Selling Everything?

Text: Matthew 13:44-52

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

I must admit that I kind of have an obsession with Bible verses like the first verse of our gospel reading today and it’s not really a healthy obsession. Jesus tells us a parable here in the first verse of our reading. It is a parable about a man who finds a treasure hidden in a field. Having found that treasure, he quickly hides it again so that he can make arrangements to purchase the field where the treasure was found. But, this is not a man who has spare cash on hand with which he could purchase a field on a whim. No, instead this man needs to sell everything that he has, everything, in order to raise enough money to make the purchase. And that is exactly what he does. He sells everything, buys the field and the treasure is his.

Jesus tells us right at the beginning of the parable that the “treasure” that this man found is the kingdom of heaven. The man found the kingdom which Jesus has brought into this world and upon finding it realized that it was a treasure beyond any other. It was worth more than anything that he owned or could ever dream of owning. So he sold everything for the sake of acquiring that treasure.

The catch here, and this is where my obsession comes in, is that the implication for you and me is that Jesus is calling us here to give up everything that we have for the sake of acquiring His Kingdom. That is a hard thing to hear. This is not the only place that Jesus says something like that and every time I hear or read things like this from Jesus and I want to explain it away. I know that “sell everything that you have…” is not the kind of thing that people want to hear. Frankly, it is not what I want to hear either. For North Americans like us this might be the most difficult thing that we could be asked to do. I think some people would be much more willing to give up their actual lives rather than give up everything that they have. Even if we don’t think we have much stuff or don’t think it would be that hard to sell everything when it came right down to selling that clothes off your back or the roof over your head it would get pretty tough. Like the rich young man who came and asked Jesus what he must do to be saved, when we hear those words “sell everything that you have” our heart sinks. We know we can’t do it.

It is important, I think, to let those words sink in a bit though. We need to hear these words from Jesus and recognize that our obsession with stuff, with possessions, is not healthy. It is especially not healthy if the things we have in life are coming between us and our Saviour. But, at the same time, we need to realize that Jesus is doing more here than just dumping an impossible heavy load on us and asking us to get rid of all our earthly possessions. There is more happening in this little parable than meets the eye.

In order to really understand what is happening in our gospel reading it is helpful to take a look at our Old Testament reading from Deuteronomy chapter 7. Verse 6 of our Old Testament reading says, “you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His treasured possession.”

Moses spoke these words to the people of Israel after God had led them up out of Egypt and through the Red Sea on dry ground. Look at what he calls that people. He calls them “His (the LORD’s) treasured possession. You and I, like the people of Israel before us, are God’s treasured possession. We are His treasure.

Notice also that it is not that the people were somehow worthy to be called “treasure.” Moses reminds them that God did not chose them because they were the greatest or most powerful nation. Instead, God chose them because He is faithful to His promise and He loves them. He loves them and has made them into His treasure, His most valuable possession. He has made them His own. In the same way, we are by no means worthy to be called treasure. We especially are not worthy to be called the LORD’s treasure. And yet that is what we are called here. Not because we are worthy or deserving, but because of our God’s unending love and mercy for us. We are His treasure!

If we take that good news and bring it over into our gospel reading today it sheds new light on what Jesus is saying here. Jesus talks about a man finding treasure in a field and selling everything that he has in order to buy that field. We naturally put ourselves in that man’s shoes and take his actions as the lesson we are to learn from this story. But, there is more happening here. What if we are the treasure, just like our Old Testament reading says? If we are the treasure then Jesus is the man who finds the treasure in the field. What did that man do to get the treasure? He sold everything that he owned. What did our Lord Jesus do to make us His own? He gave up everything that was rightfully His, the glory of heaven, His seat at the right hand of the Father, and took on our human flesh. He walked among us and suffered the afflictions that we suffer. He even spent His own life on the cross to pay the full and final price for us. His love for us is so immeasurable that He would pay a price that we can’t even imagine paying. He paid it, He paid it in full, He paid it because you are His treasure.

That changes things, doesn’t it? All of a sudden this is not a parable about what we need to do to make the kingdom of heaven our own, it is a parable about what God has done to make us His own and make a place for us in His Kingdom. This is a parable about the price that God would pay for us.

Does that mean that we don’t need to worry about this whole, “sell everything that you own” business? Not really, no. Jesus says that other places too and we need to grapple with what He is saying. But, it does put what Jesus is saying about our worldly possessions into perspective.

When Jesus challenges us with the words “Sell everything that you have…” he is not calling us to do some great act of dedication or show our commitment to Him with a grand “everything must go” garage sale. Jesus does not need us to sell everything. Instead, Jesus is calling attention to our obsession with earthly possessions and is inviting us to imitate Him. He did sell everything in His possession to make us His own. He even gave His own life. And now, He reigns enthroned in Heaven sitting at God’s right hand.

Jesus does not invite us to sell everything, not necessarily, but He does invite us to recognize that nothing that we could possibly possess on this earth is worth comparing to the treasure that He has prepared for us. In fact, Jesus is telling us that nothing is worth comparing to the treasure that we have right now, the treasure that we have inside of us as He dwells in our hearts through faith. Nothing, not our homes, not our cars, not even the clothes on our backs are worth comparing to the glory of that treasure and what Christ Jesus Himself means for us. None of these earthly things promise treasure in heaven, only Jesus does.

Above all, we ought to see here what a remarkable thing it is to be called the Lord’s treasure. That simple fact alone is beyond comprehension. Our epistle reading from Romans 8 even talks a bit about what it means to be God’s treasure bought with the precious blood of Jesus. It says, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” and a bit later, “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

If we are God’s treasure, if we have been bought with the blood of Jesus, how much more certain can we be that nothing in this life and nothing in the life to come could ever hurt or harm us? We are His treasure. He bought us with a price. Do we need to sell everything that we have to have this assurance? No. But we could if we needed to because we know that all our needs, now and into eternity, will be provided by our loving God because we are His treasure purchased with the blood of Jesus. In Jesus name. Amen

Listening Ears On

Text: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

When I still lived in Edmonton, before Leah and I were married, my sister would often ask me to babysit her kids. She also lived in Edmonton and, as the uncle living in the same city, I was the go to babysitter. When I babysat my nieces I remember my sister saying to one of them right before she left one time, “Turn your listening ears on.”

I did not realize it at the time, but this was an example of the kind of plea that parents make to their kids before leaving them with a babysitter. It’s like a last chance, last hope, begging kind of plea that the kids will behave themselves for the babysitter so that this person might be willing to babysit again. I do it now when we leave our kids with someone. I pretty much beg them to behave and not cause too much trouble for the babysitter.

Anyway, my sister would say this thing to my niece, “Turn your listening ears on.” My niece would respond by kind of twisting her ears, making a “click” sound, and telling her mom that her ears were on now (somehow it eventually turned into a “listening nose,” but I’ve never understood how that happened!). The whole reason for saying this little phrase was that there are different kinds of listening. We can listen to something without paying much attention to it or we can listen to something and really hear it and take it to heart. My niece was good at doing the first kind of listening when the second kind of listening was required. As is often the case with kids (and adults sometimes too), important instructions can be listened to but not really heard. They can go in one ear and out the other without registering in the brain on the way through. In order to really, truly hear we need to “turn our listening ears on.”

In our gospel reading Jesus says his own version of “turn your listening ears on.” Jesus says, “He who has ears, let him hear.” This is one of those things that Jesus says when He really wants us to pay attention to what He is saying. Often this kind of thing comes along after a parable that might go over our heads (or straight through them) without us understanding what Jesus is saying. Jesus is telling us here to turn our listening ears on.

What does Jesus want us to listen to? A parable. The parable of the sower. Jesus says, “He who has ears, let him hear,” right after he has finished telling the crowds a parable about a sower who went out to sow seeds in his field. Jesus wants His hearers, you and me included, to really hear what He is saying here.

