Saturday, August 30, 2008

A, Pentecost 16 Proper 17 - Romans 12:9-21, Matthew 16:21-28 "Love without Hypocrisy"

Peter gets it right. Then Peter gets it wrong. Well actually God first works faith in Peter to enable him to get it right and say of Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”. (Matthew 16:16) Peter believed Jesus was the Messiah, that he was the Christ. But he sure didn’t understand what that meant. Nor did he understand what faith had done within him; he had no idea what made him say what he said.

Because Peter didn’t understand what and why he said what he said, Peter turned to pride after Jesus replies, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:17-19)

Put yourselves in Peter’s place. You have just been blessed by the Son of God. He tells you that on you the whole church will be built. To you the keys of the kingdom of heaven will be given. To you is given a new name, the name of rock, you will be the foundation of something new. Even the gates of hell will not overcome you, and therefore on you the whole church will be built.

Can you understand what happened here? Can you see what would happen to you if Jesus said these things to you? Placing ourselves in Peter’s shoes, and hearing these words from Jesus, it’s as if we can almost feel our backs straighten up, our heads are raised up lifting just a bit higher, so we look down our noses, feeling just a little more distinguished, as if we were chosen by something that we ourselves did.

Now that you are the rock, now that Christ is going to build his church on you. He then tells you he is going to die and be raised. Imagine that! Nothing would seize up the wheels of glory quicker than hearing the one who blessed you go on to say something so ridiculous.

Could it have been that Peter took Jesus aside to rebuke him because he now believed the church would be founded on him through his actions to defend the church? Could Peter have taken Jesus aside to rebuke him, because he saw in Jesus’ death, a whole bunch of trouble for himself? Perhaps he just saw death as weakness; and this being raised again, was just crazy man talk! And if Jesus is crazy or his authority is undermined by death, then perhaps Peter saw his being blessed somewhat weakened?

We will never know what Peter was really thinking. But Jesus knew exactly what was going through his mind and came down on him like a ton of bricks, saying, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (Matthew 16:23) If hearing Jesus say he was going to die and be raised didn’t confound Peter’s understanding of Jesus’ blessing and leadership, his reprimand as being Satan, would have completely stopped him in his tracks and brought him back to earth.

Jesus then explains, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. (Matthew 16:24-27)

Whatever Peter was thinking as a result of hearing Jesus bless him as Peter “the rock”, Peter’s hidden response was one that would have left him on a trail towards the loss of his soul, and his reward would not have been good, since what he’d done was accredit Christ’s words of blessing as words of glory for himself.

Similarly, we all struggle with the same thing as did Peter. God had done something wholesome in Peter, yet Peter’s pride grabbed it and moulded it just enough so that he believed it was he who was the catalyst for receiving the blessing, rather than God. God has also done something wholesome in you and me, but the same thing Peter is guilty of, we are guilty of too. In short we derailed God’s glory for ourselves.

We too, struggle with the same pride issues. We love to be seen. Either by advertising ourselves for what we’ve done “Look at me, boy I’m good.” Or by going the opposite way and marketing ourselves in the negative, “Nobody’s ever had it as bad as me!” Either way it’s exactly the same thing! It’s the same pride as Peter, which received Christ’s call for Satan to get behind. Jesus’ harsh words to Peter are understandable since through pride Satan became Satan, one hundred percent anti-God or antichrist.

Although we are God’s very own children, still present in our nature is our sinful will pushing and pulling us away from God and his Son Jesus Christ. Even as we remain with Christ and he stands right beside us, our antichrist nature, like Peter’s, underhandedly seeks to work its ways.

In Romans 12 we have heard we need to use sober judgement of ourselves, not thinking we are loftier than we are. Even though we are a part of the body of Christ, just as Peter was the foundation of the church, Christ and the church would have survived despite Peter, and it will continue to grow by the power of the Holy Spirit in Christ despite you and me.

