Archive for October, 2008

The search for the truth

Friday, October 31st, 2008


John 8: 31-36 The search for the truth

 

Everyone can remember a time when we had to line up before our parents, perhaps together with our brothers and sisters, to give account for something we had done wrong; perhaps we lied about something or broke a window but denied it.  All standing in a line, dad or mum would walk up and down asking for the truth to be told; demanding that the truth of the matter be revealed so that the issue at hand can be dealt with and the wrong put right.  ‘Now what happened, which one of you did this’?

 

Finding out the truth and putting right what is wrong is justice; its making sure wrong is dealt with so that the injustice does not continue.  Yet as all of us are painfully aware, getting us to tell the truth is the hardest battle. Getting us to admit that we are in the wrong, can take an effort of biblical proportions!  Often we don’t want to tell the truth because we can’t or don’t want to face the reality of the truth.

 

I have a short clip from the movie ‘A few good men’.  Its a story about two lawyers trying to get to the truth out about a murder that happened within a military camp.  I want you to take note of the accused man’s response when caught out lying to the jury. (play clip)

 

‘You can’t handle the truth’.  This man justified his lies about what happened because he couldn’t face the truth about himself.  He couldn’t face the reality of what he had done and so justified his actions by blaming the lawyers, blaming the pressures of his job and blaming the system.  It was everyone else’s fault; they can’t handle the truth. 

 

The reality is, we who are at fault can’t handle the truth!  We can’t handle the truth about who we are before God.  We can’t handle the truth we are sinners that are going to die.  Jesus himself said ‘”I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.’  And a moment before this Jesus repeated three times ‘you will die in your sins’.  Jesus is standing before those around him and he is standing before us saying ‘you can’t handle the truth.’, the reality is ‘you are slaves to sin and you are going to die in your sins.  Stop blaming everyone and own up!’  They are fighting words, and they are the words which sent Jesus to the cross to be crucified.

                                                                                                          

Martin Luther couldn’t handle the truth of Jesus words either.  He couldn’t handle the reality of his sin.  He couldn’t handle the reality of Jesus’ words ‘you will die in your sins’.  Like the army officer, like us all, he blamed everyone but himself for his condition; he even blamed God.

 

 I quote

‘‘Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God… I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, … I was angry with God, and said, “As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the 10 Commandment, without having God add pain to pain by the gospel of Jesus and also by Jesus words threatening us with his righteousness and wrath’ (LW 34: 336).’

 

This was Luther’s struggle against God which sparked off the reformation, and often its our struggle against God.  ‘We can’t handle the truth about ourselves’.   Jesus came to earth full of the truth and he said ‘I am the truth and the life’, and he also said ‘my words are truth’.  Jesus came to tell us the truth, and the truth hurts.  Yet if we are prepared to hear the truth about ourselves, we will hear the truth about God.

 

In today’s reformation gospel reading Jesus says ‘If you hold to my word, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.  To be a disciple of Jesus, a Christian, means to take Jesus words as truth.  This is very important.  If we don’t hear and remain in Jesus words as the truth, then we lose the gospel; we lose Jesus and we cannot be free.  Jesus said ‘when you know the truth, then you will be free. 

 

The truth of Jesus words to us lay at the centre of the reformation and Jesus words are still at the centre of our confession as Lutherans.  One of the key discoveries of Luther, which paved the way for the reformation of the church, was the realization that when God speaks to us, his words are truth.  And when he speaks to us he speaks in two ways; first the bad news and then the good news; both are the truth and both are essential for salvation.

 

The truth of our condition is as clear and stark as Jesus says ‘you will die in your sins’.  A truth that we can’t handle and many don’t.  That is why our churches are emptying and why the prophet Jeremiah laments ‘o whom can I speak and give warning? Who will listen to me? Their ears are closed so they cannot hear. The word of the LORD is offensive to them; they find no pleasure in it.’  It is so sad that many don’t want to hear the truth because we need to hear the truth, and handle it, because the truth of God’s word will also set us free from sin and death.

