Archive for March, 2012

Deserving to be given a serve.

Saturday, March 31st, 2012

John 12:12-16, 13:1-17, 31b-35

Deserving to be “given a serve, we were served”.

When I was 25 years old, basically against my desires-I was talked into coaching the senior football team. This team had very little success over the previous years-but now there was great expectation and excitement.

In the first game, we played the arch rivals and lost by more than fifteen goals and boy did I know their disappointment and disillusionment. Because I was the subject of that disappointment and disillusionment.

Misguided or unrealistic expectations.

Being a Christian: never have any more worries, life will be good, and if its not, it means your faith is not strong enough. Even, according to the odd late night evangelist, send in money and you will be rewarded tenfold.

Misguided, unrealistic and even sinister crap.

Becoming a Christian is like becoming a husband or wife and then a mother or father. Absolutely the joy increases, but so does the hurt-because their hurts and sadness’s become yours.

Having faith in Christ-in being a Christian we share with Christ, the injustices and hurts of this world and its people. We may get sick or we may not, we may struggle financially or we may not-so be it, that’s life. Jesus never promised either way, he promised that he would be with us through it all, to serve us and get us over the line.

Jesus enters Jerusalem and is welcomed as the great king. “Hosanna, Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. The King of Israel”.

Absolutely true. Albeit misguided-those welcoming Jesus expected a warrior type of king to release them from the bondage of the Romans. To drive them out of town and when this doesn’t eventuate-we know the story.

But as we know, Jesus had a bigger fish to fry. Yes Jesus would release them, release from the bondage of sin. To bring true freedom, not as the warrior king, but as the servant king.

Jesus didn’t come to run the bad guys out of town, but to bring the bad guys, Jews, Gentiles, Greeks, Romans and Australians-you and me into town-into his kingdom.

Jesus did not come to give people a serve, he came to serve. Let’s fast forward to Maundy Thursday. It is the night in which Jesus was to be betrayed and he has gathered with his disciples in the Upper Room to celebrate the Passover meal for the last time. It was during this meal that he instituted the Lord’s Supper.

He took some of the bread, gave thanks, and broke it; he gave it to his disciples saying “This is my blood”. Then he took the cup and said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many” and added, “Do this in remembrance of me”.

The Word Maundy means command and in verse 34 Jesus tells his disciples “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another”.

Jesus giving his body and blood for our forgiveness of sins certainly demonstrated his love for us. But also that night Jesus demonstrated his love in washing his disciples’ feet.

These days, foot washing is not all that prevalent-and when it is it is done in only a symbolic manner. In fact I remember attending a chapel where it was announced that they would conduct foot washing during the up and coming Maundy Thursday worship, and then finished with the instruction that it would be preferred if you would present your  feet were in a reasonable hygienic fashion.

Which as we will see is rather like telling a homeless person we won’t help them until they get their act together, because in Jesus day there was a logical purpose for foot washing.  The common practice was to wash the guests’ feet as they entered the house. Since most people wore sandals, and because there were no foot paths or paved roads, the visitor’s feet would be dirty from travelling. Also, in a hot climate like Israel to have your feet washed was very refreshing.  A jug of water, basin and towel at the door were marks of genuine hospitality.

But it was still considered a menial, if not even a demeaning task, it was the responsibility of the household slave to conduct the said feet washing and make them refreshed and comfortable.

In the Upper Room that night, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, not only to make them comfortable, but to also as a demonstration of his purpose in life. As well what their purpose in life should be.

Earlier in his ministry Jesus told his followers in Matthew chapter 20: “Whoever wants to be first must be your slave-Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”, and later that evening “love one another as I have loved you”.

On that night, just hours before he would suffer for them, for us-Jesus acted out what the purpose of what his life was and still is: to serve, both you and me.

I remember several years ago I went to watch the Port Adelaide Magpies; the most successful semi-professional/professional Aussie Rules football club in Australia play arch-rival Norwood. There was not a big crowd there, but none the less two Port guys sat right next to me. Initially I thought this is good because in Adelaide, if you go for Port every one’s your arch rival except for fellow Port supporters. So I was thinking along the safety in numbers scenario. Then he started. One of the guys was the Pavarotti of football fans. Just before the first bounce he started, and he never abated until the final siren. Port that day lost, but on the way, this guy constantly in a booming voice-for every second of the 80 minutes never shouted  ridicule, only encouragement to the players. He displayed if nothing else, a voice box made of granite, loyalty to his club and courage under fire to continue with the opposition supporters giving it to him as Port went steadily backwards.

Halfway through the third quarter, his quieter mate, maybe sensing that even I would like him to tone down a touch-turned around and said “he’s a barracking machine”.

Jesus is a foot washing machine.