In this light, Paul then tells us love must be sincere. Or, let love be genuine. Or, the New King James translates it best, let love be without hypocrisy. Paul is telling the church in Rome and you today, to love without hypocrisy, or literally to not under judge. That is to not have one judgement for yourself and one for everyone else. He immediately follows the command to be sincere in love with a call to hate what is evil and cling to what is good. And it’s best that we first look into ourselves and hate what pride does to us even while God continues to do immeasurable amounts of good.

Luther comments on the verse from John 13:34, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” saying: What else is Jesus saying to us here but this,Through me you now have in faith everything that I am and have: I am your very own. You are now rich and fully satisfied through me. For all that I do and love is not for my sake but namely, how I can be useful and helpful to you and fulfil all that you desire and need. Therefore never lose sight of me as your example. Do to one another as I have done for you. Consider also henceforth how you can live for the benefit of your neighbour and do whatever you see to be useful and of good benefit to him. Your faith has enough in my love and goodness: therefore you should now give your love to others.” (SL.XI.1580,18)

We might see how short we fall in loving our neighbour as God loves us by cutting out love and grafting in pride in Romans 12.

Pride is not sincere. Pride cleaves to evil and hates good. Pride is devoted to nobody in brotherly love except the self. I honour myself above everyone else. Pride is never slack on zeal, it’s always spiritually fervent. Unfortunately it serves itself. It’s joyful in itself, impatient in affliction, and has no time for prayer or just forgets about praying altogether. It doesn’t share with anyone, but rather pride demands we get, get, get! And it only practices hospitality, if there is something in it for pride’s sake. Pride says it’s ok to be proud, and not associate with people of low position. After all they’re getting what they deserve! Pride knows everything; therefore, pride never says sorry!

However, despite the foolish, despicable ways that thrash and convulse within, something better is happening within by a holy power that comes from God, despite pride and the suffering it causes the self and those it seeks to make suffer. It’s the power of love, the power of faith, the power of Christ, the power of forgiveness; calling us to stop making excuses to justify ourselves and be sorry before God and each other.

This power comes from the Holy Spirit and it wills us to see Jesus and see his forgiveness. Now having been caused to see Jesus in you, see to it that same forgiveness flows onto those who have wronged you. Learn the lesson that Peter had to learn. The glory is God’s, it comes from him, and works in us, and returns to him, despite all the things we do to keep it for ourselves and hinder it from returning to God.

Jesus is love. Jesus is sincerity personified. He is the perfection of anti-hypocrisy. Yet he judges righteousness from evil. When he walked on earth as man, he clung to that which was good. Jesus was devoted like no other in brotherly love, honouring all above himself. He was zealous, fervent, and always hopeful despite facing death. He was patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer. He didn’t repay evil, but suffered unto death. He was not proud or conceited, bearing the diseases of sinful humanity. Jesus overcame evil, by his goodness. He suffered death for sins he did not do, overcoming both sin and death by his humiliating and sinless death on the cross.

Although this is the greatest template and example for each of us to follow, Jesus did all this because of you. He did this because we could never hate evil enough; we could never love perfectly without even just a bit of pride entering in to do its disruptive work. And he still walks with us today in our struggles and suffering calling us to see it’s sin within causing us to stumble.

But he still walks with you, picking you up and calling you to trust him, so you joyfully walk towards sufferings and death knowing you will be raised to rejoice in him in glory forever. Amen.

Friday, August 22, 2008

A, Pentecost 15 Proper 16 - Romans 12:2-3, Matthew 16:13-20 "Dare to Judge"

Romans 12:2-3 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.

“You can not judge me!” “HOW DARE YOU JUDGE ME!” “Take the log out of your own eye before you try taking it out of mine!”

Every person will resonate with these words. If you haven’t said them at one time or another, you sure have felt like saying them!

In a time when everything is “all good”, it seems that no one can judge anyone else. Everyone’s opinion is right because everyone is entitled to their own opinion; so we’re led to believe! If a person challenges someone’s view, a label of intolerance is quickly affixed to the challenger because of their observations.

Judgement is deemed as big a problem for those having to make judgements as for those receiving judgements in an age which woos us to believe there’s no right or wrong; where there’s a perception of no one single ultimate truth.

