Saturday, November 25, 2006

B, Last Sunday of the Church Year, Proper 29 - Psalm 93 "Greater than Water"

Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the sevenfold Spirit before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. (Rev 1:4b-5a)

There’s no doubt that water is a crucial element. Not enough water and the human body, all living things, and the world — suffer and die. Just ponder the human body and the earth for a moment; water makes up most of a human body and so too water makes up the greatest percentage of the world. We all know the relief a glass of water brings when we are parched and dehydrated; drought-stricken land sighs in relief when rain falls too. Without water we die!

But too much water also kills. On the one hand a glass of water can save a person from death, but then, such is the power of water that it can cut us off from life if overwhelmed by it. Not enough water and we dry out and die, but too much of it and we drown.

So water is not only a crucial element for us and creation, it’s also a powerful agent. In the arid Middle East, those who control the water are those who have the power. We also know of water’s power as we watched the horrible effects of Tsunamis in South East Asia and Papua New Guinea in recent times. Anyone who has lived near creeks and rivers knows of water’s power and damaging effects on fences, especially when one has to constantly rebuild them. And anyone who has been caught unawares and violently tumbled between sand and foam by waves at the beach also knows the power of water.

When near the ocean, one constantly hears the rumble of the waves breaking on the shore. Regardless of the time of day, the weather, or the season, waves one after the other powerfully and continually break against the beach. But still God has been around longer than the waves; he is more constant, more powerful, and more essential than waves or water.

We hear in Psalm 93 that — the Lord reigns, he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed in majesty and is armed with strength. The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved. Your throne was established long ago; you are from all eternity. The seas have lifted up, O Lord, the seas have lifted up their voice; the seas have lifted up their pounding waves. Mightier than the thunder of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea—the Lord on high is mighty. Your statutes stand firm; holiness adorns your house for endless days, O Lord.

Water is an almighty force, but God is greater. Before the seas were — God was, and when the waves cease to pound the ocean shores with all their might and power — God will still be! What God put in place, will remain as long as God desires it to remain, but even after God allows these things to go — God will still be here. What God created stands as our witness that God will continue to sustain it and us! And even more so, his Word is our witness that he will sustain his church, his holy house on earth. All who stand firm in his ways are his church and will live in his holy house forever. As the psalmist says, “Your statutes stand firm; holiness adorns your house for endless days, O Lord”.

The power of God, his Word, and water are still essential for the longevity of the church as well as his creation! As God’s witnesses we are called to stand firm trusting in the truth, having been made his children in baptism. God powerfully ordered the chaotic waters into conformity at creation with his Word, and so too with the tranquil waters of baptism God’s power is bestowed upon people as they receive the water and the Word, so they are given access to God and might cling to his gift of holy eternal life.

But these waters of baptism together with God’s Word are not some sort of magical one off stunt, guaranteeing all a get out of jail free card, by being “done”! No! Baptism is God’s way of giving humanity a very practical, physical, and spiritual way of receiving Jesus Christ from two-thousand years ago, who now sits at the right hand of God. That is to say; baptism is God’s way of giving us, what he did through his Son two-thousand years ago — practically, physically, and spiritually. After all we are physical and spiritual beings who receive nearly everything in practical physical ways.

God’s way was to send Jesus, and Jesus’ way was to obediently walk with us as a human. It was God’s good and gracious will that Jesus be baptised by John in the Jordan — baptising him into death so that we might have life, in our baptism. Jesus didn’t choose to do this, it was God’s way, and Jesus followed his will even unto death.

As Jesus walked the lonely road to the cross and death, through his Word he declared and now gives us the way we can receive the benefits of his death, his body, and his blood. He gives us the Holy Spirit who gives us faith; faith to know and trust that Jesus comes to us with outstretched hands in Holy Baptism, Holy Communion, and in the preaching of his Holy Word so we might take hold of these gifts, repent of our continual sinning, and strive to live as his holy people.

It was God’s way that Jesus be pierced for us. It was God’s will that the soldier plunge his sword into Jesus’ side, and blood and water suddenly flowed freely from his broken body. The cross is God’s powerful way of covering over your sins and my sins with his spilt blood. This is God’s almighty way of covering us with the living waters that flow from his side to us continually through baptism, so we might live in resurrection hope.

As we are carried along by Christ in his good ship—the church, the holy house of God—the waters of chaos threaten to crash onto us and finish us. But trust in the tranquil waters of baptism; believe in the life of grace given to us through the water and the Word. Trust God’s way, the only way, given in Christ Jesus who is the Alpha and the Omega, who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty. (Rev 1:8)

Just as water is crucial for our survival here on earth, so too is our trust in the living Word and waters of baptism, a life-giving water which by grace gives the new birth through the Holy Spirit. In these life-giving waters know that you have received him who has been given all authority, glory, and sovereign power by his Almighty Father in heaven. And know that just as all things pass away, he and those who trust in him will never pass away. For his dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:14) Amen.

To our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen. (Rev 1:5b-6)

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Saturday, November 04, 2006

B, Pent 22 Proper 26 - Deuteronomy 6:1-9 "The Way of Life!"

Text: Deuteronomy 6:1-9

Moses said to the Israelites, 1 These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, 2 so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. 3 Hear, O Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your fathers, promised you.

4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.


The year is 1462 — “BC” — or roughly thereabouts. The Israelites are free from Pharaoh’s oppression. They have walked out of captivity with minimal bloodshed to themselves. The Israelites didn’t have to rebel by taking arms; there was no war! They walked out as God did the fighting for them. Moses and Aaron just told Pharaoh, God’s ultimatum to let his people go and the Egyptian emperor let all of them go. This is not surprising; God’s word is powerful. It’s not surprising that Pharaoh changed his mind either, and sent his army after the walking workforce of Israelite slaves. But God wasn’t about to forsake those he’d chosen to rescue, and he delivered them safely into the desert of Sinai while drowning Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea.

