“Compassion” St Petri Sermon – 22nd July, 2018 – Pastor Robert Voigt
Jesus was moved with compassion – Matthew 9:36
Mark 6:34 (NIV)
34 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.
Matthew 9:36 (NIV)
36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Psalm 51:1 NIV
But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. Psalm 86:15 NIV
When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. Matthew 14:14 NIV
Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat.” Matthew 15:32 NIV
Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes, Matthew 20:34 NIV
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:32 NIV
Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. 1 Peter 3:8 NIV
“People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
“We hear again and again, from the unchurched and from local churches who are deeply engaged with the unchurched in their communities, that loving genuine relationships are the only remaining currency readily exchanged between the churched and the churchless.” – George Barna.
Pentecost Sunday – St Petri Lutheran Church 20/05/2018
Sermon – Bishop John Henderson “Pentecost Conversation”
John 15:26, 27; 16:4b-15
The Work of the Spirit of Truth
When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father – the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father – he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning
I did not tell you this from the beginning because I was with you, but now I am going to him who sent me. None of you asks me, “Where are you going?”Rather, you are filled with grief because I have said these things. But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.
‘I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.’
Dear friends in Christ,
There’s a conversation going on today between the Father,
the Son and the Holy Spirit.
You can listen to it by tuning in to this morning’s Gospel reading.
And tune in you should, because the conversation’s about you.
God sees what’s going on in this world and in your life. God is concerned for you. God knows that, left to ourselves, we humans fall into destructive spirals that will see the end of us.
God isn’t prepared just to sit silently by to watch us suffer. God is a God of engagement, conversation and dialogue. God wants relationships. That’s why God speaks to us through the Word, because God wants to communicate with us. The conversation begins in creation: ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.’ God’s image is about relatedness, connection and community. We are relational beings. God creates us to gather, use language and, by nature, build communities. The Triune God makes us in that image.
But the image is now corrupted. We see it all around in the disruption and fracturing of relationships and communities. Sin reveals itself most clearly in the ways we deal with one another. Jesus taught us to pray, ‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.’ We can be legends in our own living rooms, but out in the community we discover who we really are. We see the sin that fractures and breaks the relationships for which God created us.
The first broken relationship is with God. In Genesis three Adam and Eve turned their backs on the divine conversation and perfect community they enjoyed with God. They decided to go it alone. That’s what sin is. Ever since God has been working to bring us back into the loving, communal relationship between creator and created which is our fulfilment.
Jesus is the centre of God’s work for us. He’s the divine-human Son of God, a standing invitation to bring us out of the darkness to re-join God in the light of a perfect relationship, to join once more in the divine conversation. God created you for that.
The conversation recorded in the gospels goes something like this. Jesus has finished what he came for. He was born, he lived among us, taught us, shared the Word and gave us the Father’s gifts. Yet we rejected him, judged him, and crucified him. The Father didn’t stop there, however. He raised his Son from the dead. Last week, if you were in church, you would have heard the risen Jesus talking about going back to his Father. He did that to clear the way for the Spirit to come and the conversation to go on. That’s why he sends the Holy Spirit. The Spirit puts us in permanent contact with God. In the Spirit we can participate in the divine relationship, just as God always wanted. That’s why God gathers his church – it is a community of believers joined together in a Spirit-led conversation with their Creator and Saviour God. It’s a foretaste of heaven.
The words Jesus speaks in today’s gospel reading are much more than history. He spoke them millennia ago and he still speaks them today. The word of God connects past, present and future, God’s eternal now. This very morning, Pentecost Sunday 20th May 2018, Jesus is promising to send us the Advocate, the Spirit of truth.
His actual word is Paraclete, and it’s to translate it into English. It literally translates as ‘One who comes near’. Jesus sends us the Holy Spirit, the God who has come near. Our eternal, conversational, relational, creator God is as close to you as the air you are breathing, as close as the sound waves reaching your ears, as close as the light striking your retinas. As close as the thoughts inside your brain. The Paraclete continues what began in creation. God is with you, in this very moment, right now.
The Paraclete is the Spirit of truth. Not truth like a courtroom where judge and jury forensically distinguish between the innocent and the guilty. Not truth like a science lab, where through hypothesis, trial and error, sorting through the data, scientists test their theories.
This is more. It’s truth of purpose, identity and relationship. Who am I? Who are you? Who is God? How do I know that? Can I trust you? God, why did you make me in the first place?
These are the truths of the Paraclete. His message from the Father is fundamentally, ‘I know you, I love you and I want to be with you, and you with me. I will wait for you as long as it takes.’
Jesus shows us what this looks like in Luke 15 in the parable of the Waiting Father. Sometimes called the Prodigal Son. The parable tells of a father and two sons. Both sons are essentially prodigals. The love of the father binds the story together. Whatever shame they cause him and however much it costs him he loves them equally and patiently waits for both of them. This is our heavenly Father waiting for humankind to come back home.
In this morning’s gospel reading Jesus gives us three key words that are central to the Paraclete’s message. They might jolt us a bit, but we must face up to them for the relationship to be real. They are sin, righteousness, and judgement.
They jolt us because they are unpopular words today. We frequently block them out of our conversations because they sound negative and out of step with the times. We prefer to speak more comforting, affirming words like spirituality, love and peace. But we can’t have those things until we have dealt with our most pressing problems: sin, righteousness and judgement.
We have already talked about sin today. We have considered how God responded to sin by sending Jesus. Faith in Jesus Christ is our number one priority. Without faith we are without hope, lost in sin.
‘About righteousness,’ Jesus says, ‘because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer.’ A few minutes ago we said just that in the Creed. When Jesus’ returned to his Father he did not leave us alone. He opened the floodgates to the full indwelling of God. Our Small Catechism teaches the same thing: ‘the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and preserves it in union with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. Galatians 3 affirms, ‘the righteous shall live by faith.’
And finally, ‘about judgement, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.’ This is all the forces and powers of darkness that want to smother the light of Jesus and steal the children away from the Father. We call it the devil. There’s a dark mystery in that name and it’s just too dangerous for us to go there. Only Christ can do that.
The light of Christ expels the darkness. In him darkness is condemned. In the past, it’s true, we have sided with the darkness instead of Christ and so deserve judgement. But that hasn’t stopped God loving us. Christ takes our place. He takes our death. Just when darkness thinks it has won, God raises Jesus from the dead. He just won’t let the ruler of this world have you, as God’s Word says in Romans 8, ‘there is … no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.’
So these three words – sin, righteousness and judgement – are how God begins his Pentecost conversation with you. Jesus explains that knowing each of one these words assures us of God’s love and salvation.
The Paraclete brings you the message he hears from the Father. And everything the Father has also belongs to Jesus. Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three persons in one God, working together to bring you back to life, to relationship, to community, to be the person you were created to be.
Do not doubt that God loves you, has a permanent place for you and is right here, right now, closer to you than you are to yourself. You have received the Holy Spirit who will always be with you, guiding you into all truth, and showing you what is to come.
Praise God for all his love, and for sending the Spirit so we, and all believers, may have true, saving faith in Christ our Lord.
Sunday 6th May, 2018. St Petri Pastor David Preuss
John 15:9-17 Jesus calls us his friends
9 ‘As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last – and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: love each other.
I’d like you to think for a moment of your most special relationship. It might be with your spouse, child, parent, a good friend, or even your dog? What makes it so attractive and special? Perhaps knowing you are loved and respected by them, you understand each other, you can do things and go places together, you can confide and share intimate details of your life, be yourself, there’s trust acceptance, a reliance on each other etc. But, as we all know, even the best relationships can turn sour, with disappointments, misunderstandings, rejection. Love can so easily turn to hatred, I hope that doesn’t happen to your good relationships. But I think you’ll all agree. We life in a imperfect world of imperfect relationships. And that’s why it’s so hard for us to comprehend a relationship that is perfect in every way: No anger, disagreements, or personality clashes: rather, perfect harmony at all times. Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it.
But the good news for us today is: It is true. It’s the relationship God the Father has with Jesus. And even better news for us, is Jesus makes us recipients of the same perfect love he shares with the Father. This is what he says. VS 10, if you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my father’s commands and remain in his love. What I find a little bit confronting about that statement, is the command to obey. We’re not emotionless robots who readily obey at the push of a button. We like to do what we want to do, not what others want us to do. And we certainly don’t always want to do what Jesus wants us to do. And so we sometimes baulk at this word Obey.
In our text Jesus really emphasises that we obey his commands in the same way he obeys the Fathers commands. He mentions it 6 times, and it’s always mentioned in conjunction with love, which is mentioned 7 times. There’s this inseparable connection between his love and obedience to him.
