Sunday, 18 December 2016

Advent IV Year A: Audio Sermon (18-Dec-2016)

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Advent IV Year A [Matthew 1:18-25] (18-Dec-2016)

This sermon was preached at Calvary Lutheran Church, Glandore, 8.45am, and St Mark's Lutheran Church, Glandore, 10.30am.

Click here for PDF version for printing.

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ.

All this took place to fulfil what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel, which means, ‘God with us’.”

Prayer: Lord God, our heavenly Father, enlighten our darkness with the light of your Holy Spirit, so that I may preach well and we all may hear well, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

In our Gospel reading today, we have a wonderful prophecy from the prophet Isaiah about the birth of Jesus. And we are also told the history of how this prophecy was fulfilled. So in our sermon today, we are first of all going to look at this prophesy, and how it came about. Then, we’re going to look at our Gospel reading and how it was fulfilled.

The prophecy goes like this: Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel.

These words were spoken by God at the time of the prophet Isaiah to King Ahaz. Ahaz was one of the Kings of Judah, and he was from the family of King David. He is not a king that we think about too much—normally we think about the famous kings like David or Solomon. But it’s important for us to know a little bit about him so that we know about the prophecy that was spoken to him.

King Ahaz was actually one of the worst kings that Judah had up to that time. Often the bible talks about the kings by saying, “He did right in the sight of the Lord” or “He did evil in the sight of the Lord.” Ahaz was one of those kings who did evil. And the reason why he did so much evil is because for him everything was subjective, everything was about his feelings, and what felt good. It didn’t matter whether something was good, or right, or true.

Let me gives a couple of examples of this. King Ahaz had gone to meet the King of Assyria in Damascus. You might know the city of Damascus from the news today—Damascus is one of the oldest capital cities that still exists. Today it is the capital of the war-torn country of Syria. King Ahaz went to Damascus and went into a pagan temple, and he saw the altar in there and he thought it was…nice. He must have thought, “Wow—these people in Damascus really have a good sense of taste. They must be really spiritual people to have such nice things like this altar.” And so King Ahaz commanded the priest in Jerusalem to build an altar for God just like it, and to replace the altar that was in the temple in Jerusalem. Now, what’s wrong with that, you might say? Well, God had actually given the exact measurements of the altar, and had specified exactly what it should look like to Moses. If you read the book of Exodus, after all the things about the history of the people being lead through the Red Sea, there are pages and pages where God outlines exactly how the altar, the lampstands, the bowls – and all kinds of things – should be built, and how they should be laid out. God didn’t leave these things to people’s imaginations; he himself gave specific instructions.

And so, what did King Ahaz do? He replaced the altar which God had planned, with some altar he saw in Damascus, just because he thought it looked pretty and it made him feel good. And the priest back in Jerusalem did everything the king said without batting an eyelid. Since when did the people in Damascus have better taste in architecture and interior design than God?

But also, we read in 2 Kings 16, that King Ahaz did some other things as well… He must have gone to the temple and saw all the things that were going on there. He saw the priests there doing what God had commanded them to do—they were offering their burnt offerings of lambs, and doing everything they do, and he thought… all this is a bit boring, isn’t it? And then he went for a look around and he saw how the Canaanites worshipped their gods, and they weren’t sacrificing lambs, but they were sacrificing their own children. They would burn their children with fire and offer them to their god Moloch.

And then King Ahaz thought, “These people are really spiritual—they are really devout. They are really on fire for their god. Maybe we could do the same thing too.” And so King Ahaz did exactly that and burnt his own son as an offering with fire.

Can you see that all this happened because King Ahaz didn’t listen at all to God’s word, but just did what he felt was right? He listened to his own heart, instead of to God.

As soon as we listen to our own hearts and only do what feels right, then we have no need for God, but God has a word to speak no matter how we feel. God’s word and our feelings are not the same thing, as King Ahaz thought.

But you know, we are living in times when people also are thinking like King Ahaz. There are plenty of Christians who go around and look at what the pagans do, and how they pray, and they think, “Those people are much more spiritual that we are, let’s do what they do, and make it Christian, and then we can be really spiritual too.”

For example, take yoga. Yoga is the heart and centre of the Hindu religion. Hindus believe that everything is god and that god is in everything. And so they practise yoga, and perform all kinds of exercises, to connect themselves with all kinds of spirits, and to awaken the snake spirit in them. And then Christians see these people doing this, or they see these healthy-looking young women sitting cross-legged in their active-wear, and they think: “Look how peaceful they are. If only I did the same, I too could be as spiritual as they are.” And so, people think, if I do all the same things, and empty my mind, and say “om, om, om” for half an hour, and repeat some mantras, instead of meeting the snake-spirit, I can meet Jesus inside of me and the Holy Spirit. – It doesn’t work like that. Just because it feels good, doesn’t mean that God wants you to use it to worship him or to find him.  

Or we might think of the way in which young people, teenagers, are manipulated, by bringing them altogether and hyping them all up, sugaring them all up, and then right when they feel vulnerable and emotional, and softening them up with the right kind of music, then we tell them to give their lives to Jesus. – This isn’t Christian conversion. Just because it feels good, or feels a certain way, doesn’t mean it’s the Holy Spirit.

Or remember King Ahaz wanting to build an altar like the one in Damascus. And there’s plenty of people who have holidays in Bali or Thailand or Japan or China, and see the lovely green gardens with statues of Buddha, and think how peaceful they are. So they think, maybe I should put a Buddha statue in my garden too! – Why? It’s a statue of a god that doesn’t exist and that you don’t worship.

God’s word is God’s word. And often people think it’s a bit boring, or it’s a bit “blah-blah”, or it’s all a bit the same. This is what King Ahaz thought, and instead he just did what felt right. And in doing so, he was one of the worst kings Judah had had up until that time.

Now, there was a time during King Ahaz’s reign when Jerusalem was going to be invaded, and King Ahaz was worried. But God sends his prophet Isaiah to King Ahaz to tell him not to worry. After all, even though King Ahaz was a terrible king, he was still from the lineage of David. And God had promised that David’s line would continue forever. God says to David: Your throne shall be established forever.

