Saturday, December 30, 2006

C, New Year's Eve - Romans 8:28-39 "The Eve of Eternity"

Part 1 — Introduction: Returning to the Normality of Life

After the almighty high of visiting the Bethlehem Inn and seeing the Son of God, the shepherds return to their pastures and flocks, once again melding back into the normality of life. But life now is not the same, having seen the Christ child and hearing that he was sent “for them — for you”.

But one might ask, “Really how different ‘is’ the normality of everyday life?” After all, the sheep still need water and pastures; the shepherds still need to stay with there sheep and protect them and themselves from the night. What if on returning to their flocks, after going to see the Christ child in Bethlehem, they found the flock scattered or destroyed by wild animals! Would this mean that God was no longer with them or for them?

What about as the years pass and the memory of that overwhelming time waned where the angels lit up the night sky and sang ‘Glory to God in the highest’, and was replaced with the real everyday struggles of life just to keep the sheep and family alive; what then of this God who was born for us and laid in a manger?

What about those in Bethlehem two years after the birth of Jesus? Was God really ‘for them and with them’ as Herod’s men systematically march through their homes slaughtering every boy two-years old and under? Where was the peace and goodwill the angels proclaimed in the following days when death marched through the hills of Bethlehem?

In the reality of life, is the struggle to live. Most of the time living can be down-right monotonous, depressing, and deadly! Year after year the same-old same-old, as the seasons come and go, and as life seems to get harder and harder.

It’s not much different for us either! Like the shepherds, our society is returning to normality of life after the Christmas rush. Following the high of Christmas, comes the reality that everything is still the same. The promises made by the advertisers, and consumed by us, are short lived. The happiness and good will promised in the gifts of a consumeristic Christmas leave most in debt, feeling unsatisfied, flat, and unfulfilled. It’s as if our society suffers from a by-polar disorder, falling into the valley of depression after Christmas until the next big commercial thing comes along promising to give you just what you need to make life a little better.

Where is the gift of Immanuel — God with us — in all of this? Perhaps the pressure of a commercial Christmas high, superficially hiding the reality of everyday struggles, makes you ask, “Is God really with me? Has God really chosen me, or is this just another hollow promise like everything else?” As you stand on the eve of a new year, where is your heart in relation to God? As we stumble from the wilderness and troubles of 2006 into the unknown of 2007, are you cynical about God’s plan for you? Are you pessimistic about God’s presence with you? Is God for you, is it worth persevering in the faith, is God preserving me, is the shepherd looking after the flock?

Part 2 — A Marriage Scenario

There is a husband, completely in love with his wife, 100% unquestioningly devoted! However, the wife questions his love at every moment, saying, “You don’t love me! You’re just saying that you do! I’m not worth being loved! I’m unlovable!” The wife’s life is one of doubt and mistrust even though the husband truly loves her. Over time the husband patiently waits for his wife to respond. All he wants is the wife to trust him and see that his love is genuine and freely given. But his wife is so consumed with herself and her selfish affairs that her trust never turns to her husband. And in the wife’s death the husband walks away from her in bitter anger and wrath.

Who is this husband? Who is this wife? Let me start by saying that the husband is no person sitting or standing in this place. There is not one husband, walking the earth today, who can 100% unquestioningly be devoted to his wife! So who is this man? Let’s return to him in a minute!

The wife! Well she can be identified very quickly! She is the one who stumbles from the wilderness and troubles of 2006 into the unknown of 2007. She is cynical about God’s plan for her? She is pessimistic about God’s presence with her? She questions, “Is God really for me, is God with me! In doubt she becomes so consumed with the affairs of her own troubled soul and in doubt ponders, “Is it worth persevering in the faith, is God preserving me, is the shepherd looking after the flock; is my husband looking after me?”

The church is the wife — that’s you and me. We are the bride of Christ — Jesus is the husband. And what a wayward wife we make for the One who loves us and is 100% unquestioningly devoted to us! We were unworthy, but, like the shepherds at Bethlehem who were also unclean, God came to us and sought us, the church, to be his holy bride. Now having been joined in matrimony through the husband’s sacrifice on the cross, we are called to believe the power of this sacrifice and the vows that Jesus makes to us in his word.

Like any marriage there are always tough times to be had! But unlike our human marriages, which suffer from the sins of both parties, the heavenly union between God and his church suffers only because of the bride and her sin. And this sin is exposed by the First Commandment when we worry; and doubt God, his word, and his ways.

Part 3 — The Call to Believe and Trust

However, in this life, we are being called to believe that God is faithful, persistent, and patient; even despite our sin — because in Christ our sin has lost its power on the cross. But, in our sinfulness we are tempted to think that God’s ways and word are not good enough to cleanse us and forgive us from sin, and as the troubles of this life persist and pile up, we begin to believe that God is not for us; that God is not with us anymore; allowing sin back its power once taken by the cross. And having allowed the doubts and mistrust (that God is with us and for us) to go unchecked and unforgiven, this lack of faith ends up becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. So we end up once again becoming rebellious against God and seek to hide from his presence. As you believe, let it be done for you.

But, for us under the cross, what is left if we doubt the faith and the grace which freely flow from the cross; if we mistrust the love of God which comes to us in baptism, in his word, in the forgiveness of sins, and in the body and blood of Christ himself? What is left? Nothing!

Rather than doubt God, his word, and his ways, you and I need ask ourselves, “Why would God forsake me, having gone to such lengths to save me by sending his Son to the cross for me?” Then we need to understand that, “He was born for me, so that he could die for me and save me from my sin and my human nature that yearns to sin. And in doing this he now lives with me, in me, and for me. Together with all others he has called through his word.”

