Saturday, February 20, 2010

C, Lent 1 - Luke 4:1-2 "Trials & Temptation"


And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. (Luke 4:1-2)


Just when you'd think things couldn't get any worse, then it does! You see, he came from a privileged place. There was no pain or suffering, hunger or want. But where he found himself was a far cry from the fertility and luxury from where he had come.

Jesus walks in the wilderness; his stomach knotted from hunger. Now when things seemed like they couldn't get any worse, old hairy legs shows up - the devil. He grabs the opportunity to take Jesus to task, testing him in the weakness of his hungry human state.

These forty days wandering in the wilderness follow a time where at the Jordan Jesus was baptised, the Holy Spirit came down on him, and God declared him to be his Son whom he loved. But on having received the Holy Spirit, and wonderful acknowledgement of his Father's love, he's led into a time of trial and suffering. How much worse could it have gotten?

After all, the preincarnate Son of God, before he was born to Mary, was at the Father's right hand in heaven. He was a member of the Holy Trinity! The Son of the Father from eternity, eternally begotten! God the Son was there with the Father and the Holy Spirit at the creation of time and space. This God was untouchable by sin, suffering, trial and temptation.

But this is what God the Son gave up because he loved the Father. He became bound by time and space; born in Bethlehem and dependant on humans. God the Son became the epitome (e-pit-o-me) of weakness lying in a makeshift bed in an unwholesome environment!

Having been baptised he now walked in the wilderness. This is where the Spirit led him. And the Father who announced his love for his Son now allows him to flounder for forty day in the desert. Imagine yourself in this situation. If we had Christ's power, surely we would rationalise our situation with our sinful nature to improve our lot.

Just as Jesus walked in the wilderness for forty days, the Israelites had been in the Sinai wilderness for forty years. They stood on the edge of entry into Canaan. Just across the very same Jordan River in which Jesus was baptised before he went into the wilderness.

God walked with the Israelites in the desert during this time. Although the Israelites inherited their wilderness wanderings due to their wickedness and waywardness! Yet, God still remained with them and was faithful to his promise to deliver them into a land flowing with milk and honey - into the land of Canaan. All they had to do was remain faithful to God and things would get better and better.

The Israelites and Jesus walked the same road, but on it they walked the completely opposite direction. Jesus, the eternal Son of God, came from his heavenly glory to be born a human, was baptised into death, and wanders in all human weakness in the wilderness. However, Israel, adopted as God's children, is delivered from trial and testing in Egypt, into the Sinai wilderness, and then into Canaan, an earthly paradise chosen by God in which for them to live. God's one and only Son, and God's adopted children, walked very different directions for a very good reason.

The Israelites were tempted by just about everything that came their way. It made no difference whether they were in a place of plenty or paucity, they whinged and wanted more and more all the time. They didn't trust God. In fact, they begrudged him even while he provided for them and protected them in the wilderness.

Jesus on the other hand, had everything, and gave it up, yet he didn't doubt God for a moment. Surrendering his Godliness, he was born with the same flesh as the Israelites, and as you and me. He was susceptible to sin and suffering, but he didn't fall into disbelief; not even once!

Jesus and the Israelites cross paths at the Jordan. Jesus came from paradise into the wilderness and the Israelites were delivered from the desert into the fruitful land of milk and honey.

They crossed roads at the Jordan and its where the X marks the spot. Israelites were being baptised by John with a baptism of repentance. And Jesus received a baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire, which landed him on "the Cross" and a descent into hell.

In fact, "the Cross" is the X which marks the spot. The Israelites walked to the Jordan with the guilt of sin, and away with a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus too, walked to the Jordan, but not with sin and guilt. He came holy, pure and spotless and left carried by the Holy Spirit into forty days of temptation, and three years of trial ending in his death on the Cross; cursed by our sin, yet in himself was pure and spotless.

The Cross marks the spot for us too. Christ meets us at the crossroads in baptism. St Paul challenges us in Romans chapter 6, "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life." (Romans 6:3-4)

You now walk in your baptism called to trust baptism's power in you for Christ's sake, allowing the Holy Spirit to do his perfecting work in and through you. You are called to trust the forgiveness of your sin, knowing that sin and death have no power in your life. And sin and death continue to have their power weakened by the light shone in our hearts through repentance that exposes the sinful things you're tempted to do. From baptism into Christ, you're called to walk and trust every day in the power of your baptism, through which the Holy Spirit gives you the newness of life.

