Audio Sermon 4th March – St Petri Lutheran Church
Pastor James Winderlich – The Ten Commandments
Sermon: Have you Good Reason to be Angry?
Sunday 21st January, 2018
Sermon, Epiphany 3 – St Petri
“Do you Have any Good Reason to Be Angry?” – Jonah 4:4
The theme of repentance and its relationship to this world runs through all of the readings today. But I’m going to concentrate on the Old Testament reading from Jonah. In particular I want you to understand that this sermon is indeed a call to repentance, but perhaps not in the way that you may imagine a call to repentance is uttered or perhaps not even something you may understand a call to repentance means.
I want you to picture, if you will, this scenario. It’s the day before Christmas. You are in the supermarket. It is packed. You are standing in the fast checkout lane, you know, the 12 items or less. You have 11 items in your basket and that allows you to possibly buy a packet of chewies on the way out. You are getting close. You are only 15 people from the front of the queue now, and then some big, sweaty, smelly bloke with a trolley absolutely packed, overflowing with stuff – muscles all the way through to the front of the queue, pushes in. And then what’s worse, the checkout lady starts serving them! One item at a time. What goes through your mind? or let me ask you this? What repeatable thing goes through your mind? – Something will go through your mind that says “It’s not fair!”
The other thing that happens when you’ve got that sense of not fairness going through your head and your heart, is that you become the emotion that you would associate with that scenario. You become angry, impatient, hostile, grumpy. Does that ring bells with any person in this building? Well then we have got a sermon for you today.
If you understand that picture, you understand Jonah’s problem. Jonah’s problem was one of “not fairness”. It’s one of anger and bitterness and resentment. The problem is that if you let that “not fairness” and that sense of anger dominate you, it becomes the lens through which you see everything. You then become like I am fast becoming, a grumpy old man. No, you then actually become a cynical person, you see everything through the lens of that bitterness which makes even good things in the world, interpreted cynically, bitterly. The other problem that it does is that it roots within us a rejection of God, and a rejection of his word of grace to us.
Here is a bold statement. I believe it to be a true statement, which is why I’m making it. All of our anger, even if at the point where our anger is directed to the smelly big man with a trolley at the front of the queue. All of our anger is finally against God. Our problems with anger are God problems. He is to blame, finally, for the things that have gone wrong.
If you let that angry disposition sit within you, it becomes what one of the other passages in Scripture calls, “a root of bitterness springing up”. As a root of bitterness springs up, it defiles many. It touches many. Paul in Ephesians speaks about the necessity to let all that angers you go. The wrath and the clamour and slander. The cynicism, the bitterness let it all go because, he says, unless you do that, you give the evil one a foothold. An opportunity to make mayhem in your life.
My wife and I used to live, before we moved here, just north of Cairns in a place called Clifton Beach. If you have ever been to it, near Palm Cove. It is a fantastic spot. We could just walk for two minutes from our place onto the beach, and we could walk along the beach and look at the palm trees. What are we doing living in the Barossa?
I don’t know if you remember a few years ago, there was a total eclipse of the sun which occurred. We had a prime viewing spot because it was going to pass almost directly over us. So we went down to the beach early that morning to look at what was going to happen. To our shock and horror, our beach was filled with tens of thousands of people from all over Australia, and the world. All come to look at this thing. So we were standing on our beach, packed in like sardines and looking up the sky. It was a bit cloudy. My wife said; “Darling all of these people have come to see this, and it’s cloudy”. “They can’t see anything”. “I think we should pray that God would move the clouds”. I thought to myself, you have got more faith than I have sweetie, but sure enough we did. She prayed, and I prayed, and over a period of the next five or 10 minutes the cloud started to move and break apart. What was obscured became visible. Just at the point where the total eclipse was total, and you got that magnificent diamond ring effect happening. All of the clusters and stars coming out like the classic pictures you see in newspapers and magazines all around the world. It was like a box seat, and God had moved the clouds so that they formed this stunning sort of halo around it. Tens of thousands of people clapped and applauded and whooped and hollered in a spontaneous act of worship. They didn’t know who it was they were worshipping, I’m sure. But it was just such an awe-inspiring experience. And just as the egress started to happen, when the clouds started to move back over again, as the moon was moving away, the clouds started to cover over that little ending part. A bloke in front of us utters, loud enough for everybody to hear, “Yeah that would be right!” In other words, I’ve got such a cynical disposition about God, and all that he’s done wrong in the world that I can’t even enjoy the magnificent spectacle that I’ve seen – a once in a lifetime revelation of glory, without complaining about something. As if to say “God, you stuffed it up again”
Jonah’s problem was an anger problem. Jonah is probably one of the best known of all biblical stories, but having said that, I think we need to remind ourselves that there is now a huge gap between ourselves, who are used to biblical stories, and many people who are not. Let me give you one example. A friend of mine who is a pastor and working in one of our eastern states in a rural district, has seen a wonderful work of God amongst a group of farmers at a little outstation about 100 km away from the main town in his district. One farmer there has had a wonderful revelation of the love of God in Jesus Christ. He has invited many of his friends to come so that they now have a gathering on one of the farms, often 25 farmers or more, and now they are starting to gather some of their wives and children once a month – but it is just as an illustration that my friend was talking with them about the parable of the prodigal son. He said, “How many of you have heard of the parable of the prodigal son?” and one of these blokes puts his hand up says, “Was that a Johnny Cash song? – Really! That is the level of difference between what we commonly speak about, can you understand?
So even though we know the story of Jonah, perhaps it is worth repeating some of the details. Jonah was an old Testament prophet. Probably the most unwilling and grumpy prophet that the Lord has ever sent into the world. Jonah was called, on one occasion, to jump on a boat and go to Darwin, so he decided he would go to Hobart. In fact, it wasn’t quite that way, it was that he was told to go to Nineveh. We know that instead he decided he go to Tarshish, which is the equivalent of saying ”I want you to go to London” and instead go to Antarctica. They are not close to one another. They are about as far away as you could get. To run to Tarshish was to run away from what God had asked him to do. Jonah speaks about it as trying to run from the presence of the Lord.
Why did Jonah want to run? Well, Nineveh was a godless town of idolatry and greed and hostility, who raised up over the next centuries as one of the mightiest empires and strongest armies the world has ever seen. That empire and that army eventually crushed the whole of the northern part of Israel. They were governed or ruled over at that stage by a King, but he himself was ruled over by a God called Asher. If you were to look at some of the ancient reliefs you would see the King in his chariot and this God Asher, would be riding ahead of them into battle. In other words he was the servant of a pagen God, ruling over a city which was ignorant of God, sitting in darkness and due to become one of the biggest enemies of God’s people. Nineveh even at that point, by reputation, was held in awe by all of the surrounding nations. No one wanted to be friends with the Ninevites or the Assyrians. God asked Jonah to go there and to preach a message of repentance, so that if the Ninevites were to hear this word. God would turn and bless them and do them good, and transform their society, and cause them to live in righteousness and peace and the joy of the Holy Spirit. Jonah’s response was “I don’t want them to be blessed”. Like the man who pushes in at the front of the queue at the point that you’re standing there with your 11 items in your bag. You don’t think “Gee, I wish that God would bless that man immensely”. That’s not what’s in your mind is it?
Jonah decides that the Ninevites don’t deserve to be blessed and he knows God is the sort of God who will bless people like the Ninevites if they repent, so he decides that he is not going to Nineveh he is going to Tarshish. We know the story, he jumps on a boat to Tarshish. A big storm comes up. People say “How come we are in the middle of this storm?” “The gods must be angry with us”. Jonah ‘fesses up and says “Look in the end, it’s all my fault, I’m running away from the presence of God”. “He’s asked me to do something and I’m not doing it, so toss me over”. So over he goes, and of course you know the story. God appoints a big fish and the big fish swallows Jonah.
Now to all intents and purposes Jonah is a dead man. He is out of sight, out of mind. Is drowned. He’s in the depths of the sea. He is down by the roots of the mountains, as he calls it. From the world’s point of view, he is dead and buried. From Jonah’s point of view he probably felt he was dead and buried, but three days later he is spat up again on the beach at the very place that he needs to be. He most reluctantly trudges through the city bringing the message of God’s forgiveness to these people and saying “repent”, hoping against hope that they won’t believe it, but they do. Everybody believes! The King believes, and they proclaim a fast. They put themselves through this visible sign of their repentance and God blesses them.
Then Jonah becomes grumpy. He says to God “This is what I said would happen.” “If I came here and they heard and believed, you said that you would bless them” “Now they have heard, and they believe and you have blessed them, and it’s just not fair!” “They are godless pagens who hate us and they eat the wrong food and they wear the wrong clothes”. “They have got tats and they’ve got piercings and they don’t know when to stand up or when to sit down”. So, what does Jonah do? He goes outside of Nineveh, he sits on a hill grumpy, with crossed arms and basically waits to see if God would change his mind. Perhaps if I sit here and let my cynical grumpiness rise up to heaven, God will eventually bring judgement on them. So he sitting there in this stew of his own anger and bitterness and cynicism and hardness. Stewing away, waiting for the fire of judgement to fall on Nineveh. Waiting for the city to burn down and of course it doesn’t happen.