Like that Port guy to his club, when we aren’t performing, when we are losing the battles-Jesus doesn’t take a backward step: he just keeps on keeping on.  That’s why we are here tonight. We just didn’t wake one morning and say-I have decided that I believe this Christ stuff. It may seem like that, but it is really only from Christ presenting himself in our lives again, again and again. In our daily lives, in hearing the Word of God, in Baptism and Holy Communion. The Father, Son and the Holy Spirit bring us to faith, retain us in faith and strengthen our faith.

That is why Christianity gets such a hard time. It’s illogical. No different from when the Jews were expecting a war type king or messiah to rescue them from being impoverished by the Romans-only to receive a man of peace, totally the opposite to how general society would deal with the issue.

(and) we ask ourselves what’s changed.

Jesus serves us and we are too serve others. Both these are counter cultural, not just too general society, but to us.

Jesus serves us. Yes we know that. We know he died on the cross for our sins and we know he’s with us everyday day. But then, do good works-but no amount of good works, even the Mother Theresa      type of give your life to poverty and service in the India slums won’t save you one iota: “only faith in Jesus can save you” may start to get us a little edgy. But the piece of résistance, we who know our sin and our own darkest places are not only forgiven in Christ-but he loves us how we are: when you get your head around that one let me know.

But it’s all true. How do we know-because Jesus has told us. Of course in our minds it is illogical-as is faith in Christ to a non-Christian. But having been brought to faith, to believe Christ died for our sins-you can’t have it both ways: Jesus Christ, the only person that walked on this earth sinless, perfect-the person who raised people from the dead, cured blindness, leprosy and so forth-LOVES YOU AS YOU ARE NOW.

(and) what does Jesus ask for all this. Accept it. Accept it and pass it on-because see that CEO making 8 million dollars per year, see that office worker, see that outlaw motorcycle gang member, see that mother and father that use their welfare payments to buy drugs instead of food, and see that prostitute who is funding her family with the only asset she has-I love them too, not later but now, this minute-I know them and I know their hurt.

Deep down, they know there is a better way-but from sin, being beaten battered and scared by Satan and his evil temptations they are imprisoned.

But you are my workers in the field. With you, I will sow the seed, work the ground and reap the crop.

Yes, in humility we are to accept forgiveness in Christ alone, and yes, in humility we are to serve his people-for him, for Christ and not for ourselves.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, they saw him as the coming king, cheering and honouring him-only to fall away in his hour of need when he was beaten, bruised, ridiculed and slain.

When our neighbour enters our life in their hour of need, beaten, bruised, ridiculed and lost-in that person we see the loved child of God. We see Jesus serving them, washing their feet in the hope that he can cheer and greet them in his eternal home.

Imagine, that person who comes into our lives in whatever disguise: rich or poor: who is in need in this world-hungry, starving, wandering, looking for “something”, alone and scared. Imagine on our last day seeing that person smiling with no hurt or tears and glowing in the light of Christ.

I cannot think of a better day, except for the day that, that person was given hope, peace and came to know the true love of Christ while here amongst the storm.

Our Father in Heaven, your will be done- on earth as in heaven, for the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen.

The moment

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

John 12:20-33

The moment

That moment. That moment in time where everything that has gone before on your way there is now just a memory. Whether planned for, trained for, thrust there against your will or just somehow you’re there: that moment has arrived-and you are staring it in the face.

On the 30th October 1974, boxing legend Muhammad Ali was fighting the Brash young and fit bull of a man in George Foreman for the World Championship. Because of Ali’s ageing body compared to the brute force of Forman’s-not only was he the rank underdog, those close to Ali, including his trainers feared greatly for his health. Winning the title was not the concern, Ali making it out of the ring-was their concern.

Ali himself knew his chances, and so on the first ring of the bell, he unleashed everything he had. He knew his best, maybe only chance was to take Foreman by surprise and knock him out in the first round. It did not work, after getting over the initial onslaught by Ali-Foreman unleashed in fury, anger and unrelenting force.

After the first round, Ali staggered back to his corner and slumped in his chair and the trainers knew their fears had arrived.

Ali’s trainer summed up the situation: “Our fear for his safety had materialised. We did not know what to do, but knew he should not go back out there. I looked at Ali, and it was the first time I had ever seen fear in his eyes. Here for the first time, he knew was a boxer he had no answer for. That was better than him. Then I saw a change, it seemed as if he was looking deep within himself, his eyes re-focussed-came alive again and I heard him say to himself ‘this is the moment you have waited for your whole life’”.

In our Gospel, Jesus ’moment has arrived.

Up till now, the tension has been steadily mounting. In chapter 2, verse 4 Jesus had spoken of his coming hour. But now, he has entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and things start to move quickly.  It is the time of the Passover festival and the town is a hive of activity with  Jews making the journey there from all over Israel and beyond.

Jesus is alerted by Philip and Andrew that some visiting Greeks have asked to speak to him. We are not told whether Jesus spoke to them or not, but he sees the significance-that Jew, Gentile, Greek alike will hear the truth of the Gospel.

