7 The end of all things is near. Therefore, be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. 8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 4:7-11
Have you felt yourself getting a bit more anxious in the last few weeks, a bit more short-tempered? Has your resilience reservoir become depleted? I feel that mine has. A month ago I was feeling much more confident. To use a football analogy, it felt like we were early in the last quarter, kicking with the wind. The final siren would usher in a longed-for victory over COVID-19.
I don’t feel that way now. My older son lives in Melbourne, and the whole city has been locked down for almost three weeks. COVID-19 has come back with a vengeance. Many of us have become increasingly worried about the same thing happening here. And then we hear that this virus will be with us for many months, possibly years, until a vaccine is available. This is a bitter pill to swallow.
To use a football analogy, it’s only quarter time in this encounter with COVID-19. I think the pressure is getting to many of us. Pastors I’ve talked to from many different churches are picking up the same vibes. We are not feeling OK. We are tired of this. We want everything to be like it used to be. Settled. Safe. Comfortable and familiar.
We are struggling to be our best selves with others. We are not as patient as circumstances need. And conflict more easily rears its ugly head. The shadow side of our human nature is on full display, at a time when what is needed is a heart that overflows with love for one another, when people are struggling. We are, the words of Jesus, “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
Today is our third Sunday of learning about how to be a shepherd of souls. Sunday two weeks ago Dr David Anderson, the author of the book, began his presentation by reminding us that any talk of being a shepherd is based on the fact that Jesus is the Chief of Shepherds, and the Shepherd and Guardian of our souls.
Jesus is the “Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep.” It’s his voice of love that we recognise and long for, because we know that his words are backed up by action-the way that he showed us the extent of his love by submitting to death on the cross for us.
As Pastor Nigel shared with us last week, “Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is God’s way of bringing us into and keeping us in relationship for all eternity.” Jesus leads us into God’s family, brothers and sisters in the St John’s community, and far, far beyond.
In Psalm 100 we read, “Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.” The Sheep of the Good Shepherd don’t just have a responsibility to the Shepherd, but have been called into one flock by him, to care for, and be cared for, by one another. Another way of expressing this is to talk about the priesthood of all believers. The new hope into which we have born through baptism gives us a new lens through which to view who we are, and what is the purpose of our lives.
“You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” Remember when you were little, and your mother or father, or another adult praised you: how wonderful and valued, and significant you felt. Your chest swelled with pride, yes, but also with confidence too, and resolve that you could achieve even more.
Peter’s purpose, in reminding us of our identity, is to encourage us to fully embrace it in the whole of life. We have a good, gracious, loving God, and we are his royal priesthood. In Biblical times, priests were called to pray for God’s people and to offer sacrifices for the sins of the community. Now we know that Jesus has offered the sacrifice of his life for the sins of all people, for all time. Our sacrificial lives are built on this foundation. As Paul reminds us in Romans 12: “We now offer our bodies and living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-this is our spiritual act of worship.” Our spirituality is practical, personal, sacrificial, for the sake of others. It involves prayer and service.
Dr David writes in this chapter: “Being a shepherd of souls in the Christian community is an activity of care in which all Christians are encouraged to engage as part of their vocation, their own priesthood. It is a way of life that follows Jesus the Good Shepherd.” What Peter has to say to us today helps us to grow in the love that shepherds other deeper into the care of Jesus.
Peter begins: “The end of all things is near.” This pandemic has shaken up the world, but it’s not the end of the world. Our lives are lived out in the certainty that God rules over all, and that the cross and resurrection of Jesus has defeated the power of sin, death and the evil one. This may not always be clear to us, and sometimes it will feel more an article of faith than fact. But we live with the end in mind: our eternal, blessed future, safe in the arms of the Good Shepherd. And we take this perspective with us as we shepherd others in the love of God, in the Christian community and far beyond.
“Be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.” Prayer is an integral part of what we do. We pray that we would reflect more of God, and less of us. We pray that it would be the love of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, the foundation on which our new lives are built, that people around us would see, and not our sinful, selfish, surly old nature. We pray for wisdom from God. We know that life is complicated, perhaps never more so than right now. We don’t have all the answers, but we know and confess the God who does, and it is to him that we can turn when our limits are reached.
“Love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins.” It covers the multitude of my sins, the habits that trip me up, and the things that others see in me which are not godly. I have to fall back again and again on God’s grace. The simple truth is that I can never go beyond it, and in my Christian life I never graduate from it.
One of the ways we show love is by listening. Deeply. Compassionately. Without distraction. Asking the Holy Spirit to listen in with us so that we hear clearly the person with whom we are talking. And that we also hear the gentle voice of the Spirit, shepherding this precious soul. God’s love covers over a multitude of sins: ours, and the person we are listening to. And the reality of forgiveness is news that some people have never heard before. And need to hear again and again.
“Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” Listening to another person is one way to show hospitable love. It means creating space in your life to allow them to share their soul. This is a precious place, one where God is at work through us, bringing comfort to harassed and helpless people. And Peter reminds us that there is no space for grumbling, complaining to or about the person we are seeking to shepherd in the love of Jesus. As a pastor, I know from bitter experience the corrosive effect of self-pitying complaint and accusation, especially in the life of a congregation.
Finally, Peter reminds us of a critical truth. “If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God.” Every act of love and listening is imbued with God’s presence-each encounter is a space where God is at work, and an opportunity for God’s grace to be shared with another. We don’t speak, or listen, or serve alone. We do all these things “with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised, through Jesus Christ.”
God doesn’t ask us to carry the burdens others share with us alone. We take them to him; he is strong and forgiving, and through our shepherding love, he is working all things out in others’ lives to his glory.
Over the last four months so many things have changed. We’ve had to learn different ways of connecting with one another. One of the best things, to my mind, is our weekly Zoom Coffee and Chat. There I’ve seen shepherding in action, through the way we have listened deeply to one another shared the deep things in our lives. And I know that the same thing has happened through our Call Care Ministry. Now that we stand on the edge of a new normal, returning to face-to-face worship, how can we continue to shepherd one another in the love of the Good Shepherd, so that God is glorified?
What a world we live in! Who would have imagined that the year 2020 would look like this? We started the year with 2020 vision. We had grand plans. But that changed so quickly in more ways than one.
‘Are you going ok?’
This is a question I was asked recently – by someone who was reaching out to me in these complex times. It is a simple question that nurtures a trusted relationship and has a profound positive impact. It is the first step towards opening each other’s eyes to again see the bigger picture. It is the first step on a pathway towards renewed gratitude and joy.
Even in this time when life is full of complexities, there is much to be thankful for. Many people have been blessed by government initiatives like Job keeper. Job keeper has enabled many employers and employees to continue in their relationship at a time when these working relationships could have otherwise collapsed. Many have been able to keep their working relationships simply through this government initiative.
There is another initiative that we can give thanks for and that is God’s initiative. It is an initiative that is made clear in 1 Peter 2:25 the Good News translation says it like this: You were like sheep that had lost their way, but now you have been brought back to follow the Shepherd and Keeper of your souls.
Job keeper might be the government’s way of keeping employees and employers in relationships.
But Jesus, the Good shepherd, is God’s way of bringing us into and keeping us in relationship for all eternity. Jesus is the one who helps us see that God is with us and for us, that God will see us through the complexities of this life. Jesus’s actions alone bring us into God’s family and keep us safe as God’s beloved children to life eternal.
