Saturday, February 28, 2015

B, Lent 2 Mark 8:31-38 "Letting Christ Be Your Christ"

During these forty days of Lent we reflect on Jesus’ walk to the cross.  This cross is the cross of shame, the cross of humiliation, a cross of disgrace, remorse and alienation.  Jesus walk to the cross and death was a walk of loneliness, being alone, being set apart from the pack and picked on for being different… and for being the same.

Last week, the first Sunday in Lent, Jesus was baptised and set apart as God’s beloved Son.  With him God was well pleased.  But Jesus immediately finds himself out in the wilderness, literally a lonely place.  Here Jesus felt the full impact of being alone as a human being... the same as you and me!  He was lonely, he was in need, and just like you and me, just like Adam and Eve, he was tempted by the devil to look after his own interests and status. 

The course Jesus chose here is good news for us who struggle being alone with ourselves, desperately wanting to alleviate the loneliness of longing, pain, and suffering by being relevant, by being wanted, and by being popular or well liked.  Rather than the fear of being left out not knowing good and evil, as did Adam and Eve, Jesus did not succumb to his isolation and loneliness but remembered the promise of his Father, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11 ESV)

Where you or I fail miserably forgetting God’s promises, where Adam and Eve thought they were left all alone, where we as humanity don’t seem to be able to look past our immediate fickle reality, Jesus saw the bigger picture and turned his face from fame, fortune, and favour and rejected the tempters lure to save himself. Therefore Satan couldn’t accuse him of doubting his Father or not fulfilling his mission to be our Messiah. 

Out in the wilderness Satan’s ultimate goal was to isolate Jesus from the Father cutting him off from God — alone, ashamed, lonely and without hope.  Just like us when Satan uses the shame of our sin against us, and as he did to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

Now this morning we here Peter rebuking Jesus, in the wake of Peter’s confession that Jesus is “the Messiah”, the Christ, the anointed one!  Jesus announces that his messianic mission, his Christly commission, his anointed assignment was a lonely walk to the cross – into death.  And not just death, Jesus’ rejection by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, was a separation from the mainstays of society — not being wanted, or relevant, or well liked.  But like Jesus’ rejection of Satan in the wilderness, his lonely walk is good news for you and me, just as it was for Peter.

But Peter didn’t see it this way.  Like you and me, Peter feared being found to be irrelevant, unpopular, or unliked.   You see he thought Jesus’ messianic mission meant something very different to what Jesus was announcing.  If Jesus wasn’t going to assume his kingdom with glory and prestige and popularity, it meant Peter was going to be left all alone to address the shame of Jesus’ death at the hands of the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes.  He would be ashamed in amongst his community, a Jewish outcast, and he would be remembered and written about as a follower of failure.

No wonder Peter took Jesus aside. We would do the same.  In fact you and I do the same when the loneliness and the horror of our helpless humanity is forced upon us when we are required to stop see our reality.  “No Jesus, surely you’re not going to be anointed like this!” Peter begins accusing Jesus of taking up the messianic mission the wrong way! 

Here again we find Satan back on scene.  In the wilderness Jesus rejects Satan’s offer of relevance, popularity, and prestige, and now Jesus having begun to reveal actually what was to happen Satan seeks to cut Jesus off again.  Every time we take God’s will off the table and replace it with our own relevance, popularity, and prestige we fail as did Peter here,  and again when fear  saw Peter deny Jesus before the rooster crowed, as also did Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  But not Jesus and that’s very good news for humanity.

Only Jesus bore the weakness of humanity without succumbing to the weakness which failed Adam and Eve, Peter, you and I.  Just like Peter, we willing confess Jesus to be the Christ, but when we’re shown that Christ goes and leads the way of the cross the fears and loneliness of the old self sees us duck for cover and hid once again in the shame of our original sinful being and the sin that happens as a result of us being sinful.