So hear the word of God and don’t hinder the Holy Spirit as he comes to you through it. Let him condemn you of your sin, so that you open your heart to Christ that he can put sin to death where it belongs… on the cross! Then let the Holy Spirit increase faith in you as you hear God’s word written by Saint Paul for the suffering church in Rome and the suffering church today…

28 …we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

31 What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:28-39)

So rather than have “nothing” through unbelief, God promises that “nothing” will separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. So why then should you or I doubt him and separate ourselves from his gracious action on the cross and the faith giving work of the Holy Spirit?

Part 4 — Conclusion: On the Eve of Eternity

We have come from a year of drought and famine. What does 2007 hold for us… more of the same-old same-old… more drought and famine, maybe flood and rot, or perhaps ever death and destruction… who knows?

But what we do know and are call to believe is that in Christ we have come from a year of living in his eternal presence and today we sit on the eve of another year in God’s eternal presence here in this life and in the next.

If God is for us, who can be against us? As you believe, let it be done for you. Amen.

Listen to this sermon at

Friday, December 15, 2006

C, Advent 3 - Luke 3:7-18 "John the Baptizer"

Used by permisson from Rev William Cwirla’s Blogosphere (web address link at bottom of text). This weekend Friarpuk is flying to diaspora congregations in south-western Queensland and leading Christmas services and preaching his Christmas Day sermon.

A sermon on Luke 3:7-18 (3 Advent C)

John the Baptizer, witness, forerunner, way-preparer. He came in the wilderness to prepare people for the coming of Christ. John was a prophet, standing in the breach, with one foot in the old covenant, one foot in the new. John was a plough, cutting through the hard pack, turning over the soil of people’s hearts to make them ready for Messiah. John was just the beginning - the dawn before the daylight, the appetizer to the main course. John was the prelude, Jesus was the theme. “He must increase,” John said. “And I must decrease.” That’s true for each of us too.

John was a preacher who didn’t pull punches. John had nothing to lose. He wasn’t on anyone’s pay roll. He didn’t aspire to high synodical office. He didn’t have a wife and kids to feed. He didn’t own a house or have to pay a mortgage. He lived on honey-coated grasshoppers; his suit of camel’s hide lasted a lifetime. John was, for all intents and purposes, utterly dead to the world, and therefore, utterly free. He was free to tell the sharp-edged truth.

Large crowds came out to John to be baptized. A good religious show always does. People are always drawn to the new, the odd, the weird. People who otherwise wouldn’t set foot in an established church, will check out a new, non-traditional church, especially if the preacher puts on a good show. People flocked to John to be baptized by him. John’s baptism was something new. But John wasn’t exactly Mr. Seeker Sensitive extending the friendly hand to the masses. He calls them a “bunch of snakes,” a brood of vipers trying to slither out of bad situation.

John saw a bunch of religious looky loos looking for a cheap infusion of religion, and he nailed them. “Bear fruit fitting repentance.” Walk the talk. And don’t start prattling about how you’re a relative of Abraham or how you grew up in a nice Jewish family and how religion has always had a “really special place in your life.” John couldn’t care less. If God wants children of Abraham, He can raise children of Abraham out of a pile of rocks. But as for the crowds, time was running out. The axe was already at the root - chop, chop, chop - ready to cut down every tree that doesn’t produce. To hell with it, cut it down and use it for fire wood.

Amazingly, people actually put up with this stuff. Does that surprise you? It surprises me. I always figure that people hear enough bad news as it is. Why on earth would anyone go out to a grasshopper eating wild man who calls you a bunch of snakes and tells you to clean up your act before it’s too late? And then again, I’m not surprised. Some of the most popular forms of religion today are the strictest and most demanding. The tougher they are, the more popular they are in the mind of some. The more legalistic, the more popular.

The people even demanded specifics. “What should we do?” they asked John. And John told them what to do. If you have two tunics, give the extra one to someone who doesn’t have one. If you have extra food, give it to someone who is hungry. When tax collectors asked John what they were supposed to do, they probably expected him to say, “Stop collecting taxes for Rome.” But instead, John told them to collect only the tax they were supposed to collect and no more. When soldiers came, they too probably expected John to tell them, “Put down your guns, turn your swords into ploughshares, give up soldiering.” But instead, John gives them some very basic, common sense things to do. “Don’t extort money, don’t accuse people falsely, be content with your paycheck.”

You don’t need a wilderness prophet to tell you those things. Hopefully, you learned them from your mother or in Kindergarten, at least. Share your stuff. Be honest. Don’t bully others. Do a good job and be happy you have one.

I don’t know about you, but I would have expected something with a bit more teeth from John. More like Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. John’s law sounds like a yappie toy poodle next to Jesus’ Doberman. Things like, don’t even call your brother a name or harbour hatred in your heart. And don’t even think of looking at a pretty woman who isn’t your wife. If someone takes your tunic give him the shirt off your back. If your enemy strikes you on one cheek, present the other one to him for good measure, and then bless him and pray for him and love him and do good for him. What should you do? Be perfect, as your Father in heaven, is perfect. Now that’s law!

But, as I said at the beginning, John was the warm up act; Jesus was the main event. John was preparing the way for the coming of Jesus. In his own not-so-subtle way, John was retooling expectations. People were waiting anxiously, expectantly, for the coming of the messiah. Some even thought that John himself might be the messiah. The expectation of the day was that messiah would come as a great military, political, and religious figure who would purify the priesthood, restore the glory to the temple, kick out the Roman army and their tax agents, and put Israel back on the map. In many ways the attitude of your basic Israelite toward Rome is much like many Iraqis toward the Western World. Thanks for the plumbing and the roads, now go home and leave us alone.

