Saturday, December 29, 2007

A, Christmas 1 - Matthew 2:13-23 "Christ out of the box"

In 2004, two tectonic plates deep below the Indian Ocean floor gave a massive jolt as they pushed against each other with gigantic force. Up above, on Indian Ocean beaches, people were going about their business as per usual, the day after Christmas. In the hours that followed many of these people were swept away by the Boxing Day tsunami; the consequences of the deep ocean earthquake just off Indonesia. Those left behind had nothing to celebrate having lost parents, children, other relatives, and their earthly possessions.

Nature unleashed its power, and there was absolutely nothing anyone could do to stop it. Not only were the survivors in South-East Asia, Sri Lanka, and India deeply shaken, but all people on earth were called to attention as the death toll soared into the tens and hundreds of thousands.

On the three year anniversary of the disaster, documentaries were aired in remembrance of the tragedy. Home video footage was shown of the events as the earthquake and tsunami unfolded. To see the unedited recordings pieced together in chronological order — of the tide being artificially sucked out; then the tsunami waves wreaking havoc on the villages, sweeping away tourists and locals; followed by the colossal aftermath of death and destruction — narrated by those who survived the flooding waves, gave one a sense of the overwhelming horror of those hours on Sunday morning, the twenty-sixth of December, 2004.

Scenes of destruction in the wake of the tsunami filled the television screen. One displaced local man sits next to his bicycle, surrounded by utter chaos, and uncontrollably sobs having lost his wife and children. He hopelessly cries, “I don’t have anybody left. Why have I been left? Why has God abandoned me?” Then pictures of the clean up are splashed across the screen, of which one is of a naked infant child, its little body stiff with death, being picked out of a destroyed house.

One can’t but help think of the implications of such a disaster if it happened here, or if it was yours and my child or family, the day after Christmas.

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” (Matthew 2:16-18)

O thou holiest, O thou happiest — Grace-bestowing Christmastide! Christ in a manger —Saves from all danger: O rejoice, ye Christians far and wide! (LHS 630)

If Christ in a manger saves from all danger, why then did Herod’s men so easily march through Bethlehem and slaughter so many baby boys? Imagine the waves of chaos rippling throughout the district in the wake of such an event? Think of their grief, their confusion, and their anger, that Christmas. Just like the suffering survivors after the tsunami, so too the families of the murdered Bethlehem boys! All was not calm, all was not bright, Christ the Saviour was born, and as a consequence, the little Boys of Bethlehem are dead! Why?

Imagine if death, chaos, and destruction erupted amongst us! What would your Christmas be like; what would you make of the situation before God Almighty — before the holy Christ child? Put yourselves in the place of the survivors, and your dead children and families in the places of their dead children and families.

O thou holiest, O thou happiest — Peace-proclaiming Christmastide! Christ’s light is beaming — Mankind redeeming: O rejoice, ye Christians far and wide! (LHS 630)

It makes us sit up and put Christmas under the microscope, it leads us to examine ourselves in the face of Christmas, Christ the King, and the tyranny of our sinful nature and the death we all deserve. Our twenty-first century ideals of Christmas, peace, and good will, need to be constantly reviewed!

Christ the Saviour has come, but what has he brought with him? The Son of God has been born to Mary and laid in a manger at Bethlehem, and yet because of him he is taken by his family and they flee to Egypt, while the locals receive anything but Christmas peace and good will from the hands of Herod. And all because Christ the Saviour is born!

He was born into the evil and sin of humanity’s flesh, to suffer in the flesh, and to save us from the futility and hopelessness of our human flesh, having not succumbed to the evil and sin of humanity’s flesh.

So as we grumble about the cost of living, the high price of fuel, the cheapness of our broken Christmas presents. Or as we erupt through the doors of department stores in a wave of Boxing Day bargain hunters grabbing bargains amongst the chaos of greed. Or as we begin to worry that the Christmas cheer, has caused our waistlines to overflow, and our cholesterol to dangerously surge, then the true reality of Christ’s coming and what he reveals as important uncovers all these other things to be completely irrelevant to the ‘life and death’ necessities of life.

In comparison to where Christ calls us, our twenty-first century greed and ideals look rather silly, stupid, and foolish — don’t they?

If the Jesus you look for is just to sugar coat and justify your reality — so that he might perform like a feel good sidewalk entertainer, allowed to come out of a gift-wrapped box once a year to appease your emotions — then perhaps you need to have another look at why he was born into this world, to see what his mission was and is and continues to be. A sobering look at the reality of death, and the warning signs in creation, is definitely in order.

How is it that on Boxing Day, the very day after we celebrate the birth of Christ, many of us seek to shove him back into a box where he’s out of sight until next Christmas? The true gift of Christ unwrapped in your heart, and the work he does there, works when we allow him to remain unboxed within ourselves!

You, like us all, are being called to repentance, hope, and peace in the suffering of the cross. And if at any moment you are allowed to experience even a little of the suffering we all truly deserve, where would you allow it to deliver you? To the suffering Son of God at the cross, who forgives and bears and shares your suffering? Or maybe to the blame game — holding God responsible for the suffering of your sinful nature? I guarantee you won’t seek a cotton candy type of Christ fulfilling happy human ideals with Christmas wrappings! You know the feel good saviour that disintegrates the moment it’s exposed to the watery chaos of sin suffering and death?

Now let’s return to the fellow in the midst of the tsunami destruction who hopelessly cries, “I don’t have anybody left. Why have I been left? Why has God abandoned me?” What he says strikes me as unusual. I’m surprised he doesn’t cry out something like, “What has happened to my children, my family; why have they been taken from me? God what have you done to me? What have I done to deserve this?” But no, instead this grief struck man sees God in death; not in life. For him, living is the abandonment of God, not death!

