Thursday, May 25, 2006

B, Ascension of our Lord - Ephesians 1:16-19; 2:4-6 "Ascension Joy"

Text: Ephesians 1:16-19; 2:4-6

16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him,18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints,19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.

4 But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.

Sermon

Christ’s Ascension meant celebration and joy for the disciples as they stood there at Bethany on the Mount of Olives, just to the east of Jerusalem. Forty-three days had passed since the sorrowful Maundy Thursday evening on the Mount of Olives, in the garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus had knelt weeping tears of blood, as the sleepy disciples failed to keep watch, and as Judas and the rabble approached to arrest Jesus and set in motion the events of Good Friday.

As a rule, days of departure should bring sorrow and grief to those who are close to the one departing. We only have to think back to times like when Lady Dianna was killed in France, or John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The following days were bleak as the home nations, in fact the world, said goodbye to these leading figures lost in the prime of their lives.

Jesus departure, however, was different. His followers were filled with joy as he was lifted from them, as he held out his hands to bless them. Unlike the last time Jesus was taken from the vicinity of Bethany, he was taken home victoriously to the Heavenly Judge, rather than to the judges who had sentenced him to death just over forty days earlier.

But what has the Ascension of Jesus Christ got to do with us? Jesus has died for us on the cross of Good Friday, and he has been raised from the tomb on Easter Sunday for our victory over death. Why is his Ascension a celebration for the church; yesteryear, as the disciples witnessed his departure; and today, as we hear the testimony of these witnesses? Why should we be just as jubilant over Jesus being lifted up and hidden from sight, as were the disciples at Bethany all those years ago?

In the gospel of Luke (24:44-53) we have heard that just before Jesus was taken from their sight, he began to bless them, and as he did so, he was taken into heaven. In fact his Ascension is a blessing to all people. Now all people have access to Jesus. Not just those in one time and one place outside Jerusalem, but all people of every place have access to God the Father through Jesus Christ his Son. And it was his Ascension that allowed this to happen.

Saint Paul, in his Epistle to the Ephesians, just prior to the Epistle for today (Eph 1:15-23), begins by tapping into this Ascension blessing, saying in chapter one verse three, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places… (Ephesians 1:3 NRSV)

We have been blessed with every spiritual blessing of Christ which he has won for us on the cross and in his victory over the grave. The blessing is this: that he has saved us from the plight of sin and eternal death through his suffering death and resurrection. This blessing now extends to the eternal realm to which Christ has ascended, and because he is there, seated above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come (Ephesians 1:21 NRSV), we too can rejoice in the blessing he gives to his church on earth and his kingdom in heaven. We are blessed as are the Apostles and believers of the Early Church, including Saint Paul, right through the saved generations to now, and into the future.

But how do we know this eternal blessing is for us? How do we know our Saviour, hidden from our eyes, wants us to dwell with him forever?

Saint Paul goes on to reassure us that, he chose us in Christ before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. (Ephesians 1: 4 NIV)

That might be alright for Jesus who sees us and is with us. But like looking through one-way glass, he is not visually obvious to us, even though he can see everything we do and knows everything about us. In fact we find it hard to comprehend that we are holy and blameless, in ourselves, let alone in his sight. And as we look at ourselves, we don’t usually seem to see, our holiness or blamelessness, nor do we see his presence. Rather all we see in the one-way glass is a reflection of our sinful selves looking back at us.

But God has made know the mystery of his will in the actions of Jesus. These actions are those of his dying in our place and giving us his life. We are his sin and he our life. But he also put in place a way to receive the mysteries of salvation worked out for us two-thousand years ago. He put in place holy means of receiving forgiveness of sins, life and salvation so we might be holy and blameless in his sight.

God gives us a way of looking through the one-way glass to see who he is, and who we have become in him. This way is the means of his word! Saint Paul reassures us of our inclusion into Christ, saying, “You also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 1:13). Jesus calls us to place our trust in his word, because through his word the Holy Spirit has placed the seal of Christ upon us.

