Saturday, April 24, 2010

C, Easter 4 (Anzac Day) - "Matthew 11:28-30" Age Shall not Weary Them

Risen Lord and King, Jesus Christ, you laid down your life so that we might live.  We remember those who died serving in the armed forces of our nation.  Preserve our nation in peace, and in times of war give your people strength and courage to defend the cause of justice, even if it may cost us our lives.  For you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Age shall not weary them!  This is the familiar phrase written in the Ode; spoken and heard today — Anzac Day.  The first two line of the Ode read, They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old; Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

Unlike those whom we remember, we gather each year growing ever wearier and wearier; becoming more and more tired in this modern age.  Those who were around at the end of the Great War are at least 90 years old.  They have been privileged to see many things develop since 1918, and with service personnel from more recent conflicts, together with all of us, we have seen and experienced great changes — but at the expense of weariness.

In fact, our freedom allowing us to become what we are, as country, community, and individuals has led to an increase in weariness.  Ironically today our freedom to enjoy living in peace is not giving us as much peace of mind, rest, or as much freedom as we would expect.  I suspect many of our fallen sons and daughters, did not give up their lives in battle, so we could go on to oppress ourselves under new masters veiled under the freedom they won for us. 

Age shall not weary them, yet in our freedom we have become weary in this age of enjoyment and rights at any cost.  We remember them today, but I ask the question, will we honour them with the freedom they won for us, tomorrow, if we continue sacrificing the collective Aussie spirit for individualism’s greed and need to enforce one’s own rights, at any cost?

We remember the sacrifice of Army soldiers, Naval and Air Force service personnel, and rightly so!  However, I lay out the challenge to all of us in these days to remember and trust the sacrifice of someone greater than all of these fallen fighters.  And that person is Jesus Christ! When we hear his word, remember his supreme sacrifice, and trust his risen presence for salvation, we not only bring glory to God, but we then truly honour those who have fallen for our freedom.  It is Jesus Christ together with the Father and the Holy Spirit who truly gives us peace, rest, and hope in freedom.  The Triune God who truly empowers the Aussie Spirit, giving us strength to persevere in the weariness of this age.

Written in the Gospel of Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus says to you in this weary age, 28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Unfortunately in this weary age, we chose to turn away from the carrying any yoke, let alone the yoke of Christ.  We refuse to make any real sacrifices in the name of freedom, enjoyment and individualistic rights.  And because we do, learning, humbleness of heart, and true rest for our souls are lost, and our freedom becomes a burden, and this yoke of freedom weighs us down making us weary.

However it is not all lost!  God knows we struggle and always offers a way out to those who trust in him.  He speaks to weary souls in Isaiah 40:28-31…

28 Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.  29 He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.  30 Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; 31 but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. (Isaiah 40:28-31)

As we are left to grow old, age shall not weary them.  We remember them!  Youths and young men grew tired and weary, they stumbled and fell, for their country, and some for God too.  The same tyranny they fought against, for the sake of freedom, is the tyranny hidden in every human heart that make us weary and turns the freedom of the individual into a burden. 

Some of our diggers fought knowing the greater battle and victory of Jesus Christ was won at his coronation on the cross and his resurrection from the grave.  Some of these men who made the charge at the Anzac Cove, on the fields of France, and in the deserts of Africa, fell knowing Christ. They, together with those of WW2, Korea, Vietnam, those of more recent skirmishes and all who have died believing in Christ for salvation, today share in the victory of the cross as they stand with Jesus;, raised witnesses of his resurrection and his power to raise up all who trust in him.

So as we remember these witnesses, in our weariness, be encouraged by God’s word from Hebrews 12:1-4

Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. 4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. (Hebrews 12:1-4)

Age shall not weary them.  And we struggle in the weariness of this age.  But Christ’s blood was shed, and he was raised in power over death to save us from the weariness of this age.  Amen.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

C, Easter 2 - John 20:19-31 "The Peace of His Presence"

Text John 20:19-31

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” 24 Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” 26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” 28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” 30 Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.


