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Easter Sunday Message – 21 April 2019: Their words seemed like rubbish…

Readings: Acts 10:34-43; Luke 24:1-12

Key verse: Luk 24:11  “But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.” (NIV)

“καὶ ἐφάνησαν ἐνώπιον αὐτῶν ὡσεὶ λῆρος τὰ ῥήματα αὐτῶν, καὶ ἠπίστουν αὐταῖς.” (GNT – TR)

“…but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” (ESV)

MESSAGE:

I wonder if you’ve ever been “dissed”? It’s an interesting word. It means to be treated with disrespect. I discovered it to be a popular word when working with teenagers. It’s crept into the English language since the 1980s – through hip hop music I am told. Back in the 1920s it meant you were disconnected – like a telephone not working. Something loose in the head. Either way it isn’t a very nice thing – to be disrespected – or dismissed. Or disempowered.

An amazing thing happens in this story of the life of Jesus – through his teachings, death and especially his resurrection. The people who were usually disempowered at the time were taken seriously – lifted above their status in life. Galatians 3:28 sums it up well:

Gal 3:26  You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, Gal 3:27  for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. Gal 3:28  There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Gal 3:29  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

So – there are women in the group from the beginning. They would have been “dissed” by people in those days:

  • Disempowered mainly,
  • Dismissed if they had an opinion.
  • Discarded in divorce if a man got bored with them.

But they are there in Jesus’ team. From early on.

And on Easter Sunday in Luke’s account they are the first witnesses.

The “dissing” continues sadly. Even though there are at least three women named as witnesses.

The translators are kind to us – keeping things polite. In the NIV we read: Luk 24:11  But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Nonsense.

The word is LEYROS. It’s used once only in the New Testament. Here.

It’s translated as an idle tale, nonsense, foolishness, and a fairy tale. Its deeper meaning is more crass. Vulgar. “What a load of…”

And that’s the response you get today to when you tell people that a dead man got up again.

Telling the Christian story today in this generation will get you “dissed” too.

People will think you’re nuts. Loony. Weird. Strange. Daft.

But that is okay.

  • Seeing the impossible.
  • Believing the unlikely.
  • Having hope for the hopeless.
  • Courage in the face of death because you know that it’s not the last word – well let them think you’re mad.

It’s a mad but glad tale – that someone who was dead was raised up

  • That he appeared in locked rooms
  • That he cooked a barbeque of fish for them on the beach
  • That he restored a man who denied him three times and gave him an amazing and exciting job to do
  • That he showed up over 40 days to people – up to 500 at one time, meaning they weren’t all hallucinating
  • That he sent them with a message of good news to the world
  • That he promised never to leave them
  • That they were to wait to for the gift of His Spirit – who would empower them to do the work given

Other writers help us to make sense of the story. Luke records the words of Peter in Acts 10:

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.”

Those who dismiss this story and your testimony of your love for Christ – this risen saviour – will discover that he is judge and the end of all things.

This resurrection account is central in the story of the New testament and the Christian life through the centuries – we speak to, worship, praise, and hear from this Jesus.

Paul writing to the Corinthians prioritises it like this writing to the Corinthians: 1 Co 15:3  For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 1Co 15:4  that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,

And later he says:1Co 15:42  So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 1Co 15:43  it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 1Co 15:44  it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.

What great news is this for us.

Death is not particularly attractive. We grow cold and begin to decompose quite quickly. Like Lazarus who had been dead four days, well quoting the King James Bible, – in John 11:39, one of those words only used once – the phrase is “he stinketh”

Being raised imperishable, in glory, in power as a spiritual body sounds wonderful.

Going back to Luke 24 – where the women are dismissed, Peter seems to have some redeeming factors. Luk 24:12  Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

He went to look – and gave it some thought. The penny drops eventually. And Jesus appears to him with three questions about his love – as he restores his failed life – because he had dissed Jesus three times – disowned him. He does it over breakfast – that restorative chat.

Hopefully people today will investigate this amazing story as well. If you haven’t figured it out yet – I encourage you to have a closer look. You should while you can – it’s to late when you die and people will say of you if you hang around too long –  “he stinketh’.

Today is a good day to investigate this empty tomb, and to put your faith in Christ the risen Lord. Because the witness of those women was not an idle tale, but a brand new truth to change the world. Death was defeated!

Scripture often says this: now is the hour of salvation. Put your trust in  him today. It won’t only guarantee a new resurrection body in the future. It will mean a real relationship with the risen Jesus today. A friend and Saviour, a guide and provider for you to depend on.

Amen

 

21 April 2019 Easter Sunday Sunrise Service – Peace be with you

Reading:

John 20:19-22  On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”  And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

Message

With Anzac Day coming up – there’s a lot of talk about security and keeping the peace. And at a personal level there are many people who don’t experience peace in their lives. Anxiety tends to crowd peace out in this day and age.

What I like about this Easter account in John 20 is how Jesus greeted these fearful, distressed and confused disciples with a greeting of peace. In this short passage it happens twice.

I wonder what peace means to you?

Here are some of the things that peace does not mean:

  1. Peace does not mean we can pretend that war or conflict or failure has never happened.
  2. Peace does not mean that there need be no apology or remorse.
  3. Peace does not mean there should be no accountability for things that are criminally wrong.

Pretending that something didn’t happen is the worst thing. It makes people feel devalued.