And so we read in Isaiah: Because Syria, with Ephraim and the son of Remaliah, has devised evil against you saying, “Let us go up against Judah and terrify it, and let us conquer it for ourselves… thus says the Lord: It shall not stand, and it shall not come to pass. [God says: Don’t worry. I am a faithful God and I will defend my own people.] For the head of Syria is Damascus and the head of Damascus of Rezin. And within sixty-five years Ephraim will be shattered from being a people. And the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is the son of Remaliah. [What’s he talking about? He’s saying: He says: Don’t worry about them. They’re just men, and they have nothing but mere men in charge of them. But I will fight for my own people! And then he says:] If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.

What wonderful comforting words! God encourages Ahaz to be firm in faith. He wants Ahaz to remember his promise to King David that his throne will continue forever, and to trust in that word.

But then God does something very special for King Ahaz. He says: Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. God says to King Ahaz, I am going to give you a sign that will confirm and strengthen you in faith so that you can look at it and remember that I am faithful. Tell me what you want! Choose a sign, any sign, and I will do it for you!

But you see, Ahaz hasn’t been a follower of God for a long time. He has been bored with God’s word, and he has been following his feelings. And so he says: I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test. What’s wrong with you, Ahaz? God just gave you the greatest offer ever! Why are you turning him down?

It’s like those people who come to church and say, “I would never dare to presume that my sins are forgiven.” What are you talking about? God actually sent you a pastor to speak that forgiveness to you, and give you that forgiveness in his name, and you’re too holy to believe it? What’s wrong with you?

And so the prophet Isaiah says to Ahaz: Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Sound familiar? Yes it does! We hear these words every Christmas! We have heard them in our Gospel reading today.

What’s going on though is God is saying: King David’s throne will continue, and it will continue forever, and it will continue in a marvellous and miraculous way. And yet, the kings of Judah, and the kings of Israel, will fail miserably. Don’t put your trust in princes. They will worship idols, they will burn and kill their babies, they will destroy the worship in the temple that God had set up. But I will remember my promise to King David.

And so, what happened in history? There were many kings, and many terrible kings. And eventually, God put an end to the kings, and the people of Israel were sent into exile to Babylon, and when they returned, eventually the Romans took them over, and it looked like God had not kept his promise, and that the kings had all finished. Until the event we read about in our reading today.

Our gospel reading today tells us about how this prophecy was fulfilled.
If you open up a bible and read the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew, the beginning of the New Testament, what do you find there? You find Jesus’ genealogy. And one of the people in Jesus’ genealogy is King David. And if you keep on reading you also come across King Ahaz.

Now, after all of that, this is what we read: Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.

Now, in those days, before a couple would become married, they would become betrothed. This is much like when a couple become engaged. They have made a commitment to each other to get married, but they are not married yet. And they would not sleep together before they were married. And in those days, an engagement would often last about 9 months. Why? Well, 9 months of engagement would prove that the woman was not carrying someone else’s child!

And so, if a couple was engaged, and all of sudden, the woman was found to be pregnant, it would be of great shame, of course.

And so, it says: When his mother Mary had been betrothed, before they came together, she was found to be with child. But Matthew tells us very specifically, that this child was not from another man, but from the Holy Spirit.

Now, can you imagine what Joseph must have thinking? We read: Her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. Joseph, we are told, was a just man. We could say, he was a “righteous man”. We might say, he was an honest chap, he wanted to do the right thing. And it is a wonderful thing for a person to be like this. St Paul writes to Titus that we should live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age. “Self-controlled” refers to how we conduct ourselves, “upright” refers to how we treat others, and “godly” refers to how we live before God. Matthew is telling us here that Joseph was this kind of person: he was self-controlled, upright and godly. He wanted to do the right thing by God and by other people. He was a just, righteous man. We might say, he was “conscientious”. He thought things through. And he thought through this whole situation, and he carefully churned it all over in his mind, and he came to the conclusion that he would call off the engagement quietly. He didn’t want to make a big fuss.

Sometimes we also find ourselves in a situation where we’re not sure what to do. We don’t know how we should move forward in our life, and we think about it and we think about it, and then we work out what we think is the best idea, even if we’re not entirely happy with it. And yet, we still worry, we still anguish over it. And then we remember those words of Jesus: Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? In other words, Jesus says, let me worry about it. And just when we think we’ve got it all sorted, Jesus comes and changes the whole game, and sends us completely where we didn’t expect.

Remember the women going to tomb on Easter Day who get halfway there and think, “Hang on a minute! How are we going to roll the stone away?” And then they get there, and God has sorted the whole problem out for them. He has sent his angel to roll away the stone.

And in the same way, Joseph is worrying and anguishing, and he’s got it all worked out. He says, “I’m going to divorce her quietly. It’s the only way I can get out of this bad situation. It’s the best thing I can do. It’s the best thing for everyone.” And right at that very time, when Joseph is thinking this, what do we read? Well, this isn’t about Joseph, this isn’t about Mary. This is about God and his word, and his prophesies being fulfilled. And so God sends his angel to come to Joseph in a dream. It’s amazing how we read about Joseph, about his desires, about his mind ticking over, and about his conscience. Now we read about his dream. How closely God involves himself with Joseph! And the angel says: Joseph, son of David, [very important! He is from the same family as King Ahaz!] Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, and for he will save his people from their sins.

Do you see how everything so closely follows the prophecy? That which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. That fulfils the words: Behold, the virgin shall conceive. The angel says: She will bear a son. This fulfils the words: The virgin shall conceive and bear a son. The angel says: You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. This fulfils the words: They shall call his name Immanuel, which means, God with us.

Now, why is it that Jesus is called Jesus and not Immanuel? Well, the prophecy is not fulfilled in such a way that we should think that that this baby Immanuel is going to be just another king like Ahaz. We are not talking about any earthly king, but we are talking about a king who will save! And this is a king who will not simply save his people from their earthly enemies, but who will save his people from their sins. This is what the name Jesus means: he saves. And so it says: You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.

Think of the many sins of king Ahaz… of King David… of King Solomon. All of Jesus’ ancestors are full of sin. And yet, Jesus comes to save his people from their sin. And at the same time it’s not just that he is simply called Immanuel, but he really is true God with us. His father is God the Father, and so Jesus is true God. But his mother is the virgin Mary, and so he is a true man, is truly one of us. He is our Immanuel, God with us. Jesus has God as his father, and a true human mother, and so he is both God and man in one person. And this Jesus, the second person of the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, is the God who is with us, and who will eventually go to the cross and die for the sin of the world. He will save his people from their sins.