Picture a large number of cows or ewes separated from their young. The instinct which draws mother and infant together is powerful and those who live on farms know only too well, what the results are when the mothers are separated from their young.

In some places the mothers are let out to feed during the day while the young are held back in yards or pens. They are locked behind even in the daytime to protect them from predators which all too willing would venture out in broad daylight making a meal of the fragile young animals. These predators might be dingoes, wolves, bears, lions or hyenas, etc.…

As the mothers are drafted out to pasture in the morning, separation anxiety between mother and child is the cause of much noise and drama. Sometimes, hell hath no fury like an angry old cow determined to get back with her calf. There is nothing great enough to stop her returning to her calf; the toughest fence, the most aggressive cattle dog, the loudest whip or the bloke swinging the whip—no matter how brave he might seem—is good enough to stop her returning to her calf.

The commotion of bellowing cows and calves, barking dogs, whips cracking and swearing graziers, creates a coarse din which might be heard some distance away. But after a while an unsteady calm falls over the pen while the mothers are off filling their bellies with fodder and their udders with milk.

There was an unsteady calm over the disciples as they hid in behind locked doors, fearing the Jews might be looking for them since Jesus was no longer in the tomb. The Jewish leaders had incited the crowd to a feverish pitch of murderous excitement, and anything might happen if they were caught out in the open. In John’s gospel, Mary Magdalene had told them that Jesus had risen, but they have not seen him yet. How hard it was for them to believe that he was alive, let alone the crowds that cried out, ‘crucify him, crucify him’. After all there was talk around that the disciple might steal his body to make it look like he had risen.

But Jesus is risen, he is risen indeed! He stood amongst the disciples and greeted them with the words, ‘Peace be with you’. In fact he greeted them three times with this blessing, twice on his first appearance and the third time in front of Thomas. Jesus brought peace to the disciple through his word, and he brought peace by breathing the Holy Spirit on them. He brought peace to his disciples through his presence when he breathed on them.

Back at the cow yard, as the day is coming to a close, the unsteady calm has grown to restlessness and the crescendo of cow calling reaches fever pitch once again. Calves starving for a feed expectantly call to their mothers and cows with engorged udders hear the calls and respond. As the gate is opened the calves spill from the yard to meet their mothers in the laneway. And yet again there is a commotion of bellowing, barking and bad language as the farmer and his dogs tries to push the herd back into the yards from where the calves came. One could say there is udder madness at this point in time!

For some time after the cows and calves are reunited as a group, the mob swirls like a cyclone as calves and cows dance around each other calling and smelling, seeking the one they were separated from earlier that day. Mother cows breath on the calves, smelling them before either accepting them and letting them drink or thumping them out of the way as they pursue their calves so they can off load their life source of milk. Once all cows and calves find each other a hush of peace come over the yard as the young suckle and then settle down beside their mothers for the night.

Similarly Jesus, who has been separated from his disciples by death, returns to them. They smell his breath as he stands before them; they receive peace through his word. It nourishes them and it gives them confidence; even greater than before he was crucified on the cross. They are feed by his word, and given the Holy Spirit. Just like the calf, which wouldn’t survive without its mother’s milk, the disciples and the church wouldn’t have survived without the resurrection of our Lord Jesus and the nourishment he gave, and continues to give, through the fact that he is risen and the fact that he continually bestows the Holy Spirit on his church today through his word and sacraments.

There is peace in the church because he is risen, and because he is with us in his word and physically with us in the bread and wine. There is peace because he has given us the Holy Spirit to continue the care and nurture he gave to the disciples on that night when he stood and breathed the Holy Spirit into them through his word.

And the church needs the peace of the Risen Lord! Why? Because without it we have no hope and are left in the commotion of our sin. Peace is only truly noticed after turmoil, and our turmoil is our sin. Jesus died for our sin and rose, and this is our hope and our confidence. Sin and death no longer have any power even though they are still a part in our lives. That is what the turmoil of Good Friday and the peace of Easter is all about.

