The Word This Week:
Thoughts on the Word:John 17:20-26 (NRSV)
‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
‘Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.’
In today’s Gospel reading we are looking at what is known as Jesus’ high priestly prayer. It is a prayer of intercession, where Jesus calls for the unity of believers, unity with each other and unity with God. He prays for a unity of believers which will be a beacon to the world – to show the love of God, and draw the world into belief also. Today we will look at what this prayer means for us, as members of the church – a church that in many respects is far from united.
Since I first became a Christian, around 11 years ago, I have continually puzzled over one thing. It is not any matter of doctrine or dogma, rather it is a behaviour. There is among many Christians a striking hypocrisy in how we behave. We as a group of believers preach tolerance, we preach love, and yet all too often we display high levels of intolerance – not just to those who are outside our faith, but to those within it who we have disagreements with over doctrinal or structural matters.
Throughout the history of Christianity the church has often been its own worst enemy. There were splits and arguments raging in the church within 100 years of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, indeed even the apostles argued amongst themselves about who was greater, and this has been going on ever since.
Most of us will be familiar with the big moments of schism in the church – the great schism was the first large scale one, when the Eastern Orthodox Churches split away from Rome in the 11th Century, and then of course we had the reformation in the 16th century, which while started for noble and worthwhile reasons, has led to more and more splits, more and more infighting. So much so that we now have the Eucharist – the central form of Christian worship and fellowship since the beginning of the church 2000 years ago – being refused to, or not being accepted by, people who are a part of the same denomination.
This is not the faith community that Jesus prayed for in our Gospel reading today. It is not a community that is one, that is united in its faith, ministry and love. So what are we to do then? Should we declare the church a failure? Should we walk away from our faith and hope in Jesus because of what the world sees as our failure as a corporate group to live according to Jesus’ prayer?
Or should we rather look ever closer at his words, and seek all the more to follow him? You see our inability to date to live as one, united undivided Christian community is not a reason to doubt our faith in Christ, rather it is a clear sign of the fallen and weak human nature. That fallen and weak human nature that leads us to rebel against our creator through sin, also leads us to rebel against each other. Our failure and our weakness is the reason
that Jesus came in the first place, and he gives us a model in his high priestly prayer, for how we can move ever closer to the unity of faith, hope and love that he so desires for all of us.
Central to Jesus’ prayer is the idea that we as the faithful will be one with God. Jesus prays that we might be one ‘As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us’. These are striking words, what does Jesus mean that we should be in
him? He means brothers and sisters that we are called to complete faith and obedience. We are called to become one with the Trinity – we are called into its glory, its majesty and its love. However to become one with the Trinity, we must lose ourselves.
The Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is not three separate Gods, but rather one God, made up of three persons, who share one substance. They are interdependent, the Trinity is one because it is always and at all times one in mind, in purpose and will. Jesus’ prayer was that we too would enter into this relationship – that we too would become one in mind, purpose and will with God. That, brothers and sisters is the first and only step to the church being united, we must each hand over our own desires, and be prepared to become one with the will of God.
We have seen this love, and submission to the will of God displayed in the church over the millennia, and we still see it displayed today. We see it in the church’s unity with the poor, through our outreach bodies such as Anglicare, Vinnies, and the Salvos. We see it through those who strive for ecumenism, who seek a re-unified Christian faith. We see it exemplified for us through the lives of saints and martyrs past and present. We inside the church see the good, we see the love, we know the gift to the world that the church is and can be. However, our unity remains incomplete, we so often still focus on our own lives, and on our own egos. What we must do is seek to build on that unity with the Trinity that we see in our welfare groups, we need to build on the unity and support we provide each other in our small groups, bible studies and pastoral care groups.
It sounds simple enough, after all we all proclaim to have faith in Jesus as the living son of God, who was raised from the dead. Yet I fear, we fail to take this truly into our hearts. Jesus was scourged, he was beaten, he was spat on, and mocked. He had nails driven through his hands and feet, and was hung on a cross. At any time he could have called on a legion of Angels to rescue him from this painful humiliating death, and yet he did not.
So great is his love for us that he endured it all; so great is his love that he died on that cross; So great is his love that he rose again, and conquered the grave for all of us. Through his death and resurrection we are set free, and are invited to receive eternal life. We are invited to become citizens of the kingdom of heaven, and experience the love of God first hand by entering a relationship of unity with Jesus.
Yet so often we continue to live as citizens of this world, we continue to focus on our own desires, rather than seeking to live in unity with the will of God. We are called by the will of God to live out the same love displayed by Jesus on that cross. A selfless, sacrificial love for each other. Through this oneness with Jesus’ love we can display to the whole world
God’s love for them. We can be the ambassadors of the hope, love and peace of God to a world that is hurting. All we need to do is live as Jesus prayed we would. All we need to do is say to the father, Just as Jesus did that night in Gethsemane, ‘not my will, but yours’.
All who place themselves at the will of God, and become united in this way with the trinity, also become united with each other. All who seek only to serve the creator, and not their own desires are one – and the world will see this also. When we are doing the will of God, there is no infighting, there is no bickering and bigotry. If we each turn to the will of God, we cease to be seen by the world as hypocrites that preach tolerance and love, but fight amongst ourselves, and we are seen instead as those who have a genuine love, for God, for each other and for the world.
So brothers and sisters, we are faced with a decision. Do we as the church continue as we have for two thousand years, as a home of the love of God on earth, which is tarnished through the pursuit of our own desires? Do we continue to allow the world see us as hypocrites who are busy fighting amongst ourselves over trivialities?
