Sunday, 12 January 2014

Jesus as the centre of Christian life Part 2 Jesus' understanding of God

Epiphany 1 year A Sermon

Six centuries before the baptism of Jesus…..
A divine commission for the nation of Israel
is proclaimed by the prophet Isaiah…you just heard it.

Word slide
Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I’ve put my spirit upon him…
I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, and those who sit in darkness. [pause]

Six hundred years later… Matthew’s Gospel tells us when Jesus came up out of the water
Word slide
At that moment… heaven was opened
and John saw the Spirit of God…
descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

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Everyone present at the Jordan…would recognise
what is spoken…for the words bring to mind the scroll of Isaiah…for those with ears to hear and eyes to see ….…the mantle of Israel is passing… to this man coming out of the water…this Jesus from Nazareth

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The mantle of Israel
Something has changed… something new is happening…
in the past… Israel is commissioned…anointed
chosen in righteousness…now… this Jesus…
will signify a new covenant to the people…a light to the nations…this Jesus will open the eyes of the blind, this Jesus will free the prisoners and those who sit in darkness.

Jesus feet slide
And soon this Jesus of the Gospels
will proclaim… in his hometown synagogue
that the words of Isaiah are fulfilled… in him [pause]

This Yeshua of Nazareth, son of Miriam
is the centre of our faith today

Slide words and the focus of our sermon series this month …as we celebrate the two hundredth anniversary …of the Gospel… in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Slide words
In the series which began last week
we’re looking at how Jesus understood
1. his Bible 2. his relationship with God
3. holiness vs mercy… and how he understood
4. the meaning of discipleship

Blank slide
Last week in part one
we learned how Jesus read the Hebrew Scriptures and how he taught his followers…the key to interpreting the scriptures as well as the greatest commandments were these

Word slide
The Lord our God, the Lord is one
Love the Lord your God with all your heart
all your soul all your mind and all your strength
and ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ [pause]

The teaching of Jesus…on fairness, poverty, justice and peace for the salvation of the earth…are attracting a lot of attention at the moment…. all over the world…
in public statements made
Pope slide
by Francis…the new Pope.  He’s so popular…
that in the US… politicians from both parties…
are co-opting the Popes statements…to court Catholic voters

But one Senator isn’t quite so cynicalhe told the media
‘I don’t talk about the pope that much…He’s not there to promote Republicans or Democrats…He’s there
simply to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ
and so the chips fall where they may when he does.

Wood chopping slide
Last Sunday…after preaching the first sermon in this series I’d have loved it…if anyone described what I said like that …Diane’s just here to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ
and let the chips fall where they may when she does

But three things happened this week…to teach me a different perspective…on how I was preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ…

First thing: after church my most loving critic…otherwise known as my husband Reg…told me I’d sounded in some parts of the sermon like I was taking my anger out on somebody…and at the same time... preaching about loving our enemies and forgiveness.

Immediately I saw that my passion allowed my anger at those who dismiss Jesus… to override the peaceful nature of the Gospel message. I think God was really trying to tell me something…because two other things happened
to bring me up short about this.

The next as I read the words from Isaiah… for this week… remember?
Slide words
 ‘my servant says the Lord ‘won’t shout or raise his voice,
in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he won’t quench;
he’ll faithfully bring forth justice.

Blank slide
Third was discovering what the idiom used by that US Senator actually means ‘let the chips falling where they may’ when talking about the Pope and the Gospel…
laugh if you will…but I’d always thought it was about poker chips…but Reg told me it’s about chopping wood …without caring who might get hurt by flying chips

So if you thought I was angry at you last week I’m sorry. I realise that when I raise my voice… my energy and passion and yes my anger…could be bruising if you thought I was aiming at you…and that’s not what God’s servant does.

Jesus feet slide
So to part two of our series! What it’s all about…is the centrality of Jesus to our Christian life…
the Gospel of Jesus can speak for itself
and at the heart of it…is Jesus relationship…to the one who sent him…to deliver the good news…and the radically different way Jesus taught about Godfrom the God who was to be feared… in the Hebrew Scriptures.

So what is the character  of the God revealed…
in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus? You and I probably take for granted… two centuries of Trinitarian theologyOne God Father Son and Holy Spirit and we teach our children…songs about how powerful God is…but in the re-papering and re-painting of Jesus over time…
Cross slide
We’ve some to overlook the vulnerability of God
dying on the Cross.
And right there…is the key point for today’s message…

Just as the Cross of Christ is the starting point for interpreting the scripturesit’s also the starting point for understanding Jesus’ revelation of God.

