Wednesday, February 28, 2007

C, Midweek Lent 1 - Exodus 12:17-28 "Egypt Exodus"

17 “Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread, because it was on this very day that I brought your divisions out of Egypt. Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. 18 In the first month you are to eat bread made without yeast, from the evening of the fourteenth day until the evening of the twenty-first day. 19 For seven days no yeast is to be found in your houses. And whoever eats anything with yeast in it must be cut off from the community of Israel, whether he is an alien or native-born. 20 Eat nothing made with yeast. Wherever you live, you must eat unleavened bread.”

21 Then Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go at once and select the animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb. 22 Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe. Not one of you shall go out the door of his house until morning. 23 When the LORD goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.

24 “Obey these instructions as a lasting ordinance for you and your descendants. 25 When you enter the land that the Lord will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony. 26 And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ 27 then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.’” Then the people bowed down and worshiped. 28 The Israelites did just what the Lord commanded Moses and Aaron. (Exodus 12:17-28)

When we think of Egypt in a biblical sense we immediately associate it with the Old Testament, the fathers of Israel, and bondage. Rather, I encourage you to remember “God” and his mighty acts when you think of Egypt.

In the bible, Egypt is mentioned just over 600 times in 565 verses. In most of these verses God called the Israelites to remember what he did “when he brought them out of Egypt” and he kept his covenant with the Israelites, who often rebelled against him.

In recent times the country is known as Egypt, but it has uncertain origins, and in Greek was pronounced, Ah-ee-goop-tos (for Aiguptos). But in Old Testament times, the Israelites called Egypt, Mizraim (mits-rah-yim), meaning “two Egypts”, for the upper and lower reaches of the Nile River. However, Mizraim is formed from a Hebrew word which means, to hem in, or to cramp or confine, or to distress. To the Israelites Egypt was a place of boundaries and limits; a place of slavery and oppression. Egypt to an Israelite was big trouble.

The first mention of Egypt is in Genesis ten, in the genealogy of Ham. Ham brought Noah’s curse upon himself by looking at his father’s nakedness and not covering him when Noah was sleeping off the wine he had drunk.

Later on, Abram took his wife Sarai to Egypt during a drought, but left in disgrace after he told Pharaoh that his wife was his sister. Pharaoh took Sarai as his wife and soon found out she was, in fact, Abram’s wife when he became inflicted by diseases. (Gen 12:10-20)

And then there is the story of Joseph and his brothers, who sold him into slavery and ended up being Pharaoh’s right-hand man — the second in charge of all Egypt. After his father Jacob and the entire household move to Egypt, the bible falls quiet for four-hundred years after Joseph tells his brothers, “I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.(Genesis 50:24)

During these four hundred years, Pharaoh and Egypt’s favour turn to hatred and oppression over the descendants of Jacob and his sons. As Israelite numbers grew, Pharaoh ordered every Hebrew boy be thrown into the Nile. So God raised up Moses, the child of a Hebrew slave, hidden in a floating basket in the reeds of the Nile. He was rescued and raised by Pharaoh’s daughter in the house of Pharaoh.

Moses killed an Egyptian and fled after Pharaoh sought to kill him. While he was in the wilderness God appeared to him in a burning bush and commanded weak unconfident Moses to go back to Pharaoh and demand Pharaoh let God’s chosen people go.

Pharaoh was no match for the God of the Hebrews, even though in Egyptian thought he was the son of “Re” the Egyptian sun-god. So while Pharaoh hardened his heart and refused to let the Israelites go because he thought he was god, God commanded Moses to pronounce plagues on Egypt.

Pharaoh was finally broken on the night of the Passover, when God sent the destroyer to kill the firstborn of Egypt. Pharaoh’s son, who was also seen as a god, was killed with all the Egyptian firstborn by God Almighty.

Out of slavery came freedom — freedom through the spilling of a lamb’s blood, on the cross members and sides of the doorframes to each house. God’s word was no match even for Pharaoh as God saved his people and called them to remember the night when they received their freedom. In the years after they celebrated what God did in Egypt, through the festival of unleavened bread, and the retelling and teaching of the “Lord’s Passover”.

