Archive for November, 2009

An inside out Kingdom

Saturday, November 21st, 2009

An inside out kingdom John 18-33-37

 

Here I have an old telephone (old black wall phone)…here I have the latest
and best (A mobile).

Here I have an old way of recording music (a vinyl record)…and here is the latest (an ipod).  Advancement is good.  Getting better, being greater, having more is what life is all about; as the rhyme goes:

Good better best, never let it lest, until your good is better and your better’s best!

You and I live in a world of advancement.  Everything is going from the good to the greater; from the better to the best!  Our way of knowing who we are personally and even collectively as a nation or kingdom of people, is to judge how we have improved.  Advancement is the ruler we use to measure who we are; it defines us as a person; whether we have advanced from good to best gives us worth and value in our own eyes and in the eyes of the world.  To go the other way, to lose it, to go from best to good or from everything to nothing…from new to old…installs in us the feeling that we are worthless.

You and I are part of, and contribute to, the make up of this kingdom, in which we live; a kingdom that is addicted to advancement; a kingdom of individuals that judge and define self-worth by the measure of advancement.  Look at the pressure we put ourselves under in order to fertilize, nurture and grow the seeds of advancement; to look and feel up to date. Where has the 38 hr week gone?  Where has the lazy Saturday morning and the weekend off with the family gone?  Where is the one wage household gone?  Gone to the god of advancement.  And like all false god’s, the god of advancement demands a sacrifice.  The sacrifice is our time.  And our free time is slaughtered on the altar is consumerism.

It doesn’t stop there.  Consumerism is only the symptom of something more sinister and evil.  There is another kingdom devoted to advancement that drives everything else, and that is our own very being; our ego, as the psychologists describe it.  St Paul calls our personal advancement driver the sinful nature.  He writes ‘I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.’  We can’t carry out good because that would mean someone else would advance ahead of us…now ‘that’s unfair’.  Who’s had to teach your children to say that? No, its comes naturally!

The sinful nature, our natural inclination or instinct is to advance ourselves.  We feel we need to be on a constant continuum of personal advancement.  From good, to better, to best.  This desire and need is driving the whole scientific idea of evolutionary theory and turning it into a belief system, with the core belief being that we are constantly evolving into better and better people.  Evolutionism, not evolutionary theory, which is true science, has the sinful nature as its driving force.  It falsely tricks us into thinking we are better educated, better skilled, better moral people than ever before.  But are we?  Are you a better person than your parents, or their parents, or there parent’s parents?  Is natural evolution responsible for making us into better people?

If we are better than the people of past centuries, what does that say about God?  Who after he had created humans, ‘…saw all that he had made, and it was very good.’?  Are we now, by our own effort, better people than God could ever make us?

The sinful nature, which wants to take the place of God and be king, is what drives us to desire personal advancement.  But because we are not the creator, but the created, we can never become our best.  So when we see others advance ahead of us, or when someone who disrupts our advancement, we get angry.  The desire to advance the Jewish nation and religious customs is what drove the Jews to send Jesus to Pontius Pilate.  It drove the Jews, the scribes and the teachers of the law, to demand Jesus’ execution.

For them, Jesus was a failure.  He was not advancing their desire for the Jewish kingdom.  What king owns nothing?  What king rides into town on a donkey?  What king claims he will tear down the temple, when he should be building it even bigger?  He didn’t even seem to advance himself socially and more importantly…morally.  The Pharisees and the teachers of the law felt he got in their way of moral improvement and often muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”  Even Pilate was somewhat amused an inquired “Are you the king of the Jews?”

Jesus responds “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” …” In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.”  Jesus agrees that he is a king, but his kingdom is not outwardly recognizable.  It is not of this world.  It is not a kingdom defined by social, ethical or material advancement.  Jesus’ kingdom is about loss and not gain; about his disciples dying to self and taking up their cross.  Jesus is a king who came to suffer, to be destroyed and to be torn down, as he said “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

Jesus tried to tell everyone he met, that his kingdom, God’s kingdom was at hand, ‘repent the kingdom of heaven is near’.  But many laughed, ridiculed and mocked him.  They could see no evidence of it.  No pomp and ceremony.  But there indeed was, if only they had eyes of faith.  Jesus said ‘my kingdom is from another place.’  Many today still mock Jesus saying ‘the world is no better?’  Even many of us who are Christians still look for signs of advancement; signs that God’s kingdom is indeed near…miracles, conversions, people suddenly cured of disease. We want to see sin eradicated from the church and people passionate about their faith.

