Monthly Archives: April 2018
Reading: John 20:19-31
I was talking to someone about how short this week was.
It seemed shorter for me. Tuesday was a write-off. I did mindless things like fixing stuff.
I didn’t even have the energy to tidy my desk though. That seemed too much.
I’ve often wondered why they call this Sunday “low Sunday” – this and the one after Christmas I think. Maybe the preachers are just flat from being flat out.
So we had this conversation – what if you just put a video on and watched in instead of a sermon?
Or if the preacher got up and said – “nothing to say today”.
Which reminded me of this story.
In a small Catholic seminary, the dean asked a first year student to preach one day in chapel. This novice worked all night on a sermon, but still came up empty. At the appropriate time, he stood in the pulpit, looked out over his brothers and said “Do you know what I’m going to say?” They all shook their heads “no” and he said “neither do I, the service has ended, go in peace.”
Well, the dean was angry, and told the student, “You will preach again tomorrow, and you had better have a sermon.” Again, the novitiate stayed up all night, but still no sermon. When he stood in the pulpit, he asked “Do you know what I am going to say?” All the students nodded “yes” so the preacher said “Then there is no need for me to tell you. The service has ended, to in peace.”
Now, the dean was livid. “Son, you have one more chance. Preach the gospel tomorrow or you will be expelled from the seminary.” Again he worked all night, and the next morning stood before his classmates and asked “Do you know what I am going to say?” Half of them nodded “yes” while the other half shook their heads “no.” The novitiate said “Those who know, tell those who don’t know. The service has ended, go in peace.”
This time, the dean just smiled. He walked up to the novice preacher, put his arm around his shoulders and said “Hmmm…those who know, tell those who don’t know? Today, the gospel has been proclaimed. The service has ended, go in peace.”
So, another friend and I looked at this passage for today.
There are so many choices. Things we could look at.
- Like why the door was still locked a week later. When most of them had seen Jesus the first week. And why does one translation say the door was locked the first week and shut the second? (NRSV). Is the same word. Do translators have too much power?
- What was Jesus doing when he breathed on them? Was this John’s description of Pentecost? (Genesis 2:7)
- Do we really have the power to forgive peoples’ sins or not to forgive them? Is this where the Catholic idea of absolution comes from?
- Is this the actual birth of the church?
- Was Thomas really a doubter? Or was he just someone with Sherlock Holmes kind of talents.
- Did he have a twin? Was his twin like Thomas? Did he believe or doubt? Or she? Could his twin have been Lydia of Philippi who traded in purple cloth? (Acts 16:19)
- Why did Jesus keep saying “Peace be with you”?
- What about verse 30? What were those other signs that are not recorded?
- Do we have life in his name? Is this the abundant life he spoke about before in John 10:10? Is it abundant – “life to the full?” Or are we actually riding on empty?
(I love the Bishops Bible that preceded the KJV – “I am come, that they myght haue lyfe, and that they myght haue it more aboundauntly.” (1576)
SOME THOUGHTS THEN
Last week we saw how Jesus called Mary by name – and how that opened her eyes to see he wasn’t the gardener.
This passage records these two visits by Jesus in a locked room a week apart.
In the first visit he breathes on them symbolically. The word for WIND and SPIRIT are the same here.
This is worth looking at a bit more carefully.
It follows their commissioning – As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.
Before his ascension and before the day of Pentecost – without a fuss – he turns the disciples into apostles – sent ones.
And empowers them.
If you are a reader of the whole of John’s gospel, you would join the dots.
From chapter 14:
Joh 14:15 “If you love me, you will obey what I command. Joh 14:16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— Joh 14:17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. Joh 14:18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.
Joh 14:26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Joh 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
In chapter 15:
Joh 15:26 “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.
And chapter 16:
Joh 16:13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.
All of these verses sound a bit more dramatic than just having Jesus breathe on you.
You can understand why some people think this is a first instalment of some sort. Because Pentecost is far more dramatic isn’t it. And life changing.
I mean if you carry on from our Messy Church talk on Friday about Peter – you would have to add that Peter preached that ONE big sermon in Acts 2 that was the launch of a new bold person in every possible way.
