Monday, 16 July 2018

We shall go out with joy.

Amos 7: 7-15. The vision of the plumb line means that God is going to set a standard for behaviour and will no longer be indifferent to how his people live. His prophesy that the Northern kingdom will be destroyed happened between 734 - 721 B.C. when the Assyrians invaded and wiped the kingdom out. 
Ephesians 1: 3-14. The famous Westminster catechism states that the chief end of human life is "to glorify God and fully to enjoy him forever" and Ephesians certainly packs copious thanks and praise into the first 3 chapters of the letter. The words stress our total dependence on God. God destines, wills, reveals, and accomplishes his plan which is also incidentally an assault on our western sense of independence and autonomy. The words also stress that the only response desired, proper or needful to God acting on our behalf is praise. Again to the average westerner this is hardly any proper response at all, but we are in God's debt and totally incapable of paying back anything else so let us give thanks and praise to God. 
Mark 6: 14-29. The beheading of John the Baptist provides a remarkably similar set of circumstances to the demise of Jesus. Both innocently suffer at the hands of political figures (Herod and Pilate) who both see good in the accused men and left to themselves would let them go. Yet both are weak and let themselves become trapped by external circumstances and permit a violent death. 

The famous Westminster catechism states that the chief end of human life is "to glorify God and fully to enjoy him forever"
That could stand as a precis of that lovely piece from Ephesians we heard today, which oozes with gratitude and praise for God and what He has done for us in Jesus Christ.
God has made known to us the mystery of his will in and through his son Jesus Christ, so that we might live for the praise of his glory (as it says in verse 12.)
The underlying disposition of us who have set our hope on Christ is one of Joy.
A joy that is not fleeting, a joy that is not dependent on what happens to be occurring in our life at that moment.
Joy is the permanent possession of the Christian for all those reasons that Paul outlines in Ephesians.
We have heard the word of truth, the gospel of our salvation, and we are marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit. That is why Christians can rejoice even in the direst of circumstances.
And as John’s gospel states, “the truth shall set you free.”
A real freedom, because we are not hemmed in or imprisoned by circumstances. We have a higher allegiance, for God has a claim on our life, and serving God’s will and purpose.
Prisoners who become Christians will tell you that even though they are held behind physical bars, the most pernicious spiritual bars; the bars over their hearts and minds and souls have been removed and they have spiritual freedom.
Herod was certainly imprisoned by circumstance – his pride – and not wanting to lose faith in front of his guests.
After agreeing to fulfil any request that Herodias asked, not wanting to lose face outweighed doing the decent thing and letting John go.
Herod didn’t want to kill John. He secretly admired him and loved to listen to his preaching and I’m sure his conscience plagued him for the rest of his life. It must have been a mental torture to see the severed head of the man he was so intrigued by, resting on that platter.
This piece about the beheading of John the Baptist is the longest piece in the gospels not directly about Jesus so its inclusion must have a point and the point seems to be the similarities between the death of John and the death of Jesus, both at the hands of weak men, who capitulated to outside forces that controlled them.
Re-setting our priorities from pleasing ourselves and our selfish concerns, to following God’s will and God’s concerns has always been central to the Biblical revelation.
You could say that conversion is the process of making the shift from self-centredness to God-centredness.
Where we move towards is represented by the plumb line that Amos sees in a vision in the Old Testament. The standard of behaviour is represented by that plumb line and was given in the Jewish law; the word - and later enfleshed in Jesus Christ himself, the word made flesh.
Jesus is our Christian plumb line amidst a broken and flawed society, which is no less flawed than in the time of Amos, because while we have made advances in every field known to man, morally we are just as flawed as we ever were.
So I’ll end where we started, in Ephesians. Our Gold standard is Jesus. He is God’s plumb-line set amidst this world.
He is a revelation of God’s will and mercy, of God’s love and service; revealed most fully in Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Paul writes that Jesus has revealed to us God’s plan for the fulness of time, to gather up all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth.
And our response to that revelation is to give thanks and praise to God. Our response is one of Joy, where we can say Praise the Lord. Which as I’m sure you know in Hebrew is Hallelujah!

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