1 Peter 1:3-9

I have here some number plates.  Where are they from?  Why do I have them in my hand and not on my car?

Yes, I have had to change the number plates on my car when we changed states.  Really, we have given our car a new identity.  The old plates are now useless, invalid and cannot be used to identify the car; the new identity plates reveal and correspond to the new reality that the car now belongs in and operates in New South Wales.

We also take on a new identity when we move states.  Who here has moved to a new state?  You would know well then, the changes that come about with such a move.  It could be seen as a beginning of a new life; a new birth into a different world; a different way of living and thinking; a different way of doing things and different ways of speaking.  Words no longer have the same meaning.  Port is no longer a fortified wine, it’s a case you carry; who would have guessed.  And no one knows what fritz is.  Grant becomes GrAnt and dance becomes dAnce.

Yes, when we move state, its really like being born into a different world.  The old ways of doing things and the old ways of thinking are no longer valid in this new world.  There is no point telling country energy the stobey pole out front has just been struck by lightening, they have no idea what us ex-South Aussies are talking about. We must take on and conform to the new world we find ourselves.  Like the car’s new identity, we now live according to the new world we find ourselves.  Simply by being in NSW, we inherit the life, the values and benefits of this state; a new world passed down and given for us long before we got here.

Jesus’ resurrection from the grave ushered in a new world; a world completely different to what we have now.  A world in which there is no condemnation over sin, there is no death, no fears or suffering.  Revelation, a book which describes this new world says ‘There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” The old world, the world we live in, has been surpassed and a new world of the resurrection is now in place.  A world born out of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead; born out of his suffering, born out of his punishment for sin and is therefore no longer part of the old order of things; the way we see and experience things now.

Peter talks about the new resurrection world as being eternal; it cannot die away, spoil or fade.  It is a world different to the world we know and live in, where everything eventually dies.  Sounds wonderful doesn’t it.  Want to be part of it?  Want to move to this new state; (power point) The state of NSW… the New Saviour’s World?  I don’t know anyone who would not want to move to a state where the two truths of this world ‘death and taxes’ no longer exist.  I don’t know anyone who would not want to live in a place where tears are a thing of the past and suffering is unheard of.      The state of the New Saviour’s World

Unfortunately, this is not the case.  In fact it is quite the opposite, many people are actually opting out of the new world.  They no longer believe this world could possibly exist.  No longer believe that Jesus rose from the dead to be the first born of many to enter into this new world.  And what is so sad, is many of our friends and family cannot comprehend such a place and so reject it as wishful thinking.

Why is this?  Why is it that so many want to miss out on such a state as the New Saviour’s World?  Why is it, WE sometimes feel as if the new world does not exist? Is it because the Saviour’s New World is too different, too hard to comprehend; too unbelievable?  Is it that we and many others in this world, only know suffering, only know death, and only know happiness and contentment in the things we have; material happiness and so think there can’t be more to life?  After all, we conclude, nothing much changed for me after Jesus’ resurrection.  We still die, we still suffer, we still need to find our own happiness.

Perhaps that is the key to our problem, we are hanging onto the old world, we have yet to grasp faith in the new; we are yet to know what it means to believe.  Perhaps we still base our faith on what we see around us, and not what is unseen and what is yet to come; perhaps we don’t understand what it means to take hold of a promise from God.  We see and experience almost a complete opposite to what the New Saviour’s World is supposed to be and so, based on this, we decide the new world can’t be real; we are like doubting Thomas ‘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 it.”

That sort of thinking s not faith, as Jesus said ‘blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  Faith is as Paul writes ‘we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.’  The resurrection of Jesus ushered in the new creation, the second creation if you like; the beginning of a new state, a new world which is now encroaching on this world.  The New Saviour’s World, yet to be realized, yet to be revealed, yet to be seen, but is never the less, it is real.  And it is making a difference now and bring changes to people’s lives now.

In faith we believe this to be so.  As Christians we are believers;  believers in the new world; that is, we believe in the resurrection of Jesus and the beginning of a new world order.   Peter writes ‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade– kept in heaven for you.’

By faith we are born into the state of New Saviour’s World; a world that will never perish; a world where we will live eternally with God.  Faith is trusting in the promise of God that there is such a place as heaven; a place given to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus; a place Jesus began when he rose from the dead, never to die again.  Our baptism is where we were born again into this world.  We became citizens of New Saviour’s World; a place where we never die.  And this has an enormous impact on the way we now live in this world.