Yes, we have much to be thankful for even in these uncertain times. God provides for our daily bread and has sent his son Jesus to gather us together, to shepherd us into his community and lead us home.
But how do we experience this great work of Jesus our Good Shepherd? It is through the love and care, faith and service that others show to us. Jesus is at work shepherding us through others.
How can that be? Aren’t we all sheep? Yes, we are all like sheep that can loose our way. But when we have been brought back to follow the Good Shepherd we learn from him and are equipped to shepherd one another – pointing each other to our good shepherd who keeps our souls safe to life eternal. That’s what was demonstrated in our Gospel reading today: John the Baptist guided those who followed him towards Jesus. And then, those who followed Jesus, called others to come and see Jesus too. God was at work shepherding and guiding people to Jesus through others.
And regardless of our pathway we all need constant reminders of the good work of Jesus. This is even more evident when we live in this age of uncertainty where we find it hard to plan for the future and fear a second wave of COVID in our community.
There are plenty of reasons why all of us, regardless of our vocation, desperately need to know that our being, our soul, our identity – that is all that makes us who we are - is safe in Christ Jesus to life eternal.
On our own we can so quickly become discouraged and loose sight of the hope we have. When trouble and isolation comes we can find ourselves lost in our troubles. But that is not where God wants us to stay. In his love Jesus comes to gather us with others and lead us home.
How will we experience the loving shepherding of Jesus? Yes it will be in the words of scripture, but I will also be through our experience of the love and care and service of a friend or family member, even through a stranger who reaches out to us in grace.
God is at work in this world through others to us and through us to others. The heart of Christian living is the message that Jesus is our Good shepherd who saves us. In thanks for what Jesus has done for us Christians seek to shepherd one another to help each other walk the mile and bear the lord. To help one another face the future without fear and to comfort one another in difficult days.
As we look to Jesus as our strength and our shepherd we will find the courage to shepherd one another in love. We will not get everything right, but we will endeavour to help one another encounter the love of Jesus that they too may know the victory Jesus has one for them.
And so, just as Jesus has claimed us as his beloved children and promises to keep us safe with him forever, so today we reclaim the ministry which Jesus has given to the church – the ministry of shepherding one another.
Shepherding is a way of life where we relate to others and experience the joy of doing life together, sharing our faith with one another, serving one another and blessing one another in the name of Jesus. It is helping each other grow strong in faith towards God and in love towards one another.
In the church, pastors are people called to be shepherds over their community under the guidance of Jesus the good shepherd. But today, I want you all to be able to reclaim the ministry you have been given - to be shepherds to one another in your personal trusted relationships. Shepherds to your children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, your students and staff, your friends and fellow travellers through life
In this sermon series we define shepherding of souls as the “Personal care of others through caring conversation, faith-filled reflection and prayerful engagement.”
It is the way of Christian living: loving others, nurturing faith and reaching out to a world that is in need of hope and is waiting for a saving word from a gracious God.
Our reading from 1 Thessalonians makes it clear that: The Christian life is about loving one another deeply and caring for one another because God loves and cares for us. It is about delighting not only to share the gospel of God with one another but sharing our lives as well! It’s about learning to actively listen to one another as an act of service and speaking faith and encouragement into the lives of one another. It’s about speaking words of forgiveness and grace over one another. Serving one another according to need. Praying for one another and blessing one another.
This is what it means to shepherd one another and live the Christian life.
I have seen this happen so beautifully at one of our recent Sunday morning online coffee and chat gatherings. On this particular Sunday we openly shared our burdens with one another. We found support in the listening ear of trusted friends and our joy was renewed in the words of faith that were spoken over one another. We were together in Christ and with Christ and under Christ our good shepherd. Together under Christ we shepherded one another helping one another celebrate that Jesus is our soul keeper and we are safe in him!
In this time of complex change, we are learning that to live as the church is simply about loving and caring for each other and being shepherds to each other. God is at work building his church, working through the simple moments, as we point one another to Jesus the one who keeps our souls forever!
Christians will acknowledge that we are not perfect, but together we worship the one who promises to perfectly redeem all of creation. All we can do, out of thanks for the work of Jesus our good shepherd, is grow as people who are willing to be shepherded and are willing to shepherd others. Our act of worship is best seen in our willingness to care for one another confident that Jesus our good shepherd cares for us.
Regardless of our vocation in life, we all need shepherding. There are times when we may feel dry, unsatisfied, empty or overlooked, alone, used, lost or crazy, devalued, anxious or simply sad. At those times all we need is someone who will love us and remind us that we are beloved children of God.
With all that is has been going on, I’m sure you will agree with me that we all need to regularly hear words of encouragement from people we trust; words like those found in our OT reading: ‘Be strong do not fear, your God will come to save you.’ When words of hope are spoken to those with fearful hearts, then the eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf unstopped, the lame will leap like a deer, the mute tongue will shout for joy and water will gush forth in the wilderness.
And this is happening already today as we reclaim the ministry of shepherding of souls and as we speak words of faith and encouragement to one another.
May we reclaim our ministry of intentionally shepherding those with whom we are growing a personal trusted relationship. And may we do so in the confidence that God can work through us to give others a hope and a future.
And the peace of God which far surpasses all human understanding keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus our Good shepherd to life eternal. Amen
Click here to watch the [Worship Video](https://bit.ly/2wOdI3l) for Sunday 12 July.
This week’s sermon, which marks the start of the Shepherd of Souls sermon series has been prepared and preached by Dr David Anderson in the United States. The Sermon David preached for us has not been written down as a full manuscript; rather we have Dr Anderson's sermon preparation notes. Please keep this in mind as you read.
We sincerely thank Dr David Anderson for sharing his preliminary notes and thoughts with us and his partnership in the Gospel with us. – Pastor Nigel
1. Beginning a preaching and teaching series on shepherding souls, shepherd of souls ministry.
2. Not new, but important today to be intentional about how we care for others within the body of Christ that we may reach others to join the body of Christ.
3. The shepherd of souls ministry is the personal care of others through caring conversations, faith-filled reflection and prayerful engagement.
4. This series over the weeks will look more closely at what it means to shepherd others in the love of Christ. The importance of speaking the faith out loud with our caring conversations, with our reflections grounded in faith in Christ and our reaching out to others prayerfully, that is, with an awareness of the living presence of God who listens to us, watches over us, and pursues us every day with grace, mercy, and peace.
5. What does that look like? It looks like that five year old who on her birthday is taken by his dad to see the sunrise. As the girl’s eyes opened wide to see the beauty of her birthday shine across the sky, she exclaimed, “How did God know pink is my favorite color?”
6. Or that awareness of God’s loving presence in our lives can be seen in the story of the little boy who goes into the room with his newborn sister shortly after coming home from the hospital: He whispers, “Can you tell me about God. I think I have forgotten some things.”
7. An important way God pursues us is in worship, receiving God’s word and sacraments, but we are not in worship 24/7. We do have family, friends, and others who can remind us of God’s saving presence to us and with us each and every day of our lives. We are calling those people shepherds, shepherds of the soul.
8. It’s the ministry of the church we all have. It takes place anytime and anywhere. A critically important task of our congregations is to equip us to do this anytime/anywhere ministry with loved ones and strangers alike.