Whether he seeks the one true God or another god in his family or elsewhere is not known; but there are two things on which we can reflect. What is my G/god — in what or whom do I put my trust in good times and in bad? And secondly, in the face of death, and sin and suffering, how does this G/god perform, for you, in you?

O thou holiest, O thou happiest — Life-imparting Christmastide! Angels from glory —Chant the great story: O rejoice, ye Christians far and wide! (LHS 630)


Sunday, December 23, 2007

A, Birth of our Lord, Christmas Day - Luke 2:8-20 "Shepherds of Good News"

The Christmas story of the angels and the shepherds and the visit at Bethlehem is one which most people seem to know quite well. If you are ninety years old, you’ve probably heard it nearly just as many times, and even a child of ten would have heard it a few times by now too!

So we have arrived at this text again, and it fills us with all the warm images of Christmas: The shepherds lovingly caring for their sheep, on the lookout for people and animals that might threaten the flock. Then the arrival of the angel with the great news of Christ’s birth — and the great company choir of heavenly angels singing Glory to God in the highest. And not to mention the nativity scene — God watching above, with angels surrounding Mary and Joseph at the manger — cattle lowing while shepherds and sheep watch on with great delight, mystery, wonder and awe.

However, as good and wholesome as these images are, this text holds so much more. And we do well to examine it; to see how the depths of Old Testament ritualistic Judaism impacted all Jewish people back then, including the shepherds. And how the Law and Christ’s birth have and are benefiting everyone ever since.

We can do this by looking at the shepherds throughout the narrative, investigating and digesting the transition of their state of being. Observing the shepherds is the key for our deeper understanding, but as we know, the message and worship of the angels, the Christ child, and the object of the shepherds’ worship are the active agents of the narrative.

The shepherds are in the field watching over their sheep at night. It was night in the usual sense, but often in the bible night has deeper implications. Luke is most likely just talking about it being night in the usual sense; however, the shepherds were aware of a greater darkness. We know this because of their reaction to the glory shining all around them when the angel of the Lord appeared.

The shepherds were terrified; literally in the Greek it says they feared with great fear. When we think of the fearlessness of David the shepherd boy also outside Bethlehem some hundreds of years earlier, fighting Goliath and rescuing his lambs from the mouths of lions, the fear of these shepherds in contrast, stands out as quite unusual.

Having seen God’s glory and the angel’s appearance the shepherds were terrified with an unsurpassable fear of imminent death. But why? These fellows would have lived with the constant threat of death every night they stood to defend their sheep!

Recorded just before the birth of Jesus in Luke’s gospel is Zechariah’s Song, and he concludes his praise towards God by stating …the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79)

Bound by their continual shepherding duties, the shepherds were unclean before God. They lived in darkness and the shadow of death so when the light of glory shone on them they feared with great fear. This is because their work meant they had no opportunity to take a Sabbath and make sacrifices to God in the temple at Jerusalem.

The shepherds would have also come in contact with many ritually unclean situations involving death and unclean animals. To make a sacrifice at the temple altar before God would have also meant a time of ritual cleansing. Time shepherds just didn’t have, who instead were obligated to remain with their sheep out in the fields surrounding Bethlehem.

But it’s not death the shepherds receive. Rather it’s a three fold message of good news. First the angel comforts and announces, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” (Luke 2:10) Then secondly the herald of good news locates and declares, “Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 10:11) And thirdly the messenger of God reveals and directs by saying, “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2: 12)

Rather than receiving the wrath of God when his glory illuminated them, these shepherds living in darkness and the shadow of death, now were being guided by God’s messenger into the path of peace, just as Zechariah had earlier prophesied in his song of praise.

But before they were led by God’s Word to Bethlehem, a defining moment for creation occurs when the heavenly choir of hosts sing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.” (Luke 2:14)

This may not appear to be very extraordinary for us today; we sing this piece of scripture, or a paraphrase of it, most Sundays in the church. But the shepherd’s were privileged earthly witnesses, and for a very important reason: This was the choir of heaven which always sings in the presence of our glorified God, and now God was born to Mary and this heavenly hymn was heard on earth for the first time. Therefore, what we sing in church is a proclamation with the angels and archangels to the reality of God on earth and in heaven. But the reality of his presence is hidden from our sight and only seen by faith as we gather to hear and worship him.

The angels and the choir dissipate and re-enter heaven, fear with great fear is replaced by joy with great joy and expectation as the shepherds act on the Word of God that has filled their ears. They didn’t just go but we’re told they went with haste and found Mary, Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. The Greek word for haste used here is spĕudō (pron: spew-dow) from where we get the well known name of swimmers, Speedo, and literally means: they went with speed; they put the foot down and wasted no time.

After witnessing Christ the Lord in the manger, the Shepherds made known what had been told them about this child and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. All who heard this were amazed to the same degree that the shepherds were gripped with great fear. They were surprised with great surprise because these sheep-herders who witnessed these events were in no way worthy viewers due to their lack of ritual cleanliness. Nevertheless, those who heard were encouraged by their proclamation and marvelled with them at what they had seen; even if they were stunned that the news came from smelly shepherds.

Alternatively, Mary pondered all this in her heart. She wasn’t bewildered at all by these events which occurred before the lowly shepherds. She meditated on the incomparable reality of the situation over which she, Joseph, and the shepherds had no control, because of prior revelation to her.

Mary had already testified to this revelation in her glorification of God, known as the Magnificat, or Mary’s Song, saying, “His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.” (Luke 1:50-55)

So the shepherds return home having had the Christ child revealed to them by God’s Word spoken through the herald angel while being surrounded by God’s glory. They return home having acted on the Word they heard and seeing the Word Made Flesh in the manger, then proclaiming how they came about knowing the Christ child was born. And now they sing with joy as they return to their flocks because of the three-fold message of Good News that gave them a light within the darkness they dwelt.

