Sunday, April 14, 2019

C, Palm Passion Sunday - Philippians 2:5-11 "The Tree of Victory"

On the tree of the cross Jesus gave salvation to all, so that, where death began, there life might be restored, and that the enemy, who by a tree once overcame, might by a tree be overcome.
From time to time you may have heard these words in the divine service, especially in Lent and Holy Week. 
This line of liturgy brings together a number of key themes and Scriptures in the story of salvation.  Tree, cross, salvation, death, life, restoration, enemy, to overcome, to be overcome.  But tying them all together is the picture of the tree.
The tree that overcame was the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  The tree that overcomes is the tree of the cross.  The tree of knowledge of good and evil is a tree of death.  The tree of the cross is also the tree of death. 
But the cross is a tree of life too!  At the cross life is present as well.  The cross is the place of salvation and restoration; it’s the place where good meets evil and overcomes evil.  And so at Easter the cross used in the Good Friday service is often covered in flowers and colour on Easter Sunday.  
But behind the cross, the cross of Good Friday, the cross of Easter, the cross veiled in black, and the cross covered in flowers, is the reality of good and evil.
Today when we leave church and become absorbed once again in our lives, we may not think about the church service, or the cross, or the themes of restoration and salvation.  However, every one of us weighs up in his or her conscience what is good and what is evil.  It’s what we humans naturally do, every day.   
We gather information around us and make decisions on what is right and wrong.  We learn and live, storing knowledge to make judgements.  Is it good, or is it bad?  Are they doing the right thing or the wrong thing?  Am I good or bad?  When I am overcome by good and evil, what can I do to overcome good and evil?
It’s no different for people in the bible too.  They decided what was good and bad, or good and evil too.  And it’s in these biblical accounts where good and evil is considered we might gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and our relation to the cross.
Let’s look at the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  They were deceived by the snake to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  God had given them every other tree in the garden but their desire was kindled in the tree of knowledge of good and evil; it looked good to eye and desirable for gaining insight.  Notice how the evil part of the tree was forgotten.  Not only was evil forgotten but also everything else that had been given to them, including the tree of life.
They turned their backs on life and chose knowledge.  They chose to be like God judging what was good and what was evil. They lost their holy innocence as creatures created in the image of God. Or put simply, they chose pleasure over peace, and this peace was a life where God served them with the garden and his holy presence.  In their pleasure they chose to ignore the love of God, agape or servanthood, and replaced it with a love turned in on the self.  First given as a temptation they became driven by desire, eros and potency.  And from that time we have found knowledge of good and evil makes us powerful like God. 
But our knowledge of good and evil is not used in loving servanthood as God uses it, but rather for loving ourselves in all manner of pleasures.  And like an itch that feels good scratched until our skin is rubbed raw, broken and infected, our pleasures have unleased suffering and sickness from this original sin in the Garden of Eden.  This is what happens when humanity replaces the great “I AM” of God the Father with the “I am” of our self inflated egos.
Fast forward over a couple thousand years of good and evil interpretation under Old Testament Law!
The Law was designed to cleanse God’s chosen people so once again they could look to God’s goodness and servanthood. But time and time again the Jews practised the Law to justify themselves using God’s Word to gratify their pleasures.
So when the time was right God sends his Son in the greatest act of servanthood agape love.  A gift was given to the world.  The tree of life was replanted in the midst of humanity in the manger.  Some saw it as good but others saw it as bad. 
The Tree of Life is grafted into a human; eternal servanthood was born in flesh by the power of God’s Word.  Born into a world where knowledge meant power and pleasure, they measured Jesus by what pleased and by how the praise of them was affected. So some worshiped God when they encountered him, and some tried to kill him.  Some saw it as opportunity to use him to serve them and their pleasures and some in their knowledge just didn’t care to know him. 
However, this one born of the flesh did not succumb to using his knowledge of good and evil against them.  He put off the desire to be “like God”, even though he was God.  Instead he let himself be creaturely in the way they were originally created to be — like you and I were meant to be. 
He took the Law and followed it, yet his piety was not glorifying himself but God the Father. In doing so he showed the goodness of the Pharisees, the pious ones, to be evil.  And those who were deemed the undesirable ones, the ones afflicted with evil, he poured out love and coved with his holiness. 
The characters around Jesus were defined by his life among them.   There were many but let’s just take two — Simon Peter and Judas Iscariot. These two polarize Jesus Christ from all others at the cross — the Sanhedrin, the soldiers, Pilate, the other disciples, the two criminals on their crosses and the fickle mob.
Peter used his knowledge of good and evil to rebuke Jesus, demanding it ridiculous he would even think of going to a cross, and at Jesus’ trial confessed he would never deny Jesus.  And Judas’ knowledge of good and evil leads him to hand Jesus to the Jews, and then not trust Jesus would forgive him for what he had done.  It appears the two are extremes but both Peter and Judas are the same by putting themselves in the place of God as the knowers of good and evil.
So fast forward yet again, to now, some two thousand years after knowledge of good and evil was nailed to the tree.  We see the only good is the goodness of God in Jesus Christ sacrificed for my evil, your evil, your bad, my bad.   And from it we victoriously now live in the risen life of Jesus’ victory.
Philippians 2:1–11 (ESV) 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,  who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,  but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,  so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
One should expect we live lives of servanthood because of the life Jesus won for us.  But still we struggle to stop eating the apples of good and evil, knowingly nailing each other to the tree and plucking ourselves from the tree on which Jesus died for you and me.
You see even if we seek to move others to Jesus through our desire we once again stand under the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  Like Peter what we see as good in ourselves in reality is not, because we put our trust in what we can do rather than on what God has done through the servanthood of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Our desire, our ideologies seek to win out over the servanthood of God the Son.
Or like Judas, our knowledge of good and evil leaves us empty handed, giving up the servanthood of Jesus.  And like Judas we walk away from the death of Jesus, cutting ourselves off from the graciousness of God, and begin committing our lives to a slow painful spiritual suicide.
These are humanity’s stories, these are our stories too.  You and I find ourselves back at the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  It’s a tough tree to poison.  But here’s the problem; while we look to our own good to kill it we actually make it grow all the more. 
Just like those of the Old Testament Law, we of the New Testament Gospel, still take what God has done and use it to justify our knowledge of good and evil.  In other words we use God’s Word as our justification for pleasure.  But this pleasure thinly disguises a whole heap of pain. This is humanity’s story and it’s yours and mine too.
So in our days of trials and tribulation, busy yourself in looking to God.  When you find yourself looking within for the answers, pray to our Father for the Holy Spirit to lead you out of yourself and into the Word of God to Jesus!  Test yourself by seeing where the glory goes in your understanding of the Word of God and the works you do as a result.  And pray that the Holy Spirit will lead you to the love of God in Jesus Christ.
You will find the old tree of knowledge of good and evil will keep popping up, but when it does know that the tree of life has been replanted in you.  In other words the servanthood of Jesus lives in you; he serves you!  You have been baptised so you are free to look out of yourself to the tree of life and live in in the promise God has given you in the tree of victory.
On the tree of the cross Jesus gave salvation to you, so that, where death began, there your life might be restored, and the enemy, who by a tree once overcame, might by a tree be overcome.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