Jesus was taken away in death but in that death he took away sin, that’s what all the commotion was all about. And like a cow crashing back through the fence to its calf, the Lord was raised and entered the locked doors reuniting himself with his disciples where they hid, and once there he nourished them with his presence and the Holy Spirit.

So today we give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! (Psalm 118:29) Because he is risen, and for those who believe, our thanks not only goes to him for providing our earthly needs, but our thanks will be ongoing into eternity because even now our risen Lord Jesus Christ sustains us with his spiritual blessings through the Holy Spirit as he breathes on us through his Word.

Like a cow seeking her calf the Lord is risen, he enters our presence, seeking those who carry his scent of faith and lives with and in us and gives us his peace. We may thank God for our earthly harvest, but we are his heavenly harvest and for this we can be even more thankful. Surely this is what Easter is all about. He is risen, let his steadfast love and his peace rest upon you forever! Amen.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

C, Easter Day - Luke 24:1-12 "Everything is Different"

Text Luke 24:1-12

1 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” 8 Then they remembered his words. 9 When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. 12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.


Easter Sunday - Everything is different. Today is a day of joy and hope, victory and celebration, salvation and life. Yesterday Holy Saturday, was the day our sinful natures, being enemies of God, caused an innocent man to lie silent in the grave, fulfilling the Sabbath rest like no other.

However, our sinful nature and death is not God's will for us. The deathly end of sin is how it’s been since the fall. However, two thousand years ago things changed, Jesus was raised victorious from the grave, shining in the brilliance of his perfection and power over death, he made everything different for us, and today we celebrate that difference. Today sin and death have been thrown off and we look forward with hope towards life in eternity.

But on that first Easter morning, there was not much cause for celebration as the women humped there embalming spices towards the tomb. They had been hindered in preparing Jesus’ body as the Sabbath demanded they cease from all work. So they rested on the Sabbath and on Sunday, the first day of the week, they set off to embalm Jesus’ body.

What did they think as they walked to the tomb? They thought death was the end – there was no more, death and evil seemed to triumph! There was no cause for any celebration. After seeing Jesus die so horribly on the cross, the thought of seeing his disfigured dead body would have left a sickly knot in their gut, similar to the way we feel when attending a loved one’s funeral.

But everything was different! What they expected and what they found were two different things. They anticipated the stone not being rolled away and after having someone roll it away they would have expected to see a body decaying in death. But no! The stone had been rolled away, they went in, but no body was there.

Imagine standing in the tomb of a dead man who had vanished, then the appearance of two ghostly white figures. It would frighten you to death. Similarly the women fell down in fright. They had absolutely no idea what was going on. As death and sorrow consumed them their own lives would have flashed before them as they cast their eyes on these two men who gleamed like lightning. These women terrified in meeting these ghostly figures in that deathly place were definitely in no mood to celebrate on that first Easter morning.

But every thing was different! Luke here reports two men, standing before the women; only later on does Luke tell us the women had a vision of angels. But Luke’s identification of these persons as men gleaming like lightning, remind us of Luke’s other references to lightening, in his gospel. Particularly of Moses and Elijah as they stood talking with Jesus on the mountain of transfiguration. They shone like lightening and spoke with Jesus about his departure, or more precisely about his exodus, which he was about to bring to fulfilment at Jerusalem (Lk 9:28-36). Just as Moses had led the Israelites to freedom, through the exodus, Jesus too had just crossed the waters of death leading humanity on it’s exodus from death. Everything was now so different!

Luke’s reference to lightning also reminds us of Jesus' word’s after the seventy-two disciples returned amazed that the demons submitted whenever they used Jesus’ name. He said on hearing the news, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven’ (Lk 10:18). Folks, I saw Satan fall again this morning when we proclaimed Jesus Christ risen from the dead. I saw him fall when we joined in prayer in his name and sang his name in hymns of praise. You can see Satan fall every day as we drown the sinful nature in daily repentance. Know the devil is defeated when you believe your baptism in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

However, the women at the tomb saw only death in its bleakest state, with no hope. They had no cause for celebration, no reason for joy. They didn’t have the privileged knowledge we have in our baptism – that Jesus died for our sin and is risen from the dead. And now with the two Godlike men standing with them in the place of death, were they too going to succumb to the same fate as the crucified Jesus?

