Saturday, August 29, 2009

B, Pentcost 13 Proper 17 - James 1:17-18, 21-25 "Which Crucifix?"

The king enters! He's the groom at the wedding. Women's hearts flutter to see his beauty and strength as he parades in his flowing attire. After the wedding his bride sits at his right hand glistening in gold, yet still she doesn't outshine the brilliance of her husband king. This is the picture painted in Psalm 45, a wedding psalm.

We can also hear Solomon's Song of Songs where he interacts with his beloved. Solomon was given wisdom by God, but also received the greatest splendour and majesty of any king ever to walk the earth. Even greater than his much loved father, King David! We can easily warm to this picture of a woman, wonderfully wooed by her lover, the much loved king Solomon.

But these images of groom and bride, husband and wife, king and queen point to a relationship much greater and better than these. Christ is the King in all his majesty, and his radiant wife, the one he loves, is us his church.

It's a wonderful relationship which fills the heart with affection and enjoyable emotion, as we worship Jesus Christ our King knowing he has chosen us to be his church, the one he loves. Why wouldn't we want to honour he who honours us? Or be faithful to he from whom all faithfulness comes?

Jesus stands as the church's husband in victory, and in glory. Such images of a glorious Christ the King can be seen enthroned on the cross, robed in his righteousness, wearing the royal crown, and holding up nail-marked hands to bless those he loves.

On the other hand, the Christ the King crucifix is not as common as the crucifix which bears the broken body of Jesus from Good Friday. This image is far from royal beauty. We find it difficult to picture Jesus this way. Wedding faithfulness and love are not inspired by the thorns, the lash marks on his flesh, the sunken stomach and exposed ribs, and the wretched bloodiness of a man completely cut off from all blessing and honour, and life.

Isaiah 53 paints the brokenness of Christ on the cross for us… He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by others, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. (Isaiah 53:2-4 TNIV)

You would have to agree that these two pictures are worlds apart. Tender conversation between a lover and a beloved, between a glorious king and his bride, between a glorified Son of God and his holy church; Christ the King standing in victory over his cross! These have nothing in common with the bloodied cross which appeared to have triumphed over the son of Mary, the Son of Man, mocked and hanging by flesh ripping nails. However, they are both relevant to us. In this life we can never discard one or the other. Both must be held in tension together as the twofold reality in which we live.

We Christians live in two worlds. We are sinners condemned and stricken, broken and rejected under the Holy Law of God. But also, we're saints honoured in majesty, by the bridegroom who was raised and glorified, and in whom the one church lives in the hope of being eternally raised as the holy bride God has promised through his Holy Gospel of love.

We view these two crucifixes and we're called to see ourselves guilty of sin. Sin that condemns and separates us from God! Sin that casts our flesh aside as completely useless in saving ourselves from the holy Law and God's righteousness! There's nothing that we can do to save ourselves from our guilt. Your wages for your sin is death! Even death on a cross!

But on this very cross, we're called to believe and stand in glory with Christ. The cross of death has not been taken away, but the blood our King once shed now robes us with his righteousness. We have been crowned with his victorious crown of life; our scars of perseverant suffering will be glorified in eternity. Today we're called to hang our pain on the nails of Christ. In hope, we're called to hang on every word from the Word made flesh so the Holy Spirit might continue to give life to our broken bodies of flesh.

As we keep both of these perspectives in view, something else comes into view. Two themes emerge in God's Word which are necessary to expose our sin and give the needed balm of forgiveness and hope that comes through the resurrection and glorification of our Lord Jesus Christ. These two themes are the Law and the Gospel, both holy in nature because they are born of God, but exist and cause two very different effects in the lives of people.

We hear from James… Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Those who listen to the word but do not do what it says are like people who look at their faces in a mirror and, after looking at themselves, go away and immediately forget what they look like. But those who look intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continue in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. (James 1:17-18, 21-25)

God chooses to give us birth. He works through human means. For most of us that means the Spirit has worked though our parents who have brought us to baptism, compelled by God to do so. But there in baptism we the church are the firstfruits of his creation, new Adams in his garden of grace. But the reality is we also live in the old Adam too, bound to the cross of death, which we walk towards in this earthly life.

