Archive for April, 2010

Wearing the right gear.

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

Revelation 7_9-17  Wearing the right gear

 

Who here can surf? Is there anyone here who can play league at top level?  Who can race a v8 supercar? Yep, that’s what I thought.  Yet with the right clothing we can look like and act like the best surfer or racing car driver ever!  Don the right gear and you or I can go to Surfers Paradise and look like a pro-surfer. Everyone does it.  The moment you step into Queensland, for some reason you feel you have to clothe yourself in the right gear…the board shorts, the Oakely sunglasses, the Billabong tee shirt and thongs; you got to look like you can surf.

The same goes when we attend a sporting event like football or car racing.  We buy and wear the clothing that makes us look as if we could tackle () or out lap the Stig!  Unlike Dorcus, who voluntarily make clothing for the poor out of necessity, we make clothing to cover who we really are and we use clothing to hide our insecurities and inabilities; we wear designer clothing to blend into the crowd. 

In a way its fun to look like a star sportsman or women…but please don’t ask us to play!  The clothing might say ‘Holden Dealer Team race driver’, but it does not and cannot empower us to do what it says.  We are reminded of this today on ANZAC Day.  We can dress like a soldier, but don’t ask us to be the one to go to battle and be killed.  Don’t expect us to take a bullet for our country and have our clothes ruined and stained by our own blood.

Adam and Eve were the fist to put on designer clothing, hoping to blend in to the surrounds, hoping not to be noticed, hoping to cover their true self.  Genesis records their moment of discovery, when Adam and Eve realised they had sinned against God and for the very first time felt shame and guilt: ‘When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.’

Sin brought shame.  They were naked before God and each other, both physically and spiritually.  They were not a god in their own right after all, and so fig leaves became the first designer clothing.  By covering themselves with clothes, perhaps God wouldn’t notice them.  Perhaps the fig leaves would cover their sin, insecurities and inability to truly fear and love God; perhaps they would look like they did before. 

However, as you and I are fully aware, designer clothing, made and chosen by us, only covers and hides, it does not do what it says.  The leaves were of no use to Adam and Eve, God still found them and still knew they were sinners hiding under clothing; they were punished and kicked out of the garden. 

Still today we try to look as if we can hide from God’s anger over our sin.  We still try and wear designer clothing, chosen by us, to cover our shame.  The moment we have a bad though or sensual desire, a bad word is spoken by us or we lie, like walking into our wardrobe to put on a new change of clothes, we pick out cover ourselves with a particular excuse; a clothing we knew worked last time.  We clothe ourselves to justify our thoughts or actions by wearing the blame game; blaming the TV show, blaming the other person, blaming even God.  We cover our unrighteousness, our shame and guilt with home made clothing, perhaps even condemning others for doing the very same thing we do, hoping this would cover our deeds.  Yes, it often fools those around us.  No one in the church would ever find out.  Perhaps no one would even know in our family…but we know.  And guess what….God knows.

Isaiah warns ‘all our righteous acts are like filthy rags’.  God cannot be fooled, he sees beyond our clothing, our nice exterior, and casts them off as nothing but filthy rags.  He knows what we are hiding underneath, and so do we.  He asks us to do what our clothing says…be righteous, but we can’t.  God asks of us what we cannot deliver.  Like wearing the army clothing knowing full well we cannot fight.  St Paul laments saying ‘What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?’

When St John had the privilege of looking into heaven itself, out of all the glorious and mysterious things he saw, out of all the wonders, like seeing the Son of Man and the seven spirits, one mundane and rather ordinary thing was pointed out and noted; the white robes of the believers in heaven.  John records ‘Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes– who are they, and where did they come from?” I answered, “Sir, you know.” And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’

The clothing of the saints in heaven, the clothing of those who have died and gone to heaven before us are singled out by God to tell us of their significance.  They are not wearing clothes fashioned by their own works, excuses or righteousness…the old filthy rags that Isaiah speaks about; the fig leaves of the old Adam and Eve.  No, the clothing they wear are not their own, they are white robes washed in the blood of the lamb.  The blood of Jesus covers them and it is only this clothing, made out of Jesus blood that was poured out on the cross, and worn by the saints in faith, that covers the true sinful nature that once lied beneath.  It is only this clothing that is good enough for God because it is really the clothes of his own Son Jesus.

The robe of righteousness, the clothing worn by the saints, washed in the blood of Jesus, is singled out to show it is the only clothing that makes us righteous before God; it is made known to us because we cannot see it…it is spiritual and it is put on by faith, as St Paul says ‘the righteous live by faith not by works’.  This is the gospel, the good news. 

