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Sunday 18 December 2016: Reflection – “Jesus” – God saves. “Emmanuel”- God with us.

Reading: Matthew 1:18-25

REFLECTION

We’ve looked at three things today as we moved around the three stations in church. One we touched on last week – about the 65 million refugees in the world today – and that Jesus and his family also had to run away from their home country because it was dangerous. I hope you had a look at the world map to see where these people are from. That you pray for refugees and the persecuted church. And include them in your lives.

We were able to write prayers on an angel and hang them on the tree. For those refugees, their countries or persecuted Christians – and for our own needs and those of our loved ones and friends both here and around the world.

In the past we’ve had doves remembering people who are no longer with us or those who are far away. They’re still with us. I have them in a basket from last year.

This time we are hanging angels on the tree – because they are involved anyway – I mean real ones. Watching over our kids and grandchildren – actually the context of the “guardian” angel is that if someone hurts the little ones, their angels are going to tell God. They had close proximity to God. (Matthew 18:10 – “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.).

  • Angels are also involved in watching over us adults and keeping us safe (Psalm 91:11 – For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways;) And Psalm 34:7  The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. (Joshua 5:14-15; Isaiah 63:9).
  • And they are tied up in worship and honouring God (Isaiah 6:2-3 – Isa 6:2 Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.  Isa 6:3  And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”)
  • And they are involved in helping our prayers reach God (Daniel 10 is worth a read sometime).

The main thing is that we pray. We are to ask, seek and knock (Matthew 7:7). And agree in prayer (read Matthew 18:19 – agreeing about anything you ask for. Read verse 20 as well – it is well used and quoted).

And then last but not least the we placed little people at the cradle of baby Jesus. with our Christmas gift to Him written or drawn on them. Okay it’s not really baby Jesus. He’s on loan from Glamorgan school.

But the idea that we should be giving something to Jesus on his birthday is fair enough. Last year at our Pyjama service – the 6.00pm service on Christmas Eve – when I asked the children what they would like to give Jesus for his birthday, one girl very quickly suggested she would give Jesus her big sister. I’m sure you may have some relatives you would like to give to Jesus.

The thing is you can give them to Jesus – in prayer too. Every day we can hold them up to God and pray for His hope, peace, love and joy to flow over them and through them and into them. That God may watch over them and draw them to himself.

If you look at the reading from Matthew today, there are two things about Jesus that really do give us hope, peace, love and joy as we get closer to him.

Jesus  or J’shua (modern Joshua) – means God saves or rescues us from our mess. Including our sins which separate us from God

Emmanuel – means God is with us in our mess. And in our joys and hopes. He has promised never to leave us or forsake us.

Keep praying – keeping asking – keep trusting Jesus. Keep praying with eyes wide open to see what is happening around you. Pray for our lives, the lives of the refugees, the persecuted church, the poor, the wealthy, the lonely, the depressed, the frail and the suffering – all those who need Him! You’ll discover that we have a lot to be grateful for. We will be spending more time in prayers of thanksgiving I should think.

Amen.

Sunday message 27 March 2016 Easter Sunday – The gardener

READINGS: Acts 10:34-43;   John 20:1-18

MESSAGE                                                                                

So how’s your garden coming along?

Anything like Eden yet?

It all started in a garden. Eden. That perfect place of friendship – paradise. I doubt that there were weeds and thorns at the beginning. In fact, listen again to Genesis 3:17-18:  To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.

Gardens are these interesting places – potential for chaos, lots of things that die – but life comes through their death. There are even experiments where electricity is being generated in cemeteries. And crematoria are being plugged into the electricity grid in some countries. Bizarre as it may seem.

When our children were young we lived in a place called Oslo Beach. And to get to our house each afternoon we had to drive past a crematorium and cemetery.

Our daughter used to pester me – “when can we visit the grave garden”. After weeks of this I turned into the place after school and we visited the old man who ran the place. And looked inside the oven. No it wasn’t occupied at the time. There were some questions about granny and what had happened to her when she died. And home we went. No more requests after that. That was our visit to the grave garden.