Or do we build on the unity of faith and love that Jesus calls us to? That unity and faith that we know exists in the Christian community, but which is hidden from the world when we place our own egos first. All it takes to find the full unity that Jesus prays for in today’s Gospel, is for each of us as individuals to make the decision to place ALL of our faith in Jesus. We can build a church of unity one person at a time, we can each make the decision to place our own self under the mind, will and purpose of God.
For everyone who makes that choice the love and will of God will manifest all the stronger on this earth. For everyone who makes that choice the love of God will be displayed, and the World will come to know the love of God, displayed through us and our faith in the one he sent. ‘I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.’
The Word This Week:Thoughts on the Word:Luke 24:1-12
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.’ Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.
Alleluia! Alleluia! He is not here, but has risen! Alleluia!Today we celebrate the most important thing in the history of all time.
We celebrate the raising to life of Jesus of Nazareth - the Christ, and king. Now there are so many things we could talk about with regard to the resurrection - we could discuss the importance of its conquering power over death, and what that means for all of us who have placed our faith in Jesus... hint it means that death will have no hold on us just as it had no hold on Christ! We could talk about the significance of the crucifixion which lead to the resurrection - that moment in time when Jesus took upon himself the sin of the world and opened the door to a life in relationship with God for all those who seek it. What I want to talk about though is the people who Jesus surrounded himself in his life, his death and his resurrection. Jesus, who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, did not surround himself with nobility, he did not surround himself with upright individuals who were well respected. He did not surround himself with the righteous, but weak sinners.Jesus closest companions along the way were a band of manual workers - fisherman - tax collectors, and even lower in the social order than tax collectors - women. Jesus opened the door to salvation to all of humanity, and to demonstrate that all were welcome, and that all were loved, he chose the weak and oppressed, the sinners and the poor to be his witnesses. Nothing speaks of this more than the role that women played in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.We discovered in our 4th Sunday of Advent readings
) in December that the first proclamation of the the coming of the Messiah who will redeem Israel, and indeed the world, is anticipated and proclaimed, not by archangels or high priests or emperors or even ordained preachers. Rather, two marginalised, pregnant women—one young, poor, and unwed, the other far beyond the age to conceive—meet in the hill country of Judea to celebrate (and possibly commiserate about) their miraculous pregnancies.
Yes, the Lord of Lords and King of Kings is first acknowledged and proclaimed by two women... Two women who were no doubt the subject of much ridicule and stigma - Mary after all was an unwed pregnant teenager - consider how today's comparatively liberal society still denigrates and looks down on women in the same situation, and then consider how it would have been for her living in ancient Jewish society where such a situation was not just embarrassing - but shameful. Likewise consider how society still treats women who have reached their mature years without ever having had children - there is, shamefully in today's world still a stigma, a view that these women, are incomplete - not real women, or that they are simply selfish. Imagine then the views expressed of barren Elizabeth, who had not born any children, in a society where family and heirs were how your worth were expressed - Where a woman's worth especially was determined by how many sons she bore her husband.
Yet it was these two, ostracised, marginalised women whom God chose to bring the final prophet of the old covenant - John - and the fulfilment of that covenant - Jesus - into the world. It was these two women who first proclaimed the coming of the King! We see in this account the first tearing down of barriers to the Kingdom, the first signs of what the coming reign of Jesus will be like.When we move forward to the cross, we find that at the foot of the cross, it is predominantly women who remain with Jesus, along with the Apostle John. Then we come to the tomb on that Sunday morning, and who do we find going to the tomb - before the Sun has risen? Yep, it is those who are the weakest, and most powerless in the society that yet again are chosen to be the first to hear, and then first to proclaim the news - Jesus is not in the tomb, He is risen!Again and again Jesus chooses those who society would say are not worthy. Again and again God blesses those who are not the well to do, not the rich, not those that society would deem to be 'worthy' of association with God. So how does this relate to us today?Well, let me break this to you gently - you aren't worthy. Neither am I - in fact not one person on this planet is 'good' enough to get into heaven. We can never - ever- earn our way into the eternal presence of God through our own actions, because we all sin - and even one sin means we cannot enter his presence. Now, for the good part - just like the women in Jesus life, whom society deemed to be not worthy of real respect, and little more than objects, but whom Jesus
deemed to be so valuable that he entrusted them with the greatest of honours, to be the first to proclaim his birth, to be present at his death and to be the first witnesses and proclaimers of his resurrection. Just like these women you are valuable in his sight, you are worthy of his love, and you can be redeemed and have your sin wiped away so that you can get to live eternally in the presence of God after all. All he asks is that you place your faith and hope in him. I pray that you have had a blessed Easter celebration, and that your coming week is a good one.Daryl.
The Word This Week:Thoughts on the Word: Luke 19:28-40After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, “Why are you untying it?” just say this: “The Lord needs it.” ’ So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, ‘Why are you untying the colt?’ They said, ‘The Lord needs it.’ Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,
‘Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!’
