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!