Friday, March 28, 2008

A, 2nd Sunday of Easter - 1 Peter 1:3-9, Acts 2: 25-28, John 20:19-22 "Recalled to the Manufacturer"

There’s nothing more disappointing than the day one gets a product home and on using it for the first time, finds that there’s a problem and it needs to be returned to the manufacturer to be corrected, to be put right or fixed.

This is made worse when it’s a present for a child whose long expected gift doesn’t work, while everyone else’s toy is fine. It’s not hard to hear and see their disappointment.

Or you’ve just built something, sewn some choice material, or planted an expensive tree, to watch it not function in the way you’d expected, or to die for no known reason.

When this happens, we tend to feel let down, but to save face we take the product or part back to the retailer, so it might be returned to the manufacturer for replacement or repair.

Then again you might have bought a car or gone shopping and purchased your regular groceries. Everything seems fine, but then through the media or post comes the news there’s a product recall in full swing, and your car or product qualifies to be returned to the manufacturer to be modified, fixed, or replaced. Perhaps there is relief, because you had noticed some ill effects starting to creep in, or consumption might have meant grave illness or death.

Last Sunday, all creation celebrated the anniversary of the resurrection of God’s one and only Son, and many of us ate chocolate eggs in celebrating Jesus’ new life, and ours with him too.

We also heard that the resurrection events will also shake us and our world. Jesus is coming again to take us to himself, but in the meantime he warns us in his word that rough times are ahead and calls us to stand firm through them. All earthly things and our reliance on them, and perception of them will be torn away, and for very good reason. As we are shaken by these stripping events we will see our Saviour come and your resurrection will be revealed in all of Christ’s glory.

Today continues that resurrection glory theme, one week after our resurrection remembrance at Easter, as we focus on the events of the first week surrounding the disciples’ world view being shaken through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

These men were shaken in every way. We heard in the gospel that they cowered behind closed doors in fear of the Jews. If the Christ, the Son of God, who came to take away the sin of the world, could be crucified, then it’s not hard to sense the fear these bumbling fishermen, tax collector and other disciples felt after one so powerful would die, in such a weak and humiliating way! They thought it was the end, and bitter death was forthcoming at any moment.

We know Christ died and was raised for the sake of God’s love and will to forgive us, so we might live in peace with him forever. In fact, we have perfect twenty-twenty vision of these past events through his word, and receive the peace of God that passes all human understanding quite freely. But like the disciples, waiting and peering into the unseen future, peace is sometimes harder to find, as we hang onto our perishable old world perception.

Let’s now look at this from God’s point of view. Imagine how disappointed God was when saw us — his new creation born into the world — fragile and easily shaken. Like a new gift, not working properly, in the hands of a child, God saw us as defective from the day we were born.

We were born malfunctioning! Left to our own devices, we were on a course leading to self destruction. God created us for life with him, and that means life forever. But our life was flawed by our sinful being; our living is actually the thing that is shaking us to death. Yet, this temporary life of self destruction is the life we seem to think is normal. But God knew it wasn’t what he intended from before we were unwrapped from our mothers’ wombs. Some of us don’t even survive long enough to be born, and for us the ones who have survived birth, it’s a mystery how we’ve existed as long as we have being as dysfunctional as we are!

So we operate in this life very much in a temporary existence, and like a dodgy piece of machinery we can and do konk out at any time. That in itself causes us to be shaken. We can be like the disciples waiting and cowering behind closed doors at the prospect of sudden death — fearing the worst at any time. We are tempted to hang onto and trust that which is perishing over against that which will live on forever.

But Jesus who was raised from the dead and now lives and rules eternally, has the same words for us as he did for the disciples. He says, “Peace be with you!” Using his written word, he then shows us he is present, risen and all-powerful over death. And naturally, we praise him for what he’s done. He says, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on you in baptism and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:19-22) Now having received the Holy Spirit, it is his will to forgive you all your sins through those he calls to do so, as pastors, so you might live in peace, even in the midst of so much dysfunction and malfunction.

Realising the importance of King David’s resurrection hope in Christ Luke quotes Psalm 16 in Acts 2 telling us, David said about him: ”‘I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.’ (Acts 2:25-28 and Psalm 16:8-11)

So even as we operate in our temporary existence, and our whole world could be turned upside down at any time, we know God is with us, and although things might shake us we know that just as the Holy One was not eternally abandoned to the grave, nor will we.

You see God saw us in our haphazard state, and although he was disappointed with what we had become because of sin, he did something very powerful about it. We now live because of what he did; and that was to send us his Son to give eternal longevity to our lives. He also sends the Holy Spirit as well to show us Jesus’ hidden presence. And the Holy Spirit makes us work in the way God intends until God himself recalls his faulty product to be eternally freed and fitted with the same risen glory in which Christ stands.

