Saturday, October 31, 2009

B, All Saints - Revelation 21:1-6a "Temporary Tears"

One cannot help but notice in the readings today the mentioning of tears. In Isaiah 25 we're told, "The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth." (Isaiah 25:8)

Then in Revelation 21 the same is said, "He will wipe every tear from their eyes." And in the Gospel of John we hear of many mourning over the death of Jesus' friend Lazarus. "When Jesus saw her (Mary) weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 'Where have you laid him?' he asked. 'Come and see, Lord,' they replied. Jesus wept." (John 11:33-35)

Our tears, other people's tears, and Jesus' tears! Tears are caused by hardship. Tears of deep sadness, tears from pain, tears of torment, tears of relief — tears come as a result of the turmoil we face on this earth.

Jesus was not immune from the tears we shed. He too cried. Jesus cried here at Lazarus' death, he cried over Jerusalem as he marched into the city on Palm Sunday, and he shed bitter tears as he prayed and placed himself under the submission of God's will just prior to his crucifixion in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Also contrary to Christmas Carol tradition, Jesus as an infant would have cried as he experienced the ebbs and flows of human behaviour.

The human ability to shed tears is so common in our lives. Even the most hardened individual knows what it is to shed tears. And even more, we all experience the emotions which undergird and cause tears to well in our eyes.

Tears come as release allowing restoration to occur. When one holds back tears they usually do so to the detriment of their own health. It is healthy to cry even if the situation which causes us to break down is far from healthy. A big cry, as painful as it might be, is good for the soul.

Tears reveal our weakness. Perhaps this is why men try to suck up their tears. A person's tears also reveal weakness in others too. Children learn very quickly how to "turn on the tears" to get what they want from mum and dad; especially when in public.

Jesus' tears were human tears too. He was weak, his human flesh suffered, but not as a result of what he did. Jesus bore the frailty of human weakness, yet he did not succumb to the weakness he bore. Jesus' tears came as a result of our weak will against sin. He suffered seeing what sin does to us in our weakness.

Our weakness moved Jesus to take the toughest stand one could take against our weakness. And surprisingly this was to become our weakness on the cross. Our tears became Jesus' tears. Where one would expect our Saviour to stand tough and tall over the turmoil and tears of sin, Jesus came down to take our toil and tears on himself. A weak and wretched man, a body beaten and broken, tears shed till no more could be shed.

But tears are temporary for those whose trust is in the Lord. Our tears take us to the foot of the cross. Our tears and weakness teach us to trust Jesus. Where do your tears take you?

When we fail and the weakness of our will wreaks havoc in our lives and the lives of those we love, let your tears take you to Jesus. Let your tears testify to the glory of God. Let God recall you and refuel you with faith and hope to carry on in these days of weakness and tears. Let our tears be tears of relief and joy as we rest in Jesus' forgiveness.

Don't be like Judas and those whose tears lead them into greater terrors of weeping and gnashing of teeth! But rather, let your tears lead you to offer up prayers to God as sweet and fragrant offerings before him, seeking his mercy and therefore giving him glory.

Like a car which leaks oil and needs to be taken back to the manufacturer for modification, we too will be recalled to our maker. But we will be made better than new!

Like a car our leaking weakness will lead us to break down in death, which is the primary cause of all our tears. But our trust in Christ's death and resurrection will also allow God to lead us through our tears and sin and death into something new, something better, and something more everlasting than the temporary tears we toil with now.

Temporary tears will be replaced with permanent perfection. We and God will be together forever! Nothing will separate us from him ever again. In this place of perfection we hear…

"Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true." He said to me: "It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. (Revelation 21:3b-6a)

The good news for you and for me is that when we abide with him and uphold what he has written in his word, holding it as trustworthy and true, our temporary tears are but a watery veil of what is already our reality.

And that reality is this: God is making us his new creation. He has done it, he is doing it, and he will do it! It was finished at the cross and our baptism! It is finished, right now in this moment! And it will be finished in our death and resurrection recall where we finally see the reality of what we have already been made — saints made holy and right before our Holy Father, Son and Spirit!

