Saturday, October 01, 2011

A, Pentecost 16 Proper 22 - Isaiah 5:1-7 "Absorbing God"

Have you ever wondered how a plant gets water into itself?  Its roots appear to be nothing special yet somehow they extract water and nutrient from the soil around them.
This was first figured out by a French chap, Jean-Antoine Nollet, in 1748 when he discovered what we today call, osmosis.  Osmosis put most simply is the natural transference of a less dense liquid into a more dense liquid through a membrane of some sort. 
For instance if rain water is allowed to come up against salt water separated by a membrane filter, over time the rain water would penetrate and pass through the filter to dilute the more dense salt solution.  The process stops once the water on both sides of the membrane becomes equal in density or pressure on the denser water become great enough to stop the natural osmotic pressure and flow.
Today we might hear more about reverse osmosis in water desalination plants which makes fresh water out of salt water.  By overcoming the osmotic pressure by pushing salt water against a membrane the natural osmosis is reversed; therefore, forcing drinking water out of undrinkable salt water.
So a plant gets water through osmosis occurring in the roots of the plant.  The liquid in the plant is denser than the liquid in the soil, the root contains the membrane and moisture passes through the membrane in a bid to dilute and balance with the liquid inside the plant.  So the denser plant cells get the lighter water cells it needs to survive.
What this has to do with God’s relationship with us here today might not be obvious, but the osmotic discovery in the eighteenth century, some twenty-two years before Cook sailed up the east Coast of Australia, reveals not only the marvel and function of God’s creation in plant life but the function of everything in his once perfect creation.
When God created our world, what he created on the first day was created to serve what he created on the second, and the second the third, and so on.  Water, sunshine, seasons, and soil therefore serve the plant.  Osmosis is how the water and nutrient serve the plant. 
God created people as the last of the living beings.  Everything God created flows onto human beings, the pinnacle of his creation, so we might be with God, rest with God, and enjoy our lives here on earth with God through the very last thing he created – the Sabbath day.
The Sabbath day was not just a day of rest and enjoyment with God, but it was also a day of recreation (re-creation) in this perfect seven day cycle God had set in place.  Just as osmosis is God’s way of serving plant life with what they need for life, God placed all things in this creation willing his love to flow onto humanity for the recreation he desires to share with us.
But creation and recreation today are far from what God intended for us.  Humanity has reversed the natural flow of God’s love, and from the moment Adam turned his back on God’s love all of us sooner or later realise that we’re living lives of dehydration and death.  Just like reverse osmosis, we seek to push out the God-given life-giving love leaving us to live on the toxic sludge that’s left. 
What type of fruit do you think a plant will produce that makes the decision to reverse the osmotic effect?  The same as the people we become when we choose to reverse the flow of God’s love.
The natural flow of God’s love in creation and osmosis can be seen in the picture painted in Isaiah 5 where Isaiah sings about his beloved Father in heaven and compares his fellow children of God to choice vines in the vineyard God lovingly prepares for the vines.
Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.  He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. (Isaiah 5:1–2 ESV)
If the natural flow of God’s love was to be absorbed by the vines, then the vine would have produced fruit in keeping with the love bestowed on the vines.  Yet the vines yielded wild grapes.  The Hebrew word here is literally bad grapes derived from the word for poison berries, or a stench.
Israel’s gnarly roots allowed no growth from the love of God; rather bloodshed instead of justice, and an outcry due to a lack of righteousness.  The vineyard has become dysfunctional so God responds…
And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down.  I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. (Isaiah 5:5–6 ESV)
It was clear to God that what he had created was no longer working as he intended.  He had to intervene and fix things so his love could once again flow with the natural pressure he intended.  He had to install a new filter since the law was not filtering and recreating humanity so he could rest with them and further recreate them with his love.
So he set about fixing the problem by sending his one and only Son.  But the vine had overrun the vineyard and this new vine and new life for the old vine was rejected.
Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’  But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’  And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.  When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”  They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.” (Matthew 21:37–41 ESV)
So Jesus was killed, thrown out of the garden!  But this enabled a new filter to replace the good old filter of the law which had become ineffective.  The pressure to push out God had become so great creating a spiritual reverse osmosis, pushing out the love of God and therefore the life, leaving only dehydration and death.
Now the new membrane is in place!  We are the vine branches and Jesus is the root.  In him we have growth!  In him we are rooted in osmosis, guaranteeing life, love and fruit.  We are rooted in him in baptism and the cross, the Holy Spirit sees to it there is a natural flow of grace and growth into us which overflows into the fruit we produce.  But it’s not really us!  It’s the root and the nutrient, the Son and the Holy Spirit, which grows us the plant, and faithfully fills the fruit that hangs from us.
This is why Paul says to the Philippians he regards everything else as rubbish (or better translated excrement - that which is cast out of the body) in order that he might gain Christ.  (Philippians 4:8) 
What Paul was doing here was simply letting the natural order of salvation in Jesus Christ do what it is meant to do.  And that is allowing the absorption of God’s love to wash out the stink of sin within.  He let the Holy Spirit bring the holiness of Christ into him to allow the waters of grace give him faith, hope, and love.
Are you a vine which allows the fruits of God to grow?  Are you allowing yourself to be rooted in Christ, absorbing God daily the way God intended you to soak up his forgiveness and love?  Are you fulfilled in this life? Or are you allowing the pressures within leave you without the grace God so desperately want you to have?  Are you reversing the osmosis of God’s love?
Now is the time to return to Christ and let him be the root of your being.  Now is the time for him to fill you and grow you as his choice vine as you absorb him in hearing his word.  Now is the time for him to produce fruit from you that lasts. 
The naturally perfect being of Jesus Christ has been given to you, let him clean your filter, let him fill you with the water that wells up to eternal life.  He wants holy grapes from you his choice vine.  Amen.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

A, Pentecost 14 Proper 20 - Jonah 3:10-4:11 "Jonah, Jesus, & Me"