9. Our OT lesson is from Deuteronomy 6; it’s called the Shema because it begins, “Hear, O Israel,” “Shema Israel.” Faithful Jews have recited the text morning and night for thousands of years. Jesus may have recited it himself daily.
10. The book of Deuteronomy is concerned about the future of God’s people: will there be faith, will the future generations of children have faith?
11. The adults in the children’s lives will recite the words of faith to the children. Notice when this happens and where:
12. We grow in this faith as we live and speak and practice the faith daily, not just weekly or monthly in a sanctuary or by watching a service on the screen.
13. Shepherding souls is the anytime, anywhere ministry of the church only if it is your ministry and not just the pastor’s ministry.
14. It is the foundational evangelism of the church because the personal, trusted relationships we experience in our daily lives and homes are the relationships that pass along to us faith in Christ.
15. That is why the Gospel reading is from Luke 10, a story of the mission of the 70 sent out by Jesus to go into towns and villages to speak and heal in his name. That is what we do anytime and anywhere with our living voices.
16. You see, the front door of the ministry of the church is not located at the front door of your congregation. It is the doors to your homes, your offices, workplaces, cars, whatever doors opens up people to meet and greet with you.
17. Shepherd of souls ministry nurtures one another in the Christian faith daily and, thereby, reaches out to others, those friends and family and acquaintances who see your actions and hear your words that embody and speak of God’s love for us in Christ.
18. A number of you have read the Shepherd of Souls book already in anticipation of this series and to help the pastors and other leaders make decisions about the series. A recurring question was, “How do we keep this from being just another program?”
19. Excellent question. We have experienced too many great ideas turned into programs that become shelved, forgotten, with little impact on the church.
20. The Shepherd of Souls ministry will only take root if it is more than the book of the month or program for the year.
21. I encourage you to join others and read the book reflect on it with others and practice the ways the church has shepherded one another over the centuries.
22. Foundational to all shepherding is the Four Key Faith practices. You will learn about them and be encouraged to do them in the weeks ahead. These four practices are basic to the Christian life. They are seen in the Shema of Dt. 6 and they are integral to Lutheran faith formation of Luther’s Small Catechism.
23. Four Keys and Deuteronomy. 6
24. Four Keys and the Small Catechism
25. Those practices are also in the Taking Faith Home sheets that are part of every chapter in the Shepherd of Souls series.
26. Taking Faith Home is very similar to your own Growing Faith in Home. That have a common history and origins. They are both framed by the Four Key Faith practices.
27. As the Shepherd of Souls series continues, I encourage you to use the Taking Faith Home Sheets each week. Each one is filled with ways to sample the life of a shepherd of souls through conversation starters, devotions, prayers, blessings, serve ideas, and more.
28. Shepherd one another is not a lesson to learn, it is a life to live. It is the way we live out our Lutheran heritage of being the priesthood of all believers. We all share in this ministry as we engage in caring conversations, faith-filled reflections and prayerful engagement with those around us and with the larger world still waiting to hear and experience God’s grace and mercy and peace.
29. I pray you gain much from this series so that you as a congregation, as Christian households, and as the church in the world may shepherd one another and reach the world with the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
Click here to watch the [Worship Video](https://bit.ly/2wOdI3l) for Sunday 5 July.
The picture behind these concluding words of Jesus is of beasts of burden yoked together to haul heavy loads. To understand this illustration better I reckon it would be helpful to make a trip back into the past. Maybe the simplest way to do this is by telling you a story. One of those stories in which animals talk.
Good morning my name is Curley, Curley the ox. Here’s a photo of me and one of my work mates. The cute, and at the same time the more macho looking one — that’s me. We’re wearing our yoke in preparation for a really big job, if I remember the occasion correctly.
Yeah, we were the tractors, the prime movers of the past. Animals forced to wear yokes to make them work together to drag heavy loads, or move piled up wagons. As you can imagine I’m not usually invited to church services, I’m a bit rough around the edges, especially regarding the language I use. I’ve learnt how to swear like a bullocky. But I’ve promised to control myself and only tell you about my religious experiences.
The closest I ever got to religion was the time I was yoked to an Ox called Lord. I shared his company for five or six months, I suppose. Our first job together had the greatest affect on me.
We had to move a wagon loaded with sin and guilt. It was a large wagon, and sin and guilt, I’ve found, is usually a heavy load. I wasn’t looking forward to it. But you know what Lord told me? He said, ‘I’ll pull this myself; you take a rest, just walk along beside me.’ I looked at him in amazement. ‘I mean it’, he said. ‘Anyway, you’ve got a pretty mean streak yourself, haven’t you? You’re always looking after number one.’ I still wonder how he knew that. ‘And if you try to help that’s only going to make it worse, even heavier for me. I’ll carry your personal burden, as well as the load in the wagon.’
And that’s what Lord always did for me when we were carrying loads of sin and guilt. He bore it all himself. Those were the times when it was simply wonderful to be yoked to him. It was as if none of that sin and guilt was there at all. What a blessing (is that the right religious word?) to be yoked to Lord.
Of course, there were other loads we carried, too. There are all kinds of things that humans want to get rid of — worry, fear, sickness, family concerns, relationship troubles, loneliness, busyness, problems with self-esteem, with past experiences, with unfairness and injustices that don’t go away. All kinds of things. And that’s when being yoked to Lord became more difficult. He wanted me to bear my share of the burden. And that’s fine. But at times I reckon he purposely slacked off and gave me more than my fair share. I guess he’s entitled to do that, but I couldn’t help feeling the unfairness of it.
Of course, I didn’t say anything, just suffered in silence. Those were the occasions I wished I could be free of Lord and be yoked to another of my ox-friends instead.
But one day I had enough. I dared to speak about his unfairness. And what sticks in my memory, as I made my complaint, is the smile on Lord’s face. (You think oxen don’t smile? Well, the ones I worked with did.) And it wasn’t a derisive smile, or a smile of disappointment. It was an accepting smile. A tell-me-more smile. An at-last-you’re-starting-to-be-honest-with-me smile. A so-you-want-to-understand-me smile. And he explained why at times life just gets unfair.
You know, he wasn’t up to doing his share; he wasn’t feeling up to scratch — must be something I ate, he said — or his old back-leg injury was playing up. Or he thought I needed an extra workout, it would strength my flabby back and neck muscles, or he was helping me to develop a sense of unfairness. Every time I complained I realized I got to know him better. And I got to know me better. And our relationship deepened. I realized what I would have missed if I’d walked away from him and gave the bullocky a really mournful look that said ‘I want a different yoke-partner.’ (You think oxen can’t mope around mournfully? The ones I worked with did.)
Being yoked to Lord was the best time of my life. Even when I myself was going through the kind of troubles that were piled high in the wagon, the troubles we were carting out of the life of humans. Even then I knew Lord was always caring for me. And by means of my complaining he was letting me get to know him better.
All that brings to mind the visitor who sometimes appeared at our camps. He told stories around the camp fire to a gathering of quite a few bullockys who were driving other teams. (You think oxen can’t understand camp-fire stories? Oh, there’s a lot you don’t know about oxen.)
Well, there were stories he told that - how should I put it - that matched up with what Lord told me, and was doing with me.
