Friday, June 29, 2012

B, Pentecost 5 Proper 8 – Mark 5:21-43 Steadfast Touch

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At the Capernaum Synagogue Jesus heals a person from an unclean spirit. He heals Simon's mother in law. A leper is cleansed and a paralytic is healed after being let down through the roof on a mat. On the Sabbath a withered hand is restores back to health. On Lake Galilee Jesus calms a storm and on arriving in the country of the Gerasenes, he sends a legion of demons into a heard of pigs.
In his interaction with both clean and unclean, amongst the Galilean Jews and the Gentiles of the Decapolis, the word about Jesus is definitely out. Now back across the lake on Galilean soil at Capernaum, Jairus, seeks out Jesus. He is the local leader of the synagogue, where Jesus had exposed and delivered the man from an unclean spirit. Jairus knows what Jesus can do, and now that death is knocking on the door of his twelve year old daughter, Jairus' desperation brings him to Jesus.
But not only is Jairus there. Jesus and the disciples are swamped by the waves of people swelling around ready to witness the wonder of what Jesus can do. But what is it he is doing? He is healing the sick, casting out demons, straightening broken bodies back to health, and making the unclean ritually clean. Yes! He is doing this, but he's also doing a whole lot more.
As they push their way through the mob to Jairus' house, a woman takes her opportunity hidden amongst the mob. She like Jairus, knows of Jesus, she's heard how he heals, and now she believes that reaching out for just one touch of him will heal her while hidden in the crowd; will heal her hidden illness that makes her hide in shame.
You see everything this woman touches becomes ritually unclean. Little does the crowd know of her ailment, she is not physically maimed, she has no visual disorder that keeps her at a distance. But she knows the law has separated her from others and from God's holy presence by her twelve year old illness! And yet here she is amongst the crowd rubbing shoulders with them. If only they knew she had been secretly bleeding in her uterus, they would have cast her out like a leper for making all she touched unclean with her uncleanness. (For laws on bodily discharges and ritual uncleanness see Leviticus 15.)
Yet in her suffering, in her desperation, in her spiritual and mental anguish, in her shame, and in her guilt, she presses towards the centre of the crowd and when the time was right, with an outstretched hand, all the suffering and bleeding, all the hiddenness of twelve years of shame reaches out in hope to be healed.
And with that touch she instantly knew something had happened. It had worked! Jesus had done what no other could do. In secret she was healed; her sickness was gone for good! But where had it gone, what had happened, who could tell her what had occurred? She could not draw attention to herself, lest others realise she had also defiled them while pressing through the throng. Her touching of others was as good as a touch of death for them, a sentence of hopelessness for them, which she knew all too well.
But Jesus stops! Calm in the storm once again, so it seems! He asks, "Who touched my garments?" And his disciples said to him, "You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, 'Who touched me?'" (Mark 5:30b-31 ESV) However, what she had kept hidden from everyone else was not hidden from the Son of God. At the moment she touched him, she knew she had been healed and so too did Jesus. He felt power drain from him; this was the power that healed her after twelve years of menstrual bleeding.
However, the physical healing was only part of the problem. When Jesus queries the crowd as to who it was who touched him, twelve years of shame, and suffering, and guilt and hiddenness was suddenly brought out into the open and she came in fear and trembling face to face with her Saviour.
Do you realise how momentous this event is? Twelve years of shame, not being able to save face because she bled, and now she stands face to face with he who had every right to humiliate her and cast her out but who rather gives her honour and blessing so she might be held steadfast in the sight of God, and be remembered by us today as one who was made rich even though she was so poor in spirit, socially and spiritually.
You see it doesn't matter that we are talking about a topic that even today is still a cause of embarrassment. Every woman would be mortified to have her private hygiene spoken of in public, yet here we speak of one who was healed after a twelve year period. But this is not what we remember her for. This is not what she exemplifies, for women or for men, or for all who bear all sorts of shame today. Rather she is one in whom we can all see what becomes of shame when reaching out and touching Jesus, seeking his touch.