The Jewish people approach that Scripture somewhat differently. Jonah and also Esther are great books of humour and celebration. With Esther, for example they would read it and act it out like a pantomime, with goodies and baddies and fixing the baddies. They come on stage hissing the baddies and cheering the goodies. This is the way it is meant to be read. It’s meant to be understood to be entirely a humorous but pointed illustration.
A humorous but pointed illustration is this, that it is possible for you to be one of God’s people like Israel. It is possible for you to be here Sunday by Sunday and never hear or believe and just be angry about the people out there who aren’t here Sunday by Sunday but whom God is willing, and wanting to and preparing to, and even now blessing. The pointed illustration is that the people who should have believed and repented don’t and the people who should not, by all rights, have believed and repented do. It’s getting a bit close to the bone now isn’t it.
So Jonah sits there on the hillside, and God in this beautiful story, causes a plant to grow. A 42° day hot north wind. The plant gives relief and shade, and then God causes a worm to come and to nibble away at the plant and destroy it. Heat, sweat, uncomfortable. Rage – “It’s not fair”. “Even my plant has died”. That’s where the question comes. “Do you have good reason to be angry?” Jonah says, “You bet I have got good reason to be angry God, because you don’t use the same rule book that I use”. “In my rule book, if you do the right thing, if you stand in line in the checkout with 11 items not 15 and if you’re patient, then you get rewarded”. “You don’t get rewarded if you are a big sweaty ugly bloke who pushes in at the front of the queue and the Ninevites are big sweaty ugly blokes and you are blessing them!” “It is just not fair God, and yes, I have good reason to be angry.” Thank you very much for asking, because you’ve never done anything right as far as I’m concerned, in the whole history of the creation. To which God’s response is “Jonah, I’ve got many, many, many people in this city as well as animals, cattle and beasts and I want to bless them all”. “Don’t you want to share in that?” That’s sort of roughly the question that the thing ends on.
It’s a little bit like the question that the parable of the prodigal son ends on, where the older brother refuses to come in for the rejoicing of the feast for the returned son. You remember the story I told a few minutes ago about the farmers. Well, as they talked about that parable that night, one of those farmers thumped the table, and with words that you would never use in Church, swore and cursed and said “That is never going to happen in my place, because my son is an utter waste of space”. To which my friend the Minister understood and said, “You’ve heard the parable and you understand it”. The elder brother in that parable stands outside and refuses to join the celebration.
This is where we can so readily and so easily be, but as we said, I think in last week’s sermon, when you are thinking about the old Testament in particular, you need to think not just in terms of linear reasoning but in terms of images and pictures and the structures that go along with that picture language. Jonah is full of that, in particular his name. His full name is Jonah Ben Amity. Jonah the son of Amity. Do you know what the Son of Amity means? Ben Amity means, Son of Truth. So Jonah, who is to be the son of truth, actually is the opposite of that because he’s not portraying God as he really is. He is not experiencing God as he really is except in a negative, cynical, angry, hardhearted rejection of God’s character. Do you know what his name “Jonah” means? Jonah means “dove” as in pigeon.
In the world of all small trivial coincidences, this is also the meaning of our Surname. Due is a Danish surname, “dove” or “pigeon” so perhaps the message is I am Jonah. I don’t know.
So, Jonah the dove. Where do you have a picture of a dove in your old Testament knowledge. What old Testament story that’s got a dove in it somewhere? Noah. You have got Noah who is save in the ark. Who is saved in the ark with his family and sends out the dove. The dove comes back with an olive branch to say that the waters are receding and there’s land, which in effect says that the judgement is passed you are free to re-establish a whole new life now. The dove brings a message that the judgement is passed and a new thing is beginning. So, Jonah the Dove brings a message that he disbelieves and doesn’t want to be true – but that message is that the judgement is passed and a whole new life can begin for you Ninevites and, blow me over with a feather, they actually believe it.
But also think about this. Noah and his family are on the surface of the water as they come through the judgement safely. Jonah is underneath. He is sort of buried under that judgement as God’s weight presses down on him, and rather than coming through on the top saved in the ark, he has to go the long way down underneath. Until God gets him into exactly where he wants him to be. Here’s one bit of truth, “You can’t get away from God” no matter what. You can’t get away no matter how angry you are you can’t escape him.
But now jump ahead. Can you think of another story, with another bit of water and another man? Another dove? Jesus at his Baptism and the Holy Spirit descending in the form of the dove. Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit becomes a messenger of God’s peace and he says that ”He is anointed, that the Spirit is upon him to proclaim good news to the captives and release to those who are in bondage, the acceptable year of the Lord’s favour”. And so being filled with the power of the dove, which is the Holy Spirit, Jesus the prophet (remember he says, ”There is someone greater than Jonah here”. Jesus the prophet, greater than Jonah, goes out into the world to preach to his enemies. To preach to those who crucified him. To weep tears over Jerusalem which is going to nail him to a cross through the hands of godless men. He arrives on a donkey and when any one of them repents, he rejoices. When the Holy spirit with joy unspeakable, when he describes that event in relationship to the kingdom of heaven, he says “There is more joy in the kingdom of heaven over one sinner who repents than there is over anything else in the whole world”.”I am here delighting to be the saviour and messenger that God has sent because I want you to experience that joy”.
Jonah and Jesus are direct opposites. Jesus the son of truth, who is the truth, who speaks the truth. Jesus anointed with the dove who participates in the Ministry of the Spirit to bring repentance and reconciliation. Just as we have confessed in that commentary on the Apostles Creed. He rejoices in the Holy Spirit when it happens.
Now the message for this morning is not this. “Don’t be like Jonah!” There’s no good news in that. If I were to say okay you heard all of that, the take-home message is “Don’t be like Jonah” It’s too late – you are like Jonah. Everyone is like Jonah.
The take-home message from today is that, in the face of the grumpy, cynical, anger which has taken root in your heart and life, God has sent someone greater than Jonah. That one who is greater than Jonah has loved you more than you could ever say, and more than you will ever know, I suggest. This one who is greater than Jonah, has come with the fullness of the Holy Spirit to grant you forgiveness and peace. So that, in repentance and faith you would enter into the joy of the Holy Spirit which he himself has. This one, who was greater than Jonah, has come to give you the whole of the kingdom of heaven and here is the point. It’s not fair, it’s not fair that he should do that!
If you say “It’s not fair that you should bless the Ninevites”. “It’s not fair that you should bless the ugly man at the front of the queue”. “It’s not fair that you should bring forgiveness to those people who have never been inside this building”. “It’s not fair”!
Well, by what right is it fair for you to experience forgiveness? There’s nothing fair about you experiencing forgiveness. You haven’t earned it or deserve it. You haven’t earned the Son of God coming from heaven. It’s not fair that he should have to come. He does it because he loves you. And if you’re happy to receive him on the basis of his own grace in love and mercy and goodness, and face the fact that it’s actually not fair that he’s come to find you – then why should you refuse that to someone else? Anyone else in the whole world? Let all wrath and anger and clamour and slander go says the apostle Paul in Ephesians.
God doesn’t come to us, sort of saying “Look I know it’s not fair, but I’ll just do it anyway”. He comes to us with enormous joy and freedom and grace to say “I don’t care what it costs”. “I don’t care how much I have to expend of myself”. “I don’t care how much blood it takes from me, God”. “I want you in my family and nothing is going to stop me doing it”. “Nothing”. “Even your own anger against me which crucifies me and puts me to death and buries me”. On the third day someone greater than Jonah rises up and he walks among us this morning and he says “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”.
So, you can go from here today actually free. You can actually let all that anger and bitterness and cynicism and resentment go, because Jesus Christ has accounted for every bit of it in his cross. And he has forgiven you freely, and fully, even for hating the bloke who pushes in front of you on the line. Even that’s forgiven. There is no reason for any of us to hold on to that anger any longer. In Jesus name, we are called to repentance. Amen.
Sermon, Epiphany2 – So close and yet so far Away – Pastor Noel Due
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of unbelief or incredulity, as Dickens put it, it was the season of Light, with a capital “L”. It was the season of Darkness, with a capital “D”. It was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way — in short, the period was so far like the present period, …
And it is far like the present period. Here is something else, it’s not just a period of light or darkness, the best of times, the worst of times, belief or unbelief, but it’s a time when it’s not all about you. Can you believe that? That life is not all about you? But it is a time in which everything is all about you. If you have a bit of a problem with such paradoxical thinking, you ought not to be sitting in a Lutheran Church. The whole of Luther’s theology was built on that paradoxical dialectical theology. For example, the Christian is the most free Lord of all, subject to none, and the most dutiful servant of all, subject to all. The Christian is simultaneously a saint and a sinner.
The whole of our theology as Lutheran Christians is built on this sense that we are in the midst of times, which in some way contradict each other, but in another way reveal the glory of God through that very contradiction. So that the glory is hidden in the darkness. The grace is hidden in the suffering of the cross. Here we are at a time in Israel’s history in the old Testament reading which I will be preaching on this morning. You can see from the bulletin cover where things were the best of times and the worst of times. Where it was all darkness, but yet it was the dawn of hope where people had new life coming to them in the most unexpected ways. Prophecies of judgement and death, cheek by jowl with those promises of new life.
