Friday, December 23, 2016

A, Christmas Eve/Christmas Day Titus 2:11-14 "SOS: Message of the Bible"

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:11–14, ESV)
Grace mercy and peace to you from our Lord Jesus Christ, who has appeared and will appear again at the time our Father in heaven has designated. Amen.
It’s no easy thing for us to wait. Waiting for Christmas to come, waiting for it to go, perhaps? Waiting for the glory of God to appear once again as it did some two thousand years ago! Waiting for the salvation of God to be finished, fulfilled, taking all our fears and tears away once and for all.
What kind of Christmas have we made for ourselves? One might ask, “What kind of salvation are we really looking for? What are we actually waiting for? Is Jesus really the reason for the season of Christmas 2016?”
One thing for sure, our whole world, our local community is tired. Tired of what we have made Christmas as we wait for it to come. And wait for it to leave as the hangover of Boxing Day sets in amongst the flotsam and jetsam of gifts that continue us in the tiredness of this age, with all the wrapping and rubbish in which we garb ourselves for a bit of self serve salvation.
Like me; you, your family, your friends, the community, and the world is tired. This tiredness is the result of a world sailing further and further away from that which promises to give us true rest. Not just from waiting, but from having waited for, and received, what we’ve wanted.
And so desire has given us its gift and now we’re tired; tired of living with what we truly love. But perhaps to those whom God has appeared this tiredness is not such a bad thing. Our tiredness has made us aware of our sin! We’ve been awakened! The gifts we seek no longer satisfy. We’ve come to realise the worldly self help we’ve sought to enlist is really dragging us under.
It’s right here in our tiredness and in the realisation of failed worldly salvation that the all-encompassing graciousness and faithfulness of our Heavenly Father comes to the fore, and shines, despite our continual faithlessness. For those who have been baptised into Christ Jesus, the message of Christmas, and the whole message of Jesus Christ, is still alive and well, despite our human desires, good and bad!
In amongst the noise and distraction of today, just as in the days the star shone over Bethlehem, God appears. Humbly, quietly, lowly, and graciously God was with humanity; and is still with humanity today! In amongst all the things we want, but tires us to despair, God sends salvation. Even today in our tired world and our tired hearts he sends salvation.
But we are called to hear something very unexpected in the Christmas message, and the whole gospel message. Something subtle and counter cultural which is often over looked or taken for granted!
The unexpected is this: God himself saves.
When we realise we’re castaways, that there’s no more life in us; not even enough energy, or sense, to send a message in a bottle that may never be found, God himself sends the SOS. Waiting till we can wait no longer wait, tired beyond exhaustion, swamped in the self and shipwrecked; we no long have to worry, “Will God get my SOS; will someone get my message in a bottle?”
Human nature thinks it has to save itself, like a castaway putting a message in a bottle, or scratching out an SOS on the beach. But good news for those who are tired and exhausted on brink of despair; God sends the SOS, God is the SOS.
But when God sending us his SOS, our human natures respond in a very strange way! This is you and I still try to live like we’re on a deserted island, keep our wrecked reality hidden and therefore alive, not realising we all struggle with the same sin of separation as every other person God rescues. Yes! For whatever reason human nature seeks to hang onto the sin that keeps us in separation from each other and eventually leads back into separation from God. Even within each of us who know of God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ, there’s the temptation to fight the SOS of God.
Now we add to our tiredness more tiredness by hiding our sin like it’s a treasure buried in the sand. But it’s a vulgar treasure we return to when we think no one’s watch, like a dog that returns to its vomit. We become tired from redigesting the very thing that made us tired in the first place.
And if we’re not exhausted enough already, we make ourselves even more tired with the charade of keeping up appearances, pretending not to be toters and touters of the very treasures that tire.
So that’s a trilogy of tiredness: Tired from sin, tired from trying to keep our sins hidden, and tired from pretending that sin doesn’t exist in our lives.