However, unlike Jesus, we being born with a sinful nature continue to do sinful things. We go out from our baptism into the wilderness of this world and succumb to temptations all the time. We see our trials and the suffering we still must go through in this life and become hesitant of the Holy Spirit's leadership, doubtful of the Son's salvation, and are quick to replace faith in God through his Word, with faith in ourselves through our own works.

This is exactly why Jesus was the only one who went to the cross. Everyone else fell and continues to fall to the temptation that God and his kingdom will let them down. And Jesus knew this too. So he sends the Holy Spirit to continue turning us back to him and the power won at the cross given in our baptism that we might turn and return to Christ and his Word.

The greatest temptation we face as God's adopted children is to think God has abandoned us and left us for dead. Just like the Israelites did so many times in the Sinai wilderness, we are quick to toss our God-given faith away in favour of a faith, which comes from our morals, our understanding or intellect, and our feelings. This temptation is ultimately ground in a disbelief which wills us to believe God's kingdom is not near us or for us because of who we are as sinners.

Jesus knows we struggle to believe his kingdom is coming to us, especially when we seem to be having so many trials and troubles in this life. We're blinded seeing our day to day lives only in negative unbalanced Godless ways. Then temptation quickly comes willing us to throw out our trust in God who promises to lead us through the wilderness of this life and through death.

Jesus addresses our temptation to believe the kingdom is not coming to us. In the Lord's Prayer he gives us his very own personal words which move us to trust our Father, whose kingdom comes, and to trust the Holy Spirit's leadership away from the temptation that God's kingdom is not coming to us.

In the Lord's Prayer we are lead into a deeper and deeper belief that despite how things might appear, God is providing our daily bread in this life and will continue to do so right through into the resurrected life he has for us in eternity.

In fact, in Jesus' hunger he rebuked the devil with God's word, in part, from Deuteronomy 8:3, "man does not live by bread alone." (Deuteronomy 8:3, Luke 4:4) But this whole verse points to the very thing every person needs to receive throughout their earthly lives. Let's hear the full verse, "And he (the Lord your God) humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord." (Deuteronomy 8:3)

And so for us the food that leads us away from all temptations and specifically the temptation to believe that the kingdom of God is not for us is the Word of God. In fact when we hear the word of God preached we receive the Holy Spirit, we receive faith, and we are grounded in the assurance that "Jesus is Lord" and "God has raised him from the dead" (Romans 10:9)

So it's right at the point where everything seems to be getting worse, and we realise how weak we truly are, that we come to the crossroads where we're called to trust in he who has already walked the other way towards death and hell for us, but then was raised and glorified.

Through the Word of God the Holy Spirit works to plant in us faith that the kingdom of God is for us, and near us, despite the wilderness in which we walk today. Amen.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

C, Transfiguration of our Lord - Luke 9:28-36 "Living with God and his Glory"

1.0 The glorified Jesus – The revelation of Jesus as God for us.

We've had our fair share of electrical storms lately. And often during these furious phases of flashing lightning and wild winds, power lines are tested beyond their capacity, leading to blackouts across the countryside. While the lights are out and the house is in darkness, the electricity continues to arc through the skies drawing our gaze to the spectacular sky show. The only source of light demands the attention of all.

In the Gospel Jesus is that flash of lightning grabbing the attention of the three disciples on the mountain and also capturing our attention here today. There's no doubt the Gospel reading reveals to us something special about the man Jesus. Just as lightning points to the centre of the storm and to the life giving rain which follows, Jesus’ transfiguration points us to the events of Good Friday and the following Easter Sunday. Even if we take the transfiguration narrative by itself, he is at the centre no matter which way we look at it.

Jesus leads the disciples up the mountain to pray. He is the one who is transfigured into something like a flash of lightning. The disciples look at nothing else but the dazzling Son of God. Not to mention Moses and Elijah speaking to Jesus on what he was about to do for the sins of the world. And even the Father in heaven descends in a cloud to put us beyond any doubt that Jesus is centre stage – the flash of lightning sent to lighten up a world darkened by sin.

1.1 Revealed as a human baby now the fleshy mask comes off the man to reveal God’s Son.

Isn’t it interesting how storms so often sneak up on us under the cover of darkness? It's as if they decide to use a veil of darkness to hide and then suddenly they reveal themselves in all their fury. As we go about our work the steamy, sultry air makes us suspicious that something is coming.

