Saturday, April 30, 2011

A, Easter 2 – All Readings “Recalled to the Manufacturer”

Recalled to the Manufacturer
A sermon on 1 Peter 1:3-9, Acts 2:25-28, John 20:19-22
The second Sunday of Easter (Year A) 1/05/11
Pastor Heath Pukallus Katanning-Narrogin Lutheran Parish

There's nothing more disappointing than the day one gets a product home and on using it for the first time, finds that there's a problem and it needs to be returned to the manufacturer to be corrected, to be put right or fixed.

This is made worse when it's a present for a child whose long expected gift doesn't work, while everyone else's toy is fine. It's not hard to hear and see their disappointment.

Or you've just built something, sewn some choice material, or planted an expensive tree, to watch it not function in the way you'd expected, or to die for no known reason.

When this happens, we tend to feel let down, but to save face we take the product or part back to the retailer, so it might be returned to the manufacturer for replacement or repair.

Then again you might have bought a car or gone shopping and purchased your regular groceries. Everything seems fine, but then through the media or post comes the news there's a product recall in full swing, and your car or product qualifies to be returned to the manufacturer to be modified, fixed, or replaced. Perhaps there is relief, because you had noticed some ill effects starting to creep in, or consumption might have meant grave illness or death.

Last Sunday, all creation celebrated the anniversary of the resurrection of God's one and only Son, and many of us ate chocolate eggs in celebrating Jesus' new life, and ours with him too.

We also heard that the resurrection events will also shake us and our world. Jesus is coming again to take us to himself, but in the meantime he warns us in his word that rough times are ahead and calls us to stand firm through them. All earthly things and our reliance on them, and perception of them will be torn away, and for very good reason. As we are shaken by these stripping events we will see our Saviour come and your resurrection will be revealed in all of Christ's glory.

Today continues that resurrection glory theme, one week after our resurrection remembrance at Easter, as we focus on the events of the first week surrounding the disciples' world view being shaken through Jesus' death and resurrection.

These men were shaken in every way. We heard in the gospel that they cowered behind closed doors in fear of the Jews. If the Christ, the Son of God, who came to take away the sin of the world, could be crucified, then it's not hard to sense the fear these bumbling fishermen, tax collector and other disciples felt after one so powerful would die, in such a weak and humiliating way! They thought it was the end, and bitter death was forthcoming at any moment.

We know Christ died and was raised for the sake of God's love and will to forgive us, so we might live in peace with him forever. In fact, we have perfect twenty-twenty vision of these past events through his word, and receive the peace of God that passes all human understanding quite freely. But like the disciples, waiting and peering into the unseen future, peace is sometimes harder to find, as we hang onto our perishable old world perception.

Let's now look at this from God's point of view. Imagine how disappointed God was when saw us — his new creation born into the world — fragile and easily shaken. Like a new gift, not working properly, in the hands of a child, God saw us as defective from the day we were born.

We were born malfunctioning! Left to our own devices, we were on a course leading to self destruction. God created us for life with him, and that means life forever. But our life was flawed by our sinful being; our living is actually the thing that is shaking us to death. Yet, this temporary life of self destruction is the life we seem to think is normal. But God knew it wasn't what he intended from before we were unwrapped from our mothers' wombs. Some of us don't even survive long enough to be born, and for us the ones who have survived birth, it's a mystery how we've existed as long as we have being as dysfunctional as we are!

So we operate in this life very much in a temporary existence, and like a dodgy piece of machinery we can and do conk out at any time. That in itself causes us to be shaken. We can be like the disciples waiting and cowering behind closed doors at the prospect of sudden death — fearing the worst at any time. We are tempted to hang onto and trust that which is perishing over against that which will live on forever.