Download Sermon DOC here

Text: Jonah 3:10-4:11 (NIV)
10 When God saw what the Ninevites did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened. 1 But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. 2 He prayed to the Lord, “O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. 3 Now, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” 4 But the Lord replied, “Have you any right to be angry?” 5 Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. 6 Then the Lord God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine. 7 But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.” 9 But God said to Jonah, “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?” “I do,” he said. “I am angry enough to die.” 10 But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?”
Jonah sits on a hill in Assyria looking down on its capital, Nineveh. Sitting there like an angry child, out of sorts with his parents, he huffs and puffs to himself over the events which have unfolded before him. Jonah has had his wings severely clipped since he took flight from his home in Israel. Jonah’s actions after God had called him to go to Nineveh to preach repentance, proved him to be as flighty as a dove, which is exactly what the name Jonah means in Hebrew. Jonah the dove was startled by God and took flight in the opposite direction from Nineveh.
Anyway, why would God wanted such a ruthless mob of thugs to repent? Surly it would have been better if God had come down and slaughtered the Ninevites. The Assyrian army was know for it cruel barbarianism. Many Israelites had been slaughtered at the hands of the men of Nineveh; some were left to slowly die, impaled on sticks outside of the city, being heckled by the locals as they passed by. Nineveh was a place of sorcery and prostitution, full of deported and displaced people. The city was furnished by their reckless abandonment, death, and the booty they carted from the cities they left burning in their wake.
So when God called Jonah to go to Nineveh, no wonder he fled like a bird escaping from its cage. Why should he call them to repentance, when other prophets spoke harsh words to them, pronouncing upon them a seemingly more appropriate judgement? Such as that of Isaiah when God spoke through him saying, “‘Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of my anger, in whose hand is the club of my wrath!’ When the Lord has finished all his work against Mount Zion and Jerusalem, he will say, ‘I will punish the king of Assyria for the wilful pride of his heart and the haughty look in his eyes.’” (Isaiah 10:5,12) Or, as is pointed out through the prophet Nahum, “From you, O Nineveh, has one come forth who plots evil against the Lord and counsels wickedness.” (Nahum 1:11) “Woe to the city of blood, full of lies, full of plunder, never without victims! Many casualties, piles of dead, bodies without number, people stumbling over the corpses—all because of the wanton lust of a harlot, alluring, the mistress of sorceries, who enslaved nations by her prostitution and peoples by her witchcraft. “I am against you,” declares the Lord Almighty.” (Nahum 3:1, 3b-5a) So if God was against them why didn’t he just kill them? Why did he want Jonah to preach repentance to them?
The irony in the account of Jonah is that in Jonah’s decision to flee from God, and his responsibilities as God’s prophet before the Ninevites, Jonah actually became just as disobedient before God as were the people of Assyria and its capital, Nineveh.
We all know the events that preceded Jonah going to Nineveh. God called Jonah, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” (Jonah 1:2) But Jonah ran from the Lord, he wanted nothing to do with what his word called him to do. Maybe if Jonah ran away from God his conscience wouldn’t be troubled and the Ninevites wouldn’t hear God’s word and get what was coming to them. So Jonah when down—down to Joppa, down to the boat, down into the hull; and when God shook the boat in the storm Jonah asked the others on the boat to throw him into the sea, down into a hellish place where surely God would not be. But God was there and he caught him with a large fish. God’s compassion for Jonah was so great, that even while Jonah was in flight from God’s presence, God still sought out Jonah and saved him after spending three days in the belly of the fish.
Now having been saved and having preached repentance to the Ninevites, Jonah sits on the hill outside the city. He is angry that God would lead the people of Nineveh to repentance, beginning with the king who hears God’s call through Jonah and calls the whole city to repent, some one hundred and twenty thousand people. But God had done the same thing with Jonah. By pursuing him with the same goodness and mercy right down into the depths of the sea, and calling him to repentance.
The story of Jonah is our story. We like Jonah often work with the assumption that God surely wouldn’t want salvation to go to all those sinners, but the fact is salvation has come to us, we who are sinners too. Even when we turn away from the will of God he patiently pursues us with grace, he is slow to anger and abounding with steadfast love found in his Son Jesus Christ. So if the story of Jonah is ours, who are we in the story, and, how does God come to us?
If we let ourselves be placed in the story as Jonah, we see that we often let ourselves be subject to God’s graciousness and compassion, and are often saved by his patience with us and gracious means given to us as we struggle in this life. Even when all has gone wrong in this life and we sink into a seemingly unsolvable situation – God saves us. We willingly receive the help of God sent to us through his Son Jesus Christ.
However we, like Jonah, become fixated on the trivial things God places in our lives, just like Jonah sitting on the hill under the shade of the plant, thought that it was his good fortune to have that plant grow over him. We like Jonah become disgruntled when that plant is taken away but at the same time are irritated when salvation shades those whom we think don’t deserve it. As if the shade of God’s grace should fall on us and no one else, unless we give God the approval to do so.
So if Jonah requires the same salvation as the Ninevites, then surely we too can be placed in the story as the Ninevites as well as Jonah. We are the ones caught up in the lustful harlotry of life as were the Assyrians. We may not kill, and plunder, as the Ninevites did. But we hate, covert, lust, and assassinate the character of those around us. And every one of us plots evil in opposition to God and his compassion, grace, and love, every time we worry or doubt. And surely if God would come to Nineveh calling them to repentance through the words of Jonah, we too are called to repentance by the gracious actions of God who sent his only Son to die on the cross for us.
However, if justice is to be done to the Word of God written in Jonah, if justice is to be done for the sake of Christ and his gospel action of going to the cross, and if justice and righteousness is to come to us, we must see how God fits into the Jonah story, we must see how God fits into our story.
We have seen ourselves and humanity in the shoes of Jonah and the Ninevites, but until we see Jesus as Jonah we miss what God intends for us. We fail as Jonah, in fact Jonah fails too. Jesus was called to go to the lost Jonahs and Ninivites of this world and he was the only one who obediently did so. He was the only one who went the right direction, which led to the cross. You see God too was angry as Jonah was angry, he was so angry with sin—our sin, the sin of the Ninevites, and Jonah—that he would die. And he did die to overcome the sin of all the wayward Jonahs, Assyrians, and Ninevites of this world on the cross. God’s compassion and graciousness meant that he was quick to anger over our sinful nature but slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love for us who suffer from the effects of this same sin in our lives.
Although Jesus, unlike Jonah, followed God’s will completely, Jesus still ended up in the tomb for three days after being crucified on a cross for all to see and mock. He like Jonah went down, down into hell, before being raised by God, just as God had the fish spit Jonah onto dry land. He was not flighty like Jonah, but on him rested the dove of the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that rests on us and constantly leads us to Jesus.
God brought Jonah to repentance and saved him. God worked through Jonah to bring repentance to the Ninevites. God has worked through Christ’s death and resurrection to save us. And now like the fish, we too have Jesus Christ, the perfect Jonah, in us. Are we going to keep him hidden inside or are we going to be the agents through whom God’s compassion and steadfast love are made know to all, who like us need forgiveness of sins, salvation, and eternal life? Amen.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A, Pentecost 13 Proper 19 – Genesis 50:15-21 “Not Just 9-11 but 24-7”