His moment has arrived and in verses 23 and 27 he announces his plight.

“The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified”,

and “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? Father save me from this hour? But for this purpose I came to this hour”.

Like in the Garden of Gethsemane here we see both Jesus divine and human natures.

In the Garden, Jesus in his humanity asked “is there another way”, and now, he is “troubled and anxious”.

In his divine nature, he knows that the moment of his suffering and death was at hand for the purpose of Glory to the Father in the salvation of the world.

In this we see the paradox’s of Jesus victory.

He must die, so that we can live.

Jesus will shortly be judged, yet he will bring judgement on Satan and overthrow him.

If we were literally there during these times, without the knowledge of what’s ahead-being Jesus resurrection-Jesus’ announcement of what was to come would have been puzzling at best.

So using the picture of a grain of wheat, Jesus shows that death is in some cases necessary for new life. The seed has to be buried in the ground before it can produce ears of wheat containing hundreds of grains.  Jesus is saying that his death is necessary before the great harvest of gathering together God’s people can begin.

But as with Jesus, there are two sides to the story. Yes he must die, but that is also true of his disciples, to us.

We must die to grow. Certainly that is the case literally upon our physical death: to be raised to live in eternal life.

But it’s also the here and now- our moment’s here on earth that Jesus talks off.

“Whoever loves his life loses it and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it”.

How does that make you feel?  I do have my moments as Robbie Williams sings where“I don’t want to die, but I aint that keen of livin either” But I generally prefer the former.

Our Saviour Jesus was both fully human and fully divine, and that’s how it had to be to re-unite God the Father and humankind.

Here on earth we are both sinners and saints.

Sinners in ourselves, yet saints in Christ.

To “Hate this world” is that part of us-that human part, our sins, our self- serving, greed and so forth.

The part of ourselves we don’t like, where we fight it, yet with not a lot of ground seemingly made.

But saints in Christ-because we hand those sins over to Christ, that he brings forgiveness.

In the defeat of our efforts of self- renewal we throw ourselves in mercy at Jesus feet, and receive the victory-his victory, and in Christ we are renewed.

I mentioned at the start, that when Muhammad Ali was in the ring against George Foreman his boxing moment had arrived. Every bit of practice, the running, the planning, throwing punches in training and receiving them-they had all led to that moment, and through, basically sheer willpower and courage, in his moment he was victorious.

But what of the moments when our courage and our will power are have been long exhausted. Where we’ve come to that moment, and it’s too great for us.

The man Muhammad Ali beat in that boxing title fight, George Foreman, a head strong 26 year old was inconsolable. Ali had won the unwinnable fight, and Foreman had lost the” unlosable” fight. He was broken and crushed. In his own words he was so full of hatred that he wanted to hire a hitman to get back at his enemies-except there were too many of them. The following years he fell into such deep depression that his loved one’s feared he may never recover. They feared for his life.

Should you have been or have known a person that is at the bottom, with no fight left in them, or yourself-you will know it’s a perilous situation,  a knife edge, and the outcome, the moment can go either way-it is literally facing death in the face. It’s as if you, they, need a miracle.

George Foreman was on that knife edge. Later he would say that “I was dead, and where I was, was nothingness, just nothing”. This was his moment, because in that nothingness, alone and beaten, he came to know Christ.

In 1977 George became an ordained Christian Minister and in 1994 aged 45, he became the boxing world champion of the world.

Asked of his life he said this: “When I lost that fight to Muhammad Ali in 1974 it was one of the best things that ever happened in my life. It was my chance to have a second chance to live.  I found out that the greatest thing in the world—the greatest existence of anything—is that God made us human beings, and that I found out how to love my fellow man.  I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to truly appreciate human beings’ lives until they’ve found Jesus Christ”.

The apostle Paul, in jail-persecuted and awaiting his own death, wrote I have fought the good fight and run the good race.

As do we, in and with Christ we too are fighting the good fight and running the good race.

Jesus died on the cross so that we can live. That was Jesus moment, and when you came to believe, that was your moment. Live in that moment.

Verses from Ecclesiastes 3:

“No-one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end. I know that nothing is better for them than to rejoice and to do good in their lives, and also that every person should eat and enjoy the food of their labour-it is the gift of God.

To everything there is a season. A time for every purpose under heaven.

A time to be born and a time to die.

A time to plant, and time to pluck what is planted.

A time to weep, and a time to laugh.

A time to mourn, and a time to dance”.

Yes, live with passion, cry without guilt, mourn in hope, be yourself, laugh at your shortfalls, take some chances, follow your dreams and be humble in your achievements and pray in sureness, and thank God, that because of Christ we can.  Amen. 

Tie a ribbon round the old oak tree.

Friday, March 16th, 2012

 

John.3 14/21

Over lent we have been hearing the story of God’s saving plan for the world. In Jesus’ story, and in our story. They are like a trinity; all are together or not at all. We accept forgiveness in Christ and we are overjoyed. We accept forgiveness in Christ and God is overjoyed.

