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.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

C, Pent 20 Proper 23 - Luke 17:11-19 "Journey with Jesus"

Luke 17:11-19 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee.12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance,13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean.15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice.16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan.17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” [NRSV]

There is faith; and then there is faith! The account of the ten men with leprosy gives us a picture which we might use to reflect on ourselves. In the light of this narrative we can ask ourselves, “What “is” my faith?” Is my faith one which is religious? Is it about my religious duty to God; what I must do? Or is it one which is dependant solely on Jesus Christ, God the Son? What he has done in his death and resurrection? And what he continues to do through the work of the Holy Spirit?

These ten lepers are outcasts; they know they have no power in themselves to change their condition which relegates them as unclean. They must remain out of sight, away from others, and they must call out and warn anyone who approaches that they are unclean lepers.

Instead here in this instance, they look to Jesus to heal them; crying out to the holy “man” to do his thing and make them clean. Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!

Let us not quickly overlook their boldness here! These men with leprosy cry out to Jesus. They know he is one who has a high position amongst men, a master in fact, and yet cautiously, at a distance, they place themselves before him and beg for his mercy. There is no doubt they have faith. They believe this holy “man” can do something for them.

In Luke nine we hear of Jesus’ determination to fulfil his Father’s mission, as he resolutely sets his face towards Jerusalem, where, for the sins of the world, he would be crucified as though he was guilty, even though he was completely innocent. Yet as he sees Jerusalem and the cross as his Father’s mission — his purpose for being born as “man” — we hear in Luke seventeen that he “sees” the lepers too.

Instead of avoiding their contagious condition and continuing on his way to Jerusalem, as any holy person would have done, he stops and addresses their outcry for mercy. In fact his purpose in being born “man” and being crucified as a “sinner” was so he “the Holy Son God” might save us from the powerlessness of our sinful condition!

Jesus’ response is also quite remarkable, in that all he does is, grant them permission to come out of hiding and present themselves to the priests in Jerusalem. We do well to not overlook this either! His simple command to “go and show” was all the lepers heard, and then as they travelled towards the temple and the priests on duty there, they were healed. Surprisingly, they ask no questions at this simple command! These men once without any authority and power whatsoever are now given the gift of God’s powerful and forgiving Word embodied in flesh.

Imagine if you or I had had a contagious condition which excluded us from everyone else, rendering us powerless and diseased, wouldn’t you expect you would notice, say something, or at least question the power of the command? We would all agree that it’s quite obvious there’s power in God’s word! And we’d all agree Jesus deserved his due honour and glory doing what he did!

However, these ten lepers show us the truth of sinful humanity! Yes—even us Christians too—whom God sees along with all humanity, as he continues to patiently persevere and endure with our fleshy sinful condition, as we so quickly take the gift of his mercy, faithfulness and power and credit ourselves as if it was a power or a faith that came about as a result of what you or I have done!

As you and I, chosen by God the Father — having had his One and Only Son die for our sin — now having been raised from death and ascended from our sight — and, having received the Holy Spirit given in his Word, to show us Jesus by faith; how often do we remember these are of God and his gifts are the very things that empower every second of our eternal lives?

It’s no great surprise, we find ourselves more like the nine most of the time, as opposed to the one leper who returns to worship Jesus. One out of the ten! In fact, we would do well in reflecting and remembering God at all, let alone ten percent of the time.

Just like the lepers, we have received God’s power of mercy over the contagious condition which we have carried since creation’s fall. Just like the nine lepers, the old Adam in us, turns from God and in pride consumes the power and forgets the source that gives us the will to do anything!

However, in Psalm sixty-six we hear God’s deeds are awesome! See what he does on your behalf! He rules forever; there is not one moment where he lets down his guard! His power never rests; his eyes never close to sleep. He is the Lord God Almighty! God never forgets us, he remembers all people all the time!

Even greater are those he remembers because they are baptised into his Son. The Son of Man who travelled with a resolute face towards Jerusalem, now travels with us! He sees us in our sinful contagious condition; he calls us to travel with him, from the waters of Baptism towards the great cross we all must bear in this life, the fire and cross of death.

And as we travel with him, often forgetting he is there with us, he is putting out the fire of death in us with the waters of our baptism. And with the knowledge of our mortality, our upcoming earthly death, our contagious condition is being combusted and consumed by his sacrificial death on the cross. God is faithful to us, refining us and testing us with water and fire, as we travel throughout this life! Now the Son of Man, God the Son, sets his face towards us and travels with us as we suffer between the waters of baptism and the consuming fire our mortality, our cross, our death!

So having received Jesus’ powerful word of God in baptism, he calls us to “go and show!” Now at work in the members of your body, which more than nine times out of ten seeks to take God’s merciful power for granted, is also the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit causes us to stop and see God the Son cleansing us and healing us of our mortal contagious conditions, which is sin.

The Holy Spirit makes us realise — this holy “man” is our Holy God — that the Christ centred words of the Bible, that baptism, that the bread and the wine, are the forgiving power of God for us who are weak and full of deathly sin. The Holy Spirit leads us like the one leper returning to Jesus, aware of our weakness before the One who is the Lord God Almighty. Because of the Holy Spirit we can worship our Heavenly Father and his Son our Lord. Because of the Holy Spirit we are being led to know that Jesus is truly the Master over our sin and death!

God is faithful to us. He has healed us whether we are like the one leper or the other nine. Although God’s will for you is this: that you are healed for eternity rather than just for this life! We have been called to “go and show” since our baptism; so see the healing of his word, see the power over your contagious sinfulness, return to the Lord and give him the glory due for his faithfulness towards you!

In closing we do well to hear the trustworthy saying Saint Paul spoke to the young pastor Timothy, recorded in second Timothy chapter two, verses eleven to thirteen. If we die with Christ, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him (as kings); if we will deny him, he will also deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful - for he is not able to deny himself.

God is faithful to us because he lives and remains with us. Our faith put simply is faith alone in Jesus Christ with us; doing his will in us since baptism. Our faith is not of ourselves; having been done in baptism, so Jesus might be done away with to do what we like. We are warned if we will continue to deny him, we will be denied.

We are dying, that’s a fact! So let us die with Jesus Christ; and let our sinful nature die to his will. Let us take hold of Jesus’ faithfulness towards us as we hear his Word and as we receive his gift of forgiveness through his means as the Holy Spirit brings us to worship him! Let’s live in the faith that he endures with us — in us in fact! Let us hear and trust his word to us, “Rise and go [with me] you faith has made you well [unto eternity].

In hearing this, do not overlook the fact that God the Son has resolutely promised to raise you and me from death to reign in glory with him forever. Amen.