Saturday, 25 February 2012

Mark 1:9-15- lent

Mark 1:9-15 New International Version (NIV)

9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted[a] by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Mark 1:13 The Greek for tempted can also mean tested.

      Lent is a time when we reflect on our relationship with Jesus and determine what we could do to strengthen that relationship.  Ideally, as Christians, we want to be disciples of Jesus. The word "disciple" means 'learner'. To be a disciple is to be a kind of student, but not in the way we usually think of a 'student'. Usually when we say 'student' we mean someone who sits in a classroom and gains intellectual knowledge so that they can reproduce the answers in some kind of test, ... but that kind of learning might not have any effect on that student's life. The word 'disciple' means to be a student in a deeper sense. It is not just about intellectual knowledge, it is about learning to live and think in a particular way.  It isn't about learning a few statements of truth about reality. It is about living and thinking as the master lives and thinks. In this way 'disciple' might be more like 'apprentice'. 

            Disciples of Jesus have a difficult task. They are apprentices of God. They learn and work with Jesus to be more like him. The original disciples walked with him. They talked with him. They prayed with him. They spoke about God and the Scriptures with him. They ate with him. They watched him as he ministered to others. They learned to be more like Jesus. They learned his rhythm and his manner. Perhaps this is why Peter got out of the boat to walk on the water to Jesus (in Matthew 14). Peter wanted to be like Jesus. All apprentices are aiming at becoming like their master.

            It is important for us to remember that there are certain things that are unique to Jesus. There are things only he is called to do- and only he can do. But, we are still called to follow him and imitate him. For example, we cannot die on a cross to save the world from sin, however, he does call us to pick up our cross and follow him.

            In our Gospel reading from Mark we see both these sides. We see both the uniqueness of Jesus and the call to follow him. In our passage Jesus was baptized, he endured temptation in the wilderness, and he returned declaring the reign of God in the world.

            First, Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River. The question that immediately comes to mind is, "why did he have to be baptized?" Jesus, the sinless one, was baptized? People came to John confessing their sin and seeking forgiveness, and Jesus came to him to be baptized?

            For us to understand this we have to first understand that John's baptism wasn't just about personal sin, though it was about that too. When the people entered the Jordan River to be baptized they were reenacting the entrance into the promised land after the Exodus from Egypt. They were reentering into the covenant between God and Israel. They were 'changing their minds' to focus back on that covenant they had with God as a people, and that's what repentance means. It means to refocus, to change your mind, or to fix your trajectory.

            My mother-in-law knows I have a bad sense of direction and so for Christmas this year she gave me a GPS for my car. It is like an electronic navigator. It will show you a map and tell how to get to any location I type in. Sometimes, even with this help, I miss my turn. Then my GPS will recalculate and tell me how to get back on track. That is repentance. When I follow the new recalculated directions I change my course- I repent. John the Baptist was Israel's GPS. He showed them the new recalculated course and Jesus led the way down the path that John prepared. 

            Jesus entered the Baptismal waters as the perfect representative of Israel, leading the way through the waters. Jesus was reenacting the history of Israel, (and of humanity). They left Egypt, walked through the waters, and entered the wilderness. Jesus, too, entered the waters to enter a new land. He left behind the ways of the world and the expectations people had of him in order to bring about another world. In Jesus' baptism a new reality comes into being. The heavens tear open and God's reality breaks into our world. The Spirit comes to Jesus and he hears the Father's voice declare, "you are my Son".

            As his disciples, we are to follow him. We evaluate where our thinking is and we change our mind to align it more with Jesus' thinking- that is repentance. We express our desire to follow him and to be disciples. We repent of the destructive ways of the world. We wash it off us. We wash off the false  and burdensome expectations others place on us. We wash ourselves of the desire to have a home that is bigger than we need it. We wash ourselves of our insatiable desire for "security", and to be entertained. We wash ourselves of the idea that indulging in our desires will bring us happiness. We wash ourselves of feeling like victims of the world, and we make a choice to follow Christ. In that moment of repentance, in that baptism, we become a son or daughter of God. Through Christ we are adopted into the family.

            In Romans Ch 8 (:14-17) Paul says, "14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.[f] And by him we cry, “Abba,[g] Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory."

            This isn't something you earn after you've survived temptation and proved yourself by proclaiming the kingdom. This is the first step. You become the child of God by turning to Jesus (the Son of God). You leave behind the illusions of the world and enter into God's reality as His child. We enter into a life of repentance. We are committed to always seeking out God's will and aligning ourselves with it.