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’
Today we begin Holy Week with our remembrance of Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem. As we recall this event when Jesus came into the city at the start of the week, it is important that we have this moment of triumph placed into some perspective. On the first day of the week Jesus enters Jerusalem, welcomed as a King and saviour. By the fourth day he is betrayed and arrested, on the 5th he is executed as a criminal, when the people choose to release Barabbas, a convicted criminal, rather than the man they had welcomed as King days before. At the beginning of the next week though we see the King of Kings back in his place of glory as he rises from the dead - forever conquering death.This story says much about how people respond to
God's call. It is important that we are honest about our response to God and ask ourselves some serious questions. Where are you in the story of Jesus final week? Are you one of the jubilant crowd who welcomes the King of Kings, and sings his praises - only to quickly join the crowd when things get tough and shout 'crucify him!'Are you a Judas? Do you proudly proclaim yourself a follower of Christ, only to betray him through your actions? Judas was one who kept up the appearance of a follower, if he was a modern day Christian, he would be a 'Sunday morning Christian'. One who went to church each week, but did nothing to implement the Gospel into their lives outside of turning up to Church on Sunday morning. You are a betrayer of Christ if you claim him as your saviour but refuse to live the way he calls you to.Are you a Peter? Who declares your unfailing faith and love for Christ, but runs away and
hides, while denying him when your faith might cost you something? Are you open about your faith? Do you take strong faith and moral stances openly among your friends, family and colleagues? Or do you hide your faith by keeping silent? Would you be open about your faith if it meant ridicule? What if it meant losing friends? or losing your job? What if it meant losing your life...?Finally are you one of the very rare few who are like Mary or John, who through it all followed Christ all the way, so that they were standing at the foot of the cross when he died. Is yours a faith with this sort of strength? A faith that perseveres, that holds on through all the temptations, persecutions, loss and dangers of life. There are very very few genuine Marys and Johns. Most of us, I think fall into the category of being Peter
s. We are adamant about our strength of faith, while we are among the faithful. However we tend to go silent when in the world. When our own lives may be affected by our faith - even if it means something as little as being laughed at - we go silent, we effectively deny Christ, just as Peter did. As we move through Holy Week, I ask that you examine your own life and your own faith, and determine where you are in the crowd of people around Jesus as he entered Jerusalem. Wherever you find yourself, seek to better emulate the faith demonstrated by Mary and John - and if you already think of yourself as a Mary or John, well done, but remember Peter also genuinely believed he was prepared to go anywhere and do anything for his faith - until it was truly tested. Therefore, do not be complacent, but seek all the more fervently to follow Him.I pray that God will bless you this week,Daryl.
Picture sourced from Here
The Word This Week:Thoughts on the Word:Philippians 3:4b-14
If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Pressing towards the Goal Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. Over the past nine months, the value of 'things' has become abundantly clear to me. You see nine months ago I resigned from my full time job as an executive in the public service, and became a full time student. It was a decision my wife and I made based on faith - faith that God was leading me into ministry in His church, and faith that He would provide us with all that we needed in order to follow that calling. As much faith as I had in making that decision though, it was still scary. You see I am a husband and a father of three children. I have responsibilities to them, and I had a good career, which was providing well for us - a career which ensured a secure future for me and my family. We were comfortable - very comfortable truth be told... too comfortable.Since I resigned from my job, our family income has come predominantly from government student and family payments. This has been a big challenge for our family to adapt to - but it has also been a blessing, because
it has taken the blinkers from our eyes. You see while challenging, we are able to live without fear of starvation. We can pay for the luxury of electricity - for air conditioning in summer and heating in winter. Despite a very heavy cut to our family budget, we are content. Of course it comes with its challenges, and it is frustrating at times, however things which seemed important to us previously seem less so now. What has become clear to us is that we are blessed. It is becoming clear that so much of what we valued in our previous lives was indeed rubbish, it is worthless. St Paul
, in his letter to the Phillipians, describes those things which he previously felt to be of value - things he lost for the sake of the Gospel - to be now worthless rubbish also. However Paul goes further, he says that all things, everything, is loss and rubbish. For Paul, all that is of any value is Christ, and that which comes from Christ. While we can strive to be good and earn ourselves accolades and the honour and respect of colleagues, friends, family and even fellow believers, all of this is worthless - it is rubbish. We can strive to follow the Law, and earn righteousness that way - but it is worthless, for true righteousness comes through Christ, and faith in him.For Paul, experiencing loss, and dishonour, experiencing persecution and suffering for the sake of the Kingdom is not something to be bemoaned. It is something to celebrate, for it is an experience of the suffering of Christ. It is a participation in His suffering and death. If Christ deems us worthy to participate in His sufferings, for the sake of the Kingdom, then we can be confident he will deem us worthy to participate in His resurrection! Paul calls us to look forward to the Kingdom, and to our resurrection to eternal life. Our focus should be entirely on participating in God's Kingdom, and whatever we lose along the way, we should not look back mournfully, but forward with confidence and hope. As we are drawing near the end of our Lenten season and we approach the cross of Christ, I
wonder how much worthless rubbish we still carry with us. So many of us give something up for Lent - only to take it up again immediately afterwards, I wonder, how much of those things which we feel are valuable in our lives, things we feel we 'need' could we truly count as loss? How many things could we do without forever? Just as importantly what can we replace them with - St Paul replaced them with dedication to the Gospel. He dedicated his life to the Kingdom. Now many of us are not called to be as radical as Paul in giving up all that we have in order to become missionary preachers, however we are all called to be radicals in another way. We are called to be in the world, but not of the world, we are called to live as citizens of the Kingdom of God. So as we approach the cross of Christ, we must examine ourselves, let us look at what we value, and determine is it Christ and His Kingdom, that we value, or is it worthless rubbish - for these are the only two options. God bless you this week.
Art by John August Swanson - http://www.johnaugustswanson.com/default.cfm/PID=1.2.16
The Word This Week:Thoughts on The Word:
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’
So he told them this parable:
Then Jesus said, ‘There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’ ” So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And they began to celebrate.