Today we read about another grave garden.

It’s not surprising that we find life springing from this garden. The other gospels don’t mention the garden or a gardener.

MARY – IS LOOKING FOR A BODY

It’s not really surprising that Mary assumes Jesus is the gardener. (The word “gardener” is an example of hapax legomenon. You don’t find the word anywhere else in the New Testament or LXX.) (κηπουρός –  garden warden in John 20:15. In John 15:1 the word is γεωργός – soil worker)

It is unique to John – as is Mary’s encounter alone with Jesus.

The most intriguing line is this one in verse 17:

“Don’t cling to me” is the best translation it seems. The word means to fasten – in a reflexive sense to attached yourself to someone or something. Cling is a good word.

I remember an old lady at a funeral I conducted who held on to her husband’s coffin as it was being lowered into the grave. Don’t cling to the past?

Not touch. It would be okay for Thomas to do as much touching as he wanted – poking around in the holes made by nails and spear.

But not for Mary. She had to focus on a new beginning.

She knows he is not the gardener when he says her name. Suddenly she turns from looking to a body to looking at the man. The one of whom Pilate said: “Behold the Man!” (John 19:5).

  • This is the second Adam – who unlike the first resists temptation.
  • The Man Jesus who is the one to whom we all must turn.

He speaks her name – and she turns. Listen to verse 16 again:  Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).

Memories of his teaching flood back for John’s readers from John  10:27  My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. And John 10:3 He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.

The word “turn” is also subtle. It can also mean convert.

JESUS’ REASONING WHEN HE TELLS MARY NOT TO CLING TO HIM

Don’t cling to me.

The reason he gives to her is this: “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them… (v17)

Not yet returned to the Father. Literally Jesus was “not yet ascended.” What does this mean? Clearly his day was part of a greater story which we summarised on Friday in the saying together of the Apostle’s Creed. Did you notice which line was left out?

Mary is unmoved by this concept or idea of why she should not hold onto him. Once she hears Jesus’ voice she focusses on his words

She is Apostle number 14 really. “Go to my brothers and tell them…” She is the apostle to the apostles!

And the message is fascinating. There is a new opening in the family now through Christ’s death and resurrection: ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'”

 John is taking his readers back to the beginning – to chapter 1:

Joh 1:11  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.

Joh 1:12  Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—

Joh 1:13  children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

 And then back in chapter 19 verse 18:  Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

Mary does not seem offended by being rebuffed by Jesus. It’s all about getting word out.

And she does. She is a witness to the resurrection and sent by Jesus to tell the boys.

The irony in this passage is that they are still a bit muddled in this way. Listen again to verse 12: Joh 20:1  Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. Joh 20:2  So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” Joh 20:3  So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb.  Joh 20:4  Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.

They’re still competing – typical boys. It’s quite amusing really – how John points out who won that race.  The “other disciple” is John! He is speaking about himself.

One of the early church fathers had a more delightful explanation of this race: “Ishodad of Merv traces John’s greater speed to the fact that he was unmarried.” Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel according to John XIII – XXI (New York: The Anchor Bible, Doubleday, 1970) 985

WHAT ARE WE DOING IN THAT GARDEN?

It takes more than one look in the garden. Mary saw the stone was rolled away. She assumed grave robbers were at work.

It took his voice to get her attention to notice other possibilities.

Peter and John have their race – John wins but only sticks his head in to look. Peter goes right in. Typical Peter!

There is something challenging about walking into a place where the dead are kept.

OUR TOMBS ARE NOT EMPTY

Our tombs are not empty – that makes it really hard for us when we face death. We have to hold on to hope and be prepared to wait to see our loved ones again.

We were not witnesses of this resurrection. But remember what Jesus said to Thomas: Blessed are those who have not seen and still believe (to Thomas) Joh 20:27  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Joh 20:28  Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”  Joh 20:29  Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

WHAT WILL YOU TAKE HOME TODAY –  THIS EASTER?

