Saturday, August 25, 2007

C, Pent 13 Proper 16 - Jeremiah 1:4-10 & Herbrews 12:25-29 "Old Misery Guts"

Old Misery Guts; that’s another name for Jeremiah. He was the prophet called to speak the word of the Lord to a stubborn people who just refused to listen.

Jeremiah was called to be a prophet when only young, and when God came to him he objected because of his age. But God intended to use him despite his age, and immaturity. God lifted him up, preparing for him what to say, and established Jeremiah as his prophet – as God’s mouthpiece. This is in fact what Jeremiah’s name means: God lifts up or God establishes.

So in Jeremiah chapter one, Jeremiah reports… 4 the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” 6 “Ah, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.” 7 But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord. 9 Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “Now, I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” (Jeremiah 1:4-10)

Now one might think being chosen by God would be a cause for great joy. God was going to use him to do his speaking, and while doing so, God was going to be with him and rescue him. There was no cause for fear, after all God reached out and touch Jeremiah as his chosen prophet. God knew he was going choose Jeremiah even from before his conception in the womb. Surely as Jeremiah grew in wisdom and knowledge of God, his ordination would be a cause for great joy and celebration.

But the times in which Jeremiah dwelt dictated there would be nothing like joy or celebration. God had given Jeremiah his true word to speak, but it fell on ears that didn’t want to hear the truth. In fact the people of Jerusalem and Judah were completely focused on themselves. For them truth was individualism, born of felt needs through greed.

The very practises God had put in place in the temple and through the Law, had been manipulated by the people to justify their idolatry — their worship of themselves. No longer did they recognise God the Father through the means of the Law in his earthy temple at Jerusalem. Rather the people had fallen to the temptation of putting their trust in themselves and the temple. Their focus was on what they did and where they did it, rather than on “the access” doing these things at the temple gave them, namely, to be one as a community with their Heavenly Father.

The message Jeremiah brought from God was one of doom and judgement. Jeremiah might even be viewed as the classic “prophet of doom”. What he had to say wasn’t welcomed by those who heard it. Everything to them was ‘all good’, but Jeremiah was telling them otherwise. And that didn’t make them feel very good. However, what Jeremiah had to say was from God and was the truth.

So poor Jeremiah’s ministry was one of great lament and turmoil. He spent much of his time bearing the brunt of rejection from the people to whom God spoke. His conviction to say what he said, led him to be put under arrest in prison and thrown into a well left for dead. God had given Jeremiah the prophet a glimpse of what was going to happen to the people of Judah if they didn’t heed God’s warning, and through their disobedience judgement finally fell on them and they were exiled out of Judah.

No! Jeremiah’s call to be a prophet of God was not one of joy and celebration at all. However Jeremiah remained faithful to God, and even more so, God remained faithful to his word spoken to the young Jeremiah when he said, “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you.” He gave Jeremiah his powerful word; God was faithful and he continues to be so.

Here we find ourselves today in a rapidly declining society. We find ourselves as a church jumping on board with the ways of the world, despite God’s word giving a resounding, “NO!”

We are told in the first epistle of John, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever.” (1 John 2:15-17)

These worldly activities of individuals are being heralded as the way to fill the void left when faith is lost. Christ’s one true way, highlighted by the Holy Spirit in the written word, and the sacraments which give us our identity, are treated more and more with contempt in favour of the dubious ways of the human spirit — set to give warm fuzzy feelings of self glorification.

It never fails to surprise me when we hear some speak of how the Holy Spirit has moved them; it’s always a move towards excitement, greatness, and some extraordinary secret knowledge or empowerment, and never towards guilt, contrition, repentance, forgiveness and peaceful rest in the arms of Christ and his community of the church!

Strangely this supposedly “holy” spirit moves the individual towards happiness and not holiness! It also seems this spirit, is moving individuals away from the cross, Christ, and the entirety of his word, to focus on feelings of self, justified by a few isolated biblical texts taken out of context.