Not Just 9-11 But 24-7
In these hours ten years ago, chaos on an unimaginable scale brought us to a standstill as two buildings came tumbling down in New York. Two planes flew into the Twin Towers, another into the Pentagon in Washington, while the attempts of another failed despite all on board being killed too. Just over three thousand victims and hijackers were killed in these acts of terror. Citizens of ninety nationalities died at the World Trading Centre together with those who died at the Pentagon and in a field in Pennsylvania.
You will most likely remember where you were when the news came flooding through. Our TV screens and radios were filled with the images and the sounds of this unimaginable chaos, leaving nothing to our imaginations.
In his address to the US nation on September 11 2001, the US President George W. Bush, said…
A great people has been moved to defend a great nation. Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shattered steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve.
America was targeted for attack because we're the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining.
Today, our nation saw evil, the very worst of human nature. And we responded with the best of America — with the daring of our rescue workers, with the caring for strangers and neighbours who came to give blood and help in any way they could. (11/9/2001)
In the years leading up to this day, many had succumb to the post-modern mantra that what was good for you was good for you and what was good for me was good for me! Therefore what was being said was there was no wrong.
But despite how sympathetic one might be towards people resisting the economic oppression of Western greed, the terror of 9-11 was just plain wrong. And perhaps George Bush's remake, "Today, our nation saw evil, the very worst of human nature" will be remembered as a marker for change in human thought.
Up unto this point, apparently there was no such evil! Well, so we were told! Yet within each of us who live in reality, we know not only that evil exists, but that all of us are capable of it.
In fact the reason why there was, and perhaps still is, in some, a push to exclude evil in favour of everyone having their own good, is so the conscience doesn't have to deal with the holy. Because when one is confronted by the holy, our true reality is illuminated by what is truly good, showing our goodness, no matter how good, as not good enough, as not being holy.
And this unholiness breaches us into the area of judgement and death. And this sits uncomfortably with all who live in denial of their mortal reality. But those who face the reality of their helplessness, having their sinful nature and deeds continually dealt with, have a completely different view of judgement and death.
So if we've learnt anything from 9-11, it's that there is evil in the world. But the greater lesson is not only is there evil but really we're helpless in fighting it, and in fighting it the chances of propagating further acts of evil are just as likely. The war on terror has freed the world of terror just as much as World War One was the war to end all wars.
Terror had overcome the brothers of Joseph after their father Jacob had died. The evil within led these brothers to envy Joseph, leading them to sell him as a slave, wishing he was dead, and telling their father than in fact he had been savaged to death by an animal.
Now they stood without the protection of their father before he who was second in command of Egypt; second only to Pharaoh, and the very brother they had despised as nothing and lorded him over into slavery.
Hear the evil they pre-empt from their brother whom they thought would now seek his revenge.
When Joseph's brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, "It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him." So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, "Your father gave this command before he died, 'Say to Joseph, Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.' And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father." Joseph wept when they spoke to him. (Genesis 50:15–17 ESV)
We are not much different than the brothers of Joseph. We too pre-empt judgement from others, and from God. Yet because our consciences are pricked by judgement we're quick to say others cannot judge.
Just like Joseph's brothers, we know we're guilty of many different things, thinking we're going to get it for what we've done. But still we seek to defend ourselves by demanding no one has the right to judge us, even though it's our judgement of others and God, that has put us in the situation in the first place. And the primary offence we make is we judge ourselves better than others and therefore seek to be god of our own lives and other's as well. Our helplessness is hidden while deploring the helplessness of others.
But what does Joseph do when his brothers seek to defend themselves behind the words of their dead father Jacob? He weeps! We hear…
Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, "Behold, we are your servants." But Joseph said to them, "Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones." Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. (Genesis 50:17–21 ESV)
Joseph's brothers pre-empted an evil response to their evil actions; they expected judgement. And there was judgement, but not as they thought! His judgement neither dismissed what they had wrongly done, nor did it involve retribution. Joseph made his judgement as one who stands under judgement from God. He named their actions against him as evil, yet he viewed it in the context of God's will.
But we hear in Romans 14 not to pass judgement and again in the Gospel in Matthew 18, through the judgement of the unforgiving servant. So should we or shouldn't we judge? What is meant here when we're told not to judge?
Surely a world without judgement is a world in chaos at such a level, it makes the terrors of the World Trade centre, and the recent natural disasters in Japan and Queensland pail into insignificance, next to the evil of a world without judgement!
Joseph had every right to reign down terror upon his brothers, yet he wept over them. He was handed over to death, judged as unworthy, and despised. He could have returned the evil but God meant it for good. Through many evil events Joseph was anointed as a son of Pharaoh, so he could be a saviour to those who sold him out. Therefore Joseph stood as a Christ-like figure pointing to the coming of the Messiah some two thousand years before the fact.
We stand two thousand years after the fact. But for us it's not just a historical standing. We stand judged and the cross is our judgement. We welcome the judgement so we might stand in the justification and righteousness of his resurrection for our justification, righteousness and resurrection. We live knowing it's not just the evil of 9-11 from which we need salvation but the internal evil within that terrorises us 24-7. Not only do we welcome the judgement, but in fact we need the judgement that recognises us as helpless.
And so we're called to live in the hope of our adoption as sons of God through the death and resurrection of God the Son. With each other we're called to also bear and share Christ's work of judgement so we might met out the same forgiveness on others who are as blessedly helpless as we are.
Today see the very worst of human nature; see your potential for evil in those who've nailed Jesus to the cross. But also see the life he gives to those who trust their baptism is the judgement which immerses the judged into his death and into a continuing existence of being daily raised to a life of faith, hope, and love in the name of Jesus Christ and for his sake. Not just on 9-11, but 24-7! Amen.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

A, Pentecost 12 Proper 18 – Matthew 18:15-20 “Binding & Loosing”

