Author: Adrian Kitson (Page 1 of 28)

Rekindle

SermonEaster 6A, Sunday May 17, 2020.

St Petri.  

John 14:15-21 (13:33- 14:31) 

13:33 ‘My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: where I am going, you cannot come. 

34 ‘A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’ 

36 Simon Peter asked him, ‘Lord, where are you going?’ 

Jesus replied, ‘Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.’ 

37 Peter asked, ‘Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’ 

38 Then Jesus answered, ‘Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the cock crows, you will disown me three times! 

14:1 ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God[a]; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that 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. You know the way to the place where I am going.’ 

Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’ 

Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know[b] my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.’ 

Philip said, ‘Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.’ 

Jesus answered: ‘Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. 12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. 

 15 ‘If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you for ever – 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be[c] in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me any more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realise that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.’ 

22 Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, ‘But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?’ 

23 Jesus replied, ‘Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. 

25 ‘All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 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. 

28 ‘You heard me say, “I am going away and I am coming back to you.” If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. 30 I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, 31 but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me. 

 I have heard Christians saying that they hope this COVID threat will bring people back to Jesus.   

We hope that the many ‘happy pagans’ who may believe a bit of this and a bit of that about the world and God and themselves, or believe nothing of the sort, might be prompted by this disruption to ask serious questions about life, and as they do, somehow find Jesus’s way, truth and life.   

It is a good hope! But I suspect it might be a bit misguided. It may even be a bit like Grandma’s peaches; a bit self-preserving! We preserve our own settled life and God is the one who will somehow bring questioning sinners to faith…… They get disrupted. We stay safe. He will do all the work. We will get the benefit.   

I know that it is true that we have nothing to offer God for all his kindness in adopting us as his dearly loved sons and daughters. But think we are more a part of people coming to a loving relationship with God than we probably wish to know….  

I say this because of what I hear in this conversation with Jesus in the Upper Room  

Jesus has already spoken of an unwelcome moment comingBack in Bethany after Mary had anointed him for burial ahead of time, Jesus says:  

‘You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.’ (John 12:8) 

 This little community have been with Jesus for a fair while. They have seen many things. They have pondered many words, asked many questions. They have hoped for much.   

Now, as the annual Passover meal comes around like clockwork, Jesus disrupts their comfy expectations  

First, there is that foot washing business. It is disruptive. It is hard to be served liked that. It is a direct challenge to my illusion of self-sufficiency.  

And then, like when a dinner guest at your place starts to talk about the two subjects you never talk about at a happy dinner party: politics or religion – and keeps on speaking; the disruption continues when Jesus speaks of being betrayed by someone in the very room. Third: Jesus then speaks of Peter’s shameful betrayal that will be completed by sunrise.  

Feeling a little disrupted yet?   

Dealing with this disruption, four of them speak.  

Peter: 

37 …. ‘Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’ 

 In other words, Take me with you, Jesus. I’m a celebrity. Get me out of here!. I have earnt it! I can do it  

Jesus responds:  

38 …..,‘Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the cock crows, you will disown me three times! 

 Peter, alone, you will fail. You cant earn truth and life or live like you can. These are all given gifts, not earned payments. I will have to give you it all. It will cost me everything and be free for you, and yet you will gladly give everything for it because it is so good.     

Thomas:  

5 …., ‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’ 

 Jesus, show us the Future: Then I can believe’. “Jesus, we don’t know your future, so we don’t know ours. Tell us our future, that will do it.  

6 Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 

 Thomas, I am your future and your present. You don’t need to know your future because I am your future every day.   

 Philip:  

8,….. ‘Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.’ 

 Jesus, show us God: Then we can believe. Lord, if we can see him up close for real, that would do it. We’d all feel better. 

Jesus responds:  

How can you say, “Show us the Father”?10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? 

 Phillip, you see me; you see the Father. You don’t need some big miraculous experience of God the Father revealing himself because he already has – in me – in full.   

Judas (the other Judas):  

22  ……. ‘But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?’ 

 ‘Jesus, show them GodThen we will be able to believe you. “Jesus, if they see God in one big undeniable clear way, that would do it.   

Jesus responds: 

23 …….‘Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 

 Judas, I do show them God the Father – through you  

Judas, they see the Father, me and the Spirit – God in total, through you. You show them the Father every day!   

‘As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. (John 15:19) 

 Love each other. That is enough for their seeing of God.   

Friends, we are involved in people coming to a living trust in Jesus.   

This pandemic won’t bring people to a loving relationship with their heavenly Father. It is raising good questions. But, like any hard thing, this is all it can do. This crisis time needs something else. It needs someone to say something into those good questions.  

It is us. We are the ‘super-carriers’ of the healing virus, called ‘the gospel’! We are carriers of the antidote to not just COVID 19 but life without God’s goodness and blessing and love – in other words hell on earth.   

“But we can’t do it either”, we say. True, but not true….  

If we speak just our words, our dreams, our understanding, our visions, our ways, our truths…. We cannot be God’s super-carriers of life.   

26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 

 The Holy Spirit makes us super-carriers of God’s life for dead people.   

How so? The Spirit of God is now not just ‘with us’ but ‘in’ us.   

“…But you know him (the Holy Spirit), for he lives with you and will be in you. (John 14:17) 

 As we ourselves are also disrupted in all this, the Spirit is our Advocate.   

  • He transforms our lack of courage and over-dependence on our own work and skill and understandings (Peter), 
  •  he takes our demands for control over our future (Thomas),  
  • our demands for a show of strength to convince us (Phillip),  
  • our demands for a show of his strength to convince those who do not believe (Judas).  

 By Jesus’ Word, the Spirit gives us the Father’s forgiveness shot’ that kills our ‘divided wandering heart’ and makes us ‘super-spreaders of his undeserved love all our lives, and in all parts of our lives.    