For example. There was a guy named Paul. He had some kind of trouble with thorns, which he didn’t like at all. Well, he asked THELord (never worked out who he really was) to remove this burden from him. He asked repeatedly. They got into an argument apparently. But still THELord said ‘no’. But through the argument this Paul guy got to know THELord better, understood why the thorns stayed. He even claimed, as I understood the story, that the weakness brought about by the thorns made him stronger than ever. But I never completely understand human talk. (Bet you didn’t know that about oxen either.)
Then there was a guy called Jonah. He had trouble with worms. They were eating his veges. He blamed THELord for it all. And they had a ding-dong argument about it. THELord explained why he did it, and what this Jonah was supposed to learn about THELord from it, but I never heard whether he gained anything from the argument — as he should have. It seems I always fell asleep halfway through that story.
Then there was a guy called Psalmwriter. He was sick, afraid he was going to die. He had a few words with THELord, too. But not as heated as Jonah. He told THELord that if he died, THELord would miss out on the praise he regularly gave him. And other people wouldn’t hear it either. So the big loser in his death would be THELord. It seemed to me this Psalmwriter must have had many arguments like this in the past and had come to know THELord very well. I don’t remember if he recovered. At least he lived long enough to write his Psalm.
Then sometimes around the camp fire they sang a song about a fiddler on the roof. (You think oxen don’t know what a fiddler on the roof is? Well, this time you’re right.) This guy wanted to be rich, and told THELord all the things he would do if he were. And he challenged THELord to tell him what effect his being rich would have on THELord’s plans for the world. Again I didn’t hear the result of his request, but to make a request like that seems to presuppose what a great and close relationship this guy had with THELord.
What I’m trying to say is that I think religious arguments are so terribly important. Whenever you feel you’re carrying heavy loads, have it out with your God. You get to know your yoke-partner — and, maybe more importantly, yourself — so much better, so deeply. Don’t just walk away from your God when he displeases you in some way. Deal with it. Deal with him. And don’t leave until you get your answer. Trust him to give you, in some kind of way, in his own time, his answer to the trouble you’re in.
Let me finish by reminding you that your good book says something like this: Come to me, all you who are weary and carrying heavy loads. I'll give you rest. Let me yoke myself to you, so you can learn who I am, for I’m gentle and humble and enjoy a good argument. My yoke is easy to bear, and I will carry your burden with you.
Pastor Neil Stiller
Click here to watch the [Worship Video](https://bit.ly/2wOdI3l) for Sunday 28 June.
How do you greet someone when you first meet them? It used to be automatic to shake a person’s hand as a gesture of welcome. And if we knew someone really well, we might give and receive a hug, or a kiss on the cheek.
But since the advent of COVID-19, we’ve not been able to do any of these things. So, when we come to meet someone, there’s an awkward pause as we work out what kind of gesture we are going to use. Do we bump elbows? Place our hand on our heart and extend it out? Just say hello? Whatever we do, it is going to be with us for quite some time.
For some time, we weren’t able to have guests in our home, nor were we able to score an invite to someone else’s house for a meal. Perhaps we have gained a renewed appreciation of the gift of hospitality when it has been denied us.
St John’s Church is working hard on growing into our vision statement: We are a Christ-centred, welcoming, vibrant, intergenerational community, empowered and equipped by God to serve and share Jesus’ love. One of the questions we’ve asked ourselves is: “How can we welcome people better?”
We’ve recruited a team of people to serve as welcomers at our worship services. Members of the congregation to give the formal welcome when the service starts. When new people come to our community, we invite them to a Welcome Lunch. Over a meal shared with those who are already part of our church, we get to know one another, and we share our stories, and the story of who St John’s is, and where we believe God is calling us to head as we carry out our mission.
We’re not going to be able to hold a Welcome Lunch for some time, given the current restrictions. And at the moment, we can’t welcome people to a church service in either of our buildings. But if you are watching this video, you know that we’ve been able to invite both members of the St John’s community and many other people too, to join us in worship. And every week different members of the St John’s community have welcomed us to this service.
This week it was my turn to welcome you. And Jesus’ words today got me thinking about another side of welcome. Each one of you, by the very act of turning on your laptop or phone, is welcoming us into your home, and into your life. Each one of you is providing the space for the word of God to speak into your life. This is as much an act of gracious hospitality as is our welcome to you.
We’ve spent the last few weeks digging into the detail of Matthew 9 and 10. We’ve seen Jesus call his disciples to share in his mission to care for a harassed and helpless world that desperately needs the compassion that Jesus bring. Jesus is the good and faithful shepherd, leading all people back to God. This is more than a one-person job, which is where the disciples come in. They are God’s messengers, as Jesus reminds us today.
Today’s text is the shortest gospel reading in the entire three-year series of readings that we use every Sunday, is Jesus’ encouragement to his disciples. “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” In the ancient world, the king’s messenger was treated as if he or she was the king, and their message as if the king was actually speaking. Jesus is reminding us that as we go about the task of being his messengers in our day to day world, we go out with his authority and with his good news. We never just represent ourselves- we always wear our baptismal identity as God’s children, as brothers and sisters of Jesus, and his followers.
What Jesus says to us today mirrors the way that he went about interacting with people and sharing the good news of the kingdom with them. Jesus was always out and about, in villages and towns, all over the place, with all kinds of people. It’s surprising how many times Jesus scores an invitation to a meal at someone’s place. And in the case of Zacchaeus, who Jesus spies in a tree, he says, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today,” Jesus appears to invite himself over!
Jesus is comfortable receiving the hospitality of others. He’s happy to place himself at their disposal. He loves the opportunity to bring the good news out of the temple and synagogue, and into the lives of ordinary people. He’s happy to make himself vulnerable, to place himself at the mercy of others, because he knows that his Father is already at work in the world.
The fact that God sent his Son to become one of us is itself the greatest sign that God wanted to engage with the world he loved. This wasn’t without its risks, of course. Not everyone was happy to see Jesus or hear from him. Yet that didn’t stop Jesus from stepping into the difficult spaces, where there was illness, grief, death itself. Finally, he entered into the most inhospitable of conditions, in the cross, where he was abused, rejected and put to death by those to whom he came to show the Father’s love.
Even in death, Jesus displayed the hospitable, welcoming love of God by stretching out his arms to embrace the whole world. In his suffering, he soaked up all our suffering and sin, our inhospitality toward and others, our tribalism and the way we so easily dismiss or reject those who are different from us, the way we keep the door of our hearts closed and our compassion shut off. In sacrificing his life for us, he welcomed us into his Father’s house. “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would have I told you that I go to prepare a place for you.”
Lutheran Christians well know Robin Mann’s baptismal song: “Father welcomes.” “Father welcomes all his children, to his family, through his Son, Father giving his salvation, life for ever has been won.”
It’s God’s welcome, his hospitality, that changes our lives. His invitation is pure gift. The invitation itself changes our hearts, and reorients our lives from a quest for self-advancement and self-preservation, to a journey of showing God’s hospitable love, and to embody this love through all the circumstances of life.
Like many congregations, St John’s wants to be known as a welcoming community. We’ve sought to express this, first of all, in the welcome that we share with others when they join us in worship. That’s important of course, but it’s not the whole picture of divine hospitality. I believe that God is teaching us much while we can’t gather in our church buildings. He’s reminding us the ministry of welcome is far broader than the doors of the church or chapel. As we worshipped in our homes for the last three months, I hope that we have seen the place where we live as another door through which God’s hospital love can both enter our lives, and from which that welcoming love can be shared with others. People have commented that our world has become more local. It can’t get more local than neighbourhood, friends, wider family.
