Click here to watch the [Worship Video](https://bit.ly/2wOdI3l) for Sunday 20 September.
"We no longer live in a society, we live in an economy."
I wonder if you can guess the author of this weighty quote. Karl Marx, Winston Churchill, Barack Obama?
In fact, it was our own Geoff Berger, who chatted with me about the state of the world one Sunday after church. It’s a sad reflection on our society that so many things are measured purely in economic terms, as it means we lose sight of the humanity and dignity of every person, which are the things that bind us together in our society.
We live in an age where so many things are counted in dollars. We have enterprise bargaining agreements, industrial relations legislation, unions and lobbies to ensure that things are fair in our workplaces. Many of us benefit greatly from these things. The main aim is to ensure that workers get a fair wage and in endeavours such as these you see a pairing of two great human interests – the economy and the desire for fairness.
As right as Geoff was to point this out, I think human beings have always had a preoccupation with money and economics, even if our society is particularly focused on these things today. Jesus even appealed to our understanding of a good deal when he spoke about the kingdom of God being like a treasure hidden in a field or an extremely valuable pearl being sold by a merchant. Jesus understood our attitude towards money very well when he said that anyone who discovered these things would go out and sell everything they had in order to buy the field with the treasure, or get hold of the highly valuable pearl. Although Jesus warned people about the problems of greed on a number of occasions and the futility of material possessions, he didn’t chastise the person in these parables for giving up everything so that they could buy something that was highly valuable. Instead, he appealed to our own appreciation of good economics – a sound investment in something of great value is a good way to use your money. His point in these parables was to say that the treasure of the kingdom of God is immeasurably more important than the treasures we accumulate here on earth and – once we realise that – we are willing to let go of anything that might get in our way to take hold of something that will have eternal significance.
And so, with a clear understanding of the human appreciation both for good economics and fair work conditions, Jesus tells the parable of the workers in the vineyard. But he tells this story knowing it will receive a strong reaction. God’s way of working – God’s kingdom – is not an economy. It is not based on money and it is not even based, primarily, on fairness – at least not fairness as we understand it. God’s kingdom is about the spiritual life we receive as treasures from heaven, things that give our life here on earth purpose and meaning and a sense of fulfilment. And fairness in God’s kingdom actually comes
second to his desire to be generous. This is wonderful news for people who realise that God has great gifts he wants to give them even though they don’t deserve it. This news might not sit so well with people who feel that they deserve God’s blessing and commendation after a long period of service, or after living a supposedly good life. This parable grates with our usual understanding of fairness and economics because we like to see those who are first rewarded and those who are last, at least by their own fault, left at the end of the queue. In God’s kingdom, however, the first here on earth end up being last and those who are last end up being first.
So if you were to place yourself in the parable of the workers in the vineyard, which character would you prefer to be? Do you appreciate job security, the meaningfulness of work, the sense of assurance that you will have a steady income for you and your family? If so, you would probably prefer to be the characters who are up early, looking for work, and who are given a secure job for a negotiated wage right at the start of the day. If you’ve ever been unemployed, finally being given reliable work at a fair wage is an enormous relief. I’m sure those workers who clocked on early in the day worked peacefully all day not worrying about how they would pay for food and shelter for the next period of time. It strikes me that these workers were actually the lucky ones, even if, when it came time to receive their pay, they felt unjustly treated.
The workers who only came late would not have had the same peace of mind from knowing they had reliable work. We don’t know why they only found work so late in the piece. There’s nothing to suggest they were lazy, or slept in, or missed out for any particular reason. They were ‘standing around all day doing nothing’ it says, but we don’t know why, other than no one offered them any work. Even if they had been lazy, or slow to look for work, the point of this parable is not the character traits of the workers but the desire of the owner of the vineyard to have people work in his fields. He has work he wants done and he has a harvest he wants to be brought in. So he invited anyone and everyone to come in and work for him, no matter what time they can start, and he will pay them whatever is fair, in his eyes. It’s his money, after all, and his harvest. He just wants workers who will come and join him.
It is the same with God and us. God desperately wants people to be workers in his kingdom. Unlike a wage, where you earn your pay, being a worker in God’s kingdom comes with the gifts of eternal life and salvation. In fact, though we share in Jesus’ work with him, he would rather call us ‘friends’ than ‘servants’. But being a worker in God’s kingdom is so much more than just reassurance about life eternal and salvation – the pay off, if you want to compare it to the parable. Being a worker in God’s kingdom gives incredible meaning and purpose to our lives here on earth right now. We see our world differently in the present because of the hope and reassurance we have from Christ’s promises. Just like – for me – the workers who came early to the vineyard were the lucky ones, having peace of mind and a clear
purpose from the very start of their working day, as Christians we can be so grateful that we haven’t had to live most of our lives in uncertainty, or anxiety, or pointless chasing after the wind trying to make meaning of our own existence. We haven’t gone chasing fruitless work of our own, or pursuing the empty promises offered to us by the world. Rather, we have been called into God’s vineyard to serve him there and this brings joy, meaning and fulfilment to our lives.
And hopefully, as workers in God’s kingdom, we delight in new people joining us in God’s kingdom, as workers in his vineyard, even if they clock on very late in the piece. Would we really grumble if someone coming so late to the faith was given the same promises of life and salvation as someone who had known Christ for their whole life? Hopefully not. Maybe, in some cases, if a person had perpetrated particularly evil acts and lived an extremely cruel or sinful life, or had an arrogant attitude towards God and people of faith, only to repent after all the damage had been done, we might see things differently. We may feel a sense of injustice knowing that, should they repent and believe, that their sins would also be washed away and they would be called into God’s kingdom at the eleventh hour. This would be something to take up with God who, like the owner of the vineyard, gives us what he has promised and shows himself to be generous, even if it doesn’t always seem fair.
Let’s thank God that we don’t live in an economy, or even simply in a society that seeks to create its own meaning and its own rules about what’s fair, what’s right, who is first and who is last. We have something far better than that – we have the privilege of being called into service in the kingdom of a generous and merciful God. He sets the conditions and they always err on the side of generosity and mercy. We can be so grateful for that, for we don’t deserve what he has given us – it’s a gift of amazing grace. May that same grace and mercy characterise our lives as we encounter people so that they may also want to join us in God’s service.
