Saturday, May 31, 2008

A, Pentecost 3 Proper 4 - Matthew 7:21-23 "What God Wants"

Only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven! The will of my Father in heaven! The one who does his will, enters the kingdom of heaven!

The will of God. What God wants! The purpose of God, the desire of God, his opinion, his wish. The Father’s delight, the goal of God, his intent, the determination of the Divine One. What is it that God wants?

Only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven! I urge you to not let these words pass you by, let them burn themselves into your meditation — right here, right now!


Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’” (Matthew 7:21-23 NRSV)

This is for you who call yourselves Christian. Not everyone who calls themselves a Christian and says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.

On that day many so called “Christians” will say to Jesus, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ When Jesus says “on that day” he is speaking of a day we all will face — the day of judgement, the day eternal life, or eternal damnation, is realised.

On another day Jesus said, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” (Matthew 26:42 NIV) Only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven will enter the kingdom of heaven.

Before we hear just what it is “to do the will of Jesus’ Father”, first, we need to hear where else this phrase is used in the gospel according to Saint Matthew.

It’s no accident that the last place we hear these words, is on that day when Jesus is challenged by his humanity in the garden of Gethsemane as he kneels and prays to his Father in heaven, just before he’s arrested and led away to be tried and crucified. If it is not possible for this cup to be taken away… may your will be done. Only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven will enter the kingdom of heaven.

The first hearing of the phrase, “the will of my Father”, in Matthew’s Gospel is spoken just before Jesus warns with the “Lord Lord” passage. Both are preached by Jesus at the Sermon on the Mount.

In Matthew’s Gospel we hear both first and last references to the “will of the Father” in the context of prayer. The prayer as he knelt and sweated tears of blood at Gethsemane is, in fact, the same prayer he gives first in Matthew 6:10, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Then, having been given access to God the Father in heaven, as “our” Father, Jesus continues to carry this theme of family and God’s will as we hear Matthew 12:46-50…

While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:46,49-50 NIV)

Therefore, God is our Father, and we are brothers and sister of Christ; in fact, we are children of God, when we do the will of our Father in heaven. Jesus goes on to say: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3-4 NIV) And a few verses later “the will of the Father” reference appears again …it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost. (Matthew 18:14 NRSV)

Through my observations as a father of my children, the thing that endears them to their mother the most is when they hear her and follow her will. I suspect that this is the same in every household. So when we as God’s children take it upon ourselves thinking we are bigger than his little ones, and turn to our own will doing what we consider best, doing this or doing that, thinking we justify ourselves by doing it for Jesus; perhaps this is not very pleasing to our Father in heaven.

Maybe we need to stop; humble ourselves, seek his will, and listen to what Jesus is saying. Heed his warning when he says, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.

Hear that — named evil-doers by Jesus himself! Lord, Lord, we did this and we did that all in your name! And at the judgement, what is won? Jesus’ declaration, doing this and doing that, earns expulsion as evil–doers!

This doesn’t mean what was done was not without effect. The sad thing is that although the will of God was passed on in all its power, his powerful will in his word wasn’t hung onto by those through whom it passed. Rather, the condemned hang onto and centre their justification on the power of their doing instead of him who justifies all by perfectly doing the will of his Father in heaven. Don’t rejoice in what you do, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven!

Then, in consideration that evildoers, or rather doers of a doers own will, can and will be expelled, Jesus challenges us who feel we are safe, to think about the following scenario: What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” (Matthew 21:28-31 NRSV)

And we “good” Christians join with the good Jews of Jesus’ day and answer, “The first.” And so Jesus says to us as well, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.” (Matthew 21:31)

Hear what Jesus is saying! Tax collectors and prostitutes were the doers of what was considered evil, yet they were entering heaven before those who Jesus considers evildoers — individuals who did many right things in God’s name. To parallel the tax collectors and prostitutes of Jesus day to individuals of our age, perhaps Jesus is saying to you, “Truly I tell you, politicians and paedophiles are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.”

Are you one who thinks your thoughts and actions, even just a little bit, are advantageous in manipulating God’s will for entry into his kingdom? I tell you that all prostitutes, paedophiles, and scandalous politicians entering the kingdom of heaven, know that it is not what they do, that grants them entry and eternal life in heaven. Nor should you think for one second that “how” you do any deeds for Jesus or anyone else is any less saturated with evil works than those who know their works are evil. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.

