Archive for June, 2014

We all have our song to sing

Saturday, June 28th, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

“I walked through a county courthouse square
On a park bench, an old man was sittin’ there.
I said, “Your old court house is kinda run down,
He said, “Naw, it’ll do for our little town”.
I said, “Your old flag pole is leaned a little bit,
And that’s a ragged old flag you got hangin’ on it”.
He said, “Have a seat”, and I sat down,
“Is this the first time you’ve been to our little town”
I said, “I think it is”
He said “I don’t like to brag, but we’re kinda proud of
That Ragged Old Flag”

The opening lyrics to Johnny Cash’s song a “Ragged old Flag”.

A song of patriotism as seen through this flag of stars and stripes that has been present throughout the many wars and difficulties experienced by the United States of America, and after metaphorically listing the many hits it’s taken finishes with:

“She’s been abused,
She’s been burned, dishonored, denied an’ refused,
And the government for which she stands
Has been scandalized throughout out the land.
And she’s getting thread bare, and she’s wearin’ thin,
But she’s in good shape, for the shape she’s in.
Cause she’s been through the fire before
and i believe she can take a whole lot more.

Great lyrics. Poetry. Words that if I was an American would let me raise my head when the storms of the world and life intend otherwise.

We all have our song to sing where we have hung tough against the odds. Racing towards what awaits to assist in a road accident, when in our whole self we would rather race from.

To hold firm and drop off your young child at their first day of child care or school even though your heart is breaking because of their anxious state and pleading of being elsewhere.

To see those we love in pain and sit with them in their last hours, and see your mother weeping at their grave.

We’ve all been there and we’ll be there again, where again we’ll feel those words as like Elvis Presley, that

“You know Lord I’ve been in a prison
For something that I never done
It’s been one hill after another
I’ve climbed them all one by one

But this time, Lord you gave me a mountain
A mountain you know I may never climb
It isn’t just a hill any longer
You gave me a mountain this time”

Like our physical pain thresholds differ, so to do our emotional pain thresholds differ and for some a hill may be a mountain and for others a mountain a hill and though we may through sheer personal gut wrenching perseverance and determination climb that hill, sometimes we are given a mountain that we cannot climb.

Those words of Johnny Cash: that,

“She’s been abused,
She’s been burned, dishonored, denied an’ refused,
She’s getting thread bare, and she’s wearin’ thin,
Given our personal mountain this could be us. Like in our Western world so could it be our Church, the Christian churches. Yet us in the Church, and the Church in us. Yet us in Christ, and Christ in us we follow on:

But she’s in good shape, for the shape she’s in.
Cause she’s been through the fire before
and i believe she can take a whole lot more.”

A home is not made from bricks and mortar, but from love united and pain shared.

So too is the church not of earthly structure, but of Christ received.

Christ received on our week day hills and mountains. Christ uniting Him-self to us in His love, and Christ uniting Him-self to us in our hurts.

Come what may, be we threadbare and wearin thin, Jesus Christ our Saviour 2,000 years ago was nailed to a cross that whether we be young or old we can lift our heads and see the risen Christ with us today.

With us today walking next us over our hills and carrying us up our mountains.

With us today reaching out His nailed pierced hands that though ours may be young and strong, or old and wrinkled, ours will never need be pierced for he has taken our sin on himself.

Each of us has our own song to sing, and be it of joy or sorrow-it is a song we should sing from the top of those mountains we have scaled-because on those mountains past we have come to know the Lord. To know our Lord and what He has done for us and see clearly:

“On a hill far away an old rugged cross,
The emblem of suff’ring and shame;
And we love that old cross where the dearest and best
For a world of lost sinners was slain.

So we’ll cherish …….and we will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it some day for a crown.

That old rugged cross, so despised by the world,
Has a wondrous attraction for us;
For the dear Lamb of God left His glory above
To bear it to dark Calvary.

On that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,
A wondrous beauty we see,
For ’twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died,
To pardon and sanctify me and you.

To the old rugged cross we will ever be true;
Its shame and reproach gladly bear;
Then He’ll call us some day to our home far away,
Where His glory forever we’ll share. Amen.

Got it all together?

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

Think of a person you know, an everyday type of person; a person to whom you look as a role model.

This person is someone that you may have had dealings with,
but then again maybe they’re not.

They might be someone you have read about, or seen on television. They might be one of your parents, or grandparents.

