Friday, January 20, 2012

B, Epiphany 3 – Mark 1:14-20 “Salted against Assault”

"The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel."(Mark 1:15 ESV)
The time is right! The kingdom of God is near! Time seems to be fleeting these days. No time for anything… anyone! How do you fulfil your time? Is your time… fulfilled?
Is your time… overcrowded, cramped, crazy, chaotic; perhaps passing by so fast it seems you can hardly get your breath? So much to do yet no time to do it! You feel exhausted from the demands on your time yet something is still missing. Your time is full yet you're caught out, catching up… unfulfilled!
Catching fish was the order of the day for the Galilean fishermen. They caught fish, they cleaned fish, they preserved fish, they salted fish, they sold fish, and they smelled fish! Now some here might think this would be great! A fulfilling holiday time, perhaps! But these men knew nothing else day in day out. They were salties; sailors of the sea! The name for fishermen is derived from the Greek word for salt. Yep old salties, insulted by seemingly smarter fish, and assaulted by the constant demands of their work!
These young men were net chuckers! Strong hardened fellows who could haul in the catch; hardened old salts who would have dragged in a whole heap of nothing at times. Sitting there on the bank of Lake Galilee fixing wretched nets, tangled and broken, probably just when the fish were schooling just out in front of them.
"The time is right and the catch of fish is at hand!" But your time is caught up in the race to fix your nets, and at the end of the day there's the possibility your nets will be unfulfilled!
Like a boat tied to the dock, these men were tied to the mundane frustrations of everyday life as fishermen. The joy of seeing a large haul of fish was not so much about holiday fun, but the need to fulfil the family's security for the future, and the rush to get the catch, cleaned salted and sold.
These were the everyday events Jesus came upon as he arrived at the Sea of Galilee. Simon and Andrew casting their net, James and John sitting in a boat fixing their net! I suspect their time was filled serving these nets. Looking at the nets, checking the nets, unsnagging the nets, fixing the nets, and if they were fortunate enough, taking fish out of the nets! As they say, fishing gear catches more fisherman than it ever catches fish.
"...the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel."(Mark 1:15 ESV)
Jesus came proclaiming himself. "The King of heaven is near; stop and trust in what I will do!" Jesus walked onto the shore and into these men's lives. But their time was full, they had no time to stop; their nets deserved their full attention. They had too much to do!
And Jesus said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men." (Mark 1:17 ESV)
I wonder what it was! One too many tangles in the nets! Perhaps the fish weren't around that day! Or maybe they just had enough of fish scales and smelling like fish! What was it that made them leave and follow Jesus?
It wasn't any of these things! Rather, it was the powerful word of God, calling them away from themselves, their families, their father, their focus, and their frustration at finding fish.
Jesus was giving them time. Time to repent and believe the gospel! Would they have understood what was going on? No! Of course not! We know they didn't sort out what was going on until way after the resurrection, and even then the Holy Spirit was continually sent to cast light on the gospel, despite the gospel happening right before their very eyes on the cross outside Jerusalem.
What we can see here is none other than the powerful word of God at work. The King was near; the Word of God was at hand. And in him was the power to stop and enable these salties to trust him. It was the net of Jesus' word gathering them into the kingdom of God and turning them into fishers of men. This was good news for them and it's good news for us who are tempted in these times to believe the kingdom of God is not at hand. Well not just yet, anyway!
Perhaps you find yourself so busy preserving your way of life, that there is no time… for life. Too busy to stop and ponder the word of God and what it can do. Or what it has been seeking to do in your life all along.
You see Jesus gave these salty fishermen true salt, true preservation, the true light of life. No longer was it to be preservation of the fishing, the family future, fortune, or the family honour first. He netted them with his word. He promised to make them fishermen and preservers of people. They didn't know what the new net was going to be nor did they know how they were going to work with it. There was just the call to stop and trust this man proclaiming God was at hand.
And Jesus seeks to preserve you too. He seeks to make you fishers, salties too! He wants to fulfil your lives as he did the disciples. He wants to make you the salt of the earth.
We hear from Matthew, "You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?" (Matthew 5:13a ESV)
And again in Mark, "…everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another." (Mark 9:49–50 ESV)
It's time to give time to God. To repent and believe in the gospel! To stop and trust in Jesus! To let him preserve you… to salt you for the fiery trials of life, so you might stand in him through the assaults of life.
Jesus says, "Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first." (Mark 10:29–31 ESV)
Therefore let Jesus salt you against assault! Let him give you the gifts of the gospel! Be still! Be salted in his word! Preserved eternally, trusting that the kingdom of God is at hand, that your time is now eternal. Let him show you are fulfilled with the fires of the Holy Spirit, so you might glorify God in your time. And even be used to salt others against the assault of sin and evil.
Lead us not into temptation that your kingdom is not coming to us, but in you let us persevere and therefore preserve us and those around us in times of holy peace. Amen.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

