Saturday, June 18, 2011

A, Trinity Sunday – Matthew 28:16-20; 2 Corinthians 13:11-14 “God With You”

God With You
A sermon on Matthew 28:16-20; 2 Corinthians 13:11-14
Holy Trinity Sunday (Year A)
Pastor Heath Pukallus Katanning-Narrogin Lutheran Parish

The church is full of language not common to the person on the street. In fact, even amongst us who use these words regularly, if tested we would be hard pressed to justify the jargon we use.

What is faith? What is grace? What is justification or righteousness? What is the gospel? What is peace, or sanctification? What are these things and just as important, what are they not?

If abruptly approached in the street and asked, "Why do you go to church? What do you believe? What does all this church jargon mean?", how would you respond? All of us would be set back on our heels, gasping for an appropriate answer.

So let's unpack the jargon a little, which in fact is a part of what happens in Sunday School and Confirmation. But, why should we be jargon busters? Why deconstruct church terminology? So we know what it is we believe and so we're better equipped to engage the friend, the neighbour, or even the enemy when they inevitably ask about who we are and what makes us tick as Christians.

But before we do this, a word on why we teach our children in Sunday School and around the family table, and our young adults in Confirmation, and all of us in sermons and bible studies.

We hear in the Gospel today Jesus' command to baptise! Not just baptise but to teach as well! He commands saying…

"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." (Matthew 28:19–20a ESV)

Do you hear the commands? Go! Make! Baptising! Teaching! Here Jesus gives parents and the church the how, the what, and the where. We might well also ask, "What does this mean?" But from experience, I believe, this is where many of us become confused seeking to explain how God's work affects my being – what's it mean to me? However, it's better to answer the primary point of the Gospel and that's not "what it means" but rather "what God does and why he needs to do it"!

The work of God is a whole lot easier to explain than the confusion within us, which really only God understands! Besides, how God works is the same for every person! But on receiving his work through baptism and teaching, there's a myriad of possible responses in those who believe what they've received. Therefore, the exercise of testifying to what we believe is best left to concisely explain what God has done and is doing, rather than delving into the "what's it mean for me" question.

So what does the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit do? And how do they do it? The most critical point in all of God's doing can be read in the last verse of Matthew's Gospel account. God promises you and me with yet another command…

And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:20b ESV)

Matthew end's his account with lasting words of Jesus by saying "behold", or perhaps better understood as "See!", "Look!", "Attention!" We hear Jesus' promise with an exclamation, "Hey! Know I am with you always!"

This comes as comfort to us for we don't go, make, baptise, teach, or do anything without God being present. Although he's not seen in the regular sense, we can rest on this promise as we live out our calling as Christians.

It's actually in God that we live and move and have our being. No longer has God withdrawn his presence from us who believe, as he did for four hundred years when the Israelites were in Egypt or for four hundred years prior to Jesus' birth as Immanuel. So just as Jesus was born as Immanuel, God with us, he continues to be with us, being born in us so we might live in peace with God.

And so the next piece of Jargon we need to unpack is the last verse in Second Corinthians. In doing so we can apply the simple but often overlooked practise of letting the word of God interpret the word of God. Rather than seeking to conform God's word and will into of our will. In other words, we need to let God do what God needs to do to our desires and determination rather than being determined to force God and his word into our narrow-minded perception of ourselves and the creation around us.

We hear the last words from Paul to the church in Corinth… Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:11–14 ESV)

Here is a whole bunch of church terminology set to baffle the untrained ear. Words like peace, grace, fellowship, comfort, love, restoration, and saints can confound us in knowing what is going on. But from the outset we have the same promise here as in Matthew 28… that God will be with you.

How is he with us? By the blessing promised in his word as we hear it. The grace of Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the Holy Spirit's fellowship are exactly what we receive. But what are they, what do they do, and how do they do it?

If I were to ask confirmation students what grace is? I would expect that after much of the confirmation course hearing me bang on about grace, they would say it's "Jesus' death on the cross – for me!" And they might also tell me grace is, a gift, the Good News, or the Gospel.

What does Jesus do with this grace? That's easily explained if grace is a gift, the Good News or the Gospel "for me" – Jesus gives it to me; he gives it to you, for free, as a gift! This is why it's such good news!

