Where is your confidence

Where is your confidence John 12_1-8

Put your hand up if you love going to the dentist!  Tell me why no one or very few people like to go to the dentist?  Well if you don’t like going why do you go?

Of course we go to the dentist because we need to look after our teeth, and we know that sometimes the best treatment may mean we will suffer pain; the pain of pulling a tooth, or scrapping of our gums, the agony of orthodontic work.  Just the sound of the dentist’s drill puts shivers up our spine.  We endure suffering and pain because we place our trust in the dentist and the outcome he is promising.  We may be a quivering mess, we may look like and feel like a wimp, we may even feel like crying, but the expertise of the dentist gives us the courage to trust in him; to trust that the procedure will heal us.  Fear yet hope.  Worry yet faith; weakness yet strength to endure; yet not faith in my strength, but faith in the professionalism of the dentist.

We say that we have faith in God.  We say that faith justifies, faith makes us right with God, Luther reformed the church proclaiming ‘it is by faith alone that we are saved.’  St Paul in Ephesians 2:8 says ‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith.’  Yet have you ever questioned yourself about what this ‘faith’ is; what it looks like, and how do I know I have the ‘faith’ that saves and endures suffering and temptation?  And is it after all ‘my faith’ that saves?

St John records a woman of great faith who is acting in a way that looks as if she has no faith.  Mary, the sister of Lazarus, who pleaded with Jesus to help her dying brother, who witnessed Jesus raise her brother from the dead, pours expensive perfume on Jesus feet and then wipes them with her hair. Luke records that she was a quivering mess, crying aloud in front of religious guests; with her tears she soaked Jesus’ garments.  Certainly not what we would expect of a woman of faith and neither did Judas.

He, on the other hand, looks, speaks and acts like a man of great faith.  He is offended by this flirty show of emotion, unbecoming of a strong woman of faith, and instantly points out her wrongdoing in poring out expensive oil on Jesus; such a waste of money!  Not good discipleship!  This same scenario could be played out in any church today.  One member may be shaking and balling, unable to compose themselves and they seem to always make ‘unchristian decisions’ in their life.  While another member is quite calm, always in the right, always doing what appears good, the idealistic disciple of Jesus.  As observers in the pews, we would tend to judge by outward actions that the calm member has the ‘faith’, while the other distraught person is a lost cause…but is that so?

Perhaps we judge ourselves or another person to have strong saving faith because, like Judas, we look for actions;  that we or they have a life of committed discipleship; can point out another person’s failures and weaknesses; can easily give advice on a how a person of faith should live and use money and are a wealth of on knowledge on religion.  Is this the ‘faith alone’ Luther speaks of, or the ‘saving faith’ Paul talks about in Ephesians? Or the discipleship Jesus was seeking?  Judas thought so and it showed by his very words and actions, ‘Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.’  Sadly however, placing our faith in our good works is not saving faith.  The object of Judas’ faith was in himself and his plans and not in Jesus.

Faith always has an object it believes in; someone it trusts in for good and wellbeing.  Our visit to the dentist is an example of faith.  It is not ‘trust and faith’ in our calm composure or personal strength that brings about healing to our teeth, its our faith in the dentist, knowing that the pain and suffering he inflicts upon us will actually heal us.  This is why I can look a quivering mess, doing crazing things out of fear, yet still have strong faith…in fact my faith can even be greater than someone who appears to have it all together, because my faith is in the dentist and not in my personal courage.

Judas looked the ideal disciple, appeared to love God’s word, he followed Jesus and seemed to have his life together, but the object of his faith was money and glory, as John hints: ‘He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.’   When the hour of severe trial and suffering came, when he was confronted with the full wrath of God for what he had done; when the word of God accused his conscience for betraying Jesus, his confidence vanished, his works vanished, and so did his faith in himself; he could not stand alone before God and could not find comfort because the object of his faith was not in Jesus but in money and himself and so he tragically committed suicide.

When the object of our faith is in our self, even though we speak about Jesus and act confident and seem sure of our salvation, it is not saving faith, it is idolatry.  God’s word of law, that convicts us of this, is far stronger and will destroy us.   Only faith that has its object as Jesus can endure such suffering and work of God’s word. We should not be surprised when we suffer doubt and the pain that we are not a good enough Christian, as we fail in attempting to be our own saviour, it is God operating on us.  Like when a dentist pulls a decaying tooth to stop an infection that will kill us, God’s word of law works like a dentist’s instrument, pulling out any faith that is not in Christ; killing off any obsession we may have with self-reliance.

Mary, who looked weak and doomed, who was crying and seemingly wasting money had in fact, saving faith.  While everyone else in the room came to see Lazarus, who had been raised from the dead, Mary came to see Jesus, the object of her faith.  Once, she was proud, demanding Jesus act the way she thought, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’  But after seeing Jesus raise her brother from the grave, she was humble.  The suffering and anguish Jesus allowed her to go through, broke her pride and at the raising of Lazarus, she was able to see that salvation only comes through faith in Jesus.  God’s word of law killed, but his greater and final word, the gospel brought life and produced saving faith in Mary.