God had promised this freedom to Abram over four-hundred years earlier, and God delivered on his word. He promised to Abram and Israel, if they keep all his statutes and laws they would live in the land of milk and honey — a sample of paradise on earth, where God would be their God, and they would be his people.

However, even as the prophets constantly reminded Israel of the bondage and oppression in Egypt, and God’s saving work, they struggled to keep the law and teach their children, and often turned against God throughout the lifetime of the Old Testament. Then God and his word fell quiet for four-hundred years, yet again.

Although Egypt is mentioned over six-hundred times in the Bible, in the New Testament, Egypt is spoken of only twenty-seven times on nine occasions. At the coming of Christ, after the four-hundred year silence something had changed. Egypt is rarely mentioned and the Promised Land, the land of milk and honey, isn’t mentioned at all in the New Testament. Why?

It’s no accident that Mary and Joseph flee to Egypt with the infant Jesus in Matthew’s gospel account, written to teach Jews, Jesus of Nazareth was their King and Son of God. Only in Matthew chapter two is Egypt mentioned anywhere in the gospels.

When Jesus came to the cross it was the Passover, and the feast of unleavened bread. It is not just a coincidence that Jesus broke bread and gave the cup of wine to the disciples and said, “This is my body, this is my blood.” And that his blood was spilt on the cross and flowed down his sides.

It was not by chance the preparation for the Passover meal occurred at the same time as the disciples prepared for what is known today as the Last Supper. It is no fluke in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke that Jesus eats the Last Supper on the night when Jews ate the Lord’s Passover meal and remembered God giving them freedom from Egypt. It’s no human apparition in Holy Communion we to remember what God did for us on the cross, and receive the promise of Jesus in bread and wine!

And in seeming contradiction in the gospel of John, it’s no mistake that John has the preparation for the Passover on Friday afternoon, when at about 3 pm the lambs were being slaughtered for the Passover meal, rather than Thursday afternoon as in the other gospels. Did not the Lamb of God die on Friday afternoon so the destroyer passes over us? This is God’s new covenant give and shed on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins?

All of us have now crossed over from Egypt; cleansed of the devil’s oppression under sin through the waters of the Red Sea; through the waters of baptism. Now God lives with us in the wilderness, leading us like he did with those he led out of Egypt, towards the land of milk and honey.

But even greater than the promise of the covenant, in the Old Testament, is that we get a foretaste of paradise as God gives himself to us in the new covenant. We receive “manna from heaven” in the body and blood of Jesus Christ in bread and wine.

So when you think of Egypt think of the bondage God has freed you from, and walk with him in the wilderness, in the hope of eternal life in the land of milk and honey, our heavenly home, face to face in the presence of God. Amen.

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

C, Lent 1 - Romans 10:8b-9 "Jesus is Lord"

If there is one sin, which single-handedly is destroying the church and our society, it is a sin where people deliberately seek to compete with each other.

This sin is one which every person loathes, both inside and outside the church, because this sin brings us into direct conflict with each other. In fact the more we loath this sin in others, the more we’re usually unconscious of it in ourselves. The more this sin is engrained in our being, the more we detest it in everyone else.

What is the sin? What is this ultimate sin that threatens your relationships with each other and with God? What is the number one complete anti-God state of being? Let’s ponder that for a moment and come back to it in a while!

In Romans ten, we hear, ‘“The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.’ (Romans 10:8-9)

Jesus is Lord! Let’s all confess it together… Jesus is Lord!

What does it mean to confess Jesus is Lord and to believe in one’s heart that God raised him? What does saying it and believing it do?

None of us can say these words in a vacuum; without something already having happened in us. Before we can believe “Jesus is Lord” in our hearts — something must act on us from outside ourselves and our sinful human condition — someone from outside our anti-God state of being must come.

In fact it takes a sacrifice to say “Jesus is Lord” and to believe in our hearts he truly has been raised from the dead. When we say Jesus is LORD, what are we actually saying?

This sacrifice in saying and believing Jesus is Lord, is explained a little further by the words at the end of Romans 10:9, which tell us if you confess and believe, you will be saved.

In our human condition we once protested against this statement, saying in our anti-God state of being, “There is nothing wrong with me, I don’t need to be saved — I’m doing just fine!” And every time the old Adam is revived in us, up rises this old anti-God attitude.

But we need saving, because we don’t do fine by ourselves, there is something wrong with everyone born under Adam, and if left untreated all of us would be on the highway to hell. If we are to believe Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised him from the grave, we have to believe these horrible things about ourselves and humanity too.

So if Jesus is Lord over us, and we believe God has raised him, what is he as our Lord? What is a lord?

The upper house of parliament in London is called the House of Lords. If you were under a king you would have to address him as “my lord”. In other religions they refer to their gods as lords. If we rent a house or property we have a landlord. Our cities have lord mayors. And all of us can lord it over someone else. So what are we saying, when we say, “Jesus is Lord”?

Lords are above us! They are masters over us. Is Jesus our master? What does a master require? To be under a master demands we are completely obedient to his rule and laws, or else! So when we say “Jesus is Lord”, are we saying he is our master and we are obedient?

If Jesus is our master, why do we struggle to be obedient? In fact, when we admit to being sinners, we admit to being disobedient.

So over what is Jesus master? He became master in his perfect obedience and in his innocent death. When we say Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts, God raised him from the grave, we believe Jesus is master over sin and death.

If in saying Jesus is Lord, and we think of him as our master, under whom we are to be obedient, then doesn’t our continual sinning show this confession of Lord to be a lie?

Therefore, this still leaves the question, how is Jesus our Lord? In summarising the second article of the creed in the Large Catechism Luther says this: the little word “Lord” very simply means the same as Rescuer. That is, he is the one who has led us back from the devil to God, from death to life, from sin to righteousness — and keeps us there. (LC, 2nd Art, 31)

He is the one who has mastered sin and death for us. Jesus humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. He placed himself under God and his word and in his death and resurrection brought all glory to God and saved us. So Jesus is Lord because Jesus is our Rescuer and saves us from our disobedience leading to death and destruction.

Now back to the sin, which separates us from each other and God. In his humility Jesus resisted the devil’s temptations in the wilderness for forty days. If it was you or me, with all the power and authority of God, we would have competed with the devil, and tried to conquer him. But Jesus doesn’t do this here.

He could have done what the devil had said. In fact, he could have completely throttled him! But if he did, why would he have done it? Instead he went the way of humility; which led him to the cross and to death. He went in full obedience to the Father, and God raised him from death and made him master over sin, death, and the devil.

When we face the temptations of our old Adam, the world, and the devil, the worst sin takes over, and we fall into the temptation that we can do it ourselves. This sin is the opposite of humility. Our sin is pride.

In humility Christ put pride aside and suffered in obedience to God. When we are moved by pride we fall straight back under the masters of sin and death. Pride made the devil fall from God’s grace. Unlike Christ, Adam’s pride led him and Eve to listen to the devil and eat, and then turn away from the word of God. It is pride making us think …we are ok …we are better than others …we can do enough to be masters of our own destiny …and to even say, “Lord, Lord, look what I’ve done!”

But the Rescuer comes to us and saves us. He places the Spirit in us to make us holy and shine on Christ who is in us rescuing us. He continually wills us to sacrifice pride, all the other sins, and the sinful nature that guts our humanity and separates us from God. When we confess Jesus is Lord, we humbly hang our sin on Jesus’ death and believe in our hearts he will raise us from the grave too.

In humility the Holy Spirit gives you the words, Lord Jesus Christ, Lamb of God, have mercy on me. God hears the Son in you, he sees the master over sin and death in you; God sees the cross and forgives you all your sins for Jesus’ sake. Jesus is Lord! Amen.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

C, Ash Wednesday - Micah 5:2-5 "Bethlehem"

Text: Micah 5:2-5

2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” 3 Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labour gives birth and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites. 4 He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. 5 And he will be their peace. (Micah 5:2-5)


It’s hard to imagine someday we will return to dust and dirt. You are dust and to dust you shall return. We know it will happen, but even so, it’s a tough thing to grip.

Perhaps even more difficult is the knowledge that we came from the ground. God made Adam from the earth and breathed life into this body of dirt, and then created Eve from him. It’s hard to believe humanity was formed from soil.

