Friday, January 30, 2009

B, Epiphany 4 - Mark 1:21-28 "Teaching & Authority"

When Jesus entered the synagogue at Capernaum and taught with authority the people were amazed by what he taught and how he taught it. Jesus of Nazareth, the carpenter's son, taught with greater power than the scribes of the Law; no wonder they who gathered for the Sabbath service were amazed at what they heard.
Nevertheless, the power and authority of Jesus' word came not because he was a gifted man, but because he was, and still is, the Christ, God the Son, the Word of God veiled in flesh - in the man from Nazareth. Jesus came as the Saviour of humankind; he came as Christ - anointed by the Father as the lamb who takes away the sin of the world.
On the other hand, there was one confronted by his authority and teaching that Sabbath Saturday. A man possessed by an evil spirit cried out in opposition to the very presence of Jesus. It's interesting the possessed man seemed content to be in the synagogue hearing the Law in the first place. Yet he wanted nothing to do with Jesus, nor did he want to submit to his authority, or be discipled by his teaching. The spirit within the man wanted neither the person he possessed to be saved, nor to have his sins taken away.
What happened on that Sabbath at Capernaum might seem rather extraordinary. Yet, similar things occur when people come into God's rest every Sunday.
This might come as a surprise to most of us. Evil spirits are not regularly seen these days, but they do exist. We must not be too quick to dismiss the spirit world because we cannot see it. Both good and bad spirits do exist. We place our trust in the Holy Spirit, and Jesus himself gives us the petition in his Lord's Prayer, "deliver us from evil, or the evil one." Therefore, there is an entourage of evil hidden from our regular sight.
We also can't be too quick to see this evil in others, thinking we are void of these evil powers. Again we are returned to the Lord's Prayer and must ask ourselves why Jesus gives us the petition, "deliver us from evil".
When we come into God's presence on Sunday we come into a holy place where things happen like no other place on earth. Firstly, sin is named. Not just named as a general concept, but sin is specifically named in us - personally named. Then we're called to repentance for our sin so we might remain in submission under God's authority, and be disciplined as disciples through teaching and preaching from his authoritative word.
Teaching and authority, being disciplined and living in submission, are seen as negative things these days. The trend is to only hear and learn what we want, and submit to no one except ourselves, or at the most, to those who say what we want to hear. So when someone comes along and speaks the truth, personally naming sin in us and the need for a Saviour, it's bound to stir us as Jesus did to the man possessed by the evil spirit.
One of the saddest things to occur in the church today is when those called to proclaim the truth of God's word, to teach and preach with authority, bow to pressure from society's rationale that truth is subjective. In other words, that truth is what one wants to believe is true. So in a bid to be accepted, teaching about sin and grace become clouded, as called ministers avoid the issue of repentance, and misuse the authority they've been given to preach and teach the condemnation of the Law and the salvation we all need from the Gospel.
When authority and teaching are misused in this way, one of two things usually happen - either the pastor submits to the authority of the people, or the pastor imposes his own authority over the congregation. Either way God's authority is thwarted by authoritarianism driven by humanity. And guess who has been behind this type of misguided authority since day one, encouraging individuals to impose their own wills and their own rights? The devil - the epitome of evil - and his whole entourage of spirits!
But when the Law and Gospel are proclaimed and taught with the authority that gives glory and honour to God alone and intimately names who we are before God, expect to be amazed at God's almighty saving power and to be unsettled as God confronts the evil in you.
Jesus of Nazareth, revealed as the Son of God, comes to us in authority to fight and forgive the Old Adam deceived in all of us. The devil, his evil entourage, and our sinful selves are content up until this point. But when their cover is blown and they're exposed, a spiritual battle rages within as the Old Adam is defeated.
Having been forgiven, and we're returned to the promise of God made in baptism, he feeds us with his Word, and the Holy Spirit continues his good work, engendering faith. So with faith we are opened to being taught, being discipled, even being disciplined, so the devil is defeated by our forgiving of each other, so we are led away from the temptation to disbelieve God's baptismal promises, and to be continually delivered from all evil so that when Christ comes again we might be taken with him into eternity forever.
With the baptismal promise, God the Father and the Holy Spirit reside in you, through God the Son. Jesus lives in you by God's grace, through faith, so that no one can boast. Jesus' submission to the Father enabled him to humbly submit to the cross and bear our sin in death. And because Jesus did this the Father raised him to all glory and now he lives in us, walking with us, saving us from ourselves, and the evil that always appears so enticing to our human nature.
