Sunday, 24 April 2011

Found

Easter year A Sermon 
Luke tells us… she’d been delivered of seven demons by Jesus…she’d been rescued
set free from the spiritual chains that bound her…
and kept her from living fully

She’d trusted Jesus…made herself vulnerable to him…
accepted the healing he offered…and from that time on …Mary of Magdala…dedicated her time …
and her resources…in support of Jesus.

Along with other prominent women… all of them liberated and restored by Jesus… Mary Magdalene follows him with the disciples…and cares for them all… right to Jerusalem and the execution. [pause]

And while Gospel accounts of that third day do differ…
they all agree on one thing…This Mary is the only one named as a witness to all three events…
the crucifixion, the burial and resurrection.

So close is her relationship with Jesus… that two days before… Mary stands with his mother at the foot of the cross…accompanies his body to be buried
and now John tells us …
Mary’s the first to discover the empty tomb.

She runs… to tell Peter and John
…they confirm her report of the missing body…
and they go home…[pause]

But Mary stays there… waiting and weepingalone.

As she weeps… the story tells us…
she bends down to look again into the tomb

and in her waiting…and her weeping…Mary Magdalene sees something… beyond the limits of imagination
she sees two angels in white…sitting…
where only two days before she’d laid out the body of Jesus…

And she hears them speak… words… full of irony

"Woman, why are you weeping?"

All she can tell them,,, through her tears
is the body of the one she loved…has disappeared
and she has no idea why... or where…
or who… might have taken it.

And at this Mary turns… and… behind her in the dim light of dawn… speaks a stranger

Woman, why are you weeping?
Who are you looking for?

Assuming it’s just the gardener… Mary demands …
tell me where you put him, and I’ll take him away. [pause]

But then… the stranger speaks her name

and through her tears… Mary recognises her beloved rabbi … and how she longs… to hold on…
to this precious moment

But ever so gently Jesus… sends her back to the others with the good news

'I rise…Jesus says…

tell them I’m ascending…I’m making my way…
to my Father and your Father,
to my God and your God.'"

And somehow… in this place of remarkable joy
warmth and relief…Mary gathers the strength
to leave Jesus in the garden… to wrench herself away…

And so the story goes…Mary is sent out from this
place of intimate encounter with the risen Christ…
with a mission… to tell the others how she’d seen him and touched him and what he told her. [pause]

And what about us?

Well, in the story of Mary Magdalene
we discover a sequence of events… that might actually parallel and transform… our own journey with Jesus.

Just like Mary…somewhere along the line in our own lives… Jesus has attracted our attention…
 … maybe that’s the reason we’re here today…

And others will be here… because… like Mary…
Jesus has rescued them from a dark place…
And some of you have followed him like Mary did
and become part of his life…just as Jesus became part of theirs.

Still others of you… having experienced the exhilaration of such a close relationship…just like that it seems to die …We speak of this as the ‘dark night of the soul’ And in our sorrow we… wait by the tomb
but that in itself doesn’t give us life

As we linger in this dark place…things come to us…
we see images…we hear words of consolation…
but we can’t understand them
because we’re still caught up in the world of death.

And like Mary it’s… only when these things reach deeply into our very identity…into who we really are… reaching into that place…
which lies even deeper than our grief…

its only then…that we discover who has greeted us.

It is the Christ!
The one we loved and lost… has returned to us transformed. And like Mary…male or female…
we fall into our brothers arms

But the story doesn’t end there

For that love to be truly fulfilled both of us have to return to our source of loving. And our paths seems to diverge again…as Jesus finally ascends and as we are sent…to create the community that bears his name.
And in this community of faith…
new dimensions of love open up to us.

One of the gifts of the reflecting on the resurrection
is that it shows us dimensions of love we never thought possible.

Mary’s thought she’d reached the higher limits of love. She grieves the end of that love… by going to the tomb. To her surprise she finds it open and empty…and she is bereft.

And on our journey with Jesus …when we come to that place of emptiness…like Mary we are asked to wait and di you notice it’s when  Mary waits…
that the Christ comes to her.

Waiting in the emptiness… as even Jesus did on the cross…forces us to let go all our preconceptions…
of how love can present itself.

So when the risen Christ appears to Mary… she doesn’t recognise him…she thinks he’s the gardener.

You see…the resurrected Christ doesn’t re-appear in the high courts or throne rooms of worldly powers …neither does he attempt to dazzle Mary with special effects. The risen Christ doesn’t seek to impress
or to terrorise.