However, this problem has been around a lot longer than just in this age of “so-called equality and political correctness”. This problem has existed from the time when humanity first sought to do what they pleased, at the expense of what we were created to do.

This problem exists because it points to the greatest vice known to humankind. Everyone loathes this vice when they see it in someone else. When someone else carries this vice, no mercy is shown to the person for being this way. However, the more we notice this vice in others the more it is present in ourselves. The more we hate it in those who carry it, the more we have it in us. So, what is this vice?

Pride is the vice and pride doesn’t like being judged. And so we retaliate with the “don’t judge me” mantra. But do you know when we make anti-judgement comments like this we ourselves are making a judgement too? It is pride that makes us tell someone else they can’t judge, regardless of the judgement being right or wrong.

So the greater our intolerance is to pride, the greater our pride actually is. If you want to find out how much pride you carry, just reflect on how you dislike being snubbed, not taken notice of, being shown up, being patronised, or how you react to a smart-aleck or show off!

Christian writer C.S. Lewis states… According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through pride that the devil became the devil: pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind. (Mere Christianity: 106)

It seems that we humans single ourselves out expecting to be tolerated by everyone else, but in doing so are losing our humility, and our ability to be accountable to each other, and ever more so, to God. However, judgement is not the problem, rather our pride and lack of humility is the true struggle we face, as human beings, and especially as God’s children in the Christian community.

The reality today is while there seems to be a push towards tolerance in all things; intolerance is still just as present as ever, if not even greater. Authority is hindered from making judgements, and therefore, chaos in society is ever increasing. People are forced to put on the “all good” facade while reality festers underneath, oozing to break the surface. And the politically correct requirement to love without judgement results in our inability to know just what true love is!

The bottom line is that while pride is concerned about being judged, pride ultimately leads us to believe we have a greater licence to judge others than they have to judge us. And in turning away from humility, we seek to incapacitate all judgements made against ourselves, while sitting in judgement of everyone else according to our own self-defined and pleasing purposes.

When you as a Christian operate with the “don’t judge me” mantra, do you realise you are conforming to the ways of the world? Saint Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans… Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

As Christians, instead of not judging, we are called to judge everything. You are not an untouchable being, unaffected by pride! You are judged in need of transformation through the renewing of your minds through Christ’s love so you might discern, or judge, what is the will of God and be led away from your sin and the delusions pride places upon you.

A Christian who makes no judgements is one who does not remain under the authority of God or his word. They put aside the authority God has given to them. And a Christian whose pride allows no judgement of themselves is one who turns away from the authority God has placed over them. A Christian who does not discern, and does not allow judgement of themselves, ends up being blown to and fro by every whim of the heart, and is neither a blessing to themselves, nor to God.

But rather we need to allow the transformation of ourselves to continue. And our minds are being transformed by hearing and remaining in the word of God and the continual turning away from the will of our pride. In allowing this work to happen in us we will be conformed according to the will of God.

In discerning the will of God, Paul continues… For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.

Paul here has made a judgement according to the word of God which tells us the pride of Adam resided in everyone. He calls us not to judge ourselves higher than we ought, but rather allow the word of God to sober us when our pride inflates us to dizzy heights.

In fact, we can’t even use faith to puff ourselves up! Here Paul clearly tells us that faith is assigned to us by God. And right the way through Scripture God shows us as faith is deepened and matured, humility further rises, as the hearer and believer of God’s word is led to a to wiser understanding of just how gracious God is, as God reveals more and more just how depraved we human beings are.

God calls all Christians to judge, or test, or discern, despite our culture telling us it’s politically incorrect to do so. However, when we judge we too stand under the same judgement that we make. So it’s imperative that our judgement is made soberly according to the will of God in his written word; and it’s done to call sin to account so the gracious gift of the forgiveness of sin can be administered, received, and believed. God calls us to judge, to love one another, and build our neighbour up in Christ. In short God calls us to allow Christ “within” to be the source of judgement, of ourselves, and each other so that a community of forgiving brothers and sisters in Christ might bring glory to God.