Click here to watch the [Worship Video](https://bit.ly/2wOdI3l) for Sunday 13 September.
21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’ 22 Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. 23 ‘Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. 26 ‘At this the servant fell on his knees before him. “Be patient with me,” he begged, “and I will pay back everything.” 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, cancelled the debt and let him go. 28 ‘But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. “Pay back what you owe me!” he demanded. 29 ‘His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, “Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.” 30 ‘But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. 32 ‘Then the master called the servant in. “You wicked servant,” he said, “I cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. 35 ‘This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’
Joseph Stalin’s biographer said this of his subject. 'Stalin never forgot nor forgave an injury done to him. He bided his time and in the end always hit back.' The death of countless millions can testify to the murderous intent of Stalin's unforgiving heart. He turned the energy of a grudge nursed into the fullness of evil.
In my first parish, one of my members, a GP, ran a workshop on the topic of forgiveness. She began the workshop by quoting this statistic from a Christian psychologist which shocked me. “Non-forgiveness, resentment or bitterness is the leading cause of death in the U.S.A.” She went on to explore the physical effects of not forgiving others: depression, which can be internalized anger, and anxiety, for which people may resort to drugs or alcohol in order to cope. Resentment requires energy, and this comes via the adrenal gland, which pumps out hormones. We know it as the fight or flight response, but when it's perpetually primed, it can suppress the white blood cells and the antibodies which fight illness.
I’m certain that each of us know in our own lives the heartache of an issue that remains unresolved. Perhaps it's a long estrangement between family members. Or a simple dispute with a neighbour that has taken on the form of an ongoing, unresolved border dispute. Or perhaps someone we trusted has passed on something we told them confidentially, and now we refuse to have anything to do with them.
To suggest that the solution to all these issues is forgiveness is seen by many people to be the easy way out, featherbedding people who deserve to suffer for what they’ve done wrong. Witness the ‘law and order’ debate that comes around every election time. Some states have what is called ‘mandatory detention’ of defenders after a 3rd offence, ‘three strikes and you’re in’ legislation. The third conviction places a person in jail, no matter what the crime.
Perhaps this is the origin of Peter’s proposal to Jesus. “Lord, how many times shall I forgive someone who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Seven is more practical than three, given how much we offend against each other, but it still involves keeping tally of people’s faults. It just requires better accounting and a more powerful memory. Then I can wipe them out of my life.
Jesus replies: “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Peter does the maths and rocks back on his heels, and perhaps he wonders whether Jesus is another one of these do-gooders, blind to the potential of human beings to hurt each other. That’s when Jesus decides to tell a story about kingdom accounting. The numbers in this parable are mind-blowing. A slave comes to the king owes the equivalent of a middle-size country's gross national product. His debt is infinite. A talent was the largest coinage known. And ten thousand was the largest number conceivable.
Amazingly, unbelievably, the king is moved by his servant’s plea for mercy. There’s nothing in it for the king. The debt will never be repaid, but in his compassion, he forgives it. He throws the abacus out of the window. What to do now that life has opened up again. Aren’t you shocked that the freed servant chooses the way he has just escaped from? How could he once again account for other people’s wrongs against him, when he has been forgiven so much? Our anger begins to rise at his audacious behaviour. “Seizing his fellow slave by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe…he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt.” A big debt, no doubt, 100 day’s wages, but minuscule in proportion to the one he had blithely walked away from.
What was he thinking? Forgiveness might be good for God, and the do-gooders around the place, but it doesn’t work in the real world. You can’t let people take advantage of you. You’ve got to show them who’s boss.
But the king, the one has just pardoned him, gets to hear about what he’s done, and is shocked, and mightily angered: If you’re not into managing with mercy, then nor am I. Pay me what you owe. Two can play this game. “In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.”
Do you and I get stuck in accounting mode? Even though we know that we have been forgiven by God, do we transfer this grace across to the way we treat those who have wronged us? This is where Peter starts this conversation: he asks Jesus for a number. He wants to know just how much forgiveness is reasonable. And so he suggests what he thinks is by all accounts is a more-than-sufficient amount of forgiveness.
In turning forgiveness into a transaction, we dismiss grace. And we leave people locked in the prison of our hate. Who have you imprisoned? Who do you still want to punish because they hurt you? What can’t you let go of because it seems unfair that your hurt will be forgotten and therefore not validated?
We’ve all been stuck in a place like this, and these thought and emotions become a prison which entraps us. An unforgiving and unrepentant attitude causes harm to ourselves as much as it does to others. It’s corrosive to faith and it sets us on a collision course with God who has treated us so graciously in the forgiving way he has embraced us through our baptism and blessed us with a living relationship with him.
“The servant’s master took pity on him, cancelled the debt, and let him go.” This word “pity”
is used by Matthew to refer only to God’s love. God was wiped the slate clean. In the words of Psalm 103, “as far as the east is from the west; so far he removes our transgressions from us.” But in choosing to remember and account for each wrong, we are rewriting our history. We are throwing back in God’s face the fact that he has rescued us from spiritual bankruptcy. And if that’s what we want from God, then sadly that’s what he will give us. “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive a brother or sister from your heart.” If you and I want to keep count, so will God. And he has a far better memory than us.
But this is not the way of full life that Jesus promises those who trust in his love and grace. God is ready and waiting for us to return to him to seek his forgiveness, and to pray to him for strength to forgive those who have hurt us. And this can be immensely difficult, for forgiveness is not the easy way out. It is much easier to ignore other people’s hurts, or underestimate the pain they’ve caused us. But when we do that, we file the hurt away, and we brood on it. It grows and develops a life of its own, and we can’t resist the desire for revenge. But this isn’t love in the name of Christ. Remember what Paul says in the famous chapter, 1 Corinthians 13. “Love keeps no record of wrongs.”
Forgiveness is powerful. It’s not a cop out, nor a helpless acceptance of what happened to us.
