6 months ago, 8 months ago, who would have ever predicted that I would be standing up here preaching to a bunch of people who look like they are going to rob a bank. Things have changed quite dramatically and our lives here in South Australia and the Barossa Valley have not been bothered much by Covid. But the fact is that the world has been bothered and the other states of Australia have been bothered and it has been a really tough time. What I am reading and hearing is that more and more people are finding this a time of anxiety. A time of loneliness. I read the other day that the suicide rate has increased. I hear that the number of people claiming to be lonely has just gone through the roof; so has the number of children who are seeking counselling and psychological help. The number of people living alone, feeling isolated and forgotten has been increasing dramatically. And then you add on top of that the world is as close to nuclear war as it was in 1960 when it was the cold war between USA and Russia. The Cuban crisis meant that we were probably 5 minutes away from Kennedy pushing the button. And we are there now with Russia, and China is becoming a belligerent country that has a score to settle with Britain and Japan and USA. They are not going to back down and now are using Australia as one of the little pawns in that. The Barossa is suffering with its wineries depending on Chinese sales.
On top of that we are now coming to church with masks on and it’s not normal for us. It’s hard to sing and the glasses fog up! Then we find that a whole lot of people that we used to come to church with aren’t coming any more. Many of them today will be in their homes watching “Worship Small” online.
When you think about the Lutheran Church, for example, (and all denominations are declining in terms of attendance at worship) – In 1966 when we joined we had over 100,000 baptised members and now we have less than 40,000. Back in 1966 you could find 40,000 Lutherans on any given Sunday in church. Now it about 15,000.
So there are a whole lot of things that if we look at them we can see that things look bad! Then that got me thinking about something that people have always asked me about and I have always given them the standard answer. It was only a few years ago that I discovered something that wasn’t original but was original for me. You know the question: “Are you a glass half full or a glass half empty” kind of a person? I always wanted people to think the best so I would tell them that I am a glass half full kind of a person. That means I am optimistic and grateful for the half full. I am not a pessimist where I see half and it is bad.
Then it happened one day when I was reading the most popular Psalm in The Book (Psalm 23), I came to “my cup overflows” and it suddenly occurred to me that my whole attitude had been happy with my glass half full. I guess I thought that God hadn’t given me anything in the half empty part of the glass – so I was lacking a lot here but I am being very generous and saying thank you for half. How stupid is that when it is totally true that because we belong to the Lord, we have Jesus as our Saviour and the Spirit of God in us and we have a new life in Christ – we have a glass that overflows no matter what!!
And I reckon that changes everything then in terms of our gratitude. That’s when we become more thankful and say thank you to God for everything that exists, for we are not dependent on what we have got, we are just dependent on knowing that God has provided us with everything and more than we need.
Therefore there is never a time when we can’t say thank you! Thank you Father, I am so grateful for all that you have given me. When I was preparing this message that then led me to an article that had been written by a Baptist Pastor in Melbourne. He was talking about the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Tokyo and they had chosen the John Lennon song “Imagine” as the main song to represent what they hoped would happen at the games. This song was to be the theme song that would draw all the contestants and all the countries together as one. That Pastor was very cranky about that. I had watched the opening ceremony and not thought much about that. We all know the song and the tune but the main reason they chose it was for the words. On a closer inspection of these words:
Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us, only sky
(You probably know the rest) John Lennon
… and we say “that’s the theme?” for the world. No heaven, no hell, no God? … and this will bring peace, unity and harmony?
John Lennon is writing this when he is living in his 50 million pound mansion in the best part of London … and we should listen to him because? We should listen to his great wisdom because?
No ultimate meaning, purpose or goal?
No difference between humans and the rest of creation – no “image of God”.
No conscience or moral choice.
No reason to exist except to make it to the top of the evolutionary chain.
No grace – no forgiveness.
Imagine, imagine if this is true because if we are doing this cup half full, cup half empty bit, this makes us focus on the bottom half of the cup. It makes us focus only on the bit that we have got but it doesn’t help us to focus on what we don’t have or what we lose if we don’t have a full cup. What if we took John Lennon’s words as gospel? What if we decided he is right? What would that lead to? Sometimes I think we need to think not only about what we have got but maybe think about what we would lose if we give up Jesus.
We need to think about what it would be like if none of this is true. And we are all sitting here deluded and thinking that it is not worth worrying about and all go home now.
Imagine no ultimate meaning, purpose or goal because if there is no God then we are just a product of evolution and God has nothing to do with us so there is no purpose, no meaning or reason for our existence.
Imagine that there is no hope when you are down and when you are sick. When you are lonely and when you are afraid. When you are dying and there is no hope, nothing but blankness ahead unless you are Bezos, the owner of Amazon who is spending gazzillions of dollars to find the fountain of Youth or Walt Disney who is still frozen in cryogenics. That’s not hope.
