Archive for June, 2009

By Faith not by sight

Saturday, June 27th, 2009

By faith not by sight Mark 5-21-43 Pentecost 4

 

Who likes to label and categorise everything?  Labels give us cerJesusWomanTouchesRobe-stainty, we know what we are dealing with, we know what to expect.  Truth in labelling is a very big factor in our purchasing preferences.  Labels help us to make choices.  I have some things here with labels. (write up some labels and stick them to people).  Attitudes and judgements, ideals and morals are all based on labels, they go hand in hand, its the way of life; labels sell, labels tell, labels define and most of all labels stick!

 Yes, I think you know what I mean by the last statement, labels stick.  I don’t just mean the rego labels that are near impossible to get off your car windscreen, the labels that stick are the ones we give to people.   We see a person in a black suit and instantly we give him a label ‘well to do’, educated, important, honest,…what else?  Then, as we turn our head, we see another person, dark skinned and wearing old clothes, we instantly label him ‘loser, trouble, no hoper, untrustworthy’…what else…if we are honest enough.

 Labels stick!  Once we have labelled someone, they are categorized for life.  We all know someone we have labelled, without really finding out if the label is true and have acted toward them according to our label; either positively or negatively; either welcoming them into our lives and groups of friends, or cutting them off.  What is just as tragic is we have all been ‘labelled’ by someone.  Each one of us carries around a label put on us by another person.  ‘He’s a so and so person’, or ‘she’s a this or that person’, is said about us behind our backs.  While we don’t mind labelling others, being labelled ourselves is risky business.  Its risky because labels are often untrue and unfair and we are treated accordingly, either unduly well or undeservingly bad. 

 In the gospel reading this morning we have Jairus, a synagogue ruler.  The label he most likely carried was ‘religiously important, godly, theologian, above reproach’.  He was labelled as someone you would want to have as a friend; someone who could keep you religiously connected, ceremonially clean and upright before society in the Jewish world. 

 Then we have ‘a woman’.  No name is given to her, just that she was ‘subject to bleeding’, which is an indicator to what sort of label she had on her; unclean, sinner, unimportant; desperate, ungodly.  She was someone you definitely wouldn’t want as a friend, leave alone touch and have around for tea!  A person like her was ceremonially unclean and therefore cut off from religious life.

 The Jewish religious community saw and labelled Jairus as godly and important.  They saw and labelled the woman as ungodly and unimportant.  It is scary to think how in the church, our religious society, very little has changed in 2000 years, the labels still stick!  Yet we should not be surprised as this.  Our sinful human nature to be judge over another person, to play god and praise one while condemning another, still co-exists with our new baptised self.  It is the old Adam in us wanting control.

 This is not the case with God.  Religious labels are stripped away before God…surprisingly.  He sees things differently and judges differently.   Religious labels, the high standing in religious circles, or the despised and rejected, are all alike before God, because he looks into the heart, as written in Hebrews 4 ‘Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.’ 

 We see an example of this in the gospel reading when our two desperate people, each with different labels in society, approach Jesus for help.

 Jairus pleads with Jesus ‘My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.”  And Jesus immediately complies.  The crowd may have expected Jesus to respond because this man was labelled ‘religious’. 

 However, Jesus sees Jairus for who he really is, knows his heart and can see he has not come to him labelled as a ‘synagogue leader’, not come boasting of godly works or religious status.  Jesus responds to Jairus because he has come by faith alone, trusting that despite the odds, Jesus had the power to save his daughter.  Jesus’ care for the weak and hopeless man, who comes only by faith, fulfils what was prophesied about him in Isaiah 42:3 ‘A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice.’

Almost at that very moment, as if to demonstrate to the crowd that God judges impartially and does not save according to our labels, the bleeding woman touches Jesus cloak.  Instantly she is healed.  Unlike Jairus, who publicly fell to his knees before Jesus, the woman comes secretly, from behind, hidden from his sight.  She comes in a different way, in fear and shame, even embarrassment, yet she comes sharing the same faith as Jairus; a faith that depends on Jesus alone for salvation. And Jesus rewards this faith, healing the woman and setting her free from the bleeding and from being ceremonially unclean.

 Directly after setting free the woman with no name, Jairus’s daughter is brought back to life by Jesus.  Fulfilling his own words to the desperate dad ‘Don’t be afraid; just believe.’; two miracles, two acts of mercy, freely given to two totally different yet desperate people.  One was labelled by the religious to be worthy of Jesus, the other labelled as an outcast of religious society. Yet Jesus attends to both their needs. 