All the guilt, all the shame, all that stuff we lump around with us every day of our lives. The things we keep hidden deep down in the darkness of our hiddenness. All the things that cause you and me so much pain, suffering and embarrassment, guilt and shame! Stuff we seek to bury, stuff the sinful self holds in secret so well, but which the devil uses to keep us hidden, uses to harangue us, and continues to cause us to despair and lose face.
But no! This is not how we remember this lady. Rather she is the one who touched in faith, the corner of Jesus cloak and was healed of the hell she endured for twelve years.
And it's no accident the girl to which Jesus is going to see is the same age as that of the woman's haemorrhage. Jairus' daughter was twelve. Here was a girl who should have been in the fullness of her life, on the ebb of being a child bearing woman, but rather as Jesus travels to Jairus' house she dies.
It is her blood too. The problem is it has stopped flowing, not from her body, but within her veins. Like the woman who touched Jesus, the girl's lifeblood was not doing what it was meant to be doing and now she had died, the ritual law meant this place of death was unclean too. (For laws on coming in contact with the death and ritual uncleanness see Numbers 19.)
On overhearing the news of the girl's death Jesus says to Jairus, "Do not fear, only believe." (Mark 5:36 ESV) He was calling him to continue on in faith. This is the same faith which first led him to Jesus where he implored him earnestly, saying, "My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live." (Mark 5:23 ESV)
Now Jesus calls him to continue looking to him rather then turn in despair and grief in honour of death. Jesus was now earnestly imploring Jairus to trust him over death, to reach out in hope like the woman who had touched Jesus and was healed, to reach out in faith and let Jesus touch not just his daughter but all who witnessed the healing of this twelve year old girl.
Like the woman who was healed we might ask, "What happened to this girl; the cause of her lifeblood to stop flowing, was now where? There was physical healing but Jesus was doing so much more. The true miracle of these healings was not just the life restored through the transmission of the touch but rather eternal death is defeated by Jesus' almighty powerful touch.
His touch is one of empowerment. In fact when we touch there is always a transmission of power. In all their innocence children rely on touch to receive the power of assurance from those who care for them. Unfortunately though, because of sin the touch of empowerment can be turned into something inappropriate when touch is used in power over others to control or suppress. This began with the first touch of the fruit on the tree of knowledge of good and evil and continued to be propagated when Cain gave Abel a deadly touch up in the field.
But Jesus' touch reverses all this and puts right those whom he touches and those who trust him enough to forsake all to reach out and touch him. Your suffering exists! But not because you don't have enough faith! But rather so you might exercise Christ's steadfast touch of love given at the cross. You have come to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:24 ESV)
You see the transmission of touch goes both ways. Regardless of whether Jesus does the touching or we who have been touched by his word reach out and touch him, he transmits to you and me the power of his love. But that's not all, the faith that made the woman well, the call for Jairus to continue on in faith, and God's call for you to carry on in faithfulness till death is one that allows Jesus to stand fast in you, so in exchange your guilt and shame might stand fast in the blood of Christ on the cross.
When Jesus said to the woman, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease." (Mark 5:34 ESV) And when taking the girl by the hand he said to her, "Talitha cumi," which means, "Little girl, I say to you, arise." (Mark 5:41 ESV) He was taking their sin, the shame of sins committed against them, and their guilt and blame on himself and have his blood spilt on the cross in payment for sin.
Touch Jesus! Be touched by Jesus! Let him touch your life with his power of forgiveness and peace enabling you to stand fast in him. You can do it because he stood fast on the cross to bear all your sin.
May you continue to live in the steadfast love of Jesus, so he can continue to grace you with a steadfast spirit! Do not fear, only believe. With you he's done a whole lot more than just restoring your flow of blood. You are being touched by the steadfast eternal healing blood of Jesus' death and resurrection. Amen.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

B, Pentecost 4 Proper 7 – Mark 4:38 “The ‘I’ of the Storm”

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On that day, when evening had come, Jesus said to them, "Let us go across to the other side." And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, "Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?" And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?" (Mark 4:35–41 ESV)
In recent weeks the southwest of Australia has been besieged by wild storms battering the coast and communities inland. Front after front has brought frightening winds that tear at trees and timber structures, bringing down powerlines, closing roads, and ripping roofs off buildings.