But Jesus who was raised from the dead and now lives and rules eternally, has the same words for us as he did for the disciples. He says, "Peace be with you!" Using his written word, he then shows us he is present, risen and all-powerful over death. And naturally, we praise him for what he's done. He says, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." And with that he breathed on you in baptism and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit." (John 20:19-22) Now having received the Holy Spirit, it is his will to forgive you all your sins through those he calls to do so, as pastors, so you might live in peace, even in the midst of so much dysfunction and malfunction.

Realising the importance of King David's resurrection hope in Christ Luke quotes Psalm 16 in Acts 2 telling us, David said about him: "'I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.' (Acts 2:25-28 and Psalm 16:8-11)

So even as we operate in our temporary existence, and our whole world could be turned upside down at any time, we know God is with us, and although things might shake us we know that just as the Holy One was not eternally abandoned to the grave, nor will we.

You see God saw us in our haphazard state, and although he was disappointed with what we had become because of sin, he did something very powerful about it. We now live because of what he did; and that was to send us his Son to give eternal longevity to our lives. He also sends the Holy Spirit as well to show us Jesus' hidden presence. And the Holy Spirit makes us work in the way God intends until God himself recalls his faulty product to be eternally freed and fitted with the same risen glory in which Christ stands.

This is why Peter says… Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:3-9)

Let the inheritance, which is imperishable, rise in your lives as the perishable things are shaken away as you wait for the glorious day when you're recalled to the manufacturer for eternal improvement. We live temporary lives enduring many things, but we do so in the hope that one day we will live in permanent peace with he who intended us to live this way from the beginning of time. Amen.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A, Easter Sunday – Colossians 3:1-4 “$0 to Pay!”

Zero Dollars to Pay
A sermon on Colossians 3:1-4
Easter Sunday (Year A)
Pastor Heath Pukallus Katanning-Narrogin Lutheran Parish

$0 to pay! …sounds too good to be true! But what an advertising slogan! I saw this in a big bold type plastered all over the front of a shop the other day. No doubt it was for an Easter sale.

We all seem to love sales of sorts! A garage sale, a seasonal sale, an end of year sale, a back to school sale, a run out model sale… Bring your wallet, bring your trailer, we won't be undersold! Bring your husband, bring your wife, bring the whole family! Grab a bargain before they're all gone! Guaranteed lowest price around! At this price it won't last long! Save, save, save… it's the once a year three day sale. Come in today, nothing to pay!

Looking away from the $0 to pay banner, I cast my eye over the stock inside the shop. Ooh! One of those would be nice, and that over there, now that looks good. I could get that, I don't have to pay. It's free! Well that's what my mind is telling me, anyway! So I glance back at the $0 to pay banner.

$0 to pay it says, then I realise what else it says. In smaller print I read …till 2013. 0$ to pay till 2013. But it's too late; the seed has already been sown. The thought of getting has imbedded itself in my mind. Ah well! I'll get it today and think about paying another day!

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1–4 ESV)

Imagine if God advertised the death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ. Perhaps this advert might appear as the ultimate three day sale. Because in fact it is!

0$ to pay! A call to cast your eye to eternity! This is the lifetime EternaVision sale. $0 to pay! Full Stop! That's it; no hidden cost.

Well that's not entirely true! There's no hidden cost for us! Nevertheless, there was a cost and it wasn't hidden. It cost God the Father separation from his Son! It cost the Son his life on the cross. It might have appeared that the fine print got him, the devil in the detail, was in fact the devil.

But not as a victory for the devil as he might have thought. He didn't win, and now he never will win over Christ. The devil got done in the detail. The fine print means he now has limited power for a limited time and eventually he will be bound forever and get what Christ experienced on the cross. He and all his cronies will experience compounding alienation from God's glory, from any glory, and experience an eternity of God's wrath.

In their suffering there will be no more to pay! They won't be able to work their way out of God's wrath. The greater the effort to seek separation from suffering, the greater the realisation they will not be able to pay their way out, for they will be living an eternal life of pain, paying forever.

However, in this age it seems that many would rather this than the $0 to pay of an eternal vision, where there is truly nothing to pay!

