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Truth

by Tatiana Overduin

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But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth (John 16:13a).

Read John 15:26,27; 16:4b–15

What a loaded word: ‘struth!’

Pilate asked Jesus, ‘Quid est veritas?’ We can ask the same words today: ‘What is truth?’ Today, in our contemporary world, it would appear that truth can be whatever you want it to be. Whatever is truth for me is my truth. But does this make it the truth? To understand this better, we can look at the definition of the word and learn that the meaning points to that which is ‘factual and to that which is real’. In our modern world of technological advancement and artificial intelligence, it’s only getting more difficult to differentiate what is fabricated, and what is true.

What about telling the truth? Do we always tell the truth? Not possible, is it, unless we have been empowered by the Holy Spirit to ‘speak the truth in love’ (see Ephesians 4:15). In today’s reading, Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as ‘the Spirit of truth’ and that when we receive the Holy Spirit from Jesus, he will make the truth known to us (verse 15b). Therefore, we can establish from the Scriptures that ‘the truth’ is given by God alone.

Happy birthday, Christian church! The gift of the Holy Spirit was given to us at Pentecost. Today, we celebrate Pentecost Sunday, the birthday of the Christian church: the day Christians commemorate the descent of the Holy Spirit to the apostles and other followers of Jesus. You can read about it in the Book of Acts, chapter 2, verses 1–31. And, just like any birthday celebration, those named by God can enjoy this special day – a gift for us to live ‘truthfully’ in a world riddled with all sorts of teachings about the concept of truth.

We can stand together in solidarity, believing only the Holy Spirit does ‘prove the world to be in the wrong, about sin and righteousness and judgement’ (verse 8). In verse 11 of our reading, Jesus says, ‘… the prince of this world now stands condemned’. We who believe in Jesus do not need to concur with the falsities that the teaching of this world implies, those that ultimately divide and deceive us, sometimes even within the church. We stand in the truth: in God’s holy truth! Accordingly, we may now celebrate this day with the assurance that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).

Lord, thank you for gifting us with your truth. Your word is truth. Amen.

Tatiana is married to Jim, and they live at Largs North, a seaside location in Adelaide. They have two adult children and six grandchildren who are a wonderful blessing to them. Tatiana is a full-time English, History, and Religion teacher; she gained a Bachelor of Arts in Theology from Australian Lutheran College in 1996. In her spare time she enjoys knitting, gardening, singing for church, writing and swimming. Her home congregation is Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Adelaide.

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Creation praises God

by Neil Bergmann

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I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live (Psalm 104:33).

Read Psalm 104:24–35

The recommended reading for today is Psalm 104:24–34,35b. That immediately made me think, why leave out part of one verse (Psalm 104:35a)? The ‘offending’ passage is: ‘But may sinners vanish from the earth, and the wicked be no more.’

Now, we are all sinners (as well as saints), so perhaps we are afraid that we are calling for our own destruction. Maybe we don’t like to ask God to punish people who are not much different from us.

However, we now live in the light of our post-resurrection understanding of what it means to be human, which changes how we understand such passages. At the same time, we are saints and sinners, as are all children of God. So maybe this problem verse is asking God to get rid of the ‘sinner’ side of our nature and increase the ‘saint’ side.

This saint side grows as we praise God beside the praise of all other creatures, it grows as we acknowledge that it is God, not us, who is in control of the world, and it grows as we look at the world with awe and wonder.

Our sinner side is greedy, proud, and reckless, and it believes we are in control. Our sinner side is small-minded, petty and vindictive. Let that side vanish from the earth and be no more.

Creator God, your creation is too wonderful, awesome, and glorious for us to think we are in control. Please help us give up our delusions of mastery and instead sing praises to you as long as we live. Amen.

Neil Bergmann worships at Our Saviour Lutheran Church, Rochedale, Queensland. He enjoys the quieter pace of life after retirement, being able to spend more time with his wife, Margit, and their daughter, Elina.

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Trust and patience

by Neil Bergmann

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While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once (Luke 19:11).

