Saturday, July 29, 2006

B, Pent 8 Proper 12 - Ephesians 3:14-21 "Inner Being" (Part 1 of 5)

What would be the most important word in the bible? Love, faith, hope, joy, blessedness, forgiveness, death, life? There are so many words from which to choose; all of them important. But there is one little word that stands at the centre for a Christian as one lives their life as a Christian. What could it be?

In fact there is another little word that often confuses our focus of who we are called to be. Every Christian struggles in their faith because in our efforts to be who God has called us to be, we often do something different, taking our focus off this important little word.

(Lay readers may leave out this paragraph) Today we look at the Ephesians 3:14-21 text as an introduction to the John six discourse, which we have just heard, as Jesus fed the five thousand and walked on water. Today our primary concern is to look at ourselves in relation to the most important little word in the bible and the other little word which often confuses us and clouds our view of the important word. The words from Ephesians do this best! Once we have looked at ourselves, having been focused by this important little word, in following weeks we will look at Jesus’ proclamation of himself as the bread of life in John 6, in the wake of his feeding the five thousand and walking on water.

But before this important little word is revealed, let’s hear the text from Ephesians 3:14-21, 14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. 20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Previously we have heard how Jesus called his disciples to rest in him, and he too calls us to rest in him each week as we Sabbath in church, as we rest in his presence, as he first came to us in his gift of word together with water, and as he continues to come to us in his gifts of word, body, and blood.

We have also heard in recent weeks how although Jesus was the same he was different. He was crucified for us because he was the same but also because he was different. And we have heard that we too are called to be the same and be different when most of the time we would rather be seen as the same as the world and not different. There’s no doubt we humans are complex beings.

In Ephesians 3:16 Saint Paul says, I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being. Here he talks about our inner being. What is he talking about? What is the “inner being”?

In 2 Corinthians Paul alludes to this inner being when he says, ‘…we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. (2 Corinthians 4:16) There is an inner being that is being renewed day by day, yet there is also something else that is wasting away.

In Romans 7 Paul speaks honestly and bluntly about this inner being and the other which is wasting away; and one of the two little words, which are important for us to hear and get in context, come to the fore in this text.

Paul says, 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. 21 So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:15-25a)

So what is the little word in this text? The little word is “DO”! It goes hand in hand with the enemy of our inner being — the “sinful nature”, the “old Adam”, our “human nature”, and it loves doing the deeds of evil and sin. Saint Paul says “the inner being delights in God’s Law”. However, for all of Paul’s doing, for all the churning of his emotions, his mental gymnastics, and efforts to “do” what God’s good and holy Law calls him to “do”, he fails and exclaims, What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?

Our doing, even our best doing, reveals our human nature as wretched. My being is wretched! I am doing wretched things even when I seek to do the best I can. I do and then I die; our doing ends in death. When we place doing at the centre of our being, without Christ’s being moving us and willing us in our inner being, our doing is doomed! We are doomed!

But in the midst of the busyness of our sin laden doing, and wretchedness, Saint Paul looks away from himself to Jesus Christ and says, Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! He looks to the great, “I AM”, to the Son of God eternally begotten of the Father, he looks to the being of Jesus, the same Jesus who is, who was, who will be; and the same Jesus who calls us to be in him, to rest in his being with us. This is the Son of God who came and made his being in the sinful flesh of humanity and perfected the doing we could never do, and by ourselves will never do! This is the Son of God, our saviour who wants to be with us so we can be in him!

As Christians we are called to “BE”! This is the most important word in the bible! It’s as simple as that, and it’s as difficult and profound as that! When we rest in God allowing him to form our BEing, and forgive our sinful DOing with the deeds of Christ’s sinless DOing and death on the cross, we are in him. I am, you are, we are — eternally saved. You have BEen saved, you are BEing saved, and you will BE saved, by BEing in Christ. You have been BEgotten by God when you were born anew in baptism, and now you are called to BEleive, having BEcome a child of God. BElief is being in a state of lief — in a state of willingness or gladness. So to believe is where one is willing or glad to BE!

