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Brekkie With Jesus

Once a week, I lead a church hall full of zero- to five-year-olds and their carers in a ministry program for little children so they can get to know Jesus better. I love asking them what they had for breakfast – I’ve heard of some pretty quirky toddler brekkie combinations over the years!

Jesus cooked breakfast for the disciples at least one time, recorded in John’s Gospel after his resurrection – and presumably on other occasions before the Easter events. He used what was available and commonplace for them at the time – fish baked on burning coals served with some bread. It sounds quite nice, although not the first thing I would choose to eat in the morning, but in order to have brekkie with Jesus, I’d say yes, please!

That’s an incredibly detailed account of the menu on that morning when the resurrected Jesus once again appeared to the disciples. And there is more detail, like the exact number of fish caught in the net – 153. It’s interesting to look at what is missing and left out of the story too. Why had the disciples returned to their fishing boats after the resurrected Jesus had appeared to them twice already, breathed the Holy Spirit on them and sent them out? Or why did they not recognise Jesus by his appearance, although he had already appeared to them twice since his death? They did, however, recognise Jesus by his actions, similar to the disciples recognising him in the action of breaking the bread in Emmaus (Luke 24:31).

I wonder if those little kids and their adult carers in our church hall can recognise Jesus by the actions of the ministry team when we sing, dance and play together? I bet they do. I bet people also recognise Jesus by your actions when you show love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These are the fruit of the same Spirit Jesus breathed on his disciples. This same Spirit has been poured out on you. Let your actions of love towards other people be accompanied by a prayer today that the Holy Spirit reveals the living God to them as they recognise Jesus in you.

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Unity

The theme for General Synod next year is ‘The gift of God – It’s grace that unites us’. What a beautiful encapsulation of the ending of Jesus’ high priestly prayer in our John reading today. Jesus is the culmination of God’s grace through the redemption of all people by his blood. A better gift doesn’t exist. The climax of Jesus’ extensive prayer captured in John 17 is for the unity of all believers – that we may be one as Jesus and the Father are. If only we could achieve such a blessed unity in our earthly life already. But it seems this will only come to completion when Jesus returns.

Jesus, who is fervently praying for unity, is also the very one in whom we find true unity. Paul reminds us (Ephesians 4:3–6): ‘Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.’

The key is Jesus. The reason for unity is one hope: grace – the redemption through Jesus’ blood. The reason for unity is one baptism – new birth through water and the word. God the Father is over all, through all and in all. Jesus is the centre. The foundation. The focus. The reason. Unity in faith means all believers can follow, serve and proclaim Christ and this blessed hope – together. Unity in Christ means finding common ground in Jesus, which sustains us when we have theological, cultural and practical differences. The colour of our skin, the language we speak, our convictions on what music or liturgy we should have in worship, if women or men should be ordained, or whether we can pray in tongues – our starting point in any of our big and small issues is recalling our Christ-centred unity as baptised believers. This is an ongoing work in progress to which we are called in different ways throughout in our lives. Let us take the words of Jesus’ prayer and make them our own – especially as our LCANZ journeys toward the General Convention of Synod in 2024.

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Caring for the land

You care for the land and water it; you enrich it abundantly (Psalm 65:9a).

Read Psalm 65:9–13

If anyone should be at the forefront of environmental protection, it should be those who believe that the land is ultimately God’s. This reading echoes the thought of Psalm 24:1: ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.’ The land is God’s. Our land, Australia, is his, and he first gave our Indigenous people the task of being its caretakers and now to those of us who are non-Indigenous to also care for it. But the abundant, natural care for the land comes from God.

I don’t know if it still happens, but churches used to hold a Harvest Thanksgiving service each year, where the sanctuary would often overflow with produce from the land that people had brought as an act of thanksgiving. In more recent times, in urban areas, some churches asked people to bring whatever would be a good representation of their work: perhaps a laptop, a musical instrument, a briefcase or an office chair – whatever it was that contributed to them being able to make a living. It’s a good thing. A good thing to acknowledge that God is the great provider, and he crowns the year with his bounty (verse 11).

Caring for the land means acknowledging that land is a gift. Here in Australia, we experience both bountiful years and years of scarcity. We know what it is like when things flourish and how it is when there is drought, flood and fire. Sometimes we can take good things for granted, and perhaps sometimes, when things are grim, we are forced to put a greater value on the gift we have.

This psalm is simply a thank-you song. It begins with the words, ‘Praise awaits you, O God’ (verse 1). When I see how God cares, enriches, provides, drenches, softens, crowns, clothes and covers, what is left for me but to praise? We can add: because God’s gift is so precious, we will care for this gift.

Thank you, gracious God, for your care for our land. By your Spirit, give each of us the will to care as custodians of what belongs to you. Amen.

Pastor Jim Strelan is a retired pastor living on Brisbane Northside. He served in Papua New Guinea and as school pastor in several schools and congregations with schools. Jim is married to Ruth, and they have three children and seven grandchildren, who Jim loves unconditionally. He loves to share the gospel as simply and clearly as he can.

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The Vine and the Branches

John 15:1-11 The Vine and the Branches

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunesa] so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

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Life together

In my first year of high school, Australia converted to decimal currency and Simon and Garfunkel released the song, “I am a rock”. While everyone in Australia was working together to adjust to the new currency the song spoke of going it alone. “I am a rock. I am an island.”

It’s a sad song about being hurt and withdrawing into isolation in order to avoid any more pain.

We’ve had some experiences of isolation this year and depending on our nature we’ve either enjoyed or hated those times.

Our God is into community. God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit exist in a divine community of love and because we’re made in the image of God we’re also made for community.