Jesus called Peter to make a judgement when he asked him, “Who do you say that I am?” To which Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:15-19)

Peter is commended for his judgement because he remained on the solid foundation God had placed him on through Christ and the Scriptures which pointed forward to Christ’s coming. Because of this he names Simon, the Rock, or Peter as we know him today.

Yet just after this Peter stumbles because of his pride, when he rebukes Jesus for saying he must be killed and raised on the third day. And Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (Matthew 16:23)

Jesus was telling Peter to put his manners back in, to be once again transformed by the renewing of his mind, and not to be conformed to the will of his pride. Jesus was saying to Peter, “Put your pride away lest you conform to the ways of the devil!”

So as we live together as God’s community under his grace, bear each other in love and compassion as you continually seek to turn away from your pride. And forgive others when their pride tempts you into conforming once again to sin and death. Conduct yourselves with sober judgement. And allow yourselves to be judged with a view of letting God’s glory shine through you. For Jesus’ sake, Amen.

Friday, August 15, 2008

A, Pentecost 14 Proper 15 - Genesis 45:1-15 " Suffering & Salvation"

Jacob loved Rachel and subsequently loved his younger sons Joseph and Benjamin. Sibling rivalry came to the fore when Joseph found favour in his aging father’s eyes making the older brothers jealous of him. Jacob made a richly ornamented jacket for Joseph and his brothers’ jealousy soon became burning anger. Added to this God allowed Joseph to dream that his brothers’ sheaves gathered around Joseph’s sheaf and bowed down to it. As you could imagine this only added fuel to his brothers’ anger. He already had his father’s favour and now it seemed he wanted supremacy over his brothers too.

But it didn’t stop there. He had another dream that the sun and the moon and eleven stars were all bowing down to him. This dream not only angered his brothers, but Joseph also received scorn from his father, Jacob, who questioned Joseph severely and kept the matter in mind.

So with such intense jealousy, the brothers conspired to rid their family of Joseph and kill him. But Rueben, Jacob’s firstborn and father’s representative in his absence, sought to save Joseph by convincing his brothers to throw Joseph into a well, with the intention of saving him later. This might seem like a wholesome act, but Rueben should have been more responsible before his brothers and rejected their plot for the sake of his father and his young brother’s wellbeing.

And with Reuben’s lame effort to save his brother in favour of saving face before his brothers, he failed in saving Joseph when he was absent from the gathering of brother and Judah convinced the others to sell Joseph to Midianite traders on their way to Egypt. When Reuben returned to find his brother had been sold, instead of telling his father what had happened, he joined in the cover up with his brothers by covering Joseph’s richly ornamented robe with goat’s blood and lying to his father that Joseph had been devoured by wild animals. But rather, the only thing that had consumed Joseph was his brothers’ wild jealousy and hatred. Now they bore the guilt of lying to their father and selling their own flesh and blood as a slave.

Once the Midianite traders arrived in Egypt, Joseph found himself in slavery in the house of Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard. God was with Joseph and he prospered and received the favour of Potiphar who gave him the responsibility for all his household affairs. However, Potiphar’s wife had more in mind than just the household affairs and pursued Joseph for an affair of her own. Eventually Potiphar’s wife became embittered by Joseph’s constant refusal against her advances and she grabbed his coat as he fled from her adulteress flirtations and used it to accuse Joseph of making sexual moves on her.

It seems that Joseph and his coat of honour landed him in trouble yet again as his favour in one person’s eyes brought trouble from another close by. So Joseph landed in jail, where it seemed that all was going further and further downhill for him. I don’t think any of us would begrudge a person from being just a little bit bitter after such injustice and humiliation. But Joseph is portrayed as not carrying any malice towards his accusers as God continues to go with him and bless him in every situation he faces. Joseph finds himself in prison but has the trust of the warden who lets him do what he likes while he is there.

Dreams would return to the fore in Joseph’s life yet again when he interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker who had offended their master and ended up in the same jail as Joseph. Joseph interpreted their dreams which came true; in that the cupbearer was restored to his position but the baker was hanged.