 

This is the good news, the other side of God’s word.  Jesus came to set us free from our condition.  He said ‘I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.’ When we remain in Jesus words, take them to heart and apply them to ourselves, them the words of Jesus set us free.  When we believe Jesus at his word, we have already crossed from death to life. 

 

This was the keystone of the reformation; we are saved by grace alone, in faith alone, in Christ alone.  Today, as you hear the words of Jesus, ‘if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed’, apply them to yourself, and take them as the truth and the truth of Jesus word will set you free. I don’t know what you need to be set free from, it is between you and God.  Perhaps its from past hurts, perhaps its from guilt from past sins, perhaps its from the torment you feel as you hear God’s word of bad news, what ever it is, hear Jesus word to you today ‘whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life; he has crossed over from death to life..

 

The truth of Jesus words speak loudest to us in Holy Communion. Jesus is truly present in and with the bread and wine to set you free.  Hear, touch, hold onto and then swallow the words of Jesus and know they are true ‘, “Take and eat; this is my body.  “take and Drink, all of you.  This is my blood, which is poured out for the forgiveness of sins. 

 

Jesus said ‘‘If you hold to my word, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’.  Once we understand the truth of God’s word, both bad news and good news,  then we can join with Luther and say, ‘Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.’  

 

   

 

 

 

 

  

Aren’t I entitled to take a portion?

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

 

We are having a BBQ for lunch today and I have brought along some tomatoes. Who would like to have some with their meal?  (hand out some tomatoes, once done this go back and get a knife and cut off a portion of the tomato to keep).  I’m just taking a share to pay for the transport and purchasing costs of the tomatoes.  After all, they’re my tomatoes and I am giving you the privilege of having them.  Aren’t I entitled to take a portion?

 

It doesn’t seem right to be given something only to have a portion taken away.  In fact we feel that once we have something its now ours and we can do with it whatever we want.

 

This is a bit like having to pay taxes to the government.  Its our money, shouldn’t we do with it what we like?  In 1789, Benjamin Franklin wrote in a letter to a friend, “In this
world nothing is certain but death and taxes.” Nearly 150 years later (1936), Margaret Mitchell used a similar phrase in _Gone with the Wind_: “Death and taxes and childbirth! There’s never any convenient time for any of them.”  Yes, and there is one more certainty, we always hate paying taxes. 

 

We hate having to pay back part of what we feel is ours; pay back what we think is our right to keep and to do with whatever we want.  Aren’t we entitled to it?  Perhaps we ourselves have done some mathematical gymnastics to twist figures around so we don’t pay as much tax as we should have.  We justify our ‘stealing’ from the government by arguing that its our money and we deserve to do with it what ever we want.  Yes, we hate paying taxes.  

 

The Pharisees felt the same way.  In fact they had even more reason to hate paying taxes.  The Romans were charging them to live in their own country.  The Roman Empire defeated Israel and invaded and took them over as rulers.  Their God-given homeland was under foreign occupation and they were charging them for the privilege.  This is why the Pharisees hated Jews who were tax collectors.  They were seen as working for the enemy, traitors who could not be allowed to be a part of the worship life of Israel. A true man of God stood up for the faith of Israel.

 

Was Jesus a traitor or a man of God?  Is he for us or against us?  This is the underlying question behind the Pharisee’s trap set up for Jesus. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” If Jesus answered “No,” the Herodians, who enjoyed the benefits of Roman rule, would report him to the authorities as a traitor or rebel. If Jesus answered “Yes,” the Pharisees would have reported him to their authorities as a traitor to the God of Israel; a Roman sympathizer, a person unfaithful to the people of Israel.  It would be like one of you saying ‘will you, or will you not pay back part of the tomato to Pastor!  Seeing the trap, Jesus asked to see the coin used to pay Roman taxes. It was a coin that bore the image of Caesar, and so Jesus asked, “Whose image is on the coin?” Both groups answered, “Caesars.” Jesus then replied, “Give to Caesar what is Caesars and to God what is God’s.” And Matthew tells us that when they heard this, they were amazed, and they left Jesus and went away.

