Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A, Midweek Lent 3 - Matthew 6:9-13 "The Lord's Prayer - Will I be Saved?"

How do I know if I am going to heaven or not? Will I really be saved? Am I doing the right thing? Have I been chosen by God, if so much in my life seems to be going wrong? What if I haven’t done the right thing? Is there more I should be doing? So many are leaving the church these days, should I bother continuing to come? Is heaven really out there? Does hell really exist?

Anyone who has every asked these questions or pondered the relevance of church, is encouraged to take another look at the Lord’s Prayer and in particular the pair of petitions, Your kingdom come… Lead us not into temptation.

When you examine your inner being, away from having to impress others with a glitzy exterior, what do you really see?

Allowing ourselves the time to be still and see the cauldron of darkness within is a testing thing to do. In fact many gather around themselves so many distractions in a bid to stop any opportunity for this type of reflection.

However, for those who can’t avoid this bubbling blackness inside themselves will struggle with the key questions of life and salvation. Is there a God? Will I be saved? Am I missing the boat, and how do I get into it before it’s too late?

Judas Iscariot saw his darkness after betraying Jesus into the hands of the authorities, seeking to return the blood money, and then seeing no way out of this darkness hung himself.

When we pray to God, your kingdom to come, we are saying that we need his kingdom, and we can’t get it by ourselves. We acknowledge that the darkness within, doesn’t want to know the light of his kingdom, nor trust in his power. We honestly say to God that the power of our darkness is robbing him of his power within us. And because this is so, our darkness, this old Adam within makes a mockery of God’s omnipresence and omnipotence. It despises God from its dark hiding place, saying, “you are not an ever-present all-powerful God, you are not here in me, therefore God you are not omnipotent and omnipresent but rather you are just another impotent good for nothing god”.

This is the darkness that Judas saw, and it’s the self centred hopelessness that tempts every person into not believing the kingdom of God is for them.

Now we may or may not go the way of immediate suicide to where Judas went. But frightened by this darkness, we often seek to usher in the kingdom by trying to foster in ourselves the benefits that God’s kingdom promises. Or we seek to tirelessly work to buy the kingdom of God.

If one works to burn off the darkness and buy the kingdom, they might do lots of charity, donate multiple things to the church, or they might think they have to run off and do some extraordinary mission in an exotic place or take a career in a seemingly holier vocation.

If it’s not work then perhaps the poison of desire is to surround one’s self with the ideals of heaven, namely – peace, joy, and love. Unfortunately what happens is human-invented happiness, and it’s usually implemented through the means of pleasure, honour, or wealth.

Surely if we’re to believe Scripture, we’re to seek his kingdom and his righteousness first, all these other things will be perfectly received once we get there. However, we seek these other solutions first because of fear of eternal failure, as we all look and see the reality of our darkness within.

Before Jesus went to the cross, he taught us how to pray, addressing the reality of our darkened old Adam, the sinful human nature. And now that Christ has been to the cross, to death and back for us, we have been given access to his Father, so we might pray our Father, and receiving all the holiness of his name in us. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer we are reassured that his kingdom has come to us, is coming to us, and will come to us, despite what we see inside of us.

So how do we know? How does this happen? Luther tells us in the explanation to the second petition, God's kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us his Holy Spirit, so that by his grace we believe his holy Word and live a godly life on earth now and in heaven for ever.

But we don’t just rely on what Luther says here, we see that in these words he is pointing us to the one true authority on issues of salvation and reality, namely God’s written word. One only needs to read the ‘Kingdom of heaven’ texts from Matthew’s Gospel, and the ‘Kingdom of God’ texts elsewhere, to know God’s kingdom comes by God’s efforts and on its coming God wills us to believe this reality.

One text we can ponder is from Luke chapter seventeen: Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20-21)

This last verse can also be read that the kingdom of God is among you, highlighting the living community of God’s kingdom in the presence of Christ the King, hidden in heaven and on earth, as well as within the person of the believer.

So the reality is this: The kingdom comes to those who hear the word. But in those who hear the word also lives the kingdom of darkness. Therefore, in this life there will be misery and suffering as these two realities fight against each other. But the kingdom of darkness is being slaughtered every time we hear the forgiveness of sins proclaimed and when we receive it in absolution and Holy Communion.