James goes on to say we must get rid of all moral filth and evil and humbly accept the word planted in us. Perhaps the greatest moral filth and evil is not filthy language or immoral lives, but rather a piety that leads one to believe if we don't do these things we will be right with God. If you want other to believe you're a good Christian by having others focus on your external act rather than the deeds of perseverance in Jesus, then your piety is more perverse than the acts of a rapist, a paedophile, or a prostitute. Why? Because you glorify yourself greater than he who deserves all glory alone!

Don't get me wrong. Bad language and immoral lives, rapists, paedophiles, and prostitutes are immersed in evil! But so too are those who think Christianity is something we do to earn God's favour, and thereby treat God as a liar and the Christ's broken body as useless and nothing.

So we're called to look into the mirror! This is the mirror of God's Law and Gospel! True Christian piety looks from ourselves to God for salvation and gives glory to God alone! It leads us to see the two crucifixes are relevant in our lives; to not let go of one or the other. We are called to hear the Word, the Word that condemns our flesh as useless, and the Word that fills our flesh with Spirit and life (John 6:63).

Persevere in these good gifts from God! The Law causes pain, that's for sure! But let that suffering send you to the cross of suffering, so Christ can lift you up in hope of a glorious resurrection and life thereafter!

So what does the Word tell us to do? It tells us to remain in it, to keep looking into the mirror of our twofold reality! See your sin, send it to the cross, hang it on the suffering broken body of Jesus! See in the suffering of Christ your sin has been dealt with! But know that every day you need to allow God to persistently deal with your sin the same way. Persevere, look into the mirror, and see salvation is real and is forthcoming.

Live like you're in love; engaged to be married. After all we are engaged to God, we have been won, but we are being won! So live like a faithful fiancée who looks in the mirror of love. Come to Christ robed in his holiness on his cross of glory. Persevere until the last day – the first day when we enter eternity and join in the wedding feast, glorified with our glorious King, Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

B, Pentecost 12 Proper 16 - John 6:63 "Paper, Scissors, Rock"

The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. (John 6:63 NIV)

Paper, rock, scissors – which one is the strongest? One might think paper is not that strong but in the "Paper, rock, scissors" hand-game it smothers the rock. But then the paper is beaten by the scissors, which can hack paper to bits in seconds. Yeah but scissors are rendered useless when smashed by the rock!

Time, wealth, popularity – which one of these gives you advantage? Time is one element we most likely think about the least. But in this day and age there's a good chance it's what many crave the most. To have more time, to burn the candle at both ends, to find more hours in one day, to do all the things one believes they need to do to be fulfilled. This type of thinking makes fools rush in where angels fear to tread! It's no wonder one of the greatest health problems in our society today is a lack of sleep!

But then again how many times have we heard the phrase, "I'm bored!" Perhaps too much time on one's hands is also a problem. Too much time can leave us at a loose end. Some might become anxious – you just can't sit still! Maybe one finds themselves getting up to mischief with too much time, or left alone with yourself time might drive you insane. Too much or too little time, exposes just how open time is to be abused.

Perhaps it's not time but wealth you see as the thing which will put you out front. If I just had a million dollars, I wouldn't have anything to worry about. If I just had a thousand dollars! If I just had a hundred dollars, ten, five, even one dollar! If I just had another five cents I wouldn't have to break that fifty dollar note and have all that wretched change in my wallet!

I want to be rich! What is it to be rich? To have a drink of water on a hot day! To have a coat on a cold day! To have a breath of air when you're starved of oxygen! To have food so stomachs are fed! To be able to go on holidays once, twice a year, rather than every two or five years. How can I get more money you ask yourself? To buy a new car, another car, to have a bigger retirement nest egg; how rich is really rich?

Perhaps wealthy people are movie stars or business entrepreneurs at the blackjack tables blowing cash like it's going out of fashion. Or maybe it's the little old lady who lives like a pauper but has ferreted away every penny she's ever come across and is secretly sitting on a fortune.

Maybe to be rich is to have family, parents, children, peace, contentment, or to be loved. Is a rich person one who is free in every way or one who has a boundary on every side? Why is it when one has wealth of any kind, it never seems to be enough, or life is consumed by worrying how to keep what one has acquired?

If it's not time, or wealth you're looking for then perhaps its popularity. You may have wealth, you may have all the time in the world, but you want to be liked or noticed. Maybe you're not accepted by others, you crave clothing, you want to look good, lose the wrinkles, fill in the bald spot, get rid of the pimples, look good to others.

But then again perhaps you're too popular, good looks are a curse, you've become arrogant or a neurotic nitwit. How often have the popular people been the ones who have become criminals, or the person with the looks and figure is taken advantage of for someone else's gain?