Our very own church was not spared from damage. The roaring westerly winds made the trees along the street whip around like umbrellas caught in an updraft, looking as though they were flipping inside and out. So strong was the wind, ridge capping tiles along the church roof were popped off and bounced down the eastern side breaking more tiles in their descent to the ground.
With the roof cornerstones gone, as it were, the building was left vulnerable in the next storm, forecast to be much stronger, but thankfully not turning out anywhere near as strong as the weather bureau had predicted.
When one is faced with nature unleashed it's understandable we feel threatened. Our eyes are opened wide to the onslaught and we might even feel anxious and uneasy about our safety, or concerned about our loved ones or our property.
Jesus was crossing Lake Galilee in a boat with his disciples when a storm closed in on them. It might be one thing enduring a storm on solid ground, but in a boat that sways back and forth in a gentle breeze at the best of times, it's no place to be in the height of a rippy unpredictable storm. One might easily understand the concern of the disciples, and even more so since they were experienced fishermen on that very same lake!
Yet as they were tossed about like a cork in a washing machine, we find Jesus sleeping on a cushion in the stern. Imagine the fear on the faces of the disciples, imagine their dismay that Jesus is sleeping down the back. It's unbelievable he's not with them peering over the bow at each of the surging storm swells, threatening to topple the boat and throw them into the abyss.
Doesn't Jesus care? Is he happy to let us die for nothing? Now is not the time to be sleeping, taking a nap, nor is it time for a snooze. Now is the time… is the time for what? Actually, why do we have times like this? Tumultuous times of turbulence in our lives, threatening death, destruction, or despair! Where is God in all of our struggles? Does he care? Perhaps we're tempted to cry out to Jesus, "Are you really there?"
But Jesus was there in the boat with them. Essentially there was nothing wrong with them being afraid. I'm sure the storm was placed there to get their attention. And it did! However, they approached Jesus, "And they woke him and said to him, 'Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?'" (Mark 4:38 ESV)
To what conclusion did their fear lead them? What did their fear glorify? Perhaps the power of the storm! Or possibly the power of death! Maybe even a justification or glorification of their fear or indignation that they put their trust in Jesus, for nothing, so it seemed. We can only imagine the mix of emotions that exposed their weakness, their helplessness, and their lack of understanding as to whom it was accompanying them, sleeping in the back of the boat.
The greater storm here was not in the sea surrounding the boat, but rather within the hearts of those in the boat. They were in the eye of the storm. But unfortunately for them, they saw themselves as the "I" in the storm. And looking into themselves they only saw death.
Whereas if we look at the true "I" of the storm, we find calmness and serenity, that to us, seems uncomfortable. It's a calm which appears to be eerie. Like standing in the eye of a cyclone… calm surrounded by twisting turbulent winds! Why can Jesus be so calm when everything is flying in the face of death? His calmness only goes to show our heightened anxiety, our helplessness, and perhaps even our lack of trust deep down in the core of our being. I know I should believe but my gut is telling me otherwise!
But Jesus was taking no idle nap. He was resting, and he calls us into that same rest, despite what may appear to be flying in our face. In the eye of the storm, he invites you into his presence, where his calmness is one of trust and faithfulness. You see for Jesus the eye of the storm was not him or the boat or their situation and strife. No! The eye of the storm was the great "I AM" his Heavenly Father. And in the storms of life we face around us today and within us, his hand of invitation and rest is there for all to step into the "I" in the storm and find peace and rest.
Jesus has given to you a greater reality which you can see through the eyes of faith. His faithfulness now resides in you despite the storms you face in this life. He invites you to turn from your gut instinct, the emotions of your heart, to know he is with you.