The person who seeks to dismiss this reality is like a soldier who in the face of war, acts as if there is no attack, and then when attacked does not want to defend himself or fight for his kingdom. He soon finds himself engaging in shameful conduct that will only get himself killed for insurrection against his king and country, or killed as an enemy of the invading army.

Therefore, when we pray to God for his kingdom to come, we also pray lead us not into temptation. Not because God will lead us into temptation, but because the reality of trials and suffering in this life might lead us to turn away from the hidden reality of his word and the ever-present reality of our sinful darkness. We pray to be lead from temptation towards the hope of God’s kingdom come, so we don’t seek to substitute other things in place of God’s way in order to gain his kingdom.

We live in two realities. The battle between good and evil is real. Where is this battle fought? The battle is fought in us, and we know it because we recognise we live in two realities. Moving the way of the cross means we experience pain, suffering, trials and temptation, but in these things we know the victory is ours in Christ. And if the victory is ours in Christ, then too, the kingdom is ours in Christ.

When we fight the good fight of faith, allowing the reality of Christ’s death and resurrection to remain in us, there is hope, and there will be perfect peace and love for us in God’s kingdom. As Luther says, we pray that God would watch over us and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful self may not deceive us and draw us into false belief, despair, and other great and shameful sins. And we pray that even though we are so tempted we may still win the final victory.

As Christ is winning the victory in us, we who are honest about the battle of the two realities within, can then encourage others to hold onto the victory Christ has already won despite the battle raging within them too.

Let us stand shoulder to shoulder and support each other as our leader marches out ahead having won the victory over your darkness and the darkness of those standing next to you. Amen.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

A, Lent 3 - Exodus 17:1-7 "Between the Rock & your hard place"

Moses was trapped between a rock and a hard place with those God called him to serve. The people grumbled, because with their eyes, with their understanding, and with their wisdom they could not see that it was God leading them his way, through Moses.

God had set the Israelites apart when he gave them the Passover meal and the restrictions that came with it. Not to mention, God commanded all first born to be consecrated to him, they were made holy to him. These were God’s chosen people, God loved them, and God was saving them.

Then they were freed from the tyranny of Pharaoh; washed clean of oppression through the waters of the Red Sea. But before the faithless Israelites crossed over they panicked, because they saw they were trapped between Pharaoh’s army and the water. So they blamed Moses for bringing them out into the desert to die.

After they crossed the Red Sea they wandered around in the desert for three days. They were thirsty and so the people, yet again, grumbled saying, “What are we to drink? They had found water, but it was bitter. The place was called Marah, which means bitter.

Then Moses cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became sweet. There the Lord made a decree and a law for them, and there he tested them. He said, “If you listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you.” (Exodus 15:25-26)

But they still did not trust God or the man God had chosen to lead them. They became hungry and complained yet again to Moses that it would be better to die in Egypt than out in the desert. So God gave them Manna in the desert.

It’s in this context that: The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, travelling from place to place as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 So they quarrelled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.”

Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?”

3 But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”

4 Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”

5 The Lord answered Moses, “Walk on ahead of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarrelled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” (Exodus 17:1-7)

If it’s not obvious, a pattern is showing itself amongst the Israelites and God. This pattern has not changed. God still comes to us today, calling individuals to do his bidding amongst us. He is gracious to us in so many ways, so much so, we aren’t even aware of most of his gifts. Yet like the Israelites we think we know better and place faith in ourselves without trusting that the Lord’s way is right. And when our way self-destructs or runs out of puff, God and those who do his bidding get the blame.

When the Israelites camped at Rephidim they were being tested by God. It might have appeared there was no water to drink, but they were called to a deeper wisdom and understanding built on faith in God and not in themselves.

As we’ve heard they had been in similar situations before. They had God’s witness in the very fact that; they were alive; God beat Pharaoh through Moses in delivering the plagues on Egypt; they had survived the night of the Passover; they were delivered from Pharaoh’s army at the Red Sea, they were receiving Manna from heaven, and through Moses God had made the bitter water sweet at Marah. All extraordinary events in themselves and a testimony to the wisdom and glory of their almighty God.