He just appears… in a simple ordinary way.
Whether Mary recognises him or not…he is there…

Mary is looking for Jesus…
but the risen Christ finds her

My prayer is that where ever you are on your journey with Jesus…
If he’s just barely managed to get your attention…
or you’re maybe you’re waiting outside the tomb in despair…or if you’re enjoying in the presence of the Risen Christ

I pray that something in Mary’s story… will have touched your heart…warmed your spirit and brought you hope. 

[My thanks to Monty Williams SJ for the inspiration from his book The Gift of Spiritual Intimacy]

Friday, 22 April 2011

Father, forgive them

Good Friday Service 

Call to worship:
Today we join those… who stand at the foot of the Cross… wondering… how it ever came to this…
that the one we thought would avenge us against our enemies…
and win back for us… everything we rightly deserve…

The one we believed to be the Messiah…sent from God…
is too weak even to save himself

How did it come to this… that the one who
spoke out so strongly against the powers and principalities of
this world…against the greed and injustice and corruption…
how is it he can’t even muster… a mild rebuke…
for those who ridicule… abuse and torture him…

Jesus has been betrayed by those he loves…time after time…
but why does he chose the Psalm he cries from the Cross? Suppose even God has abandoned him?

Psalm 22.  Lachlan Turnbull
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry out by day, but you don’t answer,
    by night, and am not silent.
Yet you’re enthroned as the Holy One;
    you are the praise of Israel.
In you our fathers put their trust;
    they trusted and you delivered them.
They cried to you and were saved;
    they trusted you and weren’t disappointed.

But I am a worm and not a man,
    scorned and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
    they hurl insults, shaking their heads:
  PS 22:8 "He trusts in the LORD;
    let the LORD rescue him.  Let the Lord deliver him, since he delights in him."  PS 22:9 Yet you brought me out of the womb;
you made me trust in you even at my mother's breast.
  PS 22:10 From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother's womb you have been my God.  Don’t be far from me, for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.

From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
before those who fear you I’ll fulfill my vows.

This is my song…The poor will eat and be satisfied;
    they who seek the LORD will praise him--
    may your hearts live forever!

Diane: And as we stand looking up at the old rugged cross we know Jesus desolation is for us and for the salvation of the world.

Hymn: The old rugged cross 

The Gospel Luke 23:26-34 

The Crucifixion of Jesus
 26 As the soldiers led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27 A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. 28 Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then
   “‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!”
   and to the hills, “Cover us!”’
   31 For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
 32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Good Friday year A Sermon 11 Father, forgive them!
Title slide
He could have said other words, but he didn’t…
yes we heard him right…it was those particular words which came from Jesus’ lips…‘Forgive them, Father. They don’t know what they are doing.’

He didn’t call for his friends to avenge his death…
he did not demand an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth…instead he prayed with words shot through with understanding and compassion…
for the criminals who hung on either side of him…
and for the crowd shouting abuse below…and maybe we hope… understanding and compassion for us too.

‘Forgive them, Father. They don’t know what they’re doing.’

Blank slide
A pardon… freely offered…to people who…
by any human standard of justice… just don’t deserve it….

Yet, out of unendurable pain…
Jesus cries out… God’s justice…and from the Cross …proclaims the paradox of grace…forgiveness of sins…
not earned…but offered freely as a gift. [pause]

From the cross we hear no words of condemnation…
nor anger…nor self-pity…but only words
that echo what Jesus taught about who we should love and who we should forgive…and the blessed place of mercy in the divine scheme of things…

From the suffering vantage point of God...
the cycle of reprisal…revenge and retribution…born from nationalistic ethnic and personal un…forgiveness…
would simply never… ever… save the world…
but forgiveness and mercy…would.

Of all the religions of the world…the idea of grace
is unique to Christianity… the Gospel of Jesus proclaims there’s no way… we can work or earn our way…
into God’s love.  It’s just there for us offered freely. There is no other religion on earth that announces this good news.

Yet even when we’ve heard it a thousand times…
we still don’t get it…

The notion of God’s mercy and forgiveness and grace… is hard…for  even Christians to accept…
and even harder for us to imitate. To even try to follow Jesus in this way… remains completely counter cultural ...and even in the news this week…continues to be labelled na├»ve... idealistic…even crazy…

as though God revealed by Jesus on the Cross…
doesn’t really understand how the world works…
and we do.

