Archive for September, 2010

Entertainment.

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

Luke 16_19-31 Entertainment

 

Things are different today, here in Australia.  We are a far more compassionate, educated and a civil society than in Jesus day.   Wouldn’t you agree?  The average Aussie is now far more socially aware of the suffering of the poor, of the down trodden and the protection of the rights of the vulnerable, than when Jesus told this parable.   Christianity, with its core values and teachings of love for God and loving service for all, and that all humans are created in the image of God, has greatly influenced the way we now value the sanctity of every human life. 

Consider Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus the beggar.  A rich man is so ignorant to the  inequality and the right to life for all people, that Lazarus lay dying at his front gate, while he continues to be ‘dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day.’   The contrast from that day to this could not be starker…its chalk and cheese; it wouldn’t happen today.  So much so, the parable makes little sense to us here in Australia.

Who here regularly sees or reverses out of their driveway past a totally destitute, sore infested, near death beggar, dumped out the front of our house?  What rich man today would risk the media and public backlash of being accused of leaving a poor man to die at their front gate?  Of course no one in our community, you me, rich or poor, would stand for social inequality…everyone has a right to life; to a fair go!  We have the society we do, because our social conscience is built on and around our Christian roots.  We get it from what Jesus says of himself in Luke 4:18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed.”  He urges us to do like wise, saying ‘A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”  

It makes us wonder how the rich man got the point where he refuses to give Lazarus even a crumb that fell from his table. It puzzles us as to how a religious Jew, who was a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Israel, could come to the point where he is totally indifferent to God, to sin, to heaven, or whether there was a hell.  It troubles us as to what convinced this once religious man, to be so consumed with the philosophy common in that day, to ‘Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry“, that Lazarus was not worth his time, money and effort; that the commandment ‘thou shall not kill’, did not apply to Lazarus, as his life was worth less than his own.

As I said earlier, it doesn’t happen in our society, in our day…or does it?  Perhaps we also are part of the rich man’s story?  What are we indifferent about today?  While we are not as barbaric as publically leaving people to die on our doorsteps, and while we are not outwardly flaunting the philosophy ‘Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”, as the rich man did, we are, as a society, perhaps even as Christians, dangerously indifferent.  Indifferent to God, to faith and right theology, indifferent to whether there really is a heaven or a hell; indifferent to wether Jesus really is the only way, truth and life, and apart from him we can do nothing.  And this indifferent attitude towards God has had social consequences that have now crept slowly, like a noxious weed, into our society.

The right to life, and the sanctity of life for all people, especially the vulnerable, is being eroded away by our self interest in enjoying life.  We don’t leave a terminally ill man like Lazarus lying on the front path to die, but we are now open to debating the right to euthanize the terminally ill…with their supposed consent of course.  We as a society, like the rich man, are prepared to turn a blind eye to the suffering and loneliness of the sick and elderly, encouraging them to end their life, so we can “eat drink and be merry.”

We are all guilty of being too busy today, and indifferent ‘dressed in purple and fine linen and living in luxury every day, to spare even a crumb of our time for God and the sick and dying, which might fall from our busy ‘timetables’.  We are all infected with the rich man’s terminal disease called ‘indifference.’   

Sin is indifference to God, not caring that he is angry and offended by our not loving him with our whole heart, mind and soul, as he commands.  Sin is to eat, drink and be merry, while having no regard for the life and welfare of others.  Sin is to be indifferent to Jesus call to “go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” And as the rich man in the parable found out, St Paul’s words ring true for us “the wages of sin is death.”  We may be indifferent, not really comprehending the depth and nature of our sin, and the decadence and indifference of our society, but God is not, and in this parable, Jesus warns us of the fires of hell are ready for those who live in this manner.

Like dead men walking, there is nothing in this world we can do to change our fate, as Jesus says in Revelation 20: 15 “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”  Yet there is good news imbedded in the parable, there is grace to be found.  Did you notice from the start, Jesus gives a name to the beggar, Lazarus? 

The rich man has no name.  Even though many of his friends would have known him, God does not know him.  His name may have been written in all the social columns of the newspapers, but his name was not written in the book of heaven.  He may have been an upright and moral gentleman, but because his name is not known by God, he was thrown into the lake of fire.  

Lazarus was given a name, though he did nothing, had nothing, and was an outcast and beggar; his name didn’t even get a mention in the death notices…he was not buried, but left for the angels to take him away.  Yet because his name is written in the book of life he enters heaven, as Jesus tells, “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side.”  Jesus names him because he is one of his own.   