John’s father Zechariah seemed to have this idea of the messiah. When John was born, Zechariah sang this psalm: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for He has come to redeem His people. He has raised up for us a horn of salvation…salvation from our enemies and from the hand of those who hate us.”

Even gentle Mary in her Magnificat betrays more than a hint of militarism in her Magnificat: He has shown the strength of His arm, He has scattered the proud in the conceit; He has brought down the mighty from the thrones, and has lifted up the humble.”

You see, this idea about the messiah was deeply rooted in the people (and still is among many messianic Jews today). A superman, a saviour who flexes divine muscle and makes the streets safe for the holy. And in many ways, that’s also our expectation of Jesus. We expect Him to exert a little of that divine omnipotence in our favour once and a while. We expect God to put down our enemies, to punish the wicked and to reward the good, and it galls us when we discover that He causes His rain and sunshine to fall on the good and the wicked alike.

We expect the first to come in first, not second or third. We expect prayers to be answered on a dime, and we get downright frustrated when they aren’t. We expect exemptions from the common maladies of humanities. We are, after all, God’s people, right? And if God is the respectable Deity He claims to be, we expect Him to take care of His people.

John’s picture of Jesus the Messiah was pretty hellfire and brimstone. He said, “I’m nothing but a flea compared to the One who’s coming. He’s so powerful, I’m not worthy to be His slave and untie his sandals. I baptize you with water, but you watch. When He comes, He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. He’s coming to judge, to sort the wheat from the chaff, and burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. And that’s what John called preaching the good news! (I’d hate to hear bad news from John!)

Aren’t you glad the Gospel begins with John, but it doesn’t end with him? Aren’t you glad there’s more? I am. When Jesus finally appears in the wilderness, He isn’t anything like John described. There’s no winnowing fork in His hand. No baptism with Spirit and fire. No axe laid to the root. Instead, Jesus voluntary submits to John’s baptism of repentance. The One who John said was so great and mighty he wasn’t worthy to untie His sandals, stoops down before John to be baptized by him. And John immediately sensed that everything was upside down. He should be baptized by Jesus, but instead he’s baptizing Jesus. What kind of messiah is this?

Later on from Herod’s prison, John would ask the $6 million messianic question: “Are you the One we were expecting, or do we look for another?” Jesus was simply not the kind of messiah anyone was expecting. Who expected the messiah of God to be rejected by His own people, by their religious leaders? Who expected the messiah to hang out with tax collectors and all sorts of sinners and criticize the religious for their hypocrisy? Who expected the messiah to be handed over first to the religious court and then to the political court, be tried and convicted and crucified between two terrorists? I can assure you, there wasn’t an Israelite alive and breathing at the time of Jesus - not John, not the disciples, not even Mary - who expected the kind of messiah Jesus turned out to be.

And thank God for it! Thank the Lord that He rearranges our expectations and turns them on their head and spins them around until their dizzy. We’d be putting a band aid on this problem, and a patch on that problem. We’d be inventing religions to try to reach up to God, to get closer to Him, to bribe Him and win His favour. But Jesus takes all our religious expectations, all the things we lay on God, all the ways we have for remaking God in our own image and likeness, and He crucifies them. Jesus took all the messianic expectations of Israel - of power and might and glory - and He did it all under the opposite appearance. A messiah who was despised, rejected, crucified. And there in His dark death, there in the broken man of the cross is God’s messiah, His Christ, the strength of His arm to save you, me, and world from enemies - sin, death, devil, the Law.

John didn’t know (how could he?) that the way to salvation, freedom, peace, and life is not through power, not through military might, not politics, but through the death and resurrection of one Man, the Son of God in human flesh.

John didn’t know (how could he?) that the axe of God’s judgment against our sin would be laid at the root of Jesse, at the root of the Son of David, the promised successor to David’s throne. John didn’t know (how could he?) that the winnowing fork of the Law would judge the Son of God guilty in our place and treat Him as chaff to be burned.

John didn’t know (what we know) that Jesus the Messiah, the Christ, was made to be our sin, though He was sinless, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. John would soon get an inkling in Jesus’ baptism, that the purpose of Jesus’ coming was not to judge but to be judged, not to condemn, but to be condemned, to be God’s Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.

That doesn’t’ mean John was wrong. He was simply farsighted. He saw the long view of the Messiah, but the close-in view was out of focus. Christ will come to judge the living and the dead. We confess that every Sunday, as the church has for centuries. He will sort the wheat from the chaff, the sheep from the goats, faith from unbelief, on the day of His appearing in glory. He has already baptized the church in the wind and fire of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and He will one day blow His fiery breath over all the world and destroy it.

But know this, my dear friends in Christ, and cling to it in faith: The One who comes to judge the living and the dead has been judged for you. The One who comes with baptismal wind and fire has baptized you. The One who will gather the wheat into His barn has already gathered you into His death, and has promised never to let you go. The One who will welcome His believers to His marriage feast welcomes you to His Supper, a foretaste, an appetizer, of the feast that is to come. The One who will judge your works has died for your sins and spoken His forgiveness in your hearing.

That’s why the day of His appearing is something to look forward to with hope, with joy, with expectation.

The Lord is near! Rejoice! Amen. Luke 3:7-14/3 Advent / 14 December, 2003 /Holy Trinity - Hacienda Heights / Rev WM Cwirla

Saturday, December 09, 2006

C, Advent 2 "God is for me!"

Wherever we stand, we stand with a sense of importance. We know that before God we are important, but sometimes our importance is based on our own greatness. Life is all about me. I am...
But who are we in the scheme of things. Today this sermon is going will be mostly spoken by pictures. Look at the point were we stand! Right here at the Children’s Christmas service it’s pretty much the centre of things for us at this moment (for those at home it’s sitting at your computer at this moment).