God wants to forgive, not for some, not only for the small sins and not only once-but continually, and no sin is too great to be blotted off our record in Christ.

The Gospel of our Lord and Savior, we hear it every week. Why? Because we need to hear it, again, again and again.

Why? Because it is so hard to get our head around. Me, you, us-forgiven in Christ-as we are now.

It seems too good to be true. It can be dumbfounding to us-and knowing this, the devil, NOT God, latches onto our human thoughts and continually suggests there has to be more to it-and to our human nature-who could argue.

Except for one thing, it’s not what we think of ourselves, it’s not what other’s think of us, that’s immaterial-it’s what Christ has done for us: that’s it-and that’s why can it be so difficult to just simply accept.

Martin Luther wrote that if you only read one of the Gospel’s, read John, and it seems no-coincidence that the most known piece of scripture is written in the book of John.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”.

Pure Gospel. This one verse, those twenty six words of John 3:16 sum up the whole Gospel.

Likewise, in the Gospel today, these verses, tell us of the glory of God’s character, the nature of his life and his desire to share that life with his creatures. It is about God coming amongst us and the mixed response he receives to his offer of divine and eternal life. It is a vivid snapshot of God and our world.

When parents see their child in distress, they just wish they could take their place, it’s terrible.

Imagine how God would felt while Jesus was being persecuted.

Not enough that he was innocent. Not enough that crucifixion was the most cruelest and tortuous form of death, it was also considered shameful and degrading.

The irony abounds, because for Christ’s followers after his death and resurrection, they could not talk of their savor without talking of the manner and place in which he died.

Yet it doesn’t stop there, who put Jesus to such a terrible place. The Romans-yes, the Jewish authorities-yes, us-yes. Every person that has or will sin put Jesus on the Cross, and the irony-sin, humankind put Jesus there: and what was Jesus response-To those very present that day, what did Jesus say? “Forgive them Father they don’t what they do”.

What does Jesus say today? “Forgive them Father they are with me”.

It is all one way traffic, God who loves his son, sends his son to die for those he loves. Jesus, in love of his father and of us-lets the sin of the world, our sin cause his death.

It all seems back to front land. In human reasoning anyway.

God sending his Son Jesus into the world. Those that receive him, not from their own will, but born of God, through the gift of faith-believing in his name, become the children of God-and saved. We hear this and we know it’s true. We don’t even have to think about it, like we know that wall is made of bricks, we just know it is.

Using human logic this story is unfathomable, but from the faith worked in us, it’s simple isn’t it?

We know that’s the story, that’s the big picture. If it’s that simple, then how come life can still seem so difficult?

Looking at it from a step back, that big picture: why do we worry or struggle with anything, just enjoy the ride.

But it’s not like that, is it?

Because we are still in the battle. The battle that when not seen at arm’s length, but up close and personal is much tougher.

The ongoing battle: Conflict, good versus evil, the light versus the darkness.

Yet we can still struggle, and sometimes big time. We can suffer from moments that threaten to crush us, the darkness seems strong, the darkness of our sin, temptations, and our flesh seem on constant attack.

It’s a battle that sometimes feels unwinnable, and it would be if it was left to us-we are not strong enough. So Christ fights for us-he is our hope, and our defence. He is our light in the darkness.

When sick, troubled or lonely in the night, we wait for the sun to rise in the east-we wait for those first rays of sunshine, because we know that while we’ll still carry our woes with us, they never seem quite so bad in the light of the day.

Like in those moments when we are spiritually haunted by our failings, our weaknesses, our sin-we cling to that light of Christ-even when we can’t seem to see that light in ourselves, we cling to it; we know it’s our only ray of hope.

We have many moments of joy, moments of clarity where we feel like we are all but in heaven, blessed moments to cherish.

But sometimes, in despair because of our sin, crushed by others and our own circumstances and actions, or in despair and great sorrow due to the death of a loved one, that place can seem a long way off.

Here, this side of heaven-we dwell in the light of our Savior Jesus, yet because we are still amongst the darkness, at times, just surviving in Christ can be enough.

I was reminded of this recently when I was reading of some United States troops serving in a particularly dangerous part of Afghanistan. One of the soldiers, when talking of the amount of colleagues he’s lost from walking on land mines said;

“The only way to survive mentally here is to celebrate the small things, and that small thing is surviving another day, that is a victory-because we know that the only safe piece of ground is that which is under your two feet”.

Sometimes it can come down to as simple as that, to face another day in Christ is a victory worth celebrating. He is the safe place where we stand.

In faith, be it in our moments of sheer joy or moments of great distress-we see the true light, the light of Christ in the darkness, our saving light.

In today’s Gospel we are told of the light of Christ and of the darkness of sin, those saved and those condemned. If you are like me this can make you feel a little uneasy, because not only do I not always dwell in the light, sometimes the light even seems to be a bit dull.