Binding and Loosing
A sermon on Matthew 18:15-20
The 12th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 18 (Year A) 04/09/11
Pastor Heath Pukallus    Katanning-Narrogin Lutheran Parish
When someone sins against you, what do you do?
Is it difficult being open about how someone's sin has or is affecting you? Even if they approach you, confess and apologise it's usually dismissed with, "Ah, that's alright!" When both of you know very well it's not alright because you've been hurt and they've seen the need to say sorry!
If your brother, neighbour, spouse, or family sins against you, there's sometimes not enough peace within to go and confront them about the offence without the sin being relived in you. So how does one even begin the task of putting right the offence, and the relationship between you and the offender?
Besides! It seems naming the sin to expose the problem is inappropriate these days. As if everyone has the right to do as they please and say what they want, not being accountable or correctable despite the hurt it might cause. Nevertheless, living as a community and caring for each other out of love for Christ, requires us to put aside our rights, silence our voice, and serve each other with our ears and our hearts.
You see when sins are kept hidden and are not named they retain their stinging power. Therefore, many of us don't even get to first base with this text, let alone appropriately allowing the congregation in on how one's been sinned against, so the church can mediate the restoration of the relationship.
Rather what happens when a brother sins against an individual these days is, the one sinned against allows themself to smoulder, to the extent where he or she cannot go to the other person and name the sin. The sin cannot be buried, and rather than going and seeking others to help with the situation, sin is allowed to ripple out from the original offence. The recipient of sin, now becomes the perpetrator by bearing false witness, gossiping, and assassinating the character of the original perpetrator.
Our society is overrun by "smiling assassins" who politely smile to one's face, but stab in the back once the face is turned. It seems we have got it completely back to front in our individualistic, so-called "politically correct" world today. The result being we are all pushed further and further apart, and this seemingly polite interaction is really devilish dishonesty causing community living to become more and more dysfunctional and fractured.
There is a way to stop this from happening however! Our relationships in the church and in our everyday lives with others are curable. This way will restore your peace and bring a real and true peace back to your relationships – with neighbours, family, your spouse, church members, and even your enemies.
All believers are given a mighty weapon to combat the assassins "out there" in our relationships as well as the assassin within ourselves, so we might be able to approach others with the love of Christ to restore our relationships.
This weapon is the omnipotent, all-powerful, name of Jesus Christ. This weapon is prayer in Jesus' name. Its power is so rich and almighty yet a small child can wield this weapon with great effect.
Jesus tells us, "Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them." (Matthew 18:18–20 ESV)
It seems we need to know what requires binding and what requires loosing. In this mixed up world we get bound up in sinful acts yet these very sins are allowed to remain untied and free to continue wreaking havoc, destroying relationships long after they're committed.
This is what happens when we do things in our name, praying to ourselves, muttering under our breath, serving the sinful nature within. Putting ourselves first, relationships are hindered, and lonely love-starved individuals are created in this age of individualism.
On the other hand, when we rely on Jesus' name and not our own, we are loosed, he unties us from our sin and the cross of eternal death and damnation. Yet our sins are bound to the cross! We're freed to live with the promise we're eternally bound by Jesus' death and resurrection to an eternity in heaven. Even despite our constant inner struggle here on earth, between the sinful nature and our new being which relies on the name of Jesus Christ, you and I can be confident the right things are being eternally loosed and the wrong things are already bound to the cross.
The all-powerful name of Jesus Christ runs contrary to our individualistic thinking, causing a congregation to gather, constantly recreating a community of love, freed to be people of God wielding the weapon of prayer! Imparting forgiveness, peace, confidence, calmness, faith, hope, and love in a world which dearly needs these things.
Still there are many in God's church who don't have a whole lot of faith in prayer. Perhaps you struggle to pray, you find it difficult, or you just think it's a waste of time. Yet we hear in Scripture; Jesus, alone in prayer for much of his ministry on earth while being prepared for the cross. One might ponder, why he needed to pray, since he is "God the Son"!
Consider this: Jesus gave up his godliness, his divinity, and became nothing, relying completely on the Father in all he was called to do. Jesus displayed the same helplessness as us. But rather than fall into sin as we do, he remained sinless, yet bore our sin, helpless on the cross, so now our help is in the name of the Lord, our helplessness is overcome by God's powerful hand working when we ask him to in prayer.
Therefore, the first rule of prayer is having this same "blessed attitude" of helplessness as did Jesus.[1] In knowing our helplessness, we might see the common helplessness of ourselves and others and freely name sin with the desire to forgive it and receive forgiveness for it.
Also knowing our helplessness leads us to draw on God's mercy in reuniting the relationship with those who have wronged us, and us them. We can call on him in need to open our ears and hearts to each other so compassion flows, words are not misheard, and new sins are not committed.
The second rule [2] of prayer is to pray in Jesus' name or for Jesus' sake. As mention above when we do this we are tapping into an all-powerful source of existence.
The third rule [3] of prayer is to name our need or the need of others without the belief we need to help him answer the prayer. God doesn't need us to tell him how to fix the problem, he just needs us to ask him for help. He knows how to fix every problem even before we ask him.
The fourth [4] and final rule of prayer is we don't need to make use of prayer as a means of commanding God to move according to our will and timeframe. When we do this we just set ourselves up for a fall. God knows what we need before we ask for it or before we ask for it on behalf of someone else. We need to leave "the when" and "the how" up to God! We must remember we are asking him because of our helplessness. How quickly do we pray, leaving it up to God, but yank it back through unbelief!
God answers all prayers prayed in Jesus' name or for Jesus' sake. Unfortunately unbelief causes us to miss seeing them answered.
Perhaps a beginning point for all who struggle with prayer is to ask God in prayer to help us in our unbelief. Then we allow God to assassinate the sin and the unbelieving sinful nature within. It's better our prayers give God the glory and freedom so he can act as God in our lives, rather than our prayers failing because we seek to stand as assassin or executioner over God.
We who pray for others do best to also pray for our own perseverance and patience, that God might give us enduring peace and confidence in his omnipotence and the power of prayer in Jesus' name. Therefore, staying ourselves from assassinating ourselves and committing spiritual suicide.
And rather than the character assassination of those who have sinned against us, we might ask God to send the Holy Spirit into our hearts to counsel us in Christ, saving both of us from ourselves, assassinating our sin rather than each other and the relationship.
When someone sins against you, what do you do?
We can be secret agents wielding a weapon of great power. We can be assassins of sin and forgivers of sinners. This is prayer in Jesus' name and its use of binding sins and loosing sinners for Jesus' sake, Amen!

1. "It often happens that we slip out of this blessed attitude of helplessness before God.  Our former self-conceit and self-sufficiency reassert themselves.  The result is that we fail again to grasp the meaning of helplessness.  Once more it fills us with anxiety and perplexity.  Everything becomes snarled again.  We are not certain of the forgiveness of sins.  The peace of God disappears from our lives.  Worldliness, slothfulness and lack of spiritual interest begin to choke our spiritual lives.  Sin gains the victory again in our daily lives, and an unwilling spirit works its way into the service we render to God.”  p. 26  in Prayer by Ole Hallesby
2. p. 55ff Prayer by Ole Hallesby
3. p. 44ff ibid.
4. p. 49ff ibid.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

A, Pentecost 11 Proper 17 – Matthew 16:24 “The Scandal of the Cross"

Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (Matthew 16:24 ESV)

These words would have been total shock in the ears of the disciples. Why?

One has to put aside post-resurrection or salvation thinking to begin understanding what went through the hearts of people living in the Roman empire two thousand years ago. And especially in the hearts and minds of the Jews who lived under oppression from Roman occupation.