‘Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.” Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!” Then the father said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” ’ This week we look at the famous parable of the Prodigal Son. It is a familiar story to many people, even non-Christians, and it tells of the the great love and forgiveness of the Father. However my focus today is not so much the Father's love for us as expressed in this parable, but rather the humility of the son who returned. Now how many of us have dreamed of a carefree life without
the hassle of work, and with the ability to do as we please when we please? I know it is something I have dreamt of many times over the course of my life - how great would it be to win the lottery, and be a millionaire! Of course you need to buy tickets in order to win, which is a hindrance to my ability to win! Our young man in the parable has this dream too, he longs for what he perceives as the freedom to do as he pleases without care for responsibility. So he goes to his father, who has worked many a long year to build up an inheritance for his children, he has laboured to create a welcoming home which provides all they need, a home in which all members have responsibilities and roles. The son goes to this father and basically says - 'thanks dad I'll take the good stuff, so give me all that you have built up for me now, but you can keep your rules, and your responsibilities.'Now some father's would have been furious, they would have condemned this boy. The father in our parable though, while wounded, and grieved gives his son what he wants. He divides up his property and gives it to the boy, who promptly walks away. Are you seeing the parallels in this story to our own walk with God? God gives us all that we need, he provides us with a home not of this world, he gives us life - not only now but in eternity. All he asks is that we follow him in faith, and live lives worthy of his household. But it gets better! When we fail in our pursuit of living worthily, he provides us with forgiveness through Christ, so that we can remain. So many though are like this youngest son in the parable - they choose not to remain, they choose to walk away, and though grieved, and wounded God does not stop us when we make that choice - he lets us walk. so great is his love, that he
will not force us to stay.As we continue through the parable we find that the young man squanders the gifts he has received, without his father's guidance and support the young man ends up losing all that he has. He finds himself without friends, starving and working in a pig sty. I want you to reflect on that for a moment, this young Jewish man, is forced to live and work with pigs - animals which are considered to be the lowest of the low - they are unclean. What a fall from grace, what a shameful position he finds himself in. Finally he comes to the conclusion that he will seek to return home to his father - even if he could return as a servant he would be better off, because even the lowest in his fathers house are better off than he is. So he decides that he will humble himself, he will return to his father, not as a son, but as only a servant. He will admit his sins and repent. What a hard thing this is to do! To humble yourself before another, to admit your faults and turn away from them promising to lead a new life of obedience, is a hard thing. The hardest part of this for many - I know it was for me - is acknowledging that you do in fact need forgiveness - that you you have been a sinner, and then seeking forgiveness for that sin. For many it takes hitting rock bottom for them to reach this conclusion - like the young man in the parable. I pray that if you are on a journey, outside of your Father in heaven's household that you turn back now, before you hit bottom.Lets finish with a reflection on the father's response when he sees his son
seeking to come home. He doesn't wait patiently for him to complete the journey, he runs to meet him. The father helps the son to complete the journey home, and on his return there is great feasting and merriment. When we make a decision to return home to God, he will help us on that journey, we will be welcomed home, regardless of the sins we have committed. The Father of heaven and earth, through the redeeming work of Jesus, will forgive us, and though we are in death we will live.
The Word This Week:Thoughts on the Word:
Unfortunately I didn't get to write you a sermon this week, so I have provided one on today's Gospel written by Samuel D. Zumwalt, which I sourced HERE
.I apologise for my lack of writing, and will seek to not disappoint again next week! I do hope you get something out of the sermon below though.
Sermon on Luke 13:1-9, by Samuel D. Zumwalt
There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." The Parable of the Barren Fig Tree 6 And he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. 7 And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?' 8 And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. 9 Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'" GROWING THROUGH PAIN
In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We were back for the first day of classes after our seminary internship (or vicarage, as we called it back then). Old friendships were being renewed, and our first war stories from vicarage were being shared. That's when Professor Robert Werberig, an artist, poet, and pastor, walked into the classroom to teach a course entitled "Pastoral Theology." It was one of the most valuable classes future pastors would take although we didn't know it at the time. He sat closest to us on top of his desk, lighted a cigarette, inhaled and exhaled a drag, looked deeply into our eyes, and said in his native New Yorker accent: "Everything bad that has ever happened to you is a blessing!"
There was a collective gasp from among this group of upperclassmen. We were stunned, and some of us looked at each other as if to ask, "He didn't really just say that, did he?" Doubtless the next thought by each student was immediately to recall the worst thing that had ever happened to us. And you could sense this rising cloud of anger.
Professor Werberig said it again: "Everything bad that has ever happened to you is a blessing. If you were attacked by a large dog when you were a child, it was a blessing. If you were jilted and betrayed by someone you loved, it was a blessing. If you had a serious illness, it was a blessing. If you experienced the painful death of a loved one, it was a blessing." And he paused to take another drag off his cigarette. (People actually could smoke in classrooms in those days.) And one person after another was ready to explode at him with seething anger. "I'm not listening to this" was in the air.
Professor Werberig said: "The blessing is not that something terrible happened. The blessing is that because you had those terrible things happen to you, you will better be able to minister to others in their suffering and their losses!" That last sentence probably kept us from throwing him out the window to fall eleven stories to the street below, but we were not convinced that he wasn't being mean and insensitive.
During the remainder of that session, our professor began to teach us how to reflect on our lives and on our interactions with others. He led us in what could be called a Socratic dialogue in which he allowed people to offer their objections and then asked engaging questions. By the end of the class, we were not happy with Professor Werberig but he had led us through some of Paul's teaching in Romans 5 and 2nd Corinthians 4-5. My three roommates and I spent the rest of the evening talking about that class. It was a conversation that continued for the next three weeks as we reflected together on our year of internship and, of course, on the bad things that had happened in our lives.
