Sunday, 8 December 2013

Where is your allegiance?

Advent 2 year A Sermon Isaiah 11:1-11 and Mark 1

Each year on the second Sunday of Advent…as we prepare the way for celebrating the birth of Jesus…
we remember his baptism… which culminates
with nothing less… than the endorsement of God.

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This is my son…the Beloved.

It’s a sentence…from Psalm 2:7…
which everyone listening would know
gives approval to a liberating king…
in the line of David.

And in Mark’s gospel…affirms God’s blessing
for the coming reign of Jesus the Christ.

And if we’re in doubt about what God ordained kings are like…1st century Jews … were certainly in no doubt.

The Psalms… which they’d all memorised as children… give this mandate to a Davidic king:

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Endow the king with your justice, O God,
    the royal son with your righteousness.
May he judge your people in righteousness,
    your afflicted ones with justice.
May the mountains bring prosperity to the people,
    the hills… the fruit of righteousness.
May he defend the afflicted among the people
    and save the children of the needy;

only justice and fairness… practised by God’s anointed king… will ensure the permanence of the house of David.

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And the gospeller Mark introduces his story of Jesus reign with a powerful poetic quote from the prophet Isaiah…expressing a deep longing for the well-being of all creation
to come when the true king finally rules in wisdom...

Slide words
Prepare the way of the Lord…make his paths straight…

What meaning does God breathe into this passage for you?        …for us…here at the ends of the earth…

Prepare the way of the Lord…make his paths straight …make straight his paths in the wilderness.

If God is speaking to us through this passage…
how are we doing? In preparing the way? [pause]

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We claim allegiance to the baby Jesus…
n the carols we sing…as Christmas approaches
but do we live like we really mean it?

Every December we prepare to celebrate and tell the story of the birth of our Lord …but how well…
do we prepare the ground for the good news he brings
for all the earth! [pause]

You see how we prepare for Jesus in how we live our lives
…is a powerful clue…to where our allegiance really lies.

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1. the loyalty of a citizen to his or her government or of a subject to his or her sovereign.
2. loyalty or devotion to some person, group, cause, or the like.

1. treason. 2. treachery.   [pause]

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We don’t much like absolutes today…do we…
but I believe in one absolute…at least for those
who would call themselves Christian

Allegiance to Jesus…and by that I mean…
exclusive and total dedication to the way of life he models for us.

From the first disciples to us sitting here today…
allegiance to Jesus changes everything
it changes the way the apostolic church relates to Caesar as King and Lord of the Empire.

It changes the relationship to money and possessions as Jesus’ followers learn to share everything in common.

And allegiance to Jesus… changes the way they relate to each other…the concepts of hierarchy and special entitlement… are deconstructed by the early Christians

To live the Christian life in community… there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male or female, … we are all one in Christ Jesus.

To pledge allegiance to Jesus…means being a prophetic community… called by Christ to imitate him…
to reject violence… and stand up to the powerful…
by speaking the truth… and taking the consequences.  
A community that is subversive of Empire…
not subservient.  Or so it’s supposed to be… [pause]

But sadly after the third century things changed as the church grew in power…the good news Jesus proclaimed for all people…was relegated to the dusty shelves labelled… politically impractical. Oh sure a few fled to the desserts and monasteries to keep the flam alive, but

From the 3rd to the 15th century…when the church had all the power… and became an Empire in its own right...
the message of Jesus’ Gospel was all but forgotten.

And only those who could read would know it first hand
and then only those who could read Latin or Greek.

But thankfully God can work for good in any rotten human situation… and in the 16th century the gospel was translated into the language of the common people along with the rest of the Bible…

suddenly the Church could no longer control spread of the good news…that Jesus came to bring this message…the Word of God incarnate…
we are all equally loved by God …we’re to share the great resources of God’s good creation…

to do that …we’re to live simply…break down the barriers that divide, empower women and slaves…
be gracious to foreigners… love your enemy…make peace…

the prophets had tried in their way to speak this truth to power…but they’d were rejected

This gospel…this message…was as subversive of the church… as was of Empires…

and during the reign of Henry the eighth
suddenly Christians were reforming everything

a copy of the English Bible was distributed to every parish church in England. And the gospel contained in this Bible… was subversive

people started doubting whether King Henry
was God’s appointed and divinely ordained ruler…as he claimed after all.

common people began to demand a fair share of the national wealth…
many of the gentry were terrified of this …and guess what happened?   [pause]

In 1543…the powers that be… actually made it illegal for women and common folk…to read the Bible!

So subversive was its gospel message…only gentlemen and clergy… would be allowed to read it…it sounds ridiculous but it’s true! [pause]

But things have changed haven’t they… the gospel of Jesus has been carried to the end of the world
And today as we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birth
beside our beautiful lake…you and I can read the gospel in complete freedom…

You and I can let the light of the gospel shine
on the way we live our lives
You and I can open our lives to its scrutiny
you and I can allow the Gospel of Jesus Christ
to critique our lives.

We can…but do we subject ourselves to Jesus gospel
in allegiance to him? Are we comfortable to publically claim allegiance to Jesus when in our community resources are not shared and many fail to earn a living wage…

As people who claim total allegiance to Jesus and the good news he preached…
do we demand our prophetic right…
speak the truth to governments and councils
to allow the gospel of Jesus to critique…
how wealth is distributed, creation is abused and justice denied?

Or have we all but forgotten the gospel Jesus proclaimed …and all along claiming allegiance to him…

If we have forgotten…if there is a mismatch between what we say and what we do…then where can we even begin to prepare the way for Jesus reign and for God’s will to be done on earth? [pause]

Well…we can begin by asking ourselves Gospel questions

Is anyone excluded from God’s love?
What does mercy look like when it’s practised?
What is fair, what is kind, what is just?
What would a church committed to the Gospel look like, what would a nation look like…

what would the world look like…in light of the good news brought by the one whose birth we prepare
to celebrate this Christmas?

In 2014, we will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Gospel’s arrival in Aotearoa New Zealand…
the Good News…that God loves everyone…
high born and low born, chiefs and slaves, infants and ancients, farm owners shepherds and shearers…
we are all God’s children…
and that changes our everything and our relationship to every single creature God has created!

But don’t take my word for it.

I challenge you…right now…to read your Gospels over the summer…read the good news…Matthew Mark Luke and John…and let the gospel shine a light on your life.

Hear how John warns his listeners…their sense of entitlement as God’s special people counts for nothing … because a new beginning has come into the world in Jesus.

In Matthew… hear that what actually counts…
is the “good fruit” of a sustainable society.

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The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

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Understand how Luke the gentile story teller…
reminds us how any other claim is phony
and can only end badly.
Read how Jesus doesn’t simply say believe in me…but

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take up your cross and follow me’.

And if our allegiance is to Jesus Christ…
the one who reveals God’s will for us…
the one whose coming we prepare for this Christmas…

if our allegiance to Jesus is total
if our surrender to his way absolute…
then everything about the way we live and even some of the things we believe

must be open to change… by him…

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Prepare the way for the Lord…
make straight paths for him

Now as Lucy sings let us bring our Christmas cards w ith our prayers and our longings for God’s will to be done on earth

to decorate our Christmas tree together.