Unlike the clothing of excuses and good works we wear to cover our shame and guilt before others, but do not cover before God, the robe we are given by the lamb covers before God, yet it is hidden for it is by faith that we trust we are wearing it.  In baptism we are given this white robe washed in the blood of Jesus, as St Peter says in 1 Peter 3:21 ‘baptism now saves you … not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,’

Even though we may not feel or even look like a Christian, clothed in the white robe of righteousness, we are not play acting or pretending to be Christians, we really and truly are Christians who are saved and will enter eternal life.  You and I truly are disciples of Jesus and saints before God; we have salvation by the very clothes we wear, given to us by God in baptism.  While baptism clothes us with Jesus blood, we continually wash our robes in the blood of Jesus in Holy Communion, and in confession and absolution.  Here our sins and guilt are covered again and again; we sin, we come, we are washed and we go and we serve. 

This is the cycle of discipleship; always going out of and returning to Jesus to be covered in his blood.  He is our shepherd who will continually wash us clean as we do his work in our community.  Never fear about doing something wrong in ministry.  Never worry that you will make the unforgivable mistake.  Everything, when done in the name of Jesus, will be used by God and as long as we remain in the cycle of discipleship, all will be forgiven.  For it is Jesus who not only covers our sin, he is also shepherding our conscience and soul.  As you hear his voice and meditate on it, he will guide your thoughts and decisions. He will lead you into mission and service together with each other. 

By faith we know we wear the right gear for salvation, but it is often forgotten that we also now live by that same faith; there is a promise that Jesus shepherds us now in our daily service.  The promise is for now and it is for you that the Lamb at the center of the throne will be your shepherd; he will lead you to springs of living water. And that even though you may suffer and fall into sin, God will wipe away every tear from your eyes.’  Amen

Don’t hold on…Jesus is Risen

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010

Don’t hold on…Jesus is risen John 20:1-18

 

He has risen!  We can only imagine what someone would say and do if they suddenly saw a dear friend alive, whom was thought to be dead.  We can only imagine what Mary did when she first saw her dearest friend and saviour Jesus, whom she was certain, was dead, now risen and standing before her.  What would you do if you thought someone you loved was dead, perhaps after a terrible accident or after being lost, and then you suddenly saw them?

Of course you would run and give them a great big hug and hold onto them tightly in great joy.  You would hold onto them, never wanting to let go, thinking, ‘Now we are together, nothing will separate us.’  Naturally, we would want things to return to the way they were before the incident, wanting everything the same, wanting the relationship to be the same, wanting the future to be a continuation of the past.

Mary of course acted in the same natural way we would if our dear friend whom was dead, but now stands before us alive!  She grabbed hold of him, she hugs him and does not want to let go of him.  Things were going to be the same again; going to return back to normal.  Jesus was once again going to be walking with his disciples and caring for them again, teaching about the kingdom of God; by his very presence, his victory over death, shows that he is right in his claim to be the messiah, the resurrection and the life.  What a joyful future it will be, now that the future is going to be the same as the past.

But can it ever be?  Can the future be the same as the past, now that Jesus has risen from the dead?  Can the past be held onto, now that Jesus has over come the past?

As Mary clung to Jesus, he said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’  With these words Jesus announces that the past is finished with, there is no going back or holding on to the past.  His death and resurrection dealt with the past.  Things are not the same the other side of death and resurrection.  Here, where Jesus lives forever, dawns a new life forged in forgiveness and sustained by his presence with us through his word and sacraments.

Jesus’ telling Mary ‘not to hold on me, I’m going back to my God and your God’, is not a word of rejection, but a word of hope and acceptance.  A word that tells us that the past is over; there is no need to hang onto it anymore.  Our God, because of Jesus atoning death on the cross, does not hang on to our past sins, as Psalm 103 announces ‘The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.’

Mary certainly understood Jesus’ words in this way and released her grip on Jesus, knowing she will never lose him again, even in her own death; for he is the resurrection and the life.  She does not have to hold onto him for fear of losing him again, because from now on he is going to be present in a different way.  He is to return to the Father, in order to be present always and at all times and in all places, bringing forgiveness and peace through his word and sacraments.  Jesus is giving her the freedom to now go and live without hanging onto burdens of the past.  Guilt and shame of the past, are forgiven.  Now she has the freedom, courage and hope to announce ‘I have seen the Lord!’

Today we witnessed the baptism of Logan and Gus.  Baptism brings the cross and the resurrection to us now.  Through his ascension to his Father, Jesus is present now by his living word and holy sacrament, giving victory over sin, death and the devil, as his word promises ‘whoever is baptised and believes will be saved.

Here today, in the waters of baptism, Logan and Gus died to sin, went to the grave with Jesus where the old sinful nature was put to death, and now by the power of Jesus resurrection, the living word of God brought Logan and Gus to new life in Jesus.  St Paul says ‘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. ‘   You can go from here today and say ‘I witnessed a death and resurrection!’

