head back from whence they came. No amount of gentle hesitation could convince them to walk across the creek, such was their fear of running water. The only way we could budge them was to lift them and none too gently deposit them across the other side. Once we had done this a few times they began to get the idea. Then they did follow like sheep.
As the Lord is a shepherd, so you and I are sheep. It’s by no means a flattering comparison. Yet it’s an apt one. Many of the dark valleys that we traverse are of our own making. Although the good Shepherd leads us in right paths, we are just as likely to head off down a gully or over a cliff, citing curiosity or self-interest as our motivations. Sometimes we are plain bloody minded and heedlessly disobedient. ‘All we like sheep have gone astray…’ Isaiah writes. Don’t we know the truth of his words.
What will this shepherd do? Leave us to fend for ourselves? See trouble coming and turn tail? No, this is not God’s way. Instead, God redoubled his efforts to round up his wayward sheep. God sent his Son, the one who calls himself the Good Shepherd. He cared for the sheep, not out of self-interest, not because of the pay-packet at the end of the week, but because of his passionate concern. He called these recalcitrant his sheep by name. In the ultimate act of servant love, he received the blows that the sheep deserved for their stupidity and perversity. ‘The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.’
Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He leads us beside still waters. When I hear these words, I think of a water trough, full of water drawn from deep below the ground, pumped by the power of the wind. Jesus gives us the water of life. In the still waters of baptism we are refreshed: this is the ‘spring of living water gushing up to eternal life.’ A source of life that can always be relied upon, no matter how parched the surroundings. The shepherd’s strong yet gentle voice speaks a powerful word of forgiveness. In the darkest valley we are not abandoned. In this strange time God is protecting us. He’s stripping from us those things that we surrounded ourselves with, but which took us away from looking to him for strength and sustenance. He is confirming in us the hope that is ours in his sacrificial death and life-changing resurrection. He is creating a thirst and a hunger for him, in the quietness and isolation of these days, and inviting us to listen to him, whose voice we can always trust, and whose love will lead us to his house, in which we will dwell forever.
The farmer drives along. The little boy cuts the bales and tears them apart, and pushes them over the tailgate. Sheep gather in a line behind the ute’s tracks and feed. It’s not much but it will keep hunger at bay. Our Good Shepherd however, is so much more generous. Not only does he give us his life, but even more, he gathers us around his table, in his house. He feeds us. He fills us with his abundant life. With goodness and mercy strong enough to see off all predators and evil, even death itself. Right now we are sad that we can’t gather around the Lord’s table to receive the body and blood in Jesus. But God still refreshes our soul through his word. We lack nothing because we have him, and he in us through his Holy Spirit.
Some years ago I went to hear a renowned Lutheran theologian speak. He was asked to summarise the heart of the church’s message. This was his simple answer: ‘The love of the shepherd for you, the sheep-this is the core of the gospel.’ Live fully in this love. And share with other sheep this love of God for them too. Amen.