Archive for February, 2013

Meeting the Boss

Sunday, February 24th, 2013

Genesis 15:1-12,17,18

“Free tickets to meet the Boss”

In the reading from Genesis we are told of God and the certainty of His promises when he makes a covenant with a man we know of as having great faith, Abraham.

In a vision, the Lord came to an ageing Abraham without children to announce that his offspring would be in number like the stars in the sky-and in his trust of God’s words, in his faith in God he was a righteous man. Yet ironically this man of great faith who trusts God with this miraculous promise, when told by God that he will possess the land he stands upon asks “how am I to know that?” And far from telling him to get a grip, God acts by giving Abraham a covenant in a manner known in the day where the participants would cut animals in half, then walk together between them as a pledge that such a fate would befall any of them who breached whatever the covenant or promise was between them.

Yet here, by walking through the animals alone, God puts all the responsibility upon himself. He gives Abraham a promise that he, God the Father cannot even break no matter what may take place in Abraham’s life from that point on. This is a big promise. There’s no only if you do this or don’t do that’s. This is God’s Word set in stone irrespective of circumstances. What’s more, God makes his covenant with Abraham while he’s in a deep sleep. A covenant with Abraham, a covenant with his descendants and a covenant that has flowed through to us while we slept when in Romans chapter eight verse five, we hear that:

“God demonstrated his love for us, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”.

Abraham was called to faith and given an unbreakable promise due to his faith alone.

Christians are called to faith and given forgiveness and eternal life due to faith alone.

After Abraham received his promise and though this Holy man also made many human mistakes along the way-God stuck by His Word.

We have received our promise in Christ, and though we make our mistakes-Christ remains resolute in his promise that in faith alone are we saved, and like Abraham, the apostle Paul and the repentant King David, bow to our knees in the realization of the amazing grace we have received and pray that we too can be his messengers. His messengers to those like us who know doubt, loneliness and hurt. But his messengers who know the peace of grace amongst the chaos. His messengers who with Christ go into the chaos that others may too may see and be guided by Christ’s light on their travels.

In 1982 Bruce Springsteen released his fourth and critically acclaimed album titled “Nebraska” One such critic wrote that “The songs deal with the ordinary, blue collar characters that face a challenge or turning point in their lives”. (The last song on the album) “Reason to believe is like the others which are largely of a bleak tone. Reason to believe is a complex narrative that renders its title phrase into mocking sarcasm and unlike previous albums, very little salvation and grace is present within the songs”.

Bruce or the “Boss” as he is known truly seems to understand life’s struggles and that his songs on this album, and if fact that most of his songs are of the ordinary and marginalized I do not argue. But I was a little thrown by his understanding of “Reason to believe” as lacking in the presence of salvation and grace because it was one of the first songs that attracted me to his music-because to me that was what it is about.

It goes like this:

“Mary Lou loved Johnny with a love mean and true. She said “Baby I’ll work for you every day and bring my money home to you. One day he up and left her and ever since that she waits down at the end of that dirt road for young Johnny to come back.

“Take a baby to the river Kyle William they called him. Wash the baby in the water, take away Kyle’s sin. In a whitewash shotgun shack an old man passes away. Take his body to the graveyard and over him they pray. Congregation gathers down by the riverside. Preacher stands with his Bible, groom stand’s waiting for his bride. Congregation gone and the sun sets behind a weepin’ willow tree. Groom stands alone and watches the river rush on effortlessly.

Lord and he’s wonderin’ where can his baby be. Still at the end of every hard earned day people find some reason to believe”

That Baptism and a Christian funeral are mentioned and yet is described as lacking grace and salvation is perplexing for any Christian and why that critic would view this as a song of mocking and sarcasm can only be based on the book-end lyrics where we hear of a lady who gives everything to her love only for him to leave her, and of a young man that is abandoned by the love of his life at the marriage alter. Yes, if we were in these situations it would be easy to join the critic in doubting our Lord’s governance or at the very least, thoughts of “why or where are you know God” might come to pass.

Yet far from sarcasm I would suggest this is deeply theological when we see how these two people respond to such great hurt and abandonment, not with anger or rejection toward those who have left them, but with hope.

