Tuesday, December 23, 2014

B, Christmas Eve/Christmas Day Isaiah 9:2-7 "The Way Things Are Meant To Be"

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When Joseph and Mary set off from Nazareth to Bethlehem, Mary heavily pregnant, one might wonder if Joseph grumbled in his heart, “This is not the way things are meant to be.” The word of God does not tell us what he was thinking other than that he originally planned to divorce Mary quietly for being “found with child”. Nevertheless, he was convinced otherwise after an angel of the Lord visited him and told him to not be afraid to take Mary as his wife and to name the child, Jesus, at his birth. (see Matthew 1:18-25)

However, humans being what we are, as Joseph trudged his way from Nazareth to Bethlehem with a woman carrying a child of whom he was not the father, not to mention a heavily pregnant woman, ripe and ready to give birth at any moment, most of us would forgive Joseph being upset at the government for having them travel at this time to appease the bureaucratic busybodies in Rome.

And then the labour pains begin! “Now that’s just great! Mary is about to drop her bundle and we’re out here with nowhere to go.” One can sense the anxiety and stress of Joseph as Mary begins to bear down for the birth of the baby God has called Joseph to adopt as his own. And no one took them in, at their home town of Bethlehem. This was not the way it was meant to be, for the law called for folk to be hospitable and take travellers in, especially ones who were relatives.

Was it meant to be this way? They were in the lineage of David, the great king of Israel, but now humbled on a donkey was a woman ready to deliver a child whom the father was not clearly known, manipulated by their captives, the Roman government, without anywhere for this child to be born. It surely paints a picture of hopelessness, weakness, oppression, anxiety, and depression.

It is easy for us to tap into the sentiment of hopelessness, as we take check of what’s going on around us in our society today. And not just what’s out there but what’s in our hearts too! Are things meant to be this way? If one stops to take check of what’s really going on in his or her own heart, we will find no matter how much we dress ourselves with gaudy decorations and lights these things only cover the darkness within, and the joy and goodwill of the season only reveals the ever deepening chasm of hopelessness that really exists once the hangover of the holiday season sets in, in the wake of what we’ve really been worshipping. Yes, it’s very easy to get a sense of the uncertainty and lack of security Joseph could have felt for his new unorthodox family.

Even more so when we consider the society in which we live. Just as it was a great impost on Mary and Joseph to travel to Bethlehem, our governments and an out of control bureaucracy, too seek to manipulate us for their own gain. Censuring us today in a way that parades a good order mantra, but in reality feeds a greater disorder in our society! The threat of terrorism is real, yet governments turn and use the terrorism threat to terrorise us into accepting more and more rules which control us and destroy the freedoms and democracy they’re meant to be protecting.

The media mediates the manipulative mantra of the ruling class so we’re only told half-truths, whoring themselves with politicians, waiting for the election season, when the tables are reversed and politicians whore themselves with the media to again manipulate us into voting for them. And as this carries on business continues to woo society with a mantra all of its own so we praise, purchase and worship their products, to the glory of their end of financial year profits.

And if the darkness of our hearts, the rule of politicians and the media is bad enough, the ecclesiastical estate seeks to align itself more and more with these rulers too. The institutionalisation of the church has become as much about manipulation of people for the glory of things other than God. Just like governments, the church uses past horrendous acts in the church by certain members to justify acts that are ungracious and even more atrocious removing people’s faith in God and replace it with a faith in something else, trampling the Holy Spirit underfoot in a bid to glorify other spirits.

Just like the ruling Sanhedrin, the Pharisees and the Sadducees in the days of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension, here on earth, the institutionalised church is bowing to the very same sins. So bad has it become that the Word of God has been reviled by people inside and outside the church because the church uses the Word of God to bind God’s people when they rightly intend to glorify God. And again the Word of God has been reviled by folk when church hierarchy and others wrongly use it to loose themselves to manipulate or mount up money for themselves.

