Archive for January, 2009

Authoritative Word

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

Authoritative word Mark 1:21 28

 

President Eisenhower once said ‘Farming looks mighty easy when your plough is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.’  And the famous Lutheran pastor, who was shot by the SS for attempting to assassinate Hitler said ‘It is very easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements in comparison with what we owe others.’  We love to hear quotes from important people.  This is because words have power when people in authority speak.  We listen to them and act on what they say because of the authority of the person saying them

When a doctor says ‘you are very sick, we instinctively respond and believe exactly what the doctor says; even when we don’t feel sick!  We don’t know why or how we got sick.  We just believe what the doctor says, because his words have authority.  Words of authority bring about change and they bring about action; we want to be healed.  Perhaps you know other examples, like the words of a parent or even a judge.  It is a fact that words and authority combine into action and are change agents.

Mark records an incident in Jesus ministry when his words and authority came together as a change agent to bring about action.  Listen again to what happened when Jesus spoke.  ‘When the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.  Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are– the Holy One of God!”

Jesus spoke and things happen.  Instantly, people recognise Jesus as someone who has authority; someone who knows what he is talking about and embodies his teaching.  His words spoke to their heart and conscience; they are amazed at how his words moved them and acted upon them.  Yet they, like us, should not have been surprised at this, after all, the prophet Isaiah says this about God’s word ‘As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, … so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.’

Yet, just as in Jesus day, so it is today, many people do not want to hear God’s word.  Even many Christians fail to understand the spiritual importance of hearing God’s word.  Perhaps you have been told the bible is just words on a page; a message and nothing more.  I once had a person tell me ‘why should I go to church, the message is all ways going to be the same.  Jesus is always going to rise from the grave; I’ve heard it, nothing’s going to change, I agree with it, so why go?’

Why go to church if the message never changes?  Perhaps we all think this at times, why go to church, nothing changes?  That would be true, if God’s word was only a message on a page, but its not.  God’s word has power and authority, as Jesus says ‘my words are Spirit and they are life.’  What if that man with the evil spirit chose not to come and hear Jesus, would he have known he had an evil spirit?  Would he have been healed? Do you think he knew?  Do you think the others sitting around him that day knew of the spirit with in him?  Of course not.  As he listened, Jesus’ words had an effect on him.  They revealed the sin, removed it and restored this man’s soul; Jesus words and authority are change agents.

As you and I sit hear, listening to God’s word, none of us can fully know and understand just what action and effect his word is having upon us, just like that man with the evil spirit.  God has not given us the privilege of having spiritual eyes to see into our heart, only he can do this, as the psalmist pleads ‘search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.’  His word will reveal the evil and sin hidden within us, or remind us of the sins we try and hide deep within us.

This action of God, where his word convicts us of sin and evil, Luther called the ‘foreign work of God, or his alien work’.  It is where, Luther said, he speaks a word of law and demands an account of what we have done.  It is where he says ‘have you served other God’s?’  Have you taken part in violence?  Do you hold bitterness and anger or partake in wrong sexual acts, all of which attract evil spirits?  It is where he makes us realise we are sick and in need of a physician, as he says in Matthew 9:12 ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.’  The words of Jesus combine with his authority, as change agents, to reveal and deal with the sin in our lives.

However, we dare not stop there!  A doctor doesn’t just diagnose and say ‘you are sick’, then send you on your way.  No, a doctor will immediately say what needs to happen in order for you to be cured; he begins to heal you.  In the same way, God’s word doesn’t stop at its alien work, its work of revealing sin, it also heals and restores.  Jesus said sternly to the man, well, actually to the evil spirit ‘”Be quiet!” “Come out of him!”  The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.’  Jesus’ words combined with his authority as change agents and effected change upon this man’s life; he was healed and restored as a child of God.

This action of the God’s word Luther called God’s ‘proper work’.  The proper work of God’s word is to save and restore; to sanctify and bless, just as a doctor’s proper work is not to diagnose but to heal.  And God does this through the gospel; the word of good news.  St Paul points this out saying ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.’  The gospel is the word of God which declares you right before him; that your sins are forgiven, you are healed and a child of God, because of the atoning death of Jesus on the cross for yours and my sin.

The proper work of God, his healing word, comes to you and me as a change agent through what the church calls sacraments.  It is where God has promised to heal you and give you grace, mercy and forgiveness.  The proper work of God, the pure gospel happens in and through baptism and Holy Communion.  In these, the word and authority of God are change agents, which declare you forgiven, because of what Jesus did for us on the cross.  Many call the sacrament of baptism and Holy Communion, the medicine of eternal life.  We are given them as a doctor gives his patients medicine.

