Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
(celebrating Australia Day)

Text: Romans 10:14
How can they call to him (God) for help if they have not believed? And how can they believe if they have not heard the message? And how can they hear if the message is not proclaimed?
An Australian Koala

How can they hear?

It been just a couple of days since we celebrated Australia Day, and its just at this time that we reflect on the wonderful country that we live in.
Itís a country of stark contrasts Ė
the rich, fertile farming country,
the tropical rainforests,
the dry and barren interior,
the rugged bush,
the magnificent beaches.

Our country has been enriched by the customs and cultures that people from all over the world have brought with them.
Our land is an untamed land Ė floods, cyclones, searing heat, droughts and we are well aware of the raging bushfires that have devoured the bush, farmland and homes. All these are part of the Australian scene.

Those from overseas, who have come to know Australians, love our care free and laid back attitude. They compare their lifestyle with ours and marvel how different it is to theirs with the stress, worries, pressure and intensity to which they are accustomed. They are amazed at the possibilities for advancement and change that Australians have and wish their lifestyle was just a little more like ours.

But not all is as sweet as it may first seem in our Australian way of life.

Let me explain by referring to one of Australiaís worst mine disasters that occurred in October 1912, in Queenstown in Tasmania. When fire broke out in the pump house at the 200 metre level, 165 men were underground. Sixty-nine escaped; ninety six were trapped.

The problem for the rescuers was that sections of the mine quickly filled with deadly carbon monoxide fumes. The rescuers couldnít see or smell whether the air in the mine was fit to breathe or not, so they devised a way to test the air. At regular intervals they lowered in the mine chickens in cages. However, when the chickens were brought up they were dead. Forty two men died from air that didnít smell different or look dangerous, but was deadly.

There is a desperate need for "clean air" among Australians. We have become so accustomed to
a "me first" kind of lifestyle,
lives ruled by materialism, sport, leisure and work,
a lack of self discipline that is reflected in the lack of discipline among the younger generations,
a spiritual emptiness,
lives that have only one goal and that is to make money, have fun spending it on themselves, and caring little how they do this.
Excessive gambling,
the breakdown of marriages and family life,
violence and racial tension donít surprise us any more. All this is the odourless and invisible gas that is poisoning our country. In fact, it is so odourless and invisible that Christians (you and me) can be easily poisoned as well.

Studies have shown that in recent times there has been an increase in the belief in astrology Ė the belief that the stars rule peopleís personalities, attitudes, behaviour, successes and failures, and leaving God out of the equation completely.

Without a doubt more and more Australians are filling the spiritual emptiness in their lives with rituals, meditations, lifestyle, with practices adopted from other cultures and religions.

Again recently I read a comment that in a few years the church will cease to exist in Australia. To say that the church will cease to exist is to ignore the way God has preserved the church even in the face of the harshest persecutions and the severest indifference toward God and his love.
The Romans did their best to wipe out Christianity,
the Chinese outlawed the church,
and Christians are being persecuted as we speak in various parts of the world.
At times the church has been its own worst enemy because of corruption, false teaching, and the loss of the gospel. Yet the Holy Spirit kept true faith alive.

Even though I donít believe that the church will disappear completely from Australian culture, what is happening serves as a wake up call. Hugh Mackay is a commentator on the Australian way of life. In his book Turning Point he said, we are at a turning point. How we deal with certain issues will determine the course for our country in the years ahead. We are at a crossroad.

We can take Hugh Mackayís point and apply it to the church. The church is at a crossroad. If we donít take seriously the Scriptural directive to share what we have Ė to pass on to our fellow Australians our faith in God and his love for us Ė our nation will become ignorant of the fact that a God who loves and forgives even exists.

St Paul wrote this to the Romans, "How can they call to God for help if they have not believed? And how can they believe if they have not heard the message? And how can they hear if the message is not proclaimed?" Let me repeat the second question Paul asked, "How can they believe if they have not heard the message". When Paul speaks of "they" he means anyone who does not know what kind of God they have, or how he sent Jesus to be their Saviour, or God's willingness to help in times of need. Such a person could be
the neighbour in your street,
someone at work,
a parent of one of your childís friends,
a grandchild who is curious about why you go to church,
a friend who is grieving or having a tough time.
Make no mistake about it; God gives us opportunities to show other people the greatest treasure that we can have in this world Ė Jesus. God opens windows of opportunity for us to help people in some small way find the true peace and the solid help that comes from knowing their Saviour. Paul was pointing out the obvious when he said,
"How can they believe if they have not heard the message?"