The true BElief of a Christian is not in that of DOing but rather it is one of resting in God’s BEing. We are called to BE; to BE with Christ who gives us our inner BEing, who calls us and saves us from the fruitlessness of our DOing, so that we walk and rest in him. We DO the things of God only because he has chosen to BE with us and has given us the Holy Spirit to BE our counsellor and to powerfully DO things from within our inner BEing. It’s because of Christ’s BEing that our sin-tainted DOing has any skerrick of sanctity about it. Anything more or less than BE-Lief in Christ alone is a BIG-Lie.

So let’s look at Ephesians 3 in the light of God’s call for us to BE in Christ. Paul says, I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. We get our identity, our BEing from God the Father. Our being as children, comes only because God has chosen to DO so. We came to BE humans and BE Christians, humans being with Christ-like inner beings, only because of God!

Paul then says, I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. Our inner being comes into existence, it is made to be, by Christ dwelling or being in our hearts. And having come to be in us he also gives us the Holy Spirit who lives in us too and opens our being to God so we receive faith. This is from where we get our ability to believe; given by and only by the being of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit in our hearts through the graciousness of God the Father who wants us for himself.

Paul goes on to pray, that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

We do not, in fact we cannot, root or establish ourselves in love or have the ability or power to keep ourselves in it. But we HAVE BEEN rooted and established in love. Christ has implanted and BEgun our being in him and him in us, so our inner being exists, it is, and continues to be! And the Holy Spirit continues to give us power to know what Jesus does and continues to do.

So as we come to a deeper and deeper realisation of our wretched sinful nature and its hopeless doing, as the Holy Spirit DOes his work in us, he also fills us more and more with faith — which is belief in the being and doing of God in Christ on the cross. This faith is one which enables us to know and believe the love which comes from God and dwells in our weakness and fills us to the measure of all the fullness of God for Christ’s sake. And having had this done for us we become beings of thankfulness as we begin to grasp how wide and long and high and deep the love of Christ actually is in us — how eternal Christ’s being is in us who struggle with the doings of sin.

Now we can join in with Paul in praise of God as he rejoices to the Ephesians, Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Lay readers may finish here)

In the coming weeks we will examine Jesus’ call in John 6 to see in his signs, not so much his DOING, but rather, his BEING. He calls us to believe and rest in him whose being is with us and whose being is before our Father in heaven. He calls us to willingly be who he has created us to be, rather than use him as a means to do and justify our doing. Next week will look at the most important work God has set for us to do, now that our being is in him.

(In preparation for next time read John 6:1-35 especially in the context of what you have just heard, focusing on the words believe, “to be” (is, are, was, been, being, etc.) and “to do” and their derivatives.)

Friday, July 21, 2006

B, Pent 7 Proper 11 - Mark 6:30-32 "In God's Rest"

Text: Mark 6:30-32

The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. 31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” 32 So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.


To walk around a traditional headstone cemetery and read what is written on the graves is a very interesting thing to do. To see the ages at which people have died brings home the fragility of life, especially when you see the graves of young children or the graves of those who were the same age as you when they died. It makes one’s mind stir, “Perhaps I better take care of myself just a little bit better”. Or seeing people you once knew, or perhaps had close contact, also churn the emotions.

But as one walks and looks around the cemetery, it’s a reassuring thing to read the scripture written on the stones. It’s wonderful to see the Christ-centred hope in which people have died, or, to see the Christian hope in which loved ones have laid their family members to rest. But there are a few simple words which stand out, like no other, as one walks in the peacefulness of a cemetery with the noise of our thoughts and emotions, and they are these — At Rest, or, In God’s Rest.