This is why Peter says… Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:3-9)

Let the inheritance, which is imperishable, rise in your lives as the perishable things are shaken away as you wait for the glorious day when you’re recalled to the manufacturer for eternal improvement. We live temporary lives enduring many things, but we do so in the hope that one day we will live in permanent peace with he who intended us to live this way from the beginning of time. Amen.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

A, Resurrection of our Lord - Easter Sunday - Matthew 28:1-10 "Thunderstruck"

Most of our lives we tend to seek the extraordinary. However, when the extraordinary occurs, most seem to shy away from it in fear. We desire the spectacular but when it comes, we’re not usually capable of handling the sudden and massive change that the spectacular brings. Most events are made extraordinary and spectacular by their suddenness and their ability to change the status quo, and therefore, they often cause pain and suffering of some kind.

Probably the most extraordinary events to take place in a human being’s life are being born, giving birth, and moving towards the uncertainty of death. Life is certainly an extraordinary event. Those who have been given the gift of giving life are truly blessed. And those who for whatever reason cannot give life usually long to do so, and might even suffer as a result of wondering what it might be like.

However, for expectant mothers, when the birth day comes and the child is born into the world, this extraordinary and spectacular event causes equally spectacular and extraordinary pain as well. And although most mothers enjoy the gift of carrying a child, the day of labour and child birth is approached with a mixture of anxious fear and hesitant joy.

At Jesus’ resurrection there were a number of extraordinary events, and Mary Magdalene and Jesus’ aunty, Mary - the wife of Clopas, also reacted with a mixture of anxious fear and hesitant joy.

We hear from Matthew 28: After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. 2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (Matthew 28:1-10)

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead was certainly extraordinary above all extraordinary events. The sudden and immediate action of God the Father raising his Son to life after bearing the sin of humanity on the cross and then into the grave, was one that shook everyone and everything, both guards and women — and all creation too.

Twice in three days the earth shook. The soldiers guarding tomb, froze with fear. These strong living men, shook and became as though they were dead. The dead whose graves broke open on Good Friday, at the first seismic event, now appeared in Jerusalem, on the first day of Jesus’ resurrection.

The women on their way to the tomb were also confronted with a ‘whiter than snow’ heavenly being sitting on the stone that had been rolled away from Jesus’ tomb. On telling them that Jesus had been raised, they were sent to tell the disciples the news, but did so with confusion and uncertainty, but also with joy and hurriedness. And during their anxious but joyful journey, they were confronted by their Risen Lord, and they fell at his feet and worshipped him.

These women acted as though they were thunderstruck! They were shaken by the extraordinary man who shone like lightning when the earth shook. And they shook just as much as the rest of creation, at the resurrection of he who created creation’s very existence. As we move forward towards the great and spectacular day of our resurrection we too can expect to be shaken by extraordinary events as God breaks all living and dead free from our wombs and tombs of sin and death. Our old world experiences will be shaken as we’re born into the extraordinary existence of eternal life with God in heaven.

In fact we already experience pain as the resurrected Lord grows and stretches us. It’s been this way since our baptism, when the resurrected Lord was conceived in us by the power of the Holy Spirit. And as we grow in Christ, and he in us, we do suffer growth pains. And we will also experience the final birth pains as we are delivered from this life into eternity through the birth canal of death and resurrection.

Before Jesus died he spoke about these events that will shake our old world existence, as it is born anew at the hands of God’s final redemption. These events will be extraordinary and spectacular, and perhaps their enormity and size might fill us with the same mixture of fear and joy, as that of the two women who witnessed the resurrection of Jesus some two thousand years ago.

But as thunderstruck as we might be, Jesus’ word which foretells of our resurrection, through the shaking of creation in the last days, is his word of comfort, given to relieve our fear and worry when these things do happen.

As we sail though the treacherous waters of this life we can expect to be shaken. But even as we’re tossed about we know the Risen Jesus rests with us. We hear from Matthew 8: Jesus got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” (Matthew 8:23-27)

What kind of man is this who rests with us even when we are thunderstruck by the extraordinary events in our lives and in the church? This man is the Risen Son of God, conceived in us bringing us from the darkness of the womb and tomb into the new day of his eternal glory.

And Jesus also tells us: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. 6 You will hear of wars and rumours of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains.

9 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:4-14)

Like Christ we might desire this cup of suffering to be taken away from us, but as we know Jesus was raised and now lives in all glory, we too are called to trust our Heavenly Father who will deliver us from death in resurrection and into the life God seeks for us and all creation is groaning for us bear.

