Shepherd Care

The Good Shepherd who rescues his sheep.

Steve Radke

Ezekiel 34:1-24, (Ps 137, Ps 42 and Ps 43, John 10:11, Luke 19:10)

 

The word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel: prophesy, and say to them—to the shepherds: Thus says the Lord God: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep were scattered, they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill; my sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with no one to search or seek for them.

Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LordAs I live, says the Lord God, because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild animals, since there was no shepherd; and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep; therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord10 Thus says the Lord God, I am against the shepherds; and I will demand my sheep at their hand, and put a stop to their feeding the sheep; no longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, so that they may not be food for them.

God, the True Shepherd

11 For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. 12 As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. 14 I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.

17 As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: I shall judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and goats: 18 Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture? When you drink of clear water, must you foul the rest with your feet? 19 And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have fouled with your feet?

20 Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21 Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, 22 I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.

23 I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24 And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken.

Introduction

Our reading is written at a time when Ezekiel the prophet and God’s people are in forced exile in the land of Babylon.  They were in deep grief because of their exile from the land God had promised them through Abraham and from the temple of God in Jerusalem. Their trauma is expressed well in the Bony M song from the 80’s (based on Ps 137), ‘By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion’.

This year we are having a taste of exile due to the COVID pandemic. Some of you are exiled from family members interstate or oversees. Some of you are in exile from the familiarity of your work place, or from the workforce altogether. We are in exile from church as we knew it in the past and wonder how we will worship in the future. People in nursing homes have died in exile from their family. Infants have been exiled from parents in hospital interstate. Some of you have not been able to attend the funerals of loved ones and mourn with family and friends. Tens of thousands of Australians living overseas are in exile. They book flights that are then cancelled and must wait and hope to be home in their own country again.

Bad Shepherds, bad virus

Our COVID exile is due to a virus. The exile of God’s people in Babylon was due to a different type of virus, a much more destructive virus than COVID. A virus that kills the soul as well as the body. The virus of trusting in bad gods and worshipping them. Ezekiel’s job was to announce doom to the kings who had promoted the worship of false gods. ‘Woe to the shepherds of Israel’ Ezekiel calls out.

The kings of Israel had failed their people whom they are meant to protect. These shepherds did not care for their sheep, but ruled brutally and greedily. They did not uphold the rights of the fatherless and the poor. Instead they profited from the sheep, eating the yoghurt from the sheep’s milk, clothing themselves with the wool and slaughtering the finest sheep for meat.

There was a nasty virus driving these bad shepherd kings. The virus of leading their people astray  after false gods. They ruled a tiny nation with the superpower of Babylon on the north with Egypt to the south. God’s shepherd kings felt strong pressure to adopt the religious customs of these nations that exercised power over their land.

The kings of Judah made the temple unholy by allowing idols and images into the temple. There were altars to the stars on the temple roof. There was worship of the god and goddess of fertility in shrines on high hills in Judah. Ezekiel says the sheep were scattered on the mountains and hills. It was the king’s job to stop these practices.

The gods being worshiped promised power over nature. They presented a way for people to manipulate the seasons and crops to their own advantage. People had sex with sacred prostitutes to act out the union of the god and goddess of fertility to make their crops good. People sacrificed their children to the god Molech. These religious practices were popular and addictive but they were destructive to the heart and soul of God’s people.

We know gods like that. Our destructive gods of ever growing wealth and greed are crumbling. We have made science into a god that is meant to keep us safe, cure all diseases and cause us all to live long lives.  COVID is teaching us the limits of science, and that it is no stronger than the smartest human being.

Following these gods is easier than trusting the true God who is a mysterious and invisible God. You and I can’t manipulate the living God with ceremonies or rituals. Nor can we conjure up God. The Living God has no idol to represent him. In fact an idol is an insult to God who sustains all of life and continues to be active in history until the end of time. God’s power is so often in his in invisibility and his weakness rather than in his strength.

C.S. Lewis in his Narnia children’s books portrays God as a Lion called Aslan. This mysterious Lion remains invisible to all but the pure of heart. C.S Lewis says Aslan is not a tame lion. Nor is our living God a tame god. He can’t be manipulated or conjured, and no one will stop him in what he purposes to do.

The mysterious living God evicted from his own temple by his own people. The bad worship and the injustice, the greed and murder that sprang from it filled the temple and the infected the whole country.  God was deep in grief and anger over his lost people and the virus of evil that had infected their bad shepherds/kings and the people. In a vision Ezekiel saw God’s presence leave the temple. And God’s people were ejected from the land of Judah to exile in Babylon. In a way God himself was evicted with them. God was certainly with his people into exile. Woe to the shepherds Ezekiel says.

Bad Sheep

But what about the sheep? Were they innocent? The strong sheep have been knocking around the weak sheep. God will judge between the strong bullying sheep and the weak sheep.  Ezekiel says, ‘Is it enough for you to drink the clean water must you muddy the rest with your feet.’ We all know what power struggles are. We have them at work as people manipulate others for more money or to get a better position. We have power struggles in marriages and relationship. Here we are talking about power struggles among God’s people. The stronger push aside the weak and the water is muddied for the lost people who are searching for God. People who are seeking God’s forgiveness and comfort.

The Good Shepherd, the ‘justice’ he brings is a promise of rescue.

What a mess, bad shepherds and bad sheep who have caught the virus of bad worship. What will God’s solution be? Ezekiel says God himself will be the Shepherd of his sheep. The Lord God says ‘I myself will enquire after my sheep and I will tend to them.’ God’s will judge between the sheep justly. But what does God’s justice look like? God’s justice here means something that is closer to the word ‘rescue’ than anything else. It is not justice as we know it (which we often think of as revenge), it is God himself the good Shepherd rescuing his sheep. God himself will look for the scattered sheep and lost sheep, he will rescue them and gather them from their  worship of destructive gods. God will seek and enquire after his sheep. He will find his lost sheep and carefully inspect his sheep because he cares for them. He will put an end to those who exploit the weak sheep. God will personally intervene to make things right. He himself will establish the rights of the sheep.

God’s idea of Justice or Rescue is even bigger than this, Ezekiel says, God will unite all his people under one shepherd David.  King David trusted God above all else and unlike many of the other kings of Israel and Judah did not foster the worship of other gods.

We know that the new king David, Ezekiel speaks of here, is Jesus the Messiah. Jesus is the rescuing and saving Shepherd. Jesus says, ‘I am the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep’, John 10:11. Jesus the true shepherd has laid down his life for the sheep and rescued them. His death on the cross has killed the virus of bad worship that has infected God’s shepherds and sheep.

When God’s own Son Jesus died and rose again the virus of wrong worship that we call sin is cured. Jesus reinvents justice by taking our failures on himself. Jesus entered into exile with us and took our failure as shepherds and sheep on himself. In Jesus’ cross and resurrection he forgive you and me all we have done wrong and all our wrong worship of gods other than him.

This evil virus ends at Jesus’ cross. We are not alone in our COVID exiles. As much as we may be in exile from familiar things and people we are no longer in exile from God. It is at the foot of this cross today that I invite you today to lay down all that burdens you. Leave there all the griefs and regrets you carry. Leave all your fears at his cross tonight. He is your true Shepherd.

We pray:-

The Lord is my shepherd I shall not be in want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures

He leads me beside still waters he restores my soul.

