Archive for October, 2009

Remain in Me and you will bear much fruit

Saturday, October 24th, 2009

John 15: 5-10 Remain in me and you will bear much fruit

 

Here I have in my hand a beautiful red wine from the Barossa Valley!  Growing up in South Australia and having relatives who grow grapes andfruits produce wine, I know when I taste a good red.  And part of the Lutheran tradition and the German heritage in the Barossa is to share and fellowship with one another, neighbours, friends and fellow church members, the bounty of the Lord; to share a glass of red from the vintage over a meal, to share with others something wonderful that they neither toiled or laboured for; a gift given freely, because it was first given freely by God.

What makes a good red?  Well I am no expert and perhaps Father Martin could call on the Catholics at the Seven Hills Monastery in Clare SA, who make a great red, to inform us in some detail.  But what I do know is that the best red wines come from the grapes that grow on the oldest vines; the vines that were planted more than 100 years ago.  These grapes produce the best wine because their juice is sourced from a knotted vine which has roots spreading deep below the surface.  The grapes provide the best juice because they grow on stems that bud out of and remain in age old branches that are every reliable and able to provide life through its veins 

Jesus said ‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If a person remains in me and I in him, they will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.’  Jesus uses the beautiful analogy of the vine and grapes to teach his hearers, his disciples and you and me, the churches here in Gilgandra, the source and power to produce good fruit in our life comes only through him.  Only by remaining in Jesus, only by receiving from Jesus, can we do anything at all, that is seen by God to be ‘good fruit’.  If the citizens of Gilgandra are to enjoy the fruit we produce, the fruit of the Christian churches, we, who are believers, and who attend church, actually need to freely receive before we can freely give.  A bunch of grapes are filled with nutrients because they receive from the vine; we are first filled by what Jesus offers before we in turn can give.

Many of us, particularly those who are passionate about being disciples of Jesus, have fallen into the modern trap of believing that Jesus is the CEO of his church.  And like a corporate executive, he demands results from his workers.  He is only pleased with us, we imagine, when we go it alone on our own efforts and initiatives to bear fruit.  He is only happy, we believe, if we bear fruit by applying to our lives our own biblical principles for improving our moral standards. 

We train ourselves in spiritual disciplines and implement our own rigorous personal development programs in order to bear the fruit…the fruit he expects of us as disciples.  With this image in our mind, we take Jesus to be our task master and we work harder to produce results, to bear fruit and work longer hours to see the benefits and of course, in this financial crisis, he expects us to do this efficiently and cost effectively! 

Our modern work ethic would have us believe the harder we work, the more effective we will be in bearing fruit.  But what is Jesus saying to us in today’s context?  How are we to bear more fruit so others may receive from us?  What is Jesus business principle, if you would be game to call his word that?  Work more to bear more?  No…’remain in me and my word and you will bear fruit, apart from me you can do nothing.’  First receive then give. 

This is Jesus word to his church, to us today who so dearly want to bear fruit so that more people may to come to faith.  Jesus is not our CEO, director or even our task master, who takes, takes, takes.  The good news is that he is our savior, our shepherd, our vine who gave his life, his blood, and who gave of himself so that we may live and grow in him, as he says ‘for the Son of man gave his life as a ransom for many.’

A grape must first grow full of juice through the nourishment of the vine, before it gives of itself so we may enjoy a nice red.  We need to remain in Jesus and feed on him and be nourished by him, grow full in his grace and truth, before we can bear fruit in our lives to give of ourselves to the community.  Jesus, in John 6 encourages us to remain in him and feed on him, like a grape feeds on a vine, ‘Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.’ 

We need to receive something before we can bear fruit and give, we need to live before we can die; die to bear fruit in service to others.  And the spiritual nourishment that Jesus provides and that we receive when we remain in him, is his word of forgiveness.  A word of pardon that says ‘neither do I condemn you go in peace’, and a word of forgiveness that says ‘the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.

Jesus is our source and strength, the fountain head of grace that empowers and equips us to bear fruit.  And what fruit and blessing are we as Christians, freely empowered with, that people need most in their lives?  Forgiveness!  We are forgiven and are now in a right relationship with God, as Paul writes in Romans ‘While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’

Forgiveness is a free gift from God, given and received by faith.  Freely received, now freely we give.  A word of pardon from Jesus himself that brings peace and not condemnation into a broken relationship; A word of forgiveness that builds up someone living with shame; A word of release from a cycle of violence and bitterness that imprisons so many families, so many couples.