It’s no wonder that underneath the facade, the mainstays of our society these days seem to be unrest, hopelessness, unhappiness, lack of trust, anxiety, depression and a deep long for something better, that can’t be found in the fruitlessness of what governments, the media, and the secularised church has become. The unity of community fractured by the individualism of each broken heart, and the hopelessness of what our world’s become. This is not the way things are meant to be.

As much as we might be tempted to bury the reality of what we are and what we’ve become. We can’t! Nor could Joseph as his anxiety surely heightened as the unborn child sank lower and lower in Mary’s pelvis as they sought somewhere in Bethlehem to have the baby. Instead let us hear the promise of God against the darkness of how things have become. When this is not the way things are meant to be.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:2–7 ESV)

The way things are is the way things are. Ever since the fall things are not meant to be this way! Ever since Adam and Eve sinned you are not the person you were meant to be. However, this is how it is!

But from the midst of this darkness a great light of hope shines bright. You who dwell in the darkness of anxiety, depression, institutional oppression, and from all the things that are not meant to be, a light is shining. Not the flashing light of Boxing Day sales, the lights on houses and trees, nor the light of hope someone might offer to coerce you into their world of popularity, power, and profits.

No! This is the light of true joy; the light that bureaucratic bullies cannot use to burden us, shattering the staff of institutionalism, and ruining the rod of ruling oppressors forever. This is the light of wonder, might, and peace, and it’s not a light that will fade with the fads that come and go with governments, media, and churches that have been hijacked of heavenly focused power and glory.

For us who are willing to believe we are in darkness are illuminated in this glorious eternal light. This is the “Light of the World” born to Mary, Jesus the Christ, whom Joseph was called to father on behalf of the Eternal Father. Joseph may have thought this in not how it’s meant to be, but God was making it right in the midst of things that were far from right.

And now for us too, who live with the darkness of self, who live with politicians giving themselves pay rises, ever maddening media mantras, and institutional churches modelling themselves more and more on the world, we are called to hear the promise of God who, despite all this stuff that’s not meant to be, is enlightening us with his Word of Hope! That which is meant to be!

We are called to believe what is, is! But also to believe that which is hidden! And this faith comes from the Light of his Word which illuminates the unseen… The government of God, established with justice and righteousness forever by this baby’s death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. The counsel of the Holy Spirit most wonderfully leading us back to repentance and forgiveness through our baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection. The might of God, which despite all the darkness still reigns supreme in the hearts and minds of those who believe and is effective in fulfilling the will of God on earth as it has been fulfilled in heaven. And the eternal peace which comes when we trust not in ourselves and what we can do but in the zeal of what God has done and continues to do in his righteous and just government.

The promise of God is the only truly righteous and just thing in heaven and on earth. Joseph trusted God alone when things were not what they were meant to be, we too need to trust God alone despite so much of our self and our world being not the way it is meant to be. Amen.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

A, Post-Pentecost 16 Proper 21 - Philippians 2:1-5 "True Belief"