This pandemic will not make them believe and neither will all the miracles in Jerusalem! In the suffering, grief, disruption to normal life and the questions it raises, the Spirit will call them to believe his words and the life through us  

So, adopted orphans of Jesus, baptised in the Spirit by the Father’s mighty hand,  

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more 

Or close the wall up with our community’s dead!  

(William Shakespeare, Henry V, Act III) 

Into the call of the Spirit we go, friends. Not as disconnected, diseased and despairing orphans isolated in fear, but as community of grace gathered and scattered in little groups, together and alone; but together in him; the way truth and life for every orphan of God in this community.  

Be disrupted with real hope and no fear. The Spirit makes this disruption holy and of great purpose.   

‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.  

 

 

 

 

 

Suffering. Called. Saved.

Sermon, 4th Sunday of Easter, GOOD SHEPHERD SUNDAY

Mitchell Kitson,  Australian Lutheran College Pastoral Ministry student.

1 Peter 2:19-25

19 For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. 20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

22 ‘He committed no sin,
    and no deceit was found in his mouth.’[a]

23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24 ‘He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed.’ 25 For ‘you were like sheep going astray,’[b] but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Today, we are reflecting on God’s Word from the second chapter of 1 Peter. Let’s pray.

Lord, we thank you for giving us a way to hear your Word even though we can’t be together physically. Good Shepherd, show us where we have gone astray and guide us back home. In
Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Life as Christians isn’t always smooth sailing, is it? In fact, Martin Luther says that one of the marks of the church is suffering. We’re in the Easter season, when we remember Jesus’
suffering for us, which gives us a whole new perspective on suffering.

So, as Christians, how should we understand suffering? What place does it have in our lives as people of faith? In this early part of his letter, the apostle Peter addresses Christians struggling with
suffering and questions like this, and so we will listen to the text under these three headings: we are suffering, we are called, we are saved.

So, the first part: we are suffering.

Not all suffering is the same, is it? Sometimes, suffering is a result of things we do. If we don’t warm-up properly before physical activity, we can suffer injury. If we aren’t careful with our money,
we can suffer financially. If we lie to cover something up, we suffer the guilt of knowing we have done wrong.

But there is another kind of suffering which is harder to understand. Sometimes we suffer for what seems to be no good reason, or we might think it’s unfair.

I think that’s particularly clear to us right now, in lots of ways. Many are suffering terrible illness around the world, and as a result, many are also suffering great loss. You only have to watch the
first five minutes of the 6 o’clock news to know that.

But we are also suffering in less obvious ways. Life without physically gathering together is really difficult for many of us. Yes, there is technology to help us deal with that, but it’s just not the same,
is it? Not to mention having to stop physically gathering on Sunday mornings and sharing the holy meal.

We are surrounded by so much uncertainty at the moment, which causes many people to suffer stress and anxiety.

When Scott Morrison posted an Easter greeting video on Facebook on Easter Sunday, I was amazed by how many derogatory comments there were under it. I knew there were people out
there who target Christians for a whole bunch of reasons, but I didn’t expect it to be so bad.

This kind of thing is happening to many Christians on social media and even on the streets, but it’s also happening in less obvious ways. Sometimes Christians are left out of social events because
of their faith. Sometimes Christians are measured against a ridiculously high moral standard because that’s what people think our faith is all about. It happens to people of all ages, all over the
place.

These kinds of suffering aren’t a result of a wrong we’ve committed—they just happen, and we are faced with a challenge.

God says something surprising here, calling it a “gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.” Enduring unjust suffering for doing good is a gracious
thing.

He’s saying to those persecuted Christians, “God hasn’t left you!” In a way that we struggle to get our heads around, God is working his grace in our lives. He as flipped suffering completely,
giving us a new way to see it.

So, the first part: we are suffering. Next: we are called.

Rather than trying to escape it, like the world tells us to, Peter says that we are called to endure it.

Enduring unjust suffering is a gracious thing, a Christ-like thing. God helps us to see suffering as an opportunity, rather than something to avoid.

“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his footsteps,” verse 21 says. Jesus’ suffering was completely unjust,
undeserved. He never sinned, and he never deceived anyone. Yet, he went to the cross.

What would you do if you were falsely accused of something? The most natural response would be to defend yourself, wouldn’t it? After all, you have a right to do so.

Jesus didn’t respond that way, even though he had the chance. In fact, he did the opposite. He was silent before his accusers. When Peter tried to fight for him in the garden, he said, “Peter, put
the sword away.”

He knew the Scriptures back-to-front. Surely, he could have used them to defend his innocence so well that they couldn’t argue with him. No—he remained silent.

“He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth,” it says in Isaiah 53.

Why? Why wouldn’t he defend himself? Peter learned from Jesus’ example that God does is best work for us and in us in suffering.

Jesus’ silence frustrated the high priests so much that they had him killed. I think when non- Christians target us, and we remain silent and go about our business, it frustrates them too.
Jesus entrusted himself, or “gave up himself” to the one who judges justly. Rather than listening to his accusers and letting that get to him, he trusted in who God said he is: “This is my Son, whom
I love,” he said at his baptism. Only God’s judgment matters.

We suffer, but we are called, and the third part? We are saved.

Our suffering in this world isn’t all there is. God has given us a new way to see by sending us Jesus. His suffering for us is our example, which we are called to follow. But even more, his
suffering has saved us from the eternal punishment our sin deserves.

He was completely innocent. His suffering, which was grossly unjust, has freed us from eternal punishment, which is entirely just. Your sin calls for punishment, but you don’t have to bear that
because Christ already has for you. His death gives you life. By his wounds you have been healed.

Even though we suffer, Peter shows us that we are saved people. Jesus is the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls.

We’ll keep on going astray—that’s what we humans are best at. That’s why we need the Good Shepherd to call us back into the flock. Just like sheep do, we’ll keep on wandering off and being turned back again until one day, Christ calls all people of faith to be with him in his kingdom forever.

