Saturday, September 11, 2010

C, Pentecost 16 Proper 19 - Luke 15:1-7; Exodus 32:9-10 "A Stiff Neck Gets You Killed"

The worst injury a WW2 fighter pilot could carry into the cockpit was a stiff neck. One of the Allies finest fighter pilots, South African born, Squadron Leader Gerald "Stapme" Stapleton, in a documentary on the Battle of Britain said, “I'll tell you what gets you killed, flying with a stiff neck gets you killed!” If the neck was stiff, the response of those being pursued in a dogfight is significantly slower than if one’s neck was free allowing a pilot to quickly glance over his shoulder and react in a way which could save him from being shot down.
So a stiff neck gets you killed! This also was the case in the Sinai wilderness when the Israelites became stiff necked and made for themselves a calf of gold and sought to worship it. And God’s anger raged against them.
He saw what they did and he said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.” (Exodus 32:9-10 ESV)
God like an ace pilot wanted nothing more than to bear down on those who had willingly and defiantly turned away, refusing with stiff-necks to turn back, and wipe them out of existence. They had corrupted themselves to such a degree; all that was due to them was God’s wrath and total annihilation.
Like the Israelites with their golden calf, humanity continues to willingly and defiantly turn away from God. Turning from his will towards our own wills! Amazingly each of us coarsely seeks to justify our will as somehow okay with God! Yet our sin tainted will living in its own justification becomes more and more unbending to the truth, not allowing us to turn back from a spiralling dive down into timeless eternal trouble, pain, and suffering.
If you think our society today is free from golden calves which lead us into stiff-necked idolatry, perhaps your need be asked, “Is your neck too stiff to see reality?”
Power and control still persists as a big idol in the lives of us humans. I want control, power over my own destiny. And when I get it I allow no one else to have it, because if I did it would no longer be control. Also you and I crave power as an extension of this control over others as well as me.
Pleasure is another calf these days and it comes through our short-sighted desire of things which appease the emotions, so we get that good feeling, that rush! Mind you there’s nothing wrong with emotions and feelings, after all God gave us our feelings and emotions as a wonderful gift. Yet when this gift, like any gift from God, becomes number one it becomes our golden calf!
The other sacred cow is possessions. Like emotions, there’s nothing wrong with having stuff! But like pleasure and power, possessions can quickly cause us to become so turned in and one-eyed on these created things that God gets put in a distant second place.
However, the only problem with him being in second place and you in first place with a stiff-necked attitude against him, he’s behind us, he’s angry with us, and he allows no one to put him second. For God’s holiness to be the pure holiness it’s expected it to be, stiff-necked unholiness must be dealt with, it must be shot down. A stiff necked get’s you killed!
And so God put in a distant second place to power, pleasure, and possessions, will incite a response from God. As humanity flies along in its sin, God dives down with his cross hairs locked on to us. He bears down on you, he can see your image, one which he build in perfection, haphazardly clunking along in all its imperfection, leaving a trail of putrid pollution, which spews from our engine, the core of our being, which seeks to run on this unclean power, pleasures, and possessions.
With his cross-hair undoubtedly on you, God pulls the trigger! His burning wrath shoots out at you! But, you have a wingman! He swoops in behind you knowing your stiff neck injury. He saves the day, you fly home, but he wears the wrath. The cross-hairs point at him and his shiny frame takes the heat, and he spirals down, down, down, into the darkness of death. Your Squadron Leader bears the cross-hairs meant for you; Jesus Christ wears God’s wrath because of your stiff neck.
Our Squadron Leader is in fact our shepherd. Not only is he the only true ace; a fighter pilot who rules the heavens. He is also our suffering servant, taking the flack — as if he were stiff-necked, hell-bent, and lost. He flew out to rescue you like a shepherd who looks for one lost sheep. A stiff neck gets you killed, yet not you! Your stiff neck got Christ killed. Jesus stuck out his neck for you!
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbours, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15:1-7 ESV)
So the questions for us are these: Are you one who now draws near to God, knowing you are a sinner? Or, are you one who grumbles about those whom God wants to defend and rescue through the cross?
When Jesus spoke this parable, the Pharisees and scribes watched on and grumbled. They had stiff necks too. Yet, they thought they were injury free; and on seeing Jesus with sinners, labelled him the enemy.
So stiff had their necks become they had no idea God’s heat was bearing down on them. They had become just as much the enemy as the tax collectors and other sinners. However, Jesus was not just there to shoot down the enemy on his Father’s behalf, but to raise them up again as God’s children.
You have been raised up again through the cross too. Are there things from which you need to repent? YES! Any of us who truly know the stiffness of our ways, and the need for continual protection from the Shepherd, who continually flies out to rescue us, his black sheep, has to answer yes.
In this parable of the lost sheep a twist appears at the end. And it’s repeated at the end of the lost coin parable too. The celebration occurs though the repentance of the one who is found rather than them being found, as we would expect. Jesus came to rescue us, and that work is done. Are you now allowing God to move in you the faith and repentance which causes all heaven to celebrate?
Are you allowing the salve of the Gospel to relieve your stiff neck, to be rubbed in through the preaching and teaching of God’s word, and the eating and drinking of his body and blood? See the celebration into which you have been invited!
One might light-heartedly muse that on the shepherd finding the sheep and calling the neighbours together to celebrate, he might have very well butchered that sheep in celebration. Or, the woman used the coin she found to purchase what she needed to celebrate with her neighbours.
Seriously though, we the saved sheep, and God’s precious children, who allow the Holy Spirit to move in us daily repentance are not going to be slaughtered and spent for the sins with which we still struggle. Jesus, the Lamb of God, was butchered for us, he was the priceless Son of God completely spent on the cross for you. And because this sinless, spotless, priceless, holy and undefiled, Son of God became the sacrifice for your stiff-neckedness, we now get to join the celebration with the whole company of God’s heavenly squadron — angels and archangels, together with those set free, and being set free, from behind enemy lines.
No longer are we the baa baa black sheep hearing the demand, “have you any wool?” Singing the song of religious works, “Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full!”
But rather our song has changed from works to what God has done. Our song might be something like this…
“Mary bore the Son of God, Son of God, Son of God. Mary bore the Son of God; And sin he did not know! And every sin that we commit… He took upon himself. He died for your eternal life… He wants you to believe. Mary’s Lamb gives peace and hope… Through his own sacrifice. Jesus Christ is Mary’s Lamb, Lamb of God, God’s own Son; Jesus Christ is God and man, He died upon the cross. God’s Lamb is risen from the grave… And death no more does reign. We receive when we believe… We get true faith in church.
Let us pray: Heavenly Father, our stiff necks should lead us to a horrible death, yet Jesus has stuck his neck out for us! Lord move in us so we allow your Holy Spirit to work daily repentance in us which we need so much, and cost your Son so much on the cross, Amen!