Read Luke 19:11–27

There are a couple of interesting points in the parable in today’s reading.

In real estate, it is said that the three most important characteristics of a property are location, location, location. For biblical passages, one might similarly say that the three most important aspects are context, context, context. This parable happens just before the disciples go off to find a donkey for the entry to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Additionally, the focus verse above reminds us that people thought Jesus was about to enter Jerusalem as a conqueror.

Also, the parable doesn’t have a detailed explanation. Some parables, like the one about the persistent widow earlier in the week or, most famously, the parable of the sower, have detailed explanations. Some, like the Good Samaritan or the Prodigal Son, have clear meanings. Then, there are ones like this parable, which are confusing and don’t fit our neat theological ideas like salvation by faith alone and love your enemies. Here servants are rewarded based on their works and enemies are brought to be killed in front of the king.

Parables speak in different ways to different people. For me (and it may be different for you), this parable is about the king going away and us waiting. After his death and resurrection, King Jesus has returned to heaven, awaiting his bodily return to earth at the End Times.

Now, we know our salvation at that time is secure. We know our eternal destiny doesn’t depend on our works. However, this parable tells us we can live in the kingdom of heaven here and now, working for our king and using our talents, time, and treasure to invite others to join in that kingdom.

King Jesus, we often find it too easy to bury our talents and wait confidently for your return. Give us the strength, courage and wisdom to use our time on earth well. Amen.

Neil Bergmann worships at Our Saviour Lutheran Church, Rochedale, Queensland. In addition to professional qualifications in engineering, he has coursework and research master’s degrees in theology.

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Guest of sinners

by Neil Bergmann

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When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today’ (Luke 19:5).

Read Luke 19:1–10

As a tax collector, Zacchaeus was a social outcast. Not only was he hated because he worked for the occupying Romans, but it seems like he was known to cheat on how much he collected and passed on.

Which do you think came first – being an outcast or being a tax collector? Most likely, he had been an outcast in society for a long time – perhaps ridiculed for his short stature – and not part of the in-crowd. This is likely true for many of the ‘sinners’ Jesus encountered in his travels.

As Jesus came through Jericho, the crowds surrounded Jesus. Although Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus, too, the crowd blocked his view. How often do we, in our desire to focus on Jesus as Lord and Saviour, form a huddle that keeps outsiders away? We are comfortable with those like us and often uncomfortable with those who don’t fit.

Zacchaeus was so keen to see Jesus that he climbed a tree. Jesus was always on the lookout for the outsider and the outcast and gave Zacchaeus the one thing his wealth couldn’t give him – acceptance and inclusion.

Luke 19:10 says, ‘For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost’. We are called to do the same – to seek out the lost and let them know they are accepted and loved.

Jesus, move us out of our comfort zone. Help us to look around our communities to find the lost and make them feel welcomed and included. Amen.

Neil Bergmann worships at Our Saviour Lutheran Church, Rochedale, Queensland. He enjoys being part of the monthly Messy Church planning team at Our Saviour.

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Jesus foretells his death and resurrection

by Neil Bergmann

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Then Jesus took the twelve aside and said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished’ (Luke 18:31).

Read Luke 18:31–43

Jesus has a strange way of teaching his disciples. In today’s reading, for the third time, Jesus tells the disciples about his upcoming arrest, death and resurrection. And for the third time, the disciples don't know what he is talking about. The text says that what he said was hidden from them.

It wouldn’t be until after the resurrection (see Luke 24:45–47) that Jesus ‘opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures’. Then, he not only gave them information from the Scriptures, but he also gave them the ability to understand its meaning.

Martin Luther emphasised that understanding Scripture is not a human ability but a gift of the Spirit. In his explanation of the third article of the Apostles’ Creed, he explains:

I believe that I cannot by my reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.

