Sunday, April 20, 2014

Sermon for Holy Week

Maundy Thursday

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.
Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

It is no small thing.
On this last night with his friends,
those who had given everything up to follow him,
those who believed he was the Son of God,
that Jesus does this most significant thing.

He washes their feet.
The significance of this is found in how it was a servant’s job to wash the feet of his master’s guests. And if the wasn’t a servant, it was the host’s job.
Jesus was their leader, and he was humbling himself to wash their feet.
This was his whole existence on earth: St Paul tells us
but emptied himself,
   taking the form of a slave,
   being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form, 
   he humbled himself

He then commands that the disciples should wash one another’s feet.
He wants them all to be equal. No one is better than the other.
He wants them to be humble.

He then gives them a new commandment:

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.
Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

Does this replace the old commandment? Love your neighbour as yourself?
No. That stands as a rule for all people.
Our neighbour is anyone we come into contact with,
even if we can’t stand them, we are to love them.

Jesus is now speaking of a different love.
He is speaking of a special bond of love that is to unite all those who believe in him.
He is speaking to us and how we are to be with each other.
How we are to be with the person sitting next to us.
We are to love them the same way Jesus has loved us.

The first part to come to terms with is to know how Jesus has loved you.
That will be a personal thing between you and him,
and only the two of you will know how that has worked in your life.
But, the result of that love from Jesus should be visible to everyone.

How it happens is personal.
How you respond to it in your life is public.
And most especially with those who share the faith.
We express our response to Christ's love for us in how we treat our brothers and sisters in the church.
The way we treat each other is really an acting out of our understanding of Christs love for us.
This is very telling.

Love your neighbour as yourself, yes. The old commandment is universal.
The new commandment is narrower, but more intense.
Love your fellow Christian the same way Jesus has loved you.
This commandment and obedience to it are evidence to the world of true faith.

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, 
if you have love for one another.

Imagine if we actually did this.
Imagine if the church was actually like this.
Imagine how irresistible the church would be.

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, 
if you have love for one another.

Out of that love would flow a love for all humankind.
When the church keeps the new commandment, the world will be able to keep the old.

Love one another, as I have loved you.

The love Jesus has for us is shown is shown in all its depth tomorrow.
The ultimate act of self giving and self sacrifice by dying on the cross.

And being found in human form,
            he humbled himself 
and became obedient to the point of death—
            even death on a cross. 

Good Friday

And being found in human form, 
            he humbled himself   
and became obedient to the point of death—
            even death on a cross. 

Jesus showed humility by washing his friends feet.
Knowing what was to happen, he goes to the garden, and prays to the Father that his cup be taken from him.
He is betrayed by one of his friends.
He is arrested by the powers that be. The civic rulers and the religious leaders.
The people have turned on him, their cries of hosanna changing to crucify him.
He is mocked, spat upon, whipped, flogged, beaten.

He is made to carry the cross that he will be executed on.

After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said ‘I am thirsty.’
The cup he asked to be taken from him, he now asks for.

It is finished.

As the crucified , Jesus identifies with every person who has ever suffered.  
Every victim of torture, rape, murder.
With every person ever killed in crossfire.
With every single one of the over 40,000 children who die of starvation every day.

With his cry from the cross “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he is one with all who have doubted, with those who feel that the world is so unjust they can’t see how God can exist.
He is with every mother and father who has cradled their lifeless child.
He is with every person suffering alzheimers, losing all sense of recognition.

Jesus is the suffering God.
He is agonised, he takes on all suffering. He is in solidarity with all human misery.

By Jesus suffering and dying, he shows that he is involved in all human history, he is affected by it.
He is not a God who sits above it all and watches, he is a God who is intimately involved. He bears all humanities burdens. By his taking flesh, he shows that human history is the place of real struggle, not just a cosmic plaything.

Only a God who suffers can save humanity.
Only a God who knows the pain of betrayal, humiliation and violence can be with us in our pain.

In Jesus we see a suffering God with and in suffering humanity.

