Saturday, December 29, 2012

C, Christmas 1 – Luke 2:51-52 Colossians 3:12-17 “Being Favoured”

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From Luke 2:51 we hear… And he (Jesus) went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favour with God and man. (Luke 2:51-52 ESV)
These are the last words spoken of Jesus till John the Baptist baptises him in the Jordan, baptising him into his ministry of death and resurrection, his ministry of forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.
Interesting words are left with us to describe Jesus' years between the age of twelve, his puberty, and his baptism by the Holy Spirit and with fire, at the Jordan and on the cross outside Jerusalem. We hear Jesus "increased" in wisdom, stature, and favour. There is a sense with the word "increased" that one drives forward as if by beating one's way through something. "Increased" comes from the word to chop or cut down, to lament or beat the breast.
Jesus bore his position in humanity with submission. He honoured his mother and father; he was obedient to his parents. He struggled and learnt as a youth in the Scriptures and from everyday events in life. Here the Son of God allowed himself to be taught what it was to be human. In effect he was cut down to size from God to man, to a child, to a youth, to a young man who would bear the sin of the world on the cross.
But despite being the Son of God, he increased, he allowed himself to be pruned as a human, and struggled forward, advancing and growing, so in he whom wisdom and grace is personified was seen to come to grips with what everyone else experiences who is taught and tested in the tribulations of daily existence. In doing so, Jesus increased in favour with his fellow country folk. And with God, by his sacrifice and submission within the very creation he had created together with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
Jesus Christ is God's favoured one, see to it he is your favoured one too. Paul tells us, who believe, that Christ is all, and in all. (Colossians 3:11) He calls you to see his sacrifice, knowing it was for you he made it. He doesn't do this to give you an ego boost, but rather he now commands us to put on the new self, to put on Christ. To put on his holiness as the Son of God, but to also put on the same humility that Jesus put on to save us from sin.
He calls us to put on Christ because we are God's chosen ones. We are favoured by God, not because we are good, but because Jesus was — in his birth, increase, death, and resurrection. We are favoured by our Heavenly Father, elected by God, and are being resurrected by the Holy Spirit.
Therefore Paul compels you to…
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. And 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 3:12–17 ESV)
In short he compels you to put on Jesus, doing everything in the name of our Lord Jesus, which means doing everything in the name of your favoured One, faithfully following the will of the father, not fighting or fleeing from confronting the truth, to honour yourself, but rather forgiving as God has forgiven you.
In the short time I have been here in this parish. I have witnessed your struggle to break free from sin, both as individuals and as a corporate body. I have faithfully called you to favour Christ over self, fame, fortune, and family.
As we struggle to do so, some have sadly witnessed the falling away of loved ones and as a consequence too succumb to the same, turning the back on God, and following the family out the door.
Then some have sought ways and means of growing the congregation, in a bid to bring those falling away back in, but this has not found favour in God's eyes either, nor has it in the eyes of those who have left. The cynicism felt towards today's economic and political environment is only exacerbated when we in the church seek to grow the church through the same powers as does business or government.
But the church will only ever be favoured, if at all in this world, when we allow ourselves to be "increased" or "painfully grown" in Christ, putting on his love, and abandoning all other ways favoured by humanity. We then will return to our first love and favour God once again before all other gods.
Yet in doing this, rougher weather will follow. Most of humanity will favour us less as we grow in Christ. Your own family who has turned its back on God will see your humility and weakness in Christ and their pride will cause them to dash you to pieces, you who are close to them but closer to God. Deep down they will know those who are faithful, by your unwillingness to yield even to the point of death.
And contempt towards you will be heightened by your ability to forgive, seemingly the unforgiveable. Others will not want you to forgive them, because owning the forgiveness will expose the reality of their natures. Nor will they want you to forgive others, lest these "undesirables" be seen equal with those of more favourable standing.
But that's okay. Others unbelief and scorn will be a testimony to you being the favoured ones of God. The sacrifice and martyrdom of those in the church will become familiar once again in the western church. And it will only spur the church to look all the more into the word of God, the songs of God in the Psalms, and into the rich tapestry of hymnody sewn in the sacrifice and deaths of God's saints from over the past two thousand years.
Favour God over all other gods. Our Heavenly Father favours you more than any of your other gods do! So put on Jesus, be chopped down to size, so he might resurrect you in his holiness and compassion, kindness and humility, meekness and patience, bearing with one another, bearing your cross for one another.
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 3:17 ESV)
You are God's favoured ones, remain in his favour! Amen.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

