Archive for April, 2011

Bearing the scars?

Friday, April 29th, 2011

Text: John 20:19,20
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.

SCARS AND THE RESURRECTION

  All of us have scars and I would say that everyone at some time has taken great delight telling others how they got a particular scar. I once made the mistake in a kids’ talk asking them if they had any scars. The talk was hijacked by the kids as they gave graphic details how they got certain scars and delighted in showing them to everyone else. Sometimes when visiting folk in hospital it’s not unusual for a patient to want to show you a scar. Sometimes there is just a bit too much information as the covers are rolled back and the story is related about ‘the scar’.

Often a scar is there for a life time. It is a reminder of what happened the day we received that injury, the pain, the blood, the visit to the doctor and the stitches. A scar can remind us of an operation, an injury and our foolishness that caused it.

Some of us have scars that are not visible on the outside. We have been scarred in our hearts, and these scars remind us of certain hurts and times in our lives that we would prefer to forget. They are even more hurtful than those on the outside of our body.

The story is told of a little boy whose mother let him out of the car under a big tree and told him she would return but never did.

This man is now middle aged. One day a friend was to meet him for lunch. He arrived 15 minutes late and found his friend in a state of high agitation, pacing about, perspiring heavily, visibly upset. It seemed a little bit of an over-reaction since his friend was only 15 minutes late.

Later he said to his friend, “I know why I get so bent out of shape when someone is late but I just can’t help it. My mother kept me waiting under a tree all afternoon. And she never, ever returned. I just can’t stand it when someone I care for is late”.

He was no longer a kid but the scars that he received early in his life still affected him badly. I’m sure that all of us recognise certain inner scars that we carry. I quote, “We are very much largely shaped by others, who, in an almost frightening way, hold our destiny in their hands. We are, each of us, the product of those who have loved us or refused to love us (John Powell, Why Am I Afraid to Love?). And how true! We hear stories every so often of people who have been treated children badly in their early years and how this has scarred them for life. Most psychological scars are acquired in the first seven years of our life, and inflamed by circumstances occurring later in life. This scarring can lead to bazaar behaviour later in life. The point is that to be human is to have scars. And scars are the result of sin in one way or another.

In today’s gospel reading, the risen Christ appears in a room that is locked tight and shows himself to his despondent disciples. He spoke to them, as he had spoken so often before, saying “Peace.” But they don’t recognise that this is really Jesus. In fact, Luke reports that when the disciples first see Jesus, “They were terrified, thinking that they were seeing a ghost.” Luke goes on. Jesus says, “Why are you alarmed? Why are these doubts coming in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet, and see that it is I myself. Feel me, and you will know, for a ghost doesn’t have flesh and bones, as you can see I have (Luke 24:37-39). Luke describes Jesus eating with the disciples, something not done by ghosts. There can be no doubt about it – Jesus is standing there in the room in the flesh. He is genuine human being. They saw, they touched and they believed.

John says the same thing in our Gospel reading to day, “He showed them his hands and his side (John 20: 20). He showed them his scars and then, only then, when they saw, they rejoiced.

Thomas shows up a little later. He wasn’t with the other disciples for the Easter appearance. The other disciples tell him of the risen Christ, but Thomas says, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). Perhaps we shouldn’t be too hard on Thomas. He isn’t just being obstinate. He is going through the same concerns as the other disciples had. In effect he is saying, “I can’t believe that it’s Jesus unless I touch his scars because the Jesus I know was nailed to a cross and has wounds in his hands and feet.” Thomas is finding it hard to believe the report of his friends that they had seen Jesus – the same Jesus whom he knew to be dead.

A week later, the risen Christ again surprises the disciples. Thomas is there this time and Jesus obliges, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put in into my side,” says the risen Christ, “Stop doubting, and believe” (John 20:37) Thomas and the other disciples believe when they see Jesus’ scars. It seems that the gospel writers are deliberately making a connection between belief in the risen Christ and the scars of Christ. You see, the risen Christ could have erased the scars that he received from the nails and spear, not to mention the scars from the terrible whips that tortured his body. In fact, we would expect that the risen Christ would have the perfect body and no scars.
But the risen Christ has scars.
This person appearing before them is the very same Jesus they love and who died on the cross.
The scars on his body make it quite clear who this person is. It is by these scars that Jesus was recognised and the disciples were overjoyed.

There is a story about Odysseus near the end of the book The Odyssey (written by Homer about 8th century BC) when Odysseus finally returns home after being away for a long time. He has heard that there were certain men who were very fond of his wife and wanted to find out how faithful she was to her husband. He disguises himself disguised as an old beggar; nobody recognises him at home, including his own wife and son. That night just before bed the elderly nurse, who cared for him as a child, bathes him. She thinks she is merely bathing an old stranger who visits for the night. But while bathing him, she recognises a scar on Odysseus’ leg, the same scar she remembers from his infancy. She didn’t recognise him until she saw the scar.

Jesus tells us to look at his hands and feet, reach out and put our hand in his side, to see his scars, and to believe and be filled with joy. The scars on Jesus’ body give us several messages.

Early in the history of the Christian Church, there were those who claimed that Jesus didn’t really suffer on the cross, didn’t really live as we must live on this earth. He only appeared to suffer; only appeared to be human. It was unthinkable that the Son of God could have lowered himself to such a degree.

No! The church said. Jesus was God and he was fully human. The divinely risen Christ bore human scars. Only a wounded God can save. The first letter of Peter goes so far as to say, “by his wounds you have been healed (1 Pet 2:24).

Scars are part of our life as humans. Jesus received scars because he was truly human. Even after the resurrection we must still say he is truly human. As we heard from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus was keen on demonstrating to his disciples that he wasn’t a ghost or an invention of their imagination. He told them to look at his hands and feet and said, “Feel me, and you will know, for a ghost doesn’t have flesh and bones (and we might add: holes in my hands and feet where I was pierced by nails), as you see I have (Luke 24:39). Christ was truly human, even after the resurrection.

Jesus makes a point of showing his scars both to the disciples on Easter Day and a week later in the presence of Thomas. The risen Christ wants to show that the resurrection doesn’t make the cross meaningless. There is an interconnectedness between the cross and the empty tomb. There are some Christians who only want to know the glorified and risen Jesus. They know he died on a cross but that isn’t relevant now because he is alive again. Their image of Christ is a Christ in glory with his raised in blessing over the church and the world. The scars are there but they are hardly noticeable on the king with a golden crown and royal robes.

The post resurrection appearances highlight that the resurrected Christ is the one who died for us. He wants us to always keep before us that even though he has been raised the fact remains that he suffered and died, receiving horrible scars because of our sin.