From one point of view this is not a story about Eli the old priest and his sons. From another point of view, it is a story about Eli the old priest and his sons. In the old Testament, the narrative is driven along through God’s dealings with people. So when we think of the old Testament stories, we think of the names of people like Abraham and Isaac. Jacob, David, Samuel and Solomon, Jeremiah and Ezekiel and Isaiah, and so forth. But those people in their particular stations and vocations of life are used by God to bring out the narrative of what God is doing in, with, through, and under, all of the events of history. So from one point of view it’s not about them at all, but from another point of view it’s entirely about them.
So think for example, of the theology that lies behind God our Shepherd. On the one hand you have things like Psalm 100 which says that we are his people, the flock of his pasture and it’s speaking about all of us together. There is one flock with one Shepherd but on the other hand something like Psalm 23; the Lord is my Shepherd. What we tend to do today is to focus on the individual thing. That’s the way the whole of society has gone. It’s the way our advertising works’s. It’s the way our consumerism drives our economies. It’s all centralised on the person and we’ve lost the sense that we belong to that great community and what happens with us and for us and through us is actually, for the sake of the community beyond us. This story is about Eli and his sons, but even more it’s about what God is doing in Israel.
One of the problems with the lectionary readings as we have them, is that you tend to miss the context of a reading. You pluck something out. Here we are, we reading from 1 Samuel this week and could be anywhere next week. As we pluck that one reading out, we miss the flow with the story, and this reading from 1 Samuel ties very closely to the chapters that have preceded it and what precedes those chapters.
It is the period of the judges, and that period was chaos. You’ve got a story of unending decay in God’s people. Morally and in every other way. They are just going down, down, down and down, and then, you have the little story of Ruth and Boaz and that beautiful gift of marriage that God gave to Ruth to restore her. How that becomes a pattern for our redemption in the new Testament. But the narrative is then taken up through the stories of these people like Eli and Samuel. Before you get to Samuel, you get to a man called Elkanah and his wife Hannah, and his other wife Peninnah. Remember that Hannah was barren and childless, and despairing. Elkanah would take his whole family up to the tabernacle every year to offer sacrifices. Hannah was a woman of faith and prayer and you may remember the story that Eli the old priest, this faithless old codger, was sitting there watching Hannah. Watching her tears, seeing her lips move because she was praying to herself rather than out loud. What was his assumption? You are drunk. Put your wine away. Interestingly, you know in the new Testament when some other people were filled with the holy spirit, some people said something very similar didn’t they, on the day of Pentecost. I think at that point Eli was just giving vent to what was going on in his own heart.
We become very critical of people over the very matters that we ourselves fail in the most.
Eli was a big heavy fleshy man but also a big heavy fleshly man in the theological sense. He had no spiritual life about him, even though he was a priest in the tabernacle. Hannah had her prayer answered! The answer to that prayer was Samuel. Samuel now is the one who is going to carry the hopes and dreams of Israel forward. All of this period speaks of transition. Eli and all that he stands for is on the way down. Samuel and all of the promises that he is bringing with him are on the way up. So, we are set in this little reading, at a pivotal point of world history, enacted through people.
So, how do we understand what’s happening here? Well it is full of images and symbolism. Yes, it is full of real people doing real things, but when the Biblical writers pick up on the details, they pick up on those details for a real spiritual purpose. Here we have got this picture of Eli, the old priest whose eyes are growing dim. A very big man, very heavy man, his heart is heavy. Physically, he is not able to move. He’s not nimble. And all of that represents his spiritual state. He is dim of eye. He’s not able to hear the word of God. He is not able to see the visions that God is bringing through his people. His spiritual light is decreasing, if it ever existed to start with, and as the Lord had prophesied in chapter 2, Samuel, Eli and his sons are all going to die in judgement.
I don’t know what it meant for Eli to hear that.Certainly there’s indications that he hated what his sons were up to, because he knew that when he went, his sons would have full control of the tabernacle. His sons were even worse than he was. Not only were they greedy, not only were they gluttons, but they also were sexually immoral. They used to seduce the women who come to worship. They used to lay with those who served at the door of the tabernacle. Perhaps Eli heard the prophecy of judgement as a mercy. Thank God this isn’t going to go on.
The boy Samuel is in the tabernacle, he’s there as a young servant boy. He would help carry things. He would help close and open doors. He would move furniture around. He would be instructed from his boyhood in the way of being a priest in the tabernacle.
Samuel had not yet heard the word of the Lord. The Word of the Lord was rare in those days. A bit like today. Visions were infrequent. People were not used to hearing God speak. There was no expectancy in the temple – perhaps that’s a bit like you. But then as is always the history of God’s dealings with his people, he does something in the most unexpected way. Through this woman Hannah who had been ridiculed ostracised and rejected, a new hope is born and through this little boy Samuel who had not yet heard the word of the Lord.
There is a new beginning promise.So Samuel asleep in his bed, quiet. There were no sacrifices conducted at night time. The lamp of the Lord is still burning. Samuel hears. My sheep hear my voice. Samuel hears his voice calling him. “Samuel”. I call them all by name. Because Samuel is not yet used to hearing the voice of God, he has to develop in his spiritual discernment, he immediately thinks it’s Eli calling. I must see what he needs and no Eli says no I am not calling. Samuel go back. “Samuel” Yes master, you called? “No I did not call Samuel” and then the penny drops for Eli.
The prophecy has been made against me. God would not remove me and my family from Israel unless he had something else to bring up to replace. That’s the way God always works. When God is going to renew and revive his work, he does it through judgement. He removes the blockages. He takes away the barriers, through judgement. Eli knew that if that prophecy had been made about him and his family, then God would be doing something else and the penny drops. He says to Samuel “Go back, it’s the Lord speaking to you”. “Say to him ‘Speak Lord, your servant is listening.’ “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” In other words, Eli says to Samuel, “Samuel you do the thing that I’ve not done. And you do the thing that my sons are not doing. You listen. You hear.So Samuel goes back. The Lord comes the third time to Samuel. He says “speak Lord, your servant is listening”. That simple exchange or relational encounter transforms not just the history of Israel, at this point, but through Samuel, and through all that God was going to do through Samuel, it transforms the history of the whole world. It’s not all about Samuel, but it is all about Samuel.
It is the worst of times because of the darkness, and the despair, and the deadness of God’s people. But it’s the best of times because the lamp of the Lord has not yet gone out. It was a time of darkness because Eli could not see. He was a man who had failing physical sight and failing spiritual sight. He sat in the dark because it was all just darkness to him. Not just night-time but darkness.
But, it was also the time of light, because that darkness is matched by a light which shines in the darkness through this little boy and the darkness could not overcome it. The story of Samuel goes on to unfold how God himself went into the darkness, captured in the ark of the Philistine’s. Taken into the very darkness.
Perhaps all of this is ringing bells with you. Perhaps you look at the church, this church, the whole Church in Australia. The church, however you may be thinking about it and you may be thinking it is the worst of times. But I tell you, it is also the best of times because the lamp of the Lord has not yet gone out and if God did and fulfilled something through Hannah and her little son Samuel, how much more will he complete what is promised through Mary and her son Jesus. If the lamp of the Lord which was burning in the old tabernacle had not yet gone out in the darkness, how much more impossible is it for the light of the world not to go out?
Even though in the midst of the tabernacle, the church, the temple which we are. Even though things may be very dark. God is not finished with the church, but he will not revive or awaken without cleaning out the dross. We’ve had many years of that in the public arena haven’t we. Royal commissions, dreadful things exposed. It’s time first for judgement to begin with the house of God says Peter. And when we’ve been through the fire, we may be able to help the rest of the world cope when God brings their darkness to the light.
It may be just for you personally today. You are feeling it is all darkness. It’s not. The light of the world is still shining in you and on you. The darkness that you feel is not darkness to him. Though you walk through the valley of deep darkness, he is with you, and his rod and his staff will still comfort you. The only thing that you need to do is a Samuel. Speak Lord your servant is listening. Speak Lord, your servant is listening. As you throw all things up into chaos, speak Lord, your servant is listening. As we despair about the church and we look at all of the changes that are taking place across all of the denominations all around the world, “speak Lord your servant is listening”. But please, for God’s sake literally don’t become an Eli. You know that the judgement for not hearing in the old Testament, or the scriptures, the judgement for not hearing is that you can’t hear. The judgement for not seeing is that you can’t see. Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.
In Jesus name. Amen.
Sunday 7th January, 2018
Pastor Noel Due Sermon, Epiphany1 St Petri
“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you Isaiah 60:1
I don’t know how it was with you in primary school, but when I was in primary school they used a phrase which said that it was time to get your thinking caps on. I am not sure if that Phrase Is Still Current. I was never much good at finding where those caps were kept, I must admit, because they seemed to be particularly needed during mathematic lessons, or what in those days used to be called arithmetic or Sums. My thinking cap seemed never to fit very well.
You do need to have your thinking cap on a bit today, except in a different sort of way. When we have a thinking cap in the Bible, it’s actually not a logical cap that we wear. The Bible is not so much interested in logical progression that might fit mathematics or arithmetic or sums. The Bible Is much more a book of images, and pictures and concepts which overlap with one another, which inter-penetrate with one another, which reinforce one another, show one another off by contrast. You need to have a thinking cap that is more imagination than mathematics is imagination. Although if there is a mathematics teacher here they would tell me that that not true because true mathematical solutions are imaginative and elegant. But, we won’t go into that.