So what is it that we do, when we do the will of the Father in heaven? It is this: We believe! It’s as easy as that and it’s as difficult as that! We repent of all beliefs in self, whether good or bad, and believe in the one the Father has sent. Believe in Jesus! He is the only one who can do the will of the Father in heaven. He did his Father’s will and he died. None of us have the power or will to do that. But what we can do is believe in he who put aside his will and won eternal life for us by following his Fathers will, even unto death.

Believe Jesus’ death is enough, believe his word of life, believe in what he did for you in your baptism, believe his faithfulness to you ever since your baptism, believe that in baptism you were baptised into Christ’s death.

In believing, you do the will of God. In believing, your confession, “Lord Lord”, will give glory to Christ and the merciful God who sent him to save you. In believing, you allow the Holy Spirit to produce fruit you never knew you were capable of producing. In believing you will see deeper and deeper the depraved indifference that hides your true reality. In believing, you will rest more and more in the power of he who has mastered sin and death and in its place gives forgiveness and eternal life. But whatever your do, don’t believe in yourself — your works, you abilities, or your emotions — they are tainted with you, and you are not God!

Let these words permeate every part of your being, carry them with you, mediate on them, and remain in the faith God has given to you. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.

Christian! Every opportunity you have to surrender what you believe, in submission to what God wants you to believe — take it — for Jesus sake.

This is what God wants. Amen.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

A, Pentecost 2 Proper 3 - Matthew 6:24 "Where your treasure lies?"

If there is one verse in the bible that strikes fear into the hearts of a modern day western world Christian it has to be Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. Theses are strong words, and they play havoc in the hearts of those whose conscience yearns towards the kingdom of God, while living under the lure of other gods in a kingdom of materialism.

This verse stands at the centre of a larger reading. We have heard the second half of the reading which spotlights our worrying and trouble. But we also do well to hear the verses immediately prior to this “God and Money” verse, which encourages us to hear we are part of a much bigger harvest than the earthly one we celebrate today.

We hear from Matthew 6:19, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

24 “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. (Matthew 6:19-24)

Following these verses we then hear, in today’s reading, what the results are of serving Money — namely, worry. And we are reassured that our Father in heaven knows our true needs and surely does provide them for us.

Nevertheless, we now stand on the brink of another bleak winter. While the summer rains began with much promise, they have petered out to nothing in autumn. Perhaps what you see is the onset of darkness and struggle — worry and trouble!

But what one sees depends on what one considers valuable. Jesus tells us the eyes are the lamp of the body. So what is it that you see? What is it that you consider valuable? And so, we are returned to the black and white statement, you cannot serve both God and Money!

The reason Jesus speaks about worry and money and the troubles of today and tomorrow, is that these are very real things going on in every person’s life. In fact, if anyone here claims that they do not worry about money — keeping it, losing it, getting it, or not having it — is perhaps lying or deluding themselves. Jesus speaks to you and me today, in this harvest thanksgiving service, as we struggle with the very real troubles that face us today and tomorrow, causing us all sorts of worries and problems.

However, on investigation, this text addresses a central issue that has been plaguing humanity since the fall. When we allow this text to permeate our being, and remove the outer problems of our survival, it reveals one thing and calls us into another. Your earthly struggles, troubles, worries, and doubts place you smack bang back at the first commandment and asks you, “Who you gona’ trust — God, or yourselves and the money you have or haven’t got?”

At the heart of the matter, is the command, I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other Gods. Who is your God? Our faithlessness and unbelief is revealed and all the while we’re being called to the faith God has for us. Where your treasure is, there your heart will also be!

Jesus hits us with some heavy language, saying that you will hate and despise one over the other and you will love and be devoted to one over the other. In your love and devotion what is it that you hate and despise?

Asking the question in other ways we might ask ourselves, “What is it that I value most? Is EVERYTHING else second to God? How do I give to God? What does coming to church do in my life? Do I find church boring? Do I seek the treasures of heaven? Do I know exactly what they are? Do I hate and despise happiness in all earthly things? Am I devoted to God and love him to the point where I would forsake my will in devotion to his?