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It might be very easy in these days to be carried away by fear and terror like Henny Penny running around in a mad panic as if the sky was falling in on us.  It seems the media would encourage us to do this so they can exercise control over us for the benefit of their ratings and advertising sales.
Just as easy is becoming complacent over the events going on around us.  Every picture and sound coming from the media revolves around and around, media feeding off media, making us so sick of hearing the same thing over and over again, on the hour, every hour.
Things are certainly hectic in our times.  Terrorism is a threat, apathy too just as big a problem and making sense of it all might leave one a bit bewildered.
 Connecting these events in your own lives might be difficult.  You may be wondering why the world is going mad these days.  And sitting down in this place might seem to be so disjointed from the reality of our world and the strife going on, let alone the hassles you face personally from day to day.
You might reason a million and one things from the happenings around you and how they affect you personally.  Everything that happens tends to cause us to form different beliefs so we place our trust in things we can understand.  These beliefs entrench themselves into our being and cause us to interact with others in prescribed ways.
On hearing the news of beheadings and terrorist activities, the USA and others bombing Islamic State strongholds, politicians making pronouncements at the United Nations, what happens in you?  How are your beliefs shaken, tested, attacked, or justified and edified?
A couple weeks ago, before the beheadings began to be aired in the media, a journalist was interviewed on the radio about his work in the Middle East.  This Australia reporter had been taken captive and circumstances led him to nearly be beheaded before being freed at the eleventh hour.  As he recounted the events of his capture and release he commented, “True belief has caused more trouble in the world than anything else.”  On reflection I believe he is spot on.
I imagine most terrorist operate from a “true belief” modus operandi.  To commit terror and lose your life one must operate out of true belief in something.  Or else they wouldn’t go through with their suicidal actions in the first place.  Others might believe they’re wrong but the individual or group acting will fully believe what they’re doing is for their greater good.
When we hear and see these barbaric things happening, our belief systems are put into action.  Do you know what your belief system is?  Have you studied how and why you react the way you do in response to what goes on around you?
Being honest with myself, looking into the deepest recesses of my being, I see a belief system full of presumptions and prejudices.  I might display a certain belief system to keep up appearances with others, but within, the way I think, the way I react, and the way I feel is a completely different story.  In fact inconsistencies run rife within my internal belief system.  There’s a mix of cowardice and confusion, which holds me back from saying and doing as I truly believe.  Doubts call into question, “just how true is this belief I call my own?”
It seems to me my apprehension, my gutlessness, and the terrors I hold within see me sin against the true belief of who I am.  Some of my actions seem so spineless and apathetic compared to the terrorists taking on world, putting their lives out there for the sake of the cause.  My pride sees me campaigning acts of terror in my mind, against those who offend my sense of self righteousness. And yet the very same pride sees me cower within myself.  I sin against my own mind’s terrorist activity, not even able to remain faithful to my own sinfulness and self righteousness!
Stopping and having a good hard look at ourselves, reveals some interesting stuff.  The true belief of the terrorist raises the response of true belief within us, and other individuals, and even governments of our world.  We might loath what others do, some have the fortitude to fight and retaliate with revenge crimes, and our governments rally their armed forces to strike back.
