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1 April 2018 Sunday Message – MARY AND THE GARDENER

Reading: John 20: 1-18

Message.

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)

“Mary”.

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.

Personally. Intimately.

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. –

Amen.

 

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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!

Sunday sermon 22 December 2013 (Advent 4) – Joseph, man of God

Reading: Matthew 1:18-25

church

So you’re engaged – and the engagement ends. Do you get to keep the ring?

Depends – I think – on who breaks the engagement. If it’s the guy – then she keeps it. If it’s the girl – she gives the ring back.

Well that was the law I studied when becoming a marriage counsellor.

What do you make of Joseph and Mary’s muddle?

18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. (NRSV)

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: his mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. (NIV – one of them anyway)

What was the nature of their arrangement? It seems that the English words don’t capture their status. Were they engaged or married? Was does it mean to be “pledged to be married”.

It was more like a two stage wedding. The first was a contract arranged by the parents – a betrothal- a marriage contract in fact which could only be broken by divorce. The second step happened about a year later when the groom actually took the bride home as his wife – that’s when the feast took place. These two phases have specific Hebrew names which I won’t bore you with. The point is it was different from our set up today. We have other issues – partners galore, common law arrangements- and now legally you can marry anyone. Within a week of the new law on marriage here in NZ there were campaigns for polygamy. The boundaries will get pushed again and again.

Last week we reflected on Mary – her soul and spirit response to God in the face of the predicament she finds herself in.

Today we look at Joseph. He was in a corner – a proverbial tight spot. They were in-between the two phases of marriage – a time when they were not living together and certainly not sleeping together. In the literal sense of the Hebrew language he did not “know” her. Remember the passage in Genesis?

Genesis 4:1 says:  Now the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain…

Hebrew is quiet a concrete language. The latest NIV generously translates the passage like this:

Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain…

I digress of course. The point is – there was clearly none of this intimate “knowledge” between these two. (I hope from now on you will not walk around saying that you know people. Could be misunderstood by those who remember anything of this today!)

So here’s this man in a place of panic mixed with distrust of this girl. If it wasn’t him, then who on earth was it?

Well there’s the solution. No one on earth.

There are debates in theological circles about the word “virgin” and whether in the New Testament the word translated simply means “young girl”.

The bible text is quite direct here. Listen again to the NIV version in the pew:

Mat 1:18  This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.

Mat 1:19  Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.Jospeh dream

Mat 1:20  But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.

What is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. There it is.

I love the response of this righteous man. He did not want to expose her to public disgrace – because this would be a breaking of the serious code of marriage really! It implies adultery – forbidden by one of the big ten. (Can you remember which one? Between ‘don’t murder” and “don’t steal” is the 7th commandment – ‘don’t commit adultery”.)

But Joseph gets a text – an email –  a facebook message? Nope – just a dream – an angel appearing saying to him:

“Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.

And of course it gets better:

Mat 1:21  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Matthew reminds his listeners about the fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 which we also heard today. Makes sense – Matthew’s gospel was written for a Jewish readership or audience.

I love Joseph’s openness to being led by God.

We need more Josephs today – open to the Lord’s leading.

And his obedience is fairly efficient:

Mat 1:24  When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.

Mat 1:25  But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

We need to pray for the men of this nation – and this community too – that they hear God speak into their lives.

We are especially grateful for this man – who taught Jesus the skills as a carpenter – and would have shaped his life.saint-joseph-miguel-de-angel

I’m sure that Jesus was like Joseph – just like he sounds like Mary in the beautitudes.

Men of God. Listen to His voice.

Amen.

Sunday sermon 21 July – The best portion

Readings:

Colossians 1:15-28; Luke 10:38-52

Psalm 73:26  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Sermon

We’re back here in the home of Lazarus and his sisters – Mary and Martha. It wasn’t long ago when we looked at the need to sit at Jesus’ feet.

The Lectionary readings for today force us to sit there again.

