Archive for November, 2010

Alarming

Saturday, November 27th, 2010

Romans 13-11_14 Alarming

Let me play for you one of the worst sounds in the world (an alarm clock).  Who would agree?  There we are, blissfully sleeping, enjoying a nice dream, perhaps of walking the white beaches of Hawaii, and then (ring again).  The alarm clock rings, wakes us out of our sleep and dreams and into the real world; it alarms us to the fact that the day has begun and we need to get up.  But what do we do?  We hit the snooze button and lay there and work out, now what is the quickest time I have ever got up and ready in time…right that gives me an extra 20 minutes sleep.  So every time we hear this (ring it) we re-hit the snooze button, until we suddenly realise that we are late…and then its too late.

There are times however, when ignoring alarms to wake up and falling asleep again is extremely dangerous, like falling asleep behind the wheel of a car.  You read the warnings signs on the side of the highway ‘stop, revive, survive’, or read the fatigue signs ‘tired, yawning, loosing concentration’, yet you drive on thinking I Ok, I’m not sleepy.  Its dangerous to ignore the alarms, because have you noticed how you can never tell when you actually fall asleep.  There is no point when you say to yourself “I’m going to sleep….NOW!   Neither is there a point in our sleeping when we determine the precise time we wake up.  Sleep is a lapsing out of our control.

St Paul rings an alarm bell for believers in Christ.   He warns “The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.”   Are you asleep?  Surely not yet, I’ve only just started the sermon!  So why does St Paul mean to alarm us into being fully awake by saying “The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber…”  Who’s asleep?  St Paul, we would think, would be alarming those non-believers, the outright sinners and the heathen.  To wake up to themselves, to see that the dawning of God’s kingdom has now begun; to wake up from their godless acts of indecency and believe in Jesus, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and will come again to judge the living and the dead.

We would even like to think the alarming words “wake up from your slumber…The night is nearly over; the day is almost here,” are a wake-up call to slack and lazy Christians who never come to church; those we only see at Christmas and Easter; to those we judge under our breath as hypocrites.  To think St Paul’s alarming words are ringing for others, but not for you or me, is the same as thinking that the fatigue warning signs on highway, are not meant for us…they are there for everyone else.  Or to think the ringing of our alarm clock in the morning, is meant to wake only the neighbour.

God’s word is never meant for someone else.  He always speaks to us directly and addresses us personally and calls us by name, as he did to Adam in the garden “where are you.”  And Jesus’ words spoken over the bread at the Last Supper are also addressed to you personally, saying “This is my body, which is given for you.”  The word of God spoke life into us, and he continues to speak to us, sustaining us physically and spiritually, as Jesus said “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  We are people of the word.  We are saved from the guilt of our sin and God’s wrath against us, because of suffering and death of Jesus…the word of God in flesh.

 St Paul’s alarming word of God “The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber”, is our personal word alarm from God, telling us as believers that every hour we have believed brings us an hour closer to the day of Jesus’ return.

To be asleep as a Christian is to think, speak and act as if God does not address us personally in his word.  And so to be asleep at the wheel of our Christian life, is to think that “you shall not murder “ only applies to those criminals in jail and others who threaten violence toward others.  Yet if we are people of the word, even this must speak to us, as Jesus points out “anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

Just as we get tired on a long road trip, and if we ignore the warning signs thinking they apply to someone else, we may fall asleep and crash.  We also get tired of battling our sinful nature.  We get fatigued of always fighting the constant temptations that draw us away from God’s word.  St Paul says in Roams 7 “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do– this I keep on doing.”  And so, in our spiritual fatigued state, its easier to convince ourselves that God is only speaking to others.

We know God has asked us to pray, and promises ‘whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours,” but we convince ourselves that’s only for those who are good at prayer.  We know we should do the home devotions that we have been given today, we know that Jesus said ‘we live on every word that comes from the mouth of God”, but in our fatigue we believe that’s only for religious people, not for me.

We know Jesus said “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest”, yet in our weariness, we feel Jesus must be saying this to people who haven’t done the things we are now ashamed of.  God’s word alarms and awakens us to a lot of things, including today’s alarm “The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed,” but its far easier to hit the snooze button, turn off God’s word and fall asleep.

This is the sleep St Pauls is warning us of, spiritual fatigue…or as they saying goes “I’m OK Jack.”  But we are not Ok.  Just as a sleepy driver could laps into a micro sleep any second, spiritual fatigue is the first sign of imminent danger.  God warns ‘sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”  And St Peter adds “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”  St Paul is ringing the alarm, are we hearing it? Are we awake enough to apply it to ourselves?