That is why churches have crucifixes on their altars. As we look at the figure of Christ with nails through his hands and feet we are reminded what wounds he suffered for us, for our sinfulness. His scars remind us of the forgiveness won for us on the cross.

As we gaze at the wounds of the resurrected Christ we realise that here we have someone who knows what it means to suffer. Here is a person who has not removed himself to a high and mighty place in heaven and no longer feels for those who are hurting. He is our Saviour who hurts when we are hurting, who agonises with us in our pain, and sympathises with us in our weakness (Hebrews 4:15). As we suffer scars of pain and hurt in our lives, we know we have a Saviour who knows what it is like to bear the scars of suffering.

The scars on the body of the resurrected Christ tell us that even though we share in the new life in Christ, our scars are still with us. When a young woman became a Christian she told, “If you are a Christian, a real Christian, you will always feel joy and peace in your heart. Jesus heals all of our sicknesses and overcomes all of our hurts.” But she felt a great sadness, even after becoming a Christian. She had been abused as a child. Yes, her Christian faith brought her much joy, but she still carried the scars.

So did the risen Christ. Even Jesus who had conquered death still bore the scars of his suffering. And I would suppose that when Jesus ascended to heaven, he still carried those marks of the nails with him. We carry scars physical, emotional and even spiritual. The way we carry those scars and bear them through our life will show to others the faith that we have and witness to others that the resurrected Lord is very real to us. Jesus’ scars bore witness to the fact that he had been crucified on a cross and that he was alive and very real to his disciples, and likewise our scars are to bear witness to the power of Jesus in our lives.

As we celebrate Jesus’ glorious resurrection from the dead, today we are reminded to look at his hands and feet. May we also gaze on those scars and be overjoyed that Christ suffered those wounds for us and rose again as the victor over sin and death. He has shown us his scars “that (we) might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing (we) may have life in his name” (John 20:21).
Amen.

Can you believe it?

Saturday, April 23rd, 2011

Text: Matthew 28:5,6
The angel spoke to the women. “You must not be afraid,” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has been raised, just as he said. Come here and see the place where he was lying.

FOR US AT EASTER

Insurance companies often get some interesting stories on claim forms. This is one that is said to be true from Canada about a four wheel drive that was write off.

This is what happened in the words of the owner.
“A couple of friends and I went fishing but the lake where we intended to fish was frozen. I parked my four-wheel-drive on the edge and instead of making a hole in the ice one of my mates lit a stick of dynamite with a long-burning fuse and threw it out onto the lake to break up the ice.

Unfortunately the dog thought it was a stick and ran out on to the ice.
Fortunately the dog retrieved it in record time but unfortunately he started back toward us.
Unfortunately when we yelled at the dog to drop it, the dog ran under the four-wheel-drive with the stick of dynamite in his mouth.
Fortunately the dog got burnt on the muffler, ran out from under the four-wheel-drive.
Unfortunately he dropped the dynamite under the vehicle. The dynamite went off, transforming the four-wheel-drive into a pile of junk.

That is supposed to be a true story, well, according to the person filling out the insurance claim.

If you think that story is a bit far-fetched the disciples must have really thought that the women were pulling their leg when they arrived out of breath with a story about Jesus having risen from the dead.

They had seen him late on the Friday afternoon when he was taken down from the cross. He was as dead as anyone could be. They accompanied those carrying the body of Jesus to a tomb that had been freshly hewn out of rock. They laid his body to rest and quickly paid their last respects. It was almost the Sabbath. A huge rock was rolled over the entrance to the tomb and Pontius Pilate made sure that a seal had been placed on the rock and guards were posted at the grave. And now the women returned from Jesus’ tomb saying that an angel had said to them, “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has been raised, just as he said. Come here and see the place where he was lying” (Matt 28:5,6). And when they looked, sure enough, Jesus’ body wasn’t there.

There is saying that goes, “If a thing is too good to be true, then it probably is”. In fact I wonder if they even thought that Jesus coming alive again could have been remotely possible. They thought the report of the women who had come from Jesus’ tomb was a pretty tall story and we are told how they reacted. “They thought that what the women said was nonsense, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:11).The story of the resurrection is even more unbelievable than the one about the four-wheel-drive, the dog and the stick of dynamite.
Why is the story of Easter so special and precious to us?
Why have we come here to celebrate this day when the rest of the world ignores the resurrection of Jesus and enjoys a long weekend holidaying, camping and lying on the beach?
There are those who call this story a legend and a myth that requires a huge leap of faith to accept as fact. It’s a story that defies all logic. When a person is dead, he or she is dead.

We do hear of people being resuscitated after their heart stops beating and people talk about after death experiences but all this happens within minutes of the person’s death. That’s nothing like coming back after being a couple of days in the grave. There are just too many unanswerable questions the least of them being how did a man who was so weak from the beatings and whipping and the actual crucifixion roll away the heavy stone that blocked the entrance to the tomb? How can a body that is completely devoid of all life come alive again?

I don’t have all the answers to these kinds of questions but the Bible is quite clear about what happened on the first Easter morning. The angel said it plainly and clearly, “He is not here! He has risen!” and that message has been echoed throughout the scriptures and down through the centuries to us today. We believe it because God had promised that this would happen, because God’s Word declares so boldly what seems to be impossible, and because so many people walked, talked and ate with the one who had once been dead but is now alive. “Jesus is alive” – there is no doubt about it.

It’s easy to view the whole story about Jesus’ life, death and resurrection as interesting religious facts. Maybe some of us who have known these stories since childhood, and we know them very well, but somehow they just remain nice stories – stories that happened a long time ago but have little consequence for this day and age.

But the apostle Paul would strongly object to this kind of thinking. He says, “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” The sadness and solemnity of Good Friday are gone. The resurrection of Jesus isn’t just an interesting historical fact – something that happened a long time ago and irrelevant today. Paul talks about God giving us the victory. Jesus’ resurrection affects us now – today – in 2008! The tomb is empty! Jesus is alive! This was a victory – not just for Jesus – but also for you and for me.

Jesus died and rose from the dead for us. That “for us” is an important part of what Easter means. We can easily say ‘Jesus died on a cross and rose again’, but when we add the words “for us” what Jesus did takes on a whole new meaning. That statement then tells us that what Jesus did, he did it for us. There is a personal aspect to Good Friday and Easter.
He died for us to give us forgiveness.
He suffered for us so that we might be made right with God.
He rose again for us to give us the confidence that we too shall rise as he did.

“Thanks be to God who gives us, yes, us the victory.”

That is something that simply blows us away. Jesus’ victory is our victory. Death couldn’t hold him and it’s not going to be able to hold us either!