The parable of the sower that Jesus tells is really quite simple. A sower went out to sow seed. He threw some on the path or road but it did not grow because the ground was too hard. The birds swooped in and ate the seed instead. Some other seed fell on ground that was filled with rocks, there wasn’t much soil there. The seeds had enough soil to germinate and spring up, but the sun quickly dried them out and they died. Still more seed fell among thorns. That seed germinated and grew up too, it lasted longer than the seed in the rocks, but in the end it was choked out by the weeds. Finally, some seed landed on good soil and it germinated, grew to maturity, and bore fruit. Pretty simple.

We need to ask ourselves here though, what does Jesus want us to hear in this parable? Jesus clearly explains to His disciples and to us exactly what this parable means and what pretty much every part of the parable represents. The seed is the Word of God about His Kingdom. The Sower is Jesus. The soil (both the good and the bad) is the people who hear this word about God’s Kingdom. That means that all of us are the soil and it means that as we put ourselves into this parable we need to think about what kind of soil we are.

Are we like the soil on the path or road? Roads in those days weren’t paved like our roads and up in Galilee where Jesus was they probably weren’t paved with stones either. We’re talking about a dirt path kind of road. A road that exists not because someone mapped it out, but because everyone walked there and the foot traffic from people and animals made a road. Are we like that dirt? Are we so beaten and trodden down by life in this world that we aren’t even able to hear God’s Word anymore? Have we become calloused and hardened against God’s Word? Does the seed, the Word of God, just bounce right off of us and sit there on the surface to be eaten by birds? Does the devil snatch away the seed before it even has a chance to take root?

Or are we like the rocky soil, the soil that has no depth? Does the word of God cause us great joy initially, send us on some kind of uplifting, feel good, high but then let us down when the going gets tough? Do we hear God’s Word, get excited about the message, and then wonder where the good feeling has gone? Do we look for the high all over again and not find it? Do we feel let down when the sermons and Bible readings we hear on Sunday aren’t quite as inspiring and uplifting as they were last week?

Or maybe we are the soil filled with thorns and weeds. Do the cares and concerns of life threaten to choke out our faith that the Word of God has planted in our hearts? When we try to listen to God’s Word in church what other thoughts are floating through our heads? Are we worried about work tomorrow or what might happen when we get home? Are we wondering where the money is going to come from for this or that? Are we distracted by other things? What comes between us and reading the Bible at home? Does day to day life seem more important than God’s Word?

Or, finally, are we the good soil, the soil in which God’s Word takes root, grows up, and produces a crop?

One of my favorite little details about this parable is that Jesus says nothing about how to be good soil. This parable is not a “how to” instruction manual. Jesus does not say, “Try your best to be good soil so that you can hear my words more effectively.” The parable doesn’t even say anything about the sower clearing out the field to get the bad stuff out of there or plowing or tilling or anything like that and it certainly does not say that the soil needs to try harder to be better soil. Jesus does not want us trying to figure out how we can be the good soil. Soil doesn’t work like that, it can’t improve itself. He doesn’t want us to try to figure it out because it is not our job.

Many things about us and around us make us like the soil that is totally unsuitable for the Word of God. So much of who we are and what we do makes us an unfit place for God’s Word to take root and grow. And yet, in spite of who we are and what we do, God’s Word, the seed, finds a home in our rock hard, stone filled, thorn infested hearts and takes root and grows. Our Old Testament reading today said this about God’s Word and it’s power:

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

God promises here that His Word will do what He sends it to do, it will not come back to Him without doing the thing that He sent it to do. This is the power of God’s Word. God’s Word has the power to break into rock hard hearts like ours and make faith. This is what God’s Word has done in us.

The parable of the sower is not about the soil, it is about the sower and His seed. It is about Jesus and the Word of God that He brings to us proclaiming His coming Kingdom. That seed, that message, bears fruit and produces. It bears fruit and produces because the sower, the one who planted the seeds, Himself bled and died so that even the poor soil could bear fruit. He gave His life so that the rocky, down trodden, thorn infested soil of our hearts might be cracked open, turned over, and cleared of weeds by His blood shed for us so that we could bear the fruit of everlasting life.

“He who has ears, let him hear,” Jesus says, “Turn on your listening ears.” Hear this good news from Jesus, take it to heart, read it, learn it, mark it, inwardly digest it, “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Colossians 3:16). Because this word of God, the Word of Jesus, is a powerful thing. It is alive and active, it changes hearts, it proclaims the forgiveness of sins won for you by Christ on the cross, and it brings you life everlasting. This Word, the Word of Jesus, has created faith in Your heart and will sustain that faith until the day when the sower comes again to reap the fruit of the harvest He has sown. On that day He will gather you in, the fruit of His harvest, and we will live with Him eternally. In Jesus name. Amen.

Rest in a Restless World

Text: Matthew 11:25-30

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Sounds nice, doesn’t it? I will give you rest. Who doesn’t want rest? For me, as a parent of three young kids and especially with a two month old in the house, even just a little more rest sounds like a great thing. I’m not even the one who gets us most of the time in the night to feed Olivia, but I still feel like I could use more sleep. A couple of weeks ago Leah took the kids up to my parents’ house and spent a Saturday night there. I was on my own at home. Leah probably doesn’t want to hear this, but I got the best sleep I’ve had in months that night. It was great. The only problem is that now I know what I am missing every other night. That one good night’s rest just makes me want more!

It’s not just the kids either. Sometimes my mind just doesn’t want to turn off and rest is hard to find. Instead of resting I’m worrying about this or that, trying to solve a problem, making plans, or even writing sermons in my head. My head isn’t always a very restful place. Maybe you can relate to that too.

I know it’s not just me who wants more rest because over the last few months I keep hearing ads over the radio for some kind of fancy pillow. The makers of this pillow promise that if you just try their pillow you will never lose another night of good sleep again. It seems a little over the top, but it’s what people are looking for, a good rest. Everybody wants rest.

Everybody is looking for rest and, in our gospel reading today, Jesus offers up that rest. “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” Jesus said. Of course, Jesus is talking about much more than a good night’s sleep. Jesus is not talking about comfy pillows or sleep that isn’t disturbed by over active brains or restless children. Jesus is talking about a much deeper, much more significant rest than that. The rest Jesus is talking about is a rest for body and soul. It is a total complete rest for our whole being. Sleep is great for the body, but it doesn’t do anything for the soul. Jesus offers rest for the soul. The song we sang at the beginning of our service had a nice way of describing that kind of rest, I think. It said this, “What heights of love, what depths of peace, when fears are stilled, when strivings cease! My comforter, my all in all—Here in the love of Christ I stand.”

When fears are still, when strivings cease. That is real rest. That is wellness and wholeness of body and soul. That is peace. When our fears, the things that frighten us, are stilled like the waters of the Sea of Galilee as Jesus brought the storm to an abrupt halt with His Word. Or when our strivings, the things that we chase after, no longer seem so important like how the disciples who once argued about which of them was the greatest watched as Jesus, their lord and master, washed their feet and the died on a cross. When fears are still and when strivings cease. This is real rest, rest for the soul; the rest that Jesus brings.

We may not realize it and most people in the world certainly do not realize it, but we are all looking for exactly this kind of rest. Every religion in the world offers some kind of inner peace or rest. There are self-help books galore offering you the same thing. Everybody is looking for it, but no one seems to know where to find it.

In Jesus day people were looking for this kind of rest too. And, at least on the surface, it would seem like they were looking in the right place. They looked to God’s Word, to the Bible, to the Old Testament Scriptures, and to God’s commands to try and find this rest. If only they could live out these commands and follow those rules, then they would have this rest for their souls. Or so they thought.

You can’t find rest that way though. It will never work. You can try all you want, but it will never bring this kind of rest. It’s not like there is a problem with God’s commandments or anything though. God’s commandments are good and holy. The problem is in us. We can’t keep those commandments. Try as we might we will always fail. If this is the way to find rest then we will never find it. But there is another way.