Finally the Good News for us this Christmas is revealed through the irony of this perfect holy child lying in a dirty manger, in a filthy animal enclosure, out back of a sleazy Bethlehem inn, with a bunch of ritually unclean shepherds who probably smelt more like sheep than humans looking down into the manger. As these shepherds lent over baby Jesus, the reality is this: It is Christ who is the true shepherd, and like the dirty shepherds who looked on this holy child, he would grow into a man and be cast outside Jerusalem bearing all the dirtiness of humanity, cursed on a cross, even though he was God’s one and only Son.

But as he hung on the cross looking down at the children he has redeemed from our mangers of darkness and death — he sees the Bethlehem shepherds, you, and me, all those who trust him despite our deadly reality, now walking without fear and glorifying God with all the company of heaven as he the risen shepherd and Christ child guides our feet into the path of peace. Amen.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

A, Advent 3 - Matthew 11:2-11 "The Coming One"

Picture John the Baptist sitting in prison. He’s probably not the kind of man who likes being locked up. After all, he lived in the wild yonder eating locusts and wild honey. He was completely free to roam the countryside in his camel hair clothes and leather belt.

And as he sat in gaol, he hears of this man whom he baptised in the Jordan. On whom the Holy Spirit descended, and of whom the Father proclaimed, “This is my Son, whom I love; with whom I am well pleased.” (Matt 3:17) It almost seems John is second guessing his witness and the actions of God in Jesus’ baptism, as he sends his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matt 11:3)

Literally, John gets his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the ‘Coming One’?” Another term for the Messiah or Anointed One. It seems that Jesus’ ministry is not happening in the way John expected, and coupled with his imprisonment which separated him from witnessing Jesus ministry, perhaps doubt began to overtake him in the solitude of prison.

Jesus sends John’s men back with a list of his happenings and a stern warning for the imprisoned Baptiser. First Jesus commands them to report the blind receiving sight, lame walking, lepers cured, the deaf hearing, dead people being raised, and the Good News being preached to the poor. A firm caution to John who may be having doubts then follows …blessed is the one who is not offended by me. (Matthew 11:6)

Is John stumbling due to his imprisonment at the hand of Herod? Is John falling away on account of Jesus; because of his seemingly powerless coming without any such baptisms of the Holy Spirit or fire, as he had earlier prophesied while baptising in the Jordan?

What we do know, is when John’s disciples left to report what they heard and saw, Jesus spoke of John to the crowd saying, What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’” (Matthew 11:9-10)

In fact John was the last of a long line of prophets. Like Moses, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and others, he was the last, concluding the work of all the prophet. John the Baptist was the final seer; he was the last fore light before the dawn of a new era in God’s Almighty plan of salvation for humanity.

Prophets foresaw what was to happen, and they were given powers of discernment amongst those whom they were called to serve. But often they received little reward for doing so. In fact, many of the prophets were persecuted for proclaiming the truth that God allowed them to see and proclaim. But rarely did they ever see the reality of their prophecies.

James encourages us to endure and stand firm like the prophets as we too wait for Jesus’ coming. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. As an example of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. (James 5:8-11a)

And so Jesus also calls John to stand firm in he who is the Coming One and endure his hardship in prison as he goes on to testify to the crowd, Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear. (Matthew 11:11-15)

Why is this so? How is it that John is the greatest, but yet the least in the kingdom of heaven are greater? What is this Jesus saying in this riddle?

John is privileged to be the final prophet; he is the one who actually sees the Messiah about whom all the prophets had proclaimed. However, like all who went before him he died without seeing Christ’s act salvation. In fact, John’s death was quite anticlimactic, having had his head chopped off by the whim of Herod to save face in front of his household. His body was quietly buried by his disciples, before they went and told Jesus, just prior to Jesus feeding the five thousand and walking on water.

Alternatively, unlike John and the many prophets before him, those who are the least are greater, because of Jesus’ baptism into his three year ministry by John at the Jordan and his baptism of fire on Good Friday.

We are greater because we live post-resurrection in hope of our resurrection, because Christ has baptised us into his baptism, his death, and his resurrection with the Holy Spirit and with the fire of his hellish death at the cross.

Because of Jesus, you who are the weakest and the poor (and that’s all of us because of sin) have heard the Word made Flesh and are receive the benefits of his life and death, standing firm in perseverance as did the prophets of yesteryear.

We are blessed because we hear and believe the works of Christ, we are freed from death and will be raised to life, the Word is loosing our ears from deafness. We are being eternally cured not just from leprosy and ill health, but from sin. Not only are we being healed from lameness, but we can boldly stand firm despite persecution.

And because we live baptised post crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and Pentecost we are better seers than any of the prophets as a result of faith. The Coming One has come and done what he was sent to do. We have the witness of this in the word and because of our baptism into Christ’s baptism, death, and resurrection we too are witnesses, by the power of the Holy Spirit who gives us faith. Because of faith we who are weaker and poorer than John and the prophets are great in the Kingdom of Heaven.

This is why the Prophet Isaiah said, …the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way; even if they are fools, they shall not go astray. No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isaiah 35:5-6, 8-10)

Jesus is the Coming One. He is the Way of Holiness. His forgiveness is won at the cross for you. It’s lived through hearing the Word, through Baptism, and through the body and blood given and shed for you. In these things you are made holy through Jesus’ way, with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Amen.

Blessed is the person who does not fall away on account of Jesus, who is coming again to judge the living and the dead. Amen.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

A, Advent 1 - Matthew 24:36-44 "How is one ready?"