How does the shepherd turn his sheep around? His Word. We might be going without Holy Communion at the moment, but we will always have his Word. So read your Bible, keep tuning in
to church and encourage each other, because that’s how God speaks and gives us the strength to endure.

He is the Overseer of our souls. He does not leave us unguarded, exposed or vulnerable, but watches over and protects us through whatever and however we are suffering. Psalm 23
captures it perfectly: he leads us in the righteous path, he is with us even in the darkness of our suffering, and he provides us with everything we need forever.

When you suffer for your faith, or whenever you suffer in body or soul, remember that you have been saved by Christ, who is the Good Shepherd who cares deeply for his sheep.
And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Promise Keeper Peace

SermonWorship Small, Sunday April 19, 2020

Easter 2A  

John 20:19-31 

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, 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. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” 

Now Thomas (also known as Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” 

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 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.” 

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” 

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” 

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believthat Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. 

 As I ponder this account of that first moment of resurrection for the people involved, I am struck by how our God is a promise keeper  

am struck with how many times the gospel witnesses explain who Jesus is and why he did what he did as being, “According to the Scriptures”, or “that the Scriptures might be fulfilled”, or ‘he opened their minds to understand Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms”  

It strikes me that Jesus did everything to keep the Scriptures – to keep the Father’s promises already promised to a troubled creation suffering under the incurable virus called death.   

Everything Jesus does is to complete these promises of God to reset the world. Like the darkness of this COVID-19 virus is actually helping the air over the Great Wall of China and the sea water in the canals of Venice heal and reset, so this darkness of betrayal, denial, lack of belief and lack of courage; this dying alone with the eyes of his enemies gloating upon him allows the resetting of the word according to God’s promises in Jesus. Our God is a promise Keeper! At huge cost to himself he keeps his promises to you.   

Right from his birth to his resurrection, all the promises are kept.  

  • The Saviour would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2, Matthew 2:1) 
  • He would be a descendent and rightful heir to King David’s throne (2 Samuel 7:12-13, Luke 1:32-33) 
  • He would be falsely BETRAYED (Zechariah 11:12-13, Matthew 26:14-16) 
  • He would be silent before his accusers (Isaiah 53:7, Mark 15:4-5) 
  • He would be given wine vinegar to drink (Psalm 69:21, John 19:28-32) 
  • No bone would be broken (Exodus 12:46, John 19:33-36) 
  • He would be mocked and ridiculed (Psalm 22:7-8, Luke 23:34) 
  • He would be forsaken by his Father (Psalm 22:1, Matthew 27:46). 
  • His side would be pierced (Zechariah 12:10, John 20:25-27). 
  • He would rise from the grave (Psalm 16:10, Matthew 28:2-7). 
  • He would claim his rulership and victory over all evil for all people for all time (Psalm 24:7-10, Luke 24:51) 
  • He would be the means by which this dying world would receive new creation life; new air in its lungs (Isaiah 53:5-12, Romans 5:6-8)

This is just a sample of all the promises kept by our Promise Keeper, God   

Those Easter morning witnesses had trouble believing this about God at first. They had trouble trusting that all the promises of God they had grown up with were now delivered in full in this man they loved but saw die.   

But you can sense this gradual lifting of the eyes in this first community of Jesus as John tells of this first week of the new Kingdom dawning. Like being on a high hill seeing the sun slowly make its way across the plain to light up where you stand, these everyday people slowly began to understand just how faithful God is and just how completely he had delivered on his promises to reset this old world and reset my wayward heart so completely. They saw him die and now they get to see him live!  

And John wants us to be in no doubt that we who have come after him and the others are in no way disadvantaged because we did not see exactly what they saw.   

He tells us of Thomas just needing to see to truly believe so that we know we no longer have to see to believeThomas and the others did need to see to believe, but even with that their Easter faith was not quite complete.  

“Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” 

But how can we believe without seeing?  

John tells us: 

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believthat Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. 

 We don’t need to see like Thomas because we can hear like Thomas. Jesus word is enough for all the believing you will ever need. His word tells you again this morning that you don’t need to see to believe but that you now see because you believe.   

You don’t believe because you see, you see because you believe!  

You have the eyes that only repentance and faith create. Our wonderful medical technology wont do it. Our economic stimulus package won’t do it. Our reliance on our skills and resources wont do – they cant bring the gifts faith brings – gifts of lasting and deep peace and joy and hope no matter what.   

Friends, as a church we have temporarily lost our shape, our form, our structure. We feel disconnected and dispersed. We are not sure we will ever make it back to the way it was before. Some might be glad about that! Others may be heart-broken  

But hear John: We don’t need to see what we are used to seeing because we can hear what we have always heard – his words in these gospels; in his holy book of life that gives us all the life we need. 

This is the time when the Holy Spirit is drawing you in to being a person who trusts his promises by the ears and into the heart.   

Trust the Promise Keeper ow. Hear these gospel witnesses and marvel at how far God has come to get you, how detailed he gets, how extensive his love is that give us all we need to live in this isolating time.   

As Peter and John and Mary’s and others found out, faith in God’s gracious acceptance is not founded on things we see or understand or do or don’t do or can make happen.   

Our faith and its hope and joy are based on Jesus’ speaking – according to the Scriptures – according the promises of our God.   

His hope and joy come via the ears as we turn to him. call on hm. Seek him and listen to him speak in his Word.   

You want to be less anxious? You want to know peace? You want to believe that you have a future beyond this? Then repent of all the times you forget or disregard Jesus’ word and turn to him in it again.    

He will breathe new life into you as he did at the start. The wounded Saviour breathes! He breathes his real peace in his real word into them in that scared room and turns it to peace and joy. Same for you now.   

He breathes his peace into your room there and turns it into peace and joy today.    

“Peace be with you”. Says the Promise Keeper. 