The whole point of what Jesus is saying in our gospel reading today is that this is not the way to find rest. You can’t find rest for your soul through trying to keep God’s law with all your might, the way to find rest is by coming to Jesus. Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” The most important words there are “me” and “I.” “Come to ME,” Jesus says, “and I will give you rest. Don’t look anywhere else, don’t try to find rest for your soul somewhere else, come to me.”

The question that confronts all of us today then is, where do we try to find rest? We try to find rest in all kinds of different places. We think things like, “If I only had a little more                                               (fill in the blank: more time, or money, or vacation days, or family time, or alone time, more leisure time, a more understanding family, a better job, a comfier retirement, better health, or whatever else) then I would have rest.” We tend to think that there is something out there that if we had more of it we would have rest. But the more we get the more we want and the rest is always missing. What we really need is the rest that only Jesus gives.

To understand the rest that Jesus gives and how much we need it we need to understand first where our restlessness comes from. Why does rest seem so elusive, so hard to find? Why do we all feel this need for rest?

The world was not meant to be the restless place that it is. God did not create it that way. In the beginning everything was very good. Adam and Eve lived in the Garden, the worked to take care of the garden, and life was not a chore. Their work was not a burden. Life was filled with rest. But then they sinned and the whole thing fell apart. After they ate the fruit God said this to Adam:

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Life changed when Adam and Eve ate that fruit. Paradise ceased to be paradise. Life became a chore. Rest became hard to find. Life would be hard, working the ground would be painful, by the sweat of their faces (their hard work and effort) people would eat something as simple as bread. Rest would be hard to come by. But even way back then the promise was made that God would undo this whole mess by sending His Son who would bring the rest of heaven to His people.

“Come to me,” Jesus says, “and I will give you rest.” When Jesus says those words He is pleading with us, begging us, to come to Him for rest. Rather than turning to someone or something else Jesus invites us to come to Him directly and enter into the rest that He has prepared for us. He begs us to come to His table today and receive that rest right now.

Through His death on the cross Jesus has opened up the rest of heaven to you right now. He gives you this rest, the wholeness of body and soul, right now. It comes to us through the forgiveness of our sins. The curse that was laid on Adam and Eve after they sinned has been undone because Jesus has taken that curse upon Himself. He has suffered the reality of life in this world of sin so that we could enter into the rest that He has prepared for us.

Jesus brings rest to you right now. He brings you the rest of knowing that you do not have to work to get right with God. He brings you the rest of knowing that all of your sins, each and every one of them, are freely forgiven. He gives you the rest of knowing that no matter what happens to you in this life, no matter how dark things get, no matter how much anxiety builds up, not matter how much fear seems to surround you that nothing will be able to separate you from His love, nothing. He brings you the rest that comes from knowing that He has died in your place and risen from the dead so that you will never die eternally but with rest with Him in paradise. Jesus brings this rest to you.

Fancy new pillows or a night without kids or some other thing might help you get a good night’s rest, but real rest comes from Jesus. Everything else is just a band aid. Band aids are good, but they just cover up the problem, they don’t bring healing. Jesus brings healing, He offers a cure. He offers rest to you today for free, there is no cost, “Come to me,” Jesus says, “and I will give you rest.” In Jesus name. Amen.

 

The Family of God

Text: Matthew 10:34-42

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Today in our Gospel reading Jesus said these words: “I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”

Those are kind of hard words to hear. They aren’t the kind of words we’d expect to hear from Jesus. We would probably expect to hear something a little more family friendly from Jesus than this. When we think of Christianity and the teaching of Jesus family values are probably a big part of that in our minds. Shouldn’t Jesus be telling us to love our family no matter what? Shouldn’t He be reminding us that family comes first? Shouldn’t He tell us that the most important thing is that we stick together as family and stand up for one another?

That’s what we want to hear Jesus say about family and other places in the Bible do say things kind of like that, but Jesus says something very different in our Gospel today. “I have come to divide,” Jesus says. “I will divide children against their parents and parents against their children. Your enemies will be the people in your own house. If you love your family more than me you are not worthy of me.” Wow, that is some serious stuff. What could Jesus be getting at here?

Jesus is not advocating family disruption or violence, He is not encouraging you to hate you family or even asking you to leave your family. He is, however, asking you to think about who your real family is.

We have a picture frame in our living room hanging over our couch. It’s one of those collage kinds of picture frames that you put a bunch of different pictures in. It’s filled with pictures from various stages of the growth of our family. We have wedding pictures in there, baby pictures, baptism pictures, pictures from fun times together, and there is always the potential for new pictures to make their way in. We still have to get a picture of Olivia in there. Every once and a while, as I am wandering around our living room I look up and admire the pictures with a certain sense of pride at the family I have been blessed with.

At my parents’ house they have something similar. On top of the piano in their living room there are many pictures of relatives far and wide. Pictures of my siblings, grandparents, nieces, aunts and uncles, cousins, and many more. Again, when I visit I end up there at the piano at least once admiring the family photos.

I talked to someone not so long ago that doesn’t really have that much family. No children, no living relatives. Not many people whose picture would hang on his wall. This man was not discouraged by this, however, because he had different pictures to hang on his wall. He told me he has a large collection of icons. Icons are pictures of saints, Christians who have died in the faith many of them who did remarkable things in the name of Jesus. This man has these icons, these pictures of saints, hanging on his walls at home. He told me, “They are my family.”

That is a profound thing to say and it is not far off from what Jesus is asking us to think about in our gospel reading today. As Jesus says this stuff about a person’s enemies being the people in his or her own family He is challenging us to see that our brothers and sisters in Christ, our fellow Christians, our fellow saints are our true family.

A little bit later in the gospel of Matthew, in chapter 12, we see this reality play out very clearly in Jesus’ own life. Jesus was sitting in a house teaching people and answering questions from people like the scribes and Pharisees one day when His mother Mary and His brothers came looking for Him. They had heard some of the things that Jesus had said and had heard about some of the things that He had been doing and they had concluded that He was out of His mind. They came to the house that day to collect Him and take Him home to Nazareth. When word reached Jesus that His mother and brothers were outside the house looking for Him Jesus responded, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” He look around the room where He was sitting and looked at all the people gathered there listening to His words and He said, “Here are my mother and bothers! Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

Jesus identifies His real family with these words. His real family are the ones who believe in Him. They do the will of His Father in Heaven. God’s will is that all people would believe and trust in Jesus for forgiveness and eternal life. These people do, they hear Jesus’ Words and the trust in Him, they are His brothers, sisters, and mothers. They are His family.

We who also believe and trust in Jesus are also His family. We are brothers and sisters of Jesus. We are members of the same family, children of the same Father. This is our real family.

We joined our biological earthly families by birth, but we joined this one, eternal family by our rebirth in the water of baptism. We were reborn through that water and were joined into an eternal family, a family that won’t be ripped apart by death, a family that will endure into eternity because this family is founded on the death and resurrection of Jesus that bind us all together in His love. This family will inherit the eternal life that Jesus has won for us.

The reality of this eternal family is what Jesus is trying to draw to our attention in our Gospel reading today. So many things in life distract us from this family, from the family of faith that Jesus has called us into. Some of those things that distract us from this family are inherently evil like hatred and anger, jealousy and frustration, or pride and vanity. Other things that distract us don’t seem evil at all. Family, earthly, biological families, could be an example of that. If our earthly family is coming between us and our family of faith, the family of Jesus, then Jesus calls us here to lay aside even our family relationships for the sake of following Him and being a member of His family.

That’s still hard to hear, isn’t it? Family matters so much to us that we can hardly even imagine what could ever lead us to think of our own family as enemies. This only makes sense if we understand what a precious thing it is to be a member of the family of God through Jesus.