The sultry oppression of the law and its revelation of sin in the lives of the Jews, led prophets to proclaim that something was coming too. And now "that something" was in the world.

First as a baby, foretold by the angel Gabriel, conceived by the Holy Spirit, in the Virgin Mary. A little weak defenceless baby incapable of looking after itself was the veil hiding the creator of the universe. The creator who allowed himself to be created! The wise men came and found this baby, who was to be the king of the Jews. Yet even beneath the honour and prestige of earthly kingship was veiled something much greater.

So the baby grew, he was circumcised a Jew, and he was baptised in the Jordan by John. Rumble, rumble – the heavens opened the spirit descends like a dove, God thunders, ‘You are my Son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased’.

A bank of cloud was forming, a storm was brewing in the west and hidden in those clouds, and the wild weather, was not just an earthly king who was going stir up a storm, conquer the Romans, and return the Jews to power.

But rather it was a king whose flesh hid the flashing brilliance of God. Christ’s mask of flesh, given to him in his incarnation, was the masking cloud which hid the glory of God, which shot out from his body transfiguring him on the mountain, warning of the impending storm which was going to wreak havoc on the sultry oppression of sin in the live of people.

2.0 Glory – God at work…

Nevertheless, we shouldn't let these clouds of glory scare us. Your sinful nature might shake scared in its boots, but the sight of the clouds and lightning in the west is a welcome sight to those who've had the refreshing sprinkling of baptismal rainfall on them before. From within the veil of a glory cloud God has been at work, he continues to work, and he will continue to work.

2.1 …through Moses

In the Old Testament we hear that Moses comes down from the mountain with two tablets on which the Ten Commandments were written. His face shone from being in the presence of God’s glory. God worked in the presence Moses on top of Mt Sinai, producing the law, but the Israelites below didn’t see God on the mountain with Moses, all they saw was the cloud which shrouded the mountain and kept the glory of God veiled.

In fact Moses never saw God’s face on the mountain either, when God showed his glory he hid Moses in the cleft of a rock and only let Moses see his backside after he had passed by (Ex 33:12 – 34:7). God hid himself so that he could work with humanity without destroying us with his overwhelming holiness.

When the Israelites left Mt Sinai the cloud in which God’s glory was concealed lifted and followed them in the wilderness (Num 10:33-34). This cloud was not a threat to the Israelites but a comfort and a constant reminder that God was the one who led them in the desert.

2.2 …through Jesus

In the same way Jesus’ glory was hidden as he worked on earth. The glory of his transfigured holiness blasted forth for only a brief moment on top of the mountain before his disciples. But his divinity shone for enough time to tell the disciples that God was at work. And even though the flash of lightning sizzled their sight with Christ’s glorious brilliance it didn’t make much sense at the time. Later on they were able to recount the lightning of transfiguration, the storm and cleansing rains of Good Friday, and the glorious "Son shine" rising on Easter Sunday.

2.3 …today

So here we sit today. Where is the glory? Why are we still sitting in the oppression of our sultry sinful lives? The heat of our existence seems to evaporate any cloud of glory that might come our way?

God’s glory may not be visible to our eyes, it might seem to have evaporated and vanished, but it's still here. In fact the glory of God is veiled in our midst right at this moment.

You see, when Jesus ascended to heaven he didn’t leave us, he just became unseen to the naked eye. When Jesus ascended he was hidden by a cloud, not removed by it.

This cloud is lifted by faith when we hear the word of God proclaimed and are nourished by Christ’s body and blood. God’s glory is there to be seen through the eyes of faith.

We too have a window into the unseen world when we read passages such the gospel proclamation of Christ's divinity at his transfiguration and in scenes painted by texts such as Revelation 4 (Read Rev 4).

What John saw and recorded in Revelation are the unseen things happening right now, of which we all are a part.

We have come into the door of heaven here; today we dwell in the presence of God and him in ours. Shortly we will confess with the angels, archangels, and with all the company of heaven, the Holy, Holy, Holy and then we will join in fellowship with the church, in and outside of time, and feast on Christ’s body and blood.

Yes, God’s glory is invisible, it's masked from the naked eye, but it's at work in each and every one of our lives right now.