In believing you can now see”   

So we breathe with Paul; Even in these strange days, 

you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:7-9) 

Joy in the Fog

HomilyEaster Day, April 12, 2020

Small Worship https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_6zJ45W7uc&t=1179s

Luke 24:1-12 

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen!   

Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 “The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.”’ 8 Then they remembered his words.  

9 When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.  

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. 

Peter was wondering what on earth had happened. What had happened was way outside his frame of reference.

Seems to me that this is how we have been feeling this Easter! We are wondering what has happened to our world, our country and our community. Like Peter and the others, our lives have been taken way outside our normal.

With the women and Peter, we scratch our heads and ask, ‘What is God up to in all of this ‘fog’?”

‘Fog’ is a good word for today. There has been fog this week in the Valley. I notice that fog just sits over everything.

Fog makes you feel closed in, isolated, unable to move freeing with any confidence. You can’t see clearly. At moments it is really thick. So thick that you really cannot walk or drive on. At other moments it clears a bit, but you are wary, hyper vigilant when driving. Danger could meet you. It is hard to live in fog. Even if it clears for a bit, you still know it is hanging over you.

Is this how you find yourself feeling with this Virus threat? I heard of the British PM’s battle with COVID-19 in ICU and the tragedy of so many dying in New York City and the fog closed in again.

When heavy, fog makes you fearful and hyper vigilant – and exhausted! It clears for a bit, but it is still hanging over you and your family, your church, your health, your house….

In their confusion and after all the trauma and difficulty they had experienced the women and Peter, struggle to receive the incredible news that hope is alive and the future looks brighter than ever.

We might be the same in this troubling pandemic time. This strange Easter we might struggle to hear the news the messengers and then the women speak.

They had heard about what was going to happen before. They had actually heard this good news of victory over death itself from the lips of their Teacher already. He had three times spoken of dying at the hands of dark enemies and rising to establish a totally new kingdom, a new way to live, a new hope to be enjoyed.

They had heard the words but never really trusted them – that God is in this and hope still rises despite the threat and the fog.

But , we like the have head this good news of the sun burning up the fog to create a beautiful day. We know this story. But do we trust the one telling it; doing it for us?

Eventually their confusion turned to absolute joy. At first they could not really know this joy. But eventually they did.

What helped them get to the joy in the fog?

They were directed to do one thing and it is this: ‘remember’. The two messengers in white said ‘Remember”;

Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: “The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.”’ Then they remembered his words.

Remembering is the way Jesus lifts the fog of this disease and loss of freedom. As they begin to remember, joy comes, despite all that has and will happen to them.

Remember, friends. Remember that first morning. Remember Peter’s confusion. Remember those two others on the road and the stranger. We will remember them again in a minute.

Remember their burning hearts as he opened up his Word to them that showed them the full extent of his love and his victory over everything that threatens; over all enemies; over all times.

Remember your baptism. Remember your big moment of faith and the people who were there in that with you. Remember those special words from Scripture.

Remember his cross. Remember his pain, his words from the cross, his marvellous parables, his challenging words that sit us down and make us scratch our heads at times, but that we know are so very good.

It is Easter Day. In your house and in your heart he lifts the fog of this war on an unseen enemy and gives you a shaft of light called himself – crucified and resurrected Saviour from threat, fear, trauma, pain, sickness, despair for this world and one’s own life and the isolation.

Hear the Son rising to burn off the fog and deliver a beautiful new Easter life.

Remember. The way to his joy in the fog.

 

No One Gets Left Behind

HomilyGood Friday, April 9, 2020

John 18:9

“I didn’t lose anyone of these you gave me” (John 18:9) 

I don’t know why I know this, but I know for solders, there is this stern commitment, that no matter what happens, ‘no one gets left behind’. Maybe I picked this maxim up from all the war movies I have seen over the years. “No one gets left behind”.  

To my surprise, as I hear these beautifully woven words of John telling of what he and the others saw and heard as Jesus goes to the gallows, these words above all words were there; or almost there. They really stick out to me in this pandemic threatLike a soldier reporting to his commanding officer at the end of a battle, Jesus says to his loving Father,   

“I didn’t lose anyone of these you gave me.” (John 18:9) 

 These words are now burnt into my consciousness anew. Jesus says to his disciples before this ugly but good day happens, that not one of his people has been or will ever be lost; never be left behind by Jesus.   

These are not easy words for a soldier to say, or for Jesus to say. They might cost you. They might cost you your freedom, your health, your lifestyle, your life. That will be the case for Jesus. This commitment to people will cost him his life.   

Events can overtake the best soldier, even one making this pledge, “No one gets left behind”. As Jesus makes this announcement that he has got his people this far, events now overtaking him. Now comes the hardest bit that will cost everything.  

The threatening posse comes. The payment has been made, the betraying kiss givenSuffering and death are now fated. For us to not be left behind to threats and fear and vile death, Jesus will have to win this last battle – and alone. Only he could do it.   

Like this pandemic with all its huge changes to our lives, Jesus’ suffering must now simply be endured.  

 At the pointy end of a weapon; at the pointy of this demonic transaction; the point of arrest when tension is high and life is at its thinnest, Jesus gives himself. But as he does, he protects the innocent or the incapable. He gives his life so the others can have one.    

As he sacrifices himself like a faithful soldier or friend, he fulfills the great mission of the Father, the Son and Spirit from the beginning of time.  

The great “I AM’ has always given himself up for the sake of his wounded, ignorant, scared and incapable creation. He does it most immediately, most humanly, most unmissably, most painfully this day.  

Whatever has already happened this day, whatever has already happened in this pandemic, and whatever will still happen, Jesus says that in it all he will not lose any of the ones the Father has given him. He will not lose you this Good Friday like no other.   