But let the reality be clear. See what the singer sees...
Walked out this morning
Don't believe what I saw
A hundred billion bottles
Washed up on the shore
Seems I'm not alone at being alone
A hundred billion castaways
Looking for a home
And we continue to send and seek our own SOS, as Sting from the Police once sung...
I'll send an SOS to the world
I'll send an SOS to the world
I hope that someone gets my
I hope that someone gets my
I hope that someone gets my
Message in a bottle
However, the gift of the Immanuel infant, the SOS Christ child, gives us a new home. He’s given to fight the very cause of our tiredness and trouble, he is given training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age. He is given to gather us for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
Good Works when where tired! So what are these good works? Well the good work that precedes all good works is that of believing. In Jesus ministry he was asked...
“What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:28–29, ESV)
In fact when we work at believing, by hearing God’s word, studying it, allowing ourselves to be immersed in it we are allowing the Holy Spirit to bring to fruition all the good works God has prepared for us in advance to do.
Right here the SOS is continued, not by us, but in the same way God the Father sent Jesus to be our SOS. Both God the Father and the risen Jesus send the Holy Spirit to continue the work of salvation. The SOS continues! Not from what we do! But because we allow God access into ourselves; into the castaway!
And so the Holy Spirit brings us to the Father and the Son as a people, his people, gathered and redeemed from all lawlessness, and is actively purifying us as his own eternal possession. Our gift of salvation, God’s SOS, becomes one of life welling up in us to eternal life, even in the weariness of our age and the struggles of our day to day lives.
This leads us to the second work of God, the work of confessing our sin. We now no longer have to weary ourselves keeping up false impressions. Rather we can confess that which tires.
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:8–10, ESV)
See how the cycle of God works? Grace leads to grace, God’s good work leads to God’s good work in us, and through us. We are a bunch of castaways in communion, in community, and in fellowship tired from the same sinful natures, tired from the same sin in the world. Tired from the trilogy of sin that drags us under!
We believe we are sinners, we believe we are sinners being saved. It is peculiar to the human nature that God brings us into fellowship with each other, and does not separate us because of our sin. Yet even more than being brought into fellowship with each other, we are brought into fellowship with Jesus Christ, son of Mary, but also Son of God. A fellowship not born out of a baby’s cuteness but born for the fellowship of rescued sinners borne on the cross!
So the third good work is the Holy Spirit’s work of fellowship, allowing us to serve each other. Jesus Christ extends his great work through us to each other, so we might shine Christ to each other; hearing confession, praying and bearing the weakness and tiredness which Jesus bore as well.
The power of our fellowship is not us appearing powerful, but in allowing God to be powerful in his continual conquering of our weakness as a fellowship, and as individual sinners too. Hear the word of God from James 5...
“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (James 5:13–16, 19-20, ESV)
So in summary, we all suffer at the hand of our own sin. The noise of it makes us tired. However, Jesus is sent from God the Father to be our SOS, and the Holy Spirit continues the SOS by gathering us together with each other with Jesus Christ.
This SOS is not something we throw out as a message in a bottle with the hope of maybe being rescued. No! This SOS comes as the message of the bible, pointing us to God and what he does and continues to do.
Calling us out of doubt and the tiredness of our lives into the living promises of true salvation through Jesus’ death and resurrection!
The beginning of the story is wonderful and greatBut it's the ending that can save you and that's why we celebrate
It's about the cross it's about my sinIt's about how Jesus came to be born once
So that we could be born again
It's about God's love nailed to a treeIt's about every drop of blood that flowed from
Him when it should have been me
It's about the stone That was rolled away
So that you and I could have real life somedayIt's about the cross (Ball Brothers, It’s about the cross)