 Labels don’t stick for Jesus, and thank God for his mercy, or we would have no hope!  Jesus went to the cross because he knew clearer than any of us, that all of us, because of sin, are like Jairus or the woman, desperate and in dire need of a Saviour, as St Paul reminds us in Romans 3:20 ‘no one will be declared righteous in the sight of God by observing the law, rather through the law we become conscience of sin.’

 It is our sinfulness that Jesus dealt with on the cross.  By dying to pay the dept of our sin and rescue us from the wages of sin, which is death, Jesus treated us all the same; he saw no difference, no labels, no one deserved to be saved.  In the book of Romans, Paul writes ‘God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement through faith in his blood.’  That means, God sacrificed his Son, poured out his blood to atone for, pay for, cover over, or better still, ‘re-label’ us from being sinners to being saints. 

 This is where the real labelling happens for you and me.  This is the gospel, the good news, the core of our Lutheran teaching and faith.  We are re-labelled as saints before God by faith alone in the forgiving blood of Jesus.  Even though we are still sinners at heart, by nature sinful and unclean, we are re-labelled by Jesus as saints, declared righteous and innocent so that God sees everyone who believes in Jesus the same.  If you really wonder sometimes what church and religion is all about?  Well, here it is.

 Jesus instituted his church to re-label sinners as righteous by the living Spirit in his preached word and in the partaking of his sacraments.  Faith is what makes the label stick.  Faith is the glue which apprehends this gift, this label ‘to me’.  Faith believes that the label Jesus gives us is all that we need to be saved, even though we still fall into sin. 

 Luther, in his commentary on Galatians writes ‘On account of this faith in Christ, God does not see the sin that still remains in me.  For so long as I go on living in the flesh, there is certainly sin in me.  But meanwhile Christ protects me under the shadow of his wings and spreads over me the wide heaven of the forgiveness of sins, under which I live safely.’

 By faith today you go from Jesus in the same way as that woman…healed and with this blessing from Jesus ‘Brother, daughter, your faith has healed you.  Go in peace and be free from your suffering.’  Amen

Christ in the eye of the storm

Sunday, June 21st, 2009

Christ in the eye of the storm Pentecost 3 21-06-09

 images

When I was a young child, our family would go on camping holidays to the Flinders Rangers.  One of my fondest memories was the time we spent together climbing mountain peaks within the park.  Well, to tell the truth, it wasn’t so much that we climbed together as a family, it was really a competition between my brother and me, to be the first to the top of the mountain.  It was all about getting to the goal, the destination, getting to the top before my brother.  The journey was of little interest to us, reaching our goal was.  This was not the case with my parents, they often lagged behind. 

 It wasn’t until years later that I realised my parent’s goal was not just ‘to get to the top’.  For them, it was also about the journey.  It made the whole experience worthwhile.  Sure, their final goal was to be exhilarated by reaching the summit and to enjoy the view, but just as important to them was to experience the journey; to grow in knowledge by reading the plaques; to take in the beauty of the little wildflowers and to draw inspiration from the rock wallabies as they clambered and hopped from one rock ledge to another.  The journey to the top for them was filled with experiences and growth; mine was filled with exhaustion from running.

 We are goal driven people, or as Rick Warren put it ‘purpose driven’.  When someone gives us a job to do or a goal to achieve, we go straight to work finding and developing a strategy to reach our goal.  In our technological world, its all about achieving the goal in the quickest time.  Why go and speak with a friend when you can just text them or email them.  Why workout family differences in TV viewing preferences, just buy another TV.  Why focus on unity in congregations, have a variety of services, build another congregation.  After all, its all about achieving the goal of reaching people for Jesus.  Humanity is very good at getting a job done, but not very good at getting there.  Often the ambition to reach goal destroys the journey and destroys what the goal actually intended to give.

 Jesus had a vision and set a goal for his disciples, ‘Let us go to the other side of the lake’.  And you can imagine what happened next.  Peter and other disciples were expert fishermen, knew boats, knew the sea, and knew exactly how to get to the other side.  By the way Mark depicts the story, they waisted very little time setting out to achieve their goal, so much so, it seems Jesus had very little time to prepare ‘Leaving the crowd behind, they took Jesus along, just as he was, in the boat.’  No time to waste Jesus, just get in the boat as you are…we’ll get you there.  Reminds me of the bumper sticker you see on ‘P’ plater’s cars ‘Sit down, shut up, and hang on’.