3.0 The effect of God’s glory shining in us

So what's the effect of God’s glory shining in our hearts and our lives? What's this glory seen briefly at transfiguration and made complete in Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension doing for us now?

God’s glory lives in us, and just as Christ’s glory was masked behind his flesh, the glory of God has been given to us, and is masked behind our flesh too. But unlike Christ’s flesh our flesh is sinful. It's sinful just as is Peter’s flesh and the Israelite’s flesh too.

The glory of God that shines in us shows just how unclean we really are. We don’t like that much and the old Adam in each of us, seeks to take God’s glory and turn it into self-glorification. Just as Peter sought to stay on the mountain and bask in the glory of God, rather than let Christ do his work of salvation which just lay ahead.

However, our sinfulness is not the end of the road. We will not be left sweltering in the sin of our fleshy lives. A storm rages within. The lightning of Christ’s brilliance flashes inside, lighting up the darkness, blowing and cleansing us with Christ’s atoning blood spilt on the cross and made real in our lives at baptism.

There's a change in the west, a cool refreshing change. After the lightning and the storm, the rain leaves us regenerated. This change takes a lifetime to pass over our lives, but when it does finally pass over us, it will leave us permanently changed. We will be perfectly restored, pure and spotless. We will be new creations minus the flesh that now masks our glory. Amen.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

C, Epiphany 5 - Isaiah 6:1-6 "On Being Holy"

In our quest for happiness, happiness appears to be fleeting! The more we seek satisfaction, the greater the dissatisfaction we experience. This absurd contradiction is the reality our Western World faces as we live our lives in pursuit of pleasure. Always wanting to be happy, but never really seeing it! Surrounding one's self with entertainment, but living with continual feelings of total abandonment, marooned in isolation! Needing contentment, but constantly wanting more! Busy earning happiness but never winning that for which we've worked! Our hunt for happiness seems to lead us further and further away from what we want; only increasing our quest for happiness.

Perhaps we've got it all wrong! After all, we're becoming more depressed over our lot. The mass of stuff we accumulate around ourselves to give us a sense of worth only increases our loneliness and continues to expose the reality of the big black darkness of our inner self. The truth is: we humans get it wrong all the time! In fact, it's clear to see; we've get it terribly wrong by hunting for happiness in this life!

God would rather us pursue holiness over against happiness. Holiness is God's quest for us and it leads us away from self-obsessed happiness towards peace, joy, and hope which truly drives out the deepest darkest yearnings of the human heart.

Holiness now, over against happiness now is God's way of dealing with us, with our sin, and with the powers of darkness, that unsettle us and lead us into a hellish life. Holiness leads us out of a self-obsessed existence into the holy community of God. It takes us away from ourselves and plants us in the eternal hope of God.

Happiness however, ends in isolation from community. Even a group of individuals seeking the same happiness, have no community or unity with each other. The group is together in the one place in one time yet they feel isolated and alone despite being amongst like mined souls.

This is our world! Acting as if we were one, yet suffering in silence! Everyone carrying the same sickness, yet no one knowing what their neighbour is going through! We tell each other how happy we are, hiding the truth of our wanting and uncertainty!

The great problem with happiness is happiness is all about pleasing the self. It sends us on a quest that separates us from each other as happiness gets built on success. Unfortunately success measures itself on the failures that surround it. Therefore, killing community in a game of one-up-manship!

Holiness however, delivers one into rest from the competitive nature of happiness and gives peace and joy. Joy, unlike happiness, is ground in community where one is made a part of something much bigger and better. This bigger and better is God. This God is holy and the whole earth is full of his glory.

But what is being holy? How can we be holy? What are we to do to get this holiness; the same holiness that God possesses? God, in fact, demands holiness from us. But unless we're holy, then happiness, and especially peace and joy, will never be found.

To be holy one must be in the presence of God, who is holy! In the Old Testament God says to you, "For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy… For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy." (Leviticus 11:44a, 45)

God tell us we must cleanse ourselves to be in his holy presence. When we are clean in God's presence we are then blameless and pure, absolutely sinless and perfect.

If we come into God's presence unclean bearing our impurity, imperfection - our sinful being or nature – and God does not deal with this uncleanliness then he himself is no longer holy. And if God becomes unholy, he is no longer God, he would cease to exist. However, God cannot do this because his nature or being is holy and so the unholiness cannot co-exist with his holiness, one must be swallowed up by the other. Therefore, if we are not holy as God is holy, if we fail to be clean before God, we die.

