Archive for December, 2009

Double vision

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

Luke 2:1-14 double vision

 

Have you ever gone to a 3D movie?  You know the ones, where you have to
wear those silly looking glasses with one red coloured lens and the other blue?  Before the movie starts, no one wants to look silly, so the special glasses are not put on!  As you begin to watch the 3D movie without the glasses, everything seems to be doubled up, nothing seems to be connected, one picture seems to overlap the other; yet they are the same picture.  You can watch the movie, but it is very difficult to really see what is actually going on.  It is only when you put on the special glasses, do you see clearly and enjoy the 3D special effects.  With the glasses on, the doubled pictures become one and then you become part of the movie, those with out the glasses remain watching in double vision and have no concept of what is going on.

St Luke deliberately opens the miracle of the first Christmas Day, when God the creator of the universe enters into his creation as a baby, with a very grandiose earthly introduction ‘In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)  And everyone went to his own town to register.’  An earthly king, who’s reign is short and who’s life as a man is but a shadow, as Job says ‘He springs up like a flower and withers away; like a fleeting shadow,’ gains great notoriety and power with his announcement and  plans to unite Rome and conquer the world, as reflected in Luke’s account.

Jesus, on the other hand, the creative word of God, who is born Christ the Lord, king of heaven, who has dominion over rulers and principalities, who entered into the world of this earthly king; into the earthly affairs and organization structures of the Roman Empire, gains little notoriety, Luke writes ‘and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.’  Two kings, two kingdoms, two rulers, both with their purpose to conquer and rule, both with plans to unite and call home their subjects.  One is known everywhere on earth, the other, Jesus, is known only by a few.

Like when we go to the 3D movies without the special glasses on and we only see double, it appears to be a confusing doubling up; two kings, two plans, two kingdoms, yet two completely different purposes; one earthly, one heavenly; one seen one unseen.  Caesar’s rule has its purpose and fulfillment in this life.  Jesus’ rule has its purpose and fulfillment in the life to come at the end of time.  There seems to be no connection what so ever between the two. Caesar’s rule, or for that matter, any earthly ruler, seems more important to us.  Jesus rule here on earth has little or no significance for our life now, his birth as a heavenly king only finds its purpose for our life after we die.  Double vision!

We often suffer this double vision, this disconnectedness between our life now and the relevance of Jesus’ birth for us today, because of sin.  Our sinful nature blinds us to the reality, to the hope and to the joy that Jesus birth in Bethlehem was to redeem all people from the bondage to sin.   The devil blinds us to the good news that Jesus does rule in our life now.  Double vision stops us from seeing that Jesus’ birth as Lord and saviour means he rules now and in eternity; we are blind and cannot see the hope Jesus can bring in our life now, as Jesus said ‘For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’

The one special Christmas word, the gospel word that enables us to see again and to connect the importance of Jesus birth to our life now, the one word we need to hear to correct our double vision, is this…‘today’.  The gospel word ‘today’!  ‘Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.’  The word ‘today’, that the angel spoke as part of the announcement, meant that right at that very moment, Jesus was already ‘Christ the Lord’.

‘Today’, the angel announced, while nothing had changed and the shepherds watched their sheep, baby Jesus was already the good shepherd, Christ the Lord, who shepherds people from their sins.  Today, while Caesar was busy counting his people, Jesus was NOT counting sins against humanity, as Paul writes in 2 Cor ‘God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.’  As the angel spoke those words, ‘today’ right at that very moment salvation dawned upon all people and it will continue to dawn on every man, woman and child until Jesus’ return.

Jesus emphasized the fact that his kingly rule justified sinners ‘today’, that is, immediately, in the lives of those still living, by using the same gospel word ‘today’, as the angel did on that first Christmas night.  To Zacchaeus the tax collector, Jesus said ‘Today salvation has come to this house.’  To the man still hanging on the cross, who could do nothing but die, Jesus said ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.’

The gospel word ‘today’ brings the first Christmas, the birth of Jesus as Christ the Lord into our lives.  The word ‘today’ brings salvation to our house; it is ‘today’ that we will surely be with Jesus in paradise.  Jesus’ word is living and active…it says what it does and does what it says.  That is why there is no dualism in life, no double vision, no separating Jesus from our everyday life.  Because of the gospel word of Jesus ‘today’, our whole life is one with Christ who paid the ransom for sin and redeemed us to himself on the cross.

