Sunday, December 27, 2009

C, Christmas 1 - Luke 2:41-52 Colossians 3:12-17 "Mary's Treasure"

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Mary treasured all these things in her heart. This is a saying we hear often in the Gospel according to Luke. Mary kept and pondered all that happened in the core of her being! She remembered what happened and meditated on the events of Jesus' life.
Thanks to Mary we have Luke's Gospel account. In his account we find the most extensive recollection of Jesus' birth narrative. It is most likely that Luke, the gentile physician and friend of Saint Paul, recorded the events of Jesus' birth, life, and death personally from Mary. This is why in the Gospel of Luke we find this personal reference to Mary pondering all these happenings in her heart.
We might understand why a mother might ponder the actions of her child. Yet while she treasured the events, she still didn't understand why Jesus remained in the temple in Jerusalem and did not travel home with them. Nor did she understand why he said he said, "I had to be in my Father's house?"
Nevertheless, Mary pondered all that had happened before her. She remembered, the spectacular way in which she conceived Jesus by the power of God's Word and the Holy Spirit announced through Gabriel, the archangel.
Mary mused over her visit to Elizabeth, her relative, very pregnant with John the Baptist who jumped for joy at her arrival carrying the Christ child. She would have wondered about the awkward trip on the donkey to Bethlehem and the hassle of giving birth in an environment not really fit for a baby in which to be born. And she contemplated the visit of the shepherds and their excitement over finding this baby Jesus lying in the manger.
In the Lutheran Church, at times other then Christmas, Mary tends to get shunned in fear we might elevate her to the point were we worship and deify her to the same level as Jesus Christ. However, Mary is a person to whom we can look as a model of what it is to ponder, to treasure, and to honour Jesus Christ.
Mary not only bore the Son of God, but Luke uses her recollection and treasuring as the basis of his Gospel birth narrative. And similarly we can use Luke's testimony, to gain an understanding from the mother of Christ, of what it is to be one who looks out of ourselves to Christ — pondering, treasuring, contemplating, and musing over he who once was concealed in Mary's womb, but now who is hidden by faith in all who believe in him for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.
Unfortunately though, Christmas for our society today has become one of self-centred contemplation. The gifts we receive don't regularly encourage us to look out of ourselves at all, let alone to worship and honour Christ. Rather our earthly gifts will us to look towards the glorification of ourselves.
From a very early age children see Christmas as a "what am I going to get" exercise. Yes, we give, but truth be known, getting gives all of us at least just a little bit more of a sense of warmth. Or, when we give great to someone and they return the giving with a lesser gift, there is a part inside of us that remembers the inequality.
Mary too could have bore a grudge against God the Father, her situation, her twelve year old Son staying behind in Jerusalem, and humanity, at her Son's death on the cross, and ascension into heaven after his resurrection. She could have cried out as the victim! Used by God; losing the company of her Son at the age of thirty three!
Perhaps she did in the early days just after his crucifixion! But we're not to know as the Scriptures report little of her emotion and thoughts after his death. What we do know is while Jesus was alive and conducting his ministry in the lead up to his crucifixion, his family thought he was out of his mind and sought to take charge of him. However, in time Mary and her family, look to her son and their brother, as the Son of God from eternity. They worked and served the church, privileged to be such a special part of God's plan of salvation for humanity.
When Jesus was approached and told his mother and brothers had come to see him, he responded, "Here are my mother and brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother!" (Mark 3: 34-35) "My mother and brothers are those who hear God's Word and put it into practice." (Luke 8:21)
We like Mary and her family should also be growing in the love of God too. As God continually reveals himself to us, as a God of forgiveness. Despite the nature of our sinful being, we, his brothers and sisters, can treasure, ponder, contemplate, and meditate on just how much he does for us. Especially as he sends the Holy Spirit to you and opens the eye of faith in your heart so you see, the holy Child of God, and, the Son of Mary, dwells in you in all his glory.
The gifts we received or the ones we thought we should have received. The ones which lead us to place ourselves at the centre, despite their inability to deliver into eternal life, because they are doomed to deterioration! They can be put aside in favour of a gift that we can worship and honour. And this gift will give us lasting peace and good will greater than the peace and goodwill we are supposed to find in the chaotic commercial lead up and Boxing Day sales of Christmas.
This gift doesn't deem that we do anything to give us an emotional lift, or a sense of goodness or peace! Rather this gift encourages us to rest and trust in Christ, by trusting and remaining, or just being, in he who forgives and feeds us faith. Jesus can give you the gift of serving others with forgiveness and love, while still being able to focus solely on him and give him the glory for the work he does in and through you!
And in the spirit that Mary treasured Jesus in her heart, privileged to be a part of God's redemption of humanity, you too are encouraged by Paul in his letter to the Colossians to meditate and muse over Jesus Christ as he uses you also to reflect his light on those in our world who still live in darkness. As he says…
Since… you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, and not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.
Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Amen (Colossians 3:1-3, 12-17)

C, Christmas Day - Luke 2:8-20 "You Can't Hit an Angel with a Stick"

Text: Luke 2:8-20

…[T]here were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests."