In his book, The Art of Forgiving, Lewis Smedes outlines the process of forgiveness. It has four steps, if you’re counting:
1. Acknowledge the hurt
2. Gently confront the person who has hurt you; something has happened that makes it impossible to carry on relationship as if nothing has happened. “Forgiveness is not saying, ‘What you did I understand and it’s all right with me…Forgiving is going to a person and saying, ‘I don’t understand. I’ll never understand. And it wasn’t OK and it isn’t OK. But I forgive.”
3. Decide you are going to live with the scales of justice unbalanced. It means not engaging in the cycle of revenge. It means that you choose to live the prayer that you daily pray: “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” You also choose to live in obedience to God’s word through Paul: “Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
4. Begin to revise your feelings toward the person who has wronged you. The person who hurt you gradually rejoins the human race. God has dealt with both your sin, and the sin of the person who has hurt you through the cross of Jesus. You stand on the same ground.
Forgiveness is not delayed retribution. It’s not a strategy to bide our time. It’s bringing our rightful hurt and pain into God’s heart, and seeking the healing that he wants to bring, to us and for the person who has wronged us. Forgiveness is the oil that lubricates the wheel of Christian community. Forgiveness is a human need, but a divine endowment. “In Jesus we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.” And in our forgiving, “we set a prisoner free. We discover that the prisoner we set free is ourselves.” Free as God intended us to be in Christ.
Father, give us the power to do what you have done for us, so that we might live in harmony with one another, and at peace with you and ourselves. Amen.
Click here to watch the [Worship Video](https://bit.ly/2wOdI3l) for Sunday 6 September.
I’m sure most of you have heard of an accounting software package called M.Y.O.B. It was developed for people who run their own small business and want to manage their own accounts. Minding their own business, and helping other businesses has made M.Y.O.B a very successful company.
Many of us would have heard the saying, “Mind your own business,” especially when we were younger. It was mostly a retort if we were prying into something that didn’t concern us, or we may have said it to someone else if we wanted some privacy. However, I think it’s also true to say that in a highly individualistic culture like ours, we have taken this old adage too far. Self-reliance has become self-focus. Independence has become selfishness. We are busily minding our own business, to the detriment of others in our community, who may very well need the support we could offer.
God has created the church to be a community, the body of Christ no less. The Shepherd of Souls series has taught about the responsibility we have to one another to shepherd each other. So the reality for us is that we are not to mind our own business, but to mind, to care for others, and support them in every need.
Now you might be thinking that this is a recipe for gossip, innuendo and relational chaos. And that would be true were the motivation to pick apart other people by pointing out their faults and seeking to bring them down by exposing them. We see enough of that in contemporary cancel culture. Trawl long enough, and dig deep enough, and someone will find a word or an action which is offensive, and that person is hung out to dry. In cancel culture, there is no forgiveness, and no opportunity for rehabilitation. People all either all bad or all good.
However, as Jesus make clear today, the church is not to be that kind of place. The church was not created by Jesus himself to be a loose collection of individuals who are hell bent on their individual agendas. We exist with and for one another. Someone once counted that there are 59 one another’s in the Bible, including one in our second reading today: “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.”
The church is in the relationship business. The church exists because God came on down and related to us, in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ. Sure, God could have minded his own business and ignored the mess human beings had made, and continue to make, of their relationship with him, with their fellow human beings, and with the world he made for them. But it’s not in God’s nature to shirk a hard decision. He made us, he redeemed us, and our lives are his business. God’s pure love is stronger than our apathy, stubbornness, defensiveness, self-justification, hardness of heart, our sin. In the cross of Jesus, God’s love healed the rift between us and him.
In turn that’s the kind of love Jesus is calling us to display. This is easy to do when people love us in return. But what about when people aren’t loving? What about when they’ve hurt us, betrayed the trust we’ve placed in them? Living in community can be awfully difficult. So many people, so close together. Something’s bound to happen. Tension, not talking, turning the cold shoulder, just not turning up, these are some of the ways that people deal with conflicts, even between people who confess Jesus as Lord.
So what is the community of God’s people supposed to look like, and how are we supposed to behave toward one another? In Matthew 18, Jesus paints a picture of kingdom life. It’s a place where the ‘little ones’, the vulnerable, and especially children, are accorded a special place of honour. Humility is the characteristic that is honoured, not hubris or pride. It’s a place where the lost ‘little one’ is the object of the shepherd’s diligent search, until he or she is found.
The touchstone for our common is this searching saving love of God displayed in the love of Jesus. This love doesn’t say, ‘Mind your own business.’ That would be the easy way, which would mean people stewing in their anger, people walking off because no one cared enough to actually get close to them to bring healing. Today Jesus shows us the process whereby healing of the individual and the body can take place. This isn’t easy, but is necessary. Every pastor, and every congregation know what happens when we fail to love deeply enough to address an issue of sin.
“If another member of the church sins…” Jesus begins today. Not if, but when, and not just others, but us too. What are we to do? What often happens is that nothing happens. Or worse still, we go and tell others how we’ve been wronged, and how bad the person who has hurt us is, without addressing the individual concerned. Jesus advises a different course of action. “Go and point out the fault when two of you are alone.’ That sounds good. It means I can give them a piece of my mind. No, hang on a moment. Remember the touchstone is God’s searching love, not wanting any to be lost. So we confront in love, gently, calmly, because we are not seeking revenge, but restoration. We know that God wants his healing love to flow through us. And we do it knowing that the boot could so easily be on the other foot. We know that the balm of God’s forgiveness is the only way that true healing can occur.
There’s a second step. Perhaps it’s not one that we often get to. It is so difficult to take even the first step, because we rationalise that we should let bygones be bygones. And true, it’s wise to weigh up how serious any particular issue is. However, there are times when others need to get involved, for the sake of nursing the person, and the community back to spiritual health. “But if they will not listen,” Jesus says, “take one or two others along, so that “every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”
I like the way that Paul speaks about this process. He writes to the church in Galatia: “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves.”
Humility, not superiority, is the attitude we must bring, and the realisation that we all live by the forgiving word of God. St Augustine wrote, “Nothing so demonstrates the spiritual person as their treatment of someone else’s sin, when they plan how to set the other free rather than how to deride them, and to help them rather than deride them.”