“One day he up and left her and ever since that she waits down at the end of the road for Johnny to come back” and “The groom stands alone wonderin’ where his baby can be”.

Is this not the love and hope that a parent would feel for their runaway or lost child? Is this not the biblical story of the father who waits for his prodigal son to come home from in the big city in despair, and is this not our Lord who sees us taking every wrong direction away from him, yet never turns away, but works and lives in the hope that his children will return home.

Jesus Christ our Saviour walked to the cross so that he can walk with us and guide us home, that God the Father who waits at the end of our dusty tracks sees us coming and welcomes us with his words from revelations chapter seven:

You have come out of the great tribulation and been washed clean in the blood of the lamb. Never again will you hunger. Never again will you thirst. The sun will not beat down on you nor any scorching heat and I have wiped every tear away from your eyes”.

And these are not flimsy words; these are of an unbreakable promise as given to Abraham for God follows in the book of Revelations with dire warnings for anyone who adds or detract from these truths.

Washed clean by the blood of the lamb and justified in faith in Christ alone is your covenant. A promise that no humans, forces of darkness nor God himself can break. A covenant promise to you today and a covenant promise that Christ wants others to know when he says: “Come, let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life”.

Ten or so years ago over a few beers and a couple of music DVD’s I introduced a friend of mine to the music of Bruce Springsteen and that night after I professed my desire to see him in concert if he ever comes to Australia again my friend said, when he does we are both going. A few months ago Bruce’s Australian concert tour tickets became available and while considering going I thought of the price, if I’ll have time and even the effort involved and decided I will forgo the last opportunity I would have to see him live. Then my friend rang me and reminded me of that night ten or so years ago.

So on the 22nd of March we’re off to Sydney, after mind you he travels from South Australia just to get to Dubbo. A man of his word, that has kept his word at far greater cost than me and I know that through him I’ll do what I’ve wanted to do for a long, long time and while if it wasn’t for him I would have missed my opportunity- it cannot make me feel better of him because I don’t think that is possible.

And so the Lord to us. He loves us before our good works, but he also loves those that wait yet to know him, who need to know the grace and hope he offers.

The Lord heard our cries and came to us, the Lord hears the cries of our neighbors and though in faith we are already saved, invites us to travel with him that while on our journey, others may see his light and be guided home to meet the loving Father.

On his death bed, John Newton the author of amazing grace farewelled his earthly life with these final words “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things, I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Saviour”. That is true for us, and true for those that Christ asks we shine his light upon.

 

“Wounded or Broken”

Saturday, February 16th, 2013

Luke 4:1-13

“Wounded or Broken”

No doubt you have read in the papers of the extraordinary allegations of the amount of football clubs in both Aussie Rules and Rugby League being accused of using performance enhancing drugs. It has been like an avalanche and I wonder, if the amount of people and clubs involved is proven correct, just what will the authorities do? We’ve seen in previous year’s clubs having been stripped of past premierships because they have broken the salary cap, so what do the authorities do in this situation?

Firstly I must say, at the time of writing this these allegations have not been proven, but if they are, with whole clubs involved, I have to wonder if the players even knew what they were being given was wrong.

Who knows? But I do know that we are all tempted when something we desire most, is placed before us in arms reach.

In years past a friend of mine visited his client who raced greyhounds. At the conclusion of their business talks and being shown around his clients personal greyhound racing track he asked of his training methods and was told that when the trainer wanted to “get a dog up”, he would tie a real cat to the lure, so that in practice when the dog caught up to it, there would be a fierce and deadly confrontation. Then on race day-the dog was primed to win thinking that is was still going to chase a real cat. After my friend questioned his training methods the trainer simply said “that if I want firsts and not fourths, that’s what I have to do.

The problem with temptation is that it can be very subtle and we can self-justify it. Every one’s doing it, it’s not hurting anyone or it’s not a big deal. And that may be the so at the time, but just like someone embezzling their employer or meddling with addictive substances, it often starts out small- but ends big to where the person looks in the mirror, trapped, disgusted and asks “how did it come to this”. Many become wounded and live with those consequences, the guilt, self-pity and anger for the remainder of their lives. And some are broken, and even contemplate taking their lives to end it.