With all the cloud and wet weather around at the moment one might be reminded of the story when it had been pouring down rain for days and the river had broken its banks, seriously flooding the countryside. There was as old man in a house who was a faithful follower of God all his life! He was not afraid of the flood waters. He knew God would take care of him.

As the water came lapping up to his window sills, a man in a rowboat came paddling by. As he rowed by the house, he noticed the old man in the window, and sung out, "Would you like me to row you to dry land?" "No," the man confidently replied. "God will save me!" "Okay," responded the man in the row boat, and he went on looking for others he might be able to help.

The water continued to rise, and soon it was lapping at the second story window sills. By this time, dramatic rescue operations were in progress. The water was so deep that a large rescue boat was passing by. Seeing the old man now leaning from the second story window, they called to him: "You are in serious trouble - let us save you!" But the old man's faith in God had not diminished, and he called back, "No, God will save me!" "Well," they replied, "we don't have time to convince you -- others need to be saved, too." So they passed on by.

The water continued to rise. Soon, nearly the entire house was under water, with only the very top of the roof above the water. Perched on top of the house, the old man patiently sat when a helicopter came roaring by overhead. Through its loud speaker, the helicopter pilot boomed, "The water is still rising and your house is about to be swept away by the current. We'll throw out a rope and save you." Again, the old man shook his head replying, "No, God will save me!" The pilot said, "We can't be responsible for what happens to you if you don't let us save you!" But the old man was steadfast and would not allow them to save him.

As the water rose even more, the house was torn from its foundation and was swept away, breaking up in the raging torrent. The old man didn't have a chance and he drowned.

Now the old man finds himself standing before God. He is very dismayed, and says: "I've been a good person all my life. I've always trusted you, and indeed, you have saved me on many occasions. What have I done wrong? Why didn't you save me this time? I was ready and waiting for you the whole time!"

To this, God replied, "I don't really understand what the problem was. I sent two boats and a helicopter!"

You have probably heard this story or similar. The old man knew what was going on, yet he allowed himself to be swept away by the torrent. He thought he was ready to be delivered, but literally, he missed the boat, and everything else God sent to save him.

In the gospel Jesus reminds us of another flood where people were swept away unawares because they were not ready. But unlike the fellow in the story we’ve just heard, they were completely ignorant as to what was going on around them. They had turned their backs on God and were consumed by their own deeds and passions.

…concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. 37As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.

40Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. 41Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. 42Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Matthew 24:36-44 ESV)

So the question is: How must one be ready?

Should we stop all normal earthly activity, sit on a hill and wait for God to come? No! Just recently we heard from 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12, If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.

There is nothing wrong with eating and drinking, marrying and being given in marriage, in themselves. However, when these things become gods, we turn these gifts, from God, into disorderly distractions, away from God.

So if we’re not meant to stop normal earthly activities, how are we meant to function if we are to be ready when Jesus commands? …stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. Every person needs sleep, it’s an orderly part of God’s created world! Even God rested on the seventh day!

God rested on the seventh day! Here is the clue to being ready! How must one be ready? We rest in God!

We do the every day deeds of regular life in God’s rest! Eat and drink, marry and be given in marriage, work in the day, sleep in the night, in God’s rest! Let all the benefits of God’s day of rest, God’s day of Sabbath, flow through the whole seven days of your life. In other words, when you leave this place, let Jesus come with you. Don’t hinder or stop the Holy Spirit’s work in making every day an advent of the Lord – a coming of your Saviour – the Rescuer of your life.

After all every day Jesus stands at the door of your heart and knocks. Hear what he says in Matthew and Revelation, Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. (Matthew 7:7) Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (Revelation 3:19-22)

So open the door, sit down in the peace of God, repent and be forgiven, trust in the means God has sent to save you!

As the days of darkness and death descend on all of us, let us listen to the advice of Isaiah, O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord. (Isaiah 2:5 ESV) And again, St Paul in Romans 13, the night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light. (Romans 13:12 ESV)

How must one be ready? Let us put on Christ, trust in him, and his way of saving us.

Are you ready for the coming of the Lord? He has already come to you through baptism, and he comes through his word, and he comes through bread and wine. He comes through these things forgiving you and rescuing you into his holy eternal rest and peace.

These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God's creation. (Revelation 3:14)

Let us pray: Lord sanctify us in the truth, your word is truth. Amen.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

C, Last Sunday of Church Year, Proper 29 - Luke 19:11-27 "The Alpha Omega Twist"

Every Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and because of this, it’s also a celebration of our up coming resurrection to eternal life, face to face with our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

When we come to church each week we bring all the messes of the old seven day week, and hang them on the cross. It’s the day of completed judgement and it’s the day of enacted salvation. Therefore, because of Christ, every Sunday is the beginning and the end!

Every Sunday in Christ is the alpha and the omega! Every Sunday in Christ is a celebration of a new creation and our longing hope for the revelation of eternal paradise. Every Sunday is a proclamation of Jesus, the Word made flesh, revealed to us as our Redeemer, by the Holy Spirit, in the pages from Genesis one to Revelation twenty-two.

Every Sunday is a festival of forgiveness where we come before God asking him to lead us from temptation, as we live in the reality of his kingdom having come, his kingdom coming, and the hope that it will eternally come to us, so that sin, temptation and evil will be done away with forever.

And today the end of the church year is no different. This day is a celebration of the coming of Christ, having come, continually coming to us in the reality of our sinful lives, and we rejoice looking forward to the day when he will come that second and most glorious time to take us and perfect us in just the way God intends.

And so today we have before us his word from Luke nineteen…

As they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. 12He said therefore, "A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return. 13Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten minas, and said to them, 'Engage in business until I come.'