Forgiveness is the spiritual kryptonite that disarms sin and its effects. The reality is that when people, even Christian people, live together in community, there are going to be tensions, difficulties, insults and hurts. That’s because we are the frail mixture of both saint and sinner, and we sometimes choose to let the sinner get the upper hand. But what Jesus promises today should encourage us to not to run away from these difficulties and conflicts, but address them in the way he suggests: one on one, then a few more people, then with the wisdom of the whole community.
Jesus has given the church the authority to forgive in his name, and also not to forgive, if a person simply doesn’t want to admit how what he or she has done is wrong and has hurt both another person and the community. And the end game, in treating the person as a tax collector or a Gentile, is that these were the people Matthew tells us who were captivated by the good news of Jesus. Take Matthew himself. So pray for them, and do all you can to win them back. It’s the Father’s will that not one of these ‘little ones’ perish.
As we seek to bring healing, we have the promise of Jesus’ presence with us. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them.’ Could these two or three be reconciled members of the community giving thanks to God for the forgiving grace that effected healing of a relationship? What a blessing it is not to be alone, but to be gathered by Jesus through his powerful word of forgiveness.
Minding other people’s business is not being a busybody. Remember that it’s Christ-like love that dictates how we act. Facing people honestly, and working toward forgiveness is what true community is all about. That’s what the presence of Jesus among us enables us to do. Let’s resolve to be a community that owes one another the debt of love. For Jesus’ sake, for one another, and for the world. We are the community of the forgiven, not the community of the sinless, through the forgiving love of our Father in heaven. Amen.
Click here to watch the [Worship Video](https://bit.ly/2wOdI3l) for Sunday 30 August.
The singer Madonna was once asked why she used to wear a crucifix. You might have thought that it had something to do with the fact that she was raised as a Catholic. But no. In her typically provocative way, she answered, ‘Crucifixes are sexy because there’s a naked man on them.’
I’m sure the first Christians would have been astonished to discover that the instrument that brutalised Jesus has become a ‘must-have’ fashion accessory. This instrument of violent justice began its rise as an icon when Constantine had a vision of a blazing cross in the sky, before he went out into a decisive battle. He heard or saw the words: ‘In this sign you will conquer.’ He did, and so this faith of the poor and the marginalised was transformed into the official religion of the state.
The cross became a symbol of power, and it was to remain that way for many centuries. But in recent decades this power has begun to wane. Sadly, the church itself has been responsible for some of this decline, through the horrific scandal of clerical sexual abuse.
Today many people still wear the cross as a piece of jewellery. But first of all, though, the cross is something we are called to carry. It’s part of the deal of being a disciple of Jesus. And this is based on Jesus’ cross, through which God embraces the sin and brokenness of the whole world, and brings hope, and a new future for all people.
The cross is the strongest symbol of love bar none. But it’s a shocking one too. Our culture sees love through the lens of sentimentality and self-fulfilment, but there is nothing schmaltzy and soft-focus about the cross. But we are not the only people to struggle to understand the depth of God’s love. Even Jesus first disciples didn’t get it first up. In this same chapter of Matthew, Peter confesses that Jesus is ‘the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.’
Peter and his compatriots were hoping that being on board with Jesus would mean the fulfilment of all their hopes and dreams, starting with the restoration of Israel as a sovereign nation with Jesus at the helm, and each one of them as members of his kingdom cabinet.
But straight afterward, Jesus had some sobering words for them, and for us too. ‘Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things...and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life...’ Hear the cogs ticking over…Suffer...be killed...Jesus, what are your saying? That’s just not possible. Peter’s first out of the blocks with his objection: ‘Never, Lord. This shall never happen to you.’ Peter’s actions are instinctive, and they indicate that he doesn’t understand what Jesus is saying, nor where he is heading. ‘May God in his mercy spare you’ is actually what he says. This is a common Jewish saying that expresses shock. Little does he know that what Jesus has said is driven by the merciful love of his Father for the broken world. Jesus’ death will be all about God’s mercy.
Jesus knows what’s at stake here. What Peter says is no minor misunderstanding. Jesus’ mission hinges on following the path to the cross. Satan tried to derail him before he had even begun his ministry, at the time of temptation. Jesus words of retort now sound the same: ‘Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’ This time Peter is his unwitting agent, and he gets the same short shrift. ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.’
The road ahead for Jesus is hard, harder than his disciples could possibly imagine. It’s the only way that God can reconcile the broken world to himself. And following his cross, the church he creates through his death and resurrection will be called to travel the same road of self-sacrifice. ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me.’
Carrying our cross begins with self-denial. This is a hard sell in a world that views a good life as revolving around me, my pleasure, my achievements, my things. We immediately see this call as something that restricts life. But self-denial does not mean a life less-lived. In taking up our cross, we find a fullness of life, a generosity of heart, and the immense blessing of God sharing his healing love with the world through us.
I think we also hear Jesus’ word about carrying our cross in terms of the burdens that life brings us: pain and sickness, grief, family estrangement and stress. There’s no question that these experiences are difficult and draining, but they’re not exactly what Jesus means. The cross about which he’s speaking is discipleship.
Carrying the cross means that we value our relationship with God above all others, above things, above family, above self. It means that we are called to make decisions, every day, every hour, which factor in the cross. It means giving up habits and actions that we know in our heart to be contrary to God’s will for us. It means suffering the ridicule of friends, neighbours and workmates for taking a stand about a matter of faith, an injustice, an ethical issue, or coming to the defence of others, especially those marginalised and isolated. We are called to make decisions that reflect God’s will. We want to personify what we pray: ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth, in me, as in heaven.’
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor who was executed by the Nazis in the last weeks of the war in Europe in World War II, ‘Discipleship means allegiance to the suffering Christ, and it is therefore not at all surprising that Christians should be called upon to suffer.’ What does living as a faithful Christian in an increasingly faithless world look like? What are the consequences of living a life of Christ-like integrity, of truth-telling, of obediently and humbly giving ourselves in serving and suffering love to neighbour, friend and enemy?
