Saturday, September 15, 2012

B, Post-Pentecost 16 Proper 19 - Mark 8:34 "In Denial"

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And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, Jesus said to them, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels." (Mark 8:35, 38 ESV)
Civil unrest often manifests itself in riots on the streets of cities where one finds universities. When we turn on the television or computer, to see and hear the news, students of teaching institutions are the ones often seen hurling rocks and crude missiles at riot police or risking their lives in front of a country's military.
It seems those who avail themselves to be taught, place themselves under a force that is great. Teaching and being taught contain a power which sways opinions, influences ideals, and stirs up emotions and actions in the hearts of those who willingly hear. When a student's ears are opened to the words of another, energies can be raised so much in a community that even academics can rise up in rebellion against brutal dominance.
Added to this, deceitful or contrary teaching can raise up unjust rebellion and dissension in the hearts of the hearers too. Or, on the other hand, deliberate deafness and dumbness to right instruction can lead one into an apathetic, self-centred, rebellious and recalcitrant refusal to be taught.  So that what is powerfully passed on to the next generation is an obsession with the opinionated self, individualism, and stubbornness to listen and learn, to serve others - in wilful submission or as teachers. Refusal to be taught leaves a vacuum which allows other sneaky and dangerous forms of teaching to take its place. This is why James says…
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. …the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. (James 3:1–2a, 5a ESV)
So it sounds as if we should not teach, because we will be judged with greater strictness. We just might stumble and say the wrong thing and lead little ears into denial of the truth. It is here we realise the responsibility of teaching and the grave repercussions of wrong teaching. We realise the power in what we may or may not have taught.
What have I taught others? If I think I've left teaching to the pastor, the school teacher, the Sunday School or Confirmation teacher, not needing to take responsibility for my children's and grandchildren's learning, know that the child has already been taught and moulded by my actions and lack of active teaching too.
Realise then, that as parents and grandparents you are the primary teachers of your children and therefore know that parenthood has far reaching implications for all dads and mums given the responsibility to teach in the stead of God the Father in every earthy family.
This is big stuff. How then can I faithfully teach? It seems we are set up for failure before we've even been betrothed in marriage, before the relationship is consummated, and the child is conceived. But we hear in Isaiah how we are to go about the mandatory role we have as teachers of our families. Isaiah says…
The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward. (Isaiah 50:4–5 ESV)
The first thing God does in all of this is he needs to teach us about ourselves. He needs to lead us away from the mentality of "Do as I say and not as I do". Why? Because learning and teaching are not just academic exercises. We teach and our children learn from what we do as well as what we say. In fact most of our children's learning occurs before and in the first couple of years of their formal education. It is true they might learn how to write and count; dotting the "I"s, reading, and working with numbers. But right from the moment a child is born they learn how their parents use words and by their attitude to the numbers in their wallets.
Right teaching is so necessary for good development of our young and old. Some might say you can't teach "an old dog new tricks", that once the child is set in its ways it's too late. In some cases maybe so, but the power of God's word can undo the tricks in the oldest and most set in their ways, when we allow God access into our stony hearts, he breaks us down, and reforms us as his children.
Peter's teaching was harsh. He had said all the right words to Jesus when asked, "Who do you say that I am?" I imagine Peter must have been pretty chuffed he got the answer right, proclaiming Jesus as the Christ! In his eyes Peter was now elevated to favour before his teacher. He had the stuff, he was good! If Jesus my Lord and teacher is the Christ, then I must be up there too!
Peter gets his answer and it's not as he would have expected. This old dog was being taught a new trick. However, this teaching was completed at the cross, the cross where Jesus taught his disciples he must endure death and rejection, the cross of which Peter would be so ashamed that he would deny his Lord. Completed after Jesus' resurrection from the cross, death and the grave where Jesus raised Peter from denial, reinstating him and filling him and the other Apostles with his power through the Holy Spirit.