See to it that you don’t turn from the one faith in Christ to a quasi-faith in yourselves dressed with a bit of sentiment to make it look like baptismal faith. See to it that you don’t grow cold and died as you pass though these extraordinary birthing events. These things will bring pain and suffering but open your hearts to trust that the Lord is leading you towards resurrection and eternal life.

Just as Jesus Christ was delivered from the tomb when the earth was shaken and the stone was rolled away, we too will be shaken and raised from our tombs of darkness so we will walk anew in the Heavenly Jerusalem gathered around our glorified Lord forever. Amen.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

A, Maundy Thursday - Matthew 6:9-13 "The Lord's Prayer in the Lord's Supper"

The Lord’s Prayer has been the centre of our Lenten focus and tonight we conclude our study of the Lord’s Prayer by seeing how it works in the Divine Service as it appears in the liturgy of the Lord’s Supper.

The church most often celebrates the Lord’s Supper on the Lord’s Day, or Sunday, and it is celebrated amongst the Lord’s people, who pray the Lord’s Prayer. One can’t but help notice that the Lord is at the centre.

Our celebration in partaking of Holy Communion as the children of God, and as brothers and sisters of Christ, who join in with him in the prayer he gave us, proclaims God’s loving-kindness and mercy to us through and through. God is with us and he serves us with his word, in the bible readings, and in hymns, songs and the sermon which also proclaim his word. Having received God’s word of forgiveness and promise, we respond in prayer.

Prayer is not so much our work or will, but rather it is the result of God being present in us through his gifts. The Lord’s Prayer is the most excellent prayer we can pray because not only does it announce God’s presence, but it is given by the Son of God himself to sustain us in faith, hope, and love. Therefore, the Lord’s Prayer is the prayer of the faithful, joining in with Christ, adhering to the will of God, as they approach the Lord’s Supper. We are the faithful, believing that God is present in all his power for our personal being and the being of the church community.

Last week we heard how the central petition of the Lord’s Prayer, is prayed asking God to give us our daily bread. Since early times in the church this petition has been connected with the bread and wine of communion – which when consecrated is the body and blood of Christ.

Our daily bread, both, Christ ‘the bread of life’, and, all the things we need for this life, are gifts from God to encourage trust in our Father, who forgives us and gives us the ability to forgive, so his will is done in heaven and on earth and we can live in peace with God and our neighbours.

We also receive our daily bread, so our faith is increased against all temptation; especially the temptation in believing God’s kingdom is not for us, when Christ clearly promises us that it is. This promise comes to us in a very special and personal way in the sacraments where Christ ordains our salvation in our baptism into his death at the cross. The promise of his kingdom comes also when he commanded that the bread and the wine be consecrated as his body and blood given and shed for the forgiveness of your sins, as we eat and drink it in remembrance of him. We receive his kingdom in these things, when we believe Jesus Christ in his word and put off temptation to think otherwise.

When we believe we are forgiven, we believe his will is done in us, and we believe his kingdom is our hidden reality. Because this is the truth, we are also made holy by Christ who comes to us in the daily bread of the Lord’s Supper. This is the holy life we receive in exchange for the life of evil we need to be delivered from so much. God the Father together with God the Son sends the Holy Spirit to continue in us the belief and holiness given at the cross through baptism.

And if we are holy forgiven members of God’s kingdom, we have access to God the Father through his Son who gives us his prayer, and he makes this prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, work for us by his innocent suffering and death worked on the cross. We say the Lord’s Prayer to our Father, whose kingdom, power, and glory are his, which he gives to you as the eternal gift because of Jesus’ death for our sin, and resurrection power over eternal death.

In the context of the service of Holy Communion the pastor announces the reality of God’s presence with us by saying the greeting, “The Lord be with you.” And we respond, “And also with you.” Then in our helpless state we lift up our hearts to God who is present and wills us to receive his gifts of forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Because of this we give him thanks because it is the fitting and right thing to do, since he is our only help and our only hope.

The pastor then declares why it is fitting and right to give thanks to God through Jesus Christ. It’s at this point that extra sentences can be added appropriate to the church season. After this we acknowledge our fellowship in the whole company of heaven, seen and unseen, amongst those who have died in the faith and now dwell with God outside of time. And we also fellowship with those inside of time, seen and unseen, who faithfully worship in God’s hidden presence. We who worship in time also wait for the hour when we too will have our helplessness lifted so we see ourselves as God sees us through his Son, and we in turn see him as he is in all his eternal glory.