It seems people want the $0 today but want the devil in the detail, and fatality in the fine print. Nothing to pay today, until eternity! And then pay dearly – deadly!

Imagine if there was a sale in the shops that truly claimed $0 to pay. Yes! At the beginning it would be treated with suspicion, but then the floodgates would open, and like a Boxing Day sale, people would be falling over themselves to grab a bargain.

Many though seem to look this gift horse in the mouth, and put conditions on God. However, when most of us go into a shop and make a purchase we accept their conditions. It's later on when the fine print comes into play that we might get caught out and whinge about the retailer.

But with God's $0 to pay there is a 100% reduction in cost! Not a 20%, 50%, 80%, or 99.9% reduction, but a genuine 100% reduction. If only our world would recognise this then the pews would be full and people would be hanging from the rafters in places like this.

So the price is paid, and it pays for us, hidden in Christ, not to continue hiding stuff from him…

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. (Colossians 3:5–10 ESV)

The text reads on with what some might say is the cost in this earthly life…

Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (Colossians 3:12–14 ESV)

It seems the cost of Christianity is one must do humility, patience, forgiveness, and love. But then the $0 to pay begins to look like there is still at least a small percentage to pay. And if this is the case then it's no wonder many look the gift horse in the mouth and believe it's too long in the tooth to be of benefit to them!

However, those who do this are misreading what is not only the sale of the century but salvation into all eternity! We read on in Colossians 3…

…let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:15–17 ESV)

We have so much to be thankful for! Not only does Jesus give us a new way, there is truly nothing to pay! We don't have to do love, do humility, do forgiveness, patience, compassion and all the things we're called to do. Rather they're done in us and through us by the Holy Spirit. Let me say that again! We don't do them; they're done in us and through us by the Holy Spirit!

All it costs us is for us to stop and allow God to pay our way, and work in our place today. Surly that is not too much to ask, since he is the one doing all the work?

So grab a bargain today! Save, save, save, by believing you are saved, saved, saved! This three day event, Good Friday to today, Easter Sunday, is on sale now. Bring your husband, bring your wife, bring your whole family, bring your life! Come in grab the bargain today, while you're alive it's never too late! Take home Jesus today, take home Jesus tomorrow! Let Jesus take you home to eternity! $0 to pay; it's the only way! Amen.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A, Manudy Thursday - All Readings - "Mandate Thursday"

A sermon on the readings for Maundy Thursday
Maundy Thursday (Year A) 21/04/11
Pastor Heath Pukallus Katanning-Narrogin Lutheran Parish


Exodus 12:1-14; Psalm 116:1, 2, 12-19; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-17, 31b-35.

Key verse: (John 13:1) Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.


Have you ever wondered why Maundy Thursday is called Maundy Thursday? It's a strange name. In fact, I spent most of my youth mispronouncing it Maun-day Thursday. Maundy sounds a bit like an Australian way of saying Monday, or Mond'y, but it is not what Maundy means. Maundy comes from a Latin word similar to 'mandate' meaning commission, charge, order, or command. Maundy Thursday is mandate Thursday.

So what is the mandate given on the Thursday, the day before Jesus was nailed to the cross outside Jerusalem? If we take a look at the readings for Maundy Thursday there are plenty of mandates or commands given to us to follow. All the readings are filled with commands to do something. Are they all the same? Or are they different from each other? Let's take a look at them and see what mandates are given.

The first group of mandates we have heard are the Ten Commandments, and as we listened we were called to let the Lord show us our sin through them. These surely are a complete set of mandates. God has commanded us through the Ten Commandments to be holy so we can enter into the presence of a holy God. But wait there's more…

Even before God gave the Ten Commandments to the Israelites at Mt. Sinai he gave a mandate to them in Egypt. This mandate was the preparation for the Lord's Passover, protecting households with blood and eating a meal in haste, as the Lord passed over Egypt and killed the first born of the households who had not fulfilled the mandate. God's command through Moses saved the Israelites' first born children from death. But wait there still is more…

Jesus gives his disciple a mandates to love. First he washes the feet of the disciples and when he finishes doing this menial task he asks, "Do you understand what I have done for you?" 13 "You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. (John 13:12-17)

Jesus has washed feet in humble service and now we ought to do it too. He lays out the mandate to 'do as he has done', to serve one another, to forgive one another and emulate his self sacrificing love.