In fact, Jesus is not only with us each individually, but he rides with the church, just as he did in the boat with the disciples. He calls us to see he is our Saviour, not what we might do, not the boat in which we ride, nor a change in the weather, but rather the power of his word that calls you into the "I" of peace and rest.
As we cross the troubled waters of this life, Jesus calls us not to see our salvation in the destination but rather our salvation "is now" with him as we travel through life. What waters of chaos can threaten us when we believe we have been already drowned in the peaceful waters of baptism and are already being daily raised into the new life of salvation?
Hear our Lord address you as he does to the Corinthians through Saint Paul…
Working together with him [Christ Jesus], then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says, "In a favourable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you." Behold, now is the favourable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also. (2 Corinthians 6:1-2, 11–13 ESV) Amen.

Friday, June 15, 2012

B, Pentecost 3 Proper 6 – Mark 3:26-34 “Seemingly Insignificant Seed”

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And Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground.  He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how.  The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.  But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”  And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it?  It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth,  yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”  With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it.  He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything. (Mark 4:26–34 ESV)
John Mark is known as the author of the Gospel according to St Mark. But the writings of Mark are the account of Saint Peter's eyes and ears, his falling down and being raised up, his life with Jesus as he lived for the cross, died on the cross, and was raised in glory over the cross. St Mark, Peter's companion, preserves Peter's sermons as he ministers to persected people in the Early Church, most likely in Rome.

Both Peter and Mark are men who have been humbled in Jesus Christ. Peter perhaps sees himself as the archetypal sinner, who rejected and deserted Jesus when the cock crowed just prior to his crucifixion. He is the man whom Jesus called the rock on which the church would be built, but was also rebuked as a hindrance and carrier of Satan. And it's understood John Mark is the youth who ran off naked into the night, humiliated, having had his garment ripped off when they ceased Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.
It's in this context we look at Jesus' parables of the kingdom of God. These two men made low speak and write to us about mustard seed in the context of what the sower puts in the ground. At the beginning of chapter four Jesus tells the parable of the sower who scatters seed on good ground, rocky ground, amongst thorns, and on the path. He reveals the purpose of this and all parables to his disciples saying...
"To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that "they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven." (Mark 4:11–12 ESV)
He then tells them of the purpose of a lamp, that it shouldn't be hidden if it's going to be of any use to anyone. And then we hear of the hidden mystery of seed sown by the sower before we hear Jesus tell us the parable about the smallest seed one might cultivate — the mustard seed.
So let's see and understand what the mustard seed is, and what type of plant it grows into. The mustard seed we might use today is the little seed used in making pickles or ground up as a powder or paste. This seed planted grows into a bush. Not a big tree like a cedar but at best some varieties grow to about ten feet or three metres tall. Hardly a significant plant as far as size is concerned.
A better picture of mustard seed most likely encountered in Israel in the days of Jesus might look more like the seed of the canola flower, canola seed or rapeseed, from where we farm canola oil. This seed is tiny. Drop one canola seed on the ground and you would never expect to find it again. It is no larger than a grain of grit or coarse sandy soil. To recognise canola seed one really needs to see it in large quantities.
Now if one is not familiar with canola seed, it is from the brassica genus or type of plant family. We are most familiar with the many vegetables that come from this family of plants. Cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, bok choy, brussel sprouts, turnips, and the black and white varieties of mustard seed. The other name for these vegetables is the cruciferous vegetable family.
Right here we have a link to the cross. This group of vegies all produce a flower, predominately yellow, that's in the shape of a cross, hence a cruciferous or "cross-bearing" vegetable. This cross bearing flower produces a tiny seed. If you let your winter vegies grow to flower and seed, you will end up with tiny dark seeds from your cabbages, broccoli, and cauliflower. This is the type of seed to which Jesus refers in the parable. Seed from the cruciferous vegetable family!
Now as amazing as this may be, let's focus on Jesus' parable about the mustard seed. One might ask why Jesus would use such a tiny seed and one that really doesn't grow into a king of plant life, like the mighty cedar that grows in the mountain range forests.