  So Peter confesses Jesus as the Christ, and then rebukes Jesus for not being the type of Christ Peter would have him be to hide his weakness, shame, and ordinariness. What Peter is saying to Jesus in his rebuke is this:  If you are going to teach me that you must suffer, be rejected, be killed and then be raised then you are not the Christ, but you are an anti-Christ.

This is why Peter received such sharp words from Jesus when he says, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”  (Mark 8:33 ESV)  Jesus heard clearly the accusation from Satan himself, and he rejects Satan again.  The name Satan means to accuse and Peter’s accusation and rebuke of what the Messiah was actually anointed to do shows humainty’s hearts and minds to be set on the things of men rather than on the will of God.

After Jesus reveals the heart of Peter, whose heart is the same as all of us, he takes the opportunity to teach.  And it is in these words of Jesus which I invite you to meditate upon in these days of Lent, to the glory of he who walked the lonely path for me and you!

Jesus said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.  For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?  For what can a man give in return for his soul?  For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34–38 ESV)

If you choose to deny yourself and follow Jesus, of what can you be accused?  Can Satan make you ashamed of Jesus and his lonely way of the cross?  Can he accuse you of your sin if you take it to the cross, can he really make you alone even when you feel lonely after Jesus has already taken the shame of your sin on himself on the cross?  And further more won the battle over sin death and the devil in his resurrection from the dead!

In our loneliness we seek to build our own little kingdoms, but they are fragile houses of straw which Satan can huff and puff away in an instant leaving us exposed and ashamed of who we are and what we try to be without Christ.

The good news in all of this is when we’re shown for who we really are, naked, ashamed, humiliated, broken, weak, ordinary, and unpopular with ourselves, Jesus has already become all these things for us on the cross in our baptism.  He chose you and took your cross and made it his cross. So it’s time to, stand fast, remain in him and choose to throw off the things that only make us lonely in this world and can give Satan access to make us ashamed of Jesus and his word. 

The good news is now that Jesus has won the victory in the cross we can stick our backsides in the face of the accuser and say, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” And pray, “I believe Lord Jesus Christ, save me from my unbelief, Amen.”

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

B, Christmas Eve/Christmas Day Isaiah 9:2-7 "The Way Things Are Meant To Be"

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When Joseph and Mary set off from Nazareth to Bethlehem, Mary heavily pregnant, one might wonder if Joseph grumbled in his heart, “This is not the way things are meant to be.” The word of God does not tell us what he was thinking other than that he originally planned to divorce Mary quietly for being “found with child”. Nevertheless, he was convinced otherwise after an angel of the Lord visited him and told him to not be afraid to take Mary as his wife and to name the child, Jesus, at his birth. (see Matthew 1:18-25)

However, humans being what we are, as Joseph trudged his way from Nazareth to Bethlehem with a woman carrying a child of whom he was not the father, not to mention a heavily pregnant woman, ripe and ready to give birth at any moment, most of us would forgive Joseph being upset at the government for having them travel at this time to appease the bureaucratic busybodies in Rome.

And then the labour pains begin! “Now that’s just great! Mary is about to drop her bundle and we’re out here with nowhere to go.” One can sense the anxiety and stress of Joseph as Mary begins to bear down for the birth of the baby God has called Joseph to adopt as his own. And no one took them in, at their home town of Bethlehem. This was not the way it was meant to be, for the law called for folk to be hospitable and take travellers in, especially ones who were relatives.

Was it meant to be this way? They were in the lineage of David, the great king of Israel, but now humbled on a donkey was a woman ready to deliver a child whom the father was not clearly known, manipulated by their captives, the Roman government, without anywhere for this child to be born. It surely paints a picture of hopelessness, weakness, oppression, anxiety, and depression.

