Saturday, March 26, 2011

A, Lent 3 - John 4:5-42 "A Promiscuous Person"

The choice of title for this sermon and its content may shock some of you. In it is the concept and word promiscuous which today means to have many different sexual partners. However, promiscuous has not always had a sordid meaning that’s been frowned upon. It’s only been viewed negatively in the last couple hundred years. Promiscuous is from the Latin word meaning “mix”, with the suffix “pro” which can mean “out in view”. And it’s this greater definition, “to be indiscriminate” or, “to willingly and openly mix”, to which the title points.

Nevertheless, one should not dismiss the pejorative and derogatory definition altogether, as there is a thread of similarity between one who takes indiscriminate sexual partners and the encouragement we will receive to throw caution to the wind in being faithfully indiscriminate in our calling as Christians.

A couple weeks back I received an email which told the readers to place themselves in the following position. I invite you to do the same.

You have just won a contest! You did not enter it but you were entered in it by someone else. Each morning your bank deposits $86,400.00 into one account for your use. But there are rules with this prize. The fine print! I know some of you are thinking, “Well that’s just typical!” But every game has rules! In fact everything has boundaries in place for a good reason. There are five rules in this prize.

The first three rules are: (1) Everything that you don’t spend during each day will be taken away from you. (2) You may not simply transfer money into another account. (3) You may only spend it. Each morning upon awakening, the bank opens your account with another $86,400.00 for that day. Do you think these are good rules or bad rules?

Okay let’s hear the last two rules: (4) The bank can end the game without warning; at any time it can say, “It’s over, the game is over!” (2) It can close the account and you will not receive a new one. What would you personally do? You would buy anything and everything you wanted, right? Not only for yourself, but for all people you love, right? Even for people you don’t know, because you couldn’t possibly spend it all on yourself, right? You would try to spend every cent, and use it all, right? How would you use the money? How would you use your prize? What would you do?

These rules highlight in us something very elementary about our natures. The rules might not seem fair because we tend to want to hoard things for ourselves; to have control, to have a little extra for a rainy day, so to speak! But the prize far outweighs our desire to amass the prize into a stockpile of wealth for all to see.

With this prize is so much money, would you end up losing it, having it taken away at the end of each day? After all there are only so many friends and family you could give money to. You could give it to others but at what cost? You might be seen to associate with those your friends and family do not approve. Even more so, you might begin to like these folk for their raw honesty in amongst the wrongness of their deeds, the weakness of their lives, the blame you think they deserved. Then again maybe you might perceive the cost to your image too great and let the money go each day, wasting it without giving it, perhaps? More on the prize later!

Recently, I heard the comment made that Christians should be promiscuous with their money and prudent with their sexuality. On pondering this thought for some weeks perhaps Christians could be promiscuous with their time and their talents as well. In that they could openly mix with those they wouldn’t normally mix, because of prejudice or perception.

Maybe this is the shrewdness into which Jesus is calling his followers, so the harvest is not wasted now that it’s ripe. Is God calling you to be promiscuous with yourself, your time, and your possessions? Is he calling you to be indiscriminate with others so they might receive the prize you have received? In your promiscuity are you like John the Baptist who allows Jesus to increase while you decrease?

Our society today is promiscuous in all the wrong ways. We are a little better at being prudent people when it comes to money, time, and our talents. We hoard for ourselves the very gifts we ought to be sharing with others, and yet more and more people are becoming more and more promiscuous in their sexual dealings.

What is happening in our person? What is happening in us? What are you allowing to happen in you? Could it be we’re trying to hoard for ourselves feelings and fun? How much fun is having time for acquiring wealth, possessions, sex, and individualism without love for neighbour, intimacy in marriage, and a caring community?

Jesus’ disciples went off to find food leaving Jesus to rest by Jacob’s well at Sychar (soo-khar) in Samaria. Incidentally, this town’s name is derived from a Hebrew word meaning “to get drunk or tipsy”. So when his disciples returned and found Jesus speaking to a woman, who leaves when they arrive, they were surprised, amazed, they wondered and marvelled by what they witnessed. In other words, they looked down their noses at Jesus, for he a Jew was speaking to a Samaritan no less, but even greater a Samaritan woman. And for that to happen it made the disciples uncomfortable with suspicion.

Perhaps they thought she was a promiscuous woman plying Jesus with her sexuality. They said nothing though, for they really didn’t know anything. Imagine how their suspicions would have spiralled if they found out she had been married five times and was now with someone who wasn’t married!