Just as Isaiah had declared all those years before, Peter had been given the tongue of those who are taught. Jesus had taken him, broken him, and healed him. And in the wake of the cross we see a very different man deny himself and take up his cross and follow Jesus. What did this cross have installed for Peter? Pentecost, prison, a second Pentecost with Cornelius and the Gentiles, and a life that led to his martyrdom attested to by Origin, a theologian of the early Church (184 – 254AD), saying, "Peter was crucified at Rome with his head downwards, as he himself had desired to suffer."
This is why an upside down cross is generally accepted as a symbol of Peter, who would not have considered himself worthy enough to die the same way as Jesus Christ. But as unworthy as Peter was and thought himself to be, he was worthy of something much better. And that was eternal life with our Lord.
You might think you are not worthy to teach, but God can and does open the mouths and move the feet of those who listen to him. We now are called to bear our cross. And what is this cross we must bear? Behind all the struggles and suffering we face in this world everyone carries their cross of death, and we who believe, the cross to teach in all its various ways.
Now there are plenty who live in denial of this cross of death, even though they hopelessly walk towards it, lonely, overburden and overwhelmed by its cross. Then again there are others who carry their cross and in doing so look to the Lord to walk with them hand and hand to death and through it into eternal blessing.
I pray you live in denial of yourself and let God teach you "an old dog a new trick", this is the trick of repentance, confession of sin, and as Peter so harshly learnt, to put Satan behind. You can teach others in your actions of repentance and fellowship too. The greatest trick of the cross and bearing our cross is letting Christ beat the devil in us and in our relationships, making peace and reconciling us brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, as the Father's little children.
Stand hand in hand together with our Lord Jesus Christ and confess these words of Isaiah…
But the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who is my adversary? Let him come near to me. Behold, the Lord God helps me; who will declare me guilty? (Isaiah 50:7–9a ESV) Amen.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

B, Post-Pentecost 15 Proper 18 – James 2:10-13, Mark 7:24-30 “KnoW Judgement KnoW Mercy”

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How sweet the name of Jesus sounds in a believer's ear… may the music of your name refresh my soul in death.
Have you ever wondered why? Why does Jesus and his name sound so sweet in a believer's ear? And then again why doesn't he sound sweet in the ears of some? It's as if the ears become sealed over and the person has lost the capacity to hear. Like one who's lost the ability to taste, sweet, sweet, honey, because the sickly sweet is all they've ever tasted.
The Syrophoenician woman is a Gentile, a Canaanite considered a reprobate by the Jews, a woman unapproved under the law of God. This woman, a beggar with a demonised daughter, found Jesus' words to be as sweet as honey. And we should be taken back that she hears the sweetness because Jesus calls her a dog. Do you hear the sweetness of Jesus' words here?
If Jesus was to address you as a dog, how would you respond? Would you believe him? Perhaps only after you went away and rationalised it for awhile. Or would it cause you unbelief in his word?
Because, you and I, we are dogs, every bit as much as the woman and her troubled daughter!
Now I imagine that sounds a bit harsh to you. Why? Because our ears are taught to be super-sensitive to a judgemental word. On hearing the harshness of judgement, people in this day and age tend to seal over their ears to these kinds of words. We have grown, or better still, regressed to the point where these words are flatly rejected out of political correctness. But what if the words of judgement are true? What about when they're Jesus' words to you?
Why would Jesus say this to me, and be so harsh? Who do I consider the dogs of society? The underbellies of the underworld, the whoring beer-swillers at the pubs and clubs on Friday and Saturday nights! Perhaps the warmongers, the violent, the sexual abusers, the substance abusers or the welfare winos! Every one of us is able to picture someone we believe to be far more of a dog than ourselves. Right?
Now that you've pictured the person, someone real in your life, in an event that's not fiction. Know what you are doing right now is being judgemental.
How is it we find it harsh when Jesus judges righteously and truthfully when we ourselves judge others with a self-righteousness which is all things but right? How is it I and my fellow brothers and sisters have become so mixed up that the sweetness of Jesus' word has become wrong, and the opinions of the secret sour self have become so right?