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." 16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.


You can't beat a shepherd with a stick! None of us here would be able to strong arm a shepherd and steal his sheep. Rather if we tried to overrun the shepherd and flog his sheep we would end up on the wrong end of the stick. We would be struck with the shepherd's staff. We would feel the sting of his rod on our backs; the shepherd's staff would bear down heavy on our shoulders, and we would have to flea from him and his flock in fear.

Shepherds are masters at caring for their sheep. Looking after sheep in the daytime is one thing — watching their sheep feed on pastures, making sure they don't stray too far. But at night as the sheep rest, the pressure to keep sheep safe rises to a whole new level. For in the cloak of darkness lurk all sorts of menaces just waiting to make a meal out of a sheep. Often you would find not just one shepherd looking after the flock but a number of shepherds watching the sheep every hour of the day; a family of shepherds perhaps. So while one watched the others slept and when alerted they would all jump up, take their staffs, and drive off the attacker.

It would have been just a regular night outside Bethlehem. The shepherds were watching over their flocks at night. They were on the lookout for lions, wild dogs, or wolves, and thieves seeking a quick catch before disappearing into the darkness. And if one of these attackers had stepped out of the darkness, there would have been a commotion, as the shepherds would have banded together and scared off the foe from the flock.

But this night outside Bethlehem was no ordinary night. In fact the night became as bright as day as an angel of the Lord appeared and the glory of the Lord shone all around. Now the shepherds knew what was transpiring was not the normal. They knew they couldn't beat off an angel of the Lord with a staff or sticks, and the fearless shepherds shook with terror.

But this angel was not about to strike the shepherds and scatter their sheep. No! He came with good news. And for folk like the shepherds, the news he brought was truly life saving news. He said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." (Luke 2:10-12)

This was good news for the shaking shepherds. As rugged as these men were, they had no access to God because of their lifestyle. Being shepherds brought them into contact with ritually unclean situations and animals, and having to watch over their sheep twenty-four hours a day, meant no time to go and make the appropriate sacrifices to the Lord at the temple at Jerusalem. So the shepherds lived as outcasts, unclean and unable to have an audience with God in the temple. It's no wonder that these men shook with fear. Not only was this an extraordinary event, but the holiness of God shone upon these men who knew they were not fit to stand in the holy presence of God.

However the angel's call to have no fear was well founded. He told them to have no fear because the Saviour born is "for you", and this sign is "for you", that you will find the baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. And with that the shepherds were privileged to be the first people on earth to hear the song of heaven, Glory to God in the highest, only ever heard in the presence of God; heard now because God was Immanuel, "God with us", lying in a manger wrapped in cloths —for us —for you!

It must have been a great show seeing the hosts of heaven light up the night sky and even greater to hear that the Saviour was born for them, unclean shepherds. So much so these shepherds left their sheep — now that's just not done — and they said to each other, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." And off they went and found everything as the angel had told them.

The irony in all of this is that these men gained access to God, through an extraordinary event; these men leaned over a manger and saw the child, where usually they would have tipped food into similar mangers to feed their sheep when no fodder was to be found. What was extraordinary for them was for God too, for God had never lowered himself to such a point that he was restricted to one place in time — as a baby lying in a manger.

We should never let the enormity of this event slip past us. God came into darkness and shone his glory. God came to earth for us, for you, for me, and he continues to shine his glory on us. Although now it's masked by faith in his Word, so that only those who hear and trust his Word see his glory, and, like the shepherds, have access to a holy God in these dark times.

The irony doesn't stop their either. The child, the Son of God, these shepherds viewed was to grow into the man who was sent by God to be the Shepherd of humanity, beginning with the Jews and then all people, including us, who are the Gentiles. This holy God born into the darkness of humanity, brings light as he comes as Supreme Shepherd, and was deserted by God and sacrificed as a lamb, in the darkest hour on Good Friday, so that in his sacrifice we — having been cleaned — can say, "Let's go and see and hear what the Lord has done for us." And having been in the Risen Shepherd's supreme presence and receiving forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, we can return to our everyday lives glorifying and praising God for all the things we have heard and seen, which are just as we have been told in God's Word.

