Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A, All Saints - 1 John 2:28 - 3:3 "We are All Saints"

If I was to inform you that you had ten minutes left to live, what would be important to you? If you were going to die in ten minutes what would go through your mind? How would the things you have done in the past and the things you are doing now impact the way you might react to this shock news?

On hearing of your imminent death would the ‘church things’ you have been doing bring you comfort or distress, would they reassure you and give you peace, or would they cause you to doubt or even resent God?

And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he is revealed we may have confidence and not be put to shame before him at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who does right has been born of him. See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. (1 John 2:28 – 3:3 NRSV)

Here John encourages us to abide, remain, or stand, in Jesus; to hold onto him, his Word, and the promise he makes to us in his Word. The only way we will have confidence and not be put to shame when he is revealed is to abide in him, hold up as truth what he gives to us as truth, and hang onto the things he puts in place for us now, so we might be with him forever. We know when we have been doing these righteous things we can boldly say we are children of God; brothers and sisters of Christ our Saviour.

If you found you had ten minutes to live, would you trust in the things Jesus has done for you, or would you guilt yourself over the things you think you should have done?

Today we celebrate All Saints day. We remember those who have gone before us and are now continually celebrating around the throne of God together with the angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven. God calls us to see that we too are a part of that company. We have been rescued and although Christ has not been revealed to us, face to face, and we still live and struggle in the reality of this world, we are called to see our reality is also unseen and that we too are gathered around Christ as a result of abide in him through the means he has given us.

This is why John says to us, ‘See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.’ If you found you were to die in ten minutes, God calls you to trust in what he has given you and who he has made you to be, not what you might do in the minutes remaining.

In fact we do already know just who Jesus is! Jesus reveals himself to us in his Word, he continually sends the Holy Spirit to direct us and open our eyes to him when we hear the Word. So through faith we know of his hidden presence with us in this world; our view into the unseen realm is the Word of God.

But there are many who do not know Jesus or his Word. They live by sight and not by faith. They don’t know God’s Word thinking they don’t need to hear, read or study it, and subsequently don’t see the hidden reality of Jesus. So they neither abide in him, trust him, nor do they know him, the Holy Spirit, or our Heavenly Father.

Instead of trusting Jesus, when death approaches, some think they might be able to broker a deal might with God, saying, “If you save me God, I’ll do whatever you want, I’ll be a good person for the rest of my life.” Maybe you too have been tempted to trust in yourself and try this kind of approach?

But we know an even greater deal has already been signed and sealed by God. If you trust in Jesus Christ, if you abide in him, if you receive him through the Word of God, then he, the Word made flesh saves you for free. Just say you did find out you were going to die in ten minutes. God calls you to trust in this free salvation, which cost God the Son his life on the cross.

Christ is hidden by the curtain of eternity and we have access through the Word of God to see Christ behind that curtain and trust that we are God’s Children. The same can be said of us too; Christ is hidden in you so when Jesus returns you will finally see who you are with your very own eyes.

The Word of God will be needed no longer because everyone will see him in his glory. Faith and hope will be no longer required because the object of your faith and hope, Jesus Christ, will stand in front of us and wipe away all your tears and your sinful nature – which is the cause of all our tears. And having the veil of your sinful nature wiped away and removed once and for all, you will we see your true self.

We will see exactly who we are in Christ, having abided in his Word and trusted in his means of salvation, through the work of the Holy Spirit. This will be the final result of our entering eternal life at baptism through Christ’s promise in his Word. When Jesus is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.

But while we are here we live in two worlds; the seen world, and the invisible world only seen through faith. As we wait on God the Father to take us home, we place our hope in his Son, Jesus Christ, and the things he gives us in his church. And these things let us look through the curtain of eternity as Christ comes to us in his Word and in the bread and wine.