C, Advent 4 /Christmas Day 2012 – Micah 5:2, Luke 2:4-7 “Fruitful Bread”

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And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2:4–7 ESV)
The name Bethlehem in Hebrew means, house of bread. Around the town were grain fields and sheep grazing country. Bethlehem is also referred to in the Old Testament as Ephrathah, which in Hebrew means, to bear fruit. Bethlehem or Ephrathah was a place associated with food and fruitfulness. It seems to focus on life being created but it hasn't always been that way.
We all know the Christmas gospel — baby Jesus born at Bethlehem. But Bethlehem appears in a number of places in bible. Let's look at them to give us a fuller picture of what happened at Bethlehem because of us and for us.
The first mention of the town is in Genesis, and it's a sad occasion. Rachel was the wife of Jacob, and the mother of Joseph. She had trouble conceiving and bearing children and as the family moved towards Bethlehem, or Ephrathah, Rachel went into labour with her second son. She gave birth to him and on her death bed named him Ben-Oni, which means, son of my sorrow. But Jacob renamed him Benjamin, which means, son of my right hand. And then he buried his much loved wife, Rachel, in a grave at Bethlehem.
So here in Genesis we have a prototype or preview of the gospel at Bethlehem. Jesus was the son of Mary's sorrow because of her birth pains and his death on the cross, and like Benjamin, Jesus is the Son who now sits at the right hand of his Father.
Then in Judges chapter seventeen, a cloud is cast over Bethlehem, as it becomes the location from where an idolatrous Levite came as priest to serve a man called Micah in Ephraim. This is not the prophet Micah who spoke out against idolatry, but rather he and the Levite became the fathers of idolatry in the tribe of Dan after the tribe overran Micah's house and carted off his idols and the Levite priest.
And from events starting in the Bethlehem, in Judges nineteen, unfaithfulness, rape, murder, bodily mutilation, war and near genocide took place between Benjamin, a tribe of Israel, and Israel's other tribes.
This all came about when a concubine left her husband and returned to her home at Bethlehem. On fetching his concubine and travelling through the Benjamin countryside, he stayed in Gibeah and when his life was threatened, he gave his concubine to the wicked men of the city and they raped her and left her for dead. Her master cut her into pieces and sent her body to the far corners of Israel. So distraught at what had happened to the concubine, Israel fought against the city and their brother tribe of Benjamin, and nearly destroyed it forever.
As we can see, Bethlehem was anything but fruitful or a house of wholesome food in these times. Rather, from the events of this town, we see very clearly the sin that permeated the Israelites; sin that commits humanity to death; sin that shows our need for a Saviour.
This fruitlessness continues at the beginning of the book of Ruth. Naomi and her husband, Elimelech, fall on hard times as they battle drought at Bethlehem, so they move to Moab with their two sons. After moving, Elimelech dies and the sons marry two Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. Eventually the two sons die as well, leaving the three women widowed. Orpah returns to her family in Moab, but Ruth stays with Naomi, who returns to Bethlehem just in time for the barley harvest.