But Moses was between a rock and a hard place. He stood between an unchangeable God who loved and had chosen the Israelites; God was an unmovable rock in his faithfulness. And on the other side stood those God had chosen, stubborn and hard hearted, unwilling to learn from, and admit to, their mistakes. These hard people in a hard place failed to put their faith in their God who had done everything for them. Quick to forget, and even quicker to return to their old ways they attacked and mistrusted Moses.

But it is not Moses with whom they had the problem. We know Moses was not perfect himself. He was like all other people too. In fact he became frustrated after thirty-eight years of grumbling Israelites in the desert. No doubt he too would have faced all the issues with personalities that one confronts today. Moses too was a sinner like the Israelites, but he was a sinner chosen by God to lead them on God’s behalf. So when the people grumbled against him, they were really grumbling against God. Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?” Moses said to the people.

In First Corinthians Saint Paul tells us, “For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. 2 They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3 They all ate the same spiritual food 4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert. 6 Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.” (1 Corinthians 10:1-6)

In these days, we are no longer required to bind ourselves to many laws but rather now we are called to drink from the one spiritual rock, Jesus Christ, no matter how hard or spiritually dry the place seems where we stand. We are called not to panic by what appears to be happening, to us, to the church, or to the world, but rather trust in the faithfulness of he who is unseen.

Make no mistake. God tests you, God also disciplines you! Why? Because he loves you and has chosen you, and has delivered you through water and word out of bondage! Just as Jesus was baptised with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Matthew 3:11c); in that he was baptised into his ministry and bore the fires of God’s wrath on the cross for us all. We now have been born into the benefits of Jesus’ way, the way of the cross.

God now tests you and refines you with all sorts of crosses, constantly calling you to repentance so you might remain justified and righteous in Christ. What Christ Jesus has done for you is quite extraordinary, trusting what he has done brings glory to God!

We are also told of Christ, “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3: 12)

And in Psalm 95 we’re warned, ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me, though they had seen what I did. For forty years I was angry with that generation; I said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they have not known my ways.” So I declared on oath in my anger, “They shall never enter my rest.”’

So as you’re called to live between the Rock of your salvation and the hard place of your heart, see your hardships as refinements in Christ Jesus. God seeks to remove your chaff, so you might be a part of his bountiful harvest. Irrigated and refreshed by his way despite the aridness of your own understanding and wisdom!

Just as Jesus said to the Samaritan woman he says to us all, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water. …whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:10,14)

With this living water within and the mountain of witnesses and evidence before us, know the answer to this question of faith, “Is the Lord among us or not?”


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A, Midweek Lent 2 - Matthew 6:9-13 "The Lord's Prayer - A Good Name"

Having heard the whole council of Jerusalem condemn Jesus, then spit in his face and strike him with their fists, Peter is asked if he knew Jesus of Galilee. Three times he denied it and the rooster crowed just as Jesus said it would. Peter left in shame and wept bitterly.

Peter sought a good name. He was a proud man, and it was his pride that brought him undone. In fact this pride and desire for a good name was first sought when he replied to Jesus, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” (Matthew 26:35) And then his going back on these words and subsequent denial of Jesus was also an attempt to preserve his name amongst Jesus’ accusers. But having heard the rooster crow, he knew his name before God, didn’t hold up to the holiness that God demanded. Peter knew it and he wept with the gut wrenching bitterness of all hopelessness.

This picture is as good a background as any to continue our look at the Lord’s Prayer. And tonight we continue our examination of the First Petition coupled together with the Seventh Petition, which reads, Hallowed be your name – but deliver us from evil (or the evil one).

Last week we began with the introduction and doxology as the two book ends, Our Father in heaven – the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and forever. Amen. Jesus gives us access to his Father through the cross and therefore we can pray believing that he is truly “our Father”. The kingdom, power and glory which are God’s alone are now place in us by Christ’s death and resurrection.

Now having gained access to God who is God alone, we move in one petition from the beginning and pray, “Hallow be your name.” or “Holy is your name.”

We know that we do not hallow God’s almighty name by our prayer. In fact, his name is eternally holy, because he is eternally holy. But as Luther says in the catechism, God's name is hallowed [in us] whenever his Word is taught in its truth and purity and we as children of God live in harmony with it. But then he adds, help us to do this, heavenly Father!