What is the difference between Jesus' judgement and our judgement that so often leads us astray? The clues begin to drop into place as we hear from James chapter two…
For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not murder." If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:10–13 ESV)
One who is a transgressor of the law is side stepper. Transgressor literally means to go across by the wrong means. The Greek word here for transgressor is parabate or one who walks parallel. You and I transgress the law if we break just one tiny section of it. Haven't we just broken it in our judgementalism? Aren't we now parabates, seeking to walk around the law of God? Yes! And it matters not whether it's accidental or a deliberate fracture of the law!
Therefore, James then says, "So speak and so act as those who are to be judged…" It's good for us to hear this first, "we are to be judged" before we hear "how" we are to be judged. In a society which asserts that one must not judge, this is countercultural! So it's right to judge in as far as we know we too are to be judged.
This judgement is not under a law that ends in condemnation. It's a righteous judgement that calls us the reprobates and parabates that we are. This is the law that names us as unapproved side steppers of the law, unrighteous in the sight of God. But it's a judgement that has to occur in order for mercy to be directed by the King. A stay of execution, as it were, a reprieve for those who are honest about their wretched lack of righteousness. For those who believe they need to receive mercy from whom they stand before, He who is without sin.
You see the problem of condemning judgement in this world is that the gift of mercy is lost. Yes we hear plenty of time in the bible not to judge, but a deeper investigation will reveal we are not to judge if its motive is something other than that which ends in mercy for those who have received judgement and repent. This is the law of liberty. We judge knowing we too are under the same judgement, we are merciful knowing we are under the same mercy, and we forgive knowing we too need to be daily, hourly, and momentarily forgiven!
Here we also know if we judge without mercy, we will be shown no mercy. And similarly Jesus tells us "…if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." (Matthew 6:14–15 ESV)
This law of liberty is not a new law of death; we no longer forgive and show mercy because our sin has made us guilty. No! Rather our sin now makes us aware of our old nature and we freely confess that which once kept us in darkness but now has no power when confessed in the light of God's forgiveness and mercy.
Another way of looking at it is we now no longer "have" to forgive, we no longer "must" show mercy, we have no longer "got to" hear God but rather we "want to" forgive, we "love to" show mercy, and we "get to" hear the Word of God.
Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry. (Psalm 146:5–7a ESV)
Why Jacob? Why are we blessed when our help is the God of Jacob?
Jacob was one who executed his own selfish justice over others; he gave food to Isaac his hungry blind father and stole the birth right from Esau. He was nothing but a downright scoundrel, a reprobate, a parabate and yet God still helped him.
We too are the same as Jacob. Your struggle with others is really your struggle with God. He judges you, you deserve death, but he lets you limp away having had Jesus' blood poured out in death on the very cross which should have killed you.
As we endure in this life with the limp of Jacob this may not seem to be very merciful, but walking with the limp means that you and I, reprobates and parabates, are blessed by God's help. This help now comes as we willingly hear the Word of God, knowing we are judged, believing we need to be judged so we get to and want to live under the love of God.
Instead of being parabates—transgressors of the law, those who side step the law—we now are helped by a paraclete, one who walks beside us, the Holy Spirit, constantly showing us our limp, our sin, and even more the mercy of God.
When the Syrophoenician woman came to Jesus she knew she was a Gentile. In fact, she believes she was a dog, a reprobate. But she believed in the mercy Jesus had in store for her. She didn't turn away from Jesus' harsh judgement, she didn't seek to transgress or side step the law. But this Canaanite appealed for mercy even as a dog eats the children's crumbs from under the master's table.
…the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (James 1:25 ESV)
Believe your judgement, receive mercy. You judge anyway so now put on Christ, go and show mercy to those whom you have judged. Be not just hearers of the word, but be doers of it. Persevere in asking God for the love to do it, and be blessed in what you are free to do. For Jesus' sake! Amen.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

B, Pentecost 14 Proper 17 – Deut 4:9, James 1:17-18, Mark 7:21-23 “A Gift for God the Father”

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What do you get for a father who's got everything? This morning in Australia and New Zealand fathers have been unwrapping gifts and hearing from their children and grandchildren. Because some fathers have what they need, some kids might buy a knick-knack of some sort – a puzzle, a card that makes silly sounds when you open it, or a new fandangle gizmo for the shed. Then again some receive the obligatory box of handkerchiefs, socks or box of chocolates.