On returning to Bethlehem, Naomi requests she be called Mara, which in Hebrew means, bitter. Naomi in Hebrew means, pleasant or beauty. She told them she had left for Moab full, but the Lord had brought her back empty. One could understand why she might have felt this way, with no welfare system and having lost all the men in her life, Naomi's future looked more bitter than pleasant.
But the Lord had not left Naomi and Ruth bare and bitter in Bethlehem. Her husband — whose name Elimelech, incidentally means, my God is king — had relatives at Bethlehem. And the Jewish custom was for the family of the dead husband to support the widow and children with a kinsman-redeemer. Boaz was the redeemer and eventually married Ruth and looked after Naomi. Therefore, Ruth remained faithful to her mother-in-law and found favour with Boaz, a relative of her father-in-law, and continued the line of Elimelech. It is no accident that Boaz and Ruth are the great-grandparents of King David.
As we all know, David was a shepherd who came from Bethlehem. God laid his hands on David through Samuel and also made him shepherd and king of Israel. There were numerous times in David's kingship that he looked to God as his "Elimelech" — his God as King. We can see, despite the horrors and bitterness surrounding Bethlehem, God was making the town, Ephrathah, fruitful!
Therefore, it is no accident Jesus Christ, humanity's Kinsman Redeemer, was born in Bethlehem. Just as the human spirit of Elimelech lived on through Boaz and Ruth in King David; our God — the King of Creation — was conceived in Mary, lived on earth, and was raised to life through the Holy Spirit, in the person of Jesus Christ, beginning at Bethlehem. It comes as no surprise to us that God fulfilled his promises made through the prophets, such as the prophet Micah…
"But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days." (Micah 5:2 ESV)
When Jesus was born and laid in the manger; he was born to lie in the darkness of death for you and me. Bethlehem has much to do with us. We are weak; our lives without a Redeemer, God, and King, would be bitter; much more bitter than Naomi and Ruth's life without a kinsman-redeemer.
In fact you are this Bethlehem; you are God's fruitful house of bread! You may see your life as less than ordinary, not extraordinary in the least. But God does. He has laid his Son in you, in the manger of your heart. Right in the place where out of the human heart come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. (Mark 7:21–22 ESV)
Bethlehem dished up some horrendous daily bread for those who lived there. And at other times it would have seemed just an ordinary boring town amongst the flocks of sheep and fields of wheat. So too you may feel nothing special, or in times of strife in your life, your daily bread may make it seem that God is nowhere to be found.
But surely if our Father in heaven would lay his son in such a place to suffer and die, and then raise him to his right hand! Then wouldn't he also bear his eternal fruit in us having laid his Son is us? You are Ephrathah Bethlehem, smallest of the small, but within lives he who is not only ruler of Israel, but Lord of creation! The single most fruitful bread and our only daily bread that will sustain you forever! Amen.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