But in fact, the Samaritan woman wasn’t being promiscuous as we know; she had just come to get water from the well. However, Jesus was being promiscuous, not sexually, but rather with the love of God and by love’s power. He was openly mixing with all people, allowing his life to be a well of water springing up to eternal life. He was indiscriminately and shrewdly opening the way of faith, so his heavenly Father might once again be the Father of many nations.

This was the promise made to the old man Abraham as God showed him all the stars in the sky, and confirmed at the temple in Jerusalem by the old man Simeon in his joyful blessing of God as he took the infant Jesus in his arms and said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29–32 ESV)

God the Father sent Jesus to be a promiscuous person. He was not sexually promiscuous as are many today, but he came to those who are! He came to the watering hole thirsty, to a town whose name is Tipsy, not to get drunk, but to give the drink of life. He came to indiscriminately give of himself, in time, with the holiness he possesses discreetly hidden within. Yes! Jesus was every bit promiscuous as his heavenly Father intended him to be so all people might win the prize.

Now it’s time to return to the completion and your prize. $86 400 per day! It sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Nevertheless, it is true. All of you get this prize every day! All of you have the mysterious bank account with the five simple rules. But your wealth is not money, it’s time!

Every one of you awake each day with a bank account of time – 86 400 seconds of life per day. And every one of you living as baptised children have a life to spend, prudently, shrewdly, and promiscuously so others too might receive each day a bank account of life, that is welling up to an eternity of life with God.

It’s not a magical competition, rather it’s life in all its mystery, being brought to completion in Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension in glory to the right hand of the Father. Each awakening morning we receive 86,400 seconds as a gift of life, and when we go to sleep at night, any remaining time is not credited to us. Yesterday is forever gone.

In the email I received, it said this: What we haven’t lived up to that day is forever lost. Each morning the account is refilled, but the bank can dissolve your account at any time… without warning. Well, what will you do with your 86,400 seconds? Aren’t they worth so much more than the same amount in dollars? Think about that, and always think of this: Enjoy every second of your life, because time races by so much quicker than you think. So take care of yourself, and enjoy life!

This is true to a certain extent. However, the mystery of life we live in Christ is even better than personal enjoyment. It’s a life of love with the Saviour of the world; it’s a life of believing we’re receiving Jesus’ faithfulness to forgive. It’s an eternal life of faith and hope, “and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5 ESV)

In you is the ability to be promiscuous, but what is it you are promiscuous with? God seeks to harvest through you, individually and as his church. He sends you out into this promiscuous world, into the harvest fields where not only are people being sexually promiscuous but where the deeper cause is a promiscuity of faith — an indiscriminate mixing of beliefs in all sorts of stuff people hold up as worthy.

What are you doing with yourself — your talents, your time, and your possessions? Are you prudently protecting these things for yourself as your gods? Or are you fully focused on Jesus Christ? If not let the Holy Spirit lead you to the Saviour of the world for forgiveness, so God might use you to be promiscuous, promoting his eternal love offered at the cross together with the gifts he has given you in this eternal life. Amen.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A, Lent 2 - John 3:1-17 "Nicodemus Nonsense"

Holding a little baby after it’s been baptised, one is possibly holding the most mature Christian. This child carries Christ in all his perfection without the need to: perform the right or wrong way; think good or bad thoughts; or, hinder how they feel at any one moment.

No this little one’s works are sucking, poohing, peeing, and crying. Its understanding is infantile, and this child shows any emotion at any time or place. Yes! Little children are totally reliant on God for the grace they receive, and for the works God does in and through them.

The focus here is not on what the child does but on who the child is! A newly baptised person is “freed from doing” to be accepted by God. And now God is free to do what he needs to do to make this child holy. There is nothing the baby can do to hold back hearing the word of God and receiving the Holy Spirit. Completely at the mercy of all around them, they receive mercy from God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Now the child is a child of God, and its being is one of faith that leads to love for God for the eternal life he gives.

There is now no need to become worried about works. Abiding, remaining, upholding, and standing in baptismal faith requires no active work to make a decision towards God, he is already there working. The Holy Spirit is giving faith, a conscience that yearns to be forever free from sin, seeking repentance, forgiveness, looking to forgive. This faith is holy and it hungers in hope to be brought to completion in Christ; fed through the grace he gives at the cross — at our baptism — at a believer’s resurrection each Sunday, and on the last day.

The only decision to be made is to walk away from this “being or existence or reality of belief or faith.” Rejecting the faith is not a rejection of belief! And so what’s pursued in the absence of God-given faith is a self-sought knowledge of good and evil which gives a faith built on individualism and works.