Saturday, February 28, 2015

B, Lent 2 Mark 8:31-38 "Letting Christ Be Your Christ"




During these forty days of Lent we reflect on Jesus’ walk to the cross.  This cross is the cross of shame, the cross of humiliation, a cross of disgrace, remorse and alienation.  Jesus walk to the cross and death was a walk of loneliness, being alone, being set apart from the pack and picked on for being different… and for being the same.

Last week, the first Sunday in Lent, Jesus was baptised and set apart as God’s beloved Son.  With him God was well pleased.  But Jesus immediately finds himself out in the wilderness, literally a lonely place.  Here Jesus felt the full impact of being alone as a human being... the same as you and me!  He was lonely, he was in need, and just like you and me, just like Adam and Eve, he was tempted by the devil to look after his own interests and status. 

The course Jesus chose here is good news for us who struggle being alone with ourselves, desperately wanting to alleviate the loneliness of longing, pain, and suffering by being relevant, by being wanted, and by being popular or well liked.  Rather than the fear of being left out not knowing good and evil, as did Adam and Eve, Jesus did not succumb to his isolation and loneliness but remembered the promise of his Father, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11 ESV)

Where you or I fail miserably forgetting God’s promises, where Adam and Eve thought they were left all alone, where we as humanity don’t seem to be able to look past our immediate fickle reality, Jesus saw the bigger picture and turned his face from fame, fortune, and favour and rejected the tempters lure to save himself. Therefore Satan couldn’t accuse him of doubting his Father or not fulfilling his mission to be our Messiah. 

Out in the wilderness Satan’s ultimate goal was to isolate Jesus from the Father cutting him off from God — alone, ashamed, lonely and without hope.  Just like us when Satan uses the shame of our sin against us, and as he did to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

Now this morning we here Peter rebuking Jesus, in the wake of Peter’s confession that Jesus is “the Messiah”, the Christ, the anointed one!  Jesus announces that his messianic mission, his Christly commission, his anointed assignment was a lonely walk to the cross – into death.  And not just death, Jesus’ rejection by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, was a separation from the mainstays of society — not being wanted, or relevant, or well liked.  But like Jesus’ rejection of Satan in the wilderness, his lonely walk is good news for you and me, just as it was for Peter.

But Peter didn’t see it this way.  Like you and me, Peter feared being found to be irrelevant, unpopular, or unliked.   You see he thought Jesus’ messianic mission meant something very different to what Jesus was announcing.  If Jesus wasn’t going to assume his kingdom with glory and prestige and popularity, it meant Peter was going to be left all alone to address the shame of Jesus’ death at the hands of the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes.  He would be ashamed in amongst his community, a Jewish outcast, and he would be remembered and written about as a follower of failure.

No wonder Peter took Jesus aside. We would do the same.  In fact you and I do the same when the loneliness and the horror of our helpless humanity is forced upon us when we are required to stop see our reality.  “No Jesus, surely you’re not going to be anointed like this!” Peter begins accusing Jesus of taking up the messianic mission the wrong way! 

Here again we find Satan back on scene.  In the wilderness Jesus rejects Satan’s offer of relevance, popularity, and prestige, and now Jesus having begun to reveal actually what was to happen Satan seeks to cut Jesus off again.  Every time we take God’s will off the table and replace it with our own relevance, popularity, and prestige we fail as did Peter here,  and again when fear  saw Peter deny Jesus before the rooster crowed, as also did Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  But not Jesus and that’s very good news for humanity.

Only Jesus bore the weakness of humanity without succumbing to the weakness which failed Adam and Eve, Peter, you and I.  Just like Peter, we willing confess Jesus to be the Christ, but when we’re shown that Christ goes and leads the way of the cross the fears and loneliness of the old self sees us duck for cover and hid once again in the shame of our original sinful being and the sin that happens as a result of us being sinful.

  So Peter confesses Jesus as the Christ, and then rebukes Jesus for not being the type of Christ Peter would have him be to hide his weakness, shame, and ordinariness. What Peter is saying to Jesus in his rebuke is this:  If you are going to teach me that you must suffer, be rejected, be killed and then be raised then you are not the Christ, but you are an anti-Christ.

This is why Peter received such sharp words from Jesus when he says, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”  (Mark 8:33 ESV)  Jesus heard clearly the accusation from Satan himself, and he rejects Satan again.  The name Satan means to accuse and Peter’s accusation and rebuke of what the Messiah was actually anointed to do shows humainty’s hearts and minds to be set on the things of men rather than on the will of God.

