Saturday, November 24, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 16, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 03, 2007

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

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