But that’s life. Everyday being a Christian, is not any different from our whole life as a Christian. We have ups and downs. One minute or one month we feel on top of this “being a Christian” thing, but the next minute or the next month we’re back to square one-seemingly in the darkness.

But that’s again the irony, in the darkness is where we see ourselves and it doesn’t look so good. Any light we had seems extinguished, like someone has turned off that little torch light we were trying to see with. But then in the darkness-when our little strand of light from three triple A batteries has gone-we see the splendor of a lighthouse, shining bright-showing us the way to safety.

Verse 21: “But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light”,

It’s not the being in the darkness-our sin that condemns, what condemns is refusing to come into the light of Christ. Refusing his offer of forgiveness.

Verse 21 continued: “so that it may be seen clearly that what he has done has been done through God”.

Are these good deeds God is talking about, yes because any good deed we do is not from us but from God, from the Holy Spirit working in us.

But more so, much more so-“what can be seen clearly that what we have done has been done through God” is his bringing us redemption-that’s the good deed, the good work-not something we’ve done, but by simply accepting Christ, sent by the Father to save us-to accept and trust in his “no questions asked forgiveness-to accept his offer of life.”

So “that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life”. In the original Greek text, how it is written has two meanings: Eternal life of course, but not a waiting and wondering-but a “done deal eternal life”-it’s already in the bag-so go forward without the burden of any doubt.

Groucho Marx once famously, ill and in hospital and reading the bible was asked why he was doing so, and he answered “he was looking for a loop hole”.

The love of God and forgiveness in Christ alone, that’s not a loop hole-but a never ending canyon.

The love of God to us. Daily and throughout our lives, we may spurn it, doubt it, not return it and not always understand it. But no matter what-God’s love remains resolute and unwavering.

We may wonder away from His love, but His love for us does not wander from us. A pastor once told me a story and it about sums it up.

A man who felt he had fallen out with his wife, one morning, wrote her a note saying so and left her and lived a life of selfish careless abandon: partying, seeing other ladies and being basically reckless.

Years later, after using others and being used himself; he started thinking of his wife of long ago. How she cared for him and how she had loved him, just as he was. (and) he came to wish for those days again.

He wrote her a letter telling of all the things he had done and of how he now felt. But he finished his letter with: “You may be re-married or forgotten me. Whatever the case I have no right to even ask you to see me again, and if you do not-it would be as it should be, and I will leave you alone. But I will be the train tomorrow that passes by the old oak tree on the edge of the farm. If you tie a red ribbon to it I will l can get off at the next station. If not I will continue on my way.

The next day on the train, the passenger next to him asked him of his unease. So he told him his story, and when the train was about to round the corner before the oak tree, he asked the man if he could look for him-as he wasn’t game.

When the train came around the corner, he heard the other man crying, and said “don’t worry for me, after what I’ve done, I did not even have the right to ask her to have me back”.

The other man said, “No look for yourself”: and as he opened his eyes-he saw the oak tree covered in red bows.

The Love Of God.

Looking at our life, do we have doubts of ourselves-how could we not?

Looking at Christ’s life, do we have doubts of God’s love for us, how could we?

Amen.

 

“Fair Crack of the whip”

Saturday, March 10th, 2012

John 2:13-22

 

“Fair Crack of the whip”

 

Have you ever been part of breaking the protocols or rules of the day? That’s a bit of a silly question because we are Australians and that’s part of our DNA.

But what if breaking these protocols, or these ways of doing things need changing? When you are the few against the majority it can be very difficult, if not downright dangerous.

In the American civil war, a complex war but essentially characterized about North Vs. South. The North that did not have slavery against the South that did. The General of the south Robert E. Lee was attending church. Upon getting up from his pew to take Holy Communion, he noticed that a slave who had started to get up, noticed him and sat back down. On his way past him, he put his hand on his shoulder and said “come up with me, before God we are all equal”.

That may not sound that daunting until we reflect that segregation based on the color of a person’s skin was still a problem for President John F Kennedy in the 60’s.

These two men took enormous risks, both politically and physically-because they challenged and broke the rules of the day.

In our Gospel today, we see Jesus breaking a cultural, religious and social way of doing things in his times.

Last week I mentioned a quote from the movie Jerry Maguire. This week another one from it comes to mind (I have actually watched more than one movie in my life). Jerry is working for this organization and in a moment of “inspiration”, writes a memo to the bosses and every employee stating everything that’s wrong in their workplace.

The next day, everyone’s slapping his back saying ÿer Jerry, great stuff”, then as he walks off they say to each other “gone by Friday”.

Jesus in his words and actions in today’s Gospel puts it all on the line. Seen later when the authorities use these actions and words against him in his trial to be sentenced to crucifixion.

Starting at verse 13: “Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business. When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables”.