Jesus had no overhead projector. No amplifier for his voice when speaking to the crowds. No data projector and fancy pictures.

But his words were electrifying.

Nothing like this had ever happened before. No one had ever taught like this before.

These were the words from the one who is in fact THE WORD OF GOD – his whole life was God speaking. These were the words of Jesus – who was before things and in whom all things hold together (Colossians 1:17). Paul in verse 19 of Colossians 1 reminds us that God was pleased to have all his fulness dwell in him (Jesus).

So what is significant. Well let’s tell the story again – so that we hear it anew.

Jesus had just finished telling that lawyer the story of the Samaritan whose faith led to action. The one who was a neighbour to a beaten up Jewish guy in the street. Remember?

So he and his disciples moved on to their next port of call – Bethany.

And Martha – ever hospitable – welcomed them in the proper way at her house.

Now Martha had a sister Mary – and she was, well – different. A bit of a dreamer perhaps. One of those meditative types with her head in the clouds.

She liked to listen to Jesus speak. And she would just sit at his feet and hang on his every word.

Martha was running around – in busy mode. Bizzy Bizzy busy lady.

And boy did she get worked up. She was so mad that eventually she burst out – to her guest Jesus – “doesn’t it bother you that this sister of mine is such a lazy lump. So impractical. Doesn’t lift a finger – just listens and dreams about what you say! If she takes you so seriously perhaps it would work if you told her to help me with these chores and the lunch! Just look at this mess in the kitchen.”

There was this interesting silence for a moment – and Jesus, with a smile, said “oh deary me Martha, Martha. This stuff you are doing is great – I love your hospitality. But you’re missing the really important things here. Don’t be distracted by the chores.

This is like a cake or a plate of food. Mary has her eye on the best portion! She is so going to enjoy this! This is the main course!

Come sit here for a while and let me tell you a story….

Well that’s my version of it.

So we can be kind to Martha today.

Some important points to remember:

1. God was in her house. One should really make every effort to be hospitable and welcoming. In fact this is a key thing in our mission in the community – having people around at tables – especially at homes. We’re not that good at this actually, although we are going better!

We do it at our Tuesday church. We sit around tables and eat and talk. And listen to peoples’ stories.

Our Family Ministry minister’s coffee machine is a key ministry tool with the families that meet here. And of course her amazing muffins. Like Friday at mainly music!

Our young adults have great conversations over food. The pizza people do well on Tuesdays.

Hospitality is a real sign of the love of God working in our lives. It shows that we value people and are interested in them. So too generosity of spirit and money – they are a sign of God working in our lives. We give because the Holy Spirit moves us. We care because we have that compassion that Jesus had for the crowds. And for the rich young ruler who walked away.

And last week we heard that SERVICE of our neighbour (and there’s more than one neighbour on the street) is what God wants us to do! But… (here comes point 2)

2. God was in her house. 

“Martha – won’t you stop and be still. Listen to these words that give life! Learn something from your irritating sibling!”

I quoted David Lose last week – the Lutheran professor of preaching (homiletics).

He tells the story of  his childhood – how his dad who was a pastor – did not have a great singing voice. And when those new-fangled microphones came in his dad used to forget to switch the thing off during the hymns. So everyone got to hear his less that brilliant voice. His singing was less than helpful.

David as a child used to get embarrassed by this. Listen to his story:

But on one of those Sundays when we were still relatively new to that church and town, when my dad had again forgotten to turn off the mic so that you could hear his off key-singing just above everyone else, and when I was again cringing in embarrassment, my mom noticed what was happening. I’m pretty sure she didn’t approve of my reaction, but she didn’t frown, or roll her eyes, or do any of the things parents are prone to do when they see their children overreacting to something. Instead, she leaned over to me, smiled understandingly, and then whispered, “You know, when your dad is gone, I’ll miss his singing.”