It is easy for us to tap into the sentiment of hopelessness, as we take check of what’s going on around us in our society today. And not just what’s out there but what’s in our hearts too! Are things meant to be this way? If one stops to take check of what’s really going on in his or her own heart, we will find no matter how much we dress ourselves with gaudy decorations and lights these things only cover the darkness within, and the joy and goodwill of the season only reveals the ever deepening chasm of hopelessness that really exists once the hangover of the holiday season sets in, in the wake of what we’ve really been worshipping. Yes, it’s very easy to get a sense of the uncertainty and lack of security Joseph could have felt for his new unorthodox family.

Even more so when we consider the society in which we live. Just as it was a great impost on Mary and Joseph to travel to Bethlehem, our governments and an out of control bureaucracy, too seek to manipulate us for their own gain. Censuring us today in a way that parades a good order mantra, but in reality feeds a greater disorder in our society! The threat of terrorism is real, yet governments turn and use the terrorism threat to terrorise us into accepting more and more rules which control us and destroy the freedoms and democracy they’re meant to be protecting.

The media mediates the manipulative mantra of the ruling class so we’re only told half-truths, whoring themselves with politicians, waiting for the election season, when the tables are reversed and politicians whore themselves with the media to again manipulate us into voting for them. And as this carries on business continues to woo society with a mantra all of its own so we praise, purchase and worship their products, to the glory of their end of financial year profits.

And if the darkness of our hearts, the rule of politicians and the media is bad enough, the ecclesiastical estate seeks to align itself more and more with these rulers too. The institutionalisation of the church has become as much about manipulation of people for the glory of things other than God. Just like governments, the church uses past horrendous acts in the church by certain members to justify acts that are ungracious and even more atrocious removing people’s faith in God and replace it with a faith in something else, trampling the Holy Spirit underfoot in a bid to glorify other spirits.

Just like the ruling Sanhedrin, the Pharisees and the Sadducees in the days of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension, here on earth, the institutionalised church is bowing to the very same sins. So bad has it become that the Word of God has been reviled by people inside and outside the church because the church uses the Word of God to bind God’s people when they rightly intend to glorify God. And again the Word of God has been reviled by folk when church hierarchy and others wrongly use it to loose themselves to manipulate or mount up money for themselves.

It’s no wonder that underneath the facade, the mainstays of our society these days seem to be unrest, hopelessness, unhappiness, lack of trust, anxiety, depression and a deep long for something better, that can’t be found in the fruitlessness of what governments, the media, and the secularised church has become. The unity of community fractured by the individualism of each broken heart, and the hopelessness of what our world’s become. This is not the way things are meant to be.

As much as we might be tempted to bury the reality of what we are and what we’ve become. We can’t! Nor could Joseph as his anxiety surely heightened as the unborn child sank lower and lower in Mary’s pelvis as they sought somewhere in Bethlehem to have the baby. Instead let us hear the promise of God against the darkness of how things have become. When this is not the way things are meant to be.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:2–7 ESV)

The way things are is the way things are. Ever since the fall things are not meant to be this way! Ever since Adam and Eve sinned you are not the person you were meant to be. However, this is how it is!

But from the midst of this darkness a great light of hope shines bright. You who dwell in the darkness of anxiety, depression, institutional oppression, and from all the things that are not meant to be, a light is shining. Not the flashing light of Boxing Day sales, the lights on houses and trees, nor the light of hope someone might offer to coerce you into their world of popularity, power, and profits.

No! This is the light of true joy; the light that bureaucratic bullies cannot use to burden us, shattering the staff of institutionalism, and ruining the rod of ruling oppressors forever. This is the light of wonder, might, and peace, and it’s not a light that will fade with the fads that come and go with governments, media, and churches that have been hijacked of heavenly focused power and glory.

For us who are willing to believe we are in darkness are illuminated in this glorious eternal light. This is the “Light of the World” born to Mary, Jesus the Christ, whom Joseph was called to father on behalf of the Eternal Father. Joseph may have thought this in not how it’s meant to be, but God was making it right in the midst of things that were far from right.