If so, once awaked by God’s word, you may be wondering what are we to do to remain awake spiritually?  Once you have woken up in the morning, do you go straight outside?  No, we first get dressed ready for the day.  In the same way, St Paul encourages us, once awakened to get changed for our spiritual day, to get dress spiritually for the light, that is, to put on Christ.

It is in the putting on of Christ, and not our own efforts, that enables us to remain aware; to be awake to the prowling’s of the devil who tricks us into thinking God is not addressing me.  To put on Christ is baptismal language.  Paul, in Galatians writes, “for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”  Not only are we forgiven in Baptism, and given the gift of eternal life.  We are also covered by Jesus to protect us from the attacks of the devil; the acts darkness, and the spiritual fatigue St Paul speaks about.

To put on Christ is expanded upon by Paul in Ephesians 6.  “Put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground…Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

All this clothing is given to us as a gift to put on, so that we do not become fatigued by our own efforts at being spiritual, and then fall asleep at the wheel of our salvation.  Each piece of Christ’s clothing, the helmet, the breastplate, the shield, the belt and the sword are all simply different facets of the one and the same word of God that addresses you personally.  So not only does God address us in his word saying “this is my body and blood given and shed for you”, he also dresses us and covers us in his word.

Luther called the church ‘the mouth house of God’.  It is in church were we are covered by the word of God so that we are awakened and ready of the coming of the Lord. So as the writer of the book of Hebrews writes “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another– and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

A king’s treasury

Saturday, November 20th, 2010

Luke 19_11-27 A king’s treasury

I had to go to the dentist the other day.  I hate going to the dentist for a number of reasons, but one reason sticks out more than any others.  All your hidden sins of eating sugary foods when no one was looking, and then not cleaning your teeth, are all revealed in the moment when the dentist opens you moth and takes a look!  There I am, sitting in the waiting room, waiting.  Waiting for my time of reckoning when the dentist will see what I have been hiding from the world.  And while I’m waiting, I see a plaque on the wall (no pun intended) that caught my attention; it read “You don’t have to clean every tooth, just the ones you want to keep!”  As if I wasn’t feeling guilty enough!  These dentists sure know how to lay it on.

You don’t have to clean every tooth, just the ones you want to keep!  How true is that!  No one can force you to stop eating bad foods, no one can stop you from being lazy and make you clean your teeth, its just that if you don’t, well, you will lose what was given to you.

Jesus intends to give a similar message in telling the parable of the minas; a parable about a great noble man who has many subjects and who is going away to become king.  Before he leaves however, he entrusts 10 slaves, each with a mina, to do business until he returns.  The time of reckoning comes, when the noble man returns now as king.  He demands an accounting of each salve’s mina, asking what they have done to increase the gift they were given by him.  Like a dentist asking you to open your mouth, and demanding a look, the slaves had to open their wallets so the king could take a look.

To those who had used the mina given to them to make more, the king entrusts them with even more, doubling their use of the kingdom’s wealth, but to the one who did nothing, even the gift was taken away and given to those who had been given more.  As Jesus says “I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away.”  Like the plaque on the wall of the dentist waiting room that read ‘You don’t have to clean every tooth, just the ones you want to keep!’  You don’t have to use every gift of the king, just the ones you want to keep!

There are two themes to the parable that are running consecutively.  The first and primarily theme is, that the noble man goes away and becomes king, and secondly, that he gives gifts to be used and returns to call for an account from his servants.  Jesus tells the parable as he is entering Jerusalem to be betrayed by Judas, crucified, and buried.  He tells the parable to all who had gathered, because he can see that they were planning to make him king now, through an insurrection.  Yes, Jesus fitted the criteria, he was of noble birth, in the family linage of King David, but as Jesus said to Pilate just days later “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

In the parable, Jesus is picturing himself as a noble man who is to be crowned king, and his kingdom which is heaven, is the faraway place that he must go to and then return.  St Paul, in Philippians chapter 2 speaks of Jesus’ kingdom and how it is not of this world ‘For [God] has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves,’ and how Jesus is king above all other kings, ‘God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,’ 

This is the context from which we can begin to understand and apply the parable to our life.  We need to know that Jesus has been crowned with glory and all authority has been given over to him.  He has been crowned king through his going away; his travel to the far away land; through his birth as a man, his death for our sins, and his resurrection for our justification.  And now his kingdom reigns in grace and forgiveness.   We gladly hear and believe this, not so we can lord it over others, demanding submission and surrender to Jesus, demanding that Jesus rules as king in our hearts through new laws and commands, as though Moses didn’t quite get the 10 commandments right. 