The trouble is “obey” is often seen in a different light than love. I.e. the boss says “you obey me or you’ll get the sack” sounds real lobbing doesn’t it? Closer to home, for me anyway, creep over the speed limit and you get hit with a $300 fin. Obedience can be forced from fear and threats. IN the discussions I’ve had with young brides preparing for marriage, it’s often been said “I Love him I really do, but I can’t obey, no way.” It’s seen as a negative, as unfair, as demeaning as burdensome.
So how do we reconcile the love of Christ with obedience to him? Or does obedience play no role in my Christian life, because I’m saved by grace, and that’s all that matters”. And Praise God, that’s true. I am saved by grace, It’s one of the outstanding teachings of our Christian faith. We can’t do a thing to gain our own salvation. So where does that leave obedience in our relationship with Jesus? That’s the probing question for today. I’ve mentioned some of the seemingly negative aspects of the word obey, but my challenge today is to convince you, as does this text from John’s Gospel, that to obey Jesus is the most positive response to his love you can possibly have, and it leads to the best possible relationship with him. It makes no sense whatsoever to say, I believe in Jesus, I really love him, but then totally ignore his directives for Christian living and do whatever we please. That’s not a good witness to Jesus. But if we allow Jesus love to keep flowing through us, we will radiate and reflect his love to others. Think of a solar pane. It works so effectively when it soaks up the sun. But when it’s clouded over, when the panels face away from the sun, when it becomes dark, it can’t function. Same with us, when we turn away from the love of the son, when our life becomes clouded over with other things. When we are tempted to move into the darker areas of life, you know what I’m talking about, away from what Jesus commands, we can’t be immersed in, or empowered by Jesus’ love. He never stops loving us, but sometimes we block out and ignore his love.
So it’s the love of Jesus, that inspires and stimulates obedience from us. If he was a tyrant, if he punished us every time we did wrong, if he was mean and unfair and exploited us, we definitely wouldn’t want to obey him, we’d be afraid of him, and that would be a very bad motive for obeying. But Jesus perfect love for us casts out all fear. It’s when we see the reality of the love of Christ, especially as we see him suffering and dying for us n the cross, that’s when we are moved to obey. He says “the greatest love you can have is to lay down one’s life for a friend. He’s referring to himself isn’t he. This is the essence of the Christian faith and the heart of Jesus love for the world.
This God who came to us in the flesh, and who has given his all for us, has chosen us to e his friend. We didn’t choose him, but he chose us. How incredible is that when we stop and think about it. We have been chosen by the divine, all powerful., all conquering, ever loving, healing, all seeing, all knowing forgiving, faithful creator of the universe, to be his intimate friend. His purpose is that we can bear much fruit, fruit that will last. Being filled with his love is what equips us to be as Luther puts it, “little Christ’s,” in an oft times loveless world. Taking time out to ring up, to encourage a person, visit those who are stuck at home, help them in their need, provide for the poor, befriend the lonely. Stop complaining about the world we live in and instead Pray fervently in the name of Jesus for the world. This is how we obey Christ and bear fruit here at St Petri, and everywhere else, by being a little Christ to the other.
Please don’t think of obedience to Jesus as joyless, monotonous, drudgery. Jesus says, I’ve told you these things so your joy may be complete. As one reads the New Testament one can’t help but be impressed by the disciples, who defied death, and endured various trials with and inexpressible joy that Jesus had risen from the dead. Paul and Silas were locked in chains, but you couldn’t shut them up from praising the Lord. They had a joy this world can’t give. This joy comes as we realize, the truths that the Father shares with Jesus, now belong to us. What a treasure we have.
One more thing. Jesus promises: “you can go to the Father and he will give you whatever you ask in my name.” That doesn’t mean we get everything we want, but we will get those things that are according to his will. And the closer we are in our relationship with Jesus the clearer his will becomes. In conclusion, the positives John speaks of regarding Jesus command to remain in and share his love, are inexpressible joy the joy of knowing he has chosen us to have an intimate Friendship with him, he’s given us the ability to bear fruit, and the promise that we can ask anything according to his will and it will be granted. When we obey Jesus, we remain under the protection of his love, rather than the danger of our rebellion!
And please know this, and I speak as an expert on disobedience. When we do disobey, we can always go to Jesus as a friend, confident he will forgive us. That’s the power of the cross. My prayer for each of us, is that we continue to be recipients of Jesus’ love. Please show me your warmest smiles as I tell you again” Jesus has chosen you to be his friend in the most perfect of relationships, forever. Amen.
Joining the Good Shepherd In his mission – St Petri Nuriootpa 22/04/2018
John 10:11-18 (v16)
11“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.
16I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.
17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”
My wife Ruth grew up on a sheep-farm in the Western District of Victoria. Unfortunately, that does not help us much in understanding our text.
In Jesus’ time a flock of sheep might be a dozen or two;
today a flock is hundreds if not thousands
In Jesus’ time sheep were led; today they are chased, usually by dogs
In Jesus’ time a shepherd knew each sheep by name
He called their names and they followed him;
If two flocks meet and intermingle it is no big deal – no overtime…
Today sheep are amongst God’s silliest creatures, they just run and if two mobs are droved into each other – overtime big time…
In Jesus’ time shepherds were mostly hirelings, famous for their dishonesty who often lied and claimed wild animals had taken sheep they sold/ate
Today there are not a lot of wild animals on most farms at least not since the dog-fence was built
In Jesus’ day a ‘shepherd’ was also a title for the kings – good and bad
Today we might use the term for pastors or those who care for others it is not a term we would use for our politicians + other leaders
We need to keep all those things in mind when we hear Jesus say,
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
And then, Jesus invites us to join him in his mission to bring other sheep into his flock, so he can also be their good shepherd.
It is on this invitation that we will focus briefly this morning but first we need to spend a little time on what it means
to have Jesus as our Good Shepherd
1) We have a good shepherd who lays down his life for us unless we understand that, we won’t ‘get’ what Jesus has done for us
Unlike Luther, we then won’t have the ‘Aha!’ experience that changes our lives forever and makes us new people
So let’s spend a little time reflecting on what our good shepherd has done for us
2) Jesus says, I’m the good shepherd who lays down his life for sheep
A sheep is not worth as much as a shepherd – that is obvious
If the lion or the bear attacks, better sacrifice a sheep than lose a shepherd – even a hireling is a human being
And the good shepherd / Son of God is obviously worth much more than one of us silly creatures that he made – that is also obvious
The Muslims are surely right when they say it is offensive to suggest that God himself would die for the likes of us
Yet that is the foolishness of the gospel that we believe + bring to others
As Paul says in the first chapter of 1 Corinthians:
…we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
Maybe we should celebrate Easter on April Fool’s Day every year!
3) You can’t skip Maundy Thursday and Good Friday to get to Easter Sunday
Our God is not safe – he is a fierce judge whose law condemns us
Our attempts to earn his favour dissolve in the fire of his wrath
Imagine for a moment that I could replay the moments of your life that you are most ashamed of – up there on the big screen
in glorious high definition and with booming high fidelity sound What do you think? Look around. How far away is the nearest door?
But with God there is nowhere to hide – for big things or small. He hears your secret thoughts! He sees the worst you have done!
What scenes played in your mind just now? What makes you cringe?
Jesus knows you are guilty! He knows you don’t deserve any grace – and knowing that he went to the cross, suffered + died – just for you and if you had been the only person on earth who needed forgiving he still would have done it – just for you!
Because Jesus is the good shepherd who laid down his life for you it’s done and dusted. You are forgiven. The video has been erased.
No back-up copies have been kept. It is gone forever! You don’t have to do anything to pay for it. Payment has been made!
Just enjoy it!
4) You don’t need to impress to get in the good shepherd’s good books
It’s about faith – that is trust in the promises of God which is itself a gift of God created in us at baptism, nurtured as we dwell in the Word and come to the table
Faith simply receives the gift – it doesn’t earn it or create it. There is nothing you can do to make God love you more – or less
You don’t earn God’s blessing by the things you do. God’s favour already rests on you – because of Jesus
That’s what it means to have a good shepherd
5) Do your family, friends and workmates need this good shepherd?
When Jesus originally said, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold” he was talking about all the people of the world who were not Jews
His good news was not just for the Jewish people. Today we might take that as a reference to those who do not yet know Jesus
The good news is not just for those already in the church. Jesus has other sheep in Nuriootpa and the Barossa who are not yet in the sheepfold. They will listen to his voice and he will bring them into his flock
6) Jesus has a mission to the people of this community
He invites us to join him in his mission. The good shepherd doesn’t send us out to create our own mission, he invites us to join him in his mission
That is important because it means that it doesn’t depend on us. We are not running the show. We are just on the team doing our bit, speaking of what we know.