B, Epiphany 2 - 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 "Girls, Gold, Glory"

“Each age has its own peculiar temptations!  Young fellows are tempted by girls, men who are thirty years old are tempted by gold, when they are forty years old they are tempted by honour and glory, and those who are sixty years old say to themselves, ‘What a pious man I have become!’” (LW 54 #1601)
This is a quote of Luther’s from the end of May 1532.  Notice here Luther says nothing about those who are fifty years old — humorous since Luther was just shy of turning fifty at the time.   One wonders what was tempting him at the age of fifty!  Perhaps not telling the whole story!  Or Wittenberg Bitter!
Nevertheless, he makes a good point.  There is something that tempts everyone, the young and the old, male or female, well off and the not so well off!
What temps you?  We all have our weaknesses.  As Christians we are forgiven, we are being healed, but still the sore of sin oozes and festers.  When we think sin is under control it soon breaks out again in another way.
When I was a young man this Corinthians text troubled me deeply.  Perhaps it still should raise concerns in me today!  Growing up as a Christian in a post-Christian culture, sex was everywhere.  It was in the media, in music and their videos, on television, in ads... you couldn’t get away from it.  Unfortunately, I failed to flee from it too.  I failed in thought, word, and deed! 
You see temptation is a sneaky thing.  It comes about and succeeds because human nature always seeks to find fulfilment in the wrong thing.  I thought if I could deliver myself from this sin, I would be a better person.  And when I couldn’t I thought I was not good enough for God!  But I also knew giving in to the lure of licentiousness and lust would also be disastrous and deadly. It seemed I was trapped. 
As I grew older I soon realised the same sin raised its head again, not through girls, but through gold, and then glory.  I see today I fall into the same trap thinking I am over sexual sins, because there is a foundational sin behind sexual sin, working me to want wealth, and harassing me to hunger for honour. 
My sin is no better, if I begin to believe, I’ve conquered sin on my own and moved on from the days of my hot blooded youth, or the go-get-em working days for wealth and the weekend.  
Yes! This text should still concern me today!  Not because of sins of the past!  No! They have been nailed to the cross and forgiven!  But rather, because of the sins of the present!  And no, not the sexual sins of today’s youth, but my sin, my temptation, and my failures before God today!
I am throwing stones in glass houses if I think this text is just about someone else’s sexual sin rather than the cause of it, and the true cause of all the various age specific sins.
You see there is just as much thought around that sex is bad.  This is just as big a sin as sexual promiscuity and perhaps partly the cause of it in our society today.
Yet we hear right at the beginning of creation, after the fall, a recount of the conception and birth of Adam and Eve’s first son.  In Genesis four we hear, “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” (Genesis 4:1 ESV)
Therefore it’s good to know your husband or wife sexually.  For sure it’s private, but God is glorified in right sexual conduct.  And may I say, right sexual conduct between a husband and a wife, in the sight of God, with his blessing, is the most joyful, satisfying, exciting sex there is to be had.  Contrary to popular thought that fulfilment comes through what one might do with their own bodies.
And here is where we begin to uncover the cause of sexual sin and why Paul calls us and the Corinthians to flee from sexual immorality.  When we think of ourselves and our own sexual temptations, they occurred most likely when we were younger.  Teenagers of every generation have been the same.  Pimples and body odour occur because of what’s happening in the body; it is sexually developing.  Stopping sexual development in the body is about as futile as stopping pimples and BO! 
But learning what is happening in us while we develop as teens and young adults is crucial for fleeing from immorality when we’re young; as is fleeing from greed or self-glorification when we’re old.  In fact, many struggle just as much with their senior’s sin, because the sins of their youth haven’t been dealt with appropriately.  Rather than flee from the sins of youth, sexuality was suppressed and secretive.