Jesus Christ's work is done at the cross and in believing we already have the victory in he who is our beginning and end, our Alpha and Omega. Amen.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

B, Commemoration of the Reformation - Romans 3:20-24, 27-28 "Reformation Lamination"

Shaken not Shattered

Driving the roads of Australia can sometimes be hazardous! Narrow, broken edges, long distances, kangaroos, emus, tiredness, and big trucks coming from the other direction, can make it quite risky at times.

As it happens, there was not much to look at when I found myself daydreaming and tired driving on a narrow windy bitumen road through lifeless scrub. Out of the blue on a bend of the road hidden by the bush suddenly appeared a dirty great big cattle-carrying road train.

The truck was bearing down on me at what seemed like two-hundred kilometres per hour. Our rendezvous must have taken him by surprise too as he swerved the heavy transport to the left with a sudden jolt. I did the same and headed for the hard shoulder in a bid to avoid the mass of metal and moo-ving meat.

I got past the prime mover ok, but when a road train is suddenly lurched one way the movement is exacerbated as the effect ripples back through the trailers. I was a bit worried I wasn't going to make it there for a while, as the last trailer swayed like an overweight snake on and off the road in front of me. But through the dust and debris a path appeared for me to pass safely.

I thought I was through, when suddenly, CRACK, a large stone left its lasting impression on my windscreen. Understandably, the whole event left me a bit rattled as I drove on.

Old Crystal Highways

As I drove on it led me to ponder earlier times on roads such as the one on which I had just had my near miss; times when roads were referred to as crystal highways because of the shattered glass scattered from windscreens broken along these old rough roads.

The name crystal highway sounds as if they were something beautiful, but the reality of a crystal highway was anything but beautiful. If one was a contributor to the crystals of glass scattered alongside the highway it usually meant driving to the next town with no windscreen, being wind blasted while the remnants of the old windscreen sat on one's lap and under the feet.

Then there was the wait as the local service station mechanic replaced the glass so the journey could continue. And there was no guarantee that five minutes the other side of town another stray stone wouldn't be flicked up into the path of your new windscreen, shattering it and causing the woes of travelling on rough roads with a broken windscreen to begin all over again; not only breaking the glass but shattering the spirits of those in middle of their journeys.

The Pre-Reformation Church

Martin Luther lived in the Church of the Middle Ages. Some refer to the Middles Ages as the dark ages and it surely was spiritually dark for Martin Luther and many others trying to live lives as faithful Christians. Before the 31st of October 1517 the church had sunk into the blackest of darkness.

Fifteen hundred years after our Lord ushered in the new covenant—the radiant brilliance of a new life in eternity without sin, through the spilling of his blood, his death on a cross, his entombment in the earth, and his victorious resurrection—the church had turned its back on the centrality of its existence, it had severed itself from its head, its Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

The church's hierarchy had pushed aside the pure Gospel, laying God's Word in the dust, forgetting about it and in its place inventing its own doctrines of anti-gospel. The servants of the church had elevated themselves to be the masters of the church, who, instead of tending Christ's sheep, only gorged themselves with their goods and sucked the blood from the church's veins.

Before the 31st of October travelling on the crystal highway towards eternal life was oppressive for the most hardened traveller. A thousand years of silence on justification by God's grace, and the righteousness of God, given as gift, had culminated in Christians languishing in a fearful despair and anxiety.

Thousands had, in their previous predicament of sin, cried out in vain, "What must we do to be saved?" Their answer as they lay shattered beside the crystal highways of Mediaeval theology was rerouted to paying indulgences for departed saints, to human works, to their own penance, repentance, works of satisfaction and service. Christ and his fully sufficient service was silenced and the Word about faith gagged. Instead even more shattering stones were hurled at them knowing full well the impossibility of travelling along the road to glory by themselves.

Even learned men like Luther tormented themselves seeking, by themselves, to perform the righteousness that God expects of anyone who wishes to come into his holy presence.

Lamination and Reformation

Thank God for laminated windscreens. Even though my windscreen bears the scars of travelling along an old crystal highway, my journey was not halted nor was it shattered. Even though the road train rattled me, its debris didn't destroy my vision; I could still travel on.