C, Advent 3 – Philippians 4:4-7 “Rejoice Always?” Confirmation Sermon

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Here's a little song I wrote might like to sing it note for note, "Don't worry be happy!" Well perhaps I didn't write it but you may know this song or have heard it some time.
The words don't worry be happy might be a catchy lyric to sing, especially when feeling in a good mood, but what about when the chips are down, in the midst of worry, doubt, and danger? Being told to be happy sounds more like a command that condemns rather than encouragement when one is far from being happy! Who wants to sing any little light-hearted song when there's no reason for happiness?
In this day and age, one only has to listen to some angry metal music, or blues music to know it's impossible to be happy all the time. In fact, those who radiate happiness all the time seem false and once away from others, one wonders what they're really like behind the jolly veneer. Shiny happy people cannot be shiny happy people all the time. In fact, happiness often covers the reality of hopelessness and loneliness in our lives.
So when Paul says, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice." (Philippians 4:4 ESV) Is Paul deluded? Is he calling us to live in delusion? How on earth can I rejoice always, are we meant to pretend? It's hard to rejoice when the family is fighting, friendships are fracturing, farming is futile in the fickle weather we're having these days, and so on!
Today is Confirmation day; this day has its line share of focus on you young folk. In fact you may feel the day is about you, and that's okay, but you need to know these feelings are fleeting. The high of today will lead into the valleys of tomorrow; and continue right through the ups and downs of everyday life.
Today doesn't mark the end of Confirmation, nor does it really mark the beginning of something although you will be receiving Holy Communion for the first time. Today rather, is a continuation of what has already begun, and looks forward in hope to what is to come! Today in Confirmation you will affirm what God is doing, has done, and continues to do in your lives. This all began when God made you his child in baptism.
When you were baptised it was not only into Jesus' death, but also his resurrection! When Pauls says to you, Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, rejoice!" He's saying rejoice in Lord's death always furthermore rejoice in his resurrection. Or, rejoice in your death always furthermore rejoice in your resurrection!
But rejoicing in one's death seems rather harsh. Especially when you are young and entering what many would say is the prime of your lives. Things are changing, schools are changing, where you live will change, your bodies are changing from children to young adults, both physically and mentally. So rejoicing in death goes against the grain of our thinking.
To be specific we need to realise being happy and rejoicing are two completely different things. You and I can be happy all by ourselves within one's self, but joy always happens in community looking out of one's self to something greater. True joy looks to things eternal, and leads one to view things from an eternal perspective.
Therefore, happiness never hangs around for long, because one looks into themselves for happiness. Even events around us, or from a gift we receive, all this soon fades and eventually fails because the happiness is centred on me, my emotions and feelings. Putting faith in things which cause happiness in the end will lead to hopelessness.
But joy and rejoicing are much different, in joy or with rejoicing one sees things for what they really are rather than falsely looking for happiness in things that can be equally as bad as what might seem good. We hear what Jesus did for joy...
...let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. (Hebrews 12:1–3 ESV)
Now Jesus was not happy when he went to the cross, scripture tells us of his suffering and death. Yet he went there for "the joy" set before him and was raised to the right hand of the throne of God. In himself he suffered a horrendous death but he suffered it for joy. Jesus struggled against sin to the point of death and did so in joy because now even if you are called to the ultimate sacrifice in this life, it is not an eternal death but just an earthly one.
In just a moment you will affirm your baptismal faith. This is the faith that trusts God into eternity, and in joy the Holy Spirit had given it to you. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:17 ESV)
So rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say rejoice. So let the joy of Christ live in you in good times, furthermore let the joy of Christ live in you in bad times. I am not saying to put on a happy face, far from it, but carry the promise of Jesus' death and resurrection in you, letting your patience, moderation, and endurance be known to everyone. This is the steadfastness and love of God himself that allows you to stand firm, even when you are weak, worried, and cannot be happy.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4–7 ESV)
When you are tempted to worry or have doubts, rejoice because Jesus is at hand. When you feel anxious in yourself, leave trusting yourself and ask God to help, look to him, even beg him, he wants to be your God in every situation and trial of life. In your lives believe that…
"Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation." With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day: "Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted. (Isaiah 12:2–4 ESV)
Here's another little song I didn't write,
"Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice,
Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice!
Rejoice, rejoice, and again I say rejoice,
Rejoice, rejoice, and again I say rejoice!"
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, always. Amen.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