When we change states in Australia, like from SA to NSW, we leave behind the old ways and conform to the new world we find ourselves.  As heirs to heaven, we have a new identity, a new birth into a new world. We now live according to the new world we find ourselves.  We inherit the life, the values and benefits of this state; a new world passed down and given for us by the grace of God through faith Jesus Christ.

As children of the New Saviour’s World, we are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for we are receiving the goal of our faith, the salvation of our souls.  And this hope colours and changes our world now.  Our life here on earth is the beginning of a new life eternal; we have a different way of living and thinking; a different way of doing things and different ways of speaking.  So let us show that we live in this new state by our actions towards one another.  Let us show others that the resurrection has made a difference to us and can make a difference to them.

Yes, by the power of the resurrection, and by the power of your baptism, you are a citizen of heaven; you are in the New Saviour’s World.  Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!

He is risen, He is risen indeed – John 20:1-10

The power has been unleashed, the horse has bolted, or as the song goes ‘who let the dogs out!’  There is no turning back, no changing of time, no looking at the past; the world is now a different place.  Jesus has risen from the grave; halleluiah!   The resurrection is the power that drives Christianity; it is the source, energy and heart of the Christian faith; our faith.  Without it, with out Jesus rising from the dead, we would have no need to be here.  In fact we wouldn’t be here, there wouldn’t be a church and there wouldn’t be a religion called ‘Christianity’.

The power of the resurrection is like the power of a car engine; it’s what makes it go. The key component to a car is the engine; it’s the power that drives the car. It is the force and heart of the car which makes it go. Without an engine, a car would be pointless, in fact totally useless and irrelevant to any body.  Without an engine, there would be no such  thing as a car.  The internal combustion engine changed the world forever; it changed us as a society and changed the way we do things;.

Surprisingly, for such a big world changing thing, the engine is really quite small and quite a simple invention.  The elements of fuel and air are brought together, compressed, and then burned to produce energy and that energy is spent on driving the wheels of a car. Most people don’t really know how the engine works, they just trust that when they turn the key, they can make use of the power; it is the life changing power they are after.

The resurrection is the engine that drives Christianity; it changed the world forever and it powered civilisation into a new era.  Even though the resurrection is such a small blip in human history, it is the power, the force, the heart of Christianity and it is what you and I believe in.  St Paul is convinced the resurrection of Jesus is so central to our faith, he writes ‘If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.  And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith; you are still in your sins.’  Just like a car is useless with out an engine to power it, our faith is useless without the power of Jesus’ resurrection.

Is it no wonder then, that the devil is constantly trying to disprove and discredit the resurrection as nonsense and a trick.  Is it any wonder, people have been trying to prove the resurrection is false for the last 2000 years.  Some, like Sigmund Freud would argue that the story of the resurrection is just a projection of the inner desires of the disciples; a story brought about by their extreme circumstances and imbalanced mental state.  They so desperately wanted Jesus to rise from the dead, Feud would say, that they convinced each other he did.  The resurrection story is just a wish coming from their subconsciousness.

Others argue that we cannot place trust is 2000 year old writings.  We can’t be certain they got it right.  Yes, because Jesus rasing from the dead is the power of our faith, it is the first thing the devil attacks.  Perhaps you have also questioned the resurrection; is it real, did it really happen, perhaps Jesus never died or someone actually did steal his body?  Yes, I think we all, at one time or another, wonder what if…?

We shouldn’t be surprised about this.  Something so central, so important, something that is the power and heart of our faith, is always going to come under attack from the devil.  If he can take the resurrection away from us, he knows we have nothing.  There is no hope and so no faith to believe in.  There is no forgiveness and no life after death. The devil wants to take the power out of our engine, the God event that drives Christianity; Jesus raising from the dead.

Well let’s give our engine a once over; let’s take a look at the resurrection, and like a tune-up on our car, we’ll analyse its power, check for faults and reaffirm its solid truth  as a reliable engine, suitable to be at the heart of faith.