And now for us too, who live with the darkness of self, who live with politicians giving themselves pay rises, ever maddening media mantras, and institutional churches modelling themselves more and more on the world, we are called to hear the promise of God who, despite all this stuff that’s not meant to be, is enlightening us with his Word of Hope! That which is meant to be!

We are called to believe what is, is! But also to believe that which is hidden! And this faith comes from the Light of his Word which illuminates the unseen… The government of God, established with justice and righteousness forever by this baby’s death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. The counsel of the Holy Spirit most wonderfully leading us back to repentance and forgiveness through our baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection. The might of God, which despite all the darkness still reigns supreme in the hearts and minds of those who believe and is effective in fulfilling the will of God on earth as it has been fulfilled in heaven. And the eternal peace which comes when we trust not in ourselves and what we can do but in the zeal of what God has done and continues to do in his righteous and just government.

The promise of God is the only truly righteous and just thing in heaven and on earth. Joseph trusted God alone when things were not what they were meant to be, we too need to trust God alone despite so much of our self and our world being not the way it is meant to be. Amen.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

A, Post-Pentecost 16 Proper 21 - Philippians 2:1-5 "True Belief"

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It might be very easy in these days to be carried away by fear and terror like Henny Penny running around in a mad panic as if the sky was falling in on us.  It seems the media would encourage us to do this so they can exercise control over us for the benefit of their ratings and advertising sales.
Just as easy is becoming complacent over the events going on around us.  Every picture and sound coming from the media revolves around and around, media feeding off media, making us so sick of hearing the same thing over and over again, on the hour, every hour.
Things are certainly hectic in our times.  Terrorism is a threat, apathy too just as big a problem and making sense of it all might leave one a bit bewildered.
 Connecting these events in your own lives might be difficult.  You may be wondering why the world is going mad these days.  And sitting down in this place might seem to be so disjointed from the reality of our world and the strife going on, let alone the hassles you face personally from day to day.
You might reason a million and one things from the happenings around you and how they affect you personally.  Everything that happens tends to cause us to form different beliefs so we place our trust in things we can understand.  These beliefs entrench themselves into our being and cause us to interact with others in prescribed ways.
On hearing the news of beheadings and terrorist activities, the USA and others bombing Islamic State strongholds, politicians making pronouncements at the United Nations, what happens in you?  How are your beliefs shaken, tested, attacked, or justified and edified?
A couple weeks ago, before the beheadings began to be aired in the media, a journalist was interviewed on the radio about his work in the Middle East.  This Australia reporter had been taken captive and circumstances led him to nearly be beheaded before being freed at the eleventh hour.  As he recounted the events of his capture and release he commented, “True belief has caused more trouble in the world than anything else.”  On reflection I believe he is spot on.
I imagine most terrorist operate from a “true belief” modus operandi.  To commit terror and lose your life one must operate out of true belief in something.  Or else they wouldn’t go through with their suicidal actions in the first place.  Others might believe they’re wrong but the individual or group acting will fully believe what they’re doing is for their greater good.
When we hear and see these barbaric things happening, our belief systems are put into action.  Do you know what your belief system is?  Have you studied how and why you react the way you do in response to what goes on around you?
Being honest with myself, looking into the deepest recesses of my being, I see a belief system full of presumptions and prejudices.  I might display a certain belief system to keep up appearances with others, but within, the way I think, the way I react, and the way I feel is a completely different story.  In fact inconsistencies run rife within my internal belief system.  There’s a mix of cowardice and confusion, which holds me back from saying and doing as I truly believe.  Doubts call into question, “just how true is this belief I call my own?”
It seems to me my apprehension, my gutlessness, and the terrors I hold within see me sin against the true belief of who I am.  Some of my actions seem so spineless and apathetic compared to the terrorists taking on world, putting their lives out there for the sake of the cause.  My pride sees me campaigning acts of terror in my mind, against those who offend my sense of self righteousness. And yet the very same pride sees me cower within myself.  I sin against my own mind’s terrorist activity, not even able to remain faithful to my own sinfulness and self righteousness!