Two years passed after these events and Pharaoh had a dream that disturbed him. His cupbearer remembered Joseph and told Pharaoh how Joseph had correctly interpreted the dream and foresaw what became of him and the baker when they were in prison. So Pharaoh summoned Joseph to interpret his dream.

Pharaoh dreamed that he saw seven fat and sleek cows rise up out of the Nile only to be eaten by seven of the ugliest, leanest, and scrawniest cows ever to be seen in Egypt. And then in his second dream he saw seven healthy heads of grain on the one stalk being consumed by seven other withered and thin heads which had also sprouted out of the same stalk.

Joseph, fully blessed by God, interpreted the dreams. A feat the magicians of Egypt couldn’t perform. So Pharaoh was informed by Joseph that all the lands were set for a drought of seven years after seven years of good seasons. Pharaoh put Joseph in charge of his whole nation to administer the storage of produce in the good years and the rationing of it in the time of drought.

So by dreams Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers and by interpretation of dreams he became the master of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself. Joseph was rejected by his brothers, sold as a slave, accused of sexual impropriety and jailed. Yet God was with him and he was raised to the head of Potiphar’s house, Pharaoh’s house, and ironically the dreams that caused his brothers to despise him so much, were about to be fulfilled as severe drought brought his brothers to Egypt in search of grain for survival. Joseph was about to have his brothers bow down before him seeking his mercy.

The brothers arrive in Egypt only to be tested by Joseph. Knowing that they are his own flesh and blood he accuses them as being spies and holds Simeon in custody as the others return to Jacob so they might bring Benjamin back to prove their innocence. The guilt of selling their brother and lying to their father was not far away as they say to each other:

“Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that’s why this distress has come upon us.” Reuben replied, “Didn’t I tell you not to sin against the boy? But you wouldn’t listen! Now we must give an accounting for his blood.” (Genesis 42:21-22)

Their guilt is exacerbated even further when they find their bags of silver are placed back in their sacks with the grain they have purchased. Their hearts sink but this time they return to Jacob and tell him what has happened and what the Egyptian ruler expects from them.

Reuben places his own two sons’ lives in the balance before his father if he doesn’t return with Benjamin. But Jacob fears losing his second son Benjamin and he refuses to send him. How must have Joseph’s brothers felt knowing the truth and the heartache and the anguish they were causing their father.

The drought wears on and they use up all of their supplies they had received from Egypt, so they must return. Judah who had sold his brother into slavery now stands before his father and personally guarantees the safety of Benjamin and pledges to be responsible for the remainder of his life if Benjamin doesn’t return. So Jacob sent them off with Benjamin hoping to see him again along with Simeon, whom Joseph has held in custody in Egypt.

They go to Egypt and all seems to pan out well for the brothers, but Joseph tests them one more time. He again puts their silver in their sacks but in Benjamin’s sack he places his silver cup. They are sent on their way but not long after, Joseph sends his servants to accuse the brothers of theft. And after a search of their sacks they find Joseph’s cup in Benjamin’s sack. They return to Egypt, led by Judah, to plead for their brother Benjamin saying that if they return without him it will bring Jacob, their father, to his grave.

Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone leave my presence!” So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it.

Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be ploughing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. (Genesis 45:1-7)

The story of Joseph stands as one of great suffering and turmoil, but at the same time one of mercy and salvation. Joseph tested his brothers with generosity and kindness and in doing so, poured burning coals on the heads of his brothers. Yet he forgave them and wept over his reunion with them, when he could have quite easily had them killed for what they had done. It could have been used against them but Joseph knows it was by God’s hand all had happened, so he could save his family. Now the brothers bowed to Joseph and received mercy, rather than burn with fury that they should bow to their younger brother.

How do we view our lives when things don’t go as we would expect them to? Do we realise that God is with us regardless of what struggles might come our way? Joseph stands out as a brightly burning beacon for us. Despite what happens in our lives we can always expect God to make the best of every situation in which we find ourselves. If God is for us, who can be against us, even if death itself stares us in the face!