Now that we have proclaimed the hidden presence of God’s kingdom, seen and unseen, in time and outside of time, gathered eternally around Christ, we join in with the choirs of heaven and sing the Sanctus — the Holy, Holy, Holy. This is a combination of Psalm 118:25-26 which was sung at the Old Testament Passover festivals, blended together with the hosannas of victory and deliverance sung on Palm Sunday and in the Old Testament when the king rode back into Jerusalem in victory over the enemy. And the Sanctus we say or sing also combines the worship of the heavenly choirs which John witnessed and recorded in Revelation 4:8.

In the same way that the angels sang Glory to God in the highest in the presence of the shepherds and the Christ-child born to Mary, we too sing before God in heaven and on earth joining in with the heavenly choir giving the highest honour to God who gives us victory and deliverance over our helplessness and is the supreme centre of all existence.

It is in this context that we pray for God to give us our daily bread which he will grant us in its best form, Jesus himself, in the mystery of the bread and wine. Because it is Christ who ultimately prays his prayer before God the Father in heaven, traditionally the pastor prays the Lord’s Prayer and the congregation joins in with the doxology. When the Lord’s Prayer is prayed before the words of institution it is prayed as a prayer of consecration over the words of institution.

On the other hand, in some services of Holy Communion the Lord’s Prayer is prayed after the words of institution. It is the congregation that traditionally prays it at this place in the service, as a petition for itself and as an intercession for the world.

But regardless of the Lord’s Prayer being said before or after the words of institution, the fact of the matter is that Christ is present with the Father and the Holy Spirit, amongst us. Paul points out to Timothy that, “everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer. (1 Timothy 4:4-5)

It is the Lord’s Day, the Lord’s Supper, the Lord’s Prayer, and it is for the Lord’s people. So you and I can say his prayer in confidence knowing that he prays it before our Father, and he and the Holy Spirit will us to pray this prayer from within us. God has done everything here and it is good, and is not to be rejected, but rather he is to be believed and received, as we pray his prayer and eat his holy body and blood.

Because Christ has given himself and his prayer to us we know we have been recreated as children of God, for Christ’s sake. In Galatians we’re told …because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir. (Galatians 4:6-7)

And if we are heirs, we continue to carry Christ’s full, wholesome and most excellent prayer on our lips because we stand with him before our Father in heaven. So his prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, is our ever-present call for help, so we might continue petitioning God in the struggles and sufferings of this life and participate with God in God’s work of salvation interceding for those who struggle and suffer in their helplessness too.

We are encouraged by God in Paul’s first letter to the CorinthiansFor we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:9-11)

The Lord’s Prayer, the Lord’s Supper, for the Lord’s people, on the Lord’s Day. Amen.

Lord God heavenly Father continue to send the Lord and giver of life, the Holy Spirit, into our hearts, so we might continue to believe what our Lord Jesus Christ has done for us and continues to do in us. Amen.

Friday, March 14, 2008

A, Palm/Passion Sunday - Romans 6:3-11 "From the Cradle to the Cross"

In Advent the wreath candles are lit. Four candles brightly burning as symbols of the blessing we receive from the Advent King, our Lord Jesus Christ. The blessed gift of hope, peace, joy, and love has come because the Christ child has come. At Advent we celebrate his coming into the world to be with us. To be born into the same flesh as us, and experience life as we experience it with all of its struggles, humiliations, and good times. Our King has brought in an era of hope, peace, joy, and love, and because he brings these things and gives them to us, we are truly blessed.

But we are not blessed just because he came as a baby. The Christmas cradle in which Jesus was laid, wrapped in swaddling cloths, does nothing for anyone if the story ends there. And we also must realise who this baby is, and what he gave up to be born into flesh, and where being born into flesh physically placed this baby.

We can ask ourselves two questions, “How is this baby in a manger our blessed hope, peace, joy and love?” And, “Why do we need to have someone bring us these blessed gifts?”

The second question first. The question of why! Why do we need an Advent King and why do we need these gifts? If there is one thing the Lenten season, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday does, it is make us critically aware of death and sin; and more specifically our sin and our death. At Ash Wednesday services we hear the words, “From dust you have come and to dust you shall return.” These words remind us of the words spoken at a funeral as the coffin is lowered into the ground and the body is laid to rest – earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. This is often a very emotional time; the reality hits home that this is the end; we will not see the person again in this life time. Death is something very real and one day our bodies will all make a similar journey.