We want and expect of ourselves and each other the advancement motto ‘Good better best, never let it lest, until your good is better and your better’s best!  Is Christian ethics what Jesus was all about?  Is the requirement of the kingdom of God to be the best person you can be?  Would Jesus really have gone to the cross, suffered whippings, beatings and ultimately a humiliating death by crucifixion, just so we can be better people outwardly? Is worldly advancement worth going to the cross?

The good news of God’s kingdom is far more radical and life changing than just social or material improvement.  The kingdom of Jesus is a gift of restoration with him and renewal on the inside. Through the means of grace, baptism and Holy Communion, the gift of God’s kingdom are given, forgiveness, victory over sin, death and the devil.  No advancement, just total renewal.   The sacrifice and hard work of having to move from good to best, has already been offered by Jesus on the altar of the cross.  It was there that the best man payed the debt of the worst.

It was there, hidden in suffering and selflessness, that Jesus’ opened a new way to God; where by his blood we are made the best we could ever be; inwardly, as written in Hebrews ‘our hearts are sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience.’ There was not and is not any visible advancement in the kingdom of God.  It is an inside-out kingdom, as St Paul says ‘Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.’

Let me demonstrate how the kingdom of God renews us inwardly. (get a candle and put it straight up and down, to demonstrate how we think as Christians we need to get better and better, to be like Jesus and to be nearer to Jesus..  Then, tip the candle on the side.  This demonstrates the Christian life is not a ladder, but a renewing.  Outwardly we may look and feel the same; sometimes better, sometimes worse.  The wick is the Holy Spirit inside us.  Light the candle, and the flame is Christ.  As Christ shines in our heart, the Holy Spirit is taking away more and more of us and our self-righteousness, as John the Baptist said ‘He must increase, I must decrease.’  The Holy Spirit reveals our sin so we can recognize sin and then don’t want to go there.  Finally, only the Spirit and Jesus remain at death, our works and good deeds have no-bearing.

Jesus said ‘You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” Jesus invites not orders.  He encourages not demands.  He is the one who gives us worth, it is he who says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

The job is done

Friday, November 13th, 2009

The job’s done Hebrews 10:11-25

 

(drop to break something, like a china cup)  O no, now what?  I’ve brokenbreaking-up mum’s best tea cup!  Have you even done something like that?  If you are like me, a sudden hot flush reveals we are filled with fear and shame, as our body prepares to face the inevitable telling off and punishment for breaking the precious cup.  But then suddenly we say ‘wait a minute.  If I can fix the problem, then everything will be alright…no fear or shame and no facing up to the punishment.’  What would fix this?  Yes…a child’s best friend, Super Glue!

There fixed!  The job’s done…she’s right to go.  I’ve fixed it…she’s as good as gold, better than a new one.’   Well, so we think…until mum fills it full of hot tea and the handle breaks, spilling hot tea all over her and the carpet.  Not a real fix was it?  And even if the repair did hold, the crack can never be hidden.  And along with it, the uncertainty that it will one day break, will always be with us. Super Glue gives us a sense of security, but deep down, we know that the broken cup can never be repaired

All of us are living with past ‘fix its!’  I am talking about the’ fix its’, we have used to repair and cover over the relationships we have broken with our nearest and dearest.  The ‘fix its’ we have used in a vain attempt to avoid facing the truth and shame of what we have done.  The ‘fix its’ we have used to cover up our relationship breakers;  For King David, who had an affair with Bethsheba, a married woman…definitely a relationship breaker, tried a ‘fix it’, commanding this for her husband Uriah ‘Put Uriah in the front line where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die.” 