But as Jesus lives in us, he calls us to live in him. He calls you to submit to his authority, just as he submitted to the authority of our Father in heaven. When we allow ourselves to submit to his authority, the Holy Spirit works to kill the sin in us by moving us back under Christ where death and the devil, where sin and satan's evil entourage, have no authority in our lives anymore.
As Jesus does this, expect to be amazed at what the Almighty can do! But also expect there to be longing of need, and at times grief, as the holiness of God conquers evil, to bring you peace and eternal relief.
Let this good news shed light in every hidden part of your body and soul. Let God be God in you; let his kingdom come to you with all authority and power, to forgive and fight the sin within. Amen.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

B, Epiphany 3 - Jonah 3:10_4:11 "Jonah, Jesus, & Me"

Text Jonah 3:10-4:11 10 When God saw what the Ninevites did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened. 1 But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. 2 He prayed to the Lord, "O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. 3 Now, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live." 4 But the Lord replied, "Have you any right to be angry?" 5 Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. 6 Then the Lord God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine. 7 But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah"s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, "It would be better for me to die than to live." 9 But God said to Jonah, "Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?" "I do," he said. "I am angry enough to die." 10 But the Lord said, "You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?"
Jonah sits on a hill in Assyria looking down on its capital, Nineveh. Sitting there like an angry child, out of sorts with his parents, he huffs and puffs to himself over the events which have unfolded before him. Jonah has had his wings severely clipped since he took flight from his home in Israel. Jonah's actions after God had called him to go to Nineveh to preach repentance, proved him to be as flighty as a dove, which is exactly what the name Jonah means in Hebrew. Jonah the dove was startled by God and took flight in the opposite direction from Nineveh.
Anyway, why would God wanted such a ruthless mob of thugs to repent? Surly it would have been better if God had come down and slaughtered the Ninevites. The Assyrian army was know for it cruel barbarianism. Many Israelites had been slaughtered at the hands of the men of Nineveh; some were left to slowly die, impaled on sticks outside of the city, being heckled by the locals as they passed by. Nineveh was a place of sorcery and prostitution, full of deported and displaced people. The city was furnished by their reckless abandonment, death, and the booty they carted from the cities they left burning in their wake.
So when God called Jonah to go to Nineveh, no wonder he fled like a bird escaping from its cage. Why should he call them to repentance, when other prophets spoke harsh words to them, pronouncing upon them a seemingly more appropriate judgement? Such as that of Isaiah when God spoke through him saying, "'Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of my anger, in whose hand is the club of my wrath!' When the Lord has finished all his work against Mount Zion and Jerusalem, he will say, 'I will punish the king of Assyria for the wilful pride of his heart and the haughty look in his eyes.'" (Isaiah 10:5,12) Or, as is pointed out through the prophet Nahum, "From you, O Nineveh, has one come forth who plots evil against the Lord and counsels wickedness." (Nahum 1:11) "Woe to the city of blood, full of lies, full of plunder, never without victims! Many casualties, piles of dead, bodies without number, people stumbling over the corpses -- all because of the wanton lust of a harlot, alluring, the mistress of sorceries, who enslaved nations by her prostitution and peoples by her witchcraft. "I am against you," declares the Lord Almighty." (Nahum 3:1, 3b-5a) So if God was against them why didn't he just kill them? Why did he want Jonah to preach repentance to them?
The irony in the account of Jonah is that in Jonah's decision to flea from God, and his responsibilities as God's prophet before the Ninevites, Jonah actually became just as disobedient before God as were the people of Assyria and its capital, Nineveh.
We all know the events that preceded Jonah going to Nineveh. God called Jonah, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, "Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me." (Jonah 1:2) But Jonah ran from the Lord, he wanted nothing to do with what his word called him to do. Maybe if Jonah ran away from God his conscience wouldn't be troubled and the Ninevites wouldn't hear God's word and get what was coming to them. So Jonah when down--down to Joppa, down to the boat, down into the hull; and when God shook the boat in the storm Jonah asked the others on the boat to throw him into the sea, down into a hellish place where surely God would not be. But God was there and he caught him with a large fish. God's compassion for Jonah was so great, that even while Jonah was in flight from God's presence, God still sought out Jonah and saved him after spending three days in the belly of the fish.