Jesus Christ born as a human being was born into the same flesh as us. Sin was the environment into which he was born, just as we are all born into a sinful world so too was the Christ child. There was no special treatment from humanity for the Son of God. In fact he had to be born into this world of sin, he was appointed to save us because we are not capable of doing it. His conception and incarnation was an act of God, bringing God the Son into the body of a person – Mary. No woman has the power to conceive and give birth to God let alone determine any child’s identity before conception and birth. This act of God was the plan of God the Father, incarnating God the Son, through the work of God the Holy Spirit – into your reality and my reality too.

And what a reality it was: God the Son born to a mother in transit on a donkey, born not in hospitable surroundings, but at the back of an inn at Bethlehem. All inns in those days were the haunts of harlots and highway men, all respectable Jewish people stayed in homes at the invitation of the local Jews. So the Son of God was born into the humiliating reality of sinful humanity, giving up all the privileges God’s Son might expect for himself.

We’re so glad he was born into our reality; he knows what it is to go through suffering and struggles in this world. But many others are being born all the time into this same reality and are we glad about their advent into a world of sin, in the same way we celebrate Christ’s advent. Does any body else have their birthdays celebrated in the same way or by as many people as Jesus’ birthday? No! We celebrate Christ’s birthday because of his death day!

This reality brings us to the second question, “How is this baby in a manger our blessed hope, peace, joy and love?” In fact we already have the answer. We celebrate Jesus’ birthday—our hope, peace, joy, and love—because of his death. We are blessed with these four gifts of advent because of the cross. The Christmas cradle is viewed in light of the Calvary cross; our hope, peace, joy, and love come at the expense of Christ suffering on the cross. At the cross we find the crossroads of all reality. At the cross we are given hope, peace, joy, and love in the face of our hopelessness, chaos, wretchedness and lovelessness. At the cross Christ takes hopelessness, chaos, wretchedness, and lovelessness on himself an in doing so gives us the blessings of his holy life in the reality of a fallen world. So Jesus Christ is our hope, peace, joy, and love, but the question still remains, “How”? It is done for us, but how do we get Christ into our lives to take the wretchedness, hopelessness, chaos, and lovelessness away?

Paul tells us in Romans 6: Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. 5 If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7 because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. 8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:3-11)

This passage of scripture reminds us again of funerals and death. In fact the first half of this text is proclaimed right at the beginning of every Lutheran funeral service. St Paul brings us to the cross roads of the Calvary cross by reminding us of our baptism. Although we know that while in the midst of life we are in death, the crossroads of Calvary switch it around – in the midst of death we are in life. Baptism is the key, we are placed on a new path at the crossroads of Calvary! We live in the midst of hopelessness with hope, in the midst of chaos with peace, in the midst of wretchedness with joy, and in the midst of lovelessness with love, because Christ’s death on the Calvary cross is the death of death. And when death is dead we are in life; eternal life with the one who was raised from the dead.

Let’s now march to the cross with hope, peace, joy, and love, and lay all our lovelessness, wretchedness, chaos, and hopelessness at the foot of the cross having been blessed with Christ’s victory over death, blessed by his holy presence, and blessed by the assurance of our resurrection and eternal life. Amen.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A, Midweek Lent 5 - Matthew 5:9-13 "The Lord's Prayer - The Now Bread"

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and forever. Amen

The fifth sermon in the Lenten series on the Lord’s Prayer centres on the petition Give us today our daily bread. We look at the diagram of the Lord’s Prayer and see that this petition is at the centre of the cross. And next to the petition is written, Bread or Tree of Life for believing sinners destined for Adam’s death.

But first we notice in the context of the whole prayer, we see that this petition is different to all the others. After the introductory invoking of God’s name through Our Father we confess and learn God’s character and will. God is holy, his holy kingdom comes, and his holy will is done.

Then after the petition Give us today our daily bread, we learn about our will and character, and therefore implore our holy Father to forgive us, lead us from temptation, and deliver us from evil, the evil one, and death into his holy kingdom, which is rightly God’s alone.

At the cross road of God’s holy character and will and our character and will to return to the old ways of the sinful self, we ask God in our present context between heaven and hell to give us our daily bread. This is a petition for now, so that at the cross roads we turn towards God and nothing or no one else!

What is this daily bread? In the small catechism Luther tells us… Daily bread includes everything needed for this life, such as food and clothing, home and property, work and income, a devoted family, an orderly community, good government, favourable weather, peace and health, a good name, and true friends and neighbours.

Notice Luther says our daily bread includes everything we need to live, and then gives us examples of what some of these things are. But these examples are not our daily bread in themselves. In fact, they are included in something much greater. What must this greater daily bread be?

We return to the diagram of the Lord’s Prayer and see that our daily bread is the Bread of Life, or the Tree of Life, from which we have been excluded, ever since Adam and Eve with all humanity were destined for death when knowledge of good and evil was desired more than peace with God in paradise.