Being a Christian, in these times brings true belief in Jesus Christ face to face, toe to toe, into conflict with the true belief of our inner selves.  All of us make presumptions, and rationalise our true beliefs which conflicts with those Jesus Christ calls us to have.  In fact, it’s been like this from the moment Jesus began his ministry of bringing the true belief and self righteousness of human hearts to repentance. 
It began at Jesus’ baptism into a ministry of true faithfulness and righteousness that led him to the cross.  This was a ministry John the Baptist even recoiled over saying to Jesus, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”  But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. Matthew 3:14–15 (ESV)
Ever since this day, Christ has been calling you and me to have our terrors dealt with.  It matters not whether they are terrors of Roman crucifixions on crosses, or terrors from Muslims, or any other people.  These terrors tempt us to carry all sorts of terrors within and in turn lead humanity into heaping sin upon sin.
Terrorist activities and threats against Christians and Jews have lead to presumptuous activities just as offensive and terrorising in the name of true belief.  We Christians can hang our heads in shame over what Christians have done in the name of Christianity throughout history right up to now, and so too the Jews for what they are doing to the Palestinians in Gaza in these days.
Saint Paul speaks relevantly when he addresses the Philippians in their times and us today as we face the reality of our world, but also the world within our hearts too!  We do well to see how our true belief empties the cross of its power, and siphons glory away from God the Father as we react to protect the motives driving the core of our true beliefs.
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.  Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus... Philippians 2:1–5 (ESV)
The key word here is encouragement!  Pauls starts off, if there is any encouragement in Christ...!  Encouragement here means to be invited, called alongside, literally — a side listening.  Picture a ship as it pulls alongside the dock and then anchors itself with ropes stopping it from being whipped around by whatever the weather or tides might do to it if it were not held fast and kept safe.
In the same way, you have been called and continue to receive encouragement.  We are invited to be held fast in faith by Jesus Christ, to come alongside Jesus’ word and deeds.  He faithfully seeks to lash himself to you and bring your true belief in line with his.  Safe and sound through the humility and humanity of his death and resurrection!  To have the mind of Christ among us has us believing we need God’s help, believing our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth, who took up humanity in humility counting us more significant than himself.
Rather than presuming our true belief is what sets us right let’s assume our humanity needs the services of Jesus Christ, not just once, but continually through the Holy Spirit winning out over our spirits so he might continually place true righteous through his crucifixion and our baptism into it in us. 
Saint Paul continues on after calling us to receive encouragement, to receive comfort from love.  This is the most pure of blood soaked crucifixion love, not to terrorise us with a Roman terrorism tool, but for us to see and know we are loved by God.  Then he calls us to participation in the Holy Spirit, affection, sympathy, and joy having the same mind as Jesus.  We can only do this if we allow the Holy Spirit access into our hearts where he can turn our self spirited so-called “true belief” back to a sole belief in Jesus Christ.
So rather than running around like a chook with its head cut off!  Rather than revenge or apathy against terrorists who threaten to behead, kill or endanger.  You might allow the Holy Spirit to use you to do the greater work of Jesus Christ with the terrorist, the ill-tempered neighbour, those you’re not naturally attracted towards, or those your presumptions, prejudices, or pride might not allow you to mix with in the hustle and bustle of life. This is the greatest humanitarian work where in humility we bow our heads in prayer. 
Therefore, let us pray.
Heavenly Father, we believe, save each of us from our unbelief!  Send the Holy Spirit into our hearts so we seek to hear your word, so we love and want to hear your word more and more.  And with your word, infill our prayers for those whom we might deem as our enemies in our lives!  We ask this through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.