C, Advent 2 – Malachi 3:1-4 “My Messenger”

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The notice in the local paper read, "Jesus Christ appearing this Sunday morning at such and such a place and at such and such a time."
Would you be surprised God might use such a message to announce the coming of his Son to a spot near you? The advertisement is nothing grand; its text does not stand out from the other ads in the classifieds. What if God chose to send a messenger or a message in this way, how might you react on hearing or reading of his coming?
For the purpose of this exercise let's say the message is not false, but entirely true and Jesus Christ is coming to a venue near you. The words of the ad are the preparation for his coming and the way he comes is to your church this Sunday.
Excited? Scared? Perplexed? Thrilled? Perhaps you're just a bit apprehensive that he's coming, "Why's he coming to my church?" you ask yourself. "Where's he comin' from and how's he gettin' here anyway?"
Malachi receives an oracle from the Lord. He is a prophet and this oracle is a word from God; a word of burden on Malachi's heart if he doesn't pass it onto the people. It's a word or an utterance which has overcome his heart and mind. Put there by God himself to glorify God and raise the attention of those called to hear it. This word was given to lift up, stir up, sit up, shape up but also to ease, to exalt, to forgive, and help.
Malachi spoke in a time after some of the exiles returned to rebuild the temple in the days of Nehemiah and Ezra. However, the messianic age did not occur with the reconstruction of the temple. What they built was a building which stood in the shadows of the former temple of King David's and King Solomon's time.
This temple lacked the physical appearance of the former temple, and also noted was a spiritual vacancy. It seemed God no longer spoke as he had in previous times prior to their exile into the custody of the Babylonians. The Israelite's looked back to the days when God spoke through the Judges, the Priests like Samuel and Nathan, the prophets like Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. God had spoken, and no one listen, and now God had stopped speaking.
Malachi was the last prophet to speak some 430 years before Christ was born. He was the last to speak on God's behalf against the perversions of popular practice. He was a lone voice echoing from the silence of God before God went completely silent for some 400 years.
Malachi's name literally means "my messenger", he was a messenger and we hear him herald the coming of two messengers, the last prophet, and then a great messenger, who himself would be the message.
"Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years. (Malachi 3:1–4 ESV)
Malachi's message is harsh and sharp. They have not been treating the Lord as their God; their righteousness was not acceptable as righteousness before the Lord. They were not following God in the way he had willed them; in righteousness "to" the Lord. Their worship of the Lord was a show which God was going to test as a blacksmith would refine metals, and as a fuller would cleanse and whiten fibre for fabric.
To be clear what the washing agent was for a fuller in their day, was human urine. Not the fresh stuff, but that which was left to sit for a while so the ammonia content was stronger and better for cleaning and bleaching the fabric.
So the show was going to be refined by fire, and stood on like fibre worked in ankle deep urine. But this is only a picture of who is to come. To whom is the refiner's and the fuller's image referring?
The one to come came some 400 years after the fact. John the Baptist came to prepare the way of the refiner, the fuller.
…during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Luke 3:2–3 ESV)
But whom was he preparing and of whom did he proclaim? He was calling the Jews and the Israelites to repentance for their sins against the Lord. A preparation for the cleansing which was to come! This was preparation to make the people ready for the refiner, for the fuller.
John answered them all, saying, "I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (Luke 3:16 ESV)
So Malachi left his fellow Jews with a picture of one coming to wash in the widdle of one's own waste fluid and made pure with fire to remove the impurities.
And this one is the One and Only Son of God, Jesus Christ. He has come once and he is coming again. Yet he has already put the refinement and washing process into place. And he is coming again to finish what he has started. He is coming to gather the gold and the fabric gleaming in God's glory.
Now depending on how one might look at this we might see the ammonia of urine and the fire of refinement as something to be feared. We might regret the trials and tribulations into which we're subjected and in which we suffer. But if we fall into this temptation we are like those who love wearing dross rather than silver or gold; who seek to swim in the proverbial piddle and poop that comes our way in this life rather than those who wear the white garments to come out of the process.
On the other hand, Christ encourages his children, those who trust him, those who look forward in faith, enduring and persevering under the refiners and fullers of this life as a preparation of that which is to come. An eternity of silver and gold, wearing robes of righteousness as white and as bright as our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ!
For we are told… when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. (Titus 3:4–8 ESV)
Therefore the refiner's fire and the fuller's soap, no matter how crude they may seem are only agents of cleansing and hope for those focused on Jesus Christ. After all, Jesus has been submerged into the fuller's fluid and fired with the refiner's fires in the place of all those who trust in him.
The message may not be written in the paper, that Jesus is coming to such and such a place at such and such at time. But it is written on paper, in the Word of God. He has been coming and has come amongst us when we gather in the Triune name, and in his word to hear this teaching and promise of salvation and refinement. Therefore, those who take their garments soiled in sin can make them as white as snow by washing them in the blood of Jesus.
You see Jesus has been baptised by the Holy Spirit into his ministry of the cross and with fires of hell itself on Good Friday, so that the trials and temptations in your life might test us so we trust all the more the putrid and pungent plight of Christ being washed and refined for you, cleansing you this Sunday and every time the Holy Spirit calls and gathers us into Jesus' presence.
Jesus is my messenger and he is the message, I pray he is yours too. Amen.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

