Sunday, May 26, 2013

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

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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"

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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.