Saturday, November 28, 2009

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

Text – Luke 21:25-36

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 21, 2009

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

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

Friday, November 13, 2009

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

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