Archive for January, 2010

Hidden Love

Friday, January 29th, 2010

Luke 4: 21-30 hidden love

I brought some beautiful roses along with me.  Here, I will hand them out to you to hold while I give the sermon.  The rose…beautiful, colourful and fragrant, what does the beautiful flower remind you of?  Love;

Commitment;

Hope;

Future;

Life.

Yet, as those who are holding the rose stem would attest, on the same branch as the rose blossoms, there are sharp thorns.  What do the thorns remind you of?

Pain;

Danger;

Warning;

Suffering;

Death;

(holding and pointing to either rose or thorns) How could God allow this to be?  How could God create such beauty together with such ugliness?  Two complete opposites co-existing together, like love amid pain; commitment in danger; hope in the midst of suffering; life in the middle of death: beauty and ugliness together make up the whole that make up the rose.

As we live our lives and go through the ups and downs of hopes raised and hopes dashed; experience the joys of new life and the sorrows of death, God can seem to us to be a rose flower one moment and the next a thorn in our side.  One moment God seems to pour out his love upon us, blessing us with health, hope and certainty, the next moment, it is as if we have just grabbed the stem of a rose bush and have been pierced by the thorns; trouble, fear and suffering is all we experience.

We experience the same opposites co-existing together in our Christian life. One moment we seem to be full of faith, trusting in the certainty that we are God’s baptised child, secure in his love, living in his grace and forgiveness; we praise him and give him glory.  The next moment we are gripped with uncertainty, doubt and fear because we cannot break free from an oppressive sin we know God is anger about.  We lose our faith because we fear his justice and retribution for our wrong doing.  Our praise for God quickly turns to grumbling.  One moment we love him, the next we hate him.  In fact, such is our experience of God, it seems easier to hate God than to love him.

Our experience of God as either a rose or a thorn is not new, the people of Jesus time, those who were touched by the presence of Jesus, who listened to his message of salvation and followed him around, constantly struggled to come to terms with his apparent contradictive nature.  One moment he was to be praised for his message of hope, his miracles of healing, and his call to life, as shown after Jesus raised a widow’s son, ‘all were filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.’

Then suddenly, it seemed as if he turned 180 degrees and was out to bring pain on these very same people who were praising him.  Like a thorn on a rose, he stung their lives with words of warnings, and actions that brought danger, suffering and even death.  This sudden apparent turn about by Jesus made the hearts and mouths of those who once praised him, to curse him.   Once, confused after Jesus criticised the religious people around him, they turned against him saying “Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us.’  They had ears, but they didn’t understand; had eyes but they couldn’t see, as Jesus often warned.

Jesus was in his home town, teaching in the synagogue, the people who came to see and hear him, ‘all spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips.’  Knowing Jesus personally, and hearing of the miracles he had performed in Capernaum, they gladly praised him, especially after he read the prophecy of Isaiah and declared ‘today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.‘  Jesus was their rose flower, someone who brought life, hope and a future.  He was their chosen one to set them free with the Lord’s favour.  Then the next moment the crowds were furious with him.  As Luke records ‘They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff.’ Jesus had told them the Gentiles were the recipients of God’s grace because of their unbelief.

It is very easy for many us to continue to have a similar ‘love/hate’ relationship with God throughout our whole life.  It is very easy to remain in a constant wave pattern of love or hate depending on how we experience God; a constant flipping from hearing to not hearing. God is a rose to us today, but a thorn to us tomorrow because of what happens to us.  Erasmus, a theologian during Luther’s time, saddened by his sinful state said ‘[God seems] to delight in the torments of poor wretches and to be a fitter object for hate than for love.’  (Bondage of the will: 54-55)  He knew God is love, yet he often experienced the sting of God’s anger against sin.

Why is this?  Is it because God is bi-polo and loves us one minute and hates us the next?  Or is it that our love for God is dependant on the good or bad things that happen in our lives?  Or is it our sinful nature that causes us to hear but not perceive, as Jesus warns “‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.’? If only we could know this mysterious God and stop our oscillating!