Secondly, we have seen how Jesus does mission. He hangs out with all the wrong people. Apparently, he is not afraid he will be tainted.
The words, “Neither do I condemn you” ring in one adulterer’s ears. He invites himself to dinner at the hated tax collector’s house
He restores Peter after his betrayal
He cleanses lepers, heals a mother-in-law, and raises the dead
all without insisting that they clean up their act first
At the heart of it all is his suffering, death and resurrection and the forgiveness that he brings without condition because he is the Good Shepherd for all people, not just us.
7) The good news is not a moral improvement program
It is not a clean up and reform society package.
It is not just alleviating suffering and caring for the disadvantaged though all those may be by-products of people coming to faith
It’s not about telling other people what to do whether your pet project involves law and order, same sex marriage, abortion and euthanasia
or gay rights, refugees, racism, poverty and the environment
– now I have offended everyone equally, at least I hope so!
My point is that none of these things is the good news, the gospel. That doesn’t mean that they are unimportant, or that we shouldn’t do them. But they are not the reason why we are here as the church on earth
Our first reading from Acts 4 shows this clearly a crippled beggar is healed and Peter and John are asked
by what name was this done. They respond “by the name of Jesus of Nazareth” and then add
“There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”
The second reading from 1 John 3 says that God’s command is
“that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another.”
We are here because the Good Shepherd has other sheep
We are not just to make the world a better place or to protect God’s honour
We are not just to make sure we look after Christians until they get to heaven
We are here because Jesus our good shepherd suffered, died and rose again for us and for those who do not yet know him
We are his forgiven flock, set free from our sins so that we might bring Jesus and his good news to the people around us
Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
And again, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”
“Do you Have any Good Reason to Be Angry?” – Jonah 4:4
The theme of repentance and its relationship to this world runs through all of the readings today. But I’m going to concentrate on the Old Testament reading from Jonah. In particular I want you to understand that this sermon is indeed a call to repentance, but perhaps not in the way that you may imagine a call to repentance is uttered or perhaps not even something you may understand a call to repentance means.
I want you to picture, if you will, this scenario. It’s the day before Christmas. You are in the supermarket. It is packed. You are standing in the fast checkout lane, you know, the 12 items or less. You have 11 items in your basket and that allows you to possibly buy a packet of chewies on the way out. You are getting close. You are only 15 people from the front of the queue now, and then some big, sweaty, smelly bloke with a trolley absolutely packed, overflowing with stuff – muscles all the way through to the front of the queue, pushes in. And then what’s worse, the checkout lady starts serving them! One item at a time. What goes through your mind? or let me ask you this? What repeatable thing goes through your mind? – Something will go through your mind that says “It’s not fair!”
The other thing that happens when you’ve got that sense of not fairness going through your head and your heart, is that you become the emotion that you would associate with that scenario. You become angry, impatient, hostile, grumpy. Does that ring bells with any person in this building? Well then we have got a sermon for you today.
If you understand that picture, you understand Jonah’s problem. Jonah’s problem was one of “not fairness”. It’s one of anger and bitterness and resentment. The problem is that if you let that “not fairness” and that sense of anger dominate you, it becomes the lens through which you see everything. You then become like I am fast becoming, a grumpy old man. No, you then actually become a cynical person, you see everything through the lens of that bitterness which makes even good things in the world, interpreted cynically, bitterly. The other problem that it does is that it roots within us a rejection of God, and a rejection of his word of grace to us.
Here is a bold statement. I believe it to be a true statement, which is why I’m making it. All of our anger, even if at the point where our anger is directed to the smelly big man with a trolley at the front of the queue. All of our anger is finally against God. Our problems with anger are God problems. He is to blame, finally, for the things that have gone wrong.
If you let that angry disposition sit within you, it becomes what one of the other passages in Scripture calls, “a root of bitterness springing up”. As a root of bitterness springs up, it defiles many. It touches many. Paul in Ephesians speaks about the necessity to let all that angers you go. The wrath and the clamour and slander. The cynicism, the bitterness let it all go because, he says, unless you do that, you give the evil one a foothold. An opportunity to make mayhem in your life.
My wife and I used to live, before we moved here, just north of Cairns in a place called Clifton Beach. If you have ever been to it, near Palm Cove. It is a fantastic spot. We could just walk for two minutes from our place onto the beach, and we could walk along the beach and look at the palm trees. What are we doing living in the Barossa?
I don’t know if you remember a few years ago, there was a total eclipse of the sun which occurred. We had a prime viewing spot because it was going to pass almost directly over us. So we went down to the beach early that morning to look at what was going to happen. To our shock and horror, our beach was filled with tens of thousands of people from all over Australia, and the world. All come to look at this thing. So we were standing on our beach, packed in like sardines and looking up the sky. It was a bit cloudy. My wife said; “Darling all of these people have come to see this, and it’s cloudy”. “They can’t see anything”. “I think we should pray that God would move the clouds”. I thought to myself, you have got more faith than I have sweetie, but sure enough we did. She prayed, and I prayed, and over a period of the next five or 10 minutes the cloud started to move and break apart. What was obscured became visible. Just at the point where the total eclipse was total, and you got that magnificent diamond ring effect happening. All of the clusters and stars coming out like the classic pictures you see in newspapers and magazines all around the world. It was like a box seat, and God had moved the clouds so that they formed this stunning sort of halo around it. Tens of thousands of people clapped and applauded and whooped and hollered in a spontaneous act of worship. They didn’t know who it was they were worshipping, I’m sure. But it was just such an awe-inspiring experience. And just as the egress started to happen, when the clouds started to move back over again, as the moon was moving away, the clouds started to cover over that little ending part. A bloke in front of us utters, loud enough for everybody to hear, “Yeah that would be right!” In other words, I’ve got such a cynical disposition about God, and all that he’s done wrong in the world that I can’t even enjoy the magnificent spectacle that I’ve seen – a once in a lifetime revelation of glory, without complaining about something. As if to say “God, you stuffed it up again”
Jonah’s problem was an anger problem. Jonah is probably one of the best known of all biblical stories, but having said that, I think we need to remind ourselves that there is now a huge gap between ourselves, who are used to biblical stories, and many people who are not. Let me give you one example. A friend of mine who is a pastor and working in one of our eastern states in a rural district, has seen a wonderful work of God amongst a group of farmers at a little outstation about 100 km away from the main town in his district. One farmer there has had a wonderful revelation of the love of God in Jesus Christ. He has invited many of his friends to come so that they now have a gathering on one of the farms, often 25 farmers or more, and now they are starting to gather some of their wives and children once a month – but it is just as an illustration that my friend was talking with them about the parable of the prodigal son. He said, “How many of you have heard of the parable of the prodigal son?” and one of these blokes puts his hand up says, “Was that a Johnny Cash song? – Really! That is the level of difference between what we commonly speak about, can you understand?
So even though we know the story of Jonah, perhaps it is worth repeating some of the details. Jonah was an old Testament prophet. Probably the most unwilling and grumpy prophet that the Lord has ever sent into the world. Jonah was called, on one occasion, to jump on a boat and go to Darwin, so he decided he would go to Hobart. In fact, it wasn’t quite that way, it was that he was told to go to Nineveh. We know that instead he decided he go to Tarshish, which is the equivalent of saying ”I want you to go to London” and instead go to Antarctica. They are not close to one another. They are about as far away as you could get. To run to Tarshish was to run away from what God had asked him to do. Jonah speaks about it as trying to run from the presence of the Lord.
Why did Jonah want to run? Well, Nineveh was a godless town of idolatry and greed and hostility, who raised up over the next centuries as one of the mightiest empires and strongest armies the world has ever seen. That empire and that army eventually crushed the whole of the northern part of Israel. They were governed or ruled over at that stage by a King, but he himself was ruled over by a God called Asher. If you were to look at some of the ancient reliefs you would see the King in his chariot and this God Asher, would be riding ahead of them into battle. In other words he was the servant of a pagen God, ruling over a city which was ignorant of God, sitting in darkness and due to become one of the biggest enemies of God’s people. Nineveh even at that point, by reputation, was held in awe by all of the surrounding nations. No one wanted to be friends with the Ninevites or the Assyrians. God asked Jonah to go there and to preach a message of repentance, so that if the Ninevites were to hear this word. God would turn and bless them and do them good, and transform their society, and cause them to live in righteousness and peace and the joy of the Holy Spirit. Jonah’s response was “I don’t want them to be blessed”. Like the man who pushes in at the front of the queue at the point that you’re standing there with your 11 items in your bag. You don’t think “Gee, I wish that God would bless that man immensely”. That’s not what’s in your mind is it?