Archaeologists have found an abundance of original copies of New Testament manuscripts dating back to the first centenary after Jesus ascension.  In fact over 24,000 copies are known to be in existence today.  And they are identical to the gospels you and I read in our bibles.  Luke wrote at the beginning of his gospel “authentic evidence” concerning the resurrection. Sir William Ramsay, who spent 15 years attempting to undermine Luke credentials as a historian, and to refute the reliability of the New Testament, finally concluded: “Luke is a historian of the first rank . . . This author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians. ”

What about the Roman seal which was broken when the stone was rolled away?
The consequences of breaking a Roman seal were extremely severe. If this ever happened, the Federal police of the Roman Empire were called into action to find the man or men who were responsible. If they were apprehended, it meant automatic execution by crucifixion upside down. People feared the breaking of the seal. Jesus’ disciples would not have done this as they displayed signs of cowardice when they hid themselves. Peter, one of these disciples, went out and denied Christ three times. They were not courageous men willing to do such a thing!

The large stone rolled away
On that Sunday morning the first thing that impressed the people who approached the tomb was the unusual position of the one and a half to two ton stone that had been lodged in front of the doorway. All the Gospel writers mention it.  Those who observed the stone after the resurrection describe its position as having been rolled up a slope away not just from the entrance of the tomb, but from the entire massive sepulcher. It was in such a position that it looked as if it had been picked up and carried away. Now, I ask you, if the disciples had wanted to come in, tiptoe around the sleeping guards, and then roll the stone over and steal Jesus’ body, how could they have done that without the guards’ awareness?

The Roman guards fled. Why else would they flee, other than from fear over being on duty when their superiors arrive to inspect. The fear of their superiors’ wrath and the possibility of death meant that Roman soldiers paid close attention to the minutest details of their jobs.  Dr. George Currie, a student of Roman military discipline, wrote that fear of punishment “produced flawless attention to duty, especially in the night watches.”  The guards fled because they had no explainable excuse for the seal being broken and the stone rolled away.

John, a disciple of Jesus, looked over to the place where the body of Jesus had lain, and there were the grave clothes, neatly folded with the Jesus’ face cloth separated and also neatly folded. The first thing that stuck in the minds of the disciples was not the empty tomb, but rather the empty grave clothes–undisturbed in form and position; Why would grave robbers unwrap Jesus’ body and fold the linen cloths?  No, Jesus must have risen and placed them there.

The women were the first to spread the good news of Jesus’ resurrection.  At the time of the resurrection, a woman’s testimony was not valid in a court of law, only a man’s.  So why, if the disciples wanted to trick people into believing Jesus raised from the dead, would they get the women to spread the news when most people would not believe a woman’s testimony?

SO there we have it, just some of the proofs which will help you to place your trust in the power of the resurrection.  Some inexplicable proofs yes, but finally and ultimately, there is really only one proof we need, Jesus own words.  He said ‘I am the resurrection and the life’, who ever believes in me, even though they die, yet they will live.  Do you believe this?’  Yes Lord we believe. He has risen….He has risen indeed; halleluiah.

The silent treatment

The silent treatment.  Does everyone know what the silent treatment is?  It is when a husband or wife or a close friend whom we normally communicate with, refuses to talk to us.  In fact it goes further than this, the full blown silent treatment also includes refusal to recognise the other person even exists.  Have you had the silent treatment placed on you?  If you have, you will know how it feels – lonely.

A friend or marriage partner will usually give us the silent treatment because we have hurt of offended them in some way.  Perhaps we made some cutting remark or did something to betray their trust, and now the friend we dearly love, refuses to look, to talk and even to acknowledge us.  Nothing we say or do seem to change the situation; it is like all connections with our loved one have been cut.

And what is so horrible about ‘silent treatment’ is that we have no way of resolving the issue; we have no way of communicating or gaining their attention.  We have been cut off; the silent treatment is really saying ‘I am mad and I refuse to deal with you and now you must suffer the consequences of your actions; I’m turning my back on this relationship’.  Silence causes a great chasm between the two people that cannot be crossed.  It can’t be seen, and it’s negative effects can only be experienced by the one person it is intended for; the perpetrator.

Good Friday is ‘silent treatment day’ for Jesus.  The time of year we mark as the day God turned his back on Jesus; the day God refused to have anything to do with his one and only Son; the day God’s silent treatment on Jesus made a great chasm that could not be crossed and it’s negative effects could only be experienced by the one person it is intended for; Jesus.

