Saturday, August 24, 2013

C, Pentecost 14 Proper 16 - Hebrews 12:28 "Awful and Awesome"

Hebrews 12:28 (ESV) …let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe…
Have you ever thought about the word “awe”?  It’s a funny little word.  Place a suffix on the end of it and awe can have the opposite of meanings.  Such as the words “awful and awesome”!  Hearing awesome or awful leads today’s mind in two very different directions.
About one thousand years ago the word awful wasn’t negative as we use it today.  Back then being awful was being “worthy of awe” or “awe-inspiring”.  Similarly the word fear seems to have gone the same way.  Fearing God to many today means being scared of God.  But really to fear God, is giving him your full attention, addressing him, or facing him.  This could be in a positive or a negative way.  So too being in awe of someone, leads one to face someone giving them the honour they command, be it as one who is loved or loathed!  Therefore it’s easy to see today how “awful” takes on the meaning of causing dread or being frightful, very ugly, or horrible.
“Awesome” on the other hand came into the vernacular about five hundred years ago.  Being awesome back then meant something had “the quality of awe”.  But today from the influence of American culture delivered to us here in Australia via the media awesome means cool, great, or amazing.  Awesome has become a positive exclamation in our modern culture.
In light of these two words and their meaning today you might ponder, “What makes worship acceptable to you?” Is it the same which makes worship acceptable to God?  Is being in church awful or awesome?   Be brutally honest with yourself and with your Heavenly Father!  Is the prospect of coming to church something which is appealing or handsome, or is it a handful!  Just another laborious task, another job you’ve got to do in the juggle of all the chores demanding your time?
The very same thing was going on for those in the synagogue on the Sabbath.  The Sabbath day, Saturday, was set aside by God for man to rest from his work, but also to rest in God’s presence.  However, this had been turned into just another task!  A work lost in the demands of men rather than in the overwhelming joy and privilege to stop in God’s rest to hear his word and be served in its hearing.  After all God is worthy of being heard; acceptable worship in God’s eyes is when we stop and allow God to be God!
The Gospel reading today tells us, [Jesus] was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath.  And behold, there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself.  When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.”  And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God.  But the ruler of the synagogue [was] indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath… Luke 13:10–14a (ESV)
Notice the reaction of the woman and the ruler of the synagogue!  One focused on God, the other on the work that was done by this man, Jesus of Nazareth.  To think like the people of Jesus’ day, we must not immediately see Jesus as God, but rather as one who was teaching the word of God; calling the congregation at the synagogue to look to the Father in heaven.  In doing so, we can appreciate more the worship of the congregation who glorifies God the Father, and not God the Son, hidden in the person of the healer, Jesus Christ.
One can only wonder how this healing would be received today.  Would we as a congregation worship God as did the woman who was healed?  Would you be displeased the service was not adhered to?  Or would you place you awe struck attention on praising the healer or even the person healed?  Who or what would you glorify?  To what would your heart be drawn?  What here would be offering acceptable worship to God?
The answer to these questions, tells us if our worship is awesome or awful.  It reveals whether we revere God as awesome or awful!  Honestly delving into the depths of our own heart with these questions will show us that each of us has a heart like the synagogue ruler.  We humans like to take the things of God and twist them to please ourselves. Both pastor and parishioner shrewdly turn events so they serve us rather than what God originally sought them to do.