Even though I walk through the darkest exile I will fear no evil for your rod and staff comfort me.

Amen

Keep on Sowing

Sermon, Pentecost 6A, Sunday July 16, 2017, St Petri

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered round him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop – a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.’

 

18 ‘Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 when anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.’

 

I heard with interest last week that the Barossa is no longer a “Lutheran” place. “No Religion” is now the way a huge part of our community name themselves. How do we who name ourselves disciples of Christ respond to this? Where is the Lord in all of this?

We enter the second large chunk of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew’s gospel today.

His ministry has begun. Things are getting a little large. So large that Jesus is in a boat moored just off the sandy shore of the lake to speak. I have been to where they suspect this kind of moment probably would have occurred. The slope of the open ground going up away from the shore and the water around his voice surely makes for natural amplifier for his voice. The day I was there I could hear a guy talking to his mate in the vineyard below us nearly a kilometre away. Jesus needs this amplifier.

And so, the Teacher teaches from the boat; about being a farmer sowing seeds.

We hear that the farmer is God, sowing his words into human hearts. Some hear. Many don’t. Some hear at first then don’t. Sounds a lot like an “other religion” community a local church sowing the gospel among them!

Surely Jesus knew that his disciples, his church, would have to figure out how to respond to a mixed response to their sowing of his words. In fact, most often, people won’t receive his words, according to this parable. But listen and sow, those who have truly heard must. At the end of this parable we hear that supernatural fruitfulness will be present too. There will be at times a vast crop!

And it all depends on him speaking and people hearing……

The truth is here: there is different hearing and not all hearing ends up in lasting understanding and fruitful doing.

What does he mean by ‘hearing’? Jesus is speaking not of mere hearing of the news or a good joke or a great story or the watching of a movie as entertainment or the listening to a song in order to just pass the time. He is speaking of deeply listen to his words.

The Greek word eisakouo used here for ‘understanding/hearing can be defined as ‘to hear’, ‘to heed’, or ‘to obey’. These words are to be heard because they will be on the test!

So, the listening Jesus is after is a deep attentive listening in the heart that translates then into actually living/doing. Jesus ends the parable by telling the crowd that deep listening (the good soil) will translate into fruitful doing.

23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.’

So, we get the pretty straight forward gist of the parable – on the surface anyway…

God sows his seed, his Word, into the human crowd. Or, his disciples sow the words of God into the community.

Some of God’s word falls on the rock hard, impenetrable path. The birds or, Evil one snatches the good words of God’s acceptance and love (gospel) as it is heard or even before it is heard. Like seagulls pinching your chips on the beach, so can it be that Satan can snatch that good gospel word away from a person, giving that word no time to germinate. It is over before it began sometimes.

But gospel words can be received with great joy. People experience the relief and the renewal of sins forgiven, regrets replaced and love experienced. But then stuff happens. The heat and stress is too much. Again, there has not been enough time or space for the words to be heard deeply. The gospel stays at surface level. This is the rocky ground of our hearts and theirs: No roots, no depth. God’s word getting burnt off by heat of life.

And then there is the word strangled out of the human heart like toothpaste out of the tube as the heart gets overwhelmed, overtaken and overly fixated on issues, choices, worry, self-concerns or concern for others, with little reference to Jesus’ words or trust in his promises. This is the thorny place, overcoming and eventually choking the good seed planted in God’s good ground.

But it sometimes also works well. There is good soil, which according to Jesus is a hearing heart; soft, open, receptive of the seed where the deep things of his grace and calling can and do take root and grow deeper and longer.

This is the deep listening that leads to understanding. It is long lasting. This is the Divine word being heard and then done or “heeded”, or “obeyed”: So crucial for a community of disciples sent into a world of these very mixed responses!

Even better for us who are called to sow his Words here: This word becomes self-sowing and multiplying. Indeed, the fruitfulness can be massive – “a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown”. A lot or little, it is a powerful growing Word that does what says and says what it does.

As I hear this parable I always find myself wondering what my own heart is like. I can be all four types of ground – and that is before lunch time!

So where are you in all of this?

Am I a path where God’s Word does not even hardly touch me?

Am I rocky ground where there are brief moments of true joy in the gospel that soon give way to chasing a better deal, a better thing, a high experience, a new thing to “keep me going” in all my issues and troubles….. other than the simple, powerful wonderful gospel and gospel gifts on offer all the time with God’s people who are just like me.

Or are there just too many thorns; too many weeds squashing the life out of my heart like that toothpaste out of the tube? It can feel that way. There is so much to think about and do and be responsible for, family, work, school, study, relationships church….

Which ground are you today? Can your ears hear what he is speaking?

Now hear this. The best news you will hear all day is this: God is not a good farmer.

Did you notice that the farmer throws the precious seed around all over the place? We would not do it that way. We would get the GPS out and mark off the paddock and not waste a thing to maximise productivity.

Not Jesus. He just throws himself around on all the ground – hard, rocky, thorny and sometimes deep listening ground.

What a relief! God just keeps throwing out that word of grace and love and calling no matter where it falls – path, rock, thorns or ready ground.

That means that if your heart is a stone-cold path, or a craggy and cranky place, a thorny overgrown dark place or a deep-ripped open, receptive place for God’s good words, you still get the seed.

Jesus obviously wants to produce a good and large crop in you for the sake of many others.

That path can be jack-hammered into a more receptive place by God’s law so that the gospel finds some good open soil to grow in you.

The Evil One does not have to get a look in. By attentive receiving his love for you, that seagull Satan, can be warded off and the meal can continue in joy!

He calls you who may be in a rocky place to go deeper. He calls you to search deeper prayers, deeper songs; some old some new, go deep into his Word, alone and with others.

We don’t have to pull the thorns out. By attentiveness in the heart to his words and ways we outgrow them, overcome them and steer clear of them.

As he indiscriminately and patiently sows his gospel word in us, whether we are stone-cold heard, rocky, thorny or clear, it takes root, it grows. It multiplies. It is unstoppable.

Then we are like Jesus – sowing indiscriminately on all the kinds of ground we find here in our community. That free, joyful, patient, non-judgmental and generous sowing is our character as a person and as a local church in Jesus’ kingdom mission.

The impenetrable people, the rocky people, the thorny people and the open receptive people can all live here.

And the Sower keeps sowing, his words keep growing, his disciples keep throwing that gospel seed around all over the place, especially in the “no religion ground. The tonnage grown is not in our control or our concern.

We sow gospel not for profit. We do it for love and for joy.

Just keep sowing. It is where the joy is.

Amen

CONVERSATION STARTERS

 

Read the parable picturing the farmer and the sowing as you go. Stop at verse 9. Share any experiences of sowing you have had in life and how the story Jesus tells here is similar or different to your experience of planting seeds, harvesting on a farm, growing veges or gardening in general…

 

Note that we have already had one large chunk of teaching from Jesus in ‘the Sermon on the Mount’ (chapters 5-6 and beginning of 7. Now we have another large chunk of teaching. This is the beginning of it.

 

The first thing we hear is that there are now large crowds making things a bit tricky. What does Jesus need to do in order to be heard by the huge crowd?

 

Jesus has also done many healings and spoken many words in this northern area of Israel (chapter 8-9. And he has already sent out his disciples in pairs around the region to do the same (chapter 10). No wonder the crowd are large. A lot has been said and done by Jesus and a large group of disciples.