Stopping and having a good hard look at ourselves, reveals some interesting stuff.  The true belief of the terrorist raises the response of true belief within us, and other individuals, and even governments of our world.  We might loath what others do, some have the fortitude to fight and retaliate with revenge crimes, and our governments rally their armed forces to strike back.
Being a Christian, in these times brings true belief in Jesus Christ face to face, toe to toe, into conflict with the true belief of our inner selves.  All of us make presumptions, and rationalise our true beliefs which conflicts with those Jesus Christ calls us to have.  In fact, it’s been like this from the moment Jesus began his ministry of bringing the true belief and self righteousness of human hearts to repentance. 
It began at Jesus’ baptism into a ministry of true faithfulness and righteousness that led him to the cross.  This was a ministry John the Baptist even recoiled over saying to Jesus, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”  But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. Matthew 3:14–15 (ESV)
Ever since this day, Christ has been calling you and me to have our terrors dealt with.  It matters not whether they are terrors of Roman crucifixions on crosses, or terrors from Muslims, or any other people.  These terrors tempt us to carry all sorts of terrors within and in turn lead humanity into heaping sin upon sin.
Terrorist activities and threats against Christians and Jews have lead to presumptuous activities just as offensive and terrorising in the name of true belief.  We Christians can hang our heads in shame over what Christians have done in the name of Christianity throughout history right up to now, and so too the Jews for what they are doing to the Palestinians in Gaza in these days.
Saint Paul speaks relevantly when he addresses the Philippians in their times and us today as we face the reality of our world, but also the world within our hearts too!  We do well to see how our true belief empties the cross of its power, and siphons glory away from God the Father as we react to protect the motives driving the core of our true beliefs.
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.  Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus... Philippians 2:1–5 (ESV)
The key word here is encouragement!  Pauls starts off, if there is any encouragement in Christ...!  Encouragement here means to be invited, called alongside, literally — a side listening.  Picture a ship as it pulls alongside the dock and then anchors itself with ropes stopping it from being whipped around by whatever the weather or tides might do to it if it were not held fast and kept safe.
In the same way, you have been called and continue to receive encouragement.  We are invited to be held fast in faith by Jesus Christ, to come alongside Jesus’ word and deeds.  He faithfully seeks to lash himself to you and bring your true belief in line with his.  Safe and sound through the humility and humanity of his death and resurrection!  To have the mind of Christ among us has us believing we need God’s help, believing our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth, who took up humanity in humility counting us more significant than himself.
Rather than presuming our true belief is what sets us right let’s assume our humanity needs the services of Jesus Christ, not just once, but continually through the Holy Spirit winning out over our spirits so he might continually place true righteous through his crucifixion and our baptism into it in us. 
Saint Paul continues on after calling us to receive encouragement, to receive comfort from love.  This is the most pure of blood soaked crucifixion love, not to terrorise us with a Roman terrorism tool, but for us to see and know we are loved by God.  Then he calls us to participation in the Holy Spirit, affection, sympathy, and joy having the same mind as Jesus.  We can only do this if we allow the Holy Spirit access into our hearts where he can turn our self spirited so-called “true belief” back to a sole belief in Jesus Christ.
So rather than running around like a chook with its head cut off!  Rather than revenge or apathy against terrorists who threaten to behead, kill or endanger.  You might allow the Holy Spirit to use you to do the greater work of Jesus Christ with the terrorist, the ill-tempered neighbour, those you’re not naturally attracted towards, or those your presumptions, prejudices, or pride might not allow you to mix with in the hustle and bustle of life. This is the greatest humanitarian work where in humility we bow our heads in prayer. 
Therefore, let us pray.
Heavenly Father, we believe, save each of us from our unbelief!  Send the Holy Spirit into our hearts so we seek to hear your word, so we love and want to hear your word more and more.  And with your word, infill our prayers for those whom we might deem as our enemies in our lives!  We ask this through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.