So today God continues to bless us. We have his word to guide us and God calls pastors through his church to pass this blessing onto his children. Saint Paul, the Apostles, and pastors pass the blessing on and stand as spiritual watchdogs over Christ’s flock. Paul prays for Christ’s Ascension blessing to continue flowing through his church, as do the pastorate today.

This is Paul’s prayer: I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. (Ephesians 1:16-19 NRSV)

This spirit of wisdom and revelation is none other than Christ himself, given through his word, removing the one-way glass mirror. He gives himself to us as wisdom and revelation through his word so we might see that although he is ascended, we are still with him, and he with us.

And the hope to which he calls you having removed this mirror with his word is this: [That] God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:4-6).

We can celebrate the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ, because in Christ we are already ascended because he has ascended. It’s only a matter of time till the one-way mirror is removed once and for all, and we see him as he is, and see who we were recreated to be in Christ. Amen.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

B, Harvest Thanksgiving (Easter 6) - Psalm 136:1-9, 23-26 "Stop-Think-Thank"

Text: Psalm 136:1-9, 23-26

1 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever.

2 Give thanks to the God of gods. His love endures forever.

3 Give thanks to the Lord of lords: his love endures forever.

4 To him who alone does great wonders, his love endures forever.

5 Who by his understanding made the heavens, his love endures forever.

6 Who spread out the earth upon the waters, his love endures forever.

7 Who made the great lights —his love endures forever.

8 The sun to govern the day, his love endures forever.

9 the moon and stars to govern the night; his love endures forever

23 …to the One who remembered us in our low estate his love endures forever.

24 And freed us from our enemies, his love endures forever.

25 And who gives food to every creature. His love endures forever.

26 Give thanks to the God of heaven. His love endures forever.

Sermon

There’s a church at Cambridge in England which has a prayer kneeling cushion with the words “Think—Thank” embroidered on it. If we, the children of God by faith in Jesus Christ and heirs of eternal life, stopped to think more of God’s mercy and love toward us once in a while, perhaps we would thank him more.

In fact the Psalm before us today is a “Think—Thank” Psalm. The repetitive words of Psalm 136 force us to stop and think, and hopefully join in the chorus of all creation in hearing who God is and thanking him for what he has done, and what he continues to do.

Give thanks to the Lord…for his love endures forever! The words to ‘give thanks’ mean, to throw open your hands in acknowledgement of someone’s presence and providence. Here in this Psalm we are called to stop, think, and hold out our hands in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, to our Father who freely gives from the depths of his love and mercy. And having stopped to think and thank him, we are called to trust God with continued confidence, holding out our hands in need to him who will always be there for us.

God is located at the beginning of this Psalm with three different names so there is no uncertainty of whom we are called to think and to whom we are encouraged to thank.

Firstly there is Yahweh (yar-way) or Jehovah, the great I am, who was, who is, and who will be forever. He is the God of creation who alone has done great wonders, and in his knowledge has created and sustains all things, so that the sun rises and sets each day together with the moon, and all the forces of chaos are kept from engulfing us.

Then God is introduced as Elohiym (el-o-heem), the God of gods. He is the one who has conquered the gods of Egypt, saving Israel and drowning Pharaoh. His reign is all powerful, greater than any god or king of the earth; in fact he is the King of Kings.

And finally God is declared to be Adone (ud-own), the Lord of lords. He is my God and your God. He has revealed himself to us as our loving Heavenly Father, who wants to be with us. He is not far off but rather is near us in our lowliness, with his hands open in faithfulness compassion and generosity.

So we are called to give thanks to our Creator, our Lord, and our God for he is good. But how good is good enough? In this Psalm God himself commands us, through the Psalmist, to “give thanks to God for he is good”. God says to us, “Think! I am God Almighty, I am second to none, there is no other god but me. It is I who loves you and calls you to take stock of what I have done for you, and it is I who calls you to thank me. I AM good enough! I the Lord your God am good enough! I, the God who saved Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, am good enough! I, the Lord your God who has given you my name, so you can call or pray ‘my Father in heaven’, am good enough!”