But why and how does one flee from the sins of sexuality?  Not only are we developing physically when we are teens, but also socially, emotionally and mentally.  It’s at this age when the ego really begins to kick against authority.  Mum and dad no longer know anything, it becomes about personal experience and excitement.  Teenagers believe they should be bullet proof; they should know, and have everything!
Unfortunately we’re all taught to believe we must do stuff to find fulfilment.  For a teenager sexual gratification is number one for fulfilment.  Whether they do it or not is beside the point, it’s the belief of what fulfils the ego that drives the temptation.  And it’s the thought process and belief of what one must do to find fulfilment that sets up a person’s life for temptation, failure, and seeking things that never fulfil anything.
The first thing we must ask ourselves, “What is the purpose of a person?  What is my purpose?”  What will give the sum total of my being fulfilment; physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally?  Without this sorted out one will roll from various sexual sins, into greed for acquiring stuff, or seeking satisfaction in status, family, fortune, or fame.  All falling short of the very thing we seek in these things; namely, fulfilment.
“What is my purpose?” may be the first thing we need to ask ourselves. But knowing what our purpose is takes a life time to really get.  Nor do we fully get it until we’re raised to eternal rest with our Father in Heaven.
We need to see in this text that fleeing from sexual immorality, is the need to flee from the self, the ego, the need to self appease that takes our focus from God and glorifies myself.  The rights of “I” need to be shifted from idolatry back to the righteousness of the great I AM!
Augustine of Hippo, a father in the church, back in the fourth and fifth century in his writing, The Confessions, said,
“Great are you, O Lord, and exceedingly worthy of praise; your power is immense, and your wisdom beyond reckoning. And so we, who are a due part of your creation, long to praise you – we also carry our mortality about with us, carry the evidence of our sin and with it the proof that you thwart the proud. You arouse us so that praising you may bring us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you”
Augustine was no stranger to the ways of the world.  He was raised a Christian but strayed for some years, in search of pleasure.  Also in his confessions he said of his youth,
“But I, wretched, most wretched, in the very commencement of my early youth, had begged chastity of the Lord, and said, 'Grant me chastity and continence (self-control), only not yet.”
 So Augustine like so many of us are restless.  Looking for fulfilment in all the wrong things.  But bitter experience taught Augustine, Luther, and many others who have gone before us that allowing sexuality, status, wealth, reason and pride to enslave us will only leave us yearning for something more, unfulfilled and unable to raise us up on the last day.
Saint Paul says, “All things are lawful for me but I will not be enslaved by anything!” (1 Cor 6:12)  In other words he’s saying he has freedom to do whatever he pleases but in exercising his freedom he must be careful not to become overpowered by the very acts of his freedom. 
He continues, “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.  And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power.  Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!  Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.”  But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.  Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. (1 Corinthians 6:13–18 ESV)
Humanity was made to glorify God, to praise God, to be empowered by God.  Until we rest in God’s power, trusting in him, we have no rest. 
There are many things we can prostitute ourselves to in the name of bringing fulfilment to ourselves.  These are idols and they have no power.  God has power, it is the power of his love, in Jesus Christ crucified and raised, so he might raise us up daily to glorify him and eternally where we will be glorified with him forever.
Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God! You are not your own.  You were bought with a price. We were created to glorify God in our bodies.
How do you do this?  Trust not yourself but the power of the Holy Spirit who continually works to place you under the forgiveness of our risen Lord Jesus Christ and into the loving presence of your Heavenly Father.
The kingdom the power and the glory are his.  Amen.