So this is the background of the petition Give us this day our daily bread, because we are experiencing all types of afflictions and sufferings on our way towards the bitterness of death.

When we see the petition in its true light, we quickly realise that all the things included in our daily bread, are just that, included. They are a secondary food included with the one true Bread of Life.

But it is in these secondary things of food and clothing, home and property, work and income, a devoted family, an orderly community, good government, favourable weather, peace and health, a good name, and true friends and neighbours that we experience the reality of our sinful human condition and suffer as a consequence.

Even if we were to have all these things we would still suffer. Yet we place our faith in them, and are tempted to believe that if we get favourable weather, good health, wealth of property, a spouse or a family, etc., then life would be better. But even when we receive these blessings from God, our mirage of hope and peace in these things disappears, only to reappear somewhere else with something else.

God knows that we need these things, and we do well in the context of our earthly sufferings to see that in trusting God we can have hope in the midst of these trials. God will not forsake us.

After all why would God go to such trouble in sending his one and only Son into the world, to be born into all the strife of hunger and homelessness, toil and no earthly possessions, a family that questioned his ministry, a corrupt Jewish community and Roman government, treacherous weather conditions (especially on Lake Galilee), no peace as he absorbed the chaos of death with the illnesses of those he healed on his walk to the cross, to be born with a name that today is still bantered around as a curse word, and to have not one friend as he neared his death on the cross. And even further to this, why would God allow himself to suffer by turning his back on Jesus Christ; taking away his loving kindness and leaving him hang with the full weight of his wrath on his Son’s shoulders?

We need to ask ourselves as his children, why we endure even the smallest percentage of what Christ suffered, if God went to so much trouble to make us holy, and give us our inheritance of eternal life with him in peace forever?

When we suffer and struggle in this life, we might first worry that we are going to die, and doubt that God will sustain us unto eternity. But perhaps God is willing us to worry that we won’t die in him, that we must live and suffer forever, even with all the blessings of physical daily bread. Perhaps God wills us to see that our prayer for earthly things is not enough!

When we pray, Give us today our daily bread, we are not just praying for ourselves either, we are praying for all Christendom, hence we pray for us and for our bread. Speaking about this petition, Luther quotes Chrysostom, one of the patriarchs of the church who lived in the fourth century, who said, “All of Christendom prays for the person who prays for it.” (LW 42:60) In other words, “When we pray for the whole Christian church we join the whole Christian church in praying for it, and therefore pray for ourselves who are members of God’s church on earth.

So when we pray, Give us today our daily bread, we pray for God’s will to be done in and amongst us. And although God doesn’t cause sin and evil in the world — our sinful nature is the number one avenue through which sin, evil, and death enter the world — God does surely use our suffering in our sin to bring us back before he who is the Bread of Life, who died on the tree that gives real fullness of life.

Jesus is the bread of life, he is our daily bread. Jesus has given us access to his Father, his holiness, his kingdom, and his will, despite our being tempted, our continually being wooed by evil, and the desire to place our will first so that we turn from God’s will, to be forgiven and to forgive. God the Father went to all the trouble of sending his Son, and Jesus endured the curse of the cross and was stripped of all “daily bread”, so that as we suffer the crosses of lost daily bread at the hands of our sin and the powers of evil, we might turn to he who is the bread of life, so we might have peace with the Father who adopts us as his children.

As we pray, Give us today our daily bread, we allow God to discipline us as his children, since we acknowledge him as Our Father. And out of love our Father does discipline us so we turn to trust the one and only thing that will give us our eternal Sonship. And that is his powerful written word, where in it we receive the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, our daily bread, our Tree of Life who will lift us up in death and give us eternal peace and life with our Father in heaven.

Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. (John 6:35, 38-40)

And he continues, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.” Amen.

Come Lord Jesus be our guest, and let your word to us be blest. Blest be God who is our bread, may the world be clothed and fed, Amen.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

A, Lent 5 - John 11:17-27 "Resurrection Standing"

On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.

21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 “Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” (John 11:17-27)

Just two weeks prior to Easter Sunday, the day we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord, it is fitting to look at what resurrection is and what it does. The texts for today, the fifth Sunday in Lent, give us opportunity to examine resurrection; which is, the act of being raised to life.

We use the word resurrection for many things in this earthly life. Such as parents resurrecting things after their little children have been at them, especially things like books or toys that get broken through harsh treatment. Or one only has to imagine what would need resurrecting if a two year old is let free with an ink marker or lipstick when no one’s around.