When we live this way, we are replacing our agenda with that of Christ’s. This is what it means to lose our lives so that we will save them. This is not some ideal reserved for super-Christians but the call of Jesus for all who want to follow him. But this call can only be heard, understood and lived in the light of Jesus’ own cross. No matter often Jesus spoke about what it meant to be a disciple, no matter how he modelled this in the way that he showed love both to his disciples and to the people who came to him to be healed, it was only in the light of the cross and resurrection that the disciples got it. That’s because the cross displayed the logic and power of God’s love, and cracked open the hardness of their hearts and radically renewed their thinking, and ours too.
We can only be called disciples through the costly grace of the cross. Now that we know about the cross, now that we have been gifted with a living relationship with the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are ready to walk the road-less travelled. All that we are and all that we have is now for the glory of God.
Selwyn Hughes, who writes the devotion book, ‘Every Day with Jesus,’ makes an interesting point about why Christians in the western world are unaccustomed to suffering. It’s worth our thinking about: ‘Perhaps the reason why we do not suffer very much is because our lives do not challenge and rebuke unbelievers by their integrity, purity, and their love. The world sees nothing in us to dislike (or at least, the wrong things to dislike). We make little impact on society, we are seldom bold enough to speak out against evil, and we mind our own business lest anyone should be offended.’ These words certainly make me think about how cross shaped my life is. What about you?
It is good thing to wear a cross as a sign of our faith in Jesus. It is an even better thing to carry our cross, in acts of suffering love for the world God loves and has redeemed through Jesus’ cross and resurrection. Amen.
Click here to watch the [Worship Video](https://bit.ly/2wOdI3l) for Sunday 23 August.
I bring grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Good shepherd - the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen
So for 6 weeks now we have been digging deep in what it means to be a shepherd of souls. I wonder if you have caught the thought that the task of the church – the body of Christ is to shepherd souls. The entire body of Christ has been given the task of shepherding souls. It is a task that belongs to the entire community and not just one lone individual.
And what does the task of shepherding souls look like? It is the task of loving God and our neighbour at the same time… in the same breath,…..
Shepherding of souls brings together the Great Commission to make disciples with the great command to love God and love our neighbour as ourselves.
If we go right back to week one of this series you may recall how Jesus sent out the 72 in pairs – two by two. To every town and place where he was about to go.
Have you ever wondered why Jesus sent them out in pairs? Luke 10:3 says: ‘Go I am sending you our like lambs among wolves.’
Can an ordinary lone lamb stand it’s ground against a wolf?
I doubt it? A lamb on it’s own will be quickly defeated. And if two lambs go out together they may be able to defend each other. So imagine the ability of three? Especially if we take on the task of shepherding oneanother!
Jesus always said, where two or three gather in my name there I am with them!
Our ministry of shepherding will be healthy and life giving for everyone if we all play our part. If we leave it up to one person to shepherd souls on their own, we leave them to succeed or fail on their own. None of us are gifted to shepherd souls as a private calling – it is a call that belongs to all of us together - for together we can support each other in the face of trouble.
The Gift of being part of the church, the body of Christ the Good shepherd, is that we are called to care for one another in a living partnership for the sake of the world God loves. We all need this care. Even the best shepherd will eventually falter and fail if they shepherd on their own. We need each other. Shepherding in community provides the safety net and support that can overcome human brokenness, foolishness and simple judgements in error.
For as we shepherd together we point each other to Jesus, the good shepherd. Together we will discover the grace that is experienced by returning to the good shepherd. And in his grace, he will again allow us to shepherd with others under Jesus the Good shepherd. Jesus does not call perfect people to be shepherds under him. Jesus calls people - who have come to realise how precious his grace is - to be shepherds others. A mature shepherd will realise how amazing God’s grace is and will long to see that grace overflow into the lives of others.
Just as the best shepherd may fail if they see shepherding only as an individual calling, so the opposite is also true. When the worst of shepherds comes back under Christ the good shepherd the Spirit of God remains in them to be the voice or the presence that can bring healing and hope to others.
Today in our readings we have heard Isaiah saying to the Israelites who had suffered the excruciating pain of being exiled in Babylon that an end to their suffering had arrived, for their sins have now been paid for they are forgiven and free!
It speaks a message of comfort to all people of all times and all places. It’s for people who need comfort for misdeeds, for broken promises, for painful experiences that isolate them from others, for hurt that longs for relief that seems out of reach.
All of us at one time or another need to be led in the direction of hope, healing, forgiveness and new beginnings. And our role - together with the biblical prophets - is to speak this same message tenderly to people of every time and every place – including to one another.
We can speak the truth that not only does God save us by forgiving us our sins but he gives us double for all our sins. (Isaiah 40:2 says: Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.) Some may think this refers to double the punishment for her sins and sometimes the troubles in life may feel like double the punishment, but since Christ has paid for our sin once and for all, we can interpret this verse as God giving us an extra gift on top of the gift of forgiveness. He gives us the gift of his blessing so that we can be a blessing to others!
Why can we speak this way?
Our second reading tells us why: We are God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved!
No only does God forgive us and wash our hearts clean and fill us with peace. He gives us more! He gives us his clothes to wear and tells us to put them on: He gives us his compassion, his kindness, his humility, gentleness and patience and love so that we can be a blessing to others. (Colossians 3:12,14) – Bearing with each other, forgiving others just as Jesus has forgiven us and living together in unity. (Colossian 3:13)
Apostle Paul doesn’t simply say it’s a nice idea that we practice humility, gentleness and patience, He instructs us to do so. These actions bring about a loving, healthy community. These actions reverberate and create health in ourselves and in others. These actions are an outpouring of the love of Christ within us.
That’s what we love about gathering together around God’s word and sacraments – not only are we reminded by the words we hear and read and sing that we are forgiven, but God demonstrates that forgiveness he gives us more. He chooses to give us a double! He comes and feeds us with his body and blood to strengthen us so that we can be a blessing to others as we care for one another! And what a joy it is to welcome (at our 10.00am service to welcome 8 young people to the lord’s table for their first communion to receive both God’s forgiveness and God’s blessing.
Now if you are hooked on coffee, think of it this way. A one shot coffee might wake you up, but a double shot coffee gets you moving!
OK – for some of you that might have been a flat white analogy, so let’s move right along to our gospel reading.