                Second, after being baptized, Jesus was sent into the desert. While he was there we read that he was tempted by Satan. We don't know from Mark what the temptations were, but we read about them in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The temptations have to do with worldly power. Jesus was tempted to refocus, not on God, but on the earthly advantage. He was tempted to misuse his powers to feed his own bodily desires for bread. He was tempted to gain the people through military and political power. Jesus resists and is victorious.                   

            Where the people of Israel failed in the wilderness, Jesus succeeds. As one commentator said, "Israel in the wilderness stumbled and wandered for forty years in sin, rebellion, and distrust, longing again for the chains of slavery, Jesus withstands Satan's tests in the wilderness for forty days" (Stanley Sanders). The people of Israel stumbled and fell on their faces. They failed again and again when faced with temptation. Jesus, as Israel's perfect representative succeeds where they failed.

            We are called to follow him in the desert as well. The Christian life was not meant to be easy. It is joyous in that we are God's children, but that does not mean we will lead easy lives free from suffering. We will be tempted. We will be asked to undo our repentance. We will be asked to refocus our minds to more selfish ends. We will be tempted to glorify ourselves. We will be tempted to misuse our money. We will be tempted by lust and bodily pleasures outside of their proper contexts. We will be tempted to use  violence to get our way- to bully people. We will be tempted to manipulate people. We will be tempted to leave our gifts unused and distract ourselves with something else instead. We will fail in resisting these temptations on occasion, but when that happens we get up dust ourselves off and recommit ourselves to following Jesus who did not fall.  

            The desert is not only a place of temptation. It is also a place where angels minister to us, as they did to Jesus. It is a place where God feeds us and sustains us. It is a place where we are with God and transformed by him. It is here in the desert that we train. As disciples we are disciplined. We train for life in the world as God's children. We learn to be firm in our original focus on God and we learn to resist temptation. There are some things we can do by direct effort. We can lift a heavy box by just exerting more force- We just try harder. There are some things, however, that require training. We can't speak French by exerting more force in the moment. We can't play NHL level hockey by just trying harder. Certain activities require training, or discipline. It takes time and commitment. The spiritual life is no different. In the desert we learn to be who we are truly meant to be. We learn to leave slavery behind in Egypt. In the desert we learn to be free. We learn to live with our new identities as children of God.           

            Above all, this new life we learn in the desert looks like love. It is expressed in treating people with respect and kindness, in being generous to others, and in expressing our bodily desires in their proper contexts. We express love through our patience when we are wronged, through moderation and balance of life, and through being attentive to our commitments. That is who we would like to be, but we can't get there by direct effort. To get there we train with God, primarily through prayer and Bible study. We place ourselves in the position to receive His grace which then transforms us.   

            Third, Jesus returns from the desert proclaiming God's reign. "The time has come", he said "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news." Jesus rewrote the story of Israel. He walked through the waters into the wilderness and was victorious over every temptation, and now he returns as the light Israel was always meant to be. He returns and invites others to follow. He declares the reign of God as King. He is the kingdom present in the world, and he calls others to come under his reign. 

            We do not proclaim the reign of God as kings and queens- rather, we proclaim the Reign of our King as people who are learning to be free. We invite others to walk the path we ourselves are walking- in the footsteps of our king. We invite others into this new reality. We invite people to shift their thinking and living so they can be as free as they were created to be. This is the good news we proclaim. We proclaim that God loves them- he runs to them like a Father whose son has returned after squandering the family wealth and was left feeding slop to pigs. We proclaim that God rejoices over them when they return to him, like a woman who found her lost wallet. We proclaim the reign of God as returned prodigal children, and as those who were lost but who are now found.       

            As we live our Christian lives we will come back to these moments. We will notice that we have been led down a wrong path and we will have to repent and refocus on God and His ways. We train in the desert, facing temptation. Hopefully we become stronger in defeating them, but as we do, the temptations will become more subtle.  And we are always called to declare the reign of God.  As we declare the Reign, by God's grace, it will be seen in our own lives. We must also remember that we are not alone on this path. Jesus walked it and he walks it with each one of us now.

            May God guide you in repentance and align your will with His. May you always remember your baptism into the Body of Christ. May God give you strength to defeat temptation. May God train you as an athlete trains, and may you be a powerful force of transformation in our broken world. Amen.    

Friday, 17 February 2012

Sermon on Colossians 1:15-28 (the divinity of Christ)

Colossians 1:15-28

New International Version (NIV)
The Supremacy of the Son of God
15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. 21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of[a] your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.
Paul’s Labor for the Church
24 Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. 25 I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— 26 the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. 27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.