Why were they amazed?  Was it because he caught them out as tricksters?  Was it that they were found to have money on them and Jesus didn’t, which could have indicated he didn’t pay taxes and they did!  Or was it some thing far greater?  Jesus’ answer is amazing as it is simple; ‘Give to government what is the governments, and give to God what is God’s’.   Jesus is simply giving validity to the government of the day, while still enforcing the point, that God demands our allegiance as well. 

 As followers of Jesus, we are living on this earth as dual citizens.  We live in two kingdoms that are both under God’s rule.  Luther taught that the government of this world is God’s Kingdom of the Left, through which he rules to give us food, clothing, homes, money, health and all that we need for our earthly life.  Our coins have the image of Queen Elizabeth;  The image of our government.  Jesus said ‘give to the government what is the governments, so that they are able to enact God’s will for us. 


Jesus’ response upholds the authority of earthly government, and asks us to give our support to government, not in just paying taxes, but in everything.  In doing so, we are joint rulers with God.  Jesus upholds the role of government most clearly at his trial before Pilate when he said to him ‘You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above’.  God used the government of the day to fulfil his mission of salvation.  St Paul also asserts the importance of obeying God ordained government repeatedly in his writings to the early Christian churches, telling them that believers are to respect governmental authority.

 

Yet, this is only one side of the coin.  Jesus continued his answer saying ‘give to God what is God’s.’  God also deserves our allegiance, as citizens of his heavenly kingdom. This is the Kingdom of the right, through which God rules in grace and mercy.  He rules to give us life and salvation through his Son Jesus, by the power of his word and Spirit.  As citizens of this kingdom as well, clearly, God deserves our tithes and offerings, our worship and thanksgiving for his gift of redeeming grace as members of his church here on earth. But what else belongs to God? 

 

The Roman coin that Jesus held bore the image of Caesar, therefore it belonged to Caesar. But what bears the image and name of God? Nothing but our whole being! In the very first chapter of Genesis, we are told that God said, “Let us make humankind in our image.” And the author of this first book of the Bible concluded, “So God created us in his image…”

We are the coins of God’s realm, of his kingdom. If we are to “give to God what is God’s,” then we must conclude from Jesus’ answer that there is no limit to what we owe God. We owe God our whole being, our very life, all that is ours. No part of our life is excluded from our new life given to us in our baptism.  We were redeemed from sin and death and made citizens of his kingdom, as Saint Paul encourages ‘Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your body.’

 

We need to think about our faith seriously, and to realize that we are citizens of two kingdoms, to which our greatest allegiance belongs to God.  As we live our life, think about how our whole being belongs to God, and let it influence and impact every part of the way we live.

A tomato cannot divide itself into other fruits, keeping the tomato bit for BBQ’s and becoming a grape for desert, no, it is always and only ever will be a tomato. You cannot be divided either. (cut up tomato)  Christian bit for church, prayer, and public life; then worldly bit for cheating, stealing and hidden sexual and immoral desires.  No, as we give ourselves to different things, work, family, church, sport, government, every part of us has been redeemed.  Every part of you has been bought at a price.  Let this great news influence everything you do. 

I invite you into the struggle that Jesus faced, as he struggled on the Mount of Olives, as he gave to the emperor what belonged to him, and to God what belonged to God. Clearly, Jesus acknowledged the right of Pilate to take his life, even though he could have avoided death. Yet he gave his life, his all, back to his Heavenly Father on our behalf, for our redemption, according to God’s will. Thanks be to God!So let us, with the gift of God’s Spirit, enter the struggle of giving to God the things that are God’s, and of giving to the government and our earthly allegiances, that which belongs to them.

Amen

 

(kids talk:
  I got a pen, a candle, a can of CRC, a light and asked the kids what they do.  They give of themselves for things to happen to leave a part of themselves in what ever they do.  Then I have Jesus on the cross and talk about how Jesus gave of himself to save us.  Then I showed them a communion set and told tham how Jesus continues to give of himself to leave his mark in us, his salvation and forgiveness.  We can therefore leave a part of ourselves in everything we do.