And that’s the dark sides plan, to wound and crush so that our eyes are taken of Christ and to offer earthly alternatives that seduce and seem logical. Yet amongst all our errors and self- seeking, Christ offers life. While we walk with our wounds, he carries us and when broken, he doesn’t offer death, but life.

When I was very young I was aware of the trauma Jesus suffered but I used to think “how life changing it would be to know for sure like Jesus did, of the guarantee of going to heaven”. I would think if I knew that as a certainty I wouldn’t have to worry about living up to expectations, worry about what people thought and be just free to simply help others and not worry about my stuff. I thought if only I knew it for sure, I would be free of myself”.

Now I look at myself, the accumulation of sins-this ogre of a person and only wish I had the heart of that little boy. It seems the older I’ve got, the more aware of myself I’ve become-and it isn’t nice and I don’t like it. I have seemed to get worse, not better. Yet ironically, in that, somehow against all logic I have come to know the truth. That in my wounds of sin and brokenness, that one thing I used to think- that if I only knew for sure I would wake up in heaven after my last day has been answered. Not answered by human thought, but answered by Christ.

Christ who in today’s Gospel when after his baptism is taken to the wilderness to suffer and be tempted. Like when we are wounded and tempted so was Jesus. When he was hungry and starving he is tempted to use his powers to feed himself. He is offered the logical human way of saving his people by coming as a warrior king. And is told the truth, that he has the powers of heaven to do it. All things offered are logical to human thought. Yet Jesus answers with scripture to deny his tempter. Answers which are illogical to human thought so that he can achieve the most unhuman thing that the world has ever heard. That regardless of your place in the world, regardless of your trailer load of moments that you have fell too, he says believe in me-that I have come to bring forgiveness. Because I feel the sorrow and anger you carry. I weep because I know the truth and I only want you to know the truth-that you can live life knowing that you will be with me on your last day. I do not lie, I came to bring you forgiveness, you, you a sinner-I forgive you.

I have beaten sin and death for you. So lay your burdens at my feet-for you are free. Live your life. Live your life knowing that when it doesn’t seem possible-that you are saved. Live your life knowing that when it seems life is truly a blessing-enjoy it without guilt, and know that you are saved.

In regards to those sporting allegation’s I mentioned earlier. The one that I particularly noted was that some individuals were given these performance enhancing drugs by people with the purpose of then blackmailing them into acting as they wish on the sporting field so that they could place informed betting on the games.

Attacking one area to get at another. Using something that they know the person wants more than anything to trap them is not knew and is the tool of God’s opponent. It’s a trap to make us believe in our circumstances and our feelings up and against what Christ tells us. The forces of darkness tempt us, and then when we succumb, accuse us. Or said better, tells us the truth-that we have failed God by breaking his law.

He uses scripture to assault even the most knowledgeable bible scholar with the truth, that they-that we have failed, and that in knowing that his allegations are true, we become wounded. Wounded that we die a slow death when we start thinking that our circumstances and feelings are the basis of our logic-and that in that logic we are beyond our Lord’s forgiveness and salvation. Or wounded and like a trapped animal and fight back and try and win our place in heaven back with our good deeds and pious lives.

Wounded in our lives we fight back-fight fire with fire. Make our own rules based on our situations and feelings. Or wounded as the boat takes on water and simply resign to the fact and go down with the ship. This happens in our individual lives and in the life of the church. These attacks are not of flesh and blood. These are spiritual attacks to wound both people and the church and mislead them away from the truth. To show our situation to us to cause a re-action based on ourselves and our society that leads us away from the truth, away from the words of our Lord and Saviour.

Jesus, fully divine yet fully human in the desert was offered by the devil using scripture, a way out. What’s more a human logical way out. Yet Jesus who felt pain, temptation, hunger, thirst and all the tribulations we suffer withstood and answered not from his human self, but from the word of God. To instead of falling to the situation at hand, called on the word of God for the answer.

Jesus trusting in his Fathers words bore his cross to the end to bring to the world the truth of his Fathers love. His love that we cannot fully understand. His love that is illogical to human thought. His love that the devil hides behind our human feelings, failures and wounds.

