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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 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.