C, Advent 1 – Luke 21:25-36 “A Global Warning”

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The weather is always a topic for discussion. It seems many watch the weather with fear placing their hopes in favourable outcomes. In recent times we hear much about global warming; the planet is getting hotter and therefore weather events are becoming more extreme and unexpectedly occurring at times of the year when they shouldn't.
This causes one of a number of things to happen. Some are whipped into hysteria like Henny Penny frantically running around in fear that the sky will collapse. Then some go on an environmental crusade to save the planet; even to the extreme of sacrificing their life or the lives of others in the name of the cause. Then again there are the cynics who refuse to believe there is anything wrong; that changes in climate, extinction of species, the hole in the ozone, and the melting of the ice caps are just cycles the earth is going through at this point in time.
How are we to react as Christians when we hear of such things? Should we become warring zealots for the cause? Should we become alternate and live like hippies? Should we treat global warming with scepticism and bury our heads in the sand? Or should we just keep on doing what we've been doing and teaching following generations to follow our practices?
Maybe there's another reaction called for here! One most of us fail to do when we are drawn into various environmental debates, or any debate that grab the interest of people on earth!
When we're drawn into discussion; where we call into question a practice or ponder a position what invariably happens is our focus is narrowed to the arguments of the dialogue and how it might impact me, my family, my town, my country, or my world. The problem here being, we forget about our Sovereign, yours and my Father in heaven. He who sees the big picture of me, my family, my community, my world!
Another anomaly of humanity's thought patterns over the last couple hundred of years is when things happen on earth we all seem to play the game of blame. Rarely is it ever me, my family, my community, etc. After all we are always one of the good guys, never the crooks! It's always the fault of them, the devil, the evil people, or perhaps even God!
This phenomenon is not how it's always been. Once communities large and small would view themselves in the face of God, and join together in repentance for what had occurred. It was not so much about blame as it was our shame.
People realised there was only One who was not to blame, and this One was the only one who could help the situation, and the suffering. People once recognised the faithfulness of God, the One Triune God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Provider, the Redeemer, and the One who makes us Holy, and therefore whole with God's community! There is only one cause of our pain and suffering in which we all play a part. We are the collective one of humanity. You and I have much for which to answer before God!
Jesus says to you… Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. (Luke 21:32–33 ESV)
Deep down within there's a part of us all that secretly says, "No, no, no! Not me, not my generation, not this generation! Jesus is talking about some other time!" But regardless when the second coming of Jesus Christ comes, on the last day of creation or your last day of human life, it takes place to each person of each generation one way or another. Even so, God and his word will never pass away or die!
Nevertheless, we can suppose people will act in the same manner as do we to the news of global warming or some other event to affect us. Focus will be turned to the catastrophic events unfolding where as all events in our lives need turn us all the more to the Supplier, Saviour, and Sanctifier of all temporal and eternal things.
As Paul said to the church in Thessalonians, as pastors and others have called the church since, and I and my forbears cry out on behalf of Christ…
For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith? Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. (1 Thessalonians 3:9–13 ESV)
We, who have ministered to you, urge you to step aside from the blame game which the world loves to play, and join in with the same claim as Christ, "The Lord is our righteousness." After all Jesus has fulfilled ALL righteousness taking the blame for our sinful game, which is a most deadly game.
Now we might question the motives of those who play us on the global warming debate. We might be looking for someone to blame for the waves of financial crisis in which we as a greedy world immerses ourselves. We might fervently believe one political equation is better for our country that than another. Rightly or wrongly we might be sceptical or concerned or called to action over events that happen in our world.
But, even so, if we fail to heed the global warning of God's word, everything else is done in vane! We might warm ourselves to our heart's content doing all sorts of powerful or great deeds, but it won't help us one iota in the big picture of eternity and true life.
And so, "there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." (Luke 21:25–28 ESV)
Life as we know it will change. The question is not whether it will but when it will and will you be ready for the change? None of us know if we will witness the last day of creation, but all of us will know our last created day of life and have to bear witness to our days before the Creator.
Creation is groaning under the weight of sin, yours and mine! God the Son will fix and finalise creation when he returns but he will be looking to see if you and I have trusted in his righteousness to make us holy. Have you been awake in him and his righteousness to withstand all the crazy stuff that's going to take place between now and then?
Consequently, "watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man." (Luke 21:34–36 ESV)
The dissipation of this life, that is the amusements distractions and headaches of life, the drunkenness of this life, or the intoxication intemperance and wantonness of our world, and the cares of this life have the power to take our focus off the important things. These are the things that remain forever, The Son of God — the Word made flesh, our Father in heaven, and the gathering fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
The environmental globe might be warming, the power of the market may be diminishing, the weather might be bad one day and good the next, but what we can be confident of is this: the world is hot with sin; Jesus took the heat on himself on a hill at the cross, and in hell. And he did this to redeem and to sanctify you so you might trust in him and the Father to provide for you as you walk in the weariness of this world. This is a global warning that's truly heart warming in heavenly hope!
Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. (1 Thessalonians 3:11–13 ESV)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

B, Post-Pentecost 25 Proper 28 – Mark 13:1-8 “Having a Heavenly Heart”