C, Epiphany 7 - 1 Corinthians 15:49-50 Psalm 37:4 "Birth, Death and Resurrection"

Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. (1 Corinthians 15:49-50)

We are being saved by the Gospel.  The Gospel is Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection over sin and eternal death. This is the purpose of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the Gospel books of the bible.  The other New Testament writings also point us back to Jesus’ work in the Gospel books, as do the Old Testament writings point forward to Jesus.
So you turn up here week after week to hear about Jesus, to sing about him and what he has done, in the hope you will not have to experience eternal death.  That’s what religion is all about; avoiding death and eternal suffering.
Looking into yourself, what do you see?  Perhaps you don’t like looking in there very often. Maybe it’s bad enough looking in the mirror!  Possibly you don’t have to look within because what’s in there keeps bubbling out, like indigestion tries to gas its way up and out!
So we turn up here, hiding the reality of ourselves or denying it and putting on a good show.  Yet the Holy Spirit continues nibbling away at us, not to look into ourselves, but, to look out of ourselves.
He wants you to know your reality but he doesn’t want you to try to figure it out for yourself.  He wants to lead you to Jesus.  He wants you to know, flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.  He wants you and me to be Christians.  He doesn’t want us to be religious at all.
Being religious focuses us on what we have to do, must do, should do, or haven’t done.  Being a Christian focuses us on what we cannot do, and instead on he who does it.  That’s Jesus, the New Adam!  But being active always sounds better to us than being passive.  Being active usually makes us feel good about ourselves… most of the time.  I suspect like me many of you like to be active so there is not time to stop and reflect on what’s really going on within.
Looking out of ourselves to Jesus, and his word, actually helps us to get a better grip on what’s going on within ourselves.  It enables us to understand how we tick; what we do and why we do it!  Jesus and the word of God enables you not to be afraid of who you are or your sin.  It destroys fear of eternal death and it keeps us focused on Jesus’ promise to us in the face of dying and death.
God’s callings have a birth, a death, and then a resurrection. [1]  Our day to day living in Jesus Christ is as much about daily death and resurrection as is our last day.  Daily drowning the old nature to have Christ put on.  Taking up the cross and following Jesus.  Trust not in yourself.  Rather make the sacrifice to trust what the Holy Spirit places on your heart as you hear, read and reread God’s word.  Search and pray for the truth of the situation from God’s point of view.
In Psalm 37 we hear, “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4 ESV)  What are the delights and desires of your heart?  If you are like me there will be many.  And if you are like me it takes God to come and sort them out.  
I end up not sorting out any of my delights or desires because I get caught up in myself.  Just like a child sent to clean its room ends us playing in the mess rather than cleaning it up. In the same way like a parent who has to then clean the child’s bedroom, God has to come and clean up my delights and desires.  God removes the rubbish of our religion to reveal the cleanliness of Christianity. What do I mean?
Christianity deals with death first and life then comes after resurrection.  It’s been that way since your baptism.  Dying to sin and being raised to life.  Our lives from then on look towards life as a Christian.  The Holy Spirit is the active one who moves us to Christ and keeps us in Christ.  And he’s the one who makes you feel guilty when you seek to ignore hearing and reading God’s Word, and gives you the yearning for forgiveness and peace.  In this life God is making us holy for heaven.
But the Old Adam within looks back to the self for justification, pleasure, delight and the deeds it thinks it needs to perform to be a self inflated hero.  Yep, the Old Adam is a narcissist. He or she within thinks he or she is the best person to deal with the self and having done so is then better than anyone else.  But this self-appeasing Adam within is a worrier, and warlord against anyone who seems better.
The Old Adam is a deceiver. He or she says, “You can’t really die, that’s only for the “old” or for the “bad people.”    And, “Why do I have to suffer, if God really loves me, my senses should not have to suffer anything?   Since the fall he or she says, “I’m like God I know good and evil, I decide what is good and what is evil, and pronounce judgement.”  The Old Adam loves the dos and don’ts of religion.  Jesus’ holiness has no eternal home in this haughty hero!