Take a glimpse at yourself through the glasses of God’s Word. See that in you — lives Christ; see the holiness of God hidden behind the veil of sinful flesh. And as we come here into this place each time, see through the curtain of eternity into the timeless realm outside of space. See yourself around the throne of God with all those who have been purified by abiding in the things Jesus calls us to trust.

Just like those saints who are now made holy by the righteousness Jesus gave them, place your hope in these righteous acts too, in which Jesus calls you to abide. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

If you found out you were going to die in ten minutes, trust in the fact you have already died in your baptism and in ten minutes you would pass through the curtain of eternity into life and celebration forever with God and all the saints. Amen.

Friday, October 17, 2008

A, Pentecost 23 Proper 24 - 1 Thessalonians 1:3 "Produced, Prompted, Inspired"

1 Thessalonians 1: 3 We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

The verse we have just heard, directs us to meditate on three things; faith, love, and hope. These three are not uncommon to us from scripture. We hear of them in many places throughout the New Testament. But more on these three in a moment.

There are also another three things in this verse we can examine too; work, labour, and endurance.

Whether one works or not, all know what work is; all know what work they should be doing, whether they have done it or not. Work here in this sense refers to one’s deeds or actions; to ‘do’ something.

Then we hear of labour. We might assume labour is the same as work, and when we labour at something we do work at it. However, labour is more intense than work in the general sense. Mothers, more than likely, have the greatest understanding of labour, as a more intense part of motherhood, over against the regular duties of a mother’s work. So labour here implies that there is hardship and difficulty, requiring commitment and passion, lest the labour not be finished.

The third word is endurance. It too has something to do with work, as does labour. However, with endurance we have the quality of constancy. One might see endurance as something one has to keep at, grinding away bit by bit, until the outcome is realised. Guts and dogged determination, stamina and inner strength are needed for endurance. Patience, fortitude, steadfastness, and perseverance are what endurance is all about.

Saint Paul, on behalf of himself Timothy and Silas, writes to the church in Thessalonica after a hasty retreat from the multicultural trade route town. The new converts are left to face verbal and physical persecution as a result of their newfound faith. There’s concerned for the fledgling church as they work, labour, and endure amongst those who have rejected Paul’s proclamation of the Gospel.

So he writes his first letter to the Thessalonians to encourage them in the troubles they’re facing. We hear his encouragement for their work, labour, and endurance. But specifically for their work produced by faith, their labour prompted by love, and their endurance inspired by hope. The three fold theme — faith, hope, and love — common in the New Testament is present here, but Paul now couples it with their deeds and lives amongst the transient community of Thessalonica.

In these days we too live in a transient and temporary society. In communities where once everyone knew who was who, there was a consistent stability people could count on. But no more! Our world has gone and got itself a whole lot busier, and we have been caught up in the busyness of it too.

Our society is changing in many ways. We can now find out news from anywhere in the world with only a moment’s notice. People are becoming migratory in search of the almighty dollar. And those who stay put, can’t afford to sit still or they get left behind and buried under a pile of debt.

The church too faces this change and Christians within it face the very real pressures of the transient, live-for-the-moment desires of our age. Once upon a time Christianity was the centre of most communities; you would see the who’s who of the district in a church somewhere. And everyone made the commitment to be in church on Good Friday and Christmas day. But today, friends and family are sadly missed from amongst the ranks. The pews are empty; leaving us behind wondering if we should remain in something that seems like it might die.

The saddest thing though, is not that our society is changing, getting busier, or even becoming more and more heathen. The Thessalonians came through it and so has the Christian church in other ages too. No! The saddest thing is that as a result of these things we allow ourselves to backslide; producing less and less works, labouring in love is lost, and endurance becomes uninspired, bland, and boring.

The saddest thing is we let the godlessness of our age have more power in our lives than our Father in heaven, fearing godlessness more than God, giving it greater and greater power in our hearts and minds. We see numerical decline and lose trust in God who has his plan for his church which he ultimately sustains through thick and thin.