So the inspired words Isaiah wrote all those years before Christ was born are for us. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. 4 For as in the day of Midian's defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. 6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:2,4,6-7)

The zeal of God has accomplished this for you. We no longer have to fear the shepherd's rod and staff striking us and oppressing us and driving us away from the flock of God into darkness and death. Rather because this Christ child was born for you, because this Shepherd was laid in a manger for you, and was nailed to the cross for you, we now can live in peace as the Shepherd's sheep, living forever in the light. We have been adopted and given an identity as his children, his sheep, with eternal access to his divine glory. And now the rod of the Shepherd beats off the enemy, from within us and from near us, every time we hear the Law. And his staff, the Gospel, saves us and comforts us as we live under his twenty-four hour a day watch.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3 he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (Psalm 23:1-6) Amen.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

C, Advent 3 - Luke 3:9-10, 16-18 "Chop-Chop"

The radio announcer says, "It's a quarter to eight!" Then the familiar sound of the ABC radio news opener fills the air — and all hell breaks loose. Lunch boxes, homework, jumpers, school bags, toothpaste, teeth brushed, hair combed, laces done, and out the door. Because the bus – she's a comin'!

It was amazing how the news opener would turn us towards what needed to be done, so we could get on our bikes and ride the half mile to the front gate where we met the school bus each morning.

You'd have thought we'd have learnt our lesson from the countless times before when our procrastination and playing caused us to be late — time and time again. But no! Being late for the bus was a regular occurrence, just as regular as the ABC news at a quarter to eight.

If we were out the door at a quarter to eight, just as the music from the opener rang out, it would be a leisurely ride on our bikes to the front gate where the bus would arrive at five to eight. But any later the ride turned into a panicked dash at the last minute.

Only now am I beginning to learn of my mother's dilemma — and my wife, her mother's dilemma — as we go through the same struggles to get our children out the door on time for school. But in all of this I remember mum's regular word of encouragement so we would not be late. Chop-chop! Chop-chop! These words burnt themselves into my brain just as has the ABC radio news opener. "Chop-chop boys, you'll be late for the bus, if you don't get a wriggle on."

John the Baptist came calling chop-chop! But it was not the school bus to which he was calling Israel's attention. He was calling Israel to turn and be prepared for the coming of Christ.

In his proclamation, John the Baptist appealed to the crowd, "The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire." "What should we do then?" the crowd asked. John answered them all, "I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire." And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them. (Luke 3:9-10,16-18)

Chop-chop the axe is just about to swing! Repent and return, be the trees that bear good fruit, the axeman is coming to chop down the trees that don't bear the fruits of righteousness.

John's message was long in coming. He was the last of God's prophets but only after four hundred years of silence. Last week we heard from Malachi who said, "But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner's fire or a launderer's soap." (Malachi 3:2)

And now John came proclaiming that Christ would come to "baptise with the Holy Spirit and fire". The launderer is coming to wash with the Spirit; the refiner stands ready to refine with fire!

John heralded that a new era was just about to begin; the axe was just about to fall on Israel like it had never before.

John reflects every proclamation of the prophets before him. These former prophets all called Israel to repent and return to God, and now John too cries out on behalf of God. But in his warning for Israel to chop-chop, the axe was ready at the root of the tree, as we hear God call through the former prophet Isaiah…

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord—and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious. In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the remnant that is left of his people… (Is 11:1-5, 10-11a)

And so with us, the call to "chop-chop" is one we all need to hear. The new era is ongoing the axe is at the root of our hearts ready to chop out all unworthiness before God. God calls you to chop-chop.

In this new era the axe falls! The first to get the chop was John who came calling us to chop-chop. John suffered the consequences of his undiscriminating preaching by literally getting the chop from Herod; losing his head in calling Herod to repentance for marrying his brother's wife.

Then Jesus' ministry of baptism and fire swung into full swing. He swung the axe like it had never been swung before. Jesus put the Law in front of Israel calling people to turn from their sin to God. He revealed the failings of the teachers of the Law; demonstrating that they themselves didn't keep the Law as God desired. He showed the piety of the Pharisees to be a sham, in that their piety didn't lead to God's glorification but their own.

The people heard, chop-chop! Just like we kids heard before the coming of the school bus. Chop-chop! Just like Isaiah, John the Baptist, and all the other prophets had called the fathers of Israel to chop-chop. Now the music began to play, just like the quarter to eight news, as the Son of God came to chop-chop, chop into the heart of humanity's sin.

Jesus came with the Law, like no other. Not only did he enforce the Law, he extended it to the holiest extent. Hatred is now murder! Looking in lust is now adultery! There are now no loop holes in the Law. Chop-chop the axe is swinging!