Mark records the precise moment God gave Jesus the full blown silent treatment; refusing even to acknowledge him; refusing even to look on him with kindness.   This is the moment when God walked away from his Son.  Mark writes ‘At noon darkness came over the whole land until 3 in the afternoon. And at this hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”– which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Full blown silent treatment!  God, Jesus’ God, his own Father, refuses to speak and refuses to acknowledge Jesus; in his own words ‘he is forsaken’.  At this point no one but Jesus is experiencing the isolation and rejection.  Those standing around, those mocking, those weeping, those executing, those criminals each side of Jesus, have no idea of what is going on; no idea of the enormity of this situation; when God rejects his Son.

O yes, some present may have an inkling.  Nature itself, which normally displays the glory and majesty of God, is darkened; the light and heat of the sun is blackened, nature displays God’s anger; The darkness is a manifestation of the utter separation and loneliness Jesus is experiencing during the silent treatment.

And Jesus, deep, loud and desperate call ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me’ gives some idea to those around, that something big is happening; something beyond their understanding; beyond our understanding; that the Father could be so angry as to turn away and leave his Son to die.  Here, in the darkness and rejection of Jesus, we have the difference between Gethsemane and Golgotha; the difference between last night and today.  In the garden Jesus has a God who hears and strengthens him; on the cross this same God has rejected him.

Why?  Jesus was made sin for us, made a curse for us; Jesus is made revolting for us.  Every evil thing humans have ever done and will ever do.  Every evil thing we have done and will ever do is placed upon Jesus.  Jesus, even though he was without sin, is SIN – for us.  Our sin is on the cross; So repulsive and so disgusting, that God turns away from Jesus and gives him the worst ever case of silent treatment.

We can thank God that it was not us.  Its bad enough to have someone we love turn away from us, but to have God, our God, turn away from us in our deepest need, would be too much to bear.  We can thank God that Jesus took this rejection upon himself so we didn’t have too.  Jesus thirsts for God, but God has removed himself.  It is not that Jesus left God, as is often the case with us, Its far worse, it is God leaving Jesus; Father leaving Son; the son cries, but there is not response.

What is meant by God being silent?  What purpose did it achieve?  To be forsaken by God is to suffer his wrath and anger against sin.  In giving Jesus the silent treatment, he was saying ‘I am mad and I refuse to deal with you and now you must suffer the consequences of your actions; I’m turning my back on this relationship’.  And it is only in this wrath, in this rejection of Jesus, that the price of sin was paid.  Jesus endured the full penalty of sin, our sin, when God turned on the silent treatment.

This is where the rubber hits the road for us.  God’s rejection of Jesus means we are not rejected.  It means that we can come to God full of sin, knowing that he will NOT give us the silent treatment because of our sin.  He can’t.  His anger over our sin has been dealt with in his rejection of Jesus; God is always going to be there for us.  To hear our concerns and answer our prayers.

And that’s not all.  There is one other very important event that happened on the cross; an action by God which profoundly changed our circumstances before him as we pass from this life into eternity.

Jesus died in the arms of his Father.  The silent treatment ended, his wrath over, God turned to acknowledge Jesus; the Father once again welcomes the Son.  With Jesus’ dying words ‘into your hands I comment my Spirit’ the Father takes hold of Jesus and places him in his care in order to raise him from the grave.   In death Jesus was not forsaken by God.  This is the breaking ray of Easter hope.   In death, because of Jesus, we too will not be forsaken by God.  We too, will die in the arms of our Heavenly Father; what joy in the midst of suffering.

Maundy Thursday 2008 – Luke 22:7-16

As evening draws near, and darkness covers our land, it is a reminder of the darkness of sin which covers us all.  And it is a reminder of the darkness of this night, Maundy Thursday.  The night Jesus is betrayed; handed over to human evil, to be flogged, beaten and crucified.

But before this can happen, while there is still light; while Jesus, the light of the world still shines, there needs to be a preparation and a celebration of the Passover meal.  Jesus and his disciples are reclined at a table like this; like us.  And they are eating a holy meal, a meal instituted by God himself as an everlasting decree.  A Passover meal which is a reminder of the night God brought the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt.