14But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, 'We do not want this man to reign over us.'

15When he returned, having received the kingdom, he ordered these servants to whom he had given the money to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by doing business.

16The first came before him, saying, 'Lord, your mina has made ten minas more.' 17And he said to him, 'Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.' 18And the second came, saying, 'Lord, your mina has made five minas.' 19And he said to him, 'And you are to be over five cities.'

20Then another came, saying, 'Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid away in a handkerchief; 21for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man. You take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.' 22He said to him, 'I will condemn you with your own words, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? 23Why then did you not put my money in the bank, and at my coming I might have collected it with interest?'

24And he said to those who stood by, 'Take the mina from him, and give it to the one who has the ten minas.' 25And they said to him, 'Lord, he has ten minas!' 26'I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 27But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.' “(Luke 19:11-27)

As this parable stands, it’s a little puzzling as to what it’s all about. We hear about the nobleman’s distribution of the minas; he gives each servant the same amount of money, one mina each. And then he departs.

Is this text about the servants and their servanthood with the gift from the nobleman? What is this gift to us? What is it that we are given?

We must see this parable against the background of the wider text in Luke’s Gospel. In fact, the parable begins with a reference connecting it to what happened before. It begins, As they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a parable. They are all those in Jesus’ hearing at the table in Zacchaeus’ house. Here Jesus speaks about money in the home of a tax collector who has just vowed to give back fourfold — everything he has extorted from his fellow Jews — as well as half his possessions to the poor.

So is this about what we do with our worldly possessions? Is Jesus calling you to be like Zacchaeus? If he is, how well do you perform? And how’s your performance make you feel?

Back in the previous chapter of Luke 18 we hear about another tax collector who beats his chest, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' (Luke 18:13) He knew, as we all know, that under the judgement of God, we’re guilty, we don’t perform well at all. Perhaps this is why having heard Zacchaeus’ turn of action, and his charity with all he has, you feel uncomfortable, or begin to make excuses for yourself, justifying why you’re not doing what Zacchaeus did. Perhaps!

When this is the case, we’re acting more like the Pharisee in the parable, seeking to set ourselves apart from those ‘so-called’ sinners. We’re also setting our true sinful reality aside. However unlike Zacchaeus, this tax collector is not reported to make any amends for his sin, he just seeks God’s mercy. So if we look at the context of the parable of the minas against this text, maybe the parable of the minas is not so much about the gift of money but something entirely different!

After the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in chapter 18, immediately follows Jesus’ interaction with the little children where he says to those around him, Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it. (Luke 18:17)

Then follows Jesus’ discourse with the rich ruler who asks, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" (Luke 18:18) Jesus goes on to ask him why he called him good, because only God is good! He then points out his goodness is not enough saying to him, "One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." (Luke 18:22) So the rich man goes off dejected because he hasn’t the will or the faith to give up everything, the necessary complete work required to gain eternal life.

The disciples and others who heard Jesus say these things then ask the fundamental question, "Then who can be saved?" To which Jesus replied, "What is impossible with men is possible with God." (Luke 18:26-27)

Maybe Jesus is speaking more about trust and faithfulness than about the stewardship of money in the parable of the minas. After all in the texts leading up to this parable, all those who respond favourably are those who respond because of the faith they received. Could this parable be about the stewardship of faith rather than the stewardship of minas?

God gives out faith, it doesn’t matter how small it might seem, because even faith as small as a mustard seed has power over nature, transplanting trees into the sea! (Luke 17:6) This faith is born of God, not from one’s positive thinking. The minas in the parable are God’s allotments of faith. It is not the person who has the power, but it’s the faith itself, born of God’s mercy.

In the parable the servants don’t even like the nobleman, but nevertheless, they are rewarded because they put the minas to work. Notice it’s the nobleman’s money that works, not the servants, but they are rewarded according to its work! How does God’s gift of faith work in you? Do you let it do what it’s meant, or do you work your own faith wrapping up God’s gift and hiding it like the servant who kept it hidden in handkerchief?

Anyway, what is God’s faith meant to do in you? Scripture tells us faith justifies us through grace, which is not of ourselves (Romans 3:22-24; 5:1-5; Ephesians 2:8). This means the faith God gives you by the Holy Spirit’s power, moves us to hang onto his gifts of grace for our salvation. In other words God’s faith always brings us to the cross of Christ! It reveals your guilt and hopeless plight, and exchanges it with forgiveness and peace.

This is what God’s faith is meant to do, are you faithfully letting him do it? Or do you hide it?

These questions don’t bring us much peace. Our consciences are forced to examine themselves before he who is the nobleman in the parable of the minas. Jesus is the nobleman, having come down from heaven, having been hated by humanity, having given out his gifts of faith, to you, to me, to the tax collectors and the Zacchaeuses of this world, to the Pharisees, and to the little children of this world.

Jesus is the nobleman returning as the victorious king to judge the living and the dead, and like the rich man, like the Pharisees, like Judas Iscariot, and all those rich in faithfulness towards themselves and against God, the command will come, bring them here and slaughter them before me. (Luke 19:27) This is not a comforting thought for you or me, as all of us fall short of God holy demands.

But there’s more! This parable about the minas, spoken at Zacchaeus’ house happens just before Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. In Luke 19:28 we hear …when he had said these things, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. (Luke 19: 28)

Ironically just after Jesus speaks of the demise, judgement, and death of those who hate his kingship, he goes into Jerusalem for what? His very own death!

Here is the twist that no one in Jesus’ day suspected or understood, even though Jesus had said time and time again that he must go up to Jerusalem to die and to be raised. This twist even today is difficult to grasp! Therefore everyone needs God’s one true faith, the nobleman’s one mina, to truly take hold of what Jesus does!