Jesus is brandishing a whip. Remember in the Garden of Gethsemane when the guards come to arrest Jesus, Peter cuts off one of their ears with a sword to protect Jesus, in which Jesus tells him “to put his sword away”.

But here, Jesus has the whip out-he is not a happy man.

(and) to our ears, animals, doves and money changers-it seems a bit of a rabble-so it seems fair enough that Jesus has taken exception to all this-apart for one small matter-celebrating the Passover is, as recorded in Leviticus, as per God’s command.

Leviticus 23:4 “These are the feasts of the Lord, holy celebrations which you shall proclaim..On the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight is the Lord’s Passover…and you shall bring offerings..”

To understand why the Passover is such a big deal to the Jews, Jesus and indeed God himself we need to know the background.

To do so we go back to the book of Exodus.

God has enlisted Moses to be the middle man- to bring about the release of the Israelites who are captives-slaves in Egypt.

In short, Moses’ request for their release is declined by the Pharaoh. Then, in an effort to have the Pharaoh change his mind-God brings plaques upon the Egyptians. Our modern equivalent would be like our trade sanctions against rebel countries that won’t toe the line.

Firstly the rivers are turned to blood, so that it cannot be drank and the fish die. Then the place is overrun with frogs, then lice, flies, the livestock die, everyone gets painful boils, huge hail stones that kill everything not under cover, locusts and then pitch darkness for three days.

But after these nine plaques, the Pharaoh remains resolute. So God unleashes His piece of résistance. God instructs Moses to tell the Israelites that on the first month of the year on the tenth day, each household shall take an unblemished lamb and keep it until the fourteenth day, then they will kill and eat all of it with unleavened bread and put its blood on the doorposts of their houses.

Because that night: and let’s hear it from God himself: Exodus chapter 12, verse 12 “For I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both person and beast; and against all the God’s of Egypt I will execute judgment. Now the blood on your door frames shall be a sign. And when I see the blood, I will Passover you; and the plague shall not be on you”. God continues, “This day shall be to you a memorial: and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord throughout your generations. You shall keep it as a feast by an everlasting ordinance”.

As God had predicted, aftera tragedy of these proportions for the Egyptians-every family losing their firstborn-including the Pharaoh-the Israelites were not just released-the Pharaoh drove them out-enough was enough-no more.

The Israelites were released-free, and as commanded by God-every year in the temple the Passover was commemorated. That’s why it was such a big deal. So important that from all over Israel the people would journey to the temple in Jerusalem to make sacrifice’s like in the initial Passover.

Again, we have to understand the times; Israel in comparison to Australia is a small country, but not small when your Landcruiser is a donkey or just your two feet. Just getting to Jerusalem was a huge feat, or at least their feet probably were time they got there. So, they didn’t bring their animal sacrifices with them, they bought them when they got there.

What of the money changers? Again we must consider the times. These people from different locations traded in different currencies. So they would go to the money changers and exchange their currencies for the local currency, so they could purchase their sacrifices.

Just like if we went to England, we trade our Aussie Dollars for pounds.

So there’s a 101 of the Passover history, and the goings on all seem to make sense. Yet Jesus brings out the whip.

In Australian, when we get told off for what we think is not wrong-we may use the term “fair crack of the whip”.

But we see, indeed literally-it was a fair crack of the whip.

Because upon Jesus entering the house of God, not outside it, but in it he sees a market place. People not just undertaking commercial enterprises-which is bad enough, but also profiteering-ripping off people who come to worship.

He sees people and their actions getting in the way of true devotional worship-getting in the way between God and His people.

Fast forward two thousand years-to today’s times. As yet, thankfully I have never attended a church full of sheep, goats or doves about to be sacrificed.

Thankfully because they are no longer needed. Our unblemished lamb of sacrifice is Jesus himself.

Jesus is our Passover. In Jesus-our sins are passed over and we are free of them-released from their captivity.

We don’t come to church to bring-we come to church to receive. We don’t take to worship, we take from worship.

There’s a lovely article in this month’s Lutheran, and I quote:

“One morning I was all hot and bothered because the old people at the church had trampled all over my brilliant idea. Why are they so boring? Why aren’t they passionate about their faith? I railed at Miss Perry. Why don’t they ever do anything? Why do they think that being a Christian is just warming a pew on Sunday mornings? Ever so quietly, Miss Perry said, Linda, are you sure you will still be warming a pew when you’re their age? By then you’ll have experienced much heartache and disappointment, with people and with God. Are you sure you’ll be as strong in your faith then as you are now”.

Miss Perry has nailed it. Not because she told this young girl that enthusiasm is not good, because she didn’t. Of course we should always look at ways to connect with each other and the people around us. Always look at ways that might help bring and strengthen people’s, and our relationship with God. It’s an absolute yes to that.