A cross was a blood barbaric affair. Being hung out to die was not just a Roman torture practice. In the minds of all Israelites would have been stories of Assyrian atrocities when people were displaced from the northern kingdom of Israel and exiled, whom some were impaled on poles, stood up and left to slowly die, further terrorising their captives with fear and horror. And now this same order of oppression terrorised the Jews, right in the heart of Judah, at Jerusalem.

This overwhelming fear of such a death, with massive amounts of pain and suffering, was not just physically horrific. This type of death was without honour. One was exposed, stripped of dignity, naked, humiliated, ridiculed by some who passed by, while others were forced to look upon the shame and embarrassment of the dying person on the cross. This humiliation was not just of the person hanging there, but for the family, and even the nation and their Jewish practise.

The sight of a bloody Jew crucified in contempt would have made their hearts churn as they passed by. It was a sign the people had lost their inheritance and their land was being defiled. The words of the law from Deuteronomy would have been at the fore of their thoughts.

"And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God. You shall not defile your land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance." (Deuteronomy 21:22–23 ESV)

The sight of a cross to a Jew, was a sign of guilt. Even if they were wrongly crucified by the Romans, they were still hung on a tree, and therefore cursed and guilty before God. Being hung on a cross meant you were unclean, outside the temple courts, outside the city, out with the refuse where the unclean lived. Prohibited from entering into the loving kindness of God, the cross was the place where one experienced total wrath, from both God and man.

It's now we might start to comprehend what could have been going through the hearts of the disciples when Jesus talks of taking up one's cross. To take up one's cross means the practice of lifting one's guilt up for all to see. To admitting to one's guilt even before being found guilty. To expose the scandal of one's existence by continuality putting the hidden reality of the heart out to be dealt with every day.

This is the scandal of the cross. This is the stumbling block Jesus was putting in front of his Jewish disciples, and this is the foolishness put in front of us gentiles. But we're told the weakness and foolishness of the cross is greater than us. The cross, the ultimate bloody barbaric guilty-man's death machine surpasses any person's wisdom.

When Jesus began to announce God's scandal, Peter took exception, and led Jesus aside to give him a piece of his mind. He did this since Jesus had just announced to him he was to be the rock on which the church was to be built. But rather than Peter's wisdom being received, Jesus quickly uncovers the scandal within Peter, who was being deceived by the devil.

Jesus said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man." (Matthew 16:23 ESV)

Literally when Jesus says to Peter, "you are a hindrance to me", he says, "you are a scandal to me", "you're bent, you're as crooked as a dog's hind leg". Perhaps we might say, "he was hell-bent on looking after himself" since Satan was leading him to look away from God's purpose.

But before we get on our high horses against Peter, we must look at what we've done to the cross. Haven't we sanitised the cross somewhat today? We hang it around our necks as a nice ornament. We stick it up in our church buildings, and on signs in the street, and with the familiarity we forget this scandal is our scandal, this is our guilt, our shame, and our cross. Perhaps our removal of the Corpus Christi (the wretched broken body of Jesus) from our crosses is our way of taking Jesus aside, just as Peter did causing him to receive condemnation from Christ.

Perhaps it's the work of Satan deceiving us from reality so we might overlook our guilt and the scandalous reality of ourselves and therefore forget the treacherous and horrific reality Jesus went through to bear the burden of your scandalous life; the inner hidden horrors of every human heart.

So the scandal of Jesus' word here in Matthew 16 and the brutal Good Friday cross meets the scandal of your life. We're called to see the stark reality of God the Son beaten, broken, humiliated, bearing the complete wrath of God, outside with the dogs where there is no access to any loving kindness. But it's your reality Jesus was bearing. He was on your cross, he was hell-bent, because you and I are bent. The scandal of the cross is the announcement and advertisement of your scandal. Being exposed for who you are is the horror of every human as we all face decay and death.

And it's right here where the scandal is increased even more. Where Peter takes Jesus aside to reprimand, where Jews might do just about anything to avoid the horrors and separation of crucifixion, where we try our hardest to sanitise our realities and the reason we all must die, Jesus says, "take up your cross and follow me".

Deny yourself and take up your scandal and follow Jesus. What Jesus calls you to do is virtually turn yourself inside out! To not put yourself first, but the very motives and hidden urges that cause you to put yourself first, he calls you to hoist up for all to see and then follow him.

The true you, out there for all to see. Nakedness not in the physical sense but to peel off the flesh exposing the mental and spiritual nakedness of your soul. Who of us has the faith to do this?

Thankfully our scandal is born by Jesus. Our cross became his cross. Satan was ultimately put behind Christ at the cross, and as we're led by Christ towards our cross, our earthly death, Jesus' faithfulness towards you is moving the Holy Spirit in you to confess and bear the horrors of your sinful nature so your scandal is won over in victory by Christ's resurrection over your scandalous nature and my scandalous nature too!

As God lovingly leads you to admit and confess your scandal. The scandal of Jesus on your cross is believed more and more for your victory. Your daily bearing of this cross is one which you can faithfully bestow more and more on Christ, trusting the Holy Spirit to move you in repentance, faith, hope, and love. The Holy Spirit gives you the right practice, he places Christ in you and you in Christ.

Therefore, those who believe they are sinners and allow Christ to be their scandal will receive eternal life when Jesus comes to eternally remove the scandal which causes us so much horror in this life. This is why the peace of God surpasses all human understanding, and it can keep your hearts and minds (in peace) in Christ Jesus, Amen.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A, Pentecost 10 Proper 16 - Matthew 16:13-18 “On This Rock”

Matthew 16:13–18 (ESV) Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

On what type of rock is best for building the church? What type of rock is Peter?

Rocks come in many different shapes and sizes, textures and degrees of hardness! One can picture a good rock as a huge block of granite – too heavy to move easily. With much toil does one move it and reshape it with tools to build a structure.

Or just as big are great big blocks of sandstone, beautifully layered with warm colours, hard to move like granite, but much easier to shape into the blocks needed to erect a building.

Some rocks are jagged and sharp. They cut the feet and hands of those who climb over them. Especially if they're encased with sediment and shells as a result of massive compression. Then again they might be smooth and slippery after being constantly washed in a stream or in the ocean.

Smaller smooth rocks make great marbles, manhandled by children and rolled down the hill for fun. And even smaller ones are good for skimming across the water. Or these stones stood on have the power to marble and manhandle us, toppling a person off their feet to the ground.