After Jesus reveals the heart of Peter, whose heart is the same as all of us, he takes the opportunity to teach.  And it is in these words of Jesus which I invite you to meditate upon in these days of Lent, to the glory of he who walked the lonely path for me and you!

Jesus said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.  For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?  For what can a man give in return for his soul?  For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34–38 ESV)

If you choose to deny yourself and follow Jesus, of what can you be accused?  Can Satan make you ashamed of Jesus and his lonely way of the cross?  Can he accuse you of your sin if you take it to the cross, can he really make you alone even when you feel lonely after Jesus has already taken the shame of your sin on himself on the cross?  And further more won the battle over sin death and the devil in his resurrection from the dead!

In our loneliness we seek to build our own little kingdoms, but they are fragile houses of straw which Satan can huff and puff away in an instant leaving us exposed and ashamed of who we are and what we try to be without Christ.

The good news in all of this is when we’re shown for who we really are, naked, ashamed, humiliated, broken, weak, ordinary, and unpopular with ourselves, Jesus has already become all these things for us on the cross in our baptism.  He chose you and took your cross and made it his cross. So it’s time to, stand fast, remain in him and choose to throw off the things that only make us lonely in this world and can give Satan access to make us ashamed of Jesus and his word. 

The good news is now that Jesus has won the victory in the cross we can stick our backsides in the face of the accuser and say, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” And pray, “I believe Lord Jesus Christ, save me from my unbelief, Amen.”

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

B, Christmas Eve/Christmas Day Isaiah 9:2-7 "The Way Things Are Meant To Be"

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When Joseph and Mary set off from Nazareth to Bethlehem, Mary heavily pregnant, one might wonder if Joseph grumbled in his heart, “This is not the way things are meant to be.” The word of God does not tell us what he was thinking other than that he originally planned to divorce Mary quietly for being “found with child”. Nevertheless, he was convinced otherwise after an angel of the Lord visited him and told him to not be afraid to take Mary as his wife and to name the child, Jesus, at his birth. (see Matthew 1:18-25)

However, humans being what we are, as Joseph trudged his way from Nazareth to Bethlehem with a woman carrying a child of whom he was not the father, not to mention a heavily pregnant woman, ripe and ready to give birth at any moment, most of us would forgive Joseph being upset at the government for having them travel at this time to appease the bureaucratic busybodies in Rome.

And then the labour pains begin! “Now that’s just great! Mary is about to drop her bundle and we’re out here with nowhere to go.” One can sense the anxiety and stress of Joseph as Mary begins to bear down for the birth of the baby God has called Joseph to adopt as his own. And no one took them in, at their home town of Bethlehem. This was not the way it was meant to be, for the law called for folk to be hospitable and take travellers in, especially ones who were relatives.

Was it meant to be this way? They were in the lineage of David, the great king of Israel, but now humbled on a donkey was a woman ready to deliver a child whom the father was not clearly known, manipulated by their captives, the Roman government, without anywhere for this child to be born. It surely paints a picture of hopelessness, weakness, oppression, anxiety, and depression.

It is easy for us to tap into the sentiment of hopelessness, as we take check of what’s going on around us in our society today. And not just what’s out there but what’s in our hearts too! Are things meant to be this way? If one stops to take check of what’s really going on in his or her own heart, we will find no matter how much we dress ourselves with gaudy decorations and lights these things only cover the darkness within, and the joy and goodwill of the season only reveals the ever deepening chasm of hopelessness that really exists once the hangover of the holiday season sets in, in the wake of what we’ve really been worshipping. Yes, it’s very easy to get a sense of the uncertainty and lack of security Joseph could have felt for his new unorthodox family.

Even more so when we consider the society in which we live. Just as it was a great impost on Mary and Joseph to travel to Bethlehem, our governments and an out of control bureaucracy, too seek to manipulate us for their own gain. Censuring us today in a way that parades a good order mantra, but in reality feeds a greater disorder in our society! The threat of terrorism is real, yet governments turn and use the terrorism threat to terrorise us into accepting more and more rules which control us and destroy the freedoms and democracy they’re meant to be protecting.