So here today, we have a set of very well-known and famous readings “Arise, shine for your light has come. The glory of God has risen upon you – Isaiah 60 to 66 is the culmination of the book of Isaiah. It Is the ringing affirmation of all of God’s Promises. It is the piece de resistance of everything that their prophet has been looking forward to. It Is a bell ringing exciting fulfilment, and If you read Isaiah 60 to 66, it is full of blessing, fruitfulness, joy and glory, thanksgiving, happiness and rejoicing. If you read all of the chapters that lead up to that, It’s a different story.
Thinking caps that are not logical sometimes work best with word associations, so If I give you a word, a whole constellation of ideas enter into your mind. If I use the word “Cricket” there is a whole constellation of images out there in your heads. You could probably tell me all about them. If I use the phrase, “Sodom and Gomorrah” a whole different image comes into your mind doesn’t it. If I use the words the “Holy City, the new Jerusalem”, a whole set of different images come into your mind. If I use the word “darkness” – not just night, but darkness. Because we are used to darkness being a metaphorical imaginative concept aren’t we.
Has anyone ever given you a dark look? Have you had some dark thoughts? In Star Wars there is a “Dark Lord”. Do people have “dark Ideas” and “dark intentions”? And when they reveal them and suddenly win, are they not a bit of a “dark horse”? We are familiar with the idea of darkness and the more you think about it, the more you find that our very English language has incorporated all sorts of ways to handle the subtlety of what happens in the darkness. Not the night, but the darkness, because you can be living in the darkness even when it is the brightest daylight. So you can have dark thoughts even on a bright morning like this morning. The amazing thing Is that when you read Isaiah 60 – 66, the image is full of light and glory and rejoicing and blessing. But the people to whom that promise is made are people who have been in darkness, and not just in darkness but are a part of the darkness. Isaiah 60 says to God’s people in the Old Testament “Your Light has come! Arise, shine, the Glory of God has come upon you, the nation’s will now come”. That very group of people earlier on in Isaiah, in Chapter 1, are called Sodom and Gomorrah.
The way that Paul speaks about this in the New Testament is a very telling phrase in the book of the Ephesians. Chapter 5, just a couple of chapters after our New Testament reading where he says this “You were darkness – but now you are light in the Lord”. It is a very confronting image for us to try and understand because we like to think of ourselves relative to other people, and relative to other people they may be in darkness, or do dark deeds or be a bit of a dark horse or have dark thoughts or give dark looks, but we tend not to put ourselves in that category. It’s a them and us way of thinking about things. But what Isaiah has been saying all the way through the 66 Chapters, and what Paul says in that one verse, “you were darkness” is that we live and are together in a situation where there is no comparison necessary – because we are all as dark as one another. The pharisees were as dark as the zealots, who were as dark as Pilot, who was as dark as the disciples, who were as dark as you and me – we are all Solomon and Gomorrah. That’s the message.
There is an old hymn that I used to sing in another congregation when I was a Pastor there many years ago. Part of the words of words of that hymn go, Guilty vile and helpless we. Spotless Lamb of God was he. Hallelujah what a Saviour.
One of the members of that congregation said to me, you know Pastor, I wish we didn’t have to sing that hymn, I don’t like it. I said “Why not? “Well” she said, “I might be guilty sometimes, but I’m certainly not vile and helpless. I thought that this tells a whole story doesn’t it, that we don’t want to see ourselves as being part of that darkness. We want to be those few who are more righteous than the others. We want to be able to look comparatively at those other people, and the other people are the problem. The other people are the wicked ones, and the other people are the dark ones. On a scale we might not be fully radiant light but at least we are more tinged with Surf and Omo than they are. But as you read the scriptures, you get no possibility offered to you of such a perception. The prophetical books of the Bible, if you have read them through and I don’t know how many of you will have read the book of Isaiah for example, all the way through, they don’t leave you any room to hide. The Sermon on the Mount. People sometimes say, “Oh, wouldn’t it be wonderful if people just lived by the Sermon on the Mount”. Hands up if you could live by the Sermon on the Mount! Once you’ve read It doesn’t leave anyone standing. It slays all of us, and when Jesus (Mark 7) says, “It’s from within, out of the heart of a human being that comes – and he lists a terrible list of sins and transgressions: Adultery and murder and thieving and coveting. It is not them out there! It is not the others! It’s not them that made me do it – it’s me. It’s from this person, it’s from the very centre of me that this thing comes. That darkness is me and I am in it. I can‘t make the impure things pure by my own efforts.
You might know the story of the Pastor who was giving the children’s talk at the front of the church. It is a nice group of children and he says, “I’ve got a question for you”. I’m going to describe something you have to guess what it is. “It’s big and has got little black button eyes and a little sort of flat black spoon shaped nose and round fluffy ears. It goes along on all fours and it climbs trees and it’s grey on the back and white on the front”. The little boy down the front says, “Well Pastor, it sounds like a Koala, but the answer has to be Jesus.” In the children’s talk, the answer Is always “Jesus”.
What connects Isaiah 60 “Arise and shine for your light has come” with Matthew 2 “…and the nations represented by these wise men of unknown number. There were not three, nor four, there could have been 20 or 2, we don’t know. They come representing the nations now coming to the light. Jesus, the light of the world shining in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it, and they come to the light, drawn by the light of His star – something that is particularly a creation of God for Him. It is not something that you can find up in an astronomical journal.
In Ephesians Paul is bowing his knee before God because of the great mystery that now all the Nations of World are coming to learn the truth of the Gospel through Jesus Christ, who is the Light of the World. They who sit in darkness shall see a great light.
What connects all of those things? The answer has to be “Jesus!”
Jesus in a way, that doesn’t leave you thinking that you can do something about your own darkness. Jesus in a way, who transforms everything that you think about yourself so that you give up on any possibility to do anything to make yourself less dark than you are. Jesus in a way that comes and proclaims the Gospel in the words of the 10 Commandments expressed in His teaching on the Sermon on the Mount, and it leaves you darker than when you started, because there at that point, when you recognise that you are sitting in darkness, and how dark it is, then, the Light of the World means something to you. Until then you’ll be interested to take Him on as a good moral teacher, you might like to distil a few principles from Him and live by them. You might even point others to Him as a very good example to follow and that you’re trying to live up to it, but in all of those things He is not yet your Saviour. He has come to take the people from Sodom and Gomorrah, also known as Jerusalem, also known as the people of God, and turn them into his bride. His light filled, glorious, holy, bride!
When does that happen? From one point of view, it happened 2000 years ago, when Christ died and He said, “It is Finished”. “I have done what you have sent me for father”. “I have accomplished what you have purposed for me to accomplish”. It Is finished! This church is now a redeemed church and we enter into that through Baptism. We reaffirm it through the receiving of the Holy Communion. We have our hearts refreshed in it by the hearing of His Gospel – but from one point of view it was all done and dusted 2000 years ago.
Most of us here I guess, are citizens of Australia. Not all of us perhaps, but most of us. Being a citizen of Australia means that you are a citizen no matter where you go, no matter how you feel, even if at a certain point you decide that you no longer like the Government of the day and you rebel against it, not just in the ballot box. You’re still a citizen of Australia. That’s a good Image to think about the way it now is that you are a Christian “Your light has come”. It’s not your light that you derive from within yourself but the Light has come to you and it shines through you. He shines through you. Even though now, as a citizen of that kingdom, you may have dark periods or you may have some dark moods from time to time, or you may have dark thoughts. Or sometimes you may stand in the corner and raise your hands against God and say “Lord, why is this happening?” Doesn’t change the fact that you are a citizen of that Kingdom and that your light has come. That now, whether you see it or not, believe it or not, that light is shining through you. But It will not just shine through you now, it will shine through you even more brightly for all eternity on that day when He comes and reclaims us. And He presents to Himself the church without spot or wrinkle or blemish. Sounds pretty good doesn’t it for those of us who are getting a bit older with spots, wrinkles, blemishes. Wouldn’t need a plastic surgeon. Sorry to the doctors present. I’m speaking as a man, who by God’s grace, is in the light. To a group of people who by God’s grace, are in the light.
No matter how dark you may have felt this morning when you woke up. You are in the light. That place where you once were, has been utterly taken away and transformed. Through the coming of the light into the world and in a way that we can hardly even understand or even begin to put our finger on. That light, was plunged into the deepest abyss. Darkness on the cross – so dark, that His own mind was obscured and His own heart confused and His own conscience tormented. So that He cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”. In His imperial strength He dived down to the deepest depths of darkness and there He has caused His light to shine and has expelled darkness. He has risen up and He has you in His hand and He has me in his hand. So, arise and shine, for your light has come and the glory of the nations will walk by that light.
May the Lord grant it to be so, and grant us the hearing of this word this morning. Amen.
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed,
that her sin has been paid for,that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.
3 A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord[a]; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.[b]
4 Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.
5 And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
6 A voice says, “Cry out.” And I said, “What shall I cry?”
“All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.
7 The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass.
8 The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.”
9 You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain.
You who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout lift it up, do not be afraid;
say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!”