A rock can be so hard it can barely be crushed, but after doing so one might find blue metal inside to make a bitumen road solid enough to carry heavy machinery. Or it might be so easily powdered into mineral which can blow away as dust, or perhaps after being contained and mixed with water and left to set, the powdered rock can be used in bricks or concrete.

So what type of rock was Peter? On what type of rock did Jesus Christ build his church?

Simon Peter, Simon the rock, made the bold confession who Jesus is, saying, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." This son of Jonah, was then told before the disciples, the church was to be built on him. And the gates of hell would not overcome or consume it.

Yet Peter had just been the one whose faith was sinking when Jesus invited him to get out of the boat and walk on water. He was one of the twelve who didn't understand the feeding of the five and the four thousand, and was criticised by Jesus for their faithless understanding when he said, "Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees." (Matthew 16:6 ESV)

Peter, this pillar of the church, seemed to crumble and fall at every moment of testing. It seemed like Simon Peter was no match for the gates of hell because in the very next breath Jesus turns to Peter and says, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man." (Matthew 16:23 ESV)

What type of rock is Peter? A building block or a stumbling block! Hadn't he watched or been aware? Had he not risen to the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees? Didn't he rise to the occasion cutting off the ear of Malchus when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus? Didn't he deny Jesus before the roster crowed? What type of rock was Peter when he ran from the court and wept bitterly over what he had said?

Peter was the man who stood up at Pentecost and proclaimed Christ crucified in a sermon which brought three thousand Jews to baptism in a day. And even after Jesus' death and resurrection, Peter's reinstatement and the bestowal of the Holy Spirit just prior to Jesus' ascension, we find the Apostle Paul having to chastise Peter for crumbling under pressure from the circumcision party of Jewish believers.

On what type of rock was Christ building his Church? And how was the gates of hell not going to overcome one who seemed to be so easily rolled out of the way or blown away like dust?

What is the best type of rock for building the church? What type of rock are you? Are we any different to Peter? Are you so tough you can't be cracked? Or are you so fragile and brittle you're crushed and blown about like dust? How is the church today not going to be overcome by the gates of hell?

When Paul addressed the church in Galatia he speaks of his reprimand of Peter (or, Cephas) saying…

…when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, "If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?" (Galatians 2:11–14 ESV)

Paul does not say this to grandstand over Peter, but carries on using the incident to make the critical point…

We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. But if, in our endeavour to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. (Galatians 2:15–21 ESV)

The church is built on faith. Not on Peter's personal faith, because out of the mouth of Peter came things that caused Christ and Paul to condemn him. Rather the church is built on faith not of flesh and blood but of that given by our Father in heaven. And this is the faith given by the Holy Spirit which leads us constantly to the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Daily reinstating us as Jesus first did with Peter on the shores of lake Galilee after the resurrection.

What type of rock are you?

Whatever you are, allow yourself to be one which Christ can use in the building of his church, his kingdom. It matters not whether your are hard or soft, smooth or jagged. Jesus is the master craftsman and he seeks to craft himself in you, regardless of your weakness.

After all in our earthly use of rocks, it's their weaknesses which allows us to exploit them for their strengths. And Jesus seeks to use us in our weakness and brokenness as the building blocks of his eternally fortified church and kingdom.

In next week's gospel reading we hear Jesus reprimand Peter telling Satan, "to get behind me". Jesus goes on to say, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." (Matthew 16:24 ESV)

This week ask yourself "what is my cross? What does a cross actually represent? What did the sight of a cross say to a Jew? What is Jesus telling you, the rocks of his church, to do when he says, "take up your cross and follow me"?

Let us pray: Lord, move us to allow the Holy Spirit to mix and mould Christ in us with the substance of his word and the waters of daily baptismal repentance so we are built into the kingdom of heaven. Amen.

Friday, August 12, 2011

A, Pentecost 9 Proper 15 – Romans 11:29-32 “Mercy for Sinners”

Mercy for Sinners
A sermon on Romans 11:29-32
9th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 15, Yr A)
by Ps Heath Pukallus Katanning-Narrogin Lutheran Parish

Text Romans 11:29–32 (ESV)

For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.


Can a person measure their faith? How do I know whether I've got great faith, or fragile or unstable faith? Really, should one seek to measure faith?

Last week we heard in Romans 10:17 that faith comes from hearing the gospel preached. And today we hear Jesus finds himself in two places and receives two very different responses as he, the Word made flesh, moves, teaches, and preaches amongst the people of his day.

In fact when confronted by Christ and his Word, the reality of God in my presence quickly reveals just who I am as well as what I think, do, and feel. Usually one of two things happen, sometimes both things happen at the same time. Either I become proud, arrogant, and conceited, or I become crushed and confused, and sometimes even both, somehow at the same time.

Indeed even in the bible readings we have heard this morning, my mind races and makes me feel certain things and makes me want to do certain things too.

The first thing that jumps to mind in the readings is from the second half of the Gospel reading. I see the way Jesus approaches a Gentile, a Canaanite woman who has heard the word and approaches Jesus with faith. I struggle with the fact that Jesus does three things before the woman that for me, seems a bit harsh. He ignores her, then refuses to speak to her, saying, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." And finally when he does speak to her he calls her a dog.

Two things happen in me as I hear God's word, I question and then doubt. Surely Jesus is a God of love; why does he do this? I am tempted into doubting God's word and seek to alter it to suit me; making it a little less offensive. And once this happens then the threat of either conceited arrogance or crushing confusion hangs over my head because it appears that his Word is not completely true as far as my thoughts and feelings are concerned. It seems if I were to evaluate my faith at this moment I might be in danger of not finding any! Or would I? Or perhaps, instead of faith, I see disobedience working in me!

Then I think about the first half of the Gospel reading. Those wretched Pharisees; what right have they got to be offended at my God. If I was there I wouldn't doubt Jesus for a minute; I am so much better than them. But just when I become proud of my pharisaic ways over the Pharisees, Jesus' Word rings in my ear, 'Are you so dull?' He tells me the things that come out of my mouth and heart are the things that make me unclean; evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, and slander. Then depending on the day, I respond with pompous pride, "I don't do any of those things", or I justify myself with a big yeah-but and change God's word to suit me so I mightn't have to address the things I'm doing in my life. Or, on the other hand, at other times I see Jesus lift the bar of the law that much higher so there is no way I can jump over it, and utter shame fills my heart, "how can I go near God when I am such a bad sinner!"

And furthermore I hear the words of Isaiah, "foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant — these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer." (Isaiah 56:6-7a ESV) I hear these words and ask, "How can I bind myself to you Lord? I don't always love your name; in fact most of the time I really don't understand who you are! And worship seems so pointless and unconnected with the reality of my life! Oh no! I shouldn't think these things! But my feelings tell me I would rather be doing something useful that sitting here. Is Jesus really in the bread and wine, am I really saved, is baptism effective? I can't think these things; I've got to do better than this! Oh what's the point!