Is the popular person, one who is young and can move with speed, is it a woman gifted with caring for and nurturing others, or is it the experience of the wirily old character whose been around the block many times before. Perhaps it's the short, the tall, the muscular, the petite, the feminine, or the rugged. O Lord, it's hard to be humble, when you're perfect in every way!

However, all of us are far from humble, and there's not a chance we're perfect in any way, even in the slightest! With all human strengths, there are even greater weaknesses kept out of sight. Just like paper, rock, and scissors one merit can always outclass another. Time, wealth, and popularity might be sought after qualities for strength, but where we have one of these qualities there will always be desire for another. Each of these three can be abused in themselves so that those who covert time seem to never have enough; those who are wealthy suffer from immeasurable poverty despite being able to buy anything they want; and those who have popularity still find themselves miserable and lonely.

There is one quality or merit that outdoes all the rest, but it's different to the things we value and seek in ourselves.

As for wealth: One man pretends to be rich, yet has nothing; another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth. A man's riches may ransom his life, but a poor man hears no threat. (Proverbs 13:7-8) So we hear in Proverbs where we're also told… Better a little with the fear of the Lord than great wealth with turmoil. (Proverbs 15:16) Also… Humility and the fear of the Lord bring wealth and honour and life. (Proverbs 22:4)

The writer of Proverbs goes on to make this wise statement: Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, 'Who is the Lord?' Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonour the name of my God. (Proverbs 30:8-9)

Although we may always have a desire for more riches and wealth, Jesus tells us as he tells the people of Smyrna in Revelation… I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution… Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. Those who have an ear, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death. (Rev 3:9&10)

So what is it to be rich, what is real wealth? And what about time or popularity? Before whom is our popularity important? And how do we get this popularity? You may feel downtrodden but such is your popularity that you're inheriting a crown of life.

And as for time, we have no control over it but there will come an eternity of timeless joy, which we can't even begin to comprehend in time.

Jesus tells us in John 6:63… The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. (NIV) Other English translations are no less blunt… Human strength can do nothing. (CEV) The flesh is no help at all. (ESV) The flesh profits nothing. (NKJV) Human power is of no use at all. (GNB) And, the flesh is useless. (NRSV)

Get the picture! It's not us who hold any sort of power, especially the strength needed for life, the power to persist in perfection.

Paper, scissors, rock? No, none of these win this game! Jesus Christ crucified! He's got the whole world in his hands. Time, wealth, popularity? None of these either, they're all perishable! The Spirit gives life, to you. Your nothingness, your uselessness — is taken in God's hands because he loves you.

Jesus came into time, to lose his life and have his time cut short, only to be raised to life and eternally glorified. He gave up his eternal crown as the Son of God and bore the crown of thorns — a poor wretched man on the cross. He didn't seek popularity or status but remained faithful to the Father, even though it meant total abandonment on the cross.

We might play "paper, scissors, rock" as a hand game to see whose best. But it's no game when it comes to trusting in he whose hands bear the scars of nails which have saved you from what human wealth, time, and popularity cannot do.

Jesus says to you… The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. (John 6:63) So be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. (Ephesians 6:10) Because Christ lives in you that IS what you are, when you remain in him! Amen.

Let us pray the response of Saint Peter, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God." (John 6: 68-69) Amen.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

B, Pentecost 11 Proper 15 - Ephesians 5:15-20 "The Spirit of Wisdom"

If there's a time to feel sorry for the Jews, it's here. Jesus tells them the truth but it's just too much for them to hear. He says, "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you have no life in you." (John 6:53)

Even before we agree this would be hard to hear, we must also consider the Law, especially the commands on what is and isn't right to eat. Blood of animals was not to be consumed; how much more would the blood of a human desecrate their purity before the Lord?

And they were not to eat the flesh of any animal that did not have both a split hoof and chew its cud. To eat a human would put them far outside the realm of the Law to which they sought to observe.

Not to mention that to be associated with the corpse of a person would make the person unclean for seven days. And for those who didn't seek cleansing would be cut off from the community. (Numbers 19) How much more detestable would the eating of a person's flesh and the drinking of their blood be to a Jew who honestly sought to live by the Law?

What must have gone through the heads of the Jews when they heard Jesus say that he came from heaven? To hear him say he was the "I AM"; that he must be eaten; that his blood must be drunk; that unless you do this you don't have life in you; that in doing this you will live forever; that in eating and drinking him he would then somehow raise them up to eternal life; and that all of this is the truth?