In every part of life people abuse both power and position in very damaging ways. Historians looking back on World War 1 especially can see how foolish the worlds leaders were in taking the world to war. And how often don’t you hear people praying for leaders today to becoming peace makers. Leadership is probably one of the most important areas of life in every arena – good leaders often determine the fate of nations and the world.

At that first Easter it was the leaders who were in trouble. After the terrible execution of Jesus – and the failure of his disciples – particularly Peter – it must have tough when Jesus kept appearing in their lives.

In John 21 the peace making continues. They had gone back to what they knew best – they went fishing.

And Jesus meets them there – in their retreat to the old world they knew before they met him. He takes them back to their better days as disciples by doing the miraculous fish thing again – and he gets their attention. Listen to the tone of this conversation:

Joh 21:5  Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.”  Joh 21:6  He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. (ESV)

Then he invites them to breakfast. It’s a great example for us – eating together is the best place to sit and really share one’s life with another, and to have those difficult conversations.

  • The details are there – the thoughtfulness
  • He has the Barbeque going – he has fish and bread already.
  • He meets their basic needs –while allowing them to catch an abundance of fish as well.
  • And then proceeds to restore Peter. Peter who had denied him three times publicly. Those denials had to be addressed for him to come to a place of peace.

And by the way – if you don’t get how serious this was – imagine your best friend, or loved one being arrested and executed for no good reason. And you denied knowing him or her. ( hymn: Do your friends despise, forsake you?)

Jesus asks Peter – three times –

“Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Three times – one for each of the three terrible denials. He uses Simon his old name – meaning a reed. And not the new name he’d given him – Peter – the rock. Peter would have understood the implication. At hearing the third question we are told that Peter was hurt. Ironic – considering how he’d treated Jesus.

I do think he understood true remorse and sorrow.

Luke records that he had wept bitterly when he failed.

And Jesus fed him at that breakfast. That act of kindness was part of the restorative process. Three times he responded to Jesus – “I love you”. Three times Jesus gave him the pastoral care job that was to be his – “feed my lambs – tend my sheep – feed my sheep”.

I love reading Peter’s words as an older and wiser person:

In 1Pe_1:2 he says in his greeting:  (to God’s elect )who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

He goes on to say in 1Pe 1:3  Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 1Pe 1:4  and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you,

He also writes in his second letter: 2 Pet 1:2 Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

Later he writes: 2Pe 3:13  But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. 2Pe_3:14  So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.

There is an interesting end to this passage.  Jesus gives Peter the good news that he will live until old age – but also predicts his death. Like the other disciples – Peter would give up his life for Jesus at some point. I think Peter would have been at peace about this too.

This peace is something that Jesus gives us. Do you have it? He also said this:

Joh_14:27  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Joh_16:33  “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

And returning to today’s passage: Joh_20:21  Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

We need peace to take the gospel of His peace to others – and to be peacemakers. And we need his peace in abundance.

Receive the peace of Christ today wherever you are.

Amen,

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.

 

14 April 2017 – Good Friday: Windows on the cross of Jesus.

READING: Luke 23:32-47

MESSAGE 

We’re going to carry that cross after we’re done here today. It’s a fair weight, but not full size.

We had a volunteer up on it last Friday. A young girl. It was about her size.

No nails. No ropes. She was just standing on the top of her chair with her hands in the right place and her feet where they would be resting on a platform – so that she could push herself up to breathe.

I asked her how she was feeling at the end of the reflection on the cross – and she said – “tired”.

Jesus’ cross would have been a bit bigger. About 7 to 9 feet tall (2,1m to 2,7m), and would have weighed up to 300 pounds (136kg)

  • It had to bear his full weight – which would pull on those nails. (And you thought a thorn in your foot was bad.)
  • His thorns were pressed down into his head.

What is your response to seeing Jesus on the cross?

  • We heard a creative narrative describing Jesus’ Mother’s response.
  • And the thoughts of the centurion.

What about us?

The cross was a horrible symbol of Roman power and control. if you had a relative or friend nailed on one, it would have acted as a warning to you and your family to behave and submit.

It would have been enough to give you nightmares and probably post-traumatic stress disorder.

  • That horrible symbol of torture – we wear in shiny gold or silver.
  • And as Christians we look at it with gratitude and hope, praise and thanksgiving.

Why? What happened with this one crucifixion amongst many thousands more – that made this possible? That this Friday should be called “Good”?

There are many ways to see the cross.

Like an orchestra with many parts, they all combine together in an amazing declaration of the love of God. Perhaps today a quintet is enough – just five of them:

  • Perhaps foremost in our thinking is punishment for our sins. That Jesus did this in our place. Although this is understood better in cultures that favour crime and punishment. We sing songs these days about the wrath of God being satisfied. Some people struggle with this – trying to balance it with His love in John 3:16 and 17. Believing that His son being sent motivated by love and not vengeance. That he was sent to save the world (which means the people), and not to condemn them. Of course, we should not be surprised at God’s righteous anger. We share some of that at times, although our motives are not always clear.

Related to that is the broader question of justice. The difference in our human justice system is that the people who have been wronged are often angry about the outcome and often want convicted criminals to pay more. Whereas the judges are not emotional at all. They are all about the balance and proportion of justice. Parents have to be careful here that they don’t punish children out of anger. Our emotional anger is very different from God’s righteous anger.