In a way, the perfume she poured over Jesus feet was a visible resemblance of her faith; a faith that was once bottled up in self-reliance; bottled as ‘precious’ by the world,  but was now broken free and poured out upon Jesus as a sign that Jesus was now her object of faith.  Even using her hair to wipe the perfume, which was a sign of humiliation, resembled the fact that she had nothing of worth to offer Jesus; she was willing to suffer humiliation and be nothing in the eyes of the world because her faith was now in Jesus.

Saving faith has as its object Jesus.  It trusts outside of itself.  It is a faith that justifies because it places its trust in Jesus who went to the cross for us and died on our behalf, ‘who was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.’  Your faith is saving faith when it takes hold and believes these words of Jesus ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.’  Saved by faith alone means nothing else than hearing this gospel and receiving the sacraments, trusting that Jesus alone saves through these means.

The law says ‘Do this to be saved,’ and it is never done.  ‘Grace says, ‘believe this,’ and everything is already done’!  Fear yet hope.  Worry yet faith; weakness yet strength to endure; yet not faith in my strength, but faith in Christ alone.  Amen

Forever eating or eating forever

John 6-25-35 forever eating or eating forever

Benjamin Franklin once said “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to
be happy.”  Some days, we’d have to agree with him!  There are, of course, many other pleasures in the world that can bring us delight and happiness.  When we come across certain smells, sounds, sights, touch, or tastes that we like, our senses are stimulated and delight over whelms us, and just for that moment, we seem to enjoy life more, and somehow, we sense God is found in our experience of good things.  Our senses, and the experience of joy they give us, are very powerful.  They seem to trigger our memory to past events in our life.  Its like we are transported, by a certain smell, or taste, back to a happier time, or even to a future anticipated time of happiness.

I have something in this bag (pine tree branch) that I don’t want you to see, but I want you to smell it.  I want you to close your eyes and let your senses take you back or forward to the time when you had or will smell this.  I don’t want you to say anything to anybody until I ask you.  (go around to a number of people)  What did your sense of smell remind you of?  Yes, most of you said Christmas.  The smell of fresh pine needles reminded us and transported us back to the happy time of Christmas with the family gathered around the Christmas tree.  In fact, as you look at the food around the sanctuary, each one of us will see or smell something special that stimulates our memory to a joyous time in the past or to anticipating LUNCH!

We should not be surprised by this, that created things bring us joy, and remind us of happy times; that we feel, in some special way, a part of creation and we have a sense of closeness to God.  We shouldn’t be surprised, because we were created by God out of creation, Genesis 2 records ‘the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.’  We are created by God from the same dust as this tree comes from.

We live and breathe God’s creation, we eat of God’s creation and till the soil and rule over creation as God has commanded; everything we sense, experience and enjoy is for our good and well being.  God created the world for us, as Genesis says ‘And the LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground– trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.’ And the prophet Jeremiah also reminds us of the goodness of God ‘Let us fear the LORD our God, who gives autumn and spring rains in season, who assures us of the regular weeks of harvest.’  Today is Harvest Thanksgiving, when we thank God for his goodness to us.  We display the fruits of his earth to remind us of his providence towards us; to praise him for his wonders.

Sadly, however, because of our sinfulness, we can easily mistake our happiness in creation, and the continual abundance of good things, as a sign that God is happy with us, like Benjamin Franklin’s quote, and so we are content to just chase after worldly happiness and nothing else…after all, if God is happy if I am happy, what else is there to chase after?  We receive so much joy and delight from the things we love, thinking its proof God’s happy, that we forget Jesus’ word of warning in Matthew 5 ‘[My Father] causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.’

God does indeed provide everything for our physical wellbeing, and in that sense, he is happy that we are happy enjoying his creation, but we have a problem, a relationship problem; a spiritual problem that God is unhappy about and cuts us off from eternal life.  While we are glad to receive all physical good from him, we have chosen to make these things into our god, our priority in life, which is a rejection of God’s 1st commandment.

We have chosen to love and enjoy the goodness of creation, and not God.  We have chosen to chase after everything that makes us happy, praising our possessions for bringing us self-worth and purpose, rather than looking to God as the giver of all things; who gives us life on earth and in eternity.  God, because of our sin, is forced by his holiness to reject us and exclude us from heaven.

How frustrating and saddening it must have been for Jesus, who came into the world as the bread of heaven, to feed and bring people into life eternal, only to be rejected for earthly, perishable bread; bread that only lasted a while.  Crowds of people gathered around him after he fed them with five loaves of bread and two fish.  Instead of recognising that the miracle pointed to Jesus as the one who gave food for eternal life, they chased him for the perishable bread, so Jesus warned them saying ‘Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.’

Jesus sets before us, two types of food side by side: the perishable and the eternal; the food of the field and the food of heaven.  Both are given by God for us, both are for our good, but one, the bread of the field is limited to this life.  The bread that came down from heaven, Jesus, is food for eternity.  The bread of the field, we eat with our mouths.  We forever eat this bread only to perish.  The bread that came down from heaven, we eat with our ears, by hearing his word, and this bread we eat forever, never to perish.   The bread of the field we toil and labour to eat just a few crumbs; Jesus, the bread of heaven is given to us as a gift.  All of eternity and not just a few crumbs are given to all who eat of Jesus.