The shift in relationship because of the resurrection is the key. Tom Wright puts it like this:

This passage gives us a moment like that. It’s a moment when it becomes clear, to the careful reader of John’s gospel, that something extraordinary has taken place, not only to Jesus –though that’s extraordinary enough– but to the way the world is, the way God is, the way God and the disciples now are. Up to this point Jesus has spoken about God as ‘the father’, or ‘the father who sent me’, or ‘my father’. He has called his followers ‘disciples’, ‘servants’ and ‘friends’.

Now all that has changed. Feel the force of verse 17: ‘Go and say to my brothers, I am going up to my father and your father, to my God and your God.’ Something has altered, decisively. Something has been achieved. A new relationship has sprung to life like a sudden spring flower. The disciples are welcomed into a new world: a world where they can know God the way Jesus knew God, where they can be intimate children with their father. (Wright, Tom (2002-10-18). John for Everyone Part 2: Chapters 11-21 Pt. 2 (New Testament for Everyone) (Kindle Locations 2346-2353). SPCK. Kindle Edition.)

  • Jesus is the new gardener
  • There is a New Eden
  • New cultivation of the fruits of the spirit will begin
  • And a new family!

Wright continues: Mary’s intuitive guess, that he must be the gardener, was wrong at one level and right, deeply right, at another. This is the new creation. Jesus is the beginning of it…

Here he is: the new Adam, the gardener, charged with bringing the chaos of God’s creation into new order, into flower, into fruitfulness. He has come to uproot the thorns and thistles and replace them with blossoms and harvests. (Wright, Tom (2002-10-18). John for Everyone Part 2: Chapters 11-21 Pt. 2 (New Testament for Everyone) (Kindle Locations 2367-2372). SPCK. Kindle Edition.)

It’s a new creation. And it’s for everyone. The reading from Acts today is Peter speaking at the house of the Gentile Cornelius. This family is all inclusive. This is how the passage ends:

Act 10:39  “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree,

Act 10:40  but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen.

Act 10:41  He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.

Act 10:42  He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.

Act 10:43  All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

It’s a tree that he was hanged on – says Peter. A new source of life, offsetting the consequences of the fruit from the forbidden tree.

The 8th century Old English Poem (written therefore before William the conqueror and genuinely Anglo-Saxon) called “The dream of the Rood” has the poet describe the Rood – the cross –  in his dream like this:

It seemed to me that I saw a very wondrous tree (v5) lifted into the air, enveloped by light, the brightest of trees.”

Later the cross is described as the “tree of glory, on which Almighty God suffered for mankind’s many sins…”

At the end the poet continues:  May the Lord be a friend to me, (v145) who suffered here on earth before on the gallows-tree for men’s sins; he redeemed us and gave us life, a heavenly home.  Joy was restored with blessings and with bliss…

What do we take with us? You can opt for a chocolate egg if you like.

But the crosses we made last Sunday speak more to me. A new tapestry – a weaving of colour and beauty – comes through that cross.

When I survey the wondrous cross – “Forbid it Lord that I should boast save in the death of Christ my God; all the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to his blood.”

Amen.

 

Sunday sermon 20 December 2015 (Advent 4) – Mary

Sermon                                                                 Advent 4      20 December 2015

REFLECTIVE VIDEO (Mary’s song)

Who was Time magazine’s woman of the year? Angela Merkel of course. The daughter of a pastor who believes that Germany can not say to refugees “no room in the inn”.

How about National Geographic’s most influential person? Mary of Galilee. The Virgin Mary.

The headline goes like this:

MAGAZINE  |  DECEMBER 2015

How the Virgin Mary Became the World’s Most Powerful Woman

Mary barely speaks in the New Testament, but her image and legacy are found and celebrated around the world.

I loved watching the current Pope on his recent tour to America. I was comfortable up to the point when he led a prayer involving the virgin Mary.

The line that features uses the words of Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptiser.

Luk 1:42  In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!

You don’t pick it up as well in the NIV – listen to the KJV and NRSV:

(KJV)  And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.

Add “Jesus” to the end of this and you’ve almost got a Hail May.