But then we might speak of resurrection when restoring something. One might resurrect trees, plants, crops, or even homes after a wild storm. Perhaps resurrection might happen when one takes the time to repair or revive an old motor, a piece of machinery or furniture. Perhaps it’s a business after bankruptcy or a political career that receives resurrection. Whatever it might be receiving resurrection, the fact is — it is brought back to life and has been caused to stand as it once stood.

Notice with everything one might resurrect, it needs someone or something else to cause the resurrection; to make it stand, or go, or work again. And when things are brought back to life these objects stand or exist to do what the one resurrecting wants them to do. But if the object resurrected doesn’t do what it’s meant it usually ends up on the scrap heap, or back on the workbench because its resurrection was not complete the first time. Perhaps the thing is still in the process of resurrection.

Even actively living things like plants, crops, or trees when resurrected, do what they were originally intended to do. So too, do living organisms like businesses or political careers! Although they are living, they re-stand where they once stood, caused to do so by an exterior influence.

So resurrection is to re-erect, or caused to re-stand once again. And it’s no difference when we focus on the resurrection of Jesus, and all who ever since have placed there faith in Jesus Christ, and live their lives as his resurrected ones. Jesus’ death and resurrection is all about God’s plan to have us resurrected to re-stand and remain standing in peace with him.

The texts before us today all speak about living lives as the resurrected children of God. And being resurrected as his children we live in the hope that we too will receive the eternal resurrection into his heavenly glory at our death.

In Psalm 130 the psalmist says, “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? What is being said here is that sin must be punished with death before God. Sin knocks us down so we cannot stand. So there’s a yearning for resurrection here, and the next line of the Psalm tells us where the resurrection or the ability and strength to stand comes from, “but with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared. It comes from the Lord through forgiveness.

Therefore, we live every day, resurrected by the power of God the Holy Spirit, who has come to us through water and the Word. In baptism we are daily reconnected with Christ who gives this forgiveness won at the cross. In our sin we are the dry bones in the desolate valley, and now the Word made flesh gives us flesh and life by the Spirit. We’re resurrected and caused to stand by Christ, and now we’re called to remain standing with the aid of a crutch, namely, faith in Christ and the cross. When we throw this crutch away thinking we can stand by ourselves, we become guilty of insurrection, which is a sinister selfish uprising. And when we do we’re worth about as much as the dry bones in Ezekiel chapter thirty-seven.

In fact, it was humanity’s insurrection in the first place that brought the need for our resurrection. In Romans eight Paul talks about our insurrection, our seeking to stand by ourselves, as being hostile towards God. But he goes on to address our need of resurrection and continued restoration by the Holy Spirit who also raised our Saviour, Jesus Christ, from death.

if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. (Romans 8:10-11)

Further to this we are like Lazarus. Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters; he loves you too. But we like Lazarus are dead in ourselves. There is nothing we can do to resurrect ourselves day after day in our lives leading to death. In fact, our deathliness is such that our bodies have the same ability to save themselves as did Lazarus’ four day old blue and bloated body. Therefore, it’s to God’s glory that each day our lives are resurrected from the death our sinfulness deserves.

Having been raised in baptism, and having had the bandages of death removed daily so we can stand re-erected before God, God now calls us to live as children of the resurrection. He calls us to turn from all insurrection of crediting ourselves through our own merits.

Jesus now calls us to live and believe he is the sole agent of resurrection, since he tells us in his word ‘I am the resurrection and the life’. Our believing, our faith, our trust, is none other than standing and remaining in what the Holy Spirit placed us in and placed in us; that is, Jesus’ death and resurrection standing up outstretched in us, displaying all the forgiveness of the Father.

You will stand because Jesus is able to make you stand. In fact you are standing, and have stood, only because Christ is standing resurrected in you.

So stand firm, you are in the process of being resurrected. Therefore, be resolute in your resurrection, confess and flee your insurrection, and consider Jesus Christ who is faithfully ever-present saying, “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me. To the one who conquers I will give a place with me on my throne, just as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.” (Revelation 3:20-22) Amen.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

A, Midweek Lent 4 - Matthew 6:9-13 "The Lord's Prayer - What does God want?"

We return once again to the well known prayer that Jesus himself taught us to pray, the Lord’s Prayer.

Recapping previous weeks we first heard a different way of viewing the Lord’s Prayer as a series of brackets or layers like that of an onion.

The outer layer gives glory to God who is God alone. We pray Our Father, because Jesus gives us access to his Father, by fulfilling his Father’s will at the cross. Now as “Our Father”, we can rightly proclaim the kingdom, the power and the glory are his now and for ever.