If we’re honest with ourselves these questions reveal that our eyes are bad. Every one of us struggles with darkness. In fact, the more we think we don’t the graver the darkness actually is! We are all products of today’s society. What we consider as being normal is far from what God intends for us. It’s been that way in every generation since the beginning of time. However, we in our society have refined the time it takes to turn away from God through a multitude of distractions and distortions readily available to us.

We seem to be breaking all the records in the length of time it takes to abandon the community God calls us into, in favour of ourselves. We have developed intolerance for giving time, but when it comes to our possessions or our desires we have all the time in the world.

Fuel prices will increase and taxes have to increase! As our level of greed increases the infrastructure around us also needs to increase. That’s just the way it goes. And as it does we’re tempted to focus more and more on what we want and less on who we need. But God does not forget. He hasn’t forgotten us. Our harvest is testament to God’s faithfulness.

On the other hand, the products of our unfaithfulness before a God we seem to forget are worry, doubt, pride, and arrogance. And the products of these are price increases and resource decreases. Oil goes up as the water goes down. What will fix this? More money? What a load of rubbish!

Rest assured that this kingdom of cards will come tumbling down sooner or later. There have been many kingdoms before and where are they today? Yet the kingdom of God that so many are being tempted to leave, endures on into eternity!

There are two paths we can take. We can value he who has our names written on his hands with the nails of the cross, repent and remain with him. Or you can run after things like the pagans do, letting your Lord suffer in vain. Either way God does not forget. Perhaps our hardships are set to save us from ourselves so we see our Saviour as the only true light of salvation.

So let us replace money with God, return to he who provides, be bound to a life worth living in Christ, and let the Holy Spirit restore your faith by hearing and believing his forgiveness. Let us be prepared to stand before a God who does not forget, but always wants to forgive!

In his faithfulness God seeks to gather you into his harvest of righteousness. So seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Amen. (Matthew 6:33)

Saturday, May 17, 2008

A, Holy Trinity Sunday 2008, Genesis 1:1 - 2:4a "A Creation Community"

After half a church year today we arrive at Trinity Sunday. Last week we heard how the Holy Spirit was given at Pentecost; ten days before that the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ; another forty days again and it was Easter Sunday, Good Friday, and Lent. These days introduced the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus after the proclamation of his divinity in Epiphany, his humanity at Christmas, and his coming into the world at Advent, way back in the four weeks of December.

Now from today we focus on the Christian life in God’s fallen creation, redeemed and being redeemed by the blood of Christ who is seated at the right hand of God the Father, together with the Holy Spirit, three persons in one God.

However, there is a tendency for us to believe if Jesus is at the right hand of God, in heaven, he is no longer here with us. That perhaps we have been, more or less, left to our own devices to fend for ourselves. Or we might recognise the presence of the Holy Spirit, who gives us the power to escape this world so we might ascend with our hearts and minds to a place were we see God. Since he is not attainable by our natural senses anymore! Right? Well no it’s not! God’s written word from Genesis one to Revelation twenty-two tells us otherwise!

In fact the thought that God is not with us in our creation, is a thematic thread right the way through the bible demonstrating the sinfulness and faithlessness of humanity. But rather, the Trinity is present in creation, giving us God’s creation, so we might dwell with God in his threefold holy community of being and love.

Atheism and atheists, mock us because of our confession of an unseen Triune God and our hidden communion with him in his creation. However, these western infidels and scoffers of the Christian faith only exist because of Christianity. The Romans, who believed in a pantheon of gods, scoffed at the Jews after bursting into their temple in Jerusalem some two-thousand years ago, finding no visual God in the Holy of Holies. Go to a Hindu or a Buddhist country today and atheism is basically nonexistent.

Yet in the Christian world where God is hidden and there are no idol images of gods, it’s not a big step to believe there is nothing. So today the modern cynical athiest claims there is no God and the word of God is just “pie in the sky, for those who are going to die”.

On the other hand, we in the church in the second half of the church year celebrate the victory of Christ in his creation. However, neither the victory in creation, nor the God of this creation, is seen in the normal sense. God, Father Son and Holy Spirit, is not seen, and our world still seems to be spiralling out of control into greater and greater turmoil. Perhaps we might be tempted into the epitome of negativity with the atheist, and believe there is no God and therefore lose hope.