Hail Mary, full of grace. Our Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.
Amen.

Okay you have to add verse 42, the greeting of the angel:

(KJV)  And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. 

I’d like to know the virgin Mary a little more. Now that sounds scary I know. I’m not talking about having a visitation from her.

One of the reasons why National Geographic in its December article talks about her influence is because of those appearances. Have a look:

Have a look at this:

If I were to have anyone appear to me, I’d prefer it to be Jesus – which he is doing in middle eastern countries.

But truthfully – would you like Jesus walking into your living room? And talking to you about your life?

Mary was God’s chosen teenager. I wouldn’t mind hearing from her.

SO WHAT DO WE MAKE OF THIS?

  1. Mary’s voice and message speaks to women because a lot of our Christian stuff, whether we like it or not, is dominated by men.
  1. Mary’s faith and trust is inspirational.

No need to say more. Just go home and read her response in the magnificat.

  1. It can’t have been easy for her as a teenage mother. A young mother pregnant and potentially shamed. We have seen how unhelpful it is to have “truths” unmatched with compassion.

I wrote my version of a Christmas letter this year. I’ve always been a bit allergic to them as people overstate the virtues and successes of their children. I mean come on – they didn’t just sail through their studies without major family issues and conflicts.

Here’s what I wrote after my story:

The greatest challenge and blessing – developing a more disciplined and reflective prayer life. Part of this is resting in the Lord, especially when we have absolutely no control over things. Which you discover in the second half of life is basically all the time. Richard Rohr’s “Falling Upward, a spirituality for the two halves of life”, is proving a slow and grinding yet rewarding read. He quotes Desmond Tutu: “We are only the light bulbs, Richard, and our job is just to remain screwed in!” Rohr, Richard (2011-02-11). Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life . Wiley. Kindle Edition. 

May you have a blessed Christmas. For those who never write – bless you! For those who do – bless you especially! A thought for you to close my bit – then you can read Sheilagh’s epistle.

A comment by a Christmas shopper checking his list…

I almost forgot the most important thing of all – compassion. If I see some – no matter what the colour, size or shape – I’m going to stock up heavily regardless of the price. I have run out of it so many times and I always feel ashamed when it happens.

It’s just as well angels did speak back in the day when Mary fell pregnant. There might have been a kind of honour killing.

  1. It could not have been any easier for Mary at that first Easter crucifixion.

Sheilagh shared with me her thoughts last week when I spoke about Zachariah and Elizabeth and the conception of John. She was sitting at the back (probably wondering when I would finish) and thinking: “I hope that john’s mom and dad were dead when Herod Antipas had his head chopped off”.

Parenting never ends. You know the story of the 100-year-old lady who said the best year of her life was when she turned 90. In that year all her children were safely retired in rest homes.

  1. I would like to ask Mary lots of questions.

About Jesus as a child. Did he walk on water then in the bath? Probably not. 🙂

I guess his cousin may have had an interesting childhood too:

john baptist

If we knew more from Mary about being a mother – and more about Jesus as a child, maybe we would relax more about parenting. Jesus has been through it all.

Amen.

Sunday sermon 5 April 2015 – Easter Sunday

Readings:  1 Corinthians 15:1-11;  Matthew 28:1-10

Message – Facing Jesus again:

Have you ridden in a hearse before? I have, over the years. I’ve had to help funeral directors load people into the back too.

My piano was a gift. I was playing piano at a conference, and and member of our church years ago came up to me and asked if I had a piano at home. An odd question to ask a pianist. I confessed I did not. “We have two” she said. “we would like to give you one of them.” Very biblical, not so.

We discussed how to move the piano while arranging another friend’s mother’s funeral. It had to travel about 110 kms to our town. “I can do that” said my undertaker friend. Sure enough the piano arrived in a van marked “Saffas” a funeral company. Interesting look from the neighbours. It wasn’t a hearse thankfully. Kind of a mortuary van. One can only imagine the neighbours peering over the fence.