This person might be a friend or someone with whom you’d like to be friends.

Perhaps they are someone with confidence, or wealth, a healthy lifestyle, successful in whatever they do, or they seem to be at peace with themselves.

Whoever this person might be, you see them as one who has it all together.
They are lords of their lives, it seems. You see them as masters of their domain.

We don’t use the language of lords much these days, when speaking of everyday people.

We no longer use the term to honour those whom we respect, and we don’t use it as a name for the rulers of our country, or for landholders, as they still do in other parts of the world.

Nor do we have a great cause to ponder the function of masters and slaves.

We might hear the word master when talking about someone skilled at the top of their trade, or when master is used as a definition of a principal, such as a master bedroom or a master builder.

When we uphold these role models as masters of their domains, or as lords of their lives;

we receive a terrible blow when these people begin to fade and struggle with life,

or when their domain comes crashing down around their ears.

When death comes to those we love and look up to, it usually hits hard.

Or when the person we have upheld as such a good example, is not who they first appeared,

the let down can leave us feeling deflated.

A harder shock for us all is when we find life harder and harder to master.

Our bodies and our wills seem to enslave us.

We find that we can’t do what we know we should be doing. Or perhaps we shudder when we find out someone else looks up to us.

Disgusted, perhaps you think, “If only they knew what I’m really like!”

We humans are very good at making ourselves slaves,

belittling ourselves, and burdening ourselves or others by our misconceived ideas as to who and what is worthy of lordship.

When we make these types of judgement, the very elements of life we uphold as being necessary, become the very things killing us and driving us to despair.

The best example of this is at funerals.

While hearing the deceased person eulogised, thoughts can arise that either crush you or confuse you.

As you listen you might wish you were as good as the person who has passed on, but go away crushed and downhearted.

Or you might wonder if you are at the right funeral, thinking to yourself, “Hang on, this person wasn’t as good as what they are being made out to be!”

And so we arrive at the reality of life.

This reality is revealed for every person at their death. Unfortunately though, it’s too late for the revelation to do anything, once we die.

However, for Christians, we who believe in, hold onto, and remain in our baptism, the reality is daily revealed why we die but also who is really worthy of being eulogised in our death, and in our being raised to eternal life.

Therefore, we find that baptism and funerals are inseparably joined.

And in the inseparability is the need for us to remain with Jesus Christ given at baptism, who is faithfully walking with us every day of our lives, and willing us to trust him for salvation even in our last breath of earthly life.

Death, and our need for baptismal living, reveals that no person can be lord of their lives, and that any mastery of one’s domain is temporary at best.

In fact we hear from Saint Paul that in our original condition we can only master one thing — that is sin leading to death.

We hear in Romans 5:19-21… For just as through the disobedience of the one man (that is Adam) the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man (Jesus Christ) the many will be made righteous. The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Paul then goes on to speak of our struggle against sin and the reality in which we live as believing baptised children of God.
He says… 1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

5 If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7 because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.

8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:1-11)

No longer do we have to eulogise or uphold the things that end in death;

rather we can give all glory to Jesus Christ whose life we have received in baptism.

In other words we uphold and remain in the only thing that ends in life, our baptism into Jesus’ death.

In baptism we no longer have a master standing over us, enslaving us.

But we now have a Saviour who faithfully stands and has mastered sin and death in us.

In the gospel we hear,

“A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. (Matthew 10:24-25a)

We have already seen that Jesus is not our master in the religious sense.

We are not bound again as slaves doing works for righteousness.

But Jesus is our role model, the only worthy role model.

We look to Jesus’ baptism as our example as we hear John the Baptist declare,

“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Matthew 3:11)

Jesus was baptised with water and the Holy Spirit came,

we too are baptised with water and the Word of God, and the Holy Spirit came.

Jesus endured a baptism of fire ending in death at the cross, and we too will face many fiery trials in this life ending in death.

This is the cross we all must bear. But, like our teacher, we will be raised to life, because this teacher now lives in us.

His death has mastered our sin and our death. Sin and death have no power. They now are dying slaves of Christ; serving him in us so we might have life with him forever. Amen.
Lord Jesus Christ, you are Lord of lords, and you are master of all dominions, powers, and authorities,

and yet you live in us and daily win the battle of sin and death in us.

Thank you precious Lord Jesus, not only do we abide in you, but you faithfully abide in us. Amen.