The church has left the building, as I said some weeks ago. And perhaps that’s exactly what God intended for this time. His welcoming love is far broader and wider than the confines of church and home. His Spirit is at work in the world, in ways that we can hardly imagine, sowing seeds, planting hope, raising questions, meeting needs.
We follow Jesus’ path both in our hospitality, and in receiving the hospitality of others, as we enter a neighbour’s door, as we strike up a conversation with someone on a walking track, or a person who serves us in a shop. The fact that other people receive us, are hospitable to us, is proof that God is at work in the wider world, his Spirit going before us, his welcoming good news doing its work.
The other week I visited a member of St John’s who was in Flinders Medical Centre. I had to pass through the welcome desk and answer the COVID-19 questions: “Are you well? Have you, or anyone you know been overseas in the last 14 days etc…” After these questions, one of the nurses asked me about this cross, which I happened to be wearing. What a wonderful opportunity God gave me to share about what it was, and why I wore it. To be asked the question was an act of hospitality on the behalf of my listeners. God was at work right there, sharing his welcome through me.
Jesus says, “Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward.” These words give us encouragement as we seek to share the prophetic good news of God’s kingdom, leading people to understand that they are not stuck in their sin, but welcomed by the God we confess, the God who loves them through his Son Jesus. We go into a world where God is already at work.
What Jesus says today also has resonance for us when we can return to worship in our church buildings. How is God calling us to welcome others, not just through our building, but in the community that surrounds our church, and especially the community of Concordia College? One theologian says that the “church needs to submit to the neighbourhood…so that you understand where you are and, by extension, what God is doing.” This is true for each of us in our own location too.
Jesus calls us to be both good hosts and good guests: people who gives thanks to God for the gift of being able spend time with others, neighbours, strangers, and who reciprocate with the welcome of God for those we meet along the way. “You’re welcome,” God says to us. And that’s what we share with others too. Amen.
Click here to watch the [Worship Video](https://bit.ly/2wOdI3l) for Sunday 21 June.
Claire Nelson was a young woman in her thirties, a journalist. She was hiking in the remote Joshua Tree National Park, in California, when she fell and broke her pelvis. Way off a regular trail, she hadn’t told anyone where she was going. Now, lying under the scorching sun, she was convinced that she was going to die. In that moment, she found a clarity that she had long searched for. She wrote: “I had spent so much of my life not doing the things I wanted to do, or not pushing myself as far as I could have gone because I was so afraid…In the moment of feeling that real fear of what was going on around me, it was easy to see how ridiculous those other fears had been.”
Claire was rescued, with only hours to spare, and she has written a book about her experience, called “Things I’ve Learned from Falling.” She was convinced that she had been given the precious gift of being able to re-make her life. She writes, “I still feel those little niggly fears, I feel them creep in,” she says. “But they're so much smaller now. I've realised that I'm so much bigger than the fears and the fears are not bigger than me.”
The fear of dying puts the precious gift of life into perspective, that’s for sure. But this is a fear that never truly goes away, because death still comes knocking, for Claire, and for us too.
Today Jesus talks about fear. To be human is to be afraid at times, knowing there is so much in our lives and in our world over which we don’t have control. Perhaps your fears have ramped up because of COVID-19.
We journey with Jesus and his words today as he sends out the twelve apostles. He’s given them all the resources they will need for their mission-his authority and his power. But he’s honest with them. “I am sending you like sheep among wolves.” These very words would strike fear into any heart. However, Jesus says, be shrewd. Be people of peace. Don’t fight fire with fire. When it comes to giving account of what you’re doing, know that my Spirit will give you the words that you need to say.
“Don’t be afraid,” Jesus says twice in today’s gospel reading. Don’t be afraid of those who accuse you of doing evil rather than good, as they do me. Don’t be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. These are chilling fears, the kind of fear that Christians in some parts of the world live with daily because the cost of confessing Christ can mean death.
But the third time Jesus raises the topic of fear, it is in fact to tell us to fear. “Be afraid of the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell.” This certainly made me sit up and think. And perhaps you too. Is Jesus telling us that we should cower in fear before God, uncertain of our fate?
Jesus makes this controversial statement to enable is put our fears in perspective. True fear, in the sense of respect, awe and worship belong to God alone, who has the power over life and death. And yes, we do stand condemned before God because we have failed to honour him: in the way that we haven’t worshipped him wholeheartedly, nor loved our neighbour as ourselves. Every person, dead or alive, stands under this sentence.
Jesus gives us a jolt because he wants us to understand that God has addressed this deepest of all human problems: the fear and the reality of death. Jesus himself is that answer. That’s why Paul can say to us today in the reading we heard from the Book of Romans: “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”
This new life gives us a brand new perspective. We know that God dearly, deeply loves us, and the whole of his broken creation. A sparrow doesn’t fall to the ground against the Father’s will. Yet you are infinitely more precious to God. Jesus’ cross proves it, and our baptism seals it.
Our relationship with God is the pre-eminent relationship in our lives, calling us to a higher loyalty than even that of our families. For a child of God, the water of baptism is thicker than blood. We are part of a new household, no longer “foreigners or strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household.”
Members of the household follow the leader. “Students are not above their teacher, nor servants above their master.” So we are called proclaim from the housetops the words Jesus has given us. “Repent and believe the good news,” and the back story to this. Now everyone likes the sound of good news. Until, that is, we realise that this particular good news challenges things we don’t want to get rid of. Calling people to repentance means challenging the ideas that we hold to be self-evident, but which do not allow us to reach human fulfilment in the way God intends. You are not the most important person in the universe. God is. You are not in charge of your destiny. God is. Your life project is not the fulfilment of your own needs. You have been created to love God and your neighbour.
Lutheran Christians talk about Law and Gospel. We know that there is something deeply flawed inside each one of us. The Bible calls this sin. We invariably see things from our own self-focused perspective. We can see the fault in others, but we think we are fault free. The Law of God says that “all people have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” The good news, also universally true, says that “all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
This is the kingdom message. This is what drives us, addresses our fears and places them in the context of God’s saving work. We can be confident in the power of good news to transcend all opposition and to bring the grace and love of God into people’s lives. We may indeed have fears about our church, our faith, our place in the world. Powerful voices are challenging key tenets of Christian belief: that all people have been created in God’s image and have an equal dignity; that we are broken creatures who need the restoring touch of God; that the Bible is a trustworthy record of God’s heart for us. We worry about what will unfold as individual self-expression becomes king, and our society no longer holds to an agreed set of values and behaviours? What kind of society is it when whoever can shout the loudest wins? Social media is exactly like this. And what about those who don’t have a voice: the poor, those who live in third-world countries, those who are refugees?
It is for all people that Jesus refused to be silenced, and committed to the course of doing his Father’s will. He did this out of a place of absolute trust and security in relationship with his Father. His delight was to do his Father’s will, even at the cost of his life. And he calls us to live, serve and speak out of the same place of security and gracious love.