Today, as you hear and believe Jesus’ word ‘whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned,’ you are the recipient and the joyful hearer of the of the angel’s Christmas message ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.’

The epiphany of grace

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

Titus 2:1, 11-15  The epiphany of grace

 

I have a wonderful Christmas gift here.  Its just the perfect present for you,
everything you dream a present would be or imagine a present to be.  (hold out the ‘unseen present’)  This is the ‘unseen gift’ because I didn’t want to disappoint anyone by giving you something they don’t want.  I am relying on your good will that the intention is good…I mean well!

The down side for you is that you will never see any evidence that I mean well.  You will never actually receive anything that is tangible, useful or even of benefit from this ‘unseen present’; a present that supposedly expresses my love.  In the end you will never be certain that I have actually given you anything.

The grace of God, the love of God…God is faithful, we even sing ‘God is an awesome God’, how often have we heard these phrases?   Yet in a way, these words and phrases lack substance and bring us little assurance.  After all, can we describe or experience the ‘grace of God?’  I mean, what is really meant by the grace of God and how can we be certain we have it?  Just talking about and knowing about ‘the grace of God’ means very little and gives us nothing, which means this ‘unseen gift’ is not a gift at all; a ‘gift’ implies there is actually something given that will benefit the receiver…The grace of God implies he has something to give us that will benefit us.

Tonight we celebrate the grace of God.  Tonight we celebrate with the words of St Paul in Titus ‘For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.’  God did not remain hidden nor did he give us an ‘unseen gift’ of grace.  The grace of God has appeared to all people.  The grace of God has appeared in the human baby Jesus; born in a real stable, in a real manger and born to a real mum, Mary.  He is both truly God and truly human.  At Christmas we celebrate the epiphany, the revealing of God’s grace to us, the ‘seen gift of God’s grace’, the baby Jesus who will save us from our sins, as St John also declares ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.’

The grace of God is real and tangible in the Christ Child Jesus.  The grace of God, Jesus, who saves you and me, saves all people from their sin, is not an idea, a philosophy, a hope or wish, like an ‘unseen gift’, here tonight we celebrate the tangible; the historical fact and the reality that God has actually given us a gift of grace in his Son Jesus that will benefit all people, as we sing in, Hark! The herald angels sing ‘mild he lays his glory by, born that man no more may die, born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth.’

Like with a real gift given to us that needs to be unwrapped once receive, Jesus’ birth was just the beginning of God’s epiphany of grace.  The depth of his love for us, the awesomeness of his grace was fully revealed on the cross, when Jesus was crucified for our sin.  On that real wooden cross, with real wounds, and real blood, God’s epiphany of real grace paid the dept of our real sin, as Paul writes in Romans He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.’

The epiphany of God’s grace for all people began in the manger.  The awesomeness of God’s love was unwrapped on the cross.  The fullness of God’s grace has been completed in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and his ascension into heaven.   At Christmas we celebrate the epiphany of God’s grace to all people.  Every Sunday we celebrate the distribution or the giving out of God’s grace in Holy Communion.  Every Sunday God continues to reveal his grace to us, through his word and sacrament.  It is in the church that his gift of forgiveness is given and received.  The church and its liturgy are now the new manger of Jesus.  The church is the stable where we, who are made wise unto salvation, come and worship the king.

May this Christmas give you joy, hope, peace and the certainty that in Jesus, the grace of God is revealed.

Amen

A life changing moment

Friday, December 18th, 2009

Luke 1:39-45 A life changing moment

 

Have you ever experienced a life changing moment?  That moment when a word was said to you; a word that made time stand still as you tried to take in the significance of what was said; as you tried to comprehend the enormity of change that was now dawning on you.  Perhaps you heard that life changing word in the doctor’s surgery…you have cancer.  Perhaps you heard that life changing word from the bank manager…we are gong to foreclose the farm.    That life changing word can also be a good one ‘will you marry me?’  ‘We’re having a baby!