This is the ultimate gift; this is salvation that comes to you and to me, even though we deserve nothing but death. Instead of us being brought before the King and slaughtered before him, the king himself is raised up in front of us and the Father and slaughtered on the cross. This is your peace with God, given in the Holy Spirit’s work and gift of faith, given in Christ’s work and gift of grace at the cross.

Today is the beginning and the end. We are judged, yet we are saved. We are guilty, committed to death; nevertheless we are raised to eternal life. We are drowned by the waters of wrath but celebrate the life giving waters flowing from the Tree of Life. We are shown to be true enemies of God however we are made his little children of faith. This is the day of our genesis in Christ and it’s the day of the eternal revelation of Paradise and peace.

Take hold of the holy forgiving gifts of God, given each Sunday, in God’s holy and divine service towards you, in his holy word and sacraments. Amen.

Our Father in heaven, lead us not into temptation, that your kingdom may come also to us, for the sake of Jesus Christ the crucified, Amen.

Friday, November 16, 2007

C, Pent 25 Proper 28 - 2 Thessalonians 3:6-16 "Work Holy"

As Christians we are called to stand firm; especially in these last days of creation when more and more chaos and confusion threatens to clutter the conscience.

Just like soldiers protecting something extremely valuable, we Christians are called to stand together to protect, to uphold, and to trust the most precious work of our Saviour at the cross and the way he calls us to receive the benefits of his death and resurrection, laid out in his word.

We are told in Luke 21:19 that by standing firm you will gain life (NIV). Or to put it another way, by endurance in Christ and his ways your inner being will be protected. So as a company of soldiers or guards sticking together, what they are protecting will remain, together with themselves, when they stand firm.

But chaos and confusion are fuelled when the ranks break up, trust is lost in each other, and in the value of what is being protected. This is exactly why Paul exhorts the church in Thessalonica, as some break ranks from the traditions put in place by Christ himself. They have become conceited and fail to stand firm in the face of what they believe to be the last days before the return of Christ.

They thought Jesus’ return was about to happen, so they became idle in upholding, protecting, and proclaiming Christ, to a world which needed salvation. In fact they became so idle, not only did they turned away from standing firm in the faith, in their vocation as practising Christians, they also failed to take responsibility for the other vocations God had called them into. The very structure of their community was in danger, as some of them sought to sit down and stop working altogether. And in shirking their responsibilities, they were a burden on everyone else, contributing to the confusion of the day, and were putting pressure on the peace into which they were called.

Even worse, they were testing God, with their disruption to civil life and by their disobedience against the traditions of Christ. Their example was bringing no glory to God, but rather their idle practice as God’s children in Thessalonica was bringing God’s name into disrepute. They were in fact being a burden on God as well as everyone else!

The NIV bible says they became idle, but the Greek text literally says, they were walking around in idleness. They were not going about their business but were going about things in a disorderly and irresponsible manner.

Ironically, they were moving about at the same time as being idle; they were not standing firm in anything. They were just like a person who goes to do a task, but keeps their hands in their pockets. Or like a person who takes the floor and says many things without saying anything. Just a whole bunch of hot air, one might say! They had become good for nothing—in the way, troublemakers—hindering the way of Christ and the good works that flow from being truly focused on him.

So Paul says to the Thessalonians… Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. 7For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, 8nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with toil and labour we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. 9It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. 10For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. 11For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. 12Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. 13As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. (2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 ESV)

All of us know that if something doesn’t work, it gets thrown out. Especially if it can’t be fixed! In fact, we live in a society that chucks out stuff, even when it can be repaired. So Paul also warns us not to chuck out the fellow believer, but to warn them as one who is also loved by the Lord. They, like all of us, are repairable by the power of God, being healed when they give up their disobedient idleness, and allow themselves to be brought back into the ranks of Christ.

Paul says… If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother. Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. (2 Thessalonians 3:14-16)

To be fair to the Thessalonians, we all must realise, we are the same as them. Every person struggles with idleness, and busying themselves with the business of others. All of us struggle to have peace at all times and in every way. And it’s been that way ever since Adam and Eve made the decision not to follow God’s way and will, and broke ranks busying themselves with sin.

When you or I decide to turn from the traditions of Christ, towards our own ways, we quickly become idle. We no longer work in the way we are meant! So it goes without saying that if something doesn’t work, then it shouldn’t be fed. Who amongst us would still put fuel in a motor that no longer runs? None of us! First the motor needs fixing and once it is, then it is fuelled to run in the way it was meant!

So too with us, Paul calls those who choose to let the power of sin run their lives, not to be fed. We all struggle with sin, but as we do, we still stand firm in Christ focused on his forgiveness. Sin might still cause us many hiccups, but we struggle against it. However, when the battle against sin becomes idle so it is given power to turn us away, then God needs to fix us and bring us back to Christ.

When we are brought back to him we are made holy. Holy is simply something or someone that works in the way it’s meant; in the way God desires it to work. God the Father is holy because he works in the way he’s meant, God the Son is holy because he does what he was eternally begotten to do, and the Holy Spirit is indeed holy because he comes from the Father and Son, doing the precise work he to is meant to do!

However, we are holy, not because we do what we are meant to do. We are made holy when God does his holy will in us, delivering his holy Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit, through his holy word! We are made holy by the traditions of Christ, because they work in us, in the way God intended.

Holy Baptism, Holy Communion, and the hearing of his Holy Word — work forgiveness and peace. They are of God; therefore they work because they are holy, when we allow God to make them work. And these holy things allow us to work as holy Christians because they constantly kill the power of sin which is constantly trying to seize us up with disorder.