And being found in human form, 
            he humbled himself   
and became obedient to the point of death—
            even death on a cross. 

Easter Vigil

   And being found in human form,
   he humbled himself
   and became obedient to the point of death—
   even death on a cross. 

In his humility, Jesus showed us how to be with each other.
In his example of dying on the cross, he suffered for and with all human suffering.
In his dying, Jesus enters the darkness, so when we enter darkness, we know he is with us.
God goes into the darkness and makes it light.
By his dying on the cross, death itself dies.

Killing Jesus was like trying to kill a dandelion seed head by blowing on it.
Like shattering the sun into a million fragments of light.
The powers had done everything they could to stop God’s work.
The divine undercurrent that had been with Jesus seemed to have ceased on the cross.
But it was only hidden.
It bursts out of the tomb.
Nothing can stop it.
Nothing can stop the gospel.

The resurrection of Jesus is the gospel.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
   and gave him the name
   that is above every name

Jesus had taken the disciples on a journey where he had taught and healed.
 He had led them into confusion, and on Good Friday, to darkness.
Without his resurrection, there they would have stayed.

His resurrection throws everything he said and did into light.
All the confusion ceases.
Henry Scott Holland writes:
In the resurrection, it was not only the lord that was raised from the dead. His life on earth rose with with him. It was lifted up into its real light.

Jesus came not only to preach a gospel, but to be a gospel.

Without the resurrection, there is no Gospel.

AS the risen Jesus says to Mary

Do not be afraid.

Over the coming weeks we will hear how the disciples reacted to the Risen Jesus.
But now, it is how you react to the presence of the risen Christ in your life.

Do not be afraid to believe that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead.
 Do not be afraid to let go and believe that Jesus conquered death.
Do not be afraid to believe that by believing in him you no longer die but will have eternal life.
Do not be afraid.

The resurrection is the hope of life.
It is the hope that knowing that God is with us in our suffering,
and that it is not the end.
The resurrection is the hope of freedom from the bonds of death.
Death is no more, it has been conquered.
Jesus showed us that nothing can separate us from God, not even death.

Do not be afraid to believe in new life in Jesus Christ.
Do not be afraid of hope.
Do not be afraid to confess Jesus Christ as Lord.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
   and gave him the name
   that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
   every knee should bend,
   in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
   that Jesus Christ is Lord,
   to the glory of God the Father. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sermon for Palm Sunday

When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’

This is where is all begins.

All the teaching and healings, all the interactions and questions about who Jesus is, what he will do, who it is all for have all lead to this moment.

The moment Jesus is atop the donkey is the moment of no turning back.
This is where it all begins.

At this moment Jesus mission enters its last phase, everything is set in motion here.
The first steps of the donkey are the first steps to the upper room,
the first steps to the cross,
and the first steps out of the tomb.

Jesus doesn’t make these first steps, it is the donkey,
somehow showing that it is not his doing.
He is showing that this is not his doing, that he is not in control of it all.
It is bigger than just him.

The donkey fulfils a prophecy from Zechariah:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
   Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
   triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
   on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

This fulfilling also shows the momentousness of what is happening.
Jesus is bringing all what has been, all the past with him.
What has been will be of no consequence anymore.

Jesus brings with him the past and places it firmly into the present on the back of the donkey.
The donkey carries all that has been and all that will be.
All that was is fulfilled,
all that will be is now entering Jerusalem.

We can see this by the turmoil that Jerusalem is in.

The Greek word used eseisthe is more than turmoil.
It is more like shaken.
This same word is used twice after: at Jesus death:
the earth shook and rocks were split.

And again when the two Mary’s go to visit the tomb:

And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.

Huge moments where God’s work of redemption for humankind,
where the bounds of time are broken
and eternity bursts into the present.

This is the turmoil Jerusalem is in, it is shaken.
It is an intimation of what is coming.
The past is ending, and the future is becoming present.
The shaking of Jerusalem is a preview and a warning.

On Palm Sunday, we are with the crowd. We shout and wave  

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.

