Saturday, August 27, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 20, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What type of rock are you?

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 12, 2011

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

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

Text Romans 11:29–32 (ESV)

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 06, 2011

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

Romans 10:13–15, 17 (ESV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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