However, this meal is different, and this time a new meaning is placed on the meal.  This is going to be the new Passover, the new covenant meal.  Jesus is hosting this meal and he is instituting what is going to be the culminating event, a lasting will and testament to a new deal between God and man; a celebration of a new exodus from slavery.

How?  Luke records ‘Then came the day of unleavened bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed’.  On this night, outside among men, and inside among God’s people, together with this meal, Jesus is being prepared as the new Passover lamb.  To replace the temporary and continuing sacrifice of the original Passover lamb in the Temple.  He is replacing the old Passover with a new purpose. Jesus took this meal and made it his meal; this is Jesus’ Passover, because on this night, he is the one who must be sacrificed and it is he who stands on the threshold of a new era of salvation.

Tonight we have before us Traditional Passover food, the same food Jesus and the disciples would have ate.  Except we as Christians have a different emphasis, a deeper purpose, yet in a way, we have the same meaning to the meal as the Jews.

• Maror: bitter herbs, usually horseradish or romaine lettuce, is used to symbolize the bitterness of slavery in Egypt.  The Charoses: a mixture of apples, nuts, wine, and cinnamon, is a reminder of the mortar used by the Jews in the construction of the buildings in Egypt as slaves.  The people of Israel were horribly treated as slaves.  The harder they worked the more the Egyptian king forced them to work.  Many could not keep up and were flogged and even killed.  There was no way out.

We too are in slavery.  St Paul writes ‘When you were slaves to sin, what benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death!’  We are born into bondage of sin which holds us as slaves; it is our master.  No matter how hard we try, we cannot fully and completely fulfil what God demands of us; Sin has us in bondage and it is killing us, as Paul writes ‘the wages of sin is death’.  Just as the Jews where in bondage in Egypt and needed rescuing by God, we also need to be rescued

The Beitzah: a roasted egg, is a symbol of life and the perpetuation of existence.  And the Karpas: a vegetable, preferably parsley or celery, represents hope and redemption from God; served with a bowl of salted water to represent the tears shed in slavery and calling out to God.
Our hope of salvation is Jesus Christ As Paul writes ‘God has chosen to make known among us the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.  While we still have tears, we live in the hope of Jesus Christ, for he is our redemption from our bondage to sin.

• Matzoh: Three unleavened matzohs are placed within the folds of a napkin as a reminder of the haste with which the Israelites fled Egypt, leaving no time for dough to rise.  Deuteronomy records ‘You shall eat no leaven bread with the Passover meal; seven days your shall eat it with hurried flight- that all the days of your life you may remember the day when you come out of the land of Egypt.’

This is the bread which fed the Israelites as they were freed from slavery.  It is also the manna sent by God to feed the Israelites while in the desert.  The Matzah is both a bread of freedom from slavery and a bread of life which will feed them in the desert until they reach the promise land; a bread of salvation and of life.  In the Last Supper, Jesus takes this bread and says ‘take and eat this is my body which is given for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.’  With these words, Jesus is the bread which will now be eaten as the true bread of salvation and life.  His body, in which we feed is the bread which will bring us out of slavery, from our bondage of sin, and his body is the bread which also feeds us until we reach the promised land; the New Jerusalem.  He is the bread of salvation and life.

Zeroah: traditionally a piece of roasted lamb shankbone, symbolizing the paschal sacrificial offering.  Passover lamb was to be without blemish and with no broken bones.  It was to be slain and its blood was sprinkled on the door posts, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.  In the meal Jesus is holding, the paschal lamb, or Passover Lamb was sacrificed in preparation for the meal at 3pm in the temple.  The blood of the lamb was then sprinkled on the altar and on other holy parts of the inner sanctuary to pay for sins, and is also a reminder of the blood which saved Israel when the angel of death passed over the people; the sacrifice of the lamb saved them from death.

Jesus is the new Pascal Lamb; without blemish and with no broken bones.  In this meal Jesus is preparing himself for His death on the cross; to be the new sacrifice for our salvation.  His blood is poured out for us so that the angel of death will pass over us. Jesus blood is now the blood which is sprinkled on all of us to pay for our sins; Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

The cup of Wine: four glasses of wine are consumed during the meal to represent the four-fold promise of redemption.