The axe is swinging on us too! Christ brings to us this holiest of Law. He calls you to repentance! He comes bringing judgement on you, and me! He comes as the Launderer and the Refiner. He comes with a baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire.

John the Baptist brought this "chop-chop" message to the people, the same message which comes to you today. Like the crowd, the tax collectors, and the soldiers who asked John, "What should we do then?" we are also called to ask, "What should we do?"

What should you do? Christ has come and Christ will come again. Chop-chop, Jesus is coming!

The axe has fallen, on you and me! But unlike John and many of the other prophet of the Law beforehand who fell under the axe. Unlike many of the Israelites who fell under the axe of God's Law. The axe of the Axeman, the soap of the Launderer, and the fire of the Refiner came down on Jesus Christ in a baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire.

Never before had the axe of God's Law come down as hard as it did in Jesus birth, life, and death. The axe fell hard on Israel, and it falls hard on us, and Christ wore its full force on the cross. Chop-chop, God's One and Only Son got the chop, for Israel, for humanity, for you, and for me.

We are in the new era of Salvation now! The message of the prophets still stands but now their message stands together with the Apostles' as they point to he who took the chop for us being baptised into death and bearing the fires of wrath on the cross for us.

For us today who live between Christ's first and second coming the call is for us to chop-chop, and be ready for Christ to come again. And we ask, "What should we do?"

And the prophets, the Apostles, and Christ himself call us to chop-chop — to believe in the Word of God! Believe that Christ's baptism into death is binding your baptism into his life, that Jesus' fire of judgement and death at Calvary should have been your deadly eternal fire into death, and Jesus' resurrection is your hope of resurrection to eternal life with him.

The axe has swung! Chop-chop! You have been grafted onto the stump of Jesse! Now let Christ bear good fruit in you! Let the greatest fruit you bear be the fruit of faith that you are now in Christ unto eternity. Why? Because Jesus, he's a comin!

And so with joy, praise and thanksgiving we hear from Isaiah in chapter 12, "In that day you will say: 'I will praise you, O Lord. Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted me. Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.' With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation." (Isaiah 12:1-3)

And finally from Philippians 4, "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Amen. (Philippians 4:4-7)

Saturday, December 05, 2009

C, Advent 2 - Luke 3:1-6 Malachi 3:1-4 "Known Unto God"