Imagine Jesus saying to you that the kingdom of God is like bok choy, or cabbage. It doesn't paint a very grand picture; rather a kingdom that's seemingly insignificant, from an even less than an impressive seed of germination. Surely the kingdom of God is more like a date pip or the nut from a cedar cone. One that grows into something life-giving and sweet, or tall and majestic! Or even something more popular and palatable like a grain of wheat or corn, that's good on the taste buds, which everyone knows and uses! But the seemingly insignificant seed of the mustard plant — big deal — not really!
Perhaps what is going on here is more about the unlikeliness of something insignificant becoming much greater than anyone might ever fathom. Maybe, it's an illustration Peter could understand and preach very well, and John Mark recalls in the wake of the mysterious events in their lives which happened in and around Jerusalem and on the crucifixion cross at Calvary.
Picture yourself as Peter or the young John Mark on the night Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane. How insignificant do you feel, how insignificant are you, as you deny your Lord three times and the cock crows, or as you flee into the night, embarrassed, without a stitch of clothing to cover your nakedness? Perhaps mustard seed or canola seed also known as rapeseed best describes us, Peter, and Mark, as we pillage much goodness from Jesus and give back nothing except a dead stalk of a cross on which to crucify him and seed so small it seems to amount to nothing.
But the profound truth of this parable is the mystery of the seed. When seen and understood how insignificant we really are, when our irrelevance is brutally forced upon us, or we discover we're of no consequence or importance. God shows us how important we are to him by sending his Son to be our Saviour, our food of eternal life, even greater than the sustenance we might get from our winter cross-flowering vegetables.
We might appear to be like a canola seed hidden amongst many in a field bin out in the centre of a distant paddock. But just as God knows every grain of sand on every beach, and every hair on every head, he knows you and every seed in every field bin and silo.
And Jesus is the unlikely tree in which we can perch, just as the birds perch in the branches of the mustard bush. No longer do we, like Peter and John Mark, have to be like birds that steal seeds from the sower and take flight to conceal our guilt and shame. We can take our stand in the tree of life, the unlikely tree lifted up outside Jerusalem, on which our Lord was crucified and let God grow his cross-bearing flower of life in us so we might be the seed he harvests on the last day.
See so you perceive, hear so you understand, that you might continue to turn and be forgiven. Amen.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

B, Pentecost 2 Proper 5 Mark 3:20-35 “The Unforgiveable Sin”

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The unforgiveable sin! The thought of this has terrified many a Christian needlessly over the years. Yet those who give away any thought of sin and repentance are perhaps nearer to blaspheming the Holy Spirit.

The thought of committing the unforgiveable sin is something the devil uses against God's children, so they inevitably despair of God's grace. Once Satan has our ear, he accuses and leads us to turn to sin away from God, deceived believers God's love is not for us. Then the evil one has got us where he wants us leading us to spiritually murder ourselves and opening the door to a plethora of shameful deeds.
When one hears of the sin against the Holy Spirit there is the temptation to quickly imagine some extraordinary sinful act, like suicide, paedophilia, or genocide. Although the sin against the Holy Spirit might lead a person into these acts, it might lead a person to just be apathetic towards what God is seeking to do in their day to day lives.
The sin against the Holy Spirit is the sin against the work of the Holy Spirit, and put most simply is the rejection what he seeks to give, which is faith! And where there is no faith, there can be no hope nor can there be any real love – for or from the self, for others, for God, or love received from others or from God.
While on holidays over summer, my family and I saw a sight I just had to go back and photograph. Let me paint this picture as an example of what happens to us when we sin against the Holy Spirit.
There was a windmill, built up strong and rugged. Next to it a tank was placed and a trough from which live stock could drink. This place was an oasis, a place where thirst was quenched, and life was restored. But the windmill had a mind of its own.
The windmill spun away pumping water quite happily with ease. After all the wind did all the work! But when the owner came to maintain the windmill he couldn't work the wind vane to turn the blades out of wind. And so there was no way to give it the much needed maintenance that every windmill needs.