The love of God the Father is next. What is his love? And what does it do? Firstly, his love is about being in the same place as God, co-existing, living under his favour, free from blame.

And Secondly, how is this done! The example we look to here is Jesus cry to God the Father in Gethsemane, "Abba"! God's love allows us access to God just as a child has access to its father by saying "dad-da or daddy". God's love for Jesus his Son allow Jesus complete confidence to call out, "Dad-da, Abba save me from this hour of death".

God's love allows us to call out to him as our most personal caring Daddy. But his love comes to us and we can come into his being of love because of Jesus' grace given to you and me at the cross and at baptism. God's love is all about restoration and rejoining us with him and the creation he lovingly gives us but has been polluted because of our sin. God's love is about living in peace, being at peace, and allowing his peace to flow through us so our hearts and minds are kept in him.

How does this happens? How do we know about the Father and his holy loving being that allowed Jesus to be the great love offering for us on the cross? How do we know it's safe for us to be in God's perfect presence without copping it as a result of our far from perfect existence? Furthermore, how do really know about Jesus, and the work he's done for me?

Thankfully, we have the Holy Spirit doing what the Holy Spirit was sent to do. This is the work of fellowship! This is the work of making holy individuals, bringing us together into a community with each other and God, and teaching this community how it is they as individuals and as a common group believe they are saved sinners with access to a loving God. In short his work is to give us faith.

The Holy Spirit comes from Jesus Christ and God the Father, to bring you to attention to make you holy, to gather you, and teach you. That is why Scripture says, no one can say Jesus is Lord except in the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:3).

We bust jargon for one purpose: to know how God's relationship with us occurs in a practical way. Then, we can live with eternal confidence and bear witness to God's assurance in a life eternal with him.

But even here on earth, as we struggle with understanding, living, and seeking to do the right thing by our families and neighbours, we know we have God with us despite who we really are, but usually keep hidden.

We can as Paul encourages — be joyful, aim for reconciliation, and agree, comfort, and live in peace with each other. Why? Because God is doing the very same thing with us by means of the grace of Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

In grace God brings joy, through the love of God he seeks reconciliation, and in fellowship the Holy Spirit brings us as one holy community into community with each other worshipping and glorifying God.

God is with us and we are with God. This is what God calls us to see. Perhaps this is the difference others see in us leading them to ask about "what we believe"!

God is with you! Therefore go and make disciples of all people because it is God who seeks to do it by using you! Amen.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

A, Easter 7 – John 17:11b-12 “In His Name”

A sermon on John 17:11b-12
The Seventh Sunday of Easter (Year A) 5/06/11
Pastor Heath Pukallus Katanning-Narrogin Lutheran Parish

This prayer in John 17 is known as "the High Priestly Prayer". Jesus prays it just before his betrayal, arrest and crucifixion. Perhaps what we hear here in John 17 might have been some of the content of Jesus' prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane recorded in the other Gospels. Yet as Jesus is led to the horrendous events about to be subjected upon him, we find him praying this High Priestly Prayer.

He is about to enter in and make the atonement sacrifice just as the high priest would have done in Old Testament Israelite tradition. Yet here he is the not only the high priest he is the sacrifice too. He is entering into death for you. And it's his sacrifice on the cross which enables him to pray in the way he does, atoning for your sin and unifying all of us, forgiven believing sinners, with him before the Heavenly Father.

Although not the central focus for the address today, there's a healthy lesson here for us to see modelled in Jesus' actions. And not only is it modelled for our observation, Jesus does it for us too.

As Jesus nears the chaotic events of Good Friday and his death, he is drawn into prayer. As the going gets tough, Jesus doesn't get tough, nor does he get going; rather he stops to pray more and more.

This is a reminder for us to turn from our faithless efforts in times of fiery trials towards our Father in prayer. When we pray we face God and not the problem. The action of prayer literally leads us from anxiety and worry working within, to exhausting the issue onto God's plate. And in doing so we open up the avenue for God to give us peace despite the trials we face.