Also at the end of the Gospel reading Jesus lays out the well known mandate to love, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:34-35)

In fact it is because of this mandate that the Thursday before Good Friday came to be know as Maundy Thursday. Jesus gives a new commandment. If we are to be his disciples, we must love. As Jesus has loved you, you must love. Have you loved as Jesus has loved? When others look at the way you conduct yourself do they see someone who loves? Do they see someone who serves, who forgives, who sets an example of love? What do you see in yourself? Are you a person of love?

Having come from God, Jesus knew God had placed all things under his power. But what did Jesus do? He became a servant and loved his disciples in his service of them. Not only did he wash their feet but he cleansed them from the power of sin through his death on the cross. It is in the light of his death on the cross that Christ gives us the command to love as he has loved us.

So we have mandates laid out before us; the Ten Commandments, to teach and celebrate the Passover, and now Jesus gives us a new commandment to love as he loved us. Hearing the question, "Have you loved others in the same way as Jesus loved?" makes for unsettling times for you and me. How is this commandment to love any different than the Ten Commandments Moses gave to the Israelites? Actually, Jesus lifts the bar higher. After all, a mandate is a command, and Jesus has given a greater law. Jesus took all laws into himself and has called us to follow just one; that we love as has he has loved. And how has he loved us? He has served us, not through washing feet, but taking our place in death while keeping all Ten Commandments. With a mandate like this every one of us is set to fail.

This is a hard act to follow: to love as he has loved us. Jesus gave the command to love then Judas left to betray him (Jn 13:18-30), and then Jesus said to Peter, "Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!" (John 13:38) Surely there is more to this mandate to love! Surely Jesus didn't come into the world just to give us a template to follow so we might obtain salvation; to give us an even harder law to follow! How do we follow through with Christ's mandate to love, when the disciple couldn't even do it?

There is one other mandate which must underpin this mandate to love others. Without something else Maundy Thursday is just a repeat of every other day lived under the Law, and Jesus' command to love is an even more oppressive law than the Ten Laws, Moses received on Mt Sinai. This other mandate is one which is similar to the Passover, in that blood was spilt to save people from death. But this mandate does not stand or fall on our ability to be able to perfect what is commanded – to be able to perform all the right deeds. No! This mandate is grounded in complete love towards us!

Jesus shows us the full extent of his love on the cross. The mandate of Maundy Thursday to love is grounded in Christ's loving action on Good Friday. He let his blood be spilt for you and me so we can stand before a Holy God as his first born children.

Peter received a true washing in the blood of the lamb when Jesus took his sins of denial, among others, to the cross. We are all washed in the blood of the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. Our God has mercy on us! After Jesus' resurrection Peter is reinstated, but listen how Jesus calls Peter to love.

15 Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?" "Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my lambs." 16 Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me?" He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep." 17 The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my sheep. (John 21:15-17)

Christ was sent to suffer and die for the sins of the world by the command, or mandate, of his Father. We do well to connect others with the true love of Christ's forgiveness and atoning death on the cross first shown to those who lived around him and now shown to us today. We God's sheep do well to let ourselves be fed and forgiven so we too can love others. We who are sinners and beggars before the Lord do well to show others where to beg for this holy food of mercy too.