Thank God we don’t have to search the mysteries of God, because it is impossible for us to know God in his hiddeness and sovereignty  apart from Christ, as St Paul writes in Romans 11 ‘How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! “Who has known the mind of the Lord? ‘.  It is impossible for us to explain and interpret why God in his majesty does what he does.  The good news is that Jesus entered into our life as the light of God to show us the heart of God; to demonstrate that he does truly love us, as St John writes ‘This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.’  Apart from Jesus, we will continue to remain oscillating between faith and unbelief.  Christ, his life, death on the cross for our sin and resurrection for our justification, grounds our faith and brings certainty.

Jesus says ‘I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’  This simply means that like a child we listen to, and receive God for who he is in Christ Jesus, and not attempt to explore his mysterious ways apart from Christ.  St Paul also encourages us not to hate God when he seems to attack us, but to look to Christ in times of confusion saying ‘in Christ are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.’

Our joy, our hope, our future, our life, especially in the midst of fear, suffering, sin and death, is the rose of God, Jesus Christ and him crucified for you.  Trust yourself to Christ; be humble enough to receive as God’s guarantee the word which God speaks to you in Christ, and trust yourself to Christ on the basis of that word however dreadful God may appear to you at times.

Faith trusts that just like roses are always found among thorns, God’s love will always be found even in the midst of sin and despair.  Luther once said ‘If I could by any means understand how this same God, who makes such a show of wrath and unrighteousness, and yet be merciful and just, there would be no need for faith.  But as it is, the impossibility of understanding makes room for faith…Now, the highest degree of faith is to believe that he is merciful, though he saves so few and damns so many.’

 In those times when  crowds around you become furious at God, and seek to condemn and reject you because of him, take hold of Christ and together with him, walk right through the crowd untouched; trusting he is God’s love amid pain; commitment in danger; hope in the midst of suffering; life in the middle of death: beauty and ugliness that come together in Christ is that which makes up the whole of faith, that which makes up the whole of life with our rose, Jesus Christ.  Amen

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

What matters most

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

1 Corinthians 12_12-31 what matters most
Who remembers learning how to walk?  No one I know remembers purposely planning to take their first step and walking.  Walking is something natural. It just happens.  Almost invariably, at the appropriate time in our development, we learn to walk.  Our body learns to work as one.  Each muscle, bone, ligament and limb work together with all our senses to begin to go forward; to walk; to be one body in motion and with purpose.  No part of our body is any more important than the other.  All parts of our body, see and unseen, work together to walk.  Otherwise walking unassisted would be impossible.  Each step we take is really a God given miracle of the unity of our body.

When Neil Armstrong stepped off the Apollo 11 and onto the moon, he said these famous words (who can quote them?) ‘One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.’ That special moment in history, when man first walked on the moon, was not Neil Armstrong’s individual achievement, it was humanity’s achievement as a whole that got him there.  It was a corporate body of people from all around the world who worked together as one that enabled history to be made; one step by one man, but it was the many steps of many men and women working together, as a body does, that enabled Neil Armstrong to make that one small step.

Two types of bodies working together to achieve, flourish and overcome, to step-out and to walk; Firstly, our own body working as one, the other, many bodies working corporally as one; both working together in harmony and unity; both walking together.  This is how it is to be in the church.  St Paul, frustrated with disunity, individualism, jealousy, division, boasting over spiritual gifts and prideful remarks between the members of the Corinthian church, wrote ‘The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.  For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body– whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free– and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.’

You and I as individual baptized people of God, whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free, actually make up the body of Christ, the church.  Two types of bodies, our own and then every Christian, make up the other body, the corporate body of Christ, the church, of whom he is the head.  Have you ever thought about this, the miracle of our walking as one body with Christ?  You did not have a say in your birth and you did not plan to walk, it all came about without your doing from the day you were born.

The miracle is that we became members of Christ’s body and walk with him in the same way, by no decision, effort or special talents of our own, but through the grace of God given to us at our new birth in baptism, as Jesus said in John 15:16 “you did not choose me, but I chose you.’  You, purely by virtue of your baptism were born again into a new body that is the body of Christ, our church here.  And it is in your new body that you now walk, together as one body in Christ.