Government agencies can provide money and housing.  Police can provide protection.   Community groups can provide food and clothing.  But only Christians, empowered with the gospel of Jesus, can provide forgiveness.  Only the church, that has freely received can freely give of itself for the sake of others, even its enemies.  Only the church, the one body and one Spirit; only the church, empowered with the one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, can bear fruit and bring the peace that passes all understanding. 

Jesus said ‘If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.  “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.’  You are loved by Jesus, remain in that love, be filled by that love and go in the joy of that love and bear much fruit in that love, as he has promised.  Amen

Glory in suffering

Saturday, October 17th, 2009

Glory in suffering  Mark 10_35-45

 

An opportunity too good to miss!  Two fishermen, James and John, the sonsfishing of Zebedee, with nothing but a small boat, smelly clothes and a few torn nets, heard the voice of Jesus say ‘come follow me!’  Not knowing what lay ahead, or where Jesus would lead them, they left everything and followed him.  Now, once again, an opportunity too good to miss beckons them.  Jesus, the one they left everything in order to follow, is talking about God’s kingdom and how he is about to inaugurate its rule in heaven and on earth.  James and John sense something important is happening, and want a big part in Jesus’ kingdom;

“Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked.  They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”  James and John have an opportunity too good to miss, at last, a chance at glory, at honour and a chance be someone important.  A big ask you may say, wanting glory out of someone else’s hard work and effort; taking the cream without the cake.

For Jesus said to the disciples, just a few words before, how he was to reign in his kingdom ‘We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.’  Failing to understand or comprehend the suffering Jesus must endure to be king, James and John only see an opportunity at glory; they ask to be rulers with him at his right and left; rulers in a kingdom they know very little about.

Yet isn’t this sort of behaviour, taking the glory for our selves without the hard work and suffering, what we are all doing?  What is advertising and commercialism all about…giving you and me an opportunity too good to miss!  This year on Mount Panorama in Bathurst, Holden won the prestigious ‘king of the mountain Bathurst 1000’.  But now, thanks to advertising and commercialism, you and I can be part of the glory without any suffering or hard work.  You can be like James and John and demand your part of the glory, simply by wearing Holden merchandise.  (hand out stickers and hats etc.)

By wearing the name Holden, people see you as part of a winning team; you are now someone who also won on that day; by wearing the team colours, by possessing the badge of the lion, you are now someone who can celebrate as if you own the team.  By the trickery and allusion of advertising, you, who are really a ‘nobody’ in the world of car racing, instantly become part of a winning team.  Yet all this without touching a spanner, changing a tyre, or putting your life on the line by driving at 300 km/h.  Commercialism offers  an opportunity too good to miss…for us who are no bodies, we can have glory without suffering, winning without racing and be kings in a kingdom we know very little about.

It is very easy for us to transfer the idea of advertising and its promises of glory without suffering into our church and commercialise Jesus and our faith in him. Are we the James’ and John’s of the 21st century?  We are at a point in time now, when we need to ask ourselves a sobering question…who is Jesus to me and what do I expect from him?  If you believe in the Jesus of the advertising hype, you can be part of the glory of God’s kingdom without the suffering, without even knowing anything about Jesus. 

No longer do you need to go to church, forgo weekends and evenings for studying God’s word.  No longer do we need to repent of our sins, put to death our sinful lusts and call on the Spirit to renew our hearts.  No, commercial Christianity, or as Luther put it, a theology of glory, says, ‘ticking ‘Christian’ in the sensus papers,  wearing a Jesus tee-shirt, having a Jesus coffee cup in the cupboard, and buying a snazzy looking bible for the book shelf , is suffice enough to demand of Jesus ‘Let me sit at your right hand in your kingdom of glory’

Like all advertising, a commercialised faith, without baptism, without confession of faith, without the means of grace in Holy Communion, without servant-hood and suffering, can only promise glory but never deliver.  A theology of glory can be as empty and irrelevant to true faith and salvation as it is for me to claim to be the winning Holden driver just because I wear a Holden Jacket. 