Does this sound like wisdom and truth, or the ramblings of a mad man? Jesus basically tells them, he is God, God is a man, when you eat the man you eat God, and after God is eaten he still exists to raise up the person whose eaten him in the first place. Sound ludicrous to you? How much more ridiculous must it have sounded to the Jews, let alone anyone else who heard what Jesus was saying that day.

But for us it's perfectly explainable! We're not cannibals dining on corpse to glorify ourselves. We're receiving life from he who is eternal, glorifying him and his Father next to whom he stands in heaven.

We know what we eat is given and shed for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Jesus Christ, the High Priest, who enters God's most holy presence is also the sacrifice that allows us to enter the most holy of holies, having had our bodies washed in his blood spilt on the cross to atone for our sin.

Next week in the Gospel reading we hear that many of the disciples desert Jesus because of what he says here. Today there are still those who depart from this truth as well. Some outside Christendom, like the Jehovah's Witnesses, call our sacramental practice straight out cannibalism if we hold Jesus at his word. Then again there are many inside the church who move to make what Jesus says more accommodating by rationalising his words into a symbolic or spiritual eating without recognising the physical reality of Jesus' words of truth.

Nevertheless, one can still feel a little sorry for the Jews and the disciples who opposed or left Jesus after he said these things. By our own intellectual wisdom, and powers of deduction, we can fully understand how Jesus' words would have made them rare up at his method of raising them up.

But we live after the fact and have a much greater picture since we now know of Jesus' death on the cross, the Last Supper the night before, and the bestowal of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost; all of which have benefited us since the moment of our baptism and our observation and hearing of these things in God's Word.

However there are many today who still reject the basic truths of Jesus' words in John six, and choose to rationalise it. So it comes as a great surprise after Jesus said these things there were still twelve disciples that remained with him. I suspect they too must have surely wondered what on earth Jesus was going on about.

What we do know, it takes more than human wisdom to comprehend any of what Jesus says. If we were to judge the situation with human limitations none of us would believe anything about God, or why we need him to come to us in the way he does. It would be too big for us to begin to grasp. And so we continually ask God to give us a discerning heart, a heart of wisdom.

So how do we get this wisdom? Is it through age? It should be but it's not! The greatest folly on earth is seeing someone who has experience of time under their belt and still they reject God's grace in the twilight of their earthly lives.

Is it through education and understanding? Neither doctorates nor degrees determine a person fit for eternal life, this wisdom can drown them in the details!

Or, do we get wisdom through what we do? Perhaps history has to repeat itself because in our wisdom we just don't learn the first time, or the second, or countless times after!

In Saint Paul's letter to the Ephesians he says this: Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:15-20)

Here we are told to understand what the Lord's will is. But how does one understand? It has to be greater than just an exercise in using one's memory, lest every child and every senior with dementia has no place in the kingdom of heaven. And that's just not true! Perhaps this is why Paul then says not to get drunk. Maybe, if we're left to our own devices to understand God's will then in our frustrations and hopeless searching we might end up turning to the bottle.

Instead, we're told to be filled with the Spirit to be wise, to bear the true wisdom which enables us to trust Christ. But the question still remains, "How?" If it is left up to you or me to attain this wisdom, how do I know I've done enough? Can I ever do enough to know God's will? From where can I get the Spirit, and if I know where to find him, how do I get him into me, into my mind, into my heart, into my whole being? How do I know I've done the right thing to get the Spirit?

Isaiah prophesied about one who is the personification of wisdom… 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. (Isaiah 11:1-5)

Isaiah speaks of Jesus receiving the Spirit of wisdom, the Spirit of the Lord. So we ask ourselves and search the Word to hear just where he received this Spirit. And our search takes us to Jesus' baptism where the Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove and rested on him. So too with us, in God's wisdom he sends the Spirit down on us so we bear the Spirit of wisdom, the Spirit of Christ, in our baptism.

It's from this point in time that we're placed on an eternal journey. This is the Lord's will. He desires us to remain on that journey and not to take leave from it.

In Psalm 111 we hear the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. In fact, Isaiah tells us Jesus delights in the fear of the Lord. And we know he did because he endured the cross and death and now reigns at the right hand of the Father, and since our baptism he reigns in our hearts bearing his wisdom in us.