Yet there is no escaping that this won’t have its challenges. But what we experience will be nothing that Jesus has not first gone through for us. Paul has this mysterious phrase in Colossians that in his own body he fills up “what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” It’s not for us to choose what this suffering looks like. It could be something as simple as saying no to something we know God has told us not to do, a little loss of self-autonomy. It could be the scorn of those who belittle our faith commitment. And certainly for Christians in other parts of the world, it could mean, as it did for Jesus, giving up one’s life.
John Piper writes that “God really means for the body of Christ, the church, to experience some of the suffering he experienced so that when we offer the Christ of the cross to people, they see the Christ of the cross in us. We are to make the afflictions of Christ real for people by the afflictions we experience in offering him to them, and living the life of love he lived.” This looks different for different people. The peace that Jesus brings between us and his Father cuts like a sword when people we love don’t share this faith or actively oppose. It is seen as a threat because it disrupts the comfortable status quo, or calls the things people trust into question. This is true particularly with those nearest and dearest. Some of you know what this is like. And so do many Christians in Muslim majority countries. To trust Jesus can mean being estranged, or even expelled from one’s family for good.
If we want to have an easy, cushy life, we might want to think twice about being or remaining a Christian. But if we want a meaningful, authentic and God-pleasing life, then stay on the path of discipleship. Recognise that we are out of step with the world. Know that we will be different, and seen as so, and that this difference is likely to become more pronounced. That’s what taking up our cross looks like.
Don’t be afraid…the God of all creation hold you secure through his Son Jesus. You have found fullness of life in his cross and resurrection. And you bring life to others as you carry this cross in your own life. Amen.
Click here to watch the [Worship Video](https://bit.ly/2wOdI3l) for Sunday 14 June.
How are you sleeping at the moment? Not right now, I mean, but at night. Since the advent of COVID-19, I’ve been sleeping quite fitfully. Often I’ll wake up feeling quite tired. Other times I’ve woken in the early hours, mind active and heart racing, and haven’t been able to get back to sleep for some time. At other times. I’ve been conscious of experiencing vivid dreams. I’ve put it down to my subconscious needing to process the complexity and uncertainty of living through this experience.
I’m not alone, it appears. Australian researchers have found that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the sleep patterns of almost half of us. “46 per cent are sleeping poorly during the pandemic…41 per cent are waking during the night three or more times a week, a symptom of insomnia.” They put this down to “pandemic stress, anxiety, job changes and financial distress.” And the vivid, disturbing dreams? Scientists think this is due to an excess of adrenalin in our systems, as we respond to the stress of the pandemic and learning how to live with a heightened threat. And adrenalin assists in memory recall, hence the dreams.
While the COVID-19 restrictions are slowly lifting, we are still living with great uncertainty. Now that we can travel more freely, and have more people in our homes, and eat out at a restaurant or pub, perhaps we are more frustrated because we are closer to the old normal, but we are not there yet, and nor do we know how long we are going to have to wait. There’s a lack of clarity, and a lack of control, and we don’t like either of these feelings.
St John’s congregation was supposed to have held our Annual General Meeting two weeks ago, on Pentecost Sunday, after a combined service of our whole community. But we couldn’t worship together in Concordia College Chapel, and we couldn’t share lunch, and nor could we meet to reflect on how we have carried out God’s call in 2019, and look forward to 2020.
We do plan to meet via Zoom today. It won’t quite be the same as being face to face. We also know that the environment we face will be nothing like 2019, and 2020 is nothing like the year we had planned for. We face a raft of new challenges. When will we be able to use our church buildings? When will our ministries be able to resume? What will be the long term financial and spiritual implications of COVID-19, for each one of personally, and for our as a church community?
You might be familiar with the poem, “Said Hanrahan,” by the Australia bush poet, John O’Brien. It was written in July 1919, during the Spanish Flu pandemic. "We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan in accents most forlorn, outside the church, ere Mass began one frosty Sunday morn.” Droughts, fires, rain, then floods. “We’ll all be rooned, before the year is out.” 2020 has not been a great year so far. We’d like to return it for a refund. All around there are swirling currents of pessimism, anxiety, frustration and boredom. We look around the world and see that civil society seems to have a thin veneer, and below that there is a cauldron of resentment caused by racism and poverty. What kind of people are we called to be in the face of all these challenges?
On Pentecost Sunday God’s word reminded us of the gift, and gifts of the Holy Spirit. God breathed his church into life-the life of the Risen Lord Jesus, through the Holy Spirit. And the Spirit distributes gifts to the church, to enable us to fulfill God’s mission. Last Sunday Pastor Nigel spoke of God’s call on our lives. We are Jesus’ disciples. We learn from him, we grow through the discipling we receive, and the way that we seek to grow others.
This Sunday marks the beginning of the Sundays after Pentecost. We’re on a journey of listening to Jesus and observing the commands he has given us. Week by week, we sit at Jesus’ feet, if not in our church buildings, then in our lounge rooms or around our kitchen tables. Day by day, we learn how to put what we hear into practice, through the prompting and strength that the Holy Spirit gives us.
Today we meet Jesus midway through his ministry journey. Matthew, himself a newly called disciple, has shared with us what he has heard Jesus teach, through the Sermon on the Mount, his kingdom manifesto, and what he has seen Jesus do to bring the kingdom to life: in the healing of a man with leprosy, which meant for him a doubly renewed life, not just a clean bill of health but restoration back to his community. A storm is stilled, and calm is restored to Jesus’ disciples, and amazement. A blind man, and someone who can’t talk, and a woman who has been bleeding for 12 years are healed-grace and mercy in action. Two people possessed by evil spirits are set free by the power of Jesus’ word. And a dead little girl is raised to new life, Jesus paying forward his resurrection.
So far it had been Jesus at work. His words. His healing. But there was far more need than one person could address. “When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” People were burdened by the demand to keep God’s commands perfectly. Driven down by guilt at their failures. Disheartened by their Roman oppressors. Their religious leaders did nothing to offer to them the comfort and mercy of God.
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Jesus uses the word harvest to describe those who are ripe for God’s compassion and mercy.
Do we see the same thing? Concerned, anxious, vulnerable people, dealing with questions that this strange time have caused to bubble to the surface. Am I really happy with my former frantic life? Do I really need all the stuff that I considered essential? How am I going to pay the mortgage or the rent? How long term is this going to be? Will I return to work? What will the job market be like for me? It’s not fair that I’m going to have to pay back the debt racked up by this virus? Is this disease still lurking, waiting to pounce on me?
Jesus’ calls his disciples to pray. “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” God is recruiting, and there are plenty of vacancies. So much so that Jesus immediately presses the disciples into action. As he recruits, so he equips. They are given a new title: apostles-the sent ones. They are given his authority-Jesus shares his power to proclaim the kingdom and to heal with them. He uses the very same words that Matthew uses of Jesus’ own word and work in verse 35. Jesus knows them. Jesus loves them. He knows their names, their backgrounds, their gifts and their flaws. He loves them nonetheless and he commissions them to do what he is doing. In the first instance, they are to focus on the community of their own kind-the people of Israel. Later, in the Great Commission he gives to them at his ascension-the mission extends to all nations.
The key word is generosity. “Freely you have received. Freely give.” They have been chosen by Jesus to follow him. They’ve been granted his power and authority. They’ve been given the freedom to be bearers of his grace and mercy. They been called to share the story of how his sacrificial love changes everything. Their calling points to the future, to the church that God will create through this work that they will do.
We are recipients of the same generosity, the same authority, the same story. It’s the story that Paul outlines for us today in all its profound beauty. We know that despite the difficult time through which we are all travelling, we won’t be rooned.
In a time of chaos, “since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Our future, both short and long term, has been secured by Jesus’ death and resurrection, and confirmed by the Holy Spirit’s presence. This peace, God’s shalom, means much more than the absence of violence. It’s a sense of wellbeing based on the way that God has reconciled the whole of his creation through Jesus’ saving death on the cross.
In a time of uncertainty about work, livelihood, our place, our productivity, “through faith in Jesus we have gained access by grace into the faith in which we now stand.” Grace means that we can rest in the work God has done when we can’t work. We are not responsible for the management of the universe; God is. Faith is the sure and certain confidence about this.
In a time of deep concern for some, despair for others, “we boast in the hope of the glory of God.” We look at the circumstances around us, and we worry deeply about where the world is heading. However, our hope is that God the Creator will usher in his new creation at a time of his choosing. With hope in our hearts and minds, we can live creatively and positively. We are convinced that God’s justice will prevail. The evil that we see around us will not have the last word.
In a time when many of us have suffered a series of losses, because of the suffering death and earth shattering resurrection of Jesus, we “know that suffering [our suffering even] produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” We frame our present circumstances, and that of the world today, against the backdrop of God’s victory over the forces of chaos and evil. We can persevere because Jesus has persevered in love for us.
“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” This fact fortifies us in faith, and forms our character in ways that enable us to show by our words and action that God has got us, and his world, and he is putting things to rights, through Jesus.
And this is the hope that “does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” This hope energises us to be a force for God, for good, followers of Jesus who spread love, who incarnate grace, who suffer with and for others. Whose lives say to others, contrary to Hanrahan: “We won’t all be rooned.” Quite the opposite. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Click here to watch the [Worship Video](https://bit.ly/2wOdI3l) for Sunday 7 June.
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, The love of the Father and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Have you ever found yourself repeatedly reflecting upon a bible reading and each time noticed something different?
Well, Today’s Gospel reading is a little like that for me. It is one we hear often. It is shared at almost every baptism.
On this occasion, I notice, that making disciples is not as simple as ‘just adding water.’ Imagine if making disciples was as easy as whipping up a batch of instant pancakes, like ‘just adding water’ and following some simple instructions on the back of a pack.
Well, a part of making disciples does involve adding water and washing in God’s name. We call this Baptism. It is God’s way of unconditionally welcoming people into his community and sharing his love with them. But making disciples also includes leading one another into a way of life where we learn to love as God has loved us.
And so making disciples is not necessarily instant. Making disciples is an ongoing, lifelong partnership with God and others in community.
In today’s Gospel reading the risen Jesus appeared to the eleven disciples. He had spent three years with them, encouraging them and teaching them so much. We might compare today’s Gospel to a graduation ceremony. After three years of living as students of Jesus his first group of disciples receive their ‘bachelor degree’ and are commissioned to disciple others just as Jesus disciples them.
But, when the disciples were up on the mountain and they saw the risen Jesus approaching, what did they do? Some worshipped him, others doubted. If you were there, what would you have done? Would you have worshipped or doubted?
We might be tempted to play one off against the other. But what I notice is that Jesus comes to them – worshipers and doubters alike - and shows his grace in the way he speaks to them. Regardless of whether they worshipped or doubted, he commissions them to disciple others as they go about their daily living.
So how do we learn to disciple people?
We can learn to disciple people by looking at how Jesus discipled people and by allowing people who are being discipled by Jesus to disciple us.
Jesus invited a handful of people to do life together with him. ‘Come follow me’ he said to his first disciples ‘and I will make you fishers of people’. (Matthew 4:19) Andrew, Peter, James and John were the first of twelve people whom Jesus discipled. Jesus grew a deep relationship with them. Jesus taught his disciples everything that he received from his Father in heaven.
By discipling the twelve, Jesus established community. Jesus brought these twelve into a common union with God and each other. They came to understand the truth about who God is and his gracious plans and purposes for all people. They came to understand that ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8.) ,… that God is to be known and named as: Father, Son and Holy Spirit,… that God has made us, has saved us and brings us into relationship with himself. And … that God is to be worshipped above all.
But right now, like those first disciples on the eve of ‘their commissioning’, I find myself oscillating between doubt and worship. For as long as I am alive in this broken world, my faith, knowledge and experience of God remains incomplete.
Over these months of social distancing, I have come to the conclusion that discipling is God’s way of gathering us into safe communities of love and grace for the eternal benefit of all.
You see, when we live in isolation and the troubles of this life come along, we can easily be overpowered. When we have someone who walks with us and troubles come, we can help each other and defend each other. Ecclesiastes 4:12 shares this wisdom and then goes on to say: ‘A cord of three strands is not quickly broken’.
In this picture of a cord with three stands we have a picture of community! When troubles come our way and we live in a community of love and grace, the troubles will not easily break us for we are stronger together. So when we live in community we are at our best.
A couple of months ago our understanding of community may have been ‘large groups’ of people coming together in one place for one purpose. But now after all that we have experienced , we need to rethink our picture of community.
What is Community? What are the essential components of community? And how does community grow?
May I suggest that Community can be as small as two people gathering together in God’s name. And Community can grow one person at a time. (Matthew 18:20)
In this season, God is calling each of us who are being discipled in Jesus’ love to be part of his mission of rebuilding community, one person at a time. We can do so by intentionally building relationship, doing life together, by loving another as Jesus loved us. By intentionally sharing with another what Jesus has shared with us.
In this season I believe God is inviting us to rebuild community with him and with each other - one relationship at a time.
As we look to rebuild community, we will discover that community is built by disciples who make disciples. Therefore, I need to ask: Who is discipling me? And who am I discipling?
Jesus commissions you who are being discipled in his name to disciple someone else as you go about your daily life. As you receive love and grace from Jesus through those who are discipling you, so you too can show love and grace to those you disciple. As you remain teachable by learning from Jesus and his word, so you are able to teach those who accept your love and grace.
Discipling is not a quick one off transformation. Discipling is an ongoing, lifelong partnership with God and with others in community.
As restrictions are slowly easing, I wait patiently for the day when we can physically come together as a ‘larger community’.
As I wait for that day I also look forward to the great eternal day when we will finally experience the perfect unity of community that God shares as: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This mystery of community in the Godhead is beyond our understanding.
This unity is so perfect that no human can even begin to fully describe it.
I can only imagine what it will be like to stand in the beauty of heaven and truly discover what it means to live in perfect community with God and with each other forever.
The closest we can come to such a perfect unity now is by discipling one another. When we learn to support, care and listen to others the way Jesus supports, cares and listens to us; When we learn to share with others in word and action what Jesus has shared with us. When we forgive one another as the lord has forgiven us, then we experience a foretaste of the perfect community.
So as we start to come out of our restrictions, let’s ask one another: What sort of community do we want to engage in? What sort of community do we want to help rebuild?
The best community we can possibly rebuild will be: One that has the unity of God at it’s heart. One were people celebrate God’s love and presence. One where people disciple one another by loving one another as we are loved by Jesus.