But even greater in the story of Joseph, we see a preview of the story of salvation when God sent his One and Only Son to us. Despite how we treat our Father in heaven and how we as a human race have treated his Son, we can see in the story of Joseph and his brothers our story with our brother Jesus Christ, whom through our sin we forsook on the cross, but who bore all for the great deliverance of our salvation. Joseph innocently suffered for the salvation of his brothers, but Jesus suffered for the salvation of all who believe and trust in him.

Let us continually bow before his throne and plead for the mercy he so willingly wants to give us as we continually pray: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of David, have mercy on us. Amen.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

A, Pentecost 13 Proper 14 - Matthew 14:22-33 "The Power of Fear"

Fear is a fascinating word. Attached to fear is our negative response when we do something wrong or are expecting something dreadful to happen at any moment in the immediate future.

What is the opposite of fear? Or what does it mean to have no fear? When we ask ourselves these things we might assume positive things such as liking or loving to be opposite to our negative understanding of fear. However, liking or loving someone or something can be a positive demonstration of great fear. Fearing and loving the Lord therefore is not the opposite of fearing the wrath of the Lord. Both are fear, with opposite results. So what is the opposite of fear? Indeed, what is fear?

A worthy subject in examining fear is my family’s dog – Rufee. He’s a Jack Russel Foxy cross, and he’s generally a happy-go-lucky type of dog. When we are out walking there’s a flock of birds, Noisy Minors, and they lay siege upon Rufee every time we walk past their territory. It’s a sight to be seen as Rufee sniffs around the place with thirty odd birds dive-bombing him and creating a commotion that’s heard some distant away. But does he care? Not in the slightest! In fact I don’t even think he knows they exist.

However, it’s a different story if he sees a bird scavenging around on the ground, or he sees a hare or a wallaby or a cat. He notices them and usually tears off after them in a cloud of dust. The other morning he took off after two Magpies who were innocently foraging around amongst the frosty clumps of grass. I thought to myself, this was probably not a wise course of action. Chasing them now might seem like fun, but in a couple of month when they begin their breeding season, and the Magpie’s temperament changes, he will incur the wrath of old man Magpie. And every Australian knows that a Magpie attack can be a little more viscous than a bunch of Noisy Minors.

But then after we arrive home I give him a bone and Rufee displays a regular ritual that seems to show fear. He first looks at me as if to say, “Wow, am I really allowed to have this morsel of meat and bone, boss?” Then he sheepishly examines the bone in a rather subtle way. He stands back from the bone as if to not raise too much attention, looking around, looking at the bone, then looking around again, then the bone, then around the place once more, to see if the coast is clear. He genuinely fears that someone else is going to come and steal his bone. So he moves the bone from where I dropped it on the back lawn and takes it to a place where he can enjoy it in peace.

One might wonder what the point of all this might be! However, these different responses, I believe, demonstrate the opposites of fear.

The Noisy Minors bomb the living daylights out of Rufee and he doesn’t care. These little noisy birds have no power over him. Fear and power are connected.

The animals that take off when he chases them might also seem as though they have no power over him; that he doesn’t care about them either. But he loves chasing them and he loves the fact that they run or take flight. Although I’m sure he would be surprised if it happened, he is also disappointed he can’t catch the animals he chases. These creatures have power over him and therefore he demonstrates fear. Somewhere within the dog’s makeup is his inbuilt desire to chase and with it is his love for doing so. He actually respects the fact that they flee so he can chase them. They flee and this empowers him to impulsively chase.

Then when he is eating his bone this same power instinctively causes him fear of me in the same positive way as when he chases another animal, but then when he surveys the surrounds for other dogs he goes through his ritual to protect what is his. Something has power over him, the bone, his instinct, or both. This power causes fear in the negative sense. And when the Magpies start diving Rufee in Springtime I’m sure he will be the one fleeing in fear, especially if they hit him a couple of times with their beaks. This also is a power, causing negative fear. And it’s one we all respect and know of – all too well!

So fear has a lot to do with power. The opposite of fear is not caring. Or to put it another way, there’s no respect, acknowledgement, or interest for the good or the bad which might happen. Not fearing is when something has no power over us, either positively or negatively.