His attacks to hide and distort the truth are particularly strong against those in Christ, and those coming to Christ. It is a fierce fight that we cannot fight against with our thoughts. It can only be fought against by relying upon what Christ has told us, regardless of how we see ourselves.

The devil tells us of what we know of ourselves while hiding the truth of Christ. Jesus tells us the truth of himself that overshadows what we know of ourselves.

Jesus says be baptised and believe and you are saved-yet human logic is played on to question this.

Jesus says I accept you as you are. I have brought you forgiveness and salvation-yet human logic says it can’t be that easy.

And finally our human logic is right, because it wasn’t easy. Was it easy for the Father to see the pain His sinless son endured? Was it easy for Jesus to not call down the angels when on the cross? Is it easy for our Saviour to see those he loves still suffering in not knowing the truth?

The forgiveness and salvation we have been given is no cheap grace-it came at a great cost. At the cost of Jesus Christ the living God who dared trust the truth of his Father and not that of human thoughts.

Jesus the Saviour who asks we not base the truth on our own understandings, situations or doubts, but on what he has done for us. To fight worldly human truths with his truth by promising that:

I see your afflictions, sin and your pain. I see your longing soul and the paths the destroyer has taken you. But I have taken on myself your weaknesses. When you cry out to me I save you in your distress. Come unto me all that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

For when you were enemies, you were reconciled to my Father in my death, and being reconciled in me you have been saved. Trust in me with all your heart and not your own understanding or feelings, for I tell you the truth:

I have delivered your soul from the battle that was against you and delivered you from the hands of the wicked and sanctify you with the truth, that I died for you and no one will ever take you from me.

So be strong and of good courage, fear not nor be afraid for I go with you and will not forsake you or fail you. Should you fall, I will pick you up. You are mine and where I am, you to shall be also.

 

“U2 maybe stuck in a moment”

Saturday, February 2nd, 2013

“U2 may be stuck in a moment”Luke 4:21-30

If you go into most Christian book shops you will find rubber wrist bands with the initials WWJD. As a reminder, these in themselves are good for when those tough or confusing situations arrive, that we should stop and think “what would Jesus do” in such a situation? It’s a good question, but what if the answer to yourself is against what you perceive as right by societies standards, is against what will acceptable to your social group, or even against what you perceive as what’s best for you-where “what Jesus would do” will come at a personal cost of giving something away, be it security, following instead of being followed, being judged unfairly or treated badly.

You have two sandwiches and a hungry person asks for one and you ask yourself “What would Jesus do?” But then, up the road another downtrodden looking person asks for a few dollars to buy a pie and without any conversation think, “they will only spend it on booze anyway” but then ask yourself “what would Jesus do?

You’re in a country blessed with free government and security. A country blessed with natural resources and even at the minimal level, is seen by many as a land of opportunity. But then others from lands where due to their birth status are given little in life, hear of your way of life and desire to be part of it and personally ask you, can I join you in your country so that I can make a better life for myself and my family? “What would Jesus do”?

In your work place you have been wronged, snubbed, talked about by colleagues and badly treated. Or worse, the same in your family or your church, and then we ask ourselves, “What will I do?”

“What would Jesus do” is a good question to ask ourselves, but we should only ask it if we want to hear the answer-because the answer may not be what we want to hear. Just as when we ask that other hard question, that if Jesus was walking the earth now and preaching his radical Gospel for the first time like he did 2,000 years ago with his messages of humility, turning the other cheek, forgiving others even when they are wrong and you are right, or even asking you to follow him in the sureness of being ridiculed, imprisoned, beaten and even being killed for doing nothing wrong. Would you receive him warmly? Would you look the other way and continue in life as if he weren’t there? Or ridicule him as an imposter, or even look to get him out the way for good?

If we ask ourselves that question seriously, it is a tough question. It certainly is for me because if I answer no to the “What would Jesus do questions” which are simple in comparison, how could I possibly think I would say yes to the Lord asking of me the same but also much, much more.

Would I, would we be different to those in today’s Gospel message, who upon hearing him preach of inclusiveness instead of exclusiveness, who preached not of their perceived rights, but by quoting scripture preached of the “right thing to do”, like them would we base our decisions on self and preconceived notions, and like them, although it was against their law and the very crux of their belief system, that on the Sabbath of all days, they would look to assassinate him.