This is the cup Jesus took and said ‘Take and drink of it all of you for this is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’.  The wine in the cup which was the promise of redemption, is now fulfilled in the blood of Jesus.  The blood of the Passover lamb that was sprinkled on the altar for the forgiveness of sin, is now Jesus’ blood, in, with and under the wine.  The promise of redemption is Jesus and he gives us his blood to sprinkle on our hearts to purify us and cleanse us of all our sins.

Yes, this is a special meal of utter importance for us who believe in Jesus; a meal which gives us salvation from sin and death and a meal that gives us life eternal.  So let us now join with Jesus and share in the meal he is hosting, and eat and drink the body and blood of the sacrificial lamb who takes away the sins of the world.

John 11

What qualities make a good mate?
We Aussies treasure a good mate.  In fact Australia was founded on mateship and mateship is what forges us as a nation.  Mates on the sports field, mates on school grounds, mates at work.  Without a good mate, someone to rely on, someone you can really trust, our lives can be very lonely and a lot harder to handle.

It is during the most difficult times in life, when the chips are down, that mates seem so important.  In fact, have you noticed, it is precisely in suffering, a special bond between mates is made; in a time of disaster, people pull together and mateship is forged; the sort of mateship we remember most.  The people of Nyngan endured a flood which engulfed their whole town, with most buildings over a meter under water and nearly everyone evacuated.

This happened nearly 20 years ago, yet even today, even though the people and the town continue to prosper, the thing they talk about most, is the flood and how they suffered together and how mates come together to see a mate through a hard time; mates who worked together to see this disaster through.

Yes, it is important to remember the hard times, the suffering and trials, and to remember mates who never gave up on us.

I often hear Christians say that the believer’s life is a life of victory, of joy and boundless possibilities; health and wealth gospel you could say. And many of the modern Christian songs of praise now reflect this thinking.  Yes, while it is true, Jesus has won the victory over sin and death, and we should be joyful over this news, is that all there is to know about God?  Is the God of victory and joy; the post-resurrection God, the only God we need to know?  Is the resurrected and ascended Lord Jesus no longer the suffering Lord?  No loner the one called Emmanuel, God with us, even in our suffering?

Let me pose you another question, is having mates all about the good times, the joy and victories?  I think not.  Mates are there for us also in the hard times, and the suffering.  And if we can sing ‘What a friend we have in Jesus, well then Jesus needs to be our mate in suffering also.

The story of Jesus raising Lazarus is a story of mateship amongst suffering. And it is a story that all of us can relate to;   Its about the hard times, about suffering and sorrow and its about death;  It’s a story about how Jesus, a friend of Lazarus, a mate, came to those suffering ; to be with the people and to be a mate with them, even in death; topics, which most Christians rarely talk about; yet isn’t it ironic, that much of the bible is about God helping those in trouble and suffering.

As Christians, we need to recognise the reality of death and suffering, of family hurts and tragedies, because it is inevitable, and when it happens, we want to know that we have a God, who is not only understanding, but who is a friend who will be there with us, to help us, like a mate in a time of disaster.

Mary and Matha were in such a situation; distort, as Lazarus, their brother, was dying.  They were helpless; what could they do?  Who could they turn to?  Immediately, on realizing Lazarus’ dire situation, Mary and Matha sent a message to Lazarus’ dearest friend Jesus.  ‘Lord, the one whom you love is dying’, or in Aussie lingo, ‘Jesus, your best mate is dying’.  Yes, they trusted that their mate Jesus could do something, they were not sure what, but they knew a good mate would always see it through; they trusted in him and believed he would help.

When Jesus arrived at the place where Lazarus lived, he was greeted with Mary’s tears of helplessness.  ‘Lord, if you were here, my brother would not have died’.  If you were here, your mate Lazarus would not have died.’  It is as if Jesus failed to be a good mate and didn’t see a friend through a hard time; Lazarus had died and Jesus was nowhere to be seen.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus let Lazarus die, and when he did finally turn up, why he didn’t just go straight to the grave to raise Lazarus, but instead, went first to those most desperate; to those suffering most?  Why he came face to face with hurting mates?

Perhaps he did this to demonstrate his love; his willingness to share in the burden of a friend; to show that he is able to be called upon, even in the darkest hour, even when he has seemingly left them all alone.