            When I became a Christian I remember being really drawn to Jesus, obviously, but I also remember being really confused by him as well. He would say things like in John chapter 10, "The Father and I are one", and in chapter 14 "anyone who has seen me has seen the Father".  I was confused because Jesus was human and he would sneak off to deserted places to pray to God. If he and the Father were one, who was he praying to? Why did he need to? Jesus was the one to follow. I was becoming more and more convinced of that, but it seemed like the more I tried to understand him the more mysterious he seemed.

            I went to university and took classes in Christian history and then later in seminary I took classes on Christology, which teaches who Jesus is and was. I started to realize that when I became a Christian I drifted through numerous heresies. I remember being fascinated in my classes because I had lived these debates. These debates and counsels had taken place in my soul.  Reading about others that had struggled with who Jesus was and is was reassuring and exciting because it showed me I was not alone.

            The Church had a very powerful experience by coming into contact with the teachings and person of Jesus. It was such a powerful experience that it took them generations to begin to realize the depth of their experience with Jesus. And I think if we are honest, we as the church are still unpacking our experience of Jesus. Perhaps you have had an experience like this. Have you ever had an experience with God that took you weeks or even years before you felt like you understood it? And  if you think back on that experience I bet the meaning of that experience is more clear to you now. The details of that experience might not be crystal clear, but as you have reflected and unpacked that experience you have understood it's meaning more clearly.

            As the church attempted to more fully understand their experience with Jesus they inevitably bounced from one extreme to another. Those extremes began to be called heresies. We all struggle with heresy as we attempt to grow in our understanding of Jesus. We have a natural desire to follow an idea to its extreme.  So, for example, some couldn't understand how Jesus could be a divine being and be human. Some wanted him to be 100% human, and not God at all. They could accept him as a teacher, or a prophet. Others wanted him to be 100% God, and not human at all. To them there was something very unholy about human flesh. It's messy. Humans have to go to the bathroom. So, they started to say that Jesus only looked human. It was as if Jesus was a holographic projection sent from heaven with a message for us.  

            There were those that believed Jesus was a divine being, but not God. Jesus was an incarnated being. A powerful being, but a created being. There was a point in time when The Son did not exist. He was a creature created by God, and therefore is not God. 

            Most Christians agreed that Jesus was God, but the difficulty was in understanding exactly how that worked - how exactly is Jesus God? Was Jesus 50% human and 50% God? Was he some kind of hybrid? Maybe instead of a human mind, Jesus had God fill that space that was usually filled with a human mind. But others wondered if Jesus was still human if he didn't have a human mind. Wouldn't that make him a third kind of being, neither God nor human, but some hybrid? And would Jesus still be able to safe us if he was only sort of human?

            Others started to wonder in what way Jesus was God and they imagined that God the Father left heaven and became incarnate in the baby Jesus. But some started to ask who kept everything in existence while the baby Jesus was sleeping. And when Jesus died on the cross, who kept the universe going? Did God really die and suffer of the cross? And who was Jesus praying to? What was Jesus speaking about when he spoke about the Father?

            It seemed like each time they came to a conclusion, they had more questions to deal with. They started to wonder about If Jesus was 100% human and 100% divine, then was how exactly did that work? Was there a divine Jesus and a human Jesus? Could the divinity overpower the humanity?

            Now we just blew through a few hundred years of thought on Christ. If you've never dealt with any of this your head might be spinning a little. It is a difficult subject. Some of you might have never thought about any of this, and some of you might be wondering what you believe about Jesus at this point. Some of you might be thinking that this is a lot of silly theology about things we really have little clue about. We might as well discuss how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. However, these beliefs mattered and still matter. What is at stake is how salvation works, if we pray to and worship Jesus, and whether we can trust Jesus or not. That's why they struggled so hard with these issues. And these opinions are not just deep in history covered by ten feet of soil. They all exist here and now. Walk down the street and ask people who Jesus is and all these opinions are still present in our world.

            There are those who still believe Jesus was just a human teacher, nothing more. There are those who believe that he came from some distant planet to teach us. There are those who believe that Jesus was just a vision received while someone was on hallucinogenic drugs. The Jehovah's Witnesses believe that Jesus is the incarnate Archangel Michael, a creature of God, but not God. The Mormons believe that Jesus is a god on his own, separate from God the Father.         

            These heretical positions weren't and aren't acceptable because they aren't supported by scripture, and they don't make sense in terms of the Church's experience of Jesus. They change who Jesus is, and so in a sense set up a different Jesus. That's why the church cared so much about attempting to get it right.  Each time the Church heard an idea they kept coming back to the scriptures that were handed on to them. They kept going back to what they were taught by those who were with Jesus. This didn't mean that all Jesus' mysteries were explained. What the Church was trying to do was set boundaries on how we talk about Jesus. At what point do we stop talking about Jesus of Nazareth? Well, when we deny that Jesus was a human being we have stopped talking about Jesus and are really talking about something else. When we deny that Jesus was God we have stopped talking about Jesus of Nazareth and are really talking about something else.