  • Shame and honour are another window on the cross. For some cultures, shame and honour are a bigger issue than punishment and wrath. When it comes to concepts like honour, many of us don’t understand honour cultures at all. Sin brings dishonour on us. And only Jesus can pay that debt. It’s an old theory of satisfaction for sin developed by an archbishop of Canterbury a thousand years ago. Jesus took our shame – it was a shameful business being pinned up there, and often naked too.

He was shamed for us – he takes our shame – and he removes our shame. The scripture speaks of our cleansing from sin and with that shame is removed.  For example 1Peter 2:6 – For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” 

  • Forgiveness is part of the package. It goes without saying. Our sins are dealt with because he dies for them. We are reconciled with God – the blood of Jesus cleansing us from our sins – and we experience this amazing mercy through faith in Jesus. We don’t have to feel guilty any longer. With forgiveness, we become friends of God. Paul reminds in his important summary in 1 Corinthians 15:

1Co 15:3  For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scripture…

What scripture is he referring to here? Not just some proof texts, but the huge expectation in the Old Testament of someone coming who would deal with sin and bring forgiveness once and for all. Isaiah 53 gives us a glimpse of this:

Isa 53:5  But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. Isa 53:6  We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

  •  Then there is simply the change that happenswe are transformed. Paul talks about this whole process in Romans – our sin has consequences – how Jesus has dealt with those – how we are justified by faith – how there is no condemnation for us who are in Christ Jesus– and then in chapter 12 he uses that important word “therefore”

Rom 12:1  Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Rom 12:2  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

We are transformed – changed to be like Jesus. And that is not just about us as individuals – it influences our community life.

  • And so amongst other benefits of the cross and resurrection of Jesus is the creation of a new people. Last but not least. This is about us being here together today.

 Most of us who are not Jewish, says Paul in Ephesians 2, were… without hope and without God in the world. Eph 2:13  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.

He goes on:

Eph 2:14  For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, Eph 2:15  by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, Eph 2:16  and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 

When we live out all these benefits in a community of reconciliation, that community includes people that would have normally been separated from each other.

Paul also reminds us in Galatians 3:28 Gal 3:28  There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

And Jesus’ prayer for unity reinforces this: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,  that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:2–21)

This is an essential part our witness today when we gather as one people.

OUR RESPONSE TODAY

There are many more consequences to this death on the cross. So many books written – so many aspects and angles. Like that huge pink diamond sold earlier this month in Hong Kong which took nearly two years to cut, it has many facets and surfaces.

Like Mary, the centurion, any other characters in that Easter event, and people through the ages – we all have to respond one way or the other.

There is no escaping the demands the cross of Christ makes on us – to take note and react – and to take action ourselves.

How amazing that this one death does all this.

What has made the difference?

Do we have to wait until Sunday to find out?

Well no. Had this been any other death, then we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Unless we were tracing our family tree and found a relative who had been crucified, or some DNA connection that would make us think about our forefathers.

This is different – because of Sunday. The third day. The empty tomb.

The many appearances of Jesus to people. His eating food.

The fish barbeque on the beach.

The appearance of Jesus in locked rooms.

The holes in his hands and feet.

This is different – because of His unique position as the very first person to genuinely be resurrected. Yes, Lazarus and others were raised from the dead. They would have died from natural causes – probably in old age.

This Jesus – the author and finisher of our faith – is the first in the family – and we will follow. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1Co 15:20) 

  • We can’t speak about the cross without rejoicing in the resurrection.
  • And we can’t think of new life, resurrection life, without marveling at the amazing love of Christ – shown on the cross.

Paul’s words in Romans 5 help us end today:  Rom 5:7  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. Rom 5:8  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (NIV84)

We thank Him for the cross today. Words can barely express our gratitude for His love.

Amen.

 

Sermon, 5 June 2016 – resurrection; then, and now, and then….

READINGS: 1 Kings 17:17-24; Luke 7:11-17

SERMON  

Last week it was the faith of the centurion we looked at – his faith led to the healing of his servant.

The very next story in Luke – and there is no faith to be seen.

  • It’s a funeral.
  • It’s grim.
  • There’s a widow and her only son has died.

The dead guy can’t have faith – and there is no expectation of faith at a funeral. Just pain and sorrow – deep grief.

The people around would have known about Elijah raising a widow’s son. Once word got out they would have joined the dots – here was another prophet empowered by God.

But put yourself in the story.

This is 5 miles away from Nazareth. 25 miles away from Capernaum where we were last week. Quite  a long walk really.

The death would have been very recent. They buried their dead within 24 hours. Not like our week’s mourning at most here. Or the Swedish custom of a couple of weeks between death and the funeral.

So the grief is still raw – this is a child – an only son of a widow – it’s a disaster from an economic survival point of view.

The professional mourners would have been there. Wailing.

Don’t think that’s a bizarre custom either. They cried loudly so that the real mourners would not be the centre of attention as they genuinely wept.

It was all healthy but raw.

And along comes this prophet like Elijah. Except things are different. Elijah knew the family and he was known to them. In this account Jesus didn’t.

  • Uninvited.
  • A stranger who walks in.
  • A crowd following him intersects with the funeral crowd.
  • Imagine someone doing that at a funeral you’re at. Unusual to say the least.

He touches the funeral bier. The coffin – which would have been an open kind of frame. It certainly brought the procession to a halt.

The key line is verse 13: Luk 7:13 When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”

What a strange thing to say. Of course she would be crying. Grief specialists would say to her: “let it out dear. It’s okay to cry!”

  • It comes from compassion. In fact, a better translation is probably this:

13 When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” (NRSV)

  • It also comes from hope – and knowledge of what was possible.

He knew he could reverse this. He knew his ultimate destiny. He knew that resurrection would ultimately change the way we see the world.

I remember Nicky Gumbel talking about how interesting a person Jesus would have been to have around.

  • At a wedding.
  • At a picnic.
  • When out fishing.
  • During a storm at sea.
  • At a funeral.

The text is very matter of fact. Remember also that only Luke tells us this story. It’s not in the other gospel accounts. Listen again:

Luk 7:14 Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!”
Luk 7:15 The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.
Luk 7:16 They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.”
Luk 7:17 This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.

WHAT ABOUT US

What do you make of this?

At a factual and historical level, it’s Jesus showing his hand to the crowds. The word certainly would have got out, as was the case with the raising of Lazarus. In Lazarus’ case it was a nail in his own coffin as his enemies were provoked to plot his death.

There are two points to take home today really.

1. COMPASSION

For us today it is a reminder of His compassion – shown in so many other gospel accounts.

  • The hungry – he had compassion on them and fed them.
  • The sick – he healed them.
  • Blind beggars who called out to him – in compassion he healed them.
  • And two great stories in the bible – the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal son – are both about compassionate people – the Samaritan and the Father in the stories.

It has to speak to us about compassion – we at least have to be like that – from deep within. The word itself – compassion – in the original New Testament Language encompassed the bowels, heart, lungs, liver or kidneys – all seen in those days as the seat of human emotion.

It gets us here (point to gut).

Are we really compassionate? the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria, said this: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”

Not a bad motto. To live by – not just to have on the wall or on your facebook page.

2. WOULD THAT JESUS SHOW UP IN ALL KINDS OF PLACES.

I bet no one afterwards at the funeral tea was resentful that this strange rabbi gate-crashed their ceremony.

“Who’s that bloke ‘ey stopping the procession?”

I’ve been watching too much British television I think.

Jesus is really keen to walk into the lives of our families and friends – he brings a whole new perspective on our sickness, pain, griefs and our dying. And our living!

And he really wants to walk into our mess too.

It’s ultimately about resurrection. Not about disembodied souls going to heaven. But about a whole new life at the end of it all.

And the same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead – the Holy Spirit – is at work in us. (Romans 8:11).

That resurrection life begins now – we are made alive spiritually. He still breaks through into our messy world by His Holy Spirit.

Nicky Gumble tells the great story about a man who got really carried away in a very dull staid church. He was lifting his hands and shouting “hallelujah”- whereupon the Church warden came up to him at tapped him on the shoulder saying “we don’t do that here!” The man said excitedly – “but I’ve found religion”. The warden replied – “you didn’t get it here”.

If Jesus can walk into a funeral procession and turn things around, he can surely walk into our situations and change things too – bring new life and hope.

Next week when our guests are here there will be opportunities for us to receive prayer and really hear from the Lord. I encourage you to bring a friend along.

God still shows up in our lives. He changes us to make us compassionate.

He fills us with hope too – which is an infectious and helpful force in a pretty hopeless world. In fact, hope is the basis for our witnessing. Peter writes this:

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…

Hopeful people are joyful! Happy! There would nothing gloomy at that moment when the dead boy was returned to his mother alive and well.

Amen.

Sunday 8 May 2016, Easter 7 – Ascension Sunday

Readings: John 17:20-26; Luke 24:44-53

Message:

ascension

I love this cartoon. It shows up every year somewhere.

You’ll only really appreciate it fully if you’ve had a child with ADD grow up in your house.

I suspect the whole church may have Ascension Deficit Disorder.

  • We’re often missing it.
  • Missing the point.
  • Not seeing clearly how significant the Ascension is.

Thursday – Ascension Day – came and went – I mistakenly thought someone might pop in at church to pray sometime through the morning.

We miss the point of Jesus being Messiah King.

We had our Messy Church evening on Friday and looked at the 10 commandments. And we tried to get the kids tell us what mom’s ten big rules were, and what dad’s were. You know the drill for mom – make your bed, clean your teeth, go to the toilet before you go to bed. And dad’s rules – which include switch off that TV and less computer time please.

I suggested that the most important rule for dads to teach their kids is simply this: LOVE YOUR MOM. And of course God’s ten big rules include HONOUR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.

Jesus’ big rule is actually this – I AM MESSIAH KING. He is the “I am”. Look to me!

The whole of the Bible – all of life – everything that we do that has any meaning at all – has to be seen through that lens.

It’s like going to Specsavers. When you get these glasses on – it all makes total sense.

In Luke 24 (and I think you should  read the whole of this chapter) – in all the engagements with the disciples after the resurrection – especially the Emmaus walk – there is an attention deficit problem. That’s why he says to them in verse 25:

“How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Luk 24:26  Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” Luk 24:27  And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (It’s quite direct – and not very pastoral!).

Note that he speaks about himself here as the Christ – the Messiah – which means the King.

Here he says that the whole Bible is really about him.

  • When you start at creation – you have to recognise John 1 – that nothing was made that was not made through Jesus.
  • If you look at Moses – you have to see that Jesus is the perfect law giver.
  • If you look at any of the prophets – Jesus surpasses them all in clarity of message as he speaks God’s word – because he is the Word of God supreme.
  • If you look at any of the Old Testament characters – they are pointing to Jesus. Joshua shares his name but Jesus really brings us to the promised land. Joseph forgives his brothers – but Jesus forgives us all.