No follower of Jesus, no baptised son or daughter, no person of living faith in him, no one with any kind of real and right relationship with him, wherever they exist now or existed before this time has been or will be lost.   

Friend, whatever happens to you in all of this, you will remain found, never lost, for however long you might feel lost as you go it alone in these isolated times  

Of course, this is not easy to believe. It is not easy to believe for these close friends in the garden when the power of Rome and misguided religion descend.  

It is not easy for us when the threat of disease and uncertain future is just outside your front door. Just ask Peter. He feels the need to resort to more immediate measures to break out. Out comes the sword and of off goes Malchus’ ear!  

Many are attempting to do similar with this pandemic threat. We are throwing money at it. We are engaging all our medical might, our scientific research, our people management and policing skills. We are throwing the kitchen sink at this thing  

We have to do these things. Just and right governments and organisations in all spheres should do these things for the good of all people.   

Buall this in the end wont be the most telling thing that will heal us fully, restore us to community fully, reset our Western society fully, or our global environment fully and for lasting time beyond this threat  

This is because organisations and governments, though part of God’s amazing grace for his planet earth, cannot deal with what this Jesus can deal with.  

Human power and skills can do much good and should do its best good, but this life-giving Jesus will deal with the great enemy, death itself, in all forms and for all causes – virus or other. Peter, Jesus will deal death the killer blow by forgiveness, not sword  

As he dangles in the hot sun in full shame and resounding pain, to no applause, but derision from the crowd, our shame and pain is hung out to dry  

It does not seem as effective as Peter’s sword. But just like that ear healed in a moment, so Satan’s viral threat of death is killed this good day.  

In the moment of the deepest darkest self-isolation a human being could ever experienceas he gives voice to that cry of total isolation; total forsakenness, this bleeding man gives up his life for the life of this dangerous and unwell creation  

He takes it all so we can live it all.   

He pays for our doubt and sickness and fear and wayward wondering heart bent on self-satisfaction at any cost.  

He gives it all so we can receive it all. He attacks it all so we can live in all of the peace we could ever have without his life on planet earth, at home or running free.   

This virus will come to its end as everything does, even you and me. This man of sorrows who is familiar with all our human ways will live on from this day  

He has lived in his people through many a pandemic, a war, an injustice, a flood, a fire, a wave. Because he lives through it, we can live in it.   

He lives in you now. And that is how you know that what he said still stands.  

“I didn’t lose anyone of these you gave me” (John 18:9) 

He has not lost you yet, friend. He will never lose you. He will lose himself for you. He will find you whenever you feel the loss.   

It’s Good Friday. Our life has purpose. Find the lost. Give yourself for them. Through your loss they and you will be found anew in his love  

No one gets left behind.  

Missing Holy Communion

Homily, Maundy Thursday, April 9, 2020 St Petri

Matthew 26: 26-28, 45-46

26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’

    27 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the[b] covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 

45 Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!’

 

On no occasion more than Maundy Thursday am I missing Holy Communion.

For many Christians, missing that holy meal with God’s holy community in Jesus’ presence feels like being a batter without a bat, a car without a battery; an AFL player without a game!

Lots of Christian see and do Holy Communion differently. They don’t see any issue with simply ‘doing communion’ via a radio speaker or a TV or computer screen.

In this COVID-19 moment, some of our people have suggested the same; people could get some bread and wine in their lounge room in from to the screen, and I, as Pastor could ‘say the words’ as people partake.

Can I tell you why we have always struggled with practicing Holy Communion in this way? I say this not to judge anyone or to poo-poo any of our brothers in sisters in the gospel of any denomination or tradition. That would be above my pay grade!

I say it to offer a view on it, hoping it gives everyone some clarity and possibly deeper understanding of that view for you to ponder this Maundy Thursday in these viral times.

On this first ‘night when he was betrayed’, and every time we have gathered together with Jesus for this meal since, it has always a very human meal. The very nature of Holy Communion (Like Baptism) is human – taste, touch, smell, sight, listening; words on a page, a real face-to-face fellowship in God’s Spirit in actual bread and wine which we share together; whether in a house or a church building or out under the gum tree.

We are human bodies and God knows this. He created us this way! It makes perfect sense that the way we receive his forgiveness and life through Jesus would be in ways we can grab ahold of; ways we can know and see and understand; ways that match up with who he has created us to be – human.

Indeed, God knows us and loves us so much he enters our humanness to speak to us, free us, love us. He loves humans!

It is easy to see that we receive the good news from Jesus via real human things via our bodies; things like water, bread, wine, human voice, human touch, even for many Christians, the physical sign of the cross, not to mention beautiful architecture and art and symbol that tell the greatest story ever told in ways we can receive.

So, Holy Communion is a human community gift. It is done in real time with real people via real things God has made holy, ‘set aside’, ‘consecrated’ for this purpose.

One thing is also true, Holy Communion is not magic. Even though Christians differ on what they believe actually happens to the bread  and the wine in communion, we all would surely say that those words Jesus said as he established this new meal of forgiveness and life don’t do some magic trick, either in person or through a screen.

Jesus has no need of magic tricks of or superstitious beliefs. If that were so, why would he do what he is about to do after this meal?! Why bleed and suffer and be socially isolated from his loving Father if all he had to do was snap his fingers and say ‘Open Sesame” to deal death the killer blow for us!

No, these words of Jesus, are human words for a human community in the moment, every time we gather with him to share his meal of life.

Those words of institution, that prayer of Jesus (The Lord’s Prayer), those words as we begin the meal and end the meal, the actual action of eating and drinking together with Jesus make the meal what it is.

The power of God in this human meal is a whole package, not a few magic words or a magic formula to be done by anyone any time by any means.

Can you begin to see why we have tended to steer away from ‘doing communion’ via Radio or online or via the Telly?

Again, I say this not to judge anyone, especially our wider family of Christian faith. We are family!