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The disciples marvel at the temple and the surrounding buildings of Jerusalem.  And Jesus promises that every stone will be thrown down and an age of tribulation will be experienced that has never occurred before.  And that is saying something since there have been plenty of disastrous natural events and manmade atrocities in the last two thousand years.
But Jesus’ focus on the temple and its destruction stands as a dire warning for all people both, inside and outside the church; for both parishioners and pastors alike. 
To the Jews the temple in Jerusalem was their “heaven on earth”, a copy of Eden; a place to reflect the glory of God to all who came near.  This temple had been sacked once before, after David and Solomon had raised the kingdom of Israel to commanding power, there in Jerusalem they built the temple.  It was built with the best of everything, the cedars of Lebanon, gold covered walls embossed with date palms, the fruit of the desert, an oasis where the people of God could rest with God after having their sins atoned for by the blood the priest poured out on the altar.
But it wasn’t the glory of the temple they were called to worship.  It was God who dwelt there.  He had a footstool on earth where he could once again meet with man and share his holy presence as Adam and Eve once did in the garden of Eden.
But that didn’t last; the Assyrians and then the Babylonians came from the north and the east and destroyed Israel and Judah.   The temple was finally destroyed after prophet after prophet came with the word of the Lord and called for obedience, contrition, and repentant hearts rather than ritual sacrifices as a smoke screen to the self serving lack of care and welfare which was really going on.
God called Jeremiah to warn… Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’  “For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another,  if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm,  then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever. 
“Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail.  Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known,  and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations?  Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 7:4–11 ESV)
And so the temple was left in ruins, the glory of God lifted from the temple and went to the exiles in the east while Jerusalem was left desolate. 
During the following four hundred years, the temple was rebuilt by returned exiles, but then during the time of Herod he seeks to restore it to its former glory.  This is the temple structures the disciples marvel over to Jesus.  And it’s the structure of which Jesus said, “Not one stone will be left not thrown down.” It’s destruction occurring liturgically and spiritually at Jesus’ death on Good Friday and physically some forty years later when the Romans sacked Jerusalem in 73 A.D. 
History stands as a warning to us, both believers and unbelievers alike!  If God’s earthly temple of heaven or reflection of paradise’s Garden of Eden can be destroyed, and even more so, if God can chuck humanity out of his presence from the original Garden of Eden, it can and will happen again if our hallowing focus falls from God.  
When we as his church fall away from the care and welfare with which we’re called to bear in the community calling unbelievers to faith; what might happen to us if we pass off Jesus’ care and welfare towards us at the cross as “whatever” or “nothing” in favour of heartfelt emotions centred on the human heart which refuses to hear and heed the word of God?   
We are told very clearly by the author of the letter to the Hebrews… For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,  but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.  Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses.  How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?  For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.”  It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:26–31 ESV)
 So “all the more as you see the day approaching” all of humanity is called to heed the word of God.  We are called to have heavenly hearts, but what that is many are being deceived into thinking is some sort of self-willed goodness by which God will accept us.  Whereas the only heart God accepts is the heart of Christ, and so the question goes begging, “Do you bear the heart of Christ?”
We hear in Proverbs 27:19, “As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects the man.”  And Jesus says, “For 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)
Just like the Jews, out of the hearts of believers and non believers in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection for our salvation come all sorts of things that continue to defile us.  So how do I know I bear the heart of Christ, how do I receive the heart of Christ?
We who are believers must continually examine ourselves, not with human eyes or hearts, or understanding, but with the word of God.  Jesus says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19–21 ESV)
So we might examine and discern, “what just is my treasured kingdom?”  Recognize to where the glory is going?  God alone, or me, my family, or someone or something else?
If God can destroy the very place of his presence on earth, he can destroy the buildings and organisations we hide behind “in his name” avoiding and refusing to listen to his Word, the Word which calls us to contrition and repentance for constructing our own kingdoms. 
We are called to repentance and return to the church built on and in Christ.  To place faith in him and not the Lutheran name, our standing in the community, the family inheritance, the continuation of the culture in which the western world so easily sins.  We are called to the one faith of the church built not with human hands or with heartfelt human emotions.  Rather we must constantly let these kingdoms die, in favour of the true kingdom of God, called, gathered, enlightened and sanctified by the Holy Spirit in the death and resurrection of Christ in the one true faith.
We need to daily die, heart and all, and let the heart of Christ reign within us.  We need to trust ourselves less and let God be God more and more in our day to day lives.  In the little things, not just in the things we think are only big enough to be bothering God about. 
Jesus warns us “not to be led astray” (Mark 13:5).  This firstly means not to let our hearts desires lead us astray but to soberly see ourselves through the word of God for whom we are.  The greatest deception is not from without but rather within.  The devil and the world, take a distant second most of the time to our sinful selves and our hearts full of the defiling things we know to dwell in each of us.
As the Psalmist says… “Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.”  I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.’ I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.  I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.  Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure.  For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.  You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:1-2, 7–11 ESV)
In God’s presence there is fullness of joy — eternal preservation.  Let your heart be led by the Lord, let your heart hear his holy word so you will be led by him, forevermore!  Amen.

Friday, November 09, 2012

B, Post-Pentecost 24 Proper 27 - Mark 12:41-44 & 1 Kings 17:10-13 “This is what you need!”