After the collection of the weekly offering we pray for God to receive it for the sake of Jesus Christ. We use various prayers, but usually they give thanks for what God has given us; ourselves, our time, and our possessions. We go on to ask God to accept our offerings as a sign of his goodness and as a symbol of our love.

The offering on the plate is a sign and a symbol, but it’s not the sum total of what we give! And so we can ask ourselves, regardless of how much or how little we might put on the plate, “With what intention do I give?”

The state of our faith, hope, and love are quickly revealed when we match them next to the offering of ourselves, our time, and our possessions.

Does the handling of our possessions speak well of our love; of God or of our neighbour? What does our time management reveal of our daily, hourly, and momentary devotion and glorification of God Almighty? And what type of faith do we radiate to others as a result of the faith we have received from God?

Faith and ourselves, our time and our hope, our love and our possessions; we ask ourselves, “What do they say about my intention towards God?”

Today, in the days of the Thessalonians, even back when the Israelites created the golden calf, and right the way back to Adam and Eve, humanity turns from the one true and living God to idols of one kind or another.

Much work, labour, and endurance has evolved from the hearts and hands of humans to serve these idols we’ve fashioned. But the question is; how do I turn from this habitual sin and idolatry back to the one true and living God, so faith in me produces work pleasing to God, I labour for the love of God prompted by the love of God, and I persevere, inspired with enduring hope of my eternal home, before those who seek heavenly moments in the fleeting pleasures of this world?

We could become better focused on our work, labour, and endurance; but that still would lead us on a path into idolatry. Even if faith, hope, and love within are fed by work, labour, and endurance could we together build something special and great? No! We couldn’t even make something as special or great as a golden calf or a tower of Babel, even if we tried really hard! And we know what God thought of them!

Paul thanks God for the Thessalonians because they didn’t do that. Rather they turned from their idolatry to serve the living and true God, waiting for his Son from heaven. They looked to Jesus Christ and to him alone who chose them through the gospel, convicting them deeply by the power of the Holy Spirit.

God has chosen you and me. Although the deep conviction to work, labour, and love might temp us to focus on these things and turn them into idols, it is the Holy Spirit’s intention with faith, hope, and love, to have us focus on Jesus Christ. And in him we will be productive in faith works, prompted to love, and inspired by hope.

You see faith, hope, and love are ours in Christ Jesus our Lord; we are in Christ because Christ is in us. Faith, hope, and love are in us and can only come from us because they are in Christ and are of Christ as a result of the Holy Spirit.

So let us not even be tempted to run after these other things which might seem good, lest they lead us away from God into the idolatry of ourselves. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus and run after him, so that in him, he in us will produce prompt and inspire, faithful good works, labours of love, and enduring hope, to the glory of God — the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A, Pentecost 22 Proper 23 - Exodus 32:1-14 "A Big Heap of Bull"

A Christian fellow, who had previously been a devout Hindu in India, reflects on his former religion at a time when he decided his Hinduism would lead him to worship his cow. Cows are sacred in India. They are gods allowed to roam the streets, enter houses, and to eat them would be a crime of sacrilege.

The Hindu honoured his cow; however, he began to question his faith when this god of his charged him. The consecrated cow, became a beast of burden, thinking nothing of the honour the Hindu had given him.

I’d suspect it would make you wonder, what you’d done wrong, after giving much homage to the cow. Yet all you get in return is wild-eyed rampage coming at you to gore you for your trouble.

Perhaps one should have fell prostrate seeking mercy from the cantankerous cow, but I must admit I’ve never witnessed too many farming folk from around these placed bowing low in the dust and filth of a cattle yard to earn the favour of a snotty animal that’s just been seared with a branding iron. No. The wise thing to do is let the adrenaline take over in super-human style and leap the impossible fence in a single bound.

So the blessed bovine became a beast of burden. The Hindu knew his god of wrath was no god at all and after some time circumstances brought him before the God of creation and his Son, Jesus Christ. In time he believed and he became a Christian.