Lazarus may have suffered while still living, and we don’t know what caused it.  Perhaps it was his fault, perhaps he had squandered his money like the prodical son, perhaps he was struggling with the results of years of alcoholism, and that’s why the rich man didn’t help, but the stunning fact of God grace in this story, is Lazarus’ name was written in the book of life, and he was taken into heaven. 

Lazarus’ name was know by God, and the rich man’s wasn’t, not because he was a better bloke, but because Lazarus heard and believed in Jesus, the promised saviour spoken about in ‘Moses and the Prophets’; that Isaiah spoke of “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.”  Jesus went to the cross, suffered and died for us, who are hopelessly caught up in the riches and indifference of sin. Isaiah says “He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death” 

But God raised him from the grave that he may live forever.  Death could not hold him, and now death and hell has no power, no sting for us who are named in Christ.  This is the grace that is announced in the parable; the grace that is now poured out upon us through the preaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments.  What we hear today, what we eat and drink today, are the very grace giving words of Jesus, who was anointed to preach to the poor and to bring freedom to us who are prisoners to sin.  In baptism, we are named as a child of God. 

God makes us his own, giving us his Spirit and putting our name into the book of life, as St Paul in 2 Corinthians 1:22 says “He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”  Since we are God’s children, and have our names in heaven, let us now be attuned and attentive to God’s word, and to give more than just crumbs and token efforts to the suffering people of this world.  Let us no longer entertain ourselves, but rather hear the words of Hebrews 13:2 “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.”

Nothing counts in the end.

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

Luke 16_1-13  Nothing counts in the end

 

Who has heard of the term poker face?  What is it?  A poker face is used when a card player looks at his cards and sees that none of them are good enough to win.  Once faced with this reality, a poker player has to weigh up all options, try and find a way out of the crisis they are in; do I give in and loose everything; do I cheat; do I upturn the table?  No, he would think to himself, they are really impossibilities because he would still end up having to pay back the huge dept.  There is however one and only one slim and final chance at survival.  He thinks to himself, ‘I must keep a straight face that neither smiles nor frowns; a face that only shows confidence.’  Why?  Yes, a poker face is used to trick others into handing over their fortune to the losing player because they think he has a winning hand.

A poker face is a last ditched, shrewd effort, to extract oneself out of a mess.  Jesus tells us of one such instance of a manager using a poker face.  He was caught out by his boss for deliberately wasting money and has to give an account of his actions.  He knows he is going to lose his job, he knows he has wronged the boss, so he analyses his options ‘I could dig dirt or beg for a living.’  But that’s not an option because he still has to pay back his debt, and will still lose his job.  So what does he do…he has no other option but to pull a poker face.  He shrewdly uses his honourable position, while he still had it, to develop friendships with the boss’ renters.  He uses his best poker face, his years of expertise at fiddling the books, in a way that now benefits himself once again, because he swindles the boss’ money to lower the debts of the renters, and thus make friends!   The boss commends his worker for his shrewd behaviour!

Well have all used a poker face of some sort to get out of a personal crisis.  We are all very skilled and shrewd experts at using our worst to get the best for ourselves when under pressure.  Right from a very young age we have discovered how successful it can be for us to manipulate and control people and situations to make what was a crisis for ourselves, into one that benefits us.  For some of us, our poker face becomes a learnt behavioural pattern; our success at manipulating people and situations to benefit ourselves has been so great, that we become evermore craftier and confident.  When caught in a losing situation, what poker face do you use?  What manipulative behaviour are you an expert at and what gets results for you? 

Jesus told in his story, that the rich boss commended his manager for his shrewdness, so perhaps Jesus is trying teach us something about God and of ourselves; that God knows we revert to unrighteousness when confronted with a crisis, and that we all, like the dishonest manager, will have to give an account of our lives, as he says in Matthew 12:36 “But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.” 

Yet even more pointed, is that Jesus, while not approving, is highlighting and even commending, just how good we are at swindling and manipulating the people around us, to save our own skin in this world.  We will contrive just about plan, trust in any dishonest gain, act on learned behaviour, and try any poker face, just to get ahead in this life.  Jesus questions, yet why is it then, you who are so shrewd in this world, when it comes to saving your own life from eternal destruction, at most you are a little ho hum?  Why is it, when spiritually, you are doomed and have no hope of saving yourself, as Jesus said “no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born again”, we don’t even attempt to make friends of God, or shrewdly use any means possible to us, to ensure we are born again.