No, everything was different!

From the lips of these men came a message of life, came the message to which the church has clung for the last 2000 years and is proclaimed every Easter. In fact every Sunday, and is carried daily in our baptisms. “He is not here; he is risen!” they proclaimed, “Remember what he told you while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again’”. Out of the grave came life. Jesus Christ was raised – the first fruits of life. The women heard Christ’s message of life in the tomb, and his word being so powerful, not even the place of death, the grave, could even contain these first fruits.

This message had come from the very lips of Jesus, it is what he told the disciples just before he ascended the mountain and was transfigured. It is what he also told his disciple just before his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, concerning the coming of his kingdom with lightning flashes: “For the Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation” (Lk 17:24-25).

The women remembered, they heard Jesus’ words proclaimed, and the power of those very words turned their whole perspective around. Now everything was different, now they knew why it was different, Jesus is not buried here amongst the dead, he is risen from the dead. The death and sorrow their hearts carried to the grave is now replaced with life, hope, and joy as they left to tell the disciples.

Jesus carried our sin to the grave and he took away sin and death’s power which entered through Adam and exists in every person since. He takes our attention from our sorrow and calls us to look to the life promised in him. He is the way and the truth and the life. Now everything is different!

In our original blind sinful nature none of us had the ability to know God, nor did we want to know him. We once saw life from the same perspective as the women, before God’s word gave them hope, they lived under the oppressive shadow of death. Now all of us share in the hope and certainty given to all of us who are baptised and believe Christ’s death and resurrection for us. And even though we all will die one day, just as Christ died, we too will be raised because he is risen.

Everything is now different! Hallelujah! Amen.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

C, Maundy Thursday - 1 Corinthians 11:23-29 "The Last Will & Testament of Jesus Christ"

Text – 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 NIV

23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

1. Drawing up a will

Making a will can be a difficult task. In fact some wills can prove to be trouble for all concerned, whereas some can bring peace to suffering friends and family of the deceased. The process of making, executing, or receiving from a last will and testament, will be a reality for all at some time in our lives.

A will is a legally binding document. On making a will for ourselves, we expect it to be executed properly; in accordance with the covenants in the will. But the bequests must have some resemblance with the possessions. I can’t bequeath my manse to you, when I don’t even own it. Nor can I bequeath my things to someone who doesn’t exist. If I tried to do these things the will would be dysfunctional and surely would be called into question.

So that is how it is for someone making a will! But what if we’re the beneficiaries of a will?

2.0 Receiving from a will

Well, as I see it we can be one of three kinds of recipients; either we don’t want to receive or have anything to do with the will or its author. Or we want the contents all to ourselves. Or we just don’t care how it is drawn up and executed – for whatever reason. It is no wonder squabbles break out amongst recipients and those who think they should be recipients of a will. Being either a will maker or a recipient can be fraught with trouble.

In fact chaos and ill feeling created in making wills and being the beneficiaries of wills becomes apparent when realised that you and I are the recipients and testators of different types of inheritances or wills. So what are they? From whom are they received and when are they executed? But more importantly what do we get?

Well they’re written in the word of God, they have already been executed in our conception, and are affected in our children’s conception; they’re implemented in all people. In fact there are four of them, listen, and hear what you’ve received.

2.1 What we have received – Will No. 1.

I, Adam, child of God, hereby bequeath to you, in the year of your conception. The ability to cause great pain to your mother in your birth and in your life, you have received a life with the snake and it will strike you, you have received ground that is cursed, a world that will cause you to painfully toil and produce food from it. You have received knowledge that you are dust and to dust you shall return. You have received a body that is failing and doomed to death and is in separation from God. You have been bequeathed the ability to have no fear, no love, and no trust in God. You have been given the ability to use his name in vain and to neglect the holiness of his word. Etc. etc…

2.2 What we have received – Will No. 2.

I, Cain, son of Adam, hereby bequeath to you, in the year of your conception, the ability to kill those closest to you, to murder their dignity, to assassinate their character by bearing false witness against them, to make it physically impossible for them to live, and to spill their blood. You inherit no land but rather your legacy will be restless wandering over the land that receives the blood of you neighbour.