During the midweek Lenten services, and then into Holy Week and Easter, we will examine locations in the bible. Tonight we look at Bethlehem in Judah, then in following weeks we will study places such as Egypt, Nazareth, Jericho, Bethany, and Gethsemane; Jerusalem, the Upper Room, and Paradise – the garden of eternal grace.

But tonight, one might ask, what’s Bethlehem got to do with Ash Wednesday, and what’s Bethlehem got to do with death and dirt?

The name Bethlehem in Hebrew means, house of bread. Around the town were grain fields and sheep grazing country. Bethlehem is also referred to in the Old Testament as Ephrathah, which in Hebrew means, to bear fruit. So Bethlehem or Ephrathah was a place associated with food and fruitfulness. It seems to focus on life being created from the soil rather than death and our return to the dust.

We all know the Christmas gospel ­— baby Jesus born at Bethlehem. But Bethlehem appears in a number of places in bible. Let’s look at them to give us a fuller knowledge of what happened at Bethlehem because of us and for us.

The first mention of the town is in Genesis, and it’s a sad occasion. Rachel was the wife of Jacob, and the mother of Joseph. She had trouble conceiving and bearing children and as the family moved towards Bethlehem, or Ephrathah, Rachel went into labour with her second son. She gave birth to him and on her death bed named him Ben-Oni, which means, son of my sorrow. But Jacob renamed him Benjamin, which means, son of my right hand. And then he buried his much loved wife, Rachel, in a grave at Bethlehem.

So here in Genesis we have a prototype or preview of the gospel at Bethlehem. Jesus was the son of Mary’s sorrow because of her birth pains and his death on the cross, and like Benjamin, Jesus is the Son who now sits at the right hand of his Father.

Then in Judges chapter seventeen, a cloud is cast over Bethlehem, as it becomes the location from where an idolatrous Levite came as priest to serve a man called Micah in Ephraim. This is not the prophet Micah who spoke out against idolatry, but rather he and the Levite became the father of idolatry in the tribe of Dan after the tribe overran Micah’s house and carted off his idols and the Levite priest.

And from events starting in the Bethlehem, in Judges nineteen, unfaithfulness, rape, murder, bodily mutilation, war and near genocide took place between the tribes of Israel and another of its tribes, Benjamin.

This all came about when a concubine left her husband and returned to her home at Bethlehem. On fetching his concubine and travelling through the Benjamin countryside, he stayed in Gibeah and when his life was threatened, he gave his concubine to the wicked men of the city and they raped her and left her for dead. Her master cut her into pieces and sent her body to the far corners of Israel. So distraught at what had happened to the concubine, Israel fought against the city and their brother tribe of Benjamin, and nearly destroyed it forever.

As we can see, Bethlehem was anything but fruitful or a house of wholesome food in these times. Rather, from the events of this town, we see very clearly the sin that permeated the Israelites; the sin that commits humanity to dust and ashes; the sin that shows our need for a Saviour.

This fruitlessness continues at the beginning of the book of Ruth. Naomi and her husband, Elimelech, fall on hard times as they battle drought at Bethlehem, so they move to Moab with their two sons. After moving, Elimelech dies and the sons marry two Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. Eventually the two sons die as well, leaving the three women widowed. Orpah returns to her family in Moab, but Ruth stays with Naomi, who returns to Bethlehem just in time for the barley harvest.

On returning to Bethlehem, Naomi requests she be called Mara, which in Hebrew means, bitter. Naomi in Hebrew means, pleasant or beauty. She told them she had left for Moab full, but the Lord had brought her back empty. One could understand why she might have felt this way, with no welfare system and having lost all the men in her life, Naomi’s future looked more bitter than pleasant.

But the Lord had not left Naomi and Ruth bare and bitter in Bethlehem. Her husband — whose name Elimelech, incidentally means, my God is king — had relatives at Bethlehem. And the Jewish custom was for the family of the dead husband to support the widow and children with a kinsman-redeemer. Boaz was the redeemer and eventually married Ruth and looked after Naomi. Therefore, Ruth remained faithful to her mother-in-law and found favour with Boaz, a relative of her father-in-law, and continued the line of Elimelech. It is no accident that Boaz and Ruth are the great-grandparents of King David.

As we all know, David was a shepherd who came from Bethlehem. God laid his hands on David through Samuel and also made him shepherd and king of Israel. There were numerous times in David’s kingship that he looked to God as his “Elimelech” — his God as King. We can see, despite the horrors and bitterness surrounding Bethlehem, God was making the town, Ephrathah, fruitful!

Therefore, it is no accident Jesus Christ, humanity’s Kinsman Redeemer, was born in Bethlehem. Just as the human spirit of Elimelech lived on through Boaz and Ruth in King David; our God — the King of Creation — was conceived in Mary, lived on earth, and was raised to life through the Holy Spirit, in the person of Jesus Christ, beginning at Bethlehem. It comes as no surprise to us that God fulfilled his promises made through the prophets, like the prophet Micah, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times. (Micah 5:2)

But if it is hard for us to imagine our flesh has come from dust and will return to dust. It is even harder to fathom how the Creator of the universe could come down to a town on earth which has had so much evil and sin surrounding it, and be born as a part of his creation, and laid in all the filth, Bethlehem has to offer — the manger.

From Psalm twenty-two we hear, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? 6 …I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. 7 All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: 8 ‘He trusts in the Lord; let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.’ 15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. 16 Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. 17 I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. 18 They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing. (Psalm 22: 1, 6-8, 15-18)

When Jesus was born and laid in the manger; he was born to lie in the dust of death for you and me. Bethlehem has much to do with us and Ash Wednesday. We are weak; our lives without a Redeemer, God, and King, would be bitter; much more bitter than Naomi and Ruth’s life without a kinsman-redeemer.

Therefore, we are called to believe that we have a Saviour, who saves us from our sinfulness and weakness. Mary’s sorrow in loosing her Son at the cross is our Salvation raised to the right hand of the Father in glory. Jesus was laid in the dust of death beginning at Bethlehem, but Bethlehem has been fruitful for us who believe, ever since.

Jesus was raised out of the same dust as Adam, but he remained without sin. He was killed by the sin of humanity, in the Garden of Eden, at Bethlehem, and here today. And he was raised to life and lives on as our Redeemer over sin and death. His greatness reaches the ends of the earth; he is our peace forever! Amen.

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Friday, February 16, 2007

C, Transfiguration - 2 Corinthians 3:12,16-18, 4:1-4, 6-7 "Maze of Mirrors"

What do you see when you look in the mirror? Do you see perfection looking back at you? Perhaps you see something you don’t like? Or maybe without your glasses you have trouble even seeing the mirror or anything in it! Is the person you see too tall or too short, too old or not old enough? Maybe you see someone who could be smarter or wiser, or alternatively you see someone who is too smart for their own good! Are you content with what you see? Should your hair be straighter, curlier, darker, lighter, less grey? Or would you just like to have more hair? What about your fitness? Do you see someone who could be stronger, not so bony; or not so broad in the nether regions? Stand in front of the mirror for long enough and study your body, your mind, and your conscience, and more than likely you will see many areas for improvement!

We all have times when we feel, flat, fat, fed up, fragile, flustered, frightful, frustrated, furious, foolish, false, unforgiven, unforgiving, unfaithful, forgetful, and forgotten. This often leads us to think we have been forbidden and forsaken because we see, all too well, the fruits of our fallenness. Mirrors are brutal things, the harder and closer we look into them the more we see what they reflect.

But there are more mirrors in this life than just the glass mirrors in the home or car or shop. Another type of mirror most people fear are the bathroom scales. In fact you might be led to believe that to stand on scales, is to stand on holy ground. For you must take off your shoes, and anything else that weighs you down! Therefore, most don’t stand in this place for fear of condemnation from the scale itself, which might groan because of the weight being placing upon it.

Diaries are also a mirror which might help a person reflect on themselves and their life. But a diary found years later, or in the wrong hands, can be a dangerous instrument.

Then there is the family, with the many mirrors they hold in front of us and we hold in front of them – the genetic mirrors, the disobedient mirrors, the nagging mirrors, and all the other mirrors that show us and them who we are.