The point is: you and I are inherently sinful. Sin is not just what I do, it is who I am! When presented with a model of Jesus' life I see that there is no way possible for me to make it to heaven by my own efforts. In fact my efforts push me further and further away from God, every time. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all. (Romans 11:32 ESV)

In fact God hands us over to see our sinfulness so that the gift of Christ is recognized for what it is: the greatest gift anyone has every received. God's gifts and his call are irrevocable. Even in the midst of so much sin and selfish behaviour God continues to have mercy on us. My sinful nature, with all its doubt, worry, and pride, is continually being exposed by the light of God. The closer we are drawn to the light of God the brighter the stain of our disobedience stands out next to the brilliance of Jesus Christ. I am not able to wash the disobedience from my clothes; I need the Holy Spirit and the blood of the lamb to cleanse me once and for all. But I also need to be reminded of it, so I am reassured of my cleansing as more and more disobedience comes to light.

It is Jesus who has kept the Sabbath holy, so much so by the will of God the Father, he truly rested in death in the grave on that Sabbath Saturday, between Good Friday, when he died, and Easter Sunday, the day of his glorious resurrection.

It is Jesus' perfect model life in me, winning me, leading me, and forgiving me for my disobedience. It is Jesus blood which covers my sinful nature yesterday, today, and tomorrow. God does not go back on his Word; in baptism, in the bread and the wine, in his Word, his gifts are irrevocable, irreversible and universal. You are 100% sinner so God the Son can be 100% your Saviour.

Even in the midst of our disobedient natures his gift of faith will never be withdrawn. Faith comes from God and leads us to God. Faith comes from the Word and leads back to his Word. Faith comes from the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit comes from God the Father and God the Son, and faith leads us to Jesus Christ, God the Son, and through him to our loving Heavenly Father. Is there a need to measure faith? No! God gives us the measure of faith we need, and he never breaks his promise to us: that he will give us his gifts and continually call us!

When the Word offends us and we become conceited like the Pharisees in Jesus' day. When the Word of God increases the depth of your sin; shedding light on the disobedience of your heart. When the Word of God shows that you and I are foreigners in God's eyes with no way of being persuaded to follow God's Law by our own efforts. Marvel that Jesus himself graces our hearts with his blood that makes us righteous. Be overwhelmed that as sinners we can be confident in his glorious presence, when we really deserve nothing but death. That because of his victory and resurrection from death we can come to him with great faith, knowing that his gifts and his call are irrevocable, and cry out to Jesus, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Amen.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

A, Pentecost 8 Proper 14 – Romans 10:13-15,17 “Practising Faith”

Romans 10:13–15, 17 (ESV)

For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!" So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Faith and worship are connected! One doesn't exist without the other!

Practising the faith is coming into God's presence to confess real sin, acknowledging the reality of the sinful self, thus the need for the real Saviour, and hearing and believing God's word of forgiveness in the absolution through the Saviour.

Practising the faith is hearing the word of God preached; hearing and believing your total need for a Saviour. This is the proclamation of Jesus' death and resurrection for you, the sinner, so your trust grows all the more as you allow your sin and your nature to be daily buried with him in baptism, and raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God. (Colossians 2:12 ESV)

Practising the faith therefore increases faith—as you are drawn further out of yourself; away from trusting your deeds, listening to your own understanding, and believing in your way of life. The faith given in worship comes from God and his word, transforming and conforming your understanding, your deeds, according to his way and will—his life.

Faith and worship are connected! One does not exist without the other! However this can be abused too, when one trusts in themselves, allowing faith to be individualistic, personal and exclusive of God and everyone else.

This abuse is often verbally expressed like this, "I don't go to church, but I believe in my heart." When this type of nonsense comes from within us, God challenges us, "What do you actually believe?" Because true saving faith comes from hearing the word of God, the good news of Jesus Christ. Whereas scripture clearly tells us…

…from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person." (Mark 7:21–23 ESV)

So practising faith is not practising what comes out of us. When you and I do this we practise a faith in ourselves, rather than the "one" true faith which can only come from God and lead us to him. Furthermore, we can stop and ask ourselves, "Where is the glory going here?" If one seeks God and uses "Jesus" sounding language as a means to bring glory to the self, one may as well go and heap burning coals on the head right now, because this faith is spiritually doing just this!

The world is full of this type of self-centred worship, outside and inside, the church. Why? Because all of us are human. All of us yearn to have power and control. We seek our comfort and security from what we own. And with the right to lay these things up for ourselves, we use them as status once we've got them. But the kingdom, the power, and glory are God's, alone! Amen.

Yes they are! Therefore, faith is moulded by what we hear and receive from God. This happens with persistent perseverance and endurance.

You see, all of us seek glory for the self. But the difference between those outside and those inside the church, is those outside are cutting themselves off from the sole source of faith that saves. This also stands as warning and encouragement to those inside the church too. To keep allowing ourselves be brought into the proclaimed presence of God, where we are grafted into his forgiveness. And in turn allow ourselves to be gatherers of God, bringing others back so he might graft them into his forgiveness too.

Paul speaks about the Jews and us, and faith, in Romans eleven.

…if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, "Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in." That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. (Romans 11:17–22 ESV)

Worship is the root of faith. To be in Christ is not the other way around. Faith only every preceded worship for one person. This person was faithful unto death, whereas the rest of us flee every time the going gets tough.

The faithfulness of Jesus Christ sees him alone on a mountain in prayer before the Father. Jesus faithfully prayed, giving up his own divinity, and in doing so acknowledged the kingdom, the power, and the glory as solely our Heavenly Father's.

The faithfulness of Jesus Christ sees him walking on the waters of chaos, saving his church, and those within it who are daily drowning, raising to life you who honestly acknowledge you're sinking in sin.

If you're asking the question: How do I believe? Is my faith of the one true faith? As your pastor I appeal to you on behalf of the Great Shepherd of our souls, to keep on keeping on in Christ! To endure in the only good news, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. To persevere in the hearing of God's word, the forgiveness of sins, your grafting into the nourishing sap of salvation and forgiveness of sins.

Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints; but let them not turn back to folly. Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him, that glory may dwell in our land. Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other. Faithfulness springs up from the ground, and righteousness looks down from the sky. Yes, the Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase. Righteousness will go before him and make his footsteps a way. (Psalm 85:8–13 ESV)

Faith comes from listening to God, receiving his peace. Jesus meets you with his ever-present love and faithfulness in his word and sacraments. God's glory continues to shine on Jesus' righteousness which can give you peace.