As Jesus sat at the table with the twelve disciples on that first Maundy Thursday, he spoke some words that must have seemed odd. Little did the disciples know that these words would be filled out by his actions on the cross the next day. In these days, we hang onto these words in faith because Jesus has commanded us to 'take, eat, and drink', and in doing so we proclaim his death until he comes again.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, and said (gave us this mandate), Take and eat; this is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me. In the same way he took the cup, after the supper, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and said (the second part of the mandate), Drink of it, all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me. (From Holy Communion liturgy, commanded by Christ in Matt 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:17-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-25)

It was only after Good Friday, that we truly knew what love is; that Jesus died for us on the cross. It was only after Good Friday, that we truly understood his mandate to take, eat, and drink, his life, his body and blood, in bread and wine for forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

Ever since that first Maundy Thursday, pastor's, in the same office into which Peter and the other Apostles were called, have been feeding the sheep, and parishioners have been receiving Christ's body and blood in this holy love feast commanded by Christ. Therefore, just as we are being loved by Christ and are given his gifts, we can go out and love one another because Christ has loved us first. Amen.

Let us pray. What can I offer to the Lord for all his goodness to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation, and call on the name of the Lord. I will offer you a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and call on the name of the Lord. I will keep my promises to the Lord in the presence of all his people; in the courts of the house of the Lord, in your midst, O Jerusalem. Amen

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A, Palm Passion Sunday – Philippians 2:8 “Understudy”

A sermon on Philippians 2:8
Pastor Heath Pukallus Katanning-Narrogin Lutheran Parish

Being an understudy would have to be one of the most difficult jobs. The stage actor gets all the accolades while the understudy remains in the limelight. The work load is the same though! The understudy must know all the same lines to stand in and keep the show running in the event the actor, for whatever reason, cannot be on stage.

The actor gets their name up in lights outside on the Broadway billboards yet the understudy hangs in the shadows ready, yet never knowing if he or she will get the opportunity to let their talents shine.

Nevertheless, the understudy is an important job. Theatre companies need understudies as an insurance policy for their shows. The actors out front might be responsible for drawing the crowds, but the understudy, stands by as a "fill in" so even if the crowd are disappointed by the absence of one actor, they might still have opportunity to see all the other name actors fill their parts next to the "fill in" understudy.

During the Lenten season we have heard and spoken a phrase over and over again. "Christ humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross." It's part of what is known as the Christ hymn from Philippians chapter two.

We hear it again here: Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)

Pauls calls us to have this mind, which indeed we already have because Christ lives in us. However, this mind or attitude of Jesus so often gets squashed from within because we like to be the ones who have out names recognised — up in lights like an actor.

But the attitude of Jesus is like that of a faithful understudy. He is the archetypal servant of society, humbly listening to God, seeking his will in his word, throughout his ministry right to the point of death.

Jesus Christ deserved to have his name up in lights — the Son of God, Co-Creator of all things with the Father and the Holy Spirit. But he put that all aside and became the Son of Man; a servant who was killed by the very folk he sought to served.

Our attitude so often runs contrary to the attitude of Jesus. The very things Jesus did, when we contemplate attempting them, seem second rate. No one seeks to be the understudy.

How often do we hear about the glitz and glamour of an understudy? But this is exactly where we're called to focus our efforts and attitudes. So how do we do this when it's so different to our way of thinking?

It's not so much about how we do it, but rather in enduring in Christ, returning to hear his Word of life over and over again, the mindset of Jesus grows within. This growth is cultured by the Holy Spirit so that over time we come to realise Christ has been our understudy the whole time and all the glitz and glamour we sought in the past, perishes with the past.

Alternatively, those who try to live in the glory of this fickle glitz and glamour end up washed up like so many Hollywood types these days.

A world away from seeking glory for one's self is Christ's attitude. This attitude is obedience. It allows us to remain faithful to God. It's not about doing anything in particular. Rather it's about letting God undergird us with his will, his way, and his word. He insures a safety net of salvation for us by giving us Christ as the understudy. Jesus Christ obediently listened to the Father, and now continually listens for when we lose our way, forgetting the lines of holiness we're called to before the Father.

His obedience as the understudy meant no glitz and glamour, rather it meant the opposite. He humbled himself and became your understudy, to the point of death… even death on a cross.