But God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit calls us back into his word, and today especially his “word of beginnings”. His victory calls us to see creation as it was at the beginning and as it will be at the end. And we’re called to see what it is today with the eyes of faith in a world that would rather look into the misery and darkness of the hopeless self with human reason.

When we look at the creation account in Genesis one, God reminds us he loves us. He created the heavens and the earth for one purpose; for an environment where we might be with him in a threefold community peace. In his creation he created a paradise garden so that he might rest in it with us. However since the fall, it’s been lost to our sin, but now since the cross access has been won by Christ’s bloody death and glorious resurrection. And all creation now rejoices and looks forward in hope to the full restoration of creation.

So for us who believe in Christ’s incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension; for us who believe the Holy Spirit has been sent to reveal Christ to us in this creation; and for us who believe the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ exist and work together so we might live in the presence of God the Father in peace — can turn back to the beginning and see the unseen reality of a hidden paradise won for us by Jesus Christ on the tree of life. Added to this we can examine the last chapters of Revelation and see the exact same reality, and continue in the same hope.

Many get caught out when looking at the creation account by falling into the debate on whether creation is seven literal days or perhaps something different. This argument only leads one away on a tangent from a correct emphasis on the creation text, regardless of what position one takes.

For us everything is a distant second from the little phrase in Genesis one, “And God said”. In fact in our search for answers to creation, this simple phrase is in danger of being overlooked. But the whole point of the creation account is to draw our faith to God’s word, in all its power and glory. God’s word needs not our proofs or reasoning, but rather it demands our trust. God said it, it happened — do you now believe it?

The other thing we need to take notice of is the order of creation, and in understanding its order, we soon come to realise its function.

First we hear, “In the beginning God created… To imagine nothing in the beginning, is impossible, and added to it pondering the beginning as an eternal timelessness, will only make you go completely crazy. We are beings in time and place, and have not the capacity to contemplate boundless nothing. But having said that, God was there before any of it and this can only be believed by faith.

At the other end of the creation account, in Genesis 2, after all had been created by the word of God, God now rests in time and space in his creation. But God created this day of rest for a holy community – us and him together in peace.

All the events of creation fall between these two events in a very deliberate order, so this community of peace can exist in a perfect paradise with a thrice holy God. In fact creation’s order rolls along like a snow ball growing, or like an onion having its layers put on one after the other. In this way the first event of creation, serves the second, and so on until God rests in its completion.

The second last event God commanded in creation is the making of us, and in seeing the order of creation we learn that God created one thing after the other for you and me, in community. And at the very last he desires to be present with humanity in peace and perfect joy.

Now we know a lot has happened since God created the heavens and the earth. But he also calls us to now know that this reality has been restored in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

So as we travel through the next half of the church year, we are called to see with the eyes of faith that the Triune God is present, although hidden. That we are called to peace with God, peace that passes all human understanding, peace that enables us to realise we are already in the arms of a loving God who calls us to rest with him, and trust that an eternity with him has been happening since our baptism and will continue on unto eternity.

We can all take stock from the last words in the bible from Revelation chapter twenty-two, where Jesus assures us that “Yes I am coming soon!” And we rest in response, “Amen, Come, Lord Jesus come. As we trust the ever-present reality of the last verse, “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.” (Rev 22:20-21)

Saturday, May 10, 2008

A, Pentecost Sunday - 1 Corinthians 12:1, 3b-6, 11-13 "The Gift"

1 Corinthians 12:1, 3b-6, 11-13

1 Now about spiritual gifts, brothers and sister, I do not want you to be ignorant. 3b …no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all people.

11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.

12 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.


Possibly the greatest excitement and joy one can experience is to receive a gift. The surprise is made even greater when the gift comes completely unexpected, and it’s not known what’s inside.

The surprise of receiving a gift endears you to the giver — for their generosity and thoughtfulness. And you can’t help but be thankful for the wonderful surprise.

Then there is the gift itself — the excitement builds as the wrapping is removed to reveal the prize. Whether it’s a two dollar toy, a labour of love made by the giver, or it’s something quite expensive, the joy is tremendous when it’s the surprise you’ve just needed. And you can’t wait to go and utilise the gift.