All through life, though, God seeks to free us of the Old Adam.  The reality of this is pain and suffering and perhaps even shame, but thankfully resurrection.  Our callings are various and many, from position in community, to family, to work career, to church, to God.  For the Christian all of these involve dying and death so resurrection can take place.
I am a son, a father, a husband, a citizen, an employee, a leader, a church member, a pastor, a child of God.  Death and dying is a normal part all of these.  As my kids grow things about them and my fatherhood die and are resurrected as something else, a career dies and is resurrected.  As a pastor I come and go and congregations receive and lose pastors.  Our congregations die, and God raises up his church.  The body wearies and we retire.  The aches and pains of ageing take the place of our active lives and new ways of living seem to come about.
But more specifically as I get older, closer to the day of my final earthly death, I learn from all the other deaths and resurrections in my callings that they are pointing me and teaching me the reality of who I am and what I am really capable of, or rightly, what I am not capable of.  The Old Adam wants to get angry at the corruption in the world and blame everyone else.  But this does not bring any sort of peace that lasts. If I am honest I have exploited just as much as the next person because of the narcissistic Old Adam within. 
I challenge you to ask God to give you a desire to hear and read his word.  To ponder what God has done for you.  You will be delighted when you realise God has placed many “Joseph situations” in your life.  Where God has used, what you have deemed, evil for his good and your salvation.  You will find the more you read and hear his word the more you will want to hear and read it.  When you sin, you will understand why you do, and you won’t explain it away, but rather confess it and thank God for the forgiveness he won on the cross for you. 
When you delight yourself in the Lord you will find the desires you once had will become less desirable.  Delighting in the Lord will aid in the death of self and the resurrection of something better; delight in the Lord.  The gods your Old Adam seek to serve will eventually seem less important and there will be a greater yearning within for more and more cleansing.  And the Holy Spirit will oblige and keep bringing you to the Word of God, both the Written Word and The Word made flesh.
However, the Old Adam within won’t like it one bit.  He or she will kick up a big stink. And you will find yourself being led back to the old self, to the old way of thinking.   A war will ensue within. The Old Adam will seek to restore your hero status.  You will be tempted and taunted, and sin will occur.
But do not fear, do not let the evil one trick you and lead you away from God’s word and God’s work.  He will tell you you’re too bad, you’ve been away from the word of God too long, you’re better off trusting in yourself once again, you can work off your sins! God doesn’t want to know you anymore!  I am sure you know what I’m saying, we’ve all been fooled before.  But even when we are fooled, let the Holy Spirit lead you back to the source of eternal life and the forgiveness won there for you.
Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.  Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.  Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.  He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday.  Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.  (Psalm 37:3–7a ESV)
What is the good we are to trust doing in the Lord if the Old Adam can deceive within?  Doing good is looking out of ourselves to Jesus, being still and letting the Holy Spirit lead us to him, our risen Saviour.  Befriending faithfulness, does not trust our faithfulness which often wanders, but, trusts and befriends God’s faithfulness towards us, which is promised in his word.
At the birth of a sin it’s time for another death and resurrection, one of the many we undergo as a Christian.  Trust God has got you covered with the blood of Jesus and believe the Holy Spirit busies himself calling, gathering and enlightening you together with all Christians in repentance.   Don’t be deceived or afraid!  Jesus died for sinners, so let Jesus save you from your sin.
The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord; he is their stronghold in the time of trouble.  The Lord helps them and delivers them; he delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in him.  (Psalm 37:39–40 ESV)
The Lord saves us from the wicked, that is the wicked without AND the wicked within.  That is his promise to you; he will save you from the Old Adam within, so take refuge in him.  Amen.

[1] “Ed Amies, one of my oldest and closest friends, told my simply that: “So often, God’s callings have a birth, a death, and then a resurrection.” Bear Grylls (page 216) Mud, Sweat and Tears