And it is at that moment, as time stands still, with the impact of the words still soaking in, we realise our life will never be the same.  Many of us take days, weeks even months to comprehend it and to make that first step out into an unknown world.  For some of us that life changing word has been bad news and we remain stuck at that point, reliving and replaying the words in our mind night after night; questioning why, and how its not fair, crying why me, what did I do to deserve this?  Sadly, it is often at this low point we turn to our own plans to redeem the situation, rather than leave it to God who promises in Jeremiah 29 ‘For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’

At this dark point we begin to contrive our redeeming plans; plans that we put in place to recoup what we lost; to try and bring new life for ourselves.  Plans that have our rights as the driving force.  Last year in Australia the life changing words ‘You’re pregnant!’ were said to 90, 000 women.  What life changing words, ‘You’re pregnant!’  Unfortunately, the life changing word was not what these women or couples wanted to hear.  That figure I gave you were the 90, 000 aborted babies in Australia last year.  98% of these babies were aborted because ‘the parents felt the baby was an inconvenience!’    The words ‘you’re pregnant’, probably repeated themselves in their mind night after night; questioning why and how its not fair, crying why me, what did I do to deserve this.  800 mums and dads every week in NSW alone, choose to redeem their situation and put an end the life of their baby.

Sadly, as with all our own redeeming acts to make a new life for ourselves, an abortion is not a redeeming act that brings life.  Far from it, most women suffer emotionally over the guilt for many years after.  In fact many never get over the second life changing words the doctor probably says ‘the procedure’s finished’.  Those words haunt these women to the point of deep depression, all while men continue to allow fellow men to push for this self-redeeming act…not even considering our God given duty to care for women, as St Peter urges ‘Husbands, … be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life.’

Mary heard these same life changing words, ‘you’re pregnant’, not by a doctor, but by God himself through the angel Gabriel.  These words could not have come at a worse time.  Mary was really still a young girl, yet to be married to Joseph and she was still a virgin.  She had fulfilled all care and duty to remain faithful to Joseph and to the law of God, and now she was going to have to endure public humiliation and disgrace, and the uneasy prospect of telling Joseph.  This baby Jesus was going to be ‘very inconvenient’.  Yet she did not run from the redeeming act of God for humanity; she did not devise her own redeeming act to try and bring normality to her life, she pondered the words in her heart.  Perhaps the promise of God ‘For I know the plans I have for you,”… “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future,’ had already been planted deep in her heart and she used them to interpret the inconvenient life changing words of the angel.

Ignoring her own inconvenience, and in total trust in the good news, she responds to the message ‘I am the Lord’s servant,” … “May it be to me as you have said.’  By faith Mary journeys to the hill country around Judea, carrying the Christ child, to see her relative Elizabeth, where she receives a blessing from her, as Luke records ‘Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!’  She is blessed because she not only carries Jesus in her womb, the redeemer who will be a blessing to all people, as promised to Abraham centuries earlier ‘I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you;…and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’  She is part of God’s redeeming plan for the world.  And she is blessed because she forsook her own rights and life and believed the word of promise that this ‘inconvenient child’ is going to save people from their sins.  And as with Abraham, she too, was a woman of faith, and it was ‘credited to her as righteousness.’  She is blessed.

By faith Mary continued to journey with her son Jesus, all the way to the cross, and by faith she suffered the piercing of her soul as she watched Jesus die on the cross.  But her faith was rewarded through the cross.  She was the first to witness Jesus’ resurrection.  God’s redeeming act came to all people through the cross.   It is often true for us, as it was for Mary, that Jesus the Christ child seems to be very inconvenient in our well planed out lives.  His redeeming act to bring us salvation through the cross will often mean giving up our rights, our dreams and hopes and most inconveniently, our own plans to redeem our life.  With Jesus dwelling in our hearts, he will, as he did Mary, lead us to the cross where our soul is pierced, not with pain, but with his word of the Spirit; a word that is life changing because he puts to death our sinful nature and brings us to new life.

As we read and hear his word, and receive the sacrament of Holy Communion, where the word himself, Jesus, cleanses our conscience, he puts to death our pride, our false gods that we depend on as our right in life.  He puts to death everything that will stop us from entering the kingdom of God by revealing the sin in our lives and dealing with.  And this can be a difficult time in our life, we may even lose what we thought was most important and valuable in our eyes, as something sinful can appear good for us.  But by faith, we bear the cross of Jesus, trusting the promise that the Lord has “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’  By Faith we hear and believe Jesus words ‘What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul.