But let’s move back from ourselves and see where we stand, physically and in the scheme of the bigger picture. As we can see here is the church. We are inside of it. But we are getting small. Even the car looks small, that’s parked outside the manse. Let’s take a few more steps backwards.

Now we can’t even see the car anymore as we look down upon our town. We can see the roads coming to and from Chinchilla, but the church is too small to be seen and so are we.

These next two pictures show us more and more of the big picture, but Chinchilla is now a speck at the end of the arrow. And we are somewhere at the end of the arrow too, in the speck that’s now Chinchilla.

We are getting smaller and smaller, now that more and more is revealed, as we see more and more of the big picture.

Chinchilla is now out of sight. Australia is just a shape on a globe, this globe we know as earth. In fact there are many other globes the same size as us, they are planets. We live in the solar system with many other planets.

When we see that there are larger planets; earth is getting smaller and smaller. It is amazing that billions and billions of people live on this tiny planet. We here in the church are members of the human race that makes up the billions and billions that live on earth. Right now as we sit here the sun is burning and our planet and others are revolving around this golden ball.

But our sun is tiny in comparison with the other stars in the solar system. Some of these bigger stars appear insignificant in our night sky, in fact some are barely visible. But if we got in a space ship and flew to the vicinity of these stars our sun would not be seen at all. Nor would Jupiter or our earth, or Australia, or the Darling Downs, or Chinchilla, or Trinity Lutheran Church, or you and me.
Antares is the 15th brightest star in the sky, it is 1000 light-years away. There are probably more stars out there than we will ever know about! If we look at the picture of Antares our Sun is not even visible!
Is life all about me! If I consider life as much more than the life we as individuals have, or even the collective life of the human race, we stand in a solar system, on a planet, in a country, that, in the scheme of things, is not even a pin prick. But infinitely greater than any of these is God. In comparison to any created thing God cannot be measured or even be seen because of his greatness. In fact life is all about God, rather than us, God is the great I AM!
So when we consider God in his greatness, against our smallness, it comes as a shock that God would even consider us. But he created all these things around us for us. Even though in our sinfulness we turn the universe around and dethrone God, the great I AM, and in his place perceive that I am the greatest!

But because God’s love for us was so great, he came to us. He came to our seemingly insignificant world. He came to a point in time. God who is greater than any created thing came to a place not that far away from us. God came to Israel, to Nazareth, into a girl that was only about 12 to 16 years old. This girl was no one special until God bestowed upon her the highest honour of any woman, to bear a son. Not just any son but the Son of God. Mary gave birth to the One, who was greater than all creation; who was in fact the creator of it.

But when God Almighty came into this girl, she was not married to Joseph. She was the object of shame. Furthermore she and Joseph travelled to Bethlehem according to the law of the land for a census.

When they got to Bethlehem Mary began to give birth. No one took Mary and Joseph in, and so they gave birth to the Son of God, amongst animals at the back of an inn, and they laid him in a manger. God was laid in one place in his creation, not a very suitable place for a king, let alone the King of Creation.

This is how important we are to God. He gave us the gift of his Son and later demanded of him that he die on the cross so that we might once again look away from ourselves and look to God as the most important in all creation.

God is now present before all of us, here in this place, in church, because he came as a baby at Bethlehem and was nailed to one place on a cross outside Jerusalem. Why did God, who is so big he makes us look so small, do what he did? Why did he come; why does he still come? He did it FOR ME, to forgive my sin; so that I am his, and he is mine. God is so big and we are so small, he is without sin and we will die because of sin. But he died FOR ME so that we who are tiny might live in and with him forever! God says, I AM who I AM and now because of the gift of Jesus FOR ME, we will be who he has recreated US to be! Amen.

PDF file of sermon available by request via email at

Friday, December 01, 2006

C, Advent 1 - Psalm 25:1-10 "Good & Upright is the Lord"

There once was a working class man, who became king. He treated his palace staff as though they were royalty; he even refurbished the workers’ living quarters to palace standards. The new king was compassionate and kind; he wanted the best for his servants having been a labourer once too.

But in time his staff became conceited and loathed the king — even his generous rule. They got up to all sorts of revelry in their plush living quarters and after a short time it looked more like a pig sty than the property of the palace. They destroyed their regal residence and the name of the king was slandered inside its wall.

In fact, his servant subjects had completely rejected his rule and they credited themselves with the prosperity which had been bestowed upon them. The king knew about this and was grieved in his heart. But rather than rid himself of these workers, he patiently and continually encouraged them to renew their allegiance to him and his rule so that peace and harmony would return once again to the servants’ living quarters.

In time the king had a son, but the staff had become so rebellious and distracted by their own importance they didn’t even realise the king had borne an heir to the throne. This boy knew nothing of the working class life from which his father had come. All he had ever experienced inside the walls of the palace was his princely life.

So the king lovingly sent his son, to live as a working class servant boy, to experience life outside the palace walls, so he might better understand his father’s kingdom and better lead the country when he became king. The boy went to work and live with the palace staff; no doubt he very quickly got some real life experience.

Picture what this young boy walked from… cleanliness, prestige, excesses, good manners, honour, and respect. Now picture what he walked into… dirtiness, coarseness, hard work, debauchery, drunkenness, disrespect, disunity and fighting. This was hardly an inheritance for a king!

King David was an earthy working class man too. He grew up as a shepherd boy. But God saw that this lowly boy became king.