TWO OTHER THINGS TO FOCUS ON TODAY:
- “Doubting” Thomas.
Was he really a doubter?
Think about John 11. This is the first time Thomas is mentioned and we get some real insight into the kind of person he was.
This is the story of the raising of Lazarus. Mary and Martha had sent Jesus word that their brother Lazarus was close to death. They lived in the small village of Bethany very close to Jerusalem. Look at verse 7. Jesus tells his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
Look at what the disciples think of this idea in verse 8. “Teacher,” the disciples answered, “just a short time ago the people there wanted to stone you and are you planning to go back?” (We can read about these stoning attempts in chapter 8 and 10 of John).
They thought he was crazy to even consider going back there. Perhaps they were on the verge of deserting Jesus. But then Thomas speaks out in verse 16:
Thomas (called the Twin) said to his fellow disciples, “Let us go along with the Teacher, so that we may die with him!”
Thomas rallied the wavering disciples here, convincing them to go with Jesus to Jerusalem.
Whatever else we may say about Thomas, he was not a coward. He was willing to go with Jesus to Jerusalem knowing full well that it just might cost him his own life
Apart from his track record of courage, one thing gets my attention today:
It’s this – that Jesus was deeply and personally interested in him so much that in the second appearance he speaks to him directly. He recognises Thomas’ need.
And I think translations which say “stop doubting and believe” get it wrong.
It literally means – “do not disbelieve but believe”. Don’t be an unbeliever. That makes him no different from the rest. The rest of the disciples. And us. We all have these journeys as we come to faith.
2. Peace be with you.
Do you need His peace?
We’ve talked before about the power of grief.
Jesus repeats this peace greeting because they would have been slow to recover from this terrible and unjust Good Friday death.
Watch the passion of the Christ again – the movie.
You don’t walk away from that kind of event feeling peaceful.
They needed some assurance. And so do we.
He still speaks to us – don’t live in unbelief. Trust me.
Here – let my peace uphold you.
And we too are sent – commissioned – to go in His name and share his peace.
And at the heart of our mission IS forgiveness.
W receive it. We celebrate it. We model it. We extend it to others through grace.
And we don’t always dish it out too quickly because we have to remind each other that our sins as human beings are actually serious. Deadly serious. Serious enough for Jesus to die for them.
It’s no surprise that ‘repent’ was part of John’s preaching (the baptiser), Jesus’ message, and Peter’s and the other apostles.
We have to turn away from our old ways and turn back to God again and again.
He says to you too today:
Don’t stay in unbelief. Trust in me (Jesus).
Peace be with you.
Reading: John 20: 1-18
We went to a memorial service recently. On Waitangi Day actually. We were able to take some of our friend’s ashes and scatter them in the garden of the church in the city.
The interesting experience for me happened when we first arrived. We were walking around the grounds and I passed the gardener who was on his haunches digging away in one of the beds. Amazing – I thought – on a public holiday too. He had an old floppy hat on, and typical non-descript gardening gear. Not your Sunday best.
When I walked past him a second him he got up – and I discovered I knew him very well. And had done so for over ten years.
I couldn’t help at that moment thinking of Mary at the tomb.
“Thinking he was the gardener…” (v15) – she asks Jesus where his body was.
It raises questions for the curious mind. What was Jesus wearing?
His burial gear was in the tomb.
She doesn’t recognize him at all.
Did he look like a gardener?
Or is this the stuff that happens when you’ve lost a loved one and your mind plays tricks on you.
Grief does strange things. I remember a good friend who died at 19. I was his youth leader. Yes, I know you find that strange – I was young enough once to be a youth leader.
I’d seen Duncan after he died. I went with his parents to support them at the viewing.
So, I knew my mind was playing tricks when I thought I saw him a couple of times in a crowd. Or in public place.
It’s like a fog when you grieve.
The responses of all the disciples are understandable over that weekend.
They knew he was dead.
It would have torn their hearts in two.
Sometimes we live in that kind of fog – of protracted grief and sorrow – not only because we mourn our loved ones – because we have all kinds of losses we still mourn.
- For immigrants – the country of our birth.
- For those of us who feel the weariness of aging – we mourn our youth.