Jesus urges and teaches James and John, and us and all believers that suffering and persecutions, servant hood and self-denial come before glory.   The kingdom of God is like an upside down pyramid; the panicle must carry the greatest load; the first and greatest must be the least and servant of all; they must carry the load of others.  That is why Jesus answered James and John ‘You don’t know what you are asking for”. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?’  

Isaiah foretold of the cup Jesus must drink to the dregs for our sin and the baptism he is to endure for our glory.  Jesus is to be the pinnacle of the upside-down pyramid of God’s kingdom; he is the greatest, yet becomes the least; the king of heaven becomes our servant who bears our load;  By oppression and judgment he was taken away… For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth…Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer.’  And Jesus adds ‘For the Son of Man came to give his life as a ransom for many.

We want the glory without suffering, Jesus had the glory, but chose to suffer, in order to share his glory with us, as the writer of Hebrews says ‘But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.’

In our baptism, we died to ourself.  Jesus took our old life of sin and false glory and gave us his life.  He exchanged his glory for our sin; he gave us what is his and took upon himself what is ours…we are born again by water and the Spirit into God kingdom through the suffering Jesus endured on the cross.  As St Paul says, ‘our life is hidden in Christ.’  We already live in glory with Jesus, but it is hidden from sight, it is a statement of faith, as we confess in the creed ‘I believe in the holy Christian church, the communion of saints’.

Since we believe and know this to be true, in Christ, we are now called to lay down our pursuit for glory and to suffer just as Christ suffered.  We too are to be the least and servant of all.  We too now exchange glory for servant hood, exchange power for service of the gospel, exchange the Jesus coffee cup, for a cup of suffering.  So do not be surprised if your life in Christ is not what you expected or what the commercialised Jesus claims it should be.  Living a theology of the cross is what Jesus meant when he said ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.

Are we prepared to suffer for our faith?  Is the church shrinking because it no longer wants to suffer persecution for the sake of Jesus?  Is suffering for the sake of the gospel an opportunity too good to miss?  Let me close with some quotes from famous Christians who have received their reward in heaven, and let you make up your own mind.

‘Every time her blood was shed, each drop became a man, and each man thus converted stood prepared to pour out the vital current from his veins to defend the cause…Christ’s church never sails so well as when she is rocked from side to side by the winds of persecution…Nothing has helped God’s church so much as persecution – Charles Spurgeon.  And ‘Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man.  We shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.’  Hugh Latimer, to Nicholas Ridley as they were being burned at the stake.

Suffering for the sake of the gospel…an opportunity too good to miss…!!! or ???

The righteousness of Christ

Friday, October 9th, 2009

Mark 10_17-31 the righteousness of Christ

 

What would things look like if Satan really took control of a city?  Over a halfrich young ruler century ago, Prespyterian minister Donald Grey Barnhouse offered his own scenario in his weekly sermon that was also broadcast nationwide on CBS radio.  Barnhouse speculated that if Satan took over Philadelphia, all the bars would be closed, pornography banished, and pristine streets would be filled with tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other.  There would be no swearing.  The children would say, ‘Yes, sir’ and ‘No ma’am, and churches would be full every Sunday…where Christ is not preached. (Christless Christianity by Michael Horton pg 15)

Quite the opposite to what you or I may have envisaged, yet very insightful, and could very well be close to the truth. Why?  Why would Satan want everyone be well behaved, loving and accepting toward each other, attending church, and doing all the right things, and yet not hearing Christ preached?….Then sin would not be preached.  The great divide which separates us from God…our sinful nature, the fact that ‘no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born again’, would not actually be addressed. 

The offence of preaching the cross would be replaced with the more acceptable preaching of love and moral improvement.    Everyone would be obeying the law, but no one would be keeping it; not to God’s standards, as Jesus demands in Matthew 5 ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ Everyone would be nice, but no one would be saved.

A rich young ruler came to Jesus and said ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’  This is a question about justification; a question which asks, ‘HOW perfect do we need to be to enter heaven?’; a natural question that you and I may even ask; a question that presupposes and has as its premise the assumption that we CAN do enough to get to heaven and the decision is ours.  You may not ask this question to God in such an arrogant way, as this young man did, but there are other more subtle ways we ask the same justification question, which ignores the reality of our sin ‘what must I DO to inherit eternal life?’