Jonah decides that the Ninevites don’t deserve to be blessed and he knows God is the sort of God who will bless people like the Ninevites if they repent, so he decides that he is not going to Nineveh he is going to Tarshish. We know the story, he jumps on a boat to Tarshish. A big storm comes up. People say “How come we are in the middle of this storm?” “The gods must be angry with us”. Jonah ‘fesses up and says “Look in the end, it’s all my fault, I’m running away from the presence of God”. “He’s asked me to do something and I’m not doing it, so toss me over”. So over he goes, and of course you know the story. God appoints a big fish and the big fish swallows Jonah.
Now to all intents and purposes Jonah is a dead man. He is out of sight, out of mind. Is drowned. He’s in the depths of the sea. He is down by the roots of the mountains, as he calls it. From the world’s point of view, he is dead and buried. From Jonah’s point of view he probably felt he was dead and buried, but three days later he is spat up again on the beach at the very place that he needs to be. He most reluctantly trudges through the city bringing the message of God’s forgiveness to these people and saying “repent”, hoping against hope that they won’t believe it, but they do. Everybody believes! The King believes, and they proclaim a fast. They put themselves through this visible sign of their repentance and God blesses them.
Then Jonah becomes grumpy. He says to God “This is what I said would happen.” “If I came here and they heard and believed, you said that you would bless them” “Now they have heard, and they believe and you have blessed them, and it’s just not fair!” “They are godless pagens who hate us and they eat the wrong food and they wear the wrong clothes”. “They have got tats and they’ve got piercings and they don’t know when to stand up or when to sit down”. So, what does Jonah do? He goes outside of Nineveh, he sits on a hill grumpy, with crossed arms and basically waits to see if God would change his mind. Perhaps if I sit here and let my cynical grumpiness rise up to heaven, God will eventually bring judgement on them. So he sitting there in this stew of his own anger and bitterness and cynicism and hardness. Stewing away, waiting for the fire of judgement to fall on Nineveh. Waiting for the city to burn down and of course it doesn’t happen.
The Jewish people approach that Scripture somewhat differently. Jonah and also Esther are great books of humour and celebration. With Esther, for example they would read it and act it out like a pantomime, with goodies and baddies and fixing the baddies. They come on stage hissing the baddies and cheering the goodies. This is the way it is meant to be read. It’s meant to be understood to be entirely a humorous but pointed illustration.
A humorous but pointed illustration is this, that it is possible for you to be one of God’s people like Israel. It is possible for you to be here Sunday by Sunday and never hear or believe and just be angry about the people out there who aren’t here Sunday by Sunday but whom God is willing, and wanting to and preparing to, and even now blessing. The pointed illustration is that the people who should have believed and repented don’t and the people who should not, by all rights, have believed and repented do. It’s getting a bit close to the bone now isn’t it.
So Jonah sits there on the hillside, and God in this beautiful story, causes a plant to grow. A 42° day hot north wind. The plant gives relief and shade, and then God causes a worm to come and to nibble away at the plant and destroy it. Heat, sweat, uncomfortable. Rage – “It’s not fair”. “Even my plant has died”. That’s where the question comes. “Do you have good reason to be angry?” Jonah says, “You bet I have got good reason to be angry God, because you don’t use the same rule book that I use”. “In my rule book, if you do the right thing, if you stand in line in the checkout with 11 items not 15 and if you’re patient, then you get rewarded”. “You don’t get rewarded if you are a big sweaty ugly bloke who pushes in at the front of the queue and the Ninevites are big sweaty ugly blokes and you are blessing them!” “It is just not fair God, and yes, I have good reason to be angry.” Thank you very much for asking, because you’ve never done anything right as far as I’m concerned, in the whole history of the creation. To which God’s response is “Jonah, I’ve got many, many, many people in this city as well as animals, cattle and beasts and I want to bless them all”. “Don’t you want to share in that?” That’s sort of roughly the question that the thing ends on.
It’s a little bit like the question that the parable of the prodigal son ends on, where the older brother refuses to come in for the rejoicing of the feast for the returned son. You remember the story I told a few minutes ago about the farmers. Well, as they talked about that parable that night, one of those farmers thumped the table, and with words that you would never use in Church, swore and cursed and said “That is never going to happen in my place, because my son is an utter waste of space”. To which my friend the Minister understood and said, “You’ve heard the parable and you understand it”. The elder brother in that parable stands outside and refuses to join the celebration.
This is where we can so readily and so easily be, but as we said, I think in last week’s sermon, when you are thinking about the old Testament in particular, you need to think not just in terms of linear reasoning but in terms of images and pictures and the structures that go along with that picture language. Jonah is full of that, in particular his name. His full name is Jonah Ben Amity. Jonah the son of Amity. Do you know what the Son of Amity means? Ben Amity means, Son of Truth. So Jonah, who is to be the son of truth, actually is the opposite of that because he’s not portraying God as he really is. He is not experiencing God as he really is except in a negative, cynical, angry, hardhearted rejection of God’s character. Do you know what his name “Jonah” means? Jonah means “dove” as in pigeon.
In the world of all small trivial coincidences, this is also the meaning of our Surname. Due is a Danish surname, “dove” or “pigeon” so perhaps the message is I am Jonah. I don’t know.
So, Jonah the dove. Where do you have a picture of a dove in your old Testament knowledge. What old Testament story that’s got a dove in it somewhere? Noah. You have got Noah who is save in the ark. Who is saved in the ark with his family and sends out the dove. The dove comes back with an olive branch to say that the waters are receding and there’s land, which in effect says that the judgement is passed you are free to re-establish a whole new life now. The dove brings a message that the judgement is passed and a new thing is beginning. So, Jonah the Dove brings a message that he disbelieves and doesn’t want to be true – but that message is that the judgement is passed and a whole new life can begin for you Ninevites and, blow me over with a feather, they actually believe it.
But also think about this. Noah and his family are on the surface of the water as they come through the judgement safely. Jonah is underneath. He is sort of buried under that judgement as God’s weight presses down on him, and rather than coming through on the top saved in the ark, he has to go the long way down underneath. Until God gets him into exactly where he wants him to be. Here’s one bit of truth, “You can’t get away from God” no matter what. You can’t get away no matter how angry you are you can’t escape him.
But now jump ahead. Can you think of another story, with another bit of water and another man? Another dove? Jesus at his Baptism and the Holy Spirit descending in the form of the dove. Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit becomes a messenger of God’s peace and he says that ”He is anointed, that the Spirit is upon him to proclaim good news to the captives and release to those who are in bondage, the acceptable year of the Lord’s favour”. And so being filled with the power of the dove, which is the Holy Spirit, Jesus the prophet (remember he says, ”There is someone greater than Jonah here”. Jesus the prophet, greater than Jonah, goes out into the world to preach to his enemies. To preach to those who crucified him. To weep tears over Jerusalem which is going to nail him to a cross through the hands of godless men. He arrives on a donkey and when any one of them repents, he rejoices. When the Holy spirit with joy unspeakable, when he describes that event in relationship to the kingdom of heaven, he says “There is more joy in the kingdom of heaven over one sinner who repents than there is over anything else in the whole world”.”I am here delighting to be the saviour and messenger that God has sent because I want you to experience that joy”.
Jonah and Jesus are direct opposites. Jesus the son of truth, who is the truth, who speaks the truth. Jesus anointed with the dove who participates in the Ministry of the Spirit to bring repentance and reconciliation. Just as we have confessed in that commentary on the Apostles Creed. He rejoices in the Holy Spirit when it happens.
Now the message for this morning is not this. “Don’t be like Jonah!” There’s no good news in that. If I were to say okay you heard all of that, the take-home message is “Don’t be like Jonah” It’s too late – you are like Jonah. Everyone is like Jonah.
The take-home message from today is that, in the face of the grumpy, cynical, anger which has taken root in your heart and life, God has sent someone greater than Jonah. That one who is greater than Jonah has loved you more than you could ever say, and more than you will ever know, I suggest. This one who is greater than Jonah, has come with the fullness of the Holy Spirit to grant you forgiveness and peace. So that, in repentance and faith you would enter into the joy of the Holy Spirit which he himself has. This one, who was greater than Jonah, has come to give you the whole of the kingdom of heaven and here is the point. It’s not fair, it’s not fair that he should do that!