My mom understood, you see, something that I had totally missed: that sometimes you get so caught up in the act of singing that you forget all about yourself — you forget your insecurities and embarrassments, your limitations and your failings — you forget all the stuff you usually worry about and you just sing.

I think this story speaks of how often we miss the point entirely – like Martha. For David’s dad worship was not about perfection – it was about the moment.

Those of you who tap your watches on Sunday – probably miss the point too. There are those who tap their watches when we finish early as well. Something to do with not getting your money’s worth?

If you’re can’t sit still without worrying about the volume of the microphones or the heating or lighting – you may be missing the point as well.

If you are so busy caught up in the business and busyness of life – you may also miss the point.  Martha was anxious and troubled about stuff that was in fact meant to be wonderful and really fun.

And sitting at the feet of Jesus listening was part of the delight. It was a source of life for the soul – just as the food gave nourishment for the body. Jesus is the bread of life! His word feeds us today too. And he guides us and speaks to us and into our hearts when we take the time to sit at His feet.

It’s not about two different things really. It’s about being attentive to God in the midst of the ordinary things of life.

We have so divorced our spiritual lives from the ordinary – especially when we see our services and prayer meetings as the “spiritual” things – sectors – part of our week.

Jesus would do the so-called “spiritual” things – have those really life-changing conversations – over food anyway. The conversation at Zaccheus’ table for example. Those discussions each day with his disciples. Those special meals towards the end of his life.

So much so that we now have a meal as the focal point of our service today. Many churches have the Lord’s supper every week – more than once a week. (Here comes point 3 – or is this a 1 point sermon?)

3. God is in our house too.

We need to be attentive and let him speak. Through prayer. Through our bible reading. Through the words of others around us and especially in this community. Through the songs and through the sermon.

It’s the best portion – that won’t be taken away from us. Nothing will separate us from this intimacy with Jesus – our worship, devotion and gratitude to Him. Not even death. As Eugene Peterson puts it in the Message:  One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it–it’s the main course, and won’t be taken from her.”

There needs to be a balance – a rhythm in our lives – a dynamic tension between form and content, service and devotion, doing it right and being attentive to Jesus speaking even when the dinner get’s burned or the recipe fails.

Martha did the food stuff. Mary chose the best part. The best portion.

He is our portion.

In the Psalms at Psalm 73 the writer says this: My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:26)

These bodies will fail. Our hearts will stop in time.

The solid joys and lasting treasure Zion’s children will know.

 Amen, and may God bless you through these truths today.

Sunday sermon 31 March – He is risen

Reading: John 20:1-18

Resurrection Sunday

So what do you think of all this Christian stuff?

The catch phrases. The jargon. These interesting terms and concepts that are foreign to so many today.

Like “Are you saved? Converted? Born again? A believer? A disciple?”

Here’s a more important question. Can you say with countless others that you are a child of God, following Paul who some 2000 years ago wrote (in Greek mind you):  

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. (Romans 8:15-16)

  • Is that real to you?
  • Or have you just been a church member for as long as you remember? Perhaps you can’t actually remember where it all started!
  • Or perhaps you are visiting today – window shopping – or revisiting Easter as you have done before over the years. And Jesus and this Christian story seem very far from you.

The people on that first Easter day would not have used that kind of language. They didn’t have Paul’s letters at that point – or any written copies of gospels recording the words of Jesus.

They didn’t have the modern evangelical doctrines and formulas that we have access to.

No church buildings with steeples. No bibles bound in leather. No Shine TV.

They certainly didn’t have the Reformation concepts that have shaped what people believe today. Like justification by faith. Regeneration. Righteousness. Sanctification. Glorification.

But they knew Jesus. He’d been their friend and teacher.

And it’s bad bad bad when a friend dies. It’s like the bottom falls out of your world. Especially if he’s the one you’ve really depended upon. The one you’ve left your job to follow!

Younger people today – in their modern jargon – would use a different metaphor when a friend dies. They would say: “that sucks!”  (You can tell that they’ve probably never used a vacuum cleaner.)

