Friday, 18 April 2014

How did it come to this?

Good Friday year A April 18, 2014

The drum beats as the Bible is brought in

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 choose the Psalm he cries from the Cross? Suppose even God has abandoned him?

Psalm 22 slide
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!

Jesus and Cross slide then song slides
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 three verses only

Father forgive them slide

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!
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’re 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.

It is finished Michael Hyndman on guitar  [type into power point]

Hymn When I survey the wondrous Cross

Father forgive us slide
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 slide
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.

Song slides
Hymn How deep the Father’s love for us

Diane walks 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.


Diane sings Were you there  

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Wedding Feast of the Lamb

Lent 6 year A Sermon Palm Sunday
Jesus has come to town for a meal

Like all the other… tired and dusty… Jewish pilgrims on the road that day…Jesus and his friends… are arriving in Jerusalem… for a sacred meal…for the Passover…the oldest Jewish festival… to honour the saving acts of God.

Jesus has been travelling toward Jerusalem for months… preaching and teaching and healing…
and given the edict out for his execution…you’d think he’d stay out of town.

Most of those who travel with him…have come to believe he’s the promised messiah…
the anointed one of God …
the one to restore the throne of David and Israel…
to their rightful place against the Romans…

But lurking in the shadows…are others…who track his every move… certain that he’s dangerous… a trouble maker…
out to challenge the religious authorities and upset the nice cosy relationship they have with the Empire .

As well… Roman spies are watching Jesus closely…
wanting a trouble free festival… with so many thousands… coming in to the city…for the Passover…
Kind of reminds me of Wanaka at Easter.

And here is Jesus…riding into the city…
among throngs of Jewish pilgrims. Here is Jesus
already disturbing things…making an elaborate and dramatic claim… to the royal throne of David…
riding in on a donkey…just as Israel’s kings had before him
Disturbing the peace…
daring everyone…to compare his arrival to the ancient prophesy … See Jerusalem… daughter of Zion
    
Word slide
 See, your king comes to you,
   gentle and riding on a donkey

Not one of the pilgrims entering the city that day…
would miss the symbolic reference to Israel’s kings…

Like the great pilgrimages…we see today in the Middle East they flooded into the city gates in their thousands…
And still today every observant Jew…longs to celebrate
the Passover in Jerusalem…at least once in their life time.  Next year in Jerusalem!    [Pause]

Blank slide
The focus of the Passover pilgrimage...
and the meal they share...always was and always is… hope

Hope in God. Hope in the only one…who can bring deliverance out of suffering… hope kindled by the telling... and retelling... of the story of how God delivered the people … from slavery in Egypt.

Even in Jesus’ time… the Passover was the oldest religious festival...based on ancient memories and rituals... handed down by Jewish storytellers through the centuries...
and finally preserved in the scroll of Exodus by the priests in exile in Babylon.

Passover…the story of
the tenth and final plague...
that broke the will of Pharaoh… to let the people go...
a pestilence that killed every unprotected…firstborn child...

the only thing saving the children of the Israelites...
was the blood of a sacrificial lamb...poured out...
and streaked across the doorposts of their homes...

The scroll of the Exodus recalling how God instructed Moses to tell the people

 ‘And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses ... and when I see the blood, I will pass over you...
and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you
when I smite the land of Egypt. And this day shall be a memorial…and you shall keep it a feast ... forever.’

The blood of the sacrificial lamb... would save them.
God would deliver them from bondage. [pause]

And so the pilgrims come... wave after wave...
into the sacred city of the Jews... itself a symbol
of the day when all God’s promises are fulfilled...
when one day
all oppression, exploitation and cruelty…
would be ended…the day when all creation is restored
to right relationship with God. [pause…………..]

So naturally there’s an atmosphere of celebration
as they approach Jerusalem...not only for what God has done... but in anticipation...of what God will continue to do...to bring salvation and deliverance
to those still enslaved… to bondage and tyranny.

And it’s right into this very context…Jesus chooses to make his audacious… and unmistakably regal
entry into Jerusalem…
The symbolism of riding on a donkey
could not be missed by any Jew…it is a piece of high and sacred drama…carefully planned by Jesus…
to announce for all to see…they don’t have to wait any longer… God’s anointed one has arrived

The one who’d bring about the salvation of the world…
has entered the city gates.

So you can kind of understand
why the religious authorities… see him as such a threat.

Last Supper slide
And isn’t it interesting…
when Jesus finally sits down to that last supper
with his friends…instead of downplaying
that dangerous declaration of his identity…

Jesus then dares… to reshape and reinterpret…
the whole sacred tradition… of the Passover.

Did you notice in our reading…
when Jesus proclaims the Passover…is fulfilled.