If you say “It’s not fair that you should bless the Ninevites”. “It’s not fair that you should bless the ugly man at the front of the queue”. “It’s not fair that you should bring forgiveness to those people who have never been inside this building”. “It’s not fair”!
Well, by what right is it fair for you to experience forgiveness? There’s nothing fair about you experiencing forgiveness. You haven’t earned it or deserve it. You haven’t earned the Son of God coming from heaven. It’s not fair that he should have to come. He does it because he loves you. And if you’re happy to receive him on the basis of his own grace in love and mercy and goodness, and face the fact that it’s actually not fair that he’s come to find you – then why should you refuse that to someone else? Anyone else in the whole world? Let all wrath and anger and clamour and slander go says the apostle Paul in Ephesians.
God doesn’t come to us, sort of saying “Look I know it’s not fair, but I’ll just do it anyway”. He comes to us with enormous joy and freedom and grace to say “I don’t care what it costs”. “I don’t care how much I have to expend of myself”. “I don’t care how much blood it takes from me, God”. “I want you in my family and nothing is going to stop me doing it”. “Nothing”. “Even your own anger against me which crucifies me and puts me to death and buries me”. On the third day someone greater than Jonah rises up and he walks among us this morning and he says “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”.
So, you can go from here today actually free. You can actually let all that anger and bitterness and cynicism and resentment go, because Jesus Christ has accounted for every bit of it in his cross. And he has forgiven you freely, and fully, even for hating the bloke who pushes in front of you on the line. Even that’s forgiven. There is no reason for any of us to hold on to that anger any longer. In Jesus name, we are called to repentance. Amen.
Sermon, Epiphany2 – So close and yet so far Away – Pastor Noel Due
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of unbelief or incredulity, as Dickens put it, it was the season of Light, with a capital “L”. It was the season of Darkness, with a capital “D”. It was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way — in short, the period was so far like the present period, …
And it is far like the present period. Here is something else, it’s not just a period of light or darkness, the best of times, the worst of times, belief or unbelief, but it’s a time when it’s not all about you. Can you believe that? That life is not all about you? But it is a time in which everything is all about you. If you have a bit of a problem with such paradoxical thinking, you ought not to be sitting in a Lutheran Church. The whole of Luther’s theology was built on that paradoxical dialectical theology. For example, the Christian is the most free Lord of all, subject to none, and the most dutiful servant of all, subject to all. The Christian is simultaneously a saint and a sinner.
The whole of our theology as Lutheran Christians is built on this sense that we are in the midst of times, which in some way contradict each other, but in another way reveal the glory of God through that very contradiction. So that the glory is hidden in the darkness. The grace is hidden in the suffering of the cross. Here we are at a time in Israel’s history in the old Testament reading which I will be preaching on this morning. You can see from the bulletin cover where things were the best of times and the worst of times. Where it was all darkness, but yet it was the dawn of hope where people had new life coming to them in the most unexpected ways. Prophecies of judgement and death, cheek by jowl with those promises of new life.
From one point of view this is not a story about Eli the old priest and his sons. From another point of view, it is a story about Eli the old priest and his sons. In the old Testament, the narrative is driven along through God’s dealings with people. So when we think of the old Testament stories, we think of the names of people like Abraham and Isaac. Jacob, David, Samuel and Solomon, Jeremiah and Ezekiel and Isaiah, and so forth. But those people in their particular stations and vocations of life are used by God to bring out the narrative of what God is doing in, with, through, and under, all of the events of history. So from one point of view it’s not about them at all, but from another point of view it’s entirely about them.
So think for example, of the theology that lies behind God our Shepherd. On the one hand you have things like Psalm 100 which says that we are his people, the flock of his pasture and it’s speaking about all of us together. There is one flock with one Shepherd but on the other hand something like Psalm 23; the Lord is my Shepherd. What we tend to do today is to focus on the individual thing. That’s the way the whole of society has gone. It’s the way our advertising works’s. It’s the way our consumerism drives our economies. It’s all centralised on the person and we’ve lost the sense that we belong to that great community and what happens with us and for us and through us is actually, for the sake of the community beyond us. This story is about Eli and his sons, but even more it’s about what God is doing in Israel.
One of the problems with the lectionary readings as we have them, is that you tend to miss the context of a reading. You pluck something out. Here we are, we reading from 1 Samuel this week and could be anywhere next week. As we pluck that one reading out, we miss the flow with the story, and this reading from 1 Samuel ties very closely to the chapters that have preceded it and what precedes those chapters.
It is the period of the judges, and that period was chaos. You’ve got a story of unending decay in God’s people. Morally and in every other way. They are just going down, down, down and down, and then, you have the little story of Ruth and Boaz and that beautiful gift of marriage that God gave to Ruth to restore her. How that becomes a pattern for our redemption in the new Testament. But the narrative is then taken up through the stories of these people like Eli and Samuel. Before you get to Samuel, you get to a man called Elkanah and his wife Hannah, and his other wife Peninnah. Remember that Hannah was barren and childless, and despairing. Elkanah would take his whole family up to the tabernacle every year to offer sacrifices. Hannah was a woman of faith and prayer and you may remember the story that Eli the old priest, this faithless old codger, was sitting there watching Hannah. Watching her tears, seeing her lips move because she was praying to herself rather than out loud. What was his assumption? You are drunk. Put your wine away. Interestingly, you know in the new Testament when some other people were filled with the holy spirit, some people said something very similar didn’t they, on the day of Pentecost. I think at that point Eli was just giving vent to what was going on in his own heart.
We become very critical of people over the very matters that we ourselves fail in the most.
Eli was a big heavy fleshy man but also a big heavy fleshly man in the theological sense. He had no spiritual life about him, even though he was a priest in the tabernacle. Hannah had her prayer answered! The answer to that prayer was Samuel. Samuel now is the one who is going to carry the hopes and dreams of Israel forward. All of this period speaks of transition. Eli and all that he stands for is on the way down. Samuel and all of the promises that he is bringing with him are on the way up. So, we are set in this little reading, at a pivotal point of world history, enacted through people.
So, how do we understand what’s happening here? Well it is full of images and symbolism. Yes, it is full of real people doing real things, but when the Biblical writers pick up on the details, they pick up on those details for a real spiritual purpose. Here we have got this picture of Eli, the old priest whose eyes are growing dim. A very big man, very heavy man, his heart is heavy. Physically, he is not able to move. He’s not nimble. And all of that represents his spiritual state. He is dim of eye. He’s not able to hear the word of God. He is not able to see the visions that God is bringing through his people. His spiritual light is decreasing, if it ever existed to start with, and as the Lord had prophesied in chapter 2, Samuel, Eli and his sons are all going to die in judgement.
I don’t know what it meant for Eli to hear that.Certainly there’s indications that he hated what his sons were up to, because he knew that when he went, his sons would have full control of the tabernacle. His sons were even worse than he was. Not only were they greedy, not only were they gluttons, but they also were sexually immoral. They used to seduce the women who come to worship. They used to lay with those who served at the door of the tabernacle. Perhaps Eli heard the prophecy of judgement as a mercy. Thank God this isn’t going to go on.
The boy Samuel is in the tabernacle, he’s there as a young servant boy. He would help carry things. He would help close and open doors. He would move furniture around. He would be instructed from his boyhood in the way of being a priest in the tabernacle.
Samuel had not yet heard the word of the Lord. The Word of the Lord was rare in those days. A bit like today. Visions were infrequent. People were not used to hearing God speak. There was no expectancy in the temple – perhaps that’s a bit like you. But then as is always the history of God’s dealings with his people, he does something in the most unexpected way. Through this woman Hannah who had been ridiculed ostracised and rejected, a new hope is born and through this little boy Samuel who had not yet heard the word of the Lord.
There is a new beginning promise.So Samuel asleep in his bed, quiet. There were no sacrifices conducted at night time. The lamp of the Lord is stillburning. Samuel hears. My sheep hear my voice. Samuel hears his voice calling him. “Samuel”. I call them all by name. Because Samuel is not yet used to hearing the voice of God, he has to develop in his spiritual discernment, he immediately thinks it’s Eli calling. I must see what he needs and no Eli says no I am not calling. Samuel go back. “Samuel” Yes master, you called? “No I did not call Samuel” and then the penny drops for Eli.