David seeks God’s mercy in Psalm 25, saying, To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; 2 in you I trust, O my God. Do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me. 3 No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame, but they will be put to shame who are treacherous without excuse. 4 Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; 5 guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Saviour, and my hope is in you all day long. 6 Remember, O Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old. 7 Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you are good, O Lord. 8 Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways. 9 He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way. 10 All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful for those who keep the demands of his covenant. (Psalm 25:1-10 NIV)

King David knew where he stood with the Lord; he knew he was a sinner. In the very next verse, after what we have just heard, David pours his heart out to God, saying, For the sake of your name, O Lord, forgive my iniquity, though it is great. (Psalm 25:11) David knew the Lord’s way was loving and faithful. However, for a sinner like David to keep the demands of the covenant is impossible, and it brings this cry of contrition from his lips — for the sake of your name, O Lord, forgive my sin, though it is great.

For the sake of God’s name, these inspired words from David among others, needed to be fulfilled in the advent of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. So we do well to see this Psalm, and all Psalms—in fact, the complete Old Testament—fulfilled in Christ. Jesus needed to come into the world as a servant; the creator needed to be created, it was advantageous for us that God make his advent amongst us.

We—like King David and the rebellious workers we’ve just heard about—need a Saviour. None of us can keep God’s covenant, and, therefore, receive God’s loving and faithful ways. All of us left to our own devices become treacherous without excuse; before God our best work still brings us shame. We all need Christ’s coming and his supreme sacrifice. In fact, we do receive God’s faithfulness and loving guidance, but only because of Jesus Christ.

In this Advent season as we prepare for Christmas, the coming and birth of God amongst us, let’s focus on two things. Firstly, the heights from which God the Son came to dwell among us. And secondly, the lengths and depths to which he went, so that we his sinful rebellious and treacherous servants might be saved. In clearly hearing and grasping the sanctity and privileged position of Almighty God over against the utter depths to which we and all people have slumped, only then do we even begin to truly appreciate just what the grace of God is and how privileged we are to receive it!

Look at it from the point of view of the son sent to live in the servant’s quarters. How much would the contrast have struck him between princely exuberance in which he had lived and the squalor and filth into which he was delivered? Think of the shame and despair he must have felt! Had he done something wrong, did his father, the king, still love him? Had he been sent to the palace quarters to die with the sacrilegious servants?

Now let’s use Psalm 25 to see Christ’s advent — from his point of view. To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God. Do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me. No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame, but they will be put to shame who are treacherous without excuse. Jesus came from heaven to us, he came from timelessness to a point in time, he the creator was created as a weak baby, he came from infinite knowledge and power, to be born by a mother who was pregnant outside wedlock, and grew to be the son of a lowly Nazareth carpenter. He was handed over to treacherous men, and put to shame because of our sinful ways. It looked as though his enemies had triumphed over him. And yet, he still trusted in his Father who sent him into his fallen sinful creation to save us.

Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Saviour, and my hope is in you all day long. God taught him his paths and showed him the way that led straight to the cross. Jesus knew the truth, he was innocent and we are guilty. Yet Jesus’ hope remained in God all day long and now we are called to faith in him who was faithful to his Father’s will for our benefit.

Remember, O Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you are good, O Lord. Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways. Put yourself in Jesus’ place. How great would God’s goodness and mercy and love “seem to be” if it was you he had sent to die. Our sin and rebellious ways have continued from of old, right back to our youth. God remembered them and placed them on his innocent Son. How good was that for Jesus, who is good? How good is this for us, who are not good? Yet we walk in freedom while the Almighty King of the universe, in all goodness and godliness, walked the way of the cross.

He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way. All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful for those who keep the demands of his covenant. Christ came as King and humbled himself and became obedient unto death, death on a cursed cross. This is the loving and faithful way the Lord walked even though he kept every demand of the covenant.

As we reflect on Christ’s first coming, and wait for Christ’s second coming, know that all the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful for us, because Jesus Christ has kept the demands of the covenant. So be humble, repent, seek what is right, and allow him to teach you his way.

By your Holy Spirit, Lord, give us the power to trust your Word, to watch, and to pray. Amen.

Sermon Audio can be found at“good-upright-is-the-lord”-c-advent-1/

Saturday, November 25, 2006

B, Last Sunday of the Church Year, Proper 29 - Psalm 93 "Greater than Water"

Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the sevenfold Spirit before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. (Rev 1:4b-5a)

There’s no doubt that water is a crucial element. Not enough water and the human body, all living things, and the world — suffer and die. Just ponder the human body and the earth for a moment; water makes up most of a human body and so too water makes up the greatest percentage of the world. We all know the relief a glass of water brings when we are parched and dehydrated; drought-stricken land sighs in relief when rain falls too. Without water we die!

But too much water also kills. On the one hand a glass of water can save a person from death, but then, such is the power of water that it can cut us off from life if overwhelmed by it. Not enough water and we dry out and die, but too much of it and we drown.

So water is not only a crucial element for us and creation, it’s also a powerful agent. In the arid Middle East, those who control the water are those who have the power. We also know of water’s power as we watched the horrible effects of Tsunamis in South East Asia and Papua New Guinea in recent times. Anyone who has lived near creeks and rivers knows of water’s power and damaging effects on fences, especially when one has to constantly rebuild them. And anyone who has been caught unawares and violently tumbled between sand and foam by waves at the beach also knows the power of water.

When near the ocean, one constantly hears the rumble of the waves breaking on the shore. Regardless of the time of day, the weather, or the season, waves one after the other powerfully and continually break against the beach. But still God has been around longer than the waves; he is more constant, more powerful, and more essential than waves or water.

We hear in Psalm 93 that — the Lord reigns, he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed in majesty and is armed with strength. The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved. Your throne was established long ago; you are from all eternity. The seas have lifted up, O Lord, the seas have lifted up their voice; the seas have lifted up their pounding waves. Mightier than the thunder of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea—the Lord on high is mighty. Your statutes stand firm; holiness adorns your house for endless days, O Lord.