To see your friend executed really sucks.

My wife and I watched a visual recreation of the holy week events this week. Man it’s bad watching anyone be crucified. It’s horrible.

Imagine that happening to a dear friend. Or in the case of Mary – to your son.

It reminds me of the dreadful feeling I had as a young teenager when I read Alan Paton’s “cry the beloved country” and felt the pain of the dad in the story – the Reverend Stephen Kumalo – facing the truth that his son Absalom was to be hanged

BUT THIS IS EASTER DAY – RESURRECTION DAY

On this day we could talk about all these Christian themes. People may expect it. It could be the kind of SUPERBOWL SERMON. The sermon of all sermons.

Sorry to disappoint you. It’s not. You can’t get it all on one day in the year. We’re here every Sunday and we’re still learning new stuff all the time.

I really want us to get a sense of what it’s like to come to your best friend’s grave and find the body gone.

Grief, pain, confusion and fear follow. The body is all you have now – at it seems to be stolen.

You go into the tomb and see two angels (or unusual looking people anyway) and hear voices (their voices) saying:

‘Woman, why are you crying?’

And you say to them: ‘They have taken my Lord/friend away, and I don’t know where they have put him.’ 

And then you turn around and see someone who asks you:  ‘Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?’

And assuming him to be the gardener – a worker in the area – you ask him:

‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.’

And then – you hear his voice speak your name: , ‘Mary.’ John. Dave. Heather. Joy. Whoever you are. You recognise your friend’s voice when he says your name in the way he always used to say it.

It’s an astounding story. This friend who was butchered by a whip, nailed to a cross, out of whom blood and water flowed when a soldier’s spear pierced his dead side. Who was buried.

You hear his voice – and fall at his feet and cry out to him.

I have a friend who relentlessly debates all kind of theological issues with his colleagues by email. Every day there are these long complex quotes. Often many emails in a day.

I read some. I don’t understand others. I have some view on some of the issues.

How to get his attention? Who knows?

If Jesus could just call him by name.

These early adventurous Christians didn’t all get it straight away. I mean look how odd these two verses are in this morning’s gospel reading?

Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 

Well did they believe – or not? And what?

Faith for most people is not an instant thing at all.

They may move from atheist (not believing that there is a God) to agnostic (not sure but maybe possible) to some kind of belief in God. The writer to the Hebrews puts it this way:

Heb 11:6  And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. NIV (Or them that diligently seek him. KJV)

You have to start somewhere. Take the risk and then seek him! Pursue him!

They did. They believed before they understood it all. Some of them like Thomas were more tactile and concrete – wanting to stick his fingers in the wounds. Did they hurt then? Someone asked if that was the reason why Jesus said to Mary in verse 17. A fair question from someone exploring a brand new story. I mean if they were to read the verse it would be difficult for a new enquirer:

17 Jesus said, ‘Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”’

The average not-yet Christian wouldn’t really know what that’s all about. And the content old hands in the church would say with a tut-tut “what a silly question”. Not really silly. I mean here’s one that boggles the seasoned religious person’s mind: what was Jesus wearing when he was resurrected? Great question. I have no idea – I only know that he got out of his grave clothes and some soldier won his clothes by throwing dice.

We as seasoned Christians are so far removed from people who don’t know this story – I think we’d be surprised by their questions.

I mean resurrected from the dead – pretty different hey!

I’ve only met one guy who was dead and then raised up. He was certified dead and in a mortuary for two days. This Nigerian pastor was fascinating. He apparently couldn’t eat solids after that. His story was so interesting.

The truth is that many people struggle to accept that kind of story.

If you find it all to hard – try this.

Credo ut intelligam is the phrase coined by St Anselm of Canterbury some 1000 years after this event. “I believe so that I may understand”.

Stick your neck out and trust God as you explore a real relationship with Him.

Much later than Anselm of Canterbury I recall Cliff Richard singing a song called QUESTIONS in the movie “Two a Penny”: “If you are real Lord be real to me”.

Have a look at it – it takes you back a few years!

Yep in 1967 he was pretty dishy hey. Apparently I looked pretty good too years back. Here are the words then:

How to start? What to say

I don’t remember ever feeling this way

Can it be true? Does anyone care?

Is it only make-believe or are You really there

Is there a chance I’ve been missing the best?

Could it be life is more than a guess?

I’m afraid to let go, yet I long to see

If You are real, be real to me

If You are real, be real to me

Okay, supposing I were to come to You

Not saying I will, just supposing I do

Would I have to be, just another guy

Two a penny’s not for me, it just won’t satisfy

I’m just confused, by candles and prayers

I just need to know if You are there

Show me the way, for I long to see

If You are real, be real to me

If You are real, be real to me

This Jesus is immensely interested in our lives today. And He IS real. And those who cry out to him can find the reality of his presence and friendship today.

The truth is He’s been sidelined by society. More than one whole generation would find coming into any church a peculiar kind of thing to do.

So when we do this – we are clearly counter-cultural.

How do we get them to meet Jesus and hear him call their name? That’s the trick. The catch. The challenge. The task. It may involve going out to them rather than getting them into our churches.  This is such an exciting message. It’s through Jesus that we do become children of God. So what we read from Paul to the Romans at the beginning becomes real to us:

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. (Romans 8:15-16)

We know that we know. It’s an inner work of the Holy Spirit. He makes God real to us and the knowledge of who we are. We need the fulness and power of the Holy Spirit!

And from there the rest actually falls into place. This life is not one big mistake – this earth is not something that we need to get off at all costs. We don’t have to give up on it all.

We can embrace life – take it on fully! He can be real by His Holy Spirit!

By the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead we are made alive in Christ – and we are strengthened and guided in our job on earth – to be people who share this amazing news!

Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again! In the meantime nothing beats knowing him.

This is a great message! He is risen! He is real. He can be real to us. We must pass it on!

Amen.

Sunday sermon 17 March – poured out at his feet

Reading: John 12:1-8

Joh 12:1  Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.

Joh 12:2  Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him.

Joh 12:3  Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

Joh 12:4  But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected,

Joh 12:5  “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.”

Joh 12:6  He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

Joh 12:7  “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.

Joh 12:8  You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

Message

We are moving rapidly towards Easter.

Jesus is with his closest friends, at a special dinner given in his honour.

In this private place Mary performs and intimate and moving act – pouring this costly perfume on Jesus’ feet, and wiping them with her hair.

I’ve only had my feet washed once by a fellow Christian. It was here in Browns Bay actually, and it was very moving. This act of sacrifice is more intense than foot washing.

This act of sacrifice gives us an insight into the real commitment of discipleship – the commitment of sacrificial service and love for Jesus, manifested in generous and risky giving. It’s an act of following Jesus and surrendering to Jesus.

One writer has suggested this: In this context Mary and the nard perfume become the father in the parable of the prodigal — extravagant love incarnated.

This is merely the extravagant love of the Father in last week’s prodigal son parable – manifest in extravagant love of a follower for Jesus.This act goes way beyond the washing of feet.

It reminds me of the hymn so well loved:

Take my life, and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee;
Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise.

The verse which goes like this:

Take my silver and my gold;
Not a mite would I withhold;
Take my intellect, and use
Every power as Thou shalt choose,
Every power as Thou shalt choose.

– is sometimes left out so not as to embarrass people. The truth is the writer of the hymn (Frances Havergal) used to meditate on it each Advent (the season when she wrote it) and came under the conviction of giving her jewellery and treasures to the Church Missionary Society of the day. (The same society that supported Samuel Marsden who brought the gospel to New Zealand on Christmas day 1815).

The hymn ends with

Take my love; my Lord, I pour
At Thy feet its treasure-store.
Take myself, and I will be
Ever, only, all for Thee,
Ever, only, all for Thee.

The value of the gift poured on a rabbi’s feet – is staggering. A year’s wages. The Judas-reaction is quite predicable and we see this kind of reaction sometimes in churches which decide to become gloriously generous in giving money away. People want to see where the money goes! To control their gift – forgetting that when you give a gift it is no longer yours!

Remember that Judas was the treasurer. Of course when you read Mark and Matthew’s account of this it was not just Judas who struggled with the extent of the gift’s value.

MARY’S  MOTIVATION?

1. Perhaps gratitude to the Lord Jesus for raising her brother Lazarus.

At the time her sister Martha was quite grumpy wasn’t she? Remember her saying:

John 11:21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

They go on to talk about the resurrection – a wonderful passage where Martha professes her belief in the resurrection.

Of Mary we read:

John 11:32 –When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

She also was at his feet that time when Martha played the irritated sister. We read:

Luke 10:39  She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.  And in the next verse we read: But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” 

Mary was in the right place. I think all this is about being a disciple of Jesus. Sitting at his feet, having faith in Him, and worshiping him. Her life was poured out at his feet – and so too this sacrificial intimate gift of worship. We forget that the word “worship” in the New Testament means to bow down and kiss the feet of another.

If you want to follow the church’s motto or mission statement here in Browns Bay, which is – building loving communities that help people find and follow Jesus – we too  have to sit at Jesus’ feet, listen to him, and get intimate. Wherever you are and wherever you worship, this is the key for you too!

Yes gratitude for the resurrection of Lazarus is a possibility – but it was also about her devotion and love for her Lord. And there’s more:

2. Lavish generosity is part of this story.

I think Jesus is not just speaking to Judas here. He’s speaking to us too.

Listen to verse 7 again: Joh 12:7  “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.”

This is not the anointing on the head of a king – rather the anointing for burial. Something beautiful that preempts a more beautiful and yet grotesque sacrifice for us.

How can I make this real today?

Something like this – flowers at a funeral are one thing. But sacrificial love for a person while they are alive – that’s something else altogether.

Verse 7 is challenging. If it was intended for the day of his burial – why then was it poured out on this day?

Perhaps it was a powerful sign – in addition to lavish love and generosity – the cost of discipleship in giving up everything for Jesus – a sign of his impending death. The process had begun. In fact, it began the moment he preached in the synagogue on the day they tried to throw him over a cliff. And – as we heard on Tuesday – when we talked about the day when he healed the man at the Pool of Bethesda – his enemies were always going to be after him. Death was always lurking.

We must not be derailed by the last sentence about the poor. The focus is on the moment on this day – between Mary and Jesus.  Jesus us saying – never mind what could be done with the money Judas (and Robin, Ian, Janet, Susan and George – whoever we are here today).

Listen again to Jesus’ words:  John 12:8 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

It simply means that there will be plenty of opportunities to help the poor in the future for his disciples. And they did exactly that in the early church – they sold assets to make sure that no one went without in the community. They fasted on certain days so they could make sure others did not go hungry. And we need to do this today as well.

“Leave her alone,” is the word we need to hear. This is a worship moment.

Christians – take heed here. If people worship with the hands in the air or flat on their faces – if they generously give to Jesus and do radical things – stay out of it. It’s a holy moment and has nothing to do with you. Our responsibility is to sort ourselves out before God. 🙂

This woman – Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus – was ministering to Jesus in an intimate way – a profound way – and we can learn from this.

He has not finished with us yet. For some we have not even begun. We started last week as prodigals standing before the Lord admitting we were lost and now found.

Let’s take many more steps closer in our intimate worship of Jesus the resurrected Lord and Christ.

What would you do? What could you give?

He’s not finished with us – in worship and radical devotion, in extravagant generosity, in sacrificial service, in compassion for the poor, in love for Jesus and one another!

Amen.