But she has nailed two things-One: How our lives can be tough-it’s not just all smooth sailing, and our faith will be tested, and Two: to get through these times with our faith and trust in God intact can be quite a miracle. The miracle’s we receive in worship. Hearing the Word of God, absolution and forgiveness, Baptism and Holy Communion. Word and Sacrament is where God gives his life strengthening miracles to us.

Word and Sacrament-To the world, what these bring seem ridiculous. Even parts of the Christian church ridicule the truth by questioning and denying scripture and its teachings and promises.

These assaults on the Word of God and divine worship are from the same brush that Jesus encountered at the Passover.

As I said, the church must always look at ways of connecting, of connecting so people will come to know God. But the Church must also stand up for the truth. Stand for something or stand for nothing at all.

In the book of Revelations we are given an account of seven churches-their positives and their negatives, except for the one titled the lukewarm church. Chapter 3, verse 15: Ï know of your works, that are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth”.

 

Harsh words. Lukewarm, could this be like receiving the grace of God, his gifts we receive in worship in a “maybe they’ll help” manner.

In worship we hear and receive the Gospel. In Word and Sacrament we are given strength to believe, to be given faith and for our faith to be strengthened.

Faith like that of General Robert E Lee, essentially fighting for slavery and a slave-that both approached our Lord and Savior as equals. Equals that deserve crumbs yet receive a banquet.

Today, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has forgiven your sins and strengthened your faith. It’s a gift and a miracle beyond our understanding. In Christ alone, we are saved.

Martin Luther was prepared to die for that belief, Jesus Christ died for it to be truth. And we live because it is the truth. Amen.

You Had Me At Hello

Saturday, March 3rd, 2012

Mark 8:31-38

 
One cannot but feel for Peter and the disciples, and how they must have felt when we hear Jesus words to them “Get behind me Satan”. I’ve been called many things that haven’t always been pleasant, but thankfully that is not one of them.

But to Peter and the guys, “Satan”. The same guys who we know from earlier, when meeting Jesus for the first time: seemingly didn’t think twice- just gave up everything and followed him.

Starting Mark chapter 1, verse 16: “As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon (Peter) and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fisherman. ‘Come, follow me’, Jesus said, ‘and I will make you fishers of men’. At once they left their nets and followed him.

But now, looking at Peter Jesus says “get behind me Satan”, and in what seems like a stern lecture, follows with “you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men”,

and then to the crowd as well “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it”.

Seriously, they give up everything, then when trying to talk Jesus out of knowingly and purposely, like a lamb to the slaughter walking into a situation, where he’ll be set up, tortured and killed.

They get mentioned in the same breath as “Satan”.

Fair dinkum, in all seriousness, what do you think might be your response?

For me, maybe the term “thanks for nothing” might come to mind.

(and) in thinking that, right there, Jesus has got me-and anyone one else that may have felt the same way.

Our logical human response shows our focus, our focus on ourselves, or at the very least, we are thinking like Peter in human terms.

Human terms that appeal. Last week we heard in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus being tempted by the devil in the desert.

But Mark did not tell us of what the temptations were. Matthew does, and they don’t seem blasphemous or openly evil. But they are, because the devil is in the detail, or better said, in the subtlety.

Jesus is hungry, so is tempted to “tell these stones to become bread”. In our lives this equates to doubt sown about our physical needs, our retirement, our financial needs.

These needs are real, but doubt is sown to separate us from trust in God-to create a barrier.

Next, Jesus is tempted to deny the Word of God. After taking Jesus to the highest point of the temple overlooking the city, the devil says “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written that He will command his angels to lift you up in their hands so you will not strike your foot against a stone.” This is like a dare with logic.

For the Church today, this can be seen when we put our logic before the Word of God. So much so that the Word is not preached, taught or acted on in its totality.

It’s the temptation to not trust or depend totally in God’s ways, but ours.

Lastly we hear that Jesus was ‘offered’ “all the kingdoms of the world, if only he bow down and worship him”-the devil. Firstly it is ludicrous because it was not his to offer, but his temptation is against God himself, to defy God.

This temptation involved the purpose of Jesus actual coming into the world. Jesus came to redeem people, not to rule them. Satan’s suggestion to Jesus, and still followed by many today, required no suffering and death. Thankfully, Jesus chose God’s way, the way of the cross.

The path of Glory rather than that of a suffering servant.

I don’t think we need any examples of how that works out in our society, or we might be here all day.

These temptations appear attractive and “natural” and appeal to all “natural” human instincts and that is why they are so dangerous.

The ways of the world appeal to us naturally, the ways of God don’t, and left to our own devices, as God knew, that’s how it would have remained.

Something has to give in this stand-off, and someone did. God did.

God gave himself, His Son Jesus. Jesus, fully divine, yet fully human. Jesus the messiah, our Saviour, the divine one. The Son of God, yet the Son of God who felt hunger, pain and temptation. The Son of God who in the Garden asked “is there another way”. The saviour who had his mind on the things of God, our Saviour who denied himself and willingly walked to the cross for us that we may live, to re-unite us with the Father.