And so we come to the word “worship”.  What is worship?  To worship God pleasingly is what?  Let’s not look for its meaning, but rather the function and purpose of worship.  If we look for meaning then we end up having to do something that might or might not please God.  But when we look for function and purpose in worship, we allow worship to work, or rather the word of God to act in us while we rest in God’s presence.  This then is God pleasing worship which does something with us.  So in turn worship is then both functional and meaningful!
Unfortunately, worship has become a very slippery word these days due to individualism and focus on personal experience or on what pleases the self.  The Greek word for worship is from where we get the word “liturgy”.  Liturgy is not originally a “church word” but simply means “public service” or “the work of the people”.  And it also means “to minister”.   So when we participate in God pleasing worship the work of the people of God will naturally be pleasing to God.  
We begin to see that acceptable worship, with due reverence and awe towards God is much more than what we do for one hour inside church walls each Sunday.  That in fact acceptable worship beings and continues each week in the hearing of God’s word and allowing the Holy Spirit to live it out in us every hour of every day.
Once the Sunday service was called the “Divine Service”!  It then became known as the “Worship Service”.  And many today look for a one hour “Worship Experience”.   But I admit that I have never felt a worship experience for every hour of any day, let alone all the time!  In fact if I am brutally honest with myself I experience doubts, worries, and a desire to please myself most of the time.  How then can I offer acceptable worship with reverence and awe to God when what comes from me should be awesome but rather is awfully bad in God’s sight most of the time?
Isaiah offers us an answer…
“If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honourable; if you honour it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly;  then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” Isaiah 58:13–14 (ESV)
These are good words!  But how do I turn from my own entrenched self seeking ways?  When my mind desires to serve and please me!  My deeds lead me to want to lord it over others!  So much so, I constantly seek to replace God with the idols of my own heart!
Thankfully Isaiah was looking forward to the day of deliverance when Jesus, the son of Mary, where Jesus Christ, the Son of God, took your place on the cross and gives you his eternal life.  No more blood, sweat, and tears trying to earn it.  Jesus has done it for you on the cross!  In a truly awful but awesome way on Good Friday!  Let’s now hear of the eternal congregation into which we are called.
…you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering,  and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect,  and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. Hebrews 12:22–24 (ESV)
Letting Jesus Christ be God the Son in your life is truly awesome.  His desire, together with that of the Father and the Holy Spirit, is for you to allow Jesus to do the work for you.  When we allow God to serve us he makes us his children and prepares us for a kingdom that cannot be shaken.  Surrendering to God’s plan and action is God acceptable worship.  You show God reverence and awe trusting the Spirit’s work in your baptism into Jesus’ death which raises you to faith and eternal life.  Just as Jesus was raised from the dead and now lives too.
There’s no experience greater than knowing God’s pleasure is to give you the kingdom.  There’s no pleasure greater than letting God have complete power over your life to forgive sin, ease your troubled consciences, to lead you away from temptation and to deliver you from your own evil heart, and the tricks of the evil one into faith hope and love. 
Having heard these awesome things from the written Word of your awesome God, being grateful, seeking forgiveness, striving to come closer to God, so the light of his Word might expose and forgive the deeper imbedded sins of your old nature is acceptable worship.  Using God in the very way he desires to be used accords him all honour and reverence.  And for this we can praise him!  Knowing all this and not allowing an awesome God access into your heart, is an awful waste.
Therefore, let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe… Amen.