The greatest mystery of God is that God is love. His love has no end! We will find refreshment and renewed imagination and creativity in our communal lives by entering into this mystery of faith and experiencing the wonder of what we see God doing. We will again thrive as community as we appreciate the incomprehensible nature of God’s love and as we join God in what we see God doing!
How precious it is to know that God made us to be in relationship with him and with each other in community. How comforting it is to know that God is with us and desires to draw all people into his eternal community of love. How reassuring it is to know that our Triune God gives us the Grace, love and fellowship that we need to live together in the unity of community even now.
May we once again learn to live and practice the gifts of grace, love and fellowship. May we again learn to value God’s eternal gift of community and live as disciples who make disciples. To the glory of God. Amen
Click here to watch the [Worship Video](https://bit.ly/2wOdI3l) for Sunday 31 May
Welcome to St John’s Church. Of course, the St John’s community haven’t been inside this building, or our other worship space, Concordia College Chapel, for well over two months now. I can guarantee you that St John’s church doesn’t usually look anything like this. Normally there are rows of chairs neatly placed, with the carpet carefully vacuumed and the hall tidy so that it can be used for various meetings.
To be frank, it looks a bit of a mess right now. But there’s a reason for it. We are just commencing long-awaited repair and renovation work on what is a 62-year- old building. Late last year new doors went in so that people could see in from the outside, and see that we were open for business. Until we had to close, that is, due to COVID-19. In early autumn, the galvanised iron roof was repaired and repainted, and the gutters replaced. And just in time too, as Adelaide received its best autumn rains for quite some time.
Now we are getting on with essential work on the interior of the ministry centre. Members of our congregation are doing the work that they can, and tradespeople are coming to do the specialized repairs; renderers, ceiling repairers, electricians and painters.
I’m no handyman, and I am amazed at how practically gifted some people are. I’m looking forward to seeing how each person’s work will come together to produce a more welcoming, fit for purpose, renewed ministry space. And I’m also looking further forward to St John’s being able to use the building to its fullness, as ministries return and we can worship communally again.
While we are currently doing work on our church building, God is continuing to work on us and do his work in and through us, through the Holy Spirit. Even and especially when we are not in building. As I said last week, “the church has left the building. But the church is very much alive and active in our households, and in our interactions with friends, neighbours and workmates.”
Today is the festival of Pentecost, the birth day of the church. Jesus’ 12 disciples were all together in one place, Luke tells us. Social distancing and the 10 person gathering rule did not apply. Suddenly the Holy Spirit blows into the room. Tongues of fire overshadow the disciples. This was the gift Jesus had instructed his disciples to wait them to wait for, so that “repentance and forgiveness of sins could be proclaimed to all nations in his name.”
The Holy Spirit gets to work quick smart. The Pentecost festival had attracted Jewish people from across the known world. They heard the sound of the Spirit-wind, and then the voices of the disciples, speaking in languages they had never learnt, telling them, in their mother tongue, the good news about Jesus. God starts where their natural ability ends.
Pentecost tells us that God breathes his church into being through his Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit’s work is take the words and work of Jesus and translate that into faith in the heart of those who hear this good news. All the work that the church does, all our worship services, our ministry events, our pastoral care, our buildings-is founded on the Spirit’s work. The Spirit is the master craftsman of faith.
The Holy Spirit ensures that the church understands that it has one plan: to confess that Jesus is Lord. The Holy Spirit gets the church going, through calling people to faith. “No one can say, “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit…” It’s the Holy Spirit who join us, one with another, in the church: “For into the one Spirit we were all baptised into one bodywhether Jew or Greek, slaves or free- and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”
Baptism is the starting point for the kingdom of God. It connects us to the saving work of Jesus, and unites us, one with another. As Luther’s Small Catechism teaches us: “I believe that I cannot by my own understanding or strength believe in Christ Jesus my Lord, or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy, and kept me in true faith. This work the Spirit does for the whole church. We’re all in this together, as we’re fond of saying in these days, through the Spirit.
That was Paul’s experience, in his own life, as Jesus caught up with him on the road to Damascus, and completely transformed his life. From persecuting the church, Paul became its chief advocate and following the direction of the Holy Spirit to bring good news to the then known world.
Corinth was one of the places where Paul had pitched his tent and shared the good news. Despite the heartache this congregation caused him, Paul always returns to the facts-the church is the creation of God, made holy through the work of Jesus, and breathed into life through the Holy Spirit. Paul begins this letter with these encouraging words: “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given to you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him…so that you are not lacking in any grace-gift.”
Sadly, this congregation had turned their giftedness into an occasion for human pride. Everyone was pulling in a different direction. The chaos was worse than any mess that our church building might be in right now. The situation was beyond belief- sexual immorality, believers taking one another to civil court, spiritual arrogance destroying the faith of young Christians, the Lord’s Supper becoming a food fight.
Thankfully our Renovation Task Force have a plan for our ministry centre refurbishment. They’ve set out the specification of the work. They’ve obtained a number of quotes for each job. They’ve set up a schedule, so that things run smoothly, in the right sequence. And we have one person managing the tradespeople and volunteers so that we can give of our best by working together.
God works in the same ordered way. God equips each one of us through the Holy Spirit to work together in God’s mission, through sharing gifts of grace, the charismata, with us. “There are different kinds of gifts,” Paul says, “but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.”
It will be interesting over the next weeks to observe the tradespeople and St John’s members working together to transform our building into a space through which we can grow and also serve our community. It’s the same spiritually. Paul writes, “Now to each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” The Spirit gives grace-gifts that build up the house of God. Paul goes on to list some of these gifts:
- To one is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom- a word given by the Spirit to speak into a particular situation in someone’s life.
- to another a message of knowledge according to the same Spirit- a word that grows someone in their understanding of God.
- to another faith by the same Spirit- clearly we’ve have all received the gift of faith but this a special measure of faith to encourage or sustain, to heal or to work miracles.
- to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit-Jesus healed people as a sign of his compassion and of his kingdom, in which he heals our sin-sickness through his death and resurrection,
- to another the working of miracles-God acts in ways far beyond our comprehension and our ability, to point to his power to save
- to another prophecy- to make clear what God’s will is for a community of faith.
- to another distinguishing between spirits- to know what is evil and what comes from God in the spiritual realm so that the community of faith is not led astray
- to another speaking in different kinds of tongues- a supernatural language given by the Spirit to help us to pray,
- to another the interpretation of tongues- a way that others can be blessed through this prayer
God gives these gifts in order that the body of Christ may function in the way that he intended: that it may be a community of love that exists not just for its own sake but for the world. These particular grace-gifts are by no means the only things God gives to his church. We are also graced to bear the fruit of his Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. And to top of that there is the overlay of our particular personality, or natural talents, abilities and passions.
God calls such a diversity of people into his church. Look at the people of different ages and stages on the screens of our St John’s Worship@Home videos. We’ve heard people’s personal stories, we’ve seen them lead our singing and various elements in our worship. Then there’s those behind the camera and labouring over the computer to produce what we see on Sunday. And then there are those amongst us who’ve committed to share God’s compassion and concern through care calling.
I’ve been so encouraged by what I’ve seen the Spirit doing amongst us in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. God has graced us each one of us with gifts to participate in his mission to the world. We are being the church in different ways to normal, in different spaces. And God’s still busy at work through the Spirit and his grace-gifts. Amen.