Our hearts bear the heart of Christ. Therefore, in us the Spirit of the wisdom invokes a desire to hear Christ and his Word. Through the Spirit of wisdom the will of God is received which allows us to remain in and hear the Word of God. The Spirit of wisdom unites us with Christ, the personification of wisdom, so we might judge and discern with our Christ-given hearts and not the regular things the world uses to judge like sight, rationalities, and limited human understanding.

If you feel as though you are not very wise in the Lord, Saint James gives us some good advice, saying… If any of you lacks wisdom, they should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to them. But when one asks, they must believe and not doubt, because the person who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. (James 1:5-6)

And we can also pray for each other's wisdom too, just as Paul did for the Ephesians. He says… I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. (Ephesians 1:17)

The wisdom of God in us does not bring us glory as does the wisdom of the world. But the wisdom of God enables us to trust Christ at his Word, to remain in his Word, and to know that the Holy Spirit works through his Word to bring us continually to Jesus to receive his forgiveness, life, and salvation, in the Spirit filled means he has given us.

We remain in Christ, we eat his flesh and drink his blood, we place ourselves continually in the hearing of his Word, and we judge and discern with his Word, since we and all humanity are and will be eternally judged by the Word, to the glory of God. Amen.

And the peace of God with passes all human wisdom and understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, our wisdom, Amen.

Friday, August 07, 2009

B, Pentecost 10 Proper 14 - Ephesians 4:25-5:2 "Shaken not Stirred"

Imagine you're an archer. You're in trouble. The enemy is attacking; either a fierce animal is bearing down on you, or the opposing army is racing across no man's land in an attempt to breach your line and kill you and your battle group.

You must hold your position and not lose your nerve. You must keep your focus so the arrow meets its mark and brings the opposition down. If you miss you will be dead. Your life hangs in the balance. How are you holding your bow, steadying yourself in the midst of turmoil and strife?

The temptation to drop the bow and flee might be a reality. Or the distraction of pending death possibly takes the edge off your concentration. A towering grizzly bear, ten foot tall, paws as big as footballs, and claws like sharpened knives; or a thousand men descending on you with only one arrow to fire at a time.

The situation surely makes you tremble, but finding peace is necessary to sustain life. One must be completely still and silent if there is any chance of winning the conflict.

Most of us are not archers. This picture though is our reality. As Christians we dwell in times of turmoil where distractions tempt many to flee the battle line to which we've been called to guard in Christ. Many have taken their eyes off Christ and are missing the mark as the faith they received in baptism is thrown out in favour of a faith in human ideals or created objects.

When we're threatened with hardships, like drought, financial ruin, and the like, there's a tendency to become frustrated and wonder why God is doing such a thing to us. Or as soon as we're thrown into turmoil through sickness or disease – the body begins to break down – we think God is letting us down.

But then there's also the ever lessening numbers in our churches. People have departed and are wandering away from God. Others then leave because it's not the socially acceptable thing to do, or the call to endurance in Christ is lost on those worried about numbers and finances as they too become a part of today's exodus from God's church.

Then there's us. Left holding our bows as the battle lines are breaking down. We're lured to do the same as the deserters, their mindset is hard to refute with the visual evidence of collapse all around us. But even if we don't fall into the temptation of fleeing, it's still hard to keep our eyes on the target without missing the mark.

However, unlike the archer in battle or taking a stand against an aggressive animal we're not called to focus on the enemy but on our Saviour. Those who take their eyes off Christ in the midst of trouble are like archers who take their eyes off their antagonist; both will end up falling at the fate of their foe.

This desertion can and does make us angry. There are folks who become angry at those throwing away their God-given faith and trust. But then again there are some who get angry with God and his representatives for not changing tactics to try and keep former followers from fleeing.

As King David fled from Absalom he cried out to God, 'O Lord, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! Many are saying of me, "God will not deliver him."' (Psalm 3:1-2) Then when many were deserting God and chasing after lies, in David's distress God said to those being deluded, In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent. Offer right sacrifices and trust in the Lord. (Psalm 4:4-5)

By all means be angry but trust in the Lord. Be angry but don't sin. This may come as a surprise since many believe being angry is a sin. But there are many in the bible who cried out to God in anger, or who cried out on behalf of God in anger, yet God was still faithful to them. However, there were some who cried out to God in anger and their anger became sin when they fled from God not trusting his weapon – his Word, grieving the Holy Spirit who always works through the Word of God.