Monday, July 29, 2013

C, Pentecost 11 Proper 13 - Luke 12:13-15 "What's the deal with coveting?"

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”  But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?”  And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”  (Luke 12:13–15 ESV)
Jesus said to the fellow in the crowd, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” after this man had summoned Jesus to tell someone to divide an inheritance with him.  But we never hear the answer.  Interesting! 
Here Jesus dives under the surface to meet what’s really going on within this man, but also within you and me! Who is my judge and arbitrator?  Who is your judge and arbitrator?
The very fact this man asked the question of Jesus to do his bidding reveals two things.  The first is he was acting as his own judge and arbitrator who had decided in his own mind he deserved his share of the inheritance.  And secondly, he seeks to enlist Jesus’ power because, although he seeks to be his own judge, he hasn’t the power over the mind of someone else.
What’s going on in his mind is the very thing that goes on in the hearts and minds of us all.  When confronted by the mind of God what goes through your mind?  When Jesus asks you, “Who made me a judge and arbitrator over you?” what is your answer?  Your answer will quickly reveal how you understand yourself in relation to coveting and Jesus’ next comment where he says, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
I use to wonder why God gave us the commandments on coveting!  “You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbour’s.” (Exodus 20:17 ESV)  I know he gave them to us because we are covetous; that we struggle with greed and desire, known as avarice or cupidity, but I didn’t understand why God would have them after the other commandments.
You see, when I want someone else’s stuff the commandment on stealing would surely stop me from taking someone else’s possessions.  And, when the eye starts to look around in lust, I hear within “you shall not commit adultery” ring warning bells in my mind and heart turning me towards repentance and then peaceful living with God and my neighbours.
And so I pondered the Ten Commandments, knowing the first three are about my relationship with God and the second table, the other seven commandments, are about my relationship with people.  So why the commandments on coveting?
Surely bad actions against parents and authority are defended by the command to honour one’s father and mother!  Killing, boundary crossing sexual activity, stealing, and actions of the tongue cover the rest of the commandments so we are protected in community!  So why the commandments on coveting?
More than ever, the importance of the commandments on coveting needs to be understood by us today.  Firstly, so we might know what’s going on within us, and then, so we might be able to serve our neighbour as they struggle to work out what’s going on in them.
You see, the second table of the Ten Commandments deals with sins against people.  And while these commandments deal with this, the last of the commandments on coveting someone else’s stuff and living things, deals not with sin against other people, but rather sinning against the person of ourself.
Put most simply it’s the body waging war with itself.  Everyone who’s broken a diet, a personal new year’s resolution or sort to stop smoking knows what is going on here.  When your mind is tough it makes a decision, no more!  But then by evening it seems the cravings in every cell of the body demands you light up, or slip down to the shop for that block of chocolate!  Who here has sinned against themselves in this way?
But let’s not get into a game of dissection and blame, “My stomach, made me do it!  My hand made me do!  You and I are whole people, mind, body, and spirit!  Each of us needs to ponder our relationship with ourselves.  Taking time out to do this in God’s presence is vitally important for the mental and spiritual wellbeing of every person who walks the planet. 
However, as easy as it may be to take the speck out of someone’s eye, it sure is had to acknowledge the log in our own.  Nevertheless, as tough as it is to take a good hard look at ourself, if we don’t, then we’re no different to a fool coveting earthly riches in the face of death.
So what is your wealth?  What are the riches of this congregation?  How are you arbitrating and judging your earthly reality?  Now we get to the heart of the commandments on coveting.  Now we begin to see and expose why we and the rest of the western world are so plagued with spiritual oppression and depression in all its various forms. 
It seems covetous behaviour leaves us not even being able to live with ourselves let alone care for our neighbour in the face of our perfect inheritance, eternal life!  Our yearning for things in this world leaves us with aching desires!  Sexual desire burns us up with cupidity.  And even when the we get what we covet, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow moves so we never really get what we chase after.
In his first letter to the Corinthians St Paul tells those who struggle with this in Corinth, as he does also with you, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.  The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one.” (1 Corinthians 2:14–15 ESV)
Who is judge and arbitrator over you?  Are you about pleasing God or man; be it someone else or yourself?  What do you covet, what do you honestly want more of...?
The easy thing here is to do what many do today in a world that is so bound up with individualism.  And it’s also thinking we’ve adopted in the church where we seek to block being exposed, by demanding faith as an unaccountable personal thing of the heart.  But Jesus himself tells us, “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 7:20–23 ESV)
The thing here is blocking being exposed, also blocks being forgiven.  Faith is a personal thing of the heart.  It comes from the personal heart of Christ crucified on the cross, so we might live out our God given faith very publically, because we want to, we love to, and because a covetous world needs us Christians to personally bear Jesus’ death and resurrection before the world for its sake, Jesus’ sake, and for the glory of God our Father.
We have heard in Colossians “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:1–2 ESV)
You and I have a very clear and concise call to courageously and boldly proclaim, and yes even covet, our treasures in heaven.  Therefore, boldly pray for the Holy Spirit to give you the desire to be in God’s word, to be in his presence, to bring the kingdom of God near those who are your neighbours.  The more you seek the things of God the more you will desire the things of God.  The Spirit will see to it when you allow him to immerse you in the Word of God.
Do not let your coveting separate you from God’s forgiveness.  Jesus says to everyone in this congregation, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.  Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Luke 12:32–34 ESV)  Amen.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

C, Pentecost 7 Proper 9 - 2 Kings 5:1-14 "The Problem Being Parochial"