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Lieutenant Tim Logan and Sergeant James Wheeler were buried with full military honours at a cemetery outside Port Moresby on Tuesday December the first, this last week. Some sixty odd years after WW2 they were finally identified and laid to rest. In the midst of ferocious battle these men paid the ultimate price but no one knew what that price was for all those years until their remains were identified.
However, there were another two bodies buried. Unlike Wheeler and Logan, these other two individuals could not be identified and so their bodies shared a coffin and tombstone with the inscription, "Known unto God". No one will ever know who they were or what they did to pay the price which has rendered them unknown to the annals of history. Only God knows who they were or what they did.
Interestingly, in this situation, humanity has acknowledged God's existence as human knowledge rendered itself flawed. In an age when God is denied, or treated as flaccid, these unidentified men, dead and buried, testify to the all-powerful, all-knowing, and omnipresent God of heaven and earth.
These men lying in the unidentified grave, "Know unto God", now lie in silence testifying not to what they have done, but rather that God is and what he can do. Who would ever have known these "Known unto God" individuals would bear an inscription making God known unto us!
Similarly there was another chap that bore witness to God. He was nothing special to look at, and was calling people to prepare themselves with a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. His name was John the Baptist, and he came from the desert into Judea making God known unto the people.
Isaiah spoke of John's preparation of the people, saying, "A voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all flesh will see God's salvation.' " (Luke 3:4-6, Isaiah 40:3-5)
Yet there have been many fleshy bodies that have endured crooked and rough roads making us ask, "Did they see God's salvation?" We might think of these four chaps killed in battle with only two of them recognised years after the conflict.
Even John the Baptist died in the most horrible way after being the herald for the coming of Christ. John lost his head, at the word of Herod, who sought to save face amongst his guests. Did John see God's salvation?
Many expect to be delivered out of trouble in this life, but in reality the trouble from which we seek to be delivered are only surface troubles which cover a much more serious trouble grounded in our being. Left untreated this greater trouble will never leave us. Not even unto eternity.
We might ask, "Did these diggers see God's salvation, or did John see God's salvation?" But for these men fallen in battle, their salvation is only known to themselves and God. Also John the Baptist's salvation is ultimately in the hands of God.
Yet with John the Baptist we hear his testimony to Christ in God's word. And John willingly baptised Jesus in the Jordan, baptising Jesus into a death that would ensure his salvation and the salvation of all those who believe that their baptism places them in Christ for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
So salvation is there to be seen for all those who believe in Christ by trusting they are sinners and by trusting Christ has power over sin through his death and resurrection.
Today we do not have John the Baptist preparing the way for us. Instead we have the Holy Spirit heralding Christ through his Word. The Holy Spirit opens our hearts to his Word, so we see Christ Jesus has come to us and is our salvation. We see Christ has come to us in baptism, he continues to come to be our Immanuel, the one true God with us, who lives in you and me. And because we have he who gives salvation living in us and breathing his Spirited Word in us, we also know God will come again to give us the fruit of our faith and hope – an eternity of peace in loving fellowship face to face with God forever.
But as we're made known to God, we can expect all sorts of trials to test us. And as we wait for Christ's return we might ask as Malachi asks, "But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner's fire or a launderer's soap." (Malachi 3:2)
We can expect to be refined and washed time and time again in this life. When this happens do not lose hope. God disciplines those he loves. He may or may not save you from the temporary trials here on earth, but he will walk with you through these trials in order to save you from the eternal trial from which Satan and all his evil entourage are already condemned.
Salvation is ours! You are known unto God! God has been made known unto you! Trust in Christ who has come and will come again! God shows mercy to you through Christ, he remembers you because of Jesus, and he rescues you through his Son's death and resurrection.
Why, because the Son of God was "Known unto God the Father", known to bear your sin on the cross, even though he was known to be without sin. He bore the ultimate refiner's fire and we have been washed with the launderer's soap, the Word of God, in the waters of baptism.
God has enabled you to serve him without fear, for in God's sight you have been made holy and righteous in baptism unto eternity. You are known unto God, and are now free to bear Christ so God might be made known to others as you daily serve him all the days of your life.
But how do we do this? We serve God not so much by worrying what we should do; rather we serve him best by living in the hope of our salvation. And this is simply to live each day believing we are a part of his new reality. Our being is now being lead by Jesus towards a reality of peace and harmony with God, by the power of the Holy Spirit in God's Word.
So live looking towards the source of your salvation, Jesus Christ, and others around you will soon want to see what you see. As you live "Known unto God", God will be made known unto others, for Jesus' sake, Amen.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

C, Advent 1 - Luke 21:25-36 "Turn Up The Volume"

Text – Luke 21:25-36

"There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." Then he told them a parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. "Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man."


Where's that jolly noise coming from? It's driving you crazy! That rattle in the car you never seem to locate, or the bumping sound under the bonnet! Those cats fighting outside! Hidden by the stealth of darkness! That mosquito with its radar set to seek, somewhere above your face, so it seems, with its high pitched sonar. Or perhaps it's those rowdy neighbours having a party with their music turned up to test the most peaceful of neighbours.

Then there are noises which might be an annoying distant din at first, but then grows to reveal a fury that just might prove to be fatal. Tsunami, bushfire, earthquake, cyclone, a severe electrical storm, or anything which turns hearts to jelly and announces something horrendous is about to happen.

These noises, regardless of them being just plain annoying or even something worse, are sobering as they bring us out of slumber into a consciousness that demands we address the reality of the situation immediately.

Maybe the rattle in the car demands you stop to fix the problem. So you turn up the volume of the radio to drown out that funny noise coming from under the bonnet.

And those jolly cats! So you get out of bed and get the broom to chase them off. Or open the gate to release the hound, who's also been woken by the horrible din of cats snarling and sneering at each other outside your window.

The mozzie squealing makes you clap your hands in the darkness, hoping you get the little blighter. But no, you hear him still! But then he stops! Is he on your face? Your ear! You wack yourself in the head eager to kill the mozzie, but sure as anything you lie there half concussed from hitting yourself and then in its own time that mozzie begins its sonar seeking squeal once again.

Or it's two in the morning and all you hear is thump, thump, thump of a booming bass beat that makes it impossible to sleep. What do you do? Put your head under the pillow? Do you stuff cottonwool in the ears to block out the noise? Or do you get up, turn on some noise of your own, seeing you can't sleep!

One person's noise is another person's nightmare! So what noises do you create, do you enjoy, at the expense of someone else's serenity?

Most of the similar noises we make, as a group of human beings and as individuals, drown out what we need to hear from God. In fact, our noise is a nightmare! Not to God though, but rather to ourselves! Yes! God doesn't like our noise, that's for sure! But the noise we create is at our own expense, and it brings imminent chaos on us and our creation.