But, on the other hand, if you had been dropping hits around the place as to what you would like, or you were expecting a specific gift, then perhaps the surprise takes on a different character. Perhaps there even might be a little bit of acting so to not offend the giver.

One thing we can learn here is a gift is a true gift when given by the giver. In fact, when the receiver has had some input into what the gift should be, then the surprise is lessened, and the gift itself looses some of its gift qualities. The giver, is pressured into responding to the desires or manipulations of the ungrateful person wanting or needing the object given.

So we can observe that for a gift to retain its wholesomeness as a gift, the giver has freedom to choose whatever they want, as they see fit, for the person to which they want to give the gift. And, the receiver doesn’t even need to know they are going to get a gift. But if they do and still don’t know what the gift is, the surprise is increased all the more.

Today is Pentecost Sunday and the Church celebrates its gift from God.

At that first Pentecost after Jesus’ ascension, the disciples, who had received the Holy Spirit from Jesus during his ministry and specifically when he breathed on them and announced their reception of the Holy Spirit, were now seen standing with tongues of fire above their heads, as they gave this gift to the gathered Jews at their annual Pentecost gathering fifty days after the Passover.

Such was the power of the Spirit; everyone in the gathering heard the word of God in their own native tongue. Having received the gift, the Holy Spirit was now using these Galilean disciples to proclaim and administrate this gift to all people, beginning at Jerusalem.

Today we too have gathered here to receive this gift — just as we did last Sunday, and every other time before. For the confirmees, it’s a special occasion as they stand and affirm this gift, and after the laying on of hands, prayer, and the proclamation of God’s word, they will be admitted to the table of Holy Communion, continuing in this gift. For you the congregation you are continuing in the gift too. In fact, it’s a special occasion for us all, receiving the gift today as we did last time, and right back to the time we first received the gift.

Unlike all other gifts we might give or receive, this gift given to the church, grows in us, greater and greater surprise, as we come to know each day what it actually is. It’s not like the gift and surprise of a regular gift that’s cherished today and forgotten tomorrow. If it is, we treat this gift as if it’s a cheap two dollar toy. Any since we know Jesus gave his life for this gift; we know it’s not just a cheap emotional thrill, but a life-long joy.

The surprise of this gift is continued, because the reception of this gift is ongoing. In 1 Corinthians 12:13 we are told what the gift is and when it was given. We hear, “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink” (1 Corinthians 12:13). By the power of the Holy Spirit this gift is a life-long joyful event; we were saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved.

We have all received the gift in baptism and in it we were given the one Holy Spirit to drink! From that day we have received the gift, today we are receiving the gift, and in eternity we will receive the gift.

The surprise of this gift grows as we come to understand and learn about ourselves, and how unworthy we are to receive it. But at the same time, we learn about the costly sacrifice Jesus made so we might freely receive the gift he won for us, by dying on the cross.

Although we are unworthy to receive a gift like this it is given to you. It’s the only gift that enables you to say, “Jesus is Lord”. The Holy Spirit enables you to believe in your baptism, that you have been immersed into Jesus’ death and resurrection, and are now being raised to life eternal. As our sin is revealed and we understand just how bad it actually is, we also begin to know more and more how awesome and precious Jesus’ death for us is. And in return we can’t help but say with Holy Spirited faith, “Jesus is my Lord”.

This growing knowledge of the contradiction, between our sin and God’s grace, is in fact what makes the surprise and joy continue to grow every day, and continually returns us to the cross declaring, “Jesus died on the cross for a sinner — he died for me!” This gift is good news, this gift is pure grace, this gift is the Gospel, and it comes from the Holy Spirit and brings glory to God the Father as he increases our faith in Jesus Christ.

One thing we must all remember though — whether we have been newly baptised into the reception of this gift, whether we are confirming this gift today, whether we have been ordained to administer this gift as pastors, whether we hold the seats of wisdom and honour in the congregation, or whether we feel completely unworthy, or think we need to feel unworthy, none of us have earned this gift.

