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Thursday, 20 September 2018

Luke 8:16-18 Hiding Our Lamp


When I was in the naval reserve, I was on the emergency response team. We were trained to respond to any emergency that might happen while at sea: a breach in our hull, medical emergencies, and fire fighting. I remember the first time I went into the training center and we were suited up in our fire fighting gear, given the equipment we would need, and then sent into a burning building that simulated a ship’s engine room. It was so dark we couldn’t see our hands in front of our masks. The first few moments were spent fighting the panic that arose because of the pitch blackness, then as we opened the hatch, the flames provided us with some light and there was actually relief at having the light from the flames, even though fire is a serious issue on a ship. Our training officer talked us through this afterwards, and mentioned how the very fire we have to fight also gives hope that we could fight it because it gave light when all the power was shut off to that area. Whenever I read about light in the Bible, I remember that experience because the darkness was so overwhelming.
This is a short parable, it’s more of an image or picture instead. It’s also tied to the parable of the farmer sowing seed, sowing the word of God, that we looked at last week. Jesus ties them together by repeating the importance of hearing and listening. Jesus ends the parable before by saying, “The seed on the good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.” In this parable or picture, Jesus ends it by warning us, “Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken away.” That feels so unfair! Now Jesus calls himself the light of the world in John 8, John the Baptist who prepared the people for the coming of Jesus said about Jesus, “the true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” Now since Jesus is the light of the world and giving his light to us and we’re concealing it, why would he keep giving it to us?
Light is a powerful image in the Bible. When Jesus calls himself the light of the world and says that his followers will never walk in darkness but have the light of life, he’s talking about heart and life stuff. We talk about the darkness in our souls and hearts when things are really hard and hope feels far away. We talk about darkness when we hear about evil going on in the world. Then there are those times when we want to strike out with everything we have because of hurt or anger and we recognize that there is even the possibility of evil inside our own souls. This is why it’s important to allow Jesus to have your heart and life to chase that darkness out of you. The darkness retreats when you allow Jesus’ words, his teaching, his life, his call to love even your enemies to shape your response to the world, to shape who you are. Our world has a hard time with evil, not wanting to seem judgmental or racist or whatever, but Jesus offers a different approach, focusing first on our own hearts and then working to shape the places he places us so they’re places of fairness, righteousness, justice, grace, encouragement, love and health.
Darkness hates light because light exposes evil and darkness for what it is and drives it back. The darkness tried to snuff out the light of the world by nailing Jesus to the cross, branding him a traitor and blasphemer. But the darkness didn’t realize that on the cross the light of the world shone even brighter, taking our sin in himself so that we are washed clean, bathed in light and made right with our father in heaven again, forgiven and free from the darkness sin creates in us. When the darkness claimed victory over the light, the light shone even more radiantly into every corner of the universe, defeating and driving the darkness back.
When Jesus says, “No one lights a lamp and hides it in a clay jar or puts it under a bed. Instead they put it on a stand so that those who come in can see the light.” You can almost see Jesus do a forehead slap kind of thing. This is a ‘Duh!’ kind of statement, like why even bother wasting the fuel and risking burning down everything you own, risking harm to your family and loved ones if you’re not going to use the lamp for what it’s meant for. So, what’s this lamp light that Jesus is referring to here?
Light is Jesus and the hope he offers because he chases the dark away. A tiny light can be seen from a long way away. In the dark our eyes search for light. On cloudy nights when the stars and moon are hidden behind thick clouds and you’re far away from the city lights, you can feel the darkness settle over you and your eyes instinctively search for light. This is why light houses were so important because in storms, when darkness was deep and heavy over the water, the beam of light from the light houses could cut through the darkness and warn and guide the ships into safety. It’s the same in our hearts and lives, even when everything seems dark and hopeless, we can’t seem to help but to keep searching for hope, for light to shine into our troubles and chase them away, our hearts keep searching for Jesus even when we don’t realize it at first.
People will look for that light from governments, justice systems, and other people, but the better light, the light that can shine into every corner of our hearts and lives and chase the darkness completely away is Jesus. When you accept Jesus as your Lord and Saviour and offer your life over to him, his light floods into your life. Your circumstances may not change, but the darkness that creates fear and feelings of helplessness begins to be driven back by the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ because you don’t walk alone because Jesus is always with you and changes you and your heart as you embrace him closer and closer. He calls you to hear the word of God and put it into practice. These are those whom Jesus calls his mother, brothers and sisters, his family, as he tells us a few verses later.
The light of Jesus is welcoming. Jesus talks in this short parable about people coming in, experiencing hospitality and acceptance and a place to rest with others. This is about relationships, we’re created to be in community and Satan tries to isolate us, make us feel as if we are alone. Jesus spent a lot of time around dinner tables, a natural place of hospitality with those who were considered outsiders and sinners bringing hope and light into their lives. The light of Jesus brings clarity into our lives, guiding us, showing us ways forward that bless us and others.
In Matthew 5, Jesus calls us the light of the world. We have the gospel message that God never gives up on us, desires a relationship with us, and goes to the cross to let us know that. Jesus calls you to let your light shine before people, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. Our good deeds show Jesus’ love in our world, helping us build relationships so that we can share the light of the world, Jesus, with them, inviting them to accept Jesus and to let his light shine in their lives as he does in ours.