And our faith, like Mary’s, which trusts in the redeeming act of God, which truly brings new life, unlike our own redeeming acts, will be rewarded.  By faith we trust God’s life changing word that there is another side to the cross, the resurrection; the other life changing word from Jesus, a word of good news that brings us into his kingdom.  St Paul says ‘For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin–because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.  Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.’

By faith, with Jesus in our heart, we journey the same journey with Mary. Together with Jesus he takes us to the cross in this life and then beyond the grave to eternal life.  Yet even in the shadow of the cross we can rejoice, because it is Jesus who is leading us and his plans are to prosper us and give us hope that goes far beyond Christmas.  May this hope encourage you to ponder in your heart, the very life changing word of Jesus this Christmas ‘For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.’

 Amen

One greater than me

Friday, December 11th, 2009

Luke 3:7-18  One greater than me.

 

For the past few months, I have been training our dog, Sox, a purebred boarder Collie, to round up and herd sheep.   I have been going out to a place on the Dunnedoo Rd, where a guy by the name of Toby trains dogs for sheep trials.  With a few tips and a short demonstration, Sox and I were let lose on the sheep!  We actually went quite well…surprisingly.  Sox went around and around the sheep, herding them in.  Each time Sox and I went out to Toby’s place, Sox got a little better at responding to my commands and rounding up sheep, and I was getting better at being the ‘boss’.  In fact, just the other day, when Sox had obeyed every command well, I though to myself… now I’m great, no one could do better.

Well, Sox must have sensed what I was thinking and the next time we went out, she refused to listen to any of my commands, no matter how much I shouted them.  After a short time of frustration, from the in the corner of my eye, I saw Toby coming towards me.  Sox didn’t she was to busy running amuck.  Toby stood next to me, and in a commanding stature and with a pointing glare in his eye, he commanded with a load voice ‘stop, that’ll do!  Sox froze.  She had just heard the voice of the ‘real’ boss, and I just realized someone greater then me, someone more powerful than me, had come to save the day. I had a misunderstanding about who was the greatest!

John the Baptist was a great man of God.  He spoke with authority, with insistence and determination in his words.  He was preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin.  So great was John that many of the people of Israel came out to hear him and hoped that he may have even been the messiah, Luke records ‘The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ.’

What is greatness to you?  What makes someone great?  What about a great man or woman of God, what faith or actions might make them great…who comes to mind?  Have you ever wondered about yourself, what makes you a great person before God? We often hear of great people doing great things for God.  And there are times in our life of discipleship when we are convinced we are doing great.

In the book ‘Faith Like Potatoes’, the author told how he would hand his crop over to the Lord and say ‘Here it is, Lord.  Your crop of maize’.  And when it was nearly dead from lack of opening rain, he prayed ‘Lord, your crop is dying’, and sure enough, God brought rain to grow the crop.  Perhaps a great person before God is someone who has committed their whole life to prayer and giving everything to God for his work, as the potato man.   Your prayer life…how great are you?

Being great before God may be seen by us as a verb, an action word, an imperative, as Jesus himself urges ‘For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.’  Perhaps greatness before God is measured by religious commitment; how passionately we say the Creed, how neatly we dress, whether we sing with gusto the latest Christian songs or by the number of church events we turn up to. Look at the greatness of the Pharisees, as Jesus mentioned.  They went to every religious event.  They knew the scriptures well and adhered to every command of God and kept every day holy, not just the Sabbath.  Is that what makes a great Christian?  How great are you at being religious…greater than the Pharisees?

Luke records John’s harsh words to the religious and sanctimonious of his time, when they came to him to be baptized, something you’d think would have pleased John, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.’  John was great enough to know that these outwardly religious people were coming to be baptized by him, not because they were repentant and intended to turn from sin, but because they thought their outward action of being baptised would make them great before God, like every other religious act they had fulfilled.  They believed to be great before God, or to be righteous, was within their human power; God had set out the ‘way’, be baptized, you just had to tick the boxes.