After time the salt air from the ocean started to rust the blades of the mill! One worked free and came off in a storm. The mill still spun and pumped water but now it was out of balance. And without being fixed terrible stresses were placed on the windmill's structure and moving parts. The vibration was horrendous.
Rust and vibration continued for years and eventually all the blades came off and it couldn't pump water anymore. The wind still blew, the work was still being done, but there was now nothing to move the parts of the windmill and sitting motionless in the salt air the cogs and bearings soon became overrun by rust and the mill ceased up.
After time the whole site became run down, the tank fell to bits and the trough was broken. The paddock became dysfunctional and the animals broke free to find water elsewhere. The wind still blew and the well still had water, but what once supported life, had died.
One who sins against the Holy Spirit is like this dead windmill. The wind first blew on us in baptism, spinning us doing the work it needed to do on us, and making us produce a stream of living water. This water was not made by the windmill, rather the wind was sent to raise the water of life within us, in the spot where we were placed, right where our owner needed us.
Now unlike the earthly windmill that needs maintenance, we are maintained by the very act of working. The wind and the water lubricate us and make us function for the very purpose we were put here. Our function as windmills is pleasing to the owner and God the Father is our owner.
However Satan has taken the wind out of humanity's sails, so to speak! He disengaged Adam and Eve from facing into wind and he caused them to stop functioning as they should. Now the owner needed to send One to fix we who at best spin out of balance.
One who sins against the Holy Spirit is one who rejects the work of the Spirit, the wind on the blades! One who no longer has the waters of life moving within, and who rejects any maintenance from the owner. What a sad and sorry sight is a windmill that no longer pumps water. It's a picture of hopelessness and despair.
Unfortunately, many are tricked into believing it is all hopeless. And once there, despair and hopelessness become a self fulfilling prophecy of doom in one's life. We end up shedding the very thing that make us spin freely as Christians, receiving and pumping forgiveness, namely, faith from the winds of the Holy Spirit.
And the gift of faith that makes us work, wells up grace within to overflow from us. This grace is Jesus' life-giving death and resurrection for me, for you — for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. So we might continue being the pleasing person God has re-created, re-erected, or resurrected us to be in this life.
We have heard how Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil and then hid from God behind other trees in the garden. They became like windmills spinning in the wind without pumping any water, they hid themselves, while still appearing to be properly functioning. Just like a mill that turns and looks like it's alright, further inspection by the owner soon discovers it's just spin and is dead even when it appears to be alive.
Adam and Eve chose to do the wrong thing and tried to spin God on who was really to blame. They threw away their means of life, and sought to hide behind a load of their own hot air and spin.
You and I do the same. For example, have you ever been walking down the street or doing something in a place when you see someone coming that you really don't wish to speak to at that moment? Have you every pretended not to see them, perhaps snob them, cross to the other side of the road to avoid contact? Adam and Eve sought to do the same with God. But God still sought them because he made us to have a relationship with us.
What happens when we do avoid contact with this person? We might get away without talking to them but often what is left is some bad blood between you, and if continued on, unresolved, the relationship breaks down. If you are lucky the person whom you seek to avoid will still bound up to you and say, "hi". And the lie continues as we say, "Oh, I didn't see you there!"
This person does what God does with Adam and Eve, and what he does with us. He comes to us seeking to restore the relationship with Jesus Christ's death and resurrection. He sends the Holy Spirit to blow on us and swing us back into wind so we once again are what he has created us to be, doing what he intended our being would naturally do.
The unforgivable sin is the sin of being, or rather not being what we were re-created to be. If I sin against the Holy Spirit I am like one who avoids a relationship with God, I cross to the other side of the road so I don't have to meet him. Or, I apathetically walk right past him without even acknowledging his presence. I reject faith from the Holy Spirit, which will severe me from grace, cut me from the cross and the forgiveness won by Jesus Christ, and a relationship with the Father. Remaining like that and I'm like the windmill still standing but dead to self and God. Not pleasing in any way!