Now having been saved and having preached repentance to the Ninevites, Jonah sits on the hill outside the city. He is angry that God would lead the people of Nineveh to repentance, beginning with the king who hears God's call through Jonah and calls the whole city to repent, some one hundred and twenty thousand people. But God had done the same thing with Jonah. By pursuing him with the same goodness and mercy right down into the depths of the sea, and calling him to repentance.
The story of Jonah is our story. We like Jonah often work with the assumption that God surely wouldn't want salvation to go to all those sinners, but the fact is salvation has come to us, we who are sinners too. Even when we turn away from the will of God he patiently pursues us with grace, he is slow to anger and abounding with steadfast love found in his Son Jesus Christ. So if the story of Jonah is ours, who are we in the story and how does God come to us?
If we let ourselves be placed in the story as Jonah, we see that we often let ourselves be subject to God's graciousness and compassion, and are often saved by his patience with us and gracious means given to us as we struggle in this life. Even when all has gone wrong in this life and we sink into a seemingly unsolvable situation -- God saves us. We willingly receive the help of God sent to us through his Son Jesus Christ.
However we, like Jonah, become fixated on the trivial things God places in our lives, just like Jonah sitting on the hill under the shade of the plant, thought that it was his good fortune to have that plant grow over him. We like Jonah become disgruntled when that plant is taken away but at the same time are irritated when salvation shades those whom we think don't deserve it. As if the shade of God's grace should fall on us and no one else, unless we give God the approval to do so.
So if Jonah requires the same salvation as the Ninevites, then surely we too can be placed in the story as the Ninevites as well as Jonah. We are the ones caught up in the lustful harlotry of life as were the Assyrians. We may not kill, and plunder, as the Ninevites did. But we hate, covert, lust, and assassinate the character of those around us. And every one of us plots evil in opposition to God and his compassion, grace, and love, every time we worry or doubt. And surely if God would come to Nineveh calling them to repentance through the words of Jonah, we too are called to repentance by the gracious actions of God who sent his only Son to die on the cross for us.
However, if justice is to be done to the Word of God written in Jonah, if justice is to be done for the sake of Christ and his gospel action of going to the cross, and if justice and righteousness is to come to us, we must see how God fits into the Jonah story, we must see how God fits into our story.
We have seen ourselves and humanity in the shoes of Jonah and the Ninevites, but until we see Jesus as Jonah we miss what God intends for us. We fail as Jonah, in fact Jonah fails too. Jesus was called to go to the lost Jonahs and Ninivites of this world and he was the only one who obediently did so. He was the only one who went the right direction, which led to the cross. You see God too was angry as Jonah was angry, he was so angry with sin--our sin, the sin of the Ninevites, and Jonah'that he would die. And he did die to overcome the sin of all the wayward Jonahs, Assyrians, and Ninevites of this world on the cross. God's compassion and graciousness meant that he was quick to anger over our sinful nature but slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love for us who suffer from the effects of this same sin in our lives.
Although Jesus, unlike Jonah, followed God's will completely, Jesus still ended up in the tomb for three days after being crucified on a cross for all to see and mock. He like Jonah went down, down into hell, before being raised by God, just as God had the fish spit Jonah onto dry land. He was not flighty like Jonah, but on him rested the dove of the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that rests on us and constantly leads us to Jesus.
God brought Jonah to repentance and saved him. God worked through Jonah to bring repentance to the Ninevites. God has worked through Christ's death and resurrection to save us. And now like the fish, we too have Jesus Christ, the perfect Jonah, in us. Are we going to keep him hidden inside or are we going to be the agents through whom God's compassion and steadfast love are made know to all, who like us need forgiveness of sins, salvation, and eternal life? Amen.
And the peace of God which passes all understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

B, Epiphany 1 - Mark 1:9-11, Psalm 29:1-4,9c-11 "Waters Below, Waters Above"

Psalm 29 1-4,9c-11(NIV) Ascribe to the Lord, O mighty ones, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. 2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness. 3 The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord thunders over the mighty waters. 4 The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is majestic. 9C ...And in his temple all cry, "Glory!" 10 The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord is enthroned as King forever. 11 The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.
Water is the essential element of creation. The human body is mostly made up of water. The earth is covered with water. All of creation needs water to exist.