Your relationship breakers you have been involved in, may not be as overt, but never the less, just as destructive in breaking up a relationship; ‘an adulterous affair of the heart in thought and word; abusive behaviour; control over a person; anger…blowing up when our opinion is challenged; manipulation to get what we want.  Being dishonest about how we truly feel when we are hurt by others…saying ‘its Ok’…these and many more are the relationship breakers we have all at one point or another been a part of.  

Once we realize, like King David, what we have done has hurt or even broken our relationship with someone dear, rather than face the shame of owning up to the truth about what we have done or said, we apply a ‘fix it’.  We try and repair the relationship without revealing the truth.  Like running to the Super Glue instead of running to mum to confess we broke the cup. 

We run to a lie to cover the relationship breaker, pretend it never happened saying ‘build a bridge and get over it’, or we run to a friend or psychologist or lawyer, who will take our side and say we are not responsible for our actions; its in our genes or our bad childhood caused us to act and say the things we did…now that’s a ‘fix it’…or is it?  Has the breakage really been dealt with, or are we still living in shame and fear and like the repaired cup, we live with uncertainty about whether the repair will last?

Relationship breakers and ‘fix its’ are not a modern phenomenon, in fact, what is the story of the bible?  Isn’t it God’s word to us on a relationship breaker and a ‘fix it?  Is not the bible a revelation about sin and grace; of our sin…the relationship breaker with God, and God’s ‘fix it’ Jesus, his only Son who died on the cross to endure the punishment we couldn’t bear to face?  As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’  The fear of punishment and shame cause us to run from the truth about ourselves, as we display every day and as Adam and Eve displayed, when they hid from God in the garden, after sinning against him by eating of the forbidden fruit. 

And then once found out, feared God’s punishment so much that they ran to a lie and blamed each other for the sin, as a sort of ‘fix it’, saying “The woman you put here with me– she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”  Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”  Like with the broken cup, what made them run and what makes us run from the truth, is not the concern over the relationship breakage as such, but the fear of being shamed and punished…before God and those we hurt; that’s what makes us run from facing the truth; that’s what drives us to a ‘fix it.’, which is no ‘fix it’ at all, is it…as Adam and Eve found out.

The only way to really fix a broken cup and to have absolute certainty that it won’t re-break, is to throw away the old and replace it with a new one.  This is exactly what God did to us through Christ Jesus in his ’fix it’.  Excuses are not good enough ‘fix it’ for God, who is Holy and Just and must right wrong.  So in compassion for us, he took his anger over our relationship break with him and punished his Son Jesus; had him crucified as a sinner under the curse; he bore our sin, shame and punishment; he took the wrath of God upon himself as a ‘fix it’ once and for all.

Hebrews 10 declares ‘by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.  The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. ‘he says:… “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin.’  In our baptism, is where the ‘fix it’ is applied.  By the water and the word of God, we are absolved, forgiven and made new; totally.  There is no punishment hanging over us.  There is not partial ‘fix it’ that must be finalized by us after death.  There is no extra ‘fix it’ needed which is dependant on our love toward God.  No, as Jesus said from the cross ‘It is finished’.

So what does God’s ‘fix it’ mean for us?  You can stop with the ‘fix its’. You can have the confidence, backed by God himself, to own up to God and each other about our relationship breakers without fearing condemnation from God for what we have done.   As Hebrews says ‘we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place (to speak to God himself) by the blood of Jesus,…so let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith.’ Faith that says ‘If God does not condemn me, who can?’  This is what it means to be a Christian.  Having the certainty that our baptism is the ‘fix it’ from God that can never be broken and gives us the certainty of eternal life with him…the restoration of our original relationship.

If we don’t have to run and hide from God, why should we continue to run and hide from those we have had a relationship breaker.  Why would we want to settle for our ‘fix it’, the anger, lies, the manipulation, which are only cover ups, when we can confess our sin to each other and forgive each other our hurts, just as Christ forgave us.  Or why would we condemn someone who hurt us, if God no longer condemns us? 

Here is a story; a relationship breaker and ‘fix it’ story of sin, guilt, shame, remorse and the love of a Father that over come.  This is your story. You and your Heavenly Father.