I know you miss this holy meal of love. But we don’t need to be alarmed! The King of love who put this meal in our life is still alive! Easter is here! He is with us still and will remain with us and this gift will return.

The church has in many times and places not been able to celebrate Holy Communion together. We have been through times of persecution, war, famine, illness, and more.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor imprisoned in a Nazi consentration camp in WWII said,

God’s people remain scattered, held together in Christ Jesus alone, having become one because they remember him in the distant lands. The believer need not feel any shame when yearning for the physical presence of other Christians, as if one were still living too much in the flesh.

 (“Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible”, trans. Daniel W. Bloesch and James H. Burtness (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005), 28 and 29. 29)

 We need each other and this human communal meal, but we will be OK as we wait. We need feel no shame. It will be a cracker of a day when we can finally share this great communal meal together!

This pandemic time is requiring lots of things of lots of people. For Christians foregoing the usual joy of Holy Communion is one more act of obedience of faith and trust in him as we live through this.

Yes, this time of pandemic invites us into the spiritual discipline of trust, waiting, vigilance, hope, and a deep desire to be united in community.

When everything is stripped away, we can rely only on Jesus. We cannot always have everything we want right away. In times of pandemic, God assures us that we have been given, not a spirit of timidity but rather “a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7).

We are invited into the spiritual disciple of restraint. Our yearning for being together at the Holy Communion meal now shows and will grow a stronger faith among us.

We have his word. We have daily prayers and psalms at our fingertips. We have a telephone. We have a computer and a phone. We have outside news coming in. We have each other still and we have him still, even on Maundy Thursday.

Jesus will willingly enter the garden of death’s dark isolation for us. He will let their threatening fear take him where he does not want to go. As he comes to his sleeping disciples, Jesus calls us the same as he did them – to see this time as his hour.

Rise, Christian. Keep going. The meal and the gift will return on the other side of this and like now, Jesus will be awake and well.

 

 

 

Will We Miss Him?

Sermon, Palm Sunday (A), April 5, 2020.

Worship Small 

Philippians 2:5–11

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

who, being in very nature[a] God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death –
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

 Matthew 21:1-11 

 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.’

This took place to fulfil what was spoken through the prophet:

‘Say to Daughter Zion,
    “See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
    and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”’[a]

The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

‘Hosanna[b] to the Son of David!’

‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’[c]

‘Hosanna[d] in the highest heaven!’

10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, ‘Who is this?”

11 The crowds answered, ‘This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.’

We went for a walk during the week. It was late in the day. The place looked deserted. If Jesus came into town today, riding a donkey, no one would be in the streets to greet him with cloaks and branches!

However, as we walked, we heard signs of life. Everyone was at home. There was noise behind fences and windows, especially kiddy noises. There was also TV noises; music, human conversation….. Homes are full even if streets are empty.

So, we are still at home even if we are not in our streets. Here is my question. Will we miss him again? As we live through this very different Palm Sunday and Easter, will we miss him coming to us again?

In these unique days when there is plenty of fear and a lack of friends to go around, will we miss the coming Saviour again? They missed him this first time.

The crowd on that Palm Sunday sensed something BIG was happening. They knew it might be to do with this donkey riding Teacher. Old hopes might be coming to life…..Hosanna!  to the Son of David!’

‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’

‘Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

 These are words for the conquering King coming to his capital city to take up his rule.

So, they say, “Yes. King, save us. King, you can save us. King, you will save us from this oppressive threat”. Hooray!!

It is one thing to welcome a winner and pray for escape from a threat, it is another to know and trust the winner, especially when the threat is over.

In the end, both the crowds gathered around the donkey riding Teacher and the general public of the city don’t really get far.

Sure, they join in with those words adoring a king after he has saved the nation’s bacon (2 Kings 9:13). The palms and cloaks show that the crowd around Jesus start out welcoming the possible new hope. But it isn’t long before they miss him. Indeed, they turn on him within a week when he fails their expectations of what they believe a king should really be and do.

There is no indication that the average Jerusalemite had much idea who this ‘Hosanna Man’ is, even if his coming causes a real stir across the whole city (Matthew 9-10).

The best those near the action can say is that this teacher is another prophet. When asked, all they can say is,

“This is the prophet Jesus, the one from Nazareth in Galilee.”       (Matthew 21:11)

Will this be our summation of the Easter King again? Will we miss him again? Will you miss him again? I hope we don’t as a community and as a nation. I hope you don’t personally.

I am hoping that because we are locked down; because we are finally stilled with our personal freedom now stripped away, because apparently, the word is being ‘reset’, that this King can finally speak and be heard for who he actually is – the one who resets the human heart, not merely a possible source of saving our bacon.

It might happen for some. We sense this threat. We share this feeling of foreboding, this concern about not just a virus, but the unraveling of our Western way of life in loss of our jobs, loss of money, loss of budget surplus, the end of our financial security, the massing of debt, and all that may mean for our future. It could be that the people behind those fences watching those screen, playing that music could be more ready and able to receive this King of freedom; this King of love; this ‘re-setter’ of our human life.

This King is coming to town again. He will tell them again by palms. wounds, blood, cross, total isolation from his beloved Father, by his words of truth and love, and by his defeat of the greatest threat life as we know it – death, that he is here for everyone in the greatest love.

Most might miss him again. The focus of our relief and celebration when this threat diminishes and this ‘war on the Virus’ has been won, might not be this Crucified Saviour of the world.

We will celebrate someone though. We always find something positive and some heroes to adore.

We are already rightly celebrating the frontline medical workers by lighting up our homes and towns in blue as they are in Paris and London. Fair enough. I am glad they are doing their selfless work!

We might celebrate the economic power the West was able to throw at this threat as it saved our nation’s bacon with massive economic rescue packages.

But we will have missed him again if that is all we can say.

Like those city dwellers and followers on that Palm Sunday, they had much to learn about who he is and what he gives.