Here’s how he does it…

Right there in that upper room…just as father’s are doing
in every household in Jerusalem…
Jesus takes on the role…of the head of the family.

He offers his friends…the broken… unleavened bread…
of the Passover meal… and he blesses his cup of wine…
And as Jesus tells them…their ancient story…
of freedom and salvation…
his words… confirm their worst fears
for his life… and maybe even… his sanity. [pause]

Just as the lamb… sacrificed by their ancestors in Egypt
was a sign from God… of their deliverance… Jesus’ life… will now be offered up…as a sacrifice…
to bring deliverance for all people…

Their teacher… their friend…
understood himself to be the sacrificial Lamb of God...
and in this way…the Passover would be fulfilled…
for all the world. [pause……….]

And there in the face of their fear
for his life
and maybe even his
sanity...Jesus comforts his followers
And gently
recites… the words they’d heard a hundred times at engagement parties…

the tender promise
made… by every Jewish bridegroom
to his bride.
 
Slide words
in my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back... and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.
 
When Jesus speaks these words along with the symbolic language of the Passover...the last supper
becomes the wedding feast of the lamb... [pause….]

Blank slide
And all he asks of them… is that they be faithful
to this new covenant...
and love each other…just as he has loved them...
so the whole world will know they’re his disciples. [pause]

The hospitality of the table of our Lord…
the wedding feast of the Lamb…
has occurred already… and Jesus has presided over it…
Speaking forgiveness from the cross…for the salvation of the world. And we are to do this ourselves…
every time we remember him.

You see…here at the ends of the earth…beneath these mountains and beside these lakes…
we are a people of Jesus new covenant…
who gather around this table…each week to remember him.

Whether it’s communion Sunday or not…
you… are a people gathered around that same table…as they did in the Upper Room…you are a people bearing good news…sharing the same wedding feast…
People bid Jesus to love one another and carry that love into this community and into the world.

So in the years ahead…as you worship together and share the sacred meal in the company of another minister…
may you always show love and hospitality…to one another and to those who come… and they will come…strangers and orphans who need to know that in Jesus Christ they are forgiven set free.



Sunday, 30 March 2014

The pearl

Lent 4 year A Sermon 
The Kingdom of God is like the finest pearl…its value is worth selling everything in order to possess it.

Have you ever got to that point in your faith…that you were prepared to give up everything…everything…to buy that pearl…to take your place in the Kingdom of God?

Abraham was…

Before there were even a people called the Hebrews, before a single word of the Bible was written…before Moses received the Law…before David
before Jesus…Paul reminds us……

Abraham side
an old man named Abraham… was right with God …reached the point in his faith… that he didn't waver regarding the promises of God…but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God…being fully persuaded that God had power… to do what he promised.

Abraham couldn’t have kept the law… it didn't exist…

Abraham’s faith is why it was credited to him as righteousness. Abraham was totally convinced.

And Paul tells us… the words “it was credited to him” were written not just for Abraham alone…but also for us, who believe in him… who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death because of our sins and raised to life for our justification.
For us who believe…

Pearl slide
Just before our Bible readings this morning…
we all stood and said I believe…
together…we recited The Apostles’ Creed.

And for a brief moment before we began… we stood at a crossroad of faith…waiting to take a step…
waiting to make…or renew our confession of faith…
And that is what we did…we vowed… our belief

Did you realise you were doing this…
were you fully conscious of what you were about to do as you spoke those words…

Were you paying attention…or did you engage in
what a friend of mine calls… ‘ritual inattention’?

Now ask yourself honestly… which of the following motivated you…I promise I won’t ask you to tell…

Word slide
Compliance, identification or absolute faith

Ask yourself, ‘was I simply being compliant with Diane’s request for us to stand and speak?…

Or…‘maybe it was about identifying with others in our church family’

Or was I fully conscious that I was publically proclaiming a vow of faith…stating for all to hear…
what I truly believe …expressing the faith that’s embedded and internalised…in my heart and in my mind

What’s truly amazing…is that regardless of what motivated you…what underlying process
was going on for you…the external result was the same …you stood, you spoke a Christian Confession of Faith.

These three reasons for expressing belief – compliance, identification and unwavering faith – are actually the normal stages everyone goes through
in their faith journey…

As little children… we come to church and sing the songs and say the prayers in compliance to our parent’s wishes.

YAK slide
When we’re a bit older and finally have the power to say ‘no I’m not going…I’m going to sleep in’…we’ll be very blessed it there is a youth group like YAK where the food is good and where other Christian kids we can identify with…are studying the Bible… as we continue to grow in our faith. New Adult Christians also benefit by identification with a study group as their faith matures.

Word slide
It might take us a very very long time in life… to make it to the third stage…of embedded…internalised faith. We’re we can say with absolute certainty…yes…I really believe what I said in the Apostle’s Creed…and from now on my life will reflect what I believe.