Here’s one of my favourite stories about hearses. True story. A Methodist minister was asked to conduct a graveside service for a member of his church. The only problem was, the cemetery was more than an hour and a half away from the church. The minister wasn’t feeling well so he decided to ride with the Funeral Director in the hearse. In the front seat.

By the time they arrived at the cemetery, the flu had invaded completely and he said he felt terrible. Feverish and sick, he made it through the service, but he was starting to look like most flu victims, like death warmed over.

As they headed back home, the funeral director suggested the minister stretch out in the back of the hearse. It had curtains and nobody would see him. The minister thought it was a good idea and promptly fell asleep.He awoke when the vehicle stopped. Taking a few minutes to fully awaken, he slowly sat up and drew the side curtain to see where he was. He was face to face with a petrol station attendant, who was surprised and shocked to see a body in the back of the hearse staring back at him.

With all the colour drained out of him and his eyes as wide as saucers, the petrol pump flew into the air, and the attendant ran on shaky legs back into the gas station, while the funeral director tried to catch up to explain the whole situation.

We’re not really used to dead people getting up again. Not from a grave, a hearse or a mortuary van!

And even if the disciples had actually believed Jesus, they weren’t really hanging around the tomb to see the “what if” scenario. What if he does rise?

Death has that terrible effect of shutting down possibilities like that. It is very final.

But these women seem to be keeping an eye on things – according to Matthew. Verse one tells us this: Mat 28:1  After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. And in the previous chapter, chapter 27, they were there too. They were at the cross, the burial and back on the third day. Have a look:

As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb. (Matthew 27:57-61)

Here’s the fascinating thing. You know we’ve talked before about Jesus eating fish on the beach and also appearing in locked rooms? Well here – let me read it to you again:

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.  There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. (Matthew 28:1-3)

What doesn’t happen here? They witness the stone rolling back. You would expect Jesus to come out – a bit like Lazarus. But no. He doesn’t.

What do you think this means then? Perhaps this – He didn’t need the stone to be rolled away for his resurrection. They needed the stone rolled away to see he wasn’t there!

The guards are still there. The next verse puts their military prowess on the line: Mat 28:4  The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. They are spooked by the angel. Do they faint? It certainly seems so.

The women hold their ground. Perhaps their watching – their vigil – is more than just bringing spices to the tomb (as in Mark). Matthew sees it differently. Perhaps they had an expectation?

By the way, Jews in those days believed that the soul kind of hung around the body for three days – and then moved on. Just saying. One of those interesting things. And people prayed at the tomb – even in the tomb – for a week. So the spices were helpful. Archaeology has revealed tombs with a part dug down inside, made lower, so people could stand upright in the tomb and pray. Jews stood and prayed.

That’s the girls for you. Always on the lookout. Happy to tell the story. Teach boys and girls and you will always find the girls have much more to say!! (No I’m not sexist!)

THE GIRLS ARE TO TELL THE BOYS

So the girls are instructed by the angel (that caused the big burly Roman soldiers to pass out in shock)

  • Not to fear – he knew what they were up to (verse 5) “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.”
  • What has happened (verse 6) “He is not here, He has risen, just as he said!”
  • Have a look at where he lay in the tomb (verse 6) “Come and see the place where he lay.”
  • Where he was to be seen – in Galilee (verse 7) “He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee.”

Off they go: Mat 28:8  So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.- the boys – where to expect him (verse 7). Off they go.

But just in case an angel’s instruction is not enough, Jesus appears to them too – while they are on the run: Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”  (Matthew 28:9-10)

IT’S A FACINATING ACCOUNT. Imagine this. So you’re one of those men/boys – disciples. The A team – mainly men – who had not done that well (one betrayal, one denial, one hanging around, on running off and leaving his clothes behind).

And these women (both Marys – see Mark 16:1 –  When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body.) … these women pass on the message from Jesus: “Jesus says – go to Galilee – you will see him there.”

O dear. Do we want to see Jesus – after we failed him? We ran away – denied him, and one of the team betrayed him and we didn’t even see that coming.