There an old saying, "being hung out to dry". And Jesus was literally hung out to dry; he was hung on the cross to die.

In the ancient world being hung out for all to see was a horrendous way to be killed. Slowly dying, choking on your own body, suffocating yourself to death, usually outside the town gate where everyone passed by and hurled insults at you as you slowly suffered and died.

Scripture tells us that any one hung on a tree is cursed (Deut 21:23). The Assyrians barbarically sharpened sticks like pencils and impaled people on them to die for all to see. So death on a cross or a tree is a blight on any person guilty of the punishment. We don't have crucifixion for punishment these days, but if we did, what kinds of crimes would deserve this type of cursed death? Only the worst, for sure!

So Jesus, your understudy, knew he was going to receive not only death, but death deserved by those who have committed the most abhorrent crimes. And he did it obediently, all the way, despite his innocence. There's just no way we could ever do what he did.

But we don't have to! He has done it; all we're called to do is believe it.

Trust Jesus as your faithful understudy, who saves your reputation before the Father in heaven.

In believing, you'll never expect whom you will be used to serve as an understudy as you focus on faithfully following the will of him who obediently, faithfully, undergirds you as your understudy, until the glorious day of your resurrection into the realm of eternal bliss. Amen.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

A, Lent 5 – Ezekiel 37:1-14 “A Bone To Pick”

A Bone To Pick
A sermon on Ezekiel 37:1-14
Pastor Heath Pukallus Katanning-Narrogin Lutheran Parish

Dry bones in a dead paddock paints a picture of desolation! What was once covered in life with flesh and sinews is now deserted of life lying in the dust. Dry bones tell us death has put an end to life.

There's not much one can do to make bones live. But bones have been used by people since the earliest of times to make tools, such as knives, hooks, and spears. Still bone a lifeless object can be used to take life away when it's used as a weapon. But then again bone has been used as needles, buttons, and in corsets. Yet still it's used as a result of the lifeless cravings people had in the Garden of Eden.

Ezekiel, under the hand of God, had a vision of a valley of bones. These bones were dry as dry. They were completely void of water, of life. But these bones were not the bones of animals. No! They were human bones!

It might be one thing seeing bones of animals lying out in the open, but human bones in mass numbers, surely would run a chill up anyone's spine. The sight of human skulls and empty bodily frames would cut to the bone of any living person. We're thankful we are spared having to witness such a gut wrenching sight. But, in the past some have uncovered mass graves from human atrocities such as those of world war two and more recently in places like Bosnia.

But even so these bones were discovered in graves; however, the bones Ezekiel saw were in a valley, out in the open. Only the bodies of those most contemptible would be left out to rot for all to see. There would be no honourable burial for those who defiled themselves while alive. One only has to think of Jezebel, the evil wife of King Ahab, who was thrown into the street, trampled by horses, and eaten by dogs. Only the despicable would be left this way. Human bones scattered like excrement exposed for others to stand on.

And so God shows Ezekiel bones exposed like these. Thousands upon thousands of human fragments absent of life, bones as dry as… a bone! Left desolate, deserted, defiled, and dead! And God asks Ezekiel, "Son of man, can these bones live?" To which he replies, "O Lord God, you know." (Ezekiel 37:3)

God addresses Ezekiel as "the Son of man". Immediately this title might resonate within as the title Jesus used of himself over and over again on his march to the cross. To be a "son of man" is being a son of Adam, a human, a created being from the earth who's received the breath of life from God.

Jesus is the Son of God and the Son of Man. The eternal and omnipresent Son of God is born the Son of Mary, the Son of Man, in the line of Adam! Created out of Adam as a servant to those of Adam! The Son of humanity is also the servant of humanity!

Ezekiel is called to serve God in this vision by serving these bones. The question is asked if the bones can live. We might say in despair, "God only knows!" But Ezekiel replies, "O Lord God, you know."