It’s right here at this point that we can most clearly see how the Seventh Petition parallels the First. We ask God to help us to hear and live in harmony with his taught word, and when this is not hindered we are continually being delivered from all evil. This is the threefold: evil one - the devil himself, his agents of evil - seen and unseen around us, and the deadly nature within - seeking to re-emerge having been drowned in baptism.

It is necessary that we ask God’s name to be hallowed in us. Every person on earth is no different to Peter. We all seek to have our name honoured amongst others and in doing so dishonour God’s name in us and outside us.

Luther says — No one on earth hallows God’s name satisfactorily. A person who does so, however, does not belong to this earth, but only to heaven. Therefore we ought to pray and plead as long as we live that God may hallow his name in us. (LW 42:33)

Therefore, it is truly amazing that Jesus gives us this prayer and access to God, since we are not hallowed, and are in need of being daily delivered from evil against God.

On the other hand, if we push aside this plea to be made holy and seek only to be delivered from evil, perhaps we are more concerned about our own will over against God’s holy and precious will.

Here again Jesus is our example, and we might pray, My Father deliver me from the evils that persist in and around me, I cannot resist them by my own will. But only if this is in accord with the honour and glory due to your hallowed name and will. If it is possible, may this cup be taken from me? Yet not as I will, but as you will. (Matthew 26:39) We pray for deliverance from evil not for the benefit of our own honour and name, but for the glory of God’s name which makes us holy in a world that’s far from being holy. We pray for deliverance from evil and to be hallowed so that the perfection of God’s holiness is one day made complete in us, where God’s eternal kingdom also comes to us.

We like Peter cannot move an inch towards having a good name in God’s eyes, yet the reality for those who live under the cross is that we bear the name of Jesus Christ, to whom all glory, honour, and holiness is given.

Jesus was crucified having put his own will aside and now his name is the greatest name in all creation. It’s the name by whom Peter was forgiven and ministered, it is the name by whom you are forgiven and ministered to. Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made and is redeeming heaven and earth.

When we pray our Father, hallowed be your name, deliver us from evil – we proclaim our true source of daily bread is the best and only name given to humanity, our Lord Jesus Christ, who gives life today in this troubled world. And will also carry us into eternity where we will hallow our Father perfectly forever.

Because Jesus Christ gave himself to us and is our daily bread we can pray, Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name …deliver us from evil, for the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and for ever. Amen.

See diagram from Midweek Lent 1

Saturday, February 16, 2008

A, Lent 2 - John 3:13-15 "Wilderness Woes"

Text John 3:13-15

13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.


Human life always seems to follow the same pattern. We struggle along for a time and then things take a turn for the better. But no matter how good the future might seem to be getting, it never gets as good as we imagine. Once we get there the mirage of good fortune seems to fizzle away, if not completely disappear.

Things seemed to be getting better for the Israelites as they marched out of Egypt and slavery. But after Moses led them in the wilderness for thirty eight years, their mirage of hope seemed to be disappearing into the sand hills of Sinai.

During these years they had grumbled about many things. But now so close to their destination after thirty eight years, Moses turns south to lead the people around the nation of Edom, and their grumbling became all the more fierce against God and Moses. They protested, ‘Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die in the desert?’ (Numbers 21:5) We too might ask the same question when our earthly expectations don’t go the way we want.

As we walk in remembrance with Jesus towards the cross, we walk with him on his wilderness way. And it was surely a road through the desert. After his baptism he wandered and was tempted in the wilderness for forty days and as he neared Jerusalem for the last time, his environment became sparse of supporters as they all deserted him.

In fact his incarnation—his birth and life on earth—was a walk in the wilderness of loneliness. After all, Christ like Abram, left his dwelling because of his Heavenly Father’s will. He was called to put aside the holiness of his eternal heavenly home and be born into the failing flesh of humanity.

Jesus walks in the wilderness with humanity, just as Moses walked with the Israelites for forty years. And in the Gospel reading today Jesus teaches Nicodemus about just who he is by drawing on the rich imagery of the Israelite’s desert life and grumblings.