  • What are we going to say to him? How awkward! We really thought that we knew Judas as well!
  • If this is true – is he really alive? Or are the Marys losing their minds?

Matthew stands alone in this respect. Only here in this gospel do the women see, touch and worship Jesus. (verse 9)

And the word for worship takes us all the way back to the beginning of Matthew.

The men obviously listen and go to Galilee – Galilee of the gentiles (Isaiah 9).

And about that “worship” word. It is the gentile magi – the so called wise men – who “worship” baby Jesus with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The word for “worship” is the same here. It means to bow down and to kiss.

Worship is the appropriate response for the women. The men will work it out in their own ways – from Peter’s restoration to Thomas’ touching his wounds.

And the special, unique factor in this account is verse 10. The women are met and encounter Jesus in a way that works for them.

For the boys – there is this unique authority in this instruction. I will read it again – listen up! What do you think the key is?

Mat 28:10  Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

There’s no other place where this happens where he speaks of them as brothers (apart from John 20:17). A preacher called Mark Trotter puts it like this: Something as deep and mysterious as the Resurrection of our Lord has many levels of meaning. But Matthew wants you to consider this one. It reveals a God whose love for us is like a parent’s love for a prodigal child. Even if we reject God, God will never, never reject us. And if we do evil things, then God, out of God’s love, will find a way to make something good come out of it.

Like the reconciliation in the Old Testament between Joseph and his brothers: “as for you, you meant it for evil; but God meant it for good.”

You could put it like this: Go tell my brethren, [who fell asleep instead of watching and praying, who betrayed me, or who ran away] that I will meet them in Galilee, [to forgive them and give them new life.]

There are a series of resurrection appearances – appropriate for all. Paul records in 1 Corinthians 15. Listen to what he says again:

Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. (1 Corinthians  15:1-8)

How about you? Have you had an encounter with the risen Jesus? My prayer is that you certainly do! You can – in prayer, in faith and trust, in communion – in whatever way is appropriate to you, you can meet him as he did the women and men back then.

Take the time to meet Him!

Easter Sunday sermon 20 April 2014 – Don’t be afraid…

Readings

Colossians 3:1-4

Col 3:1  So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

Col 3:2  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth,

Col 3:3  for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

Col 3:4  When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

Matthew 28:1-10

Mat 28:1  After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.

Mat 28:2  And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.

Mat 28:3  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.

Mat 28:4  For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men.

Mat 28:5  But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.

Mat 28:6  He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.

Mat 28:7  Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.”

Mat 28:8  So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

Mat 28:9  Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.

Mat 28:10  Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

Reflection

How many times have you been in a cemetery?

I was outside one on Thursday night – and it seemed a good place to talk about Easter.

Most people don’t hang out in cemeteries. They went into St Marys church rather than hang around the dark gloomy cemetery on Thursday.

In fact we avoid dead bodies generally.

Story

I read an account this week of a pastor who had to travel about an hour with an undertaker to a cemetery for a burial. He wasn’t feeling well and by the time they got to the graveside service, the pastor was really crook. Sick as … to use the local jargon.

He croaked his way through the service – pardon the pun – and the job was done.

After the family left, the very nice funeral director suggested he might feel better if he lay down in the back of the hearse for the long trip back.

What he had forgotten was that he had to stop for petrol on the way home – those big Cadillacs are gas guzzlers.

You can imagine the chaos while the attendant was filling up the car – when the pastor sat up in the back of the hearse and looked out the window.

The attendant ran like the wind – abandoning his duties!

People are not good with dead bodies. Back in the day you had to make your own coffin and organise things – lay the dead out – dig a hole and bury them. You had to do it yourself – well not your own funeral but family members.

Undertakers undertake that for us now. They direct funerals.

Jesus’ friends had to do it too. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were the ones. And when the women went to the tomb on the 3rd day it was do complete the proper funeral matters as things had been rushed on the day of Jesus’ death.

They were much better with dead bodies than we are today.

What we have in common with them – was that they did not expect dead bodies to disappear or for the dead to get up that often. If at all. Dead bodies that move can really spook people.

