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.