Friday, June 29, 2007

C, Pent 5 Proper 8 - Luke 9:51&62 "GPS Navigation"

There’s no doubt many farmers have been working day and night to get crops planted. And then there are plenty others watching and waiting for the ground to dry enough for them to get out there and do the same.

After a lengthy drought, rain has now fallen, and once again many of us resolutely set our smiling faces toward the task of securing a harvest later in the year.

In the gospel reading today Jesus resolutely turns to the task of going to Jerusalem, knowing that joyful times would not be ahead, as he secured the harvest of humanity in his crucifixion on the cross.

From Luke 9:51 we hear: “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. Jesus knew his holy vocation was to suffer and die for the people – for us! So he boldly stood to fulfil his predetermined duty, obediently and faithfully following his Father’s will, giving up himself in sacrificial service, despite his innocent suffering and death, despite being God the Son — perfect and holy.

Then we hear how Jesus sent messengers out into the Samaritan countryside to prepare things for him, but the locals were too proud to welcome Jesus’ mission. Then he called others to follow him, and the response he received was half-hearted and apprehensive at best.

Jesus resolutely, boldly, unwaveringly, stood to the task and set his face towards Jerusalem, but the resolve of the Samaritans was stubborn and apathetic. Their resolution to follow only after attending to their personal duties receives this judgement from Jesus, as he replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62)

Now having sat in a tractor or two in my time, this seems a little problematic. Most of us spend our time looking back as we plough or plant. One usually watches the implement behind the tractor to make sure it’s travelling at the right depth and to keep in line with what has already been worked. So it’s fair enough for us to ask why Jesus says those who look back aren’t fit for service in the kingdom of God.

Farming for us these days involves horsepower on rubber tyres or steel tracks, but in days gone by, horsepower was on hoof; and even earlier, ox-power was yoked and harnessed to the plough. Farmers followed and guided the plough on foot; there was no need to look back. In fact if one looked back instead of forward, the beast and plough were in danger of going astray. One only looked back in pride or in fear, concerned over the work which had been done.

Things are much different today. No longer do we have to trail behind a beast yoked to the implement, as if we were also yoked to the task of keeping everything in order. We have hydraulics and diesel motors to do the work as we sit up front and listen to the radio in air-conditioned comfort, trying not to go to sleep. And for some farmers the job is made even easier these days with the use of Global Positioning Systems, or GPS, steering the machine, doing the work, releasing the yoke of concentration so the driver might do other things.

Perhaps, for those who rely on GPS, hydraulics, or diesel horsepower, Jesus’ call not to look back is still relevant. If we look back we do so to admire the straight furrows, without deviation, taking pride in our work. Ironically though, we really haven’t done much work at all. The motor pulls the plough, the hydraulics lift the plough, and the GPS keeps the tractor on the straight and narrow, farming the single track without deviation. Or maybe those who look back do so not trusting the means at their disposal to do the job, perhaps they fear the tractor, the plough, or the GPS is not working properly.

Then it occurred to me that we too were once beasts of burden – burdened under the law, under a yoke of slavery, continually looking back to see if what we had done was acceptable under the law. We were once harnessed by the Law, and if we went astray, we suffered the consequences of our master, ending in eternal death if we didn’t get the job just right — straight and perfect.

So how is it now that we who were once not fit for service in the kingdom of God, are indeed now more than cable to fearlessly look forward knowing we’re moving closer and closer to the eternal and holy harvest of heaven?

The fact of the matter is that we work with a GPS too. God has given us the means to be able to move along the single track required for entry into heaven. This track is without deviation, it is perfect, and it was worked and won by Christ who perfectly wore the yoke, never looking back but pioneered the way of the future.

The GPS we operate under is not a Global Positioning System, dependant on satellites for accuracy. But rather our GPS is a threefold GPS as — our God Providing Salvation, our Grace Perfecting Saviour, and our Gospel Positioning Spirit.

Paul speaking to the church in Galatia, and also to us travelling under this Triune GPS, says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1) Paul here is saying exactly what Christ says, “Don’t look back, look forward! Stand strong, stand firm, resolutely set your face towards the freedom found in me, rather than looking back to the slavery that once made you a beast of burden.

Yet as free people in Christ, this is not a freedom that leads to destruction and chaos, but to one of peace and holiness. Just as a GPS puts the vehicle on the right path, our freedom allows us to be led by the Holy Spirit. Our holy GPS leads us on Christ’s single track to Salvation, and in this Triune GPS we have confidence in where we’re going, because it has been perfected by Jesus himself on the cross.