It’s no wonder that there was chaos in Matthew’s account of that first Resurrection day. The day we worship on – Sunday.

The ones who copped it really badly were the Roman guards. They had an angel, an earthquake, and a  stone moving in a cemetery.

Mat 28:2  And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.

Mat 28:3  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.

Mat 28:4  For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 

One writer puts it like this:

The quiet of the dawn is interrupted by the earth’s quaking and by the appearance of an angel that requires contradictory images to describe. He is riding the earth’s quaking, flashing like lightning, and dressed in snow! He is powerful enough to roll away the stone in front of the tomb and then, calmly, to sit on it. It is no wonder that the guards shake and fall over as if dead, when they see him. Actually, the guards quake, as with fear. The Greek translated “shook” in the NRSV (v. 4) is directly related to the Greek word for “earthquake” (v. 2). The guards shiver and shake; they quake and pass out from fear.

(Bartlett, David L.; Barbara Brown Bartlett (2011-05-31). Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 2, Lent through Eastertide (Kindle Locations 12716-12720). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.)

Things are shaken up in every way.

The truth is that things are shaken up in every way in our lives. And I suspect the shaking is going to get worse.

It’s the angel’s calling card – or greeting – that is key.

Mat 28:5  But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.

Mat 28:6  He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.

And of course Jesus says the same:

Mat 28:8  So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

Mat 28:9  Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.

Mat 28:10  Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

And later when he appeared in locked rooms, He said “peace be with you”.

“Do not be afraid” and “peace be with you” are really helpful to us to when life gets shaken up.

The heart of it is the resurrection of Jesus. We worship him now because he was raised and lives forever.

We trust Him still because the good news of His overcoming death puts everything into its proper place.

And His promise to be with us is real too.

He tells them – in this account – to go back to Galilee.

That’s the place where the action was – and life was to go on for His team of followers as they spread the good news. The gospel of Jesus and the resurrection was proclaimed to all they could reach and eventually touched the whole known world.

On Christmas Day 1814 – almost 200 years ago this good news came to New Zealand when the first Christian sermon was preached by Samuel Marsden up in the Bay of Islands.

This Gospel has shaped this nation in ways not recognised by many.

The reconciliation between God and man through Christ has implications for culture and conflict alike. A lot changed in those early years because of this Gospel.

Peace – tolerance – and a new nation based on mutual respect was born – with Christian missionaries at the centre.

  • In this new generation the same Gospel has relevance for this nation and this city of ours.
  • Christ is alive and still at work. It’s up to us whether we want to be part of what the risen Lord is doing today – and if we let Him use us!

He still says “don’t be afraid” and “peace be with you” in every kind of conceivable situation – in many lives of people from all corners of the world.

We praise his wonderful name! We have been raised with Christ, says Paul in our other reading for today! Look up! Look to God and His ways:. He says:

Col 3:2  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth,

Col 3:3  for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

Col 3:4  When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

Through faith and by our baptism we too have died and we are raised up by his resurrection. We already live in a different zone.  Our priorities change to line up with God’s purpose – and we are never the same again.

Amen.

Christmas Day sermon 25 December 2013 – God chose who?

Readings:  Titus 3:4-7; Luke 2:8-20

Message

We’ve looked at Mary through these weeks – her soul and spirit response to God’s call on her and the awesome responsibility of being mum to Jesus.

We looked at Joseph too – a man of God so open to God’s word and direction – a loving righteous man not wanting to submit Mary to public disgrace.

Last night we looked at the inn keeper  – and asked ourselves about our own openness to Jesus and His family – and by implication to all people in need of shelter and protection – the least of His little ones or brothers. Whatever we do to them – we do to Jesus! What a responsibility!

Today we look at the shepherds.

God chose them – angels spoke to them – and they too were stunned.

Matthew Henry says they were sent to: “…poor, humble pious industrious shepherds, who were in the business of their calling, keeping watch over their flock”

He goes on to say that we are not out of the way of Divine visits, when we are employed in an honest calling and abide with God in it”.