Two years later, Professor Werberig had returned to parish ministry, and I was a clinical resident at Parkland Hospital in Dallas and his part-time pastoral assistant in a parish in Irving TX. The year after that I began to serve as pastor of an LCA mission congregation on the south side of Dallas, and Robert Werberig continued to be my mentor, confessor, and friend for many more years to come. He died two years ago, but I think of him often with fondness and with gratitude to God for Pastor Werberig. When I was 25, I wasn't ready to hear what he had to say, but I learned more about pastoral ministry from Bob Werberig than I did from most of my professors before or since.
NARCISSISM AND THE OLD ADAM OR EVE
We are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. We confess that every week as we begin worship. From our first parents right on down to us today, our root sin (in Luther's words) is we do not fear, love, and trust God above all else. This is our age-old rebellion. We didn't fall, as if it were an accident. We rebelled, and we still rebel.
Professor Werberig exposed this truth about his students when he challenged us to think about someone other than ourselves. We were (at least metaphorically) ready to stone him for suggesting that our own painful experiences could somehow work for good. Instead we went immediately to our own sense of loss and hurt and heartache as if ours were worse than anyone else's because, well, they were ours!
Let's think for a moment about these queries of the crowd to Jesus in Luke 13 concerning terrible events in that day's news. Roman governor Pilate had mixed the blood of Galileans with that of their sacrifices. Jesus, why did that happen? A tower fell in Siloam killing 18. Jesus, why did that happen? Notice how Jesus answers. Essentially He says this life is short, fragile, and not all there is. Therefore repent, because it could be you! You can almost hear the words of Psalm 90:12 on His lips: "So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom."
When bad things happen to strangers, we often get cold chills a little later as we think about how that could have been us. We say, "I passed through that very intersection not more than a minute before that terrible wreck." We say, "That tornado came within six blocks of my house." We say, "I know somebody that used to work with her, and she was five years younger than me!" We say, "I can't help but think how that could happen to anybody."
Now when bad things happen to us, it is entirely different. We feel the loss in a deeply personal way, because our relationships are irreplaceable. The statute of limitations on grief does not run out. How could it? We are the sum of our relationships (Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset wrote "I am I and my circumstance"). It takes time to come to a place of acceptance about the new and not better circumstance. Our losses can, in time, become occasions for growth as empathetic and caring persons. Yet the narcissist in each of us can also become so wrapped up in these personal tragedies that we can become embittered and destructive, trying to throw God out of our world.
The old Adam or Eve in us is a born narcissist. He or she is the center of the universe, and that makes it God's responsibility to explain Himself to us. One often overhears people talking about their loss of faith because of the terrible things that happened to others or to themselves. Instead of recognizing that God is God and we are not, the old Adam or Eve builds a rather childish case for why he or she is not a believer or not a worshiper. Only a narcissist looks at her or his own tragedies and losses as if they were weightier than all those that happen or happened to others. A walk through an old cemetery can be an eye-opener for the person who is willing to become a recovering narcissist. The older the cemetery the more stories one finds of inexplicable losses. Hang out in a hospital waiting room, and you will always find people with painful stories.
Jesus' parable in Luke 13:6-9 is, of course, a judgment parable. It is, again, not an explanation of why bad things happen to people (good, bad, or otherwise). Jesus' parable challenges God's people then and now to look at their (our!) lives through God's eyes. Is God the center? Am I seeking to do His good and gracious will? Am I ready to learn from and grow through the pain in my life? Or will my end game simply be to live and to die unto myself as if this were all there is? Jesus' parable is a call to repentance, to turn from the old narcissistic life to the new God-centered life! The point of God's Word of judgment is always, in this life, to drive us out of ourselves to His mercy in Jesus Christ!
IT MAKES THINGS GROW
Manure is still a popular fertilizer even for people far removed from the farming world. Doubtless there are farm folks having a good laugh as each townie or suburbanite pays for those bags of manure at the home improvement store. Work it into the soil at the right time, and manure puts fruit and vegetables in the garden and gorgeous blooms in the flowerbed. Small wonder, then, that Jesus uses such an obvious example to teach us about how the bad things in our lives can become blessings as the Holy Spirit helps us to grow and deepen in faith, hope, and love.
God's best answer to the narcissist in me and in others is the innocent suffering and death of His beloved Son Jesus. Through His saving work on the cross, God's Son Jesus has destroyed the ultimate power of sin, death, and evil. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13, "now we see through a mirror dimly but then face to face." Our capacity for grasping the Master's plan is always limited by our mortality. On this side, death always seems to be the worst thing imaginable because it cuts off lives far sooner than most of us are ready and separates us from our most treasured earthly relationships.
The great good news of Jesus Christ our Savior moves from the objective to the subjective. This Gospel gets applied to each person who is baptized when Christ's work is declared for this one! Let's be clear. Baptism is not our work. Baptism is God's gracious work of choosing us sinners for the sake of His Son Jesus. It is what Augustine called a visible Word, God's Word joined to the earthly stuff of water to declare a new child of God where there was none (John 3:5). This one is marked with Christ's holy cross and sealed with the Holy Spirit. This one has been buried and raised with Jesus to share in the life and love of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This one is set apart and joined to the people of God of every time and place. As Peter says, "Once you were no people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy" (1 Peter 2:10).
So then what is our response to God's work for us and in us? Repent and believe this good news is for you! Trust the promise made to you in your Baptism. Of course, the old narcissist in me and you won't leave us alone until he or she is finally dead and buried. The old narcissist still tries to turn faith into something we do, when, in fact, faith is the trust God the Holy Spirit calls forth from us as we hear this Good News of Christ's saving death and resurrection. Jesus has lived the life none of us can live and died the innocent death none of us can die. All this, says Luther, God's Son has done that I may be His and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness (Small Catechism, 2nd Article of the Creed).