The prophecy has been made against me. God would not remove me and my family from Israel unless he had something else to bring up to replace. That’s the way God always works. When God is going to renew and revive his work, he does it through judgement. He removes the blockages. He takes away the barriers, through judgement. Eli knew that if that prophecy had been made about him and his family, then God would be doing something else and the penny drops. He says to Samuel “Go back, it’s the Lord speaking to you”. “Say to him ‘Speak Lord, your servant is listening.’ “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” In other words, Eli says to Samuel, “Samuel you do the thing that I’ve not done. And you do the thing that my sons are not doing. You listen. You hear.So Samuel goes back. The Lord comes the third time to Samuel. He says “speak Lord, your servant is listening”. That simple exchange or relational encounter transforms not just the history of Israel, at this point, but through Samuel, and through all that God was going to do through Samuel, it transforms the history of the whole world. It’s not all about Samuel, but it is all about Samuel.
It is the worst of times because of the darkness, and the despair, and the deadness of God’s people. But it’s the best of times because the lamp of the Lord has not yet gone out. It was a time of darkness because Eli could not see. He was a man who had failing physical sight and failing spiritual sight. He sat in the dark because it was all just darkness to him. Not just night-time but darkness.
But, it was also the time of light, because that darkness is matched by a light which shines in the darkness through this little boy and the darkness could not overcome it. The story of Samuel goes on to unfold how God himself went into the darkness, captured in the ark of the Philistine’s. Taken into the very darkness.
Perhaps all of this is ringing bells with you. Perhaps you look at the church, this church, the whole Church in Australia. The church, however you may be thinking about it and you may be thinking it is the worst of times. But I tell you, it is also the best of times because the lamp of the Lord has not yet gone out and if God did and fulfilled something through Hannah and her little son Samuel, how much more will he complete what is promised through Mary and her son Jesus. If the lamp of the Lord which was burning in the old tabernacle had not yet gone out in the darkness, how much more impossible is it for the light of the world not to go out?
Even though in the midst of the tabernacle, the church, the temple which we are. Even though things may be very dark. God is not finished with the church, but he will not revive or awaken without cleaning out the dross. We’ve had many years of that in the public arena haven’t we. Royal commissions, dreadful things exposed. It’s time first for judgement to begin with the house of God says Peter. And when we’ve been through the fire, we may be able to help the rest of the world cope when God brings their darkness to the light.
It may be just for you personally today. You are feeling it is all darkness. It’s not. The light of the world is still shining in you and on you. The darkness that you feel is not darkness to him. Though you walk through the valley of deep darkness, he is with you, and his rod and his staff will still comfort you. The only thing that you need to do is a Samuel. Speak Lord your servant is listening. Speak Lord, your servant is listening. As you throw all things up into chaos, speak Lord, your servant is listening. As we despair about the church and we look at all of the changes that are taking place across all of the denominations all around the world, “speak Lord your servant is listening”. But please, for God’s sake literally don’t become an Eli. You know that the judgement for not hearing in the old Testament, or the scriptures, the judgement for not hearing is that you can’t hear. The judgement for not seeing is that you can’t see. Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.
“Arise, shine, for your light has come,and the glory of the Lord rises upon you Isaiah 60:1
I don’t know how it was with you in primary school, but when I was in primary school they used a phrase which said that it was time to get your thinking caps on. I am not sure if that Phrase Is Still Current. I was never much good at finding where those caps were kept, I must admit, because they seemed to be particularly needed during mathematic lessons, or what in those days used to be called arithmetic or Sums. My thinking cap seemed never to fit very well.
You do need to have your thinking cap on a bit today, except in a different sort of way. When we have a thinking cap in the Bible, it’s actually not a logical cap that we wear. The Bible is not so much interested in logical progression that might fit mathematics or arithmetic or sums. The Bible Is much more a book of images, and pictures and concepts which overlap with one another, which inter-penetrate with one another, which reinforce one another, show one another off by contrast. You need to have a thinking cap that is more imagination than mathematics is imagination. Although if there is a mathematics teacher here they would tell me that that not true because true mathematical solutions are imaginative and elegant. But, we won’t go into that.
So here today, we have a set of very well-known and famous readings “Arise, shine for your light has come. The glory of God has risen upon you – Isaiah 60 to 66 is the culmination of the book of Isaiah. It Is the ringing affirmation of all of God’s Promises. It is the piece de resistance of everything that their prophet has been looking forward to. It Is a bell ringing exciting fulfilment, and If you read Isaiah 60 to 66, it is full of blessing, fruitfulness, joy and glory, thanksgiving, happiness and rejoicing. If you read all of the chapters that lead up to that, It’s a different story.
Thinking caps that are not logical sometimes work best with word associations, so If I give you a word, a whole constellation of ideas enter into your mind. If I use the word “Cricket” there is a whole constellation of images out there in your heads. You could probably tell me all about them. If I use the phrase, “Sodom and Gomorrah” a whole different image comes into your mind doesn’t it. If I use the words the “Holy City, the new Jerusalem”, a whole set of different images come into your mind. If I use the word “darkness” – not just night, but darkness. Because we are used to darkness being a metaphorical imaginative concept aren’t we.
Has anyone ever given you a dark look? Have you had some dark thoughts? In Star Wars there is a “Dark Lord”. Do people have “dark Ideas” and “dark intentions”? And when they reveal them and suddenly win, are they not a bit of a “dark horse”? We are familiar with the idea of darkness and the more you think about it, the more you find that our very English language has incorporated all sorts of ways to handle the subtlety of what happens in the darkness. Not the night, but the darkness, because you can be living in the darkness even when it is the brightest daylight. So you can have dark thoughts even on a bright morning like this morning. The amazing thing Is that when you read Isaiah 60 – 66, the image is full of light and glory and rejoicing and blessing. But the people to whom that promise is made are people who have been in darkness, and not just in darkness but are a part of the darkness. Isaiah 60 says to God’s people in the Old Testament “Your Light has come! Arise, shine, the Glory of God has come upon you, the nation’s will now come”. That very group of people earlier on in Isaiah, in Chapter 1, are called Sodom and Gomorrah.
The way that Paul speaks about this in the New Testament is a very telling phrase in the book of the Ephesians. Chapter 5, just a couple of chapters after our New Testament reading where he says this “You were darkness – but now you are light in the Lord”. It is a very confronting image for us to try and understand because we like to think of ourselves relative to other people, and relative to other people they may be in darkness, or do dark deeds or be a bit of a dark horse or have dark thoughts or give dark looks, but we tend not to put ourselves in that category. It’s a them and us way of thinking about things. But what Isaiah has been saying all the way through the 66 Chapters, and what Paul says in that one verse, “you were darkness” is that we live and are together in a situation where there is no comparison necessary – because we are all as dark as one another. The pharisees were as dark as the zealots, who were as dark as Pilot, who was as dark as the disciples, who were as dark as you and me – we are all Solomon and Gomorrah. That’s the message.
There is an old hymn that I used to sing in another congregation when I was a Pastor there many years ago. Part of the words of words of that hymn go, Guilty vile and helpless we. Spotless Lamb of God was he. Hallelujah what a Saviour.
One of the members of that congregation said to me, you know Pastor, I wish we didn’t have to sing that hymn, I don’t like it. I said “Why not? “Well” she said, “I might be guilty sometimes, but I’m certainly not vile and helpless. I thought that this tells a whole story doesn’t it, that we don’t want to see ourselves as being part of that darkness. We want to be those few who are more righteous than the others. We want to be able to look comparatively at those other people, and the other people are the problem. The other people are the wicked ones, and the other people are the dark ones. On a scale we might not be fully radiant light but at least we are more tinged with Surf and Omo than they are. But as you read the scriptures, you get no possibility offered to you of such a perception. The prophetical books of the Bible, if you have read them through and I don’t know how many of you will have read the book of Isaiah for example, all the way through, they don’t leave you any room to hide. The Sermon on the Mount. People sometimes say, “Oh, wouldn’t it be wonderful if people just lived by the Sermon on the Mount”. Hands up if you could live by the Sermon on the Mount! Once you’ve read It doesn’t leave anyone standing. It slays all of us, and when Jesus (Mark 7) says, “It’s from within, out of the heart of a human being that comes – and he lists a terrible list of sins and transgressions: Adultery and murder and thieving and coveting. It is not them out there! It is not the others! It’s not them that made me do it – it’s me. It’s from this person, it’s from the very centre of me that this thing comes. That darkness is me and I am in it. I can‘t make the impure things pure by my own efforts.