But why are humans so hell-bent on creating such noise? Noise which deafens and threatens to destroy us! One might understand the accidental noise we inadvertently make. But we humans go to great lengths creating deliberate noise which only turns up the volume on our nightmares.

We create such noise, knowingly and unknowingly, because our natures want to block out God and his noise. In our natural state of being we don't want to have anything to do with God. And so many go to great lengths to create noise to distract their consciences from hearing and knowing there is someone greater who is almighty and infinite and is the author of all things.

Then there are those who accept there is a God who has created and still sustains all life. But they still make noise, refusing to hear God who announces to them that they need to be accountable to him. They think God has made us only to cut us free with unlimited boundaries so we might no longer look to him for anything.

But still some know he exists, and seek to remain accountable to him. Nevertheless they turn up the volume so they can't hear God announce to them they are sinful, and that left in their natural sinful human state of being they will experience God's anger if something doesn't happen to unplug the noise of sin in their lives.

And again, some realise they are sinners; they know God exists, and seek to remain accountable to him. But instead they make an ungodly sound as they seek to work off their sin. However, no matter how much noise they make, regardless of what type of song and dance they do, they will never do enough to earn the serenity of salvation from their sin.

And so we come to the reality of God's noise. The noise of a mother heavily pregnant as she labours on a donkey, and in the stall amongst the animals! The noise of a baby born at Bethlehem as it takes its first gasp of air and cries for its mother's milk. This is the noise of God's own Son descended into the midst of our noise, our trouble, and our sinful reality.

And God continues to make his noise! He calls you to trust he who came into his creation capable of making much noise, yet was silent, submissive, and sinless to slaughter on the cross. God calls you to know that although Christ Jesus was silent about his innocence, he cried out in suffering as he carried the nightmare of our sin which we all should be suffering. This is the noise of death, every generation and every person must undergo as a result of the sinful human nature.

This noise of ours became Jesus' nightmare! So busy are we to rid ourselves of God, but instead Jesus got what our human nature fights for. And having heard the "sound of true silence" Jesus cried out "My God, My God why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34) And God withdrew letting Jesus die under the deafening din of your sin, and my sin too!

Now, on the other side of Jesus' death, God's noise still remains! Having raised his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, "the Word made Flesh" now lives in all who believe and are baptised into him, in the name of the Triune God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Knowing God has done all this for you, his noise is not something you should fear. Your death is now only a temporary glitch on your eternal radar!

But, on the other hand, silence from God is all one can expect while continuing to reject his word and busy themself with noisy nightmares ending in eternal death minus the love of God.

So as God turns up the volume of his word, his noise is a noise with which we can joyfully resonate as we're brought in time with his death and resurrection through his Word of eternal life.

In the last days Jesus promises he will come again and things will happen in creation that forecast this! Just as the fig tree sprouts new leaves as a sign of summer coming, Christ's second coming will be expected for those who avail themselves to hear his Word.

Severe events in the natural world will occur to sober all of us sinners to the reality of his Word. And with these events we will witness chaos in the hearts of people who have tried to block out the noise of God's coming, and his Word.

As God turns up the volume of his return God call you to stand up, lift up your head, look and know that the kingdom of God is near. And all the more as his creation groans as a result of our sin, yearning for the final release promised since the day Christ's blood flowed into the earth from the cross.

He also warns you to be careful, to watch and pray so you're not overburdened by the noises and anxieties of life which can weigh you down with dissipation and despair and cause you all sorts of terrors as we see God shaking creation before he comes in the clouds.

But not so for us! When you witness these things beginning to happen, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near, the kingdom is near, and the king is coming to take you home! Amen.

May he (the Holy Spirit) strengthen your hearts (with the Word of Christ) so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones, Amen!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

B, Last Sunday of the Church Year - John 5:21-29 "Hang On"