Previously one was expected to work the law of God to have a relationship with him. Keeping the law dealt with a person’s impurity. But now the decision to seek for the self leads back into impurity and separation from God.

So back in old covenant days one’s focus was on “doing”! Now the focus for us is on “being” — Christ’s being is now our “ new being”. Our existence is Christ’s existence, both lived on earth as he walked from the Jordan to the Cross and in us today from the font to the funeral — the greatest cross we must all bear — our earthly death.

This is why Christ was sent into the world. He came to stop your earthly death, being an eternal death — an eternal never-ending process of perishing with undying pain and suffering. …God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:17 ESV)

The fact is, we all face death, regardless of age, as a result of the old being within. The old Adam still seeks to make a decision to go off in search of its own knowledge of good and evil.

Therefore, within the believer there’s a battle of beings. At the same time in the same person there’s the being who works good and evil in opposition to God; the power is centred on work — doing it or not having to do it. And then there’s the new being given in baptism that seeks first the kingdom of God, knowing by the grace of God, he will unleash the faithfulness of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, to produce the fruits of faith from within.

As a baptised infant grows, so too their knowledge of good and evil matures! The old Adam is caught out by the maturity of grace and faith suddenly implanted within. And so the maturity of the newly baptised child is a world away from many people’s concept of being mature.

One of these so called mature people was Nicodemus a leader of the Jews and a Pharisee. He came to try to figure out what this Jesus character was all about. Listen to his doing language. [Nicodemus] came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” (John 3:2 ESV) This is an honest statement from one whose life was committed to doing what the law required.

But a note on Pharisees first. They get a bad rap today. To us the name Pharisee is a derogatory term. There are not many of us who’d appreciate being called a Pharisee. But there are not many of us whose commitment can compare to that of a Pharisee either. In fact, our condemnation of the Pharisees, wrongly grows from the same “do or don’t do mentality” Jesus criticises the Pharisees for, rather than their loss of being before the Father — their life together with God.

Pharisees were, what today, we would call good blokes. They were not priest but laity whom sought to be good, or righteous, by following the letter of the Law. But they had forgotten what the function of the law was all about; that it was to regain a relationship with God, who was otherwise untouchable. This wasn’t because he’s a cruel and nasty God, rather if sin was not dealt with, experience of his holiness would be a curse and not a blessing. The Pharisees were doing what the law required but not so much to re-enter God’s holiness for a relationship with him but to use his power and glory to justify their knowledge of good and evil.

It’s not clear if Nicodemus came to condemn Jesus or just to see what he was about. We’re not even sure of his Pharisaic practice at this time, but we know later on he spoke up for Jesus in the Sanhedrin and helped in giving him an honourable burial. Nevertheless, what Jesus tells Nicodemus in this first meeting confuses him.

Earlier Jesus told the Jews at the temple, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:18 ESV) Jesus was speaking of himself but the Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it in three days?” (John 2: 20 ESV) They were speaking of Herod’s temple, but one wonders if they were unconsciously speaking about themselves after using God to build themselves into temples during their lifetime.

Nicodemus comes to Jesus wanting to know how he can do this sign along with others he was doing at the Passover Feast, and Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3 ESV)

Nicodemus must have thought this to be completely nonsense. He knew he couldn’t do the work of being born again. He knew he didn’t do anything to be born of flesh the first time! And so he asks a question a small child even knows what the answer is. Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:4 ESV)

If Nicodemus thought Jesus was a simpleton up to this point, Jesus’ response challenges the very foundation of Nicodemus’ practice “doing” what was required of the law. Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5–8 ESV)

These words of Jesus begin the change in Nicodemus. Knowing he cannot do any of this Nicodemus becomes hungry to receive from Jesus, rather than placing his trust in what he could do. He didn’t ask, “How can I do this?” Instead he said, “How can these things be?”

Humanity tends to credit itself with its ability to understand and fix things. Recent events are challenging our technical knowhow, our environmental knowhow, and even more our inner knowhow. It is not God who is the simpleton but it is us. As we grow the old Adam is always deceiving us. Our sinful nature seeks to down play faith in God in favour of faith in ourselves. However, the only true way we begin to know ourselves is when we believe God knows us better than we know ourselves and believe he knows who we were originally meant to be.

Flesh gives birth to flesh — how little we really understand about the mystery of human birth, or the life of the human body? And the Holy Spirit gives birth to spirit! If we have trouble knowing, understanding, and believing us and our world, how can we truly know of heavenly things?