God does everything for our salvation, even providing us with the faith to believe in those truths that transcend human understanding. Not only are we saved by Jesus through no merit or effort of our own, but these truths also include guidance on how to live as followers of Jesus in the kingdom of heaven here on earth. Logically, they make no sense – don’t worry about your life; the first will be last, and the last will be first; to gain treasure in heaven, stop worrying about treasure on earth; love your enemies; the list goes on.

Like Luther suggests, we shouldn’t think we can come up with human explanations for heavenly truths. Instead, we depend totally on the Holy Spirit to call, enlighten, sanctify and keep us in the faith.

Holy Spirit, we don’t like to admit that we can’t understand the mysteries of the Christian faith on our own. Give us the humility to open our minds in prayer so you can speak your wisdom and your truth into our lives. Amen.

Neil Bergmann worships at Our Saviour Lutheran Church, Rochedale, Queensland. He enjoys cooking and reading. His favourite chocolate is Rocky Road.

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Persistent prayer

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And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? (Luke 18:7)

Read Luke 18:1–14

Today’s reading looks at two parables about prayer – one about a persistent widow and one that compares prayers from a Pharisee and a tax collector. Together, they tell us our prayers should be persistent and humble.

Prayer, I think, is more about changing us than it is about trying to convince God to do what we ask. God already knows what we want and need, even before we put them into words. Is telling God the same thing over and over going to change God’s mind? If we get people to pray the same thing, God will be more convinced. I doubt it.

Instead, prayer focuses our minds on what is important in our walk as disciples. We need all the help we can get to live our lives as God intends and, even then, we will fail a lot. Discipleship is not a one-way street of improvement, always moving closer and closer to perfection. Instead, it is a cycle of being refreshed and strengthened by spending time in prayer and worship, sent out into a hostile world to follow God’s will, and then returning to spend time alone with God again.

We cannot live as disciples by our own strength and wisdom. Instead, we need to humbly approach God, over and over again, admitting our weaknesses and being filled by God’s strength and God’s wisdom.

God, have mercy on me, a sinner. I am weak; fill me with your strength. I am foolish; fill me with your wisdom. I am frightened; fill me with your courage. Amen.

By Neil Bergmann

Neil Bergmann worships at Our Saviour Lutheran Church, Rochedale, Queensland. He represents the Lutheran Church on the Queensland Churches Environmental Network (QCEN), a commission of Queensland Churches Together.

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Jesus prays for his disciples

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As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world (John 17:18).

Read John 17:6–19

John’s gospel is unique in that it describes the Last Supper. Five chapters, 13 to 17, are dedicated to what is often called Jesus’ farewell discourse, where he prepares the disciples for his imminent arrest and execution. Chapter 17 is one long prayer in which Jesus prays to his Father to protect his disciples in the trying times ahead, and then extends that to prayer for those who believe through the words of the disciples, which includes us!

Why do the disciples (and us) deserve special protection and blessing? It is partly because Jesus loves them (and us), but more directly, it is because the disciples are being sent out to tell the world about Jesus, and that can be a dangerous thing to do.

Likewise, we are all sent by Jesus to tell a hurting and misguided world what it means to live in the kingdom of heaven. How we are sent out into the world will be different for all of us. It may be as preachers, or as writers, or as campaigners, or as carers. It may be to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, to house the homeless, and to visit the forgotten.

In whatever way we go out into the world, Jesus’ prayer to his Father applies to us. We are under the protection of the creator of the universe. We will never be alone.

Jesus, you are sending us out into the world. You have prayed to the Father to protect us as we go. Give us the courage to step beyond our comfort zones, to stop depending on our strength, and to rely totally on our strength. Amen.

By Neil Bergmann

Neil Bergmann is the chair of Lutheran Earth Care, Australia and New Zealand. A retired computer engineer, he worships at Our Saviour Lutheran Church, Rochedale, Queensland.

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The Tree Of Life

by Maria Rudolph

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They are like a tree planted by streams of water which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever they do prospers (Psalm 1:3).