- For those whose marriage had died – there is mourning for lost love.
- For those who feel alone – there is grieving for the years when we really enjoyed intimate close friends.
- For those who suffer – we mourn the loss of those care free days when getting out of bed was pain free and worry free.
- For children changing school or moving home there are real losses too.
They all have their own kind of fog – those emotions.
Which makes the Easter story even more powerful. Even when people in their pain cry out that God is unfair and that if he were so loving he would understand our agony and do something about it – Easter tells us that he does and that he did.
He does understand, and he did do something.
Jesus took all this mess and agony on the cross.
He really does understand our pain.
And like Mary in the garden – our focus can be wrong.
Mary didn’t need to go to Specsavers.
You often see what you expect to see. Or you don’t see what you have ruled out as a possibility.
What changes this?
He calls her name.
Joh 20:16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).
It is one of the most beautiful moments in the whole of Scripture.
In her complicated life hearing Jesus speak her name before was a sacramental moment of grace – she was drawn into a new life and community by this amazing appealing attractive man who drew all kinds of people to himself – the ones needing healing, the ones who made holes in the roof – those Greeks who were wanting to see him – tax collectors, outcastes, rejects.
Many heard him speak their name.
“Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” (Luke 19:5)
She knew that voice. No wax in those ears.
This is that intimate voice and a personal address.
Not a distant cosmic Lord but a close, loving address from someone who knows our deepest needs, our histories, our dreams and our losses.
It sounds a bit like John 10 – that passage about the Good Shepherd:
“The sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:3). Thereafter the Good Shepherd says, “I know my own and my own know me” (John 10:14).
It’s not surprising that Mary recognizes the risen Christ when this Good Shepherd’s voice is heard calling her name.
Let Jesus call your own name, and the name of whoever you’ve brought with you, whoever needs his love and healing today.
Maybe for the first time – or maybe if it’s a long time since you heard his voice.
He really is alive and speaks today.
For Easter to be real we all need to hear the good shepherd speak our name.
We become part of this Easter community. That is what church really is.
A people of the resurrection who know Jesus now. And who know His voice.
A people whose grief is healed, whose fog is lifted, and who know what their purpose is – glorifying God, enjoying Him forever, and sharing the good news of Easter every day.
- That Christ has died.
- Christ is risen
- Christ will come again.
For now, we live in that waiting zone, living for him until he comes. –
Reading: John 12:12-19
So – its Easter morning. You would have expected a service at sunrise. When you were small you might have had an Easter egg hunt in the garden.
You climb out of bed and go downstairs.
And you see a Christmas tree and Christmas presents, with Easter eggs hiding behind them.
You rub your eyes, scratch your head – and go back to bed thinking this is a dream.
Try again 10 minutes later – and yes, it’s true. Someone’s got Easter and Christmas muddled.
You wonder why. What does this mean? What are they trying to tell you?
That’s exactly what makes Jesus’ triumphal entry so interesting.
It was the spring – it was Passover time. There were things you did at Passover – remembering the rescue from slavery and the blood of the lamb on the doorpost which saved people from death – and you celebrate their rescue from bondage.
And Jesus rides into the city on a donkey and people are waving palms.
This is a mid-winter thing happening in the spring. Like Christmas and Easter together.
Although it’s the wrong time of the year, the symbols of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem go with Hanukkah– which John has already mentioned in 10.22. (Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter)
When Judas Maccabaeus defeated the pagan invaders and cleansed the Temple in 164 BC, his followers entered the city waving palm branches in celebration (1 Maccabees 13.51; 2 Maccabees 10.7). (Tom Wright)
We were talking about these extra books called the apocrypha just recently – a whole series of them you don’t find in the Protestant bible.
Here’s the passage from the second book of Maccabees chapter 10, reading from verse 7:
2Ma 10:7 Therefore, carrying ivy-wreathed wands and beautiful branches and also fronds of palm, they offered hymns of thanksgiving to him who had given success to the purifying of his own holy place. 2Ma 10:8 They decreed by public edict, ratified by vote, that the whole nation of the Jews should observe these days every year.
After the temple was cleansed in 164 BC, Judas Maccabeus and his family became kings of Israel.