The windscreens of the past, which once would have shattered from the impact of stones are long gone. We certainly still have windscreens but now they are laminated keeping the glass from shattering into a thousand pieces, or worse, from sending great spikes of glass back into the people in the vehicle.

These windscreens stand the test of time, the fragile glass protected from shattering by the thinnest invisible layer of laminate plastic. Sure we still see the results of what the old crystal highway might throw at us—large stars might appear on our windscreens—but they don't stop us from travelling towards the goal, toward the end of the journey.

Thank God too for the Reformation, for the reformers return to the law being laminated to Christ's vicarious action alone, for Martin Luther, and those, who, like him, were recaptured by the grace of the gospel, Philip Melanchthon, Martin Chemnitz and Jacob Andreae.

These men and thousands upon thousands have been reconnected with the love of God, through the righteousness of Christ, justification at the hand of God, day after day as they live the faith given to them in baptism, taught to them by Christ as their hearts are opened to his Word—preached from pulpits and taught by teachers—and to the faithful reception of Jesus body and blood in the elements of bread and wine, which Jesus himself instituted for us in his Word.

The rediscovery of the gospel in the Reformation is the lamination of our lives in Christ Jesus and the lamination of the church, protecting it from the evil attacks of the devil!

The Heavenly Crystal Highway

So now we no longer have a struggle with the law that ends in eternal death. There is no need to be fearful of having our vision of the heavenly goal shattered by the unattainable demands of God's holy law.

The law like the glass still exists but it is bound to Christ as is the glass to the laminate in today's windscreens. Hear God's word again for your assurance as you travel laminated and stuck to Christ and his promises in this life. First from St Paul in:

Romans 3:20 …no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. 21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and [all] are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus… 27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from observing the law.

This faith is ground in Christ's fully sufficient service, alone, made know to us through his word, alone, by the power of the Holy Spirit, alone, and gives us the freedom to travel with unshatterable confidence towards eternal freedom with Christ. Now hear and believe what God the Son himself says and teaches us:

John 8:31b "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." 34 [Then Jesus continues], "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed."

You have held to his teaching! Yes you have sinned, but faith not of yourselves has given you the ability to hold on to Christ and to faithfully endure. Faith has brought you to church, faith has enabled you to confess your sin, faith has drowned you in the gracious, righteous, justifying, death and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ for you and faith has set you free! So you too will be free indeed. Amen.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