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Are you always in confusion? Surrounded by illusion? Sort it out, you'll make out. Seem to make a good beginning, someone else ends up winning, don't seem fair, don't you care?
These are the words of a popular song. We'll hear more of them soon. But they give us a springboard into the focus for the day. Today is the last day of the church year and we focus on last things – the end or judgement day. But better than the last things it's also a focus on better things for those who believe and "Hang On" to what we've been given.
Hang on, help is on its way, I'll be there as fast as I can, "Hang on", a tiny voice did say, from somewhere deep inside the inner man.
Have you worked out the song yet? Even if you haven't it doesn't really matter! Rather let us borrow these words from the Little River Band to help us focus on Christ and his word of grace and comfort, but also his word of warning.
God calls us to, "Hang On", because he has come as fast as he can! In fact he is with us, inseparable, but hidden, given at the cross, given in baptism. It takes faith to know this, to "Hang On" until the end, and not lose hope! Hang On help is on its way! This inner man that the song speaks of is, for us, the New Man, risen from the dead, the New Adam, Jesus Christ.
This Inner Man within is revealed by the tiny voice of the Holy Spirit, encouraging us to "Hang On", to persist, persevere, endure, and remain, until Jesus comes again as victorious Lord of all, so we might regain, what the Old Adam lost for us all those years ago in the Garden.
The first verse of the song reads, "Why are you in so such hurry? Is it really worth the worry? Look around, then slow down. What's it like inside the bubble? Does your head ever give you trouble? It's no sin, trade it in."
These lyrics are close, but the poetic licence isn't right! Let's take some liberty to change the last line and correct the verse so it fits the true reality. Rather than saying or singing, "It's no sin", lets change it to "It's a sin, trade it in." After all, if worry is not a sin, why bother trading it in!
As we live our lives, these days, we all seem to be in such a hurry! Time seems to be always fleeting! No time for anything! Perhaps it because we waste it worrying! Look around, then slow down! Open your eyes and see with the eyes of faith that God is with you, take a deep breath and then rest in him. Sabbath in the Lord, the Lord of the Sabbath!
Rest in the arms of Jesus Christ your Redeemer. He has traded in your time for his time. He has paid a price to release you from being bound in slavery to worry, doubt, pride and fear. Rest in the ransom he bought for you and trust in his sacrifice, rather than sacrificing your time to the slavery of sin and death by returning to the worship of worry and doubt!
So it's a sin, to live inside this bubble, inside your head of trouble. If fact when we sin in this way, we honour and we promote the god we all struggle with the most – the old self, the ego. This is the god of our old sinful Adam that demands we don't "Hang On" to the New Adam because the New Inner Man condemns this old god — this I, me, mine, ego god — and calls us to look out of ourselves to the Great I Am, who is the only way, the only truth, and the only life which "Hangs On" to the eternal peace won for us on the cross.
When you look out of yourself, not trusting in the Old Adam, you and I venture into foreign territory, and this reveals we're not the towers of strength we like everyone else to think we are. You and I show our weakness.
Yet, in this weakness God "Hangs On" to you. God came, God continues coming and is with you, and he will come again! In your weakness he shows himself to be strong. Therefore, you can walk in your weakness with faultless infallibility due to the faith God gives through his faithfulness to you.
It's time we heard that chorus again: Hang on, help is on its way, I'll be there as fast as I can, "Hang on", a tiny voice did say, from somewhere deep inside the inner man.
Let the tiny voice inside you be the Inner Man, the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world, our Lord Jesus Christ who says, "For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honour the Son just as they honour the Father. The person who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father, who sent him.
"I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; this person has crossed over from death to life.
I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself.
And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man. "Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned." (Jn 5:21-29)
Have you done the good which allows you to rise and live? Well, yes you have when you "Hang On" to Christ. Or to put it even better, when you allow Christ to remain hanging on to you! This good is done when you believe and trust in the One who the Father has sent — who is, and who was, and who is to come! Hang On! Let Christ "Hang On" to you and know that you have crossed over from death to life!
God "Hangs On" to us! God's word in Revelation chapter 1 reinforces this: To him (Jesus Christ) who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and has made us a kingdom of priests to serve his God and Father — to him be glory and power for ever and ever Amen. (Revelation 1:5b-6)
So in our doing right by believing, let us remain in him, "Hang On", by receiving the gifts he freely gives to drown the old sinful doubting, worrying and hurrying Adam in us. And let's allow this good "Hanging On" to flourish into good works amongst others, so through us God might reach out and grab them. So they too might "Hang On" to him, and he to them.
Hang on, help is on its way, I'll be there as fast as I can, "Hang on", a tiny voice did say, from somewhere deep inside the inner man.
Our help is in the name of the Lord! Our Alpha and Omega, the Almighty — the Father, his Son our Inner Man, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit! Amen.

Friday, November 13, 2009

B, Pentecost 24 Proper 28 - Hebrews 10:19-25 "Christ in Church"