Water is an almighty force, but God is greater. Before the seas were — God was, and when the waves cease to pound the ocean shores with all their might and power — God will still be! What God put in place, will remain as long as God desires it to remain, but even after God allows these things to go — God will still be here. What God created stands as our witness that God will continue to sustain it and us! And even more so, his Word is our witness that he will sustain his church, his holy house on earth. All who stand firm in his ways are his church and will live in his holy house forever. As the psalmist says, “Your statutes stand firm; holiness adorns your house for endless days, O Lord”.

The power of God, his Word, and water are still essential for the longevity of the church as well as his creation! As God’s witnesses we are called to stand firm trusting in the truth, having been made his children in baptism. God powerfully ordered the chaotic waters into conformity at creation with his Word, and so too with the tranquil waters of baptism God’s power is bestowed upon people as they receive the water and the Word, so they are given access to God and might cling to his gift of holy eternal life.

But these waters of baptism together with God’s Word are not some sort of magical one off stunt, guaranteeing all a get out of jail free card, by being “done”! No! Baptism is God’s way of giving humanity a very practical, physical, and spiritual way of receiving Jesus Christ from two-thousand years ago, who now sits at the right hand of God. That is to say; baptism is God’s way of giving us, what he did through his Son two-thousand years ago — practically, physically, and spiritually. After all we are physical and spiritual beings who receive nearly everything in practical physical ways.

God’s way was to send Jesus, and Jesus’ way was to obediently walk with us as a human. It was God’s good and gracious will that Jesus be baptised by John in the Jordan — baptising him into death so that we might have life, in our baptism. Jesus didn’t choose to do this, it was God’s way, and Jesus followed his will even unto death.

As Jesus walked the lonely road to the cross and death, through his Word he declared and now gives us the way we can receive the benefits of his death, his body, and his blood. He gives us the Holy Spirit who gives us faith; faith to know and trust that Jesus comes to us with outstretched hands in Holy Baptism, Holy Communion, and in the preaching of his Holy Word so we might take hold of these gifts, repent of our continual sinning, and strive to live as his holy people.

It was God’s way that Jesus be pierced for us. It was God’s will that the soldier plunge his sword into Jesus’ side, and blood and water suddenly flowed freely from his broken body. The cross is God’s powerful way of covering over your sins and my sins with his spilt blood. This is God’s almighty way of covering us with the living waters that flow from his side to us continually through baptism, so we might live in resurrection hope.

As we are carried along by Christ in his good ship—the church, the holy house of God—the waters of chaos threaten to crash onto us and finish us. But trust in the tranquil waters of baptism; believe in the life of grace given to us through the water and the Word. Trust God’s way, the only way, given in Christ Jesus who is the Alpha and the Omega, who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty. (Rev 1:8)

Just as water is crucial for our survival here on earth, so too is our trust in the living Word and waters of baptism, a life-giving water which by grace gives the new birth through the Holy Spirit. In these life-giving waters know that you have received him who has been given all authority, glory, and sovereign power by his Almighty Father in heaven. And know that just as all things pass away, he and those who trust in him will never pass away. For his dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:14) Amen.

To our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen. (Rev 1:5b-6)

Hear it at

Saturday, November 04, 2006

B, Pent 22 Proper 26 - Deuteronomy 6:1-9 "The Way of Life!"

Text: Deuteronomy 6:1-9

Moses said to the Israelites, 1 These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, 2 so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. 3 Hear, O Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your fathers, promised you.

4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.


The year is 1462 — “BC” — or roughly thereabouts. The Israelites are free from Pharaoh’s oppression. They have walked out of captivity with minimal bloodshed to themselves. The Israelites didn’t have to rebel by taking arms; there was no war! They walked out as God did the fighting for them. Moses and Aaron just told Pharaoh, God’s ultimatum to let his people go and the Egyptian emperor let all of them go. This is not surprising; God’s word is powerful. It’s not surprising that Pharaoh changed his mind either, and sent his army after the walking workforce of Israelite slaves. But God wasn’t about to forsake those he’d chosen to rescue, and he delivered them safely into the desert of Sinai while drowning Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea.

At Mount Sinai the Israelites were given the Law, including the Ten Commandments, and Moses reinforces the promise he first spoke of, when the Israelites prepared for their escape from Egypt. He said, “Hear, O Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your fathers, promised you.” (Deut 6:3) This promise was first given to Moses years earlier when he stood before the burning bush on that very same mountain, and even earlier, to Abram as he wandered through Canaan.

Surprisingly for the Israelites the promise didn’t happen as quickly as the recent events which led to their exodus. They arrived at Mount Sinai within three months of leaving Egypt. They were in the desert with the promise of entry into Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey.

But for them to inhabit this land, God put requirements in place. These statutes are the Law; the Ten Commandments together with all the other laws Moses received on Sinai and gave to the people in the Torah — the first five books of the Old Testament.

God commanded Moses and Aaron to teach the people, and they their children, and their children’s children. He prescribed a way of righteousness, which, if kept, would go well with them, give them enjoyable long lives, and give them fertile increase through the wombs of their women and through the land’s abundance on the other side of the Jordan River.

God called them to be bound to the Law. Instead of covering themselves with idolatry and its symbols, he says, “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” (Deut 6:6-7a, 8-9) One must understand that the wearing of jewellery and the placement of ornaments or statues on gates and doorframes was forbidden, because these were pagan rituals done to ward off evil from the entrances to their bodies and property, and bring good luck.

On the other hand, the prescribed actions of the Law would always put God’s way in front of them, as a reminder that God is One. These Laws were given so the Israelites could live with God without being sucked into the local pagan traditions and philosophies held by those who were far from fearing God. The Law was given so the Israelites could discern right from wrong, as an authoritative directive from God alone, as a pre-judgement for those who crossed the line, as a code of conduct, and as God’s holy wisdom written down for holy living in the land God set aside as holy for his holy people.

Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey, was to be paradise on earth given to the people as long as they lived the Law. The Law’s prohibitions, similar to that of not eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, was given to cleanse the Israelites, so God could dwell once again with humanity who had separated themselves from him through their sin.

However, we know the Israelites couldn’t even leave Mount Sinai without adorning themselves and their hearts with gold and idolatry and sin, building a golden calf to gain access to what they thought was paradise. For the first of many times they crossed the line and let go of the means God put in place to make them holy, and threatened having themselves cast from God’s presence, just as humanity’s parents, Adam and Eve, had been earlier hurled from God’s presence.

So Moses and most of the Israelites didn’t ever enter a land flowing with milk and honey, but instead were constantly called to faithfulness as they wandered forty years in a triangular Sinai wilderness, just three hundred kilometres (187 ½ miles) by three hundred kilometres by three hundred kilometres. (That’s a triangle from just Chinchilla to Coolangatta to Bundaberg.)

We might think all this hasn’t much to do with us; that it’s just a nice little history lesson. After all we are not under the Law anymore but under Christ and the Gospel, who has passed through the perfect heavenly tabernacle and cleansed us, once and for all, with his blood rather than the blood of animals as required by the Law.

But, much is still the same! God still wants to dwell with us. He still desires to lead us through the wilderness of this life and bring us into a land flowing with milk and honey—the perfect heavenly tabernacle—where Jesus Christ is now at the right hand of God. He still puts in place means through which we are given access into his holy presence. In fact, he still demands that we must be holy to be in his presence. He still requires that we teach our children to cling to his way and his way alone. And he still calls us to wear his clothes of righteousness over our rags of idolatry, self-centredness, and sin.

We have one God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three persons in one God. We do well to listen to God and heed “his ways”. We do well to teach our children to endure in the baptismal faith given by the Holy Spirit, which enables us to trust God as we struggle against the temptation to adorn ourselves with the hoary jewels of sin and idolatry.

We no longer have the Law; we now have the Gospel too. The prohibitions of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and the Law given through Moses, have been revised and perfected in Christ. He now has fulfilled all the requirements which Adam and the Israelites failed to accomplish. The commands, “you must not”, have been kept by Jesus who now says you must, “believe in the One the Father has sent!” (John 6:29)

God cares more for a speck of faith—a splinter of trust in Jesus—than a ton of excitement, a lifetime of good works, or a brilliant mind. Although the fruits of faith might be, excitement or stillness, the fruits of faith will be good works of various kinds as we love God and love our neighbour, and the fruits of faith will lead the youngest and the simplest to receive the deepest understanding as they hear God’s word.

As we wander in the wilderness of this life, we already have a window glimpse of paradise. The tree of life, to which we lost access when Adam and Eve were cast out of Eden, is the cross, and it’s our window into the heavenly paradise, the eternal land flowing with milk and honey.

Adam and Eve wrongly ate of the tree of good and evil, but now we must eat only of the tree of life, Jesus Christ in the eternal paradise who is also planted in your hearts. You do well to allow the Holy Spirit to continually bind Christ to your heart; only then can you “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength, and love your neighbour as yourself.” (Mark 12:30-31)

We are promised all the glory of eternity if we remain in Christ, and if we allow him to remain in us. We do well to believe in the mystery of baptism, the mysteries of Holy Communion, and the mystery of the Holy Spirit coming to us through the written word of God. We do well to impress these things upon the hearts of our children and talk about them in our homes.

We do well to live each day in victory over our sinfulness under the sign of the cross, daily invoking the name of the Triune God, Father, Son, & Holy Spirit, in whose name we are baptised into the eternal kingdom of heaven, a land flowing with milk and honey. Amen.

Friday, October 27, 2006

B, Pent 21 Proper 25 - Mark 10:46-52 "Blind Faith"

Text: Mark 10:46-52

46 Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (that is, the Son of Timaeus), was sitting by the roadside begging. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” 50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. 51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” 52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.


I invite every one of you to close your eyes for a moment, and keep them closed until I ask you to reopen them.

Imagine you are blind. Now that you can’t see, what is more concerning and important for you: What has happened in the past, or what will happen in the future? Could you keep your eyes closed and leave this place blind, doing things you planned for the rest of the day? I suspect even the most determined would have to peak to see what is coming.

Imagine driving home, going for a walk, working, watching television, reading a book, or being involved in any entertaining activity… blind. All you could do is imagine doing these things from times when you could see. Doing these things would be more difficult, if not impossible, now. Therefore, the desire to look forward and somehow see would become far more important than what has happened in the past, even though the chance of seeing in the future probably wouldn’t exist and be just a memory from the past. Now you can open your eyes.

Picture blind Bartimaeus sitting just outside Jericho on the road to Jerusalem; his life is one of listening. Listening to the people walk by. Listening to the sounds of hoof and bustle, and the clatter of carts. Listening to the gossip and chatter of children. Listening to the latest ideas of religion and philosophy as the scribes and rabbis pass by. And listening to himself; hearing over and over again he’s a blind beggar, unable to free himself from his stricken life of the past and present. That’s just the way it is for blind Bartimaeus because that’s the way it’s been.

But then he hears about one who heals; the one who gives access to the kingdom of God; the one whose greatness is kin to that of King David, even more so, who claims he has been sent by God the Father, and who claims of himself that he will be crucified and raised in three days. Suddenly all the listening to what has transpired in the past is forgotten, all the down heartedness of his condition is gone. These new words have given him life; he waits in anticipation, hoping this man of God will walk past him, hoping this healing King will hear his cry for mercy. Faith and hope have become the destitute and hopeless one’s new joy as he anxiously waits to hear from the one walking to Jerusalem.