Like our last few weeks of rapid change, they would have another interesting week after this grand entrance. This Hosanna Man will intentionally and innocently suffer in blood through the violence, hatred and venom of the human heart to usher in a completely new era of life.

He will show them he is a King who serves both the proud and the humble. He serves through more than just one threat. He serves the sick and the well, the powerful and the powerless in sheer love.

They will see that his kingdom lives by faith not sword and that all are equally lost to God and all are found by God, only in him and his words, not their words or their power or family name or excellent moral fortitude.

Many will not like their expectations and view of self and world being disarmed in this way. They will move to get rid of this Hosanna Man.

Please don’t!

Friend, we need to learn that this king is no Jeanie to rub to ‘get out of jail’.

This King is no mere manufacturer of needed hand sanitizer or face masks or holder of vast economic means, he is love; he is THE Servant King who acts beyond and below all the cash and the goods and the professionals.

Even more, he does not only heal sickness caused by a temporary virus but THE enduring sickness of the wayward disordered human heart, and disordered world we have been living in to this point. Only he can truly ‘reset’ this world. Only by his gracious love can a person be truly transformed by love to love.

Oh, the love. When we cannot understand who he is and what he is doing, he loved us. When all we can do is treat him like a magic Jeanie to fix our problems and save our bacon, or expect him to overpower the problems with economic, political or spiritual power, he stays  true to his loving mission to the cross that transform us into people who know love and can love in any threat, disease or weakness.

Friend, in our locked down streets and homes, enter this holy week with this serving king of love like none before. Let him enter your city, your castle, your home. Let him do the true resetting. As you attend to his words you won’t miss him. He will find you.

I pray that the Easter we can join in the vast community of faith to which we belong and celebrate that because this Jesus,

8 humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!

That God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the title that is above every hero,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
11 and every human voice acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God our Father.                                           (Philippians 2:8-11)

Take off the Grave Clothes

Sermon Lent 5ASunday March 29, 2020

Ezekiel 37:1-14  

The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” 

I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”  

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’” 

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.  

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.  

Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”  

John 11:1-45  

Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”  

When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”  

“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?”  

Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”  

After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”  

His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.  

So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”  

Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” 

On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.

“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”  

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”  

Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”  

Jesus said to her, “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?”  

“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”  

After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.  

When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked.  

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.  

Jesus wept.  

Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”  

But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”  

Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said.  

“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odour, for he has been there four days.”  

Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”  

So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”  

When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.  

Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”  

Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.  

 

‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ Sounds like how we are feeling in this Valley under the dark shadow of COVID-19.  

‘Bones’ here means your structure, your form as a human being. Bones are the last part of you to turn to dustthe essential lasting you.   

 The prophet hears the cry of the people – our very self feels dried up, our form as Jesus’ church seems gone. We have no structure; seemingly, no life; we are a Valley of dead, dry broken bones head for the dust.  

We cannot rattle ourselves into shape and grow some new flesh and blood. We cannot return ourselves to life in this Valley  

But then the Prophet hears those rattling bones….   

“Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army”. 

 God breathes life into the slain’. But how and how now?  

There was a woman named Mary who anointed the Teacher’s body for impending death.  One night, Mary wept over him – washing his dirty feet with her hair.   

Then her brother caught the disease. Lazarus has got more than a bad cold. If they had an ICU, he would in it.    

We are seeing this now. We are feeling this; enough to even pray like we mean it.  

We say, with Martha and Mary, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”  

Jesus, this world and our country and community is sick. We are under the darkness of threatening illness, financial ruin and even death”.   

Jesus says, “This sickness will not end in death”.   

Thy could not see this. We struggle to see this now. It is hard to hear this promise, hard to trust the one who says it, hard to rest in his words.    

As they did, we panic. Why don’t you DO something, Jesus!  

Jesus hears of his friend’s serious illness, but chooses to “self-isolate” with his mates for two whole very long days.   

We panic a bit more: “If you are not going to do something, then I will. I am going to the shops to buy not just two trolleys of supplies, but two new freezers to put it all in! And blow everyone else. Each man for himself’, I say!  

In the panic and the need, he finally speaks:  

“Lazarus is dead”.   

No one had to tell him of this death. He knows things about sickness and death they don’t  

“Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” 

 ‘Fallen asleep”? Death is just sleep? Death is temporary? Death still has hope of living? This Barossa Valley of the Shadow of Death is still the Barossa Valley of an army of new people raised to life?  

Yes. The one who has been prepared for his own death (by Mary) now arrives at his friend’s death to deal with this one death and point to the end of all death  

He feels this with us. Jesus weeps. I hear him weeping with us now  

This is not enough for some. They are ‘crocodile tears’, they say. He healed easier things – blindness, speech, legs, arms….. Why didn’t he do something straight away and fix this disease? If he can’t deal with this, he is not the real deal!  

And then it happens.   

When they can’t see. When they cannot trust. When they feel their bones are dried up and formless, when they are isolated and socially distant, all they can do is weep in pain and doubt, Jesus breathes the promise  

 “Take away the stone,” Jesus commands.  

He knows what they don’t. He does what they can’t. He loves like they need.   

Despite the stink, the defilement, the doubt and angry grief of those he loves, he loves 

“Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” 

 “Lazarus, come out!” 

 Can you hear those dead bones rattle and feel the Spirit breathe? The Valley of the Shadow of death springs to a Valley of Jesus’ resurrection lifeAnd it starts with you now.   

Death IS sleep. Death IS temporary. Death IS still hope of living. This shadow will lift. It might be lifting for you now.  

Yes. Yes! It is all of that. It still hurts. But that is all it does. Death hurts but does not kill.  

How can this possibly be? Because of him: 

“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?” 

 Friend, the stench of dark disease and death is upon us like those ugly little spiky floating balls representing this virus with which the news people keep overlaying all their news stories!   