10 See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him.
11 He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arm and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.
I want us to dwell for a while on the Old Testament reading today. We need to have a double track in our mind, and at various points during the message this morning, I just want to place a picture in your head. The picture I want you to have in your head at the moment is of a railway track. If you’ve ever been close to an active real railway track you know what sort of noisy place it is. A railway track by definition has got two parallel lines which are inseparably held together with the sleepers, which in the olden days used to be made out of red gum, and used to make excellent firewood. The fact that those two tracks ran parallel and the fact that they were inseparable from one another is what allowed the train to get safely to its destination.
Now when we come to the season of Advent you need to have two tracks in your mind. On the one hand there is one line of Scripture which refers us to the coming of Jesus Christ through the womb of Mary. On the other hand there are always readings of Advent which draw our eye further on to the coming of Jesus Christ at the end of what we call history, the last day. The thing that we should not miss is that these two tracks are actually inseparably connected. They are not two separate things that God is doing, they are the one action of God to fulfil the promises that he made from the day of creation onwards, and yes we see one fulfilment of that set of promises through the birth of Jesus. The nativity scenes we are going to see set up here before too long depict this. On the other hand we see the final fulfilment of all of those promises on the last the great day of the Lord. People sometimes say, “when is that day?” and of course sects of all sorts have got into great trouble because they’ve taken their people away, even one of our early Lutheran leaders, Pastor Kavel, did on the top of the Kaiser Stuhl, waiting for the Lord to return on an appointed date.
There’s this temptation to want to know the times and the seasons, and the Lord warned us against that. The thing cuts to the chase here at this point though in the Old Testament reading, were it says, “all flesh is like grass, it is like the flower of the field and you breathe and it withers and it dies.” “Yes, there will be a day finally, when the son of man is revealed in glory for all of the nations to see” But inescapably and inevitably for every one of us in this building this morning, there is a day which you know not, when you will take your last breath on this earth. When you take your last breath on this earth, in effect, that’s the last day. You are moved from time to eternity and the things of heaven are suddenly present. The eternities are real and in effect you are at the end. You have broken past the barrier which prevents us to see all things as they really are.
So what we are talking about today in terms of that parallel track of the Lord coming through the womb of the Virgin Mary and the Lord also coming at the end of history, actually is very close to each of us because each of us will meet a day when we go to be with him. However, we express it or he comes to take us home, or we die. “He who lives and believes in me will never die” even if we die. So there is the hope!
Advent comes simply from the Latin word which means “coming”. We talk about the coming of the Lord into the world, the coming of Jesus on the last day, the coming of Jesus into the world through the womb of Mary. That very language can be very confusing for us because it implies a couple of things. It suggests that there is a gap between him and us, and that somehow or other he has to bridge that gap by travelling either through time or through distance. A spatial gap or a chronological gap that suggests that we’re here, and that God is there, and that history is going along somewhere and every now and then God intervenes and breaks into history. If that’s the way we are thinking, (which is understandable because we have that language about Advent and God’s coming) – if that’s the way we are thinking, we are wrong. Because the Scriptures actually speak as much, if not more, about God’s unveiling or revealing or his appearing. Jesus said even as he was ascending into heaven, “Lo I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” So his ascension was not to take him away from us, but happened so that he could be present with us through his spirit, in a way he couldn’t be before. Now there are various indications of this throughout the Scriptures. Do you remember the story of Elijah the prophet? At one point, the king sent a whole army to arrest him and the Prophet stepped out of the door and there were the horsemen, the great hidden, angelic hosts on the hills all around. The prophet’s servant couldn’t see them, because the prophet was saying that the ones who are with us are greater than the ones who are with them and the Prophet said, “Lord, open his eyes,” and suddenly he saw this great angelic host and he realised of course that this puny little human army had no power in the face of that. And of course you know the story how they were led back blind and without raising a sword they were defeated.
Just little illustrations like that indicate that there is a spiritual world around us all the time and it’s not so much that the Lord comes to us from a distance because he is absent but he’s appearing or unveiling reveals what is always there. Does that make sense to you?
So that’s what we are looking at when we are thinking about Advent – the appearing, the unveiling of God’s action in history particularly through the coming of his son into the world but that appearing or that coming, that unveiling, happens in history.
How many of us here have come through or perhaps are now right in the midst of a crisis? If I was to modify that a little bit and say how many of us have come through a crisis, how many of us are in the midst of a crisis, how many of us will ever face a crisis. It’s actually universal, isn’t it? As we’ve already alluded to, the last and the great crisis for all of us is our final breath. We yet have to face that crisis.
When my first wife was dying in the hospice, there were restless days around the end of that time and one of the very helpful palliative care nurses said to me one day, “Noel, she’s never died before, so she’s never experienced this before.” It is a crisis, it’s new and it’s hard. You’re breaking through into something that up until that point has only ever been theory.
So the crisis of which we speak, finally, the crisis of our own death is a universal crisis, and passages like Isaiah chapter 40 which start “Comfort O comfort my people” actually appear in the midst of not just personal crisis, but a national crisis. It in the midst of a prophecy of destruction, a prophecy which is speaking about not just losing one thing or another thing. You know, it’s not like your Thermomix isn’t working properly or you’ve lost your phone charger. This is where the whole nation is invaded and overrun, and the temple is torn down and the prophets are taken away. The king is captured and your army is defeated and your children starve before your eyes. You are taken away into slavery, that sort of national crisis.
Isaiah 39 – and in the ancient text of Isaiah there’s no break between 39 and 40, they appear on the same scroll – Isaiah 39 finishes with a prophecy of judgement and Isaiah 40 immediately after says, “comfort O comfort my people”, in other words, when God comes or speaks or appears or reveals himself in the midst of our history more often than not if you go through the Scriptures the Scriptures are carried on through a narrative of one crisis after another, as he reveals or speaks to us in the midst of those crises. He is doing something there which he can do in no other place and that’s why when we are in the midst of that crisis we have to ask a very telling question – Isaiah the Prophet says in the story of this judgement ”They have received back double for all of their sins”. The construction there of the Hebrew is unusual. It’s a formulation called a “dual” – means two of or a pair. What it seems to be suggesting or alluding to, is a piece of cloth which is folded perfectly over so that it’s double, and this side matches that side exactly. Isaiah the prophet is saying there is this judgement, there is this difficult national crisis of immense proportions but in this God is bringing something by way of that judgement, which is entirely going to match that. No area of that wickedness and sin, which has led to that crisis, will be untouched. But when God’s finished bringing you through this crisis you will see that what he’s done has perfectly matched where you’ve come from. The question is this, as the Prophet says, “they have received from the hand of the Lord double.
How many of you here wearing a watch? Thanks be to God no one’s been looking at their watch. At the first service they were, and the sermon was shorter.
There is a story which goes something like this, it’s an argument for the existence of God which says if you walking along the beach and you find a perfectly formed watch on the beach you make the assumption that this watch is owned by someone. If it’s an Oyster perpetual date, Rolex Gold you also make the assumption that it’s yours to keep. No, you would probably take it to the police or do whatever a good honest Lutheran would do. The second assumption is that an instrument like that could not have been formed by mere chance. If you had 400 million years or 400 billion years that bit of sand on the beach would never form itself into a Rolex Oyster perpetual date rolled gold watch. Someone must have manufactured it. So the argument is a sort of argument from design. You look at the complexity of this universe. You look at the complexity of the human body. You look at the complexity of one organ like an eye, or an ear and that just can’t happen by accident. Someone’s behind it and that’s the argument for the existence of God that has got something going for it. The thing that is wrong about it or the thing that it may lead us to think wrongly about is this, it implies that there is a watch and a watchmaker and that they are separate from one another.
Many of us live as though we are in this creation. It is magnificent! It’s exceedingly complex. It is proof that God exists and he’s made us but he has wound it all up and he is now just watching it all unfold mechanistically. So we function in our day-to-day lives virtually as atheists because we’ve got a world in which God is not directly involved. The prophet here, indeed the whole of Scriptures will not let us hold that view because the very things that we are facing in the crisis are not mechanistic accidents but manifestations of God’s action. All things hold together by the word of his power, that is if he withdraws his breath we all return to dust. It is not that God is absent, watching this creation unfold. He’s present with you right now, keeping every atom and molecule and quark (you know those tiny little subatomic particles), he’s keeping all of those exactly where they need to be to constitute this present moment. If he were to do something different in the next moment, who knows what would happen. As one great theologian said, “All of our science is just a footnote to the logic of God”. A lovely statement. The thing that so beautiful is that he’s predictable. We talk about the law of gravity. What that means is that God is faithful. to keep what we call gravity in operation all the time. He doesn’t change the rules every morning.
The point of my long diversion is this. Don’t think of your relationship with God as a watchmaker. Think of him as the one who is being actively involved right now, right at this moment, right in the midst of that crisis you are coming through in every small detail you are dealing with God – and God is dealing with you. That’s the good news, or if you’ve got a mindset that doesn’t want to receive it, it’s the bad news. It means that you’re not in a universe which is subject just simply to laws that you have to follow. You have a God to face in the midst of the crisis. That’s what Isaiah the prophet was talking about in the midst of this judgement, in the midst of the national crisis. In the midst of a crisis so destructive we couldn’t even begin to imagine what would be like, he says we are actually face-to-face dealing with God.