And he did know. When we look at the context of this vision from chapter 37 in between chapters 36 and the latter half of chapter 37 we see God is restoring his creation and his people from their desolation to the chosen land once given to them. God was promising to turn the desert back into a fertile place, a land of milk and honey, a place of promise, appearing like the Garden of Eden, with a shepherd serving them as King David once did.

Why was God doing this? For the sake of his holy name. He says, "It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God." (Ezekiel 36:22,25–28 ESV)

God had a bone to pick with Israel, and like a bone picked clean by a dog, God had reduced his wayward people through exile and hardship leaving them as dry as a bone chewed clean by dogs. Not only did he cut to the bone, he left the bone bare and now sends his servant Ezekiel, a Son of man, to be his mouthpiece of life, breathing God's word back into Israel's parched desolation.

Even greater than Ezekiel, God the Father sent his Son Jesus Christ as the Son of Man as his servant to restore holiness to all of humanity. And God still seeks to cleanse through Christ, he seeks to sprinkle his grace and mercy on all, cleansing from the idols that seem to pop up in our lives, to daily wash those who allow the Holy Spirit to drown the old sinful "bones" through repentance and resurrect us in forgiveness and faith.

Yes! God has a bone to pick with you and me, but he has picked us clean in Christ. But now we're called to make no bones about it. Like heart-warming soup on a cold winter's day, we're called to swallow the truth of his word with confidence and ease. Rather than make bones about it, or to put bones in the soup, let God's way be your way to his glory.

Make no bones about it – Jesus sees you in the hardships of your human existence. And not only that – like Lazarus you are his friend, and he weeps over what your sin does to you. But God has done something about it. He left Jesus languish on the cross, to pay the price of your sin. We hear Jesus' heartbreaking cry of our human condition, "My God, My God why have you forsaken me." (Psalm 22:1, Matthew 27:26)

These words recorded first in Psalm 22 also testify to Jesus' wretched bones on the cross, "I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast… I can count all my bones — they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots." (Psalm 22:14,17–18 ESV)

Your bones, the bones of all believers, the bones of Israel are now bound together by the sinews and flesh of Christ. Our bodies are not left desolate in the desert for dogs to digest. No! Our graves are made holy by God and the Son of Man is returning to roll the stone away from our graves and our lives of sin. Jesus promises to raise you to life, not in the earthly kingdom of Israel, but in fellowship with him together with the Father and the Holy Spirit in his Holy Kingdom of Heaven.

For… "Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord." (Ezekiel 37:12–14 ESV) Amen.

Friday, April 01, 2011

A, Lent 4 - John 9:1-6, 35-41 "Blinded by my Sight"

A sermon on John 9: 1-6, 35-41
Pastor Heath Pukallus Katanning-Narrogin Lutheran Parish

Is it possible that human beings are blinded by their sight? I'm reminded of a song written by Bruce Springsteen, which was made a hit in the seventies by a group called Manfred Mann's Earth Band. This song has the title: Blinded by the light. And it is a line that's sung over and over again during the course of the song.

In comparison to the texts we've heard today, being blinded by the light, or by one's own sight, seems to be a contradiction. And it is when we speak of our Lord being the light of the world.

In John nine we hear: As Jesus went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world." Having said this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man's eyes. (John 9:1-6)

This blind man was not blinded by the light, for he was blind from birth. This man was not blinded by anything he did wrong, nor was it as a result of something his parents did wrong either. But Jesus came into this man's life and gave him sight.

However, later on in John nine, after the blind man has received his sight and after being ridiculed by the Pharisees as being a sinner from birth, Jesus asks him, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" "Who is he, sir?" the man asked. "Tell me so that I may believe in him." Jesus said, "You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you." Then the man said, "Lord, I believe," and he worshiped him. (John 9:35-38)

Isn't it interesting that having been given sight by God's own Son, the man who now sees still didn't have the ability to know just who the Son of Man was, who had come to be the light of the word! It's only after Jesus names himself with his spoken word that the fellow falls down and worships him.