 So [Naaman] went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.  (2 Kings 5: 14 ESV)
There’s not a better feeling being clean after one has endured in the stench of a filthy body for some time.  Even better is the peace and tranquillity of health after the churning and trauma of illness.  Picture Naaman standing clean in health after he had suffered at the hand of skin disease.  No more sores, no more oozing, no more itching and stinging, the smell of failing flesh is gone, and so too is the social stigma of being a carrier of leprosy.
But there’s a stigma that’s even worse than the physical ailment seen by all; it’s one not seen by the naked eye of humanity.  Yet it’s more debilitating, and everyone of us are long sufferers and loathers of this stigma we bear in the being of our flesh every day.  This is the oozing, rancid, reality of sin.  Like Naaman all of us have a deep down desperate desire to be rid of the sickly stench of our sinfulness.
However, it’s surprising Naaman even had the opportunity to be cleansed, let alone the cleansing once he was given the advice which would free him from the foulness of his flesh.  We hear…
…Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stood at the door of Elisha’s house.  And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.”  But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper.  Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage.  (2Kings 5:9-12)
Now it’s easy for us to understand Naaman’s anger.  Why?  Because each of us bear the same pride as that of Naaman.  This pride manifests itself in his parochial attitude; the same parochial short sightedness as all of us bear.
A little test will demonstrate our bias.  Are you a cat person or a dog person?  What about Ford or Holden?   After all we all know Fords are “Found On Rubbish Dumps”, and Holdens are Holes, Oil Leaks, Dents & Engine Noise.  Perhaps you’re a lover of the green John Deere over the mighty Red of the Case or blue of the New Holland.  How about your political alliance; that always causes the hackles to flair!  And when it comes to the footy, surely we all stand as one!  Dare I even mention the other ludicrous code and how they hold and kick a football!
The point of this little, perhaps humorous, exercise demonstrates how our pride leads us away from listening, into opinions which are more or less built on emotive judgments.  It’s more than coincidence when a “one eyed supporter” evokes a war of words, always with another who’s just as opinionated it seems!  Pride always rubs pride up the wrong way!
Naaman expected big things from Elisha.  And Elisha surely delivered, but not as the military man had expected.  No pomp and ceremony, not even a face to face meeting, and washing in the waters of the Jordan, that’s just laughable; ludicrous!  Like Naaman, being parochial causes us problems.
But how did Naaman come to the point where he was commanded to wash in the Jordan seven times?  These are a string of events that break the parochial single mindedness of the most powerful people and they all start with the capture of a little child.  In the scheme of earthly things, this young girl is a nobody; she amounts to nothing in the big picture of Syro-Israeli relations.  We can be quite confident there wasn’t talk of her capture in the halls of power at Damascus or Samaria.
Yet this is from whom the whole even unfolds!  A captured child of Israel, speaks to her mistress, the wife of Naaman, about what Elisha, the prophet in Israel would do.  This little child speaks and cuts through layers of protocol and parochial etiquette.  She could be mistaken as obnoxious for speaking out of turn; after all she is a slave.  But against pride and protocol the wife listens to her, then Naaman listens to his wife, and then the king in Damascus listens to his leprous military leader, and sends word to his enemy, the king of Israel.
And it gets a hostile parochial reception from the Israelite king.  As it would from any of us!  After all this is the enemy king, requesting for his unclean military commander, one who has been very successful in leading battle against Israel, to be healed of an incurable disease.  What would the Israelite king have thought, when confronted with a leprous, Gentile, warlord, breaking all the boundaries of parochial protocol?  Surely he’s picking a fight with this request!
Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Only consider, and see how he is seeking a quarrel with me.” (2 Kings 5: 7)  Is the king’s conclusion!  The irony in his words names God yet exposes his lack of trust in God but rather trust in his own parochial godliness.
How often do we listen to the parochial god within rather than trust the eternal Father in heaven whose desire it is to free us from the longsuffering stigma of sin which kills and causes our narrow-mindedness?  How quick do we depart from the word of God and trusting in our own limited understanding lose sight of the cross?  And when the going gets tough, how habitually do we fall into the mindset that the tough must get going rather than allowing the Holy Spirit access into our being so we can pray and ponder God’s word, therefore glorifying all that has been done for us?
Like Naaman we get angry; like the king we tear at ourselves fearing the worst and unlike the little Israelite slave girl we hang onto our parochial ways to the detriment of grace, mercy and peace.
 After he is encouraged to listen to the command, I imagine Naaman went down into the Jordan, just to prove a point.  “I’ll show them all how ridiculous is bathing in the Jordan!”  Defiantly he doesn’t even wash, but just dips in the river seven times and is healed.  Now Naaman, the mighty military man from Syria is released from his scourge and like the little slave girl through whom God began the whole process now too carries the same innocent clean smoothness of her flesh and faith.
Surely the events recounting Naaman’s healing are a reminder to us Gentiles to return to Word of God.  To repent and daily trust in the actions of God in his Word, and what he has done for you having been baptised into Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Having had the old parochial sinful self buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Col 2:12)
Let the Holy Spirit continue leading you from the stigma of all your sin, into the promised peace and holiness of your heavenly home, together with God the Father and Jesus Christ his Son, your Lord and Saviour.  Amen.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

C, Holy Trinity - Psalm 8:1-2 "From the Mouths of Babies"