But even greater than this moral lesson is the fact that as we enter into times of trouble Jesus has not just given us a template of prayer, we can be reassured that he has entered into the eternal realm face to face with God the Father, and prays for us. Now that we are one with him through baptism into Jesus' death on the cross and resurrection, the prayer Jesus prayed here on earth in John 17 is fulfilled and is eternally being fulfilled for all who trust in him.

Why can we trust in Jesus, why can we know he prays for us? Because we're told just that in his word over and over again. As you listen be reassured by the what is written…

…We have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. (Hebrews 8:1–2 ESV)


Christ has entered… into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. (Hebrews 9:24 ESV)

And still if that's not convincing enough, it is written…

Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:25 ESV)

So while he was on earth he prayed and now before the Father he prays. And as he prays we know this prayer is effective because Jesus prays…

Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. (John 17:11–12 ESV)

His prayer for those who believe him is effective because we are kept in God's name. That is the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. And we know the Father and receive the Holy Spirit as a result of the work of God's Son, Jesus Christ.

But what is it to be kept in God's name? Why do we pray in God's name? Why is our help in the name of the Lord? What's this "name" business? Are we not one with God, surely then we can just speak to him? We can and should speak with him just as a child speaks to its loving father, but we should also address him by name, call on him by name, and believe we are heard and helped by praying in his name.

Firstly, Jesus prays that all believers are kept in God's name, the very same name he has given to Jesus. This is the name of identification. We know being in Christ is being in God the Father. We are identified as God's children, through Jesus' identification as being the One and Only Son of the God. This is reassuring for us having been adopted as God's children. If Jesus hadn't received God's name then how could we be sure we could enter into God presence and receive peace that will endure into eternity?

So being kept in God's name allows you to know God, but it also allows you to be known as his child too. You receive God's identity and being which are one and the same as his name. In the same way you are known as the child of your earthly father by name, and if your family is known then your name reveals a lot about you to others, even before they might meet you face to face.

We are identified as beings of God. We have God's stamp on us, we bear Christ inwardly and outwardly as he lives in us and the Holy Spirit bears the fruits of Christ from within us. Just like a coin which bears the image of its country's sovereign. Or, the envoy who bears a letter or message from a monarch whose seal is placed on the letter by way of their signet ring. We bear the image of our Creator, Saviour, and Sanctifier.

And because we know God as our Father, Jesus as our saving brother, and the Holy Spirit as the one who works our wills with God's word, and are therefore known by those around us as his children, you all can be sure you will not fall into eternal destruction. You can trust this new holy identity, and existence, given to you and sustained in you.

Jesus prays that we are kept or guarded in his name. The holiness of God's name sustains and keeps us like a boundary or a fence placed around us to protect us from danger. This is danger both from that which is around you, as well as that which is within you, which if left without God's name being placed on you all of us would soon walk into eternal destruction.

God's name is holy in itself but we call on his name that it might be kept holy in our being. As this occurs in us we knowingly and unknowingly live out our everyday lives as living sacrifices to God; giving glory to him and shining his glory on those whom he calls you to serve.

There are many stumbling blocks in this life, which seek the undermine our identity as God's children and lead us away from knowing him and trusting in the power of his name. Peter tells us…

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8 ESV)

We cannot resist the devil by ourselves; yet firm in the faith given by the Holy Spirit, you can pray, turning away from his temptation towards your Father from whom you have his name of blessing and protection.

This boundary of protection we have in God's name, is best demonstrated by the words of Luther in his well known hymn "A Mighty Fortress" where in one verse is written…

Though devils all the world should fill,
All eager to devour us,
We tremble not, we fear no ill,
They shall not overpower us.
This world's prince may still
Scowl fierce as he will,
He can harm us none;
He's judged, for e'er undone;
One little word can fell him.

This world's prince is the devil whom Peter tells you is your adversary prowling around like a roaring lion looking for one to devour. But you need not be anxious, nor tremble, nor fear. Nor do you have to advance out to take on the devil at his own game. If you did he'd win every time!

Rather we stand against him and his evil entourage and resist by trusting in one little word — the name which keeps us. Our trust in his name proclaims their judgement and destruction as it keeps us and surrounds us with protection.

And the name that cuts down the devil and his demons is given to all of us to pray, as you pray with him — the Word made flesh — who is also interceding for you before the Father. And his holy name is Jesus Christ, our risen Lord. Amen.