To be angry literally means to be shaken and to not sin in this instance means to not miss the mark. In other words be shaken by what's going on but not stirred to the point where you lose hope in your weapons or in the target of our trust, Christ crucified.

In Ephesians Paul calls the church in Ephesus to take their stand against sin and evil. This enemy was not just out there, but was the enemy within. The enemy within was the old sinful nature playing up when the Ephesus Christians were shaken by the trauma of the day. They were tempted to sin by losing trust in he who lead them in battle, namely our Lord Jesus Christ.

And so for us it's the same. We're called to sentry duty. To take our stand and not waver! To keep hearts of peace despite turmoil spiralling out of control all around us! God calls us to believe in the one he has sent, the one who suffered and died, the one whom he raised from the dead and is now seated at his right hand, the one who is hidden in his church, and the one who is hidden in you!

The amazing thing is that as we're called to sentry duty, to take our place wearing the full armour of God, our leader and commander has already won the battle on the cross and in our baptismal resurrection. We take our stand in today's turmoil knowing the battle has already been won. It may not appear that way, but it has been won. We only see this in faith by trusting God the Son who has faithfully followed his Father's will.

So by all means be shaken, be angry with unbelief. Be so angry that it causes you to pray against the unbelief of our society, the unbelief that tempts your own heart. Be so angry against sin that it causes you to confess it, overturning the tables of greed and lust in the holy temple God has made you to be, so you're filled with faith and peace.

Be so angry that it drives you deeper and deeper into God's word. Be so angry that you wake up and let the light of Christ shine in you, so that you desire to be taught in God's word. Be so angry that you allow God to change your attitude, so you yearn to be more and more like him in all truth and righteousness.

Be so angry it causes you to be taught to put off falsehood and speak truthfully to each other, causing the body to be unified as one in Christ causing God to be glorified.

But… "In your anger do not sin": Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. …And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Eph 4:26-27, 4:30 – 5:2)

In your anger, give glory to God, and bear each other in love and forgiveness. Hold your bow and arrow steady. Be shaken not stirred! Shaken by the strife of sin in us and our world, but not stirred so that we unite ourselves with sin, and hid it when it should be exposed for healing.

Stand fast in Christ, focus on him, and don't miss the mark. Let the marks of God cross you and seal you with the Holy Spirit. Let your sin be named for what it is, after all your sin sent our Saviour to the cross, so let the carnage of the cross work to your advantage to the glory of God. And most of all trust God's forgiveness has, is, and will continue so your sin no longer has eternal power over you.

By all means be angry but do not sin in your anger. Be shaken not stirred, for Jesus sake and for your own sake too, Amen.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

B, Pentecost 9 Proper 13 - John 6:29 "Eat your Cake and have it too!"

The desire to have something can be so strong. So much so it can cause all sorts of emotions to occur, even physical reactions or mental torment.

Have you ever been shopping for groceries when you're hungry? Have you ever seen a fast food ad on television when you're starving? You can almost taste the herbs and spices in your mouth.

The eyes sharpen the mind, the desire intensifies, you want it and you want it now. Food glorious hot food — chips, burgers, chicken, awwwwwh! Your stomach churns with delight.

Perhaps every time you drive past the car yard, the motorcycle centre, the Ag machinery business, the clothes shop, or the shoe store, your mind is filled with visions of sitting high in the seat of a shiny new machine, the best in the district. Or you picture yourself stepping out in style with those new shoes or the latest outfit similar to what the movie stars are wearing these days.

As you salivate over these things from afar, your mind plots and your heart beats quicker, as you scheme how to make the imagination a reality.

Or you see that person. The blood rushes! You become sweaty, desperately seeking their attention! The angst of separation causes unbelievable pain. You want them, but for whatever reason you can't have them! You lie on your bed at night and romance fills your heart, you toss to and fro without satisfaction.

You fanaticise over them; perhaps even let your mind become x-rated; you can get no satisfaction. The fantasy only increases the desire, you burn with passion, and the pain is almost too much to bear.

What we want, but for one reason or another cannot get, plays on our mind. Have you ever noticed sometimes that the less chance we have of getting it, the more we want it. The intense yearning debilitates our whole being — mind, body, and spirit.

These strong feelings and desires make us do all kinds of things with our minds, our mouths and our movements. From children throwing tantrums before their parents, to teenagers manipulating things to suit themselves, to God's adult children growing more and more materialistic and self-centred, it's all the same thing in God's eyes.