You and I now ride on the power of God. As a matter of fact, he now works in us. The Triune GPS — God Providing Salvation, Grace Perfecting Saviour, and Gospel Positioning Spirit — ploughs out the ever-present weeds of the sinful nature and plants the fruits of the Spirit.

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:24) So let us look back less and less to the weeds of the old sinful nature.

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. (Galatians 5:25-26)

We can trust more and more in Christ who never looked back and who continually sends the Holy Spirit to plant himself and his gifts in us. We are bold servants, looking forward to the harvest, confidently led by our threefold holy GPS – our God Providing Salvation, our Grace Perfecting Saviour, and our Gospel Positioning Spirit. Amen.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

C, Pent 3 Proper 6 - Luke 7:36-50 & Galatians 2:20 "Simon, the Seductress, & our Saviour"

The work of redemption, the grace of God, climaxes in Jesus’ death at the cross and resurrection from the grave, for you and for me.

Jesus’ ministry and mission was to come to earth and find his Father’s lost children — the vulnerable, the weak, the ugly, the proud, the arrogant — those who were lost, choking in the depths of humanity’s sin.

Jesus finds himself at the house of Simon the Pharisee, reclining at the table with the other guests; he had been accepted by the community of Pharisees as a prophet. Only invited guest were welcome at the table of the Pharisees, because eating with the wrong people would have invited desecration of their cleanliness before God at the Temple.

While reclining at the table a woman of ill repute, who knows of Jesus’ presence, comes and wipes his feet with perfume and her tears, and with her hair. How and why that woman knew Jesus was there, we are not told. But she was a prostitute, her hair was long and let down in public, and she paraded offensively in the Pharisee’s house, wiping Jesus’ feet with her hair.

Was she seducing the Pharisee’s guest with her trade practices to pamper him into parting with his wealth, as she had done with so many other men? No! On this occasion she wipes his feet with tears — tears of sadness and tears of great joy! The prostitute knew she was getting so much more from this man than she had ever enticed from any other man, and she knew he was the only man who could give this gift to her.

This woman was a sinner, she was weak she was vulnerable, she was a seductress and she was seduced by sin, and yet she is just like you and me! We too were once lost, carried along by the crowd of popular belief. And even now we’re enticed into prostituting ourselves to gods other than the One True God. However, after the shallow short-lived periods of excitement give way to a deeper reality, that we too need much more than the joys of flesh, the joys of materialism, the joys of popularity, and the hollowness left in the wake of any short-lived experience.

So the prostitute anoints Jesus’ feet at the table of Simon the Pharisee. She forces herself on Jesus; and the Pharisees look on in judgement. They believed and accepted him as someone clean; perhaps even a prophet! Yet he let this woman touch him, this sinful unclean woman, and he didn’t do anything about it. He should have known better, if he was a true prophet!

But Jesus knew more about what was going on in that house than the Pharisees understood. In fact the prostitute knew more than the Pharisees too. She knew she was a sinner, she knew the depths of her sin, she knew the righteous company Jesus reclined amongst, yet she went in before them all, believing one thing: Jesus will forgive me. Her faith in Jesus led her to judge herself and love Jesus in a way far different than she had loved any man. And the wealth Jesus gave her was more precious than all the money bags ever emptied for her sexual services.

On the other hand, the Pharisees don’t seek Jesus’ approval. Rather they believed he needed to seek their forgiveness, now he had desecrated their faith in him, by associating with the woman. As far as they were concerned Jesus had become as unclean as the wayward woman. One who had so much potential to be like them now seemed like a leper, worth nothing to them, and even worse, he acted as if he had the authority to forgive her sin. Therefore, as we know, they sought to kill him!

What is Jesus worth to us? Why do we worship in God’s house? Do we come into God’s house, into his presence, inviting him as guest to justify what we do as did the Pharisees? Or, like the prostitute, do we boldly come into his presence, trusting his faithful promise of forgiveness and power over our sin?

Jesus doesn’t give up seeking to reach us with his word and the Holy Spirit. And we know we’re not alone. We like the prostitute need to hear the gospel and in it see Jesus Christ, the sole gift of salvation. In the community of believers our focus can only be drawn to Christ being with us, the only one who can forgive us our sin, and free us from the hold of our old sinful prostitution masters. We never have to fend for ourselves, giving ourselves to other gods, now that Christ calls us to be with him, hearing and receiving forgiveness, here in church.

