Saturday, September 17, 2011

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

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

Saturday, September 10, 2011

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

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

Saturday, September 03, 2011

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

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

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