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How am I supposed to survive now? [L] Perhaps this would be the regular response of one of us having just begrudgingly given away our last possession! How, are we supposed to live now?!!!
It's a good question. How are we supposed to live—as Christians—in drought, with debt, with financial responsibilities, with congregational giving down and a church constantly facing crisis?
We hear two words from Scripture, which show us how we 'should' live. The first tells us about Elijah living in a drought. A drought allowed by God, because King Ahab, and his wife Jezebel, led Israel into Baal worship; and also because the forbidden rebuilding of Jericho took place by Hiel of Bethel.
[Elijah] arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks. And he called to her and said, "Bring me a little water in a vessel, that I may drink." And as she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, "Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand."
And she said, "As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die." And Elijah said to her, "Do not fear; go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son. (1 Kings 17:10–13 ESV)
And the second word from Scripture is from the Gospel of Mark. As the people make their offering to God Jesus observes how we humans live.
Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on." (Mark 12:41-44)
Having heard these two words from Scripture, it's hard for any person in Australia, or for that matter, anywhere in the western world, to imagine such poverty or lack of culinary choice.
One handful of flour and a little oil in a jug; you can't even make satisfactory pancakes with just flour and oil. Even if all you had in your house was flour, eggs, milk, and a little honey, it would still be more than this woman and her son had to eat. All of us have access to much more food than that!
Two very small copper coins, put on the plate; our treasury doesn't even make copper coins anymore. We live with such wealth that even the silver in our wallets and purses is overlooked in favour of gold coins. But these two bits of copper are the widow's last two coins, after that she had absolutely nothing! Yet even as many of us cry poor, our possessions and bank accounts would add up to greater amounts than what the rich people offered as Jesus stood by and watched!
We have no comprehension, even with recent droughts, what life would be like with poverty and scarcity like that! The fundamental necessities of food, water, clothing, and shelter have been a given for most of the west in recent times. God has allowed us technical advances so that we might more easily collect and store food and water, and that we might efficiently make materials for clothing and shelter. These advances over the last one hundred years have accelerated to a frightening pace and along with these materialistic advances so has our faith and trust in them.
The fundamentals of food, water, clothing, and shelter, which God promises to provide us, have now been revised by us. We need oil, coal, and electricity too. We need oil for fuel, to make our cars, and run our cars. We need oil, coal, and other minerals, to build the plastic and synthetic products we desperately need around us to apparently survive these days! And we need electricity too! Lots and lots of power to give life to the inanimate objects that give our lives true meaning, like televisions, toasters, toys, computers, cameras, email, mobile phones and music making machines of various kinds. And with all these possessions and the electrical power needed to give them life, we invest big in military power to protect the materialistic mountains we build to Babel proportions.
So quickly we place our trust in products and possessions that have rapidly evolved in recent years. As we all know, things that come about quickly, generally tend to disappear just as quick too. Will our teetering tottering tower of technology be sustainable in the future? Probably not, I suspect!
So where will your faith be, in what state will it be, "when" the economy explodes, technology tumbles, the lights go out, our plastic and metal gods stop serving us, and darkness descends over the materialistic western world?
Some might say, "But we need these things! How are we supposed to live without them?" We might need these things, but others live without them! However, we need God more, we can't live without him.
We might need material things; but we need Jesus Christ more! We might need TVs, phones, emails and computers to communicate; but we need God's word more! We might need electricity and oil, and coal; but we need the renewing power of the Holy Spirit more! We need time for enjoyment and entertainment; but we need rest and peace and the joy of eternity more! We need to eat, a cup of water, warm clothes, and a roof over our heads; but we need faith in God who gives us these things—more. Even if we have the whole world, without him we have absolutely nothing!
We all have much to confess because of our unfaithfulness and lack of trust in God's ability to be God. God is not just gracious when the going is good. He loves us and looks after us even when the barns are empty; the sheep are weak, and when the pantry and deep freezer aren't full. Why should we doubt and lose faith when we see the silos and shelves are bare? Just as the woman gave her last meal to Elijah in faith and the old woman put her last two coins into the temple treasury, we need to trust in God even more when times are tough. We need to give to God in faith who faithfully gives us everything! When the going gets tough, the faithful keep believing!
After all, we are called to believe, or have faith, in God the Father "Almighty", Maker of heaven and earth. We are called to believe that God has created me and all that exists. That he has given me and still preserves my body and soul with all their powers. That he provides you and me with food and clothing, home and family, daily work, and all you and I need from day to day, whether we give our last two bob, our only moment of free time, our last bit of energy, or the leftovers of our God given excesses. God gives out of his divine goodness and mercy, even though we do not deserve it.
But our greatest need is this: To trust in Jesus Christ, Son of God sent by the Father to save us, who watches us make many faithless mistakes, yet still wills us to boldly come to him, confess our sin, and live under the forgiveness he has won on the cross. This is what you need!
If God would go to such lengths letting his only Son die, so we might drink from the river of life, and be nourished by the eternal fruit on the tree of life, he will surely sustain us with food and water, clothing and shelter in this life.
How are we supposed to live now!? We live as "forgiven" sinners, mercifully carried along by God's grace and mercy. Amen.