Think about the thief on the cross. He is a sinner, and he is being punished for his crime by the Romans. And yet Jesus saves him. He says: Today you will be with me in Paradise.

And so we read, that after the angel had put Joseph on the right track, and intervened in his life and in his thinking and put his worries and anxieties to rest, we read: When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

I like it in this reading how even though Joseph is not the biological father of Jesus, he is given a very important task to do. Mary will give birth, but the angel says: You [Joseph] shall call his name Jesus. Joseph is commanded to name the child. Actually, when the angel Gabriel goes to Mary, he also says to her: You shall call his name Jesus. The prophecy from Isaiah confirms this, and says: They shall call his name Immanuel. This shows a beautiful unity in the marriage between Joseph and Mary, and this unity comes from God’s word. The angel tells both parents to call their baby “Jesus”. Can you imagine the joy when they realise this, and tell each other?

You remember that when John the Baptist was born, everyone was arguing about what he should be called. And Zechariah, John’s father, had to come in and put his foot down, and settle the matter, and write down: His name is John. With Mary and Joseph, there’s no disagreement, but perfect unity. But not unity that comes from them and their strength, but from God’s word and his power. Let that be a little encouragement to those of you who are married. I for one know what it’s like to sit and have to work out what to call to a child! If only my wife and I had it so easy as to be given the names straight out of heaven by angels!

But Jesus has descended from heaven as our God! And so it’s only natural that the angels should follow him! He is our Immanuel! And he is our Jesus, our saviour from sin! And all this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet!

Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those with who he is pleased! Amen.

Dear Lord Jesus, our Immanuel, our Saviour, come and descend among us with your powerful word of forgiveness, and fill our hearts and lives with the joy of your coming. Enter into our lives and into our every thought, and when our last hour comes, save us from this sinful life and take us to yourself in heaven. Amen.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Mission Festival: Audio Sermon (20-Nov-2016)

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Mission Festival [Luke 24:44-53] (20-Nov-2016)

This sermon was preached at St Stephen's Lutheran Church, Rainbow, Victoria, 10.30am.

Click here for PDF version for printing.

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ.

Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

Prayer: Lord God, our heavenly Father, enlighten our darkness with the light of your Holy Spirit, so that I may preach well and we all may hear well, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

It’s a wonderful thing to be gathered here today to have a Mission Festival. It’s strange that today every organisation seems to have a mission statement: some kind of statement that describes what the organisation is there for.

Now the church is not a company or an organisation. It is the living body of Christ. And the church actually has a mission. It has a purpose for which it exists on this earth. We also live in confusing times where people use words to mean a whole lot of different things which they didn’t always mean.

When you think of the word “mission” what do you think of? What is the church’s mission? Well, sometimes people talk about mission as being charitable work, either here or overseas. There might be a program to dig a well for a poor village or to put a roof on a school. Some people might go overseas to help with a project like that. Now, something like this is very helpful—it’s work that needs to be done, but it’s not actually the mission of the church. This is work that Christians can do, but it is work that Christians can share with all kinds of other people too. It’s not a distinctively Christian thing to do.

Or sometimes there are situations where Christians might bring medical supplies to people, like penicillin or syringes or eye-glasses. This is very useful work to be done, but providing health services and medical supplies is not properly the mission of the church. This is work that Christians can do, but it is work that Christians can share with all kinds of other people too.

But in talking about mission today, we have in our Gospel reading a very clear word from Jesus. Jesus is talking particularly about the Gospel being preached to all nations. This is what the church is: it is the place, or we might say, it is the people whom the Holy Spirit gathers, to hear the Gospel. So let’s have a look at our reading.

We read where Jesus says: These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.
This Gospel reading for today comes right at the end of the Luke’s gospel. It describes the events after Jesus has died and risen from the dead and where he meets his disciples after all those things had happened. In fact, right at the end of our reading, we read about where Jesus ascends into heaven.

In the book of Acts, we read that Jesus appeared to his disciples during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. In the church year, we commemorate this time by celebrating the Easter season. We celebrate Easter, and then forty days later, we have Ascension, where we remember Jesus ascending into heaven. But in the bible itself, there is very little written down about those forty days.

But Jesus says here: These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you. Isn’t this a strange way to speak? Jesus is obviously there with his disciples, standing there, talking to them, and yet at the same time, he talks about another time while I was still with you. This is as if Jesus is saying, I have finished my teaching before I died – I have no need to teach you anything new. There are many things you didn’t understand before, but I taught you all those things anyway. Now that I have risen from the dead, it is time for you to learn what I have already told you again in a new light, with a new perspective. Sometimes there are certain events in history, where we might look back and think just how different everything was beforehand. In the sixties, people might have thought about the first man walking on the moon, or when President Kennedy was shot. In the recent 20 years, we might ask people: where were you when Princess Diana died, or where were you when September 11 happened? You can remember what a great impact those things had on the world, and those events change the way you look at certain things that happened before. Well, can you imagine listening to Jesus and being one of his disciples, but then, what does he do? He dies for the sins of the world, and then he rises again from the dead. What happened now changes everything that happened beforehand.

So Jesus says: These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.

Jesus talks here about the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms. By doing this, Jesus is actually talking about all the books of the Old Testament. The Law of Moses refers to the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. In German bibles, these books are simply called the First, Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth books of Moses. And then in the Bible, we have the writings of various prophets: for example, we have Samuel, and Isaiah, and Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, and Daniel, and all the minor prophets. And then Jesus mentions the Psalms. Jesus is probably talking about the Psalms to stand for all the books of Poetry in the Old Testament, like Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs. Jesus mentions the psalms though as a particularly important book. Of all the books in the bible, it is probably the one book which we read from every single Sunday in the church.

But here’s an amazing thing: Jesus says that in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms there were all kind of things written there about him. There were all kinds of things which were prophesied, and looked forward to Jesus’ coming in the future. And there were all kinds of things that didn’t make sense until Jesus came. And there were all kinds of things that were closed and inaccessible until Jesus had suffered, died and risen.

So Jesus says: that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled. We might think of Jesus’ wonderful words on the cross: It is finished. We might also say: It is accomplished, or it is fulfilled. When Jesus died on the cross, and stretched out his arms, everything that was written about him in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms was fulfilled. Now, when we read the whole of the Old Testament, we need to realise that everything points us to Jesus. Jesus is hidden in the Old Testament.