The danger is there for all of us to become complacent in the faith, thinking we have worked our way up to God — by years of offerings and service, by completing the confirmation course, and doing our memory work, by being a good giver of ourselves, by being a passionate evangelist, by being a persistent prayer, or by doing a myriad of other tasks in the church. Although these things are good, they can become a noose for us when they become the basis for a prideful self-centred faith and sanctification.

Nor can we determine to get a specific gift from God. When we seek to get a gift, it no longer becomes a gift but a demand of the self-inflated ego. When we go hunting for a specific gift, and when we think we’ve got it, it ends up having no worth, because it’s a product of our own perishing uncertain works, and not from God’s eternal grace.

On the other hand, God freely gives what he chooses to give to each person. So rather than losing sight of God, in our self-righteousness, we seek to remain in the overarching gift of faith for salvation in Jesus Christ.

After all Jesus tells us, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things shall be yours as well.” (Matthew 6:33) Here Jesus is speaking of the physical necessities of life, but the same also goes for the Spiritual things God has in store for each person. For you who are affirming your faith today, your confession is one of remaining and enduring in what you have already received.

In 1 Corinthians 12 God calls us to recognise that when we say “Jesus is Lord”, it’s not our power, but God’s power, and is given by the Holy Spirit for the common good of all who believe and confess Jesus as Redeemer and Saviour. For we confess “Jesus is Lord”, and it’s our continuing response amongst all those whom the gift is given, and is graciously received and believed.

To all of you who truly live in the growing surprise of God’s gift of salvation, I say to you, “Not good on you, but good on God! Give glory to God alone!” The same Holy Spirit, the same Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and the same God, gives, serves, and works his gift to his glory in all of you in many different ways. Amen.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

A, Easter 7 - John 17:2-3 "In the know"

You are on death row; the night before you are killed. You stand innocent before God but people have conspired against you and you know the outcome will end in your death. Your honour will be stripped from you, your name will be dragged through the mud, you will be humiliated by the sheer hypocrisy and fabrication of your accusers’ allegations. So what would you do?

Then there is the pain. It is already present since you know what is going to happen to you. You know that before you are killed they are going to toy with you, making the pain linger as you languish. And when you are killed you’re going to get the death set aside for the most abhorrent and evil of crimes. But you are innocent.

You are going to be killed in front of everyone; your enemies, the church, the government, and you family and friends. They will know and witness your every convulsion as you slowly suffocate on your own blood in pain so intense that immediate death would be merciful. Knowing all this, what would you do, the night before your death?

Knowing all this, Jesus prayed! We might pray too! But what would we pray for? A stay of execution, at the eleventh hour, perhaps! Some earth-shattering anomaly sent to distract the accusers so you might escape and get out of Dodge. You might seek to end it all before the end suffering even begins. Or perhaps you might be bitterly angry at everyone else at having been put in this situation — angry at God, at your cowardly friends, at the nonsensical common sense of the masses, or even angry with yourself that you trusted anyone but yourself.

However, in Jesus’ high-priestly prayer in John chapter 17 he does something completely different. His Heavenly Father sent him to do his work; he did it well—in fact—perfectly. And now having done all he was required to do without question, he faced death. But even so, with the end approaching just hours away, he prayed to be glorified so that the Father might be glorified.

I’m sure all of us would see glorification, in this situation, to come as exoneration, reinstatement of our rights and honour, or retribution against those who falsely accused us. But Jesus, who has been given all authority, from God, glorifies God by “giving”. Jesus has already given himself in so many ways, faithfully for all those around him, and now he gives even more.

All authority, all power, all judgement, all discernment, all wisdom, and all of creation are his, yet he gives up all of this, in full submission to his Father in heaven. But that’s not all; he gives up his own life as well. What’s more he gives it up for you!

Hear Jesus pray to God concerning himself… For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (John 17:2-3)

Jesus’ gift to you is this: He gives life to us in exchange for his life sacrificed. He gives eternal life, he gives you the ability to know God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus knew, Jesus knows, and now through him we too can know. And by knowing, Jesus tells us we bring glory to God. And because you bear the life of Christ, you are indeed children in the Father’s eyes. He sees you as he sees his Son, and the Son sees you as brothers and sisters. In fact we have been made one with the Triune God.