But we might ask why God is good? Because his love endures forever; it has endured and it will continue to endure, from eternity to eternity.

There’s no way any one can forget the theme of this Psalm — the reason why we should stop, think, and thank. Over and over again we hear the command to give thanks to the Lord for his love endures forever! This little phrase repeats itself so many times that we do an injustice to it and God, who is good, if we just pass over it without taking a look at it.

His love endures forever. To say it is his love which endures forever, really doesn’t do justice to the full gamut of God’s intentions toward us. In English we struggle to capture the fullness of God’s plan in these words, so we say his “love” endures forever. But the Hebrew word, Kesed (kes-said), captures God’s desire to be with his people in his creation from Adam, to Noah, to Abraham, to now, and into eternity. God’s kesed reassures us of the many gracious implications God has for us. God’s enduring eternal action towards us, is dependant on him alone. God’s “kesed” endures forever.

God’s “kesed” is his faithfulness, compassion, grace, kindness, mercy, and ever-loving presence, and it endures from eternity to eternity. He is slow to anger and abounding in a steadfast love, or “kesed”, as he proclaimed in front of Moses as Moses was hidden in the rock (Exodus 33:15 - 34:10). And this “kesed” is made complete and continues forever as we are gathered by the Holy Spirit into Jesus Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection from the grave. God’s enduring mercy, loving kindness, generosity, and protection is the greatest action anyone has ever received or will ever receive.

God’s great action is also the eternal reminder that, though you may give without loving, you cannot love without giving. As someone once put it: God made the sun—it gives. God made the moon and the stars—they give. God made the air—it gives. God made clouds—they give. God made the earth and sea—they give. God made trees—they give. God made flowers—they give. God made chooks—they give. God made cattle—they give. God made the plan—he gives. God made you and me—and we… and we… God made us, do we give? God gives his whole creation to us, but this is only the meagre beginning of his giving! Surely we should give thanks to the Lord, for he is good his love endures forever!

God’s love is eternal, his mercy is eternal, his generosity is eternal; God’s giving is eternal. He comes to us in our lowly state, even when we don’t give. But although we sin and rebel he still comes even though he is Almighty God.

God is concerned with us; just like the astronaut who after returning from space, ignores all the honour and hype from the media and politicians, to turn to Candace, his five-year-old daughter, after she tugs on his sleave to show him the scratch she receives while he was away. Just as the space man turned from the accolades of a proud nation finding his daughter’s wound more important, God turns to us, his sons and daughters, he finds the seemingly ordinary things in our lives at the centre of his importance. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good his love endures forever!

Whatever hurts us, whatever our needs and problems might be, or how low we might become, we can come before our Father, and he who created the universe, he who is the one true God, turns to us and comforts us with the Holy Spirit’s assurance of his presence through Jesus Christ and his enduring eternal love through Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection from the grave. No matter how low we might become, our misery and depression will never fall below the depths of his grace and mercy in Jesus Christ. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good his love endures forever!

Stop—Think—Thank. God is the one who remembers us in our low estate, he sends the Holy Spirit to bring us to the cross and to him. He frees us from the depression and destruction of the devil, and while we live as his baptised children here in this life, he feeds us and provides for us and all living creatures. And when we die, we will eternally give thanks to God in heaven, living in his enduring love forever. Amen.

Let us give thanks to the Lord for he is good; his love endures forever, Amen!

Saturday, May 13, 2006

B, Easter 5 - Acts 8:26-40; John 15:1-8 "The Church's First Pruning"

Text: Acts 8:26-40

26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. 31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

32 The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.”

34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. 36 As they travelled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?” 38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and travelled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.