Railway tracks, watches – now another picture. A plate of spaghetti! Sometimes a crisis happens and there is no other person involved. For example dear Job. All of the loss of his family and the deaths and the loss of his income and livestock. It’s as though something is just happening completely out of the blue. People came and they sat with him and they caused a problem. They turned a crisis into an even worse crisis. One Old Testament theologian said that Job’s friends stayed to sympathise but unfortunately they stayed to explain. Once you start explaining in the midst of a crisis to someone suffering like Job, you caused more problems.
Most of our crises, and indeed this one here in Isaiah, are not just something that comes in from the blue because we too have participated in forming it. We’ve made decisions, we’ve engaged in actions. We therefore becomes subject to remorse, and we become self-critical and self-analytical. We raise a whole group questions like, What if? or If only? It’s not just us, there are other people in that crisis, people of whom we say “What if they had said?” or “If only they had done?” and in the midst of it you find there is a plate of messy spaghetti where everyone’s lines are tangled up together. What you want to do is to get your little bit of spaghetti and straighten it all out and say “My bit of spaghetti is alright. Your bit of spaghetti is in a mess”. But you can’t do that. The whole of the Reformation was fought on that principle, that principle of pulling out that bit of spaghetti. Making is nice and straight, that is called self-justification. Martin Luther’s whole Reformation was based on the fact that no one justifies themselves. You all have to be justified by God in the midst of this crisis. Yes, with what you’ve done wrong. Yes, other people have done wrong. Yes, with the mess that’s as the result of all of those tangled lines together, God is still doing something. He is still present, and the question is, where do we look? Do we received this from his hand? If not, then we become increasingly hard and bitter and angry and resentful.
As we receive it from his hand we ask a different set of questions. We say, “Lord what are you doing here in this?” As you try and untangle the spaghetti, in Lutheran terms, the law rides on your shoulders and it always points you back and says, “You stupid fool, you should have done this. You would have been better if you’d done that. You shouldn’t have made that decision. What were you thinking?” It’s a bit like when I used to teach swimming, like you say to someone who’s fallen into a pool. who’s never been able to swim and you say, “You stupid fool”. “What it did you do that for?” “You know you can’t swim”. It’s not really any help. It’s the voice of the law. What you need is for someone to actually jump in and get you. (Never do that actually, because they will bring you down with them) which is what happened to the Lord Jesus by the way. You reach in with something.
So the question is, in the midst of this crisis, when you look at ‘What Child is this?” Are you looking to the works of your own hands to try and fix it? Where the law will ride on your shoulders and it will just make that confused plate of spaghetti even more confused. Or do you look away from yourself in the midst of the crisis and say “Lord what is your hand doing here?” B ecause this Lord Jesus who was born through the womb of the Virgin Mary – his hands that were pierced and when finally he was ascended to the right hand of heaven he blessed by extending his hands and the last sight that his disciples had of him were his hands over them in blessing. And the call for us this morning is to look away from ourselves, and away from the work of our hands, and away from our attempts to solve the crisis whatever it is. To look to him, to look away from ourselves to the blessing that we are under because God is doing something. If you’re fighting a bushfire you can’t outrun it. You have to cross the fire line and go to where the burnt ground is. That’s where you are safe. In the crisis you can’t outrun God, you cross through his blessing to where his burnt ground is. He has burnt up all the dross and all the wasted stuff and there you stand under his hands.
May the Lord grant to us the hearing of these things in the power of his holy spirit this morning.
Sermon preached by Pastor Ken Pfitzner at St Petri Lutheran Church, Nuriootpa
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with each one of you as we celebrate God’s grace and the gift of the Gospel again today.
The text I take for this special day of celebration is Romans ch 1, verses 16 & 17 . . . where the apostle Paul declares:
I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes . . . For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
Prayer: Lord, let the message of your grace and new life in Christ Jesus fill us with rejoicing and praise – and give us boldness to live in your Gospel and share it! Amen.
Today we’re joining with Lutheran Christians across Australia and around the world to celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation – a movement that began when Martin Luther nailed 95 theses for debate on a church door notice board in Wittenberg, Germany, on the 31st October, 1517. Here in our LCA, we’re doing this under the caption: faith.freedom.future.
But why are we bothering to observe this anniversary?
And what’s the ‘big deal’ with Martin Luther?
Is it because the Reformation movement across Europe sparked off by Luther has profoundly influenced the shape of Western civilisation? . . . and because of the social and political changes that followed?
Is it because he was such a prolific writer on a wide range of issues? – the American edition of Luther’s Works in English numbers 54 volumes! Is it because he was a brilliant theologian and Bible scholar, whose German translation of the Bible for ordinary people is still admired today as an excellent translation?
What significance does Luther have for us today? And would it make any difference if there weren’t any Lutherans today?
To answer such questions, I want to pick up very briefly what was at the very heart and core of the Reformation movement . . . what is really at the heart and core of God’s Word, and the foundation of the Christian faith.
Martin Luther lived at a time when the church was in bad shape. For years it had been plagued by corrupt leaders, who exerted enormous authority in both church and state. There was religious ignorance and superstition everywhere. Few church members knew much about the Bible, or even had access to it.
Luther was brought up to think of God as an angry judge, waiting to punish him for his sins. With constant torment because of his sins, he agonised and despaired over how he could find a gracious God. Perhaps it’s not so different for many people today, when they reflect on their imperfect lives and fractured relationships and failures!
But then, Luther suddenly discovered in Scripture the incredible Good News that God alone puts sinners right with Himself! Luther realised that when the apostle Paul wrote, “in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed,” this righteousness is not something God demands of us but something He gives to us! Because of the perfect life of Jesus and His innocent suffering and death for all mankind, God justifies the ungodly and declares them righteous: “Not Guilty!” – He forgives us completely . . . for Christ’s sake alone!
So when Luther put up those 95 statements for debate, he wanted to counter the whole concept of buying God’s pardon and forgiveness through what was called ‘indulgences’ . . . and uphold the Gospel of God’s grace! That’s why on Reformation Day, we don’t focus so much on Luther but boldly declare what Luther and his fellow-reformers emphasised:
This is at the very heart and core of our Christian faith – and our Lutheran heritage.
People today still need to hear this Gospel news. Our nation and the world certainly need the ‘good news’ of the Gospel and the hope it brings! . . . especially as we see so many evil things happening and hear so much ‘bad news.’ Even though we have the benefits of mind-boggling advances in medicine and science – like creating brain-like tissue & neurones with a 3D printer, to treat brain injury or Parkinson’s – they can’t deal with the deep inner needs of our spirits.
We still have the same age-old questions: ‘How can we find hope and peace when we’re fearful about the future and feel anxious?’ ‘How can I be happy in my life and find real meaning?’ ‘What can end the suffering and misery in the world?’ ‘How can I be freed from a bad conscience about my failures and broken relationships, and the mistakes I made with my family?’
And people today still need to hear the Gospel news when it comes to dying. There’s the popular view that people will be alright with God when they die, because they’ve tried to do good things for others or they’ve led a respectable life. Many think they’re as good as the next bloke – often better – and what counts is that they tried their best!
But it doesn’t matter who it is – whether young or old, religious or pagan, good or bad – no one is perfect before God! We all need forgiveness from God. It’s always this way – as today’s Reading from Romans ch 3 reminds us:
“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
In Ephesians ch 2, we’re also reminded: – we can reflect on what the apostle says, as I slowly read –
“In the past you were spiritually dead because of your disobedience and sins. . . . In our natural condition we, like everyone else, were destined to suffer God’s anger.
But God’s mercy is so abundant, and his love for us is so great, that while we were spiritually dead in our disobedience he brought us to life with Christ. . . .
It is by God’s grace that you have been saved through faith. It is not the result of your own efforts, but God’s gift, so that no one can boast about it. God has made us what we are.”
Through Christ, God has freed us from the powers of sin, death, and the devil – because we can never free ourselves. He’s rescued us from this ‘slavery’ and brought us to live in freedom under Him, in His kingdom – where we live under Him as a caring Lord! And in my baptism, He brought me to share in the rich blessings of Jesus’ death and resurrection!! He forgives and accepts me – and inspires the faith by which I trust all His promises! It’s not that I chose Christ as Lord, but He’s become my ‘Lord’ . . . because He’s the One who rescued and saved me from sin and death, to belong to Him forever!
This is the ‘good news’ of the Gospel!!
The text that transformed Luther declares to us, too:
“the gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes . . . For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’”
This is the awesome ‘good news’ we’re privileged to celebrate again today! And not only to celebrate, but also share with the people and the world around us . . . so they will come to believe it, too! We live in the joyful hope and freedom of the Gospel. It assures us that God uses ordinary people like you and me – who make so many mistakes – to do His work and help others start again.
And so I hope that, as Lutheran Christians, we’ll be bold enough “to make a stand for the Gospel!” It’s our Reformation heritage of ‘faith, freedom, and future’! In Christ – and for His sake alone – may we continue to say: “I am not ashamed of the gospel . . . !”
Who knows what incredible changes that might spark off . . . !!?
Sermon: Genesis 50:15-21 – Vicar Matt Huckel
15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their Father was dead they said ‘If Joseph bears a grudge against us, he will surely deal out to us all the evil which we dealt out to him’.