As our heads buzz with the noise of ourselves, and the noise of the world around us, those whose remains are in the grave, who have died in Christ, are at rest in him. For them there is peace and quiet at long last… The sound of eternal peace… The refreshment of God’s holy rest…

It’s hard for us to be in a state of complete peace and rest, or to even truly understand it. In fact some of us don’t like peace and quiet at all and seek to bury ourselves in noise, so as to not hear the peacefulness to which God calls us; the rest in which God seeks to refresh us.

All sorts of noises threaten to crowd us when there are quiet times. Sometimes we invite the noise, but sometimes the noises just come. There are the physiological noises of the blood pumping through our heads, or perhaps, the high pitch tone ringing in our ears.

Then there are the voices of busyness or worry in our minds, “Did I turn the oven on; did I turn it off?” Or maybe, “How am I going to feed the livestock; how am I going to feed the family?” What about the sounds of sin, such as, “Everyone else can go jump in the lake, I’m going to do what I want to do!” Or the impulses of sinful lust, “He’s cute, or she’s hot, I’d love to have sex with them!” Or perhaps the self worshipping, “I’m better than them, they don’t deserve to have it, I should have it!”

And then there are the guilt voices as a result of sin, “I wish I could stop doing what I’m doing, I’m going to try harder to stop doing it!” Then when you do the same thing again, the voices say, “You’re a failure, you can’t do it! You may as well give up, what’s the point of trying anyway!”

If these noises aren’t enough, then there are the constant outside noises blaring at us too! Such as songs telling us to find peace in our emotions, in ourselves, or in sex. And there is the television squawking at us like an overwound parrot, telling us to buy this and covet that! Or perhaps it’s the latest get well guru, guilting us into drinking this potion or take that pill, so we pull out our purses in pursuit of perfection and peace.

Our heads spin out of control, the noise is raised to fever pitch, and we stand on the brink of emotional and mental exhaustion and breakdown. But still we try to keep up with the mentality of our minds and the hopeless expectations of the world. It’s hard to believe we run after this noise; seeking to hide ourselves in the noise that is ultimately responsible for the reality which awaits us all at the grave.

It’s even harder to understand why we, having sought this noise, fight against the peace that comes to us in Christ Jesus, as we repel his command to continually rest in him — having our noisy sinfulness exposed, taken, and carried on the cross.

The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. (Mark 6:30-32)

Jesus called his Apostles to rest. He knew the busyness of life, he knew the cost of discipleship and so he calls them to follow him to a quiet place. He invited them to take a break from the exhausting worries of this life and have a short but deliberate pause. The place he called them to, was one that was desolate of the noise and commotion of this world — but was filled with Jesus’ presence.

This was a place where he could make them lie down in green pastures, and lead them beside quiet refreshing streams of living water — even in the wilderness, the Middle Eastern desert. Jesus called them to rest even though the valley of the shadow of death awaited him on the cross and in the grave, and it awaited the disciples too, as it does all people. Jesus called them to a desolate place to rest from the effects of sin and death.

We know the resting didn’t last long. The crowds followed Jesus and he saw they were in need of a shepherd, so he gave them the rest they needed and fed them too. But even in the midst of the noise Jesus’ invitation stood for the Apostles to get some rest. He called them to have a little break, a short but intense stop, to rest, refresh, and realise he was with them. He called them to focus on him so he and they could go in peace and bring peace and rest to the thousands who needed to be fed.

We have been called, from the noise of this world, here into God’s rest. It’s not the perfect rest of eternity; the noise is still all around us and within us. But nevertheless it is still perfect peace and rest when received in faith. Jesus calls us to rest in him, to trust him, to come to a quiet place and pour out our burdens on him in prayer; just as Jesus found lonely mountains or the wilderness — desolate places to rest in his Heavenly Father.

Jesus was immersed into the noise of this world for us. The noise became a deafening din in the week leading up to his death on Good Friday. This noise is the noise of our sin and it killed him so we might live. But after the noise of his death, came silence… Sabbath… rest… — and then resurrection peace.