Sermon

Philip, along with Stephen, was chosen with five others. They were put in charge of distributing food amongst the Jewish and Grecian widows in the church at Jerusalem. This is not Philip the Apostle but a man, full of wisdom and the Spirit, which the Apostles chose to be an evangelist (Acts 6:1-3). He, with the other six, was commissioned through the laying on of hands and prayer.

Immediately after this, the young church began to be persecuted by the Jews and Stephen was stoned to death. Saul, who later on was filled with wisdom and the Spirit himself, then set out to destroy the church house by house.

Philip flees to Samaria where he finds himself baptising, preaching Christ, and performing miraculous signs by casting out demons and healing the sick. A man first chosen with seven others to take care of widows’ welfare, so the Apostles could devote themselves to the ministry of the word and prayer, now too finds himself looking after the spiritual welfare of others. And because of his ministry and baptisms in Samaria, Peter and John arrived laying their hands on the Samaritans so they received the Holy Spirit.

The persecution in effect opens the way for the Gospel to be carried to the ends of the earth, as Jesus had promised. He reminded his disciples just prior to his ascension, “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

So they stayed in Jerusalem, the Spirit came at Pentecost, and the church begins to grow rapidly. Then, one might say, the church gets its first pruning as Stephen is stoned. The calamity that arose in the young church at this time would have shaken it to the core. Was the church to collapse under the weight of persecution? It’s a fair question to ask. But we know that it didn’t.

In fact the opposite happened and the church spread into Samaria, where the Holy Spirit used Philip to prepare the way for what has become know as the Samaritan Pentecost (Acts 8:4-25). And then through St Paul through to us today — the church is spreading to the ends of the earth from our witnessing to the risen Christ.

Stephen was pruned but not as dead wood. In fact his proclamation of the Gospel meant his death, proving him to be anything but dead wood. His proclamation of Christ gained him the title as the church’s first martyr. And from the moment of Stephen’s deadly pruning, a flourish of healthy shoots sprung to life in the church. Many of which are still producing fruit today!

In the Gospel Jesus tells us why there are occasions of pruning and cutting, saying, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a person remains in me and I in them, they will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, they are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (John 15:1-8)

The pruning that went on during these early days of martyrdom and persecution did two things; it spread the true believers and cleansed the church of apostates — those who didn’t trust in Christ. This happens in the church over and over again throughout history. Like an instance during the Second World War in Europe when a Nazi officer burst into a little church brandishing a weapon threatening to shoot everyone. He yelled, “All those who are not really Christians get out because I’m going to shoot you all.” As you could imagine plenty fell over themselves to get out of the place in a hurry, and after they left the Nazi marched up to the pastor, put down his machine gun, took off his helmet and said, “Please baptise me pastor, now I know there are no Nazi spies left in here”. And he was baptised in the assembly of believers.

But what about those who fled the church, were they dead wood, or Jonah’s running to hide, or were they frightened Christians running to protect their families? Perhaps it’s unhealthy to judge the branches of the vine until we see if they produce fruit or not! I would hate to be in that situation, I wouldn’t know what I’d do! In fact just like the persecution in Jerusalem that led to Stephen’s stoning and the subsequent dispersal of believers from the area, was God pushing the believers out and spreading his grace amongst other war torn communities when that Nazi arrived at the church? Maybe in the calamity of the moment God kept some of his true believers behind and caused some to flee with the apostates, only to be fruitful for God elsewhere!

Philip the evangelist finds himself being fruitful elsewhere too — out on a lonely desert road. This wise and Spirit filled fellow first called to feed the widows, flees and now finds himself feeding others the spiritual food of the Gospel. And then sent by the Spirit he meets the Ethiopian eunuch on his way home from Jerusalem.