This might seem like nonsense — worshipping a cow, not being able to eat them, believing they have divine powers. One might say it’s foolish or just a big heap of bull!

But humans have been burying themselves in it from ancient times up until the present. The Israelites having been led out of Egypt with much power and supremacy by God himself, now sit in wait for Moses who had disappeared up Mount Sinai.

While Moses is before God, hearing what was to be put in place so God could have a personal relationship with the Israelites through the giving of the ten commandments and instructions for building a tabernacle — a footstool for God on earth, the Israelites put there own building plan into action. They built themselves an image and declare it to be God’s representative. What was taking time and preparation between God and Moses on the mountain was contrasted by the immediate rush down below for Aaron to dream up a golden image to take the place of an infinite God.

For us this too might seem like a load of bull. They built an image of a calf, and covered with their gold. It was a personal creation of the people, but it was impersonal — unable to speak, see, or act. It could do nothing unlike the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who had done everything for them in the past.

However, the people had waited quite a while for Moses. They must have wondered if he was returning. The Israelite failed to see it was not Moses who brought them up out of Egypt, but rather it was God using Moses as his mouthpiece and mediator.

But why a golden calf? What has a cow got to do with God? Why did they make an image of a young bull as God’s representative on earth?

The Egyptians and Canaanites saw the bull as an object of fertility and power and worshipped it as a representative of the sky or storm gods. The Israelites had just recently left Goshen where they would have been accustomed to this style of worship.

Bulls in ancient times were seen as the kings of domesticated animals, just as eagles were the kings of the birds, lions were kings of the wild animals, and the cedars of Lebanon were the kings of the trees.

So God seemed to have become even more distant, now that there leader, Moses, had not been seen for some time. He had disappeared in the glory cloud of thunder and lightning on the mountain. Therefore a bull would have seemed a fitting image of God who was hidden in the Sinai storm of fire and smoke with such power and might.

But we know that the whole exercise was a load of bull. The glory of God and his personal relationship with the people of Israel was exchanged for an impersonal idol. In fact they acted disobediently before God, who had commanded them not to make graven images out of gold or silver. They turned from the person of God Almighty to their own personal thoughts and created a god. They sinned against the Creator and became creators themselves and after they made their impotent god of gold, their self-glory sat them down in revelry against God.

Worshipping living cows or golden calves might seem to us like a big load of bull. However, you and I too struggle with self-glorification. All of us create sacred cows in our lives and bow down to them. We do it wittingly and unwittingly, making gods of the created, and placing them above the Creator.

The problem is that when we create these gods for ourselves, it’s just not they that are the gods. We worship them before God, placing our faith in them, because they have come from our own power. In fact, it is you and I who make ourselves god, when we place other things before God Almighty. In reality, we distant ourselves from the One True God with a pantheon of pseudo gods. We busy ourselves in service to them, so we don’t have to face the reality of our sinful nature before God Almighty.

These gods in our lives are very impersonal. They take away our identity, further destroying the image of God which was originally intended for you and for me. Like the Hindu’s cow god, the gods we create end up charging us, becoming beasts of burden. They kill rather than give life. Like the golden calf our impersonal gods serve us by being a dead weight around our necks, dragging us down into darkness.

Before we exchange the glory of God for our ideas about God we do well to remember the idolatry of the Israelites and the Hindu cow worshipper, was, and still is, a big heap of bull. Before we seek to implement our own ideas of what worship is all about, perhaps we need to hear and study the word of God, and hear what God has put in place for us.

The glory of God is the God who saves us. The glory of God is he who names our sin, calls it to account so he might forgive it, so we might live in peace with him. The glory of God is he who feeds us with his Holy Word and embodies that word of peace and forgiveness in us through the bread and the wine, so we might bear the glory of God before the world showing that our own created false gods and idols are a big heap of bull. The Glory of God is Jesus Christ alone; who served us by bearing our sin on the cross; and continues to serve us in his resurrected glory.

And that’s no bull! Amen.