And we might say: Really? There are so many things in the Old Testament that don’t really seem to be about Jesus.

Well, maybe the disciples also thought the same thing. We read: Then [Jesus] opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. The disciples’ minds were closed, and unable to understand the Scriptures, but then Jesus opened their minds. Let’s read the next part of our reading:

Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

There’s a number of wonderful things that we read about here in this passage. Firstly, let’s think about what it says that Jesus opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. I think this kind of talk has been hijacked today. You might find that as a Christian, people call you closed-minded. People think that being open-minded is a good thing. But there was a famous Christian writer who once said, “An open mind and an open mouth should be shut on something solid.” Jesus does not simply want to open their minds, but he wants to open their minds to understand the Scriptures. It’s funny that when we come to understand the Scriptures, people say we are closed minded. That’s because their minds are closed to the Scriptures.

But also, there are a lot of Hindu and Buddhist mystics, and yoga teachers, who might say to people to open their mind. No—for goodness sake! Don’t open your mind to anything! You might not know what will come in! Jesus speaks about evil spirits entering a person like a squatter entering a house. When it says that Jesus opened their minds, we’re not talking about some strange mystical experience here, as if Jesus is a mystical yoga guru. Jesus opens the disciples’ minds here, by teaching them something. And when Jesus speaks a word, it always creates something, and dispels the darkness. Just as on the first day of creation, God said: Let there be light, and there was light, so also Jesus here, who is true God, speaks a powerful word, and the disciples’ minds are opened to understand the Scriptures.

So what does Jesus say? He says: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

Jesus first of all talks about his own suffering, and that on the third day he will rise from the dead. But then he says that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name.

This is such a wonderful thing for us as Christians to learn. Right at the centre of our mission as Christians is the fact that Jesus has died and risen again. But why did he suffer and die? He suffered and died to make a full atonement for the sins of the whole world. And why did he rise? He rose in order to defeat death, and to show to the whole world that the sacrifice he made was acceptable to God. If there was no resurrection, if Jesus’ bones were still in the tomb, then Good Friday means nothing. Jesus not only had to suffer and die, but he also had to rise. But then how does this event make a difference to us?

Jesus says: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

As Christians, we might see all kinds of people around us who are in need. And we may be stirred to show mercy to someone. But there are two kinds of mercy: there’s physical mercy, mercy for the body, and there’s spiritual mercy, mercy for the soul. Sometimes if someone has financial problems, or doesn’t have enough to eat, or to wear, we might like to help them out, and clothe them or feed them. God is merciful to all of us like this each and every single day: he clothes us, and feeds us, and gives us everything that we need to support our bodies and our lives.

But then there’s another kind of mercy, the mercy which God shows to our souls. And this is something that is completely unappreciated by the world. It is the mercy where God comes to us with his word and Holy Spirit and sets us on the narrow path. The Holy Spirit does this by leading us to repentance. Jesus in our reading talks about repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

Repentance for what? You might say. Isn’t this strange? Jesus doesn’t actually tell us what people should repent of. Well, people might have different problems. Someone might be a thief, someone else might be an adulterer, someone else might disobey their parents. Jesus calls us to repent of all these things, to acknowledge that we have broken God’s law. But you know, if someone has a pet sin, and then stops committing it, it doesn’t make them a Christian. A thief who simply stops stealing isn’t automatically saved.

When God the Father brings us face to face with God’s law and his commandments, he demands nothing other than absolute perfection. He doesn’t let us tick things off like a checklist, and say: I’m alright, Jack. He also shows us things that we haven’t done that we should. James says: Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.

We are accountable for all of it. One flat tyre makes the whole journey undrivable. One slip up still lands you on the floor. God’s law, and what he demands of us, show us how much we need Christ. It shows us the depths that Christ needed to go to win us back to himself. Each blow of the whip, each nail in Jesus’ hand, each thorn into his brow shows us the extent of our sin, and just how serious it is. And so, Jesus wants repentance to be preached. He not only wants us to turn away from one or two slip ups, or one or two pet sins, but to turn away from our whole sinful existence as we know it.

And yet, Christ’s suffering also shows us something else. Jesus’ death on the cross not only shows us the depth of our sin, but it also shows us how richly and how wonderfully Jesus has paid for all of it. He has atoned for everything. He has offered his whole self, for our whole selves. And he has risen from the dead, and won a wonderful victory, and now he wants his apostles to go out as witnesses and to preach what? the forgiveness of sins in his name.

It’s done in his name, and it comes with all of his authority. And how far should they go to preach this word? To all nations. There is not one single person anywhere throughout the whole world to whom the message of Christ’s death and resurrection should not be spoken. There is not one single person who does not need repentance and forgiveness of sins. Sometimes local missions are played off against overseas missions—people say: we can’t go to all nations, because we need to look after our own backyard. The church has always done both together, and it should be a great prayer for us that our church will once again receive the zeal to go to the ends of the earth wherever the preaching of the Gospel is needed.

Those nations, though, the sinful world, so often doesn’t want to hear any of it—they often want simply to be accepted instead of forgiven. They sure don’t want to repent. The world doesn’t like this mercy for the soul that God wants to show us and to bring to us.

But if you go swimming in Lake Hindmarsh, and you start to drown, and the person rescuing you pokes you in the eye and pulls your hair on the way up, won’t you thank them for it? If you get your leg run over by a tractor, and the only way to save your life is to amputate it, aren’t you grateful to be alive? And yet, if we see someone in need, wouldn’t you help them?

Jesus knows full well that the simple preaching of his death and resurrection looks easy, but it isn’t easy. Jesus knows full well that bringing people to repentance and declaring God’s forgiveness sounds easy enough, but that people don’t really want to hear it. Jesus knows full well that when God’s word of grace and mercy and love is brought down on our heads, all the anger and the bitterness of the world is poured out on us too.

I’m sure you know what it’s like to have a friend who isn’t Christian, and yet if you said something to them about their soul, you could completely lose their friendship, and this fact really causes you some pain, and you worry about it. How do you think the first missionaries to Papua New Guinea felt when they had no baptisms for 13 years? How do you think Paul felt when he got locked up in prison?

And so Jesus says: Behold, I am sending you the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.

Jesus knows that his church needs help. He knows that we human beings are pretty hopeless in doing such wonderful work. So he promises to send them the Holy Spirit, the promise of his Father. And he wants them to stay and wait for the Holy Spirit. He wants them to know that none of this will be done on their own strength, but they need to be clothed with power from on high.

