Sermon for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany (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?


Being Australia Day, itís natural for us to think about our country.
Itís beauty that catches our breath;
the stark contrasts Ė the rich, fertile farming country, the tropical rainforests, the dry and barren interior, the rugged bush, the magnificent beaches, and mile after mile of natural coastline.
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, bushfires, cyclones, searing heat, droughts are part of the Australian scene.
We live in a land that is unlike any other. We have never experienced a civil war, or the political turmoil experienced by other countries.
Our cities donít suffer from the fear, the crime, the smog, the unemployment, and the homelessness to the same extent as seen in big cities in other places overseas.

Australia Day is an excellent time to remind ourselves of the great land that God has given us and to thank him for all the blessings that we take so much for granted Ė blessings like peace, freedom, caring friends, and loving families.

Australia Day is also good time to focus on the desperate need that exists among the people of this land. This is a land ruled by materialism, sport, leisure and work. Only a minority of Australians attend church on Sunday mornings. For the rest, the God who commanded a day set aside to give him honour, isnít given a second thought. Easter has become a long weekend for camping and holidaying at the beach Ė few know what Easter is really about.

When I meet couples to prepare for their marriage and their wedding day, it becomes clear that so few have any knowledge about Jesus, or the church.

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. Itís a simple way to explain what happens in life Ė "That happened because it said so in his/her stars" Ė leaving God out of the equation completely.

Certain movements in Australia have taken on a religious flavour. Take the green movement with its belief in the inherent goodness of Mother earth, that plastic is evil, developers are satanical, every tree is a good tree and rainforest are sacred sites. This is a new religion that fills the human need to believe in something.

Again recently I read in the press a comment that in a few years the church will cease to exist in Australia Ė thatís how secular and pagan Australia has become. I donít believe that this will happen because I believe in the promises of God and in the power of the Holy Spirit to change the hardest hearts.

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 even 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 in the hearts of men, women and children.

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 talk to other people about 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 know whom to call to in time of need, if no-one has ever told them about the love of Jesus? 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 -
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 grief and fear,
gently showing them that eternal happiness is available through Jesus.

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 travelling and 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. There is only one way that is the right way Ė and itís up to us to point out which is the right way to go. 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.

Let me finish with three brief tips. I donít know much about fixing the motor in a car. It would be foolish of me to give anyone mechanical advice and if I did no one would take any notice of me.
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 need to know God; get to know his promises in the Bible. Thatís the first tip.

Secondly, be open to the Holy Spirit. Let the Holy Spirit 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. The church exists for those outside of the 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 God to help you as you point others to Jesus. Pray for the person you know who is unaware of God's love.

Australia is at a crossroads. The church, this church is at a crossroads. We have a beautiful country. There is no doubt about the wonderful things that God has given to us as people of Australia. There is also no doubt about the work he has given you and me, his church, to do.

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.
Do you reflect the light of the Son so that someone in darkness may see?

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
26th January, 2003

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Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from Good News Bible: Today's English Version (TEV), revised edition, © American Bible Society 1966, 1971, 1976, 1992, 1994, inclusive language with Australian usage text, 1994 
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