An offer too good to refuse

Saturday, June 14th, 2014

“An offer too good to refuse”

Matthew 28:16-20

Saturday morning, at the end of the Australia vs. Chile world cup soccer game in which we lost 3-1, an interviewer remarked to the Aussie goal scorer Tim Cahill that “though they had lost, he had played a great game.”

He responded “to play these games for Australia is a great honour” and then speaking metaphorically finished with “and when you’re invited, you have to turn up.”

What an honour it would be to represent our country, even if only just once in soccer, test cricket, rugby league or nik, nat, paddywhack.

To be invited and “turn up” as if our life depended on it.

What an honour it would be to soar to such heights and see all the hard work and the honing of skill had been worth it and be amongst the best of the best.

For most of us, those days have long gone and we never got to send back a RSVP and so slip back into our day to day “grind”.

If it was a dream, that’s all it was. Unlucky, didn’t want it hard enough or probably just not good enough.

Sounds like the story of my life. Maybe yours too. Not good enough, but seemingly to have been “good” enough to given an honour so much more greater and more precious than we can ever imagine when Christ tells us, that in him having been given “All authority in heaven and earth”, has turned to us and said so now you, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

Jesus him very self has sent out the invite and we need to “turn up as if our life depended on it.”

So we suit up and break from the huddle ready to break through the lines, don the baggy green of righteousness ready to take on the 150 plus kilometre thunderbolts of life and “turn up.”

And then ready to rock and roll we have our Luther moment where the powers of darkness come to us as they did to him mocking and ridiculing our aspirations with taunts of “who do you think you are,” “you’re not good enough-your nothing,” and worst “you yourself are just another hopeless sinner.”

1st Peter tells us that “our enemy the devil” with his tricks of the trade of deception and lies “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” So Peter adds be alert, vigilant and of sober mind that we hold firm.

Deceit, trickery and lies-so be alert to fend off these false accusations. We can do that because we know the truth of how this plays out. The results are in and Christ has won and we can see the lies for what they are. Faced with lies through personal strength of character and in good conscience we can turn away and think say what you want. But it’s not so easy when the lies aren’t lies, but the hard faced gut wrenching truth and see that our character is not of strength, but at best a flawed and blurred imagine of what we wish we were.

We like Luther face the truth “who do you think you are you flawed sinner to think that you could ever possibly help God do his business,” and yet, we too like Luther have been given authority to not run, but to turn and rebut not the character assignation, but to rebut the result and respond, “yes it is true, but I’m a forgiven sinner baptised and saved by grace.

Martin Luther when still overwrought by his sins and failures found the Gospel of Jesus Christ for himself-because he had too, and having found it became a great servant for the Lord. Eleven disciples, having run from Christ in his time of need are gathered together, hiding and poor in spirit from knowing they had left Him, feeling inadequate, confused and doubting. Then Jesus comes to them and says peace be with you and sends these same men without phone, Facebook or the world wide web at their disposal to take His message of forgiveness that they came to known first hand that a Church be built. The Church that now touches virtually every nation on earth.

C.S. Lewis said that “Miracles are a retelling of the letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some to see.”

In knowing of Christ’s great love and His gift to us of being saved through faith in Him, and through faith in Him alone without any prerequisites of our own goodness or abilities may not seem like miracle, but the faith to believe it most certainly is.

Martin Luther, eleven disciples, you and me have all been given the prerequisite to go and make disciples and to bring them to baptism. The prerequisite that yes it may be true that we may seem to have little to offer, but in knowing that we are forgiven sinners, baptised in Christ and saved by grace we have everything to offer and just need to turn up.

In 1994, led by the spirit a group of Christians did that in venturing to Russia to distribute Bibles. While there a local citizen led them to an old warehouse that held many boxes of Bibles. They had been confiscated in the 1930’s when Stalin was sending Christians to the labour camps as prisoners. Amazingly, they were still there. So the volunteers arranged to use them. Among those who showed up to help load the truck to earn some income was a young agnostic, being a person that neither believe or disbelieves. Soon though he slipped away from the job and when a team member went looking for him, he found him sitting in a corner with a Bible he had taken from the boxes. He was crying because Bible he had picked up from the hundreds that were there was signed by his grandmother who had been persecuted for her faith. No doubt she had prayed for her family and probably for this grandson, and now all the years later, the Holy Spirit was using her Bible to bring him to faith.