But even if it is the Holy Spirit of God moving in extraordinary ways, the individualism of this age, the political correctness of our world accosted by the church, the righteousness of self, forbids Christ’s church to test, judge and discern the spirit, with God’s word, to see if in fact it is really the Holy Spirit.

This all sounds more and more like the deception and turmoil of Jeremiah’s day, as more and more faithful pastors, ministers, and priests are treated today with contempt for not being relevant with the world, as they remain faithful to God and his word. Sadly nothing’s new, our lack of listening, leads to us making the same mistakes as many before us have made.

So let us heed Christ and his word. Let us… 25 see to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth (especially at Jerusalem in the time of Jeremiah and then again at the hands of the Romans after they rejected Christ and crucified him on the cross) how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29 for our “God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:25-29)

Let us give up the things that are passing away. The many idols we have in this world that will be destroyed along with our flesh and feelings and the world.

Let us rather trust in him who is not only a consuming fire, but who has given us the hope of heaven in the fire of faith planted in us by his Holy Spirit.

Like Jeremiah God did this when we were immature and we didn’t know how to speak. He came to us and touched us with the truth of his word made flesh through the water and the written word, making us children of the faith.

God also continues to rest his hand on us as we’re fed and made holy by the blood of the new covenant won by Jesus Christ our prophet, priest, and king. He does this when in believing, we endure and come to receive from him and remain in him.

These are the things that give us access and peace before God who is a consuming fire. When all other things seen will be shaken, destroyed, and consumed, these are the objects of our faith, the substance of our faith, which allow us to stand unshaken forever. Amen.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

C, Pent 12 Proper 15 - Luke 12:49-50 "The Fire of Faith"

Jesus tells us in Luke 12:49-50, “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed!

What is fire? When you see a fire burn… mesmerised by its warmth… watching the embers sparkle and crackle, as the flame flickers… what actually is it? You might see the glow, but what makes the flame exist? What is a fire?

A fire is flame, that’s for sure! But what is the being or content of that flame! Is fire a light? It gives off light, but fire is more than just light! Is it heat? It gives off heat like it gives off light, but it’s more than that! These are the products of fire as a result of fire burning!

All fires are basically the same! Fire burns and produces heat, and fire produces light of some kind. In fact the light a fire produces is not so much the result of the flame, but rather the fuel on which it burns. So could we say that a fire is what it burns?

Here again we run into trouble! Take a candle, with its wick and wax for instance. These are not fire. In fact fire is brought to the candle by a match, so fire burns on it. Therefore, fire is not what it burns, if it was, the fire would already be there. How about the match that’s struck to light the candle, where does its fire come from? A match is a stick with some reactive chemical on one end, when it’s struck against the flint it burns. When a match is burnt the stick becomes black ash. Rub it between your fingers and it turns into nothing more than a black smudge! So just like the candle, the match needs heat brought to it for it to burn, and things change as the burning occurs.

So if fire is not the fuel on which it burns, it’s not the heat or light it produces, then the substance of fire is the flame itself. So is fire, just oxygen or some other gas, or just carbon-dioxide and heat and light? Perhaps fire is an event, a reality that can be seen and felt, a changing substance dependant on a fuel source with the inevitable consequences of producing light and heat.

Scientifically speaking fire is not a thing at all. It's not its own type of matter but it's something that happens to matter. Fire is a chemical reaction.

A fire’s fuel contains big molecules that have carbon atoms inside them. You can think of these molecules as little containers of energy. When they're allowed to combine with oxygen, this energy is released as heat and light.

Fire is a rapid chemical reaction known as oxidation. Inside a fire, oxygen molecules break bigger molecules apart into carbon dioxide and water vapour. All the heat and light of a fire comes from big, carbon-based molecules combining with oxygen. So what is fire? It's not the fuel or the oxygen or the heat or the light. Fire is what happens between all these things. It's a chemical reaction. (

There’s no doubt fire is real, even though it’s near impossible to define as a thing. We’ve all seen its light and felt its heat. In fact if it wasn’t for fire, nobody would see anything at night, and everyone in cold climates would freeze to death. Even the most complex lighting and heating sources have their origins in a naked flame at one time or another.