As Jesus rested in the grave on Holy Saturday, the Sabbath to fulfil all Sabbaths, and bore the noise that kills our focus on our Heaven Father, now we can rest in peace with God the Father, in God the Son, through God the Holy Spirit. Just as Jesus sabbathed in the grave on Holy Saturday, and was raised to life on Easter Sunday, you too can lie back in the arms of Jesus as you come here to church each week called to rest in Jesus.

Little babies lie back in the arms of Jesus at their baptisms in complete faithful rest, without the need of being busy with the confusing noise of having to understand, feel, or do. So too, we can lie in the arms of Jesus, even in the noisiness of this world, and take a rest in the saving work of Jesus on the cross. We can lie in the arms of Jesus, we can just “be with him” here in church, where he calls us to trust the work of the Holy Spirit who comes to open our hearts to Jesus’ peace giving presence and the refreshing forgiveness he gives as we rest in him.

When we gather here we can lie back in the arms of Jesus, confident he will hold us and forgive all our sin. It is he who makes you lie in the green pastures of eternity. It is he who gives you drink from the spring of eternal life, the living waters of peace which flow from his pierced side into your heart by the power of the Holy Spirit as you hear his word. And as we walk in the valley of the shadow of death, he will guide us in paths of righteousness; he will guide us in the way of peace.

Jesus says, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest. Just as you were nursed in Christ, at your baptism into his death and resurrection, keep lying back in his arms, trusting when you close your eyes in death, you will open them to see the Holy One who has held you and you will see the same Holy One who will hold you into eternity.

Sabbath in God, rest in God, have peace in God. Even in the midst of all the noise of this world, let this inscription remain on your heart forever, “In God’s rest…” Amen.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

B, Pent 6 Proper 10 - Amos 7:7-15 "Amos and the Plumb Line"

Amos was a simple man. He wasn’t a highly educated professional, sent from the city to tell the country folk “how to do it.” Rather, he was a farmer of figs and a shepherd of sheep outside a town called Tekoa near Bethlehem and Jerusalem in Judah. Like most of us, he was not high on formal education, but he was made capable by the classroom of life.

This simple grazier and orchardist was called to be God’s prophet, a seer, a man called to see things from God’s point of view and proclaim them to God’s people. But Amos wasn’t called to be a prophet to his fellow Judeans. No! He saw what God wanted him to see and was called to take this word of God to the northern kingdom of Israel, to Bethel, King Jeroboam’s self-appointed centre of worship for the Israelites. Amos was sent to those who were known as Samaritans after Jeroboam, son of Nebat, had split the north from God’s appointed rule under the line of David and Solomon. But more importantly Amos was sent to the northern kingdom which had been cut off from worshipping God at his earthly presence in Jerusalem, and therefore, worshipped in the makeshift evil traditions that Jeroboam set up in Samaria and Israel after the split from Jerusalem and Judah.

Amos was not a professional prophet or priest; he was a simple man with a simple message and he was sent to the northern kingdom’s prophets, priests, and King Jeroboam II to project the clarity of God’s word upon their corruption.

Hear what God allowed Amos to see and what he called him to proclaim to the northern Israelites as we hear the text Amos 7:7-15: The Lord was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb, with a plumb line in his hand. 8 And the Lord asked me, “What do you see, Amos?” “A plumb line,” I replied. Then the Lord said, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer. 9 “The high places of Isaac will be destroyed and the sanctuaries of Israel will be ruined; with my sword I will rise against the house of Jeroboam.”10 Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent a message to Jeroboam king of Israel: “Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel. The land cannot bear all his words. 11 For this is what Amos is saying:”‘Jeroboam will die by the sword, and Israel will surely go into exile, away from their native land.’” 12 Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. 13 Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom.” 14 Amos answered Amaziah, “I was neither a prophet nor a prophet’s son, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. 15 But the Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’

You could imagine what kind of reception Amos received. Like a NSW state of origin supporter tell the Queensland state of origin team how to play football, Amos was not received with great delight. Amaziah the professional priest at Bethel quickly cries to King Jeroboam II, that Amos, the Judean prophet, has infiltrated their ranks and was seeking Jeroboam’s demise.

But this was not the word or thoughts of Amos. What Amos declared was God’s word and judgement over a people who had long been rebellious against God. And we know what he saw and said was right, because in time it happened, and the kingdom of Israel together with the line of kings who ruled in the sins of Jeroboam, son of Nebat, were put to the sword by the murderous and cruel Assyrians and taken into exile.

When Amos took God’s word to Bethel, Amaziah the priest continues in the sins of King Jeroboam and all the other kings and priests of Israel right through to the present king, Jeroboam II, and he said, “Don’t prophecy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom.” (Amos 7:13)

Amaziah was right! It was the king’s temple and kingdom; it was a temple of evil not a temple of God. The country was buried in corruption because the Israelite kings had continued in the unauthorised and unholy ways of Jeroboam — who had built the shrines, appointed priests other than the Levites, instituted his own festivals, offered sacrifices himself on the altar — and in doing so led God’s people into crookedness and dishonesty so that the corruption flowed from the palace to the paupers. The people were turned away from God and his system of welfare, so that the people were against each other and king after king was assassinated.

Everyone was acting dishonestly in Israel. The poor were being ripped off. Cheating, skimming, boosting the price, and selling the dregs in place of the regular product was common in the market places of Israel. God was sick of the constant crookedness which took place amongst those he had chosen as his people, and God was grieved at the happenings in the Samaritan temples and high places where his holiness was constantly desecrated.

So Amos dropped the true measure of God, the plumb line of God’s word, and it quickly showed the Israelite’s way as being as crooked as a dog’s hind leg! Amos held God’s plumb line against the sanctuaries of Samaria; against the high places of Israel; and against the kings who had robbed God of his authority. And against the truth of God’s word, God’s holy plumb bob — the kingdom of Israel, the kings of Samaria, and the corruption of the country was so crooked, it was only a matter of time until God did the inevitable and demolished Israel and what it had become.

So in these days as we refurbish the church at Miles, and as we come together to hear God’s word in his house, at Dalby, Chinchilla, Downfall Creek, Meandarra, and Wandoan – to name just a few; we should ask of ourselves a few questions: Whose church is it? In whom or what do we as a church place our trust? Are our bodies our own temples? Are our church buildings our own little kingdoms? Are the sanctuaries in which we worship ours? Is our church about serving others in love, or about getting our own way — enforcing our rights on others?

God drops his plumb bob into our midst too. Not just his word as in the days of Amos! But the Word made flesh, his Son Jesus Christ. Next to Christ our seemingly straightest and truest efforts are still crooked; as crooked as a dog’s hind leg.

The judgement, under which we stand, shows us that we like, all of Israel, all of Judah, and all of humanity, are corrupt and crooked, and unable to measure up next to God. Because of our sinful nature, we are unable to create our “own ways” of pleasing or worshipping God.

But that’s not the end. Christ didn’t come to condemn. His sinless perfection is not before us to curse us into eternal death. No! Jesus’ perfection is given to us as a gift when he predestined you and me to be saved, when he died on the cross for all people, despite oure sinfulness. He gives us the forgiveness and holiness we can never find and takes our corruption and crookedness to the cross. He takes our best efforts, which are still filthy rage to him, to the cross, and gives us the free gift of salvation, which cost God the Son his life.

And even today the true plumb line of God’s word remains in us. In his word God calls us to repentance, continually calling us to trust that he is ridding us of the sinfulness inherent in our lives, and calling us to have faith in the forgiveness he offers us for the sake of Jesus Christ who comes to us in God’s word by the power of the Holy Spirit.

How do we know that we have been chosen by God? How do we know that all people are chosen by God? Because his word tells us so in Ephesians 1:13-14, “…you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

Trust God’s word—the gospel of grace, Jesus’ death on the cross—as your salvation, and trust this good news as the means of salvation for all people, as we go telling them and including them in Christ, as they too hear the gospel of their salvation. Amen

Saturday, July 08, 2006

B, Pent 5 Proper 9 - Mark 6:1-6 "Jesus at home: the same and different"

Text: Mark 6:1-6

1 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. 2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles! 3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offence at him. 4 Jesus said to them, “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honour.” 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 And he was amazed at their lack of faith.


Do you want to be different or do you want to be the same?

When someone the same as you, claims to be different, do you feel offended? Or, on the other hand, what about when someone is different and they claim to be the same as you, aren’t you tempted to treat them with contempt? To be different, or to be the same?

We all seek to be different and we all seek to be the same, such is the complexity of the human being. These opposites hit head-on in a crash of confusion mostly during the teenage years of our lives. We struggle for independence—we struggle to be different—cutting off our parents, authority, and our brothers and sisters. But the minute we are left out as different—treated differently—we grieve that we’re not the same. How much time did we waste as teenagers trying to play keep-up with our peers, so that we looked the same? Those of you who are teenagers and young adults need know that your parents did the same thing too! We need to be the same as our friends, and if we’re honest we need to be the same as our parents, even if it is a bit tacky and uncool! While we are different we strive to be the same; while we are the same we struggle to be different.

With the confusion of being different, but also the same, comes contempt and condemnation. After being so familiar with our surroundings on a day-to-day basis we get sick of normality and hate it, and are tempted to lust after what is different. Isn’t it true that the closest people to us are those whom we hurt the most? We bite the hands that feed us, we scorn those who love us, and we reject the very things that are good for us. And when, or if, we wake up to ourselves after we’ve got what we’ve wished for, then we desire to be fed, to be loved, and to have the healthy things we fought so hard to rid from ourselves earlier. Such is the confusing quest to be different and to be the same!

Jesus certainly brought contempt and condemnation on himself when he came home during the course of his ministry. As he stood in the synagogue and spoke with authority, the locals were blown away by his wisdom. But hang on! He’s only a carpenter, he’s the same as us, yet he speaks as though he is different. So they rejected him and Jesus left the place amazed at their lack of faith.

But it wasn’t just his fellow hometown citizens who took offence at him. Humanity was insulted at his coming. The authority of the Romans, the priesthood of the Sanhedrin, and the piety of the Pharisees, was thrown into confusion by the coming of God’s own Son. Not only is he the same, he is a man and he is a Jew; but he is also different. He is different to us because he is God the Son, whom God the Father has sent to us to be the same. God the Son came to humanity, and made his home in the same flesh as us, amongst fellow human beings. Jesus Christ, the same but different.

So Jesus was different and he was the same. Sent to be the same as us, to know what it is like to suffer, to share the struggles of life with us, but ultimately to bear our life sentence of sin on the cross. He was the same as us, but different enough too! Different enough that he could “be” the same as us, but not “do” the same as us and sin. So in the sameness of the flesh he came to differentiate the sin from our sameness. And in doing so, he paid the price for being the same, he paid the price for being different, so we might be different, so we might be the same as him.

Jesus’ rejection is similar to that of Dr Charles Richard Drew, a black doctor and scientist, who was killed in a car accident on April 1, 1950. Tragically his life might have been saved if the door hadn’t been closed to him at the all-white hospital that had a blood bank. But he was denied help and died—at the age of 46.

The irony was that his research on “banked blood” had earlier contributed much to the plasma research and saved countless lives in that very hospital among others. But he was denied the benefits of his own discoveries—because he was “different” even though he was the “same”.

Our Lord Jesus Christ was also engaged in “blood research”. His life’s blood has given new life to millions. Because of his donation, people will live forever. But he was rejected because he was “different” and because he was the “same”.

Now that Jesus has perfected his “blood research” on the cross. He makes his home in you and me. The same Jesus that made you different in baptism and has been with you every day ever since, calls us to trust in him, and to allow ourselves to be transformed more and more to be like him, to be the same as him, and different from the world. Be careful not to treat Jesus’ continual presence in you with contempt and condemnation, as he comes to the hometown of your heart! Don’t lock him out and deny the benefits of his blood. It will eternally kill you if you do!

Jesus gives us himself in his word, and he gives us himself in familiar things so we might be continually made holy in him. These familiar things Jesus has put in place so we might be made the same as him. Rest in these familiar things; in the assurance of baptismal salvation, in the forgiving life-giving power of God’s word — in the law and the gospel. Rest in peace as Christ enters you through ordinary bread and wine; his body and blood banked in you for forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.

Rest in the sameness of Jesus; don’t let your familiarity breed contempt and condemnation. Rest in Jesus; don’t reject him in a bid to be the same as the world. Hold onto the things he has given you from the beginning, the things that make you the same, the things that call you to be different. Hold onto the same gospel of Jesus Christ, and the same means of receiving his gospel of grace. Pray that our pastors do the same too; that they preach the same gospel, and not one that is different. Receive only the gospel that makes us different through the sameness of Jesus; the gospel that makes us the same through the difference of our kinsman redeemer, Jesus Christ.

Jesus’ family rejected him, and the people of his hometown took offence at his authority and presence. Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit, don’t allow Jesus to walk away from you amazed at your lack of faith. Don’t deny the benefits of his blood; that’s a hellish path to death! Rather believe Jesus is present in the familiar things that make us “truly” different, his Word and his forgiving presence in the mysteries of Holy Baptism, Holy Communion, and Holy Absolution.

Believe in the forgiveness of sins; the same forgiveness Jesus’ own family found in Jesus’ death. Let us also return to Jesus and honour him, as did Jesus’ mother and family when they were turned from the faithless sameness of the world of flesh, back to the forgiving sameness of the word made flesh, crucified on the cross, for them, for us, and for all people.

We are the same, we all struggle with faithlessness, with sinfulness, and this makes us different to Jesus. But we are the same, when we trust Jesus’ forgiveness, despite our faithlessness and sinfulness, and this makes us very different to the world.

So now we might get treated as different; we might be treated with contempt and condemnation by the world. But we live in peace as we live in the familiarity of Jesus’ forgiveness won on the cross, day in day out, unto eternity. Amen.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

B, Pent 4 Proper 8 - 2 Corinthians 8:7-9 "This Grace of Giving"

Text: 2 Corinthians 8:7-9

[J]ust as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us—see that you also excel in this grace of giving. I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:7-9)


Do you excel in the grace of giving? Nothing makes the ears of God’s children lock shut faster than the topic of giving. The question of giving to God is one that is always touchy. Our culture encourages us to reply to the question of giving, ‘It’s none of your business! I’ll give what I see fit!’

What’s your attitude to giving? Is your giving merely just another tax, done under compulsion or guilt, or do you give as a sacrifice of joy, love, and thanksgiving? Do you excel in the “grace” of giving?

On the question of giving, are you a person who side steps the issue by claiming others can afford to give more than you. As if this is a justification to give little, if anything. And as if one’s judgement on what one can afford is done with pure motives. Or perhaps you might think what you give isn’t as good as what others give because it’s seen as a lesser amount. Or vice-versa, you think that because you give much, it lifts your profile just a little bit further with your fellow church members and with God. Or maybe you hold back on giving because you think the church is wasting what you give. Perhaps they are wasting it, or perhaps we don’t always see the big picture! Do you give to get — a conditional giver? Do you excel in the “grace” of giving?

