The cross – road

Luke 13_31-35 the cross-road

I have a weed here which is growing throughout the lawn.  I like the yellow flowers, so I suppose I could leave them out there.  Perhaps we could cover the whole backyard with this plant…a beautiful yellow field for the kids to run and roll around on.  Kids, would you like a backyard covered in these?  The down side are these ‘horrible’ spiny thorns!  (actually do this) Perhaps if I fertilize the plant and tenderly care for it by watering it, digging around the roots and pruning it, then it will stop growing the thorns.

Why won’t this work?  The problem is that this weed.  So the more I tenderly care for it, instead of reducing its thorns, the weed will actually increase its yield.   The more good I do for it, the more it shows its thorns!

What is the only solution left, if I don’t want to have thorns?  Yes, Round up!  The weed needs to be killed off to allow the grass to grow, to make way form the intended growth of lawn.  We know that in nature, dying brings new life.

We know this is true in farming and gardening, but we cannot see how this is true also in our own life.  We cannot see that we, since the fall of Adam and Eve into sin, are produces of sin and are cursed to continually sin, as Isaiah said ‘All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.’  No matter how much we try and cultivate our good intentions, fertilize ourselves by trying to please God in what we say and do, following his commands to the last dot and iota, there is no way we can change who we are.  We cannot change any more that I can change this weed into anything but a thorn bush.  We need to die to self and let God make us a new creation.

Yet, we are constantly tricked into thinking we can re-create ourselves the more we are involved in Christian programs.  We somehow think we are better Christians before God if we don’t feel sinful; that God is more pleased, will warmly welcome us, is obliged to owe us, the more we tenderly care for ourselves and don’t produce the ‘thorns of sin.’  We read the bible as if its entire message is an instruction booklet to life, a guide to better living and growing; a self-help book on how to become good, like we would read a ‘Better homes and Gardens’ magazine to improve our backyard.  Believing we are better people before God by doing good things, is like believing I can get rid of thorns by caring and improving the weed…we can’t.

Sadly, that is how the Pharisees, the scribes and many of the people of Israel understood the scriptures.  They all had good intentions and strived to be with God, but could not comprehend all humanity’s complete and total sinfulness and separation from God.  They did not want to hear and refused to listen, even to Moses and all the prophets, that something far more radical than a good life was required to enter heaven – we need to die to self-righteousness and live by faith in God alone who makes all things new; who says in 1 Samuel 2: ‘The LORD brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up.’

Rather, they wanted to walk the glory road to God and be self-appointed judges over who is good enough for God.  They stoned and killed the prophets in Jerusalem, which ironically means ‘place of peace’, hoping their message of repentance and grace would die with them.  The ‘place of peace’ became a killing field for God’s prophets, as Jesus laments ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you.’

Like the people of Israel, you and I also have good intentions.  We all long for and strive to share in the glory of God.  We came from glory, created by God to be with him and are therefore most at peace when in his presence, as one church father wrote ‘our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.’  Sadly, our country, like Jerusalem was, is also a ‘killing field’ for God’s word.  Many would rather stay on the glory road of good intentions, the wide road; the road most travelled and be self-appointed judges’.  It is a glory road that leads to idolatry or self-trust, instead of trust in God.  It is a road that convinces us that we must at least try to do something on our part to get to heaven, and then, it is assumed, Christ will make up for our short comings.

The weed can only be a thorn bush, no matter how good it looks or how well I care for it.  As a sinner by nature, when it comes to the righteousness God seeks, I can do nothing but be judged a sinner, no matter how good I may look; we can sorrow over this, we can rebel against this, we can pretend its not true or we can take our chances, but God’s judgment remains, ‘all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory.’

Jesus is saddened by so many choosing the glory road and laments over them for rejecting God’s word; a word which promised salvation will come through God’s own Son, and that salvation is given freely by grace to all who believe this promise, as we heard in Genesis” Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.’  Again and again God promises salvation freely to all who believe, but sadly, many rejected his grace, as Jesus laments, ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!’