This is why Jesus prays to God concerning his disciples… All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name—the name you gave me—so that they may be one as we are one. (John 17:10-11)

So the question goes begging: Why does glory come to Jesus through the disciples? And how? Further more, how does this same glory come to Jesus because of you?

Let’s wind things back to where we first begun.

You are on death row. In fact every person living is dying. Death is inevitable for everyone. Everything you have will be stripped from you. Our reality is this: most of everything we have is nothing — but unfortunately, we try to cover ourselves with these things to give the impression we actually do have something.

Now as much as we try to drag our names out of the mud, honour ourselves, and humiliate all others through self-indulgent hypocrisy and fabricated allegations, we are still nearing death. No matter what we do we can’t avoid this reality. So what do you do, knowing you are on death row?

The temptation is to play the victim. But in fact you are neither a victim nor are you innocent. So what do you do, knowing that you are rightly in the face of death? We are called to repent and turn to the one who has been made known to us? He is Jesus and just as he prayed for us and all believers while he was on earth, he still continually intercedes for us before our Father in heaven.

So we are called to the one who has been made known to us. He is made known by the powerful work of the Holy Spirit? The Spirit reveals both our sin and guilt, but in knowing the truth about ourselves he shows us Jesus in his word. So we can know the forgiveness and love of God. And in knowing God we can know peace.

But in Jesus’ day when he was visually present in his person on earth, many knew him too. Judas did, so too did the Jews, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees. The Romans knew him, Pilate knew him, and many others did too. But that didn’t mean they followed him and were saved from eternal death. In fact, most of them probably knew Jesus very well, just as we know each other today. So what’s the difference?

We, who are on death row, are in the know! We know we deserve everything that should come to us. We know Jesus was born a baby in Bethlehem, we know he was a man and lived and died, and rose again. But even greater than this we know he is master over our sin and our death. And since he is master over the things that once mastered us, we abide in repentance and he makes us known to his Father in heaven through the forgiveness of our sin.

We know and trust him at his written Word; we know and trust him in his Sacraments. We know and trust him for his forgiveness, we know and trust him for his peace, and we know and trust him for his life, given to us as eternal life. We know and trust we have been made one with God by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, through the counsel of the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, we who are on death row, are not just in the know, but are known by God, and gathered by the Holy Spirit, into Christ and the victory of the cross. Trust and know you are known by God, one with the Father and the Holy Spirit, seen as sons through the Son of God, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

A, Ascension of our Lord - Acts 1:1-11 "Hidden Here"

We don’t know exactly how Jesus went into heaven; all we know is that he was hidden by a cloud. Was it a glory cloud similar to that which shrouded Mt Sinai when God spoke, or the cloud which covered the mountain of Transfiguration? We don’t know! What we do know is that Jesus was taken into heaven to be at the right hand of the Father in glory, and once this happened the Holy Spirit would come.

Now if it was you or I that had done what Christ had done, wouldn’t we want to stay about and bask in the glory amongst those whom we had helped? A nice little ego massage perhaps! But it was not Jesus’ style nor was it his will to do such a thing.

In fact his whole ministry was one of humility and hidden-ness. The spot light was not the motivation for his ministry here on earth, rather this man from Galilee seemed to be much the same as every other ordinary person – maybe even a little weak. His family was in the line of David but they held no priestly office. His dad was a carpenter, a simple man no doubt, and Mary his wife kept the house. As a matter of fact, we know little about Jesus. Only what was needed to be revealed for the sake of our salvation is written about Jesus. The gospel witnesses write specifically about only three years of this man’s life.

In their books, Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John, we hear Jesus commanding those he healed not to tell anyone. We hear Jesus allowing the devil to come into his presence to try and tempt him, when at any moment he could have repelled him with his divinity. He never sought the high place at banquets and gatherings, but rather served. Think of Jesus washing his disciple’s feet or the outcasts of Jewish society amongst whom he dwelt. When he did find himself in the position of honour he was compassionate and humble, as he was when the woman wiped his feet with tears, perfume and her hair. And in the extraordinary events such as the transfiguration, he asked for the disciples not to make what happened know until after he was gone. Most of the things he did were done in humility before only a few witnesses.