There are two reasons why... though we aspire to follow Jesus… we will refuse to extend this mercy and this grace to others…and even to ourselves…

There are two reasons… one’s about the cost…
and the other’s about ignorance…

You see Jesus revealed on the Cross that forgiveness always costs the forgiver something
… maybe to the extreme of… pain and ridicule and death… God in Christ…was prepared to suffer and die rather than retaliate…against a humanity free to reject their creator’s love…

Yes, as Jesus’ disciples… sometimes we are called…
to take up our Cross…just as he did. But more often than not… the cost of loving and forgiving…is less expensive

sometimes all we have to give up…is our pride …all we have to let go… is our anger and our bitterness… all we have to sacrifice…is our dream of payback and revenge.

And as for ignorance…well it’s clear from Jesus words … that from a divine perspective…those who betrayed and tortured and killed Jesus…
didn’t really understand… the full impact…
of their actions.  ‘Forgive them, Father!
For they don’t know what they are doing.’

Some people… just stood by… and let the atrocity happen… others were actual perpetrators of the violence and the abuse…still others like Jesus’ mother were victims along with her son…
none of them… really knows the full story…
and what about the pain and grief… endured by the One …to whom Jesus prays…who understands that?
And it’s true for us today…who understands…

for God’s love to prevail…having created us in love and in freedom…God has no choice but to forgive us… because God knows… we can never fully understand the cosmic consequences of what we do…
to ourselves and one another and to the earth. We are fallen and we need to be saved from ourselves…

God bears the full cost of forgiveness on the Cross.

And in our ignorance we don’t even understand what forgiveness is. We don’t realise that it’s a decision not a feeling…Jesus is suffering and dying on the Cross ….forgiving doesn’t make him feel better…
this kind of love hurts…

We just don’t get…that Jesus decision to forgive means…the betrayer…the abuser…the murderer…
no longer owes him anything…no longer owes God anything …their debt is cancelled. 

In the divine court room… the justice of demanding retribution…just doesn’t work…
because no one could afford…to pay back what they owe
[pause]

Often Christians make the mistake of thinking Jesus somehow changed God’s mind…
but that’s completely inconsistent
with Jesus being fully divine…

Instead it’s clear from the Gospel we proclaim…
that Jesus reveals God’s mind… Jesus reveals God’s will and God’s purposes…and calls us to follow him.

Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing…

I pray you will trust Jesus words from the cross and that you will walk with humility and obedience out these doors
to respond to that love and that grace with mercy ourselves. In this is the salvation of the world.


Hymn when I survey the wondrous Cross

Prayer of Confession
Beloved God…Creator Redeemer and Spirit… forgive us…
for we don’t know what we’re doing. We think we understood your word to us made flesh in Jesus Christ… but we continue to ignore his plea for humility and mercy…
we want the world to live in peace yet we applaud the spilling of blood for our own cause…we accept the poverty of others without speaking out and standing up for them…
We hold six inch nails in our own hands…

And yet you pursue us with your love…

God of everlasting covenants,
we come to you this day in sorrow.
We come with self-inflicted pains
of broken trust and chosen wrong,
half-free, half-bound by inner chains,
swept along by social forces,
confined by powers and systems left unopposed

seeking hope for humankind while holding on to resentment and angers and judgment.

We stand at the foot of the Cross hearing words of mercy spoken our of unbearable pain and in the shadow of death… God help us have the strength and courage to resist evil in all its forms…particularly in our own hearts as we confess all we’ve done to crucify you in our own lives.
together as your broken body…trusting in your infinite mercy…
we dare to ask for the fullness of your forgiveness and your grace.
This we pray in the name of the one who came to save us…Jesus Christ. AMEN.

Assurance of Pardon
Jesus Christ our servant king spoke forgiveness from the Cross, today receive the assurance of his pardon;
God continues to forgive…God’s love is stronger than death.

Hymn This is our God, the servant king

Diane and Cheryl walk to the back as Reg reads.
By the power of Christ’s submission on the Cross
the powers have been disabled,
but they’re still rebellious  (as we are),
and still need to be reminded of their place
in God’s creation. (As we do)
And so as his followers we look to the example of Jesus.  who acts boldly and speaks loudly against the powers to bring things out into the open…[pause] and then submits to the consequences...
and in apparent weakness… endures a suffering
in which the hostility… and pride and arrogance and fear…
of the offender are absorbed. 
And we who follow him still seek the signs of the continuing Passion of God in the world…not in abstract ideas…
but in the human grief and suffering which refuses to retaliate…and continues to show mercy.