For anyone to be saved there is only one road that must be travelled and Jesus knows the road, the one that leads to the cross, as he says ‘I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day– for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!’  Jesus, as true man, must die in our place and for our sin.  The judgment of God upon humanity, ‘you will surely die’, must be fulfilled.  By journeying to the cross to die for our sin, Jesus is enacting the gift of free salvation promised in that same Garden of Eden, ‘I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.’

The cross exposes the absolute depth and hopelessness of our sinful condition.  Only Jesus’ road to the cross, for us, can change our state of being, from sinner to saint.  Luther, commenting on what the cross means for us, wrote, ‘The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it.’ (Heidelberg Disputation 28)  That means, Jesus is not out and about in the world looking for good people to bring into heaven; rather, through the cross he puts to death the old and creates a new and pleasing people.  St Paul says the same ‘our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.’

With his arms out-stretched on the cross, Jesus gathered his children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.  Jesus continues today to gather all people who believe, and he gathers and creates you and me to be his holy ones, as he stretches-out his arms beyond the cross, into the water’s of baptism.  It is ONLY here in baptism, where the cross is our ‘roundup’ that our old sinful nature is killed.  Yet it is also the water that brings new life,  as St Paul says in Romans 6 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.’

Jesus also continues to gather you and me to himself as his holy people, as he stretches-out his arms through the bread and wine in Holy Communion.  He is truly present for us, to re-create us, and we acknowledge this to be true in the liturgy of the church when we sing the ‘sanctus, or ‘Holy, holy, holy’, around the Lord’s Supper.  We repeat Jesus promise ‘I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’

This is the gospel, the good news!  You are already a Christian, a child of God through baptism.  Your old self has been killed and continues to be killed by the water, Spirit and blood of Jesus and your new self in Christ now lives by the same water, Spirit and blood.  Go in peace and live each day under the protective wing of Jesus.

To tempt or be tempted

Luke 4:1-13 to Tempt or be tempted

I have some chocolates here!  Let me come and give you one. (pass around)  Now you are probably thinking ‘that was a nice and kind thing to do.’  But was it?  What if I gave you the chocolates because I wanted to get something from you?  What if I gave you the chocolates just to make myself look good before everyone?  Or what if I gave you the chocolates to gain control over you?  Perhaps it was just a kind gesture…perhaps there is something more sinister

Now before I create an air of suspicion, I just want to make the point that things are not always as they appear.  The good we do for someone, even with the best intentions, can be tainted by alternative motives.  The good that we do for others, may be in fact be benefiting us more that the receiver; it is me who actually ends up better off; you get fat and high sugar levels…and I get the thanks and the glory!

In today’s gospel, Luke records the temptation of Jesus.  On the surface, what the devil asks of Jesus is not really a temptation, it is more an offering of help; a seemingly good deed by the devil to assist Jesus to get on with his earthly mission.  Jesus had just spent 40 days alone in the desert without food and now he was hungry.  The devil appears to simply want to help ‘If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.’  If we were there at the time, we may have said ‘what a nice and kind person to suggest that’, yet Jesus flatly refuses.

Appearing as a good friend, who never takes ‘no’ for an answer when help is need, the devil offers another good suggestion, he offers the world and all authority to Jesus.  How good’s that!  Jesus could short-cut his ministry without the cross.  What a good offer, yet once again Jesus rejects the good offer as totally out of hand.  Finally, what better kindness can the devil offer Jesus?  Well, as caring and kind as the devil can get, he takes Jesus home to his Father’s house, to the Temple in Jerusalem.

Perhaps the devils senses that Jesus is feeling so alone after being in the desert for 40 days, that a visit to his Father’s house ort to cheer him up.  To demonstrate to Jesus just how much he is loved by his Father and how important he is in the heavenly kingdom, the devil said to Jesus ‘If you are the Son of God,”…”throw yourself down from here. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’

Once again and for the final time Jesus assertively says ‘no’, to something we would think was a good offer.  Things are not always as they appear.  The good that is offered, can be tainted by alternative motives.  The good that is intended for others, may be in fact be benefiting the giver more that the receiver.  Jesus knew this was the case here.  The devil’s offers were not good at all; it was a temptation into sin.  But how does he know to reject this offer?  Was it because he was God and man?  Had he read up on ‘manipulative techniques used by suspicious people’ in the latest psychological journals?  Perhaps you, as a Christian, are wondering how we can recognise when we are being tempted or worse, when we are tempting someone else, even when offering what appears to be good works.