A group asked to turn up and give away Bibles, and the Lord who showed up and changed a life.

The Lord has invited us to teach and bring others to know Him in Word and Sacrament and we need only open our hand and be led to those awaiting His Word.

Our business houses, our jobs, our families, the pubs, the clubs, the Church and its work. To these we go, as we are. Maybe not great in speech. Maybe shy and reluctant. But still we can go because we have been groomed throughout our lives to come to know the miracle of faith and in that faith we can go and attest to the love of the Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit. And in that faith we go knowing of His promise to great and small missionaries of the past, and now to us, “That behold, (as you go) I am with you always to the end of the age.”

“Miracles are a retelling of the letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some to see.” So we go and tell the story of our Saviour and His love, not in our need to be seen to do so, but in their need that they see Him also.  Amen.

Behind your fears

Saturday, June 7th, 2014

Pentecost

John 20:19-23

What do we normally do when we’re afraid? Normally we try to protect ourselves.
This protection may take the form of putting up some kind of barrier, such as a wall, closing a door, or securing something with locks. For example, we might lock our precious belongings away because we’re afraid of losing them. We might lock our houses and cars. We may shut doors to strangers. We might slam doors to create a barrier between ourselves and the person we’re angry with, out of fear we’re not in control of the situation or our emotions.

We also protect ourselves by increasing our distance from danger. This might include avoidance, We might avoid going to the doctor because we’re afraid of the results. We might steer clear of people because we’re afraid of their anger, abuse, lies, or manipulation. We might stop our children from participating in certain activities or interacting with certain people because we’re afraid they might get hurt. If we’ve been hurt by a broken relationship in the past, we might avoid any new relationships because we’re afraid of more pain.

Another form of protection is attack. Because we’re afraid, we might yell at, abuse, insult, and hit out at those around us, and not always at the people who are the cause of our fears. For example, we might be angry with developers or mining or resource exploration companies because we’re afraid they’ll take away our land, our livelihood, our lifestyle or our home. Or, a church might be afraid for the future of their congregation: that they might not get a new pastor, or if they do get one, he might not live up to their expectations. Because of our fears – fears of being left out, forgotten, or of not being in control – we might be tempted to lash out at the leadership of our congregation, our previous pastors, our district, or the LCA.

Fears can control us and our actions. We build physical and emotional barriers around ourselves. We might hide behind jokes and safe conversational topics. We protect ourselves from probing questions or from revealing secrets about ourselves. We might build a wall of anger and punishment around us to protect ourselves from the things and people we’re scared of.

Many times, people won’t admit to their fears, but secretly everybody’s afraid of something. We’re afraid of losing loved ones through sickness or accident, losing respect, losing dignity through aging, losing farms and homes, losing our mind, our health, our faith, or our life.

Sometimes we may even be afraid of God. Maybe we’re afraid he won’t like us, so we might try to make him like us by doing all the right things. Maybe we’re afraid of what he says because it’ll affect the way we live, so we might try to ignore, “dumb down” or modify what he says. Maybe we’re afraid to admit we’re wrong, so we may try to disregard his words and his people.

Our fears constrict us, burden us, trap us and bind us. Our fears cripple us and make us sick with worry. Our fears control us and make us do all types of silly, irrational things. We can be ‘locked up’ by our fears, and we ‘lock’ others up because of our fears.

Then Jesus comes among us and says ‘Peace to you’. Peace?

Even though we long for peace, we can also be afraid of it. We would rather manufacture a false peace – a peace which involves barriers and distance: a peace which involves anger and punishment. Yet we also know our barriers and bravado offer no peace, just isolation with our fears.

Yet Jesus somehow gets past those barriers to offer us peace. He comes to bring us peace this morning. But this peace might scare us. This peace tells us to step out from our locked room, get out from behind our barriers, and go out again into the troubled and fearful world. This peace challenges us to trust him more than we trust our fears.

The peace Jesus offers us today, challenges and authorises us to forgive others. But we can also be afraid to forgive. When we forgive someone, we can’t hold them to ransom for the pain they’ve caused us anymore. But who are we really hurting by not forgiving? We lock up ourselves in chains just as much as the other person by withholding forgiveness. Yet by forgiving someone, we not only free them from their chains of sin, but we’re also freed from our fears. Of course, that forgiven person might hurt us again: that’s what we’re afraid of. Fears trap us: forgiveness frees us.