In the four gospels we hear of the events of Holy Week; one week leading up to Jesus death and resurrection. Weakness seems to be the theme. He didn’t strike back when captured but submitted to the Father’s will, even though it appeared that through his death he had lost and it was all over. The disciple were very ordinary men, he chose the weak of this world—the unschooled, the unpopular, and the ordinary—to continue his ministry, even after they had all failed in standing with him as he was condemned to die on the cross.

Under all these things God’s glory was hidden. Under the flesh of this man was an all-powerful or omnipotent God. He suffered death and now has risen from the dead. The disciples witnessed these things, and then Jesus appeared only to a certain number for a certain time before ascending into heaven. He didn’t stay with the disciples to build the church first in Jerusalem and then out in the nations of the world. However, as the disciple stood there and watched Jesus disappear into a cloud, it was still only the beginning. The work was not complete and humanity had not given the glory to Christ nor recognised him for who he is. In fact today the work is still not complete, nor has all humanity recognised Christ as glorious Lord of all.

Ever since Christ has ascended, however, he has become powerful. He had to rise from the earth to be omnipotent, all powerful. His all-knowing, or omniscient, presence once only found with the disciples in Jerusalem and the surrounding districts two-thousand years ago is now present everywhere. Jesus is present everywhere, his infinite knowledge is there for everyone, a gift for all people, to know, as he knew. And the power and glory given to him is available to all people.

The disciple’s looked up into the sky and lost sight of Jesus. Two men in white appeared, just like two appeared with Jesus in glory at the Mountain of Transfiguration. Was Jesus still there standing with the two men shining in glorious white clothes? After all, his ministry had only begun and the kingdom of Israel still had to be restored (Acts1:1,6). He was now hidden, first by a cloud just as God was hidden by a cloud when he spoke, and then by his glorious omnipresence throughout creation. What the disciples saw at transfiguration, what Saul saw on the road to Damascus, and what John saw and recorded in the book of Revelation is the reality which is all around us now. These two men dressed in white, representatives of the unseen realm of God which is all around us, announce that Jesus will return. Surely their presence was also a testimony the kingdom of heaven was still near even though the King of heaven was now hidden.

In the Lord’s Prayer we pray your kingdom come. Has not it already come to us in baptism? Hasn’t Christ come to us? In the explanation of the Second Petition in the Small Catechism, Luther asks us, ‘when does God’s kingdom come?’ And then he says: 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.

You see Jesus vanished out of sight, but he is still with us, he promised to be with us in his word. He had to become hidden from the physical sight of a few so that he could be physically present through the eyes of faith to many. Jesus was not on earth for only thirty-three years and now is absent. He is God with us today and to the very end of the age.

It shouldn’t surprise us that he is hidden from the sight of most. Although many saw him two-thousand years ago, they failed to see him as their Saviour and rejected the things he taught them while he was with them. He remains hidden to many today. We do not see him face to face but we do see him. He has sent the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to his hidden presence – in us, in the forgiven sinners we congregate with in church, in the bread, and in the wine, when we hear his word.

It shouldn’t surprise us that the church still appears weak to most. But we know it is powerful because the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to the reality that the glory of God is not hidden in a cloud but concealed within the limbs and sinew of you and me. We need not look into the distance to see Jesus, he is here with us right now, and he is faithful to you every day regardless of your recognition of him. Now that is powerful!

Jesus did not stay with the disciples to receive commendation for his work of salvation on the cross. His power, once hidden in him on earth, is passed onto us by the Holy Spirit so that we might do what Jesus did and continue to do even greater things because he is now with the Father (Jn 14:12). The power that was hidden in him while he was on earth is now revealed through the Holy Spirit and given to us.

How do we handle that power? We look to Jesus as our guide? The power he gives us is only effective if it brings glory to God. Harnessing and restricting that power for ourselves is like trying to find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow; it never happens. When we seek to use God’s power for our glory it vanishes like a mirage.

Picture God looking at us from the unseen heavenly realm. What does he see? He sees Jesus hidden in multitudes of Christians, witnessing to the ends of the earth. He sees the Holy Spirit encouraging his church to speak the word of God boldly, bringing glory to his holy name. In our weak human frames he sees the ascended Jesus Christ glorified and powerful.

All power and glory to the God the Father, his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.