What am I talking about? Up to this point I’ve mentioned nothing on the content of what one might give. What is it that we give to others, which ultimately is what we give to God? If you assumed I was talking about giving money, you’re wrong. Money giving is important, but it’s only a small part of what one can give. So, what is giving? What is the “grace” of giving? What do you give and what’s your motive for giving it?

Gracious Father, we offer with joy and thanks what you have first given us – ourselves, our time, and our possessions – as signs of your goodness and symbols of our love. Accept them for the sake of Jesus Christ, who offered himself for us. Amen. This offering prayer explains giving graciously most clearly. As we address God in this prayer, we address him as Gracious Father. We acknowledge that grace comes from him; he is the supreme dispenser of grace. We give only as a result of the things he has given us – ourselves, our time, and our possessions.

But more importantly we can give of ourselves, our time, and our possessions, because God gives us the greatest gift —Jesus Christ, sacrificed on the cross for you and for me. God gave his greatest “possession” in his One and Only Son — Jesus Christ. The eternal Son of God offered “himself”, putting aside his rights as God, to give us his “time” — time which culminated in the supreme sacrifice on a cross outside Jerusalem. And God continues to give us the benefits of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross as he offers forgiveness to us through his word, together with holiness, as the Holy Spirit opens our eyes each day to the gift of salvation given at great cost, so we might continue to receive eternal life.

So God gives us grace, for free, there’s no hidden catch. But this grace he gives us comes to us at great cost to his Son, Jesus Christ. God calls us to excel in the same gracious spirit of giving now that he has given us “ourselves” — the identity we were always meant to have but lost as a result of sin. He calls us to excel in the grace of giving now that he gives us our “time” — the time we so often covert for ourselves. And he calls us to excel in the grace of giving now that he gives us our “possessions” — the possessions we need but so often worship in place of God. Do you excel in the “grace” of giving? In comparison to the grace of God giving us his Son, and the graciousness of God giving us our true selves, our time eternal, and possession of the keys of heaven, through Jesus Christ, every person fails in the grace of giving. Even our most gracious giving is done, with motives that are less than pure.

At this point we might think, “Well what is the point of trying to give graciously if we fail in comparison to Jesus Christ”? We might be tempted to give up, become steely cold, building up our walls of defence, as things look grim as we struggle to make sense of our lives, the weather, or the loss of life around us.

But now is the time to give of ourselves, our time, and our possessions. Now is the time to give out of our weakness, our poverty, and our brokenness. This is the time when God’s forgiveness flows to us and our faith excels, our testimony of Jesus excels, our speech, our knowledge, our earnestness, and our love excels, as we walk through the darkness with complete confidence — trusting in Jesus Christ alone. Trusting in him the ultimate gift of grace; trusting in the richness we truly have as a result of the poverty he took on himself as he gave up his life on the cross.

On encouraging other preachers, Charles Spurgeon, a Baptist preacher from the 19th century, has encouraged me with the following, and I ask you to be encouraged by these words too.

Continue with double earnestness to serve your Lord when no visible result is before you. Any simpleton can follow the narrow path in the light; faith’s rare wisdom enables us to march on in the dark with infallible accuracy, since she places her hand in that of her Great Guide. Between this and heaven there may be rougher weather yet, but it is all provided for by our Gracious Heavenly Father (my own emphasis added). In nothing let us be turned aside from the path which the divine call has urged us to pursue. [1]

You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. You and I are rich, we are receiving the wealth of God’s forgiveness — we are receiving the grace of God, which surpasses all giving — we are receiving the salvation of our souls. Amen.

In memory of

Grandad Puk

Eugene Edward Pukallus (02/06/1918 — 30/6/2006)

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10-11)

[1] Quoted in Minister’s Prayer Book, Ed John Doberstein, Fortress Press, Philadelphia, page 227, from ‘Lectures to my students’, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, First series, Sheldon, New York, 1857, page 265f.