And the same with us—Jesus brings us his word. He shows us our sin, and he preaches to us the forgiveness of sin. He wants to place this seal of forgiveness on us, and so he baptises us. He wants us even to be strengthened in this forgiveness by eating his body and drinking his blood. And we receive these gifts, not by earning them by things we do, but simply by believing in God’s trustworthy promise. And through all of this, through the word and the sacraments, Jesus fills you with His Holy Spirit, and he prepares us to be useful in serving him in whatever corner of the world he places us. He clothes us with power from on high. Sometimes he sends us to speak, sometimes to serve, sometimes to pray. But wherever he will send you this week, you know that as a Christian your work is pleasing to God, and it is done with all the power of the Holy Spirit. And even if the world hates you, you have God’s approval.

Isn’t it a wonderful thing that Jesus should clothe his disciples with the Holy Spirit? We have been gathered by the Holy Spirit as his holy people, to hear the preaching of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and to hear repentance and the forgiveness of sins preached in his name. And this is what the church is here for, and this is what the church’s mission is. Let’s pray to the Lord of the harvest, that many more people may come to know this same Jesus, and this same forgiveness, so that when they die they may enter the same heaven! Amen.

Lord Jesus, we thank you for sending us preachers and even all kinds of Christian friends to speak to us about your suffering and resurrection, and we thank you for revealing to us our sin, and also for the wonderful free forgiveness of our sin that you have won for us. Expand your church all throughout the world, and send out evangelists anew and afresh, that your kingdom may grow into a wonderful, bountiful harvest. Amen.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Reformation Day [On Pentecost and Reformation] (30-Oct-2016)

This sermon was preached at St Paul's Lutheran Church, Tanunda, 8.30am, and Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church Gnadenberg, Moculta, 10.30am.

Click here for PDF version for printing.

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ.

You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

Prayer: Lord God, our heavenly Father, enlighten our darkness with the light of your Holy Spirit, so that I may preach well and we all may hear well, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

I don’t know if you have ever taken much notice in the church of the different colours which change from week to week—the liturgical colours, we call them. We have the pastor’s stole, the pieces of cloth on the pulpit and the altar, and sometimes churches have banners on the wall which change colour depending on the season of the church year. We use the colour white at the time of Christmas and Easter, purple in Advent and Lent, and for a lot of the year we use the colour green, which pictures us as plants in the Lord’s garden, growing as we are watered by the wonderful refreshing word of God.

In most Lutheran Churches today, there are only generally two days when we use the colour red. One is the day of Pentecost, and the other is today, when we celebrate the Reformation. Red has to do with fire and the Holy Spirit.

Now all this talk about colours in the church is not all that important, but I’d like to talk in our sermon today what Pentecost and Reformation have in common. Now there are a lot of things we could say that are different about them: Pentecost is mentioned in the book of Acts, it is an event which is mentioned in the bible. It is the day when Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit upon his disciples, and when the first Christians were baptised and believed in Jesus. The festival of the Reformation is a day which is not mentioned in the bible at all, it commemorates a day much later in church history, where a poor Catholic monk nailed his 95 theses on the door of the church of Wittenberg against the teaching of indulgences.

Do you know what happened on this day? Martin Luther was a pastor in Germany, a Catholic priest and a monk, and a teacher of theology at a university in a town called Wittenberg. At that time, in the 1500s, the pope was building a large church, the St Peter’s church in Rome. Part of the money-raising activities included selling something called an indulgence. Many Christians at that time believed that after they died they could not go to heaven straight away, but would have to spend some time to pay off their sins in purgatory, which was a halfway-place between heaven and hell. But you could make your time in purgatory a bit shorter by buying an indulgence, which was a certificate from the pope cancelled some of this time in purgatory. The church was cheating people into giving money to the church, and they were, let’s say, selling the forgiveness of sins for a price.

Martin Luther became convinced that this practice was wrong, and wrote 95 brief statements about the issue, and he nailed them to the church door in Wittenberg for public debate. Now, what does this have to do with the day of Pentecost? What do the two things have in common?

Well, let me come forward now to today. Have you ever heard the term, “the end times”? Have you ever heard anyone talk about the “end times”? Have you ever thought that maybe we are living in a time close to the end of the world? Have a think – if you look back on history and think about the last thirty years, how do you think it might compare to the next thirty years? Do the next thirty years make you worried? Look at what has happened in the world in the last year or two—we have had so many things change in the world, there is an enormous amount of suffering going on in the world that makes us all wonder where it is all going to end. Jesus says that in the last days there will be wars and rumours of wars, distress of nations, people fainting with fear

I have heard many Christians recently say to me that they think we are living in end times. What do you think? Do you think the “end times” are now, or do you think they are still centuries away?

Well, let me tell you something – the bible talks a very different way about the “end times”, or we might say, “the last days”. Let’s go back to think about the day of Pentecost: the disciples were all gathered together and there was a great wind, and the disciples all received fire upon their heads, they spoke in different languages and tongues, and there were people from all over the place who were there who could hear the disciples speaking in their own languages. And we read: All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others mocking said, “They were filled with new wine.”

Isn’t it an amazing thing that there were all these things going on, and yet not everyone was convinced by it? Some were amazed and perplexed. Some thought they were drunk.

But then Peter, the apostle, stands up and he begins the first Christian sermon. He says: Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. The third hour is 9 o’clock in the morning. Peter refutes those who thought that they were just drunk. But then he gives an explanation about what was actually happening. He says: But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh. What Peter says is that what these people could all see happening before them, where the Holy Spirit was being poured out, was the exact thing the prophet Joel had said many hundreds of years before. And the prophet Joel said: In the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh. Did you hear that? Joel says that God will pour out his Spirit on all flesh. And Peter says, this is exactly what is happening right now, today. But… did you hear when it would happen? Joel says, and Peter quotes, that it will happen in the last days. In the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.

What this means is that according to the bible, according to Jesus’ own apostles, it is already the last days, right from the day of Pentecost. Now, we might say, the last days have been going on for a long time. Well, we can leave the timing of things up to God. But according to the bible, the last times is not particularly now, it is not particularly in the future, but it has always been the last days, since Jesus himself poured out his Holy Spirit on the church. The time of the Holy Spirit is the last days of the world. It is the last days, because Jesus has died and risen again. Sin has been paid for. We are not looking forward to some later days when sin will be paid for again. All the sin of the world has been taken upon the shoulders of Jesus your Saviour, and he has already died for it. It has been done, and it is finished, as Jesus himself said on the cross. And now, we are simply looking forward to Jesus’ return at the end of the world.