In Decision magazine, Mark Strand tells of an experience that occurred following his first year at college.  His dad and mum had left on holidays, and Mark wrecked their ute, crumpling the passenger-side door.  Returning home, he parked the ute.  When his dad returned home and saw the damage, Mark acted surprised and denied any knowledge of the accident.  Mr Strand then asked the hired man about it, and to Mark’s delight, the man admitted he was responsible.   He had heard a loud noise while passing the ute with the spray rig, and now he assumed he had caused the damage.  But the weeks that followed were torturous as Mark struggled with his guilty conscience.  He repeatedly considered telling the truth, but was afraid.  Finally one day he impulsively blurted it out.

‘Dad, there’s something I need to tell you.’

‘Yes?’

‘You know the ute door? I was the one who did it.’

Dad looked at me.  I looked back at him.  For the first time in weeks I was able to look at him in the eyes as the topic was broached.  To my utter disbelief, Dad calmly replied, “I know.”

Silent seconds, which seemed like hours, passed.  Then dad said, “Let’s go eat.”  He put his arm around my shoulder, and we walked to the house, not saying another word about it.  Not then, not ever.’

 

(Mark Stran, ‘I couldn’t forget that door,’ Decision, December 1996, 19.)

Amen.

Luther’s Rose

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

Reformation sermon on Luther’s rose

 

Our celebration of the Reformation, October 31st, the day Luther nailed theluther 95 theses to the Wittenberg church door, is not a day to boast and be puffed up with pride, because Luther founded a new church or new religion.  No, we celebrate, give thanks to God and remember the reformation because of what God had done in using Martin Luther, as his tool, to bring to light the TRUE GOSPEL for all Christians, all over the world…not just for the German church.  The rediscovery, that ‘in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last’ is the rediscovery of Christianity itself.

 I often hear and have in the past said it myself:  ‘I am Christian first and Lutheran second.’  While this commonly said statement seems to make sense and appears to make us more accepting of other Christians.  After reflection, I believe it doesn’t actually make sense.  Let me tell you why.  To say ‘I am Christian first and Lutheran second’, is to say something like ‘I am a human being first and a man second’, in order to express equality with women; it just doesn’t make sense.  You can’t separate being a human from being a man or woman. To be a man is to be human.  To be a woman is to be human.  There is no human-ness that is before and prior to being either male or female.  To be human is to be male or female.

To be Lutheran is to be Christian; to be Christian is to be Lutheran.  There is no generic Christian-ness that comes prior to being Lutheran.  Have you ever had a nick-name?  Lutheran was a nick-name given to the Christians who followed Luther’s attempts at reforming the Roman Catholic Church.  To be ‘Lutheran’ was to be named as a Christian who believed and taught that we are saved by grace alone, by faith alone, in Christ alone and scripture alone is the source and foundation for all doctrines of faith.

In a perfect world, where nick-names don’t stick, we would simply be called ‘Christians’, as Luke records in Acts 11:26 ‘The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.’  However, this is not the case.   We are Christians called Lutheran’s.  Lutheran’s who happen to also have as their symbol of identity, and theology depicted in Luther’s Rose.  The Luther Rose, also known as the Luther Seal, is easily the most recognized symbol for Lutheranism, and for good reason. Martin Luther personally oversaw the creation of this symbol. It provides a beautiful summary of his faith, and this is the important part, a faith that is common to all Christians, of every place and every time; a Christian symbol-like the ‘fish’.

Yesterday and today we have been watching on DVD, Bill Hybels teach us some simple techniques to help us make the walk across the room, to speak to someone about Jesus.  However, there is one major presumption made; we know a little something about Jesus and what hid did for us.  We could all learn more about justification, about faith, about the bible, about Jesus as our substitute and sacrifice, but if we waited until then, waited until we knew all we could about faith and about Jesus, before we went and spoke to someone about him, we would never start.  Perhaps that’s why many of us feel the step across the room is too hard, and we can’t even shuffle one meagre step.  We fear we might get things all wrong, or worse, they might know more then we do!!