Then in the hearing of the man, and the Pharisees, Jesus said, "For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind." Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, "What? Are we blind too?" Jesus said, "If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains. (John 9:39-41)

A couple of things are happening here which we have to be careful not to overlook. The blind man is given physical sight, yet didn't spiritually see and worship until hearing the spoken word from Jesus. Jesus also pointed out that because of his blindness he has no way of missing the mark so he might be guilty of committing sin. Yet at the same time he can't see that Jesus is the Son of Man because of the human sinful nature's inability to see, regardless of him performing a sin or not.

The other thing we must observe is the deeper reality of the Pharisees' jeer at Jesus, "What? Are we blind too?" Earlier they hurled insults about the man who had received his sight, claiming, "We are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don't even know where he comes from." The man answered, "Now that is remarkable! You don't know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes." (John 9:28b-30) They were blinded by their sight, and when the light of God came along they were so blind they refused to see the truth.

Like the blind man they too didn't have the power in themselves to see. But in placing faith in themselves, claiming they could see, they rejected he who had the power to give the fulfilling sight of salvation.

What happened here is what still happens today! We are called to see the Son of God, yet we are tempted to place our faith in those things on which the sun in the sky shines. Humanity has been deceived by its own tainted sight, refracted by the darkness of sin, ever since Adam and Eve laid sight on the sun-ripened apple at Eden. And up until Christ's cross and resurrection there was no way we could regain sight of the other tree without the apple, the tree of life. We were completely unable to see the tree of life or find it because we were blinded by the cherubim with the flashing sword guarding any way back into God's paradise of peace and the eternal tree of life in it. (Genesis 3:24)

We are blinded by the light from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and we need Jesus' spit in our eyes to clean out the mortal mud, that always seems to stick to us. We are blinded by our sight, or rather the short-sightedness of human nakedness, reason, and understanding.

St Paul states to the Corinthians …we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:6-10)

So while the sun shines on us here we are away from the Son of God, but even so we look to the eternal Son who is not seen by human sight, but rather by the sight of faith given by the Holy Spirit.

Even when we appear to do every humanly good thing under the sun, these are not the good things that will win us favourable judgement under the Son of God. But rather when God sees us faithfully looking toward the unseen Son of Man, by the power of the Spirit, then the Son's salvation truly warms the hearer's heart, and God sees us as his children.

The blind man in this text was rather quiet, Jesus came to he who was silenced in complete darkness and gave him sight. But at other times as Jesus moved around the place during his earthly ministry the blind sung out to him, Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us! (Matthew 20: 30) These men knew they were blind, they were not deceived by their sight, or any other ability they thought they had. They were powerless to see. Yet as Jesus approached them they received the warmth of his word in their hearts. God's 'Word Made Flesh' healed them and gave them better sight than they could have ever imagined.

We are called to look to the Son of God for our salvation too. Looking at the sun in the sky, or trusting anything on which the sun might shine, both make us blind. However, the Son of God will not blind us. He will shine in our darkened hearts as we walk in this world blind with darkness. When we look at this Son, the one and only Son of God, we will be boldly led through the darkness, walking with infallible accuracy.

We can all picture the pirate who sails the high seas with a patch over his eye. We Christians are like that pirate. He wears the patch not because he's had an eye gouged out as many think. He wears it so when he goes from darkness to light, from below deck to above and vice versa, he swaps the patch over so his darkened eye sees perfectly in the darkness and the uncovered eye sees without being blinded by the light.

Similarly we Christians are called to trust the patch that God places over us, giving us the ability to see, regardless of being blinded by the light or the darkness. This patch is his word and because of it we can see the Son of God who leads us through the valley of the shadow of death. This eye patch is the patch of faith allowing us to fear no evil whenever it attacks us, day or night. With it on we wear the Son of God with his flashing rod of protection and his staff of salvation. With this patch of faith covering our human short-sightedness, we can see the light of our salvation, and the tree of life. Amen.