But what kind of gift have you given God the Father, this morning? The unseen dad in your lives! Now I'm sure he's got everything. I reckon he might also not have much use for new handkerchiefs or a card that makes fatherly sounds when you open it. What do you get for God the Father, who has literally got the whole world in his hands?
In the Old Testament times one would make sacrifices to God at the temple in Jerusalem. You'd take a goat, sheep, or a beast to the Jerusalem and have it slaughtered and burnt on the altar. This would be a pleasing aroma before the Lord as the priests atoned for your sins. Or, perhaps one would make a fellowship or thanksgiving offering for what God had done in the course of their lives in recent times.
Yet the Psalmist, King David, pondered and sung before our Heavenly Father very similar questions.
In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted… Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required. (Psalm 40:6 ESV)
And again David says… For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. (Psalm 51:16 ESV)
In Isaiah we hear what God thinks... "What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats." (Isaiah 1:11)
Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. …When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause. (Isaiah 1:13a,15-17)
God makes it quite clear he wants us to be perfect in his perfect presence, to hear him and respond appropriately. But how can we cleanse ourselves and be clean if any sacrifice we might make to God is unacceptable to him? This was the dilemma the Israelites faced when their sacrifices became inadequate before God. But it's also your problem if you still strive to make sacrifices or give gifts to him and not listen to what he really requires of you.
And what became impossible for the Israelites under the Law was made ten times harder to obtain when Jesus revealed what is really hidden in the heart, saying, "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)
What gift do you get God the Father who has everything and needs you to be every bit as holy as he is? How good is should one be to be good enough in the sight of God? None of us can be good enough, because we must be holy as God is holy!
It's at this point in time many just give up giving a gift to God. Where our earthly Fathers' Day falls once a year, our Heavenly Father's Day is every day! And it begins and ends each week in this one hour or so on Sunday. Or in any time of confession, absolution, hearing the Word and receiving the Sacrament of Christ's body and blood. The gift God requires is to believe and receive – to believe I am a sinner and receive forgiveness of sins, and life and salvation in his gifts.
Hear our Heavenly Father again from Isaiah… "Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken." (Isaiah 1:11–20 ESV)
So the greatest gift we give to God is to listen to him and trust what he says and does for us. And listening to him means you allow yourself to hear his word so by his Word made flesh, that is the Lord Jesus Christ, your heart tainted to the core with scarlet sin is made as white as wool, like that of the Lamb of God. This is the one time sacrifice on the cross of Calvary that is the one and only pleasing atonement sacrifice to God the Father!
In James we are told… Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures. (James 1:17–18 ESV)
God has given us the most perfect gift, in his Son Jesus Christ. And he continually brings us into the presence of Jesus' forgiveness by the power of the Holy Spirit, making us the first fruits of his creatures in his creation. And he does it by the word of truth, when we allow the Spirit to open our ears and hearts.
Like King David we might come to ask and realise, "What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord, I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people. I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the house of the Lord, in your midst, O Jerusalem." (Psalm 116:12-14, 17–19 ESV)
Therefore, on receiving the gift of Jesus' perfection from God our Father and the Holy Spirit, what should we do with it? As Fathers and Mothers of children, and as grandparents of grandchildren, there is no greater gift and joy than giving. To pass on the gift of God's word so our children too might receive it and believe they too are children of God.
"…take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children's children—(Deuteronomy 4:9 ESV)
These things our eyes have seen are God's action in our lives and the power of God's word in our souls which places in us the greatest gift — the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation! Why would we want this gift to depart from our hearts, and our children's and their children's hearts too? Let's remember God's word and make our sin forgiven hearts constantly known to our children and grandchildren. Amen.