Saturday, February 18, 2012

B, Lent 1 – Genesis 9:8-17 “With or Without Water”

Where would you be without water? Without food you might last some time; perhaps three weeks! But without water you're dead in just three days. 

The majority of your body is made up of water. Each healthy cell is about 70% water. Water is also everywhere around us. It's in the air we breathe, it's in the soil, it falls from the sky as rain, or one can sink a well and hopefully find water. It's everywhere and it's an ingredient of life.

Controlled water gives life. For water to work well for us it needs boundaries. Without boundaries water is unpredictable or if one does something to break or trespass the boundaries of water, water can take on a whole new nature. It can turn from peacefully tranquil into a terrifying torrent in no time at all.
Examples of water's terror are not hard to find. Think back to the recent Tsunami in Japan, the floods in Queensland, or more recently cyclones and floods here in Western Australia. Then there are the shattering events of drowning deaths, stopping life when it stops air from entering the lungs. Despite us being majorly made of water, too much is not good for us either.
Noah lived in a time when there was chaos on an unimaginable scale. The blessings and boundaries of creation had been badly broken by those who no longer cared for the order of God's creation. Nor did they see God as worthy of giving thanks for what he had created. God was grieved he had given the earth to humanity.
So God opened the boundaries of the heavens, and the earth. Water gushed forth from above and below, leaving only one thing left on the water – an ark. This boat now sustained life above the chaos of drowned and decaying animals, people, and plants below.
What God had done, was allow the chaos of pre-created order to return. God rebirths the earth, and gives a new creation to Noah, his family, and the animals on the ark.
After the ark settles on dry ground, Noah gives thanks to God by building an altar and sacrifices some of the clean animals and birds on the altar. Noah sees that creation is given to humanity so he might rest with God. And then God makes a covenant with Noah.
Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, "Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth." And God said, "This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth." God said to Noah, "This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth." (Genesis 9:8–17 ESV)
God cuts the covenant with Noah and sets the rainbow as sign for us and as a cause to remind God of the covenant he made. This is not because God is forgetful! It is so when we see the rainbow we know God is always thinking of us and the life he gives to the world, despite the chaos we create and sustain in this world.
Amazingly, the rainbow that reminds us of God's love and covenant with us is made by two primary elements of life. Water again is used and controlled together with sunlight.
But a brighter light shines from God; shining brighter than a beautiful rainbow. There is One greater than water and light that gives light and life. He is the Son of God, the Light of Life, and he shines brighter than all the stars in the sky. He is greater than all the boundaries and elements of creation, yet he came down into what he created, born into this world, so we might be reborn and daily raised to life from the waters of baptism into the light of eternal life and hope!
Not unlike Noah, right now we have been gathered into God's presence, into the moving vessel of his church. Saved from eternal chaos and death, afloat on the water and the word, we now can give thanks to God, for the life he gives in his Son Jesus Christ.
We may still struggle with droughts and localised floods, but despite this we have been drowned in the tranquil waters of baptism, and God promises these waters drown us in Jesus' death so the Holy Spirit might raise us and float us in faith. God will give us our daily bread despite famine or flood. God loves you too much to let you sink and die alone.
This is why he has given us an ark even today. His church where his word is given, allows us to enter in and receive the Holy Spirit through the word, so we might receive faith, and trust the far from perfect ship of God's human church. But this church has a risen Saviour within, at the helm, sleeping in the hull, calling us to trust him, despite the rough seas around.
We've been though rough weather, but we're still here! Let's trust God and give him thanks as he carries us home. And when he's had enough, he will take us out of the ark, out of this life, and give us a new creation, one that is eternally washed clean of chaos and corruption.
In this world water can give or take life. With the water and the word, our sinful lives are drowned and God rebirths us through his Son, our Saviour. So let us give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever, Amen.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

B, Epiphany 6 – 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 “A One Horse Race”

If I was to gamble on a horse race, I imagine the most perfect race to bet on would be one in which I had "million to one" odds on the nag in chute number one. This horse would not need to be anything special, only alive and able to trek the distance around the race track. The perfect race would have me gaze across in confidence at chutes two to twenty with glee knowing my horse was going to turn one dollar into a million. It wouldn't be a million to one change, rather a sure thing; the prize would be as good as in the bank.

I also imagine there would be others there, with me, with their money on the nag on the nose. In fact, everyone at the race would have their hopes on this old Pal pony doing the lap and coming first. They would only need bet on one race and one horse to all take home one prize. Would it be a gamble? Not in the slightest!