This life is short, fragile, and not all there is. That's the point of today's story and parable in Luke 13:1-9. The old narcissist in us fights going into the waters of Baptism and into the grave, because he or she doesn't want to let God be God. How stupid is that?
When the new child of God in us faces the pain and suffering of this life, he or she knows that her or his suffering has been joined to that of Christ Jesus. Our pain and suffering stinks just like manure; Christians are not masochists. But with God's help, we can grow and deepen as children of God who, in turn, become blessings to those we serve.
This is why Paul can write: "...we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us" (Romans 5:3-5).
Yes, Robert Werberig was right. I hated it then, and I still don't much like it.
In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Word This Week:Thoughts on The Word:
Philippians 3:14 - 4:1 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. Only let us hold fast to what we have attained.
Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
This week I would like us to look to Paul's letter to the Philippian Christians which is provided as our New Testament reading for us in the lectionary. During this time of Lent, where we are called to focus on our relationship with God, and re-affirm our commitment to Christ through self examination and often the casting out (or 'giving up') of those things which are a hindrance to our spiritual relationship and growth as Christians. This portion of Philippians is especially important for us to read and focus on during this period of self examination.
Paul provides us with a focus, he tells us to seek to emulate him even as he seeks to emulate Christ - This is not a way of telling us to give up on our goal to emulate Jesus, but is rather given to us as a stepping stone, where we move slowly closer to emulating our saviour through the emulation of Christians who are walking a path closer to the Gospel than we are.
Many of us from various Christian traditions do hold particular saints of the church as models of faith and prayer which we try and emulate - however the danger for us in focussing only those Christians from long ago is that we tend to think of them as being very different to us, and it is true St Paul, and the others from Apostolic times lived in a very different world. Even more recent saints which the church often looks to such as Augustine of Hippo and Augustine of Canterbury, St Francis of Assisi, Luther, or Calvin, Cranmer or even C.S.Lewis are people we look to often for inspiration, but who all lived in very different worlds and circumstances to those which confront us as Christians today. The danger is that we allow this separation, of time and circumstance to let us be complacent, and choose to make excuses for our own shortcomings in faith, and action. It is easy to justify our shortcomings when comparing ourselves to the likes of giants of the faith such as St Paul or Augustine. After all they are celebrated by the church precisely because they were such stand outs.
I wonder though if it would be as easy for us to make such justification for our failings, if as well as looking to the great names of Christians past, we also looked to the not so great and famous names of Christians in our midst. What if as well as looking to the extreme sacrifice of self, and solidarity with the poor embodied in St Francis, we also looked to that member of our congregation who regularly gives of their time and treasure to support the churches ministry to the elderly in nursing homes, to encourage us. What if as well as looking to the transformation in the life of Paul, from persecutor to missionary of the Christian faith, we look to the transformation of that recovering drug addict or alcoholic whose life has been changed through the grace of God entering their life; or what about the lifelong atheist who has finally found faith? You see their are Christians living around us everywhere who are inspirational and the message of St Paul in this epistle is that we should seek to emulate those around us that we know to be living lives which are Gospel based.
Paul urges us to turn away from earthly desires and instead to focus on the Gospel of Christ and living as Christians who are not citizens of this world, but rather citizens in the Kingdom of Heaven. He refers to the god of the belly - a reference to placing earthly desires such as food, and comfort above our faith. I wonder if he were writing to the church of the western world today if he would declare that many have a god of 'me'? Our focus is increasingly on ourselves and what we can get out of life, rather than what we can give. This is completely against the Gospel message of giving ourselves completely over to the will of God.
The church today more than ever needs to be looking to emulate Christ, and our first steps on that journey can be as simple as looking to those around us who we know to be living a Godly life and seeking to emulate them. So this week I encourage you to consider your own faith journey - do you have false gods in your life such as the god of 'the belly' or perhaps the god of 'me', what about the god of consumerism? Are there any around you that you which you have observed living a more Godly life? What is it that they do which you admire? Can you change your life in a similar way? Is there someone that you could talk to about strategies for getting your focus back on Christ and His kingdom?
Of course no-one is perfect, and even those we admire for their Christian faith and life will have flaws - this is not about elevating people to super hero or demi god status. Remember our goal is to emulate the life, love and compassion of our saviour, incrementally through seeking to emulate those who we know are living a life in closer union to the Gospel than we are.
God bless you this week,
Watch and Listen:
The Word This Week:Thoughts on the Word:Luke 4:1-13
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’” Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time. This week as we come to the first Sunday in our Lenten journey we encounter Jesus, the human being, being tempted by Satan. We find him in the wilderness, having been fasting for 40 days, his body would be screaming at him to eat something - anything. How easy it would be to listen to Satan, at this point when He is at his weakest. We can assume that he is emotionally and mentally drained after enduring 40 days of temptation and torment from Satan and that as a human being just like us he would be becoming desperate to break free of this torment and return home to comfort and shelter - to food! Yet Jesus does something remarkable - something that we all must look to in our own struggles and through our own temptations. When he is literally starving Satan whispers
in his ear - If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”
Oh how truly tempting it must have been for the Jesus to say yes to Satan's temptation. After 40 days he could simply say to this stone 'become bread' and he could have his fill. Yet our saviour doesn't say 'become bread' ... he rather replies “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”
This is a quotation from Deuteronomy 8:3 which says - He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.You see when he is tempted to follow his own desires - to fulfil his own wants and needs instead of God's he turns to the Word of God - and he refutes the Devil's
temptation by declaring that he lives on the Word of God - and not of earthly things. Satan by now is becoming desperate - after all he has been trying to get this bloke to crack for 40 days, and even now in His state of weakness and desperation he still won't turn away from God. So he shows Jesus all the Kingdoms of the World, and offers Him dominion over all of them if only He will bow down and worship Satan. Now this may have been tempting - after all think of all the good that could be done if Jesus was in complete control of the world, the oppressive Roman empire would be transformed into a Utopian paradise - yet the price for this is to turn from God and worship Satan. Jesus again turns to his knowledge of the Word of God to reject Satan's offer “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”
again he draws from the book of Deuteronomy, this time chapter 6 verse 13 which says - The Lord your God you shall fear; him you shall serve, and by his name alone you shall swear.