Just consider our lives, and just how successful we have been at achieving what we want.  Just think about how hard we have worked to get where we are; the trials we have put ourselves through, the planning and the strategies we have put in place, to gain material wealth and achieve personal goals.  Think about the people we have used to get where we are.  All of us can say we have given this life our very best shot. 

However, our backs are up against the wall spiritually, we are dead in our sin, and are separated from God, as St Paul says “He one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction.”   So Jesus, by commending the shrewd manager is asking, why don’t we use the same earthly passion and shrewdness, which only gains for us worldliness and destruction, to gain heavenly things and eternal life?  He queries why we, who are people of the light, those who know the truth, should not also seek after the truth with all our effort. 

God has given us everything, and provides for every physical need, for our use and enjoyment in this life, and he has given this to all people, whether they believe in him or not, as Jesus said in Matthew 5: 45 “My Father causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”  He has also provided everything we need for gaining eternal life.  He sent his Son Jesus, who has won for us life eternal and is the only means through which we are saved.  God has provided Jesus as the way the way, truth and life, so that everyone, that is, all people have the opportunity to call on him and be saved, as John writes “For God so loved the world [all people] that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

There is no reason in heaven or earth for you not to enter heaven when you die.  This is the good news, the gospel, the proclamation of the church, as St Paul reminds us, “Now, friends, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.  By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day.” 

It is by faith alone, in Christ alone, we are saved.  And we attain, or take hold of this faith in Christ, this saving faith, through hearing and believing the good news, the announcement that Christ died for our sins and so we have a way out of our crisis.  We also receive saving faith in our baptism, and God nurtures and grows our faith through Jesus’ body and blood, given to us in and through the bread and wine of Holy Communion, the medicine of eternal life.  Jesus, in commending the manager for his shrewd success, says for us to do the same in gaining eternal life, for “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.”

In the same way, we are encouraged to be bold, to do everything in our power and use every means we have to ensure for ourselves the free gift of eternal life.   God is generous with his grace, like the rich man in the story, and is encouraging us to use his means of salvation extravagantly; to gladly hear the gospel and receive the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion.  St Paul urges us saying, “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.

Get as much of this gift of grace as you can, Paul also encourages us saying “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling”.  Find new ways of being available to receive the means of salvation.  Be shrewd in the way you use your earthly skills to weight up all options and see that, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”  Play your best poker face, so that you can create for yourself opportunities to be in the presence of God, to be friends with Jesus, for he promises ‘”Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.

Lost in Christ

Sunday, September 12th, 2010

Luke 15_1-10 Lost in Christ

We just heard two parables Jesus gave about being lost and then found; one about a lost sheep, the other a lost coin.  How many times have you heard the parable of the lost sheep?  Yet, ask yourself if you have ever stopped to reflect on the lost sheep, why it was lost, how it was lost and what is meant by lost?  Have you ever stopped to consider who Jesus’ intended hearers were and what he intended to reveal about certain attitudes and behaviours?  So often we gladly and quickly jump over the lost bit, to the good news, to the happy ending.  The lost sheep was found by the shepherd…hurray!  And they all lived happily ever after.

 Jesus did not tell this parable to make his listeners feel good, nor did he intend for us to make it into a fairy tale, though we often do, where the emphasis is on everyone living happily ever after.  Jesus’ parables are intended to teach the truth about our selves and about God, and Jesus always directed his parable’s toward particular people, their behaviour and attitudes.  Parables may be stories, but they are God’s word in story form, to speak to the soul and conscience, as written in Hebrews 4:12 “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.  Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Jesus only ever told his parables to those who were somehow connected with him and the Jewish faith, whether they were his disciples, the Pharisees or the crowds that followed him.  They were his key teaching tool.  So as followers of Jesus, we need to take them as seriously as we do the other words of Jesus.  We need to examine and apply them to ourselves, see how they teach us the truth about ourselves and God.  After the parable of the sower, Jesus said “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Luke sets the context of Jesus’ parable of the lost amid two groups of people who couldn’t be further apart, yet in a way, they are in an identical situation; they were all gathered together because there was something about Jesus that attracted them; he touched their conscience because he spoke with authority. The group consisted of two opposing lifestyles.  There were sinners and tax collectors, those who lived a life of selfishness, pleasure and were morally challenged, to put it mildly.  And then there were the religious synagogue types, the regular ‘church folk’, those who were upstanding in society and generally good people.  So we have together, the good, the bad and the ugly!  Seeing how the good put down the bad and ugly, Jesus takes the opportunity to tell a parable about a lost sheep.  Why a parable about a lost sheep?  What is it about being lost Jesus wants to teach about?