 For Jesus’ disciples, the goal was to get to the other side of the lake as quick and as direct as possible.  They didn’t even let Jesus rest after a hard day’s ministry; he had to sleep in the boat.  They had Godly reason to achieve their goal.  They were Godly purpose driven, and on a Godly mission to get to their goal; Jesus said ‘let’s go to the other side of the lake’, a journey they had probably done hundreds of times. 

 This time however, it was going to be different.  Mark records ‘A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.’  Suddenly, as the storm set in, their goal was no longer achievable.  Suddenly ‘the other side’ seemed too far.  In the midst of a furious storm it no longer mattered how quickly they got there.  This time ‘getting to the other side’ was not going to be about achieving the goal, it was going to be about the journey.  The storm was the journey and the storm would make getting to their destination a whole lot more fulfilling.  In the eye of a storm, the disciples realized that they were not in control of their destiny; the storm could take their life and goals in an instant. 

 Turning to Jesus, perhaps as a last resort, they cry out ‘don’t you care that we are going to drown’?  Expert sailors, who knew how to sail, who knew how to handle a boat in a storm turn to Jesus who had never handled a boat in his life…he was a carpenter.  The terror of the storm made them realize no human effort could change destiny, death was always going to have the final say.  That is why they turn to Jesus.  Not because he was an expert sailor, but because they had to trust that he was the Son of God; that he had the authority and willingness to change their destiny. 

 Jesus rebukes the wind and the waves ‘quiet…be still’ and immediately there is calm.  The disciple’s hope did not disappoint.  Jesus did indeed have the power over destiny and most importantly he had the willingness, the desire, to change destiny…from death to life.  Jesus set a goal ‘getting to the other side’, but he used it as a catalyst to change.  He used the journey, the storm, to change the vision of his disciples from looking to them selves to looking to him.  From being goal focused to Christ focused.  The goal was the impetus, but the journey redefined the goal.

  On the cross Jesus won for us a new destiny.  We are no longer condemned to die for our sin, as Paul says ‘For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ This new destiny is the work of Jesus for us; his life, death, resurrection and ascension redeemed us from the grip of sin and death.   He has the authority and the will to say ‘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.’ This gift, the goal and vision of heaven has been guaranteed to us through baptism, where he poured out his Spirit upon us as a down payment of things to come. 

 This is the goal, yet like the disciples, we still have a journey…a journey with Jesus…a Christian journey of life.  Yes, it is tempting to just race through life trying to reach the goal of heaven by our own effort, taking our focus off Jesus by striving to take hold of the goal with all spiritual wisdom and strength, emotion and passion, focused only on our effort, all in the name of God.  But this is not how Jesus intended us to live.  It is the journey with him, with all the highs and lows that form and define how we reach the goal, like my parents knew as they slowly climbed the mountain taking in all the experiences of the journey. 

 Robert Pirsig, an American writer and philosopher said this ‘To live for only some future goal is shallow.  It is the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not at the top.  Here’s where things grow.  But of course, without the top you can’t have the sides.  It’s the top that defines the sides.’

 Life eternal is the top, but the sides, our journey, our life here on earth, is where we learn that only in Christ Jesus is our destiny changed.  Our whole journey along the ‘side of the mountain’, the storms we encounter, the fear, suffering and trouble make us realize we are not in charge of our destiny.  In the eye of the storm, that is sometimes our life, is Jesus.  He uses the storm to change our perspective, change our vision from looking to ourselves to looking to him as the one and only saviour ‘for there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved.

 In the storm, let go of the goal, let go of trying to gaze into the sleet and fog of despair, hoping to see a glimpse of heaven, turn your eyes to Jesus, who is right beside you, he will not let your hope down, as the writer of Hebrews encourages us ‘Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.’  I love this quote from St Cathrine and I want to finish with it ‘All the way to heaven is heaven because Jesus said ‘I am the way.’  Amen

The time has come.

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

The time has come! Luke 14:16-23chuech2

 The time has come, right at this very hour, when we must say goodbye to this church building.  The time has come to close its doors as a place of divine service; a place of worship.  The time has come for us to leave what we know and love.  To leave behind what we cherish and remember about this building and all that it stands for.   The foresight of our forbearers, whose hard labour and money built this place of worship, is a testimony to their faith and mission zeal. 