There are simple things we can learn from these illiterate and simple men:

  1. 1.      God gets their attention – and they investigate further.

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’

There is no mention of who keeps watch over their sheep!

Simply an urgency:

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.

  1. 2.      God speaks to whom he chooses – and often outside of the religious establishment.

I’m not a fan of organised religion. That sounds odd really because I live indebted to organised religion.

The point is SYSTEMS and IMPORTANT PEOPLE are not always the vehicles through which God moves and acts.

The people in Jerusalem who advised Herod knew that Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. But they didn’t make the 7 or 8 km journey to see. They were too busy with their systems.

(Nicky Gumbel – story of the Anglican warden who tapped a man on the shoulder and said:  we don’t do that here” when he raised his hands in worship. The man said “but I’ve found the Lord” to which the warden replied “well you didn’t find him here!”)

God sovereignly spoke to these shepherds – it was all unexpected.

Let’s watch this kids production “An unexpected Christmas”. (Video)

An unexpected Christmas

Surprises galore! (Key line – they’ll not be expecting that!)

  1. 3.      Good news is always worth sharing – and it’s normal to do so! 

The passage goes on to say:

17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. They were evangelists – they shared good news! And people were amazed – at the story, and you can be sure – t he story tellers themselves! Shepherds – seeing holy visions? What’s up here?

  1. 4.      Worship and praise are an appropriate response to this story! 

Suddenly Luke returns to Mary – who in his words:

19 But Mary “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

 Then he goes onto the shepherds again:

20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

It was back to work for them – but to be sure their attitudes were changed!

God spoke

They investigated

It was JUST AS THEY HAD BEEN TOLD!

The implications – that the Lord shared the good news with THEM and they weren’t in a trance or imagining things.

This was the real thing.

When we walk away from listening to this story – what is the impact on our lives?

A great question!

Only you can answer that. But God surely knows your heart – as do you.

Amen.

Christmas Eve sermon 24 December 2013 – any room?

Readings:

Titus 2:11-14 and Luke 2:1-14

Message

So how much room is there in your home and heart for Jesus?

Let’s watch this video!

The kids play is pretty direct – especially the people shutting their doors on Jesus!  No room in the inn – the doors kept shutting.

But there was a plan!

GOD”S PLAN seldom lines up with ours. We sometimes think that our spiritual lives have no connection with the ordinary things and the people around us in the world – with our political systems – our finances – our social lives – the complications of our society today.

It may seem to some that Christians hide away in church from all of this. The point is – it is all God’s! God’s world and God’s people.

Paul writes to Titus and reminds him of this universal and international intention of God: 11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.

While we recognise that Mary and Joseph were uniquely open to God – other people who probably weren’t that open are also used by him:

  • Caesar Augustus for one – issued a census that meant Mary and Joseph would be in the right place for Jesus to be born – Bethlehem.
  • The innkeeper  – who did not recognise the significance of who these three were – yet made a plan out of compassion – and set the tone for Jesus’ life amongst ordinary people and creatures of the earth.
  • The shepherds – not your average literate bible-knowing church goers of the day. God gets their attention  Why? Because he uses humble ordinary people for his purposes. The first visitors model for us the simple obedience that should be ours. More about that tomorrow!

The innkeeper – the man who made a plan – who could have been a kiwi with a “she’ll be right” attitude – organised a place where God affirms the simple things of creation and the humility of this new King. An upside down Kingdom indeed.

Are you prepared to go to any lengths to let Jesus in? Are you really wanting him in your life – in every part of it? There is a danger that we leave Jesus outside of those places that we regard as not very spiritual.

Well he made that stable a palace. And he can make your workshop, your garage, your office, your street – a place where his presence is known. And especially our homes. What a comfort to those who live alone –  through choice, circumstance, bereavement or poverty. We can have this Son of God right there with us. Psalm 68:6 is such an encouragement – “God sets the lonely in families”. The church can become such an extended family.

There needs to be room for Him in our inns of every shape, size and description.

Amen.