Jesus preaches love, not of self: but of others. Jesus teaches not wanting our way: but his way, which is doing what’s best for others. Jesus teaches that should we be wronged intentionally or unintentionally, instead of returning fire in hurt or anger, but to put ourselves in their shoes-to see they are not perfect. Jesus asks us to see “the stick in our own eye before the speck in others”. We all know this is where Jesus stands and unfortunately for me, he means it. Unfortunate for me because at some time I have failed every person I have ever met. I’ve walked past those put before me, I’ve given myself excuses for returning fire with fire towards people or giving some of their own back and yet worst of all, I know I wanted too, and then I see the truth. That at the very least, if I was present 2,000 years ago and Jesus was being marched too the cross-at the very least, I see myself looking the other way.

I see myself in times of war with men of their own free will boarding a boat to Gallipoli, the battle fields of France or Vietnam, yet I don’t see myself with them.

I see myself living in a country where to hold the Christian faith sees them set upon, tortured and killed, yet I don’t see myself holding firm in the faith with them.

I see myself along with my Christian brothers and sisters in the Colosseum being asked to renounce the faith or be fed to the lions, yet I only see them in the arena. Then I wonder of the future, and see myself in a world that may yet repeat its past to where that in order to spread the word of God in a Godless world, would mean giving up the right of salary and financial security, yet can still see myself basing decision’s to take “a call” of ministry to other parishes based on my wisdom, and not that of God’s.

I see what’s gone before and what may be ahead, but like parents in the grip of addiction and wanting to spend their money to feed the children, they cannot as they are stuck in a moment that they can’t get out. That like a person in depression and of hearing their friends truthfully telling them of their worth and knowing those words to be true and that their own negative thoughts of themselves are irrational, they are still stuck in that moment that they can’t get out. And I hear Christ telling me “to be in the world but not of the world”, yet I see myself stuck in my moment “of the world”, that I can’t seem to get out of, and sometimes don’t even want to get out of.

In 1984, along with a few thousand others, on the grounds of the Memorial Drive tennis courts in Adelaide I saw a young man named Michael Hutchence perform in front of his band INXS, and that he and his band would later become one of the greatest bands in the world performing in sold out concert arena’s such as Wembley stadium in front of 74,000 people did not surprise.

Michael was a man of rare musical genius and in 1990 along with band member Andrew Farriss wrote a song called “the stairs” about hardship and of a person trying to hang on and survive while considering suicide:

“The nature of the tragedy is chained around your neck ……. Are you sure you don’t care. There are reasons here to give your life and follow in your way. The passion lives to keep the faith. Though all are different, all are great”.

On 6 February 1998, after the New South Wales State Coroner presented his report that ruled that Michael’s death was from suicide while depressed and under the influence of drugs and alcohol, his friend Bono from U2, sang this of him

“I will not forsake the colors that you bring. But the nights you filled with fireworks, they left you with nothing. I am still enchanted by the light you brought to me. I listen through your ears, and through your eyes I can see. …I know it’s tough, and you can never get enough of what you don’t really need. You’ve got to get yourself together, (because) you’ve got stuck in a moment and you can’t get out”.

Michael had the world at his feet and we wonder how it could have got to this and maybe even place judgement on him like when we “are stuck in our moment” and people are quick to judge us, and we too wish someone would understand and stand up and say of us like Bono did of Michael:

“I listen through your ears, and through your eyes I can see, (and) I know it’s tough.

We are all stuck in our moments that we may fight, but can’t get out of. Moments where we judge, moments where we react not how Jesus would, where we hear the truth, yet react like those against Jesus.

Stuck in our moment where we ask ourselves “What would Jesus do?” Yet do not heed the answer. Stuck in our moment where we see our errors and weaknesses, but nevertheless hope that someone “Will listen through our ears and see through our eyes and see that it’s tough” and answer that call from Christ, to not discard-but bring us in. To not push down-but to lift us up. To see us as Christ does, flawed, not perfect and in need and yet respond to us as Christ does-to bring hope to the hopeless and help us on our way home. Pray we receive this in our times of need and pray we have the strength of spirit, to perceive that need in others. Amen.