Download WORD doc here

Recently on television, Ruby Wax, an American comedian, known for her obnoxious portrayal of an American in Great Britain, speaking about the mental state of people said, “We’ve evolved technically, but emotionally we’re all idiots, we’re still in the slime!”  She was saying “all of us struggle”; and it’s true we all do!  We think the next person has it more together than we do, while we grovel around for meaning and purpose in our own lives.
Wisdom seems to be fleeting, yet we all like to give the impression we’ve got it together.  But really we go from one dilemma to another.  We struggle with our sexuality in our teens and twenties, then somewhere in our thirties and into our forties we become fixated on amassing wealth and possessions.  And when, and if, that temptation dies down honour and glory become more important to us in our fifties and sixties. 
And you’d think in old age wisdom might begin to rear its head but even here it’s hard to find.  As the memory starts to fade, it seems the older one gets the better I was!  There’s the temptation to piously point the finger at others projecting my forgotten failures onto someone younger; apparently not as mature and wise as me!  Hmmm!
So for all the advancements humanity makes in this world, it seems we make next to no improvements in understanding who we are, how our hearts and heads are connected, or should be connected, and what our purpose is in this technically berserk environment we’ve created for ourselves.
There are two little words we humans get hopelessly mixed up.  If we could only sort them out or have them sorted out, perhaps humanity would be lifted out of the hopelessness and depression that our busyness and technical advancement only seems to exacerbate!
The first of these little words is, DO — to do, doing, what we can do, what one has done!  It seems these days it’s more about doing the opposite sex, doing what’s required to outdo the rest, appearing to do what’s right, doing the job so we might do more stuff in our free time.  Ironically we then wonder why all our free time disappears, but we’re only busy because we have so much to do!  And in the end we find we no longer enjoy doing anything because we no longer do what we want to do out of love or joy but rather we do it because we have to do it. 
Have you ever seriously sat in the quiet and wondered why you “do” anything?
But the word on which every person needs to focus is, BE — to be, who I am, what we are!  To be with people!  How to be with others; socially, sexually, and in community; the common unity of humans being, human beings!  After all this is what we are, primarily “human beings” who do things to serve the being rather than “human doings” doing stuff to gain an identity.
Also it makes no difference inside and outside the church.  Christians and non Christians alike make the same mistake, seeking to be something or someone by what we do, or what we pretend to do, rather than be who I honestly am… who you honestly are!  It’s because of this mistake; Christianity fails to be Christian and returns to the practices of every other ideology and religion doing itself undone today!
 This is why, we can learn from the youngest and weakest amongst us.  They are what the rest of us seek to hide with our sexuality, with our wealth and property, and with our vain glory.  Their being is one of weakness and helplessness.  Paradoxically, these who are least have the most, because they cannot do anything but be who they were created to be.  They are what we are too… and that is blessedly helpless!
And now the text from Psalm 8 starts to make sense in our confusion between “Doing and Being”.
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.  Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger. (Psalm 8:1–2 ESV)
How contrary to our thinking is this text?  The one who is least has the strength. They haven’t earned it, they’ve done nothing to possess it, yet the mouth of a suckling has the strength to still the enemy and the avenger who might literally (in the Hebrew) cramp one’s existence.
How true it is having evolved in technical knowhow we’ve done it to the detriment of ever really knowing ourselves.  Or as Ruby Wax points out, “We’re all idiots; we’re still in the emotional Neanderthal slime!”  Whereas the writer of Proverbs 8 says more subtly…
Does not wisdom call? Does not understanding raise her voice? On the heights beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries aloud: “To you, O men, I call, and my cry is to the children of man. O simple ones, learn prudence; O fools, learn sense.”
“I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and I find knowledge and discretion.”
 “And now, O sons, listen to me: blessed are those who keep my ways. Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it. Blessed is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors. For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favour from the Lord, but he who fails to find me injures himself; all who hate me love death.” (Proverbs 8:1-5, 12, 32-36 ESV)
Here wisdom is personified.  “Who is this wisdom?  Or, what must I do to get this wisdom?” we might ask!  And in doing so we once again return to the fault of doing rather than the maturity of being!  But rather we need to return and receive wisdom in what’s like a marriage to wisdom which leads one to true eternal maturity.
In Baptism this “marriage” occurs!  The full being of God the Father, Jesus Christ, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit meets us in a matrimony made in heaven, and hung of the hellish hill, on the cross.
You see Jesus Christ is true wisdom, personified, in flesh, on the cross, in the resurrection, and now present for all who call on him!  In baptism God does the work of making you, one with him; forgiving sin, helping the blessedly helpless, hanging your true nature on the cross, so that you “the weak one” can confess who you really are, killing the avenger, the enemy, the old foe of our sinful being within. 
No longer do you have to keep the secret and pretend to be what you’re not!  How much of a relief is that?  Humanity can now take a break!  We can all take a collective sigh!   Ahhhhhh!   I can be who I am.  One who struggles, one who is weak, I confess that I am not right, that I really have no clue, that I am far from even coming near to being perfect in any way! 
But not only can I confess that I am a helpless sinner, but I am a forgive sinner, free to be blessedly helpless, but blessedly helped and given wisdom, and faith, and hope in he who knows just who I am.
So we find the most mature Christians amongst us are those who can’t hide their sin but are just happy to be both sinners and saints.  And from the mouth of these babies and infants the Lord, our Lord, establishes and continues to establish his strength.
Jesus was that little baby, innocent and blessedly helpless, yet unlike us he did not unlearn this maturity of trust in God the Father, and remained innocent and blessedly helpless right to the cross and resurrection.  He was the only one who remained what he was created to be.  He was born helpless and innocent and was purposely baptised into our humanity and hung on the cross for it.  Now you who are born helpless in your human nature are encouraged to hang onto the humility of Christ and receiving his new humanity which can and does make you fit for heaven.
As this world is technologically evolving from the sublime to the ridiculous, be recreated each day in the promise that God works in baptism, in his word, when we stop and rest in the forgiveness of sin which Jesus Christ has won for you at the cross. 
Your purpose, the only place where you get hope and true meaning in your life, is when you lay your life in the life of Christ. Place your being in the doing of Jesus; what he has done and continues to do for you. Amen.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