Perhaps he did this to fulfil their deepest human desire,… to have God with them, amongst them in their hopelessness, amongst the tears, and in the midst of despair.  Perhaps he did this so he can offer an amazing hope; and he did just that!  Jesus stood among the suffering and said ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die’

And with these words still resounding in the ears of Mary and Matha, and those present, Jesus calls Lazarus out of the grave; raises him from the dead, to show that his words are not empty; to show that he is in deed a good mate; faithful and true to what he says, and always there in time of need.  Jesus is among the dead and the mourning to be the resurrection and the life.

And can I assure you, he is among us still today, Jesus is Jesus and he is a friend of sinners, a good mate, still hang’n round those of us in need, answering our calls for help, coming to our aid and fulfilling our deepest desire;…to have Jesus with us.  However, his aid may not be what we expect, or when we expect it, as Mary and Matha found out.  Perhaps we too will call out ‘Lord, if only you were here’.  But it just maybe, in allowing us to suffer, Jesus is giving us time to be with him, so that he can be  amongst our hopelessness, amongst our tears, and in the midst of our despair, so that he can offer us an amazing hope.

Just as in earthly tragedies, which heighten our desire for a close friend to be with us, our trials and our struggles in life also heighten and reveal the true longing for God we all have; that desire to fulfil a need to be with God.

In trials Jesus comes to us, not to just fix up the problem, but to just be with us, to fulfil our longing for him, just as he did with Mary and Matha.  Jesus fulfils our need to see and experience God; Jesus makes God personal; here is God face to face; here is God who we can know and handle, feel and name.

How is Jesus present with us?  Simply when a fellow Christian visits and reads God’s word to us and prays with us, because Jesus has given as an incredible promised ‘where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am also’.  And he is with us bodily when we partake in the sacrament of Holy Communion.

And in Jesus just being there, amongst our daily struggles, whether we realize it or not, Jesus is calming our restless hearts; filling our yearning for him with the promise of hope and a way out.

Lent is a good time to remember that Jesus left the glory of heaven and suffered for us; a time to remember that through his suffering and death he forged a new mateship with us; and it is a time to ponder once again how he is with us in our need by his body and blood, in the bread and the wine, so that his word may continue to ring in our ears and splash on our lips ‘whoever believes in me  will never die, but be raised to eternal life’.

He came through with Lazarus, and raised him from the grave; and he will come through with us, in this life, and in the life to come.  So who better then, to have as a mate in times of suffering and strife than Jesus; who is not only he for us on earth, but here for us in eternity; yes what a mate indeed. Amen

John 9:1-41

It has been suggested that the origins of denominations occurred when all the healed blind men in the bible met each other. At first they were all excited about the miracle of sight that Jesus had given them, but as they talked about how Jesus had healed them, they began to discover some significant differences. For some, the healing came with simply a touch from Jesus (Matt 9:29; 20:34). Another proudly boasted that he had enough faith so that Jesus didn’t have to touch him to perform the miracle (as recorded Mk 10:52).

Another meekly exclaimed that Jesus not only touched him twice, but also “spit on his eyes” in order for him to see clearly (as Mk also records 8:23). The final one really felt embarrassed to admit that even though a touch wasn’t part of his healing, Jesus’ “spit” wasn’t enough. Jesus had mixed his saliva with dirt and put the mud on his eyes and then told him to go and wash in some pool of water (Jn 9:6-7). Since each one thought his healing was normal and better than the others, they divided into spittites and non-spittites; muddites and non-muddites; touchites and non-touchites. Denominationalism was born.

Isn’t it funny how we often admit we are not an authority on one particular thing; we don’t have all the answers; we are prepared to take another opinion or view; we are, as the saying goes, more a ‘jack of all trades, and master of none’.  But when it comes to God, and who he is and how he works…well, we are all experts; we’re masters and everyone else is a jack of all trades.

Like the spitters or the non-spitters, we know best and we know exactly how God acts or would act in every situation.  We know he worked in our life in this way, therefore he must work in the same way for everyone else; we have our religion down pat and God all squared off; there is nothing new about God we don’t already know.

We all have religious glasses through which we look at God and understand him.  You through the lens of the Uniting, me and others here, through Lutheran lenses; each of us, looking at God, seeing him work within the boundaries and scope of our glasses.  We are confident, and we are sure that we have the right glasses because surely after 2000 years, we aught to know God; know his ways; know how he saves.