The good news for us is when we are confronted by the Word of God and we sit up, provoked in conscience, that's the Holy Spirit spinning the bladed of the windmill. He is working in you turning you towards Christ so you willing receive the waters of forgives, that are pleasing to God.
Don't let the devil deceive you into believing that this is what you're not meant to be doing. It may appear you're not pumping life giving waters but rather sinful sludge. But this is good because God is preparing you to be his eternal well of life and he is removing the sluggish muck and welling up in you the waters of eternal life.
Just as Jesus was attacked for having an unclean spirit, you too will be attacked for the same thing since you are bound to Christ. But know if you're tempted to think you're of the devil why then would the devil be trying to deceive you? He will not fight himself? You're of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, so don't let Satan accuse you anymore, because he's the one who is blaspheming the Holy Spirit and he wants you to turn from God and bind yourself to him. Don't join him in the unforgiveable sin!
Finally listen to these wise words from the Word of God written in Hebrews chapter 6…
Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.
For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.
Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. (Hebrews 6:1–12 ESV)

Saturday, June 02, 2012

B, Holy Trinity – Romans 8:15-17a Isaiah 6:1-8 “Here I am, Abba!”

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The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen (2 Corinthians 13:14 ESV)
God in all his Triune glory wants a personal relationship with you. But how does this happen? How can a holy glorified God live with humanity? Surely there are things which just wouldn't allow this to happen!
If God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and omnipresent how could we have a relationship with any equality? How could we be in community with a perfectly complete and clean holy God when all of us know we have hidden within each of us things which would bring us great shame before God, and would in fact spoil the holiness of heaven?
What is this relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit? How does my relationship with the members of the Trinity practically play out in my relationships with my family and friends, in my daily chores, in all the mundane things we as humans attend to every day?"
First, let's see how the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit exist in unity as a community. God the Father is neither the Son nor the Holy Spirit. He is his own identity and he is God. The Holy Spirit is neither the Son or the Father, he also has his own identity. The Father and the Holy Spirit have been eternally the same.
On the other hand, Jesus Christ was born as a human to Mary. What he was like before his birth is not clear, but he did exist. We know he was and is with the Father and the Holy Spirit from eternity. His pre-human existence is referred to as his pre-incarnate being.
Jesus Christ, God the Son, was implanted or conceived in Mary by the Holy Spirit when Gabriel spoke God's word to her. His life on earth bore two natures at the same time, both God and man. He ascended to the right hand of God and is still very much human, but now perfected and glorified, through his sinless life, death and resurrection. Jesus is his own person, he is not the Father or the Holy Spirit, but like God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, he too is God the Son.
The Trinity is so much greater than our understanding. Our human mind makes no sense of things hidden from our limited sensory selves. We might begin to ever so slightly know the immense glory of the Trinity and its holy being by considering water in its three separate states, liquid, solid, and gas – water, ice, and steam. They are the all same element but have different properties in themselves in these states. But this is far from a satisfactory explanation of the Trinity.
Humanly, we will never rationalise — One person of the Father plus One person of the Son plus One person of the Holy Spirit equals One Holy God! Nevertheless, we are called to believe this because Jesus tells us this is so in Scripture.
The church has been trying to get a handle on the Trinity from the day of Pentecost. Early in the church there was a belief that the God of the Old Testament could not be the God of the New Testament. The God of the Jews was a wrathful evil god; where as the God of the New Testament was a God of love.
In 144 AD a chap named Marcion gathered a following believing this idea. His reasoning was that the world was evil so it must have been created by an evil god, Jehovah, who was not the Supreme God, but rather an arbitrary vindictive God.
One might understand where he came from when misreading the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament, out of context, which he did due mainly to the fact he hated the Jews. Marcion did not accept the Old Testament and only adhered to the Gospel of Luke after editing out the Jewish references, and the Epistles of Paul. This movement became known as Marcionism and was one of the first heresies in the early church.
The other heresy was called Gnosticism. Its name is derived from the Greek word gnosis which means to know or have knowledge. One had to attain levels of secret knowledge to escape the evil world of matter into the spiritual holy realm. Once true understanding came then salvation would come.