Read Psalm 1

This year the LCANZ has another simultaneous art exhibition across all congregations, and the theme to inspire artwork is ‘The Tree of Life’. I wonder whether you might be a person working on artwork for this exhibition, or if you know someone in your congregation who is.

There are endless possibilities to capture the topic, and inspiration everywhere, even within our church! The logo of Grow Ministries, which has resourced the church with child, youth, and family ministry materials, also depicts a tree. The very first psalm in the collection of 150 psalms in our Bible paints a picture of a person who follows in the ways of the Lord as a strong and healthy tree planted by a life-giving stream of water. Jesus talks of himself as the giver of living water and by drinking it we will never thirst again. The final book of the Bible, Revelation (22:1,2), talks about the river of life in the New Jerusalem, which flows from the throne of God, and that on each side of the river stands the tree of life, growing above the river, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. What an amazing vision! I wonder if we will get to see it in heaven.

Jesus tells us in Revelation (22:12–14): ‘Behold, I am coming soon! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and go through the gates into the city.’ So let’s be a tree in our current circumstance, today. Let’s wash our robes by laying down our sins and asking Jesus for forgiveness. Let’s immerse ourselves in the Living Water and sink our roots into this life-giving stream to drink God’s word every day. Then we are a big, strong, healthy tree after God’s own heart and the fruit of the Spirit will grow on and in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. And then we will prosper by storing up treasures in heaven. God is growing you into a tree of life.

How can you sink your roots deeply into God today?

Loving God, it is only with your help, your nurture, and gentle pruning that I can be a strong and healthy tree. Guide me to sink my roots deeply into you and nourish me with your Living Water and Bread of Life. Help me to bear good fruit. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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The kingdom of God is here

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Jesus replied, ‘The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation nor will people say, ‘Here it is’, or ‘There it is’, because the kingdom of God is within you’ (Luke 17:20,21).

Read Luke 17:20-37

There has been a real surge of self-proclaimed modern-day Christian prophets since the internet has made TikTok and short videos on YouTube popular and easily accessible. The recent solar eclipse in the USA sparked people trying to pinpoint the return of Christ and the coming of God’s kingdom. But as we know from Ecclesiastes 1:9, there is nothing new under the sun. Some people who have studied theology for years and are actively teaching the faith to others are misguiding people today, and this already went on in the days of Jesus. The only way we can tell apart false and true teachers is to stick to Jesus and his teaching. Even when the words of Jesus do not necessarily fit into our theology or our understanding of God. Be prepared and open to being surprised by Jesus over and over, as you read God’s word.

Jesus said: ‘The kingdom of God is within you.’ What a mind-blowing concept this was for all who had gathered to listen to him then. How could the kingdom of God be WITHIN someone? Did Jesus mean that the holy presence of God himself could enter sinful men, women and children in order to be present there? Back then, everyone knew the presence of God resided in the Holy of Holies at the Temple, kept separated from unclean filthy humans by a curtain and only to be accessed by a priest once a year, who had many atoning sacrifices made for his cleansing before entering. Jesus implied that all of this was changing. God became Immanuel, God with us. God came and dwelled among us and within us. Jesus breathed on the disciples and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’. You have received the Holy Spirit at your baptism. You carry the kingdom of God within you. The decaying human vessel of our body carries the infinite divinity of God within. At the death of Jesus on the cross, the temple curtain in front of the Holy of Holies tore in two from top to bottom. It is too much even for us to take in. And yet it is true. That’s what we believe as Christians. When we pray in the Lord’s Prayer for God’s kingdom to come, we recognise that the kingdom has already come in and through each one of us Christians, and yet we know that it will only be here in its fullness at the return of Christ. We don’t need false prophets to tell us when that day might come. Jesus tells us that we won’t know the day or the hour (Matthew 25:13). All we need is to follow him and to look to him for all things, and the kingdom of God is here in us daily.

How can today look different if you think about yourself carrying the kingdom of God with you wherever you go?

Loving God, help me fix my eyes on Jesus and your word. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven. Thank you that I carry God’s kingdom within me. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

by Maria Rudolph

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