Jesus and his followers were combining Hanukkah and Passover – declaring that Jesus was the true King coming to claim his throne AND at the same time he would really set people free. He is the new Passover lamb as well – they just didn’t know it yet.
And the final sign that sealed the matter was the raising of Lazarus. He was set free from death!
That’s why the two verses before this passage and the last three verses of today’s passage are so important:
Joh 12:10 So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, Joh 12:11 for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him.
Joh 12:17 Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. Joh 12:18 Many people, because they had heard that he had given this miraculous sign, went out to meet him. Joh 12:19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!”
The raising of Lazarus was the last sign and the hour had come. We talked about that last week.
Palm Sunday seals the destiny of Jesus.
People connected the dots because of the palms. Not just the Jewish community who would have remembered Hanukkah, but the Romans and Greeks would have all recognised the significance of the Palms as a sign of a victory parade.
Like a flag raising parade when the battle is won – it has huge significance. The enemy’s flag is lowered, and the conquering army’s flag is raised.
It’s a powerful provocative statement. And on a donkey – not a huge white horse. They would have remembered the prophecy in Zechariah 9:
Zec 9:9 Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
Palm Sunday is the triumph of the love the God – yes.
But the means of victory – we know looking back the way of achieving victory would be painful to say the least.
FOCAL POINT TODAY
I’d like us to focus on one verse today:
Joh 12:17 Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word.
Witnessing is a central part of discipleship – of following this amazing man called Jesus of Nazareth.
Giving testimony to what he has done.
Spreading the word.
- Have you testified this week?
- Given testimony?
- Have you been a witness?
V17 – they bore witness to Lazarus’ raising –
Do we talk about the resurrection?
It is the separating point between us and other religions– the dividing line – the ultimate sign of Jesus’ power and authority, his divinity, his supremacy – and of course it leads to his ascension when he is enthroned again on high.
It’s the greatest story worth telling.
Because it brings the greatest sense of hope.
Are we ready always to give a reason for the hope we have?
Our Mission in the newsletter these past weeks has been this; “Always prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks us to give the reason for the hope that we have”
Hope – in the face of the greatest enemy – death.
WE DO THIS IN WORSHIP EACH WEEK
- We wave Palms every week!
- We cry Hosanna!
- Worship is exactly that – celebrating King Jesus
– Celebrating the triumph of the cross
– Celebrating the power of the resurrection
– Celebrating the glory of the ascension.
– Celebrating the love of the Father
– Celebrating the promises that apply to us – our inheritance that will outlast all the other shiny things that fascinate us.
Peter puts it like this (we shared this in our call to worship today):
1Pe 1:3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 1Pe 1:4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, 1Pe 1:5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
Palm Sunday takes us into this week called holy week.
I’ve asked today how we can make this a different week.
I don’t know how you’re going to do that.
But you can’t ignore the power of the events.
I hope that you take the time to remember at the various opportunities we have to remember what God has done for us to establish this inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.
I pray that we can really discover for ourselves that he was and is the true king, the true rescuer, the bringer of true freedom.
As we watch his progression into Jerusalem, and on to meet his fate, we must ourselves be drawn into the action, and the passion, that awaits him.
And we must ourselves become part of the means by which his message goes out to the world. (Tom Wright)
The victory was won for us by a young man nearly 2000 years ago.
Our closing hymn captures the profound nature of this day.
1 Ride on, ride on in majesty
as all the crowds ‘Hosanna!’ cry:
through waving branches slowly ride,
O Saviour, to be crucified.
2 Ride on, ride on in majesty,
in lowly pomp ride on to die:
O Christ, your triumph now begin
with captured death, and conquered sin!
3 Ride on, ride on in majesty
the angel armies of the sky
look down with sad and wondering eyes
to see the approaching sacrifice.
4 Ride on, ride on in majesty,
the last and fiercest foe defy:
the Father on his sapphire throne
awaits his own anointed Son.
5 Ride on, ride on in majesty,
in lowly pomp ride on to die:
bow your meek head to mortal pain,
then take, O God, your power and reign!
Robin Mark has a song that helps us anticipate and appreciate what he has done as we close: