Author: Rosie Edwards (page 1 of 9)

The Lost Sons – Vicar Shaun Manning

FOURTH SUNDAY IN LENT  (31 March 2019)

Isaiah 12:1–6  |  2 Corinthians 5:16–21  |  Luke 15:1–3, 11–32

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering round to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners, and eats with them.’

3 Then Jesus told them this parable:

The parable of the lost son
11 Jesus continued: ‘There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, “Father, give me my share of the estate.” So he divided his property between them.

13 ‘Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17 ‘When he came to his senses, he said, “How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.” 20 So he got up and went to his father.

‘But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms round him and kissed him.

21 ‘The son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”

22 ‘But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” So they began to celebrate.

25 ‘Meanwhile, the elder son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 “Your brother has come,” he replied, “and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.”

28 ‘The elder brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!”

31 ‘“My son,” the father said, “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”’

Christ Has been made the Prodigal Son for us to be Reconciled to the Father

Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ…
In chapter 15 of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus tells three famous parables. First, the parable of the Lost Sheep, second; the parable of the Lost Coin, thirdly and lastly, he tells of the parable of the prodigal son.

Many scholars and theologians don’t particularly like this title for it is not primarily about the younger son who takes his inheritance early and squanders it. But rather it is generous loving and waiting father who welcomes him back with open arms.

Let us pray…

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our be acceptable and pleasing to you O Lord, Amen.

When we look at the Gospels and we read and hear our Lord Jesus speak, it always important to ask a few basic questions… where is He speaking and to whom. Sometimes the former is important due to what He is saying might be better understood by the surrounding geography. But the latter is always important. To whom Jesus is speaking helps understand why He said what He did in the first place. And do we have in our case today…

15 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

3 So he told them this parable…

So who is this parable directed at? The Pharisees and scribes. Why? to help them understand why He welcomes sinners and eats with them and also to help them see their flawed attitudes in all this.

The scriptures are filled with conflicts between people and one of the more common ones is not to dissimilar to our common conflicts and what are they, sibling disputes and rivalry.

This is your common “that’s not fair” dispute between children and this matures as we get older but the same attitude of inequality continues to pop it’s head up in different ways.

What  Jesus was trying to convey to the Pharisees and scribes was really just one primary point, the generous heart of God. Although this truth had ramifications for both brothers, it is the God’s unmerited, unimaginable and illogical generosity that Jesus wants them to hear.

The ramifications of it for the younger son were that it was a place back home in his father’s house after self-inflicted estrangement from it.

The ramifications it had for the older son were revealed in his inability to understand his father and his love, even though he had been there with him and obedient to him.

I wonder you’ve ever been to a foreign land, either voluntary or involuntary. Picture if you can, a place where you’ve been that is foreign, feels foreign or perhaps just made you feel uncomfortable being there. I know hospitals are a place where people typically don’t like being in and are often looking to get out of ASAP to return home to the comfort of their own bed, own clothes and own surroundings.

Now the place that this younger son went to was the extreme. The place where he had lived a life that was worse than his father’s servants. Had a diet that was also nowhere near as nutritious as they had either.  In fact he didn’t get to eat what the pigs did when he tried.

We often applaud the repentant heart this prodigal son had when he returns, but let’s think of what it actually was that sparked this reminder to go home – Hunger.  Perhaps it was hunger that turned into a contrite heart but hunger nevertheless. It is Interesting that he did not think of the sin he was committing before he got hungry. The selfishness this reveals in the heart of the younger son is devastating. And I don’t think the rest of us are much better by the way.

In fact, we were so badly rotting with the pigs, hungry, depraved and self-centered, that our Father sent Christ to come and get us. We were, and are, trapped in a foreign land, full of sin that stinks of dirty animal pens and that is where we would be if Christ didn’t come get us.

It is actually Christ who has made us worthy to be loved, embraced and kissed. Christ did not only come and get us and lift us out of the dirt and rottenness of sinful rebellion … He actually became sin. Our Father made “Him (Jesus) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). This is what our epistle reading highlights for us, for this very reason.

Older brother

He/we must remember that we are only in this house for Christ’s sake, that we were the younger brother and still are at times. How would we want the Lord to treat us if and when we fall into temptation.

The Lord will bring justice and reward to everyone, but let him do that.  Do not be the dictator of how and to whom the Lord should or shouldn’t show mercy. Let us be at one with the Father’s will, heart and intent for sinners.

We are therefore called to rejoice with heaven when a sinner comes home. In fact, since we are in the Father’s house let us prepare our hearts, our homes and our churches for a place for lost sinners. As we partake in the Father’s mission, and are not hostile toward it, let us never grow out the truth and reality that we are in this house by grace. We all deserve to be still in a foreign land and would be if it weren’t for Christ.

Younger sons and daughters… come home.
For those of us here who are yearning for a return to church and Christian community of our children, grandchildren… align yourself with the Father’s heart today and wait with Him.

Elder sons and daughters… rejoice with the Father when sinners in our family or friendship circles repent. I know myself how tempting it is to say “I told you so” or something to that effect. For many years growing up, when I first came to faith, my mum was one of a group in my family who would want nothing to do with the faith and still doesn’t… When she calls to ask about God or the Scriptures, the temptation of course is to be cheeky or aggressive, “I thought God didn’t exist mum?”.

You see, our heavenly Father is nothing like this… he makes Himself vulnerable and runs out to greet the son with no questions asked.

This is the difference between us and God that this parable highlights.

When we are tempted to be the elder brother in situations and judge the younger brother, sister, family member or friend remember this…

Our Lord Jesus became the Prodigal Son for you too… The ‘prodigal son’ was off feeding pigs, Jesus was born in the place they eat from…

He went to a foreign land, didn’t squander His Father’s inheritance personally but was treated as if He did… to the point that He felt abandoned by His Father, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me”.

This is what our Creed is speaking of when it says “he descended into hell”.  To be in hell is to be separated from the Father. This is why we are to call on our Lord when we feel like we’re living in hell and struggling with life… because He stepped into it Himself.

He did this so that He could take us from this foreign land, from Satan’s grip, and bring us back home. This is how the lost become found, the dead made alive… This is how God the Father sees us while we were “still a long way off,” He saw us and “felt compassion”… only through Christ. In this return He sees Christ and His righteousness, and so runs to us. This is a belonging and affirmation that only Christ has the right to. But through His incarnation, life, death and resurrection… He has incorporated us into this house filled with celebration by God’s servants and all the company of Heaven. He has taken sinful and rebellious humanity on as His own and brought us back as forgiven sons and daughters. And it is only by Christ are we able to return home to the Father’s house.

May you always keep this at the center of your heart and mind so that you may continue to know what it means to be a child in the household of the Heavenly Father, trusting and learning from Him, mimicking Him in His love and generosity to his fellow children… this is part of what the Lord Jesus is getting at when He says “love another, as I have loved you”…

And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus, the One who was made the prodigal for you. Amen.

 

O Jerusalem – Vicar Shaun Manning

Sunday 17th March St Petri Lutheran Church

Vicar Shaun Manning

Lent 2, St Petri

Luke 13: 31-35

31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32 And he said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. 33 Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’ 34 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35 Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’”

 

Intro
I wonder what analogy you think of when you reflect on your relationship to the Lord? Or when you think of the Lord’s relationship to His people.

The Scriptures have several ways of expressing this, a Shepherd and His sheep, a Bridegroom and His Bride, as well as others.

Here Christ, see’s His people as His brood of chicks and He our mother hen. Jerusalem, the place where prophets and messengers of God are killed are about to put to death it’s greatest prophet. In fact, this is not just any prophet and messenger, this is God Incarnate.

Our Lord Jesus speaks to Jerusalem, a representation of His people, directly… not just as His Father’s people but also His people as He expressed His deep love and longing compassion for them.

When our Lord Jesus laments over Jerusalem, He is lamenting over His rebellious and stubborn people. Is the Church still rebellious and stubborn in need of being gathered and protected by its mother hen and Lord? I would think so.

Our Lord goes from this lament over Jerusalem to stepping into this very city to be crucified by them in order to redeem them. It is the only way in which Jerusalem could live, in fact it is the only way His people both then and now can live.

 

 

And so our text begins…

31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”

The motive of these Pharisee’s is unknown, were they legitimately warning Jesus so that He would avoid being killed by Herod? This is would be a turn of events for the Pharisee’s, for to this point they have often been a hindrance for Christ, through constant questioning of His ministry.

Not only is the Pharisee’s motive’s unclear from our text but also the truth of their message and warning. Did Herod really want to kill Jesus? Chapter 9 and 23 of St Luke give us evidence that Herod was more curious of Jesus and His legitimacy as the Christ than He was about His demise.

With this in mind, perhaps the Pharisee’s were trying to lure Jesus to Jerusalem, non-Herodian territory, so that could do what they pleased with Him with more freedom.

Jesus responds to this imperative to leave…

32 And he said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. 33 Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’

Was this really intended for Herod to hear? or was Jesus speaking to the Pharisee’s who being ‘fox’-like’ in attempt to manipulate Jesus to Jerusalem?

I think it is safe to say to that the Lord Jesus is directing his statement for both audiences. Perhaps even knowing that this message would probably never get to Herod anyhow. It is as if the Jesus here is saying that He dictates the when and how of His course, His goal, His mission. And what is this course? what is this course He is looking to ‘finish’? It is the goal of the Father, to reconcile all people to Himself through Christ, starting in Jerusalem then to the Gentiles.

Jesus says blatantly says that His reason for eventually going to Jerusalem is to perish, for prophets should not die outside of Jerusalem.

We may have heard the narrative many times but it’s worth meditating on, especially in Lent, that our Lord came to die, this was an essential part of His goal, His course, His mission. For who though? His people. Hence He speaks directly to them… listen to this again and imagine where Jesus may have been looking… He either looks to Jerusalem geographically or perhaps He even keeps dialoguing with the Pharisee’s and speaks to them and calls them Jerusalem… Just like the Lord Jesus out of compassion says “O Martha, Martha” and later confronts St Paul with “Saul, Saul” here He says similarly…

34 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

Again I think this statement could be directed at both… For the Pharisee’s are not only advocates for Jerusalem but also a part of it. So perhaps this response is directed straight at the Pharisee’s, who are unwilling and in fact are trying to control and manipulate Christ (by killing and stoning Him through these actions now as well as covenantly throughout the OT History) rather than being His children and letting God be their mother hen.

They/We would much rather be in the line of a fox attack then safely under the care of the Father (mother hen). This is who we are without Christ, and who we were before Christ.

Hence, Christ comes into this rebellious city of Jerusalem to buy them back… to be the chick they were supposed to before their mother hen. On Christmas Eve, I preached about the example of cats. The man trying to woo in the freezing cold cats outside who will die if they didn’t find warmth. After the run away from Him, he says “I’d have to become a cat, maybe then they would listen and trust me”. Well here, in this analogy, God did become a baby chicken. The chick we were supposed to be, living under the motherly care of our Hen but always being unwilling, running away, preferring care elsewhere which then put us in the line of attack from the fox. We still are, aren’t we? Stepping constantly into dangerous territory, doing things the Hen would not want her chicks to do.

Living by the world’s standards, precepts, opinions and norms is like the modern day Herodian, those prefer to live under that fox than the Hen. We are so susceptible to these attacks from the fox, the evil one, our flesh and the world when we run away from the care of the Heavenly Father.

35 Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’”

They will say this when the Lord makes his entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. But not for long, they will soon after crucify Him.

God, through Christ, has stepped into Jerusalem, and also steps into your life by laying down His life for you. He then put His spirit in us so that we can say “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord”. As St Paul says, “no one can Jesus is Lord but by the Holy Spirit”. This was granted to Lily today, as it was granted to any of us who have been baptised and been adopted as God’s children. Lily has now been given the right to say, along with the rest of the Lord’s people, Jesus is Lord. So that we avoid the warning of being a house forsaken by God, under the power of the evil one, having no Saviour to wipe away our sins and make us clean before our Heavenly Father.

Our Lord is going to gather you under his wings again this morning when you come and kneel at the altar, as He has already begun doing this morning. Picture this sanctuary as His nest and other little chicklings coming to under His wing of protection, forgiveness to be comforted and then sent back out to do His will in the world.

And this truth of the Lord being the mother hen who gathers us and His peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus. Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ash Wednesday 6th March – message Vicar Shaun Manning

Ash Wednesday Sermon

Vicar Shaun Manning  – Wednesday 6th March

Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-21

One of the most characteristic sayings of a child is “Mum/Dad watch me”, the child’s “watch me” becomes the adult’s much more subtle and unspoken “notice me”.

Practicing your piety is a good thing, we know this because Jesus Himself condones and commands it, though it can be practiced poorly and un-Godly, in a way that serves oneself rather God and neighbour. This is what Jesus calls hypocrisy in our text, which is similar though different to what we call hypocrisy.

To Jesus, hypocrisy is giving off the impression that we are something which we are not. Not practicing what you preach per se as we often with hypocrisy but rather Jesus is calling us to preach what you practice. Giving off that we have it all together when we don’t, and that we are great Christians when we really aren’t. And how can we give this impression? Jesus says by practicing your faith in front of others and seeking their approval and praise instead the Father’s approval and praise.

We are making ourselves out to be liars as well as our Lord, who declares us to be born sinful and unclean. We are spiritually poor and bankrupt are we not? Ever since the Fall our spiritual condition is only inclined to only serve ourselves. It brings to mind what condition we must have been to for the Creator Himself to step down from Heaven to intervene. A condition that clothed the founder of the earth in an earthy body… (Augustine).

So part what I think Jesus is getting at here is that He is calling the people to confess and live as what they are, spiritual beggars before the Lord, in need of His grace and mercy. To be the opposite is to be proud, self-sufficient and seek the human community’s approval rather than God’s.

Here in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus points out that those who do good deeds for human praise are hypocrites and have already received their reward but those who do good deeds in secret will be rewarded by the Father.

Jesus is commanding us to not seek praise from the human community because if you do that’s all you get, human praise; and thence nothing from His and your Heavenly Father.

 

Lenten Journey

Rather we are called into to Jesus’ journey to the cross by joining Him in the wilderness for 40 days, we He fasted etc for us. Through discipline we learn what it means to be children of the Father (Hebrews 12:3-13) and to co-heirs with Christ (Matthew 4:1-11; Romans 8:17).

Almost since its conception the Church has used this of Lent as a time of instruction, fasting, repentance, prayers and special acts of service. The intent is to journey with our Lord and to be reminded of the great mercy He has shown us, Our Lord Jesus gave Himself in fasting and prayer for us.

 

Almsgiving

6 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. 2 “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

I knew a man who had a book full of the receipts he gave to charity… (elaborate).

“Don’t be like the hypocrites… but when you”

You may not know what your right or left hand are doing but the Father does.

 

Prayer

5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“Don’t be like the hypocrites… but when you”

Luther interprets Jesus’ discussion on prayer “brief, frequent and intense”.

 

Fasting

16 “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

 

Fasting is about letting your body know that it is not autonomous and its own ruler and therefore not about here you are more concerned with letting know how Holy we are.

“Don’t be like the hypocrites… but when you”.

Relationship between the three

Jesus never says “if” you give alms, pray or fast… He says “when”. Jesus expected and still expects that His followers will do such things.

Three way relationship of almsgiving, prayer and fasting. (Fasting, leads to Prayer because of the realization of your need for God, saves money which you can give to the poor).

Two different words for reward, contrast human community vs heavenly community

Jesus rebukes righteousness for the human community but commends when one does it for God, in fact, He promises that the Father will reward that does this. Righteousness that leads to God’s glorification rather than self-glorification.

Paid in full (from the human community), no room left for reward from the Father.

The reward now is closeness to the Father, but at Judgment is always Jesus’ main view.
(12 “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what you have done… Rev 22:12).

In other words we will be held accountable as Christian people for how we live our lives. Not in terms of salvation for Christ has already achieved this for us, but in terms of reward. Hence, how we live as Christian people is important not only for us but to our Lord also.

Summary – Treasures

Hence why Jesus says…

19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Verses 19-21 summarize the whole pericope, ‘store up treasures in heaven not on earth’.

Search your own heart, or better yet let God search your heart and see what your treasure is. Is it to impress God or humanity? Jesus is revising The First Commandment to “you shall no desires above or before me”, for if you ask what one “desires” there will find ones “gods”.

If our treasures our stored up on earth, it isn’t going to take long for moth, rust to destroy and thieves to break in and steal.

So this time of Lent may you choose wisely what is stopping you from storing up treasures in heaven and making idols out of human praise and what leads to storing up treasures on earth. Fast from such things, repent of them, trust in the Lord and His forgiveness, pray to Him, give and serve your neighbour and do all these things in secret so that your Father will reward you and you will store up treasures in Heaven.

We have left everything to follow you, “you will receive a hundred fold”. Take up your cross and follow me Our Lord Jesus says to his disciples… and we will exchange that cross for a crown.

You will be comforted with the hope that this world is not it, and also that what Jesus promises will come to fruition in part now but ultimately in glory. In the meantime, through the truth of His mercy and grace toward us He grants the peace that only He can give, to His people before we receive our ultimate reward in Heaven.

This gracious reward is granted to us because Jesus gave of generously to the poor and deprived (His own body and blood on the cross), prayed (to the Father for us) and fasted (in the desert for us)… so that we become children of the Father and live in His Kingdom forever.

So Jesus is calling us away from saying “watch me” to the human community, friends, family and your Church but rather to seek His Father’s approval by saying “Father (Dad in Heaven), I’m doing this for you so I’ll do this in secret”.

And this peace, the peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus. Amen

Joseph – re united with his brothers – Audio Sermon by Pastor Trevor Reu

Joseph Re-united with this brothers

Sunday 24th February  –  7 Epiphany

Audio Sermon  – Pastor Trevor Reu

Genesis 45:3-11, 15

Joseph makes himself known

Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph! Is my father still living?’ But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come close to me.’ When they had done so, he said, ‘I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt!  And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.  For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no ploughing and reaping.  But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.

‘So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt.  Now hurry back to my father and say to him, “This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay. You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me – you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have. I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.”

And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterwards his brothers talked with him

 

 

Grace Plus Equals Minus Grace – Vicar Shaun Manning

Vicar Shaun Manning – Message Sunday 27th January –  Grace Plus, Equals Minus Grace

St Petri Lutheran Church, Nuriootpa

3 Epiphany

Galatians 1: 11-24

Paul received the Gospel through a revelation of Jesus Christ

I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus.

Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days. I saw none of the other apostles – only James, the Lord’s brother. I assure you before God that what I am writing to you is no lie.

Then I went to Syria and Cilicia. I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only heard the report: ‘The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.’ And they praised God because of me. 

I haven’t always been a Lutheran…
My introduction to the Lutheran Church, around 7 years ago now, was the beginning of a major shift of my personal spirituality and theology. There were many things that grabbed my attention, or should I say, focused my attention in those first few services. The emphasis on Christ in both His Word and Sacrament was rather clear, though this was something that I could only articulate several months later.

(Mention the placement of the Pulpit, Altar, Band, Organ and the presence of a Cross and Crucifix). Compare to previous church experiences.

There was however one particular phrase that struck me, in those first few sermons that I heard, due not only to its wittiness but it’s truth. “Grace plus, equals minus grace” the Pastor uttered several times throughout the sermon…
This is a truth that I was very interested to unpack with the Pastor over the coming months and funny enough, I’m learning, un-learning and re-learning what this means in all sorts of areas of life and my relationship with the Lord, to this day.
In short, it simply means that anything added to the Grace of God through the Gospel of Christ, destroys it.

Intro

The Gospel, what we know and understand as the ‘Good News’ of Christ, is the most profound message all of time. I don’t think there would be many Christians either from this lifetime, the time of the New Testament or anywhere in-between, that would disagree with this statement. The Gospel of Christ is the core and foundation of the Christian Faith.
It is, however, very prone to being perverted. And the consequences of perverting the Gospel, are that other Gospels are formed and proclaimed. Gospel’s that are man-made and hence are Christ-free Gospel’s. This Gospel, is not ‘good news’ whatsoever. For what ‘good news’ is it that we must be do something in order to receive the grace of God?
This is the very issue we have here in our text this morning. In the verses preceding our text today Paul writes to the Galatians that he is “astonished” that are abandoning him and the Gospel he brought them and turning to a different gospel (v.6).
He continues in verses 7-9…

not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed! [1]

Problem in the text (Law)
This is the context we find ourselves in, in our reading this morning. Paul is dealing with two things with the Church in Galatia, a perversion of the Gospel and a rejection of him as an apostle of Christ. Yet both of these are related since they reject Paul partly due to his Gospel message. Paul, an apostle of Christ movie.

The particular ‘gospel’, so to speak, that is permeating in the Church at Galatia is that of ‘Judaizer’ theology and it is therefore no Gospel at all. This thinking taught that Christ, Israel’s Messiah, and the forgiveness that He offers through His atoning death on the Cross can only be received only if the non-Jewish world first become Jews by observing the circumcision and the Law. In other words, to be a recipient of the Gospel of Christ, one must do something.

Unfortunately, this is exactly what the Galatians took a hold and hence why Paul begins to plead with them. He pleads that they would to turn away from this new ‘gospel’ and turn back to what he had first proclaimed to them. Hence, in the opening verses of our reading today:
11 
For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; 12 for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. [2]

The Galatians have both perverted and accepted this new Law filled ‘gospel’ that is of human origin and source hence is not of Christ. “Grace plus, equals minus grace”…

In the verses following, v.13 to the end of the chapter, Paul then briefly explains his life over pre and post-conversion. Explaining that he was being a devout and zealous Jew prior to Christ coming to him on the road to Damascus, Paul is hoping to repel their false idea of the need to observe Jewish law in order to become true recipients of Christ’ forgiveness. For Paul it was his devotion to Judaism that led him to persecute the church of God and Paul found out the hard way, on the road to Damascus when Christ told asked him why he was persecuting Him? “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” in Acts 9. By persecuting the Church Paul was persecuting Christ Himself.

Similarly, since the NT church, including the Church of Galatia was propagating and accepting a ‘false gospel’ that is of human origin and of human source, they are consequently rejecting the Gospel of Christ and therefore Christ Himself.

Problem in the world (Law)
Sadly, this reliance on human sources and on things that originate not with Christ but with mankind is just as prevalent. This tendency toward human rather than God derived things, is firstly due to our fallen nature.

Example #1 – God’s forgiveness vs human forgiveness

Example #2 – Attitudes to converts of the Faith, i.e. St Paul, prodigal Son, older brother etc.

But interestingly, God, Heaven and the Angel’s rejoice of one sinner who repents but yet we at times, hold our applause, like the Galatians; well at least until they begin to show the fruit of this Gospel.
This is what Paul exposes in the Galatians in verses 22-24 where he states that:
“22 and I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ; 23 they only heard it said, “The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.”

The rejoicing and glorifying of God by the Judean churches because of Paul’s conversion, was exactly what the Galatians should’ve been doing though weren’t doing themselves.

Surely, Paul or even any of us must do something in order to receive or maybe even start doing now to truly receive this grace and inherit eternal life…
Is what the Galatians began to think and sometimes even what we think from time to time…

Example #3 – appeal to Law rather than Gospel.
This need to do something in order to receive Christ is most certainly untrue from our text but also our existence. It therefore undermines Christ and His forgiveness. There is absolutely nothing that we can or are capable of offering that can merits God’s grace and favour.
Paul, more than anyone, knew this and hence here is pleading with the Galatians to return to the true Gospel. As we have seen, he done this by revisiting his story and in particular his conversion story.
“14 I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. 15 But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son to me”[3].

 

It is almost as if Paul is saying that despite his persecution and attempt to earn the favour God through law-observance was actually in opposition to the church of God and hence to God Himself.

  • Jesus’ insistence on John baptising Him

  • Jesus washing the disciples feet

  • Jesus rebuke of Peter’s comment re’ His death and resurrection, “Get behind me Satan, who have mind the things of man not the things of God”.

But despite this rebellion God was pleased to call him through his grace and reveal his Son to him, the same one he had been persecuting. To make this point even stronger, Paul mentions that all of this was set apart by God before he was even born. So we have a God who has revealed Himself to Paul despite rebellion, persecution and even despite taking his first breath.
This Son who had been revealed to Paul by God is the same One who had said he came “not to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it” (Matt. 5:17). This quote of Christ is also exemplary of how one is to pervert the Gospel in it, if one is to misinterpret it. This is done when one says this quote and uses Christ’s fulfilling of the Law as an example for us to follow.
Christ’s true and primary reason for taking on flesh and to fulfill for us what the Law of God requires of us on our behalf, is as our substitute and representative.
Like Paul, we are all undeserving of this grace and cannot add anything to it. For to think that we can or should we be to undermine it entirely.
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Paul writes to church in Rome (5:6).

 

Several years ago we read and unpacked this verse and theme in the newly formed Youth Group at Ferryden Park. One of the boys raised his hand and said something along the lines of “You know Shaun, knowing how much I don’t deserve God’s love and can’t do anything to make him love me more, makes me wanna love him back”…
This reception is a great indicator that the Law-free Gospel has been proclaimed in the sinners ear and heart. Although it doesn’t come naturally to us to uphold this Law-free Gospel of Christ, but we must certainly reject this human derived gospel that treats Christ as merely an example and the things of God as something to be achieved. We are only recipients who can offer back only our thanks and praise to God. The Gospel that Paul proclaimed was the true one, since it is not of human source or origin but from Christ Himself, who is both human and divine. Interceding for us as a human before the throne of God and proclaiming from the throne of God, His love for us sinful humans.

As St Paul pleaded with the Galatians, if you hear a Gospel that is contrary to the one received and given in Christ, reject it and rebuke it. Doesn’t matter who preaches it or tells you about it. Don’t let any Pastor, Priest or Christian leader pervert the Gospel and put anything in the way of Christ and His Law-free Gospel.

It is so appealing and we will always gravitate toward this Law-filled Gospel, so I announce God’s forgiveness to you this day if you have perverted the Gospel or believed a perverted Gospel, as have I. Times where we think our Baptism hasn’t been enough. Where we think that the forgiveness received at Holy Communion is not enough. This is where St Paul says we partake in death and Resurrection of Christ and all that He has achieved for us. And if you think that you don’t, recall how you may think of a person who has been baptized but doesn’t attend anymore. I hear too often that people’s Christian Faith is in contention because they come to church often etc. What really defines one as a Christian? Their obedience or God’s grace?

As the Lord Jesus’ disciples may we keep our church and teaching free from being perverted and making God’s grace achievable or retainable by our own efforts.
“Grace plus equals minus Grace.”

[1] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Ga 1:7–9). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[2] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Ga 1:11–12). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[3] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Ga 1:14–16). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

 

 

 

 

Gifts of the Holy Spirit – Pastor Robert Voigt – Audio Sermon

Sunday 20th January – Gifts of the Holy Spirit 

Pastor Robert Voigt – Audio Sermon  Ephiphany 2

1 Corinthians 12:1-11 NIV

Now about the gifts of the Spirit (pneumatikōn), brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. 3 Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.  4 There are different kinds of gifts (charismatōn) , but the same Spirit distributes them.5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.  7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.   11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.  –  1 Corinthians 12:27 NIV

Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.  –  1 Corinthians 12:31 NIV

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.  But the greatest of these is love.  – 1 Corinthians 13:13 NIV

“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”  – John 14:26 NIV

 

Baptism of Jesus – Vicar Shaun Manning – Sunday 13th January

Sunday 13th January – St Petri Lutheran Church

Baptism of Jesus Sermon – Vicar Shaun ManningBaptism of Jesus

The Gospel:  Luke 3:15-17, 21, 22     (NIVUK)

The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. John answered them all, ‘I baptise you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’

When all the people were being baptised, Jesus was baptised too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’

This is one of very few narratives that are found in some form in all four Gospel accounts.

So here we are in the 2nd week of Epiphany, a time and season where we celebrate the revelation of God the Son to us. Last week was the visit of the Magi, where we learnt that our Lord Jesus has come to be Lord to both Jew and Gentile, all people in fact.

Today is a new revelation in which we don’t get indirect speech about some New Testament writers’ explanation of who Jesus is but a record of God the Father speaking to directly the matter… ‘This is my beloved Son’. Our Heavenly Father doesn’t have a habit of speaking so direct, but He does here, at Jesus’ baptism and also at His transfiguration that will be celebrated just before Lent.

So, just before our particular text in Luke where Jesus comes to get baptised (similarly in Matthew and Mark), John the Baptist has been preaching and calling people to repent. To turn away from themselves, turn away from their sin and turn back to God. To repent means to literally turn around and go back the other way. This is what God, through John, was calling people to do. John was preaching and offering a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. This is a baptism that not only do the crowds take up but Jesus Himself.

But hang on a second… was not Jesus sinless? If Jesus was God’s Divine Son, what sins does He have to repent of? So why then does He get baptised? We will look to figure this out in today’s sermon.

And so, our text begins… after preaching repentance and baptising…

v.15 As the people were in expectation, and all of them questioned in their hearts concerning John, whether perhaps he was the Christ.
John exercising and preaching with such authority the crowds begin to think that He is this expected chosen one of God, the Messiah that has come to redeem His people. But…

v.16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water; but he who mightier than I is coming, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire…”

John clears all speculation that he is not the one, but the one they’re after is coming. John actually says a similar thing earlier, that he was called to prepare the way for the Lord. John himself is not the Lord. Here he goes even further, I am not worthy to untie even his sandals. John’s criteria of the Lord being mightier than him is that his baptism is only with water, but the Lord will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. For us to understand our Lord’s Baptism and its significance we must clear up a few things. As John says, the baptism he offers and the baptism that Jesus offers are two separate things. In other words, the Baptism that is granted to us Christians is not the same baptism that John offered and consequently Jesus received. In our text John is doing the baptising. At your baptism and the baptism offered here at St Petri, it is actually the Lord Jesus who is doing the baptising. Before we move on, I wonder how many of us can truly resonate with John in our hearts… do we really consider ourselves unworthy? Jesus later calls John the greatest in the kingdom of heaven but yet John considered himself unworthy to untie his sandals… Even St Paul considered himself the chief of sinners… I mention this because this belief is central to true Christian spirituality… unworthy sinners, in need of God’s grace and forgiveness… we must never grow old of this because it is here we God’s does He greatest work… hence John says “I must decrease so that he may increase”…
Back to our text… so John, wanting to depict who this Jesus is, goes on to say…

His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear the threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into his granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire”.
It took me some research to find out what a winnowing fork is… It is an ancient method used to separate the grain from the chaff. Grain is what is good and useful, what the farmer is looking for… and on the other hand the chaff is not used and typically serves no purpose and is thrown out. John uses this imagery to give us some insight into who this Jesus actually is. He is the Lord that has been given all authority on heaven and earth. It is He who has the keys to heaven and to hell. This has allusions to the fact that one day our Lord will one day separate the sheep from the goats. It is a scary thought to think that not everyone is saved, that not everyone is going to heaven. This is why John was so adamant on preaching repentance of the people, he is wanting them to be saved from the coming wrath.
And I mean even the ones who did come to be baptised, how are they to be sure that they really are repentant? Likewise, with us? Luther wrestled with this so deeply that he came to hate God. Never being able to please for he never trusted that he was truly sorry.
What is the solution? How are we supposed to know if we really have been repentant?
Here is our answer…

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form, as a dove, and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
The who One has a His winnowing fork in hand, steps into the dirty waters where everyone was bring their sins. Steps into those waters with those who are chaff and deserve to burn and stands in their place before His Father. Even the repentance that was called upon by John cannot be achieved, so Jesus repented truly, once and for all for us. Jesus wasn’t repenting of his sins at His baptism, for He had none to repent of, He was repenting our sins for us. St Paul says that He who knew no sin became sin for us. So, when thinking of your own sin, don’t look to how sincerely sorry and repentant you are… rather look to Christ. The One who repents and pleads for you always. If you need affirmation of such things come and talk to your Pastor, so that you may hear God’s love and forgiveness declared to you. That is the bread and butter of Pastoral Ministry declaring forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name, so take advantage of it.

Jesus stood in solidarity with the sinners who came to repent at the Jordan River. He also stands in solidarity with you and me, as our King and Brother who lays down His life for us. Jesus did all this so that along with Him the Father would be pleased with us also. And those of us who have been baptised have received this right, to be children of God. Our Father, for Jesus’s sake, declares that He is well pleased with us. So, may we learn what this means to live as dearly loved children of our Heavenly Father, calling upon Him through Jesus Christ. It all starts here, as baptised children who have come to receive the gifts of our Father. And through our work as a Church, Pastor’s and laity, we are called from this same One, who has authority over heaven and earth to make disciples by baptising and teaching… so that the world may become truly loved children of our Heavenly Father along with us.

By aligning Himself with us, repenting our sins for us… This Baptism of Our Lord has further significances… DO YOU KNOW WHAT THIS BAPTISM MEANT FOR JESUS? Doing His Father’s will. Jesus goes to be tempted, to teach and serve His people and to ultimately lay down His life for them, for you and me.

Also with us, by being adopting into his family by Baptism… DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOUR BAPTISM MEANS FOR YOU? Doing your Father’s will in this life, different though similarly to Jesus. Serve and love one another here. See your job, husbands, wives and children, family and friends as gifts from your Father and not your own to do as you will with. We are called to reach out to the widowed, the orphaned, the poor and needy. As dearly loved, baptised children of the Heavenly Father through what Christ has done for us, we now, with the help of the Holy Spirit live as Christ to others. Are we going to master it this side of the grave? Most definitely not. Jesus is the only one who lived His Father’s will out truly and so we cling to Him and not to our efforts. This is why we come back Sunday after Sunday to receive forgiveness, because we’ve blown it again and to receive His help and guidance which He grants through His Word and His people. This is why it’s important to come to church and to listen to His Word preached. Not because it is the right thing to do or we are wearing fancy clothes…. but because it is needed for our daily Christian lives. It is where God looks to guide us, renew us and lead us to live as His people.

And if you’re looking for a blueprint on the Christian life, look no further than the Lord’s Prayer. It is actually Jesus’ prayer, meaning it belongs to Him. But through what Christ has done for us we now have the right to call God Father also and as dearly loved children call to their earthly fathers; asking Him to help keep His name holy, that He would bring His heavenly kingdom to earth. As children calling and relying upon Him as the provider of a daily bread, that He would forgive us our sins and help us to forgive others who sin against us. We pray that our Heavenly Father would lead us not into temptation and protect from the evil one. This is why Jesus pleaded and repented for us at the Jordan River and lived His earthly life in obedience to the Father… so that His Father may be our Father too.

And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus, the One who repents and pleads for you always. Amen.

Epiphany – Pastor Robert Voigt – Sunday 6th January, 2019

Sunday 6th January – Epiphany

Pastor Robert Voigt,  Audio Sermon at St Petri Lutheran Church

New Year’s Eve Message – Vicar Shaun Manning – 31 December 2018

New Year’s Eve – Audio Message

Vicar Shaun Manning at St Petri Lutheran Church, Nuriootpa

Christmas Eve Message – Vicar Shaun Manning

Monday 24th December – Christmas Eve

St Petri Lutheran Church – Message by Vicar Shaun Manning

Luke 2:1-14

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)  And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.  He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born,  and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields near by, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

 ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
  and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.’

So here we are on the Eve of Christmas, on the eve of one of the most joyful times of the year. Regardless if people celebrate the real meaning of Christmas or not, it is a time when people seek to be with the company of family and friends; get together, eat, exchange presents and even sing songs.

Not too long ago, whilst on school placement for my pastoral studies, I heard a story whose setting is also Christmas Eve. It’s family context also isn’t too unfamiliar to many of our Australian homes today. Other than the fact that we don’t typically have White Christmas’s here.
Anyhow, it’s starts off on a cold and snowy Christmas Eve, inside a warm house, the Christmas tree was cheerfully ablaze with lights and surrounded by dozens of presents.

The wife of the small family and the children were dressed and ready to leave for a Christmas Eve service at their local Church. “Come with us,” they urged their husband and father, for they loved him.

“Not me,” he snapped. “I don’t believe in all that religion garbage.”

For many years, the man’s wife had been trying to tell him about Jesus Christ and the salvation He offers. How God’s Son had become a human being in order to save us and show us who God really is and they way to heaven.

“Nonsense,” the man always replied.

The family left for church and the man was all alone in his cozy country home. He glanced out the window at the cold snowy scene outside. He turned himself by the fire. But as he turned, his eyes caught a movement in the snow outside. He looked. Cats! Three young cats walking slowly past his window.

“Silly cats,” he thought. “They’ll freeze for sure!” The man put on his hat and coat and opened door… “Come here, cats! Come inside where there’s warmth and food. You’ll die out there.”

He walked outside. “Come back! Don’t be afraid, I want to save you.”
But the cats ran away in fright, the cats were gone, it was too late.

“Well, I did everything I could for them,” the man uttered to himself. “What more could I do?”….

Now the story continues further but we’ll leave it there for a moment…

In comparison to this story, presumably in some Western first-world country, our Gospel text paints a slightly different picture.
Joseph and Mary’s Christmas Eve was in Israel, in the 1st century; hence their Christmas Eve looked much different than ours typically would also.

The Emperor of the time has issued a decree and so everyone needs to go to their home town. Hence for Mary and Joseph, being in Nazareth at the time, needed to travel back to Bethlehem. With the assistance of Google Maps I discovered that the distance between Nazareth and Bethlehem is 70 miles, or a 112km. This is similar distance if one is to travel from Nuri to Waikerie… a roughly 22 and a half hour walk.

This is in an age and time where modes of travel are even harder for ones of low status like Mary and Joseph, and also one must remember that Mary is heavily pregnant. (How they got there specifically, we don’t know for sure but lets just say that it wasn’t by motor vehicle, metro bus or a helicopter).

But as if things couldn’t get much harder.
When they finally arrive in Bethlehem but there is no where for them to stay, so they presumably get a small place in a close by stable. Whilst here Luke describes for us here that Mary gives birth to her firstborn son, wraps Him in swaddling cloth and lays him in a manger.
Not your ideal Christmas Eve to say the least…
nor a great time to fall into labor is it?

When one looks on the difficult, mundane and very human circumstances of Jesus’ birth, it’s easy to lose sight of Who He is and what His birth means.

But this is the whole point of Christmas and Luke presents this nativity scene in line with this truth. Luke paints the true picture of God in Christ who descended to our lowly and fallen world. Christ the eternal Son of God, who partook in the Creation of the World, has become human. John puts it this way “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us… He came to which was His own but his own knew him not”. The same world He created He has now literally stepped into and become a part of but all we could offer was a manger.

It makes one wonder about the depth of our state if God is having to intervene to such great depths. Just like if the Federal Police involved or if someone is being summoned to the Supreme Court, something major has happened. So how much more serious is the issue if the One who positioned the universe, composed all matter and gave life to everything, has had to step in and do something?

We paused on our story earlier, with the man pondering on what He could do to save these cats. After opening the door and enticing them to come in and be saved, he says to himself “well I did everything I could for them? What more could I do?… He interestingly considered that the only way he could reach and save them, would be if he would become a cat himself. “Surely then I could show them who I am and what I was trying to do”. As he ponders this, he returns back to his warm fire and hears the church bells ring in the distance. He paused for a second and listened. Then he got down on his knees and wept.

Why did he weep? This is an understandable reaction of someone who experiences God’s love, especially for the very first time. The man had been encountered with the Gospel, finally understanding why his family had enticed him to come to church for Christmas, year after year.
Isn’t it true that we are lost if God doesn’t intervene?
In the state we are in, we cannot come to God on our own accord but need Him to come to us. And He did, and He does also now.

Around halfway through the Gospel narrative we hear of the shepherds.
These shepherds have encountered the glory of the Lord, God’s holiness in the field and are terrified.
None of us can stand in the Holy presence of God, for without God’s help we are totally unholy, aren’t we?
The angel of the Lord says to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid, I bring Good News of great joy for all people”. The angel continues by explaining what the Good News is… “For unto you is born this day… a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you… you will find…”

How would you finish this sentence yourself? Jesus is the King and Lord, so how would you think royalty would typically make its appearance? Think of when Prince Harry and Kate came to Dubbo earlier this year. There was media everywhere, security and crowds following them everywhere they went, and dozens of roads being closed off. This is not overly surprising is it? This is how we expect earthly royalty to be greeted by the hosting nation. However, what do you think the sign would be if, not the Prince of United Kingdom, but the King of the Universe was to make his appearance? So, you’ve just heard that the Lord of the Universe and Saviour of the World has come… what sign would you look for? what would be the sign that you would think God would send? Surely something magnificent and glorious and definitely not… “a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”

The Wise Men who catch wind of the King who is being born and then head to where they would expect a King to be born, in a palace and hence they head up to Jerusalem. We often do the same don’t we?
How do expect God to work out His plans in the life is His people?
We look and expect a different King, don’t we?

If you’re anything like me, you would expect the Creator to come and work in some glorious and ostentatious manner, but He typically doesn’t. In particular, when we think of tonight, He goes about His work of reconciling us to Himself, through this baby lying in a manger in Bethlehem.

But this is just who God is, and who He has always been. Walking amongst Adam and Eve in garden, coming to visit Abraham his home, meeting Moses on the mountain and being present with His people in the Temple in Jerusalem. He has now come ever so closer and even took on the flesh in which He created. St. Paul puts it this way in his letter to the Philippians… “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”

 

This divine Son of God became human in baby Jesus; traded in His throne for an earthly manger; He exchanged robes of splendour for swaddling clothes; He left the songs of praise from a multitude of angels for the recognition of a few shepherds. He has done all this for you and for me. Not because it was nice, but because it was necessary. Necessary for us to be restored to right relationship with God. And this could not have happened if God didn’t become one of us.

 

This is who God was, has always been and is also now. By looking for Him to operate in a way other than Christ, we end up missing Him and who He truly is. Although we may celebrate, we find it difficult to accept that our Lord became a human and died a cross, don’t we? It is also tough to believe that He works through His Spirit through the Word, ink and paper, that the Holy Spirit through the proclaimed Word creates and strengthens faith or that kneeling at the alter receiving bread and wine that our Lord’s body and blood are really present. Look at me, not even wearing a fancy stole but yet God still uses this imperfect creature, right now… to bring Good News of great joy.

Just as God stepped into a dark and sinful reality at Christmas, so He comes to you and me today.

He comes and steps into our broken and hurting lives and offers us hope through His Spirit and Word, peace through the forgiveness of our sins in Absolution and joy in the Good News of the Gospel which we share together as God’s people. He does all of this magnificent work in the lives of all people everywhere even to us here in Nuri.

 

The angels knowing what a miracle has just worked in the birth of Christ, and so they exclaim “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased”. So who is God pleased with? You? Me? Pastor Adrian? The answer is no. These words of affirmation belong to Christ. They were said to Christ at His Baptism. Christ shares that same affirmation from Father with us, when he became one of us, assumed human flesh and now through our Baptism has united us with Christ. United us with His death so that we share in His resurrection. And this brings peace to earth for those with whom He is pleased. And the good news is that He is pleased with any of us who don’t have to earn the right to receive His love, but who receive His love for us by faith.

 

This Christmas may God grant once again the joy, peace and hope as we hear and meditate on the Good News of His love that He has come in lowly means, that He does come to us here and now and that He will come again to take us to be with Him in the Highest Heaven.

Though I’m sure there are presents still waiting for you to receive this Christmas,
this season is truly about the gift that you have already been given.

Amen.

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