Jesus had only one criterion through which he filtered every good or bad deed; the one criterion he measured everything by: Does what is being offered give all glory to God.  Let me repeat that: does the good offered give all glory to God the Father, or to the one offering it, or to the receiver?  That’s it!  That’s how Jesus judged the devil’s offers and how he judged the offers of all people, even us and found that we all glorified ourselves, as Psalm14 and 53 declare ‘ There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, … there is no one who does good, not even one.’

The devil tempted Jesus with something good…scripture, but used it for evil.  He used it for his glory and to tempt Jesus to do the same.  The devil used God’s word to entice Jesus and to gain for him self wealth, power and glory!  The great temptation trilogy, that first caused Adam and Eve to sin in the garden of Eden, and the same temptation trilogy that still causes us to fall into sin…wealth, power and glory.  Wealth, by telling Jesus he could make stones into bread, power, by offering him authority over the world, and glory, by putting the Lord to the test.  Jesus instantly knew the devil’s offer was a ‘wolf wrapped in sheep’s clothing’ by using the only criterion he knew…’does what is offered give all glory to God?’

No, it didn’t!  That is why he was able to reply with scripture against scripture.  Jesus rightly interpreted God’s word, for he is the word of God in flesh and knew that scripture only gave glory to God alone, as he said ‘If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me.’  The devil was using God’s word to bring glory upon him self, Jesus rightly brings glory to the Father answering ‘It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone.‘ And ‘It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’ And finally, when tempted to take the glory for himself, Jesus responds ‘It says: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.

Jesus’ criterion, ‘does it give all glory to God,’ is how we are to judge everything we do and every temptation we face and is also the best way to understand God’s word.  We are to ask ourselves the question ‘is what I am offering or saying giving all glory to God’, or am I getting the glory.  Am I tempting someone, even with God’s word, with wealth, power, or glory, so they receive glory instead of God?  Am I being tempted, even with God’s word, with wealth, or power, or glory that is not mine to have?  If Christ was tempted in every way, we, who are sinful by nature, will certainly be tempted or be the ones who are doing the tempting.

That is why we can praise God and give him the glory because he has given us his Son, Jesus Christ, ‘Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross!’  He overcame the trilogy of temptation because we did not; he over came sin, death and the devil because we could not.

We may have the criterion ‘to give all glory to God’, which helps in times of temptation, but the truth be known, we will constantly fall and grasp for our own glory.  But praise be to God, for he has given us Jesus, who overcame all temptation and made us sons and daughters of God.  It is the blood of Jesus that overcame sin and death on the cross.  Jesus blood now covers us and protects us from the punishment we deserve, as St Paul in Roman’s 10 says ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

By faith in Jesus, trusting that he now lives for us and in us, through his word and sacraments, we have already overcome sin and temptation.  Even though we continue to temp others, or be tempted ourselves; even though we still give glory to ourselves, by repentance and faith in Jesus atoning sacrifice, the blood of Jesus forgives and covers us…in Christ we have overcome.  Hear and believe what Jesus says to us in the book of Revelation: ‘He who overcomes will be dressed in white. I will never blot out their name from the book of life, but will acknowledge their name before my Father and his angels.’

In temptation, in times of trial, and in giving service to others, remember Jesus criteria for judging, perhaps this could best be done by memorizing these words from hymn number 793 in our Lutheran hymnal

‘To God be the glory, great things he has done!

So loved the world that he gave us his Son,

Who yielded his life an atonement for sin,

And open the life-gate that all may go in.


Transformed by the Light

Transformed by the light 1 Cor 3:12-4:2

A baby is born!  There is new life.  There is joy, there is future.  A new light shines in the world.  (turn on a lamp with a dimmer to full)  When we are born, our life is something like this brightly glowing lamp; its new, fresh and full of life.  But as we age, it is like the light of our life begins to dim.  There are the milestones in life that remind us of our mortality; of the dimming of our light of life (Turning the dimmer down get the congregation to recount some of the milestones in life, but don’t put out.)