King David burned with desire over someone he shouldn't have been obsessing over. In fact, he should never have let himself be in this position to do what he did.

As the saying goes, "Idle hands are the devil's playground." And so while David should have been leading his armies in battle out in the field, he hangs about Jerusalem not doing much.

He gets off his bed, probably aroused, but if not soon finds himself that way as he leers over Bathsheba, fanaticising over her beauty and her nakedness.

Instead of using his power to lead his fighting men, he misuses his authority and takes Bathsheba, another man's wife into his bed. The sin cannot be concealed when Bathsheba falls pregnant. And so David summons the husband, Uriah, and tries to cover his sin, but it doesn't work. So finally he resorts to ordering Uriah's murder to cover his guilt.

Nathan, the prophet of God, goes to see David, and feeds him a story which surely takes David in. This is a story about a poor man who loves a lamb but when the rich neighbour has visitors, butchers the poor man's solitary lamb instead of preparing one of the many lambs he owns. David burns with anger against the rich man. But God had set David up, and Nathan says…

"You are the man! You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. …Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.' …"Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight." …Then David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the Lord." (2 Samuel 12:7, 9, 10, 11, 13)

David had free choice, but like us all who have free choice, the consequences are never free and so beginning with the death of the child he and Bathsheba conceived, his whole family begins to unravel. And the ripple effect takes its toll on his family's kingship and on every member of the kingdom of Israel.

Have you ever heard of the saying, "You can't eat your cake and have it too."? David's desire led him to eat his cake of desire, when he should never have had it in the first place. He ate his cake in secret, but it soon soured in the belly.

The unravelling of David's kingdom continued with a repetition of similar sorts when David's son, Amnon, fell in love with his half sister, David's daughter, Tamar. His desire led him to deviously set up a situation where they would be alone in his bedroom. She is sent to him with bread as Amnon is apparently not well. But once alone with Amnon he seeks to seduce her, but on her refusal he rapes her.

After Amnon had his fill, he treated Tamar as trash. After such great desire and yearning for her, he ate his cake of desire and he no longer had it. His desire turned to contempt and hatred.

These are the results of David's desire. They all came out of David's delusion on that evening when he mused about Bathsheba; and also resulted from the consequences of Amnon pining over his sister. This is all followed up with retribution as Absalom, Tamar's full brother, kills Amnon, and then pits himself against his father, King David, for the kingdom of Israel. In the sight of all Israel he takes the concubines of his father into his bed.

Who would have known a twitch in David's sexual desire would have led to this tangled mess of death and destruction? We are always free to choose! But the other half is choice always has consequences that are never free. It's why deception is a deception; because our desires delude and deceive us into overlooking the other half of the free choice reality.

Have you ever noticed that after coveting the new car, the new clothes, or whatever it is you just have to have? That on receiving it, it looses its sheen extremely quick! The new tractor breaks down, the shoes and clothes date and end up living in the back of the closet. The consequences never really seem a reality when we're in the midst of desire.

What about those food ads on television, or going to the supermarket after you've had a big meal? The smells don't have the same effect as when you're hungry. The burgers might be better, but you can't even bear to look at them! You can't eat your cake and have it too!

Or more to the point, "you can't satisfy your desires and have the desires too!" The feelings of wanting disappear the moment you devour what you've desired. But then the mirage of desire soon pops up somewhere else, ready to deceive us all over again.

In the gospel of John chapter six, Jesus tells us, "Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval." (John 6:27)

Food that endures to eternal life! This food is unusual! We eat it, yet we still have it. It's the food which satisfies, really satisfies with lasting effect. This food is unlike the food we craving one moment then reject once we've had our fill. This is the food that gives us the sense of joy, but once eaten the sense of joy goes on and on and on. This is the food once eaten we still have it. You can eat this cake, and have it too!

So what must we do to eat and have this cake that endures to eternal life? The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent. (John 6:29) God calls you to taste and see that the Lord is good. Open your hearts and let God fill you with satisfaction that lasts into eternity. Jesus really satisfies!

So, what must we do to get the food that endures to eternal life: Believe that Jesus is the Bread of Life! He is the food of life; he is the bread of eternal satisfaction.

Jesus is the cake. Come and eat, you can eat this cake and have it too. Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the person who takes refuge in him. Fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him lack nothing. (Ps 34:8-9) Amen.