In a way he had already ‘multiplied’ himself by doing this.

 

Now read from verse 18. This is the explanation of the parable Jesus has spoken to the crowd, now ‘unpacked’ in the intimacy of his small band of brothers.

 

Note the type of ground, each one’s characteristics and what happens to the seed in each of them. Share about the kids of people/experienced you have met/had with each kind of person:

  1. Rock hard impenetrable people
  2. Shallow people who don’t seem to last through hard things in life. (NOTE: this is not rocky ground as in rocks on top of the ground but rock under a thin cover of soil)
  3. People overly worries and anxious about lots of things.
  4. People who receive God’s Word and do it over the long haul and reproduce themselves many time over.

 

Now reflect on what kind of ground you feel you are ow and what kind of ground you have been in the past.

 

If you could ask one thing from Jesus to make you that good soil that would receive his Word and work though you to produce other disciples, what would that thing be?

 

Did you notice that the farmer throws that seed around all over the place?! The left hand hardly knows what the right is doing it seems. The seed falls on all kinds of ground whether the ground 0wants it or not or receive it or not.

 

The message of the parable is that this is the way our Heavenly Father (the Sower) is with us. When we are hard and unreceptive, shallow and weak or fearful and disinterested, over-burdened with heaps of worries about all kinds of things that squeeze the life out of us and block out the word from our ears, or when we are open and deeply attentive to his Word, he still keeps on sowing that word! He calls us to adopt a similar indescriminent approach to relationships and bearing witness to his good news with people.

 

How does this comfort you?

 

How does this challenge you?

 

If there is one person who you have or want to throw the seed of the gospel to, pray for them, asking the Spirit to show you the way to speak and do the gospel word…..

 

 

 

 

 

Joy……with interest. 

SermonPentecost 24thA, November 11th/15th

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11  

Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labour pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 

But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. 

Matthew 25:14-30  

“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 

“After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’ 

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ 

“The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’ 

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ 

“Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ 

“His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. 

“‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 

 In these days as this 2020 draws to a close, we are hearing from the Spirit in this Word of the truth of our bright future in Jesus and how that future shapes now.   

Again we hear that we don’t and will not know in advance the day or the hour of Jesus’ final and full revealing of himself for all to see, but we can know this hope-filled forever – and that forever shapes our hope for the now.   

Like someone breaking into your house while you sleep in the dead of night, this great and final resurrection day will simply appear. Everyone will finally see and know.    

Like a woman carrying a baby not yet born, this appearing across all placed and people will simply happen; it has to happen; you can’t stop this final resurrection day; this final and full revealing of who God is in all his glory will happen. Like birth of a little one, you dont know the exact hour or minute of arrival, but you know it will arrive!  

As you hear that parable, I suspect you are a bit disturbed by the apparent harshness of the treatment God gives the third servant who does nothing with this gifts he has been given.  

“‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. ……Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 

 Is this the God we say we love and serve? A God who rewards the rich and makes then richer and condemns the poor, only making them poorer? Is God actually promoting a world we often see promoted – only the strong survive, so be strong and survive and get what is yours, at any cost!  

Let’s look deeper….  

First thing to notice about Jesus’ story here is that everyone gets a huge sum of money. A ‘bag of gold’ was about 33 kg of gold. As of yesterday, a kilogram of gold was worth about $61,487. Each bag is worth $2M!  

5 bags – $10M2 bags – $4M1 bag – $2M  

The master is very, very generous to ALL people according to what they can handle!  

He is also very trusting. It is tougher being wealthy than we might think. People of substantial means always have to be wary of who they trust because a lot of people call on them to support things. This master entrusts significant wealth and all that wealth brings to himself and the future of his family.   

So, the Master is very generous and fully trusting of these three people.   

The Master is also very patient  

“After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them”. 

 This master is generous to all – He gives all people a lot. He is trusting – He gives from his own wealth. He is patient – He gives people abundant time to use the gifts he gives.   

One more thing: This master wants all three people in his presence in his joy. Joy together is his goalHe wants people, not just what they can do or not do.   

Jesus is not promoting capitalism!  

Come and share your master’s happiness!, or, “Enter my joy!” 

This master is not only interested in increasing wealth or influencing his community or looking good. He is most interested in sharing his life with these people and others through them.  

He wants relationship above performance, and yet, as the servants live in his gifts for a long time, performance takes care of itself – joy is goal and joy is the end.   

Who is this manager? He sounds pretty good! In the journey who does all of this giving, entrusting, waiting  

The master is not merely “God”. Matthew makes it clear that Jesus is talking about himself. The man on the journey is Jesus himself. Jesus is speaking of his own journey with people. He is the one who gives, entrusts, waits and wants a relationship of joy with people.   

Can we see that this parable is NOT mainly about the harsh end for the third servant? He is in the parable to bring the truth home, but he is not the heart or intent of this generous Jesus.  

This person too, was given plenty by the master. He was trusted by the master. He was given a lifetime to enjoy the superabundant gifts and the trust of his gracious master, but for whatever reason, still saw Jesus as a ‘hard man”.   

How are you viewing Jesus? A ‘harsh man’ on the take: taking what is not his 

Are you scared of Jesus, as a result of this belief? Where does that belief come from in you?  

The third servant was ungrateful, unaware, impatient and fearful in the life he had been given. He misjudged Jesus and rules himself. He therefore rules himself out of the joy with Jesus. Jesus does not do it. The person does.   

And the real ‘kicker? in the end, he knows this to his core.   

Why does any person gnash their teethAnger. What kind of anger here? Self-anger. When the master completes his journey and appears in town for all to see, this person now knows just how much he has blown it.   

This fear-filled person is angry at himself and at the master and at the world and at life. He is angry to the core; to the point of gnashing his teeth.   

Everything he has lived his life on has been wrong.   

All his plans have come to nothing much at all. His self-interest, his denial of the gifts of Jesus, his unwillingness to trust Jesus’ gifts and live in them with others and therefore earn ‘interest’ on the gift, have left him beside himself with anger at himself for just what he has missed and will miss once everything is put in final order by the man who ae him so much.   

dont know if you have ever been that angry with yourself of Jesus, but you don’t need to be. This generous, trusting, patient and joyful Jesus has not finally appeared for the great resurrection day yet.   

Jesus still longs for the joy with you. He still longs for the relationship way above your performance. Your future is open  

Jesus speaks and keeps on speaking and gifting you with all your need for all of life.   

He is still obviously very patient – daily and over the decades so far.   

And here is what we do with our superabundant life in Jesus. Here is what we do with the hope of joy we know, now in part and one day in full.   

We ‘earn interest’. How? Opposite to how interest on money works!  

This ‘interest’ is earned by giving money away! Strange. Normally you save money to earn more interest on your money and increase wealth. The more you save for yourself, the more you earn.   

Not in this Jesus’ community! The more you give away your money, your gifts, your time, yourself, the more ‘interest’ or value or gifts seems to increase  

The more you allow trust, exercise patience and build relationships despite people’s performance, the interest grows.   

Oh, can you receive the joy of this master today?   

In his community, we are invited into a realm where performance and earning and calculation is abolished. Here, the interest, the fruit, the harvest, the blessing, the hope happens in giving ourselves and what he gives away.  

“Come and share your master’s happiness!”, says Jesus, to you.  

 

“…….you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day”. (1Thessalonians 5: 4-5) 

 Receive him and his gifts. Give him and his gifts away. Enjoy the joy…. with interest!  

Forever Changes Now

Sermon, Pentecost 23A Wed Nov 4/Sun Nov 8, 2020

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord for ever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

 Matthew 25:1-13

25 ‘At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

‘At midnight the cry rang out: “Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!”

‘Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.”

‘“No,” they replied, “there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.”

10 ‘But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

11 ‘Later the others also came. “Lord, Lord,” they said, “open the door for us!”

12 ‘But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.”

13 ‘Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

 

We don’t know the day or even the hour, but we know the forever, and that makes all days and hours difference for now.

In these words we hear of our sure future in Jesus:

16  ….. the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord for ever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Like a couple in love, those who have died in the Lord and those still living at the time of this full and final appearing of Jesus will all ‘be caught up together’ in embrace as the trumpets blast and Jesus loud voice calls time.

What a vision of our future! We don’t know the exact day or hour, but we know this forever, and it makes all the difference for now.

Many call this future event ‘the second coming’. But that name “second coming’ is a bit of an unhelpful name.

As the time has grown long since the “first coming,” there is a tendency, after two thousand years, to doubt in the whole truth of a parousia (final and full appearance, presence Of Jesus).

The term ”Second Coming” can lull Christians into a believe that says that our hope is fruitless or delusional, as if nothing much is happening between the two comings!

Like the 5 young women who got drowsy and did not keep up the oil supplies we can get pretty sleepy and dull to Jesus’ appearing. With all of our comforts, our wants, our busyness, our loves from many things and people, and our endless fixation on who we are and what we want and what we need and what the world needs, in our view, we can live like there is not much going on between these two ‘comings’!

“Let the oil supplies run low. Stay in our own space a little longer. There is no urgency. I’m safe anyway. I will go to heaven when I die…”…

Jesus has come once. He has set up the church. It is up to us to be the church. One day we will all go to heaven. In the meantime, we just do our best or do what we see fit to do and hope it is OK with him – hope that we won’t be left out at the end or that those we love who have already died will get left out at this glorious moment at the end.

That seems to be the issue for these Christian in Thessalonica. They were wondering if they and those they had already lost were lost. When they thought about the world and its future and their future, they were wondering if they were going to make it into this beautiful forever future.

Paul says yes and Paul says now. Not just ‘when you go to heaven’.

Friends, we are not here to do whatever we want or can as much or as little as we want because our who life is about “going to heaven when we die”. We are here now for much more than that!

Paul sees the time between the first coming and this final coming as active, real, important, crucial! He says that there has been and is plenty going on and that there will always be plenty going on between the comings. We live in this space. We live in it with a watchful, expectant, aware, active, patient spirit.

Maybe it would be better for us to simply name this future moment “The Coming,” as this translation does in verse 15.

That would help us trust that we not living in an empty open space where there is nothing going on; no activity of God; no work of Jesus; no calling of God’s Spirit, but instead, help us trust that we are actually living our lives, for however long or short, in an electrically charged space where Jesus is present and the Spirit is calling and transforming every hour.

That is why Paul is sharing this vision of Jesus’ appearing – to help people trust their sure future in Jesus for their life now, no matter their circumstances.

He wants us to encourage each other with this sure future of Jesus’ coming so we stay awake, active, watching, always waiting and placing our hope in this future we already have been given by Jesus.

Paul surely does not want to lull us to sleep as we live in some lifeless, colourless boring in-between time until this all happens.

This is what he wants us to be really like in this ‘in-between’ time before this final coming occurs

12 May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13 May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones. (1 Thessalonians 3:12-13).

Sound familiar?

Does to me. Reminds me of the words on the Lutheran Church of Australia’s logo? We are a place “Where love comes to life”. It is from this text (among others). This hope of Jesus final and full appearing gives us meaning and purpose for now, despite all circumstances we find ourselves in as individuals and as church.

That is what the Lord Jesus wants for us as we trim our lamps, keep our oil ready and stay awake and aware of this final and full hope that will surely come.

Friends, we are not all waiting at a bus stop getting bored and fixated on ourselves while we wait for the bus that never comes. We are already en route together with Jesus. We are moving. We are watching and waiting and facing what is up ahead in the spotlights together with this final great revealing in our hearts.

God created us, his church, to be the vehicle for his continued work of bringing love to life in the world. We live on the gifts of God – God’s forgiveness, God’s love, God’s own life, as we watch, wait, listen and act in this time between.

We pray that our families and our communities, our workplaces and our cultural settings might well experience through us something of God’s love as it comes to life in us, week-by-week, day-by-day.

That’s the plan. This is our plan at St Petri. We live our faith active in love (Galatians 5), empowered by the love of Jesus himself (1 Corinthians 13). Indeed, we have no other obligation, except to participate in this world transforming gift of God’s love (Romans 13).

Someone wrote a song on this tag line of the LCA. Sometimes we sing it here:

Where love comes to life: Jesus’ church in the world

Where love comes to life: at home, at work, at play,

we are the place, people of grace,

where love comes to life.

Friend, you are not living in some empty space where nothing much happens and Jesus is not present and active. Your goal is not merely to ‘go to heaven when you die”.

Your goal is to be with him and in him now and be a person through which his love comes to life in the life of others.

We don’t know the exact day or hour, but we know this forever, and it makes all the difference for now.

 

 

7 God Things

Sermon, All Saints Day, November 1, 2020, St Petri

Revelation 7:9-17

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”

 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, saying:

“Amen!
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honour
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.
Amen!”

 Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”

 I answered, “Sir, you know.”

 And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore,

“they are before the throne of God
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne
will shelter them with his presence.
‘Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’
nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb at the centre of the throne
will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’
‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’”

Matthew 5:1-12

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

He said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

 

These bible texts show you hope today. They show you why it is worth living in God’s grace, no matter what and above all else in life. They show you what we all have and will all get, now in part, one day in full.

Those who have finished their earthly time and moved into God’s timeless space are now here; fully blessed, fully complete. It is why these words are chosen to remember those who have died in faith in Jesus – All Saints Day.

And we need these words.

We are still living in a tough world.

Even for us, the people of God’s new kingdom, new city, new creation where God rules and God speaks and does and moves and shapes everything, there will be tough days and tough times.

  • We will know deep poverty of spirit.
  • We will grieve as dark death takes a bright loved one from us.
  • We will have no guarantee that we always have everything we need or want in life, or that we will automatically and always look great or be great in the eyes of others.
  • We will search and search. As U2 once sung, we will not always find what we are looking for. There will periods of time when we won’t find the meaning and purpose and joy for which we long.
  • We will not always be shown mercy by friends or enemies. We do and will get hurt and we will suffer the pain of unresolved conflict and harmful words and ways.
  • We will not always be enlightened, shining, clear and clean and holy people. We will know the dark night of the soul and know our uncleanness and unholy words and ways.
  • We will choose to run away, dismiss, ignore or avoid others who disagree with us, challenge us, hurt us, fight with us, and this will be hard and confusing and long lasting sometimes.
  • We will not be received well, understood fully, given the benefit of the doubt by many who do not share our experience of Jesus Christ and they will hate us for that experience we know and love.