The story of the prodigal son can help us to understand what a precious thing this family is. The prodigal son asked his father for his share of the inheritance so that he could leave his family behind and go live his own life. He wanted to be his own man, live his own life, and do things his own way. Amazingly, the father listened to his son’s request and gave him what he asked for. The son took the inheritance that he was given, sold whatever he could sell, and disappeared to a foreign country with whatever money that he had. Sometime later, when the money was gone that son realized what a foolish thing that he had done. Being his own man, living his own life, and doing things his own way hadn’t paid off that well. He decided to go back to his father’s home and offer to work as a servant. He knew that he did not deserve to be part of the family anymore. But when He arrived home his father messed up all his plans. His father did not want another servant, he did not need a slave living in his house, he wanted a son. So that father rushed out to greet him, threw his arms around him in a warm embrace, sent the servants to fetch fine clothing and jewelry, and threw a fantastic feast to celebrate return of his son. “My son who was lost is found, he was dead but now he is alive again!”

The same is true of us. We all have wandered in sin away from the family of God. We have all acted rebelliously and taken advantage of the loving, caring nature of God our heavenly Father. We have squandered the blessings He pours out on us by chasing after our heart’s desires. By all rights we have no place in God’s family at all. But now, God our heavenly Father has rushed out to us with a warm embrace to welcome us home. By His arms stretched out wide on the cross as He bled and died for the sin and rebellion of the entire world, Jesus gathered us in as His brothers and sisters, children of the Father who is in Heaven. Though we ought to be treated at best as servants who work for their pay our God has welcomed us home as children through the blood of Jesus. This is a precious thing.

Without a doubt, we rejoice in earthly families and in the brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers that God has given us here on this earth. They are a blessing from heaven. We admire the family photos with pride and joy and give thanks to God for what He has given. But even more we rejoice in the heavenly family, the eternal family, the family of God which we have been made members of through the blood of Jesus. We are brothers and sisters of Jesus. Children of God. And we, with all the other members of the family who have gone before us, will live eternally side by side with our brother and Lord, Jesus Christ, in paradise. In His holy name. Amen.

Take My Life and Let It Be

Text: Romans 6:12-23

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Don’t close your hymnals! If you already closed your hymnal open it up again to hymn number 783 “Take My Life and Let It Be.” Sometimes a hymn can say things about our readings more clearly and succinctly than I ever could. Today is one of those days and we will use hymn 783 to help us understand what our epistle reading today is talking about in just a few minutes. Keep it open to 783. (If you are reading this after the fact the words to the hymn are printed in the text of the sermon)

Our epistle reading this morning is an important reading for us to consider. In these verses from his letter to the Romans the apostle Paul is talking about our new lives as Christians. He talks about how we have been brought from death to life by the death and resurrection of Jesus, how we have been raised up already right now to live and new life. This is the encouragement he has for us as we seek to live out this new life that God has given to us: “Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.” As new people, people who have been brought from death to life, Paul calls on us not to “present ourselves to sin” and encourages us instead to “present ourselves to God.”

That phrase, “present yourself…” is not part of how we normally speak in modern day English. The word there means to present yourself for service. The idea is something like “Reporting for duty.” Paul is telling us here to “report for duty” to God and not to sin. God is our master, not sin. We are to present our lives and everything in them to God in order to serve Him in righteousness rather than presenting our lives and everything in them to sin in order to serve sin and unrighteousness.

The first thing that might surprise us here is that Paul only presents two options. We might expect a third option, something kind of neutral. There is the good choice to serve God, there is the bad choice to serve sin, and we would expect there to be something in the middle that isn’t good or bad, but that is not what Paul says. There are two options and two options only. Either we serve God or we serve sin.

The obvious choice is to serve God. That is what we want to do and that is what Paul says we should do. The next thing we need to figure out is what that looks like. What does presenting everything that we are and have to God for His service look like? That is where hymn 783 can help us out.

Let’s look at just the first verse for now. “Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to Thee; Take my moments and my days, let them flow with ceaseless praise. The first half of that verse lays out this whole idea. “Take my life and let it be…” With those words we are offering our lives and everything that is in them to God and His service. The second half of the verse is where we start to see what that looks like.

“Take my moments and my days, let the flow with ceaseless praise.” So what is it that we are presenting to God here? Our moments and our days. Our time. We serve God with our time by offering up our moments and days to His service. Serving God with our time doesn’t just meaning doing stuff at church. This is not a plea for you to all volunteer more hours at church. Serving God with our time means simple things like praying, reading our Bibles, talking to friends and neighbours who are suffering in some way, spending time with those who need our love and care. It means using our time to give praise and honor to God. This is part of our new lives as Christians presenting ourselves to God for His service.

How about verse two of the hymn: “Take my hands and let them move at the impulse of Thy love; take my feet and let them be swift and beautiful for Thee.” What are we presenting to God here? This time it is our hands and feet. Our actual physical bodies. We offer our hands to God to do the work of His love in this world. To work to provide the needs of others. To show love through the work of our hands. We also offer our feet to carry us out into the world to tell of His love. “How beautiful on the mountain are the feet of Him who brings good news!” the prophet Isaiah once said. Here we offer our feet as “beautiful feet” that bring the good news of Jesus to those trapped in sin. This too is part of our new lives as Christians.

Now for verse three: Take my voice and let me sing always only for my King. Take my lips and let them be filled with messages from Thee.” What part of our lives do we present to God with these words? Our mouths. Our words. Our voices. “Let me sing always, only for my King!” “Let my mouth be filled with messages from You!” Presenting ourselves to God means presenting our words to God for His service. Our words build up, encourage, and proclaim the message from God that sinners are forgiven, that we are forgiven, for Jesus sake.

Now verse four. “Take my silver and my gold not a mite would I withhold. Take my intellect and use every power as Thou shalt chose.” Silver and gold. Money. Possessions. Stuff. That is what we present to God here. Not a mite, not a penny, not a cent would I withhold. Like the time one, this is not a plea for you to give more money to church. Our giving is much more than that. In our new lives as Christians we give to the church to extend the Kingdom of God, but we also give to those in need understanding that whatever we have has been given to us from above. Our money, possessions, and stuff is a gift meant to be used in the service of God and our neighbour.

In just those first four verses we get a pretty good idea what it means to present “ourselves and our members” to God for His service. It covers pretty much everything. But as we think about this more one thing remains glaringly obvious: we can’t do it. We can’t follow through on this, we can’t serve God with everything we have. Sin always hold something back.

Do we really, willingly commit our time to God and His word or do our busy schedules get in the way? Do we really allow our hands and feet, our bodies in general, to be used for God’s glory or do we use them for our own glory? Do we really use our words to proclaim God’s goodness or do we use our words to tear down others and lift up ourselves? Do we really offer up everything that we have, holding back nothing, to serve God and our neighbour?

The answer to all of these questions is no, we don’t. Instead of presenting ourselves to God for serving and serving Him only we often serve ourselves and present ourselves to sin “ready for service.” Sin always hold back.

Thanks be to God that He does not hold back. Though we are unable to serve Him with all that we are and have He has served us with everything. God did not hold back, but gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. In Jesus God did not hold back but gave the fullness of Himself to us so save us from our own sinfulness.

Jesus said, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.” Though we often fall short, though we regularly hold back, though we daily serve our sinful selves rather than serving God, Jesus has come to serve us in His death and resurrection. He died serving us. He rose from the dead serving us. Today as we come to the altar and receive His body and blood Jesus is serving us again with His forgiveness. He serves us with life everlasting, life that never ends.

 “Take my heart it is Thine own,” verse five says of the hymn says, “it shall be Thy royal throne.” This is the only part of this hymn that I would change. This verse makes it sound like we give our hearts to Jesus. The problem with that is that our hearts aren’t worth giving to Jesus. Our hearts can’t serve Jesus, sin holds us back. Our hearts are like a rust tin can, not worth anything. We don’t give them to Jesus, but Jesus comes along and takes that rusty tin can at the side of the road, pierces it through, takes it home, and makes it into something beautiful and useful: a forgiven heart that serves Him in love forever.