            One of the places in Scripture that was returned to again and again during these controversies was the Colossians reading we heard today. Most scholars believe that chapter 1 versus 15-20 was an early Christian hymn that Paul incorporated into his letter to the people of Colossae. The letter is believed to have been written in the 50's or early 60's. We're talking 20 or 30 years after Jesus had died. That means this hymn is dated even earlier than that. Listen to this hymn again and think about what kind of a person we are talking about- who is Jesus?

15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.     


            He is "the image of the invisible God". Imagine that being said of a human being. "by him all things were created". Close your eyes, now think of something... Jesus created that. Okay now close your eyes again, think of something else, ...  Jesus made that too.  (We could do this all day.) All the atoms and energies of this universe- Jesus created it all. But not only did he create everything, everything was created FOR him. It's hard to even imagine what that means. Okay close your eyes and imagine something ... that was made for Jesus. And then we read that "in him all things hold together". Okay so close your eyes and imagine something... you know why that thing doesn't stop existing? Jesus. All things were created by him. Go back to the beginning and Jesus is there. Go to the end where all creation is heading and Jesus is there. And right now everything is being held together by him. "God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Jesus]". All God's fullness is in Jesus. This is not something that can be said of someone who was only a human being. That can't even be said of an angel. No angel has all God's fullness dwell in him.

            This is a difficult place to use words. If Quantum Mechanics is difficult to grasp then how much more the deepest nature of God. And just because it is difficult to understand doesn't mean it's not true.

            Each generation that passed unfolded a little bit more of the mystery of Christ. and as they did this they allowed us to stand on their shoulders and learn from their wisdom and from their experience of Christ. They gave us more words to speak about the mystery of Christ.

            Jesus is 100% God. He shares God's nature with the Father and the Spirit. He has always been, but it is because of the Father that he has always been. So we say that he is begotten, rather than made, because there was never a time when he was not. He is fully God.  Jesus is also 100% human. God the son took onto Himself human nature. A human being has been incorporated into who God is. And because he is both fully God and human, he has brought broken humanity back into relationship with God through his death on the cross. He is fully human, so he understands your struggles. He understands how difficult life can be. And being God he brings that understanding into God as a human being speaking for us, as one of us. As one of us he resisted Sin and defeated evil. That is a human victory as well as a victory of God. This means we can benefit from the spoils of that battle. 

            If Jesus is God then we can pray to Jesus and worship him without being polytheists. If Jesus is God then God sacrificed himself on the cross for us, taking on the full power of evil to show His love for us. He didn't send one of his poor creatures to endure the cross for our sake. He endured it for us. If Jesus was just a creature, then we are still reaching up towards God while stuck in the mud. But, if Jesus was God then God has reached down to us to pull us up. If Jesus is God, then we can trust what he says about God, because he is God. He isn't a creature giving us good guesses. He is God himself revealing himself to us. In Christ, God did for us what we could never do for ourselves.

            It's a hard thing to talk about. Partly because it's technical, but also it is difficult to talk about because it is true. Evil and darkness and suffering is easy to talk about. But the reality of Jesus as the union between humanity and God isn't easy because I can never get the words beautiful enough. I can never convey the grandeur of the God of the universe being present in a human baby in his mother's arms. I'll never have the language to truly communicate the love felt for you as he drew his last breath on the cross. And I'll never really be able to fully describe the human being now present as God in the realm of heaven looking at us all here as we worship him. I'll never have words beautiful enough.     

            As a new and growing Christian I sat and had conversations with a variety of people about who Jesus was and is. As I got to know Jesus in my prayer and through my Bible I started to recognize Jesus. I started to know when something just didn't feel right. I continued to struggle. And there are some things I continue to struggle with, but I was continually drawn to him and the closer I got the harder it got to squeeze him into a box so I could understand him. I still want to speak about him in ways that honour Jesus because I desire to love him with all my mind, as well as my heart. But, as hard as it can be to understand Jesus we can rest assured that we are not saved by understanding every intricate detail of who Christ is. He sees us longing after him. and we long after him because he is the "image of the invisible God". In seeing him we have seen God. Ultimately our salvation rests in the fact that Christ knows who we are. And because it depends on him we can grasp onto him with a childlike faith-

Jesus loves me this I know,

for the bible tells me so,

little ones to him belong,

they are weak but he is strong,

 yes Jesus loves me, yes Jesus loves me, yes Jesus loves me,

 the bible tells me so.
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