There is no way that I would want to trivialise death as if it were a minor irritation.
Death is devastating.
It intervenes in people’s lives and severing the special relationships we have with those who are close to us.
Death means no more time with your husband or wife;
no more time with your parents or children;
no more smiles and laughter; not even the pain and the tears that are part and parcel of relationships.
All this is brought to a halt through death. Death can bring with it such pain and heartache that you wonder how you will ever be able to cope in the future. Even for the most committed Christian the grief and anguish that death brings can be ever so painful. It’s not that they doubt Jesus victory over death but it’s the separation, the lost years, the loss of a future life together that causes the deepest pain.

Yet into this kind of sadness and grief comes a word of hope. This is not the end. There is still more to the story! Because of Easter, that separation will not last. It will be temporary. Just as Christ was raised from the dead – so you and I and all those who die in Christ – we will all be raised from death and welcomed into eternity and separation will be no more. God gives us the victory through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

This makes a huge difference to the way we live now and the way we face death at whatever time in the future. There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God that we have in Jesus Christ, not even death. No one likes to think of death and what that means for us and our families, yet people who know Jesus and his love are able to confidently say something like this, “Whatever God has in mind for me, I know it will be for the best”, or “I’m ready to go whenever God wants me”.
There is a peace, confidence and hope that trusts God’s love and goodness whatever may happen, even if it means dying.
There is the peace, confidence and hope that comes from knowing that even if we should die, there is a new life and a new home and a new body waiting for us in eternity.

How can we be so confident that death’s awesomeness and terror have been overcome? How can the Apostle Paul be so sure that death will not just swallow us up and that will be the end of us? He simply looks toward the cross and the empty tomb.

In the resurrection of Jesus we see God’s announcement to the world that everything that separates us from God has been overcome. The power of sin to condemn us has been done away with; death has been defeated. Death itself has been swallowed up in victory. When it comes to our day of dying we can confidently say, “I’ve been forgiven. I’m accepted and now I am being called home.”

May this glorious Easter victory that we are celebrating today fill you with hope and confidence and joy.

Amen.

My God!

Thursday, April 21st, 2011
Text: John 19:28-30

Jesus knew that by now everything had been completed; and in order to make the scripture come true, he said, “I am thirsty.” A bowl was there, full of cheap wine; so a sponge was soaked in the wine, put on a stalk of hyssop, and lifted up to his lips. Jesus drank the wine and said, “It is finished!”

 EVERYTHING IS COMPLETE


It was three o’clock. Jesus called for water. He could hardly speak. A soldier fixed a sponge on a spear and held it up to his lips. It was terribly bitter but it was enough. He strained to raise his head and look up to heaven. “It is finished,” he cried and then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

At the time, the moment was filled with too much emotion for those words to sink in and to ponder what they meant. But later as the early Christians read John’s Gospel and heard again those words, it dawned on them just how powerful these dying words of Jesus were. John wrote his Gospel in Greek, and those last words of Jesus are just one word in Greek – tetelestai (pronounced te-tel-es-sty).

The expression “It is finished” or tetelestai was well known to them. It was a part of everyday language.

When a servant had completed a difficult job that his master had given him to do, he would say to the master – tetelestai – “I have overcome all the difficulties; I have done the job to the best of my ability. It is finished”.

When the Jewish people went to the temple with their sacrifice, the High Priest would examine what was brought. Most likely, he didn’t speak Greek but he would use the Hebrew equivalent of tetelestai – meaning, “Your offering is accepted; it is perfect”.

When the merchant at the market place made a sale and the money was handed over, he would say, “tetelestai – the deal is finished, complete. The price has been paid in full. I am satisfied”.

When an artist had finished a painting or a sculpture he would stand back and say, tetelestai – it is finished; there is nothing more that can be done to make this piece of art any better. This painting is complete.

When a boy recited to his father a difficult passage he had learnt from the Scriptures or a girl showed her mother the bread she had baked for the family, they would say tetelestai and the parents responded with, “Well done, my child, I am very proud of you.”

When Jesus spoke those final words he wasn’t just saying, “This is the end of me” as if there was nothing else to do but to give in to his enemies and die. His last words weren’t a final surrender to the power of Satan as if to say, “You have won. I’m done for”. These words don’t tell us that Jesus was dead now and that’s all there is to it. He is finished and so is everything that he stood for and promised during his earthly life.

All those who heard the word tetelestai – the servants, those who offered sacrifices at the temple, the buyers and sellers at the market place, the artists and parents and children understood that Jesus is saying that his job of saving the world has been completed.
He has finished the task and nothing can be added to what has been done.
Jesus has paid the price in full – he has cancelled all debt.
His sacrifice has been a perfect one, acceptable to the heavenly Father who, looking down on his Son hanging lifelessly from the cross, said, “Well done, this is my dear Son with whom I am well pleased”.
Tetelestai – it is finished. Everything is complete!

What is it that is finished when Jesus says, “It is finished”?

Reconciliation is finished. The word ‘reconciliation’ has been used a lot in connection with the relationship between the aboriginal people of our country and the rest of the community. The terrible things that happened in the past have caused a rift between black and white people. Efforts have been made to heal the differences, to close the gap caused by past actions, to restore friendship, to be reconciled.

A terrible gap has come between God and all humanity caused by sin and evil. Our offences, our disobedience, the hurt we have caused God and others have destroyed our relationship with God. Recall a time when you have done something that has hurt someone else and because of that your friendship with that person has been damaged, a gap has come between you, and you felt uneasy when you met that person, in fact you may have avoided that person. All of that doesn’t change until you put aside your differences and friendship is restored.

In the movie Grand Canyon, a tow truck driver is threatened by five troublemakers as he attempts to rescue a terrified motorist. He says, “Man, the world ain’t supposed to work like this. Maybe you don’t know that, but this ain’t the way it’s supposed to be. I’m supposed to be able to do my job without askin’ if I can. And that dude is supposed to able to wait with his car without you rippin’ him off. Everything’s supposed to be different than what it is here.”

And he’s right. Everything’s supposed to be different. God created a perfect beautiful world and he made people to live in harmony and peace with one another. But look what’s happened. We all know what an effect our poorly chosen words and lack of consideration have on our relationship with family members and friends. Greed and selfishness destroy friendship and separate people and nations. That tow truck driver hit the nail on the head when he said – “Man, the world ain’t supposed to work like this”.Sin has a devastating effect on our relationship with God. Sin separates us from God and if we want to have any hope of going to heaven to be with God, then someone had to deal with sin and restore our relationship with God. So God sent his Son into the world for this very purpose.