It is Jesus who does this, not us. He presents us to God for His service now and He will present us, perfect, holy, blameless, righteous, and godly, to our Father in Heaven on the day when He comes again to judge the living and the dead.

Let us pray using the words of verse six from the hymn: “Take my love, my Lord, I pour at Thy feet its treasure store; take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for thee.” In Jesus name. Amen.

The Kingdom at Hand

Text: Matthew 9:35-10:8

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

When Jesus sent out His twelve apostles in our Gospel reading today He told them to preach this message: “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” This is the same message that John the Baptist proclaimed out in the wilderness as he prepared the way for the coming saviour and it is the same message that Jesus preached as He set out to begin His ministry of teaching and healing. Now, as Jesus sends out His twelve closest followers He gives them this same message to proclaim, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

I love that message and I love hearing it echo through the teaching of John the Baptist, Jesus, and His disciples. I love it because of the immediacy that it brings. The kingdom of heaven is at hand, it is here right now, it is breaking into the world as we speak. It’s immediate.

For a number of months now we have had events coming up in our house that were a source of great anticipation. First, it was Olivia’s birth. For a while there Leah and I were fielding questions daily like “Is the baby coming today?” Then, after Olivia was born, the anticipation started building for her baptism because grandpa from Alberta was coming. For weeks we got asked, “Is Olivia getting baptised today?” or “Is grandpa coming today?” Then, the day after Olivia’s baptism it was Leah’s birthday. Once the kids figured that out it became, “Is it mommy’s birthday today?” Each time those questions were asked the answer was almost always “No, not today.” Then we would have to go over the number of sleeps or the number of days or review the days of the week in order to put the time of waiting into perspective.

I wonder, sometimes, if our life at Christians starts to feel that way too, like we are always waiting for and anticipating something that never seems to be happening today. Our eyes can get so fixed on what its down the road that we don’t see what is happening right here and right now. This is the great thing about the message that Jesus gives to His disciples as He sends them out, it is right here and right now, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

The kingdom of heaven is wherever Jesus is. When Jesus was born in a manger in Bethlehem the kingdom of heaven was there. When Jesus was baptised in the Jordan River the kingdom of heaven was there. When Jesus taught people, healed the sick, and raised the dead the kingdom of heaven was there. When Jesus was handed over to the chief priests, Pontius Pilate, and was led away to be crucified the kingdom of heaven was there. When He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven the kingdom of heaven was there. And now, when Jesus comes to us in bread and wine in Holy Communion, when we hear and read His Words, the kingdom of heaven is here. Where ever Jesus is the kingdom of God is there and powers of sin, death, and darkness can’t exist in that kingdom.

When Jesus sent out the twelve this is the message that they carried with them. They went out into a world that was trapped under a very different kind of kingdom, the kingdom of death. Our epistle reading today said that “death reigned from Adam to Moses.” Beginning with Adam the kingdom of death took hold of this world and all the people in it. Adam sinned, and the reign of death began. Every man and woman after Adam including you and me sinned and the reign of death spread. Like a thick, gray fog, death covered over all people surrounding them with the hopelessness that comes from knowing that death is inevitable and there is nothing that we can do to avoid it. Generation after generation everyone’s life story ended the same way, “and he died.” From Adam to Moses and the people of Israel right on down to today the story remains the same. The kingdom of death surrounds us on all sides.

Into this dismal picture the disciples go out with this message, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Into the darkness of the kingdom of death they shout the good news that there is a new kingdom on the scene, a new way of life available to mankind, a new hope for those in the valley of the shadow of death: Jesus Himself, the kingdom of heaven. The Son of God has entered into our human flesh, put himself under the reign of death, and even allowed Himself to be put to death in order to destroy death forever by burst forth from the grave on the third day. On Easter the kingdom of death was put on notice, it no longer could hold mankind in prison forever.

The kingdom of heaven is at hand and you and me, we live in this kingdom now. We live in the kingdom of heaven now. Death is still a thing, it is still a reality for everyone in this world, but it has no power over you. Death reigned from Adam to Moses and death kept of reigning after Moses. But after Jesus death does not reign over you anymore. The devil, the prince of the kingdom of death, makes some bold claims and tries to convince you that he has some kind of power over you. He wants you to think that death is an unavoidable fate that you have to somehow try to avoid. He wants you to be afraid. But it is all a lie. You live in the kingdom of heaven now. You live in Jesus now. You have eternal life now. Death is not a fearful enemy waiting for you at the end of your life, for you death is a peaceful rest until the day when Jesus comes again to raise up your body from the ground. The kingdom of heaven is at hand, it is here right now, you are living in it, and in that kingdom death has no power.

Understanding this, understanding that the kingdom of heaven is at hand and that we live in it right now as Christians who trust in Jesus for salvation, changes how we see the world around us and especially people who don’t know about the kingdom of heaven. The world around us and the people in it are not just people going about their everyday lives and minding their own business. They are people who are living in the kingdom of death and don’t know that Jesus has brought the kingdom of heaven to us right here, right now by His death on the cross. They are dying in the kingdom of death without any hope. The last verse of the hymn we just sand before the sermon hits it on the head:

Let none hear you idly saying,
“There is nothing I can do,”
While the multitudes are dying
And the master calls for you.
Take the task he gives you gladly;
Let his work your pleasure be.
Answer quickly when he calls you,
“Here am I. Send me, send me!”

The multitudes, the people of the world trapped in the kingdom of death, are dying without the hope that we have in the kingdom of heaven!

What do we do about that? How do we bring the kingdom of heaven to the multitudes that are dying? Well the disciples were sent out by Jesus to bring the kingdom to the world. Jesus gave them authority to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and cast out demons. Is that what it’s going to take? No, not really. Jesus gave the disciples the authority and power to do those things, but not us. We can’t do that stuff. Instead our task is much simpler, we point people to Jesus. Ultimately, it is Jesus who heals the sick, raises the dead, cleanses lepers, and casts out demons. It is Jesus who brings the kingdom of heaven to people. Jesus gathers people into His kingdom where where the sick are healed forever, where the dead are raised to life everlasting, where the lepers are cleansed permanently, and where there are no more demons or evil things to afflict or harm us. All we do is point people to Jesus and the kingdom that He brings.

A lot of people think that Christianity and the Bible doesn’t have much to say that is relevant to the world today. Maybe we are tempted to think that too. Jesus begs to differ. Jesus brings His Kingdom to you today. He rescues you from death today. He gives you life everlasting today. If you ask, “Is the Kingdom of God coming to me today?” the answer is “Yes, it has come to you today and will be yours forever. It’s here right now. In Jesus name. Amen.

Disciples of the Triune God

Text: Matthew 28:16-20

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

There is a wonderful parallel between our Old Testament reading today and our Gospel reading. In our Old Testament reading we heard how God created the heavens and the earth, the seas and all that is in them, the dry land, every green thing that grows on the earth, the birds of the air, the beasts of the field, and, of course, people. God made man, human beings, “male and female He created them” it says in Genesis 1. The details of God creating people comes out in Genesis chapter 2, but before getting to that one other important detail comes out. God says to Adam and Eve, the man and the woman He has created, “Be fruitful and multiply.”

Then, in our Gospel reading today from Matthew 28 we hear words from Jesus shortly before He ascends into heaven. After He rose from the dead He told His the women at the tomb to tell the disciples to meet Him in Galilee. Well they went to Galilee and so did Jesus. He appeared to them on the top of a mountain and He said these words to them, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

On the surface these two Biblical stories might not seem to have much in common, but there is a parallel here. In Genesis 1 God spoke to Adam and Eve and told them to have children, reproduce, fill the world with human beings. In Matthew 28 Jesus tells His disciples something very similar. He tells them to make disciples.