The error of active righteousness or active greatness before God is riddled throughout the church, just as it was among the Jews in John’s day.  Luther called this active greatness before God a theology of glory.  It is glorious to us because, like me with training Sox, we mistakenly take ourselves to be the boss.  Its glorious because we don’t have to admit sin and daily repent.  Its glorious because we are the ones who choose to follow Jesus.  Our decision for Christ and our choice to be baptized is what makes us great before God. A self-made greatness, that leaves us uncertain about our personal salvation in times of temptation, despair or doubt.

John was not a prophet of glory.  John was a herald and prophet of the cross and of death and new birth.  He was only a voice in the desert saying, ‘I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.’  He didn’t promote himself, he promoted the coming Christ as the more powerful one because he is the ‘righteousness of God’; he is the one who will make all humanity, you…me…great before God by his greatness alone, through a baptism of the Holy Spirit and of fire.

John’s baptism cleansed with water, Jesus’ baptism cleanses with the Holy Spirit and fire.  For you and for me, for everyone, Jesus was born in a stable as a baby, born to be one with humanity and was baptized in the Jordan with the water and the Spirit.  Then he was sent to the cross to die, the baptism of fire, cleansing us of the wrath and judgment of God our Father.  A baptism of fire that cleansed and dissipated the Father’s anger over our sin, clearly heard in Jesus words ‘my God, my God, why have you forsaken me.’  And he raised Jesus to life to live forever as the Son of God who, through baptism, the Holy Spirit and fire, brings many sons to glory.

Baptism, Spirit and the fire of the cross is what makes us great before God.  A greatness before God that is given to us by one more powerful than us; a greatness that is received by faith.  A greatness that is in God’s hands which leaves us in no doubt about our righteousness before God; in no doubt about our salvation, as Jesus himself said ‘who ever believes and is baptized will be saved.’  And it is precisely in baptism, as John foretold, that we are infused with Jesus, our life becomes his, as St Paul says ‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.’

Robert Kolb, a Lutheran pastor and theologian wrote ‘At the cross God meets his human creatures where they are, in the shadow of death…only at the foot of the cross can true human identity be discovered.  There, realising whose I am, I realise who I am.’

A great Christian is known by all three witnesses; baptism, Holy Spirit and fire.  All three bearing witness to your salvation.  Yes, even the fire.  The fire of the cross in our life; the fire of suffering and persecution for Christ’s sake; the fire of our own death to self and death to sin, as we daily repent and seek God’s forgiveness and new life in Christ, as St Paul said in Romans 6:11 ‘count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.’

So praise be to God, each one of us can boast in the certainty that we are great Christians before God. All of us have received the three great witnesses, but our boasting is not about ourselves, but about Jesus, the one who is greater, as Stuart Townend writes in ‘How Deep the Father’s Love’; ‘I will not boast in anything: no gifts, no power, no wisdom.  But I will boast in Jesus Christ: his death and resurrection.’

Amen

God moves more than mountians

Friday, December 4th, 2009

God moves more than mountains Luke 3:1-6

 

Have you noticed the huge mining equipment that is currently being
transported along the highway to the mine?  Trucks, excavators, bulldozers so big, it seems they are able to move a mountain in just a few days.  The industrial age, with the invention of the engine, seems to have fulfilled what the ancient Greek philosopher, Protagoras, reportedly once said ‘man is the measure of all things.’  We never get tired of being impressed by how big we can make a machine in order to move a mountain, well I certainly don’t!

Protagoras’ ‘Man has become the measure of all things’ has somehow crept into our psyche and has given us a sense of security about life; a ‘you can do it’ mentality that drives our very being.  It gives us the urge to tackle every mountain in our lives as if it were a mole hill. It frees us to be our own boss and creator, judge and jury.  It gives us the right to do as we please without considering the true cost to creation, to our well being and even to the cost of our spiritual well being before God.

When we are the measure of all things, and we measure life, value, ethics, morality and even sin according to human standards, we lead ourselves down a very dangerous path; a path that looks clear of mountains and valleys, but is in fact a path that is deceptively crooked and rough.