Still want to call yourself a Christian? Or more pointedly, still want to worship Jesus and live in his mission kingdom of grace?

That was the question for those hearing that magnificent set of four ‘reveals’ given to the Apostle John by the raised and ruling Jesus.

Like a showing us through the totally renovated building in their big ‘reveal’, Jesus is leading John through his new house, new city, new creation.

The particular ‘room’ we are in the text chosen from Revelation is a procession into the great throne room of the “Lamb who was slain”. It is epic in scale.

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.

The resurrected people of God speak:

“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”

Angels and creatures and people ‘worship’ – (prostrate) fall flat on the ground with arms outstretched speaking words of praise

“Amen!
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honour
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.
Amen!”

Amen indeed. “It is so”. “Lord Jesus, may it all still be so – forever”. That is what “Amen” is.

Dead people are now constantly standing in God’s presence. This is not what they could do before being raised.

Raised people are freely standing in the presence of Almighty God. This is not what those who are trying to flee the wrath of God choose to do.

This is all God’s work. It is all grace.

Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”

How can robes be white when they have been dipped in blood? They have the robe of forgiveness and peace with God on them. So do we. Like when you put on that brand new top or shirt, they and we wear a robe of righteousness and purity put on them by Jesus.

They speak more. They speak of seven things true of God.

Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honour
and power and strength.

The praise, the glory, the wisdom, the thanks, the honour, the power and the strength are God’s. If there is any praise, any glory, and wisdom, any thanks, any honour, any power and any strength to be known, received, given, experienced, known by a human being, it comes from the Lord, the Lamb.

Friends, this is our hope being given full voice.

  • In any deep poverty of spirit we are rich in hope.
  • In grief there is this light that remains bright and true.
  • When we do not look, feel, do or be good, we are guaranteed this heavenly reality of love and acceptance already now, and one day in full.
  • When we search but cannot find what we are looking for, The Lamb is looking at us and calling us to look to him and this future with him.
  • When we are short on mercy, given or received, it will end with us standing in God’s glorious presence in his glorious and vast community.
  • When we are unenlightened, dimly existing, unclear and unclean experiencing the dark night of the soul, there will be the wisdom of God that will draw us back to his beauty and his holiness which he lights us up again.
  • When we choose to run away, dismiss, ignore or avoid God’s challenge, God’s truth, God’s calling, it will end in a heart of thanks as he does not run away from us, dismiss us, avoid us but instead restores us, chases us, loves us, greets us with ab holy kiss in the voice of his holy Son.
  • When we are not received well, understood at all, doubted much by many, there will be power to stay, love, move through, live on, stay in the community of the Lamb with his present and future light and life.
  • When we feel weak, frail and incapable to do or say or achieve anything much, there will be strength given that comes from this vision of our present place and our future space.

Friends, these words tell you how things really are from the Lord’s point of view today. His grace kingdom is way beyond you and yet real and present safety and love now.

Make no mistake, the tribulation; the trouble and its suffering is real. It will remain an ever-present unwelcome guest in our lives.

Even for us who have been dipped in the blood of the Lamb and had his royal white robe of purity and holiness placed on us in the water and words of the baptismal font, there is no hint of easy street here. There is no sugar-coated fake comfortability offered.

But John doesn’t need or want fake comfortability. He does not see hope in any human striving or achievement. He sees so much more.

John and Jesus want to help you trust that you don’t need sugar coating or fake promises.

You need Jesus. You need his vision and power and wisdom and strength and everything else.

He is the full measure of what you really need to live this life to the full according to the one who created and ordained you for your life. You have these seven things of God.

Still want to call yourself a ‘Christian”?

Still want to worship Jesus and live in his mission kingdom of grace?

Yep.

Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.
Fear the Lord, you his holy people,
for those who fear him lack nothing.
The lions may grow weak and hungry,
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

The Lord will rescue his servants;
no one who takes refuge in him will be condemned. (Psalm 34)

 

 

 

Thunderbolt in the Thunderbox!

Sermon, Reformation. Wed Oct 21/Sun Oct 25, 2020

Romans 3:19-28 

          19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being[a] will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

              John 8:31-36

31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

33 They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”

34 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

 

I took the opportunity to read a book in this COVID time. It comes to my mind this Reformation weekend. It was a historical biography of Martin Luther, the person from whom we Lutherans get our name.

I know the general story of how God did great work through Luther way back five hundred years ago. But this recent 21st century telling helped me see some new things.

New York social commentator, speaker and writer, Eric Mataxis, wrote the book. Eric is a Christian in the Baptist/Reformed part of the Christian church. He is not a theologian or academic. So, his great contribution is coming at the Luther and Reformation story from a lay person’s perspective.

We come from this Reformation that was begun by the Lord through Luther and others. So on Reformation weekend I offer a couple of important things for us.

One is that this Romans text we heard is at the heart of being a Christian.

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. 

This was THE word from the Spirit that transformed our little German Augustinian monk, from the inside out.

Luther had been on a long journey to this word. He smelt a rat in the practices and beliefs of the church of his day – a rat that was poisoning people with overwhelming guilt and fear. It produced a never-ending slavery trying to earn your way into a distant and angry God’s favour by various means.

He himself was a ‘bulldog’ in this pursuit. He was in one of the toughest communities of monks. He lived it full on and got himself tangled up in blue day after day, week after week.

He says he was lost in a never ending slavish cycle of feeling the accusation of the 10 Commandments, confessing every little way in which he minute-by-minute broke those commandments, receiving forgiveness from his Abbot but then immediately breaking the law again…..plunging him into a dark room of anger and, resentment of God, and loathing of himself for which he could find no relief.

Sound familiar? has this been you? Has this been someone you know?

Luther was a thinker. One day he posted his concerns about the church on the university notice board in Wittenberg where he was a young University lecturer in the Bible. There we 95 thoughts. He wanted an in-house university student and faculty conversation.

Turns out that this one little act set an explosion off! Things caught like wildfire; like when a person posts a photo or comment or poem on Facebook for his or her circle of friends, only to find that a million people have seen it and shared it all over the world!

This huge shift in the world called the Reformation, and Luther’s life in it, is there to be learned by any interested person.

I don’t think Martin Luther would be too interested in going viral and being famous, even though he did and is. What he would care about is this Word from God to the world and to you now.

It says that we are all lost, condemned by the law as lawbreakers because we are slaves to it since our first parents placed themselves and us there. They wanted to be like God, they wanted to be God for themselves. We do too, in a million ways.

That we want to be gods of our galaxy puts us into a never ending slavery to self-interest, self-justification, self-glorying to survive in this broken creation.

Sometimes we feel this enough to acknowledge it, and even reach out the God. A lot of the time we don’t. Being our own life-shaper and self-determiner often at the cost to others comes naturally to us. That is our brokenness. That is what sin actually is, not just doing wrong things.

Sin is an addiction that keeps on taking until there is nothing left to take.

This slavery to self kills us and destroys relationships. “The wages of sin is death”, says the New Testament. (Romans 6:22)

As we earn and strive and justify ourselves, kid ourselves: just not understand ourselves, we hurt, and we hurt others and the spiritual damage goes viral. It is much worse than COVID 19. It is not temporary. There will never be any humanly manufactured vaccine.

But, here’s something I learned….

While in hiding from the authorities in the famous Wartburg Castle in southern Germany, one day when probably sitting at the base of the tower in the ‘small room’, the Spirit interrupted the bodily proceedings with this thunderbolt in the thunderbox! The Spirit made the Word a thunderbolt of transformational news as Luther pondered this very word from the Bible.

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. 

“Martin, I can deal with your selfish dark heart and your slavery to self the same way you can deal with what needs to be expelled from your body in this small room!”

The bad smelly stuff can be expelled and the beautiful fragrant freedom of grace can be enjoyed – and not by anything you can do to earn it or achieve it, but only because Jesus Christ gives it.

In more biblical words:

24 all [people] can be …… justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus….

Yes;

23 …..the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is never-ending life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

That is our heart as a church of Jesus’ grace only ever simply received (not earned) by faith in him.

Friend, are you hearing this for yourself?

If you have been an enemy of God, he has found you and friended you at great cost to himself.

If you have been lost in self-serving, he has come not to be served but to serve you with his own words, life, death and rising.

If you have been loving people and things too much or too little or too selfishly, he loves you now with self-less laser focussed higher, deeper, longer, completing love.

If you have been living in a lonely exile longing for someone to notice. He does and the belonging starts now.

Another thing I learned is that this gospel of grace really costs. It really cost Luther – in hard work and in the pain of conflict.

He wrote millions of words, he preached thousands of sermons, he wrote pastoral letter to people in need, he loved his wife and children. He gave his all for this fragrant freedom.

He challenged not just the church authorities but his closest associates that wavered from this stunning gospel of grace. Some did not want to hear of grace and others did delight in receiving it but then returned to rules and control and power over people.

Strange – the best thing God could ever give a broken sinner – grace – is resisted or subverted! Oh, how broken we still are this side of the final resurrection!

We want to do something. We still want others to do something. We want God to do something on OUR terms – power, manipulation, competitiveness, fear, control, human vision, human rules….

Luther resisted any hint of us trying to jump in the driver’s seat of life again by any means.

Friends, I pray that you would receive this gospel thunderbolt in the thunderbox or any other box! I pray that you would feel the renewing breeze of the Spirit’s gospel word move through you this Reformation weekend. I pray that at your heart is Jesus’ gospel heart.

I pray we would be a community of the gospel; a community of grace in a million ways with many broken people, whether they think they are or not!

I pray that we will willingly pay the cost of confessing this gracious Father and the Son, Jesus, no matter the cost, because it actually is our very life and our very hope and enables to truly love.

I pray that you receive God’s thunderbolt good news for you in your room.

In the small room, the dark room, the lounge room, the work room and every other room, the golden gospel is the gold in the room, because;

 36 …. if the Son sets you free, are free indeed.

 

 

 

 

 

Presence Crisis

Sermon, 20th A Pentecost, Wed October 14/Sun October 18, 2020

Exodus 33:1-3, 12-23

Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt, and go up to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying, “I will give it to your descendants.” I will send an angel before you and drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.’

12 Moses said to the Lord, ‘You have been telling me, “Lead these people,” but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, “I know you by name and you have found favour with me.” 13 If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favour with you. Remember that this nation is your people.’

14 The Lord replied, ‘My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’

15 Then Moses said to him, ‘If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. 16 How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?’

17 And the Lord said to Moses, ‘I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.’

18 Then Moses said, ‘Now show me your glory.’

19 And the Lord said, ‘I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 20 But,’ he said, ‘you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.’

21 Then the Lord said, ‘There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. 22 When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.’

Watch this week’s Worship and Sermon here >  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oi7lBQgVQBM

I heard a term this week that I think names a real situation that we Christians experience at times: “Presence Crisis”. A crisis of God’s presence.

It is one thing to know in your head that God is present. But it is another thing to then know for sure that the Lord is still FOR me.

When it has been a terrible week, when you have endured great heartache or pain, or you said or did the wrong thing, or you stayed silent when you needed to speak up or when you are dealing with some bad news that has cast a shadow over your future, you know in theory that God is still around, but you want to know for sure again that he is still FOR you; that you have hope and future.

Moses is right here. He is in a ‘presence crisis’.

The people have done very badly around that golden calf. God is God and is still here, but is he still FOR us, after what we did to him?

Moses, the who is reported to have been a the man “who spoke face to face, as one speaks to a friend” (Exodus 33:11), again speaks with the Lord.

The conversation does not start well.

God has said that he will NOT destroy his disappointing people. That is good!

But things are different now. The best the Lord can now do is send a third party to lead his people as they leave the scene of their great crime.

Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt, and go up to the land I promised….. I will send an angel before you and drive out the ‘locals’….. 3 .…..But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.’

Like a mum who has had enough of a strong-willed little guy for the day and hands the little man to Dad saying, “Here, you take him!”, the best God seems able to do at this point to keep his promises, is to lead them via one of his ‘messengers’, his angels. Good luck, Mr Angel!

The conversation continues….. And can you sense just how close, personal, trusting and bold this conversation is? I wonder why?

Moses says,

‘You have been telling me, “Lead these people,” but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, “I know you by name and you have found favour with me.” 13 If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favour with you. Remember that this nation is your people.’

What’s Moses doing in the ‘presence crisis’? Three things…. Moses….

  1. Names it: name the issue. “You are not coming with me and without you I have no confidence to keep going let alone lead”.
  2. Remembers: Remember the promises. God, you remember your promises because I do! He asks the Lord to remember. “You said, Lord, you would be our God and we would be your treasured people of promise in the world with a sure future in you”.
  3. Asks: He asks for what he needs. “…teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favour with you”. In other words, “Lord to teach him how to lead well and keep these people in your promises”.

That’s what you do in a presence crisis.

  1. Name it: Name the issue as you see it. Lodge your complaint openly and honestly to the Lord.
  2. Remember the promises. Recall the Lord’s promises to you and ask the Lord to remember his promises to you.
  3. Ask what you need from him in the moment.

God listens. God agrees to remain with Moses and the people (Exodus 33:14).

Moses is on a roll. Now he is showing us the heart of it.

15 Then Moses said…., ‘If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. 16 How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us?

What’s at the heart of this conversation? It is definitely not some impersonal deal or demanding of rights on Moses’ part? Why?

Because Moses is asking for the Lord, not just what the Lord can give. That’s what is at the heart of this conversation. That is why it is so honest, straight and bold. It is a conversation between friends who know each other and want to know each other, more than just securing what can happen.

Moses does not just want safety, security, things, power, achievement or even the Lord’s blessing by themselves. He wants the Lord. Moses wants the Lord himself more than what the Lord can give.

Is that you today? “Lord, I need You, not just what you can do”. Would you characterise your talking with the Lord as being based on a relationship with him, more than what you can get from him?

The Spirit is speaking into our time. He is calling us back to the Lord; his character, his promises, his presence way above what he can do for us or give to us.

Sure, we pray for things and people and situations and gifts and power to live in the Spirit of Jesus every day. But if that is all we ever speak about to the Lord, we are living in a distant relationship.

It is one where we want what the Lord can give us but not him. We want the gifts without the conversation, the blessing without the talk, the good stuff without the relationship stuff.

The Lord ends up being for so many a Jeanie in the bottle that we speak to when we are desperate enough, but with little interest in actually knowing him and his promises and purposes for us.