At Mount Sinai the Israelites were given the Law, including the Ten Commandments, and Moses reinforces the promise he first spoke of, when the Israelites prepared for their escape from Egypt. He said, “Hear, O Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your fathers, promised you.” (Deut 6:3) This promise was first given to Moses years earlier when he stood before the burning bush on that very same mountain, and even earlier, to Abram as he wandered through Canaan.

Surprisingly for the Israelites the promise didn’t happen as quickly as the recent events which led to their exodus. They arrived at Mount Sinai within three months of leaving Egypt. They were in the desert with the promise of entry into Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey.

But for them to inhabit this land, God put requirements in place. These statutes are the Law; the Ten Commandments together with all the other laws Moses received on Sinai and gave to the people in the Torah — the first five books of the Old Testament.

God commanded Moses and Aaron to teach the people, and they their children, and their children’s children. He prescribed a way of righteousness, which, if kept, would go well with them, give them enjoyable long lives, and give them fertile increase through the wombs of their women and through the land’s abundance on the other side of the Jordan River.

God called them to be bound to the Law. Instead of covering themselves with idolatry and its symbols, he says, “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” (Deut 6:6-7a, 8-9) One must understand that the wearing of jewellery and the placement of ornaments or statues on gates and doorframes was forbidden, because these were pagan rituals done to ward off evil from the entrances to their bodies and property, and bring good luck.

On the other hand, the prescribed actions of the Law would always put God’s way in front of them, as a reminder that God is One. These Laws were given so the Israelites could live with God without being sucked into the local pagan traditions and philosophies held by those who were far from fearing God. The Law was given so the Israelites could discern right from wrong, as an authoritative directive from God alone, as a pre-judgement for those who crossed the line, as a code of conduct, and as God’s holy wisdom written down for holy living in the land God set aside as holy for his holy people.

Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey, was to be paradise on earth given to the people as long as they lived the Law. The Law’s prohibitions, similar to that of not eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, was given to cleanse the Israelites, so God could dwell once again with humanity who had separated themselves from him through their sin.

However, we know the Israelites couldn’t even leave Mount Sinai without adorning themselves and their hearts with gold and idolatry and sin, building a golden calf to gain access to what they thought was paradise. For the first of many times they crossed the line and let go of the means God put in place to make them holy, and threatened having themselves cast from God’s presence, just as humanity’s parents, Adam and Eve, had been earlier hurled from God’s presence.

So Moses and most of the Israelites didn’t ever enter a land flowing with milk and honey, but instead were constantly called to faithfulness as they wandered forty years in a triangular Sinai wilderness, just three hundred kilometres (187 ½ miles) by three hundred kilometres by three hundred kilometres. (That’s a triangle from just Chinchilla to Coolangatta to Bundaberg.)

We might think all this hasn’t much to do with us; that it’s just a nice little history lesson. After all we are not under the Law anymore but under Christ and the Gospel, who has passed through the perfect heavenly tabernacle and cleansed us, once and for all, with his blood rather than the blood of animals as required by the Law.

But, much is still the same! God still wants to dwell with us. He still desires to lead us through the wilderness of this life and bring us into a land flowing with milk and honey—the perfect heavenly tabernacle—where Jesus Christ is now at the right hand of God. He still puts in place means through which we are given access into his holy presence. In fact, he still demands that we must be holy to be in his presence. He still requires that we teach our children to cling to his way and his way alone. And he still calls us to wear his clothes of righteousness over our rags of idolatry, self-centredness, and sin.

We have one God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three persons in one God. We do well to listen to God and heed “his ways”. We do well to teach our children to endure in the baptismal faith given by the Holy Spirit, which enables us to trust God as we struggle against the temptation to adorn ourselves with the hoary jewels of sin and idolatry.

We no longer have the Law; we now have the Gospel too. The prohibitions of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and the Law given through Moses, have been revised and perfected in Christ. He now has fulfilled all the requirements which Adam and the Israelites failed to accomplish. The commands, “you must not”, have been kept by Jesus who now says you must, “believe in the One the Father has sent!” (John 6:29)

God cares more for a speck of faith—a splinter of trust in Jesus—than a ton of excitement, a lifetime of good works, or a brilliant mind. Although the fruits of faith might be, excitement or stillness, the fruits of faith will be good works of various kinds as we love God and love our neighbour, and the fruits of faith will lead the youngest and the simplest to receive the deepest understanding as they hear God’s word.

As we wander in the wilderness of this life, we already have a window glimpse of paradise. The tree of life, to which we lost access when Adam and Eve were cast out of Eden, is the cross, and it’s our window into the heavenly paradise, the eternal land flowing with milk and honey.

Adam and Eve wrongly ate of the tree of good and evil, but now we must eat only of the tree of life, Jesus Christ in the eternal paradise who is also planted in your hearts. You do well to allow the Holy Spirit to continually bind Christ to your heart; only then can you “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength, and love your neighbour as yourself.” (Mark 12:30-31)

We are promised all the glory of eternity if we remain in Christ, and if we allow him to remain in us. We do well to believe in the mystery of baptism, the mysteries of Holy Communion, and the mystery of the Holy Spirit coming to us through the written word of God. We do well to impress these things upon the hearts of our children and talk about them in our homes.

We do well to live each day in victory over our sinfulness under the sign of the cross, daily invoking the name of the Triune God, Father, Son, & Holy Spirit, in whose name we are baptised into the eternal kingdom of heaven, a land flowing with milk and honey. Amen.