B. Pentecost 20 Proper 24 - Mark 10:43-45 "In Order To Serve Us"

One for you; one and a bit for me! One for you; two for me! One for you; two for me, and while you're not looking another two for me!
Have you ever let children serve desert? It's an interesting exercise to undertake; especially if they don't know you're watching.
Then when the child, who's been diddled out of his or her portion, wakes up with protest, precision is called for. And then you'll find kids cutting up cake with absurd accuracy, even with the tape measure out, lest the one being served gets one less crumb or calorie.
To serve or to be served! When cake or sweets are to be divided it's amazing how many of us line up to serve! Or, if we allow ourselves to be served, we might act cool, calm, and collected, but heaven help the person serving if the knife slips a little in favour of them.
Servants lording it over those who should be served! It's been happening since Adam walked the earth. It doesn't matter if it's kids cutting cake to share, politicians propping up their position, public servants doing the public a disservice, or any other self-promoting tall-poppy eliminating works, every human being seeks to self-serve a better helping for themselves than the next person.
No one is excused from thinking and working this way. Some of us hide it better than others appearing to be better servants. You might be the quiet retiring type hanging back; perhaps waiting to have the last word. Or, you might be the extraverted one, loud, always seeking to have the first word. Either covertly or overtly, all of us move ourselves into what we think might be the most beneficial positions for ourselves.
The sons of Thunder, James and John, also moved to secure the best places for themselves just prior to Jesus marching into Jerusalem to be betrayed into the hands of those who would nail him to the cross.
And like any of us the other disciples, full of pride, quickly get their noses out of joint. Perhaps, they became annoyed that these two would do such a thing? Or, maybe they were irritated because they didn't think of it first!
But Jesus calls the disciples together and speaks to them saying… "Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:43-45)
This word of Jesus is the key and central theme of Marks gospel account. Mark's gospel was a written account of Peter's apostolic witness to the persecuted church gathering in Roman homes. And so too for us it's hard to go about life with a servant attitude when we're victimised and persecuted. It's so easy to fall into the "woe is me" mentality where we then seek to get a greater slice of life's cake, no matter what it takes or who it might hurt.
God's mindset led him to create an order where the first was made to serve what came after it. God's order of service came to be, in order to serve us! We see how he does this in his creation account at the beginning of Genesis.
On the first day of the week God spoke and creation's light came to be. On the very first day, Sunday, God created time.
Then on Monday, the second day of the week he separated water from sky. And so to this day what was created on the first day is there to serve what was made on the second day. And so the sky and the heavens are served by time and distance. Even today space and land are measured by light-years, days, degrees, minutes, and seconds.
Time serves water and sky so they both might serve the next thing created by God's word, on Tuesday — land, water, and vegetation. With out dirt, water, air, and time, vegetation would be nonexistent.
In the middle of the creation week stands Wednesday, and a second series of events begin which parallel the first three days. Here God creates light. Not light in the sense of time as he did on the first day, but light in the sense of warmth and exposure, creating days and nights, sun moon and stars, which govern the seasons and tides. Light-time created on the first day serves seasonal light created on the fourth day.
Then on the fifth day, Thursday, God created birds and fish, which are served by what he created on the second day — the waters above, the blue sky, and the waters below, the ocean. Birds and fish are also served by the seasons and the vegetation on the land, as well as the water from the ocean. Then God spoke again and bless them so that they might multiply and fill the earth.
Everything to this point had been created to serve the things created on Friday, the sixth day. God spoke and animals were created, wild animals, and creatures that move along the ground. He even made domestic animals too, surprisingly before anyone was there to domesticate them. We see God's pattern here; he created livestock to serve what was to be created next. And everything God had done was good and pleasing in his eyes!
The last thing God created was to make people in his image. Man and woman were made. All things created, from time, to sunshine and rain, to water, to fish, birds, and plants were created to serve those created on Friday, animals and people. And God gave his authority to people to rule over his creation to subdue it and be fruitful within it. Now God's creation was very good.
We can see God's order of service came to be in order to serve us. God was there at the beginning of his creation, he is here throughout the order of his creation, and there at the end he was and will be resting in his creation. All things were created to serve us and we were sought to serve God by resting with and in him on the Sabbath, the seventh day of creation, Saturday. God's order created to serve us ends one cycle with a day of being with him for re-creation.
In fact this period of seven days stands apart from time which God created on the first day and the nights and days or seasons God created on the fourth day. This period of a week is imposed on us as a cycle of good order, served by creation itself, so that we might have holy days of recreation or holidays re-created in and with God.
But all our apples went rotten on that day where humanity wanted a bigger slice of the action, and from that day God's creation has been riddled with chaos and carnage. We turn our holy days into self-serving holidays where being with God in his holiness is often put a distant second after the more important things on our busy schedules.
And so the opposite occurs! The days we use for ourselves for holidays get lost by the stress of organising our chaotic lives to get them. Our time of re-creation is exhausted by the constant demands of our recreation feats watching or playing sport and so forth.
The creation God gives us to serve us, enslaves us. Weeds worry us and labour pains us. We become slaves to each following generation, as weeds evolve and our kids get more and more wisdom, sooner and sooner, from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The more we seek to be served the more we must serve to just even survive. The order and peace created in the old seven day week, slides further and further into disorder, dis-ease, chaos and confusion.
God's order of service was corrupted by humanity; disorder occurred through our desire to be served. Therefore, in order to service us once again God sent his Son not to be served, but to serve. And his service was the ultimate act of service in that Jesus gave his life on the cross as a ransom for us whose lives are enslaved and constantly disrupted by sin and death.
In order to serve us God sent his Son in order to save us. So in Christ we see the eternal order of things to come — forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Amen.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

B, Pentecost 19 Proper 23 - Mark 10:17-31 "The Good Bloke Joke"

A funeral director and a pastor were standing back watching people come to the graveside to view their loved one's last resting place. The funeral director jokingly said to the minister, "I've only ever buried good blokes you know!" The minister laughed as the funeral director continued, "Yeah! I've never buried anyone who's been bad. They've all been good!" The funeral director smirked with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek and added, "Surprising isn't it?" The pastor responded, "Yeah that's why we all end up in a box in a hole!"