You see, this is the most important thing that we can do in this life. Let me say that again Ė the most important job that God has given us Christians is to
tell others what our faith means to us,
help others see the love of Jesus,
encourage young and old alike to trust God when days are filled with worry and grief.

We havenít been brought into a relationship with God and given faith so that we can selfishly keep it for ourselves. We have been blessed so that we can be a blessing to others. We have been called to show others the way, to point to Jesus. We have been called to be agents of the Holy Spirit to help others know what Jesus can do for them.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it very well, "The bearers of Jesusí word Ö are now Christís fellow workers. Ö They are to meet those to whom they are sent as if they were Christ himself. They are bearers of his presence. They bring with them the most precious gift in the world, the gift of Jesus Christ." (Cost of Discipleship).

In the film Forrest Gump Forrest's bitter, disabled Vietnam veteran friend, Lieutenant Dan, was watching a church choir sing on television. In a sarcastic tone Dan asked Forrest, "Gump, have you found Jesus yet?"
Forrest's innocent reply was, "I didn't know I was supposed to be looking for him."

Thatís how it is with many people throughout our country. Many people donít even realise that they need Jesus, or donít have any idea of what they are missing. They may have a vague idea about heaven but not a clue how to get there. They know nothing about the grace of God and the free gift of eternal life that Jesus is offering them.

I said before that our nation is at a crossroad. When we come to a crossroad, one road is the right way and the other will get us completely lost. Thatís where Australia is at this time. We are the signposts pointing the right way. He uses ordinary people like you and me, to point people in the right direction, to point people to the One who is the Way and the Truth and the Life to point people to see that there is a God who loves them dearly and wants all to know how this love can make a change in their attitudes and life-style.

I have 3 simple practical tips for each of us as we minister to our fellow Australians.

It would be foolish of me to give anyone advice on how to fix their car. I donít know anything about car engines. Even if I did give advice, it should be ignored because I donít know what Iím talking about.
Likewise you canít help others if you donít know where to turn, what can hold you together when things are falling apart;
you canít tell others about the strength that God can give if you donít rely on his power;
you canít tell others about the change that God's love brings if God's love has had no impact on your life. Get to know what God promises in the Bible; let his love for you have a powerful affect on every aspect of your life. People will see something different about your life and you can help them through your first hand experiences with God. Thatís the first tip.

Secondly, the Holy Spirit is speaking to you and wants to change you and your ideas.
If you have the idea that being a witness to Jesus is the pastorís job, or that others can do it better than you, let the Holy Spirit convince you otherwise.
If you think that God couldnít and wouldnít use you to point others to Jesus, let the Holy Spirit prove otherwise.
If you think that the church is here to serve you and your needs. If the sole purpose of the church is to provide a place where you can worship and where your faith can be nurtured, then let the Holy Spirit open your eyes to the fact that this is not God's plan for you in his church. God has called you into the church in order to call others into the church. You are one of "
God's own people, chosen to proclaim the wonderful acts of God" (1 Peter 2:9).

Let the Holy Spirit give you the mind of Jesus. Jesus loved the lost, the sinner, and the outcast.
The father welcomed home the rebellious son.
The shepherd went looking for the single lost sheep.
The king invited the poor and homeless from the street to his wedding feast.
Let the Holy Spirit help you to see that God loves every Australian and wants you to have that same love.

Thirdly, donít forget about praying. Ask for God's help as you guide others to Jesus. Pray for the person you know who is unaware of God's love.

A boy was seen with a small piece of broken mirror in his hand. He moved it slowly back and forth, shining the sunlight into a window.
"What are you doing?" a man suddenly demanded.
"Like most boys in this neighbourhood, you're probably up to some mischief, aren't you?"
The boy looked up into the manís stern face and said, "See that window? Well, thatís my little brotherís bedroom. He's a cripple. The only sunlight he ever sees is what I shine into the room with my mirror!"

The only light some people may see is the light that shines through you.
The light of God's love and the peace that comes from knowing that your sins are forgiven fills your lives. May God grant that those who are in darkness see the Light of God through each of us.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
29th January, 2006
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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