16 And they sent orders to Joseph, saying: ‘Your father gave these orders before his death:’
17 ‘Therefore say this to Joseph: Please forgive the rebellion of your brothers and their sin for the evil they dealt out to you. Now please forgive the rebellion of the servants of the God of your Father’. And Joseph wept, as he heard these words.
18 And his brothers went to him and fell down before him and said: ‘Behold, we are your slaves’.
19 And Joseph said to them: ‘Do not be afraid. For am I in the place of God?
20 You devised evil against me, but God devised goodness for the purpose of accomplishing a day like this for the life of many people.
21 Now please do not be afraid. I will nourish you and your little ones’. So Joseph comforted them and spoke to their hearts.
It is without a doubt very hard for many of us to confront someone face to face about a problem especially if we have been wronged by that person in some way. The fear of dealing with a disturbingly negative emotional reaction or even the fear of perhaps losing a friendship sometimes stops us from saying something in person. Or we can try to opt out using the safest routes to minimise personal cost: send a messenger to do our dirty work for us or perhaps decide to write an email. We can justify an email because we can carefully think through every word to do the job well. But so often it backfires causing added offence and misunderstanding because in an email you can’t see the person’s facial expressions as you read. In thinking about not offending people I’m reminded about the joke about a man who went to report a theft to a policeman. ‘Constable, I was looking out of my open bedroom window when I caught a thief with a screwdriver removing my gate from my front yard and running off with it!’ The constable was confused. ‘Well why on earth didn’t you yell at him from the window and try and stop him?’ The man replied sheepishly. ‘Well I didn’t want him to take a- fence! (offence).
As we just heard in our text this morning it seems that Joseph’s brothers have done the ancient equivalent of sending an email because they do not want to risk the personal encounter of confessing their sin before Joseph in case they seriously offend him. And so they send a messenger and a very carefully worded statement. But before we get into the details of this, I can’t help but ask why forgiveness is an issue again in the latter part of the Joseph story. Didn’t Joseph forgive his brothers from the heart in chapter 45 when he revealed his true identity? Absolutely, and what an emotional scene it is when Joseph weeps over his brothers and tells them not to be angry with themselves over what happened, because God had sent him ahead of them to save many people. But I think there’s something missing in this scene: it’s a proper apology from the brothers. After the initial shock of Joseph revealing himself to them all the text tells us is that they only begin to talk with Joseph, (there’s no sorry at all) and then the story of the family’s 17 year relocation and settlement in Egypt begins.
Now it is true in many families that funerals can bring out all the hidden tricky issues that people pretend aren’t there most of the time. When Jacob finally dies after sharing his funeral wishes, Joseph buries him with full Egyptian honours. And now in chapter 50:15, the brothers re-emerge into the story devising yet another plan, based on their deep insecurity: ‘When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead they said: ‘If Joseph holds a grudge against us, he will surely deal out to us all the evil which we dealt out to him’.
The brothers have a genuine fear that Joseph might bear a grudge. The Hebrew word here is the same one that describes the grudge of Esau towards Jacob; that is, hatred. In thinking this of Joseph, nothing could be further from the truth, but I suspect that they are projecting. It is their left over unresolved feelings from 17 years ago that they are trying to put onto to Joseph. Secondly in verse 16 the brothers then send a message claiming that Jacob somehow gave special orders before he died for Joseph to forgive them. They are using their dead Father’s authority to make sure Joseph refrains from any further punishment. In other words they’re saying: ‘Father orders you to forgive us, because deep down we’re not sure you actually have. The use of the Hebrew word nasa behind the word ‘forgive’ is key here too. It means to ‘lift off, or to carry’. The brothers not only request their sin to be lifted off them, but there is this sense that Joseph is to literally carry it. Joseph has indeed carried their sin for the entire story. I do believe the brother’s lack of trust in Joseph’s integrity is what hurts him so deeply, which is why he weeps after receiving the message.
I believe Jacob’s message is highly suspicious and probably a fake Will. The brothers are sorry but only sorry enough to want to avoid any future trouble from Joseph. They are also cowardly enough to send a message rather than say it with their own mouths. Who remembers Fonzie in the TV show ‘Happy days’? Like the Fonz the brothers cannot say the word ‘s,sss,s- sorry’ or I was wrrrrrrr…..ong’. It all explains why the brothers say very little when they actually see him in verse 18. There is no dialogue, and expecting no mercy they throw themselves down before him and say ‘Behold we are your slaves!’
What happens next is just pure Gospel. This is the second time Joseph has to reassure his brothers but he does it with such comfort, grace and kindness and with divine echoes of God himself. ‘Do not be afraid’ Joseph says. How many times do we hear God say these wonderful words throughout Scripture? Joseph hones in and diagnoses the core issue in the brother’s hearts: fear from a troubled conscience. 17 years and this issue of what they did to Joseph has not gone away inside them. Their consciences are all tightly bound up. Their pride is so strong they would rather live in fear than surrender and expose their hearts to him. Although Joseph in no way claims any divinity, he is interestingly displaying divine attributes. He again draws the brothers to God’s divine plans which have absorbed the brother’s fear and the turmoil in their consciences. On top of this Joseph also settles their fear of the future, and even their kids here as toddlers, will be nourished and cared for.
In Joseph we have a distinct Christ figure who does not overcome evil with evil but overcomes evil with good. Poor Joseph has to deal with his brothers’ failings yet again after 17 years, but his grace and power to absorb and carry those failings is as strong as ever. In Joseph we witness a wonderful exchange. He absorbs and carries all of their fears, their insinuations of him wanting more revenge, and their manipulation. But he gives them his comfort, his security, and his promises of a good future. These simple shepherds receive the robes of Joseph’s righteousness and they certainly don’t deserve them.
Friends, let us reflect on Christ’s atonement and what a wonderful exchange that is. Christ gets our sin as we get his righteousness. Luther here describes it so well: ‘This is the mystery which is rich in divine grace to sinners: wherein by a wonderful exchange our sins are no longer ours but Christ’s, and the righteousness of Christ not Christ’s but ours. He has emptied Himself of His righteousness that He might clothe us with it and fill us with it; and He has taken our evils upon Himself that He might deliver us from them’.
That wonderful exchange is what we see here in Joseph in our text today. It is also what we all are called to participate in as we forgive the sins of those that hurt us. Many of you I’m sure may have been a Joseph sometime in your life. You take part in an exchange when you’re in the position of having to forgive someone, sometimes without any apology and yet you still bless them and offer love and kindness. You can suffer many hurts and wrongs from others, especially the ones that are never openly said or acknowledged; or even the ones that are gossiped to everyone else except you. Even the complex psychology of suffering someone’s troubled conscience, for the second or third time can be very hard wearing.
Many of you may have been one of the brothers. The forgiveness and kindness offered to you by someone can feel really uncomfortable. You pretend that all is well but deep down you feel no freedom from that terrible sin or that bad image of yourself. In fact all that undeserved kindness makes you feel deeply awkward. By default you expect to be shamed and condemned because this is what you would do to yourself. Trapped in the slavery of fear and pride you somehow just can’t release yourself from your troubled conscience.
But in Christ you have access to a wonderful garbage disposal system. It’s here at the altar. You can come to Holy Communion so that you can experience the powerful reality that, ‘you are forgiven’. It is real. Through Christ’s Word and his body and blood your sins are washed from within you. See if you can list in your mind all the different types images of disposal you can think of: Through Christ your sins are entombed. They are burned up in Christ the ultimate sin-incinerator. Like nuclear waste they are buried deep underground never to be accessed ever again. This is the type of forgiveness God has for you, and it means you can walk in a restored relationship once again.
Now it is one thing to be able to forgive sin that is confessed and voiced. But we are called to be lovingly prepared to carry sins that are never voiced or confessed but are none the less still felt and experienced. Not to harbour or hold onto them ourselves but to let Christ lift them off our backs and absorb it himself. In exchange for the sins we suffer from one another we can return Christ’s scandalous love, grace and comfort to those who hurt us; simply because of the divine comfort that we have received from God to comfort others. (2 Cor. 1:4).
But it doesn’t end there. God can show us something more wonderful and of such great comfort, when his divine wisdom and plans are made known to us. We like Joseph’s brothers are sometimes able to see how our sins have been woven into a mysterious tapestry of life that can achieve such goodness and blessing. In heaven we will see the full glorious piece of work, but for now we see only the tattered, untidy threads on the reverse side. Finally let us go into our week being conscious of Christ’s righteousness that is ours and may we, like Joseph be patient and loving as we carry the sins of one another. In the words from 1 Peter 4:8 ‘Above all love one another deeply, for love covers a multitude of sins’. Amen.
15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their Father was dead they said ‘If Joseph bears a grudge against us, he will surely deal out to us all the evil which we dealt out to him’.
16 And they sent orders to Joseph, saying: ‘Your father gave these orders before his death:’
17 ‘Therefore say this to Joseph: Please forgive the rebellion of your brothers and their sin for the evil they dealt out to you. Now please forgive the rebellion of the servants of the God of your Father’. And Joseph wept, as he heard these words.
18 And his brothers went to him and fell down before him and said: ‘Behold, we are your slaves’.
19 And Joseph said to them: ‘Do not be afraid. For am I in the place of God?
20 You devised evil against me, but God devised goodness for the purpose of accomplishing a day like this for the life of many people.
21 Now please do not be afraid. I will nourish you and your little ones’. So Joseph comforted them and spoke to their hearts.
