Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Sermon 17th November 2019 – 23rd Sunday After Pentecost Text: Luke 21:5-19 – Better than Fig Leaves


Sermon 17th November 2019 – 23rd Sunday After Pentecost
Text: Luke 21:5-19 – Better than Fig Leaves

It would be fair to say that most people believe that we live in uncertain times.
Whether it be through financial insecurity, unemployment, fears of a recession. Even the housing market which has always been a safe investment in bricks and mortar is quite unstable. And in these days it’s not just the financial aspects of the housing market that causes fear but the inferior quality that has seen cracks appearing in it.
Then there are the conflicts around the world, wars, drug cartels, terrorism.
And who can forget the fear caused by global warming in recent times that has seen school children miss school to rally for change – a fear that we have only 12 years left before our eco-system collapses.
We could go on and on and include the bushfires, droughts and other natural disasters.
The list of problems facing the world today is seemingly endless.
But we shouldn’t be misinformed - economic crises, wars and natural disasters have been a part of human existence from the beginning of time as a reminder of our fallen world because our eyes have been opened to know Good and Evil.
What we are going through in our present age is nothing new, no matter how much the media tells us that this is “unprecedented”.
Jesus himself told the disciples today:
When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately." Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful calamities and great signs from heaven.
Our world has been through far worse despite what we are told.
Just ask those who remember the Great Depression of the 1930s or the horrors of World War One and Two and the Holocaust – Black Saturday, Black Friday, Ash Wednesday.
Every age has faced tragic circumstances and despite our best efforts every age to come will also face them as this world is not paradise.
It is a broken and fallen world.
Some might ask where is God in all this.
He is where he has always been – at our side feeling every ounce of suffering.
As Jesus once said in a parable about hunger and thirst – as much as you didn’t not help those in need you did not help me.
Jesus feels the thirst and hunger.
It is human nature to believe that the pain and suffering that we are going through is far worse than what others have been through.
And it is also human nature that when struggles happen in life that we believe that we are the ones who alone can fix the problem.
And so it becomes tempting to be like the disciples and look for physical assurances during those times rather than spiritual.
To look to the work of our hands rather than God’s because then “I” am in control.
The disciples even pointed it out to Jesus in speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God as if that was what was important about their faith,
Sadly they were more focused on what was outside the temple rather than inside the temple.
So you can imagine the disciple’s dismay and confusion when Jesus said, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
Isn’t that blasphemy – that Jesus says God’s temple will be destroyed?
The disciples were falling in to the same trap that Adam and Eve fell for back in the beginning of time in the Garden of Eden.
They were allowing their eyes to look for assurance rather than trusting in God.
Let’s go back to Genesis 3:
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
The very first consequence of that sin was that they took control – they saw that they were naked so THEY sewed fig leaves to make coverings for themselves.
But look what happens at the end of that chapter - The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.
How long will fig leaves last as clothes?
How long will bricks and mortar, money and possessions last as security?
So God made them a covering that would last.
And God has made you a garment that will last – your Baptism.
As we approach the end of the church year our bible readings are chosen to remind us that our world is also coming to an end.
Even if we could stop all the crime, wars, climate change or whatever else brings fear into our lives the reality is that this is NOT the world that God has planned for us.
God has planned a very different existence for us in his presence through heavenly Worship.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to make this world a better place but it is about where we put our hope, trust and faith in this lifetime.
Like the disciples it is so easy to put our trust in things we have built up for ourselves – our possessions, our careers, our finances or whatever else that might be so we can be in control.
But as Jesus warns, these have no lasting security – just like the fig leaves Adam and Eve made for themselves.
It’s like the 2 men who built their homes.
Both homes were identical.
But one was built on sand – and the other on rock.
And when the storms came the house on sand collapsed while the house on rock continued to provide shelter.
Notice in that parable that the house provided comfort and security for both until the storm came.
Our jobs, our possessions our finances are gifts from God to help us enjoy life while on earth.
But they are NOT the foundation for our lives.
No, our foundation is Jesus Christ and his teachings as he instructed Peter:
On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it.
There is no doubt that the church is going through difficult times.
The storms have well and truly hit us and according to Jesus we should not be surprised and we should in fact be preparing for much worse challenges.
Jesus says: they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name.
He even says - You will be hated by all because of my name.
The temptation is to move away from Jesus and his foundation.
The temptation is that we have to become more like the world so that the world will like and accept us.
But there is real danger in that because we lose our foundation so we can take control of our lives.
And when we lose our foundation then nothing is secure.
It is human nature to want to feel secure about the future.
And the world uses methods to frighten you to future proof yourself.
To set up foundations to secure your future.
But there is no security against sickness no matter how well we look after ourselves.
There is no security against an economic collapse no matter how vigilant we’ve been setting up our financial portfolios.
There is no security against natural disasters – war – terrorism.
But there is security in our eternal life and that security is Jesus Christ.
Jesus has future proofed our eternal life through our Baptism - by paying for our sins and assuring us of forgiveness on Judgment Day – a day that has brought fear to so many people.
None of us know what tomorrow might bring but Jesus does promise that God is with us to the end of the age,
God is still in charge, and we can trust in God when we can no longer trust anything else.
When all else fails – when not one stone is left standing – when death and decay are all around us – we remember God’s promise – I am the same, yesterday and forever – I am the Alpha and the Omega – the beginning and the end – and even though Heaven and earth will pass away, my words will never pass away.