There is no work, labour or toil, to receive the bread that feeds us to eternal life, as Jesus said in his reply to the question ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?” …”The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’  Here today, believe that Jesus is present feeding you in his word, and present feeding you now through the words of my mouth.

Believe in Jesus, the one sent from God; Jesus is the one with the seal of approval from God the Father, who said ‘This is my Son in whom I am well pleased, listen to him.’  Why would we want to be fed from anyone or anything else that is only good for this life, instead come to Jesus, as Peter confessed ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.’

As you come to the Lord’s Table, to receive Jesus the bread of heaven, present in the bread and wine, stop, and like you did with the pine needles, smell the fragrance of the fresh bread and the aroma of the wine.  Close your eyes and let Jesus’ body and blood remind you of the joy of the eternal banquet that is yet to come.  Let the aroma and the taste of the wine stimulate your senses to remind you that this is the Lord’s blood poured out for you on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins.  This is your meal, given and shed for you that you may eat of eternal life.

Sadly, while we are able to feast, there is a famine of heavenly bread just out those doors.  Not that the bread is lacking, its just that many, like in Jesus day, still chase after the bread that perishes.   As we leave the feast today, allow the fragrance of Jesus that is still on your lips, fill your home, your work place and the community you live in.  Let the word of Jesus stir a hunger in those who are full of perishing bread.  Just one or two words of Jesus, spoken by you, as you are prompted by the Spirit, can instill a new spiritual hunger.  You have nothing to lose, yet they have everything to gain.

Just as you would recommend a great restaurant to your friends, that served fine food, so go in Jesus name and in the confidence that you can recommend such good food that it is heavenly, for the food you bring are the words of Jesus, who declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.’  Amen

Freedom from slavery

World Day of Prayer Acts 16_16-34 Freedom from slavery

We hear from Luke in the book of Acts, a story of a slave girl.  Many of us
may have read this story numerous times without even considering the plight of the girl; without even reflecting on her captivity and abuse as a salve girl at the hands of some greedy men.  We glance over what seems a minor side issue that sets the scene for the bigger story of Paul and Silus in prison.  Yet, when we spend a little time dwelling on the girl’s plight, we begin to see how her ‘owners’ or ‘abusers’ took advantage of her to better their own lives, stripping her of any dignity, taking away her childhood and exploiting her for the sake of a few easy dollars.

If we were to delve a little deeper into the story, we would realize that the owners of the slave girl were only instruments, stooges, playing their part in the devil’s plans, so in a way, they too, were enslaved without knowing it.  They were taking advantage of her ‘already’ enslavement to an evil spirit; a spirit that had kept this young girl in bondage to sorcery, trickery and lies; she was enslaved to a slave driver, but worse still, she was in a greater and more dangerous slavery to an evil spirit.  Even though she saw Paul, Silus and the other missionaries and knew they were from God, saying ‘These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved’, she could not set herself free or do anything to break her chains of bondage to the evil spirit.

By this story, God draws us into the realisation of our own bondage and slavery…to sin.  We begin to see, as we reflect on our secret thoughts, our words and actions, that we are like the girl and are born slaves to sin, as King David says in Psalm 51 ‘Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.’  We, like the girl, and even the slavedrivers, play our part in the devil’s schemes and are powerless to free ourselves from our bondage to sin and death.  We look around and we see evidence of this everywhere.  All over the world there are still slaves and slavedrivers.  In Asia there are sex slaves, as young as 10, held captive to satisfy perverted Australians caught in their own slavery.

In many developing countries there are children slaves working for only food and water to make cheap goods to sell in our country to satisfy our slavery to consumerism.  We feel hopeless and unable to do anything about it.

It is precisely at this point, and for this very reason, that Jesus came into the world.  It is precisely because we are helpless and totally enslaved and in bondage to sin, that Jesus comes to bring freedom to the captives, as he says ‘The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn.’

On the cross, Jesus paid the price of sin, died in our place to set us free from the bondage of sin, death and the devil that rendered us helpless.  Jesus is raised from the dead to live forever, breaking the chains of death that once held us captive…forever.  Freedom from our slavery and captivity to sin is the victory of the cross, and this key of freedom is given freely to all who trust in Jesus who says “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.  Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.’

In this freedom we now live, we now live in Christ and have a great and joyous task.  We have the authority and power of prayer; to call on the name of Jesus to bring freedom to those still in captivity to sin and to also bring freedom for those captive to physical slavery.  Paul, in anguish of heart and spirit, knowing this girl could not change her situation, turns saying ‘In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.’  She has freedom!

In our prayers to the Father through Jesus, we acknowledge that we cannot do anything, and that Jesus ‘is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.’  Prayer in Jesus name is given to us as our weapon of choice against all that keeps captive.  Prayer, in Jesus name sets in motion freedom for those still in captivity.  Pray tonight, pray tomorrow.  Pray for those who are free, pray for those suffering and finally, pray always, as St Paul says ‘pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.’  Amen