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Sunday Sermon 9 April 2017 – Coat Sunday, or the day of the King’s visitation

READING: Luke 19:28-44

CHILDREN’S MESSAGE:

Did you bring a coat today? What kind, you say. It doesn’t matter. Rain coat. Warm coat. Wind breaker coat. Trench coat. Detective’s coat.

If you read the bible reading today – people had coats when Jesus came riding in to Jerusalem on a donkey. O wait – let’s watch the little guys’ story about the donkey. Then we’ll go back to the coats.

Cool story. Three famous donkey’s hey. Yes. Dave. Dave’s grandad. And the other one. What? Two? Okay but the third one could really speak. (verse Numbers 22:28-31  Balaam’s donkey)

Okay no Palms. A donkey and coats. Coats are good. You could put them on the donkey of you didn’t have a saddle. You could lay them on the floor – if you didn’t have a red carpet. Like that famous man, Sir Walter Raleigh. He put his cloak over a puddle so that Queen Elizabeth I didn’t get her feet wet. Cool hey!

I reckon you have to do that for Kings and queens. And Jesus was and is a King. Best listen to him when he speaks!

Or just be a donkey carrying Jesus around. So people can see how great he is.

(Prayer for children as they leave)

ADULT MESSAGE:

Talking about coats, I remember very clearly the picture of Sir Walter Raleigh laying his cloak down over a puddle so that Queen Elizabeth I didn’t get her feet wet. There it was in our history notes – that picture has stuck with me.

Trouble is it probably never happened. Blame Historian Thomas Fuller who liked to embellish facts. Walter Raleigh did get his head chopped off after his second holiday in the tower of London. During his first stay in the tower he wrote his first volume of his “History of the world” which was 776 pages long. On the grisly side, his head was embalmed and his widow carried it around with her for the rest of her life.

Now you’re wondering if that’s true. The coat and puddle story sounds more believable.

So, if we didn’t have John’s gospel, we wouldn’t have Palm Sunday. Only coat Sunday at best.

The point is that the genuineness of the accounts of Easter by the four gospel writers supports the historicity of the event. There is no attempt like witnesses protecting each other to line up their versions of the story with each other.

Only Matthew mentions the fulfilment of the prophecy from Zechariah: This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: “Say to the Daughter of Zion, “See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ (Matthew 21:4-5)

Only Matthew has this dramatic line like a Greek chorus calling out:

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” (21:10-11)

Only Luke seems to hint that there were Pharisees in the crowd of disciples. It changes we see the way they try to tone things down. Perhaps they were really concerned that this procession declaring Jesus as King could have dangerous repercussions. Remember in Acts 15:5 that there were Pharisees who became Christians. (It would have been like Christians today belonging to the Green Party or New Zealand first!)

The two things that really stand out in the reading from Luke today are FIRSTLY the words of those calling out:

“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (v38)

And then the warning to Jerusalem that Jesus gives after weeping over the city:

They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” (v44)

  1. The first one links the proclamation on Palm Sunday with the words of the angels at Jesus’ birth. We are reminded that this is all the same story of Jesus (God Saves) Emmanuel (God with us) Messiah (anointed one) who comes to rescue us. Luke alone spells it out here:

“Blessed is the KING who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.”

His readers would make the connection. Remember how Herod the Great responded to the wise men’s news about the birth of a king?

Infanticide. The murder of the innocents. Boys up to two years of age.

This time round, we can’t expect anything different. Herod’s descendants are ruling a carved up holy land. Pilate has replaced one of them in Judea.

The power play will unfold. The authorities do not approve. Like Walter Raleigh in the tower of London waiting for his execution for treason, Jesus would be a threat to the rulers of the day once more.

A new king could only mean civil unrest, and Pilate could not allow it if he wanted to keep his job. Yes, he sends Jesus to Herod Antipas, but Antipas has his own agenda. This encounter is portrayed very simply in the film “Jesus”. And in the Passion of the Christ we see a better portrayal of Antipas in my view. You’ll have to read the subtitles as they are speaking in Aramaic. Or Latin.

Perhaps you’d like to watch this extract. It’s actually quite well done.

The Passion of Christ – the events of holy week – are deeply political.

  1. The second unique passage in Luke about this Coat Day is his response to the city of Jerusalem and his prophetic word about its destruction:

We pick it up in verse 43:

The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side.

They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” (v44)

Again, its deeply political. The Romans would always put down revolts. You only had the peace of Rome as a privilege – safety, good roads, aqueducts, protection – if you towed the line.

It’s the rejection of the visitation that is fascinating. (v44) Jesus says this:

They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

The original text does not have the word “God” in it. It’s simply a visitation.

Of course, its Jesus who is visiting. Messiah has come.

And they reject him.

The Jewish historian Josephus blamed the nationalists, the Zealots for the demise of the Jewish nation.

Jesus gives another reason of course. By rejecting him, Israel has chosen the way of judgment. It has missed the day and the moment.

What was true of the Jewish nation can also be true of individuals. To miss Jesus is to miss the time of visitation and face accountability before God.

So – consider this. Jesus comes marching into your life today.

  • Riding on a donkey.
  • Or on a bus for that matter. He visits you either way.

What are you going to do?

  • Shout Hosanna?
  • Hail Him as king?
  • Try to go for a softer option – don’t shout too loudly, you might upset the authorities. Hush!
  • Or will you miss his visitation altogether?

The consequences of ignoring who he is and what that means for our lives, our priorities, our decisions, our relationships, our finances, are all challenging. This is a great time to reflect on where Jesus is in our list of priorities.

There are a whole series of opportunities this Holy Week to gather and reflect on what it means for us now, and in eternity.

  • We call it holy week. It must grab our attention.
  • Our Korean friends who pray every morning up in the lounge have asked to move to the church at 5.30am each morning this Easter week. They take it seriously.
  • We have options to reflect on Jesus’ coming on Tuesday morning, Thursday night, Friday morning, and Sunday at Sunrise.

I’m not a prophet, but each year I can predict who will be at which service.

His is my 7th Easter. Go on. Surprise me. Come to something different.

This is about Jesus’ visitation – riding into our lives and being welcomed as King.

How about it? How do we welcome Him? Or are we just not too fussed about it all.

Amen.

Sunday sermon 6 May – Plugged into Jesus

Readings: Acts 8: 26-40 and John 15:1-8

MESSAGE

I was never good at Maths! But I have come to understand the ideas of Paul Hiebert about sets – in relation to people and organisations! There are two kinds of sets – he suggests. Bounded sets – and centred sets.  He wrote about this about 30 years ago! A bounded set is a group – an organisation that we belong to – because we’ve recognised that you have to cross some kind of line to get there. For example – if you join a club, you agree up front on the rules and expectations, including dress code and fees. Churches have traditionally been like this – you had to apply to be a member and read the expectations first (helpful) and then agree to abide by them.

I recently encountered a local church that has as a requirement of membership that you attend church twice on Sundays. By joining you agreed to that. No exceptions. And in the organisation all pastors have to offer two services every week. All churches have minimum expectations for members like this – and the basic one is Baptism which should come with a public profession of faith. And with this comes certain responsibilities and privileges.

A great example in Bible history of a bounded set is found in the reading from Acts today. The travelling treasurer – a eunuch from Ethiopia who went to Jerusalem – encounters Philip the evangelist on the road. This man had come to worship! (v27). It is not surprizing that an Ethiopian should do that. There had been Jews in Ethiopia since the time of King Solomon. (Isaiah 11:11 and 56:4-5 refer to Ethiopia and to eunuchs by the way).

The Jewish organisation of the day was a bounded set – as was seen in the structure of the temple – which had a series of areas that people were not allowed into.  This temple had been developed by Herod the Great over 40 years – and was like a wonder of the ancient world! People travelled from all over the Mediterranean region and Asia to see it. It was like the Taj Mahal today – or Christchurch’s cathedral when it was standing. People marvelled at it.

But only Jews really belonged and had access. And the requirement for being a Jew (circumcision) was a serious business – plus adherence to many laws!

If you were a traveller and not Jewish you could get into the outer court (of the Gentiles). But no further.  Odd really because when you read the Old Testament it was clear that what they had was to be for all the nations! The God they worshiped was the God of all the earth. Listen to Psalm 22 which is one of the readings for today: 27 All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, 28 for dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations.

So when this Eunuch comes in Acts 8 – all the way from African Ethiopia – a long way in his chariot – he would have had limited access. In fact Deuteronomy 23:1 specifically excluded men like him: No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the LORD.

Others also had restrictions – look for example at the court of the women. Ritually pure Jewish women of course were allowed. There were specific exclusions for those who had menstruated or had had sexual intercourse and so forth.

Then there was the Court of Israel. The men only – and again ritually pure men! There are similar things that would have excluded men.

The real temple area – the Sanctuary – was for ritually pure priests and Levites. Nice music, prayer and sweet smelling incense for them only.

And then there was this enormous curtain at the rear of the Sanctuary where you found the Holy of Holies! The high priest went in there once a year on Yom Kippur – and sprinkled the blood on the mercy seat in the pre-Babylonian exile days. After the destruction of the first temple that space was empty.

Now do you remember what Jesus did – we looked at this before Easter? He went in there and messed up their tables in the courts of the temple. He would have been zealous for the temple because of its intended purpose – as a house of prayer! They had turned it into something else.

Jesus not only cleansed the temple – he broke ALL those rules all the time about sin and ritual purification. He was not keen on their bounded and exclusive set!

He also  totally redrew this map of access to God!! He talked to and touched Gentiles – lepers – and bad people. And all kinds of ritually unclean people touched him!

Jesus connected with all kinds of people who were exluded from the temple. – people like the Ethiopian who would have wanted to worship but could not really have full access.

How exciting therefore when Jesus says: “When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father in secret!” That’s radical and revolutionary stuff! There are no exclusions here at all. The holy place is redefined!

So back to Acts 8:

And when Philip starts talking to this man on his chariot – a physically deformed eunuch who had travelled SO FAR to just get to the outer court – this encounter is DYNAMIC! The eunuch is reading His Old Testament Bible out loud – which was common in those days  (in Greek)– and needs someone to explain the words of Isaiah! Philip asks him a question – and the man invites him into his chariot!

There is something very moving about the conversation – because of the passage itself. There are two possible applications to the eunuch:    “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.  Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.”

This man had been physically cut – castrated. Not by choice. Like a sheep to be slaughtered. And – “in his humiliation he was deprived of justice”. Being a castrated male was an in-between state and not a great position socially. Deprived of justice – I think so. And so the man asks: “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?”

In other words –“ could this apply to me?” A conversation follows and a conversion! And he gets baptised! Brilliant! The line that I love is this one: “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” (NRSV v 37)

I am sure there were lots of things that prevented him from progressing in his Jewish faith. And there would be churches today who would make it difficult for people to get to that point too! But not on this day! And he goes on his way rejoicing – which implies he had a story to tell.

How startling and radical has the Easter story not been? What happens when Jesus dies? That heavy duty curtain shutting us out of their view of the presence of God – that last barrier – is ripped! Yay and Hallelujah!

THE CHALLENGE

Here’s a thought. Are we not a bit like this too? We want people who show up to conform at least to our brand of thinking or worship!! Mandatory things from OUR POINT OF VIEW.

The BOUNDED SET is a very exclusive kind of thing.

CONTRAST THAT WITH A CENTRED SET.

A centred set is a bit different. This kind of organisation invites people to journey towards a common goal or set of values. It is not a closed group but more like a loose association of people moving in the same direction.

For Christians – the centre is not a belief or a tradition but a PERSON! The first Christians were called people of THE WAY!

I am beginning to wonder whether we should even use the word Christian at all! Follower of Christ – yes! Disciple of Jesus – yes! Jesus-follower – Oh Yes!

The set of the Christian faith is centred in JESUS.We look to him for life. For forgiveness. For healing and reconciliation (remember last week?). Even the buildings are meant to help people find Jesus! And yes we have a mission statement that says we are to “build loving communities that help people find and follow Jesus”. The focal point is Jesus! The building we meet in here is just a tool!

Go to some churches – and horror of horrors they are like that Jewish Temple! They have altars and altar rails – and while I enjoyed receiving communion at them when I was a temporary Anglican – they are expressions of bounded sets again.

The first Christians BROKE DOWN BARRIERS of all sorts. Listen to Galatians 3:28 – probably one of the most significant verses in the New Testament: Gal 3:28  There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. One IN CHRIST JESUS!

And so when we come to the GOSPEL reading today – it seems to make more sense!    5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. Remain – abide – live in relationship with, connected to Jesus the vine – the true vine – through whom life pumps into us! Apart from me you can do nothing!

Being connected to Jesus – together – is the only way to do this! And our job is to get people moving in the right direction towards that centre! And it’s not necessarily organised! A vine is not very systematic or tidy. But the branches are plugged into the vine! The branches are centred in Jesus! And outside of that it’s pretty dead!

WHAT EXCITING MISSION OPPORTUNITIES EXIST FOR US TODAY

Like Philip – if you are led by the Holy Spirit – you might bump into someone with whom you can have the conversation that changes lives! Once they are connected – the life flows. It points to a relationship with Jesus as key!

A final comment: An Australian said this (amazing wisdom!) – There are two main methods for keeping cattle on the ranch. One is to build a fence around the perimeter. The other is to dig a well in the centre of the property.

To quote John Ortberg (Is the question for Christians “Out or In?” or “Farther or Closer?”) – If we focus on Jesus as the centre, then the key question becomes whether someone is oriented toward him or away from him. We realize that God is in a much better position than we are to know who’s in and who’s out. We also realize that everyone has something to learn, that everyone has a next step to take, and we don’t have to make ourselves seem more different than we really are. We embrace our common humanity.

We need to get people moving towards Jesus!

Phillip did that with a man from Ethiopia whose name we don’t even know! But the results were first class! A great outcome! A man connected to Jesus! Plugged into the vine!