Fire can’t exist without needing fuel or producing a result. Fire is not of itself, it’s not magic, although it’s one of the most mysterious things we all use. Perhaps, pop singer, Billy Joel was right when he sang, “We didn’t start the fire, it’s been burning since the world’s been turning!”

If we consider what faith is? Then focusing on the characteristics and properties of fire might help us to distinguish and discern the reality of faith. After all Jesus says, “Why don’t you judge for yourself what is right?” (Luke 12:57)

Therefore, if fire can’t exist by itself, we could consider faith in the same way. A fire burns on indefinitely with fuel, but without a fuel source a fire burns out and ceases to exist. So too, faith in ourselves, or from within ourselves, will inevitable burn out and vanish into thin air. How many Christians have we seen suffering from spiritual burnout? We also get burnt out ourselves when we trust in ourselves threatening the flame of faith kindled in us by the Holy Spirit!

How is it, we hear in Hebrews eleven, the great cloud of witnesses to the faith, who have gone before us, were not burned out, even though they never received what they were promised. In fact they were burned by insults and afflictions — left, right, and centre — yet they didn’t burnout. We know for sure it was faith born not of themselves, nor was this faith cold, and even today the light of their faith is still God’s witness to us, and a light to our path.

The fuel of our faith, the fire of our faith has begun and continues to burn in Christ; fuelled by his death on the cross and resurrection from the grave. We are to fix our eyes on Jesus, he is the fire, in him we’re given the foundation of our faith, and by the fuel of his word and sacraments we live in the light of his peace. The fire of faith burns in us only because Jesus burns and shines through us. We are his candles made flammable by the Holy Spirit. So if we are candles created in Christ, and the Holy Spirit’s fire of faith sent by Jesus rests on us, then surely our existence will be candles burning for Christ.

When Jesus came he was baptised into death by John at the Jordan. Just prior to Jesus’ baptism John said, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Luke 3:16-17)

Some time after Jesus was baptised we hear him say in Luke 12:49-50 that, “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed!

So if we picture ourselves as the candles of God burning with the faith God rests on us through the Holy Spirit, then as we burn through life the impurities of our sinful human nature are being destroyed and burnt up, while the products of Christ shines and radiates the warmth of his love from within us. But if we choose to cut ourselves off from the author and perfector of faith and grace, we will still be burnt away by a fire that consumes all as if we were chaff burning with unquenchable fire.

How blest are we having already undergone baptism! Christ’s distress is now finished having been baptised into death and raised to life. We too, like Jesus, have been baptised into his death, and therefore life, but we must also go through the baptism and fires of our earthly physical death. However, even though we die and the flames of our earthly impurities are being burnt away, we will continue on burning in him. Why? Because he is the candle that never goes out! He is the candle that’s kindled in us by the breath of Holy Spirit.

We are baptised with the Holy Spirit and with fire. We do the work of God when we believe this, allowing our Saviour to continue kindling faith in our hearts. Christ Jesus is the substance of our faith, our hope, our identity, and our eternal peace with God. Amen.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

C, Pent 10 Proper 13 - "Hit for the Cycle"

Imagine that a steam roller has just driven over you. Well that's how I feel at this point in time. Yes! I am feeling sorry for myself! The first half of the week my pain was tooth ache. You know, at first the pain makes you worry that you're going to die, then after a while you worry that you won't die! Then I went to the dentist, now the pain has moved to my back pocket! In recent days some other bug is in my system, making me feel down right lousy! So by the grace of God, I am reproducing a sermon that I read once in a book called "Testing the claims of Church Growth" by Rodney Zwonitzer. Friarpuk

Discussing the subject of sanctification (being holy) a Reformed theologian, compared the various views on sanctification with a wind-up doll. When you wind-up the Pentecostal doll, it speaks in tongues. The Reformed doll grabs the third use of the Law. The Holiness doll goes after perfect sanctification. And what about the Lutheran doll? Well, from the Reformed theologian's perspective, when you wind up the Lutheran doll, it simply goes in circles.