We are experiencing birth pains! Since Christ ascended into heaven the earth has continued to crumble into chaos. The devil, having lost his universal authority because of the cross, now discharges his limited powers of destruction on sinful humanity and creation, and because of this, we experience birth pains.
We're not sure how advanced these birth pains have come, that is only for God to know. But Jesus tells us that end times will be quite tough — murder, hatred, political turmoil, and the upheaval of the natural world, will test all people. Christians will be captured and called to account. Many will be severely punished because the politically incorrect proclamation of the gospel will not be tolerated in any way, shape, or form.
Things are becoming tougher for us already! As our society and the advertisers tell us we're moving towards a utopia, evolving into perfection, the reality is our technological know-how and consumerism are moving us further away from perfection. These products of human knowledge reveal, more and more, humanity's failings in caring for creation and each other out of reverence for God. How much worse things will be allowed to fall, only God truly knows! But as times get tougher, Jesus also promised that whoever stands firm to the end will be saved! (Mark 13:13)
So we are encouraged by God's word in the letter to the Hebrews chapter 10 verses 19 to 25.
19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:19-25)
In these words from God we are encouraged to endure in the things of God. We are encouraged to continue gathering together as church, and to not stop doing so, as many have decided to do in these troubled times.
But what is church; into what are we called to gather? And what does coming to church do; what is the function or purpose of church?
Firstly on the question: What is church? Jesus' conversation with his disciples tells us very quickly what church is "not".
We hear in Mark chapter 13 verses 1 to 5, 'As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!" 2 "Do you see all these great buildings?" replied Jesus. "Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down." 3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 "Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?" 5 Jesus said to them: "Watch out that no one deceives you."' (Mark 13:1-5)
So all our massive church buildings—of which this one is one of the most insignificant in the scheme of church architecture and size—are not the church. And even if this building was the biggest in size or housed the most important ministers or bishops it still is not necessarily the church. However, what happens inside it might be church!
Even the temple structure in Jerusalem, which the disciple marvelled over before Jesus, was not to be church. Years earlier those who put their faith in the temple building were sorely warned by God through Jeremiah when he stood at the gate of the Lord's house and there proclaim this message: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. 4 Do not trust in deceptive words and say, "This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!" (Jeremiah 7:3-4) But the people didn't listen and didn't trust God but rather trusted in themselves and the building, making it a den of robbers (v.11) Therefore, God thrust them from his presence into exile. And then in Roman times not long after Jesus' ascension Jesus prophesy came true that, Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down. So the Jerusalem temple was flattened by the Romans in 70ad and to this day has never stood again. So buildings are not the church?
Surprisingly also traditionalism and institutionalism are not church either. Great gatherings of people into denominations such as Lutheranism, Roman Catholicism, Pentecostalism, Baptists, Unitings, or the other traditions in the church, are, in themselves, not church either.
However, the hint we need to discover just what church is, is once again with Jesus and his word as the Jews interrogate him in the temple! Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days." (John 2:19)
The church is this: God's faithful believers gathered around Jesus — past, present, and future — according to the means laid out in his word. And where "this" happens in buildings and in denominations amongst groups of people, there is the church. The church's one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord, destroyed and raised again in three days.
So we have dealt with what the church is; now secondly, the question of function and purpose.
Many today practise not meeting together, thinking they can be Christian individuals in isolation. They say, "Jesus lives in me, why should I go to church?" But if we take the logic of this statement to its conclusion we see it's as silly as saying, "the love of my marriage partner lives in my heart so why should I live with him or her!" Or it's as unrealistic or foolish as a man setting up farm in the desert, thinking he can grow fruit without water!
Although people do live apart in marriages, and farmers struggle to farm without water, and Christians do survive in isolation, we know it's not the ideal situation. And given the opportunity we welcome what we know to be right. God encourages us in what is right in the book of Hebrews to not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.(Hebrews 10:25)
Woe to those who lead people to believe that they can be Christians without being connected to the very things that make us Christian. We all know how easy it is to explain away the wise habits of meeting together and fall into the foolish habits of thinking we're Christians, just because we think we know who Jesus is. The fruits of these misguided habits quickly reveal a lack of trust in God and his word, so although they might know him they don't trust him and fail to participate in his fellowship, life, and timeless community, and are missing out on getting his gifts of faith, assurance, and eternal life.
As our chaotic world experiences more and more birth pains before the Day arrives when Christ returns to gather those participating in him, let us not give up encouraging each other to enter through the curtain into God's presence. The curtain being Jesus' body and blood sprinkled into us at baptism. Let us confidently gather in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit trusting we are washed with pure water, so that we might draw near God and be cleansed of our guilty consciences. Let us unswervingly give our ears every opportunity to be filled with Christ's faithful promises in his word, and to be filled with the Holy Spirit who also comes to us through the Word. And let us encourage each other in these habits of Jesus; these routines of righteousness, promised in the Word of God.
Like a mother who has endured the birth pains and received her reward at the end, you who remain in the wisdom of Christ, in his word and ways, will celebrate with much joy as you shine with all the brightness of heaven, and you who wisely lead many into Christ's routines of righteousness, will glow like the stars for ever and ever. In fact even greater, we will shine just as Jesus shines. Amen.