When fishing on Yalata beach (yes I did catch the great big Snapper), with nothing but miles of beach, sand dunes and sea with no vegetation, you loose perspective of distance. I found this out very dramatically.  After casting my bait into the sea and putting by rod into its holder, I walked away to look for a place to camp for the night.  I happened to turn around and saw my fishing rod being pulled into the sea!  Thinking of nothing else but the possibility loosing the big fish that must have been on the end of my disappearing rod, I ran to grab the rod before it was pulled into the sea.  Well, I ran and ran, yet I didn’t seem to be getting any closer.  The distance was further than I thought.  Each step was agonizingly small compared to the distance I needed to travel.

However, I was so concerned about my own steps, that I forgot that my brother was just a few short steps from my disappearing rod.  I could have called out to him.  I could have trusted that his small step, though insignificant compared to my great steps, would have had an instant impact.  Instead I raced alone and risked loosing everything.

How do you view yourself as a member of Christ’s body and your walk with Christ?  Perhaps you are tempted to do what I did on the beach and try to run it alone.  In our passion to see results, see ‘fish’ caught for Jesus, we concentrate on what we are doing; on how our walk is making all the difference and when things get tough, we run that bit harder, not trusting or just forgetting that our brother or sister in Christ is just a step away from achieving the goal for us and together with us; forgetting that we were all given the one Spirit to drink, we are all one in Christ…walking together in one purpose.  Are you someone who is prepared to risk everything, even your own health, risking burn out and lose of faith all because you feel then need to run alone?

Unfortunately, there is a misguided emphasis in the body of Christ that promotes the belief  that what matters most is our ‘personal relationship with Jesus’.  Its unfortunate because it fosters members of the body of Christ to become individuals and personal walkers with Christ.  The emphasis on the Christian individual that ‘you can make a difference’ is not what Christ intended for his body the church.

St Paul uses the analogy of the human body to show how ludicrous it is when individuals try to walk alone in the body of Christ, ‘If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?… As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.’

Perhaps living in this individualistic Christian environment you feel your small steps in Christ make no difference, that your Christian walk will make little or no contribution to the church.  Perhaps you feel jealous of others because God has given them greater and more important gifts.  ‘They can do far better, so why should I try’, you may think.  What if my brother, standing next to my fishing rod, that was hurtling into the sea, and knowing I was struggling to get to it, thought ‘what would my couple of little steps do?’  Let’s not lose sight of who we are.  You are a new creation, re-born into the body of Christ through baptism.  You belong to Christ and you are a vital and important part of his body, the church.  Not because of what you do, or who you are, but because of who’s you are and to whom you belong.

Let me quote Paul from the message bible ‘The old labels like Jew or Greek, slave or free – are no longer useful.  We need something larger, more comprehensive.  I want you to think about how all this makes you more significant, not less.  A body isn’t just a single part blown up into something huge.  Its all the different – but – similar parts arranged and functioning together.  If Foot said ‘I’m not elegant like hand, embellished with rings; I guess I don’t belong to the body,’ would that make it so?  If Ear said ‘I’m not beautiful like Eye, limpid and expressive; I don’t deserve a place on the head,’ would you want to remove it from the body?’

Knowing that we are all valuable members of Christ and his body, and not just individuals walking alone, when we step out in mission or ministry, perhaps we could paraphrase Neil Armstrong’s famous words ‘One small step for me, one giant leap for Christ’s church!’  Then, what would matter most, is not what I say and do as an individual, but what the body as a whole is achieving as we walk together in Christ.  What would matter most is not what I proclaim, but what the church as a whole proclaims and is founded upon, Christ and him crucified and our new creation as people of God through baptism.

So when you feel persecuted or unworthy, or don’t know your place in the body, or are suffering on account of body of Christ, remember you are a member of the church, who together with share your pain.  What matters most however, is that Christ is the head and thus when we hurt he hurts with us.

Let me conclude with Luther’s encouraging words in his commentary on Galatians ‘…the church suffers on Christ’s account, as Christ himself testifies when he says in Acts 9:4: ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?  Saul had not done any violence to Christ, but only to his church.  But whoever touches this, touches the apple of his eye (Zech. 2:8).  The head is more sensitive and responsive in its feeling than the other parts of the body, as experiences teaches.  When the small toe or some other tiny part of the body is hurt, the face immediately shows that it feels this; the nose contracts, the eyes flash, etc.  In the same way Christ, our head, makes our afflictions his own, so that when we, who are his body, suffer, he is affected as though the evils were his own.’