Sometimes life may get stormy and threatening and dangerous. All your attention and energy is used for coping, lasting the distance, surviving. And wondering where God is, and what he is doing. Finally, the calmness of his presence takes you over.
An esteemed theologian was once asked to sum up the greatest theological discovery that he had made. He carefully responded with these words: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” These words are simple yet profound, and they capture the heart of the good news, the treasure of God’s kingdom. It has been my greatest privilege to share this good news with you over the last six and a half years, and to see this faith active in love in and through you. As we launch our art exhibition “The Maker’s Image” today, remember that as we are made in the image of the creator, we are also creators, not just of art, but works of love and service, through the Holy Spirit. We live confidently in the promise that God is for us, and that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Weeding is one of those things that we must do if we want a neat and healthy garden. It’s an annoyance, but also strangely therapeutic as we bring order out of mess. However, today Jesus cautions against doing the weeding. He isn’t giving gardening advice but teaching about how to live in a world where good and evil co-exist. We all know the world is complicated and messy, and this drags us down. We want to fix it. We need to remember that God has it in hand. Jesus’ death and resurrection ensures that evil will come to an end. In the meantime, though, Jesus cautions us to wait patiently and to live as lights shining in the darkness, loving our enemies, and being signs of the grace and mercy of God’s kingdom.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” It’s a saying we learn as children, but we also quickly learn that it’s not true. We all know what it’s like to be condemned by the words and actions of others. We also feel condemned by the things we’ve done. Today the Pharisees bring to Jesus a woman caught in the act of adultery. They want to shame her and trap Jesus by seeing how he deals with her. Jesus shocks them by addressing them first, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” They know they stand condemned, and so do we. We have all failed to live as God calls us to. What will Jesus do with us? Exactly what he did for the woman. “Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.” Jesus backed up his words by taking on himself the condemnation that we deserve for our sin. That’s the heart of the good news. We’ve been set free from guilt and fear; now we know life and peace with God.
The modern idea of freedom is to remove any restraints that bind us to someone or something else. Could there be anything more repressive of our personal freedom, then, than being bound to God? Yet, Jesus knows that a life lived apart from him ends up with us being bound to something or someone else – things, people, goals or relationships that simply cannot deliver what we need, and leave us feeling burdened and burnt out. Instead, Jesus calls us to take his yoke upon him and learn from him about how we are to live – in our relationships, in our work, with our health, and in our homes. He doesn’t promise a trouble-free life, but he does teach us how to carry our burdens and find rest for our souls by walking beside us and showing us the way.
As a Christian community, we are conscious of warmly welcoming those who join us in worship. We welcome others in the name of loving Saviour, whose arms are stretched out in welcoming love for all people. Today Jesus takes the concept of welcome further. After teaching his disciples about the challenges they will face in following him, he also promises that people will welcome them, and the message they bring of God’s welcome. God is at work before, during and after the interactions we have with others. Jesus calls us to be good hosts and good guests, welcoming others in his name, and welcomed by others as we share the good news.
Many of us have a passport. It’s an important document. It opens up new places and new experiences. It doesn’t, however change who we are, just where we are. Our baptism is the spiritual passport toward a new, fulfilling, and eternal life. In baptism we share in the death and resurrection of Jesus. God transforms us to be more and more like his Son Jesus. We travel day and by in his steps.
Hope is in short supply these days. We are weighed down by a world facing so many big challenges: climate change, war, political scandals. And then there’s what each of us are dealing personally. We can’t live well without a sense of hope. Hope is a precious gift of God, made possible through the fact that we have been justified by faith and have peace with God through his Son Jesus Christ. Knowing this, we can face the suffering that invariably comes our way in the hope that Jesus gives, through patient trust in God, with a character formed by faith that has been tested, and joyful in hope because of the love of God poured into our hearts.
Some people think that the church is a place where spiritually fit people gather to spiritually exercise. But many people feel that because they don’t have their act together, they can’t be part of the church. A better image is that that the church is like a hospital- a place where people who are spiritually sick receive care and healing. This is what we see in Jesus’ life, in the way he healed the sick, forgave people’s sins and showed compassion for all people, no matter their background.The church is a grace place for all people. We all need the constant healing that God gives through his word and through the body and blood of Jesus, and the forgiveness of sins.