Each baptism is a new Easter miracle, a new death and a new resurrection to life in Jesus.  From this moment on for Logan and Gus, and from the moment of your baptism on, the past is finished with; we no longer hang on to the past or live as we did in the past.  We may want things to be the same and naturally, we still try and hold on to our sin or grievances, like we hold on to a friend.  But in baptism the old sinful nature was put to death with Jesus and our new self, which is brought to life in Christ, now lives.

Jesus words ‘do not hold on to me’, give you and me the freedom to let go of past guilt, to let go of past hurts and sinful ways, let go of fear and of anxiety, because in letting go, we are confessing our sin and allowing Jesus to forgive.  Our future is now no longer a continuation of the past, but is a new freedom, forged in forgiveness and sustained by his presence with us through his word and sacraments.

In fact, every time we confess our sins to God and to each other, and receive a word of forgiveness from God, either through the pastor or when in private, through another Christian, the miracle of a new Easter happens; a new death to self and a new resurrection to life in Christ is enacted upon us by the very words of Jesus, ‘If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven.’

The life of a Christian is always about the cross and resurrection.  Going to church always revolves around our dying and living, and discipleship is always centred on Christ’s call to let go of the past and to live in the forgiveness of Jesus, just as the prophet Micah said  ‘And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.’

Our life is a life worth dying to live for, because Christ died for us and now lives in us by faith.  His resurrection is ours through baptism, his life is ours, his righteousness is ours, all that is his is ours by faith, trusting in Jesus very words to you and me today ‘I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.’  Amen

I can’t bear to look.

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

I can’t bear to look Isaiah 52:13-53:12

 

There are some things in this world that we just can’t bear to look at or dare to love.  Mould is something we all hate to see or smell, especially if it is growing on something we just took a bite out of!  It looks horrible, all fury, bluey and black in colour and it also smells terrible.  What good could come out of such a disgusting growth?   Penicillin!

Yes, from something so foul actually extrudes something that is a life giving antibiotic.  Out of a dying, mould infested piece of bread is harvested a life saving drug named penicillin, a drug that ushered in the new world of antibiotics; a drug that now save hundreds of lives each day. From something we cannot bear to look at comes a life-giving drug.

While there were no cameras in Jesus day, the prophet Isaiah gives us a word picture of God’s chosen messiah, Jesus; whom we picture in our minds as beautiful, with long flowing blond hair with strongly contoured cheek bones.  Isaiah, prompted by the Spirit, 1000’s of years before his birth, depicts Jesus like a piece of mould.  Someone we could not even bear to look at.

He writes ‘there were many who were appalled at him–his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likenessHe had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him–Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.’

Jesus, hanging on the cross, looks for all purposes like a dying piece of bread covered in mould, rather than the ‘bread of heaven’ that he said he was.  He is bruised by his beating, bleeding from his whipping; agony is on his face.  His flesh cut so badly you could see his muscles and tendons being ripped from his joints as he is suspended by just three sharp nails.  His bones are all showing.  There is nothing of him that would make us want to look at him.  No, he was to be despised.   Jesus, the bread from heaven, the life giving bread hangs dying, like a piece of bread covered in mould.  What good could come of this?

He is indeed the bread of heaven, the bread of life, because out of Jesus veins pour a life giving flow of blood.  He is precisely the bread from heaven because he is dying, disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness.  We can’t bear to look at him because he is our sin; he is the ugliness, the smell, the horror of our sin;  he is the bread from heaven, covered in the mould of our sin, so that through his death for us, out of his veins would flow the life giving blood that will heal us from death.

Isaiah foretells this saying ‘he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.’   It was our sins that he died for, it is his blood that gives life.

Penicillin was invented many years ago, but today we receive its benefits as we take its healing properties into our bodies.  In the same way, Jesus died on the cross some two thousand years ago, but his blood still flows for us today, filling us with its healing properties as we drink of the cup in Holy Communion.  Jesus comes before us today, in the word of God through simple bread and wine, nothing to look at, no beauty or majesty to attract us to it, nothing in its appearance that we should desire it.  Many– hide their faces and esteem it not.’  Yet, by the very word of God, this simple bread and wine is the body and blood of Jesus that freely gives us the forgiveness of sins and victory over death that he won for us that first Good Friday.

Martin Luther speaks of it this way ‘If now I seek the forgiveness of sins, I do not run to the cross, for I will not find it given there. Nor must I hold to the suffering of Christ…in knowledge or remembrance, for I will not find it there either. But I will find in the sacrament or gospel the word which distributes, presents, offers, and gives to me that forgiveness which was won on the cross. Therefore…whoever has a bad conscience from his sins should go to the sacrament and obtain comfort, not because of the bread and wine, not because of the body and blood of Christ, but because of the word which in the sacrament offers, presents, and gives the body and blood of Christ, given and shed for me.