If we hold up these two Bible verses side by side it can help us get a better understanding of what they are both saying. (In general this is a great way to read the Bible especially when we run into tricky parts we don’t understand. Let the Bible explain itself!)

If we look that these two verses together we will get a better understanding of what Jesus means in Matthew 28. Often times those words from Matthew 28 are called the “great commission.” Jesus is commissioning His disciples, sending them out, to make more disciples. This passage gets thought about as a command, something that God has commanded us to do. There is some truth to that, this is something that God has commanded us to do. Ignoring that command and doing nothing would not be right. But, there is more happening here than God commanding us to do something.

In Genesis 1 when God said “be fruitful and multiply” was that a command or a blessing? God certainly used commanding sounding language (“be fruitful”… not “if you want/feel like it be fruitful…”) but is this actually a command? No, it’s not. It is a blessing. It says so right there in verse 28, “God blessed them,” it says, “and God said to them be fruitful and multiply…” These words are a blessing, a blessing bestowed on humanity that they are given the ability to have children, to pass on a little bit of themselves to future generations.

So, with that in mind, when Jesus says “Go and make disciples…” is it really a commandment or a blessing? In the same way that God blessed humanity with the ability to have children, Jesus is blessing His disciples here with the ability to create more disciples.

The first blessing that we have here is that we are blessed with the ability to share our faith with other people. This is not a burden that should wear us down or an obligation that hangs over our heads and discourages us. As disciples of Jesus we have the opportunity to make more disciples. Whether it is our own children, our friends, our co-workers, or anyone else we all have Jesus blessing to share what we believe with them.

The second blessing here is that Jesus has blessed us with the ability to become His disciples ourselves. You and I we are disciples of Jesus and disciples of the Triune God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit when we were baptised. We are His disciples, His followers, His students, His sheep, His people. We are His. Baptism makes people, ordinary people like you and me, into disciples of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We saw this very thing happen right before our very eyes as Olivia joined the ranks of the disciples of Jesus standing there alongside each and every one of us who has been made into a disciple by baptism into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It may seem ridiculous that an infant as small as that could somehow be a disciple or follower of Jesus, she can’t speak, stand, or even hold her own head up, but that is what our God has done. He has made her, and the rest of us, His disciples through the water of baptism.

We seriously underestimate what a blessing it really is to be a disciple of Jesus. We take it for granted all the time. But, again, if we hold up what God says in Genesis 1 beside what Jesus says in Matthew 28 we will see what a tremendous blessing this is.

God formed Adam and Eve and the rest of us in order to be in a relationship with us. God walked with Adam and Eve in the garden. They were His people and He was their God. You could even say they were the first disciples. God openly invited Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply, have children, make more disciples. But we know things in the Garden of Eden did not stay “very good.” Adam and Eve sinned. And then, when they were fruitful and multiplied, their children killed each other. By the time of Noah, God was sorry that He had created these people altogether. We know what happened in that story. And yet, God was not done with people.

God the Father would send the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to once and for all restore His creation to what it was meant to be, to bring back these lost and wayward creatures (you and me!) into a relationship with Him. By His death on the cross and rising from the tomb that is what this Son has done for us. As Jesus stood there on the mountain and said, “Go and make disciples…” the work was complete, the relationship was restored and now the good news could go out to all the earth. With these words we see that God desires all people to be His disciples the way that Adam and Eve were in the beginning and He has made that possible for all people. Through baptism, through the teaching of His Word, He makes more disciples. Through baptism and through His Word He makes us disciples.

For me this brings to mind the words of Psalm 8. Psalm 8 says,

O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
                what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?

 

Compared to the rest of creation, the world, the stars, the moon, and everything else, human beings seem pretty puny and insignificant. That alone might make us ask God, “What is man that you are mindful of him and care for him?” But there is still more to it than that. Puny, insignificant human beings like us are also rebellious, violent, and evil. By all rights God ought to not care about us at all because most of the time we don’t care about Him at all. And yet, despite our wickedness, despite our sin, our God is mindful of us, He cares for us, He sent His Son to die for us.

You are a disciple, a follower, a student, a friend, a child of the Most High God, the creator of the universe, the sustainer of everything that exists, the Saviour of mankind, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

On Trinity Sunday we rejoice and marvel at the incomprehensible nature of God. Three in one and one in three. That is indeed a great mystery. Just as great, however, is the mystery of this God’s love for us. Though we are by no means worthy or fit, He has blessed us by making us His disciples.

Living Water for You

Text: John 7:37-39

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus said, “If anyone thirsts let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”

To be honest, when I think of Pentecost this is not exactly the kind of Scripture reading that comes to mind. When we think of Pentecost we think more about fire than we do about water. Fire is what appears over the heads of the disciples, not water. The altar paraments are red today because of the fire theme. Not much about Pentecost reminds us of water. But, in our Gospel reading today that is where Jesus takes us. We might not think of the Holy Spirit right away when we hear Jesus talking about this “living water,” but John tells us here that Jesus is talking about the Holy Spirit.

This reading is helpful for us on Pentecost because it helps us think about who the Holy Spirit is for. We could very easily read the Pentecost story from Acts 2 and feel like it really has nothing to do with us. Have any of those things that happened in Acts 2 ever happened to you? Has your home ever been filled with a loud rushing wind caused by the Holy Spirit? I doubt it. Have you ever had tongues of fire appear over your head and stay there? Doubt it again. Have you ever started speaking languages that you don’t even know while telling people the good news that Jesus has risen from the dead to win salvation for everyone who believes in Him? Again, I doubt it. These things have never happened to you and probably never will happen to you. Does that mean that the Holy Spirit is not for you? Absolutely not.

The beauty of what Jesus says in our Gospel reading today is that it makes it abundantly clear that these kinds of things don’t need to happen to you. Jesus lays out for us very clearly who the Holy Spirit is for. “If anyone is thirsty let him come to me and drink,” Jesus says. If anyone is thirsty let him come, Jesus says, and out of his heart will flow rivers of living water. Anyone who is thirsty, that is who the Holy Spirit is for. If you are thirsty this living water, the Holy Spirit is for you. Jesus invites you to come to Him, to drink, and be satisfied.

But what does it mean to be thirsty? We obviously aren’t talking about literal thirst like when you’ve been working outside on a hot day and need a drink. This is a different kind of thirst. This is a thirst for something that we don’t have and can’t have on our own. This is a thirst for forgiveness, for new life, for God to come and dwell with us and in us.

The best example of this kind of thirst in the Bible that I can think of is Psalm 51. Aside from Psalm 23, Psalm 51 might be the most well-known psalm. It’s the “Create in me a clean heart, O God,” psalm. It’s a psalm of David. A psalm that he wrote after he had done some terrible things. He had taken another man’s wife, he had lied to try to cover it up, and he had had her husband killed. Afterward, when the guilt, shame, grief, and sorrow caught up with him he wrote Psalm 51 and prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” Right after the “create in me” part David prays, “Cast me not away from your presences and take not you Holy Spirit from me!” This is thirst. This one of the most tragic scenes in the whole Bible. David, the boy who had been chosen by God to be king of Israel, who with the Lord’s helped downed Goliath with rocks and a sling shot, under whom the Lord had built a glorious kingdom, is now left begging God not to take the Holy Spirit from him. David is thirsty for forgiveness, thirsty for God’s love and mercy, thirsty for the Holy Spirit.

When you feel this kind of thirst, when you feel guilt over something you have done or something that you haven’t done, when the weight of years of mistakes starts to pile up and become overwhelming, when you feel that pang in your conscience over something you have done, when you start to think that God could not love, forgive, or accept a person like you, Jesus’ words are for you. “If anyone is thirsty let him come to me and drink.”