The Christian faith in particular and life in general aren’t meant to be solo adventures. Even those with an introverted nature need others. We all need community.

Paul describes the community in terms of a body with many different and varied parts in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12. The different parts of the body need each other and when they work together the body functions properly.

The beauty of this image and situation is found in the love and support we give and receive in the community. There are times when we desperately need the support of a loving community and there are times when we provide the support to members of the community.

This ‘strange’ year has highlighted the need for community. We need to care for each other and look out for each other.

It’s great to know God is always doing his best for us. It’s also clear our sisters and brothers are gifts from God. God often helps us through the community. God bless you with all the help you need and with all the strength you need to help others.

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The great debate

A hundred years ago two astronomers were engaged in a great debate about the size of the universe. Some say it was the first great debate.

Have you been having any great debates lately?

In the Gospels we find Jesus engaged in many debates with his opponents. I love the way Jesus is always the winner.

Debates generally produce winners and losers. Sometimes that means little more than some temporary prestige for the winner and disappointment for the loser. But other debates produce more serious and long lasting consequences.

One of those is the debate our church has been having over who can be ordained, men only or both women and men. For many of us it’s been a 30 year debate. A long debate.

As a church and particularly as pastors we’ve become increasingly polarised. We shouldn’t be surprised, debates tend to polarise opinion.

The General Church Board and the College of Bishops met in February this year and their Covid-delayed report is dated August 2020. It’s a report to the whole church and you can find it on the LCA website (https://www.lca.org.au/lcanz-leaders-report-on-ordination-deliberations/) or I can give you a printed copy.

I think it’s fair to say it presents a pretty gloomy outlook for the LCANZ. None of the three and a half scenarios presented are without winners and losers.

Bishop John Henderson writes in his concluding remarks, When we disagree with each other, when we argue or fight with one another, Christ is there between us. He takes into himself any hurt, accusation, verbal barb or violence. If we hurt each other, it is really him we hurt. ... So, as you pray about this issue, as you think about what you are going to say, write or do on this issue, think first about Christ and his unwavering, undiscriminating, unending love for the sinner, the outcast, the broken.

Pray for a God-pleasing way forward. Pray for love to increase and polarisation to decrease for God’s sake.

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Servant of Christ

What does it mean to be a servant of Christ?

Would people say you are a ‘true servant of Christ’ and if they did what would it mean? What might people see in you to cause them to make that assertion? Stop for a moment and think about your answer.

The Lutheran Church of Australia confers a Servant of Christ Award to honour lay people who give outstanding service. The guidelines say a recipient shall be a lay member who has:

· given long and faithful service as a member of the LCA

· rendered this service in a humble and selfless spirit

· sought to bear witness to the gospel in word and conduct.

Maybe you might wonder why you haven’t been nominated.

Paul talks about being a servant of Christ or a slave of Christ on a number of occasions in his letters.

One of those, is in his letter to the Galatians:

I am not trying to please people. I want to please God. Do you think I am trying to please people? If I were doing that, I would not be a servant of Christ. Galatians 1:10

Paul makes it clear we’re to please God or Christ not please people. What does this look like in 2020?

It seems to me we could get very divergent answers to this question depending on our understanding of what is at the heart of the Christian faith.

I’d like to link my answer very directly to the Gospel, to the Good News we find in Jesus, the Christ. Therefore, love will be at the heart of a God-pleasing life of service.

A servant of Christ, a Christian person, will be known by their love - their love for God and their love for people. To be an ’ambassador’ is the ultimate servant role and Paul says the love of Christ compels us to be his ambassadors in the world, sharing his message of peace. (2 Corinthians 5)

God bless you, servant of Christ.!

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Shaped by God

In Jeremiah 18 God sends the prophet to watch a potter working with clay. He observes the potter shape and reshape the clay until it takes the shape desired by the potter. When a pot wasn’t turning out as desired it was formed back into a lump and a new start began.

Jeremiah was given this image as an explanation of how God was shaping and reshaping his people into the shape he desired them to be. Just as the pot had no concept of the shape it would become, the people were unaware of their intended shape.

How does God shape us? Has God been using the Corona-virus experience to shape us? How has he been doing that? How has it been working? Can you see any changes in your ‘shape’ as a disciple of Jesus? Can you see a change in others?

In a sense we’ve been taken back to basics. We may have felt like we were taken out of our comfort-zone. Did we feel like a lump of clay without any shape or beauty, during this pandemic? Can we even begin to imagine the beauty God is creating in us as individuals and as a group of Christians as he continues to shape us?

On the other hand, maybe we feel like the shaping is complete. Are we then being air dried or kiln dried? How much ‘heat’ are we experiencing?

I’ve a feeling we should be aware of a limitation in the image of the pot and potter. Once a clay pot is finished and hardened it can’t be reshaped. It loses it’s flexibility. It can be broken but not reshaped.

In our lives the shaping God does is a lifelong process and therefore we should never harden into a particular shape but always be pliable in the potter’s hands. We should never become too old to learn new tricks.

It’s also good for us to remember that in all things, including this particular time, God is always working for our good. If we’re being re-shaped then it’s being done by our loving God who’s always working for our best.

This doesn’t mean we’ll feel no discomfort with what’s happening. In fact, it might be uncomfortable to the point of painful. We might feel quite out of shape and also out of sorts but remember we have a loving and trustworthy God who’s shaping us to be beautiful in his eyes.

Let’s be pliable in God’s hands. Let’s be willing to be surprised by what God’s doing in our lives and the lives of those around us. Let’s trust our lives to the Master Potter who has a plan for our lives and will shape us into a masterpiece of divine beauty.

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Mosaic

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