When we speak of fear in the bible, there are many occasions where we hear of fear that causes people to worry and doubt. But the positive side of fear is also to be found. In Matthew 9 Jesus heals a paralytic some men had brought to him on a mat. Then in verse 8 we hear, “When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men.(Matthew 9:8) The crowd which was filled with awe is actually filled with fear, as it is written in the Greek but translated as awe in English. The crowd attributes authority, or power, to Jesus at his healing of the man and they worship God.

In fact, fear and faith go hand in hand. What we fear, whether good or bad, is something or someone we trust is going to do something of power to us. When we fear, we believe something or someone to have the greatest power or authority at that moment, if not all the time.

Unfortunately, most of the time, our fear is negative. Many occasions in the bible Jesus calls those he speaks to, to not have fear. This is negative fear that something bad is going to happen, because of Jesus’ extraordinary power, or since they see his power fear and believe their weakness or sin will bring them punishment.

When Jesus approached the boat on the lake, the disciples are full of fear. This is not because they recognise it’s Jesus coming toward them with extraordinary power, but because they had wearily fought against the rough sea right through the night. The disciples were Jewish men and held a fear for the water. They had a deep respect for its power as they superstitiously thought the depths were full of chaotic evil. And since the waves had antagonistically fought against them for most of the night, the appearance of Jesus walking on water is the last straw, leading them to believe a phantasmic spirit from the deep has come to get them.

When Jesus approaches the disciples in the boat, he immediately says, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” (Matthew 15:27) What he does is refocuses the disciples on him and his power. He instructs them to fear him, not because he is a phantom or a spirit from the deep coming in power over them, but rather, he is Jesus coming in power over the deep. When he says, “Take courage”, he tells the disciple to be of good cheer or to positively and boldly fear him who has power over all things.

So Peter is bold and he says to Jesus, “Lord, if it is you tell me to come to you on the water.” (Matthew 14:28) But when Jesus invites him out of the boat the negative inbuilt fear and belief in the chaotic waters overcomes his newfound bold faith in Jesus standing on the water just outside the boat.

What is it that you fear? What do you believe has power in your life? And is this fear negative or positive? Most people are usually overcome by a negative fear like Peter, and fail to see the awesome power of God and fear him in a way that glorifies his love for us.

You are called to a fear of God that acknowledges his power over your sin. You need not fear God like a bogeyman who’s going to get you in the night; like the phantasma the disciples thought was going to get them on the lake.

You have been called not to waver, and turn about face, as the struggles come and go in your lives. Rather believe the extraordinary power of God, the power won at the cross over sin, and the power of God the Holy Spirit in the written word of God.

Sin and all the forces of evil, although still present in this life, are not to be feared. When we fear these things we give back their power over us and turn away from he who has all authority in heaven and on earth.

God says to us, I am the Lord your God you shall have no other Gods! And we know that to mean, we are to fear, love and trust God above anything else! Therefore, come to him as he extends his hand to you. Let your sin have no power over you as you expose it to the cross and the forgiveness of Christ who hung there for you. And positively fear God who has placed Jesus Christ, the foundation of faith, in you. Amen.

For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and forever, Amen!

Saturday, August 02, 2008

A, Pentecost 12 Proper 13 - Matthew 14:13-21 "Struggles of the Heart"

Hearing Jesus feed the five thousand on the shores of Lake Galilee stirs up thoughts of the twenty-third Psalm.

Here Jesus sees the five thousand streaming towards him, like sheep without a shepherd, and he has compassion on them. He shepherds them, and leads them beside quiet waters. When the crowd is with Jesus they are not in want. Jesus directs the people to sit down on the grass as if to make them lie down in green pastures with nothing to fear as he prepares a table before them.

Jesus treats these people like royalty, as if they are anointed. In fact he anointed the sick with healing and compassion. The shepherd’s goodness and mercy followed the sheep — who followed the shepherd to this solitary place. And at the end of the day it was their cup that overflowed with the abundance of food that Jesus broke and distributed amongst the people.