No, we need to know that Jesus’ kingship is good news, the gospel, because as King, Jesus now gives us his kingdom, so we can rule together with him in grace and forgiveness, love and servant hood, as St Paul in Romans 14:17 says “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”  We need to know this so that we are not disciples of Jesus like the third slave who said “I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.”

What the final slave said was true, God is to be feared, as the prophet Nahum declares “The mountains quake before him and the hills melt away. The earth trembles at his presence, the world and all who live in it.  Who can withstand his indignation? Who can endure his fierce anger? His wrath is poured out like fire; the rocks are shattered before him.”  His wrath and anger against our sins has already been poured out upon his Son Jesus; the prophet Nahum calls out “who can endure God’s fierce anger”…Jesus did.  His death was a result of God’s anger; the sun was blacked because of his anger; the earth quaked and the Temple stones shattered before him, because of his anger.  But what shattered the devil and shook hell was the final word of good news from the cross “it is finished.”

God’s anger has been dished out.  The kingdom of his Son now reigns in peace, as Jesus said after his resurrection ‘peace be with you.’  Jesus now bespeaks to us the gifts of his kingdom, which is his righteousness.  We are declared righteous, spoken righteous, or given righteousness as a gift through the proclamation of the gospel and through the receiving of baptism and Holy Communion, and we take hold of this by faith, trusting God at his word.  God’s word and sacraments, our righteousness and even faith, are the gifts of Jesus’ kingdom, or the mina given to each servant, as Jesus alluded to in the parable.  St Paul says this very thing in 2 Corinthians 5:21 21 “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

In Australian’s iconic movie ‘The Castle”, Darryl Kerrigan, played by Michael Caton, is a proud dad.  Every time he is given a gift by his children, he says… “This is going straight to the pool room.”  In other words, the gift is too good to be used, it might get damaged, or lost; its best left only for display.  The gifts of Jesus are not to be treated in the same way, as Jesus explains in the parable; “he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. ‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back.” 

The gifts of the kingdom, God’s word, the sacraments, forgiveness, mercy and peace are to be put to work.  They are not dust collecting relics to be on display in some archaic Cathedral.  Nor is our righteousness in Christ to be hidden away, like a mina in a handkerchief, for fear that God will be angry with us if we mix with the wrong crowd, or dare to do what Jesus did ‘eat and drink with sinners.

 God is reckless with his gifts.  “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked.”  And in the parable of the vineyard workers, the owner replies to complaints about his generosity by saying “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?”  We are called to be salt and light of the earth; gift givers, slaves to righteousness, as Paul encourages us “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.”  This is what Jesus means in the parable by asking his slaves to put the gift of the mina to work.  The gift is God’s to give, and the gift is what does the work, we are simply asked to put it to work.  So when Christ returns, we too will hear our king say to us “Well done, my good servant!‘ 

Amen

I got a plan.

Saturday, November 13th, 2010

Luke 21_5-19 I got a plan

Begin by showing a video clip (or slides) of people who said “I got a plan”

Just because we got a plan, doesn’t mean we will get the results we expected.  It is said that “those who fail to plan, plan to fail.”  And yes, that is true in many ways.  However, as you saw on the power point, our plans often come undone by unexpected results! In fact the opposite of what we expected can happen, and when they do, we think all is lost.

The disciples were marvelling at the great Temple in Jerusalem.  They would have been impressed by how each giant stone was intricately placed, one upon another, layer upon layer, just as planned.  Each stone a testimony to the detail that went into its planning and how all this great work was all dedicated to God.  Things were also going to plan for the disciples.  Their plan to leave everything and follow Jesus, were going well.  They were becoming well known, Jesus was having an impact upon the established religious orders, and many others were dedicating their lives to Jesus as their Messiah.  Surely, you do your best and God will do the rest.

God did indeed do the rest, but God does not stick to our plan.  In fact, he does it all.  The Temple which the disciples admired so greatly, saying how it was all dedicated to God, was destroyed only a few years later, as Jesus foretold “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”  The disciple’s plans for Jesus also soon tumbled.  When Peter witnessed Jesus being whipped and beaten, his plan “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life”, fell in a heap, denying knowing him three times.  And the rest of the disciples ran in fear of their lives from the garden of Gethsemane. 