What good could come from persecution? A fair question by someone under the continual pounding of persecution. However, sometimes this question needs to be answered by those other than the maltreated. Imagine if we could ask the Ethiopian eunuch this question. Here was a man who had everything. He was the head of the queen’s treasury; he was an important official. Yet he didn’t have a Christ centred understanding of the Scriptures — something we all need. The Ethiopian servant was the first of Africa to benefit from the events that led Philip out onto that lonely road. Ironically this eunuch is credited as being a father of the church in Africa! And what would have been if Philip wasn’t sent by the Spirit, if he didn’t preach Jesus Christ crucified and risen, and if he didn’t baptise this eunuch opening his mind to the Holy Scriptures?

We don’t always understand the pruning the Father gives us as individuals and as a church. It seems in this day and age, the pruning shears have fallen upon us heavily. It’s hard to see God’s purpose, in the turmoil and pain of being witness to a constant stream of people fleeing the church, chasing the gods of success and all-consuming consumeristic wealth. But as the tide continues to ebb, God calls us to stand fast in the Spirit and in wisdom. So when the tide turns and makes we are there to lovingly give Jesus Christ — the word of God made flesh, risen from the dead, the true love of God, the true vine —so the newcomers and returnees may be cleansed with God’s word, reaffirmed in their baptismal faith, or be baptised into the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

We may find ourselves on a lonely road at times, and we might not know why the Spirit has allowed this to happen. But we can trust that God is with us and he knows exactly who’s around the corner needing to be brought into God’s forgiving presence, and pruned with his word. So they might go off rejoicing and cleansed in the Lord having had him given to them in his word; they might go off rejoicing and produce a crop that brings glory to God, and peace to the ends of the earth. Amen.

Friday, May 05, 2006

B, Easter 4 - Psalm 23 "The 23rd Psalm"

Deep in the bowels of the earth, encased in rock, at the Beaconsfield mine in Tasmania, two men are found alive five days after they were first trapped in a collapsed mineshaft. It’s hard to imagine what Brant Web and Todd Russell went through as they sat there in the seconds after the collapse; and after the seconds turned to minutes, and the minutes turned into hours and the hours became days. Would there be another rock fall? Will we be crushed? Will anybody look for us; will they find us in time, or will we starve? I can only imagine it would have been tempting to despair and give up all hope, as they waited to see if there would be a rescuer’s light at the end of the tunnel.

We may not be able to imagine what Brant Web and Todd Russell were going through one kilometre below ground. But as Christians we know that all is not lost and there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. We know our lives began as if we were encased in rock, unable to help ourselves in the stoniness of our sinful condition. We know that as we go through life with the powers of evil pressing in all around us, if left to our own devices we would be enticed back into the hellish depravity from which God is currently rescuing us. We know that in these days of calamity we can take solace in God’s Word, especially the twenty-third Psalm. When we, God’s sheep, get into trouble, finding ourselves in situations over which we have no control, nor the means from which to escape, the soothing words of Psalm 23 offer great comfort.

But why is Psalm 23 such a calming crotch on which so many have leaned for so many years? What is it about these words which give us comfort and reassure us of God’s presence in times of strife? Let’s look at the psalm and the picture it paints.

1 A psalm of David. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3 he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (Psalm 23:1-6 NIV)

Immediately the psalm locates us with King David. The Psalm is attributed to him. He was a shepherd, the youngest son of Jesse. Pictures of this shepherd boy, being protected by God as he shepherded his sheep from lions and other threats, come to mind. Comforting pictures of victory accompany our thoughts of David; killing Goliath when he was only a shepherd boy, running from and being given kingship over Saul, and conquering the Philistines and others as king. The Lord certainly protected the youngest shepherd son of Jesse. The Lord was the shepherd of Israel’s shepherd; the protector of Israel’s protector. The Lord was King David’s shepherd.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. It’s not difficult for us to understand the function of the shepherd. Australia’s culture is full of shepherding imagery and poetry. Drovers still work the long yard, leading sheep and cattle out of starvation into greener pastures along our roads and stock routes. Their flocks and herds have no need to be in want of anything. And just like the trapped miners after their rescuers first made contact, we are called to look to God, trusting in the contact that he has made with us. We shall not be in want! In want of what? In want of nothing! Our Lord wants to be the shepherd of every part of our lives.