However, the twenty-third Psalm was probably the last thing on the minds of the disciples as the day wore on and the shadows began to lengthen. They approached Jesus requesting that he send the people off to buy food for themselves. In their minds there was no practical possibility of a table being prepared for such a large number of people. The disciples concerned that the crowd would go hungry, know that Jesus sending them away to get food was the only way of avoiding a catastrophe.

One might wonder why those in the crowd weren’t responsible for themselves. After all they had come on foot and new the way home or to a place where they might buy food. However, the crowd was fixated on Jesus and Jesus alone. The disciples possibly saw this and came to the logical conclusion that Jesus would have to send them off. It appears as if the disciples, those closest to Jesus, were not trusting in Jesus as much as the gathered masses there on the shores of Lake Galilee.

In Mathew’s Gospel account, of the feeding of the five thousand, the only dialog we hear from Jesus is his reply to the disciples, and he says, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat. They answer, “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish.” And then Jesus says, “Bring them here to me.” (Matthew 14:16-18)

At this point the dialog then switches back into narrative and Jesus directs the crowd to sit on the grass as he looks to heaven, or more importantly to his Father in heaven, and gives thanks and breaks the loaves of bread.

Then there is the division of the food which in itself is a complete mystery as to how it happens. But it did, and afterwards the disciples are reported as picking up twelve baskets of leftovers.

Dwelling on how this happens will get us nowhere. It’s one of the mysteries of God that’s a complete miracle and it calls us to just believe. However, the feelings we have when we try to rationalise these events go along way in helping us stand in the place of the disciples sensing the situation which confronted them all those years ago on the shores of Lake Galilee.

Imagine their reaction to Jesus’ words as the day moves towards evening. The back flip in their thinking would have made their hearts churn with confusion, contradiction, and unbelief. All those people were impossible to feed. The math just doesn’t add up as they present just five loaves of bread and two fish to Jesus.

But they overlooked just one thing. They overlooked the true reality of the situation. They looked away from the One in whom all things are possible. They looked away from the One on whom the crowds were fixated. They looked away from Jesus in whom all the glory of God was hidden.

Jesus was teaching his disciples in this instance, just as much as he was healing the sick and bestowing compassion on the crowd.

In the wake of his teaching about the kingdom of heaven in the parables and the disciples’ witnessing the events of Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth and hearing of John the Baptist’s beheading, Jesus was teaching the disciples to look to the bigger picture of hidden reality.

Jesus was teaching the disciples to see the kingdom of heaven was near. And with the kingdom of heaven present but hidden in the man from Nazareth he was teaching the disciples to seek the kingdom of God and the very real possibilities it held for them when they allowed Jesus to be their faithful Shepherd of Salvation.

The disciples’ lack of faith in Jesus and the kingdom he presents to humanity is further revealed as they leave the place of feeding and fail to see it is Jesus who comes to them walking on water. But we will hear more about that in the Gospel reading next week.

Do you believe that God does the extraordinary in your life? There are so many things that happen in your normal everyday existence. In our day and age humanity is geared with a thinking that one must hold onto what one has. Our giving generally only happens out of our surplus – what we think we can afford. And right there the very fact we have any surplus, like the twelve baskets of leftovers, is due to God having provided in the first place, what we deem essential and hang onto.

One of the greatest contradictions to our modern day accepted wisdom occurs when we gather as much around ourselves as we can, thinking we will have enough. But the opposite is true. The more we hang onto the less we have. What we have is just never enough. We all struggle to give of ourselves, our time, and our possessions, and to give them with the right heart.

For a Christian this is the struggle of the heart. It’s a struggle between our old nature and the new planted in us by the grace of God. In fact, it’s our struggle with God.

As Christians we’re called into a wisdom greater than that of our fallen human nature. We’re called into a belief that what God has given us is enough to do whatever God has given us to do. So much so we will have leftovers.

This is the faith to which God continually calls all of us. He calls us to be fixated on him and let go of that which will perish.

If God would send his own Son to suffer and die on the cross to save us from our sinful selves, surely he will supply us with the necessities of life, so we might live and share his gift of love and servitude with the sheep that live without a shepherd around us. Amen.