Saint Paul says to the church in Corinth…

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24–27 ESV)

There can be only one! How can you be sure which one? Paul seems to suggest it's not a horse or someone else running the race, but you running for the million to one chance. He says, "run that you may obtain it." The question is, "How?"

Each of us knows deep within ourselves there can only be one winner. We all imagine there are others around who run much more fluently than we do. Me! Run? That's like flogging a dead horse! Or as Paul puts it, running aimlessly or punching the air. Running the race would surly see me miss the mark and forfeit the prize. I would perish running after the perishable wreath! How much more would I perish running to win the eternal infinite imperishable prize?

Paul goes on to speak about discipline and control. After all he is the coach, preaching Corinth and us into the winning position. But if there can only be one, does he coach so he comes second, does he preach so he might perish? There can only be one; only one receives the prize! What is this discipline and control that allows one to run focused, that lets one hit the mark and beat the boxer?

What's needed here is the discipline and control for "One for all" to be "All for One". That is Jesus for all so all might win the one prize. Running the race of life by one's self is running aimlessly or beating the air! Perishable people need one who is imperishable to win the imperishable crown of life.

The discipline needed to win the prize is faith! Belief in our Triune One God! After all do we not believe in ONE God the Father Almighty? One Lord Jesus Christ! The only One of the Father, being one substance with the Father!

Are we not continually gathered by the Holy Spirit who speaks through the one substance of the Father and the Son, who binds us together as one holy church, catholic and apostolic, that is eternally gathered around Christ; gathered by the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the apostles' witness to Jesus' life, death, resurrection and ascension!

We hear Jesus' high priestly prayer from John 17…

I do not ask for these only (that is, the apostolic witnesses and believers God gave to him during his walk to the cross), but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (John 17:20–23 ESV)

Paul then writing to the church in Ephesus says…

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift. (Ephesians 4:4–7 ESV)

It appears to be a "One" horse race! This One was left for dead on a cross outside Jerusalem. It seemed he couldn't even run the race in which we constantly struggle and lose; failing to win the perishable prizes let alone the imperishable one we're called to pursue!

But there are other horses in the stalls vying for us to gamble our lives! Horses that promise to make us winners but rather are beasts of burden, and imaginable apparitions of our undisciplined and out of control hearts and minds! These horses flanked with glitz and colour promise much but will break those who place their trust in them.

On the other hand the good old horse called Grace, is winning us the race. She has won us the prize, and that's Jesus Christ's race to the cross and risen life. It is Jesus who measures us the discipline and self-control (through the Holy Spirit) to wager our lives on him and his death and his resurrection – all for One, One for all! Jesus Christ is no gamble; his grace is sufficient for you!

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfector 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. (Hebrews 12:1–2 ESV)


Saturday, February 04, 2012

B, Epiphany 5 – 1 Corinthians 9:16-23 “Breathe in Breathe out: This is the Law of Christ