Despite what good could come from accepting the temptation of Satan, Jesus knew that in doing so he would be committing a grievous act - he would be turning His back on the creator and sustainer of all things - No matter how good it seemed, nothing is worth turning your back on God and bowing down to Satan, or any other false God, as the remainder of Deuteronomy 6 makes clear.Finally, Satan in a final act of desperation tempts Jesus
to throw Himself from the temple - this time attempting to use God's Word to confuse and trick Jesus. Satan quotes from Psalm 91:11-12, in order to show that Jesus is under the protection of God and can do whatever he pleases. Jesus' reply - “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
is drawn from Deuteronomy 6:16 .
Jesus rejects all of Satan's offers, no temptation that the evil one can muster up is enough to make Jesus turn away from God. You see this whole passage is about something that affects all of us, just as much as it affected Jesus. It is about choice. Jesus has free will, just as every human who has ever lived has free will. Jesus could have chosen of his own free will to turn that rock into bread, or to rule the world's kingdoms, He could have thrown Himself off that temple, confident that He would be caught by the hands of Angels - yet he did not. Jesus made a different choice... every time He was tempted to sin, Jesus made the conscious decision to be obedient to God. Obedience to the will of God is what Jesus exemplifies, and it is what He calls us to also. When we are tempted to go the way of the world, just as Jesus was in this Gospel account, we are being presented with an opportunity to make a choice - do we listen to the voice of Satan whispering in our ear, or do we instead choose obedience to God. Now many will say, 'but how do I determine what the will of God is? ... I want you to pay close attention as I read to you Jesus' responses to Satan's temptations. “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’” “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”Did you notice something familiar in each of those responses? It is written; It is written; it is said... Jesus points us to the Word of God in order to show us the will of God! There is no better way for you to learn the will of God for your life than to be familiar with His Word. You must build a relationship with God modelled on Jesus, and His relationship with God. You will remember throughout the Gospel accounts we repeatedly see Jesus in prayer, often away from others. You see Jesus gives us the model, and sets us the example. The only question is are we ready to follow Him?I encourage all of you to reflect on this reading, and especially on Jesus willingness to be obedient to God, even in the face of extreme hardship. I pray that you fortify your own hearts against the temptations of this world through deepening your knowledge of the Word of God, and through regular prayer. Finally take heart, because while you may have missed it, the Spirit of God never left Jesus during His temptation and hardships. Our Gospel account tells us at the outset that Jesus was 'led by the Spirit in the wilderness...'
It doesn't say that the spirit took him out there and left Him - but that it led Him during His temptation. Likewise the Spirit of God is always with you, and will give you strength to endure any temptation or hardship.
Watch and Listen:
The Word This Week:Thoughts on The Word:Luke 9:28-36 (NRSV)
The Transfiguration Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
In today's Gospel reading we encounter Jesus with three disciples on a mountain top. This is significant in that we find throughout scripture that encounters with the divine often occur on mountains. What happens on the mountain top is something that has many things to teach us as we seek to understand God's message to us through His Word. Today though our focus will be on the instruction of the Father to Listen to Jesus.Jesus is transfigured - transformed - on the mountain, and we see a glimpse of Him as he truly is, we catch a glimpse of his divinity. However Jesus is not alone on the mountain, he is joined by Moses and Elijah, two of the greatest figures in the history of Israel, representing the Law and the prophets. These representatives of the Law and Prophets are there to give us a message from this text - Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets. This is confirmed for us by the great voice of the Father from the cloud (the cloud being another common symbol when encountering the divine) ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’.
Do you see the significance of this? in the presence of the Law, the Prophets and Jesus we are to listen to Jesus! We are to follow Jesus who fulfills the Law, who is the ultimate prophet. I wonder, how seriously do we as Christians take this directive from the Father - because it is a directive for us, and not just the disciples on the mountain top, it is recorded in Scripture for our benefit as those who seek to follow Jesus... Listen to Him! It is so easy for us to get caught up in this world, to become so focused on what the world preaches as truth, that we forget to listen to Lord of Lords and King of kings. We get so caught up wanting to fit in, or to please family and friends that we choose to follow societies norms rather than to live the life of service, faith and love that scripture calls us to.