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


[1]Luther, M. (1999, c1958). Vol. 40: Luther’s works, vol. 40 : Church and Ministry II (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther’s Works (Vol. 40, Page 214). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

I will wash you.

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

I will wash you John 13-1-17

There are times, perhaps when we have been working in the garden, or painting, or fixing the car, that we get our hands so dirty that they don’t come clean after washing them.  We can scrub and scrub, but to little effect; the dirt has actually stained our hands.  Over time the stain will vanish and our hands will once again be clean.

At the Last Supper, the Passover meal, where the disciples were eating the sacrificial remembrance meal, Jesus gets up and takes off his outer garment, grabs a towel and a bowl of water and washes the disciple’s feet.  Either, one of the disciples has really smelly feet and the odour was ruining the meal, or Jesus was making a spiritual point by washing the dirtiest part of a person’s body.

Of course we know there was more to Jesus’ foot washing than just trying to clean some dirty feet.  Otherwise he would not have interrupted such an important and religiously significant meal with such an un-dignified display.   The Passover meal drew the Jewish people back to the time of the exodus, the night of the Passover.  By eating a specially sacrificed lamb they remembered the night the blood of a lamb was spread on the door posts to protect the people inside the house from the angel of death.  When the angel saw the blood, he passed over the house and the first born male was kept safe, but all those without the lamb’s blood, had their first born killed by the angel.

Jesus deliberately used the significance of this meal to demonstrate the cleansing he was about to accomplish by his blood on the cross.  Every person, man, woman and child, you and me, are stained with dirt.  Every one of those disciple’s gathered with Jesus were stained with dirt.  No matter how much we wash we remained stained, not with physical dirt, but with the stain of sin and death.

Like when we cannot seem to get a stain out of our hands, we cannot get the stain of sin out of our lives; it is a mark that remains with us forever and taints everything we do and say, as Jesus said in Matthew 15: ‘For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean.‘  The stain of sin is at our core and if left, separates us from the holiness of God.

Jesus washes the disciple’s feet to demonstrate that he will be the one who will wash their sinful hearts, just as king David pleaded and prayed for many years earlier ‘Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.  Peter however, rejects the washing because he feels Jesus should not wash his feet, that would be humiliating for him, but Jesus replies, ‘You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”… “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”  The external washing of the disciple’s feet pointed to Jesus’ washing of our hearts that will clean them from the stain of sin once and for all.

The cross was to be the washing instrument and Jesus’ body and blood serve as the cleansing agent through whom God would clean the world of sin, death and the devil.  By washing the feet of the disciple’s, Jesus shows how he must be a servant of the world, a lowly cleaner if you like, just as foretold in Isaiah 53; ‘Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.’

Just as the blood of the sacrificial lamb saved the people of Israel and brought them out of slavery in Egypt, Jesus blood saves us, cleanses us and brings us out of slavery from sin, death and the devil and brings us into God’s presence, as Jesus said ‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.’  While Judas would have no part in it and left the room, by faith in Jesus word’s Peter allows Jesus to wash his feet, and he was cleansed.  By faith we allow Jesus to wash us clean.

By faith we trust that his blood has washed us, ready for heaven.  By faith we allow Jesus to be our servant, humble and gracious towards us, washing our conscience by his word and blood and serving us with his body and blood in his Holy meal, as the writer of Hebrews says ‘let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.’

We have been cleansed by Jesus and tonight, as I wash the feet of some of our brothers and sisters in Christ, we are reminded of Jesus servant hood; his expression of love that saw him die in our place to make us clean.  Yet there is something else important demonstrated in this foot washing.  With Jesus in us by faith, we also become servants to one another.  Just by being cleansed ourselves, we are able to cleanse others through acts of love and forgiveness.  We can wash each other by choosing not to bring up past hurts or past sins committed against us.  By the power of God’s word and the Spirit’s encouragement, we can choose not to habour anger and bitterness against each other.

We can also wash each other when we speak, read, sing and pray God’s word to each other.  Jesus is present in his word, therefore his is present washing through the word, as he promised ‘You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.’ A disciple is really being Jesus’ co-cleaner, who’s only work is to be humble and a slave, to bring cleansing to others through the justifying  word of Jesus and to live humbly themselves as they also seek forgiveness from Jesus and other Christians for failing to do this very thing.

This is what it means to love one another and this is what Jesus offers us.  As you experience or witness the foot washing, we will sing to each other the very cleansing words of Jesus ‘A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’

 

Amen