We also ask “Who is this?”
Who is this on a donkey?
Who is this on the cross?
Who is this risen from the tomb?
We ask who is this who can change everything past and present?
Who is this who is the beginning and the end?
Who is this who is making my whole life shake?

In the shaking of the people of Jerusalem, we feel the shaking in ourselves.
Our lives are shaken with the journey of agony, death, and resurrection.

We enter into Holy Week, knowing there is no turning back.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Lent

I am the resurrection and the life. 

If you think about all the encounters we have heard this Lent:
Nicodemus, the woman at the well, the man born blind,
all of them have been ways of showing Jesus for who he is, the Son of God.
There has been dialogue where Jesus has taken each person to a higher understanding of who he is.

But with Martha and Mary, we go to an even higher plain.

Martha and Mary are already believers.
They believe that Jesus is the Son of God.
He doesn’t need to convince them of that.
But it seems that something is missing.

The sisters send a message to Jesus:
‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’ 
Jesus response to this news is odd.
‘This illness does not lead to death;
rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’
He leaves it a few days. This is deliberate. He says to the disciples.
‘Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.”
So, off they all go. By the time they get to Bethany, Lazarus has been dead four days.

We now meet the two sisters, Martha and Mary.
A crowd has gathered around them, mourning with them, comforting them.

When they hear that Jesus is on his way, Martha goes out from the village to meet him.
‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’
You can hear her say this. How many times was this phrase said over the past few days.
When Lazarus first got ill: We’ll get Jesus to come and heal him.
As Lazarus began to die, this would have been said with more desperation.
Then, when Lazarus finally died: If only Jesus had been here.

If only Jesus had been here. How many times the sisters said this to each other.
This phrase would have just sat in the air over the village for the past four days.
"If only Jesus had been here...."

So much so, that it becomes a greeting when Jesus does finally appear.
Both of the sisters say this to Jesus when they meet him.
But Martha adds to it.
But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.’
If you had been here, you could have stopped Lazarus from dying, but I still have hope that you can sort it out.

She doesn’t ask Jesus to do anything in particular, but hands it over to him.
God will do anything Jesus asks.
She leaves what to do up to Jesus.

What are the options?

Leave Lazarus where he is, or bring him back to life.
Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’
Jesus gives his answer. He will raise him.
But Martha doesn’t quite get it.
‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ 
This was the common belief in the Jewish faith, that there will be a general resurrection on the last day.

Martha may believe that God listens to Jesus, but she is still thinking in terms of the old way.
What he says of some comfort, but that is far off, it is distant.

Jesus grabs her and pulls her into the present:
 ‘I am the resurrection and the life. 
How can Jesus be a future event?
He might be it’s cause, but how can he actually be the resurrection?

Jesus is forcing language to say something that is inexpressible.

He explains it a bit more
Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live,
and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. 
Believes in Jesus.
Lives in Jesus.

He says to Martha,
Do you believe this?
Do you believe this?’
She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God.’
She doesn’t answer the question.
She avoids it.
It must be too difficult for her to understand what Jesus actually meant.
Yet even there, she makes the highest statement of who Jesus is that we have heard so in John’s Gospel:
the Son of God.
She knows that Jesus is the messiah, but she can’t go further.
What Jesus has said is beyond her.

Then it is Mary’s turn.

She comes out to meet Jesus, with the same words:
‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ 
Unlike Martha, she adds nothing. There is nothing more to say.

Where Jesus had expressed the highest aspects of divinity to Martha, Jesus now expresses his humanity.
He is moved with compassion and weeps.

And instead of explaining the resurrection, it actually happens.
Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.

Lazarus, come out.

Jesus shows Martha and Mary, indeed all those gathered what he means.
He raises Lazarus.
Lazarus is unbound from death and risen to new life.

We can all have this.

Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live,
and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. 

This is the greatest hope we have. The hope we have in Jesus is the hope of eternal life. It is a life lived in Christ forever.

I am the resurrection and the life.
Archbishop William Temple expressed this like this:

“Fellowship with Christ is participation in  the divine life, which finds itsfullest expression in triumph over death.”
Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.