Have you ever been tempted to mask these mirrors in you life?

How many of you, as children or parents, have refused to hear the family mirrors and put your fingers in your ears and said, “La, la, la… I can’t hear you”?

Or on starting a diary, who hasn’t given up writing in it after awhile, or on seeing what is written in it become disturbed by your younger thoughts and throw it out?

How many of you have placed the bathroom scales in the cupboard, or under the bed, in a place where this seemingly sacred instrument won’t be found or disturbed?

And when you have a shower, isn’t it nice sometimes for the bathroom mirror to steam up just a little, so when you step out of the shower your reflection doesn’t frighten you quite as badly as if it was easily seen?

These mirrors of image, weight, individuality and family, are mirrors of the flesh. Most of the time they tell us what’s wrong with us! These mirrors examine the person by sight and cast their judgement. We look at our own flesh and person and see what’s wrong with us; we look at others around us and see what’s wrong with them too. Perhaps we see the same things in others that we see in ourselves! Sometimes seeing these things in ourselves hurts, and having them shown to us hurts even more!

On the other hand, sometimes what we perceive in others is only our perception. In the projection of our own short-fallings onto others, we miss the mark and misinterpret the person or family member next to us. We all have the capacity and the ability to do this. Often we get hurt, or we hurt one another.

There is no doubt that we humans are complex creatures. We have mirrors that reflect, but we also have mirrors that deflect too. And most of the time the mirrors in our lives do both at the same time. Like a magic maze of mirrors, the same mirror that tells us to go the right way is also the same mirror that deceives us and veils the truth that lies behind the mirror. As we stand in this house of mirrors the chance of being lost forever in this maze is real. “Which way is out; which way do I go?”

The word of God is a mirror given to every Christian at baptism. And with this mirror comes the Holy Spirit, our counsellor and our guide through the mazes of this life. He calls us to put on God’s word, like x-ray glasses of truth. And with the Word of God faithfully put on, we see through the facade of our veiled fragile flesh, and see Jesus Christ. We see who we really are, despite our fallenness!

However, the Holy Spirit’s job is no easy feat! He discerns each of us — guiding, correcting, and turning the fragile mirrors of our humanity. Within the folds of our sinful nature, the Spirit works. Sometimes this work is painful as he removes the masks, and smashes the mirrors with God’s holy law. But the Holy Spirit does this for our good as he leads us and counsels us to trust him, to trust God’s Word, and to trust that veiled in the ever-present sinful nature is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The Holy Spirit turns us to Jesus Christ, to trust his work on the cross, to trust the word of the gospel, despite the swinging mirrors, that deceive us at every turn.

Hear again God’s word that Paul speaks to the Corinthians…

12 Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. 16 …whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

1 Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. 7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (2 Corinthians 3:12, 16–18, 4:1-4, 6-7)

We are jars of clay, we are fragile mirrors. We can destroy ourselves and each other as we walk through the maze of this life. But we have been freed to trust the Holy Spirit, who comes through the Word of God, who turns the mirrors, who lifts the veil, and who destroys that which stops us from seeing who we are in Jesus Christ. This is the all-surpassing power from God and he will lead us to the end of the maze, and once that last mirror is removed we will see Jesus face to face. Amen.

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Friday, February 09, 2007

C, Epiphany 6 - Jeremiah 17:9-10 "Death & Life Questions"

Jeremiah 17:9-10

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a person according to one’s conduct, according to what our deeds deserve.”


What do your deeds deserve? What reward does your conduct merit? These questions are crucially important. So much so, they are life and death questions. They are not questions of intellectual intrigue or philosophy, to be treated lightly, or to be ignored. Nor are they questions concerning how many good works one has done. Or questions which can be emotionally employed to make us feel good, or manipulated in such a way to stand over others. No! These questions are asked of you, they are asked of all of us, here and now before God by God. What do your deeds deserve? What reward does your conduct merit?

Are you confident enough to stake your life on your answer? What about the life of your family …the life of this congregation …the life of our church and country? How about confidently staking humanity’s hope on your answer? These questions can only be asked of ourselves, we cannot ask them of anyone else, or answer them for anyone else either. They must be asked in our hidden hearts; hidden but unhidden from God. What do your answers tell you about yourself; what do they tell God?