The Holy Spirit that Jesus pours out on Pentecost as living water is for thirsty people. The Spirit is for people who are thirsty and know that they cannot do anything about their sin on their own. People who know that by all rights God should have nothing to do with them, but desperately want to have His Spirit dwell in their hearts. Like David, the living water Holy Spirit that Jesus promise is for people who are left with nothing else other than begging God for His forgiveness. “Take not your Holy Spirit from me!” David cried and Jesus answered, “Come to me and drink. I will fill you with the Holy Spirit. Anyone who believes in me out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”

We might underestimate what a precious gift this is sometimes. We take the living water of the Holy Spirit for granted. But if we look in the book of Revelation we see something that puts this all in perspective. There, in the last chapter of the book, John writes this: “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.”

Here John is talking about the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem, the place that Jesus Christ has prepared by His death and resurrection for everyone who believes in Him. At the heart of this city, this image of heaven that John sets before us, is a river. Flowing, bubbling, splashing right down Main Street through the centre of town is the river of the water of life. It flows out of God’s throne and gives life to all who live there. From this living water the tree of life that was there back in the Garden of Eden (not the bad one, but the one that they couldn’t eat from anymore after they ate from the bad one) grows. Everything, every creature great and small, gets its life from these living waters that flow through the city.

When Jesus offers up living water He is offering to you and me this same water that flows through the heavenly city. Jesus offers to have this water flowing in and through you, pouring out of your heart into the world around you. It’s a glorious gift and it is free.

An amazing little detail caught my attention this week as I read over the Pentecost story. I had never noticed or paid attention before to what the disciples of Jesus were doing when the Holy Spirit was poured out on them. In fact, I had never even realized that what they were doing even gets mentioned. Luke tells us there that when the Holy Spirit was poured out on them the disciples were sitting in a house.

If you’re like me then you might be inclined to think or feel that in order for something as fantastically significant like the sending of the Holy Spirit to happen the person to whom the Spirit is going to be sent would have to be doing something significant or meaningful, not just sitting around. You’d think that this kind of thing would only happen when they had prayed a particularly powerful prayer or something. Or maybe the Spirit would only come after they had done some particularly generous act of love and charity. Or maybe the Spirit would come when they had studied the Scriptures with an extra degree of attention and focus. You’d think they would have to be doing something right for this to happen, but all it says here is that they were sitting, waiting, doing nothing.

What we see happening here in the Pentecost story and in the rest of our readings is that Jesus pours out His gifts, His Spirit, His living water not on people who have earned it or worked for it, but on people who are just thirsty, people who are lacking something, people who are in need. Jesus pours out His gifts us not because of who we are or what we are doing, but because of His love for us.

Jesus has poured out His life giving, living water Spirit on you. The life giving water that flows through the heavenly city which our God has prepared for those who love Him now flows in and through you. The Spirit is for you. The water is for you. New life is for you. Forgiveness is for you. Eternity is for you. “Let the one who is thirsty come,” Jesus says a little later in Revelation 22, “let the one who desires take the water of life without price.” It is all yours, freely given, because Christ died for you. In Jesus name. Amen.

Staring into the Sky

Text: Acts 1:1-11

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our reading from Acts today reminds me a bit of a scene from the movie Mary Poppins. I loved that movie when I was a kid and have enjoyed watching it a few times with my own children. The scene I have in mind occurs right after Mary Poppins has been hired to be the nanny for the Banks children. She proceeds to go upstairs to where the children are, but Mary does not simply go up the stairs. No, Mary rides the banister up to the second floor defying the rules of physics and the rules of etiquette. The two children, Jane and Michael, are waiting at the top of the stairs when Mary arrives and they are both stunned. Michael, the younger brother, is standing there with his mouth agape in awe at what he had just seen. Mary Poppins quickly and calmly quips, “Close your mouth, Michael, we are not a codfish,” and proceeds to lead the children to their playroom.

Jesus’ disciples are left in a similar situation, I think, as they watch Him ascend into heaven. As unnatural as it seems for someone to ride up on a bannister, it is even more unexpected to watch someone disappear on clouds of glory into heaven. The disciple are left with that codfish kind of look on their faces, jaws dropped, staring up into the sky as they watch their Lord, their teacher, their friend disappear from sight into heaven.

Like Mary Poppins, someone comes along to snap the disciples out of their awe and to redirect their attention to the matter at hand. Two men appear dressed in glowing white robes, the same kind of “men” who were there at the tomb to tell the women that Jesus was not there because He is risen from the dead, these men are angels. The angels say to the disciples, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” It is as if they said, “You are not codfish, gentlemen, close your mouths, stop staring at the sky, and get back to reality.”

But what is so wrong with looking up into the sky as Jesus disappears from sight? It’s hard to blame the disciples for staring up into heaven the way that they did. If I were in their shoes I think I would do the same thing. Airplanes from the warplane heritage museum flew over on Victoria Day and I stood there staring into the sky watching them. They are just airplanes (really cool old planes, but just airplanes) and I stood there watching them. Surely if I saw Jesus ascending into heaven I’d be staring at that too and for good reason.

If there ever was a good reason to stare into heaven it is to see Jesus ascending. Ascension Day doesn’t get the attention that other Christian holidays get. We don’t treat it the same way that we treat Christmas, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, or Easter Sunday. But this is an important event. At Christmas we celebrate Jesus becoming a man like us. We call Him Emmanuel, God with us, and He really is with us. He is human like us in every way. That hasn’t changed now that Jesus has died and risen again. He is still fully human, a man just like us, and as Jesus ascends we see something amazing, a man, a human being with flesh and blood, skin and bones just like you and me ascending into heaven and sitting at the right hand of God. That might not seem like a big deal at first, but it is. Human beings like you and me have no right to ascend into heaven or be in the presence of God, let alone sit as His right hand. And yet that is what the Son of Man, Jesus, does. He ascends into heaven and lifts up your humanity, your flesh and bones, your body and soul, to be with Him in eternity. When we think about Jesus ascending, when we watch Him disappear from sight with the disciples who were there, what we see is our own human life going up to life everlasting. That is worth staring into heaven to see, but our eyes can’t stay there. The angels come to us too and point us back out to the world we live in.

Getting back to reality would be important for the disciples because before He had ascended Jesus had given them a great responsibility: “You will be my witnesses,” Jesus said, “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” You will be my witnesses. These disciples, these men who had seen the miracles that Jesus had performed, who had heard Him teach, who had travelled with Him for three years around Palestine, who had seen Him die on a cross, and who had now seen Him risen from the dead; these disciples who had seen all of these things would now be His witnesses.

But you can’t be a witness of Jesus is you just spend all your time staring up into heaven. That is why these angels come along to bring the disciples back to reality. If their eyes are left gazing up into the sky then they won’t be able to be witnesses of Jesus. In order for them to be witnesses of Jesus their eyes need to be looking at the world around them, the people around them. In order to be witnesses of Jesus to other people the disciples would have to see those other people, they would need to get to know them, they would have to know the cares and concerns of those people, they would need to know who they are and what their life is like. They would need to shift their focus and see the people all around them.

The disciples had this unique call directly from Jesus to be His witnesses. We haven’t been called in the exact same way or to the exact same thing, but as Christians we are all called to be witnesses of Jesus. This means, just like it did for the disciples, that our eyes need to be focused on the people around us. If we are gazing up into heaven or anywhere else we won’t see the people around us to whom we have been called to be witnesses of Jesus. If we don’t see our neighbour, if we aren’t taking the time to look at them and notice them, then how can we be witnesses of Jesus to them?

Last week when my dad was here he preached about our tendency to look back into the past and get nostalgic rather than seeing what is happening right before our very eyes. That is one of the ways that our focus gets taken away from our role as witnesses of Jesus in this world. There are other ways too.

We can get caught up looking into heaven like the disciples did if we get too hung up on trying to find the answers to big questions that we have no business worrying about. It’s like the disciples when they wanted to know if this was the time when Jesus would restore the kingdom to Israel. Jesus said to them, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons that the Father has fixed by His own authority.” We get caught up in trying to figure out things that are really none of our business.