The stark reality of a funeral often exposes a most foolish and cruel contradiction and absurdity. The person who's died is eulogised a good bloke or a wonderful woman. Sometimes to the point of everyone's embarrassment. It might even appear you've arrived at the wrong funeral.

We've all heard these things said! "Yes, he was such a good bloke! He did this, he did that, he was such a model for our community!" And all the while negative thoughts are spreading through the congregation. There's a pious perplexity welling up in those who knew him best. So as they keep up appearances they turn up their noses thinking, "If you really knew this bloke you wouldn't be saying he's all that good!"

But then there are some in the congregation hearing these words and wishing they too could be as good as the bloke who seems to be owed his eternal life through what he'd done during his days on earth. It seems a privilege for God and his entourage that this bloke would choose to enter heaven.

Some seek to place themselves with or above he whose past life is worshipped in a game of "one-up-men-ship". Or those who hear are troubled by this deceased mortal who's received immortality by being such a good bloke. They're crushed by their inability to be anywhere as good as the righteous good bloke now made immortal.

The reaction of the congregation is confused, as either of these things occur within the hearts of each hearer. Perhaps even a conglomerate of both confounds the congregants!

Self-righteous pride and then crushing bitter disappointment also stir a certain man who approaches Jesus to ask what would have to be the most foolish question one could ever ask, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" (Mark 10:17b)

First Jesus addresses the title the man uses of him, "Good teacher", to which Jesus replies, "Why do you call me good? No one is good—except God alone." (Mark 10:18)

Did this fellow realise this good teacher was God? No, certainly not! We know this because the young man goes on to show this good teacher how good he had been. Rather he calls him a good teacher in a deliberate attempt to woe Jesus into giving him the answer to his question of inheriting eternal life. An answer that had obviously escaped him even though he had done so much apparent "good"!

Jesus then rolls straight into the commandments, pointing the man to the law and what it requires of him. To which the man declares he had kept all these laws since he was a boy. And it's at this point we hear that Jesus looked at him and loved him. However, you and I would find it difficult to believe we were being loved if Jesus went on to say the same thing to us, as he says to the man…

"One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." (Mark 10:21)

I wonder how "good" the man thought Jesus was after he heard what Jesus told him to do. This fellow had great wealth; he had done much good to get it; he was good at keeping the law. (Well, so he thought!) Here was a good bloke expecting good things to happen to him because he had done so much good.

But no! Jesus shows just how good he was by showing him his goodness misled him to believe in himself rather than the only person who is good — and that is God alone!

This fellow had born the load of doing so much good. He had carried much to benefit himself and he was a good bloke! Yet God revealed his goodness was not good enough, his labour had not been good enough to show him how to enter the kingdom of God. In fact, the benefits of his labour had become the load which was weighing him down. His self-sufficiency was his insufficiency. And so he went away crushed by his need to rid himself of his riches! His goodness was far short of the goodness expected by God.

The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, "Who then can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God." (Mark 10:24-27)

Jesus very deliberately turns his disciples to the image of a camel and the eye of a needle. A needle needs complete precision from the person inserting a thread. Anyone who has ever threaded a needle will know how difficult it can be. Now imagine passing a camel through the needle. Impossible! No wonder the disciples were amazed when Jesus said this.

We see camels as beasts of burden, dirty, smelly, ill-tempered, and noisy. In fact, they are the largest unclean animal living in the Middle East. Yes! They are unclean in themselves, but they are also unclean animals according to the ceremonial laws of the Jews, because they do not have a cloven hoof.