Their plans backfired and came to nothing, because Jesus had other plans.  In the middle of everything falling apart, they must have been wondering what could come of all this; where is God in all this; how could God be working to plan through their crucified and dying Lord?  We now know and believe, and have the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the very words of those disciples who endured their plans being destroyed, as Jesus hung on the cross, that God, through the cross and suffering of his Son Jesus, was indeed working according to plan.  In the midst of their confusion, the prophetic words of Isaiah were being fulfilled “the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.

In the very midst of our unravelling plans and hopes, God works wonders, and not only that, he also thrusts us into his plan of salvation, as Jesus did for the criminal in the midst of his failed plans “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” 

God’s plan and vision to redeem the world of sin, death and the devil was originally cast in the midst of Adam and Eve’s toppled plan to be like God.  It was right in the middle of their hopelessness and confusion, that God thrust Adam and Eve into his plan and said to the devil “the child of the woman will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”  God’s plan of salvation was recast when Joseph’s brother’s plan to kill him by selling him as a salve toppled.  God, through Joseph explains, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”    

We like Adam and Eve, like Joseph’s brothers, and like the disciples, all have plans for our life and plans for others; plans for the way we think God can and should work in our life and in the life of others.  How often have your plans worked out just as you anticipated, and prayed for?  Whose walk with the Lord has workout exactly as you thought the day of your confirmation?  What about the plans you had or still have for your children…have they grown up and made the choices and lived the lives just as you wanted?  What about you own life, would you say “yep!  Just as I planned.”  

And the plans we have for our church.  We could almost say, “what haven’t we planned and tried?” Surely God wants to work through our ministry and bring about his purposes of salvation through our plans and visions.  Yet right at this point, I together with you, am thinking “We had a plan Lord, why is it seem like it is toppling, why has it changed?”  

Wouldn’t things work out better if only God stuck to our plans?

This is the problem we have with God…he seems to say one thing and do another.  To us, he is a God of paradoxes, of contradictions.  God says one thing in Jeremiah 29: 11 “I have plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Yet many who heard that message died in exile, never to see a future.  And even today this promise is spoken to Christians being persecuted, tortured and even killed for their faith in Jesus…yet where is their hope and future?  Stephen was chosen by God to be a herald to the good news of Jesus, that he died and rose again to pay for the sins of the world, yet he was only days into his ministry when some men stoned him to death during his maiden speech.

(Video if works) Martin Luther King, after a famous speech about his plan for equality between blacks and whites, was assassinated the next day.  Many black people in America at that time would have been calling to God, asking “why…how can this be, we had plans.”  Yet, look what has happened, look what God has achieved in the midst of death and toppled plans.   

In today’s gospel reading Jesus reveals how God’s plan to prosper us, and to bring hope to others through the gospel of Jesus Christ, is often enacted in the midst of our failed and toppling plans.  The disciples are planning for glory, admiring the Temple, however, Jesus warns them saying “the time will come when not one stone will be left on another.”  God’s salvation comes through another way and the cross of Jesus shows this, when he made satisfaction for the sins of the world, then rose in glory on the third day. 

It is often in and through our own suffering and the toppling down of our selfish plans and desires that God brings change, hope and salvation to us, and others we never even imagined.  It is in the breaking down of our plans that God’s plan is enacted and we are thrust into his plan of salvation, as witnessed throughout the bible.   Jonah had a plan.  There was no way he was going to call the Ninevites to repentance.  Even when he was cast over board in the storm, did you know that Jonah’s admission that God was to blame for all the trouble, the sailors then repented and believed?  “At this the men greatly feared the LORD, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows to him.”

The gospel speaks most clearly into our lives and to the lives of others when we are embroiled in the unexpected.  Have you thought about this?  John the Baptist got it, when his disciples complained that everyone was suddenly going over to Jesus, John said “He must become greater; I must become less.” 

The writer of Hebrews says “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”  And there is no better time to have faith than when we do not see how our plans can work, when we do not see how God could be at work; there is no better time to expect God‘s plan of salvation to be working in and through our lives, than in the midst of our own tumbling down plans.  For right in the midst of what we think is a disaster and an end, God thrusts us into his plan, giving us, as Jesus promises, the words to say at this time  “For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.”  Jesus says he will give us his words, when our own have failed; that he will give us his wisdom when our own wisdom has failed.

He has a plan when our plans fail.

Amen