Life without Christ, life without a church to hear the gospel and receive the sacraments, life without the Lutheran mantle ‘saved by grace alone in Christ alone’ echoing through the fields and sparsely populated town of Gilgandra was unthinkable in their day.   

Yet has the time come, when the unthinkable will actually happen, as we close these doors today, do we also close Gilgandra off from the message of the cross…or…has the time come to renew and rebuild upon our parent’s dream; to build upon the foundation they laid in this town; a foundation based on the good news of Jesus Christ, that it is by faith that we are saved, as Paul constantly declares ‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith– and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no one can boast.’

The time has come!  This is the thread that is woven throughout the bible.  God worked in time and in history to bring about the salvation of the whole world.  The bible is full of stories about our forbearers in the faith facing up to the fact that the time has come…God’s time to act in history had come on their watch.  Noah, without a hint of rain, by faith built an ark until the time had come when God said ‘Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I am going to destroy the earth by a flood’.  God used his action in time to make Noah the heir of righteousness that comes by faith.

Again the time had come for God to act during Abraham’s watch.  By faith he left his family and moved to an unknown land.  By faith he placed his son Isaac on the altar, took a knife and was about to sacrifice is son to the Lord, until God’s call “Abraham! Abraham!” “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” God used Abraham to bring his blessing to us all, ‘through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” 

The list goes on throughout the Old Testament, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, King David, the prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, each giving an account of when the time had come; a time when God acted to bring about his plan of salvation for us during their watch. 

Finally, in the fullness of time, God himself acted to usher in a new era.  Yes, there was even a day when God himself was faced with the realization the time has come.  Jesus, in the garden of Gethsemane full of anguish of soul said ‘the time has come for the Son of man to be handed over to sinners’.  The very Son of God, Jesus Christ, for our salvation, died on the cross at Calvary.  His time had come! 

He hung there on that cross, beaten, smitten and bloodied for you.  Jesus went through with his Father’s plan knowing it would cost his life, but in doing so, he took upon his innocent self, our human nature, our sin and curse; he payed the price that was owing on our heads.  The damnation meant for you and me he bore.  Jesus faced that time for us so that we would not have to.  And we are given the pardon, this grace, free, as a gift from God to us, when by faith we believe that Jesus is our righteousness and died ‘for me’.  

This is the evangelical message, the good news; we are saved by grace alone; a gift of reconciliation with God.  (bring out and show a wrapped present) What love in death, what mercy in blood, what amazing love!  How can it be that you, my God, shouldst die for me! 

This is the gospel, the good news your parents wanted to preserve in this town.  Jesus is the reason and foundation for them to built this church.  They and many others, who have worshipped in this building, took Jesus parable to heart ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame” ‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.'”Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full.’  The present of God lived on in this building, reaching and healing sinners as they ate with God at his feast.

But the time has come! And I ask you again (come down from the pulpit)…… (holding up the present)

has the time come, when the unthinkable will actually happen, as we close these doors today, we close Gilgandra off, close ourselves off from the message of the cross…or…has the time come to take this present from God and rebuild upon our parent’s dream.  Rebuild upon the foundation that is already laid, that of Christ and him crucified, at our new church building on the highway?  

The time has come.  God is acting during your watch, during my watch.  The cracking and subsequent closure of this building is no ones fault.  I believe it is no accident of fate that God chose this time and place in history, chose this building, chose you and me to make the decision to close this building and move to the highway.

The present cannot remain unopened.  If the gospel is not announced to the world, Christ died in vein.  It cost God too much to leave this present hidden in old churches.   ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full.’  God wants you to continue to benefit from his present, the gift of forgiveness through the preaching of the gospel and the administration of his sacraments.  You are his holy people, the sheep of his flock and you have forgiveness, life and salvation, all this by grace through faith in Christ Jesus.  

St Paul urges us, the time has now come ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” 

Take this gift of God and share with each other, share it with those travelling the highway.  Take this gift and proclaim it to those lost in a world of sin, to those thirsty for God and take this gift and pray with me the second verse of ‘Take my life an let it be’

 

‘Take my hands, and let them move

At the impulse of thy love;

Take my feet, and let them be

Swift and beautiful for thee.

Amen

And the peace which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen