Tag: John the Baptist

Christmas Dilemma

Sermon, Advent 2C, Sunday December 9, 2018

Philippians 1:3-11

9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.

Luke 3:1-6 All people will see the salvation of our God

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar – when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene – during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:

‘A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
“Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.
Every valley shall be filled in,
    every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
    the rough ways smooth.
And all people will see God’s salvation.”’[a]

7 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptised by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.” For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 9 The axe has been laid to the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.’

10 ‘What should we do then?’ the crowd asked.

11 John answered, ‘Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.’

12 Even tax collectors came to be baptised. ‘Teacher,’ they asked, ‘what should we do?’

13 ‘Don’t collect any more than you are required to,’ he told them.

14 Then some soldiers asked him, ‘And what should we do?’

He replied, ‘Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely – be content with your pay.’

15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, ‘I baptise you with[a] water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptise you with[b] the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’ 18 And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.

We Christians find ourselves in this dilemma at Christmas.

We live between two stories. One is told with earthly authority and considerable force; the other comes from other-worldly dreams and words of biblical proportions.

The mind says go along with the worldly story for it is easier and more fun. But a heart of faith says we are taking the harder option and the long way home with the other-worldly story that comes via the Voice of biblical proportions.

Today John the Baptist is that other-worldly voice.

John announces with beautiful words from Isaiah about a level path ahead for planet earth, mountains lowered for us, valleys lifted for us; clear and straight and easy journeying with God into his future …

This is a beautiful good news story because our current ways are anything but smooth, straight and safe.

The other story at this time of the year seems to rise up like a mountain every year. The Christmas tunes played earlier and earlier. The decorations the same. Songs of living faith once, reduced to muzak to accompany the real Christmas preparation for this alternative Christmas story – shop ‘til you drop!

But to hear this other-worldly story of God we need something else to happen first. We cannot hear it by our own intellect of effort. We need God to shout it to us. We need the Spirit to prepare us, and that is the part of the story we may not like much. The world certainly does not like it.

It has been a long time since I laid an axe at the root for a tree where the roots begin ready to lay the first blow to fell that whole tree. But I have done this with my Husqvarna chainsaw lately – it is quicker and more fun!

This is the picture John used to describe how God needs to prepare us for Christmas. Some preparation! Death and complete destruction. This tree cannot live in God’s new future as it is.

John tells it like this for a reason – to prepare the world to receive what God is doing: to prepare people for God’s new story of biblical proportions.

John is a CFS siren. He is the not the Nuri fire alarm predictably sounding out three times on Thursday at 7.30 pm, which surprises no-one. He is the siren sounded twenty times on Saturday afternoon at 1.30 pm. He gets the town’s attention!

Has he got your attention?

He says something in us has to die for this complete birth and life of a person; a Someone, who is coming to bring about something new for people that will make us new trees – strong and true, is to be truly received and loved.

Why so brutal?

Because we believe ourselves to be strong trees despite this new King and his kingdom coming. We tend to believe we are already all we need to be.

Even more, the people John spoke to believed themselves to have the right family tree – the right family name, the right behaviour, the right roots, the right goods.

They were the good people and they were very keen about their goodness. Everyone else should be very good like them.

So keen were they to maintain their own name and place in God’s good books, they became blind to those who did not or could not. In their pursuit of goodness on their own terms they could not see the vulnerable in society. They don’t really care either.

That is the tree that needs to be felled. In their self-focus, self-reliance and invincibility they had not just missed the vulnerable, but the Lord and his heart for the vulnerable – including them.

That was the offensiveness of John – daring to suggest that the good people with the right name and family tree and behaviour were vulnerable and in need for a new day, a new way, a new man …  How dare he suggest that!

Sounds like our world. Sounds like that alternative Christmas story. How dare you Christians interrupt this happy story with all of its happy songs! How dare you speak of death and destruction at this happy time. How dare you speak of faith more than food, discipleship more than drink, the smell of cow dung and the scratch of straw more than the warm crackle of fireplaces and stockings and eggnog in the lounge room!

Surely we do not want this alternative story to be THE story because we know him and his story of biblical proportions that has come to us, for real.

He has come to us by more than dreams but by a real act in real time – baptism, the worship gathering of God’s people, the gift of body and blood a thousand times … Forgiveness, healing, hope for the vulnerable, peace for the unsteady, life for the dead, strength for the tired and new for the old.

We know what it has cost our God to fell us and then re-grow us – the death of this boy on the tree.

We know what tree was felled so that a new vineyard, a new forest, a new landscape of strong and true trees of the field has come to be

And this is why we clap our hands at this time of year – because of the wonderful acceptance and love of a God who is with us and for us and working through us and will come again to complete everything.

Friend, God’s axe;  God’s word is striking at your very roots today. Not to destroy you but to wake you up, so you may be renewed so you stand strong and tall in grace this Christmas.

And when you are strong and true in the gospel of Jesus, you are happy not to have two shirts but keen to give away one to a one in need of a shirt.

You become happy not to make a lot of money just for yourself by any means, but you are content to play fair with integrity in business for the good of all.

You are happy to not get your way by any means; means of using power and stand-over tactics, but you are content to stick with the truth of things and let that be enough no matter what it costs you.

With this boy and his calling to be him among our friends and family this Christmas we are definitely going to take the long way home as we follow him.

There is no easy way to live in the Christmas Dilemma. It takes faith and courage born of repenting and believing daily. But we have serious help.

9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,

Let the axe fall where it needs to today. He will prepare him room in your heart and you will be strong and true in him again.

John answered them all, ‘I baptise you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

ADVENT 2016 Week 3 Jesus Joy

Sermon, Sunday December 11, 2016.advent-2016-wk-3

Advent 3A

Jesus Joy

Matthew 11:2-11

 When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’

Jesus replied, ‘Go back and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy[a] are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 6 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.’

As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written:

‘“I will send my messenger ahead of you,

    who will prepare your way before you.”[b]

11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

The fiery bush tucker, desert dwelling man we squirmed at last week is now seemingly tamed. We hear that he is in prison. He is in one of Herod’s several fortresses somewhere in Israel.

Prisons are not nice places. I have been in prison. At one stage I was going to Yatla Prison once every month. I was assisting the chaplain of the Yatla Women’s Prison. Rosemary and I would head in on a Sunday night. She was the preacher and leader. I was the song man.

Rosemary did a great job. It was funny with the guitar songs though. We would start out singing the usual songs like Love one another or In the house of God etc…. And then the women would start speaking out their requests of the guitar man. Without fail we would end up singing “Highway to hell” by ACDC!

That song meant a lot to these women. I think the song expressed how they felt. They were living on a highway to hell. Prisons are forced, fake communities of dysfunctional relationships lived by hurt, angry, guilty, regretful and shamed people. That sounds like a road towards hell to me.

At least in Yatla they had a dry bed and lights and running water and food and even medical help. Not so for fiery John languishing away in a dark, stone cold, hard floored, rat infested cell somewhere beneath the ground underneath one of Herod’s opulent hang outs.

But it seems that at least he had somebody who came and visited him; maybe brought him some fresh water and food and shared some good news and prayed with him. I know there are people in our community who have occasion to visit people in prison. God bless you for doing that. When we meet Jesus face-to-face you will receive his high praise, “When I was in prison you came and visited me. Enter into your rest with joy!”

John’s friends took the time to share the stories they had either seen for themselves or heard from others who had witnessed the goings on of the last months around this Jesus of Nazareth.

“John. You said he was the One – the one promised to change everything. After you baptised him in the Jordan, and spending a month out in your familiar desert country by himself, he heard that you had been put here in this prison. Then he went back up north and turned up in that large town of Capernaum. One Saturday at the synagogue he said this”;

18 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me,

    because he has anointed me

    to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

    and recovery of sight for the blind,

to set the oppressed free,

19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ (Isaiah 61:1-2)

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’

 

“John, he must be the One. Isaiah talked about this. Isaiah said;

15 ‘Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,

    the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,

    Galilee of the Gentiles –

16 the people living in darkness

    have seen a great light;

on those living in the land of the shadow of death

    a light has dawned.’ (Isaiah 9:1-2)

And then he sounded just like you. From that day on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 3:17)

Such good news for a person in such a bad news place! But John is suffering. His wings have been clipped and his free flowing voice silenced. He is an eagle in a cage, a bushman confined to a couch;

Even the best news is sometimes hard to believe when you are suffering.

John could actually die at any time. He is imprisoned by a ruthless, ego driven, power hungry local ruler who has had at least one of his wives and one of own children murdered in the effort to keep power. The very palace John in which John is imprisoned is one of several purpose build escape fortresses for the Herod family!

When you don’t know how things are going to turn out; when you are not sure if you are going to make it through this one; when you feel constricted, silenced, unappreciated, disliked, treated as if you don’t matter; when you join one of the groups in society that are shamed – a “Con”, you need to know there is hope beyond this and in this.

So friend, what’s your prison? “Name your poison”, as we say. You don’t have to be in a correctional facility to experience a prison. That can happen as school, at work, even at home. It can happen on Facebook. It can happen and does happen to most of us at some stage. You don’t have to go to a courthouse to be shamed, treated like rubbish, dismissed, abused and unjustly treated. You can get that anywhere. You don’t have to be in a visible prison to know the suffering of feeling beaten down, bruised, badgered and bleeding inside. You don’t have to be a visible “drug addict” to know the guilt and constriction and regret or an out of control addiction of some kind. All these things can be unseen and unheard but carried deeply in the heart – often buried so deep we can’t see them – not without someone to visit us and help us and be a friend to us.

So, what is you prison at this point in the journey? The reason I ask is that everyone eventually has to get to the point of that question that John just had to ask. He knew his cousin, Jesus. John had announced him as the One. John had paid the price for responding to the Lord’s call on his life to speak that Word no matter the price paid. And yet, in his humanness and in his suffering, he has to ask that question. We all do…

            ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’ (Matthew   11:3)

That is the Advent question today. That is our question. Have you seriously asked that question?

Jesus, are you the One – the One for ME?

Are you who you say you are – my Saviour, my Redeemer, my brother, my friend, my Lord.

Are you the one who turns my sadness and sorrow to freedom and joy?

Are you the one who releases me from my weaknesses and wrongs?

Are you the one who changes me from within and makes me a new creation with a sure hope and spring in my step.

Are you the one those shepherds received and ran off across the paddock following that bright light over that shed.

Are you that baby – that human baby – the manger scene which changed to the cross scene – all for me?

Ask the question for real these Advent days, friend. You won’t be disappointed. John wasn’t. He went on to pay the ultimate price for the hope he found in Jesus’ word.

Jesus responds with good words about that fiery, faithful man, John.

 11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater  than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than   he. (Matthew 11:11)

Why ask the question about Jesus? Because if he is who he says he is and does what they said he does, then you will know who you are. You will know that all of him and all of his gifts of love are for you – now, no matter your prison or poison!

And then, whether you are the greatest or the least, Christmas will bring his freedom, his new vision, his new ears to hear, his resurrection from guilt and fear – his joy.

You will find what those shepherds found. Joy! Joy enough to leave it all behind to enjoy being in his presence.

Go ahead and ask.

You will find, “Jesus joy, or our desiring”.

Amen

CONVERSATION STARTERSadvent-2016-wk-3

In Advent we will be using Martin Luther’s way of reflecting on Scripture and praying.

Let’s look at the Gospel readings and use this four part way of seeking deeper insight as we listen to God in Advent.

Luther pictures this way on engaging in Scripture as a string with little knots in it or a four stranded rope.

Slowly read out loud, noting words that stand out to you or questions that the word raises…..

Matthew 11:2-11

 When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’

Jesus replied, ‘Go back and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy[a] are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 6 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.’

As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written:

‘“I will send my messenger ahead of you,

    who will prepare your way before you.”[b]

11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

11 ‘I baptise you with[b] water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptise you with[c] the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’

Instruction

As a result of hearing this word, what is God teaching me about himself, myself and his kingdom? (Reflect/share these)

Confession

As a result of hearing this word, what is God calling me to repent of, turn away from, confess to him and receive his forgiveness? (Pray these)

Thanksgiving

As a result of hearing this word, what is am wanting to thank God for? (Reflect/share and pray these)

Supplication

As a result of hearing this word, what is God inspiring me to ask him for? (Pray these)

Jesus’ Prayer

Pray the Lord’s Prayer to end….

ADVENT 2016 Week 2 Fiery Freedom

advent-2016-wk-2

Sermon, Advent 2A

Sunday December 4, 2016, St Petri

 Isaiah 2:1-5, Psalm 122, Romans 13:11-14

 

Matthew 3:1-12 The kingdom of heaven is at hand!

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:

‘A voice of one calling in the wilderness,

“Prepare the way for the Lord,

    make straight paths for him.”’[a]

John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt round his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptised by him in the River Jordan.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptising, he said to them: ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.” I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The axe has been laid to the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

11 ‘I baptise you with[b] water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptise you with[c] the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’

I don’t like snakes. Never have. I know some people quite like them. I visited a couple one who, unbeknown to me, had a huge white snake in a glass cabinet that I did not see when I first walked into the kitchen as we were chatting. Trying to be relaxed with these new people, I just stood and rested my arm on the nearest piece of furniture. In the conversation they kept talking about their pet “Ernie”. I thought they were talking about a cat or a dog outside. When they pointed to large while scaly “Ernie” resting right underneath my arm on that glass cabinet (thankfully)! I had to muster all the cool I could to not jump about 6ft across the room!

Yet I do feel for snakes. In that account of how not trusting God became our besetting problem through our first parents, that snake in the garden really copped it from God.

“You will crawl on your belly and eat dust all of your days. “, says the Lord to the troublesome reptile (Genesis 1).

Ever since, snakes have got a bad rap!

Surely this wild man of the bush, John the Baptiser, would have known a snake or two out there in the Desert.

  • He was known for eating bugs and bush honey.
  • Maybe John killed a camel or two to keep his wardrobe in order.
  • Maybe he was one of those bush experts who knew how to handle snakes with ease – a regular Bear Grilles!

When John ‘appeared’ near the Jordan, he saw a snake. It was of a kind harder to see than an actual reptile, but more deadly. He named this snake a viper; a killer snake, and he saw this viper within us.

The snake he sees in some is the manufacturing of our own glory out of self-interest. It was especially targeted by John in people who were doing this deceptively under the disguise of outward religious behaviour.

Religious pride is the Viper that kills.

There was no room in his prophetic heart for pretending that we are ourselves, God or pretending that we can earn God’s acceptance in any way, especially by hiding behind mere outward observance or behind being nice to people to earn praise for ourselves.

John saw through all of this self-deception and named it in strong terms. He named it trickery – the trick of looking good with a whole lot of religious pride by which we get the thanks and praise for how holy or good or upright we appear to be. God misses out because we are the centre of the world and the life of the show.

John saw this self-focus attached to family pride. The Viper of self-glory was in those who held up their family heritage as a rock solid basis for their place in God’s acceptance.

In the tradition of all the prophets, John railed against the trust in family tradition, local connections and church heritage as that which earns us a sure place out of God’s righteous judgement of our lives. He says God’s piercing truth is that we are all sinners before a holy God and all humans beings fall short of God’s glory.

John says that God could make 6th generation Lutherans out of a rock on the ground at the quarry or in your driveway if he wanted. So much for having a German name or family history as a ticket into God’s good books!

Why is John so fiery and so direct? Why does he have this cause to name the viper within people? Is he just nasty? Is he just a cranky man who can’t see any good in people? Is he just being negative? Should he be more positive, more congenial; more friendly?

Why is John so fiery and so direct? Two reasons;

  1. He is brutal on us to shake us up and make us squirm bit like a snake so we can see the snake for what it is; self-trust, self-focus, self-glory that is killing us.
  2.  He names the viper to introduce the Saviour. He calls out the disease within to point to the cure freely available in wounded healer, Jesus, by whose wounds we are made whole.

And how does it change? What vehicle shifts us from self to salvation, from lack of truth and pretending to genuine peace and hope for living?

One way in one word….”Repent!” calls the wild man. “Repent!”.

Repentance is something deeper than merely listing all the bad things we have done and said. Repentance actually means coming to the conviction that I have been basing my whole life on a lie – on a crooked view of what is true and of lasting value;

  • the lie that I can save myself by being good or bad or indifferent toward God
  • the lie that I don’t need any help from God,
  • that I can claim my church heritage as the thing that keeps me in Gods grace,
  • the lie that repentance is just being sorry for bad behavior and that sin is just what I do or say and not a deep rooted ongoing disease for which there is no relief or cure outside of Jesus’ forgiveness.

For example; Racism.

  • Confessing or admitting that I have shown prejudice toward others or told jokes at the expense of another race needs more if this racism is going to turn to forgiveness and peace.
  • It means admitting that the entire framework of with which I approach others is faulty.
  • It is admitting that the view that another race is somehow inferior of basically flawed is wrong and evil in God’s truth.
  • Repentance here is turning away from that worldview and the seeds of hate in my heart toward God vision of all people created in his image and therefore equally valid, loved and gifted.

This kind of admitting is real. It acknowledges that we all have a heart problem that needs someone Divine to fix. This repentance finds the heart of the crucified Jesus, the man of love, waiting to respond in unearned forgiveness and love of you.

John is a neon flashing sign today. He simply points you to look to the One has struck the killer blow to the snakes head (Genesis 3), as promised in the beginning.

Whether you think you have got it made in terms of religion, or you are yearning for a relationship of grace you know you can’t manufacture yourself, hear the fiery man. He is pointing you to the real Christ this Advent.

Because of him and his word working in us we have no need to make distinctions between who is truly “one of us” and who isn’t. We are all one in him.

No need to settle for a bit of human praise. We have the affirmation and love of the Creator in our souls.

No need to rely on self, others or things for what we yearn for – that peace in the souls, that heavenly sleep when we can’t sleep, that joy when we are in sorrow, that faith and freedom that replaces our fears and worries.

We are free in him.

So, go ahead and continue to produce the good fruit of repentance”, as John names it.

From a deep relationship of peace with God in Jesus;

Stick your hand into a nest of killer snakes within others knowing that you will survive As Isaiah saw before all this.

Settle for nothing less than his praise of you more than anyone else’s praise.

Don’t hold up membership here or Lutheran or family heritage as the ground on which you stand. Give them all second place under the cross of Jesus – the only Saviour and the deliberate and stunning grace of God for us and with us – Immanuel.

Take a look see this Advent. Go to the Jordan where you were baptised and receive the truth of it again this Advent. It will make you fruitful and free.

Amen

 

CONVERSATION STARTERSadvent-2016-wk-2

In Advent we will be using Martin Luther’s way of reflecting on Scripture and praying.

Let’s look at the Gospel readings and use this four part way of seeking deeper insight as we listen to God in Advent.

Luther pictures this way on engaging in Scripture as a string with little knots in it or a four stranded rope.

Slowly read out loud, noting words that stand out to you or questions that the word raises…..

Matthew 3:1-12 The kingdom of heaven is at hand!

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:

‘A voice of one calling in the wilderness,

“Prepare the way for the Lord,

    make straight paths for him.”’[a]

John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt round his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptised by him in the River Jordan.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptising, he said to them: ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.” I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The axe has been laid to the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

11 ‘I baptise you with[b] water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptise you with[c] the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’

Instruction

As a result of hearing this word, what is God teaching me about himself, myself and his kingdom? (Reflect/share these)

Confession

As a result of hearing this word, what is God calling me to repent of, turn away from, confess to him and receive his forgiveness? (Pray these)

Thanksgiving

As a result of hearing this word, what is am wanting to thank God for? (Reflect/share and pray these)

Supplication

As a result of hearing this word, what is God inspiring me to ask him for? (Pray these)

Jesus’ Prayer

Pray the Lord’s Prayer to end….

 

Our Coming Saviour: Week 2: Hearing Herod

SermonOur Coming Saviour

Advent 2, Sunday December 6, 2015

St Petri

After Playing > herodskit guys.wmv

 Hearing Herod

Luke 3:1-6

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,

‘Prepare the way for the Lord,

    make straight paths for him.

Every valley shall be filled in,

    every mountain and hill made low.

The crooked roads shall become straight,

    the rough ways smooth.

And all people will see God’s salvation.’”[a]

 

It is dark isn’t it? He is dark. Herod seemed to be a human being devoid of any love, any true service, any humility – a man locked up in himself. When traveling in Israel we were privy to see some of the many fortresses the Herod’s built around the country. They needed lots of places to which they could escape when someone tried to betray or win over them, such was their lust for power and dysfunctional family politics. Herod was a man on ego power drugs, willing to murder members of his own family at times; willing to murder John the Baptist; willing to murder a thousand baby boys under two years old to preserve his place and his things and his image of greatness.

Whether Herod like it or not, the wheels of change, or should we say the feet of the camels of the Eastern travellers are in motion! The timing is all God’s. The means are all God’s. Good news for some, bad news for others like Herod. The skies are shining and angels are singing. Star gazers are noticing the camel train of events leading to a foundational shift in the way the human community will be from now on.

But people like Herod feel threatened. Are we feeling threatened, are people in our families, in our work places, in our schools, in our streets and on our farms feeling threatened by Christmas coming? Hardly. Christmas has become unthreatening, sweet, a play thing, a magic thing…

When you think about, the relentless move to dismiss, dilute and destroy the news that God is one of us in Jesus must be threatening to most people because as a Western world, we are gradually squeezing the truth and power out of the season. The weight of these world shifting events is gradually being lost to our children.

The Christmas machine is remaking the characters into sweet things – quite harmless now. I walk around Nuri and see mainly santa claus lights, reindeer figures, candy canes and trappings of a snow laden winter – snow we don’t have Down Under! We in the Western world have been throwing the real characters of God’s Holy Spirit created movement out and replacing them with imaginary characters that take all the bight out of what God has done and still is doing.

Many of us are hanging on to the real story and trying help others do that too. Now and again we manage to say something about the real story as best as we can. But we are wondering why our community is so relentless in destroying the story?

Is it because we just cannot believe that the Divine could be so human? If God is one of us then he must be of no use, no princely power, no charisma, no “pulling power”. He would not win an election in a world where popular vote and personal choice are king.

Is it because we are frightened of accountability to a Creator God who by his very being has authority to shape the world and shape me? If he is the final authority and he knows what it is to be human then he can rightly call me to account for who I am and what I am doing in life. He can and offers to change my life, my values, my vision of my future and for many this is not always a comfortable thing.

Is it because we are just lazy. Shepherds, young couples, old couples and eastern travellers sensed the greatness of this Christmas truth and marvel at the radical nature of the Bible’s message about God entering our world to forgiven it, bring peace to it and restore families and communities to love and hope and thriving life. Have even we who are in Christ and know his love for real become complacent, taking him for granted, and just got swept along in flowing tide, getting busy with doing life our way.

Herod had to face the news of God, and he did not like it one bit. He had to hear it and he got the message. A Saviour is a threat to my very human and broken soul. A Saviour knocks the self out of the driving seat of my life. A Saviour changes my vision, my goals, my sense of self, my direction, the way I relate to others, my work, my community.

Are you liking it? Am I? Truth be told, there may be plenty of times we don’t want a Saviour like us; who knows us completely – flaws and shame and pain and all. He knows too much and calls us to too much!

But this Saviour coming is not Herod. He is nothing like Herod at all. He does not kill a thousand baby boys but brings to birth this one and only baby boy of his, and millions of men and women since.

He fills in the valleys of suffering and depression and aloneness and shaves off the top of mountains of impossible decisions, tough circumstances like back and charred landscape and souls, hard choices and the temptations that seek to beat us.

He shows us the way through crooked places bit by bit, day by day and he goes before us to show us where to keep in the light, the love and the life he gives. The charcoal will eventually turn to green and growth again, as will our spirits.

And all people will see God’s salvation.

Whether or not you or your people want to, wish to, don’t want to or wish they did not have to see this God of ours on the move in the baby, they will. Today, tomorrow, this year, next year, on a Tuesday or a Sunday, in doubt and cynicism or in fear and crying out for help, they will see him. We will all see him.

They probably won’t see him in the santa claus, the reindeer, the stars or the seas, or the tea leaves. They will see him in you. That’s God’s program: revealing himself as human and divine through human people with the divine working in and through them by the words we speak and actions we take. This is God’s expressed desire; and all to not to condemn the world but to save the world from itself through wise travellers like us doing our travelling with faith in his light and love for him in our hearts.

John was the voice calling in the lonely place and we heard him. The Saviour he announced still calls in ten thousand voices, “Prepare! Prepare for me again. I place myself in your arms to hold and admire and love”.

The Spirit calls us to hear Jesus but be aware of Herod within and around. “Wise and snakes and gentle as doves”, the bible says.

We are not here to condemn the Herod we see but to help the “Herod’s” whenever and wherever they pop their heads up in our daily interactions. We are called to help them hear someone other than themselves; to hear this Saviour in hay and shed and as a result be set free from endless power seeking and self-focus, instead resting in the Saviour’s saving love and kindness.

We even have this Saviour Jesus challenging the Herod within us whenever he pops up and we have the Saviour’s promise to love us and continue to travel with us through the ups and downs with him ahead, alongside and behind.

Let’s be aware of Herod within and around, but then let’s turn away from him and lend our ears to Jesus.

He will speak and you will see him.

He will love and we will be accepted.

He will change our views and re-set our vision and we will be free and find joy again.

He will save and we will be new.

In the name of Christ.

Amen

 

CONVERSATION STARTERS

We hear of John the Baptist again today. Share what you have heard about him so for in your faith journey for a minute or two….

Read the text again noting the time and location of his ministry and then his goal and message.

Luke 3:1-6

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, …. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,

‘Prepare the way for the Lord,

    make straight paths for him.

Every valley shall be filled in,

    every mountain and hill made low.

The crooked roads shall become straight,

    the rough ways smooth.

And all people will see God’s salvation.’”[a]

This is quite an introduction! Luke does this because if you read Luke 1:1-4, he sets out to ‘carefully investigate everything’ and ‘write an orderly account’.

Many believe that Mark’s gospel was the first written record of the eyewitness accounts of Jesus. Many also believe that before Mark put his gospel together, there was an first collection of written accounts that has been called ‘Q’ (from Quelle in Latin that means “first’).

Luke’s gospel is written to “Theophilus”. People see that this could be a real person named Theophilus, or name used to cover up either a single person’s identity or a whole church’s identity (for people under Roman persecution) or a name that means it is written for all “lovers of God’ which is what “theo-philus” means.

Note, we get the first naming of Pontius Pilate right here at the beginning of Luke’s account (3:1).

We also get the names of the High priest who would play a significant role in the crucifixion of Jesus – Caiaphas.

 

Note how it is ‘the Word of God’ that creates everything after this. Everything begins with God speaking. Our God speaks. Human ‘gods’ don’t. They are merely things of stone and wood’ as it often says in the Old Testament.

 

When I see footage of monks in Tibet or go into a shop that has a Buddha sitting on the counter, I remember that these ‘gods’ cannot speak. I go the Bible or I listen in worship or talk to my friends, and God speaks through all of them.

 

 

John is on the move. He proclaims a simple message. Repent! Turn away from what you have known or believed about yourself or the world or God and listen up. Place your ears and your trust on this One who is coming into the world to FORGIVE.

 

Some have sad that the real ‘glory of the Christian church’ is the gift of God’s forgiveness. Through us Christians, God who has the final say on everyone and everything says “not guilty” to people who have been guilty of ‘chasing after things of stone and wood” (see around Jeremiah 2:27 – this is God’s charge against Israel when they sought idols and not trusted him; see also around Ezekiel 20:32 for s similar word of God on human idolatry.

 

As we have said before. There is really only one commandment in the ten from which the other nine flow. As we donlt love the Lord with everything we are and have, then we will break the rest in one way or another and the problem is always us wantng to be god (like Adam and Eve).

 

Idolatry is not some Old Testament thing about statues, it is about human beings and their flawed nature they have (The “Old Adam” as Paul calls it). Addictions, greed, lust, envy and etc are still part of the Christian struggle (Se Romans 7: 14ff…).

 

But thanks the Lord that in our baptism into Jesus and with him every day we have a way through and present and future are lived in his forgiveness – the ‘glory of the church’!

As is always the case in the gospel and the New testament it is loaded with the Old Testament. Just look how much there is of direct quote from the Prophets ad Palms in this first part of Luke’s gospel (chapters 1-3) for example.

Jesus’ coming the completion of the story of God’s activity with people in the world. God has always been God, able to judge and condemn and able to forgive and save in wonderful grace. Jesus is the ultimate expression of this. He is the “complete package”.

As the Apostle’s and evangelists tell the story of what they saw and heard, they cannot help but see the grace of God in the Old Testament and how it has been fulfilled in Jesus and his church in the New.

This particular quote is from Isaiah 51 – a fantastic word on the grand scale of God’s grace given in the coming Messiah, Jesus.

Go through and imagine the picture Luke paints of John and of God on the move in his time.

Imagine how the people of the early church heard this stuff on a Sunday morning. Most of them were Jewish (at least at the beginning).

They would have been amazed at what they heard. The stories and the faith they had grown up with were being revolutionized before their very ears!

EXAMPLE:

It would be like you learning something completely new about your own family story. You would then have to totally re-evaluate everything you ever heard about your family to fit this remarkable new part in.

Have a think about it and try to come up with a scenario of how this might happen in your family.  

 

 

How do we as Jesus’ disciples make the valley’s rise and the hard and high points low so that people who don’t know Jesus’ grace get to him and stay with him in their journey?

How do you view “repentance”? Share your immediate thoughts on the word and what it has meant to you…..

Some people believe that it is something we have to manufacture some great sorrow for our sins and try and name them all and beat ourselves up enough for God to forgive us.

This is not so in the Bible. Repentance is a GIFT of God to us that comes via the Holy Spirit and his work to ‘convict the world of sin’ as we hear God’s law. We are then shown where we have fallen short of the glory of God and then we hear that sweet gospel word of God’s love and forgiveness given fully and freely in Jesus, at great costs to God!

So repentance is not some dark and sorrowful thing (although we can experience sorrow and shame for our rejecting of God’s kindness sometimes and that is a good thing because we just run to Jesus more quickly!) but repentance is also a faith thing. We come to the Lord with faith in his Word, his promises, his assured grace and love for us in Jesus to ask him to make us new, clean us up, renew us in faith and love and hope and continue on the journey.

So God’s forgiveness is not dependent on how ‘sorry’ we feel or how many sins we can list or if we kneel or stand when we pray. God’s forgiveness is based on God – his grace in Jesus. So repentance is all about faith, about trusting him for his promises of love and acceptance for any sin any time.

How does this account of John the Baptist inspire you in your own life?

In what kind of ways would you like to be more like John?

 

PRAY: Lord, level the deep valleys and high climbs ahead of us and help us follow you with courage, faith and joy. Amen.

 

 

Hope in a Fatal Affair

hope in fatal affairSermon, Pentecost 7B
Sunday July 12th 2015, St Petri

Mark 6:14-29
14 King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying,[a] “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”
15 Others said, “He is Elijah.”
And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.”
16 But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!”
17 For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, 20 because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled[b]; yet he liked to listen to him.
21 Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 When the daughter of[c] Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.
The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” 23 And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.”
24 She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?”
“The head of John the Baptist,” she answered.
25 At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”
26 The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, 28 and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. 29 On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

 

We come across a dark and sordid affair this morning. Mark tells us of the kind of thing we are all to used to hearing about these days; deception, political power wrongly used, paranoid authority figures, sexual promiscuity, drunkenness, envy leading to murder and the beheading of innocent people…. – who said the Bible is make believe!

After Jesus had initiated a new strategy of sending out the Twelve in mission with his own authority, the news of this reached the royal ears of Herod Antipas. Herod Antipas, like his brothers (Heron Phillip and Herod Agrippa), and his Father before him, Herod the Great, was a power hungry tyrant who was more than a just a little paranoid. Anyone or thing that might threaten his grip on control of his little world is a serious threat that must be dealt with. Lust for power and control does this to any person at any level.

All Herod’s worst fears were realised when he hears of Jesus, and not only Jesus, but twelve other “Jesus’s” displaying Divine power. This is a threat of all threats!

Some people were saying that this Jesus must be very special. He must be a very great prophet. He might even be Elijah, the Prophet who was the one who would be a forerunner to the THE Prophet – the Saviour – the Messiah who would change everything.

“Oh no!! You can hear the paranoid Herod say to his courtiers! “I thought I got rid of John, that fiery and confronting man who unsettled me to the core on more than one occasion”. Herod wonders if John the Baptist has come back from the dead to get him!

John had really stirred up Herod. John simply did not play the power game and keep things all PC! He called “a spade a spade”. In scenes worse than the family goings on in Neighbours or Downton Abbey, this Herod Antipas had illegally married his brother, Herod Philipp’s wife, Herodias.

Surprisingly we hear that Herod was fascinated by John. Mark tells us that Herod “liked to listen to John” and thought “he was a righteous and holy man of God”.

John must have been like one of those people who you may not like very much because they challenge everything about you, and yet you know they are on to something important. So you find that you listen to them because you know it is good for you to be challenged by them.

We hear that Herod imprisoned John to protect him from his particularly troubled wife, Herodias. This is ‘protective custody’. One can imagine the great royal man sitting outside the prison cell chatting to his unjustly imprisoned prisoner and sensing a holy, right and straight man – so unlike himself – maybe even wondering how he could ever be right with God.

Kings throw great banquets and all the important people come. They are a public show of one’s power and the place of deals and alliances, as well as deception.

Herodias seems to have been very upset and wounded by this Prophet telling her she cannot just do what she wants; that she is not above the law – especially God’s law. Herodias, seems to be in the wings orchestrating this whole fatal affair.

She sends out her own daughter, Salome, to dance well for all the important people of Galilee. Salome’s paranoid and drunk father and his friends like her dancing very much. Herod makes his fatal mistake – fatal for John anyway.

In a moment of power play and too much wine, he gives the outstanding dancer a wish – any wish. Whatever she asks for he must give, otherwise his power will be weakened and that is never good for keeping control over others.

Salome, the great dancer plays her dutiful part and asks for the head of John on a platter. Her mother has finally got her man with all of his embarrassing truth-telling words. Herod is cornered. John’s fate is sealed. Herod is secretly heart-broken and very, very scared – after all, John was a righteous man of God.

We can see now why Herod is so worried when he hears about this Rabbi Jesus and his twelve “sent ones” making John-like noises in greater ways than John ever did!

The locals were right in a sense. John the Baptist had been resurrected! John had indeed ushered in a new age of God’s mighty power and amazing grace for those who would receive it. The deaf heard, the lame walked, the dumb talked and the demons cried out in fear for the Kingdom of God was near. A new king was present. All other little kings must bow to this one great King of love.

And I guess that is our perennial problem. The Word tells us of our “Herodian problem” over and over again, from the first bight of the apple to the laugh of Sarah and her husband Abraham, to the rogue, Jacob, who spent his whole life struggling against God, to the people who would take his new name, “Israel” (which means ‘one who struggles with God”), who would generation after generation be a rebellious and stubborn people who do the same (Ezekiel 2:3-5).

We can hear the truth of God in the Word of Jesus and refuse to repent in the face of God’s explicit and personally call to do just that so we might receive new life and hope.

Like Herod we all too often want to manufacture our own life and hope. Truth becomes what “I believe to be true for me”. Instead of simply receiving and trusting the Word of Jesus for my life today, I spend a fair bit of time hearing and trusting alternate “words” that help me avoid real repentance. The old Adam in me says, “I am the king”. “This is my kingdom”. ”This is my life”.

In this place we are doomed like Herod. We have lost all face before the only “Face” that really counts – the face of Jesus, the Saviour of the world and Lord of all.

But Jesus, the one “greater than John,” calls out to you and me, “The time has come” “The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15).

This Jesus is the Good News to whom all little gods and god chasing hearts can turn with confidence in his gracious acceptance. His open-hearted kindness and affection for the unjust, the paranoid, the power hungry, the lonely, the unwell, the oppressed, enables repentance that leads to life. His gracious acceptance gets rid of the need to hang on to power and control others, and brings a freedom to serve others in love.

Friends, the call comes to you personally now – Repent and believe the Good News of this divine man.

Life in his acceptance and love is a full life. Regular and direct sorrow and acknowledgement of our will to be a little god to ourselves, matched with a trust in this Good Shepherd’s arms of grace that love to daily embrace us and make us more like him in every way every day.

And the mission continues too. We are messengers out on assignment from the Lord to roll back Herodianism wherever we encounter it – in ourselves and others. Just like “Jesus’ Twelve” who “went out and proclaimed that people should repent” (Mark 6:12) or “turn to” Jesus, so do we in many and various words and ways.

As we do this we become a living part of this great mystery of which St Paul speaks in Ephesians. In Christ we have received the forgiveness of his blood on the cross in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he has lavished on us and in this God has made known to us the mystery of his will, which is to bring all things in heaven and earth under one head, Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1).

We lift up our heads and let this King and his mystery now made known through us come and shape our lives to the praise of his glorious grace. Amen!

CONVERSATION STARTERS

Read the text again noting the various characters in this rather dark account that Mark remembers….Herod, Herodias, John the Baptist, Salome, the executioner/soldier, those at the birthday party in one of Herod’s fortresses….. Note their actions and motivations as described by Mark.

The ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ are wrath, greed, sloth, pride, envy, lust and gluttony. Can you identify some or all of them in this account?

While travelling in Israel, I was privileged to see a few of Herod the great’s fortresses around the country. Herod the great was a paranoid tyrant. He had several large and quite opulent fortresses dotted around Israel. These were places to which he could escape at a moment’s notice if things got a bit too hot for him or his family! Herod the Great’s three sons, Herod Antipas (the one in this account), Herod Agrippa and Herod Phillip took after their father.

The one thing that Herod the Great did that lasted long after his death and for which even the Jewish people were grateful, was the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple. On the site of the Solomon’s original temple, Herod the Great built the magnificent new temple. It too 60+ years to complete and was completely smashed to the ground a few years after its completion! Jesus predicted this would happen (Mark 14:58). The only remaining part of this huge structure is part of the Western wall of the temple. That is now named the ‘Wailing Wall’ and is the holiest site on the world for Jewish people.

Herod hears of Jesus’ fame. He hears about the miracles and the authoritative preaching and then the expanding ministry with the sending of the Disciples 2 by 2 (just before our text). Like any tyrant who rules by fear and sheer human ego, he is unsettled.

Herod has another problem though – his ‘family’! He has flaunted the Jewish law (Torah) by taking his own brother’s wife for his own! John the Baptist is not one for mincing words of being ‘me nice guy’. John calls it like it is and it seems that the person who is most upset about this truth telling is not Herod, but his ‘wife’, Herodias. She seems to be the one plotting this whole sordid affair. Read through the text and view it from this point of view – as Herodias making all this happen….

What about Herodias’ daughter, Salome? Do you think she is in cahoots with her mum or just an innocent pawn in all of this? Mark does not seem to give us a clear understanding of this.

Did you notice how Herod is actually protecting john because he ‘liked to listen to John? It seems that John unsettled Herod in a good way. Herod may have had some glimmer of human heart under all this ego and fear after all. Herod seems to be protecting John from his own wife! This is more like protective custody than punishment.

I suggested that the world is a brutal place. It was then and is still now. Beheading of innocent people has taken on a new meaning lately as a result of the evil actions of the death cult, IS. Herod’s ‘family’ seemed to be lost in the same kind of death. Fear rules the house. Abuse, violence, manipulation and the seven deadly sins are the order of most days.

I suggested that we are very capable of being a lot like Herod than we might admit. Sure, we may not marry our own brother’s wife or have an innocent man executed because of a stupid bet brought on by too much pride, wine and sexual temptation. But there are other ways to “kill” others – with words and silence and unseen manipulation….. There are other ways to trust ourselves rather than the Lord and look after number one rather than humble serve others in Jesus’ love. Reflect together on how you see this playing out in our own time and in our own lives…..

John was the forerunner to Jesus. His job was to get the world ready. He did. He did this by his preaching, his baptising and then finally his own life. He is very much in the tradition of the old Testament prophets who unsettled kings and were hardly ever understood or liked in their own lifetime. John reminds of another Prophet of God who confronted a tyrant ruler who was rued y his manipulative wife (See 1 kings 18-21). John is the greatest of them all and yet nowhere near the import of the One he announces (Matthew 11:11, John 5:35).

What does this account tell you about telling the truth and what this sometimes costs a Christian? Share about a time you dis speak a word of truth that was not liked very much by the person you spoke it to………

John did his job and so did Jesus. Jesus calls his church to speak the truth in season and out of season in all love, not to win but to bring his truth into the darkness and evil we experience.

PRAY
Lord, let the light of your undeserved love and kindness expel our darkness and make us salt and light in a troubled world. Amen.

“Laying Troubles Aside”: God brings good gifts

Sermon: Advent 3AAdvent -Christmas Title Pic 2013

Divine Interruption: “Laying Troubles Aside”: God brings good gifts

Video: Mary

 

Matthew 11:2-11                                                                       

11:2 When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 11:3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 11:4 Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 11:5 the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 11:6 And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” 11:7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 11:8 What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. 11:9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 11:10 This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ 11:11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

 

She thought that angel had come to the wrong house. She was just a girl – a girl from the back blocks – a place where nothing much ever happens and no one ever notices. 

But when Jesus finally came she forgot all about her pain and relationship issues, and community judgements.  Jesus has that affect on people. The troubles remain but he changes you in them and you can let your troubles go and be caught up in him.  

John the Baptist had plenty of trouble. He was imprisoned and awaiting the fickle hand of the crazy power mogul, Herod. The death knell could come any day.  

In his trouble and suffering he just had to know for sure. When he heard that Rabbi Jesus was healing and setting people free and teaching in his own authority, John just had to check again. He asks his helpers to seek out Jesus and ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Good question. Good question for us.

Jesus says, “Yes”. I am that one you have been waiting for – the one for whom you now suffer in prison. Yes John, you were faithful. You are right. You are true because I am right and faithful and true.  

“You too, Mary. That angel did not come to the wrong house and good things – even the very best thing – comes from you and your town”.  

Do you believe this of yourself, friend? Can good things come to you and from you? Are the angels at the right house this Advent? Is the Holy Spirit at the right heart?  

The thing both Mary and John did was trust the good news they heard. John heard his students report back that Jesus said he is the Man. That word of prophecy that Jesus himself uttered in that Capernaum synagogue was true;

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me  to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free,  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (Luke 4:18-19)

When you hear news you either have to reject it as untrue or embrace it as true and then let the news re-shape your view, your actions and words. That’s why it is news – and not just information or some theory about something. News has to be received and adjusted to. News interrupts us.   

The gospel of Jesus is news. It is a divine interruption. It is not information, theory, a philosophical system or even a thing of mere intellectual or emotional agreement. The gospel of this “God with us” is news – good news. The gospel writers don’t inform us, or sit us down in a classroom to teach us a theory of the world or God – they just tell good news; like you do when you heard the news of Nelson Mandela’s death. It was news. You had to trust it was true or reject is as mere inconsequential rumour. News interrupts. News has to be dealt with and adjusted to.  

So it is with John. He has heard the good news of God delivering on his promise to make a radical difference to the way of things for human beings and God. And so, John simply had to trust the word of Jesus and what the word was doing in people’s lives. He trusted Jesus with his life.  

Same with Mary. Mary had to trust that angel, her husband to be, the voice of God telling her that she is much more valuable to God than she thought and her life was much bigger than she could age ever imagined. She did.

To do that they had to simply receive this news and follow its consequences – easy and hard. For John it was prison and injustice and eventual giving of his life. For Mary it was a long and dangerous trip to an unknown place – birth in a shed, letting go of her boy as he fulfilled his calling, watching him suffer and die in extreme circumstances, losing a son but then receive the incredible mystery of being the one through whom the world was changed forever – for the better.  

Is Jesus the one who has come and made your life bigger than it ever could be and more valuable to the world, the church and your family that it would be without him, or are you still looking for someone or something else to make your life count? 

Money, accumulation of wealth and property, fame, skill, beating the competitors and etc may seem to deliver a life you want to live, but they are short-term and can’t fill the heart with love and thankfulness and joy.  

Jesus’ entry into the world is the beginning of the end of the need to put our life in the hands of all of these things.  

Jesus’ life is beginning of a life lived that is neither religious or irreligious, not a life of keeping the rules to earn God’s favour and peace, not ignoring God’s good news and getting ourselves lost in doing whatever we want to do.

Jesus’ presence with us now is the new way – the grace way, the third way – a way of peace that is God-created and sustained and borne out of love for us – pure love, pure life for all – even a Mary from the backblocks and a John in prison.  

Well Advent is news. Good news. What are you doing with the news? How are your responding to angels’ voices, shepherds’ witness, a young woman’s trust, a faithful man on death row and his simple and fiery trust in what he hears from Jesus?  

The news is coming at you. It is interrupting you – for good reason. God has got the right address and he has come to the right heart – yours. He chose your place and your life to be in today.  

His news of presence and peace and new life is no theory or text book presentation – it is news – good news that travels like wild-fire and changes a woman and a man and young person and a child.  

Friends, let me say to you what needs to be said this Advent day;

“Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He has come with judgement, no to condemn you but to rightly make account for everything and actually help you, saver you, love you.”

Because of this news and this man and this stable and feeding trough and this living story of faith, your eyes that can be so blind are opened, and the ears that are filled with all the trappings of wealth and activity, and Christmas the worldly way are now unstopped.

With old legs, a broken heart, a damaged mind, a heavy heart, there is room in the inn this Advent for you to leap like a deer, and the there is a calling for us as a local church community to let our speechless tongues wag away because God has changed the weather, broken the dam wall that held us up, cracked open that tough exterior we sometimes hide behind and let his life flood in as we hear this good news of the child.  

We long for the waters to break and the news to be out. He is here. He is with us. He is with me. Streams of light and life are in my life and can be in yours. Simply trust – like Mary, like John. Friends, as we receive and trust the news of God this Christmas like Mary, John and the others did that first Christmas our thirst will be quenched – thirst for hope, future, love, meaning in our work, purpose  to our life – quenched by the news – the good news of God.  

Will you receive big news for you these weeks of Advent and this Christmas? It is big news and good news that God has not come to the wrong address or place or heart.  

He has come to you and he knows your place, your ways, your weaknesses and your sin and stays at your place anyway – calling you out of the dark shed and into the light of the angels in his glorious gospel – good news that simply need to be heard and believed.  

You count. Your life counts. God values you and has called you to bear Jesus where you are, like Mary and John.  

There is no need to wait for someone or something else. He’s here.  

Mary says, “I knew that he would change everything because he had already changed me”. 

Has he? Is he? Will he?

 

CONVERSATION STARTERS

Share your high and low for the week…

 

Read the text slowly and deliberately asking the Spirit to bring things into your focus as you hear God’s word. Note things down

            What got your imagination going/stuck out to you?

If there was a biblical scholar in the room, what questions would you like to know the answer to in this text?

 

Mary said that when the angel messenger came to her door she thought that angel had come to the wrong house. She was just a girl – a girl from the back blocks – a place where nothing much ever happens and no one ever notices.

 

I asked, “Do you believe this of yourself, friend? Can good things come to you and from you? Are the angels at the right house this Advent? Is the Holy Spirit at the right heart?”

Share your response to Mary and this question….

 

John also asked an important question for every person. “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” I asked, “Are you still looking for someone or something else to make your life count?” Are you? If so (and we all do at times), what things do you look to in order to make yourself be OK? Share your thoughts…

 

What do you hear Jesus saying to you this Advent about  looking to him to make your life count and be OK?

 

Advent and Christmas are news – good news. Like any news, it interrupts us and has to be either accepted and true and good and then readjusted to or it has to be rejected as inconsequential for our lives. I asked, “What are you doing with the Advent news?” Share your thoughts……

 

News is proclaimed and either trusted or rejected. How do you think people in your circle of friends and family respond to the news of God becoming a human being to take all human pain and suffering and sin on himself so that a new way of grace and love with God becomes a possibility for people? Why do you think this really is good news for some people, bad news for others or news of no consequence to others? When you get to the bottom of this question – let me know!  Share your thoughts……

 

 

Mary says, “I knew that he would change everything because he had already changed me”. How is this true for you as a Christian and part of a local Christian community? Shasre your thoughts…..

 

 

Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.

We become the news readers/tellers. We simply tell the news and it up to the Spirit as to how any person responds. How does this work out in your own experience in the time when you have simply told the news of God’s love with another person? Share your stories……

 

PRAY:

Heavenly Father, we thank you for the news that has changed our lives and given us a story to live and tell. We thank you for your undeserved love given in a way we can really trust – Jesus – a real person just like us and giving his life for us. Help us to trust that you really have come to our house and heart and that you can bring much good to other from us. Help us tell the world of this good news and trust you for how people respond. Amen.

 

 

 

Way to God

Advent 2012

Sermon: Advent 2C,Dec 9th, 2012.

St Petri

 

Luke 3:1-6

A way to God

Spirit of God, make the way straight for us to hear and believe your word, for your word is truth and life. Amen

Friends, we hear of the way to God this Advent morning. “The Way to God”?

If there was ever a quest that would mark our age it would be the quest to find a way to the divine

Of course, in our climate, any way to find God – without Christianity is all the rage. Any other way is OK. If we Christians ever comment or criticise another way to God being offered, then we are bigoted and narrow. If other ways to God on offer criticise Christianity they are applauded! Nothing new here – we are used to it now.

Regardless of this, there are many ways to God, or fulfilment, of life, or the divine on offer daily for us and our young people and children.

Here’s a few ways on offer – ways to God.

The way to god is:

  • Being good  – doing what the bible says to keep God happy with me
  • Pretending to be good – keeping up appearances out of loyalty to church or family or self expectations
  • Not bothering to be good at all. Finding God in not seeing the world in “good and bad” terms but just as it is terms – of course though, then we have the problem of meaninglessness. If nothing is good and noting is bad and all of this good and bad stuff is just a human construction – then all is nothing.
  • Not bothering to be good at all – searching for meaning in anything and everything – no limits of sex, relationship boundaries, and moral code in behaviour…..
  • Concentrating on self – rejecting God and religion and becoming myself through various experiences – chasing the bucket list, attending events, courses, groups to fulfil myself – because no one can or will – including God…..
  • Concentrating on others – doing good things for others regardless of God – just because it is better to live that way.
  • Emptying one’s self and finding the great unknown – the great spiritual existence that exists somewhere – finding the secret way, the hidden way, the way to peace and contentment
  • Collecting gods and keeping them happy – a good luck charm for travel, for sport, for study, for peace in the home….

How shall we find a way to God? How shall we help people find a way to God?

But maybe this is the wrong question?   It seems that God is finding us!

Every valley shall be filled in,

every mountain and hill made low.

The crooked roads shall become straight,

the rough ways smooth.

And all people will see God’s salvation

God is the one making finding him possible. God is the one making a way for us to see his freedom and love for us – our “salvation”.

So, because God is finding us and making the way to him possible for us, John can then cry out how we receive God’s new way.

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness.

Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight”

We don’t find God. We receive what God is already doing for us.

And the way receive God’s new way?

 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near”.

The way to receive God? “Repent” cries John. Turning toward God, laying down self, sorrowing for wrong done to and against; an act of humility, an act of faith in God’s goodness….

The way to God; the way to fulfillment, purpose, and meaning is repentance? The way to receive God’s life is a turning away from self and sin and darkness and evil and a turning toward truth and light and life – in the Advent king Jesus? Not what people are hearing or want to hear….. Well maybe…..

I heard this story once.

A number of years ago a couple travelled to the offices of an Adoption Society in England to receive a baby. They had been on the waiting list a long time. They had been interviewed and carefully scrutinized. Now at last, their dreams were to be fulfilled. But their day of happiness was another’s pain.

Arriving at the offices of the Society they were led up a flight of stairs to a waiting room. After a few minutes they heard someone else climbing the stairs. It was the young student mother whose baby was to be adopted. She was met by the lady responsible for the adoption arrangements and taken into another room. Our friends heard a muffled conversation and a few minutes later, footsteps on the stairs as the young mother left. They heard her deep sobbing until the front door of the office was closed. Then, there was silence.

The lady in charge then ushered them next door. In a little cot was a six week old baby boy. On a chair beside it was a brown paper bag containing a change of clothes and two letters. One of these, addressed to the new parents, thanked them for providing a home for her baby and acknowledged that under the terms of the adoption each would never know the other’s identity. Then the young mother added one request. Would they allow her little son to read the other letter on his eighteenth birthday? She assured them that she had not included any information about her identity. The couple entrusted that letter to a lawyer and one day the young man will read the message which his mother wrote on the day when with breaking heart, she parted from him.

I wonder what she wrote? If I had to condense all I feel about life and love into a few precious words what would I say? I would have no time for trivia. I would not be concerned about economics, politics, the weather, clothes, even future job prospects of career really. I would not be at all concerned the size of house or the type of car. At such a time I would want to dwell on the life-giving things of life, on what life was all about and what things were absolutely essential. I might find myself outlining the way to God.

John was doing just that. Time was short. Like this couple in a big moment, John had to get to the core quickly. Soon the sword of Herod’s guard would flash and his tongue would lie silent in the grave. Soon the way to God would be here – the messiah, the new road, the new way, the new holy highway to peace and joy and life and people had to get ready for this massive change and huge shift in destiny.

One word; Repent. Metanoia. Turn around. Turn back toward God for he is meeting you now where you are at, and calling you to a totally new way to deal with your sin, your idolatry, your brokenness, your weakness. A tsunami of change is coming and complete peace with your Creator is on offer.

Repent of your self-aggrandisement, your chasing for the way to God in the things you think you know. Turn away from triviality, mere surface level observance – religious or otherwise. Repent of reliance on family tradition and custom. God can make church members out of rocks on the ground, says the fiery man in the desert.

Repent of your comfortableness with unforgiveness and grudges. Turn away from judgemental heart – keeping all the “bad” people at bay and all the “good” people free.

Give up you your distraction, your indifference and seek the new man, the new way to God and his peace, his life, his calling

“Repent” – Short and simple – the only way to be known by God.

Repenting for John is more than having a change of heart or a feeling of regret. It is more than a New Year’s Eve resolution. Repentance is a turning away from ourselves, and in simple trust and faith in God’s grace, turning back to him.

Each of us is invited to come to Jesus one-on-one. At least that’s what John says.

He says prepare for the advent; the coming of Jesus. There is no room for relying on your pedigree as a dyed in the wool Lutheran or an extra special member of this parish. There is no room for pleading ignorance concerning God’s call to come clean with him and repent. No, there is only room in your heart for the grace of Jesus – your heart filled with his peace so you can live in his peace and get on with his mission to bring peace to all those you know who know no peace with Jesus.

Turn to him this Advent so that your peace may be full this Christmas.

Amen