We teach that Jesus our Good shepherd died and rose again to defeat the powers of sin, death and the devil, but that does not mean that the evil one leaves God’s people alone in this lifetime. 1 Peter 5:8 says “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”
In our Gospel reading Jesus makes it clear that the evil one loves to go searching to find any way it can to enter into the sheep pen to stir up trouble amongst God’s people. (a Church community is the sheep pen that the evil one just loves to break into and stir up trouble). Once the evil one has found a foothold, the evil one will tempt us to do the opposite of what Paul calls us to do in Colossians 3. The evil one does not want us to bear with each other and forgive one another if any of us have a grievance against someone. The evil one will do whatever he can to turn us against one another.
To bear with each other is to recognise that everyone is struggling with their own burdens, wrestling with their own conflicts. Bearing with one another will mean getting alongside of one another, sitting with them and gently guiding them back under the care of Jesus the good shepherd to whom we are able to hand our burdens, and in turn receive the abundant life he has won for us. The double blessing we receive in the abundant life is not only being forgiven it is also the overflow to be a blessing to others by carefully shepherding others.
The evil one may come to steal, kill and destroy, but under the care of Jesus the good shepherd, we are called to work together to care for each other and help each other bear the burdens we carry.
Together under Christ the Good shepherd we can guide each other back to Jesus the Good Shepherd and live life to the full, overflowing with blessing to others to the Glory of God.
May this reality be seen here and everywhere that God’s spirit calls and gathers his church on earth.
Click here to watch the [Worship Video](https://bit.ly/2wOdI3l) for Sunday 16 August.
It has been a great blessing to return to face to face worship at the beginning of August. The thing I’ve enjoyed the most is seeing your faces. I’ve been uplifted simply by the presence of the community of St John’s saints. Your presence is an expression of our fraternal love.
But many things are different since we’ve been back. One is the requirement to take your contact details when you arrive for worship, as part of our COVIDSafe Plan. But there’s a helpful by-product. Now we know exactly who is at worship and who isn’t. That information is important. Not because it means we can wag the finger at those of you who aren’t here. But so that we can ensure that everyone is cared for and keeps connected, even and especially if you can’t join the gathering community on a Sunday.
Today is week 6 of our Shepherd of Souls series. David Anderson sums up this chapter in these words: “Walking alongside someone, paying playful (and I would add prayerful) attention to others and how they’re doing in their daily lives makes the body of Christ a healing and hopeful community that expresses the love of God and love of neighbour.” This is the task of the whole St John’s community-to shepherd one another in the strength of God.
The spiritual reality underpinning this statement is that we are a holy community, brought into being by Christ Jesus through his holy life, his death and resurrection, and placed in a particular time and place by the Holy Spirit. Our privilege, in the power of the Holy Spirit, is to learn how to express this spiritual reality in concrete ways.
God’s word for today speaks of the kind of community God has created us to be. Paul’s letter to the Romans lays the whole story of God’s saving work out for us. From the beginning: a beautiful world, created by God, but which had turned its back on him. No one can wriggle out of the verdict of guilty as charged. A few minutes’ honest reflection at the end of each day soon makes us realise where we individually have fallen short of God’s glory. But the climax of the story is the good news that we re-hear and which we re-mind one another of each week, is that we have been “justified freely by the grace that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement through faith in his blood.”
Chapter after chapter Paul heaps up the blessing that come from God’s mercy dash to humanity. “Justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…buried with Christ through baptism into death, just as Christ was raised the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may life a new life…”
Paul’s concern in this chapter of Romans is what this new life looks like on the ground. It is the life of God in action, in our bodies and our minds. “Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God…be transformed by the renewing your mind.” Mind, body, soul-all of us, all together filled to the brim with the love of God-ready to share this overflowing love for the sake of God’s mission to bring the world to new life.
This is what a community shepherding each other in God’s love. Love must be sincere. This is the first time in the Book of Romans that Paul applies the word agape, which beforehand he has only applied to God-to us. This God-patterned love in un-hypocritical. We’re not faking concern for others. God’s love is too real for that. We love because God first loved us. The flipside of love is hating evil and the way it drags people and systems down and drains them of life, hope and joy. But hating evil doesn’t mean hating the person who is in a bad space spiritually. Love is the only vaccine that wipes out hate.
Shepherding one another means a tender and compassionate concern for one another. Paul calls us to be glued together to what is good. He uses another word for love: philadelphia. This can be best described as the love between members of the same family, in our case, the family created not through blood but through the waters of baptism.
This love is energetic-it boils over in the passion of the Spirit, and it’s expressed in concrete acts of service. This love is hopeful-it’s not easily swayed by the difficulties that we all face in life. Suffering hides from no one. Love endures pressure and pain because it rejoices in the hope of the glory of God. An eternal perspective on how the cross and resurrection of Jesus has brought an end to evil, in the end, and that we will enjoy the company of God forever in his holy presence enables us to stand, and to care for one another. And persistent prayer, especially for each other, asks for the strength to be sustained in this hope.
This is an outward-looking love. It’s characterised by a holy sharing-sharing our lives and our means with those in our community who are struggling. It’s hospitable in the sense that it’s willing to host people in the tough times-simply be with them, and assist in practical ways.
It’s also a realistic love-it’s not surprised when things don’t go well. It realises that evil lurks within us and around us. And that tragedy can strike-an illness, a fractured relationship, a dying, a bereavement. The community of Christ rejoices with those who rejoice, and weeps with those who weak. We are with people in their lived experience, and we learn to be vulnerable when we are suffering too.
It's a love that’s full of integrity. It doesn’t put people down, it doesn’t break confidences, it’s not too proud, and it doesn’t pick winners and losers. It suffers the harmful and hurtful actions of others, and it seeks forgiveness because this throws a spoke in the wheel of retribution.
This is the love that I desperately need. We all do. This is the love that God has shared with each one of us in his Son, Jesus, and in which he continually sustains us through his Holy Spirit. This is the love that I’ve heard about as I’ve spoken to various members of the St John’s community over the last months. Learning how to express agape love better and across the whole of the congregation and beyond was the reason behind setting up Call Care ministry. I know that blessings have come out of this initiative.