Jesus died on the cross to get rid of the power of sin to condemn us. His death bridged the deep gulf between God and us. “Salvation is finished”, Jesus cried. The restoration of the friendship between God and humanity has been finished. The task for which God’s Son came to earth has been completed.
He has won forgiveness for all people.
Nothing else needs to be done.
Salvation is complete. “It is finished”.

That’s why we call today “Good Friday”. It certainly wasn’t a good day for Jesus. He endured pain, soul-wrenching agony, hanging by the nails in his hands for hours, death on a rough wooden cross, for our sakes. We call today “Good Friday” because the cross is proof of the powerful love that God has for each of us. No one, not even God, would do something like that unless he truly loved us. Here we see a love that was prepared to endure the ultimate in order to rescue us.

We have known love to do some very powerful and strange things. A teenager Arthur Hinkley lifted a farm tractor with his bare hands. He wasn’t a weight lifter, but his best friend, eighteen-year-old Lloyd, was pinned under a tractor. Arthur heard Lloyd screaming for help and Arthur somehow lifted the tractor enough for Lloyd to wriggle out. His love for his best friend somehow enabled him to do what would normally be impossible.

There is the story of a priest who offered his life in place of a teenage boy in Nazi Germany. His offer was accepted and the priest died to save the boy’s life.

And then there was the young soldier who had been condemned to death by Oliver Cromwell. He was to be shot at the ringing of the curfew bell. His fiancée climbed the bell tower and tied herself to the clapper of the giant bell so that it would not ring. When the bell did not ring, soldiers went to investigate and found the girl battered and bleeding from being bashed against the sides of the bell. Cromwell was so impressed by her love for the young man that he was pardoned.

Because of love, people do extraordinary things for others. They give us a glimpse, a small glimpse, at the kind of love that God has for us. God the Father sent his dearly loved Son into dangerous territory. He allowed his Son to be treated cruelly. He stood by and watched his innocent Son be nailed to a cross and to hang there in agony. He could have rescued him and cursed those who were treating him so brutally and maliciously. He allowed his Son to carry the sin of all humanity and so become repulsive even to his own Father. I don’t think we can fully appreciate what it meant for the Father to abandon the Son and let him died at the hands of evil people. When Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” we sense something of the terror of bearing the weight of the sin of all humanity.

God did all this for us. He did all this because of his love for us.

Paul writes, “God has shown us how much he loves us—it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us! … We were God’s enemies, but he made us his friends through the death of his Son.” (Romans 5:8,10). That’s how much God loves us – Jesus died for us even though we don’t deserve it. His death has made us God’s friends.

Jesus’ announcement, “It is finished” is clear and simple. Jesus has completed his task. The reason why he came as a human has been fulfilled. He came so that you and I can have forgiveness and salvation. He came to give us the victory. He came to ensure that we would enter his kingdom and live forever.

Today we’re going to do an “Altar Call”. You don’t have to get up; you don’t have to raise a hand or say a word. All I want you to do is close your eyes. For a short while, I want you to think about what Jesus has done for you through his death on the cross. Visualise in your mind the suffering Saviour. Think about the love that God has for you, and thank him. Ask God to wrap you tightly in his love – forgiving you, watching over you, guiding you. If you feel that Jesus and his love for you are not real for a large part of your life, ask for his help.  

 
 
 
 

 

 

We pray:
Loving God,
what you have done for us in Jesus’ death on the cross is far more than we deserve. His death has made us friends with you again. His death has given us forgiveness and the hope of life forever. Everything is complete. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Amen.

Remember that Night?

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

Text: 1 Corinthians 11:23-25
The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took a piece of bread, gave thanks to God, broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in memory of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup and said, “This cup is God’s new covenant, sealed with my blood. Whenever you drink it, do so in memory of me.”

A Night to Remember

     In my travels I have visited some of the great battlefields in Europe. While walking through countryside that was once a place of death – a place where so many people lost their lives – it’s impossible to not be moved by what had taken place on what are now green pastures.
In the town of Ypres there is a special arched gateway with hundreds of thousands of names inscribed on it – soldiers who had disappeared during the battles and whose remains were never found. Every night at 8pm buglers play the last post, calling everyone to remember those who died from all countries defending their town.
Recently we heard the news that the wreck of the HMAS Sydney had been discovered on the floor of the ocean. This ship sank after a battle with a German ship and all 648 crew members were lost. We have seen on TV families of the crew holding photos of their father or grandfather or uncle and remembering the person whose life had been suddenly cut short.

Remembering people and their deeds of the past is an important part of our lives. We remember with deep appreciation the part that someone has played in our lives.

Sometimes we have what we might call “keep sakes” that help us remember. It may not fetch much if you sold it but as far as you are concerned it is one of your special treasures. Every time you look at it you remember the very special relationship that you had with that person. This is especially so if that person is no longer present with you. Even though death has intervened in your relationship with that person, these “keep sakes” make the memories of that person real and alive.

When Jesus planned his departure from his friends on earth and thought of those who would be his followers throughout the centuries, he wanted something by which they would remember him; remember what happened on the first Good Friday and the reason why he came. And so he gave us a “keep sake”, you might say – the Lord’s Supper.

One of the important aspects of Holy Communion that we emphasise is the real presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. As we eat and drink the bread and wine we are eating Christ’s real body and blood sacrificed for us on the cross. In a wonderful way our sin is forgiven and our faith in God’s love for us is made stronger.
Our relationship with God is renewed and our hope for eternal life is strengthened as we eat and drink Jesus’ body and blood. As we eat the bread and drink the wine in Holy Communion it is as if Jesus is personally beaming all the love, forgiveness, hope and faith directly on to us from heaven. He says this is “for you” and gives it to you with so much love.

There is another aspect of Holy Communion that I want to especially emphasise tonight. Jesus gave us the Lord’s Supper to help us remember.

He first celebrated this meal just before Judas betrayed him to the temple guards in the Garden of Gethsemane. In an upper room, he celebrated the Passover with his disciples. He took a piece of bread and gave it to his disciples to eat, and said, “This is my body. Remember it was broken for you.” He took a cup of wine and gave it to them to drink and said, “Remember that my blood was shed for your sins.”The Passover was and still is a special time of remembering how God chose his people from the beginning of time and how he led his chosen people out of slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land. God wanted them to remember the way Moses challenged the great Pharaoh of Egypt to let God’s people go, and the series of plagues that were sent to convince Pharaoh to free the Israelites.

God wanted his people to remember how he broke the stubborn resistance of Pharaoh with the warning that the first born in Egypt would be slain. There was only one way to escape this death. Each household was to kill a lamb and put some of its blood on the doorposts of their houses. The flesh of the lamb was to be roasted and eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. When the angel of death saw the blood on the doorposts he would “pass over” their homes and those inside would be safe.

The Israelites did as they were instructed and they were kept safe that awful night. The wailing of mothers who had lost a child was heard throughout the land of Egypt. Saved by the blood of a lamb, the people of Israel left Egypt.

God said, “This day shall be for you a memorial and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord throughout your generations.” Still today, faithful Jews celebrate the Passover at this time of the year and thank God for their deliverance by the power of God.

And so when Jesus and his disciples and all their fellow Israelites celebrated the Passover they looked back and celebrated the fact that without God’s untiring, never-failing love for his people they would have been left for dead in the Sinai desert somewhere. When they celebrated the Passover they recalled with horror the slavery in Egypt, the lash on bare flesh, the scorching heat, working till they dropped. But they also recalled with great delight how God in his love saw them in their anguish and came to their rescue. They remembered the daily supply of food that fell from the heavens, how the cloud led them during the day, and a blazing fire at night – this whole fantastic story of how God rescued these complaining, grumbling, disobedient people is a sheer miracle.

Not only was the Passover a time of recalling, but it was also a time of thanksgiving and celebration. They praised God for his love.

Tonight we are remembering, celebrating and thanking God for his love. We are not celebrating the Passover, the feast that celebrated God’s rescue of his people from slavery in Egypt, but we are celebrating a “new Passover“, our rescue from slavery to sin and death. Jesus gave us a special meal to help us remember, he gave us his body and blood to eat and drink with the bread and wine for the forgiveness of our sins, and to help us remember the great love that he has for us.

This “new Passover” gets its meaning from the cross. Jesus gave his body and blood on the cross for you and me. He did it because of our desperate need to be made right with God. He did it because we are caught in slavery to sin and we can’t do anything to free ourselves. Like the slaves in Egypt we are unable to free ourselves from this slavery. Our situation is desperate. If nothing is done to free us, we would all die as slaves to sin and death. God was prepared to go to any lengths to save us because of his love – even send his only Son to give his body and shed his blood on a cross.

As we eat and drink we remember the new life that Jesus has given us – to love one another just as he has loved us. We remember that just as Christ was a servant who knelt to wash the disciples’ feet he commands us to be servants of one another. We are reminded that in the body and blood of Jesus we are bound together as his dearly loved chosen ones whose key responsibility is to love another. Jesus said at the Last Supper and he says this to us tonight, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples” (John 13:34).Tonight we join with Christians the world over raising our voices in thanksgiving as we celebrate Holy Communion. In fact, one of the names used around the world for Holy Communion is “Eucharist”, which means “thanksgiving”. Like the Israel of old we thank God for his love and mercy, but unlike the ancient Israelites we have seen God’s love at work in ways that has far outshone the Exodus event. We have seen with our eyes of faith the love of God at work freeing us from sin and death through the agony and dying and rising of Jesus.

We receive bread and we eat with it the body of Christ. We drink wine and hear the words: “This is my blood” and we remember.
We remember with regret that it was our sin that led to Jesus’ death on the cross.
We remember with repentant hearts that our lives have not demonstrated Christ living in us.
We remember with thanksgiving what Christ has done for us through his death and resurrection.
We remember with joy that our sins are forgiven.
We remember with anticipation when we will gather around the heavenly banquet table.
We remember in celebration that we have been given a new life to live as disciples of Christ.

Tonight we remember and celebrate the powerful love of God that has made our salvation possible. Tonight is a night to remember what it cost God to bring us forgiveness and eternal life. Tonight we remember and give thanks!
Amen.

Riding on a donkey

Friday, April 15th, 2011

Jesus our king

Text: Matthew 21:8, 9
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 to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest!”


As you look through history books you soon realise that when it came to kings and queens that some are remembered for the way they abused their power and used the people of their kingdoms.

One notorious ruler in England was King John who was born on Christmas Eve 1167, the youngest son of Henry II. When his brother, King Richard, was killed in France and Richard’s son was murdered, John became king. (Many believe that he was responsible for his nephew’s death).

John faced one disaster after another.
His army was defeated in France and had to retreat.
To rebuild his army he imposed incredibly high taxes.
The country broke into civil war when his nobles rebelled.
John even managed to get the church offside and was excommunicated by the pope and no baptism or marriage performed in England would be legitimate until the pope said so. And without church approved baptisms or marriages the people were afraid that they would all end up in hell. They blamed John.
John’s life was at risk when the pope declared that if anyone overthrew King John they would be legally entitled to do so.
After John was again defeated in France his barons were fed up. John was forced to sign the Magna Carta at Runnymede in 1215. This guaranteed the people of England rights that the king could not go back on.
When John tried to ignore the Magna Carta the barons rebelled against him again and soon after John died.

Today we hear about another king. This king is nothing like bad King John. He was quite the opposite. There was nothing arrogant or evil about this king. He demonstrated nothing but humility and kindness. He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, a work animal used to carrying loads for farmers and traders. The disciples and those who lined the roads hailed him as the king – ‘the king who comes in the name of the Lord!’

Even before Jesus was born the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that her son would be a king, a descendant of King David.
When the wisemen were looking for the Christ-child they asked King Herod, ‘Where is the baby born to be king of the Jews?’ When they found the child-king they knelt down and worshipped him, presenting him with royal gifts – gold, frankincense and myrrh.

King of the Jews! That title followed him into the trials before the Sanhedrin, King and Herod Pontius Pilate. The Sanhedrin, the Jewish Council, had found Jesus guilty of blasphemy on the basis that he claimed to be the Messiah. But they knew that the Roman Governor wouldn’t be interested in any of their religious reasons for getting rid of Jesus, so they brought a charge against Jesus they knew would interest Pilate. They accused Jesus of treason. He claimed to be a king and was a traitor to the Roman Empire.

Pontius Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus looked nothing like a king. In chains, beaten – having been slapped in the face, and with spit in his hair and beard.

Jesus’ answer is unexpected. He soon sets Pilate right about who he is and affirms clearly that he is a king. But not a king as Pilate might expect. John’s Gospel reports Jesus saying, “My kingdom does not belong to this world; if my kingdom belonged to this world, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish authorities. No, my kingdom does not belong here!”

Such an idea doesn’t make sense to Pilate. With puzzlement written all over his face, he asked a second time and Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. I was born and came into the world for this one purpose, to speak about the truth. Whoever belongs to the truth listens to me” (John 18:36-38).So you see, Jesus admits to being a king but a king with a kingdom and a kingship quite different to anything that we have seen in history. Jesus wasn’t interested in power or politics, pomp and pageantry. His kingdom was not an earthly kingdom but one that existed in the hearts of people.

Pilate was puzzled.  The people outside were quite clear about what they wanted done with Jesus. They called for the death of this meek and gentle king and the release of the brutal and murderous Barabbas.

Something is wrong here. Jesus hasn’t been brutal and oppressive. The crowd had hailed him as king when he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and now they were asking for this king’s blood. Here is king who is on the side of the people, the friend of the poor, the sick, the guilty, the sad but the people turn against him. A murderer goes free, while a king like no other king, loving and kind, is heading for execution.

Pilate mockingly placed a sign at the top of the cross, “This is the King of the Jews.” This was truer than he imagined. This bleeding broken man on the cross really is a king. The criminal crucified beside him recognises Jesus as a king and says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. And Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”When we were baptised, through the simple water and the Word of God we were made members of God’s kingdom. Jesus became our king. Not a ruthless and pompous king like bad King John, but a king who was so generous that he gave his life for us.
A king whose throne was the cross,
whose crown was made of thorns,
who was dressed in a royal robe as a king and mocked by Herod and his soldiers,
whose blood was called for by the crowds when they said, “Take him away! Crucify him! We have no king but Caesar. …!
Jesus is our king who loved us so much that “he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8).

What does it mean to have Jesus as our Lord and King?

  • With Jesus as our king we enjoy a royal pardon for all our sin. This pardon means that there is nothing that stains our lives. We have been made clean with the righteousness of Jesus. When God looks at us he doesn’t see sin and weakness; he only sees the purity and newness that have received through the blood of Jesus shed on the cross of Calvary. When Jesus declared from the cross “Father, forgive them” he was also saying that to us.
  • With Jesus as our king, he says to us as he did the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise”. He promises that we too will share in his eternal kingdom where there will be no more pain, or crying or dying.
  • With Jesus as our king – our ever present and living king – he promises all those who belong to his kingdom that he will always be there for us in times of joy, in times of sadness, and in times of suffering. When we are discouraged and weak, ‘the King of kings and Lord of lords’ (1 Tim 6:15, 16) assures that there is nothing that can stand between God and us; nothing that can stop him loving and forgiving us; nothing that can harm us. Even when we face death we can confidently say, “I have a king and a friend who will never give upon me and when the time comes for my departure, I am confident of his love for me.”
  • With Jesus as our king he lovingly rules and directs our lives as citizens of his kingdom. He has bought us with his blood, made us his chosen people and urges us to lives of repentance, faith and love. In the Small Catechism Luther says after describing how Jesus rescued us from sin and death through the events of Good Friday and Easter, “Jesus did this so that I can belong to him, and he can rule over me as my king. I can live under him and serve him, innocent and happy forever” (1996 Openbook).
  • With Jesus as our king we are joined together in his family, his kingdom, his church. He has placed us in a baptismal relationship with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
    We have been called to care for one another and to show compassion and understanding wherever it is required.
    We have been called to work together sharing the Good News about Jesus with those who need to know of his love for them.
    Through us, he calls them out of the darkness of sin into his marvellous light.
  • With Jesus as our king we have an advocate before the throne of God. He hears our prayers and answers them. He sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty and has the authority and the power to answer all of our petitions.
  • One day the king will return. He will come on the Last Day and will reward those who have trusted his love and been faithful to their calling as disciples. He will say, “Well done good and faithful servant. … Come and share your master’s happiness” (Matt 25:23). As we enter this Holy Week it’s a good thing to ask ourselves where we stand in our relationship with our Lord.
    Does he rule our lives?
    Is he truly the Lord of our lives, Lord in the sense that he directs our actions, our words, and our thoughts?
    Does the Lord of lords rule every corner of our lives; not just a small part but every part – our family life, our work life, our church life, our leisure life.
    Because Jesus is our Lord and King no doubt there are some things that we need to change, some things we would stop doing, and there are other things that we could take up, all because Jesus rules our lives completely.
    This is serious stuff that we don’t take seriously enough. We are good at giving all kinds of excuses. But Jesus is our Lord and King now. As Saviour he has committed himself to us, and as Lord he wants us to be committed to him.But if we are honest, often we are like the people of Jerusalem – sometimes we are all excited about Jesus being our saviour and king but there are other times when our faith has grown cold (at best lukewarm) and we find ourselves distant from Jesus. Instead of Jesus ruling our words and actions we find ourselves so self-focussed that sin rules our lives as our words and actions hurt others. When this happens this is a time for repentance – turning back to Jesus, his love and forgiveness, and his rule in our lives. It is a time for renewed faith and trust in him as the one who loves us, died on the cross for us, and calls us to be his people in the world around us. We have a king who has done so much for us. Today let’s welcome Jesus with shouts of “Hosanna!” He is our Saviour from sin.
    Let us also shout “Hosanna!” and welcome him as the Lord and King of our lives.
    Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna!Amen

God V Bullies

Saturday, April 9th, 2011

Text: John 11:1-6
A man named Lazarus, who lived in Bethany, became sick. Bethany was the town where Mary and her sister Martha lived.  (This Mary was the one who poured the perfume on the Lord’s feet and wiped them with her hair; it was her brother Lazarus who was sick.)  The sisters sent Jesus a message: “Lord, your dear friend is sick.” When Jesus heard it, he said, “The final result of this sickness will not be the death of Lazarus; this has happened in order to bring glory to God, and it will be the means by which the Son of God will receive glory.” Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he received the news that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was for two more days.

In order to bring glory to God


Ten year old Tim and a group of his friends were constantly harassed by other kids at their school. They were bullied, stood over for money, and because they were the smallest boys in the class they were powerless to do anything about it. One day after another incident, they talked about how they could put a stop to all this. Some of the boys were all for ganging up on the bullies, ambushing them, even getting some of the bigger kids to join them. Tim wasn’t convinced that an all out war on the bullies was the best way to go. Someone was going to get hurt – most likely they would come off second best. They sat in silence for awhile. Tim quietly said, “Instead of using the same tactics as the bullies, why don’t we do just the opposite. Let’s get everyone to be kind to one another – not just us but everyone in the whole school”. His friends thought he was crazy.

To cut a long story short the group decided to give it a go. The idea caught on and soon the whole school was making an extra special effort to show kindness and do good things for one another. Teachers were impressed at how well every one was getting on. Those who had been harassing the younger kids didn’t know how to handle all this kindness and gave up. Tim was hailed a hero by parents, staff and students. As he was riding home alone one afternoon, a kid from another school jumped out in front of him brandishing a metal bar. He wanted Tim’s bike. Tim died on the footpath from a fatal blow to his head.

That is a sad story. The change that happened at Tim’s school was amazing. This only made the event that ended Tim’s life even more heart wrenching. A young person who had his life in front of him, someone whose plan changed a community and yet his life was tragically cut short. That just doesn’t seem fair. In fact, it’s not fair at all.