C, Pentecost Sunday - John 14:12 & 27 "Higher Things"

Download WORD doc here

To do what Jesus did and does!  How is this possible?  What did Jesus do, anyway?  What’s it mean for us when Jesus says “you will do even greater things”; that is, greater things than the things Jesus did before he was taken to the right hand of the Father in heaven.  And what can you expect to be doing when you allow yourself to be guided by this promise Jesus makes to you here in John chapter fourteen?
To know the greater things God desires to constantly do in, with, and through us, we first need to know just what it was that Jesus did, while he was on earth.
We might look to him turning water into wine!  Or making a small meal of bread and fish feed five thousand.  These things are great, yet we do greater.
How about the healings he performed as he dwelt amongst the people of the day!   During Jesus’ ministry he did many miraculous things amongst those who were sick and dying.  But Jesus still did greater than this, and he promises that now we can do greater things than these.  How can this be?
Jesus walked on water, he made storms go calm, and a fruitless fig tree withers at his curse.  He raised Lazarus from the grave three days after he was had died, as well as Jairus’ daughter and the widow’s son at Nain.  He cast out demons, yet he still did greater than all of these things. 
So we might come to the conclusion that the greatest thing Jesus did was to die on the cross and come back to life on the third day.  This is surely great, however, Jesus didn’t do these things, but rather he was passive in these events.  In fact, they were done to him!  He never crucified himself, nor did he raise himself from the grave.  We human beings crucified him and God raised him.
In all these events plenty of marvellous and miraculous things happened.  That’s for sure!  However, in these astonishing things a more specific greatness occurs, but is not immediately obvious.  This is the greatness to which we have been called since Jesus’ ascension to the right hand of the Father. 
Jesus first had to be raised so he could have access to all people, in order for us to do the greater things than the things he did.  He and the Father also then had to send the Holy Spirit, so we might be connected to the Father and Jesus Christ as one, and so the greater things can occur. 
But before Jesus was raised what he did which was the greatest work, was his faithfulness to the Father, even though he knew it meant his life would be taken, even though he knew he would be killed, he trusted and was obedient unto death.
Jesus greatest works began immediately after his baptism in the Jordan by John when he was led into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  He didn’t succumb to temptation but remained faithful.  And the greatest work of faithfulness is illuminated by the glory it gives to the Father in heaven.
There was no glory in his forty days of suffering in the wilderness!  He could have thwarted the devil with a legion of angelic hosts and revelled in the victory, yet he didn’t and he suffered every trial of his and our humanness.  And he continued to this pattern for the duration of his earthly ministry.
In all his miracles he often told the disciples not to tell anyone.  Have you ever wondered why?  Our rationale would have us spread the news around to drum up support.  But support in what?  It definitely wouldn’t be support that brings glory to God!  No! It would be a masked glorifying of God — it would seemingly glorify God — but in reality would glorify us. 
This is why Jesus constantly sought to stay out of the spot light so the glory due to God alone was not distorted into a praise of the healing or those being healed.  In fact, on healing individuals he commanded them not to tell anyone but rather go and show themselves to the priests in the temple and worship God. 
When we hear in John 14:12 that we will do greater things than Jesus, after he goes to the Father, we always set our minds on the obvious extraordinary circumstances of the events surrounding Jesus’ ministry on earth.  But once we peel back the extraordinary exterior the greater, but less obvious, is revealed.  And this greater work is what we can do, now that Jesus is at the right hand of the Father, and present with, in, and through us by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Just as the Father and the Spirit were present with Jesus as he walked to the cross, God is present with us.    He is hidden from physical sight, that’s for sure!  And just as Jesus trusted his Father, giving him the glory, we now do greater things than Jesus because we do them by faith through the power of our Risen Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit hidden in his church, in his word, in his holy means that he gives to the church; and because of these things, hidden in us. 