Friday, January 06, 2012

B, Epiphany 1 - Mark 1:8b "Power"

Text: “…he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”(Mark 1:8b ESV)

Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendour of holiness. The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over many waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty. (Psalm 29:1-4 ESV)
 There is so much power around the place.  Power in the readings!  The majesty and power of God as he speaks!  God called light out of darkness and it was!  A power unleashed as Paul laid his hands on men baptised into the name of Jesus Christ!  Heaven torn open as God declares he is well pleased with his Son!
Power is something that can frighten us.  Especially when we misunderstand it!  And even more so when power is viewed from a position of powerlessness! 
As the storm rages its lightning and thunder, flashes and rumbles seemingly threatening its power against a child seized with fear.  There is no way the child can stop the storm.  And they reason by its violent noises and blinding flashes that it’s out to get them!
However, the same storm brings smiles to those who need water.  The power of the storm in its light and sound show announces the coming of the saving soak on a sun scorched earth.
Then there is the power of electricity that comes into our homes.  Perhaps the source of this power stands to some as a sore on the landscape… wind farms, coal or nuclear fuelled power stations!  But from the very same source, the child seized with fear over the power of the storm, flicks a switch, turns on the light, to find comfort and reassurance from the power illuminating the room.
 An even greater confusion and misunderstanding happens when we humans come before the power of God. 
John the Baptist was baptising in the Jordan, preparing the way for the coming of God’s power.  People who knew they had no power were receiving a baptism of repentance, cleansing them of things they had been powerless to do themselves.  It seems here John wielded power as he plunged his parishioners into the Jordan for the forgiveness of their sins.
Yet John proclaimed one was coming whom he had no right to even stoop down and undo the dusty dirty straps of his footwear.  One who was mightier and more powerful than him!  And yet when the powerful Son of God comes to the river, he submits to John’s baptism. 
Why?  Why does Jesus Christ, the almighty Son of God need to submit to a baptism of repentance?  He has no need to repent!  He is God, without sin!  Amazingly here the flow of power, as humanity understands it, is not as we would assume.  And it’s here we can discover the greater depths of God’s power, and the power we have who believe in him for salvation.
 Let’s look at John the Baptist for a moment.  An odd sought of a character by any stretch of the imagination.  He had not real value to the people other than the message he proclaimed.  He ate locusts and wore shabby clothes yet he was caused to appear out of the wilderness and preach someone great was to come. 
At face value John seemed to be void of any intrinsic value.  He seems to be of no profit to anyone!  Befriending him could win no one a better standing in the community… socially, financially, or religiously.  In deed, John had no authority or power in the community.  He appeared to be a lunatic who had come out of the desert.  Nevertheless, this ragged and rough man came proclaiming a very powerful message.
And what can we attribute to Paul?   Not the Paul who was once Saul, the powerful Jewish Pharisee, rounding up the riffraff believers after the crucifixion, dragging dozens off to prison.  No! The Paul after his experience on the road to Damascus!  The man met by Christ, converted, and used as an instrument of the gospel and suffering for Jesus’ name (Acts 9:16). 
This Paul places his hands on the Ephesians, not as a powerful Pharisee, but now as a broken man having been blinded and restored by the risen Christ.  He wielded power but whose power was it?  After all Paul was chased out of towns, shipwrecked, and ultimately martyred for the message he proclaimed.  How does the power of God flow, in Paul, in John the Baptist, in you and in me?
Jesus is our great example.  In him we find the Son of God.  Almighty and powerful!  Yet he put his divinity aside and allowed himself to be made nothing.  He was conceived by the Holy Spirit yet when he was baptised in the Jordan by John the Holy Spirit descended upon him.  Jesus allowed himself to be like us allowing the power of the Holy Spirit and the power of God to flow through him.  Jesus allowed himself to become weak allowing his faithfulness to show trust in his Heavenly Father.  He became weak and helpless so we might identify with him and allow him to be our one true hope.
Yet in our weakness and powerlessness, humanity seeks to adopt a warped understanding of God’s power.  Many of us believe if we are to be beneficial to God we must appear powerful.  That weakness should be discouraged and hidden.  Why do we do this?
Perhaps it’s because we like to put more trust in ourselves than God.  We don’t want to believe the reality of our true selves; that we’re born weak and helpless!  All of us lead the same short troubled life.  That, in fact, we live in the face of death and we need a Saviour!
And that is what we have!  An eternally powerful risen Saviour!  Haven't you been baptised in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit? 
Have you not received the same Holy Spirit as that of Christ, the same power of God that led Christ humbly to the cross?
The same power that caused John the Baptist to proclaim the Kingdom of God and baptise Jesus in the Jordan when he did come! 
The same power that flowed through Paul as he baptised the Ephesians causing them to speak in tongues and prophesy! 
We have received the promise of John.  One more powerful than he has come!  You have been baptised into him. The Spirit now lives in you and seeks to use you.  God is glorified when we acknowledge our helplessness and trust in him for our salvation.
Allow the power of God, the power of love through his Son Jesus Christ to save you!  Be content to be nothing, for that is what we all are!  The power of love leaves us the moment we turn from our reality and claim the power for ourselves without letting the Holy Spirit work… flowing through us, using us, and leading us to Jesus Christ. 
Most of us believe and know of the power of God.  The problem is we are tempted to abuse the power of his love and grab onto the love of power which only leads us back into a helpless plight without the love of God. 
However, we have a Saviour who loves us and continually finds us and rescues us.  This is why we can ascribe or give to the Lord, glory and strength. We can give to the Lord the glory due his name as our Psalm for today so aptly calls us to do! 
Despite our helplessness we still have access to God and we can worship the Lord in the splendour of holiness.  The Holy Spirit dresses us in the splendour of Christ’s holiness despite our unworthiness and we can lay our lives before the Lord.  He loves you and sent his one and only, almighty and powerful Son to receive the baptism of fire that should have been yours and my deadly cross.  
Our help is in the name of the Lord.  Therefore, confess your sins to the Lord!  Tell him about your weaknesses and helplessness… the stuff that turns the power of love into a self-serving love of power.   Trust the power of his love and forgiveness in the activity of the Holy Spirit, who continually reveals Jesus Christ in you.  There is so much power about the place, allow it to take hold of you! 
The kingdom, the power and the glory are his indeed!  Amen.