Jesus goes on teaching Nicodemus by talking about heavenly things that only he can do, saying, “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” (John 3:13 ESV) But with this exalted ability comes the service and putting aside of all heavenly doing in favour of being the suffering servant sacrificed for our sin of seeking good and evil.

The Son of God became the Son of Man; he became the servant of the Father. He put aside all doing, and like a little baby who needs to be brought to baptism, Jesus faithfully allowed himself to be carried to the cross and lifted up. So with this faithfulness implanted in us at baptism we might be lifted up to eternal life.

Maturity is not our intellect, but our willingness to be carried by Christ, in all that we are and in all that he seeks to do in and through us. The maturity of faith we have as baptised babies can get deeply tested and confused as we grow into adults. God works in our lives to reverse the immature need to seek knowledge of good and evil for ourselves. He does this by slowing our abilities, and intellect, and cares; returning many of us to helpless childlike ways in our elderly years. Then we might learn to live once again like mature Christians fully believing our help is in the name of the Lord!

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 ESV) Activate the faith in all baptised people so they do not perish but have eternal life in you Lord Jesus, Amen.

Friday, March 11, 2011

A, Lent 1 - Matthew 4:1-11 "A Healthy Hunger"

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “ ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “ ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ ” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’ ” Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him. (Matthew 4:1–11 ESV)

How long can you survive without food? Perhaps if you were in a comfortable environment — unstressed, not having to do anything — you might live from four to eight weeks. But to do so by choice, one needs to be mentally prepared to overcome the cravings of the body crying out for nutrition.

Some survive without food through no choice of their own. Extreme poverty is one cause of hunger. Emergency situations too can stop people from eating — being trapped or lost for instance. But surviving through these types of ordeals needs a tenacious will and grit determination!

Imagine you’ve turned up today, having had nothing to eat since the 1st of February. This is forty days. Can you remember what you have done since that Tuesday? How many times have you eaten since then? I’m guessing you really haven’t kept count. If you had three meals a day without any snacks in between, perhaps you’ve had one hundred and twenty meals. Now imagine life without those meals. Can you?

Regardless of whether you chose to fast or you were forced by circumstances not to eat, your condition mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually would be very different to being well fed with one hundred and twenty meals. I suspect a lack of food would cause you to look at life in a completely different way than how you’re looking at it right now!

The three readings before us today, show two very different situations, and how these relate to each other. In Genesis 2 & 3 God gives Adam and Eve a garden with plenty, and with it comes a fall into temptation, and in Matthew 4 Jesus is in the wilderness, hungry after 40 days of fasting, but even so doesn’t succumb to Satan’s temptation. Then in Romans 5 Paul connects the two contrasting events with all people through the oneness of Adam and then Christ; in that sin comes to all through Adam, but life is there for all through the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

So you’ve come here today having not eaten since the 1st of February. What type of condition are you in? Not the best! There are three possibilities you’re considering.

A voice inside you might be telling you to motivate yourself to save yourself. It’s tough but after all, the tough get going. Like Bear Grills on his television survival show, you become a John the Baptist type of character and live on your immediate environment — eating nasty snakes and scorpions, and crunchy gooey insects from amongst the sparseness!

We hear how Satan approached Jesus in the wilderness after forty days, and in the garden Adam and Eve were tempted by the serpent, the devil in disguise. Maybe the devil didn’t disguise himself as a serpent in the wilderness before Jesus, because Jesus might have turned stones into weapons to kill and eat him. Perhaps only characters like Bear Grills and John the Baptist subject themselves to these crazy antics whereas Jesus even more fervently focuses on his Father and his word.

You might not eat snakes or insects out of desperation, but would you turn in trust to the Word of God, or would you let the craving of your stomach, justify your actions for survival? In what way would you address your need?

The second thing you might consider doing is giving up. Like Jonah you might be so angry with God you could die. Like an over stressed sheep just sit down and sulk! Or, like Elijah, on the run from Jezebel, you might lie down to die when it all gets to be too much. You might come to an understanding that there’s no way out. The truth of the situation becomes too great to bear! You would come here after forty days, famished and finished! The hunger and desolation have destroyed you.

The third possibility might lead you to do what’s necessary to survive. Whatever works is where it’s at! If you have to grovel for food then you’ll do it. If you have to beckon to someone else’s call, then so be it, as long as you satisfy your insatiable appetite now, the consequences can be dealt with later. Giving up your life you devote yourself to something or someone to maintain yourself.

If you can place yourself in dire need, hungry after forty days, then one of the three options is very real for you. Not just hunger for food but an appetite for anything will cause us to employ one of these three paths desire causes within us.

In the Garden of Eden it was not so much hunger for food causing Adam and Eve to eat but rather it was the desire to be like God, by gaining knowledge of good and evil, that the fruit on the tree became so inviting. And ever since our insatiable appetite to be in control causes us; to repeatedly abuse what’s around us by the way we do things; to compromise the truth for something less; and to allow our hearts to seek and value a life we think will make us feel better.

These are the temptations Jesus faced in the wilderness after he had fasted for forty days. One might say he chose to go out into the wilderness, but in fact he was led there by the Holy Spirit, and by his Father’s will, so he might be tempted as Adam was, and as we are.

However, unlike us he didn’t succumb to these three temptations our human nature always gravitates towards. In our worry we cast out the Holy Spirit, the faith he gives and Jesus’ faithful way. We doubt the Word made flesh which makes us holy in the only truth. And as a result seek to live a life lost in sacrifice to our human desires.

We might say these temptations are easier for Jesus to resist; after all he is God and we are not. But we need to know while he was here on earth born of the virgin; he gave up his divinity and lived a life of obedience under earthly and heavenly authority, the same life as you and me. He made the supreme sacrifice by not listening to the desires of his human heart, but sought the will of God.

He listened to God, he was obedient! He didn’t compromise his innocent walk amongst our human sufferings and death by turning to his divinity. He didn’t rationalise God’s word to serve him, but remained subservient to his Father and the truth of his word. And his heart remained focused on the life he was called to live despite the suffering it caused him.

There was no compromise in what Jesus did; he didn’t allow his hunger or the devil to cause him worry or want. His understanding was complete and trusting, it was free of doubt. And Satan couldn’t rise up selfish pride in him. Rather Jesus lived seeking his Father’s kingdom, his will, and his righteousness even though he was righteous and holy in his own right.

Jesus did not turn stones into bread to serve himself, but through him God distributed five loaves and two fish to the five thousand, and still today his body and blood nourishes thousands of those who live under his forgiveness and allow the Holy Spirit to move them in the ways of Christ.

Yet if Jesus had succumb to the temptation of the devil, and turned those stones into bread, how much more would this sinful generation worry what to do, compromise the word of God and walk away from the Son of God?

Jesus didn’t turn from the truth of God’s word. He didn’t allow the devil to tempt him at the temple. He didn’t compromise God’s word to prove his power over the temple and the law, rather he upheld the law, and remained in submission to it and the will of God.

He demonstrated the word of God to be holy, but not by a life of pride and power, rather by his death to atone for sin. He bore blindness, leprosy, sickness and disease. He let the law cast him down into the depths of hell. In his holy understanding of the truth, he swallowed up your death by his death.

If he had allowed himself to fall from the temple, how much more would this sinful generation doubt and divide God’s word and fall even more by our thoughts and voices of sin within?

And Jesus didn’t bow to Satan, to get the job done. Rather he sought to glorify the Father and not his own pride. He remained under God the Father and lived a life of servanthood and suffering. He calls us through his death on the cross, not by glorious domination over the princes and people of this world, through submission to Satan. So like a mongrel dog Satan is commanded to, “Get!”, “ὕπαγε σατανᾶ” (who-par-gee sar-tar-na) by the Son of God.

How much greater would the pride of this sinful generation be, if Jesus compromised his Father’s authority and will, to do whatever it took to have all worship him? Surely if Jesus hadn’t told Satan to “nick off” he would appear as a servant of Satan, and our pride would know no end!

Thank God Jesus walked in the ways of God the Father without worry. Praise God our Immanuel is the walking Word of God, in flesh, in truth, and in us. Glory to God alone for our Saviour’s complete faithfulness to our Father and to us today! Be immersed in the Word of God! Fervent faith and fellowship from the Holy Spirit will come in ways you least expect!

Blessed are those who allow the Holy Spirit to work the word in the heart. He will raise forgiveness within, give enduring faith to seek Jesus, and provide peace here amongst all the trials and temptations faced in this life.

If you go without food, the lack of nutrition will kill your earthly body. But a diet without the word of God leads to something even worse — eternal death, unquenchable hunger, cravings and crying which never shall be satisfied.

So let Jesus, the Risen Word of God — your Saviour — strengthen his hold on you today, because… “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied”. (Matthew 5:6 ESV) Amen.