Without water everything dries up and dies. The land no longer produces, and all living organisms eventually return to dust without water. Water is powerful in its absence. Without it everything stops.
However, too much water is also a force with which to be reckoned. Water unleashed in torrents of rain and hail can cause major damage to life and property. Floods and tsunamis are waters in mass proportion and they can cause more havoc on earth than just about anything else.
Water can carry people and their possessions great distances in boats, but water can also carry cholera and other devastating diseases to people who drink the contaminated supply. Looking at an insignificant glass of water, it's hard to imagine this tasteless, colourless, and odourless stuff can be so powerful or dangerous over creation when there is too much or too little of it.
God is more powerful than the biggest waters of creation; he is to be feared more than the lack of water too. God is omnipotent; the power of water is no match for his voice, for his word. God was there before creation; with his word he placed boundaries around water and the darkness it bore making it a blessing to his creation.
The Lord in his almighty power stands over the water, using it to wash the earth in Noah's time, using it to wash people in repentance in John the Baptist's day. With water the Lord cleanses his creation, and with water he brings peace to his people.
If God is above the waters, if he stands over the waters, and he wills the waters of the earth below, how is it that Jesus Christ, God the Son, places himself under the waters of the Jordan River, baptised by John?
At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." (Mark 1:9-11 NIV)
What was the purpose of Jesus' baptism? John preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. From what did Jesus need to repent? What sin had the Son of God committed? After all, this is the Son of the Father from eternity on whom the Holy Spirit descended and the Father said, "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased."
From Genesis 1 we hear...
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. 3 And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. (Genesis 1:1-4 NIV)
Likewise from John's Gospel we hear...
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men. (John 1:1-4 NIV)
The Word, who was with God from the beginning, who is God, and, who made all things, now descends down into the water as a man. This man made the waters over which the Spirit hovered in the beginning, over which the glorious Word of God thundered in all majesty and power. So why did the Word made flesh, the One and Only Son of God descend down into the waters, waters which he had created and placed boundaries around at the beginning?
If Jesus were just a man we would understand why he might be baptised by John in the Jordan. However, he is revealed to be God's Son, in whom is the life that is the light of creation and we who live in it. It makes no sense that God would place himself under the waters of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
But this event is significant in Jesus' ministry on earth and for us too. So much so that God tore heaven open and his voice was heard and Jesus saw the Spirit descend on him. Jesus' baptism was no accident and its importance is paramount for this man who would carry the sins of world to the cross, and for us who through this man have received life in adoption as Son's of God.
The tranquil waters of peace which God destined to flow in us became disrupted by sin. In us churns the turmoil of pre-creation chaos and darkness. The same darkness that churned the earth in Noah's day; the same darkness of sin that John the Baptist baptised for repentance and forgiveness of sin.
Jesus came bearing all power and peace and descended into the waters of death and destruction. His baptism was one into death that finished at the cross. God was pleased in Christ at his baptism in the same way he is pleased at your baptism. At baptism you were washed and plunged into the death of Christ, and having been brought up out of the water, God looks on you as his Son.
God placed his Son on the cross; he immersed him into the turmoil of sin, darkness, and death. The soldier took a spear and plunged it into his side and from the Word made flesh gushed water and blood for the cleansing of creation and for you and me. God cleanses creation and brings peace - Body & Blood, Water & the Word made flesh!
God now places Christ with you - in you! His Spirit has descended upon you in baptism just as the Spirit rested on him. Jesus Christ is all powerful over creation, over all chaos; bring tranquillity to the storms we endure in this life. He can even bring peace to storms you create in this life.
Our help is in the name of the Lord, he made heaven and earth. He walks with us, in us! In us is life, and that life is the light of Christ. The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord thunders over the mighty waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is majestic. The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord is enthroned as King forever. The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.
And in his temple all cry, "Glory!" Amen.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

B, Christmas 2 - Ephesians 1:7-10,13a "The Good & Gracious Will of God"

Text - Ephesians 1:7-10,13a In him (Christ) we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace (8) that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. (9) And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, (10) to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfilment--to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. (13a) And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.
Sermon Now that the rush of the holidays is beginning to settle down we might have cause to stop and reflect on our lives and what has happened over the last twelve months. What were your plans and desires for 2008? Did they succeed?