To not leave us to our own devices, but to leave us to his devices. His strength and His gifts.

The gift of Holy Communion. Where we receive the true body and blood of our Jesus Christ to strengthen our faith, to bring forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.

The gift of Baptism. To deliver us from death and the devil, to bring us forgiveness and grant salvation to all who believe as the Word and promise of God declare.

In Romans 6:4. St. Paul writes, “We are buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, that we too might walk in newness of life”. Did you hear that, “newness of life”?

What is this “newness of life”? The small catechism tells us clearly, that ‘It signifies that the old Adam in us, together with all sins and evil lusts, should be drowned by daily sorrow and repentance and be put to death, and that the new person should come forward daily and rise up, cleansed and righteous, to live forever in God’s presence”.

Daily sorrow and repentance, and the new person come forward daily.

Is this not what has been instructed in today’s Gospel. That “if anyone would come after me, they must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”. To have our minds on “divine things, not human things”.

These words from Jesus sound hard, sound impossible, sound like law, but come to life as Gospel. They bring freedom because they release us from ourselves. Release us from getting pulled along by the worlds offer and promise of self-gratification in “things”. Consumerism, that if not for Christ would imprison us.

In Adelaide, every Easter and Christmas there’s debate about opening the shops on day’s registered as public holidays. Comments like, we are backward compared to other states prop up every time.

Last year in the paper, there were numerous people who said they went on a trip interstate because there shops were open and Adelaide’s were not.

Seriously, is that where we are as a society?

In Christ we see these things-consumerism- for what they are. They are not what life is about. They are good servants, but not good masters. Christ is the life.

In Christ we are free and given life-he is our need and our focus.

So, is everybody ready to deny themselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus? To lose our lives for Jesus and the Gospel?

Well thankfully we’ve made a good start and there’s not a colosseum with hungry lions in sight.

You have made a good start because you have done it today. Because, if you had your sights on human things, you may have slept in, or gone shopping in instead of coming to church.

But you’re here, because your sights are on divine things. Today we join in worship.

We thank Jesus by accepting his grace in confession and absolution and the body and the blood of Christ in Holy Communion. These are divine things.

Even more, those who have children, children that God loves with a passion-you brought them here today, in Christ’s presence. Just like you did when you carried them to baptism. You are serving Christ and the Gospel as he has asked.

Unfortunately, there are others, others that Christ loves that are yet to know him. The people we meet and work with everyday. Play sport with, socialise with. Our friends, work mates and even those that we don’t see eye to eye with.

Each one loved by God. Each one that God wants that they know His peace and his love.

Keep our minds on divine things, and die to self and serve Jesus and the Gospel. That’s where it’s at-in the people he has brought before us in our daily lives. That’s our calling, that through us-they may hear of Christ, to be drawn closer to him.

It is amazing that sinners like us, in Christ are Saints. Forgiven.

(and) it is amazing that we, are living examples of God’s love and that we are involved with Him in his work. His desire to meet those he has placed before us.

But at times, serving those before us in and with the Gospel can seem like a very thankless task. And it is,

if our focus is on us getting or seeing the results. That’s the beauty of our Lord, we just go about our business endeavouring to live like a child of Christ, like the disciples, we don’t rush ahead of Christ, we follow Christ.

(and) in following Christ-we don’t see our love of all those we meet, we see Christ’s love of them.

Like the disciples, we follow Christ and we see him meet the hurt, the down and outs-the homeless, addicted, prostitutes and so forth. We see him meet these people-and see through His eyes. His eyes that look beyond their outwardly condition.

Whose eyes see and understand how easy it is for fragile humans to be caught up in ways of life and actions that “somehow” just seen to creep in. Through Christ’s eyes-we see what he sees-

not a looser, not a person that should just get over it, and not a person that’s got what they deserve.

We see him looking and seeing a beautiful child.

We see him weeping in sadness in their pain and loneliness,

and we see his happiness and his smile.

His happiness and smile, and the happiness of the angels and all the company of heaven when just one more person comes to faith. Faith in his promises.

Serving our neighbour is not a thankless task, because serving our Lord is not a thankless task. Not for the thanks he will give us in return for our service, but for the thanks he has already given us.

The thanks he has already given us?

But Isn’t it the thanks we give Christ?

It’s a yes to both.

In the film Jerry Maquire starring Tom Cruise and Renee Zellweger, after a break up in their romance, Tom returns, says hello and begins to apologise for his errors. Renee, stops him apologising and says “you had me at hello”.

She didn’t need the apologies. Just him returning was enough.

Following Christ and serving his people is not a task, it’s a response for his love that we have already received.

When one of his children return home, when one of his children bow down and ask for Mercy for mistakes, guilt, greed, mistakes and flaws. When one of his children ask for mercy during times of hardship. Christ says to them, says to us: thank you my dear child, but you had me at “Lord have mercy”. Amen. “