Imagine, that there is no difference between humans and the rest of creation and there is no image of God. If we want to know how we got here it is that God breathed in us and we are made in the image of God. Not the animals, just us made in the image of God.
In the Psalm He said that He made us in the image of God only a little lower than himself.
Imagine that there is no conscience or moral choice which is what is happening today. Everyone can do their own thing. You can do whatever pleases you, whatever turns you on, you are welcome to do.
Imagine that there is no reason to exist but to make it to the top of the evolutionary chain.. Imagine that our only task is survival of the fittest.
Imagine that there is no grace and forgiveness. If we like it or not every human being has a conscience and if they do something wrong they don’t feel good about it. Imagine that there is no undeserved love, no forgiveness, no opportunity to ever move forward without guilt.
Imagine there is no God.
This leads to a bloke called Frederick Nietszsche. Nietszsche lived in the 1800’s and he was the son of a Lutheran Pastor in Germany. He grew up to hate Christianity with a passion. He is the first person in history who was recorded as saying that God is dead. He made that great claim in the mid 1800’s to say that finally we have grown up as a human race and we have finally matured and now we don’t need any props. Clearly God is dead.
Whether the culture of today knows it or not our current culture is based on Nietszsche. It’s also based on Karl Marx and Darwin too. Nietszsche hated Christianity for the sins of the institution. I’m not that over rapt in it either at times. Paedophilia and abuse and things that are not nice. I wouldn’t want you to know my sins because they are not nice also. Yes we are all in the same boat.
He hated Christianity for championing the cause of the poor and disadvantaged. He believed with Darwin in the survival of the fittest. He believed that those who are strong must survive and believed if the strong serve those who are weaker it makes them weak. So, you make the whole human race weak. Eventually you will just run out of steam and disappear.
He also hated Christianity for fighting for the equality of women. Even though we are fighting over equality issues these days (women’s ordination). The fact is that it was the Christian church which came up with the equality that we have got. And then it forgot.
He hated Christianity for showing love and compassion to the weak. He hated Christianity for believing that life has a purpose,
He hated Christianity for teaching that every person can be saved through what he called “the scandal” of Jesus dying on the cross. He thought that someone dying on a cross for him was disgraceful.
Hitler was a disciple of Nietzsche. He read Nietzsche’s works and came up with his pure Aryan race theology. Hitler came up with the idea of exterminating the Jews and wiping out all weak people. When Sadie and I were in Germany in 2007 we were in Neundettelsau, near Neuremberg. It is a Lutheran town with two Lutheran churches and a very large factory that packs the Staedler pencil sets. It has a ministry to disabled people. Children and adults. They house and feed them and give them a job. In 1940 Hitler sent the Nazi’s into Neundettelsau and killed every disabled person. There is a beautiful statue there today with Jesus and a lamb on his shoulder and a plaque to say what evil happened there.
When Hitler followed the thinking of our modern world today and took it to what he thought was its ultimate conclusion – you don’t have to imagine – you know the results.
Jesus said, “The thief only comes to steal and kill and destroy. I have come that they may have their cups overflowing. Life to the full!”
“I came so that they can have real and eternal, more and better life than they ever dreamed of” – the Message.
This is what we have now. This is why we live the Christian life. This is why we are here today. This is why we love and forgive and serve and pray because we have this full life now.
It is not a matter of us being happy or unhappy because our cup is half full or half empty but our lives are now not determined by what we have but by what God has done for us through Jesus. So we always see our cups as overflowing – no matter what.
To have a grateful heart and to know that God has never withheld any good thing from us that he believes we need.
My cup overflows.
When Nietszsche believed that God is dead he still had a problem because he saw that human beings still had a conscience. He thought that if he got rid of God then he wondered how people would still move forward with some assurance that they can do so with a clean slate? How can you move forwards if you are unforgiven. How can you move forward if you have no one, when you say I am sorry, to say It’s okay”. I forgive you through Jesus”?
The consensus for centuries was that only God could forgive the ultimate sins. But on a day-to-day level the Christian tradition, among others, also stressed the desirability – if not the necessity – of forgiveness. Even to the point of infinite forgiveness. As one of the consequences of the death of God, Friedrich Nietzsche foresaw that people could find themselves stuck in cycles of Christian theology with no way out. Specifically that people would inherit the concepts of guilt, sin and shame but would be without the means of redemption which the Christian religion also offered.
Murray, Douglas. The Madness of Crowds (p. 182). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.
There was a woman who was an atheist, who said some years ago “There is one thing I envy you Christians for – You have someone to forgive you”. I don’t think we appreciate that anywhere near enough.
When I am going through a rotten time and have done something stupid I know I can always go to the one place at the foot of the cross and know there that I can receive full forgiveness and be reassured that God loves me and looks upon me with great joy. … and I can go back and face life again.
Paul says “although they came to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of God for images made to look like a human being and birds and animals and reptiles” (or cars or homes or bank accounts or family) – we can put anything before God and make a God out of anything.