In the stillness of your reflections, perhaps a time of deeper reflection is necessary? What were the plans and desires of your will? What is your will; the hidden human desires that mould who you are and what you naturally do as a result of your human nature?
Maybe your deeper plans and desires didn't come into completion because God protected you from yourself in 2008.
And what of your plans and desires today, tomorrow, and for the rest of 2009? Is your will, the same as that of God's will? Probably not, if we're honest about the secrets of our being! So then will God let these hidden plans and desires succeed this year? As we rest in God's peace, and Jesus himself dwells in us, let the Spirit of Wisdom and Truth examine you in accordance with the riches of Christ's grace.
Perhaps at this point you crash headlong into turmoil. The silence is stirred by a disturbance within! The peace of God opens the doors of your heart and reveals the commotion of a sinful human will. Maybe some of you prefer to shut these doors and keep hidden what God seeks to reveal and repair.
If God didn't let the sinful desires and plans of your human will succeed, then you do best to consider if God's will succeeded in you in 2008? What's on God's wish list for you in 2009? What is the good and gracious will of God? You might ask yourself, "What is God's will for me!"
When the Holy Spirit opens your lips with the Lord's Prayer, Jesus prays to our Heavenly Father, "your will be done". And where is this will of God done? "On earth as it is in heaven!" And so we hear in Ephesians 1:9-10...
(God) made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfilment--to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.
God's will is to bring everything together under Christ, even your troubled heart as you sit stirred in the presence of his grace and glory. And from the third petition in the Lord's Prayer we hear his will is done... when he hinders and defeats every evil scheme and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful self, which would prevent us from keeping his name holy and would oppose the coming of his kingdom.
So in 2008 Jesus Christ has been working in you to keep his and his Father's name holy, confronting the hidden un-holiness, to grant you his will which is to eternally have you in his kingdom.
If it was left up to us to decide we needed his kingdom, we would never get there. Too many things would stand in the way and desire our attention. Even if God's kingdom was placed in front of us and it was left to our human will to decide to enter into it, the same would happen.
We would decide on something else, probably a quasi-kingdom that looked and sounded a bit like God's kingdom, but instead of Christ at the head would be us. We all know this to be true! You only have to look at the kingdom you desired and decided to build for yourself in 2008; the short-lived kingdom which collapses every time from the will and desires of the haunty human heart.
But God's will is done... when he strengthens our faith and keeps us firm in his Word as long as we live. This is his gracious and good will.
The great mystery of God's will for us is given in his Word; the written Word, the Word made flesh! In Christ you have redemption through his blood at the cross, the forgiveness of sins, and are promised by God himself that no matter what turmoil happens in the heart, or around us in the world, in Christ, we are united with all of heaven and earth.
You know you were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Even today you can be confident that on hearing his word you are included in his unseen kingdom that comes to us through his Word. This is because the Holy Spirit comes through the Word, and through the Word the Holy Spirit gives faith. Faith that hangs on the hope of God's kingdom coming! all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:12-14)
The faith the Holy Spirit gives us in hearing the Word helps us to see hidden in us, why we had such a conflict in the heart last year, and further back. We also understand that we will continue to have turmoil in the future as God the Son comes with his kingdom to dwell in our heart and bear the Heavenly Father's forgiveness that Christ won on the cross.
The will of God, the glory of the One and Only, crashes headlong into the human will and calls it to turn from glorifying itself, together with the temptation to believe God�s kingdom is not for you unless you earn it!
So God's will is done in us, when Christ is allowed to remain and temple in us and us in him. We trust the Word made flesh is in effect in us when we hear the Word of salvation. God's will is done in us, the devil, the world, and our sinful self are defeated when we freely receive the forgiveness of sins that comes through the Word of salvation.
God's will is a mystery! But it's the mystery of heaven given to you, whenever you hear the Word and receive the sacraments.
The good and gracious will of God for you for 2009 is for you to bear and believe the forgiveness of all your sins, the very sins which caused your turmoil in 2008 as a result of the human will.
God's will is done in heaven when he forgives us our sin. But it doesn't stop there! His will is done on earth when we forgive those who sin against us. And in doing this we allow Christ to further strengthen his holy Christian Church on earth as he unites us all under himself in the presence our Heavenly Father.
Surely, in his wisdom and understanding, God wants to lavish you with his will!
So in Jesus Christ, live under the freedom of God's forgiveness and the freedom to forgive one another in 2009. Amen.