As children it’s natural for us to adopt the behaviour encouraged by our parents so they’ll approve of us…and to avoid their disapproval.  But later as teenagers what’s important to us is identification…the actual ideas, beliefs and reasoning behind our responses aren’t so important.

Some of us might stay in the identification stage our entire lives…conforming to group expectations so we can have satisfying relationships with other people and even with God.

But when our faith continues to grow beyond that…
at the level of internalised faith… we choose to make our public profession of faith…not because other people expect us to or will like us better…but because the vow we make are fully consistent… with the values embedded in our hearts. Speaking out what we believe feels good for its own sake.

When our faith is embedded in us…we make a decision …that isn’t dependent on anyone else’s opinion…
or judgement of us – we claim an internal source of authority… that reserves the right to choose…
and take responsibility for our choices. We decide for ourselves that God is real…and God’s will…
revealed in Jesus Christ… is the way we want to live…

Have you ever stood at a faith crossroad…at the intersection where you must choose between following Jesus or walking away from faith?

At such a crossroad we’re faced with the choice … no it’s not for me or…yes…this is what I believe…
and from now on it’s going to influence the way I live. From now on I’m going to walk the walk
and not just talk the talk…

For some of us this faith crossroad occurs every day
if we intentionally ask ourselves the question…
‘what would Jesus do now?’
Though we often push it to the back of our minds.

I will never forget the day I stood at the crossroad of faith for the first time and made a personal commitment praying specifically to Jesus… asking him into my heart.  

Sure, I was baptised as a baby, went to Sunday school and church right till I was 16,  I was confirmed as a twelve year old and was given this Bible…

I had to memorise the shorter catechism…I had to be able to recite the answers…what is the chief end of man…to love God and enjoy him forever. I always had a sense of God love and conversational presence…

And that stuck with me…even when church was to boring I quit going…

but it wasn’t till I was in my mid-thirties that I faced a time of real decision…a friend of mine in television was determined to get me to ask Jesus into my heart...and so I started to develop a deeper understanding of God…
Father Son and Holy Spirit – even did a course on the Trinity at Otago…which really inspired me and deepened my faith.

But I will never forget the day I gave myself to Jesus… And you know what motivated me to do it? Simply this…I had a weakness…I wanted something…I hoped God would give it to me if I made this decision.

Now I’m not very proud of that reason…but there it is.

But God who’d always been there for me… used my weakness….as a crossroad of faith…into a decision to follow Jesus… the decision which is actually makes Christianity Christian.

I found my pearl of great price worth giving up everything else to possess…I stepped across the threshold of the kingdom of God…

And today it’s true… like the old song…he walks with me and he talks with me and he tells me I am his own.

So whether you’re skating along on the coat tails of your parents in the compliance stage of your faith, or whether you just really like belonging to this warm and wonderful family of God, today I invite you to take a step…make a conscious intentional decision…that what you are saying is truly where you stand…

This year is the 200th anniversary of the planting of the seed of the Gospel in Aotearoa New Zealand. All great missionaries know… that the clay pot in which the gospel is carried to a new land must be broken so the good news can take root in new soil.  It’s the same with our hearts…when the good news is planted…that in Jesus…God has invited all of us into a personal relationship with him that is eternal.

As Jesus said I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.

Do you believe this?”

The Presbyterian Church spent many years drafting its own kiwi confession of faith. It’s called the Kupu Whakapono which in Maori means statement of faith…

I invite you now to stand and say it with all the faith you can muster.

From this land of Aotearoa New Zealand
we confess that we believe in and belong
to the one true and living God,
who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
Love before all love.

We believe in God the Father,
sovereign and holy,
Creator and nurturer of all,
Father of Jesus Christ,
sender of the Holy Spirit,
and Judge of all the earth.

We believe in God the Son,
Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour,
truly human and truly divine,
who lived among us full of grace and truth.

For our sin he was crucified
and by the power of God was raised from death,
forgiving us, setting us free and bringing to birth God’s new creation.
Now ascended, he calls us to repentance and faith
and restores us to God and to one another.

We believe in God the Holy Spirit,
the giver of life at work in all creation,
who inspired the Scriptures and makes Christ known,
who transforms hearts and minds
and gathers us into the community of Christ,
empowering the Church in worship and in mission.

We belong to this triune God,
women and men,
young and old,
from many nations,
in Christ he iwi kotahi tatou, [we are one people]
witnesses to God’s love in word and action,
servants of reconciliation,
and stewards of creation.

As God’s people,
we look forward in hope and joy
to the return of Christ,
to the new heaven and earth,
where evil and death will be no more,
justice and peace will flourish,
and we shall forever delight in the glory of God.