Cheryl and Diane sing Were you there

We walk out in silence

Sunday, 10 April 2011

When the Spirit breathes

Lent 5 year A Sermon  
Out walking this week…reflecting on the readings for today…I saw a stunning vision… which spoke to me of the power of the Holy Spirit to breathe life into…
even the driest and deadest valleys in our lives…

across the road from the golf course… I saw the wind raise up a heap of golden leaves… and swirl them round and round… in the glorious sunlight. The first part of our message today begins in Ezekiels valley of dry bones. Let us open our hearts and our minds and our spirits for a word from God.

Ezekiel  Reading

it was full of bones. He led me all around them.
there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, "Mortal, can these bones live?" I answered, "O Lord GOD, you know." Then he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. [pause]

Thus says the Lord GOD… I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.

And in the living memory of people here today…
are ingrained images of deathly fields… like this picture from World War Two Berlin…


or the killing fields of Cambodia.

Twin towers slide
The collapse of the Twin Towers in New York…

Tsunamis slide
Tsunamis in Indonesia and Japan

CTV slide
Or most recently the devastated CTV building in Christchurch

Whether by war…natural disaster or human folly...there come to us these images of dry bones…And it is the foundation of our faith…that over and over again…into the desolation that confronts us…
the Spirit of God promises to breathe new life.

And so it’s into these stark landscapes… that we are called… to speak hope and life…always pointing to God’s future and the power of God’s Spirit… to transform and heal.

Team shot slide
And so it was we sent our ministry intern Heather Simpson…into the devastation…to join the army of relief workers in Christchurch. At the same time Graham McDougal responded to the call as a civil engineer.

Before going…Heather asked us to pray for her
while she was away and she promised to tell us what she learned on this journey. And so today she will

Heather speaks off the cuff
Collapsed buildings slide
Food parcel slide
Knox slide
Knox close up
Knox signs

Diane comes back
Part 2 ‘waiting…slide
We’re not here…echoes of course ‘He is not here…he is risen’…And yes from a post Easter perspective…
we proclaim the light and hope of the resurrection…But as Jesus makes his final journey toward Jerusalem… death is very much on his mind… The second part of our message today is the story Lazarus dying

Blank slide
Perhaps it’s this shadow… and the memory of angry crowds that threaten to stone him… maybe it’s these thoughts…that cause Jesus to delay for two full days when he hears his friend Lazarus is dying

But Lazarus dies…and his body is entombed while his sisters Mary and Martha… wait for Jesus…

When Jesus finally arrives at the edge of town…Lazarus has been buried for four days. His sister Martha runs to meet Jesus at the edge of town…
And breathlessly she cries, Master, if you’d been here, my brother wouldn’t have died. [pause]
In the shadow of death there’s nothing for Martha but grief and desolation…she trusted Jesus would arrive in time…and now it’s too late… [pause]

But it seems that even in her grief… Martha remains hopeful and tells Jesus…

Slide words
…even now I know God will give you… whatever you ask  [pause]

And in response to Martha’s faith…Jesus promises her

Slide words
Your brother will rise again.

Blank slide
But Martha doesn’t understand and brushes off Jesus reassurance. "I know he’ll rise again in the resurrection on the last day."

And here I imagine… Jesus takes her by the shoulders and looks right into her eyes…Martha

slide words
I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live… and everyone who lives and believes in me… will never die.

Slide words
Do you believe this?
And there on the outskirts of Bethany about four kilometres out from Jerusalem…
Martha makes her confession of faith.

Slide words
"Yes, Lord, I believe you are the Messiah,
the Son of God, the one coming into the world." [pause]

Part 3 slide life from death
Of course the Hebrew people always understood
the breath of life comes only from God.
Ezekiel prophesied it to the valley of the dry bones…
the Spirit would lift…the Spirit would raise up…the Spirit would blow …and what was once dead…would live.
In part three of our message Jesus reveals that he is the resurrection and the life…

We know how Lazarus’  story ends

at Jesus’ command… Lazarus comes out of the tomb…
his hands and his feet… and his face…
still protected by the grave cloths…

But something more must be done… for Lazarus to live fully…and so Jesus commands the mourners… to…

"Unbind him, and let him go."

And many who saw what Jesus did, believed in him. [pause]

The Spirit blows and Lazarus is raised…

We hear in his prayer to the Father that Jesus’ has complete faith… that death is no match
for the power of God…

Jesus calls his friend out and Lazarus comes…
The cloths that protected Lazarus in death…
are lifted and unwound…and he is unbound…
and set free.

And so it can be for us today…though we who believe …are given new life in Christ…
we sometimes remain bound by things that keep us from loving and living fully…emotional scars, regrets, shame, anger, jealousy bitterness and unforgiveness.

All these need to be…exposed to the life giving Spirit of God in faith.

Please stand as we pray together.