Don’t worry, even the disciples ‘trembled with fear and never made one step across the room, because of the Jews’.  But once full of the Spirit and the truth of the gospel, they began to take large steps across many countries spreading the gospel of Jesus.  The power that changed them and the courage that ignited them to speak about Jesus, came when the Spirit opened them to the scriptures.  The Spirit received at Pentecost inspired them to know and proclaim the basics of the faith: that Jesus died for sinners; that he rose again; that the righteousness needed to get to heaven came from God himself and that faith in Jesus alone saves and makes people righteous, as the Old Testament testified ‘the righteous will live by faith.’

You have been baptised, not only for salvation and eternal life, but you have been given even more.  Not only have you been covered in the righteousness of Christ, but you, like the disciples, have received power from on high.  The Holy Spirit inspires you with wisdom and hope in the knowledge of Jesus.  To know and aspire to the truth, that our righteousness rests in Jesus and not our efforts, as Paul says ‘But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known.’  This is the true Christian gospel that Luther rediscovered nearly 500 years ago. 

 Luther’s Rose, the symbol of the Christian faith, can encourage us to make that step across the room.  It gives us an opportunity to stand on the shoulders of those who have already taken the walk before us.  It is the ideal teaching tool for faith and mission.  The Rose is simple enough to memorise, yet so profound you can never plumb the depth of its meaning for faith.  It is basic in design, yet so intricate in theology for mission, that you will never exhaust its treasures.  It is the ideal mission and outreach companion.

The cross is central to the Rose.  All faith and mission begin at the cross of Jesus.  It is the centre and core of your faith and is the power that changes lives by forgiving sin, as Paul writes ‘For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.’  Our first step in faith and mission is to believe and confess that Jesus died to redeem us from sin, death and the devil.  The cross, which is black, etches in our mind the purpose of the cross…to put to death.  Not only did Jesus die on the cross and bore the punishment that was upon us, the black reminds us that we now die to sin; die to self and die to indulging in our sinful lusts.  It reminds us ‘Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.’ 

How much could we talk about that or relate that to our own faith journey.

The black cross is centered in the red heart, the core of our being, to remind us that our faith is not subjective or a feeling, but is anchored in the crucified Christ, as Paul writes in Romans 10:10 ‘For one who believes from the heart will be justified’.  Luther comments ‘Although it is indeed a black cross, which mortifies and which should also cause pain, it leaves the heart in its natural color. It does not corrupt nature, that is, it does not kill but keeps alive….’  We live by faith in the crucified.  The heart, the symbol for our current life, is sustained in faith and kept alive until heaven by the preaching of the cross and the blessings from the cross, the sacrament of Holy Communion; the true body and blood of Jesus.

If we speak to some about ‘Jesus, all about life’, by learning about how Jesus gives and sustain life through his word and sacraments…we have something concrete and life changing to talk about.

The cross and heart are centered in a white rose.  Luther writes ‘to show that faith gives joy, comfort, and peace…the believer is placed into a white, joyous rose, for this faith does not give peace and joy like the world gives.’  Only the gospel of Jesus can bring this sort of joy; the joy that inspires us to tell others about him.  Only in the joy that comes from the free grace we receive in Christ, can we even begin to take a step in mission.  I can demand and urge all l like, but you will never freely reach out in mission, or even want to, if you have not first experienced the joy of Jesus’ reaching out to you from the cross, to freely open the door of heaven for you, as he said in Revelation ‘these are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut.’

All this is set in the beautiful sky blue that is incased in a golden ring.  Why blue with a golden ring?  The blue we see and experience as the sky above, is really only the beginning of the endless universe beyond our reach.  Beyond that is the gold of God’s heavenly kingdom that encases the whole created universe.  All that has happened to us so far; grace through the cross, a new heart, joy in the Spirit, is only the beginning and a down payment of what is yet to come; it is the blue of the sky.    We live by faith, in the blue that separates us from heaven, trusting in the promise of God until that day we cross from the blue of faith to the gold of heaven. 

The golden blessedness of God’s kingdom and eternal life, the gold ring that surrounds us, that is beyond us, is the comforting hope and assurance that God, through Christ, has already encased us in his kingdom. 

Luther’s Rose, from the black of cross to the gold of heaven, is summed up in just a few words of St Paul in Romans 3, ‘This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.’

Wow!  What a story we have to tell!  Amen