Jesus Son of David, have mercy on me! Bartimaeus shouts. Be quiet Bartimaeus, you have no right to speak or be heard”, was perhaps the crowd’s response as Jesus fixed his eyes on his royal entry into Jerusalem and coronation at Calvary. Son of David, have mercy on me!” he cries out even more, there’s no way his hope can be silenced.

Instead of walking by and ignoring Bartimaeus, the King of creation stops and calls this broken piece of creation to come to him. This is a feat in itself for someone blind, but Bartimaeus throws off his cloak and springs to his feet, looking to Jesus with the eyes of hope and faith. And it is this faith—not faith in himself born of the past, but faith found in the future, trusting in only what Christ can do—that raises, heals, and saves blind Bartimaeus.

We are the same as Bartimaeus. We are broken pieces of creation; broken because of sin. Every one of us needs daily reformation by creation’s King. Each of us, like Bartimaeus the blind beggar, is called to faith as we hear the good news of the Gospel. The Holy Spirit gives us faith and hope to sit up knowing Jesus Christ and the salvation he freely gives — first given at baptism when we heard the Good News. Baptism places Jesus in front of us every day, and calls us to come abide in him. “Lamb of God I come!”

Just a week later after Bartimaeus stood and had his eyes opened for the first time; the people of Jerusalem saw Jesus nailed to the cross. Perhaps Bartimaeus saw this too; we’re not told if he did or didn’t. However, it was because of Bartimaeus’ brokenness and the complete corruption of all creation that meant Christ was compelled to be crucified on the cross.

Do you think that after the events of Bartimaeus’ miraculous healing, the death of his Healer on the cross, and his extraordinary resurrection from the grave, that Bartimaeus ever let the cross be put in the past, out of his sight? Or for that matter anyone else who witnessed Jesus’ death and resurrection? Then nor should we who have been baptised into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ! Nor should we who, at our baptism, have seen and received the same grace witnessed on the cross two-thousand years ago!

You are united to Christ in baptism. You and I can never move past the acts of God given there, or his biblical word he first called us to trust there. Because we live double lives, eternally freed from sin but not free from sinning, we live post-baptism with the cross as our end point, not as merely a start point. Our lives don’t make much sense unless the cross comes at the end too. Life struggles and pressures, drought, disease, and death make no sense unless the cross comes at the end of it all. So as you struggle with your sin in this sinful world, picture your life paralleled under Christ’s life; see his life placed as template over your life, as he lives in you and with you.

See in your baptism, Jesus’ baptism — where the Holy Spirit descended like a dove and the Father says of you, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased!” (Mark 1:11) See in your confirmation and subsequent trips to receive the bread and wine of Christ’s body and blood, Christ standing transfigured — in celebration with the prophets, apostles, and the whole company of heaven. See in your sinfulness, Jesus approach you with his word — willing you to believe you can hand that sin over and have peace, time and time again. See Jesus say to you, “Go and sin no more” — just as he did to the Samaritan adulteress. And see all these things in the context of your death and entry into heaven — with Jesus’ death at Calvary and glorified resurrection and ascension into heaven. Be reformed daily by the cross; seek mercy from the Son of David, asking “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me, a sinner”. Wait with faith and hope for the glorious day when you will see Jesus face to face — as did Bartimaeus.

This is the grace of God: That he walks with us today, and gives his life in exchange for ours. Through his death on the cross, at your death you will receive his glorious resurrected life.

Sing with Bartimaeus and all believers: I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see. This grace has brought us safe thus far, and grace will lead us home. Christ and the cross will lead you home, even as you still struggle with blindness. This is what makes grace so amazing!


I invite you to close your eyes and open the eyes of faith and your heart of hope as we pray: Dear Heavenly Father we believe; save us from our unbelief. Continually send your Holy Spirit to give us faith to live holy lives and trust in the amazing grace Christ won for all people on the cross. Amen.


The faith to which we are called is one in Christ; therefore, it is a living faith. This faith is both, corporate and personal, but never individualistic, different, or separate from others in the body of Christ. If Christ lives with us and in us, we can’t help but want to do the right thing, even as we struggle to do so. This faith moves us, to be compassionate to those who like us struggle with sin, and, to be repentant for the many things we get horribly wrong each day. Faith also calls us to actions of sacrifice; sacrifice of prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, and also the sacrifice of our selves, our time, and our talents. As we focus on Christ’s sacrifice on the cross as the end point we are able to bear our crosses under which we are called to suffer in this world.

Such personal faith also calls us to be accountable to the whole church gathered under Christ, past, present, and future. Faith enables us to abide in Christ and his way in the Word of God. We are accountable to the Word of God and in drawing near to God we freely welcome hearing and reading the Word of God, as well as other literature that points us to the cross. This accountability calls us from individualism and anti-intellectualism into a willing reception of Christ in his word that is neither stagnate, lifeless, nor impersonal. And this faith calls us to be accountable to each other, to bear each other in love. After all, Christ bears each of us in love, even as we continue to sin day after day.

We need Christ’s baptismal reforming every day. Although sin has no power in our lives anymore, the forces of evil never stop trying to place us back under the power of sin. Therefore, we need the cross in front of us, as the finishing point. We can never move past Christ, the cross, or his word, if we are to uphold the faith he personally places in each of us. As God’s children we can never stop praying the beggars’ plea, “Lord Jesus Christ, (Son of David, Son of God, and/or Lamb of God), have mercy on me/us!”

What is a sign of personal faith? When I strive to make the interests of God’s Word the determining factor in my life, and when I continually and repentantly seek forgiveness when this doesn’t happen.