Where was God when this happened?
Why did he let this to happen?
Who knows what great things Tim might have accomplished in the future with his innovative way of tackling hostile situations? He might have become a world leader and used his ideas to stop conflict between warring nations. But now we will never know. We want to understand but we can’t help but ask “Why?”

Today in John chapter 11 we hear that Jesus’ good friend Lazarus is on his death bed. Mary and Martha sent a message to Jesus about their brother’s critical condition. We are even told how much Jesus loved these sisters and their brother like they were his own family. And yet he gives a very strange reply, “(The death of Lazarus) has happened in order to bring glory to God, and it will be the means by which the Son of God will receive glory”. In fact, Jesus deliberately delays going to see this family.

That’s so strange. When we hear the news of a close friend’s condition it’s normal to rush and be with the family. But not Jesus. Jesus knew that Lazarus had already died but still friends need friends at a time like this. We might even want to ask the question why Jesus didn’t rush to the side of those whom he loved – that is so out of character for the one who was always ready to help and comfort even when it wasn’t convenient. As we know by the time Jesus got there Lazarus has already been dead for 4 days. Jews believed that the spirit only left the body after 3 days. That meant that Lazarus was as dead as dead can be. Jesus had even missed the funeral. Lazarus was already in a tomb.

All of this must have seemed so unfair.  Jesus healed many other people.  Why couldn’t he come to see Lazarus?  Restore him to health?  Where is Jesus?  Why is he taking so long to get here?

Jesus explains, “This has happened in order to bring glory to God”. This is a troubling saying from the mouth of Jesus. It might easily be interpreted as meaning that God has deliberately made life hard for Mary & Martha & Lazarus so that he can get all the glory. But that would make God a monster – deliberately hurting someone so that he can get everyone’s attention.

This is not the first time Jesus says something like this. Last week we heard the story about the man born blind. His disciples want to know whose fault it was that this man should be born blind. Jesus says that it’s no-one’s fault. “He is blind so that God’s power might be seen at work in him”.

Let’s clarify what Jesus means. The key to understanding what Jesus is saying here is in the words ‘so that’ and ‘in order that’. Jesus is saying this happened and this will be the outcome.
The man is born blind, it’s no one’s fault, God certainly hasn’t caused this blindness but the outcome will be that God’s glory will be shown.
Lazarus dies – God doesn’t take his life, but the outcome will be that God’s glory will be shown. And that’s precisely what happens when Jesus heals the blind man and when he raises dead Lazarus.

Both of these events cause a ripple effect amongst the people who witnessed these miracles, either, on the one hand, faith in Jesus as their saviour or, on the other hand, a stronger determination to get rid of Jesus. We are told immediately following the raising of Lazarus that “many people believed in him”, and then a few verses later it is reported that “from that day on the Jewish authorities made plans to kill Jesus”. This miracle at the grave of Lazarus brought the events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday even closer.

When Jesus spoke of his own suffering and death he referred to the horrors of what was about to happen as his time of great glory. Out on Calvary’s Hill there was nothing glorious about the humiliation and suffering involved in a crucifixion. There was nothing glorious about hanging naked from a cross while bystanders jeered as his life slowly drained from the body. He will suffer and die and the outcome will be that God will be glorified. Jesus said as he looked down the road to Jerusalem, “The hour has now come for the Son of Man to receive great glory” (John 12:23). These are shameful events but forever people will give glory to God for all that he suffered.

Have you ever thought of the hard times in your life in this way? They happen so that God may be glorified.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s not that God deliberately chooses you above everyone else to go through a particularly hard time because he wants his glory known. We know that God is loving and compassionate and doesn’t send us hardship so that his name will be made great.

Bad things do happen. There maybe reasons why they happen like carelessness or self-centredness but sometimes bad things just seem to happen randomly. Like Tim who had only done good and yet out of the blue something bad caught up with him. That happens to us as well. For some inexplicable reason suddenly we find ourselves facing cancer, the loss of a parent or child, depression, the loss of everything that we had worked for through fire or flood.

It’s not that God doesn’t care or isn’t concerned about us. In fact, in the story about the raising of Lazarus we see just how much Jesus cares. It is reported that Jesus’ wept as he stood at the grave of Lazarus.
He felt the pain of Mary and Martha.
He felt the anguish that death brings.
He felt the pain for those who refused to believe.
Today he weeps for those caught up in war and famine.
He weeps for children lying in hospital with serious medical problems.
He weeps for those who feel unwanted, unloved and useless.
He weeps with each of us and feels the pain and anguish that we feel. But in all of this he also sees these as opportunities to bring about something good. God can use the bad to bring about something good in our lives and in the lives of others.

When trouble comes our way miracles do happen.
What we had thought were irreconcilable differences with another person are suddenly resolved. There is an inexplicable change of heart and there is healing.
There are times when the healing that takes place in our bodies leaves doctors dumbfounded and every time we tell the story we give witness to how rough the treatment was but how God’s loving hands carried us through it all to come out the other side with renewed confidence in his love and care.
We like happy endings. The grief that Mary and Martha felt was very real but so was their joy as they saw Lazarus walk out of the tomb.

But every story doesn’t end with a miracle. Just because we are God’s people doesn’t mean that we won’t have tough times that will shock us and wear us down.
You pray, you ask for a miracle, you commit things to God but it seems like he’s not listening. And yet, even though things don’t turn out the way you would have preferred there can still be a happy ending and God gets the glory.

How does that happen? It’s easy to give God the glory when he heals us in a miraculous way. It’s easier to convince people of God’s healing power when your experience is evidence of this.

But it’s quite a different matter to state that God is good even though things have turned out all wrong. There are those for whom life is tough, they suffer pain, they feel alone and helpless and yet they still trust God, even when everything that is happening in their life would dictate that God can’t be trusted. They believe God is with them even though it sure doesn’t look like it.

The fact is that God is good, not because everything in life is smooth sailing. He’s good because he comes with us into the valleys of despair, he climbs the difficult and slippery slopes with us, he feels the highs and lows that we feel, and when we feel as if we can’t go any further he carries us. Hurt and pain will always be close by during our life on this earth but we can be certain that he doesn’t leave us to endure these alone.

Bad things may be happening in your life right now, but somehow God is in this with you. He promises that you won’t be tested beyond what you can endure and he will bring you through it. Pray that he will help you to be strong and that his glory might be seen in the way that he helps you through the hard time ahead. Look at the cross and see again God’s unshakeable love for you. Be assured that when you are the weakest, God’s power in your life is the strongest.
Amen.

I can’t find it!