Isaiah knew this when he came before God. God's holiness revealed the dirtiness of his existence. As Isaiah came into the light and purity of God, his sinful humanity was exposed, and he cowered expecting to die.

Isaiah reports… I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!" And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!" (Isaiah 6:1-5)

At this point Isaiah must have felt like a bug in a bug zapper! He realised his fate like an insect in the millisecond between resting upon the zapper wire and receiving its fatal bolt of frying light and energy! Yep! Isaiah thought he was as good as dead!

Similarly Simon Peter a rough and ready fisherman from Galilee thought the same when Jesus revealed himself to be God the Son by granting him and others a catch of fish after having caught nothing.

When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord." (Luke 5:8)

In these two instances these men knew they weren't holy, they knew no matter what they did they couldn't be holy as the Lord God was holy. And yet they lived! God had to do something so his holiness was not desecrated and so man's unholiness didn't bring about sudden death.

Isaiah knowing he was unclean and guilty was made blameless by an act of God. One of the seraphim came to him with a live coal from the holy altar of God and touched his lips making him clean. And then God commanded Isaiah to impress his holy word upon the people who had long forgotten about God or remaining holy in his presence.

Simon Peter didn't get his wish for Jesus to leave him. Rather, Jesus called Peter to remain with him. So Peter, James, and John left their boats and followed Jesus. So how did these men co-exist with one who was holy? They too should have been struck down by God's holiness.

These men didn't die because they were invited to witness an event. This event has changed humanity's relationship with God forever. This event led the disciples from Lake Galilee to the cross. These men were led on a new road with one who would atone for their sin.

Just as Israel was lead on an exodus from Egypt's bondage into being holy, through adherence to the Law, Peter and the disciples were led by Jesus on a road out of bondage too.

The Law is holy, it is perfect, pure, and blameless. However, as Peter, Isaiah, and anyone who seeks to work their own righteousness knows the Law exposes just how much we cannot keep the Law to be holy.

So Jesus was sent! He gave up his Godliness and lived as a human being. He was sent to live under the Law, to perfectly fulfil it, so he would be holy and blameless in God's sight. And he did it, not because he was God's Son, but because he was faithful to his Father, and so he could give his holiness to us.

From the moment of his baptism at the River Jordan by John the Baptist, he began to absorb the sinfulness of humanity. He began mopping up our constant failure to be holy, and he took our self-seeking happiness on himself too - the happiness that gives us no real happiness at all. Like a sponge he began soaking up the blood of our deadly sin, and carried it to Calvary, where God wrung it out on the cross.

Having been wrung out on the cross, we now carry the cleanness of Christ, our hearts readily absorbing the holiness of God as he pours out his blood for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

Bearing the cleanliness of Christ, fulfils the Law, and allows us to stand blameless before God in peace and with joy. This is holiness! This holiness we receive in Jesus' sinless death and resurrection is the gospel of our salvation. You are holy because Christ is holy, and he gives his holiness to those who trust in him.

Searching for happiness now is folly! You will not find it until your sinful nature is dealt with; and death and the devil are defeated in you.

Looking for happiness drives us into isolation and despair which is down right dangerous. Luther warns, "Those who are troubled with melancholy ought to be very careful not to be alone, for God created the fellowship of the church and commanded brotherliness, as the Scriptures testify, ''Woe to him who is alone when he falls.' etc. [Ecclesiastes 4:10]"

Searching for happiness ultimately leads a person into depression; and depressed thoughts are the devils bathtub. He feels right at home bathing in our suffering, and loves to wallow there. However, daily bathing in God's holiness pulls the plug on the devil and the depression our hunt for happiness always seems to deliver.

God's quest for you to live in his holiness is "remaining in" and constantly "returning to" your baptism, trusting the power of the water with the Word of God to regenerate and renew you through the cleansing power of Jesus' death and the hope his resurrection gives to you.

Therefore, believe and wait on the Lord for your resurrection into his holy perfection, purity, and peace. Once there we will receive something much greater than happiness; we will be consumed by joy and rejoicing in the glory of the Lord.

Our heavenly Father says, be holy, for I am holy! Being holy has never been easier than trusting in Jesus Christ who constantly delivers you from sin and death into eternal life and salvation. Amen.