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Sermon 10th November – All Saints Day Text: Luke 20:27-38 – Life, but not as we know it.


Sermon 10th November – All Saints Day
Text: Luke 20:27-38 – Life, but not as we know it.

Today we acknowledge All Saints Day and a day of remembrance for those who have given of their lives to defend our nation.
It is a day when we give thanks to God for their lives but even more than that we give thanks for the hope of the resurrection which enables us to take comfort that death is not the end but a doorway of entry to eternal life.
While death ends life here on earth that life is continued in eternity in Heaven with God.
And it won’t be just a continuation of life here.
I mean who would want that?
Who would want to have to go through all the pressures of life again – working and all the struggles of life here?
I know I don’t.
And that’s what Jesus is trying to teach the Sadducees today.
They didn’t believe in an afterlife so they just presumed that those who did thought it would just be a continuation of life here on earth.
The Sadducees were one of the religious groups of the Jews who didn’t believe in the resurrection to eternal life.
So they asked a long, somewhat convoluted question about marriage in order to trip Jesus up about the resurrection.
They weren’t trying to find out about eternal life but just to prove Jesus wrong.
So they put up this seemingly crazy situation before Jesus about a woman married to 7 different brothers who had all died and had married her as part of the Old Testament law of succession, wondering whose wife she would be in the afterlife.
Jesus showed them that they were taking situations that belong to our human, finite life and trying to apply them to the afterlife, which is infinite and beyond our full comprehension.
The bible tells us in several places that while life continues after we die it is not the same as it is here.
For those who have suffered in this lifetime there is the hope that they won’t have to go through that again when St Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:
So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power;  it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.
For those who have grieved in this lifetime for loved ones St John says in the Book of Revelation:
‘God will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
For those who have found life a toil through back breaking work just to make ends meet, working from sun up to sun down, again the Book of Revelation says:
There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.
For those who have experienced persecution or injustice that has never been made right the Book of Revelation says:
Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. And … Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” a for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.
The sea was symbolic of where evil spirits would find their home – hence Jesus walking on the water showing his authority over the evil spirits including the pigs who rush into the water once the demons entered into them.