The next layer consists of declaring his name as holy, and that we also need to be made holy by being continually delivered from all evil. Then having received his holy name we pray in the next layer that we are not led into temptation to believe that his kingdom is not coming to us. God reins in us, he is all powerful. Therefore, we can be sure when temptation does come, it’s a trick from our own sinful nature, or from evil forces outside of us. And in confidence, we can disbelieve the temptation by simply saying, “No! God is my Father and his kingdom is my home, because Jesus said so!

Now today we move into the second last layer, the two petitions, your will be done… forgive us our sins. But notice that both of these petitions are two part petitions. Firstly we hear your will be done — on earth as in heaven. That is we pray God’s will is done on earth and as his will has been done in heaven. Then we hear forgive us our sins — as we forgive those who sin against us. This is in fact a repetition of the former petition, and the two can be mixed and matched as we will see later on.

But first we must ask, “What is the will of God?” In Hebrews chapter ten we hear, “you need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. (Hebrews 10:36) And from 1 John chapter two, “the world and its desires pass away, but the person who does the will of God lives forever.” (1 John 2:17) Here we learn two things; that the will of something is what it desires or wants. And secondly, those who follow what God wants live forever, but those who follow the desire of the world will perish and die.

Then we must consider Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane kneeling down before God and praying, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39) Jesus is holy, he is without sin, and he had the purest desires of any person who ever walked the earth; that is his purpose, his pleasure, his will is without blemish or spot. But nevertheless, he placed it aside, in favour of his Father’s will.

Now for us, even if there was a possibility that our will, our desires, could come near the will of Christ, God’s expectation is the same with us as it was with Christ. God calls us to have the same attitude as Christ, who said, “not as I will, but as you will, Heavenly Father!”

That’s hard for us to do. In fact it’s impossible. No matter how good our deeds might be, there is always something selfish in our doing condemning us before God. The bar is set so high and although Jesus could jump the bar, his will being completely just, yet in humility he put it aside as God required and did what God wanted without question.

Who on earth can do this? Who of us can do the will of God, if the will of God is even greater than the will of his own righteous Son? We see that even when we try to do what God wants, God’s will crashes headlong into our own will, and struggles with us giving us no peace.

If this was the whole story, we would be left in a sad and sorry state. We would be utterly hopeless and condemned by our own inability.

But it’s at this point, where Christ’s own will was crushed and ours with his too, that the good and gracious will of God is done without our prayer. However, we pray that it is done in us too. The will or purpose of God for Jesus at the cross grants us forgiveness of all our sin. God’s will is done in heaven, when he sacrificed his Son for the sins of humanity. We are called to acknowledge that our will, our desires, our purposes — what we want, needs to be broken so that his will is done in us and we are forgiven.

And what is God’s will for us? God’s purpose is that we recognise the power of sin in our lives, and that we believe in the one he sent to conquer the power of sin in our lives, with the forgiveness of our sinful nature won at the cross where Christ was crushed in complete obedience to the will of God.

Jesus himself says, “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:38-40)

Having now seen that our forgiveness is in deed the will of God, we can now pray these two petitions as one and the same thing. In fact, we can mix and match the two petitions before us today, so that when we pray your will be done on earth as it is in heaven and then forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us we acknowledge to God that his will is done in heaven when he forgives us our sin.

What a marvellous thing that happens in these few short words. We see that our will is bound with all the wretchedness of death and the grave, but right here God gives us access through his Son to flee to the cross. He even sends the Holy Spirit to aid us in his will. And there at the cross we receive the benefits of his gracious will, which are; forgiveness of sins, a heavenly kingdom as our eternal home, and a holy name, before our Father whose kingdom, power, and glory are rightfully his alone!

So God brings us from the extreme of complete rebellion against him and his will, but adopts us, forgives us, and gives us what is rightfully his alone because he sent his Son to put aside his will, to suffer and die bearing all the wretchedness of death and the grave.

But if we mix and match the heavenly axis of these petitions then the earthly axis must be recognised too. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we are asking for God’s heavenly peace and righteousness which rests on us because of Christ, to carry over into our earthly life. We pray for God’s will to be done on earth as we forgive those who sin against us, just as his will is done in heaven when he forgives us.

You are a bearer of forgiveness, which is Christ himself living in you bringing peace between you and God in heaven, Jesus then continues to live the will of God in you, by empowering you to forgive those who sin against you. You show the power of your God given faith when you forgive your neighbours and your enemies their sin.

When we pray forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us, we ask for God’s will to be done in us in heaven and on earth so that all people will receive forgiveness and be united with he who seeks to be our Father. Amen.

“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” Amen (Revelation 4:11)