From Numbers 21 we are told, ‘The Israelites travelled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.’ (Numbers 21:4-9)

Jesus refers to this passage while he was speaking to Nicodemus about eternal life and rebirth. Confused about being reborn Nicodemus asks, ‘How can this be? To which Jesus responds with the picture of Moses and the Israelites in the wilderness, saying, ‘Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.’ (John 3:14-15)

It’s surprising the Old Testament reports that God sent the snakes. Any hint of suffering or death sits uncomfortably with us today, and horrible is the thought that God should allow it to happen. But the reality is our holy God is gracious towards all people. He sent Jesus to reveal our sin, so he might forgive and give eternal life, even in the midst of our sinning, where humanity’s unholiness deserves nothing but God’s deadly wrath.

We all suffer from sin’s short-sightedness, impatience, and the like. But into this sinful reality Jesus was born, so he could bring us his saving word, which also teaches us and builds us up in him. Just as he did with Nicodemus!

Our reality is one where the wilderness snakes still bite us in so many ways; God hasn’t taken them away. Their bites inflict wounds, septic with sin. But its only in being bitten that we quickly learn we need his antivenin. And as we are driven back to him, over and over again, he shows us he has been faithfully walking with us in our lost wilderness the whole time anyway.

Jesus Christ was not just lifted high on the cross—he is still lifted high—but now as king in glory. In fact, on some crucifixes stands the figure of the Risen King, rather than the broken Son of Man on Good Friday. It is to this King we look, who bore the scandal of the cross, but through it was crowned master over sin and its fatal bite. The people in Moses’ day looked to the precious bronze snake for earthly healing and found it, but our healing is much greater, it is eternal, as we look to Christ the King crowned in glory.

We still live in a troubling wilderness; the snakes are still here. They still bite and inflict death! But because Christ was lifted up, bitten and afflicted by death, we too will be lifted up in eternal life after death. Amen.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A, Midweek Lent 1 - Matthew 6:9-13 "The Lord's Prayer - Our Father Intro"

There is no transcript for this sermon. However see the table I presented to the congregation. You might listen to the sermon/study by clicking on the player at the bottom of this site or by going to

Friday, February 08, 2008

A, Lent 1 - Matthew 4:1-11 "Lead us not into Temptation"

Forty days out in the wilderness is a long time to be without food. Jesus had just been baptised in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. He was immersed into his ministry, the Holy Spirit was upon him, his Heavenly Father was pleased with his one and only Son – Jesus Christ is the fulfilment of all righteousness. He is the Holy Son of God doing exactly what he was sent to do, fulfilling all the requirements of the Old Testament Law, as he moved towards Jerusalem to atone for the sin of all humanity.

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. (Matt 4:1) The Holy Son of God, whom God said, this is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased (Matt 3:17), was now weak and bitterly hungry after forty days of fasting. And in this feeble state the tempter comes in pursuit of Jesus.

If you are the Son of God; these are the devil’s words of temptation. It’s a loaded sentence set to play on any sniff of doubt and worry, or pride and arrogance. If you are the Son of God why are you so hungry, why are you in the wilderness suffering? Are you really the one whom God loves, how pleased with you is he really? If God loves you why are you out here? If you are the Son of God, why then don’t you do something about your situation? Get fed, get more comfortable, get out of the wilderness!

From the waters of baptism into a wilderness of worries and doubts, Our hallowed Father in heaven delivers us from evil. The evil one confronts Jesus and says, “If you are the Son of God tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answers, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matt 4:3-4) Our Father in heaven give us this day our daily bread.

Then the temptation moves to Jerusalem, the holy city; and right to the top of the temple, the holy place where heaven meets earth – God’s holy throne on earth in the Holy of Holies. Our hallowed Father in heaven, his will is done on earth as it is in heaven.

The Holy Spirit had just come down in the form of a dove and rested on Christ in baptism. And now the devil seems to mimic the action of God by saying, “If you are the Son of God throw yourself down.