You might know the story of the Pastor who was giving the children’s talk at the front of the church. It is a nice group of children and he says, “I’ve got a question for you”. I’m going to describe something you have to guess what it is. “It’s big and has got little black button eyes and a little sort of flat black spoon shaped nose and round fluffy ears. It goes along on all fours and it climbs trees and it’s grey on the back and white on the front”. The little boy down the front says, “Well Pastor, it sounds like a Koala, but the answer has to be Jesus.” In the children’s talk, the answer Is always “Jesus”.
What connects Isaiah 60 “Arise and shine for your light has come” with Matthew 2 “…and the nations represented by these wise men of unknown number. There were not three, nor four, there could have been 20 or 2, we don’t know. They come representing the nations now coming to the light. Jesus, the light of the world shining in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it, and they come to the light, drawn by the light of His star – something that is particularly a creation of God for Him. It is not something that you can find up in an astronomical journal.
In Ephesians Paul is bowing his knee before God because of the great mystery that now all the Nations of World are coming to learn the truth of the Gospel through Jesus Christ, who is the Light of the World. They who sit in darkness shall see a great light.
What connects all of those things? The answer has to be “Jesus!”
Jesus in a way, that doesn’t leave you thinking that you can do something about your own darkness. Jesus in a way, who transforms everything that you think about yourself so that you give up on any possibility to do anything to make yourself less dark than you are. Jesus in a way that comes and proclaims the Gospel in the words of the 10 Commandments expressed in His teaching on the Sermon on the Mount, and it leaves you darker than when you started, because there at that point, when you recognise that you are sitting in darkness, and how dark it is, then, the Light of the World means something to you. Until then you’ll be interested to take Him on as a good moral teacher, you might like to distil a few principles from Him and live by them. You might even point others to Him as a very good example to follow and that you’re trying to live up to it, but in all of those things He is not yet your Saviour. He has come to take the people from Sodom and Gomorrah, also known as Jerusalem, also known as the people of God, and turn them into his bride. His light filled, glorious, holy, bride!
When does that happen? From one point of view, it happened 2000 years ago, when Christ died and He said, “It is Finished”. “I have done what you have sent me for father”. “I have accomplished what you have purposed for me to accomplish”. It Is finished! This church is now a redeemed church and we enter into that through Baptism. We reaffirm it through the receiving of the Holy Communion. We have our hearts refreshed in it by the hearing of His Gospel – but from one point of view it was all done and dusted 2000 years ago.
Most of us here I guess, are citizens of Australia. Not all of us perhaps, but most of us. Being a citizen of Australia means that you are a citizen no matter where you go, no matter how you feel, even if at a certain point you decide that you no longer like the Government of the day and you rebel against it, not just in the ballot box. You’re still a citizen of Australia. That’s a good Image to think about the way it now is that you are a Christian “Your light has come”. It’s not your light that you derive from within yourself but the Light has come to you and it shines through you. He shines through you. Even though now, as a citizen of that kingdom, you may have dark periods or you may have some dark moods from time to time, or you may have dark thoughts. Or sometimes you may stand in the corner and raise your hands against God and say “Lord, why is this happening?” Doesn’t change the fact that you are a citizen of that Kingdom and that your light has come. That now, whether you see it or not, believe it or not, that light is shining through you. But It will not just shine through you now, it will shine through you even more brightly for all eternity on that day when He comes and reclaims us. And He presents to Himself the church without spot or wrinkle or blemish. Sounds pretty good doesn’t it for those of us who are getting a bit older with spots, wrinkles, blemishes. Wouldn’t need a plastic surgeon. Sorry to the doctors present. I’m speaking as a man, who by God’s grace, is in the light. To a group of people who by God’s grace, are in the light.
No matter how dark you may have felt this morning when you woke up. You are in the light. That place where you once were, has been utterly taken away and transformed. Through the coming of the light into the world and in a way that we can hardly even understand or even begin to put our finger on. That light, was plunged into the deepest abyss. Darkness on the cross – so dark, that His own mind was obscured and His own heart confused and His own conscience tormented. So that He cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”. In His imperial strength He dived down to the deepest depths of darkness and there He has caused His light to shine and has expelled darkness. He has risen up and He has you in His hand and He has me in his hand. So, arise and shine, for your light has come and the glory of the nations will walk by that light.
May the Lord grant it to be so, and grant us the hearing of this word this morning. Amen.
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for,that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.
3 A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord[a]; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.[b] 4 Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. 5 And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
6 A voice says, “Cry out.” And I said, “What shall I cry?”
“All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. 7 The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.”
9 You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news to Jerusalem,lift up your voice with a shout lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!” 10 See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. 11 He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arm and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.
I want us to dwell for a while on the Old Testament reading today. We need to have a double track in our mind, and at various points during the message this morning, I just want to place a picture in your head. The picture I want you to have in your head at the moment is of a railway track. If you’ve ever been close to an active real railway track you know what sort of noisy place it is. A railway track by definition has got two parallel lines which are inseparably held together with the sleepers, which in the olden days used to be made out of red gum, and used to make excellent firewood. The fact that those two tracks ran parallel and the fact that they were inseparable from one another is what allowed the train to get safely to its destination.
Now when we come to the season of Advent you need to have two tracks in your mind. On the one hand there is one line of Scripture which refers us to the coming of Jesus Christ through the womb of Mary. On the other hand there are always readings of Advent which draw our eye further on to the coming of Jesus Christ at the end of what we call history, the last day. The thing that we should not miss is that these two tracks are actually inseparably connected. They are not two separate things that God is doing, they are the one action of God to fulfil the promises that he made from the day of creation onwards, and yes we see one fulfilment of that set of promises through the birth of Jesus. The nativity scenes we are going to see set up here before too long depict this. On the other hand we see the final fulfilment of all of those promises on the last the great day of the Lord. People sometimes say, “when is that day?” and of course sects of all sorts have got into great trouble because they’ve taken their people away, even one of our early Lutheran leaders, Pastor Kavel, did on the top of the Kaiser Stuhl, waiting for the Lord to return on an appointed date.
There’s this temptation to want to know the times and the seasons, and the Lord warned us against that. The thing cuts to the chase here at this point though in the Old Testament reading, were it says, “all flesh is like grass, it is like the flower of the field and you breathe and it withers and it dies.” “Yes, there will be a day finally, when the son of man is revealed in glory for all of the nations to see” But inescapably and inevitably for every one of us in this building this morning, there is a day which you know not, when you will take your last breath on this earth. When you take your last breath on this earth, in effect, that’s the last day. You are moved from time to eternity and the things of heaven are suddenly present. The eternities are real and in effect you are at the end. You have broken past the barrier which prevents us to see all things as they really are.
So what we are talking about today in terms of that parallel track of the Lord coming through the womb of the Virgin Mary and the Lord also coming at the end of history, actually is very close to each of us because each of us will meet a day when we go to be with him. However, we express it or he comes to take us home, or we die. “He who lives and believes in me will never die” even if we die. So there is the hope!
Advent comes simply from the Latin word which means “coming”. We talk about the coming of the Lord into the world, the coming of Jesus on the last day, the coming of Jesus into the world through the womb of Mary. That very language can be very confusing for us because it implies a couple of things. It suggests that there is a gap between him and us, and that somehow or other he has to bridge that gap by travelling either through time or through distance. A spatial gap or a chronological gap that suggests that we’re here, and that God is there, and that history is going along somewhere and every now and then God intervenes and breaks into history. If that’s the way we are thinking, (which is understandable because we have that language about Advent and God’s coming) – if that’s the way we are thinking, we are wrong. Because the Scriptures actually speak as much, if not more, about God’s unveiling or revealing or his appearing. Jesus said even as he was ascending into heaven, “Lo I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” So his ascension was not to take him away from us, but happened so that he could be present with us through his spirit, in a way he couldn’t be before. Now there are various indications of this throughout the Scriptures. Do you remember the story of Elijah the prophet? At one point, the king sent a whole army to arrest him and the Prophet stepped out of the door and there were the horsemen, the great hidden, angelic hosts on the hills all around. The prophet’s servant couldn’t see them, because the prophet was saying that the ones who are with us are greater than the ones who are with them and the Prophet said, “Lord, open his eyes,” and suddenly he saw this great angelic host and he realised of course that this puny little human army had no power in the face of that. And of course you know the story how they were led back blind and without raising a sword they were defeated.
Just little illustrations like that indicate that there is a spiritual world around us all the time and it’s not so much that the Lord comes to us from a distance because he is absent but he’s appearing or unveiling reveals what is always there. Does that make sense to you?
So that’s what we are looking at when we are thinking about Advent – the appearing, the unveiling of God’s action in history particularly through the coming of his son into the world but that appearing or that coming, that unveiling, happens in history.