Deep in your conscience you may be making deals with God; deals that involve improvement on our behalf to gain God’s favour?  Perhaps, you may say, if I just put more effort into my marriage, then God will look favourably upon me and forgive my continuing failings.  Perhaps if I can just curb my lustful thoughts then God will be more gracious and overlook my sin.  Or perhaps if I am more accepting and loving to the ‘someone’ no one else loves, then God will love me more…then I will inherit eternal life…with God’s help of course. 

All deals about how WE are to justify ourselves …how WE are to enter eternal life, but all these deals between you and God are of no use because they do not flow out of the gospel of Christ; and as long as Christ is absent, we remain under the demands of the law and original sin is not dealt with and eternal life is not inherited.

When the rich young man came to Jesus with a question on justification, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’, Jesus saw that he was living under the demands of the law.  He could see that this young man, try as he might, had spectacularly succeeded in missing the point of the law in relation to being right with God.  He had fallen into Satan’s world where everything is nice, where being good is the train bound for heaven and self-righteousness is the ticket to hop on board.  This man needed to hear just how hard the law’s demands really are.  We need to hear it is not what we do that justifies but who justifies!

Jesus sees the man and loves him and in love does quite the opposite to what we imagine.  Jesus, who St John said, came from the Father, full of grace and mercy, puts the man under the law…gives him even more to do.  ‘”One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 

This friends is the correct use of the law…Jesus uses the sword of the law to cut through the sin of pride and self-righteousness, in order to reveal the futility of keeping the law to inherit the kingdom, as Paul writes in Galatians 3 ‘All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.”

Jesus used the law to show this young man, that there is one thing he will not do.  One thing he cannot do; one thing he does not even have the will to do and that is, sell everything and follow him.  The conscience of the young rich man was hit by the double edged sword of God…swish…gotcha!  He went away with a sad face and unfortunately never hung around long enough to hear the comforting words of Jesus.

Jesus still speaks to us in our deals with him, in the same way.  If you want to justify yourself with God by trying harder to be good, you too, as I am, will be cut by the same sword of God’s word, and perhaps you have already experience this.  The more you try and stop lustful desires…the stronger and harder they become…the law demands ever greater obedience.  The more you try and love, ever more love is demanded of you.  The more you try to avoid temptation by your own effort, the stronger they become.  This will keep happening, and the sword of God will keep cutting our conscience, until we too join with the disciples and say ‘”Who then can be saved?”

Perhaps you have yet to experience this, or perhaps you are at this point now.  Or perhaps there has been a time in your life recently when you were sick of ‘trying to always be good’; sick of trying to live up to the ideal Christian life.  Perhaps you have even felt a failure before God and thought ‘Who then can be saved ‘?…good, that’s the law, the double edged sword of God’s word, cutting away any self righteousness to reveal sin and point you to Christ.  Hear Jesus’ words to Zacchaeus who also felt convicted ‘Today salvation has come to this house…For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”  ‘Who then can be saved?’ For with us, salvation is impossible, but with God all things are possible.

The good news is that we are justified, made right with God by trusting in Jesus who was put to death on the cross; put to death in order to put right the wrong.  Paul writes in Colossians 2 ‘When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.’ 

The gospel, or Christ preached into our hearts deals with sin; deals with the question of justification.  Once you take hold of this gospel by faith, that Jesus has already justified us and given us eternal life in our baptism, the question ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life’ becomes irrelevant; pointless.  

After all, its an oxymoron, you cannot work to gain an inheritance, an inheritance is given when you are born into the family.  St Peter declares ‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade– kept in heaven for you.’

A historic decision was made at general synod last week, which will reinvigorate faith and joy by rediscovering the power of the gospel through the reintroduction of private confession and forgiveness into our church.  Private confession and forgiveness is a rite which enacts the sword of God’s word of law and gospel to bring repentance and faith.  This rite allows God to speak into our lives and into our hearts in a personal way by giving us an opportunity and safe place to confess our sins and to receive a personal absolution as if from Christ himself. 

Let me read (Pg 56 7.2.2)

I commit this to you for prayerful consideration and plan to teach and preach about the use of this rite in the expectation that this congregation will be able to make regular use of this gift to us from God in the following years.  Amen