In fact, John Calvin’s most profound and moving writing has to be what he pens about “Christ in All the Scriptures, Christ for All Our Needs” in a preface to a translation of the New Testament in 1535. He puts it like this:

For, this is eternal life; to know one, only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he has sent, whom he has established as the beginning, the middle, and the end of our salvation.

He [Christ] is Isaac, the beloved Son of the Father who was offered as a sacrifice, but nevertheless did not succumb to the power of death.

He is Jacob the watchful shepherd, who has such great care for the sheep which he guards.

He is the good and compassionate brother Joseph, who in his glory was not ashamed to acknowledge his brothers, however lowly and abject their condition.

He is the great sacrificer and bishop Melchizedek, who has offered an eternal sacrifice once for all.

He is the sovereign lawgiver Moses, writing his law on the tables of our hearts by his Spirit.

He is the faithful captain and guide Joshua, to lead us to the Promised Land.

He is the victorious and noble king David, bringing by his hand all rebellious power to subjection.

He is the magnificent and triumphant king Solomon, governing his kingdom in peace and prosperity.

He is the strong and powerful Samson, who by his death has overwhelmed all his enemies.

He goes on to say:

If follows that every good thing we could think or desire is to be found in this same Jesus Christ alone. For, he was sold, to buy us back; captive, to deliver us; condemned, to absolve us; he was made a curse for our blessing, sin offering for our righteousness; marred that we may be made fair; he died for Our life; so that by him fury is made gentle, wrath appeased, darkness turned into light, fear reassured, despisal despised, debt cancelled, labour lightened, sadness made merry, misfortune made fortunate, difficulty easy, disorder ordered, division united, ignominy ennobled, rebellion subjected, intimidation intimidated, ambush uncovered, assaults assailed, force forced back, combat combated, war warred against, vengeance avenged, torment tormented, damnation damned, the abyss sunk into the abyss, hell transfixed, death dead, mortality made immortal.

Isn’t that  brilliant!

You have to begin to see the victorious Christ – the Messiah King – at His ascension.

When you see the ascension – you see the resurrection. You see the resurrection – you see the cross. You see the cross – and you see human sin. You see human sin and you see the fall of man. You see that and you understand the mess of the world and the need for hope. See that – and you see the need for a Saviour – one who can rescue us. Then you end up back at Christmas – with the birth of Jeshua – meaning “God saves”. You see that and you see people in relationship with God. You see that – and you see the point of life. You see the relationship people can have with God – and you see a better world where people get on and love like Jesus did.

And when you see that – you give thanks to God and worship the risen ascended Jesus – and not something else. All glory goes to Jesus! Not unto us! And it puts the ten commandments into perspective too – One God only, no idols, keeping His name holy – and keeping His day – this is all for Jesus too.

It’s all about Messiah – King Jesus.

He’s done all this – and he is the One who has to be at the centre of our lives.

Tim Keller – an American preacher in New York – talks about the deficit we have in our thinking about Christ the King in this way.

He tells the story of a British preacher John Guest who ends up living in American and visits Philadelphia and a revolutionary war museum – where he sees a sign that made him realise he really was in a different country.

It was from the time of the American revolution and on the wall in a pub or tavern. And it said this: “We serve no sovereign here”.

Keller goes on to say that democracy – and American democracy has got to be the most fascinating type in the world – has been described by C S Lewis as medicine and not food.

In Britain and Europe – and indeed the dominions like New Zealand where we are, Australia – and Canada – people still understand what it means to serve to a sovereign. In Asia people would see the benefit of respecting authority.

But not in America. America has sold us the idea of individual freedom more than any other power or philosophy. We all believe we have the right to veto everything.

If democracy is medicine and not food – what really feeds us?

Jesus hints at what really satisfies: John 4:34 – “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.

C S Lewis suggests that we were made to be ruled. And if we don’t acknowledge Jesus as King (as Tim Keller puts it) we will serve somebody. Or something. Human nature is such that If it doesn’t get food it will gobble poison. Keller suggests simply:

  • Obey him – treat Him as King.
  • Trust him – faith means trust at a basic level.
  • Rely on Him – prayer if anything is talking to him about our need of his help and support and purpose. Don’t say you believe in Him and depend on your career – or your family – or your stuff – to give you worth and meaning in life.
  • Treat him as a king in prayer; expect much – John Newton has a hymn that captures this well: Thou art coming to a King, Large petitions with thee bring; For His grace and power are such, None can ever ask too much; None can ever ask too much.

In the light of this, Jesus’ departing words make sense. Listen again:

Luk 24:44  Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you–that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Luk 24:45  Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, Luk 24:46  and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, Luk 24:47  and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  

The whole Bible story – salvation history as we know it since the story of Adam and Eve where God is a missional God looking for Adam – is about Jesus the Messiah King. It all points to him and focusses on Him. And it will end with Him too when he comes again.

And the disciples clearly had their work cut out for them –  telling this story. So Jesus says:

Luk 24:48  You are witnesses of these things. Luk 24:49  And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” Luk 24:50  Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. Luk 24:51  While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. Luk 24:52  And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; Luk 24:53  and they were continually in the temple blessing God.  

The story of Luke goes on in volume 2 – what we know as the book of Acts. They are to wait those long ten days for the promised Holy Spirit. We’ll be here Tuesday and next Sunday to consider that.

But for today – take this home. The gospel ends with them worshipping Him – bowing to a Sovereign King. And this King who is so reliable and worth serving and obeying – is doing what He always does – we see him in verse 50 and 51 – blessing them.

Let Him bless you as you take Him anew as Messiah King.

Amen.

Sunday sermon 4 October 2015 – dealing with the voices

MESSAGE

Psalm 55:4-8, 22 Page 892; 1 Peter 5:1-11 Page 1892; Luke 12 :25-34 Page 1618 (NIV)

CAN YOU REALLY FLY AWAY?

Let’s listen to a musical introit from Mendelsohn’s “O for the wings of a dove”  – the second part of “Hear my prayer”.  The first part of “Hear my prayer” is also from of Psalm 55, revealing the turmoil and the anguish of the writer who is calling on God for help in the face of the godless and various enemies. “O for the wings of a dove” is part of the prayer and seen as a way to ecape.

The singers are The Choirboys (2005) – a trio who were together for a short while.

In fact in Psalm 55 it is a close friend who has betrayed David. One of those worst disappointments. This is stuff that breaks your heart. Like betrayal in marriage. Divorce and separation. Or conflict of any sort that is too hard to bear.

The idea that one can escape with the wings of a dove is not a bad one.

Go off into the wilderness. The desert fathers did that – shifted into a parallel zone to be connected with God in a deeper way – a conscious choice to be in that zone. For them the wilderness was a place of solitude and solitude.

We need that too – that ability to find a place of “repose” – restfulness and tranquillity – calm and peacefulness.

Our prayer life is part of that – plus our ability to zone out in other ways – through rest, music, reading and creative writing. Journal keeping – drawing – whatever works for us. For some its running!

IT’S IN THE RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD THAT THE PEACE IS FOUND

The impulsive apostle Peter – in his older wiser days when he stopped putting his foot into things – wrote this:

1Pe 5:6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 1Pe 5:7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

The Christians then were persecuted – many were dying for their faith too like today.

There is a way forward, says Peter. Rest in the Lord – cast your anxieties on him – because he cares for you.

Just as in Psalm 55:22 David grounds his trust in this faithful God too: Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you…

This being peaceful – “chillaxing” as the young people say today – is not a complacency however. The verse that follow make that very clear:

1Pe 5:8 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 1Pe 5:9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

There is a war on.

The Apostle Paul supports Peter in this idea of standing firm – in this locus classicus or key passage in the New Testament on spiritual battles:

Eph 6:10  Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.

Eph 6:11  Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.

Eph 6:12  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Eph 6:13  Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

Eph 6:14  Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,

Eph 6:15  and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.

Of course there is more – and this too is grounded in the word of God (remember our discussion last week about the two sides of the same coin?) and prayer through the Holy Spirit:

Eph 6:16  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.

Eph 6:17  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Eph 6:18  And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. 

JESUS REENFORCES THIS STANDING FIRM IN HIS TEACHING IN THE GOSPELS

  • This steadiness – ability to fly away into a safe zone…
  • The fear, worry and anxiety we deal with – is to be left with God. They are distractions in the big picture of the battle for truth – the Truth of God, His Kingdom, and his desire and purpose for the world.

Yes – this is true! Listen again to the links in the readings today:

  • Psalm 55:22 “Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you…”
  • 1 Peter 5:7 “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

Jesus says this too elsewhere:

Joh 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

And in today’s reading from Luke 12:

Luk 12:25  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

Luk 12:26  Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

He’s really saying – cut the c**p! This obsession with stuff! And your needs in the consumer Christian cult we all get sucked into.

Luk 12:29  And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it.

Luk 12:30  For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them.

Luk 12:31  But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

Luk 12:32  “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.

Luk 12:33  Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.

Luk 12:34  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Your treasure in heaven is not really, primarily, about a bigger and better mansion that you invest in the sky (the idea that if you don’t you’ll just get a batch with bad/Asian/English/South African neighbours – or whatever matches your prejudice.) And don’t be anxious and fearful.

Luk 12:32  “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.

The Kingdom. Has been pleased to give you… Now! Its values – its economics. Its purpose for living – living out Kingdom values and standardsseeking the Kingdom above other things – bringing people into the Kingdom – investing your tithes (still 10%) into the work of the Kingdom through first and foremost the local church.  It’s about doing the works that God gives you.

Remember the women at the well story and sermon? When they went shopping and Jesus was able to get on with things? Remember the food debate? Here it is in John 4:

Joh 4:30  They came out of the town and made their way toward him.

Joh 4:31  Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”

Joh 4:32  But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”

Joh 4:33  Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”

Joh 4:34  “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.

His work was the very substance of his being. Obedience and redemption. These are bread and butter issues, if you like.

Jesus’ work was a war too.

When Jesus once healed on the Sabbath, they accused him of doing the work of Beelzebub – Lord of the flies. The devil. The Satan – is the correct way of talking about him. Here’s the passage in Matthew 12 this time:

Mat 12:24  But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.”

Mat 12:25  Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.

Mat 12:26  If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand?

Mat 12:27  And if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges.

Mat 12:28  But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

You can’t do his stuff – his work – unless you are steady – grounded – standing firm and alert – with your intelligence operatives doing their job.

Jesus’s work on earth ended on the cross. But the story didn’t end there. This is the Kingdom of the 3rd day. Resurrection. And giving the Spirit. And His intercession for us. And His coming again in the future to judge us all.

It’s what David didn’t live after – he lived before it. We live after the resurrection. We know the results of the real World Cup.

But David knew it was coming. He spoke of Messiah aka Christ:

Psa 110:1  Of David. A psalm. The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” 

When people asked Jesus this question, he referred to this. 

Mat 22:42  “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” “The son of David,” they replied.

Mat 22:43  He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says,

Mat 22:44  “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”‘

Mat 22:45  If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?”

Mat 22:46  No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.

SO HOW DO WE DO IT?

The wrestling in prayer is no easy task. Jesus had his time in the wilderness – but it was not a place of rest and refuge. It was a struggle with the voices that challenged his identity and destiny. (He was led there by the Spirit!)

And in the garden of Gethsemane too. He didn’t ask then to fly away like a dove.

He did pray this though:

(Mat 26:36  Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”

Mat 26:37  He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled.)

Mat 26:38  Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

Mat 26:39  Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

(Mat 26:40  Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter.

Mat 26:41  “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”)

Mat 26:42  He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

(Mat 26:43  When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy.)

Mat 26:44  So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.

In his temptations it was “If you are the son of God…”. In Gethsemane it was about facing the suffering and darkness of the sins of the world. It was being the Lamb of God – except unlike the lambs at Passover who had no idea what was coming – he knew exactly. And like David, he knew the betrayal of a close friend. He need to know in all this that he was the beloved Son of God. He needed the voice he heard at his baptism again – and his transfiguration. Here are the passages from the ESV:

Mat 3:16  And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him;

Mat 3:17  and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Mar 9:7  And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” 

WHAT ABOUT US?

Henri Nouwen put it like this:

“Many voices ask for our attention. There is a voice that says, ‘Prove that you are a good person.’ Another voice says, ‘You’d better be ashamed of yourself.’ There also is a voice that says, ‘Nobody really cares about you,’ and one that says, ‘Be sure to become successful, popular, and powerful.’

But underneath all these often very noisy voices is a still, small voice that says, ‘You are my Beloved, my favour rests on you.’ That’s the voice we need most of all to hear. To hear that voice, however, requires special effort; it requires solitude, silence, and a strong determination to listen. That’s what prayer is. It is listening to the voice that calls us ‘my Beloved.’” 

  • Music – helps you step out of the zone into his peace. It’s God’s gift.
  • Reflection – helps too, like meditation on his word.
  • Quietness – be still and know (Psalm 46) or Stillness.
  • In the face of terror – Escape like a dove to those safe places.
  • Standing firm – in the face of Terror – is in His strength alone.
  • Being strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.

This is us. Amen.

Receive the blessing – from the choirboys again:

Tuesday Church 14th April 2015 – Testifying to the resurrection

Readings: Acts 4:31-37; John 3:7-17

Message

In the time of Jesus people lived under the tyranny of the Roman Empire. They were taxed by Rome, ruled by Rome, controlled by Rome and Roman soldiers.

It would be like having an army from another country taking over control of our lives. Imagine Australian soldiers taking over here – watching us all at every moment. Perish the thought. Especially if they could make you carry their packs for a mile at random. And if they were crucifying people outside New World Shop as a warning to us to behave.

You can imagine that someone would want to overthrow those Aussies and send them packing. And there would probably be some group who would train in the hills somewhere and plot to overthrow the oppressive occupying army. Singing “God defend New Zealand” would be banned by the oppressors, but people would sing it in secret, and honour the kiwi flag.

In Jesus’ time there were all kinds of people who took on the Romans. Lots of them were arrested and crucified. Look at Barabbas as an example.

Most of those young Jews who were regarded as Messiahs died by crucifixion. They were actually expected to wage war or terrorism against the Roman army. When they died, one of their followers would probably have taken their place, or found another messianic leader prepared for battle. Judas Iscariot was possibly a member of a group of these zealots who carried daggers. They were called dagger-men or sicarii. They carried sicae or small daggers under their cloaks and bumped people off.

Jesus is the only young Jew who was hailed as a Messiah – who was resurrected after crucifixion. The resurrection sets him apart.

If you look at the Acts reading today, the early church was a completely different community – even sharing their wealth so that everyone was looked after. They shared everything and really cared for each other.

What was their message though? Act 4:33  With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.

The resurrection of Jesus sets him apart from any other person claiming to be a Messiah.

And in addition, the reading from John shows us that Jesus is completely unique because of who he was:

Joh 3:16  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Jesus was the Son of God. There is no other who had that position. And, uniquely, he defeated the evil of the Roman tyranny with love and sacrifice. His Kingdom is completely different from the powers of this world – as they were then and as they are today. We see this especially in his conversation with Pilate when he was arrested:

Joh 18:33  Then Pilate entered again into the governor’s residence and summoned Jesus and said to him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

Joh 18:34  Jesus replied, “Do you say this from yourself, or have others said this to you about me?”

Joh 18:35  Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your people and the chief priests handed you over to me! What have you done?”

Joh 18:36  Jesus replied, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews. But now my kingdom is not from here.”

Joh 18:37  Then Pilate said to him, “So then you are a king!” Jesus replied, “You say that I am a king. For this reason I was born, and for this reason I have come into the world: in order that I can testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.”

Joh 18:38  Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews and said to them, “I find no basis for an accusation against him.

Joh 18:39  But it is your custom that I release for you one prisoner at the Passover. So do you want me to release for you the king of the Jews?”

Joh 18:40  Then they shouted again, saying, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” (Now Barabbas was a revolutionary.)

Jesus stands alone as one who was resurrected – and one who claimed to be the Son of God. He makes the most unique claims – like this spoken to doubting Thomas:

Joh 14:6  Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  Joh 14:7  If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you know him and have seen him.”

And to Martha when Lazarus died: Joh 11:25  Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me, even if he dies, will live, Joh 11:26  and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die [forever]. Do you believe this?”

And only he speaks of eternal life. We have eternal life through him now: Joh 17:3  Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

The most important thing I can tell you is this – you can know God through Jesus – you won’t perish – you will have this eternal life and relationship – you can have it!

Now. Because Jesus is raised – resurrected and lives forever. He is truth. As he says to Pilate: For this reason I was born, and for this reason I have come into the world: in order that I can testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.” (John 18:37)

Joh 8:31  To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Joh 8:32  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

We too can live forever. This is the truth. He is the truth.

He is alive and is here today. And if you allow him into your life – he will be with you always!

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!

15 March 2015 – Morning service at Rosedale Village – failure and success

Rosedale Village – Easter Message

The story is told of a learner policeman down in Wellington at the police college who was writing his final exam before graduation.

The last question in the paper described a horrific incident after a major fire caused by a road accident. A tanker had crashed into a house, and the whole thing had exploded. A crowd had gathered, and injured people were lying all over the place. While that was happening, some looters were smashing windows and burning couches in the street. There were bleeding people all over the place.

The question read – “you are the only policeman on duty at the time. What do you do?”

The man’s answer went like this: “you take off your uniform and mingle with the crowd”.

The story of Easter involves people who failed. They had been Jesus’ friends – and when he was captured, they ran away.

  • One – the leader of the group called Peter – told people three times that he didn’t know Jesus at all. He swore and cursed.
  • One – the man in the group who looked after their money called Judas – handed Jesus over to some soldiers – he got him arrested.
  • One – a young man called John Mark – ran away when the soldiers tried to arrest him – and left his clothes behind. Interesting way to become famous – running off naked.
  • Most of them – Jesus’ friends – disappeared. They “took off their uniforms” and mingled in the crowd. The men disappeared. Only the woman hung around. With the exception of the Apostle John, the disciple whom Jesus loved.

We spent a lot of time through life learning, studying, training, competing, and achieving things – especially at school. I am sure you’ve seen your children do this over the years. Or your grandchildren now. You may remember your school years too. Certificates, trophies, awards and reports abound, and a lot of effort is put into doing really well. In New Zealand much money and energy is spent on winning games – rugby, cricket and sailing for example.

The truth is that in the real world – not everyone wins. In fact, a lot of people do badly and fail.

It’s not winning or losing a game that matters. Or not getting good marks in a test. Those things are opportunities to try again and to solve problems or improve strategies. All real learning involves risks and making mistakes – correcting them and winning the battle!

The serious failures are failures in relationships. Where people let their friends and colleagues down, or family members. Where we are hurtful to others, or abuse them through anger or disrespect. Where we are destructive, wasteful, and uncaring. Where we abuse our positions of power and crush others or simple ignore their ideas or feelings. Or when leaders become despots, dictators or tyrants.

The hero in the Easter story is Jesus – who is killed by his enemies, and abandoned by his friends. He offers no violence, does not make apologies, or even try to clear his name.

The bad guys are his friends who take off their uniforms and mingle with the crowd. They lie, run away, and save their own skins.

In short – it’s a bit of a mess.

THE MAN ON THE BEACH

There is a lovely moment in the story where Peter – the leader of the group who denied Jesus three times – is trying to avoid everything by going back to his old job. Perhaps like us he was wishing for the good old days! There he is fishing – his whole life is a mess – and even the fish don’t bite. Jesus – alive again after being dead for three days – is standing on the beach. He tells them to throw their nets over on the other side of the boat. The fish bite like crazy.

They haul them in – and there is Jesus with a barbecue going, cooking fish and toasting bread. These failed depressed men – he feeds them. Fish oil is really good for depression I am told! Maybe it was as simple as that. Giving someone a cup of tea or coffee or something helpful to eat is a good thing in a crisis. He builds them up – strengthens them – models forgiveness – and they become even greater people again.

Over nearly thirty of working with people in crisis – I never lose hope. I’ve seen the worst of them – and lived through some of the worst of it.

Easter reminds me that the worst failures can be turned around. A dead friend is alive again and the world is changed. Men who took off their uniforms and mingled with the crowd – become heroes who go out and give their own lives for what they believe.

There is no darkness that is too dark. No failure too messy. The light will shine again on Easter Sunday and His light can chase your darkness away too.

We all can start again. Thanks be to God for His Word. And for the truth of the Gospel of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Amen.

 Here is the reading from John 21 for your reflection:

Joh 21:1  Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Tiberias. It happened this way:

Joh 21:2  Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together.

Joh 21:3  “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Joh 21:4  Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

Joh 21:5  He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered.

Joh 21:6  He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

Joh 21:7  Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water.

Joh 21:8  The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards.

Joh 21:9  When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

Joh 21:10  Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.”

Joh 21:11  Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn.

Joh 21:12  Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord.

Joh 21:13  Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.

Joh 21:14  This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

Joh 21:15  When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

Joh 21:16  Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

Joh 21:17  The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.