The greater things we do are, in fact, still done by God in us!  Just as Jesus was passive, we too are passive when we do the greater things.  When we allow the full power of Christ’s resurrection and glory to dwell and work in us, the Holy Spirit uses this power to glorify Christ and the Father in heaven, and in the works done through us the Spirit glorifies the Father and the Son before all people here on earth.  And finally we too will be glorified with Christ when we pass through death into God’s sinless eternity.
So for greater things to happen, God must be glorified “alone”.  We become less, so Christ becomes more!  And we take on the nature of Jesus being servants in a world that doesn’t recognise it desperately needs to be divinely served by God the Father who sustains, God the Son who graces us with forgiveness, and the Holy Spirit who unites us into Jesus Christ.  And all the while, it’s not we who are glorified when doing the greater things individually and collectively in the church, but God “alone”.
Today, we celebrate Pentecost, the giving of the Holy Spirit, to the church, to gather the church around Christ as one, and to give glory to God alone.  Every time you gather in the name of the Triune God, hear, receive and believe his word, eat and drink proclaiming Christ’s death and resurrection, you are doing the greater things when you do them to glorify God, rather than yourself.
These things are greater than the charity that puts you in good stead in the community, greater than your Lutheran heritage, even your comprehension of the faith, or any of the other human gifts you have.  This is the greater work of faith. 
Today we are reminded that all of us who affirm our faith are called to greater responsibilities and work in God’s church.  What are these greater responsibilities and works?  How are you performing in doing greater works than Jesus?
Are you prepared to place God’s kingdom first over your property and possessions?  Do you give God power over your life, letting him deal with your weakness, and carry you through the trials of this life?  God’s will for you are the greater works which glorify him. These are the greater works, the greater responsibility to which all of us have been called. 
It all comes down to faith, or trust in God and his means!  This means we come to a realisation that nothing from within our humanness is worthy of glory, but rather is only a cause for despair.  That worry and doubt, both born of sinful pride, together with the same boastful pride are allowed to be daily drowned in repentance, so we stand under the sole authority of Jesus Christ, giving glory to him.  Even our failures, which are many for us all, can give glory to Christ, by our allowing Christ to deal with them through confession, naming them, and allowing his forgiveness to reign supreme though faith. 
By allowing ourselves to be immersed in these greater things by the Holy Spirit, glory is given to God.  And we are faithfully led to participate with Christ in the greater work of prayer for the sake of our neighbours and the world.  So they may know of God’s glory and be led into his forgiving presence further glorifying God.  Whatever you ask in Jesus’ name, will be done, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. (John 14:13)
It comes down to faith and worship, not the faith and worship of our self-centred society, but sole trust in the ways of worship given by God.  This is not all that popular these days!  In fact more and more, those who faithfully follow God will be persecuted from inside and outside the denominational churches because of God given faith.  Why?  Because nobody likes their glory being stolen!  One’s pride always takes a big hit when all glory is returned to God. 
But take heart when your pride is knocked down or you are persecuted as a result of someone else’s sinful pride, because we know suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Romans 5:3-5)
And lastly hear the promised gift Jesus leaves with those who believe in him, and rejoice that despite the trials we face, we now have the power of a God who has overcome death and is daily giving us the gift of life.  Hear and believe what Jesus says to you right now…
…Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27)  Amen.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

C, Easter 4 – John 27-28 “Hear Know Follow”