Just as the simple words of Jesus ‘come out!’, sent the evil spirit from the man, Jesus word to you and me, ‘your sins are forgiven’, combined with the water’s of baptism or as we partake in his body and blood in the bread and wine in Holy Communion, send the devil flying.  He has no power over us.  This is the living and active word of God that is a change agent in our life and this is why we continue to come to church and this is why we hear and read God’s word in our homes.

To sum up, let me finish with a quote from John Kleinig, an OT lecturer at Australian Lutheran College, in a book by called ‘Grace upon grace’.  Dr John writes
‘The power of Jesus [word]does not just apply to what happened in Capernaum.  It applies equally, and perhaps even more fully now in the light of Easter, to us and our situation.  All people remain in the darkness until Christ comes and teaches them his Father’s word with authority…with that word he sends Satan and his spirits packing.  Everything, therefore, depends on Christ and his victory.  Through his self-sacrificial death for our sins and his resurrection for our justification he has won the victory for us.’

Amen

 

 

Good News/Bad News

Monday, January 26th, 2009

3rd Sunday after epiphany Mark 1_14-20 good new/bad news

 

“I have some good news and some bad news’, the chair person of the ladies guild said to the pastor.  ‘The good news is that we voted to send you a get well card.  The bad news is the vote passed by 31-30”.

 

Good news/bad news.  “The good news, said the elder to his pastor, is that the congregation accepted your job description just the way you wrote it.  The bad news is that we were so imprest by it, we formed a call committee to find someone to fill the position”.

 

Good news bad news, they always seem to come as one.  When there is good news, there always seems to be bad news, or the other way around, there is always good news in bad news: as the saying goes, ‘there is a silver lining behind every dark cloud’.  Millions are celebrating the good news that the first black man Barak Obama has been installed as the new president of the United States, however, the bad news is, despite all the words of hope and determination, Obama is only one man and only human and we know the record of human attempts to ‘redeem the world’. 

 

We are currently in the church season of Epiphany.  A time set aside in the church to explore the revelation of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ.  It is a time for us to learn about how God reveals himself to us through his word.  The observable fact that good news and bad news come into our lives, gives us a simple but profound way of understanding how God deals with us.  The bad news/good news reality is a formula for understanding the bible or as Martin Luther explained it ‘God always speaks to us in two ways; in law and gospel’.  Understanding God’s word as being both law and gospel is unique to our faith tradition and the simple key that opens the scriptures to us.

 

The first words Jesus spoke in his earthly ministry were words of bad news and good news.  But unlike the good news bad news jokes I just told you, Jesus was not joking when he spoke these words, “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!  He is not joking about the bad news ‘repent of your sins’, he means it, but just as important he is not joking when he says ‘believe the good news and be saved; believe in me…believe also in the one who sent me.’ 

 

Repent and believe, God’s word of bad news and good news is the simple message of Jesus, and it was the simple message of John the Baptist, of the Apostle Paul, of the bible and is the simple yet life changing word of God to you and me;

 

Law and gospel, the bad news/good news formula is the window which enlightens us to God’s word.  It gives us a paradigm or platform from which to understand our relationship with God and his word to us.  When we read the bible, when we hear God’s word spoken to us, the widow of both bad news/good news together enables us to understand what Jesus means when he says ‘repent and believe.  The bad news ‘repent’ convicts our conscience of sin. 

 

It tells us what God expects of us and reveals to us, that we can never achieve what it demands, as Jesus says “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery (you think you can keep this command, well).’ I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’  The bad news of Jesus’ ‘repent’, tells us that when we read the bible are hear Isaiah say ‘all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.’

 

We can know for certain that even the good we do for others, the good deeds in our service to the church are never good works to impress God enough to get us to heaven.  This is the law, the bad news.

 

The good news however, which must always accompany God’s word of bad news, comforts us and releases us from the terrors of sin and guilt.  It demands nothing of us yet gives everything.  It assures us and gives us certainty that despite our failure to keep what the law demands of us, we are forgiven because of Jesus death on the cross.  This is what Jesus meant when he said ‘believe the good news’.

 

 The goods news is that ‘whoever is baptised and believes will be saved’.  The good news is as  St Paul says ‘there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’.  The good news is as Luther discovered, that we are save by no merits of our own, but by faith alone in Christ alone.  This is the good news Jesus was speaking about and is now speaking to you.