Some of us do this because we are afraid - we don't want to be the weird Christian that people talk about and make fun of behind our backs, we don't want to be different, we want to fit in. This is a normal feeling, everyone wants to be accepted, to be welcomed and thought well of ... but is that what Jesus calls us to do? Does Jesus call us to conform with the world or to be members of His Kingdom? You see while we may be able to justify to ourselves the reasons we use for our conformity, we simply cannot conform to the world's views AND be listening to Jesus. Lets explore an example. The world is increasingly telling us that there is no one way to God, that all faiths are equally valid and just provide a different way of understanding the divine. Now there are an increasing number of Christians who agree with this view. A growing number of those who claim to be followers of Christ are willing to openly declare that Islam, or Hinduism provide just as valid a path to God. They do this out of some naive attempt to be non-offensive to members of other faiths. However this is not what Jesus said, if we are to listen to Jesus as the father commands us then we must take Him at His word when he tells us ... ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
(John 14:6). Now this can be a hard thing for us to explain to the world - that Jesus is the only way, but it is what He said, and we must be honest with those around us. We must listen to Him, and tell others what He says. It won't always be easy, no-one wants to tell someone something that they don't want to hear, but by conforming with the world, we perpetuate a lie, and when we do that we become followers not of Christ, but of the master of lies - Satan.There are many other examples where Christians are being tempted to espouse the view of the world rather than the view put forth by Jesus, and the thing most often said is that we need to show love on issues and not be 'judgemental' after all we are all sinners. Of course that is true - we are all sinners, every last one of us. However if we are to be sinners that listen to Jesus then we are called to repentance, we are called to live a life in which we seek to turn away from sin - not just allow it to continue. Let me ask you this - is it loving to tell someone that it is ok to continue to go on sinning? Is it really a loving thing for us to tell Muslim a Hindu or a Buddhist that they will be just fine - that Jesus isn't the only way to salvation? Would it not be much more loving for us to tell people the truth? That Jesus calls us to turn from sin, that the ONLY way to salvation is through the redeeming work of Jesus? Lets be honest when we conform to the worldly view of these things, we are not showing love for anyone - except ourselves in order to try and protect our own egos and feelings. If we were showing true love for others we would be seeking to introduce them to the Gospel - the true Gospel, not the watered down version that is acceptable to society, but the genuine Gospel of Christ which calls us to repentance and brings us to salvation through the redeeming work of Jesus on the cross and through his resurrection.As we move into Lent this week I pray that with me you will seek to renew your commitment to listening to Jesus, just as the father commanded on that mountain top. I pray that we will have the courage to speak the truth of the Gospel out of a genuine love. I pray that we will use this time of preparation and reflection, where it is traditional to give something up, to give up our tendency to be followers of the world instead of Christ, and to take up the challenge of displaying the true love of Christ through truly listening, and doing what he says.
Watch and Listen:
The Word This Week:Thoughts on The Word:Luke 4:21-30
Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’ He said to them, ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” And you will say, “Do here also in your home town the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.” ’ And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’ When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way. Today we look to Jesus the outsider. In today's Gospel account Jesus returns to his home town, he reads to the congregation, from the prophet Isaiah, and declares that the scripture which he read has been fulfilled. A clear implication that He is the fulfillment of the scriptures. Now we may well expect that Jesus would be preaching to the converted, that here in Israel, and especially in his home town the message of the messiah would be understood and welcomed. However Jesus is not well received at all, in fact the crowd looks to him with disbelief. Jesus sees this failure of faith in them and turns the conversation on its head - he says what they are all thinking - ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” And you will say, “Do here also in your home town the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.” ’ And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town. You see the congregation in the synagogue at Nazareth figured that they had this God business sorted, they had been coming to synagogue every week for their whole lives, they were a part of the chosen people, it was all good for them! So who is this Jesus character - the carpenter's son no less - to come in and start preaching to them? What is he declaring about himself - he couldn't be who they say he is - we know how all this works!Jesus then rams home a point that the congregation really doesn't like - he tells them '... there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’
You see Jesus is letting this congregation know something important - Just because you turn up to church each week, just because you believe in God doesn't mean that you will recognise Him or his message - even when it is right in front of you! We see in the recounting of stories of the prophets Elijah and Elisha, that God will work through and give his blessing to whoever he pleases - even to the outsiders, those who aren't a part of the special group. When we look at the Church today, I wonder if we have not become a little like the congregants at the synagogue in Nazareth. What I see increasingly around the world in all but a few branches of the church is a level of comfort that has led to arrogance. The church is so confident that it has this God thing sorted that it has even begun to reject the parts of God's revelation that it doesn't like - after all, we are exceedingly clever and if we don't like that God's word says marriage is between a man and a woman, then we will just ignore that. Likewise that part about Jesus being the ONLY way to salvation doesn't fly to well with the masses, so we'll alter that to say he is our way - but you might have another. Then of course there is that word 'sin', scripture tells us that we are to reject sin, that we are to turn away from it and seek to live according to the will of God - but that doesn't seem to go down well with the world... so why don't we just focus on the 'love' parts, God loves us so it doesn't matter what we do, or how we choose to live. Just forget about Jesus message to the woman caught in adultery - I'm sure he meant to say 'get up and go back to your adulterous love affair, its OK because I love you'... The bible must be wrong where it records his words as 'Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.’
...I hope you will forgive my sarcasm. What I also pray though is that you will see that we cannot continue on the path that so much of the church is treading,we must be prepared to see God and accept His revelation to us - We cannot continue to reject it in favour of our own. It might not sit well with the world, and it may not sit well with the Christians around you either, but we must return to a model of Christian faith that is founded upon the revelation of God. Yes it means we will be outcasts, yes it means we will be considered to be fringe dwellers - maybe we might even be tanned with the fundamentalist brush - but the fact is that God has revealed to us the way we are to live in His word, and through the traditions and interpretations of the church, established over two millenia
. Some of those will make us the object of ridicule, some will cause us to lose friends, to be rejected by family...
Remember though there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’ There are many who claim allegiance to God today, just as there were many widows and lepers in Israel. How many of us who claim to be followers of Christ are prepared to follow Him fully though? How many are prepared to declare that sin is not OK and that we should not merely accept it but seek to turn away from it, how many of us are prepared to become the object of ridicule, to be considered the fringe dweller - the outsider like the widow at Zarephath, or Namaan the Syrian? Let us not fall into the trap of the congregation at the synagogue in Nazareth, because if we reject the Word of God as they did,
if we are determined to throw Jesus from the cliff, He will pass through our midst, and we will be lost.God bless you this week,Daryl.