Jesus offers us peace even though our relationships might be breaking down, our loved ones are dying, our property is being taken from us, and our health declines. Jesus says, “Peace to you.”

Our idea of peace might be when God takes away everything we’re afraid of. We may think peace is when God gets rid of our enemies, gets rid of our sickness, gets rid of those who pick on the little guys, and makes us feel successful, whole and happy. We might think peace is when things go our way. We might think peace is where we’re free, but everyone else is restrained and kept ‘locked up’.

God’s peace isn’t like that. God doesn’t always take away all our troubles, but he still says ‘Peace to you’. God seems to let people get away with their hurtful crimes, but he still says ‘Peace to you’. God doesn’t always heal our sickness and won’t stop our loved ones from dying, but he still says ‘Peace to you’. God may delay things for us, yet he still says ‘Peace to you’. God is willing to forgive those we fear and don’t and he still says ‘Peace to you’.

God’s peace is different from what the world offers. God’s peace is different from the peace locks, barriers and distance offer. God’s peace somehow comes to us even if all the safety barriers and security blankets are taken away. God’s peace comes even when we’re terrified.

God’s peace isn’t necessarily when God takes away the people or situations we’re afraid of, but rather, God’s peace comes when he takes away our fear of them.

But how does God’s peace come to us and how does he drive out our fears

God’s peace comes to us through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

That can sound a bit ‘airy fairy’ ,vague and elusive until we get a bit more specific.

For instance, God’s peace washed over us when we were baptised. If we were scared of God beforehand, we have no reason to fear him now because we’re safe in Jesus. Our sins were washed away and our name is written in the book of heaven. We’re at peace with God for the sake of Jesus. Of course, baptism doesn’t guarantee we’ll live happily ever after in this life on earth, although in one sense it does. It means that whenever we’re afraid or troubled, we can shout like Martin Luther used to, saying ‘I am baptised!’ Baptism assures us that we are God’s forgiven and saved children. Nothing in all of creation can separate us from God’s love, or from God’s peace through faith in Jesus.

We also eat and drink God’s peace in the Lord’s Supper. Jesus comes to us to give us a real and certain assurance that we’re at peace with God through Christ’s willing sacrifice for us. Just like we invite friends and loved ones to our dinner table, Jesus invites us to come to his banquet table as his honoured guests to receive an assurance of his forgiveness and peace. We’re not enemies, but dearly loved people who are at peace with God through Christ’s death and resurrection. Anything we’ve thought, said or done that might create barriers between us and God or between ourselves and those around us, are forgiven and taken away by eating and drinking in faith. In this sense, we come in peace to receive peace by eating and drinking. We then go out from this meal in peace in order to bring God’s peace to all those around us.

The forgiveness of sins is closely connected to God’s peace. God’s forgiveness drives away our fear.

When our sins are forgiven, locks are opened that even the best locksmiths in the world can’t unlock. It’s like Jesus has handed sinful human beings the keys to his own house. The heavenly house, or more so, heavenly home.

Through the forgiveness of sins, the gates of heaven are unlocked and swung open for us.

These are the tools, the instruments, or the means of grace and peace that Jesus gives his people: the Word of God, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the authority to forgive people their sins. These tools, these keys, unlock heaven for us. These are the tools through which the Holy Spirit comes and comforts his people. These are the instruments which drive out fear and replace it with peace. These are the keys to peace on earth.

Then, as God’s peace has driven away our fears and brought down the barriers of protection, we go out from this place to become peacemakers in this fear-filled world. We go out from this place with a message of peace through the forgiveness of sins. We’re led by the Holy Spirit to forgive others in order to bring God’s peace to a troubled and fearful world. Forgiveness is the key to unlocking us from fear. Forgiveness is the key to bringing a glimpse of heaven on earth. Forgiveness is the key to true peace on earth that drives out our fears.

When we go home today, it may be tempting fate if we don’t keep your belongings secure and lock them up and so still will be. It would be silly not to. But also don’t be afraid to live in the freedom of Christ. Don’t be afraid to let some of those barriers come down and those distances reduce as Jesus takes away our fears and replaces them with his peace – peace knowing we’re a loved child of God who lives under the care of Christ. Go out from here as forgiven people who are at peace with God and at peace with each other and likewise let us be prepared to unburden and release others through your forgiveness so they too may experience the peace of God as we do.

In this way, may……the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.