Friday, September 12, 2014

A, Post-Pentecost 14 Proper 19 - Matthew 18:21-35 "Kings of Forgiveness"

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 What is the thing that torments you most?  You know; the course of events that frustrates you no end because of an unjust agenda against you or your family or friends!  The person who picks on you and never seems to let up; perhaps they torment you!  Maybe, the success of one whom you believe has come at others’ expense; maybe at your expense! Does this torment you? It could be anything upsetting your perception of fairness or righteousness that torments and twists you as you try to go about your everyday life!
On the other hand, you might be tormented by guilt from wronging someone else.  Just like Joseph’s brothers who feared Joseph might take revenge after the death of their father, Jacob.  They were tormented by what they had done and by what might happen to them.
Or even when you haven’t wronged someone, but they believe you have done something against them.  There is still torment because of the soured relationship between the both of you.  Whatever the cause, torment can make one feel sick in the stomach, from the ordeal with others and from the stress within.
When we sin against each other, torment is usually not far away.  Loneliness, feelings of dread, deep deep sadness, anxiety, misunderstanding and a myriad of other sufferings wash over us and can torment us in the face of sin.  When sinned against; or, after sinning against someone else!
This torment arises from the hurt sin causes within us!  It matters not whether we’re the perpetrator or the victim; sin seems to wound both and then in the wake of sin comes torment and then perhaps more sin.  We would all agree, in spite of sinning or being sinned against, breaking free from this cycle of sin and its torment is a terribly hard thing to do.
 Practice has shown even when we remove ourselves from all company and isolate ourselves, the torment is not removed.  Rather, we might observe the opposite happening!  If I cut myself off from community to escape from torment, it leaves me vulnerable to the real source of my torment, myself — my old Adam!
Even more so when we isolate ourselves from God, the community of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, working in us, with us, and through us, we cannot escape our own torment. 
In fact, we need community to overcome torment.  And that community is a community of forgiveness. 
See what torment did to some of the lonely souls whom we hear of in God’s word.  Job, Jonah, King Saul, Simon Peter, and Judas Iscariot to name just a few!  Some ended up back in community — forgiven, and some were tormented into destruction!
 Looking at what goes on within ourselves helps us get a handle on the gospel reading for today, where Peter asks Jesus, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?  As many as seven times?” (Matthew 18:21 ESV)  How many times does Peter have to put up with being sinned against before he doesn’t need to forgive?  How long do I have to sit back and take it before I can right my own wrongs?
Peter’s motives, my motives, all are called to examine their motives, as Jesus caries on with the parable comparing the Kingdom of Heaven to a king settling accounts with his servant and that very same servant settling an account with his peer. Jesus calls us to look at our hearts and how we forgive. 
In fact, we can now look at not just how we forgive, but why it’s so crucial for us to forgive with a right heart, to free us ourselves and each other from subjecting ourselves further to the cycle of sin and torment.
God does not want you to chew on torment.  This is not the daily bread God wants you to eat.  Rather God’s will for you and me, between himself and us, and then, us with each other, is played out in the words of Jesus’ parable.  In fact, in this parable we hear Jesus petition us with the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew 6 to pray, “…forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12 ESV)
Returning to Peter’s question, we might see his desire to be god of his situation.  How long does Peter have to listen to God before he can be god of his situation?  And we can hear and examine the very parable with which Jesus responds, showing a servant lording it over his fellow servant in the wake of his king lording it over him in a completely compassionate way.  If there is an end to when Peter needs to forgive, then surely there too is an end to when God needs to stop forgiving Peter!
And us too!  If you deem it necessary not to forgive, would you continue to stand if God were to use that very same judgement against you!  I know I need God’s grace and mercy, and so do you; if there is to be any peace in this life!
Rather, we are called to judge each other with a judgement that our Lord, our Saviour, our King, our Rescuer continues to use on us!  Jesus says, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” (John 7:24 ESV)  This is a judgement that condemns sins to the cross, forgives and frees the sinner, and restores us to a community of peace, both within, with each other, and with our Father in Heaven.
But this decision to forgive is not meant to be a laborious task.  Yes it might cost us something to forgive, namely our pride, but in the wake of forgiveness, torment within is put to an end.  In fact torment can be turned into joy! 
No longer do we have to carry around our self righteousness as a badge of dignity.  Rather we can, take up our cross, but in doing so see that the Lord Jesus Christ has taken up our greater cross and made it his cross of torment and suffering.
Listen to this advice about Jesus and his motives and his forgiveness in Hebrews chapter twelve…
…let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfector of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1–2 ESV)
Now that Jesus has borne your sin on the cross, what joy is set before you?  Are you not called to be the righteous king of forgiveness for Jesus sake!  No longer do you have to torment yourselves with other people’s sin, even if it causes you to carry all kinds of crosses in this life.  Because Jesus has carried our eternal torment on “the cross” at Calvary and has risen in victory over sin, death, and the power of the devil! 
Nor do we have to hear this text and think we “have to” forgive because our Heavenly Father and Jesus, the King of Kings, will get revenge on us if we don’t.  Or say the Lord’s Prayer and fear the law heard in our torment, “if I don’t forgive others, God won’t forgive me!”
Rather we can forgive, because we “want” to forgive and because we “love” to forgive.  You are kings of forgiveness in the priesthood of all believers.  God has forgiven you, you can forgive yourself, and on learning Christ’s joy of eternally forgiveness you too can look to him to help you “willingly” and “wantingly” forgive others.  Times of torment can be opportunities of freedom and forgiveness in Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.
Dear Lord God Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit into our hearts so we no longer have to forgive each other, but rather because we want to, and love to forgive each other just as you have forgiven us and set us free to forgive, through our Redeemer, your Son, Jesus Christ.  Amen!