The word camel originates from a Hebrew word which literally means to benefit from one's labours. And the camel is a self-sufficient being in its environment, being able to drink large quantities of water to last it days and its hump allows it to store energy as fat to tide it through lean times. No wonder they were used by traders as caravans in the desert. Camels in their desert setting are a benefit to themselves and those who used them.

But even after all the benefits of a camel's being and carrying ability are put aside, it still would not fit through the eye of a needle. And so it's even more impossible for those who are rich to enter the kingdom of heaven through what they do. Rich being, those who are self-sufficient, those who have abilities and strengths to sustain one's self, those who can work for what they want, and those who can do all that's needed to be seen as good blokes or wonderful women.

We can return to the funeral director who's only ever buried good blokes. We can ask ourselves, "If the blokes were so good, why then did they die?" And, if the self-righteous man who approached Jesus was so good in what he had done, why was he still puzzled as to how to earn eternal life?

In these questions we see the impossibility of us being able to save ourselves from death and destruction. If it is easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle, and we know it's impossible, then how much greater is the impossibility for you and I who are rich in so many areas of our lives? Even the poorest person in our society carries the richness of life that hinders them from entering the kingdom of heaven by their own efforts.

But the impossibility we face is one that Jesus has overcome. Jesus is continually seeking entry in to each and every one of us. So as we hear the word of God, the Holy Spirit continually seeks to reunite and strengthen us in Christ. He reveals the weaknesses of our hearts and works to prune from us all the stuff that continually weighs us down and hinders us.

Perhaps one day at your funerals someone might not eulogise you but in the obituary say, "this bloke, this woman, wasn't a good person. In fact, she struggled with sin her whole life. Despite the good he did he never did enough to keep death at bay. But those who joke about the bloke in whom we trust — the joke is on them! For this Jesus bloke, he's a good bloke. So good he's God! So good he took the fall for those who've died trusting him.

This makes Good Friday and the day of our departure from this life, a very good day for us as we look forward in faith to the moment when we confidently approach the eternal throne of grace once and for all. At that time we know we will receive all the benefits of Jesus Christ who, like the camel, carried our load through the seemingly impossible eye of death and was raised to life for your eternal benefit and my eternal benefit too. Amen.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

B, Pentecost 18 Proper 22 - Mark 10:13-16 "Jesus Reaches"

People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16)

Everyone is within Jesus' reach. However, it takes a lifetime for us to really get it!

When we were brought to the waters of baptism Jesus reached out and took us in his arms and blessed us. He gave us the kingdom of heaven, he gave us himself completely, and we were perfectly recreated in his death and resurrection. Just like the earth after God had washed it, saving Noah and his family, we were washed, sanctified, and living in harmony with God.

Yet, just as it didn't take long for Noah and his sons to move away from this perfection and cleansing, we too were saved in the waters of baptism and then looked away from God, tainting our innocence blessedness, and maturing the old nature put to death in our new God-given existence.

We had Jesus, the kingdom of God was ours from the moment we heard and received the word of truth and rested in its reality. Jesus was within our reach and he took us in his arms and blessed us. In fact today and every day he was and is within our reach!

We are free to come to Jesus. But as we grow in our human ways, like a child we increasingly become headstrong. We want to do it our way and have Jesus take us in his arms according to our agendas. Like the people of Noah's day we move out from under his arm and seek to build ourselves up in importance and stature seeking to be noticed by God and others for what we have done. And just as God came down to see the sin of humanity at Babel; our seemingly incredible feats are flawed and flaccid in the face of God.

Just when we think we are finally getting somewhere, we've actually got nowhere. In fact, if anything we've slid backwards, further and further away from reaching God. Yet, God is still within our reach; his desire is to take us in his arms and bless us!

But no! We are not babies we can stand for ourselves! So we repel our Heavenly Father and continue to build our rickety towers of triumph, climbing higher and higher, closer and closer to God. Or so we think!

Yet, in reality, we're further and further from contentment, from satisfaction, from peace, and from the loving embrace of God's blessing. Like a child pulling free from dad, we protest, "No, no, no! I'm grown up now; I want to do it myself."