The finality and certainty of death snuffs out our light of life. Psalm 103:15-16 reminds us of our dimming light: As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.’ (turn off light)

There is a point in life, when all of us will realise our life is dimming.  Yes, for some, this revelation will come at old age, yet for others, the dimming of their light of life may come at an early age.  Sickness, injury, depression, loneliness or hopelessness, reveal to us that our light of life is dimming.  It is at these times when it is hardest to comprehend and see the reality St Paul’s words that ‘we, … are being transformed into [Christ’s] likeness with ever-increasing glory.’

Just the other day I was with an elderly gentleman.  His head was balding, with only a small ring of white hair remaining.  His face was weathered with age, his eyes showed that his years had been hard; he was a retired Uniting Church minister and he was leading us in a minister’s retreat.  He told us of the time when he looked into the mirror, it was his awakening, a realisation that he was now an old man; his light was dimming.  He, as we all do, struggled to grasp the good news that, ‘we..are being transformed into Christ’s likeness with ever-increasing glory’.  When he looked into the mirror, all he saw was death; he could not grasp the reality that some how Christ was in him shining in ‘ever-increasing glory.’

He wrote this poem…

Like the poem, Jesus’ disciple’s often peered and probed into Jesus, hoping to see a glimpse, a vision of the light and glory he often spoke about, yet it was not forth coming.  Jesus, the one who claimed to be the light of the world, seemed to be dimming like all of us.  In fact, he would often talk about his death to them saying, ‘the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death.’

Yet suddenly, in this dimness of light, in Jesus’ very body and life that was heading towards death, the bright gospel light is suddenly revealed.  Luke writes ‘As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.’

Jesus is transfigured, revealing the hidden glory of God that is within his very being; the light, the power, the awesomeness of God’s love: the same glory that Moses used to look upon in the wilderness; a light so glorious that his face would shine, long after he left the presence of the Lord.  A holiness that was so powerful, it was reflected on his face; so fearsome that the Israelites were too scared to even look at Moses and insisted he cover his face with a vale.  Jesus is the light of the world.  His transfiguration shines forth to proclaim that he is truly God, hidden and incarnate in the man Jesus, who was soon to be crucified.  Yet because he is the light of the world, the glory of God would continue to shine even in his death.  On the third day, he rose again to live for ever and bring many to glory.

The transfiguration of Jesus, the revealing of the glory of God, was a glimpse, a probing, a peering, a vision of God; a chance look into the glorious face of God. A face that shone love, compassion and grace as Jesus said ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’  So much love shone at that moment that Peter was awe struck and wanted to bask in the glory of God forever.

That very light of grace and love, that shone in Jesus, now shines in us.  What was once shining only in the domain of God is now ours in Christ.  What was once only shining before Moses now shines in our hearts through the gospel.  The glory of God now rests in us through Christ, who dwells in us by faith.  ‘And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.’ Our glory is still hidden in Christ.  We cannot see his light.  It is only by faith and will only be fully revealed in death.

Christ in us, as St Paul says in Galatians 2:20, changes our light of life, from a dying light, to a brightening light; ‘it is no longer I who lives but Christ who lives in me’.  (use the light dimmer and make it brighter and brighter) In baptism, we are born again by the spirit and water.  The light of Christ begins to shine in us.  As we get older; as we pass those milestones of faith, where we hear and receive Christ and the power of the Spirit, through word and sacrament, the glory of Christ shines brighter and brighter (get congregation to name some milestones of faith and turn up the light).

Jesus reverses our light of life, from a dimming light that is snuffed out at death, to an ever increasing light of life that will at death, shine forever bright as we shine together with him in heaven.


God’s word, dare to believe

Luke 5:1-11 God’s word…dare to believe

(Begin by rolling a dice)  “The dice is cast and the number…has been rolled.’  There is nothing that can be done to change the fact that the number…has been rolled.  Call it fate, call it destiny, call it predestined, call it (number); once the die has been cast, nothing can change the reality of what is before us.