We can also get caught up looking at ourselves. We get too focused sometimes worrying about our own needs and wants and making sure that we are happy that we don’t even notice people around us. Sinners are self-focused and self-absorbed. That is just how we are. Again, we are looking in the wrong place.

Instead, we have been called to see the people around us and be witnesses of Jesus to them. For each of us that might look different. For some of us it might mean boldly telling people about Jesus and sharing Bible verses with them. For most people, however, that might not be too comfortable. But we are also called to be witnesses of Jesus simply by loving one another. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples,” Jesus said, “if you love one another.” Loving one another, loving our brothers and sisters in Christ and loving our friends and neighbours in the world, is one of the greatest ways that you and I have the opportunity to be witnesses to Jesus. By loving one another we show the world the love that Jesus has first shown for us becoming a servant to us and giving His life for us. But, if our eyes are distracted (whether we are caught looking up, down, in on ourselves, or anywhere else) we will not see the people around us let alone love them.

In our lives as Christians our eyes are moving all over the place. We look up to see what Jesus is doing and we look out to see the world around us. We look to Jesus, see Him healing, teaching, dying on a cross, rising from the dead, and ascending into Heaven. We look and see what He has done for us. Then, directed by Jesus we look out to the world around us and people around us to see where we, the disciples of Jesus in this world, can serve our neighbour. We see Jesus and we bear witness to Jesus. May this be the pattern for our lives, looking at Jesus and looking out, so that we can see Him and witness to Him every day of our lives. In Jesus name. Amen.

Holy, Royal Priests

Text: 1 Peter 2:2-10

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our risen Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

A few months ago I visited a Roman Catholic elementary school. It was a Wednesday during Advent or Lent, I can’t remember which, but we had a service that night so I was wearing my clerical collar. I was visiting the school because they were having a “faith fair” (like a science fair, but with religious themed projects). I always feel awkward visiting schools because I’m not a parent of any of the children who go to school there and nowadays there are different rules and regulations for visitors to schools and places like that. I walked in the front doors of the school and looked for the office or something like that where I should sign in as a visitor. I didn’t see anything like that right away so I started walking down the hallway. All of a sudden I heard a somewhat panicked voice from behind me say, “Excuse me sir!” It was the school secretary, turns out I had walked right past the office and the sign-in sheet without noticing. I turned around to look and when I did the secretary saw my collar. Right away she said, “I’m sorry Father” and had me sign the guest register. The rest of my visit to that school as I made my way around the faith fair in the gymnasium I got called “Father” at least 15 to 20 times and each time I tried to explain that I’m actually a Lutheran pastor, not a Catholic priest. What I learned from this whole ordeal was that if you want to fly under the radar at a Catholic school don’t where a clerical collar in there.

You probably have never been mistaken for a Catholic priest like I was. If you have been I would like to hear the story. Unless you’ve been running around masquerading as a priest or telling people that you are one someone calling you a priest it would probably be a pretty strange situation. And yet, that is what Peter calls all of us in our epistle reading today. He says that you are a “holy priesthood” in verse 5 and a “royal priesthood” in verse 9. You are a priest, believe it or not.

If that sounds strange, and I am assuming that it does, then we need to take some time to think of our identity as Christians; who we are and what we do. Peter calls us priest here (all of us, not just pastors) because that is part of our identity as Christians. If thinking of ourselves as priests seems strange then it means that we have forgotten a bit of who we are and what we do as Christians. We have forgotten part of our identity.

If we are going to reclaim this bit of our identity as Christans and realize who we are as the people of God there are two questions we need to answer: “How did this happen?” and “What do we do now?”

How did that happen? How did we become priests? Thankfully, Peter explains that for us a bit in verse 4 and 5 of our epistle today. He says, “As you come to Him (Jesus!), a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood.” As you come to Him, Peter says. As you come to Jesus this is what Jesus is doing in you. Jesus changes who you are as you come to Him. This should not be a surprise. You don’t come to God in human flesh who died on the cross and rose from the dead and expect Him to leave you just as you are. No, Jesus changes you. Jesus changes you into a priest.

In that verses I just read Peter uses the example of stones. He talks about Jesus as a “living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious.” This is picking up on a big theme from the Old Testament. In fact, Peter quotes the Old Testament a bunch of times here showing us that Jesus is the stone the builders, the people and their leaders, rejected by putting Him to death on the cross. But even though He was rejected, God has made this Jesus the cornerstone, the base and foundation, of His Church. “Christ is our cornerstone, on Him alone we build.” We sang those words at the beginning of our service today. But there is more than that going on here. Peter also says, “As you come to Him, you yourselves like living stones are being built up.” You, you are being built up like living stones. Jesus is the living stone, the stone rejected and killed but raised from the dead after three days in the tomb, and as you come to Him, as you are drawn to Him by the power of the Holy Spirit, as you hear His word and eat and drink His body and blood, you are being built up like living stones, like Jesus, on the foundation of Jesus. You are part of God’s building project for His Kingdom. You are a living stone.

I like to think of it this way: It’s like we are by nature useless stones that are not good for any kind of building at all. We have cracks and flaws. We are misshapen. Our corners are far from perfect. We are weak a brittle, we break too easily. We are not suitable for building. But as we are brought to Jesus we are changed from useless stones that are good for nothing into stones with a purpose, stones that can be used for building and not just any building, but the holy, spiritual house that God Himself is building. Jesus changes us.

By nature we are nothing like priests. We are not deserving of that title at all and we are not capable of carrying out the work of a priest. We are not worthy of that title. But Jesus, changes us. Through His death He has forgiven our weaknesses and our flaws. He lives in us and because He is in us we are new creations, new people. Though we don’t look like it or feel like it then, we are priests of the Most High God, each and every one of us, because that is who Jesus has made us to be.

If that is who we are then, what is it that we should be doing? That’s the second question. Again, thankfully Peter clears that up for us too. He says, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for [God’s] own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” This is your purpose, this is your work as a priest of God: to proclaim His excellencies, His glory, His saving might because He has called you out of the darkness of sin and death and has brought You into the light of Jesus, the light of forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation.

Jesus has called you out of the darkness. He is the light of the world that the darkness cannot overcome. On the cross darkness seems to have won the day, but by the darkness of His death on the cross the darkness of Your sin has been flooded with His light. As the light broke that Easter morning, Jesus rose from the dead brining light to this fallen, broken world. Jesus has brought this light to you. You live in His light. He has not called you out of the darkness just to bask in the light, however. He has called you out of the darkness so that you too might call others out of the darkness by pointing them to Jesus, the light of the world who endured the darkness of death for us.

Part of the problem that we have is that we think that this kind of thing is just the pastor’s job. It’s just his job to tell people about Jesus. But that is not what Peter is telling us here. We are all priests. You, me, and everyone else who has been brought to faith in Jesus. We have come to Jesus and He has transformed us from useless rocks into living stones, from sinners lost without a hope in the world to priests living in the light with a hope for this world and beyond. We all have the glorious task of proclaiming this good news of what Jesus has done.

Last weekend I attended a workshop in Toronto called “Every One His Witness.” There was a lot of stuff in that presentation that I hope to talk with you about at some point, but the most striking point of the whole workshop was this: That God uses people like you and me to carry out His purpose, His will in this world. We know that God wants everyone to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, He tells us that in His own word. The amazing thing is that God uses sinners like you and me to do it.

You are a priest of God who has been called to proclaim the goodness of the God who saved you by His death. If you feel unfit or unqualified for this work then you are right. You are not qualified. You are not fit for the task. But God uses unfit, unqualified people like us all the time. He takes useless rocks like us and makes us living stones. He makes us His priests. This is our identity. This is who we are. Let us live in that identity, in Jesus our Saviour, through all our days. In Jesus name. Amen.