The whole Protestant reformation…
was ignited in protestagainst the glorified all powerful Christ of the Roman Church. Protestantism is about protest. Speaking out against any attempt to describe God…
other than the God revealed in the life of Jesus.

If Jesus is forgiving, can God be any less so. If Jesus heals the sick, does God do any less? If Jesus battles the principalities and powers… that imprison humanity body mind and spirit……..can less be said of God.

If Jesus and God are one…and if to know Jesus is to know God… John 8:19… then any conception of God that doesn’t look like Jesus… is an idol.
For he is ‘The image of the invisible God’

Jesus tallit slide
Last week we learned… not only is Jesus the lens through which view Scripture…and that he lived out
that interpretation…Today we learn the God revealed in Jesus is a loving God…whose judgment is grace.

The first clue to this is that the Jesus of the good news calls upon God… as his Abba. Jesus favourite designation for God… is Abba.
But before we assume we know… what an Abba is,
or create analogies… that compare God to an earthly parent …we are reminded in the Gospels that Jesus tells us…
even our understanding of ‘father’ must change.
As Jesus says in Luke 11
Slide words
Which of you Abbas if your son asks for a fish will give him a snake instead or is he asks for an egg will give him a scorpion. If you then though you are evil know how to give good gifts to your children how much more will your Abba in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him?

Jesus is saying…not only is God never malicious…but that even at its best the love of human parents…
can’t be compared…to God…the giver of all good gifts. 

Blank slide
Most importantly in the Gospel of Matthew…
Jesus ties the giving of God…to the ‘Golden Rule’.
To do unto others as we’d have them do unto us…
this saying reflects a way of life… oriented to the God of forgiveness…peace…reconciliation and healing
this God revealed in Jesus

When people persist in likening God to the way earthly parents behave…particularly when parents abuse emotional and physical power…it’s very bruising for some people. Calling on God as father or mother can be difficult… if you think God’s like your difficult parent.

What’s at stake here…is our willingness to recognise
that God… as our spiritual parent…isn’t like us.
We may do our best… to love and nurture our children
or we may not…but the point is…
God loves us so much more.
Cross slide
If you’re starting point of for understanding God
is the Cross of Christ…you will encounter the most challenging questions you’ll ever face as a Christian ‘just what is God’s relationship to Jesus as he’s dying?’

Some Christians speak as though God is pouring out his wrath on Jesus…because God’s placed our sins on him they believe the way God deals with sin…is to exercise wrath.

But the Psalm Jesus quotes from the cross… is both a cry of dereliction and vindication…a cry killers and kin
at the foot of the cross… would have memorised from childhood…Psalm 22…is the cry of a victim of unjust punishment

When Jesus choses to cry out Psalm 22…he reminds his executioners… that killing him is not the end of things
its comfort though choked back by pain is clearly there.

Slide words
For he has not despised or scorned
    the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
    but has listened to his cry for help.

For Jesus on the Cross…God isn’t some far off angry deity… it’s the crowd who are angry….it’s the crowd demanding sacrifice…not God…in fact by not retaliating the sacrificial religious system is dismantled. [pause]

blank slide
We don’t need to fear that anything ever changed in Jesus’ relationship with his Abba.
The voice from heaven speaking ‘You are my beloved son… at Jesus baptism…doesn't change…one constant we can rely on…the relationship between the Son and the Father… never changes.

If the god we worship is two faced…if the God we worship… is in turn loving and violently angry
then the god we worship is a pagan God…

pagan gods were a blend of human characteristics both good and bad…but Jesus reveals God…
without those tensions and contradictions.

Slide Jesus knocking
I found this cartoon recently which illustrates the contradictions Christians sometimes project onto God.
Knock knock
Whose there?
What do you want?
To save you
To save me from what?
From what I'm going to do with you if you don't open the door!

Jesus tallit
Last week we learned…if we don’t start with Jesus
we will not end with him…if we don’t start with Jesus understanding of God…then we can project
anything we like onto God…but it won’t be the God Jesus called Abba.

In all his teaching about God…Jesus creates a crisis of faith for anyone listening who’s been taught about a vengeful god…they have a choice…they can believe in that god or they can believe in the gracious life-giving God whose kingdom Jesus proclaims.

We have that same choice. Let us pray