Key text: 1 Cor 9:20b-21, 23

To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
In recent weeks we have heard that Jesus of Nazareth is God the Son; the second member of the Trinity. We have heard he has come preaching, "the kingdom of God is near"; he proclaims, "repent and believe the good news". We have heard the power of his word in calling the disciples. "Come follow me", is all he said, and they followed!
Last week and today we heard (Mark 1:21-39) how the demon possessed testified to his presence, naming Jesus as the Son of God, as if in a contest of one-upmanship. As if the demons would have had power over Jesus and not be exorcised, if they could name their exorcist before he identified them and threw them out. But the demons' words against God's word amounted to absolutely nothing. In fact their ploy to identify him first and have power over him, only reveals the very source of his power and authority over them. Jesus is the Son of God; he has the power of God, because he is God. Jesus of Nazareth is revealed as the Son of God.
Those around Jesus didn't get it; they didn't understand what he was saying or doing. The disciples, those in the synagogues, the crowd, and the sick, all saw Jesus as a quick fix to their problems. He could heal their diseases now, and make everything alright. But Jesus came not to heal sickness and throw out demons—he wasn't one who bore a bandaid solution—but rather he came to heal people of sin on the cross. He came to heal the source of all sickness and death. The demons knew why he was there, but he didn't allow them to speak. They got it, they knew, but they had no power to stop him.
Saint Paul an apostle of Christ proclaims, 19 Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)
How do you picture Christ in your life? Are you one who seeks quick fixes? Are you one in the crowd looking to feel good; to use Jesus as emotional balm. Or to apply him as a bandaid; to hid the reality of sin oozing out from under it. What is the reality of Christ in your life, do you allow his word access into your heart? Do you allow the fruits of the Spirit planted in you, to heal and to grow?
It might seem that Paul is contradicting himself, going back on the "Justified by grace through faith" catch cry to which we Lutherans cling. Paul now seems to advocate law once again saying, "…I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law". Jesus himself says, "…if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." (John 8: 36) And Paul says to the Romans, "Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes". (Romans 10:4) So are we under law or under gospel? What is Paul talking about when he says he is under Christ's law?
The truth is that the gospel is not a quick fix, feel good, solution? It does fix; but its healing qualities are received eternally. Jesus' call to follow—given to us in baptism—is not a once off remedy, done and forgotten. That's not how it works! Rather Jesus' call to follow is a daily struggle against all those things that would stop us from repenting and believing that Jesus is with us. It's a call which continually immerses us in the forgiveness and life of our baptism so we might trust Jesus, and trust the things he has put in place, so we can receive all the benefits of his grace physically and spiritually. And having trusted in these things—including the Holy Spirit whom Jesus sent to lead us to him through these means he puts in place—he calls us to be Christians in the situations in which we are placed in this world.
When we are Christians we do good works. Not because we have to. Rather they become an automatic response of our being in Christ and he in us. It's just like being a human—a human being––we breathe, our heart pumps, our minds work, all without our willing them to do so. We're humans being, humans existing. So too we are Christians being, Christians existing. The things we do as Christians should be as automatic as a human breath.
However, humans do stop breathing or find ways to stop their breathing, having a detrimental effect on their being or existence. There are also other things which might stop us from being, breathing, living, existing – from being a partaker of life. So in this situation one who is on the edge of life might receive a quick remedy to make them breathe or start their heart pumping, but to partake in the blessings of life, air must constantly and automatically flow into the lungs and blood stream, and the heart must automatically move that blood around the body.
If we treat God's grace as a once off quick fix, not hanging onto the means and ways of receiving God's grace; not trusting the Holy Spirit to lead us in God's word, not trusting the Spirit to lead us to the Son of God in the sacrament; not trusting in the sacraments as Jesus way of giving us forgiveness of sins, life and salvation; by closing up our ears to God's word; then we become like a human being who says after they have been given life, they no longer need to breathe to survive.
So one must conclude that a Christian who treats God and his grace cheaply, balances on the edge of life too. Without trust in God, without faith in Jesus' way of repentance and belief, with the word of God being suffocated and stifled within, how then can the exhale of good works occur in our automated Christian lives? How can the love breathed into us, flow through us, out of us, and into the lives of others who have not yet received the life-giving breath of the gospel, or who are suffocating under the weight of their sins?
We now live under Christ's law, this law is about life, and this law is about allowing the Holy Spirit to put our breathing back into time with the breath of God first breathed into Adam in the beginning. We are called to follow Christ; not to follow under our own steam and become exhausted, or to think once we have him we can leave him and run ahead. But we are called to follow and breathe Christ in our lives everyday. He calls us to stay with him, and trust in his life giving means.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
We are God's "continual" workmanship, a work in motion, living beings; living in the love of God's grace as an example for our lives. But also living in the love of this grace to forgive and restore us when we choke, when our heart misses a beat, or when we cause ourselves or are caused to stop breathing the living air of the gospel. He continually works to bring us back from dying in our sinfulness to serve him and share in the blessings of his death for our sins and his resurrection for our eternal life.
Jesus cast out demons, healed Simon's mother-in-law, and that night he healed many others too. He took on himself all impurities that lead to death, and early in the morning after the Sabbath he went out to pray. He took the burdens of their sicknesses to his Father in prayer. And afterwards he bore on himself the cause of all these sicknesses on the cross. We too can bring all our sins and those of others to the Lord in prayer because we have the living risen Son of God in us. Breathing in the forgiveness of our sins on the cross and exhaling that love onto other people too.
This is Christ's law, it's the law of love; this is who we are. This is our nature in Christ; this is a Christian being! Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe Christ in, breathe Christ out. Repent and believe the kingdom of God is near; repent and believe the God of forgiveness lives and breathes in you. Amen.