Jesus explained to the Sadducees that the resurrected life in Heaven will not be the same as human life, so it is wrong to apply the same categories of marriage to it.
He says those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.
It is difficult when someone we love dies because while they are in that new existence of eternal life we are still here dealing with the earthly realities of life and death – grief, sorrow, loneliness.
And that’s really hard because even though we are comforted for them we still deal with the struggles of life while we wait for Jesus to bring us home.
But we need to remember that whilst our loved one is in the presence of God, so are we.
As Jesus said to them: Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive."
Again, that is hard to fathom because just as the Sadducees were trying to apply earthly parameters in heaven, we are trying to understand heavenly parameters while we are still on earth.
But that’s exactly the reality we have as Christians when St Paul says to the Colossians:
Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
All Saints Day often gets criticised by those who don’t understand it and believe that we are glorifying the dead.
That could not be further from the truth.
It is giving thanks to God for the life that he gave and  for the faith that he gives.
Also unfortunate is our hesitance as Lutherans to use the words saints because of the Reformation where Luther object to prayers to the saints.
But “saints” is a word used widely by St Paul in his letters when he wrote to the churches.
Saints were those who put their faith in Jesus Christ and he made no distinction to the living or the dead as those who had died in faith continued in the church through their heavenly worship with us.
That’s why in our creed we refer to the Communion of Saints as we gather with the angels and archangels and ALL the company of heaven when we worship and celebrate the sacrament.
So let us remember that God is a God of the living and that the living includes us and those who have gone ahead of us to their new life in the presence of God.
As the angels said to the women at the grave on Easter Sunday, we don’t look for the living among the dead –
We don’t understand death while we are in this life because we have no idea of the immensity of what is waiting for us.
In 2 Corinthians St Paul said he was taken up into heaven and given a glimpse of what was waiting for us and said he saw things that humans are not permitted to know.
He also said in Romans that he considers that our present sufferings here are not worth comparing to the glory that awaits us in heaven.
There is a total inability to understand the afterlife compared to our present life
So I’ll leave my final words to St Paul who said in our reading this morning:
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Sermon 27th October 2019 – Reformation Sunday Text: Luke 18:9-14 – Have mercy on me Lord, a sinner


Sermon 27th October 2019 – Reformation Sunday
Text: Luke 18:9-14 – Have mercy on me Lord, a sinner