Did the devil find any doubt or pride to push Jesus into proving he was really the Son of God? As if God’s word was not enough when his Father said, “this is my Son whom I love, with him I am well pleased.” The devil even impersonates Jesus by using the scriptures in the same way as Jesus saying, For it is written: He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. (Matt 4:6) But Jesus doesn’t fall. He doesn’t compromise God’s word or will as did Adam and Eve, and he answers, “It is also written: Do not put the Lord your God to the test” (Matt 4:7)

When the Holy Spirit came down on Christ in baptism, our Father’s will is done on earth and in heaven. Because of the devil’s temptation, Christ was caused to stand over the temple in Jerusalem. Because humanity’s temptation and fall into sin the Holy Spirit comes down upon us in baptism. Now Christ stands over us and temples in us. In us God’s will is done on earth as it is done in heaven, so our Father forgives us our sin, against him and against heaven and earth. And having the peaceful, living will of God in us, we are moved to forgive those who sin against us. Such is the power of God over our pride and arrogance, our worry and doubt.

The third time the devil takes Jesus up a mountain where he can see all the kingdoms of the world. Jesus is the Son of God, he has come from the Father, and yet the devil seeks to lead Jesus into temptation by luring him with the promise of earthly glory away from his heavenly kingdom. He also tempts Jesus into worshipping him to gain this wealth. What the devil is doing here is moving Jesus to do extra, over and above what the Father has already set in motion at his Baptism. Jesus himself said to John concerning his baptism, “Let it be so now, it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness.” (Matt 3:15)

Our hallowed Heavenly Father’s kingdom comes to us when he gives us his Holy Spirit, so we believe his word. We are led away from temptation when we remain in our baptism and trust that the kingdom of God has come to us even without our praying for it. This is the fulfilment of all righteousness in us. We are the righteousness of God by remaining and abiding in Christ.

When pride takes over, our human nature always seeks to add something to worship, and therefore fails. Jesus was human too; he felt the same temptation as well! Yet he replied to the evil one saying, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” (Matt 4:10)

We worship God, showing him his full righteous worth when we remain in him, being drowned through daily repentance in our baptism, where we are raised anew each day. After Jesus left the wilderness he preached, “Repent for the kingdom of God is near” (Matt 4:17) Seeking the kingdom of God and his righteousness, is a recognition that God has already come to you in baptism, that he loves you and that he is pleased with you because of his Son who bore all your sin on the cross, fulfilling all righteousness.

We find ourselves in this world today, with all the struggles of the sinful self, the devil, and anything else the world can throw at us. The simplest things like worry, and doubt, and pride, are the greatest sins against God, and yet every human can’t go one day, even one minute, without worry, doubt, or pride. We fear everything over God! What will I eat, where will I live, will I be well, when will I die? I haven’t done enough for God, will I be saved?

Just like Jesus, we too are tempted. Most of the time Satan needs not come to us, our own nature causes us enough trouble alone. So don’t rest on your own understanding, live on every word that comes from the mouth of God. Know that in baptism all righteousness has been fulfilled. God’s word to you is this: You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased. And he is for the sake of his Son Jesus Christ.

As you leave here today, to face the struggles in the wilderness of your lives, take Jesus with you. He’s been there before, and promises to walk with us through our troubles. Through him look to your Heavenly Father, who provides, who sustains, and is worthy of your worship through Christ. You are a part of his will, his kingdom, and his righteousness. Trust he will give you your daily bread, that he is forgiving you your sin. Pray that he will lead you from all temptation to do otherwise. Pray and trust he will daily deliver you from evil and the evil one. For Jesus’ sake! Amen.

Our Father in heaven, give us this day our daily bread, for the kingdom the power and the glory are yours, now and forever, Amen.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

A, Ash Wednesday - 2 Corinthians 5:20 - 6:1 "Sin & Grace"


20bWe implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 6:1As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain.

1.0 The Church in Corinth

The church in Corinth is full of sin. In fact it is a church of much strife. Attempts to see this church as the perfect congregation joyfully serving God by loving the neighbour quickly reveals itself as nonsense. The Corinthians are sometimes touted today as ‘the’ early church – speaking in tongues, prophecy, a church of love, a church with much to give. But in fact Paul paints quite a different picture of this church and its members struggling to separate themselves from their past lives.