Saturday, February 01, 2014

A, Epiphany 4 - Matthew 5:6 "Hunger & Thirst"

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Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. (Matthew 5:6 ESV)
When a person is blessed, they’re set apart, they’re privileged, and they’re given more.  Some translations use the word “happy” but being blessed is happier than happy, rather one is holy when one is blessed.  Jesus declares this blessedness comes as a result of what?  Being poor in spirit, meek; or those who mourn, or are reviled and persecuted!
In the midst of these beatitudes, or these “attitudes of being holy” we hear those are blessed who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and yet only a few words later Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:10 (ESV)
Now we must understand that righteousness here is not anything we can do for ourselves. For if one could obtain righteousness for and by themselves, then there would be no hunger or thirsting for it.  I’d just fill myself with righteousness.  But the appetite for righteousness is fulfilled when one is fed by someone else.
So we are blessed when we hunger and thirst for righteousness.  What is this hunger and thirst?  It is the desire, the passion, the yearning, and the craving.  It is the intense need for that which one hasn’t got, and so desperately needs or wants.  One might even say blessed are those who covet righteousness.  How can one covet righteousness and receive the kingdom of heaven? 
It’s an interesting question to ponder.  One that King David considered too!
O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart; who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbour, nor takes up a reproach against his friend; in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honours those who fear the LORD; who swears to his own hurt and does not change; who does not put out his money at interest and does not take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved. Psalm 15 (ESV)
He asks the Lord, “Who can stop with you?  Who can hang out in your holy presence?  And then he worships God saying, he who walks perfectly without blame, does right, speaks the truth in and from his heart,  and conducts himself or herself in such a way, even if they suffer hurt from it they stick to their guns.
It’s at this point I begin to realise that the righteousness required to receive the kingdom of heaven is one that’s going to hurt; for righteousness’ sake I’m going to be landing smack bang in the middle of persecution.
Now I suspect you like me don’t like the idea of suffering and pain.  So then how am I to crave or covet God, his kingdom, and his righteousness?  Reality tells me it’s easier to seek first everything else rather than the kingdom of God, and it’s a lot less painful for my every day existence.
It seems to me I’m in trouble.  The word of God makes it quite clear, any showy self-righteous acts are just a complete waste of time.  Oh yes, they might make me feel good about myself but they’re not going to advance my cause before God.  I will be held high in the eyes of others but this is just vain glory, and if I believe my own popularity, I’m playing a game of deadly deception with myself.  Yes it appears any of my righteous deeds are about as popular with God, as one of my dogs coming to me for praise after it’s been rolling in its own filth!
You and I are in big trouble!  Left to ourselves and our own devices we neither have a hunger nor a thirst for righteousness, so therefore we won’t be satisfied, blessed, or made holy.  How can one desire something when one doesn’t even know what it is lest have the hunger or thirst for it anyway?
On the other hand, having been made known about the righteousness of God, I still don’t seek it, if I am honest with myself.  Time and time again I try to do the right thing but fail.  Over and over and over I act more like my foul smelling dog returning to its filth.  I try to be mission minded, I try to be forgiving, I try to be accepting of others, but deep within me rages my desire to throttle all the tall poppies around me so I’m the only one left standing proud and tall. 
The righteousness that I so often seek is one that persecutes all others so I can build my own kingdom where I can have my own way!
Yet God still comes to me in this condition.  This is truly surprising to me!  Why should I deserve such graciousness?  After all I know I am in trouble, I see in all my actions, a seeking of self righteousness.  Either I hold up my thin veil of pride to hide reality, or the veil falls away and I see the shame of one who cannot save myself from death.  But he still comes!
He sent his only Son to fulfil all righteousness!  The Son of God arrived at the Jordan, John baptised him into my life and I have been baptised into his.  And now Jesus fulfils all righteousness in me, and he does for you too!  He walks with me through life, taking what is mine and giving me what is his.  He takes my wretched cross and gives me his glorified crown!
… you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:30–31 ESV)
He has places in you and me, even while we still struggle with the old sinful self, forgiveness and faith, blessedness and salvation, despite what we see in ourselves.  He makes us holy and happier knowing we have been freed from trouble even as we struggle with all the troubles in the world. 
And even as we struggle with the cravings and desires that lead us to covet all the unrighteous stuff around us I can say …The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1 ESV)
So whom shall you fear or be afraid?  Certainly not yourself, definitely not the devil, and you needn’t worry about the world either.  But in the reality of all this trouble we can constantly ask the Lord as King David asks of him…
One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple. For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock. Psalm 27:4–5 (ESV) 
In the midst of tribulation troubles and toils, you can boast in the Lord and receive his blessings.  Therefore you can pursue God in prayer.  You can ask him to change your attitudes of being.  You can call on Jesus to fulfil all righteousness within you, and to lead you into his word so you can bear the wisdom of Christ.  And in doing so you will find yourself desiring and craving the temple of the Lord, seeking the beauty of the Lord and see him living this beauty in you as you are constantly immersed in and sprinkled with his word.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever. Psalm 23:6 (ESV)
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. (Matthew 5:6 ESV)