Ask anyone to describe “the church” and you’ll get a variety of answers.
But, no doubt, top of the list would be – those do-gooders who keep telling us how bad we are – those “righteous know it alls” who are living in the past and complain every time we try to move into the future.
They complain against Same Sex Mariage – they object to euthanasia – they complain about abortion – you name it – they complain against it.
Ask Christians what they think about the state of the world and most likely, top of the list – you’ll hear how evil and depraved the world is.
The old stereotype image of the world – sex, drugs and rock and roll – is still how many Christians describe the “outside” world.
And sadly we are seeing growing polarisation in our world where the church and Christians are growing further and further away from the world.
And that should worry us.
Not because those people aren’t going to church but because we are failing in our mission to the world.
One of the central teachings of Luther during the Reformation was his teaching of the 2 Kingdoms.
And what was pivotal in this teaching was that both Kingdoms belonged to and were governed by God.
He called them the Kingdom of the Left and the Kingdom of the Right – not to be confused with our political divisions of the Conservative Right and the Liberal Left.
God’s right hand kingdom is where he governs through the Church – through Word and Sacrament – through grace, mercy and forgiveness.
God’s left hand kingdom is where God governs through law and order – through the governments – and even though this is a secular rule it is still God’s, not Satan’s.
If we don’t understand the world that way – that both kingdoms belong to God - then we create a divide and attribute the other kingdom to Satan and, really, we don’t care what happens to them.
We start to have this “wait till your father gets home” mentality in that we become comforted knowing that we are going to heaven and they will have to answer to God on Judgment Day.
And we almost take joy in believing that the likes of Hitler, Osama Bin Laden, Suddam Hussein will be punished in hell for the evil that they did in their lifetime.
We might even “hope they rot in hell”.
We start to sound a little bit like the Pharisee - God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.
Tax-collectors were on the wrong side religiously, politically, and economically,
He is an unlikely prototype to hold up, just like last week where a widow is held up as the prototype of prayer.
This is the second of two parables in a row about prayer with fairly unconventional role models.
The first was the persistent widow in last Sunday's reading (Luke 18:1-8).
She was a most unlikely example as a teaching aid: widows were at the bottom of society, without power or voice, and yet how powerful was the voice of that widow!
She taught us about persistence in prayer.
In today’s Gospel, another dimension of prayer is addressed, the heart of prayer:
The Pharisee’s prayer is about praising himself and his works and his own goodness.
He has it all figured out, and things come together rather nicely for him.
In contrast we have the tax-collector.
The Pharisee far outshines him in his religious observances before God.
He doesn’t need to tell God about all he has done.
Surely God, who is all knowing and all seeing has surely noticed how good the Pharisee is.
Actually, there isn't much need for God to do anything in the life of this Pharisee except to agree with him.
So Jesus uses an unexpected example to teach his audience a lesson.
The tax-collector pours out his heart and buries himself so deeply into voicing his deepest anguish - awareness of his own weakness, failures, and sins, that he doesn’t even notice the Pharisee, let alone compares himself to him.
Probably not that dissimilar to Luther who tried to be like the Pharisee before God – I have translated the Bible into German – I have slept on a bed of straw, when I have sleep – I gave up being a successful lawyer to become a monk – and yet Luther didn’t find that peace he was desperately seeking.
How do you find your peace with God?
The tax collector throws himself at God’s feet begging for his mercy even though he doesn’t deserve it.
And that’s what mercy is – undeserved grace from God.
So too did Luther – in fact the last words attributed to Luther before he died were “We are beggars. This is true”
Jesus teaches a lesson about God's mercy in accepting the sinner, the tax-collector, instead of the apparently holy Pharisee.
What does this say about us?
How do we present ourselves to God?
Do we present ourselves to God confident that we have done the best we can – or at least we not like others who profane God’s name?
Maybe we don’t do that publicly but in our hearts what do we feel about ourselves in our relationship with God.
When we hear about the depravity in the world – the conmen – the drug addicts – the thieves and liars – the abusers – do we feel somewhat good about ourselves and proud that we have led a better life than that?
Or do we come before God as beggars – have mercy on me Lord, a sinner.
So what was the problem with the Pharisees’ prayer?
Did he lie about his goodness?
No.
Did he do things that were wrong?
No.
The problem was, according to the Pharisee, he had done everything right.
So what else could God do for him?
He had no need for God – and that was the problem.
The problem was that he acknowledged everything he did that was right – but he failed to acknowledge before God where he had not done everything God demanded from him.
Where God had said to love the Lord with all your heart – and also to love your neighbour as yourself.
So the answer is not for the Pharisee to stop doing all the things he was doing but to acknowledge that before God he was still a sinner so that God could shower upon him his grace and mercy.
The Pharisee and the Tax Collector may have looked poles apart when it came to the good works they were doing.
But when it came to what God expected from both they were identical twins.
Whichever side we are on – the Pharisee or the Tax Collector - we all have common ground and a dependence on God’s grace and in desperate need of his mercy through forgiveness.
No matter what divides us we have a shared prayer that unites us - `God, be merciful to me, a sinner! This is our shared recognition before God - that we are all sinners, but we all belong to God.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
All glory to God. Amen.

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Sermon 20th October 2019 – 19th Sunday after Pentecost - Text: Luke 18:1-8 – Persistent in prayer


Sermon 20th October 2019 – 19th Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Luke 18:1-8 – Persistent in prayer