We can take to heart the words of Saint Paul to the church in Galatia. Paul was once a Pharisee, persecuting the church, believing that his righteousness came from faith in his own religious ability and works. But having been given grace in all its power and seeing the depths of his sinful nature, his ministry of the gospel confronts a group of Judaizers who added to the message of Jesus, a requirement that one must be circumcises. They took their focus away from Jesus, prostituting their flesh to the law, and in doing so, misplacing trust in Christ, and desecrating his death on the cross.

But Paul a former Pharisee, says, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing! (Galatians 2:20-21)

Having heard these words from Galatians chapter two, a few questions must be asked, “How are we crucified with Christ? After all, Jesus died two-thousand years ago! How do we live by faith in the Son of God? How do we remain in God’s good grace? How are we made righteous apart from the law, and connected with the cross, now that Jesus is risen and hidden in glory at the right hand of the Father in heaven?”

It’s tempting to conclude — if I too make a sacrifice like Jesus, if I love, then I will be crucified with Christ and therefore forgiven. But it’s not my love that crucifies me with Christ, that’s just doing the same as the Pharisees did! In fact, works of faith, and acts of love, comes as a result of Christ’s crucifixion working in us. Paul tells us in Galatians that it is not circumcision or anything else we do that saves us but rather, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” (Galatians 3:26-27)

One can look at the shrewdness of the prostitute in plying her trade to seeing how Jesus’ forgiveness at the cross is given to us in baptism and our deeds of repentance and worship follow as a result. A prostitute gives her services only after the price is paid. Similarly the prostitute, who wiped Jesus’ feet with love and tears of hope, joy, and humility, did so only after receiving from Jesus, what was to be the full cost of his life on the cross — forgiveness and faith in his grace and mercy, in exchange for her sinful life.

The Pharisees ultimately went on to set aside the grace of God in favour of righteousness through the law, killing Jesus for nothing. But the prostitute received forgiveness and righteousness, from he who could save her, which depended fully on his death on the cross. And she responded in faith, with worship and devoted love, anointing him as the one who would die to pay the full price for her sin.

Jesus comes to us too — extending the hand of grace to us to daily trust our baptism into his death. He sends the Holy Spirit in his word, to give faith, to convict us, to bring us to repentance. The Spirit comes to lead us in common worship in the presence of the Triune God with devotion and humility, with boldness trusting in the power of the cross over our sin so we might be recipients of his forgiveness, and to faithfully love him in deeds of service amongst one another in fellowship.

His death was costly, it was not for nothing! His death was for every part of my being, your being, and the being of the community of all who believe, hearing and trusting Jesus’ word: Your sins are forgiven. Your faith in me has saved you; go in peace to love and serve the Lord. Amen.

Friday, June 01, 2007

C, Holy Trinity - Romans 5:1-5 "Common Unity in 14 Steps"

Walk into just about any Christian bookshop today and it won’t take you long to find a shelf of books titled, “10 steps to do this or do that”, “12 ways to be this or be that”. And if these books are overshadowed, then it is only by books with titles starting, “How to…”.

There is just so much “self-help” advice on how to be happier, more successful, more evangelistic, and more certain of finding your personal life with Jesus. They’re all there on the shelves promoting more and more a religious life, and less and less the Christianity into which we are called, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

However, there’s one book you’ll find in Christian bookshops which has outlasted any of the latest fads or fables written about what one must do to be the all empowered Christian person. This book unlike many others is not there to be popular. In fact, when one avails themselves to listen to what it says, they will quickly find its timeless word is relevant to their situation, despite it being counter-cultural. It’s not popular, because it digs below the surface of what we are, judges us and shows us our fatal weaknesses and utter hopelessness without the outside work of God who wants to save us from our plight. This one book is God’s word, the bible, and we do well to obediently listen to it rather than rebelliously rationalise it and read our ideas into it.

We know the author of the bible is God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God worked through individuals in various ways to write it down, and in the church ever since, continues to preserve it. Unlike the popular empowerment paperbacks which go out of fashion the minute we finish reading them, God’s word is alive and it’s also active. Every time we are brought to it, God speaks though it, and in it, to us.

Through God’s word the Holy Spirit gives us faith, through God’s word we receive grace, which is the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection for us, and through God’s word we receive peace in knowing Christ personally gives us his life on the cross, exchanging our sin for his righteousness, so we might exist before God completely justified. God’s word is the only true word we have to judge ourselves and all other things, and it’s given to us by God to do so.

Today we celebrate the Holy Trinity, hearing and pondering what God does for us, and with us, through the unity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. One God, three persons, doing three things, in common unity with each other; one God living in community, calling us to participate in that community through the gifts given to the church in God’s word.

