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Learning to live with a gracious God (sermon)

July 30, 2013

Readings       Colossians 2: 6-19      Luke 11:1-13

Jesus loved God! Actually loved God, didn’t just claim to love God, or even deceive himself that he loved God.

I suspect we don’t appreciate how significant that is. We are so used to a sentimental sense of ‘love’… like Bruce loves movies, a kind of self-indulgent form of attachment – one step up from “liking” on facebook.

Then there is the kind of love that clings to God out of hope of reward, like a dog that wants a treat.

Or we know of a love shorn of all emotion… like a kind of discipline rigorous and dutiful religious practice that works O so hard for God but really, deep down is all about fear, fear of being left out in the cold, when all is said and done.

What lies at the heart of today’s Gospel reading is a snapshot of Jesus’ prayer life – and with that a profound sense that God is the giver of good gifts. For Jesus, Abba God is not so much like the neighbour who needs to be constantly nagged in order to wake up at night and help, or the Father who gives his children fish to eat (rather than a scorpion), as God is even better than both of them. “How much more” than these human beings , says Jesus “will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit. Notice Jesus is not saying “ask and keep on asking” cause God is a bit lazy and will finally give in. Jesus is saying God is only too willing to give. And what God gives is even better than we might want or think we need.

That’s the problem though, isn’t it? Our sense of what is good for us, or what we need is so often distorted.

But Jesus says “ask anyway”. For prayer is more a learning and listening exercise than a shopping trip. For Jesus, prayer is an expression of living with a gracious God, a God, only too willing to give you the very best, to give the Holy Spirit even – not to mention ‘daily bread’ and forgiveness.

The heart of this passage is Jesus deep sense that God is good. Jesus actually loves Abba God.

I suspect that if you are like me, you struggle at times to truly believe that God is good … for good reasons… we see in places in the OT a God who often seems like a warrior, like a tribal chieftain on the warpath… Maybe we have had bad things happen to us… Maybe religious people have done bad things to us… and we think somehow that religion and God go together. So how can God be good?

Maybe you have spent some time reflecting more deeply on the history of the 20th century and wonder “how can God be good after Auschwitz”?

So when we think about God, we don’t think about Jesus. We think about these other things.

Perhaps there are deeper reasons for our struggle to believe that God is good. Perhaps it has less to do with theory, our thinking about God, or even not so much to do with our past. Maybe it has more to do with the future, more to do with the fact that believing in a good God seems like too big a risk … What would it mean in practice for us to take a risk on the conviction that God is good? That God will provide what we really need, rather than just what we want. [pause]

Humans sometimes do amazing things… but humans are fearful and fragile creature, humans do deals, protect their turf, humans are rivalrous in a way that no other animal is… humans lie in a way that no other animal does… humans deceive themselves in extraordinary ways… and we express all in this in our traditions and our philosophy and our social systems …in our ways of holding things together…

In writing to the Colossians Paul is conscious that this sense of living life with a ‘gracious God’ is a novel and controversial idea. In the ancient world the God or the gods are powerful and dangerous, good if you can get them on your side, but not good in the sense Jesus understood, not gracious.

I suspect there is a bit of that in the modern psyche too, perhaps more than we realise. But in the modern world we tend to think of religions as kind of harmless moral philosophies, all basically the same with a few words changed. All different ways of talking about something vague like ‘being a good person’ or ‘saving the world’.

Paul says “live your lives in Jesus the Messiah”. That’s the centre of your life.

Then he says

‘see to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe and not according to Christ.

There’s a lot in that list, but basically he is saying that something new has come into their lives… the grace of God… so don’t go back to doing deals with the elemental spirits of the universe, appeasing this god or goddess for insurance purposes. Don’t go back! Don’t renege on the new thing that is turning the world upside down!

You have been marked. You have a spiritual circumcision… if you can imagine that for a moment! You have died to this old world

The world you live in and have died to has been exposed. I like to think of the story of the emperor with no clothes on. You know how it goes? The whole crowd is caught up in the delusion of the emperor’s grandeur and no one wants to stick their neck out… but the emperor, in fact, has no clothes on.

Paul says that in raising Jesus God

“disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them”.

Paul sees the crucifixion of Jesus like the story of the emperors clothes.… It’s the man naked on the cross who ends up exposing the empires and religion of the ancient world. It’s Pilate and the religious leaders and the crowd who are shown to be truly naked, spiritually naked, deluded and going against the grain of the universe.

When Jesus was raised from death. When the victim forgave the law-abiding citizens and their leaders who crucified him… when God raised Jesus as an act of forgiveness towards all who had a hand in his death. God exposed the nakedness of the emperor and the empire and the elemental spirits and philosophies of fear.

Not only was Jesus raised. But we were raised with him. We who were bent over and in bondage to self-deception and patterns of violence… were raised up to new life. Straightened up, lifted up, and given a new and living way. Paul says, Live your lives in Jesus the Messiah. Which also means live your life in the presence of a gracious God.

The challenge to us then is to reflect on the extent to which we live our lives in Jesus the Messiah. Is God really so good as to provide all our real needs. Can we really take the risks, the embarrassment, the cost, the danger, financial or cultural of living our life in Jesus the Messiah.

Or are the elemental spirits of the universe, disguised as the spirits of ‘common sense’ sitting on our shoulders telling us not to rock the boat, to pretend that the empire still has clothes on!

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