But, even so, you're still within God's reach; his desire is to take you in his arms and bless you!

When we are little children our parents can correct us quite easily. We are content to live within the confines of their protection. But as we advance in years, it seems we regress from the spiritual maturity that God sees as necessary for our inclusion into the kingdom of heaven.

As baptised children we can knowingly say, "Jesus loves me. The bible tells us so!" We live happily in this reality. It's the status quo! Why would anything be different?

But as we grow in the maturity of our human existence, then comes all the conditions, the questions, and the struggle to be autonomous. The bible tells me so! So what! I know so much better! And as we grow we turn away from the truth of God's word to the half-truths of our hearts.

It might seem peculiar that positioned next to each other are two texts on divorce and children coming to Jesus. But they demonstrate how we humans turn the things of God on their head so we might do as we please and only accept what we want.

In the second text, Jesus is indignant or greatly distress that the disciples were rebuking the children and those who were bringing them to Jesus. When the disciples "rebuke" the Greek equivalent infers the disciples lay a tax upon those coming to Jesus. The disciples were imposing a law which sinfully separated little ones from Jesus' reach. Supposedly these little one had to first prove their worth before being taken and blessed by Jesus.

However, we know Jesus reaches out to all people; his desire is to take you in his arms and bless you. Yet like the disciples we often think it's too good to be true, and impose taxes upon ourselves to build ourselves up before God.

Alternatively, we justify ourselves by accepting only the parts of God's word that don't offend us. We seek to rationalise the word through our reason so we can conform God into the very things that deceive us and lead us away from God. And we fool ourselves by believing this allows us a closer walk with God.

But Jesus says to you and me, "If you oppose me and my kingdom by imposing conditions and taxing yourselves with laws that condemn to death, the kingdom of God is not yours.

The bigger the ego, the harder the fall! The stubborn will of an obstinate child, the arrogance of our human pride, always precede the fall. Like a child that demands its own way, choice is always free, but consequences are never free.

Society's views on marriage, divorce, and sex demonstrate how quickly we move away from the truth of God's word into the half-truths of our emotions, ideals, and the standards we impose for ourselves.

Jesus tells us adultery and divorce are wrong because they're against God's will. It's as simple as that! As a young child we accept this. In fact, we know it's the truth, the bible tells us so.

But adults, those who have grown in their human hardness, and have shrivelled in their softness towards God's will, place all sorts of conditions and justifications on his word. We tax the truth, and water down the word of God making it more and more difficult to hear actually what the truth is and believe it. But despite the divorce and adultery, you're still within his reach; Jesus' desire is to take you in his arms and bless you.

And just in case any of us are pointing the finger here, Jesus' word on adultery extends even more. He says, "Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Matthew 5:28) And the same goes for women who lustfully look at men. And further more, all of us lust after many material things and possessions. And God calls this coveting.

When we pull away from God and the means he gives his children in his church in favour of deciding for ourselves, we unknowingly, and sometimes knowingly, build up ourselves and our world with half-truths. But unless we hear the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth how can we expect God's help?

The truth is this: Sin is not something to overlook. When we overlook something God's word says to allow us to continue on our path of sin, this overlooking is yet another sin. And so the heart hardens, the old nature grows in its defiance, and our ears close over to the absolute truth of God's word.

However, when God's word shows us our sin, and we see plainly our sinful nature, as we hear his word. Like the children whom Jesus took in his arms we too, the children of God, can lay down our hardened hearts, and accept we are sinners. We can return to Jesus who has died for our sin and willingly seeks to forgive us as he takes us into his arms and blesses us with the promise of eternal life.

You are within Jesus' reach. The lesson you and I need to learn in our lives is this: he has already got me. We are his; won at the cross and at our baptism into his death.

We no longer need to prove ourselves or hid the things we do wrong. Instead of hiding our sin, pretending it doesn't exist, and giving it power by trying to beat it ourselves, God moves us toward spiritual maturity where we confess our sin, and trust the Lord's loving and powerful arms will protect us having reached out and taken us in forgiveness and love.

Why? Because Jesus loves me, the bible tells me so. Amen.