God and his holy ways are the good oil! Let him to continue to flow through you. Stand firm in Christ so you continue to work as God intended you to work, despite the abrasions of sin within. Amen.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

C, Pent 23 Proper 26 - Luke 19:1-10 "A Polly in a Tree"

Luke 19:1-10 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. 7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.’”
8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”
Climbing trees would have to be one of the most exciting and enjoyable things every person has done in their childhood. To climb way up into the heights of a tree’s branches gives a boy or a girl a perspective on life far different from the relatively limited heights of everyday infancy.
And also, not to mention, it’s a really good place to get away from adults when you’re in trouble. Hiding up in the thin branches will guarantee if they come up after you they will most likely give up, because fear or commonsense or both would prevail! Besides sensible adults don’t climb trees anyway, less they end up on funniest home videos falling from the breaking branches!
There’s no way we would ever see the queen or the leader of the country climbing a tree. In fact if they did it would immediately grab your attention. Just imagine if on the election campaign we were privileged to have a visit from the Prime Minister or the leader of the opposition, and as they greeted us they decided to go over and climb a tree.
No doubt half of the crowd would be concerned that he might fall out of the tree in front of the cameras, and then the other half of the crowd might storm the tree to shake its branches to see the spectacle of a politician falling from grace!
But then just imagine if it was Jesus who was here visiting this place, while the election campaign was in full swing. And it was John Howard, our Prime Minister, who wanted to see Jesus. We know he is not well endowed with height — that’s a fact! And so to see Jesus he runs with the kids and climbs the tree to see Jesus. As Jesus walks amongst us he breaks through the rank and file to the tree and sees little Johnny Howard perched up in the branches in his designer suit. “It’s an interesting picture, isn’t it?” What do you think of that situation?
I think all of us, regardless of who we support politically, wouldn’t approve of a person like this doing something like running and climbing a tree! Why? Well, because if you were a supporter of the Prime Minister, you would expect him to act a little more decently than that so he wouldn’t disgrace or hurt, himself, the country, the party, or us! And if you didn’t support him, you would probably envy his elevated position. Perhaps one might think: What’s that short little so and so think he’s doing, getting the advantage like that, I ought to go over there and knock that polly off his perch!
And then imagine if Jesus says to the Prime Minister, sitting up there in the tree, “I want to remain with you as your guest for the evening. Come down from that tree, it’s necessary that I go to your house!”
I’m sure all of us would grumble in some way about these events, saying or thinking: “It’s bad enough he takes our taxes, now he’s taking our Jesus too! Does he have a right to do this? If Jesus knew what he was really like, not saying sorry, and refusing to do more for the environment, and all the lies, he mightn’t be so eager to go to his house!”
When Zacchaeus came out of the tree, invited by Jesus to do so, and then went to Zacchaeus’ house, we hear, All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.’” (Luke 19:7)
This is why we can be sure that all of us would grumble for some reason if John Howard was called down by Jesus. Our nature is to mutter, to grumble, to cut down the tall poppy even if they need a tree to be tall. Humanity hasn’t changed at all from now to then and from Jesus day right back to the days when the Israelites grumbled against God and Moses in the Sinai wilderness. It is our pride that causes us to grumble! We all love to play the game of one-up-men’s-ship, keeping ourselves a head above the rest.
However, our sin is the same as the Prime Minister’s and as the same as Zacchaeus’ sin! The sin is not that these people are politicians or tax collectors, but that we all put our trust in the things the world holds up as important and profitable.
In fact, politicians and tax collectors, and all public servants, are elevated by the populace and once there they reflect the imperfections of the populace. Their sometimes unsavoury representation is, in fact, a reflection of those who are usually doing the grumbling. Perhaps it is us who live in glass houses, and we all know what throwing stones in fragile places like this does!
All people, short and tall, old and young, the powerful and the powerless, need the same grace! We are no different! Zacchaeus, politicians, prostitutes, the proud (that’s you and me) are God’s children, created in his image. And no matter how powerful we might think we are, we all need a leg up! We can’t see Jesus by ourselves, there’s nothing in human ability that allows us to climb up to God! We are all sinners, arrogant and proud, full of worry and doubt! It is us who need salvation; God needs to come down to us!
Zacchaeus has to climb a tree to get a glimpse of Jesus! Having heard of Jesus’ approach, here’s a man of great power and wealth having to do something so deplorable to see Jesus, and once up the tree he’s seen by all for who he was: a sinner, a tax collector, the chief of tax collectors, a real scoundrel!
We do well in remembering Zacchaeus, that no matter how powerful or prestigious we might seem in worldly terms, it’s the tree of the cross that lifted Christ up in sacrifice for us, which lifts us up in baptism so that we see Jesus. In remembering Zacchaeus up the tree, and Jesus seeing him and declaring that it be necessary that he go to his house, we do well in remembering the necessity of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, and the promise that because of his death salvation abides in you!
We need to continually be remembered and returned to the cross, and hear the word of salvation, and cling to Christ like a child who has climbed a tree and clings onto it. It’s there we are received, remembered, and forgiven because of what Jesus has done and continues to do for us.
We need to never forget that Christ and salvation had come to us there in the weakness of our baptism into his death and resurrection. And not only that, but we also need to trust, that he promises to remain, to abide, to hold us up, and to catch us also when we fall, because of our baptism into his death, his cross, and his resurrection!
Just as Jesus came to Zacchaeus and brought salvation to him and his household, we need Jesus, to continually come into us, placing the assurance of salvation and his peace in us. This mysteriously happens when we hear his word of salvation by the power of the Holy Spirit alone!
So in these times as we grumble against the short fallings of our politicians and public figures, the failings of the fringe members who might only ever turn up at church to hold up their child in baptism, and the faults of our fellow believers, we do well to remember that because of our baptism, Jesus sees us sinners as saved because of the cross — the tree of life.
It might seem inappropriate that Jesus runs to the Zacchaeuses of this world, but he ran to the cross and was unjustly lifted up and nailed to it for them and for us! We need his forgiveness and so do they! It is not inappropriate or out of place for him to do this; in fact, it is necessary!
And because of what he does, and why he had to do it, we can only truly see him in his glory, and see ourselves for who and what we truly are: Sinners joyfully sitting in the branches of the tree of life, with salvation sitting in us! Amen.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

C, Pent 21 Proper 24 - 2 Timothy 4:3-4 & Luke 18:1-8 "Are you Itching?"