Saturday, April 2nd, 2011

Text: John 9:24-25
A second time Jewish authorities called back the man who had been born blind, and said to him, “Promise before God that you will tell the truth! We know that this man who cured you is a sinner.”
“I do not know if he is a sinner or not,” the man replied. “One thing I do know: I was blind, and now I see.


Missing the Point
  It’s both annoying and funny when we miss the obvious. How many times do you look for something and you search high and low and the longer you search the more annoyed you get? You know it’s here somewhere but be blowed if you can find it. Then suddenly you see it – right in front of you. You have looked everywhere else and missed the most obvious place. We may not see the funny side straight away, but certainly other people do.

 Some authors and movie makes produce stories that deliberately lead us to miss the point. The movie The Sixth Sense is a case in point. A boy keeps saying through the film that he can see dead people and we are led to a surprising ending. The author has deliberately led us down a path that we hadn’t expected to go. The story is cleverly done so that we deliberately miss the point.

How many men here have missed the point? You are asked the question, “How do you like it?” This is a trick question of course. You haven’t noticed anything different and so in a panic you say, “That dress is beautiful; suits you so well”, and immediately you realise that was not the right answer.
“I’ve had this dress for years. Shows how much you noticed my new hair style.” Oh yes, it is red, short and straight whereas not long ago it was blond, curly and long. Of course, it would be foolish to now say that you don’t like it.

Today’s Gospel reading is about a whole lot of people who miss the point. Jesus mixed some dirt with spit, smeared it on to the eyes of a blind and told him to go and wash in the Pool of Siloam. The man went off and he came back seeing. Others can’t believe that this was the same man. The man they knew was blind. In fact, he had been born blind and had never seen the light and colour. There was no doubt that this man was as blind as anyone could be but now this man can see! The once-blind-man explains what happened in the simplest way, “I was blind. Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. When I washed it off I could see. That’s the plain and simple truth. What’s so difficult about that – Jesus has made me see?”

Even when the blind man, now healed, says, “Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing”, the authorities are not convinced. They are blind to the man’s clear witness to Jesus. The Pharisees only see the blind man as a sinner, that’s why he was blind in the first place they said. They through him out of the temple and see Jesus as an even bigger sinner.

As always in the Gospel of John there is something deeper in the miracle stories for us to delve into. The healed man is not only given physical eyesight but also spiritual eyesight.
Not only had his eyes seen light for the first time, but he could also see the Light of the Word.
Not only had his eyed been opened so that he could see colour, and people, and trees and flowers, but his eyes had been opened to see Jesus as his Lord. For the once blind man everything was crystal clear. There was no missing the point. Jesus had truly opened his eyes.
When Jesus asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man”, he fell at Jesus’ feet and confessed, “I believe, Lord!”

But the Jewish authorities just didn’t get it. They missed the point completely. They didn’t believe that this man had been given sight. This was impossible. It was some kind of a trick. And besides, how can someone like Jesus, who had such little regard for the Sabbath, perform a miracle such as this. These learned and pious people claimed to know all there is about God; they believed that they were enlightened but in actual fact they were blind. They did not see the light – the Light of the world, Jesus God’s own Son.

I wonder how often we miss the point and in some sense share the same kind of blindness that the Jewish authorities did. Let me suggest some ways we can miss the point. All of us have our individual blind spots so this is just a beginning.

  • We know the Bible and especially the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection and we know very well the parables, miracles and sayings of Jesus as well as the letters of the New Testament. But it is still possible to be blind to what that all means. We remain blind so long as we fail realise the personal nature of what Jesus has done. Jesus did all of that for me as an individual and as part of the community of believers.
    We can feel comfortable in our Bible knowledge, our worship, our hymns and prayers but unless we can say that Jesus has done all this for me;
    that he died for my sin,
    that his resurrection means that he is my living Lord today right now and through life,
    we remain blind to what the gospel is really saying to us.
    When we trust and rely on Jesus as our friend and Saviour to help us in time of sin, to support us in times of trouble and give us hope when everything seems hopeless, then our eyes are really open to Jesus who is my Light on my journey through life.
  • It’s not too hard to miss the point of what it means to be “born from above” or “born again” in an every day sense. This involves getting rid of sinful and selfish desire, repenting of those things that stand between us and God, so that the new nature that God has given us is renewed every day.
    The trouble is we enjoy some of our personal sins too much and honestly believe that these little sins won’t do much harm – a little gossip and back stabbing, a little selfishness and greed, a little pornography or sexual freedom, a bit of rudeness and impatience – none of these will set the earth off course in the big scheme of things. But that’s not the point. These things belong to our old nature that we are called upon to put off everyday and then put on the things that come from God – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.
    It’s very easy to miss the point of what it means to belong to Christ, to be joined together in Christ.
  • It’s not too hard to be blinded by the dazzling ways of the world and Satan. It’s easy to forget who were are;
    that we have been created by God and bought with the blood of Jesus;
    that we have been adopted as God’s chosen children;
    and so forget the role that we are God’s representatives in our community and our world.
    We are called to stand out by the way we show love and concern for others.
    We are called to promote justice and peace; to set an example of what it mans to live according to God’s way.
    We are called to discipleship – that means a disciplined life of prayer and the study of God’s Word, worship with our fellow Christians and standing out in the crowd even though that ay be difficult to do when it means sticking up for those who are being wronged and confessing that Christ in our lives does make a difference.
    It’s so easy to miss the point of what it means to be a Christian and we end up blending in and fail to be a positive and powerful influence to bring about change in people’s lives and our world.

Paintings on the walls of the catacombs of Rome portray Jesus healing the man born blind as a symbol of Holy Baptism. One of the writings from that time says: “Happy is the sacrament of our water, in that, by washing away the sins of our earthly blindness, we are set free unto eternal life.”

The early Christians looked at their baptism as leaving behind blindness and darkness and stepping into the glorious light of God. In other words, they realised that their becoming Christians and then continuing as followers of Christ, was indeed a miracle – as great, if not greater than the healing of the physical blindness of the man in the Gospel today.

So the miracle of the man born blind presents us with a very real dilemma.
In what ways and how often have we missed the point of what Christ means to us?
How far are we prepared to let our faith take us?
How blinded have we been to the grace God has shown us and failed to be gracious to those around?

Lent is a good time to take stock of how we are affected by this blindness, to see just how blind we have been to Jesus and his call to discipleship, and to realise how often we have preferred to stay blind.
Lent is a good time to renew our vision and fix our eyes again on the Saviour who came so that we can be assured of forgiveness for such blindness, for the times when Jesus has come to us through his Word and we have been too blind to see him calling us to action.
May we who have been healed of our blindness join with the man who was healed, and confess:
“I was blind but now I see!”

Amen