2.3 What we have received – Will No. 3.

I, brother of Noah, hereby bequeath to you, in the year of your conception, drowning in the sinfulness of your humanity. You inherit the ability to corrupt God’s created order through sexual misconduct, lust, and coveting. You have been submerged in the ferocious waters of daily existence, where you fail to keep afloat and are sinking to your death with every other living creature.

2.4 What we have received – Will No. 4.

I, the Babel tower builder, hereby bequeath to you, in the year of your conception, confusion on an unthinkable scale. You fight with your family, your neighbours, and your friends. You love them but you are unable to communicate with them. Men will seem as if they are from Mars and women as if they are from Venus. Your confusion causes you to splinter and seek lives as individuals, alone amongst many other people, etc. etc.…

3. A summary of what we have received from the Four Wills

What a sorry lot we are! None of us any better than the next person. We’re all the beneficiaries of sin, therefore, the recipients of death and eternal damnation. Because of sin and death in our lives, aching and death throb within us. But we’re also guilty of inflicting the same pain on those around us too. There is not one person here who isn’t hurting or who hasn’t caused hurt.

4. A New Will and Testament

But this is not the end, there is yet another will, one which is different to these four wills. One which leaves us eternally soothed by the balm it places in our aching ears and on our painful hearts. In fact this will is the last will and testament. It negates all other wills; freeing us from the inheritance of sin and death in eternity. Listen, as I repeat what has been executed for you and which you have received over and over again when the Lord divinely serves you in worship.

5. Will No. 5 – The Eternal Will

I, Jesus Christ, hereby bequeath to you, in the years of your baptism, my will—the new will, a new and everlasting testament—On the night I was betrayed, I took bread, and when I had given thanks, I broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper I took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

What is this will? Paul tells us that whenever this will is executed it proclaims the Lord’s death. And so it should, for the execution of a will only happens when someone dies. This will, this testament, this new covenant, is executed for us as a settlement to render void the four wills that bestow eternal death upon us. Through it we are lifted up with Christ from Noah’s watery world of sin and death, spared and placed in the ship of the church, in our baptismal faith. We inherit faith, turning us from the serpent back to God, acknowledging him as the one true God. We are rejoined to the Father in his eternal heavenly meal, where we eat from the tree of life, as Adam did before the fall. We become heirs of Christ’s blood atoning for the spilt blood of Abel – our brothers and sisters – joining us in fellowship with Christ as one body. Relationships are restored through the bequest, the gift of Christ’s body and blood; people are given the ability to communicate with each other without confusion, squabbles and fights.

What is this will? It is salvation, eternal life, and the dismissal of the four wills of death. This will was executed on the cross and continues to be executed through the means of Jesus' word, the bread and the cup. This will is executed for us, making us the unmerited beneficiaries of Christ’s last will and testimony, namely, his eternal body crucified on the cross and his blood spilt in death for us. This will is executed in Christ, our sinful natures are executed and exorcised by the blood of Christ, and are expelled forever in eternity. His will is his body and blood given for you and for me.

Jesus Christ isn’t just the contents of the will; he is the final testator or will maker, as well as the trustee of the will too. He has died, but he has risen and now speaks by the power of the Holy Spirit through pastors, consecrating the bread and wine with his will, his Word. This will is not like a human will read out once as a once-only benefit. Rather it’s like a trust fund which benefits us over and over again whenever we eat and drink and hear the Word proclaimed.

Jesus spoke through the trusteeship of Paul’s ministry when he spoke to the Corinthians here in the text and he speaks and executes his will through the trusteeship of our ordained pastors now and in future until he returns. Jesus Christ died to make the will. Jesus Christ executes the will in us. Jesus Christ is the contents—the body, the blood, and the Word—of the will.

And the grace of God which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.