How many of us here have come through or perhaps are now right in the midst of a crisis? If I was to modify that a little bit and say how many of us have come through a crisis, how many of us are in the midst of a crisis, how many of us will ever face a crisis. It’s actually universal, isn’t it? As we’ve already alluded to, the last and the great crisis for all of us is our final breath. We yet have to face that crisis.
When my first wife was dying in the hospice, there were restless days around the end of that time and one of the very helpful palliative care nurses said to me one day, “Noel, she’s never died before, so she’s never experienced this before.” It is a crisis, it’s new and it’s hard. You’re breaking through into something that up until that point has only ever been theory.
So the crisis of which we speak, finally, the crisis of our own death is a universal crisis, and passages like Isaiah chapter 40 which start “Comfort O comfort my people” actually appear in the midst of not just personal crisis, but a national crisis. It in the midst of a prophecy of destruction, a prophecy which is speaking about not just losing one thing or another thing. You know, it’s not like your Thermomix isn’t working properly or you’ve lost your phone charger. This is where the whole nation is invaded and overrun, and the temple is torn down and the prophets are taken away. The king is captured and your army is defeated and your children starve before your eyes. You are taken away into slavery, that sort of national crisis.
Isaiah 39 – and in the ancient text of Isaiah there’s no break between 39 and 40, they appear on the same scroll – Isaiah 39 finishes with a prophecy of judgement and Isaiah 40 immediately after says, “comfort O comfort my people”, in other words, when God comes or speaks or appears or reveals himself in the midst of our history more often than not if you go through the Scriptures the Scriptures are carried on through a narrative of one crisis after another, as he reveals or speaks to us in the midst of those crises. He is doing something there which he can do in no other place and that’s why when we are in the midst of that crisis we have to ask a very telling question – Isaiah the Prophet says in the story of this judgement ”They have received back double for all of their sins”. The construction there of the Hebrew is unusual. It’s a formulation called a “dual” – means two of or a pair. What it seems to be suggesting or alluding to, is a piece of cloth which is folded perfectly over so that it’s double, and this side matches that side exactly. Isaiah the prophet is saying there is this judgement, there is this difficult national crisis of immense proportions but in this God is bringing something by way of that judgement, which is entirely going to match that. No area of that wickedness and sin, which has led to that crisis, will be untouched. But when God’s finished bringing you through this crisis you will see that what he’s done has perfectly matched where you’ve come from. The question is this, as the Prophet says, “they have received from the hand of the Lord double.
How many of you here wearing a watch? Thanks be to God no one’s been looking at their watch. At the first service they were, and the sermon was shorter.
There is a story which goes something like this, it’s an argument for the existence of God which says if you walking along the beach and you find a perfectly formed watch on the beach you make the assumption that this watch is owned by someone. If it’s an Oyster perpetual date, Rolex Gold you also make the assumption that it’s yours to keep. No, you would probably take it to the police or do whatever a good honest Lutheran would do. The second assumption is that an instrument like that could not have been formed by mere chance. If you had 400 million years or 400 billion years that bit of sand on the beach would never form itself into a Rolex Oyster perpetual date rolled gold watch. Someone must have manufactured it. So the argument is a sort of argument from design. You look at the complexity of this universe. You look at the complexity of the human body. You look at the complexity of one organ like an eye, or an ear and that just can’t happen by accident. Someone’s behind it and that’s the argument for the existence of God that has got something going for it. The thing that is wrong about it or the thing that it may lead us to think wrongly about is this, it implies that there is a watch and a watchmaker and that they are separate from one another.
Many of us live as though we are in this creation. It is magnificent! It’s exceedingly complex. It is proof that God exists and he’s made us but he has wound it all up and he is now just watching it all unfold mechanistically. So we function in our day-to-day lives virtually as atheists because we’ve got a world in which God is not directly involved. The prophet here, indeed the whole of Scriptures will not let us hold that view because the very things that we are facing in the crisis are not mechanistic accidents but manifestations of God’s action. All things hold together by the word of his power, that is if he withdraws his breath we all return to dust. It is not that God is absent, watching this creation unfold. He’s present with you right now, keeping every atom and molecule and quark (you know those tiny little subatomic particles), he’s keeping all of those exactly where they need to be to constitute this present moment. If he were to do something different in the next moment, who knows what would happen. As one great theologian said, “All of our science is just a footnote to the logic of God”. A lovely statement. The thing that so beautiful is that he’s predictable. We talk about the law of gravity. What that means is that God is faithful. to keep what we call gravity in operation all the time. He doesn’t change the rules every morning.
The point of my long diversion is this. Don’t think of your relationship with God as a watchmaker. Think of him as the one who is being actively involved right now, right at this moment, right in the midst of that crisis you are coming through in every small detail you are dealing with God – and God is dealing with you. That’s the good news, or if you’ve got a mindset that doesn’t want to receive it, it’s the bad news. It means that you’re not in a universe which is subject just simply to laws that you have to follow. You have a God to face in the midst of the crisis. That’s what Isaiah the prophet was talking about in the midst of this judgement, in the midst of the national crisis. In the midst of a crisis so destructive we couldn’t even begin to imagine what would be like, he says we are actually face-to-face dealing with God.
Railway tracks, watches – now another picture. A plate of spaghetti! Sometimes a crisis happens and there is no other person involved. For example dear Job. All of the loss of his family and the deaths and the loss of his income and livestock. It’s as though something is just happening completely out of the blue. People came and they sat with him and they caused a problem. They turned a crisis into an even worse crisis. One Old Testament theologian said that Job’s friends stayed to sympathise but unfortunately they stayed to explain. Once you start explaining in the midst of a crisis to someone suffering like Job, you caused more problems.
Most of our crises, and indeed this one here in Isaiah, are not just something that comes in from the blue because we too have participated in forming it. We’ve made decisions, we’ve engaged in actions. We therefore becomes subject to remorse, and we become self-critical and self-analytical. We raise a whole group questions like, What if? or If only? It’s not just us, there are other people in that crisis, people of whom we say “What if they had said?” or “If only they had done?” and in the midst of it you find there is a plate of messy spaghetti where everyone’s lines are tangled up together. What you want to do is to get your little bit of spaghetti and straighten it all out and say “My bit of spaghetti is alright. Your bit of spaghetti is in a mess”. But you can’t do that. The whole of the Reformation was fought on that principle, that principle of pulling out that bit of spaghetti. Making is nice and straight, that is called self-justification. Martin Luther’s whole Reformation was based on the fact that no one justifies themselves. You all have to be justified by God in the midst of this crisis. Yes, with what you’ve done wrong. Yes, other people have done wrong. Yes, with the mess that’s as the result of all of those tangled lines together, God is still doing something. He is still present, and the question is, where do we look? Do we received this from his hand? If not, then we become increasingly hard and bitter and angry and resentful.
As we receive it from his hand we ask a different set of questions. We say, “Lord what are you doing here in this?” As you try and untangle the spaghetti, in Lutheran terms, the law rides on your shoulders and it always points you back and says, “You stupid fool, you should have done this. You would have been better if you’d done that. You shouldn’t have made that decision. What were you thinking?” It’s a bit like when I used to teach swimming, like you say to someone who’s fallen into a pool. who’s never been able to swim and you say, “You stupid fool”. “What it did you do that for?” “You know you can’t swim”. It’s not really any help. It’s the voice of the law. What you need is for someone to actually jump in and get you. (Never do that actually, because they will bring you down with them) which is what happened to the Lord Jesus by the way. You reach in with something.
So the question is, in the midst of this crisis, when you look at ‘What Child is this?” Are you looking to the works of your own hands to try and fix it? Where the law will ride on your shoulders and it will just make that confused plate of spaghetti even more confused. Or do you look away from yourself in the midst of the crisis and say “Lord what is your hand doing here?” B ecause this Lord Jesus who was born through the womb of the Virgin Mary – his hands that were pierced and when finally he was ascended to the right hand of heaven he blessed by extending his hands and the last sight that his disciples had of him were his hands over them in blessing. And the call for us this morning is to look away from ourselves, and away from the work of our hands, and away from our attempts to solve the crisis whatever it is. To look to him, to look away from ourselves to the blessing that we are under because God is doing something. If you’re fighting a bushfire you can’t outrun it. You have to cross the fire line and go to where the burnt ground is. That’s where you are safe. In the crisis you can’t outrun God, you cross through his blessing to where his burnt ground is. He has burnt up all the dross and all the wasted stuff and there you stand under his hands.
May the Lord grant to us the hearing of these things in the power of his holy spirit this morning.