In faithfulness to the Father, and to you, Jesus was crucified and buried. On the third day the Faithfulness of God was raised, spring up from the ground, and the Father looks upon those who trust Jesus as their righteousness.

Walk in the ways of the Lord, allow his righteousness to be your forgiveness. Allow endurance in the things which give life and salvation; the word which puts to death sin and daily raises you to life eternal. The Lord gives what is good, to those who willing receive the word of God. God will gather into his harvest. His holy land will yield its increase!

All glory to the Father, all glory to the Son, all glory to the holy Spirit, now and forever, Amen.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

A, Pentecost 7 Proper 13 – Isaiah 55:2-3, Psalm 145:8-9 “Real Rest”

The feeding of the five thousand is an impossible picture for us to comprehend. We could expend much energy trying to work out how it happened — rationalising, justifying, questioning, thinking, defending, explaining, ignoring or even attacking the reality of this miracle written in the Word of God. How did Jesus do it? Five loaves, two fish — 5000 men plus women and children — 12 baskets of leftovers. It all seems to be a bit too much.
Today we are not going to focus on this miracle as such, but use it as a catalyst, to allow God to delve right down into our inner being, and address the toilsome troubles buried in the core of our person. What happens in you when you hear the feeding of the five thousand? Rationalising, questioning, thinking, defending, explaining, ignoring or even attacking? Do you look for a way to comprehend or justify what the word of God says next to your everyday reality of heartache, labour, toil, tiredness, and exhaustion?
You see, what is going on in all of us today, is a deep yearning for rest. We hear pleasant pictures painted in the Psalms: the shepherding, the lying down in green pastures, the table set, and the cup overflowing before us. A place of no worries or concern. A place where no harm can come to us, a place of complete rest, a place where we’re served in tranquil peace having been caused to stop and rest from the frantic pace outside these walls. And even more — the worry, doubt, and pride inside, in your heart.
In fact, it’s not really the frantic pace of our western society that’s the cause of the problem. Each of us could be carried a million miles away and yet once there in an isolated corner of creation still feel the effects of a world out of control. Like the feeding of the five thousand in the word of God, the restless world is also a catalyst to your deepest realities of heartache, work, toil, tiredness, and exhaustion. What’s going on in you? Isn’t it time for some real rest?
I’ve been asked on a number of occasions why we use the Psalms; it’s said, they don’t make much sense and are hard to understand! And this is true if they are gleaned into the vacuum of individualism. You definitely will not get the nourishment that’s truly there. The truth is the Psalms, like all of God’s Word, are very personal, it is there to serve you. However, the noise of our inner being, the rationalising, questioning, pondering, defending, explaining, ignoring and attacking effectively blocks the intent of God, who seeks to address the “whole” of your situation in the most personal way.
The Psalm or even the feeding of the five thousand fills our ears, and straight away our heart blocks by challenging from within with the question, “What’s it mean?” And in this noise of seeking to conform the word to our ways, God’s way is lost.
So let’s not ask “what’s it mean?” for the moment, but let’s just let it “do” to us what God seeks it to do. And in letting God do, there will be more meaning in it for us personally than we can ever consume; there will be an eternity of leftovers, lashings of love and mercy, forgiveness and faith. Baskets of leftovers for us to lavish on others!
The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made. (Psalm 145: 8–9 ESV)
God intends you to rest in him. In the Psalm God seeks to serve your innermost being by drawing you out of yourself to look on him. He wants to reveal the greater reality of your hidden depths within. With these verses of comfort he seeks to enter into the place where lies your greatest fears, your most powerful prejudices, and your most sacred of sins, and there let the beauty and peace of his goodness enlighten you with his grace and mercy — his enduring refreshing forgiveness and favour!
We might want to ask “How can this be? Letting God see the reality and rottenness of my darkest depths and desires, as well as the things I’ve done will get me into big trouble with him!” But nothing could be further from the truth! God is rightly displeased with our sinfulness. However, he seeks to rightly deal with it too! After all he is abounding with wave after wave of rich, overflowing, wealthy, generous love focused on you. And he is slow to anger too.
This slowness to anger, is not over who you are, a sinner. But over not allowing him to deal with you and your sin. Nevertheless, this anger is slow in coming, and he patiently waits your lifetime to deal with your sin, be it ever so gently with you personally, having dealt harshly with it on your cross through the crucifixion of his Son, Jesus Christ.
So at the end of this earthly life, those who have rested in God’s steadfast love, Jesus’ death and resurrection, will be given even more. But those who are exhausted from their efforts to find peace in this life, even the mercy they rejected will be eternally out of reach.
So God has brought you this far into his rest. He has been working on you as you’ve been listening. If you’ve been listening and resting? The inner voice of our sinful humanity still seeks to rise up - rationalising, questioning, thinking, defending, explaining, ignoring and attacking. Our sin filled inner self-appointed authority verses the authority of God and his word, second-guessing what’s being said against the more easily seen exhaustion of daily existence in the twenty-first century. The human spirit struggles to subdue the Holy Spirit’s work of bringing the sinner to salvation, into real rest.
Nevertheless, God is patient. The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.
He has made you and he waits for you. In your exhaustion and struggle he asks you, Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy? (Isaiah 55:2a ESV) And after we’ve given all our righteous answers, born out of rationalising, questioning, thinking, defending, explaining, ignoring and attacking. He still patiently asks his question.
He does this so we might come to realise it’s not so much about our frantic activities expending energy to make money, or working for satisfaction, but rather the tiring and failing internal activities of the sinful nature trying to live up to our expectations reflected by us and everyone else encouraged on all the more by the father of lies.
So why do you do it? Let this word from God rest on you. Let the word of God, living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of “your” heart. (Hebrews 4:12 ESV with “personal” emphasis). None of us are hidden from God, let’s be honest with ourselves and God, so we might get some real rest now, and forever!
When we allow this to happen, we no longer continue on the self destructive path of rationalising, questioning, thinking, defending, explaining, ignoring and attacking the deeper reality of God, and the hidden truths of our inner being. But we come face to face with Almighty God stopping, resting, hearing, confessing, receiving, trusting, believing, adoring, glorifying, and hoping.
This is the narrow path of God. Those who traverse it know it's not by their energy expended they walk it but rather it's by Christ and his Holy Spirited energy who carries them on it into eternal life.
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. (Isaiah 55:2–3 ESV)
This steadfast sure love for David, is also for you. This love is Jesus Christ. Come, hear, incline your ear, stop and listen. Come to Jesus! Pour your true selves, your depths of sin on him, that you may have real rest, rich eternal food, and your soul may live. Amen.