Do you know the definition of being lost? I don’t know the official one, but I think this comes close: the definition of being lost is ‘being certain of your position!’  Would you agree?   No?  Well think about the last time you were lost, either in a shopping centre or driving to a destination.  At what point did you realise you were lost?  Well, usually its when you never find you goal or arrive at your destination, then you confess that you are lost.  But that’s the outcome of being lost; weren’t you really lost long before that; making wrong turns and incorrect decisions?  You just didn’t know it or were too proud and certain to admit it, and perhaps, out of spite and to save face in front of your wife, you charge on? 

Being certain of your position, that’s what it means to be lost.  Sounds like a contradiction, but this is one point of Jesus’ parable he wants to get across.  The Pharisees, by muttering, “This man [Jesus] welcomes sinners and eats with them,” reveals to Jesus they are certain of their salvation and how to attain it, while convinced the ‘sinners’ are the ones who are lost. 

The ‘sinners and tax collectors’ on the other hand, were certain they had no need for God or religion and perhaps felt the Pharisees were the ones lost up their own sanctimonial white garments!  Jesus tells the parable of the lost sheep to two groups who where certain of their position before God, yet Jesus knew they were both lost, they were both seeking the kingdom of God by their own righteousness, apart from trusting him as their saviour and rescuer; the messiah shepherd promised in Ezekiel 34 “As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock…so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered.”

Jesus’ definition of lost is to be certain you know the way to heaven apart from him.  In the “I am” statements, Jesus makes this very clear, that to be lost, like that sheep, is to reach for heaven apart from the shepherd.  He says “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me; “I am the vine; you are the branches…apart from me you can do nothing; “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep…I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also.”

Let’s ask ourselves a few modern questions to remind us that we too, like either a Pharisee or a sinner, are lost.  That is, to allow the parable of the lost sheep to speak to us, as it spoke to both the Pharisees and the sinners; to see that, even in a little way, we believe there is a way to heaven apart from Christ alone.  You are lost if:

  • You are certain the onus is on us the accept Christ
  • You are convinced people are generally good and nice people go to heaven, including yourself
  • You are convinced that Christian bumpers sticker slogans apply to you, even though you never or rarely go to church and value the church only for baptisms, weddings and funerals.
  • You are sure your good intentions count for something
  • You are certain Christianity needs to be entertaining and relevant to your needs
  • You are certain you must feel good about yourself, have a high self-esteem and live a moral life

All of us have to admit, deep down, we still think, that in some small way, we must do something to be saved.  To do so is to be lost, and that is what we truly are.  St Paul plainly sets out the truth in Romans 11:32 ‘For God has bound all humanity over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.’  That is, each one of us is the lost sheep in the parable.  We can never be found if we remain certain we are not lost, but we are found, if we believe we are lost!  This is the gospel, the good news of the shepherd.  God has bound our very being over to sin, so that he can have mercy on all people.  We are sinners, lost and condemned, separated from God, unable to contribute one bit to being rescued from sin, death and the devil. 

Yet this is God’s good purpose for us and the meaning of the parable of the lost sheep.  We are to be totally passive, like a sheep caught in a thistle, so that his Son Jesus, the good shepherd, may take us to be his own, lift us upon his shoulders and bring us into his kingdom.  By faith alone, in Christ alone are we found, and only in him are we saved, as St Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:22 ‘For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” He did this through the cross.  Jesus became the lost lamb for us.  He refused to be saved from the wrath of God against our sin, and endured the scorn of the cross for our sake; By his death he became the lost Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

By the power of God, he was raised again, so that he may be the one who comes to rescue us.  By the very word of God spoken over the waters of our baptism, our shepherd lifted us up on his shoulders and there, with him we passively remain.  Infant baptism is the best example we have of how passive we really are in receiving grace.  Jesus word “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved”, is the action, we are the receiver.  Jesus said “[the shepherd] calls his own sheep by name and leads them out…he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice”.  We hear the voice of our shepherd through the word of God and in the sacraments, in the confession and absolution, and in the mutual encouragement and fellowship of the faithful.  And all this is we passively hear and receive in church. 

Christ himself is the head of the church.  The church, were the gospel is preached and the sacraments are rightly administered, is the shoulders of Christ.  It is in the church that we are carried by the shepherd, and it is on his shoulders we the lost are comforted with our shepherds words ‘For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”