Well good morning everyone. You look a long way away back there. I’ve often speculated that there must be some sort of Teflon coated human repellent on the first pews of most churches. I was preaching in Walla Walla last week – Big church and they were sitting in the back third of the church, so I preached from the centre of the aisle just to get a little bit closer.
Today I am preaching on a theme that connects all of our Bible readings and if you wanted to know, probably the text on which everything hinges, it would be that last verse from the Old Testament reading from Ezekiel, Why will you die Oh Israel?
I don’t know how many of you here are gameshow fan’s. Are you into The Chase? Any intellectuals among you watch Letters and Numbers? Do you get the sums right all the time? Isn’t that girl amazing, she does it all in her head without a piece of paper. Is anyone here old enough to remember Sale of the Century? Anyone old enough to remember BP Pick a Box? Yes/No. For those of you under the age of what shall we say to be diplomatic, those of you under the age of 25, BP Pick a Box used to be a TV program which had some very famous contestants including a person who later became a member of Parliament – Barry Jones.
Today we are talking about a different game Not a gameshow, but a different game called the “Blame Game”. The blame game has been going on for a very, very long time. And you get a bit of a hint of the blame game going on in the Gospel reading where they are trying to track Jesus with some very tricky, curly, zingers which they hope will trip Him up. Which Jesus deftly knocked to the boundary for four – because we are getting close to the cricket season now that yesterday’s grand-final, peace be upon them, has taken place. I am amazed that there aren’t many more people dressed in black for mourning, after the result yesterday. A close match wasn’t it.
But in the blame game in the Gospel reading, even when they had a chance to phone a friend, they didn’t get the right answer, even though they consulted amongst themselves. Coming in to the cricket season, there are of course hand signals which mean “four” and hand signals meaning “six” and hand signals meaning “out”. The blame game has hand signals too – really one main hand signal, you can all do it. Firstly you make a fist and then you point a finger. That’s actually really significant, because the blame game is based on anger. T,he pointing of the finger is aimed to deflect the anger, to make the anger focus on someone else.
The three readings today are related, because in Ezekiel the blame game had come to a national pitch. It was the way of life for Israel. I would be tempted to say it’s become the way of life for Australia. We are certainly getting there. What was happening in Israel was this, – summarised in the mis-quoted proverb at the beginning of Ezekiel;
“The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” Ezekiel has to say no more will this proverb, misquoted as it was, being heard in Israel, because what the people were saying was simply this “It’s not our fault.” “Our fathers went astray.” “Our fathers worship the idols.” “Our fathers had bad habits.” “The previous generations have laid down patterns – we’ve inherited those patterns, and so we are just doing what they did so you can’t blame us!” “We are the victims here.” You can’t blame the victim. To play the victim is actually to be the victim and it’s a deadly game because to play the victim locks you into a place where you can never be free – because you never take responsibility for who you are and what you have done.
In the little story from the bulletin, two sons of an alcoholic and abusive father become fathers themselves. One grows into an alcoholic and the other turns into a control freak teetotaller and they both say, “Well look at my father. What you expect?” In other words they use the behaviour or mis-behaviour of their parents to say, “You can’t blame me for the way I’ve turned out.” So that becomes an excuse to continue in their own line of wickedness. Ezekiel has to confront that very deliberately and he says, ”No” that’s not the way the Lord works. When he says the soul that sins it shall die, he’s not making a general theological statement that sinful people die. That’s not the general theological statement even though it is true – he is making a very specific pastoral statement and saying “no, you can’t excuse your wickedness on the basis of what happened to you.” You have responded in a certain way and you are responsible. If the law does not hold you accountable as a responsible human being then your humanity is diminished and his glory is completely lost. Because you have been made in his image, and to say that you are not responsible for your actions and your decisions is to deny who you are as being made in the image of God, and it is to deny the dignity with which you have been made.
My wife’s has a very dear, elderly, retired medical specialist friend who worked for many, many years in drug and alcohol rehabilitation services. She has often said that, unless a person takes responsibility for their addiction, they will never be free. So long as they blame someone else they will always be a victim of their addiction. Taking responsibility is the first step of repentance.
When we hear the reading from Ezekiel it’s not framed in an angry voice that is asking people to sort of square up and fly level and sort themselves out. The reading from Ezekiel is all in a very tender compassionate voice, framed in the question “Why would you die?” “Why will you persist in such a self-destructive diminished view of yourselves, and of God, and the universe?” “Why will you destroy yourselves by continuing to play the victim card? “When will you stand up and actually take responsibility for who you are before me – because at that point, when you stand up and take responsibility, and if that means confessing all your sins so be it. But at that point you can be healed.
“Why would you die?” is not an angry rebuke from the lips of an angry Prophet. We get the Old Testament prophets so wrong. They wept and wept. And then of course in the Gospel reading, you have the account of those people who are playing the blame game in a different way. Have any of you here (I won’t say it is a particularly male phenomenon, but it could be construed that way) heard of selective deafness? The older I get, the deafer I get. What is selective deafness? You hear what you want to hear – and you only hear what you want to hear.
The the people were engaged in a deadly game of selective deafness because they didn’t want to hear what Jesus was saying. They were looking for an excuse not to believe. That is the way that we are, in our natural selves. There is no human being on the face of the planet who is an innocent bystander with an open mind and a clean slate just waiting to be convinced if the evidence is strong enough. As one great British theologian said many years ago, “When God comes to us, he doesn’t find us simply as straying sheep but as rebels with weapons in our hands” and so the selective deafness of Jesus day was manifested in the fact that people did not want to hear Jesus Word – they did not want to see his authority as coming from God, so they were looking for any excuse, to evade it.
Another variation of the blame game and of course Jesus ask them a question and even when they phoned a friend they couldn’t get the right answer, so they said “We don’t know” and Jesus said “Look at what’s happening. How is it with all of your pharisaic religious power and legalistic observance, you have never got one tax collector or prostitute to repent, and here they are now falling over themselves to come into the kingdom and sit at my table, and eat and drink with me. So where is the authority from? The Philippians passage is something very different, it’s a passage which puts “Why will you die?” in flesh and blood. It is one of the most remarkable passages in the whole of Scripture. Isn’t this a strange statement about the Lord, emptying himself, not regarding equality with God a thing to be grasped. Pouring himself out, not just to become a man. I don’t think in fact that was his humiliation because we as human beings have been made in his image. We are the closest thing to God in the whole universe. Indeed I believe that God made us in his image, in the beginning, so that in due course and in the fullness of time, he God, could become one of us.
So the humiliation of Jesus is not in the becoming a human being, not in becoming a man through the womb of Mary, not even just humbling himself, but humbling himself to the point of death, even death on a cross. What you see here? Here you see a man who is not in the blame game, even though he alone of all humanity, throughout all history, is truly the sole, innocent victim, because there was no sin in him nor deceit in his mouth. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world – this man, complains not, does not embrace the victim status, but declares in what he’s doing a mighty victory, and even though we couldn’t see it, as he was pinned to those pieces of timber and physically couldn’t move and inch from them. Spiritually he was fighting with every weapon in his armament on our behalf. This man is also the King. And he is King because he is the Lamb. His kingship is lamb-like and his lambness is his kingness. As he hangs on that cross, he stands under the weight of whole humanity, which has played the blame game from the very, very beginning. How far does the blame game go back? We read in Genesis “It’s not me, it is the woman whom you created God, it’s your fault.” And the woman says, “It’s not me God, it’s the serpent that you made”.
Actually there’s the truth! The blame game always ends with God getting it in the neck. It’s all his fault and on the cross, God gets it in the neck, to the point of death. Death on a cross – and he doesn’t squirm and he doesn’t wriggle and he doesn’t play the victim card. He doesn’t try and blame someone else. He stands underneath it – receives at all. And the incredible thing is that this man who is the son of God, or God the son – he bears in his own self, in his own body on that cross, all of the hostile blame-shifting, selective deafness and hatred towards him and his father, and the spirit. He bears all of that in his body on the tree. He serves those who have never served him and he loves those who never loved him. Through the work of that cross he forgives those who have blamed him for everything.
A remarkable verse in Romans chapter 15 v3 where the apostle Paul puts in the lips of Jesus a psalm. That psalm says “All of the reproaches with which we’ve approached thee, have fallen on me.” Meaning,, all of the blaming that we’ve ever done all of that finger pointing, all of the anger, all of the hostility which is not just against this person or that person, but about God who created this universe and God who put that person there. And God who did things the way that we didn’t want them done, and God, who allows people to get cancer, and God who allows things to go wrong. This God whom we hate with a vengeance, this is the God against whom we reproach all day long. And the Lord says, “Why will you die? Why will you die?” by holding on to that – all of the reproaches, all of the blaming with which they have blamed thee – that is God, that they have laid on me. This is the real humility of the son of God – that he humbled himself, to the point of that death, and that death on that cross, where in his spirit in mind and conscience – all of that unjust blaming of God, echoes through all eternity. … and he carries it away until it is gone. And He says, “It is finished!”
I wonder, if by faith this morning, you can actually hear those words from Jesus lips into your heart – and you can hear him say to you “It is finished!” No need to run, no need to hide, no need to blame – It is finished. You are clean, the person you’re blaming is clean. It is finished.
In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.