For us to try to get our heads around the Trinity is impossible. The totality of the Trinity is not for us to know completely or to rationalise into our ideas. God cannot be isolated in time and space and put in a box or a cage like he’s an animal. No! The Triune God is a mystery to us. Nevertheless, the good news for us is that this mystery is not inaccessible, but rather through God’s very word we have access to the almighty mysterious Trinity — the Father who gives us his love, the Son who gives us his grace, and Holy Spirit who unites us in fellowship.

In Romans 5 the “How to” and the “10 Step” self-empowerment paperbacks are shown to be the toothless tigers that they are. In arguably one of the most packed pieces of Scripture in the bible we hear of the complex workings of the Holy Trinity in us. Listen carefully to the workings of our Triune God and listen for what our part is in this Holy community.

1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Romans 5:1-5)

At first glance we might attribute our part as — rejoicing. But in what do we rejoice? At second glance the rejoicing is not due to any self-empowerment at all, rather our rejoicing comes as a result of God and his actions, giving us the ability to stand or remain or be in him. It is God who gives us the ability to be able to rejoice about these blessings in the first place. At third glance this rejoicing is called to be done in our suffering too. Both the good and bad things, the blessings and tribulations, which happen to us, give us a cause to rejoice. At fourth glance this rejoicing is never an individualistic celebration focused on ourselves; rather it’s done in community with others sharing the same experiences before a holy loving God.

So in the positive things and negative things happening to us, what is this rejoicing that we are meant to do? Well in the first instance it’s not necessarily being happy. Unlike our personal happiness, rejoicing requires us to receive something from outside ourselves. In fact, joy is boasting, bragging, or giving glory to that which comes to us from outside ourselves. Our joy or boasting or rejoicing comes from God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Our joy remains when we give glory to God alone. Without this Triune community coming to us and enabling us to remain in unity with God, we would have nothing to boast or brag about in our sufferings and there would be no blessings either. Without God’s almighty empowerment over our weakness there is no peace on earth, nor would we know of God’s glory in heaven.

If one sought to simplify the profound work of the Trinity in each of us and the church; or perhaps view it as God’s “How to set aside stubborn sinners as saints” handbook, then Romans 5:1-5 is as good a place as any in Scripture from which to hear a step by step list.

God’s “Fourteen Steps how to…” guide would read something like this: To justify the sinner, or make the sinner holy, before the Father who is holy. Follow these steps…

1. Give faith through the Holy Spirit.

2. Give peace to sinners who receive faith.

3. Give the sinner the strength to Sabbath or rest in the work of Jesus at the cross over against their own self-righteous works.

4. Give access into the Father’s eternal rest allowing the sinner a way to approach the Throne of Grace while living in a sinful world and existence.

5. Renew the sinner’s being in Christ with faith given by the Holy Spirit as they hear the word.

6. Stand the sinner up in the grace of the cross; they will always try to sit back down in their sinfulness.

7. Give them hope by revealing slowly your almighty glory and its power over the bottomless depths of their sin.

8. Put your words of joy in their hearts and mouths so they look out of themselves to you.

9. Allow suffering in their lives.

10. Give the sinner even greater cause to see you and long for the eternal rest and peace of your presence.

11. Administer perseverance and endurance as they are willed to look out of themselves to you.

12. Build their character by allowing suffering and perseverance to turn them in repentance to the cross of salvation.

13. Remove their shame by pouring love into their hearts despite their tribulations.

14. Give them yourself, God the Holy Spirit, to engender faith so they receive and stand in peace before you, God the Father, because of the gracious gifts you, Jesus Christ, God the Son, give.

So there’s God’s guide “How to make a stubborn sinner a saint in Fourteen Steps”, according to Romans chapter five. Notice how much participation is required of us to be in this community! Also notice that for us to receive the gifts of God’s peace we can do so only by standing, or remaining in he who gives us grace, love, and fellowship!

However, this Triune work doesn’t really exist as steps in God’s three person eternal community. These 14 steps cannot be bound in time, and therefore, cannot be set out in an order which could be ticked off a list.

This mysterious work of our Triune God has already worked in us in baptism in an eternal instant. But still your life and being is a work in motion as you undergo the renewal each day of being placed into the unity and community of the Trinity, in our exchange at the cross. Mysteriously though, despite these 14 steps having been finished at the cross, the resurrection, and at Pentecost in time, they will not be complete until we rest in peace with God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, face to face in eternal fellowship.

Such is the almighty and mysterious work of the Holy Trinity — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in you and me unto eternity. Amen.

The grace of Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the Holy Spirit’s fellowship, be with us all. Amen.