The whole time there has been a church, the whole time where the Holy Spirit has been poured out on the church, is a time which the bible calls the last days, the end times.

Now, if we go now to the first letter of John, he says something very strange about the last days. In 1 John 2:18, John writes: Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist has come, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.

This is a very strange statement to our ears today. What is John talking about? He says, just like Peter said on the day of Pentecost, that it is the last hour. And he says that there is something going on in the church that proves to us that we know that it is the last hour. What is this thing? He says: As you have heard that the antichrist has come, so now many antichrists have come.

What is the antichrist? Well, the antichrist is a false Christ. It is a replacement Christ. It is a christ who is not Jesus Christ.

Let me explain. Everything good that God creates, the devil always tried to make a fake. He always tried to make a counterfeit, like a criminal who makes counterfeit money. So even the devil tries to copy God the Father.  We have our loving heavenly Father, but then Jesus calls the devil a father too, he calls him the father of lies. We have the Holy Spirit, but then the devil also has a team of spirits too, not the Holy Spirit, but evil spirits, unclean spirits, or we might say, demons.

But then the devil also tries to make a fake Christ. We have Jesus Christ, who is our wonderful Saviour from sin, who made an atonement and paid for our sin through his holy, precious blood and his perfect sacrifice on the cross. But then the devil wants to point us to another Christ, a fake Christ, a Christ who does not need to atone for you, but makes you do the atoning, a Christ who does not pay for your sin, but makes you pay, a Christ who does not shed his blood for you, and does not make a sacrifice for you, but demands all kinds of destructive sacrifices from you.

Jesus Christ is true God and he became a true man. And the devil also wants to use real people, true men, true human beings, as his agents, to do his work. Jesus Christ was anointed by the Holy Spirit at his baptism. The word “Christ” means someone who is anointed. Jesus Christ was anointed to be our high priest, our prophet and our king. And so, the devil wants to try and make a pretend Christ, an antichrist, who is not anointed by the Holy Spirit, but by an evil spirit, and is not a priest who prays for us, but is a false prophet and a false king.

But St Paul also has something to say about this antichrist, in his second letter to the Thessalonians. He calls the antichrist “the man of lawlessness”. He writes: The man of lawlessness…takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.

Now, what is St Paul saying here? Today, there seem to be a lot of people talking about who they think the antichrist is. Some people said that Hitler or Stalin is the antichrist. Some people think Barak Obama is the antichrist.

But St Paul says that the man of lawlessness takes his seat in the temple of God. This means that we find the antichrist, not outside of the church, but inside the church. Yes, the antichrist can even be a leader in the church, even a pastor, even a bishop, or even a pope.

You might sometimes look at all the things that happen in the church, and you might think: I thought the church was supposed to be the place where people love each other, just as Jesus taught. Well, you’re right, but I’ve got news for you—the church is full of sinners. There’s no one else here. We are all sinners who need forgiveness and salvation. Sometimes, sin takes over the church in some way—sometimes people try to get rid of a good pastor, and throw him out. Or sometimes, there’s a terrific Christian person who makes a wonderful contribution to their congregation, and the other people, and even pastors, are jealous of them and want them out. People shake their heads and despair about that lovely little thing which we call “church politics”!

Let’s go back to Martin Luther. He lived in a time where people didn’t know what the gospel was, because the church taught something else. People were incredibly burdened, because the church taught them about God, but in such a way that they were not sure that he loved them. People knew about Jesus, but not in such a way that he knew him as their loving Saviour. People knew about heaven, but only as a faraway place which they had to climb up to, and as a place which they just had no certainty at all that they could ever achieve getting there. Nobody knew God’s grace and his forgiveness, they only knew about earning their way to heaven and doing good works. A time of great spiritual darkness had come over the church. Another spirit was at work in the church. Jesus was taken away from sinners, and he was replaced with human rules, human righteousness, human efforts.

But meanwhile, the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the day of Pentecost. And he was not finished with the church. He had raised up little people all throughout the centuries who noticed something was wrong and who said something. One of these people was an English man called John Wyclif. He was one of the first people to translate the bible into English. Also, you might have heard about a man called John Huss. He was from Bohemia, which is now where the Czech Republic is. But he was burned at the stake.

Then later there was a man in Germany called Martin Luther. And the Holy Spirit had pushed down very hard on him. Martin Luther knew the great darkness that was around him. He knew his sin well, and when he measured it against God’s righteousness and God’s commandment, and all he could see was his failure, he thought that no matter what he would do, he could only go to hell. He thought God was torturing him, that God was an angry monster.

But then, he read the bible. And what did he find there? He found the simple clear teaching that a person is not saved by their works, but by God’s grace, and this wonderful grace of God is not earned by us but it is received through faith.

Let me read to you what St Paul says in Romans: All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith… He also writes: Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Let me also read what it says in Ephesians: For it is by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Now there are some amazing things that then happened in Luther’s time. Can you imagine living without the forgiveness of sins? Can you imagine it? Maybe you have had a time in your life where all you could see was your sin, and nothing else, but then you realised in a new way that you had a Saviour! Maybe you came to Jesus later in life, and you know very well what the darkness from before feels like! Maybe you have gone through a dark period of suffering, and you cried to God, wondering where he was, and what he was doing, and maybe you thought that Jesus had abandoned you!

But can you imagine the whole church everywhere having to live in nothing but that darkness! Can you imagine everyone everywhere having to live without the gospel, without hope? And then Martin Luther was able to bring it to light again. And at the same time, the pope rejected it. He wrote that Luther was a wild boar let loose in God’s vineyard. Just like the day of Pentecost, some people thought that Martin Luther was nothing but a drunken German. And in a way that still impacts our lives today, many people, instead of listening to their powerful human leaders, listened to the word of God, they listened to Scriptures, they listened to God’s voice. Instead of listening to the words of men, they listened to the words of the Holy Spirit which he inspired. What happened at that time was that the Holy Spirit showed that he still cared about the church, and that he would not keep silent, but still wanted to comfort poor sinners. The Holy Spirit wanted to make sure that Jesus’ words would ring true: You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. What a wonderful thing it is to know the truth of the Gospel, and to be set free from the condemnation of the law!