In this age of individualism, some of us don’t find it easy to ask for care from others. And others of us think that perhaps we shouldn’t get involved in another person’s life because we should be minding our own business. But contrast this with what Paul shared today about what holy community looks like, not in theory but in practice. Shepherding of souls, soul care, starts with, “being alert to who is present and who is absent” and reaching out to those who are isolated. It means a simple check in: how can we serve you, help you, grow you, keep you close to Jesus, give you the opportunity to serve. Who might God be prompting you to shepherd in his love with a phone call, a text, an email, a coffee?
Let us pray
Almighty God, give us faith and good courage to trust in you and to care for others in your love and baptismal grace, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Click here to watch the [Worship Video](https://bit.ly/2wOdI3l) for Sunday 9 August.
Today we are continuing with our Shepherd of Souls preaching and teaching series. In recent weeks we have celebrated that Jesus is our Good shepherd. We have come to understand that we show our love for one another by shepherding one another. We have defined the shepherding of souls as the personal care of others through caring conversations, faith-filled reflections and prayerful engagement. We have celebrated that shepherding is the work of every Christian. It involves focused, non-judgemental listening that becomes an act of prayer. It involves speaking to one another is if we are speaking the very word of God. It involves showing one another God’s grace and presence.
Last week Pastor Andrew reminded us that our households are the first place where we are to live out our faith and shepherd one another each and every day. Today, I want you to think about all the special moments we that we experience every day and how these are opportunities for us to connect faith and life. Our lives are filled with special moments that we call milestones. A milestone is simply a meaningful memorable moment. It can be a naturally occurring moment or a intentionally created moment for a specific purpose.
Baptism is the foundational milestone moment for a follower of Jesus. It is the milestone that marks us as children of God. In our first reading today we heard how the Jailer and his household came to faith as the word of the Lord was spoken over them and how they marked that moment by being baptised.
In our congregation we have created formal milestones – to help people of all ages celebrate our baptismal identity. For example in two weeks we will be celebrating our first communion milestone for a group of young people. At the end of September we will be celebrating the confirmation milestone where another group of young people will remember their baptism and share their faith with us. Our formal milestones equip and encourage families to fulfil their baptismal promises.
Before COVID we ran a variety of milestone events to equip and resource families. We have often included rites of gifting and blessing at our 10am worship. During our 140 days of church closure we still ran most of our milestones via ZOOM including:
- a milestone to encourage families to consider how they worship at home and congregation
- a milestone to help children appreciate the Lord’s Prayer
- a milestone to help families joyfully serve one another.
We are blessed at St John’s to be growing a culture of celebrating an ever growing variety of milestones with people of all ages. Right now our milestones team eagerly await the day we have access to the music suite at the chapel or the day when the renovations at the ministry centre are completed so we can again run milestone events face to face on Sunday mornings at 9.00am. But not only are there formal milestones that we can create as part of a congregation’s faith formation journey, there are many other ordinary everyday milestone moments that we can use to help shepherd one another.
There are many milestones that we experience as part of our ordinary life – new job, becoming a grandparent, getting married, birth of a baby, getting braces, getting a drivers licence, moving house, wedding anniversary, retirement, surgery, finishing chemo. The list of moments is endless! What do we do at times like these? Do we notice these moments? Do we see these as opportunities to speak life and hope into the lives of others? Or do we let them pass by?
God’s spirit leads us to notice these special moments and use them as opportunities to speak life into others. Everyday milestones and moments give us an opportunity to practice a way of life where caring conversations, devotions, service, rituals and traditions are means through which our identity and community culture is nurtured. They give us the opportunity to speak God’s future into existence. How is that possible – you ask? what does a good teacher do? When they look at their students, they not only see who the child is now. They look ahead. They see the potential of who this child could be. They provide scaffolding and support to help the child grow to reach their full potential.
God has given us so many amazing promises for our lives in the scripture that speak about our potential. As we speak words of blessing and encouragement over one another in faith we provide the scaffold to help each other reach our full potential!
*We can use milestones and moments as opportunities to not only listen to one another, and serve one another and pray for one another, but to also speak God’s prophetic promises and blessings over one another in the name and authority of Jesus. When we bless someone in the name of Jesus we no longer see the person stuck in their old ways, we see them as God sees them. When we bless someone we are bringing the way God sees them out into the light. We are applying the Gospel to their lives so that they can live as the new person God has already declared them to be!
Jesus our Good shepherd calls us to speak God’s promises of a hope and a future into the lives of others. We can speak his words with authority trusting that Jesus - in his death and resurrection - has already prepared the way for us to receive a new future of hope and healing. This is the privilege of shepherding one another. It’s not just about listening, it’s also about reflectively speaking into being ones hope and future in Christ. As we speak God’s promises over one another, God’s spoken word changes the spiritual atmosphere. It overpowers the enemy. It destroys the current plans of the evil one and dismantles the future plans of the evil one. Simeon and Anna spoke prophetic words over Baby Jesus. *Paul and Silas spoke The Word over the Jailer and the life of his entire household was transformed.
Because you have received the spirit in your baptism you have the potential to take the promises and blessings of scripture and speak them into the lives of others in the name and authority of Jesus. And in doing so you are putting to use the weapons God has given to all his baptised children to defend and protect one another from the evil one and open the way for all to see God’s will coming to life.
In the Lutheran Church of Australia we have the tag line – where love comes to life – It comes to life as we speak words of hope and future to one another. As you speak the words of Jesus into a situation you are calling the armies of heaven to respond on your behalf. The mountains of impossibility begin to crumble and disintegrate. When you declare Jesus victory for another the path is prepared for God’s will to be done in their life.
This is the creative power of God’s word! Friends - We have the opportunity to shepherd and protect one another under the name and authority of Jesus the good shepherd. And every moment, gives us another opportunity to do so. So seize the moments, take hold of them. Speak God’s future into the lives of those with whom you are growing personal trusted relationships. Tell them, ‘You are loved by God’. Back it up by serving them and blessing them.
God desires us to speak his promises into every circumstance – even into those situations that seem impossible to resolve. For every mountain we face has a solution - and it is found in Jesus the good shepherd. Jesus longs for us to partner with him under his authority and share the answers of his heart with a broken world. If you are wondering, what God has promised you in his word. Read it for yourself!