Saturday, 15 September 2018

Luke 8:4-15 The Farmer and the Field


Stories have the power to touch us in deep ways  because a good story uses images and pictures that are close to us and help us understand with both our head and heart what the story-teller is trying to get across to us. A story can change us in deep life altering ways. Growing up in the church, it was the stories of Jesus’ grace filled encounters with people that finally got to me and helped me to give my dreams and life over to Jesus: the stories of Jesus and the Samaritan woman, the woman caught in adultery, of Zacchaeus the tax collector; all people who lived on the fringes of society, not really accepted by the people around them and yet embraced and shown acceptance by Jesus. Then there are the stories of the lives of Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela and others who inspired me to completely trust Jesus and search for his call on my life.
Jesus is a master story-teller, able to touch the hearts and souls of the people around him, teaching us to see the world through the eyes of God. Often, we only see what’s directly in front of us like a horse wearing blinkers to keep it staring only ahead in a narrow line, unable to see the amazing things of God that surround us. In the stories of Jesus, we meet his Father over and over again. Jesus reminds us that God is our father and his love and his desire is for us to come home to him. He uses the images of everyday life to show us what the kingdom of God is all about. Because of this, the people were fascinated by Jesus and came from all over the area to hear Jesus speak.
The Jewish people were looking for a messiah, God’s promised messiah whom he was sending and would save them. The people kept looking back to the good old days when their own king sat on the throne in Israel. It’s kind of like today, where so many followers of Jesus keep looking back to the good old days when politicians and leaders listened to the church and Christianity was the dominant force in society. So many followers of Jesus continue to be shocked that our governments no longer listen to churches and shape society around what the church tells them is right and wrong. This past week the Alberta government threatened to pull finding from any school that refuses to allow GSAs. The problem with looking back to the good old days is that they often aren’t nearly as good as we think they are. There’s a reason God sent his people Israel into exile and let them be conquered by their enemies, there’s a reason why so many people have walked away from the church and Christianity in our own life-times. We too often focused on the sin, forgetting how much Jesus loves the sinner. We forget we’re also sinners.
Jesus is the Messiah, but he doesn’t come to set up a throne, instead he uses stories to show us the true kingdom of God. A large crowd is gathering around Jesus. He often taught outside the cities where more people could gather around and hear him, so I’m imagining Jesus standing on a small hill surrounded by farmers’ fields when he sees a farmer working in the field, planting seed. In Jesus’ day the farmers planted their seed by taking it in their hands or a scoop and scattering the seed in a side to side motion over the ground. Jesus says, “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times what was sown.”
Jesus explains the story, telling us that the seed is the word of God. The farmer scattering the seed scatters it generously, he’s not stingy in throwing the seed around because the more generous he is in scattering the seed, the larger the crop. When we hear Jesus talk about the word of God we hear the word ‘Bible,’ but for the people listening to Jesus they heard something else. They heard Jesus say the teachings and calls of the prophets to return to God was being scattered into their hearts, the wonder and beauty in creation itself was calling them to God, the words of the Torah was being planted in their lives and the still quiet voice of God was being set into their hearts, minds and souls, calling them to be with God and listen to his voice, his love, and his call on their lives. God’s word is not only the words in this wonderful book he’s given us; it’s every way he’s reaching out to us.
Jesus explains that the soils the seed falls on are the heart conditions of the people. Some people will never accept Jesus no matter how often they hear the word of God; it’s like the seed on the pathway. Some people believe the word of God when they hear it, but there’s no depth in their hearts and lives for the word of God to be nourished and grow, so it fades away after a while like the rocky soil. Other people hear and accept the word of God, but then get distracted by the worries and pleasures of the world and so the word of God is choked out and Jesus gets forgotten.
The majority of the seed falls on fertile ground where it multiples like crazy. These people accept the word of God and it changes their lives! Today, these are the people who accept Jesus as their Saviour, knowing that they’re sinners unable to save themselves and need Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross to make them right with God again. This changes their lives; life becomes an expression of gratitude and grace because know they’re forgiven and accepted and want everyone else to experience the same life changing relationship with Jesus. This is what Jesus is getting at when he says the good soil “stands for those with a noble and true heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.”
When I hear this story of Jesus, it gives me hope. The word of God is getting scattered around generously and there’s plenty of opportunity to hear it and grow your relationship with God through Jesus. I know my heart and I know it’s not always good soil in there. There are rocky places and plenty of thorns in my heart and life. Remember, Jesus is using the image of a farmer for a reason, a farmer is always working his fields to make them better. I remember growing up helping out on my uncles’ farms, every spring they headed out into the fields to pick rocks, the first crop of the year as one of my uncles said. They worked hard every year to expand their fields, turning over new fields after clearing them and getting rid of the weeds and thorns. It’s hard work to create good soil.
If you feel as if your faith isn’t as exciting as when you first accepted Jesus, it feels like life is dusty and dry, Jesus reminds us that he’s the living water and is willing to water our souls and work with us to pick the rocks out of our lives that try to prevent the word of God from setting deep roots in our hearts. When worry creeps in and creates fear and anxiety, when your life begins to revolve around the next toy, the newer car, the next promotion or big deal, Jesus reminds us that true joy and meaning are found in a relationship with him. He offers you peace and brings meaning and purpose as he invites you to join him in growing the kingdom of God, beginning with your own heart.
Jesus comes to bring new life, he goes to the cross to deal with those rocks, thorns and hard soils in our hearts that are there because of sin and washes them away and brings forgiveness, acceptance and grace. As Jesus ends the story, he reminds us that hearing and embracing the word of God is the heart of God’s kingdom. You were led here this morning by the Holy Spirit in one way or another to open your heart to the living water, the new life found in Jesus, to get your heart soil worked over by the Holy Spirit to get you to Jesus or to give you a story from the Master Story-teller to scatter this week wherever the Holy Spirit leads you.