Download WORD doc here

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:27–28 ESV)
To hear, to know, to follow! These three little verbs sum up God's interaction with each of us in one succinct little statement. If we ask ourselves, "What is my purpose in this life? Why did God put me here in this body, in this place?" The answer simply comes back, "hear and follow"!
However, humanity has gone and become confused in the chaos of this world. No longer is the simple call to hear, suffice. We have immersed ourselves in the complexities of ourselves and what's seen around us. And in all the questions and searching we lose ourselves.
So what is the purpose of living? With all the science and technology, with all the advances in medicine and health, with the ever increasing knowledge of humanity's social interaction and the plight of peoples around the world, why is it that we are further from a satisfactory answer than ever before? Why is our society more depressed and hopeless knowing the very things that are meant to get us into the secrets of our social fabric; the meaning of life?
Last week's Gospel reading recounts Peter's reinstatement where Jesus asks him three times if he loves him to, "Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep." And here the Lamb of God who has taken away the sins of the world, takes away the sins of Peter, and now raised to life as the glorified Shepherd in victory over sin death and the devil appoints Peter as the first under-shepherd, the first pastor, to feed his lambs.
Now lambs are helpless little creatures. They sit at the bottom of a merciless food chain, potential victims of foxes, eagles, crows, and other carnivorous characters. They're also victims of themselves it seems. My grandfather often use to say after seeing a sheep flop down and sulk to death, "they die for practise"! And anyone who's ever tried to yard weaner lambs will see just how frustrating it must be for God who seeks to keep us safe in his fold.
Yet the secret of our salvation is really no secret at all. It just we're so much like a sullen sulking sheep most of the time, we don't realise the Shepherd of our souls seeks us. But listening to our own hearts, we take flight from the safety of God and his salvation and run further into trouble. Surely it is me who's the greatest hindrance to my Heavenly Father! Humanity certainly is helpless!
And so we are! Lambs and sheep that run amuck! We run away, running from the arms of safety into the sins of self. But our helplessness, your hopeless hunt for meaning in your life, that leaves you battered and bruised, unable to think straight anymore makes you …blessedly …helpless! But how can that be?
Today we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday! Jesus is that Shepherd! He has endured Good Friday to be our Good Shepherd. Jesus became the broken man on the cross, blessedly helpless, and now he is our help! The Blessedly Helpless Lamb of God is now the Good Shepherd tending us his blessedly helpless lambs.
You see this man, who proclaimed to be the Son of God, who is the Son of God – One with the Father from eternity, bore the eternity of death and now leads us and carries us through the valley of the shadow of death into the eternity of life forevermore. He lifts you out of the helplessness of yourself, your questions, your doubts, your tribulations and troubles in this life. How? The Good Shepherd washes you in his Good Friday blood so you stand in robes of white before the Father in the eternal house of the Lord.
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:3–11 ESV)
And so we return to the text for today and the three verbs, "to hear, to know, to follow". Our purpose, having been made his children, his lambs, is to follow him. We were created to glorify God, to worship him, to look to him and trust him. Heartache comes in every person's life, both Christian and not, when we turn from this reality. So how do we follow the Good Shepherd when we in our very nature constantly return to our silly sheepish ways?
To follow him requires knowing! But it's here there's a subtle surprise in the text. We wrongly assume that it is us who need to know God by our own strength. But being blessedly helpless we know that's just not possible. Rather it is not us who knows God but Jesus says, "I know them!" He knows you, his sheep!
"Knowing" is nothing short of being faithful, so Jesus is faithful to you. The Good Shepherd constantly leaves the ninety-nine to look for you, the blessedly helpless, lost one! You are his little lamb, he is the Good Friday Good Shepherd. You can trust the Lamb of God who was faithful even unto death, and now continues in faithfulness sending the Holy Spirit into your heart, willing you to believe he who believes in you.
So Jesus knows you and you're now free to follow him. He sends the Holy Spirit to grow faith within, faith that hold fast to Jesus' faithfulness towards you, demonstrated on the cross. As faithful sheep of the Faithful Shepherd, the Holy Spirit does in us who know we are blessedly helpless lambs that which we are called to do, namely, to glorify God. And that is listening to him; hearing his voice.
You hear the Shepherd's voice when you hear the Word of God, the law and the gospel. This is God's rod and staff. God's Word is our comfort as we pass through the valley of the shadow of death. It teaches us about ourselves and it guides us. It protects us from the self, and from the old evil foe. And it returns us to the loving embrace of Jesus coming down from the cross in victory over your sin and my sin too.
…the Lamb in the midst of the throne is our Shepherd, and he guides us to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from your eyes.
Jesus says to you, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand." (John 10:27–28 ESV)
"Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen." (Revelation 7:12 ESV)