You remember we were talking about the antichrist in the church. St Paul also had a wonderful prophesy about this fake Christ, that the Lord Jesus would slay him with the breath of his mouth.

What is the breath of Jesus’ mouth? It is the wonderful preaching of the Gospel! It the powerful breath of the Holy Spirit. And wherever the word of God is preached in its truth and purity, wherever the Gospel is proclaimed, wherever the free forgiveness of sins is shouted from the rooftops, the darkness is destroyed, the devil is cast out, and all the ideas of mere men crumble to dust. This is the wonderful event that we are commemorating in the church today: when the Gospel after so many years of darkness was preached in all its clarity again. No wonder many people have thought that the Reformation was like the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit first came down!

We don’t believe a human word, but we believe in a word that comes from God. The gospel is God’s own voice from heaven which says: I have sent my Son, he paid for your sin, and now I want you to hear my voice loud and clear all throughout the church on earth: I forgive you all your sins! Amen.

Dear Jesus, we thank you for the wonderful way in which your Holy Spirit used Martin Luther to shine the light of the Gospel in the church again. We know that today there is still much darkness in the church—there are many people who trust in their works instead of your work. There are many people, even in the church, who prefer to teach and listen to other messages. Forgive your church, dear Jesus, and we ask that you keep us fixed and firm in your truth, in your gospel, and that you would gather your harvest in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Pentecost XXII (Proper 24 C) [Luke 18:1-8] (16-Oct-2016)

This sermon was preached at Calvary Lutheran Church, Glandore, 8.45am, and St Mark's Lutheran Church, Underdale, 10.30am.

Click here for PDF version for printing.

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ.

Will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.

Prayer: Lord God, heavenly Father, send down your Holy Spirit to all of us, to me that I may preach well, and to all of us that we may hear well. Amen.

In our reading today, Jesus gives us a wonderful parable to teach us about prayer. Prayer is a very important topic, because it is right at the heart of our life together as Christians. And yet, not one person in the church can claim to be an expert on prayer, except Jesus himself.

Isn’t it an incredible thing that we often read in the Gospels how Jesus went away by himself at various times – to do what? To pray! When Jesus was baptised, he was praying. Before he chose his twelve apostles, he spent the night in prayer. And if Jesus is the Son of God, true man and true God in one person, and he needs to pray, then how much more do you think that we need to pray too, we who are so much weaker and needier than him? If Jesus himself in his time of great need, on the night before he died in the Garden of Gethsemane, asked his disciples to keep watch with him and pray, how much more do you think when we are in a time of great suffering that we should also ask a couple of Christian friends to be with us and to pray with us?

You see, prayer is so important for us. And yet, we don’t pray as we should. And in this life, we weak sinners are never going to pray like we should. Only Jesus ever prays like he should—he is the perfect man of prayer. He is our true high priest, who is constantly praying for us night and day. He enters right into our lives, and takes notice of everything, every little burden, every big burden, and he commends it to his Father. Not only that, but he commends it to his Father with exactly the right words and in the right way. Sometimes when we pray, we might think about just how much we stammer and stumble about and make a bit of a mess of things when we pray. Never mind – Jesus knows what we need, and he covers over all our messy prayers with his blood, polishes them all up and perfects them by joining in with us and praying with us.

In fact, when Jesus is teaching us about prayer, all he doing is teaching us how to join in with him. He is simply teaching us how to stand for a while in his shoes, just as he stands in ours. Jesus enters into our life and takes an interest in us, and then by teaching us to pray, Jesus lets us enter into his own life in heaven.

And how does Jesus do this? He forgives us our sins. He covers over our failures. And if he didn’t do this, we wouldn’t be able to utter a single word of prayer at all. If Jesus didn’t forgive us our sins, then we wouldn’t be worthy to speak a single word in his presence. But in fact, Jesus has died and risen again for us, and now he comes to open our lips, and lets us join in with him in the privilege of prayer.  

So in our reading today we read: Jesus told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.

There are two reasons why Jesus tells this parable: firstly, that we should always pray. And secondly, that we should not lose heart. With this little verse, we learn something about ourselves: we don’t always pray, and we often lose heart. But we learn something else about Jesus: he always prays, he continually and regularly prays, and he never loses heart.

I don’t know about you, but I often find myself losing heart about all kinds of things. Things don’t work out the way I hoped for them to work out. I think that there’s a whole lot of things going on in the world that just won’t change and that there’s nothing I can do about. What kinds of things do you lose heart about?

It’s easy to lose heart, especially when our Christian churches don’t seem to be as full as they once were. We Christians start to feel like we’re just one little grain of sand on the beach, and there’s nothing we can do to fix things. We’d like to influence things around us.

It’s precisely when we think like this, that Jesus comes along and he wants to tell us a parable so that we should pray always and not lose heart. He says to you: I haven’t lost heart, why should you? I haven’t given up, why should you?

Actually, I think the Holy Spirit lets us lose heart a little bit sometimes. This is how we learn how to pray. I’m not saying that the Holy Spirit causes us to despair, or makes us feel hopeless, but when we do lose heart as Christians, when we do feel close to giving up, it’s exactly those times when Jesus wants to give us his greatest encouragement. He wants to say to you just like he said to St Paul: My grace is sufficient for you. For my power is made perfect in weakness.

Do you hear that? God’s power is now perfect when you feel perfect, or when you feel strong, but in your weakness. And so the best prayer is simply telling Jesus all those areas in our life where we are weak, where we are helpless, where we feel like there’s nothing we can do. Jesus wants to tell him, and to tell his Father, exactly what sorts of things we lose heart over. And once we have done that, we take the burden off of our own heart and we place on his heart. When we lose heart, we can give the matter to his heart—and he never loses heart. When we want to give up, then give the matter up to him—and he never gives up. When we want to chuck in the towel, give to towel to him—and he will never take it, he will carry it, he will bear the burden of it.

We often think that prayer is some convoluted exercise where we’ve got to put on our best behaviour and put on our best speech and somehow twist God’s arm into giving us what we want. No—Jesus already knows what we need before we ask. But he wants us to tell him about it, and he wants us to invite him into our need, even though he doesn’t us to. It’s just a joy for him to be with us, so that he can share his joy with us. In prayer, we’re not really doing anything, we’re not so much doing a great work – it’s just like hanging out the washing or something. We’re just putting our laundry out in the sun, and then leaving it there. We just put our problems and our needs and our anxieties out in God’s sunshine, out in the sunshine of his face, and we then we walk away and leave them with him.