1.1 Immaturity in the Church

In this church Paul finds a myriad of problems. There are divisions, some claim to be followers of one leader while others followers of another. There is immorality so bad that it doesn’t even occur amongst the pagans. Believers—God’s body—taking each other to court over disputes which could have been resolved in house, making the church a laughing stock to unbelievers. They were lusting after others and yoking themselves with prostitutes while withholding themselves from their marriage partners. They were doing things which caused their weak neighbours to stumble and fall leading them from God’s grace. They turned the sacrament into an orgy, acting as selfish pigs, with their drunken snouts they desecrated Christ’s body and blood. In fact Paul doesn’t call them an upwardly mobile church, rather a church of babies, immature and worldly, barely able to digest the milk which he has fed them in the past. He says,

…brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? (I Cor 3:1-3)

1.2 Sinners & Saints

The Corinthians were a sinful lot. The shell of their beings, the flesh in which they dwelt was so fragile Paul likens them to clay jars. But into these jars a priceless treasure had been poured. Notice how Paul doesn’t cast them out as sinners but rather appeals to them and encourages them as ‘fellow workers’. These sinners Paul calls ‘the church of God in Corinth’. His letter is not addressed to the pagan or heathen, rather to Christians – Christians who are sinners.

Earlier I mentioned that some in the church look to the Corinthians as a model church of perfection. They see the church today as misguided and seek to get back to the basics of the early church, the good old days, a time when things were good in the church. They see the failings of the church over the past two thousand years and deem it void. But as we have just seen at the heart of Church in Corinth, and for that matter the heart of the early church, one finds a church tangled in controversy.

The church in Corinth is not an example of perfection for us. Although, what Paul says to the Corinthians is relevant for us now, if not even more so than then, because it tells us exactly what the reality of the church is yesterday, today, and every day this side of Christ’s return. The church in Corinth is a church of sinners but it is a church of God’s grace too.

2.0 The Universal Church

Just like the Corinthians, we belong to a church full of sinners. Crimes have been revealed in the church in recent years; things which don’t even occur amongst unbelievers. Ministers, priests and laity charged and convicted over many different sexual offences. Adultery is rife in the church, how many people do you know are having sex outside marriage in the church? Christians are mixed up in court battles, and so too is the church and its clergy.

Ah! Isn’t it good that we’re not a part of that! We can rest in the assurance that we are not that bad. Sure we are sinners, but our sins are only little insignificant ones. The real sinners are different to us; we do things a bit better than them. Right! So then what kinds of sin have you come to confess tonight? We see that when we underrate our sin, as a lesser sin we lessen the effectiveness of God’s grace, or worse, proclaim a fictitious or empty grace.

3.0 The Seriousness of Sin

Luther took sin very seriously. He says, ‘Beware of aspiring to such purity that you will not wish to be looked upon as a sinner, or to be one.’ And again, ‘God does not save people who are fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly but believe and rejoice even more boldly… As long as we are here in this world we have to sin.’ Luther is not telling us to go out and wilfully sin rather he is encouraging us not to take sin lightly but at the same time not to let it enslave us again. The reality being that sin is a part of every person’s life; we are the same as non-believers. Paul says in Romans 3: 23 that ‘all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory.’ But now for a Christian sin has lost it power, and all sin tells us is that we were first in a state of sinfulness regardless of our sinning or not.

3.1 Grace & Sin

Paul says in the epistle text, God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain (2 Cor 5:21-6:1). Here he tells us not to take sin lightly. God’s grace has come as a result of your sin. He calls us to focus on Jesus Christ crucified, the treasure inside the fragile clay jars of our bodies. The grace of God is Jesus’ atonement of our sin on the cross, a sinless man made to be sin for us. The grace of God is the great exchange of our sin for Christ’s righteousness. For Christ’s sake don’t receive it in vain!

3.2 Sin & Grace: A Lenten Response

So this is how a church like Corinth can be called the church of God, just as can the South Western Lutheran Parish can also be called the church of God. The nature of God’s grace for us depends on God’s gracious nature alone, not on whether we can or can’t stop sinning.

However, as we enter into lent we are called not to let God’s grace wash over us without effect. We are called not to trivialise our sin, excusing it, therefore cheapening the gracious actions of Christ on the cross. Let your hearts be open to his word so sins can be dealt with appropriately leading us to a deeper reliance on the hope that we have in Christ.

Let us now come before God, firstly to receive the imposition of ashes, acknowledging the gravity of our sin and its effect on our lives. And secondly, to receive the holy absolving body and blood of our Saviour Jesus Christ, our one true hope. Amen.