These two heresies opened the way for the church to begin recognising a common creed, to decipher the heretics from the believers. It also opened the way for the community of believers to adhere to common accounts of Jesus' ministry which they used in worship. In short they accepted the canon of Jewish Scripture which we call the Old Testament, and then the four Gospel accounts, Acts and the writings of Paul plus others.
But this didn't happen overnight and it took many hundreds of years of misunderstanding, confusion, and sometime bloody conflict, for the church to appear with a clear canon of Scripture and a confession of belief to distinguish the Trinitarian Christ centred church from the heretics.
So as the Church we now have the three creeds, or symbols — the Apostles Creed, Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. They get the name symbols of faith, from the old understanding of the word symbol. In the ancient times couriers would carry messages for leaders and they would also carry something from whom they came to identify they were legitimate and not an imposter or enemy. They might carry the king's coin, his symbol, to prove the oral or written message's legitimacy. This is similar to the seal of a signet ring used also to identify the origin of official transcripts.
What you and I believe is contained in your creeds, the creeds of the church. If you want to know what one believes, the creeds are your point of reference. They guide the church in the Word of God and point to the work of the Triune God amongst us.
But where the rubber really hits the road is how the Trinity functions for us as individuals, today. In the Nicene Creed we confess, that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son and together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified. For us to worship the Triune God, he must be present and we need to know we are in the presence of the Triune God — Father, Son, Holy Spirit.
And so what does being in God's presence do? When Isaiah realised he was in the presence of a Holy, Holy, Holy God, he knew he was not clean or holy, he was far from blameless – that he was far from perfect! Yet one of God's seraphim makes Isaiah clean and holy before the Lord.
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: "Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for." (Isaiah 6:6–7 ESV)
So too with us! We are made clean when the Holy Spirit gathers us, enlightens us, and fills us with the gifts of Jesus which he began doing while visibly teaching in Judah, Samaria, and Galilee and now continues everywhere but hidden. The Holy Spirit comes from the Father and the Son to do just one job, deliver us to the Father and the Son forgiven and with faith.
But if the third member of the Trinity is holy, namely, the Holy Spirit, how does his holy presence with us not destroy us? It's because our guilt is taken away and our sin atoned for.
Isaiah was touched with a burning coal on the lips as the Seraphim announced to him the word of God. We too have been touched by the Word of God and with fire. Just like the apostles had received the Holy Spirit from Jesus after his resurrection, we too have received the Holy Spirit, because of Jesus' atonement for our sin on the cross. Your sin is now covered and your guilt has been taken away.
How this happens is best explained in Paul's letter to the Romans…
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!" The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ. (Romans 8:15–17a ESV)
This adoption allows us complete access to the Father. This is quite profound, since we now can address a God, who is bigger than all creation and even eternity itself, as Abba. The English equivalent of this is an infant trustingly calling out, "dada", as the child loving falls into its father's arms.
How this plays out is quite profound yet it's also practically simple, so simple a child allows it to occur so much easier than most adults. Jesus, God the Son, makes the great exchange with us. He steps out of the Trinity and onto your cross, so you and I can step into the community of the Triune God just as God's own Son with all the privileges as one who has been eternally begotten, and faithful and pleasing to God.
We get back our relationship with God. This is a relationship of love where he seeks to provide everything for us and dwell with us. We have a relationship with Jesus Christ our risen brother and Lord, who continues his work of intercession which first began at the cross and our baptism. And we have a relationship with the Holy Spirit, which is best seen in how he gathers us and leads us in all forgiveness—of us and us towards others. He gathers us into fellowship most holy, with each other, with the Father and the Son.
So when you hear the voice of the Triune Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" Then you and I can pray, "Here I am! Send me." (Isaiah 6:8 ESV) Why? Because we know we have an almighty God who wants to be with us and have us cry out, Abba!
Abba Father, encourage us to believe that you are our Father and we are your children. Help us to pray to you with complete confidence just as a child speaks to its loving father. Amen.