 

The good news is spoken most clearly in Holy Communion.  It is here in this meal, where Jesus says ‘take and drink this IS my body and blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’  We eat and drink pure good news, pure gospel.  The bad news is dealt with and destroyed as we partake of the supper.  Holy Communion is the observable and tangible forgiveness of God.

 

We must in no way confuse this pure good news with the bad news and doubt our forgiveness, doubt the grace of God.  When God forgives it is complete, or in Jesus words on the cross, ‘it is finished’.  When God says it is done, it is final!

 

And with these words of Christ ‘your sins are forgiven’, our Christian life begins.  It begins anew each time we leave the Lord’s Table.  We walk free from here to live our life travelling the road between God’s bad news and good news.  As an analogy similar to our Christian walk between law and gospel, when Julie and I lived in Alice Springs, we decided to travel to Adelaide via an outback road through William Creek.  Well, it rained all night which made the road very muddy and slippery.

 

 I used to wonder why outback roads were so wide when very few cars travelled them.  Now I knew.  When they are wet, the wide road lets you slide from one side of the road to the other around corners.  Bouncing off one embankment you are corrected back to the centre of the road, then as you slip off the other side around the next corner, the embankment corrects your direction and you are able to continue on the road. 

 

The embankments on the wide road keep you from falling off the road into a bog and also keep you going in the right direction; the wide road between the two embankments gives you freedom to negotiate the road.

 

In the same way God’s word of bad news and good news are like the embankments.  As we travel down the wide road of life, when things become slippery and we slid off our Christian walk, God’s word of bad news, calling us to repent, bounces us back onto the road again. It stops us from falling right off and loosing sight of Jesus.  God’s word of good news is the other embankment. 

 

After hitting the bad news we are speared off onto the other side of good news which comforts as and assures us that Jesus as forgiven us and that news sets us on the road of righteousness and the road that leads to eternal life.

 

This is what it means and this is what we do as you and I together live the life and walk the journey to the new Jerusalem between the two words of Jesus ‘repent and believe’.

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

      

 

 

 

 

 

A Son is given to us.

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009


Christmas Eve 2008 Isaiah 9:2-7 A Son is given to us

 

Do any of you young people know what this is? (a yoke that goes around a horses neck-explain what it does and how it works).

 

A yoke is a symbol or reminder of suffering and burden.   It cannot be removed by the one waring it and must be carried around all the time.

 

You and I have a yoke around our necks and we were born with it on.  (place the yoke upon my shoulders to symbolise death around us all) The difference between this sort of yoke, and the yoke around our shoulders, is that we cannot see ours.  Our yoke is the burden of death.  As sad and as difficult as it is to talk about on Christmas Eve, one day we will all die; it is the yoke around our necks that burdens us.  I the book of James it says ‘sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.’  Death is the invisible yoke around all of us.  Like a horse wearing this yoke and pulling a burden, it seems to us that there is no way out of our situation.

 

Left on our own, we cannot change what has happened or what will happen.  We live with this darkness overhanging us.  However, God in his great compassion and mercy, couldn’t just look on and leave us suffering under this burden.  He refused to see his people, you and me, die a death that would mean total separation from him.   In his great love for us he chose to change our situation.  Like a farmer taking this yoke off his horse, God sent his Son Jesus to remove our yoke.

 

The prophet Isaiah foresaw this saying ‘The people walking in darkness,(that foretells of all people, not just Israel), have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.  You [the Lord] have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.’  The yoke, the bar across our shoulders, the rod which pierces our hearts…death, has been shattered; totally smashed to pieces because of the birth Jesus, which we celebrate tonight.

 

Isaiah continues his excited vision saying ‘For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’  The Child of God, Jesus, is a child who is not born for God, but to us; the Son of God is given to us.  And his birth, if you listen carefully, will remove the yoke around our shoulders.  The government will be on HIS shoulders.  That is, Jesus was born to us in Bethlehem to take the yoke, the rod we bare upon our shoulders, death, and to place it on his shoulders. 

 

(Take the yoke of my shoulders and place it on the manger and say ‘From the words of Isaiah ‘he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.’)   The wood of the manger, points forward to the wood of the cross, where Jesus, the Son of God, took the punishment for our sin, and died in our place at Golgotha.  This is the great light of Christmas; this is the light that shines in our darkness.

Jesus, the little baby in a manger, is the greatest gift we will ever receive.  So receive him into your heart through faith, let him be born into your heart this Christmas and be filled with the great joy.  For Jesus truly is reason for the season.