Last week saw a week of disruptions in the city, including other states around Australia, and in fact around the world to demand what they call “climate justice”.
Despite the disruptions that it caused to many people going to work or going home from work we are a society that respects people’s right to protest for justice.
Whether it’s climate justice or justice in the work place or justice for persecuted countries – protesting is a way to get our message across and hopefully to bring about change.
Jesus today tells a story about a widow who was demanding justice.
We don’t know what sort of justice she was after but she went to the one whom she knew could grant her the justice she needed.
We don’t know what she was after but what we do know is that even though this judge she went to didn’t fear God and had no respect for her or any human being, he was the one who could grant the justice she needed.
Even though she had no certainty whether he would listen to her or whether he would grant her request, she knew that only he could do it.
Whether he “would” wasn’t the issue – whether he “could” was the issue.
Jesus tells this story as a way of encouraging us to remain confident in our prayer life.
Maybe sometimes we’ve prayed to God and nothing seems to have happened.
Jesus says – keep praying.
The difference between the judge in our story and God is God’s love for humanity.
This judge had no fear of God and no respect for humanity.
In our prayers it’s different – we pray to God and not only does God have respect for humanity he has unconditional love for humanity.
He created us.
He loved us so much that he sacrificed his one and only Son to assure that we would live with him in heaven.
So if there is something we need, then God is certainly the one to whom our requests should go.
Prayer has always challenged people.
I pray but I don’t see any results, is one that I often hear.
Sometimes when people protest the results aren’t always seen or they don’t see the results immediately.
Prayer is communicating with God – both speaking to God and listening to God.
We know that in any relationship that communication is how that relationship grows.
I speak with my wife – I listen to my wife.
We don’t always agree on things but as we communicate we grow in our relationship and in our understanding of each other.
That’s how prayer works with God.
We communicate with God – we speak with God – we listen to God.
We don’t always agree on things but we work towards understanding each other.
Sometimes God answers our prayer – sometimes God changes us to understand a certain situation.
Like St Paul in 2nd Corinthians.
Paul had a suffering in his life that tormented him.
He prayed to God to remove it.
He prayed a second time to God to remove it.
He prayed a third time and received an answer from God – but not in the way he had requested.
Through that time of prolonged prayer God worked with Paul in a way that while his suffering didn’t change – Paul’s understanding changed.
Paul grew to trust in God’s love and grace in his life for strength to cope with his suffering.
Parents have to deal sometimes in the same way with their children.
Children can sometimes demand things from their parents which their parents know is not in their best interest or for their wellbeing.
It doesn’t mean they don’t love their child but it’s because they love their child that sometimes as a parent we say “no” to those demands.
But we’ll explain why and teach our children through that “NO”.
You can’t have that biscuit because you’ll spoil your dinner.
You can’t stay up because you need your sleep.
You can’t go to that party because I’m not sure about the adult supervision.
They may challenge that “no”, like the widow challenged the judges persistent “no” to her request for justice.
They may throw a tantrum and are especially good at choosing situations where they know that tantrum will get maximum effect – like at the check-out in the supermarket.
And sometimes there’s some negotiations as the parent may even begin to learn that their child is growing up and needs extended boundaries.
Maybe a curfew is negotiated to allow the child to stay up later.
And this is what persistent prayer to God can be about.
Prayer is about growth.
Growth in us as we grow in our trust in God.
But also growth in God’s understanding of our needs.
God is not a genie whose bottle we can rub every time we want something.
God is our loving Father who cares for us and loves us like no one has ever loved us.
God only wants the best for us and sometimes God says “no” to our requests.
Or sometimes, even though God has said no he has later said yes.
Prayer is a special gift of God that enables us to get to know him better.
But even more important than that, prayer is an opportunity that enables us to get to know ourselves better.
If God said yes to everything we asked then how would we ever develop and grow.
Can you imagine if every time a child asked a parent for something they got it – we would probably have a very spoilt child on our hands and one who never matures.
So here we have an opportunity through prayer with God to develop ourselves and develop our relationship.
In the story Jesus told we also see that through the persistence in prayer that the unmerciful judge finally changed and showed her mercy.
So in prayer there is also an opportunity for God to grow in his understanding and relationship of us.
I know that to many that might sound strange, or even wrong – but that’s what Jesus has asked us to do.
And we have many examples in the bible where God did just that.
Abraham was able to convince God that wiping out a whole town because of a few was wrong.
The people of Nineveh were able to convince God that people can change their lives without him destroying them.
Moses was able to convince God that destroying all the people of Israel because of their disobedience was not a good look to the surrounding nations.
God is not some autonomous unfeeling overlord who is sitting up above with no care for the people of this earth.
No, Jesus says that God knows the very hairs of our head.
But neither is God some genie who is at our beckoning.
God is our creator.
God is our Heavenly Father.
God cares for us and wants the best for us – and he wants the best from us.
But the best for us comes by our lives growing in our trust in God – by our relationship with God growing.
We don’t always understand everything that goes on in our lives and in the lives around us.
But neither does a child always understand and accept the decision of their parents.
But they learn to trust that their parents love them and want the best for them and they learn to trust in them.
That’s what Jesus is wanting to teach us in this story.
If an unmerciful and uncaring judge can eventually come around and give this widow what she needs – how much more will a loving, caring Father graciously give to us all that we need.