A group of despondent fishermen sat on the shore cleaning their nets near a crowd with Jesus, perhaps listening to him speak, perhaps not.  Fate was such that they had caught nothing, even though they had fished all night.  Reality stared them in the face as they folded their empty nets and left their empty boats…there were no fish:  no fish to take to market, not fish to take to the family, no fish to show for their hard work.  Nothing could change this fact.  For them, the die had been cast and it didn’t go their way…perhaps tomorrow night…perhaps not.

Jesus, standing near by, was teaching the word of God to the crowd gathered around him.  Teaching that the kingdom of God is at hand, announcing that the time of God’s favour is now, and that the Son of man, the Messiah, as foretold in the scriptures, is now dwelling among them and they are to turn and believe this word of God.  Seeing the fishing boats resting on the shore, with no fish, together with a group of despondent fishermen, Jesus takes this as an opportunity to challenge the people; to demonstrate his word by his actions.

Casting off, just a short distance from the land, Jesus gave the fishermen and those in earshot on the shore, a challenge, a duel if you like, between his word and destiny.  The dice had been cast last night and the result was clear for all to see…no fish.  Jesus, the word of God in flesh, the same very word that created the fish saying: “Let the water teem with living creatures’, now commands Simon to ‘let down the nets for a catch.’  Jesus is challenging Simon, and those who heard the word of God, to have faith that his word has the power and authority to change destiny; to change the role of the dice; to do the very thing it says…catch fish.

Jesus’ command to Simon is a challenge of faith.  In other words, ‘do you believe I can do this, or don’t you?  Do you believe that my promise to ‘bring life to the full’ has the power to save from your destiny of death?  Do you believe that the word of God I have been speaking is true?

Simon responds ‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.’

Let’s freeze time for a moment, and reflect on what is happening.  Simon’s questioning of Jesus’ word, is another way of saying ‘did God really say.’  We last heard these words come from the devil’s mouth in the Garden of Eden.  The serpent tricked Adam and Eve into sinning and eating the forbidden fruit, by questioning God’s word saying, ‘Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?

The essence of sin, that brought death, is not that Adam and Eve did the wrong thing by eating the fruit.  The essence of our sinfulness, is not that we do the wrong things; not that you or I hurt, harbor anger, gossip, lie, cheat or are selfish.  Sin is unbelief.  Sin is to believe that ‘God is a liar and cannot do what he says.’ Sin is to attribute truth to us and falsehood to God; to think we are reliable and God is unreliable. The results of Adam and Eve’s decision are plain for all to see, death reigns…just as God said it would.  The die is cast – death is our destiny and we can do nothing to change it.

But Jesus is proclaiming a new word.  The word the fishermen and the crowds around Jesus heard; a word that promises life; a word of good news that proclaims ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.’;  Jesus is the word of God, that challenges, defies and transforms our destiny from death, into a promise of life.  God’s word in flesh, Jesus, died to pay our dept to sin, so that we didn’t have to.  Yes, the die has been cast, and death is our destiny, but we can dare to believe God’s promise is true.

(play video: Indiana Jones and the last crusade)

Indiana Jones, standing on the edge of a cliff, in faith steps out into the chasm, because the book tells him so, and he receives what is promised.  Simon, on the boat with Jesus, net in hand, knowing the fact that there are no fish, casts his net…because, ‘Jesus said so’ and he receives what is promised.  Luke records, ‘When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.’

Jesus was true to his word, fish where caught where there were none.  He did this to demonstrate to us his faithfulness.  He did this to demonstrate that he is the ‘way, the truth and the life’ where there is none.  Yet he did something even greater than to demonstrate that we can dare believe on him; that we can dare to cast our net of hope upon him and step out in faith, because he said so and receive what is promised…life after death.  Romans 5:8 ‘God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’

Sin is unbelief.  Righteousness is to believe.   St Paul says ‘the righteous will live by faith.’  Jesus calls us to faith in him so that we might receive his gift of life eternal.  He also calls us and challenges us to proclaim his faithfulness to the world; to dare others to believe on him also; to come and follow him.

You have the word of God, you have already believed and so received…go in peace, Jesus says ‘your faith has made your well.’     Amen