John the Baptist came as a voice calling out in the desert.  He was a prophet of God, Jesus’ own cousin.  He preached repentance and forgiveness of sins through baptism, to the people of Israel; God’s chosen people; a people through whom he had announced that a saviour would be born. The prophet Isaiah foretold centuries earlier ‘ a Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious’.  John preached his message in the wilderness, in a deep depression through which the Jordan flows to the Dead Sea.  This area was hot and dry, uninhabitable and lay between 600 feet below sea level at one end and 1,300 below at the other. It was flat and straight ground.

All Mountains and valleys ended at the depression.  All curved roads straightened up and every bumpy way smoothed out as they entered the vast plains of the Dead Sea region. Out on a salt pan there is nowhere to hide.  It is as if God had chosen this sparse empty place where John the Baptist preached repentance, to show how smooth and empty of sin our lives need to be before him;

to show us that nothing in our life is hidden, all is revealed and will be revealed on the day of judgment, as the prophet Malachi foretold ‘But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.’  The desert reflected the words of John ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth.’

The mountains and valleys, the crooked roads and rough way, that are to be leveled like the Dead Sea, are not mountains that can be flattened with big machines and human effort.  They are metaphors for sin. And you will notice there are two sorts of sins, the clearly visible sins, the mountains and valleys, and the hidden sins, the crooked road and rough way.  Mountain and valley sins are called just that because they can be seen by everyone. They stand out large and are our outward sins of moral failure; sins that are obvious to everyone…abusive language, domestic violence, stealing, adultery and flirting, greed, addictions and so on.

With care and hard work, it is possible to outwardly observe and keep ourselves from committing mountain sins.  With our ‘you can do it’ attitude, we can, like a huge excavator, dig away at a particular visible sin and level it out.  We can fill in valleys by heaping in all the good intentions and acts we can.  To everyone else around us, it looks as if we have beaten our sin and live as good Christian and God fearing disciple.

But then John’s call to repentance from sin reminds us there is the crooked road and rough paths that are to be straightened and smoothed out.  These are the sins no one knows about or can easily see.  The highway from Dubbo to Nyngan is a good example of hidden sin.  On a map and even looking at it, the road looks straight and smooth, but drive it and carelessly overtake and you soon discover the hidden dangers of the slight curves and dips in the road that hide on coming cars.  We all may look good, setting ourselves up as the measure of all things, but we all have hidden sins that no one can see; the crooked road and rough way sins.  Jesus speaks of these hidden sins at his Sermon on the Mount, ‘You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’

It is here, in our heart, where sin dwells and it is where we cannot get to it, no matter how big a machine we use!  The hidden sin can only be seen by God and cannot be removed by our effort.  Our thoughts and desires are sinful by nature.  We are born into sin and all outward sin has its origin from within.   John’s call for repentance reminds us that man is not the measure of all things, God is.  And his word declares ‘no one is righteous not even one.’ And so we join with Saint Paul, ‘What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?

Praise be to God, John’s call for repentance doesn’t end laying us bare before God, he adds ‘for the forgiveness of sins.’  Isaiah foretold of the forgiveness John proclaimed in his baptism when he said ‘all humanity will see God’s salvation’.  It is God himself who will straighten paths and smooth over rough ways.  Jesus, God’s own Son entered this world to level the mountains and valleys, crooked roads and rough ways of our sinful self, as St John said ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  And making a connection with Isaiah’s prophecy ‘all will see God’s salvation’, he goes on to say ‘We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.’

On the cross Jesus flattened the devil, destroyed his power by taking upon himself the wrath of his Father for our sins, as expressed in Jesus desperate words ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.’  The mountains and valleys, roads and ways were all made flat when Jesus said ‘it is finished.’  And when he rose from the grave on the third day the final word of God was spoken; a final word of good news, as St Paul announced ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.’

The fulfillment of our salvation in Christ is for all people, for all time, but just knowing this gives us very little comfort when plagued by continual hidden sins and the sufferings that we constantly endure.  So God comes to us objectively, from outside of us, and gives us salvation personally through the sacraments of baptism, Holy Communion and through the words of forgiveness we hear from our pastor on repenting.  Our certainty of forgiveness is not found in our feelings, but in God himself who comes to us with a word of comfort and a promise never to revisit our sins again.

Let me tell you a story of sin, guilt, shame, remorse and the love of a Father that levelled a mountain through forgiveness.  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.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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