Into our Valley of the shadow of death comes this weeping man of love who wilgo on to disarm sickness and death for all God’s creation once and for all.   

He can deal with this because he is the real deal. He has dealt death the killer blow so that it does not have that killer blow for you and me anymore.   

So, in your forced isolation when you say‘Our bones as people and as church are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off’;   

When all you can see and hear are people grasping to escape the threat without him and his resurrection from death as they hoard and worry and give in to panicky anxiousness or play it all down and declare themselves to be immune from this for whatever reason;   

When you are weeping; when you are worried; when you feel dead as a door knob as you lock the doors of your house and wonder what on earth will become of you and all that you know; he does it.   

He breathes his breath of peace into you by his Word, as he did in that baptismal waterAs he did then, he speaks your bones back to life today. He shows us we still have form, his form, his shape, his life, his hope.   

He asks a simple question of you today:  

“Do you believe this?”   

“I am the resurrection and the life”. 

 “I am YOUR resurrection and life” 

“I am this community’s resurrection and life” 

I am this country and this world’s resurrection and life”  

Friend, wait on him…. 

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
    and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning,
    more than watchmen wait for the morning. 

People of God, put your hope in the Lord,
    for with the Lord is unfailing love
He himself will save his people. (Psalm 130) 

 Jesus says to you now, “Take off the deathly grave clothes and breathe new again.” 

A Communal Love

Sermon: RENEW Mission Life: Where Love Comes to Life

Sermon Four: …COMES TO LIFE

Small Worship, Sunday March 22, 2020. 

Colossians 3.1-11

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your[a] life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.[b] 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

I was glad to hear the Prime Minister name the selfishness apparent in the hoarding at supermarkets across the country in his speech during this week. I hope people stop that. It reminded me of that self-orientation living inside all of us, even those of us already made new by the Spirit by water and Word.

We too struggle daily with this self-orientation. As Luther rightly put it, we tend to ‘curve in on ourselves’ and that causes no end of relationship breakdown, unfairness and pain.

Even our longing for love and belonging can be very self-centred. “All I need is for someone to love me!” is a selfish cry too! It’s still “all about me”; very individually centred.

We in the West have been steeped in this individualistic kind of way of life. We tend to transfer this individualism into our hearing of God’s Word. We often hear that being a Christian person is all about “Jesus and Me” way more than “Jesus and US”.

But even in our self-orientated individualistic world, we recognise that love still counts. We somehow know that love is more valuable than anything else. We look for love. We long for that sense of belonging that makes us matter. We ache for true, faithful, irreversible affection. Just put your attention on the world of the Arts!

God says that he IS love; agape; self-giving, self-sacrificing love. It is the fullest love and it is communal by nature. God’s love is never just for him and never all about me. Only. It is always for me and others around me. God’s love is communal because God is communal in nature.

The great jewel at the centre of Christian faith is this: God is Community; perfect community; Three Persons in One Person.

God’s Communal Love

The Father loves the Son, the Spirit loves the Father; the Father gives honour to the Son, the Son glorifies the Father; the Spirit glorifies the Father and the Son…and so on. You get the picture and can see that that’s the way it is.

In other words, the love of God is not an abstract idea. It is personal, divine communal self-giving, self-sacrificing love.

But how do we know this communal love? How do we experience it? How does it comes to us and make love a reality among us and in God’s world?

Gods Open Circle

God loves in every possible way. He creates (he enters into relationships outside of himself), he sustains (he commits himself to that set of relationships eternally), in his Son, Jesus, he redeems (he opens himself to the pain of rejection, entering into death itself to redeem the creation he’s brought into being).

And he glorifies. Not just redeems us then leaves us to our own social distancing and self isolation! He glorifies. He brings us into the divine family. He adopts us his own kids in baptism and places us in his holy community of self-giving, self-sacrificing love. He makes us his family. He unites us with Jesus.

He gives his life for living today, no matter the virus, the threat the size of the group. He bestows his Spirit on us, and in us, to call him “Abba, Father”. He spreads his table before us in the presence of all enemies of love in love (Psalm 23).

Look at that set place and know it is your place in the church with Jesus!

God’s love comes to life in communities

God’s love comes to life in communities. God’s love produces new expressions of human fellowship. It breaks down dividing walls, drowning old hostilities under the flood of his grace.

This is not just some future ‘heavenly’ thing. This is for now. What I’m describing is the very thing that marked the New Testament churches. They needed a new vocabulary to describe the love they experienced (agape) and a new way of expressing their self-emptied devotion to one another (koinonia).

That’s why the gospel was—and is—so radical. It made previously divided and often hostile groups into one. Jews and Gentiles, slave and free, male and female; “here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all” (Col. 3:11).

When Paul speaks like this he’s not describing what might be one day. He’s giving voice to what the gospel actually did. It created a community that had never existed before. Christians had a new citizenship, a new family. And the whole of the New Testament is devoted to proclaiming and sharing this this miracle of love. That’s what Paul is so red-hot in his opposition to any form of so-called ‘gospel’ which would undermine it. Just read Galatians, for example!

Because that community had God’s communal love coming to life in people, it was very open to the outsider. No closed club, but a flowing embrace of grace.

Yes. To be like this is risky. As we said, to love it to risk. But would we rather be totally alone, totally disconnected without any love? That would kill us. That would be ‘hell’.

Better to be involved in God’s love coming to life in our deadness, God’s belonging creating new community in our social distancing, God’s mission to love our enemies that breaks down our hoarding. That is what the world needs. It is what I need. It is what you need.

Friends, as you spend time alone or in smaller groups in these days, trust that the loving Spirit is at work among us. His ways are not our ways. This testing time is also his growing time.

The love of God never leaves you where you were, or where you are! He is moving you along the journey into his communal life. Hed is opening us to life you or we never imagined.

Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

 

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