So what is this parable that Jesus tells in our reading today? What is this parable that he tells to the effect that we ought always to pray and not lose heart?

Jesus says: In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’

So let’s work through this. There is a judge and a widow. And the judge, we are told neither feared God nor respected man. What does this mean? It means that the judge had no conscience. He only really thought of himself. He didn’t seek to do things that were pleasing to God, and he didn’t seek to avoid things that would make God angry. Also, he wasn’t the kind of person who cared about people, and wanted to help people. He wasn’t charitable or friendly. He only really thought about himself.

But then there was a widow. And widows in those days were in a particular bad situation, and were really exposed to becoming quite poor. When a person’s husband or wife dies, of course, they can become quite lonely. But in those days as well, a widow would have been alone in a whole lot of other ways: she would have had no one to provide an income for her, no one to defend her interests in court, and all kinds of things like that. In some of the epistles in the New Testament, St Paul and others often mention caring for widows and orphans. Orphans were vulnerable because they had no parents looking after them, but then widows were also exposed and vulnerable too, and Christians were encouraged to make sure that they didn’t fall between the cracks and slip into poverty.

Now this widow had someone on her back. He had an adversary, she says. Someone had wronged her, and so she was in a particularly bad way. She needed the judge to put things right. She needed him to do this for her survival.

Imagine an elderly lady who had fallen victim to some kind of phone scam. Someone completely ripped her off, and it has left her in a complete mess. That would be a bit like this woman in our reading. She has been ripped off. And she goes to the judge and says: I need to you to put things right. I need my money back, and I need things fixed. Otherwise, I’m going to end up living on the street. She says: Give me justice against my adversary.

We read: For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’ Do you see what the judge does? He doesn’t care much for God. He is not interested in simply doing the right thing by the 10 commandments. He doesn’t care much for people. He doesn’t want to help people out. But he does care about himself. And so he says: “Boy, I’m getting sick of this lady… Maybe I’ll just give her what she wants just to get her off my back. Maybe she’ll buzz off if I just do what she says. If I give her what she wants, then I can live in peace, and won’t have to listen to her bla-bla-bla-ing, and her naggy, naggy, whiny, whiny voice!”

Now, what does this have to do with prayer? What does this little parable teach us about how we pray to God? This is a parable that Jesus told to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. So how does this parable teach us that?

We read that Jesus says: Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.

Jesus says: That judge did what the widow wanted just to shut her up! Do you think God gets sick of listening to us? Of course not—he loves to talk to his beloved children. And if the judge gave to the widow what she needed, don’t you think God will listen to us?

Do you think God will give us what we want just to shut us up, or just to get us off his back? No—of course not—God wants us to talk to him, he wants us to be on his back continually. And if the stingy, selfish judge gave the widow what she needed, don’t you think God, who is abundantly generous and is overflowing with love for every creature that he has made, will give to you what you need?

But let’s go back to what the widow actually said. She said to the judge: Give me justice against my adversary. Who is your adversary? Who is your enemy? Who is our enemy as Christians? It’s Satan himself. He’s always trying to rip us off. He even cheated Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden. Jesus says about him in John 10: The thief comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy.

And so, Jesus shows us here that there is a particular bite to our prayers. Jesus teaches us this in the Lord’s Prayer: Deliver us from evil. Even in the Greek, this prayer can also be said: Deliver us from the evil one. Deliver us from the devil, who is always trying to mess things up. Deliver us from Satan himself. Give us justice! Repay him, we pray to God. We say to God: the devil has been donging me on the head for far too long. God, dong him on the head instead. Repay to him what he gave to me. Make him suffer what he made me suffer. Just as the widow prayed, we say: Give me justice against my adversary.

But here’s the wonderful good news… When Jesus died on the cross, and when he rose from the dead, he has already defeated the devil in advance. We know ahead of time that the devil won’t win. We know that he can’t win, because Jesus has already paid the price with his own blood and cancelled the account of our sins, so that the devil can’t accuse us. He has no right to us. He is always in the wrong. And so when we go to God in prayer, and we ask him for justice, we know that the justice has already been brought about.

We might look at our lives and think—why am I in this mess? Why am I at this crossroads? Why am I suffering like this or like that? Justice has already been settled. And the moment we cry out to God and say: How long, O Lord? is the moment our prayer is answered. Psalm 18 says: In my distress I called upon the Lord, and from his temple he heard my voice. Psalm 46 says: God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. The moment our lips are opened, the moment our eyes look up, the moment a little sigh from the Holy Spirit is breathed out, the prayer is already answered. Justice is repaid upon the devil’s head. The foot of Jesus has already come down upon Satan’s head.

We sometimes think that God shines his glory when thing we ask for is granted. But God shines his glory long before that—he wants to shine his glory right in the middle of our struggle. He wants to show us not simply an end of our suffering, but he wants to show us his grace in midst of our suffering—he wants to show us his power made perfect in our weakness.

We are saved by grace through faith. This means, even when we can’t see anything going right in our life, we still have the forgiveness of sins, we still have heaven on the horizon, and we still have Jesus. And when we have Jesus we have everything.

And so Jesus says: I tell you, God will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?

And so, when Jesus teaches you about prayer, he is teaching you about something that comes from faith. Without faith, there is no prayer. Without the forgiveness of sins, we can’t utter a word.

The devil wants you to lose heart…But when you do, Jesus simply wants you to tell him, and he never loses heart, he never gives up. Jesus hasn’t given up on you—he forgives all of your sins, he has baptised you and made you his child, he feeds you his own body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. Don’t lose heart! The battle has been won! Your enemy has been defeated. One little word can fell him, as Luther wrote in his hymn. God will not delay long you. I tell you, he will give you justice, and he will give it you speedily. Amen.

Lord God, heavenly Father, you know that we don’t pray to you like we should, and that we often lose heart, and we neglect and forget to pray. Send us your Holy Spirit to increase our faith, encourage us, and draw us closer to you in prayer. Let us share in the joy of your Son, knowing that he has defeated Satan once and for all, and will give us justice against our enemy. Teach us to pray, so that we don’t give up and lose heart. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.