For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

It is the time and season for itching and scratching! Have you had a scratch today? Most likely you have! Upon waking this morning, most of us would have scratched an itch of some sort. Perhaps even now the psychosomatic desire to scratch an itch is burning within you, with just the mention of the itch. Lest we start talking about vermin like fleas, head lice, sandflies, mosquitoes, mites, and bedbugs.

And if that doesn’t get you scratching then there’s the good old October itch of harvest time. When the grain and straw dust finds its way into all the nooks and crannies, making you want to scratch! Or perhaps, the heat of summer sunburn, prickly pimples, or dermatitis irritations gets you going!

There’s nothing quite like the instant feel-good relief of scratching an itch. However, not scratching the itch, or not being able or allowed to give it a good old rub, can drive you to near madness. Anyone who has suffered at the hands of chicken pox, sandfly bites, or a prickly rash knows they’re not meant to scratch. But the time comes when one has to just give it a bit of a scratch to steal a moment of relief.

When the itch can’t be left alone and the scratching becomes addictive and habitual, then there’s a real problem of the itch becoming infected turning into an oozing swelling sore. The minor irritation becomes serious and perhaps even life-threatening.

It’s no wonder we have grown up hearing our parents tell us, “Stop scratching that itch! You’ll only make it worse!” And experience tells us they’re right, as we cover ourselves with bandaids in a bid to stop ourselves from making the itches and sores worse than what we’ve already made them!

What makes us itch? Why do our bodies crave relief with such intensity, that we must just scratch it? Well biologically speaking, the central chemical involved in itching is histamine, a molecule released by cells in the skin. Histamine is the chemical that causes the itch and reddening. It binds to local nerve endings on specific receptors. The feeling of itchiness can be caused by a movement of hair or the release of this chemical (histamine). Itchiness is regarded as protective, as it helps creatures remove parasites that land on their skin.

So we itch and scratch to remove parasites, or we do so as a result of the bite or sting left behind. However, the reaction to get rid of something by repeated scratching often leads to other problems too. Itching comes from our bodies reacting to something unhealthy, and although scratching occurs as a desire to feel better, it can lead to greater health problems in the future!

Saint Paul speaks to Timothy about unhealthy itching. He says, for the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine.

Paul addresses Timothy at a time of unhealthy trouble in a season of scratching. People are not listening to sound doctrine, which is God’s Word. In the Greek, sound doctrine, literally means: healthy instruction or true teaching. This unhealthy desire to scratch to feel good is relevant for us too. Even today there are so many parasites of impure, unhealthy, untruthful teaching, toiling for our attention. In fact this desire is applicable to every age, since we all suffer with the unhealthy parasites of sin, inherent in our human nature.

Paul continues… instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.

All of us have the intense desire to scratch the feel good desires of the flesh. But unfortunately like an itching lump that’s scratched into a septic sore, the unhealthy things with which we seek to soothe our natures only give short lived relief. They turn out to be the very things that make our condition much worse.

Instead of avoiding these things that make us itch in the first place, we cast off protection from unhealthy situations, believing we’ll be ok. Time and time again we never learn. We try to tell ourselves we haven’t been bitten when we have, and forget how bad scratching these itches can be. So as Paul says, they will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.

Therefore, if it’s the season for suffering and scratching from the sensations of sin, what should we do? After all we should have known better! We’re only getting what we deserve — our just deserts! Are we not?

However, when justice is exhausted and it seems we are condemned to a life of scratching and suffering with sores, along comes the Unjust Judge and he unjustly gives us mercy! We are rightly set for a season of suffering at the hands of sin, it’s what we deserve! But when justice is exhausted, God who should rightly judge us and condemn us, saves us from the itching suffering of sin, by covering us with the soothing salve of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

God is the Unjust Judge, for if he was to merit justice to us for who we are and what we do; we could only expect a life of miserable hopeless suffering, death, and eternal wrath. But glory be to God that he mercifully lets justice fall on his Son so we might be led to him and receive salvation from the sin that makes us silly with scratching and itching.

God want us to seek him to stop the itch. For as long as the itch of sin keeps up he desires that we not let up praying to him, nor give up. He says just this in the parable of the persistent widow.

1 …Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2 He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

4 “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’”

6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:1-8)

Unlike the weak widow who sought justice from the unjust judge, we deserve to come under justice from he who is holy and just. But we who are weak have been given mercy in Christ’s death and resurrection, for us, so we can constantly say to God, “Grant me justice against my adversary. Save me from the sin and suffering of myself; stop me from scratching!”

It’s the season of itching and scratching, therefore it’s the season for salvation from scratching. It’s the time of truth! Hear that which reveals, heals, and removes the myths, and the need to scratch the sin making you suffer! Receive the Word of God, in it you will receive the holy antihistamine — the Holy Spirit. He will soothe you and give you peace, even as you continue to suffer in the season of itching and scratching.

When the Son of Man comes, will he find us scratching our own itches of sin and suffering, or will he find us faithfully letting the Holy Spirit apply the soothing salve of God’s saving Word into our souls? Amen.