God becomes our private butler whose sole purpose in our day is to serve the drinks, meet our personal needs, make sure we are comfortable without ever calling us to a face-to-face relationship that lives and breathes and challenges us.

Moses shows us here that prayer is a relationship not a check list. It is a conversation not a deal.

The Lord responds……

17 And the Lord said to Moses, ‘I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.’

Prayer is conversation founded on knowing not just doing.

Can you hear this for your present presence crisis?

Friends, we can speak this way to God. We have Jesus, the new Moses+, the very Son of God who prayed and lived in his Heavenly Father’s love more than Moses speaks this to you now, friend.

If you ask anything in my name, I will do it (John 14:14)

With Jesus, you are now free to speak with his Father and yours as you;

  1. Name it: Name the issue as you see it. Lodge your complaint openly and honestly to Jesus.
  2. Remember the promises. Recall Jesus’ promises to you and ask him to remember his promises to you.
  3. Ask what you need from him in the moment.

Moses wants the Lord and nothing less. He goes on where angels fear to tread.

18 Then Moses said, ‘Now show me your glory.’

“Lord, reveal your holy, pure wonderful presence to me. That is what I really need more than anything. I need you, not just what you can do”.

We have this too, and even more! The Lord has revealed his grace to us in all his glory.

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. (Hebrews 1:3)

For Moses here, the Lord reveals himself in the famous crag in the rock passing back of the Lord flashing across Moses life.

For us, the Son of God himself lives, speaks, dies and rises to rule as one of us.

Friend, The Lord ids present with you and he says he is FOR you in any crisis.

He still hides himself – not in a rock but in human flesh and blood so fragile, but now gloriously raised and ruling.

So be like Moses. Confidently:

Name it. Name your struggle.

Remember the promises of the Lord in Jesus to you.

Ask the Lord Jesus for what you need.

But under it all and after it all and before it all, seek his presence. Seek him more than what you want, or he can give.

Go ahead.  “(your name), speak face to face with Jesus, as one speaks to a friend”.

 

 

Everyone Needs a Moses

SermonPentecost 19th A, Sunday Wednesday October 7/Sunday October 11, 2020

Exodus 32:1-14 

When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered round Aaron and said, ‘Come, make us gods[a] who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.’ 

2 Aaron answered them, ‘Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.’ 3 So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, ‘These are your gods,[b] Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’ 

5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, ‘Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.’ 6 So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterwards they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry. 

7 Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. 8 They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” 

9 ‘I have seen these people,’ the Lord said to Moses, ‘and they are a stiff-necked people. 10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.’ 

11 But Moses sought the favour of the Lord his God. ‘Lord,’ he said, ‘why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, “It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth”? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. 13 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: “I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance for ever.”’ 14 Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened. 

 “Is the Lord with us or not?”. Been asking that lately?   

 It is a question everyone asks at some level sometimes. Maybe you have been asking it this year?  

 What is going on in these strange COVID times and is God with us it or not?  

God’s people asked this question in their tough moments. They usually got it very wrong before they heard it truly right.  

This moment at the foot of Mount Sinai is one of their questioning moments. It is known as their great fall. 

The Lord has heard them in Egyptian slavery. He has given them himself, his leader, Moses, and everything they will ever need to live long and prosper.  

He has made his vows to stick with them and give them what everybody wants in life – a home, a place, a name, a family, a future with him 

And they have just said, “Yes”. “Yes, to you, Yahweh. You be our God and we will be your treasured people in your world 

But Moses has been gone a long time. The people are getting restless. God might be pulling out on us. Moses might have been pulled out! We might be left here alone, isolated, unsure, hung out to dry by God and Moses. Is the Lord still with us or not?  

 Aaron, Moses’ brother and 2IC, is in a bindThe people come to him: 

‘Come, make us gods[a] who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.’ 

They are not waiting to find out if the Lord is with them or not. They will return to what they know – the worship of many godsAfter all, life was clearer, more settled; better in Egypt….. There was less risk, less change, less need to trust the unseen. You could just go along and be comfortable in your slavery….. You were used to it.   

Aaron says, ‘Yes” but also “No”.  

2 ……. ‘Take off the gold earrings …. and bring them to me.’…. Aaron took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf…. 

The golden calf; a widely accepted symbol of fertility, blessing and life for any ancient person.   

But let’s make a statue but to the Lord. Let’s still make it about the Lord.  

Phew! At least we are still worshipping the Lord and not ‘gods”. Think Aaron?   

But no! The people say to each other, 

 ‘These are your gods,[b] Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’ 

Oh dear! Aaron acts 

5  Aaron …. built an altar in front of the calf and announced, ‘Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.’  

Ahh. So, we are still worshipping the Lord….. we think; we hope!  

Morning comes 

6  Next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. 

Starts off civil. But then things get rather ‘festive”! 

6  ….. Afterwards they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry. 

This is pure feeding the out of control human heart searching for pleasure and avoiding the pain and fear  

See how once we take matters into our own hands with worship apart from the Lord’s promises on his terms, the gods other than him to which our wayward heart tends to cling win us over?   

The Fall is complete. Everyone is implicated. Aaron has failed in leadership. People have failed the Lord.  

What breaks this fall? What heals this cavernous rift between God and these broken people?  

Moses. We all need a Moses.   

Where is he? He is up on that mountain meeting with the smoky, fiery awesome God. He is up close, speaking with a red-hot, holy God who is about ready to give up on his promises to these people.  

9 ‘I have seen these people,’ the Lord said to Moses, ‘and they are a stiff-necked people. 10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. 

Stiff-necked, stubborn, unaware, totally focussedonself people: Locked into a slavery to which we have gotten used to again. We trudge on looking for a morsel of pleasure where we can…..  

God’s says, ‘Moses. It is just you and me then. I will start again with you, like I did with Noah. I will make another nation with you.  

Not too hopeful for the current people! But here comes the beginning of hope.  

Moses could have said, ‘Yes please, GodGet me out of here! Anything is better than being with this mob!  

But he didn’t. Instead, he sticks his own neck out and goes into bat for these people.  

11 But Moses sought the favour of the Lord his God. 

“Don’t wipe them out, Lord”, he says.  Why? Three reasons: 

  1. You have done good. This is a good thing; making them a people and giving them freedom and promise.  
  2. The world will dismiss you if you destroy what you havpromised to sustain 
  3. You have made promises to all those who have gone before us. You have not broken your promises so far. Don’t start now. Your faithfulness to your promises is our only hope! 

And amazingly we hear: God ‘relented’or, God ‘repented’. God turned back to his promises. He keeps them and his people.  

Everyone needs a Moses. You have one. Jesus is your new Moses +. You are one.  In Jesus, God did the unthinkable. He entered this out of control party as one of us. Jesus sees it all, knows it all, understand me in it all but amazingly, does not fall at all  

He took this wondering, self-focussed pleasureseeking heart that falls so far so often into his own heart; his own body where it was lanced, run through, nail, judged, condemned, dead.  

For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, …. – now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. (Hebrews 9:15)  

So, now he speaks with his loving Father for us all the time in a new covenant relationship that he promises to never end.   

Jesus is our mediator and his faithfulness is our only hope.   

Friends, you have a Moses+. You have Jesus.   

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you[a] free from the law of sin and death….. God did this by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.[c] …….. in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4) 

 Even more; 

You have the Holy Spirit representing you in emotion and knowing, beyond words – in groans and sighs before the Father.   