Thursday, 10 October 2019

Sermon 13th October 2019 – 18th Sunday after Pentecost Text: Luke 17:11-19 – Unity through suffering


Sermon 13th October 2019 – 18th Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Luke 17:11-19 – Unity through suffering

Border Security is a major political divide in many countries.
Whether it’s the wall being built on the border of the USA and Mexico – or the sending of those deemed to be “illegal immigrants to detention centres or being deported.
We have even had disputes with our near neighbour New Zealand over the sending back of New Zealanders who have made their home in Australia but have committed crimes and we don’t want them anymore.
But it seems New Zealand doesn’t want them either.
So border security and citizenship is a massive issue in many parts of the world.
And it was also a massive issue in Jesus’ time particularly regarding Jews and Samaritans
But Jesus breaks down those barriers which we see in a couple places at least.
2 important ones include in John chapter 4 with the Samaritan Woman at the well:
When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans).
Then there is the parable of the Good Samaritan who stops to help a Jewish national who has been attacked and left for dead.
Jesus says this is the greatest example of loving our neighbour and tells us to go and do likewise.
In today’s Gospel reading Jesus again shows that he breaks down barriers in that he heals ten lepers which included 9 Jews and one Samaritan.
But there is something that has struck me this time.
As the Samaritan Woman said – Jews do not associate with Samaritans.
Something that is easy to miss here in this reading as we focus on the miraculous healing is that these 10 lepers seemed to be living together in community.
Whereas once their nationality and religion divided them their suffering united them.
In their suffering they didn’t care about the things that previously divided them.
The things that they objected to were no longer of significance.
And so it would appear that in their suffering their eyes have been truly opened.
Just as the Good Samaritan who, in seeing the suffering of an enemy, was able to set that aside.
And here too 10 lepers – Jews and Samaritans – have set aside their differences that had divided them and come to Jesus united as one:
Note what they say to Jesus: they called out, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!"
Have mercy on “us”.
There is no individual here;
There is no “us and them”.
Have mercy on “us”.
Not have mercy on “me”.
Suffering, however, is something we don’t like.
Suffering is not something we desire.
And yet we see that in suffering there is a mystery of blessing.
Would those 10 in our Gospel reading ever have come together without their suffering?
St Paul likewise speaks about his own sufferings and even goes to the point of that he rejoices in his sufferings.
And as we read his 2nd letter to the Corinthians he explains the mystery of how that can be.
He says: I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
In his suffering Paul grew to trust in God’s grace and mercy.
Paul’s suffering made him realise that he could not manage life on his own strength.
Unfortunately, sadly perhaps, we live in a world where we don’t see suffering as a positive thing – and I can understand that – no one likes to suffer – no one likes to see a loved one suffering.
And that’s why there has been such a push for Voluntary Assisted Dying – because we don’t understand the ministry of suffering.
Even in the church, as we go through our bouts of suffering – we struggle to see God’s blessings.
One of the understandings that led to Luther’s renewal was what we call “a theology of the cross”.
A recognition that behind suffering is the glory of God.
In fact Luther likened  that glory of God to when Moses was granted his request to see the glory of God.
God said to Moses: There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock and when. my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.”
A theology of the cross understands God’s blessings in suffering.
Unfortunately because of our sinfulness and human nature we always want more.
Just like Adam and Eve who were created in the Image of God and fell to the deception of Satan to disobey God with the promise of “you will be like God”.