When you build a personal trusted relationship with a mature Christian you will hear them speak promises like those in our opening psalm: “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.” ….. “The Lord is near to all who call on him.” The more we get to know his promises for ourselves, the more we will be able to speak his life changing word into the lives of those we shepherd! For too long, many of us have hidden the words that God has given us. We have failed to speak them out to one another. But now is the time to change!
God wants to restore the world which he loves, and he chooses to do that through you and me as we shepherd one another and speak his word of life into the specific moments and milestone that others are experiencing around us. May God give you his words. Amen.
Click here to watch the [Worship Video](https://bit.ly/2wOdI3l) for Sunday 2 August.
The other night I was sitting in front of the TV. I think we were watching, “Have you been paying attention.” It’s on at the same time as Four Corners, but that program is a whole lot heavier, so HYBPA got the family vote. Now I usually tune out during the ads, but for some reason I was paying attention, when this ad from home builder Metricon came on. This was the text of the ad.
They say home is where the heart is. To us it’s more than that. It’s where we all love and live. There really is no place like home. Love where you live.
These words ring true for all us of us, and especially for the way God has called us to shepherd in our homes.
When Pastor Nigel and I planned the Shepherd of Souls series, we didn’t know when the St John’s community was going to return to face-to-face worship. When I realised that our first Sunday back would be focused on Shepherding in the Home, I was a little nonplussed. Shouldn’t today be all about celebrating being together face to face, singing, praying, listening, sharing, here in church?
But the more I reflected on it, the more that I think that this is, in fact, God’s timing for us. The fact that we are back together in this sacred space doesn’t mean that our worship at home comes to an end. Home is where the heart is, so the Metricon Ad began. Home is a heart place; it’s where our closest relationships are formed, nurtured, and strengthened. It’s where we spend the most time of any place. It’s where people see the real ‘us.’ Sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.
Home is the first laboratory where we learn how to put our faith into action. The first shepherding that we all received was from our parents. We learnt what love was from their actions. If we grew up in a Christian home, we also learnt who God was and what difference faith made through our parents. Luther wasn’t wrong when he wrote:
“Most certainly father and mother are apostles, bishops, and priests to their children, for it is they who make them acquainted with the gospel.” Again and again, research about faith formation tells us that mothers first, and fathers second, as the most important role models of faith, and homes as such an important space. Rituals as simple as saying grace, a Bible reading at the end of dinner, bedtime prayers, saying sorry to one another and seeking forgiveness-all of these things point to the good news of God’s forgiving love, which we all need to hear, over and over again.
“Home is where we love and live,” the Metricon ad says. Were we to have made this ad, we might have said: “Home is where God loves and lives.” This is why made the decision to call our weekly video resource: St John’s Worship@Home. Worship belongs in our homes as much as in our church buildings. Wherever God’s people gather together around his word, share their concerns, pray for one another, God is honoured, and God is active. That’s also why we recorded various elements of these videos in some of your homes. And also why we encouraged you to pause the videos at various points to discuss what God is up to in your lives.
We heard before in Psalm 78:
4 We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done. 5 He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our ancestors to teach their children, 6 so that the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. 7 Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.
This psalm wasn’t addressed to parents, but to the whole community of Israel. It’s a reminder that shepherding the young in faith is not just the responsibility of parents, but of the people of God together. Being a parent is complicated, and it can also be lonely. It’s not only children who need wise mentors, but parents too. And as you would have seen from our worship videos, and also right here and now, God has constructed our community of different generations. And when you dig deeper, you also find people of marvellously different skills, temperaments and passion.
God has placed us in a family of origin. Parents, brothers and sisters, aunties and uncles, cousins too. But for us who live in the community of Christ, there is a whole wider family beyond our blood relatives, people to whom we are related in Christ through baptism in water and the Holy Spirit. These are not people who live in our homes, but whom we can be at home with them, because God had made his home in each one of us through his Son Jesus.
Our reading from Acts 2 shows us the shape of the earliest Christian community. It was founded on the apostles’ teaching-the word of God was front and centre-read, discussed and prayer. Fellowship, time spent with one another, was where this took place. The ‘breaking of bread’ referred to gathering around the Lord’s Table. Prayer was the work of bringing the needs of the community to God-done together but also individually. Brothers and sisters in Christ looked out for one another. They spent time in one another’s homes, sharing a meal. The song on their hearts and the words on their lips was praise. This was what shepherding looked like in their context.
What about us? We live in an individualistic culture. I think this is a symptom of the sin that seeks to isolate us from one another, to divide and conquer. It causes us to put up walls. It makes us shut the doors of our homes to one another, even at times putting our family and our interests up on a pedestal, to the exclusion of others. Our home is less a castle, more a fortress. Thinking this way excludes us from both being shepherded by other wonderful people of faith, and it also means that our households can’t function as places through which other people can be shepherded in God’s love. And then there’s the wider world that desperately needs us to share God’s love.
Just think of the time that we were in a time of lockdown. We began to feel the isolation keenly, even if there were others living with us. We were thrilled when could have people around again. But think for a moment of those in our church community who do live in a household of one, and who would welcome an invitation for a meal. Think too about how this shepherding time would be an opportunity for mutual encouragement. The key, David Anderson reminds us, is personal, trusted relationships. And these kind of relationships are built on the foundation of communication
Metricon are not theologians. They build houses. But they’re on to something. There really is no place like home. Love where you live. Shepherd where you are settled. Pay special attention to those most critical relationships in your life-your children, your parents. Thank God for the gift of the St John’s community, in all its variety. Who is there in this community God is calling you to shepherd in his love? And who do you look up as a person of mature faith?
One of the ways that we’ve been grow this ministry of shepherding one another is through caring conversations. I’m thankful that I’m part of a small group at St John’s where we have the opportunity to share highs and lows with one another. I’d also point you to the Caring Conversation questions in the Taking Faith Home Sheet in our weekly worship email as another way of shepherding each other, in our homes and wherever we gather.
May God bless you as you are church here and in your home.
Peace in Christ
Pastor Andrew Brook
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?