15 ….. the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.[f] And by him we cry, ‘Abba,[g] Father.’ 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.  (Romans 8:15-16) 

 So, God’s restored, loved child adopted in Spirit-filled Baptism, you still need a Moses and so does everyone you know. Guess who that is You! Us!  

Turn away from the calf. Turn to your new Moses and his Father. Relent and repent of trusting yourself above his word and put that word of promises back on the altar of your life.   

Then be a Moses to them all. Praying, pleading, working; representing your friends and enemies before a holy God, and sharing him and his words of forgiveness and promises you know.  

Everyone needs a Moses. It is why we care, why we pray, why we be a church, why we change and listen and bring people before the Lord and showing them his promise  

Is the Lord with us? Yes. But who is with everyone else? You.   

Everyone needs a Moses.  

 

No Deal! Only Faith.

Sermon, Wednesday October 2/Sunday October 4, 2020

Pentecost 18th A.

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20

And God spoke all these words:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work,

“Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

“You shall not murder.

“You shall not commit adultery.

“You shall not steal.

“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.

“You shall not covet your neighbour’s house. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.”

When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”

Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”

I wonder whether you have done a deal with someone lately? You renegotiated your bed time with the parents. You signed up for a Uni/TAFE course. You bought a car or a house. You got married! You took on a volunteer job. You made a commitment to do something or pay something and the other party promised to deliver something to you in return. You do your part. They do theirs, and that’s the deal.

That is what is going on here with these famous ten commandments. The commandments are part of new deal…. But a deal with a difference that makes all the difference.

The arrangement is between God and his people. The commandments are the finer detail of how the ongoing relationship needs to work for it to be kept in good faith.

And that is the big thing to get. These rules are not just random rules. They are rules with relationship in mind. These commandments are all about relationship way more than rules. But the rules enable the relationship to survive and prosper.

Here are the newly free people of God on their desert journey from homelessness to a new home, from being nobodies in the world to being somebodies, from having nothing much to offer or do for the world to being the lynch-pin for the whole world when it comes to a living relationship of blessing and life with the Creator of all things.

And God really wants them and this relationship!

“You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possessions. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nations” (Exodus 19:4-6).  

We hear that God gives people these rules:

  1. So that people could be his very own treasures belonging with him, and
  2. So that through his treasured people, God could love all other people.

In this relationship, God’s people get to be treasured by God and given a job.

Their new job in the world is to be priests for the whole world – bringing God’s promises to people and bringing people to God.

Here’s how they keep the deal:

“Love God with all you are and have and love each other in all aspects of life”. That is the way Jesus would sum up these ten things later on.

Sounds so simple. Sounds like a good deal. God does his bit. We do ours. And it is all good. What could go wrong?! Answer? Plenty. “No deal”!

Truth is, we cannot do this deal. We cannot keep our end of the bargain. Our wayward, searching, broken, rebellious heart makes this impossible. God calls for complete love and devotion to him and other people and we can’t love God as he is to be loved or love each other so fully.

The biblical story is brutally honest about this. We are dismal at keeping up our end of this bargain! Worse. We are less than dismal. We are incapable.

If you read on from this high moment, you will see how quickly the people break the relationship. It has to do with a certain golden calf…

If you read on you will know just how many times God’s people and all people break this agreement.

Or in New Testament terms:

“All have sinned (against this agreement) and fall short of God’s glory” (Romans 3:23).

And

“we do the very things we know we should not do and leave the things we know we should do (according to these commandments) undone”, says Paul in Romans 7.

You know the struggle. As you hear these ten rules for life with God, do you sense your failure? I do.

So, what do we do with our failure, our inability to keep this deal, and the guilt I feel?

We have two choices.

  1. Get angry with myself or with God or both, and leave the relationship. Many have. Many still do.
  2. Give up and become a crushed needy person always apologising for everything hoping one day I will be good enough somehow…..

Which is it this morning? Angry at God or crushed by God or both?

But, there is something very different about how God does deals with people. That difference is our guilt remover and life saver today.

“You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself……. (Exod 19:4-6).  

God is doing a lot. God is actually doing everything. This a different kind of deal.

Let me explain…… In the ancient world there were two kinds of deals between nations. One was a deal between two equal powers. EG. Two countries do a deal about a section of land. Two people of equal standing agree on a price and ownership of the land is transferred to the other.

But then there was an unequal agreement. EG. When a nation was defeated by a stronger one, a deal is made on what the defeated country has to pay the winning country for all the damage and costs etc. Often, the price was unjustly high – like a whole nation being wiped out or turned into slaves for the stronger nation.

Now which kind of agreement do you think God is making with his people here at Mt Sinai? Equal or unequal? Yes. Unequal and hopelessly so!

This is not a deal between two equal parties, this is a one-sided agreement by God with God doing all the work to make it work! That is how God does ‘deals’ with us.

God does pretty much everything for the people while the people don’t do much at all for him. In other words, this ‘deal’ is actually ‘no deal’ at all!

This is a RELATIONSHIP made from love; deep love for us incapable, unequal creations.

Here’s the good news: Our God makes unequal agreements because of love for people who can’t make the deal.

He chooses to relate to and love people who have no hope of loving back the same way. God actually does it all, and the other party – his people, us, can’t do a thing to make this agreement happen.

  • He is the one who hears his people’s suffering in slavery.
  • The Lord is the one who defeats evil in those ten plagues.
  • He is the one who opens up the Red Sea in which his people are baptised into their new relationship with him.
  • He is the one who shows them how to love him, worship him and love each other.

He is the one who gives them a job in the world and promises land and future in him, DESPITE THEIR INABILITY to love him; to keep up an end of the deal.

Are you hearing Jesus yet? I am!

In Jesus, God did his kind of unequal dealing again.

Jesus was obedient to God’s way, even to the extent of giving up his life for the world on that cross. This changed the deal. He did is all, paid it all, suffered it all so I could have it all and be loved in it all. He lived the perfect life so I could have a life.

  • It was he who entered our struggle and pain to remove our shame.
  • He rose from the grave smashing our slavery to self and to things and people.
  • He buried you and resurrected you in your own Red Sea at the font.
  • He gave us the same mission he has always had – to draw all humans into a relationship of love with him and each other.

Friend, in these 10 words which are for us now a curb to keep you from wandering out of his grace, a mirror to tell you the truth and drive you back to grace in Jesus and a guide for loving, sense him carrying you back to your place of being his treasured person. Trust the Spirit reinvigorating you in your priestly job – representing the Lord’s love to people and representing their needs and their lives to God.

Hear Jesus, now. He speaks to you his treasured person;

  • No need to trust anyone or anything else for your life – you can trust trust me.
  • No need to use my name as something cheap – you can use it to give thanks, pray and praise.
  • No need to neglect my Word – you can regard it as holy and listen to it and apply it gladly.
  • No need to treat your parents or others in authority badly – you are free to honour them all and serve them.
  • No need to kill – you can help people in all their physical needs.
  • No need to sleep around or be unfaithful – you can respect your partner and honour people.
  • No need to steal – you can help people improve their lot in life and help people look after their possessions
  • No need to betray people – you can put the best construction on things; do your best speak well of people
  • No need to deceive people or long for what others have – you are free to help people remain loyal and help people keep their possessions.

In the name of Christ

Amen

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