Saturday, January 04, 2014

A, Epiphany General - John 1:10-14 "The Names of Jesus in his Word"

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John 1:10–14 (ESV) He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Twelve days of Christmas comes and goes each year and then the church year rolls into the season of Epiphany.  Epiphany is really an extension of the Christmas season; we’ve heard how the Word of God was made flesh in the Advent and Christmas bible narratives; how God sent his Son into the world to save the world.  In doing so Jesus was first revealed to the shepherds as a human; a baby in the manger.
Christmas is the season which celebrates the epiphany of Jesus as a human being; the revelation or the uncovering of the child.  And so until Ash Wednesday and Lent the Epiphany season proper breaks forth.  The baby boy born to Mary has been reveal, and now in Epiphany the church emphasises just who the flesh of this child actually veils.
The Word became flesh, and so we hear and are called to believe the flesh of this child, the flesh of this man crucified on the cross, is the one and only Son of God, the Word of God, that he in fact is God the Son, with God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, who is, who was, and who is to come, the Almighty (Rev 1:8).
Yet it’s here in the message of Epiphany that both believers and non-believers become confused and confounded that this Christ Child born in this world is the eternally existing Son of God, eternally being born of the Father, whom from both the Holy Spirit proceeds.  Infinite, immortal, all-powerful, all-knowing, omnipresent, yet a fragile, weak, baby born into the confusion of a world that neither knew him, nor wanted to know him!
In the reading before us John says, He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. And still today, even more so perhaps, in this age of human reason we struggle to comprehend what’s written in the Word of God about the child, the man, he who was sent to bear the burden of our sin!
During the course of my faith journey, my confusion over this mystery became obvious to me as I constantly over looked something quite simple in God’s written Word.  God’s Word was speaking but I wasn’t hearing the full depth of what God was trying to tell me, in this particular area.  I know there are many areas of God’s Word we don’t really understand; that all will be revealed and made plain for us in our resurrection!  But it seems I, like all of us, got lost in my own little world of understanding; reading the Word, but not seeing something in the sea of Scripture before me.
But God in his patience and glorious beauty, continually leads us back into his word, and in his time, manifests himself to all of us who continue in confession, repentance, and hearing the Word of God.
John continues …to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
“To believe in his name” this phrase and others struck me over time that I need sorting out in my own understanding, the uses of the names of Jesus in his Word.  Over time the Holy Spirit showed me something quite simple that perhaps I had taken for granted, glossed over many times, and not really thought much about in its right context.
The beautiful thing with repentance is when we overlook what we shouldn’t; God stops us and turns us back for another go.  Repentance is not what so many of us see as a threat of wrathful vengeance from God but rather loving redirection and correction from our Heavenly Father.  One can learn from their mistakes, be led to the “ah ha” moment and praise God through what he’s taught us from our missing the mark.
So moving along, I hope and pray we all might learn from my missing the mark, busyness of my self-centred mind and overlooking of Scripture, by looking at the use of the names for Jesus in the New Testament, and the context of their uses. 
By stopping and considering what God is saying through the bible writers it has been a part of my faith growth; a personal epiphany, as it were; one of those delightful “ah ha” moments one has in their lives.