But has God ever surprised you?  Has he ever done something so radical in your life, that he left you gob smacked; unable to say for certain that this is God working?  Have you even been confronted with a situation that made you realize, that when it comes to God, we are not masters, but rather a jack of all trades?  Why is it that God sometimes shocks us?  Could it be that we are so darn certain we know God, so focused on our glasses through which we see God, when some miracle, or some tragedy happens in our life, we are actually blinded to God; we cannot see him in our situation and think it cannot be from him; he just wouldn’t do that; its fate, or good planning or just luck…but not God.

This is how it was for the Pharisees and the Jews in general.  They had God down pat.  He only works within the focal range of their glasses; through the confines of their lenses; the perimeters set by the laws of Moses.  After all, God spoke to Moses and told him everything the people of Israel needed to know.  The Pharisees’ glasses where not bifocals, they didn’t have another view of God; another way to see him.  They were certain they knew God the only way.

Then, a man turns up, a man who was blind but now sees; a man who was once a beggar but is now free.  A man that claims God did it; a man named Jesus did it.

How can this be they exclaim!  This cannot be so, God doesn’t work this way. ‘”How were your eyes opened?’…‘Where is this man?’…‘How did you receive your sight?’… ‘This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath?’… ‘How can a sinner do such miraculous signs?’… ‘What have you to say about him?’………………………

‘How is it that now he can see?’

Jesus spat on the ground, made mud, put it on the blind man’s eyes, he washed and he could see.  Simple, powerful… a miracle; A God action.  Yet they found it hard to believe, because God does not work this way, healing on the Sabbath, mixing with sinners and welcoming the unclean. It just doesn’t fit the glasses through which God is understood.  And because of this, they can’t actually see Jesus is God.  How ironic is that!  The blind man sees and the seeing are blind!  This is why Jesus says to them “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”

Yes, we can be so sure of God, so sure that our glasses are the perfect lens to see God, that we are actually blind to him.

Let us then contrast this sort of faith; this sort of certainty about God that actually blinds to the truth, to faith of the blind man.

Did he claim to know everything about God?  Did he claim to have all the answers; the perfect ‘theology’ about God?  No, all he knew was this ‘I was blind, but now I see’.  His healing by Jesus; the opening of his eyes, did not give him the final and ultimate answer to God.  And neither was it the end of his relationship with Jesus.  Rather it was the beginning; the start of a journey of discovery about God; to discover who God is and why he did such a thing as heal him of his blindness.

Jesus never gave him all the answers, and with good reason.  He wanted the man to grapple with the God questions; to struggle with why and how faith is relevant in daily life, and to debate and discuss with others the questions about Jesus, who he was and why he come.  Jesus wanted the blind man to not only see the world, but to also see him; to have eyes of faith that are not dependant on others and their vision of God, but to have eyes of faith that are his own and that are dependant on him alone.

The man had to struggle with all the questions and doubt, the fears and persecution, the confessions and ultimately, the isolation of being kicked out of the temple.  But as he took each step in his journey, as he made a confession about Jesus, God was opening his eyes of faith.  From ‘I don’t know who he is’, to ‘he is a prophet’, to ‘he is from God,’ to finally ‘Lord, I believe, you are the Son of God; his eyes of faith are opened.

From the day of our baptism; the day we received the miracle healing of Jesus; the miracle of forgiveness and eternal life, to this present day, we are on a journey of discovery; a journey to discover the wonderful and glorious mercies of God; and to discover what it means in everyday life.  We did not receive all the right answers about God that day.  Our healing by Jesus did not give us the final and ultimate answer to God.  Every one of us needs to grapple with the God questions; to struggle with why and how, to debate and discuss with each other the questions about Jesus, who he is and why he did such a thing as save a wretch like me.

And as we continue to do this, to confess out faith to others, to admit we don’t have all the answers; to allow ourselves to be surprised, to be baffled, to even be disappointed and persecuted for the sake of Jesus, then our eyes are opened to see God; our faith is strengthened to see him as the God who saves and redeems us from the grave, through the death and resurrection of his Son.  To see him in Jesus Christ, who comes to us to give us his body and blood in, with and under the bread and wine of Holy Communion.

And when our eyes of faith are open, we can confess our own faith, together with the healed man and together with each other, and we can say ‘Lord, I believe’ and we can join with the blind hymn writer, John Newton, and sing ‘Once I was blind, but now I see.’