It sounded tempting but was actually a step down in glory from being in the Image of God to being “like God”.
And so we continue to see that human nature in the 9 lepers who failed to return to Jesus to thank him.
So what is the difference between this one Samaritan and the other 9 Jewish lepers?
It was in how they saw their relationship with Jesus.
When Jesus sends them on their way they hurry to do what lepers are supposed to do when they're healed: go to the temple and show themselves to the priest.
While they're still on the road, they look at each other and they're already healed.
One of them, a despised Samaritan, turns around and goes back.
He's so full of joy and gratitude that he throws himself on the ground at Jesus' feet to worship him
So what of the other nine Jewish lepers?
They are obediently doing what Jesus told them to do and what they know the Law requires of them.
They're being good, observant, faithful Jews.
They’re not doing anything wrong but following Jesus’ directions.
So what this goes back to is what is at the heart of their relationship with Jesus.
Is it love or is it obedience.
Both are important but what motivates the relationship with Jesus?
Is it love or is it obedience?
This outsider, this Samaritan, this "them," in the “us and them” relationship is so overwhelmed by gratitude and joy that he turns back to Jesus to show his love.
But why didn’t he first do what Jesus asked him to do?
It’s because he knew that the Temple isn't a place he'd be welcome even if he is cured of his leprosy.
Whilst he had been cured of being a leper there is no cure for being a Samaritan – an outsider.
So while he knew the temple would not be welcoming of him he knew that with Jesus there was no border control.
Today, our churches are not struggling with the Jewish-Samaritan question but who are the “them” in the “us and them”.
Are we welcoming?
Are we inviting?
Are we breaking down “us and them” boundaries?
Are we more like one of the nine lepers trying to be good and religious who obey the religious authorities and Laws?
Is that our starting position?
Or is our starting position that we are saved sinners who have experienced the love and grace of God and have been asked to “go and do likewise”?
To love the Lord with all our heart and our neighbour as ourselves.
I don’t think this story is always about remembering to say thanks but rather why did the Samaritan say thanks before he did what Jesus asked him to do.
This Samaritan leper did not disobey Jesus but because of his love for Jesus he was able to see the true temple.
Remember what Jesus said:
“Tear down this Temple and in three days I’ will rebuild it.” They people were furious: “It took forty-six years to build this Temple, and you’re going to rebuild it in three days?” But Jesus was talking about his body as the Temple.
And YOU are the body of Christ.
You are the new Temple.
Do we need rebuilding?
The Samaritan Leper did return to the temple and he reported to the priest – the true priest – Jesus Christ – prophet, priest and king.
And not just any priest - For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
So what is at the heart of our worship?
What is at the heart of our relationship with God?
What comes first – obedience or love?
Both are important.
If obedience comes first then it is a relationship of obligation.
I won’t commit murder because God forbids it.
I won’t commit murder because I love God and my neighbour.
Same outcome but different motivation.
Or, I won’t commit adultery because God’s commandment forbids it.
Or, I won’t commit adultery because I love God and my wife.
That’s what we see at the heart of this Samaritan Leper.
He obeyed Jesus’ command but he did so through love at the true temple presenting himself to the true high priest.
And that’s why, when Jesus was asked, what is the greatest commandment he responded – love the Lord your God with all your heart and love your neighbour as yourself.
He didn’t need to recite all of the 10 commandments but cited the one – the only one needed that motivates all or actions.
Isn’t that interesting – 10 lepers, one returns because of love.
10 commandments – one greatest commandment to love.
And we love because God first loved us.