When hearing the New Testament, Jesus is mentioned many times as we would expect.  But he has many titles.  My focus is more on the use of his name rather than titles like “the Good Shepherd, the way, the truth and the life, the gate, the Alpha and the Omega, and the many other titles these pictures paint.
The focus here is on the names; Jesus Christ, Christ Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Man, the Son of God, God the Son, the Messiah, the Saviour, the Christ of God, the Lord’s Christ, Christ the King, Christ Crucified, the Chosen One, Immanuel, and the simple singular name of Jesus, and the name Christ, and lastly when Jesus says “I am”.  
Asking questions of the text is a healthy thing to do.  Unfortunately when something usually crops up that’s a bit difficult we have a tendency to overlook it or brush it aside, but enduring in the text is good for us, it increases our hunger for the things of God, and God himself.  In fact, persevering in his word glorifies him and pleases him no end that we seek him in his word. And God will not leave your questions unanswered.  He will open the doors of understanding, in his time, in his way, and to the praise of his glory, rather than yours or mine.
The mistake I make, as do many of us in this post resurrection and ascension era of the church, is when hearing all these names I think, “Yep, this is Jesus, Son of God.”   This is not wrong in itself, rather it is spot on, yet I neglect the context of each of the names used in the context of the day they were used and by who spoke them.
You see the Jews of Jesus’ day would have been quite happy for Jesus of Nazareth to be the Saviour.  But what are they talking about and what do we understand them to say?  It is quite easy to hear in our post ascension understanding something entirely different to what was actually being said on the day.   Their view of saviour is very different to ours, because we now live with all the evidence, the complete written account. 
Their saviour was another man, a king, like King David who was to ride into Jerusalem and over throw the Romans.  But our Saviour is one who is the Christ, (the anointed, or the messiah), who is both the Son of Man born of woman, and God the Son of the Father from eternity, who claimed to be God but gave up his power as God. 
And so for us today an epiphany of Jesus Christ in our lives occurs when allowing Scripture to distinguish between that which became flesh, the baby Jesus, the man Jesus.  And the Word which became flesh, God the Son, Immanuel (God with us), the Lord’s Christ or Anointed and so forth.
We live post cross, resurrection and ascension.  It’s true we may more easily believe that Jesus is God the Son and the Son of Man; he is both crowned eternal King, and Lord of Lords; and is human like you and me; crucified and raised and now sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven, glorified in human flesh. 
But for revelation, epiphany or manifestation of Jesus as our Saviour in our day to day context of birth, existence, blessings and struggles, aging and dying, we need to hear who is being spoken of, who is speaking it, by whose power are they saying it, when and where it is said in relation to the Good Friday Crucifixion.  Is it being said to a physical audience (of Jews, disciples, or folk of Jesus’ day) or a written audience (such as a congregation or individuals in the early church or even us today)?
As you endure in his Word, asking questions of him in his Word, God will answer.  In receiving him you will believe him.  In other words the more you hear and understand the more you will want to hear and understand.  The Holy Spirit will work in the Word; the scales will fall from your eyes and keep on falling every day until that glorious long-awaited day.  We will be eternally transfigured, once and for all the veil will be removed, saved and anointed by his death and resurrection we will see him face to face, at the great eternal epiphany. 
May the Word who became flesh, dwell among you, and in his word you see his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth, Amen.