The media mediates the manipulative mantra of the ruling class so we’re only told half-truths, whoring themselves with politicians, waiting for the election season, when the tables are reversed and politicians whore themselves with the media to again manipulate us into voting for them. And as this carries on business continues to woo society with a mantra all of its own so we praise, purchase and worship their products, to the glory of their end of financial year profits.

And if the darkness of our hearts, the rule of politicians and the media is bad enough, the ecclesiastical estate seeks to align itself more and more with these rulers too. The institutionalisation of the church has become as much about manipulation of people for the glory of things other than God. Just like governments, the church uses past horrendous acts in the church by certain members to justify acts that are ungracious and even more atrocious removing people’s faith in God and replace it with a faith in something else, trampling the Holy Spirit underfoot in a bid to glorify other spirits.

Just like the ruling Sanhedrin, the Pharisees and the Sadducees in the days of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension, here on earth, the institutionalised church is bowing to the very same sins. So bad has it become that the Word of God has been reviled by people inside and outside the church because the church uses the Word of God to bind God’s people when they rightly intend to glorify God. And again the Word of God has been reviled by folk when church hierarchy and others wrongly use it to loose themselves to manipulate or mount up money for themselves.

It’s no wonder that underneath the facade, the mainstays of our society these days seem to be unrest, hopelessness, unhappiness, lack of trust, anxiety, depression and a deep long for something better, that can’t be found in the fruitlessness of what governments, the media, and the secularised church has become. The unity of community fractured by the individualism of each broken heart, and the hopelessness of what our world’s become. This is not the way things are meant to be.

As much as we might be tempted to bury the reality of what we are and what we’ve become. We can’t! Nor could Joseph as his anxiety surely heightened as the unborn child sank lower and lower in Mary’s pelvis as they sought somewhere in Bethlehem to have the baby. Instead let us hear the promise of God against the darkness of how things have become. When this is not the way things are meant to be.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:2–7 ESV)

The way things are is the way things are. Ever since the fall things are not meant to be this way! Ever since Adam and Eve sinned you are not the person you were meant to be. However, this is how it is!

But from the midst of this darkness a great light of hope shines bright. You who dwell in the darkness of anxiety, depression, institutional oppression, and from all the things that are not meant to be, a light is shining. Not the flashing light of Boxing Day sales, the lights on houses and trees, nor the light of hope someone might offer to coerce you into their world of popularity, power, and profits.

No! This is the light of true joy; the light that bureaucratic bullies cannot use to burden us, shattering the staff of institutionalism, and ruining the rod of ruling oppressors forever. This is the light of wonder, might, and peace, and it’s not a light that will fade with the fads that come and go with governments, media, and churches that have been hijacked of heavenly focused power and glory.

For us who are willing to believe we are in darkness are illuminated in this glorious eternal light. This is the “Light of the World” born to Mary, Jesus the Christ, whom Joseph was called to father on behalf of the Eternal Father. Joseph may have thought this in not how it’s meant to be, but God was making it right in the midst of things that were far from right.

And now for us too, who live with the darkness of self, who live with politicians giving themselves pay rises, ever maddening media mantras, and institutional churches modelling themselves more and more on the world, we are called to hear the promise of God who, despite all this stuff that’s not meant to be, is enlightening us with his Word of Hope! That which is meant to be!

We are called to believe what is, is! But also to believe that which is hidden! And this faith comes from the Light of his Word which illuminates the unseen… The government of God, established with justice and righteousness forever by this baby’s death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. The counsel of the Holy Spirit most wonderfully leading us back to repentance and forgiveness through our baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection. The might of God, which despite all the darkness still reigns supreme in the hearts and minds of those who believe and is effective in fulfilling the will of God on earth as it has been fulfilled in heaven. And the eternal peace which comes when we trust not in ourselves and what we can do but in the zeal of what God has done and continues to do in his righteous and just government.

The promise of God is the only truly righteous and just thing in heaven and on earth. Joseph trusted God alone when things were not what they were meant to be, we too need to trust God alone despite so much of our self and our world being not the way it is meant to be. Amen.