After giving some thought to what he said, I came to the conclusion that he was right. Lutherans do go in circles. Or, to put it into baseball terminology, we hit for the cycle.

Let me explain ... Think of a baseball diamond. At home plate, put the Law. At first base, the Gospel. At second base, faith. At third base, good works or the Christian life.

Now then, when an unbeliever steps up to the plate, the first thing he is hit with is the Law. He becomes aware of his sin before God. This drives him to first base, where the Gospel confronts him with the Good News of the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

As he rounds first base, the Holy Spirit produces faith, causing him to grasp the Good News and rejoice in his salvation. As he rounds second base, faith, being no idle notion, brings the Holy Spirit and produces good works. His life is changed as he motors to the good works of third base.

In the third-base coaching box there are a variety of coaches holding up the “stop” sign. “Stop,” they cry. “Come over here and speak in tongues to get really holy." Others offer the dream of perfect sanctification. Some promote their own evangelical house rules—don't drink, smoke, dance, or go to movies. Some theologians of the Reformation group are debating the third use of the Law.

The apostle Paul is also in the coach's box, waving the runner through. “Get to home plate," he shouts. “Keep going! Don't stop at third base." So the runner rounds third and heads for home, saying to himself, “Wow! I am really a good, holy Christian."

As he gets to home plate, he is in for a surprise. He gets nailed by the Law again. This time, though, it is not Romans 1 and 2, but rather Romans 7. “So, you think you are really hot stuff," the Law says to him. "Quite a good Christian, eh? You are merely a wretched man born out of the wretched root of your father, Adam."

Filled with sorrow and contrition, he wanders back up the first base line declaring, 'Almighty God, merciful Father, I am a poor, miserable sinner'. This time as he gets to first base, he not only hears the Good News of forgiveness, but his pastor is waiting for him with words of absolution—"I forgive you!" He also hears Jesus saying to him, "Take and eat, this is my body and blood given for your forgiveness."

"This is fantastic," he cries as his faith is again built up and his heart is filled with great joy. He heads toward second base renewed in his faith. As a result, his behaviour, actions, and attitudes are again being adjusted. This time, as he arrives at third base, the coach's box is filled to overflowing. Everyone wants him to stop. One former football coach offers "Promise Keeping." Someone else wants to put a "What would Jesus do?" bracelet on his wrist. Bearded psychologists are there offering self-esteem, support groups, and help for his wounded inner child.

The apostle Paul is still there waving him home. But this time he is being backed up with some of the saints of the past — Martin Luther and C. F. W. Walther. So our faithful base runner heads back to home plate only to get clobbered with the Law again.

He continues to run the bases and his understanding of sin deepens. He grows in the knowledge of the grace of God in Christ Jesus. His faith increases and good works freely flow from his life. Much to his amazement, as he reads the Bible, he discovers that this is exactly what God wants for him.

As he grows, he learns to love the worship of the church. He discovers that various elements of the liturgy deal with either the Law, Gospel, faith, or good works. The traditional hymnody of the church enhances his experience of Christian growth. He sings with enthusiasm "Alas, My God, My Sins Are Great," "Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness," "My Faith looks up to Thee," and "May We Thy Precepts, Lord, Fulfil." In so doing, he is running the bases again and growing.

So, we go in circles! Fight the good fight, and run the good race, but whatever you do—don't stop at third base!

This sermon illustrates differences over preaching. Church Growth advocates "third base ministry," while the Lutheran Confessionalists promote "running all the bases." Third base ministries tend to focus on sanctification issues-now that you're saved, this is the way to live your life in Christ. Sermons will be topical; that is, they do not follow the lectionary of the Church Year. In one Church Growth congregation, the pastor polls the congregation to find out what topics they would like to hear about. The pastor then schedules these topics for the year — sex, taxes, money management, parenting, and so on. His "messages" consist of lists of what to do and to not do, along with guidelines for improvement and correction. The various doctrines (teachings) of the faith are not requested by the people, nor are they selected by Church Growth preachers.

By Rev. Don Matzat from Page 54-57 in “Testing the claims of Church Growth” by Rodney Zwonitzer, 2002, CPH.