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. This is essentially what a shepherd does. He finds us food, water and peace – so much so we can lie down knowing it is safe to do so. The Lord is our shepherd; he will not lead us into something greater than we can bear. He protects us for his name’s sake. Jesus’ name means “he saves”. He leads you out of death into life; he saves you from eternal death with his death. He is your righteousness and you are his sin. We’ve heard in Acts 4:12, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name given under heaven by which we must be saved.

However, the most important word in this set of promises is the word “he”. Comfort comes from knowing that it is not me who saves me, but that it is he who saves me. He makes me lie down, he leads me, he restores me, and he guides me! And we know this is the truth because God’s word tells us, “for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care. (Psalm 95:7) And in Isaiah 40:1 & 11 we hear, “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young. But even more so, Jesus says of himself in John 10:11 & 14, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me…

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. In the depths of the earth the two miners have been lying in the constant shadow of death. We too lie in the shadow of death, but we can lie in peace. We are called to fear no evil although it is all around us. We can, and do, lie down in peace because God is with us. He has come to us; he has given us hope. Just like the miners lying helpless, we have had a pilot hole extended to us, while hopelessly lost in sin. Through this pilot hole God has revealed himself to us. Our redeemer first comes to us through his word. In fact our total knowledge of him in this life comes to us through the bible. God’s word is the pilot hole giving us comfort, peace, and hope.

So as we wait for the glorious day when we are rescued once and for all, our comfort continues to be his word. God's word is the tool of choice for our good shepherd, and through it we hear the law and the gospel. His word is the rod of the law and the staff of the gospel. The law is the rod, and sometimes the law hurts when we are disciplined as it pokes at our sinful nature. But on the other hand the staff is his tool of protection. The staff is the gospel, and with the gospel staff, God is rescuing us from every deadly situation for Jesus’ sake.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. When they first made contact with the two trapped in Tasmania, one of the men is reported as asking for a meat pie. As we lie in wait for God to rescue us from this life he feeds us something more wholesome and substantial than meat pies. He feeds us with his word and with Jesus’ body and blood. It is truly amazing that God would want to come down into our filthy existence and endure the cross to save us and sustain us. But this is what he does. He comes to us in the dirtiness of our humanity; he comes and rescues us from the grave. He drank from the cup of suffering unto death and was burial in the grave. Therefore, we have been anointed as Sons of God, in baptism, and our cup of blessing will overflow into eternity. He is your righteousness and you are his sin.

Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Surely if God loves us to such an extent by taking the time to come to us trapped in our sinfulness, piloting hope to us through his word and the sacraments, he will continue to save us from death. He will open up the pilot hole and draw you and me out of this life into his light of eternity. This will not be light like the light of day the miners see after they come out from the mine, but it will be the light of eternity where everything is revealed. We will see Jesus our rescuer, the Father our Creator, and the Holy Spirit who gives, nourishes, and strengthens faith with holy food during our life of entrapment and escape.

So we can believe without doubt that because the God of goodness, mercy, and love has pursued us to such depths, and dwells with us there, he will not stop working to dig you and me out. He is so passionate to save us he sent Jesus to the cross and grave, and rescued him from death, and he is still passionate about rescuing you from death too. Like the fellows trapped one kilometre underground, have faith in the pilot hole, trust his word, the life line God has put in place to secure your rescue. Our rescuer, our shepherd, calls us to listen to him alone, saying in John 10:9a, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved

Jesus is the rescuer, he is the hole digger, he is the shepherd who leads us out of darkness into light. There is a light at the end of the tunnel; it’s the glory of God. Jesus is the shepherd; we shall not be in want. He makes us lie down, he leads us, and he restores our souls. He guides us in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. And he will rip open our tombs and bring us through death to live with him in his heavenly home forever. He is risen, and we will be raised. The Lord Jesus Christ is my shepherd and he is your shepherd too! Amen!