As much as we think we hide our true answers from each other and God, the answers are still exposed in our attitudes to each other. In the way we treat our neighbour. In the way we teach our children. In the way we listen to teaching. In our attitude and conduct towards authority and correction. Also in the way we seek to serve. What do your deeds deserve? What reward does your conduct merit?

The Lord says to you and me through the word written in Jeremiah chapter seventeen, verses nine and ten, that, the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a person according to one’s conduct, according to what our deeds deserve.” (Jeremiah 17:9-10)

Who understands your heart? Who understands my heart? Who can understand the heart and mind? The Lord understands; our Heavenly Father knows you better than you know yourself! So what do you think God will give you for your deeds? How will God, who sees everything, reward your conduct?

These are serious questions in these times where most things are treated trivially, especially God, his word, and the work his church is called to do. We all know how the Aussie thought process goes… No worries mate. If God is a God of love he won’t hurt me, I’ll be right!

But the word of God speaks quite differently! In Paul’s letter to the Romans God makes it quite clear using the image of an olive tree… Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. (Romans 11:20b-22)

In Jeremiah seventeen verse five and six, the Lord also says, “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the Lord. They will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.” (Jeremiah 17:5-6)

And Jesus himself says, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. That’s in Matthew chapter five verse twenty. And again in Matthew seven verses twenty-one to twenty-three he says… Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matt 7:21-23)

What is the will of our Father who is in heaven? What do you think God will give you for your deeds? How will God, who sees everything, reward your conduct?

We don’t do ourselves or anyone else any favours, by covering up the ugly truth of these answers, or by putting aside God’s written word and the life and death truth it puts in front of us!

We hear the life and death truth direct from Jesus’ lips in the Gospel reading today. This reading from Luke six verses seventeen to twenty-six has two sides; the first part are blessings which in Matthew’s account of the Gospel are known as the Beatitudes (Matt 5:1-12). Have you ever noticed in these Beatitudes that the blessed are those associated with weakness, failure, unpopularity, and other negative human-centred perceptions? Ask yourself why?

And then in Luke’s account of the gospel, he continues with Jesus’ declaration of woes, or curses, for the wretchedness and the things our flawed human perception takes for granted as strengths. Woe to the rich, woe to the well fed, woe to those who laugh, and woe to you when others speak well of you! Why does Jesus speak like this? He’s not saying this to outsiders, it’s to the disciples and those gathered with them. He says it to you and to me. Again, ask yourself why?

If we allow the Holy Spirit to examine our hearts in all truth and honesty we know why Jesus says this. If we ask of ourselves, “What do my deeds deserve? What reward does my conduct merit?” No matter what we do to hide the truth, deep down God swiftly makes it known to us, we are sinful in nature, and God’s word tells us, the wages of sin is death! (Romans 6:23)

But these questions and the ugly answers before us; put before us by God, are known by God and answered by him too. As much as we must live in the painful reality of our sinful deeds and conduct, so we don’t loose sight of our weakness, and poverty, and unpopularity, and our misguided human perceptions. We are also called to live at the same time trusting that God has answered these very questions. Is it not because of your constant failures, weakness, poverty, and mortality that the Son of God became a mortal and bore all our eternal consequences of guilt?

If this is so, then perhaps in the constant reality of our weakness, hunger, sorrow, and rejection from the world, and in the constant reality that we would rather be seen as rich, well fed, happy, and popular, we can see each other in the light of Christ who has died for us all and answered the questions of death and life, in his death and resurrection, and in ours and other’s baptism into this life-giving death and resurrection.

If we assume that other’s deeds and conduct don’t deserve God’s grace, what are we really saying about our own deeds and conduct which before God are exactly the same as those we might condemn?

The greatest of all deeds, the most honourable conduct, is to believe that Christ has done enough for you, and enough for everyone else who trusts in him. So put your confidence in Christ and the cross as your answer.

What do your deeds deserve? What reward does your conduct merit? The answer is this: Christ’s death on the cross, and your resurrection from eternal death, perfected in your baptism into him, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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