Just what’s going on?

Mark 11:1-11


Just what is going on in this world? Sometimes it’s hard to fathom and wonder of what awaits us in the future.

StMarksIt’s the year 2020 and things have changed. Our country has been annexed by a brutal adversary. Our individual wealth has been taken, our right to free speech and travel is monitored and acted on should the government deem us a risk and daily we are humiliated that our spirit be broken and fall into line and for us in the Church, our last bastion of safety and identity is under attack in that if we persist to adhere to our principles of marriage, right to life and of the one true God and Saviour then first the Pastors and priests, and then those still holding firm will at the least be confirmed as a terrorist to the “state” and thrown in prison without the need for a court of law or any proof other than our statements of faith.

There seems no hope until we hear that finally, an allied nation of great strength is storming towards us with a great flotilla of warships laden with a vast cargo of highly trained and equipped military service men and women and as they arrive in Botany Bay our jubilation cannot be contained.

Finally we will be free again. But then nothing and our cheers turn to despair, confusion, fear and anger.

Best not to throw stones when we live in glass houses because should we be there in this fictional future day, would we any different from those of past.

Those of past who see their own flotilla of hope arrive at their Botany Bay that is Jerusalem. A Flotilla of twelve led by the promised one that is a man named Jesus Christ and alongside them we sing and voice with great joy “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord” while shouting our customary cry of desperation of “save us now” in the form of the word “Hosanna.”

Hosanna, save us now-a word for those searching and confused people who knew one thing: that they wanted to be saved.

A word that gives voice to Israel’s anguish and misery and its hope too. Israel which had been ground into the dust by the brutality of the Roman Empire. They had been taxed into poverty by Caesar. They had been humiliated and had their pride taken away from them. And they wanted somehow to be rescued and restored. They wanted to see God’s power crush those who had crushed them. They wanted God’s might and majesty to destroy those who had destroyed their nation and their spirit. And they had seized on the promises of God in the prophets that He would send them a saviour who would do all this.

Singing and shouting: Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. But just a few hours after this, Jesus, who is carried into Jerusalem in triumph will walk through the same streets, this time himself doing the carrying – the cross.

Instead of a warrior king, what did they get? A man on a cross – somebody who was apparently as easily crushed as they were, somebody who (very soon after entering Jerusalem as a king) let himself be arrested, scourged and beaten and condemned to death.

Instead of a powerful rescuer who punished God’s enemies and expelled them from the land God had given them, they got a weakling – a king who would not even pick up a sword to defend himself, but instead hung pathetically on a cross and prayed that God would forgive his murderers. What power is there in that? How was that going to save them? Jesus was a victim. They wanted a warrior. Jesus was all love. They needed power.

And in their frustration and contempt, they shout at Jesus on the cross with the words “Come on you claim to save others but you cannot save yourself!”

If we enter their time we can see how they had no idea that all the time there was something much bigger and much more important than the fate of their little country at stake. They had no idea of the salvation being hammered out for the world, no idea that God’s power was being revealed here on the cross once and for all and can see the truth in Paul statement that “God’s wisdom in sending Jesus to die for all people seemed like foolishness to the world. “

At least the people of those times had a good excuse because they did not have the benefit of hindsight like we do in the books of the New Testament.

Yet if we look around at how lives are lived today we see the same thing going on – now as then.

People want to be saved. We live in the grip of the same fears and struggles and burdens as the people who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem. We want understandably to be saved from the threat of terrorist attack. We want to be saved from illness and death. We want to be saved from unemployment and financial problems and poverty in our old age. We want to be saved from loneliness and grief. We need a powerful saviour – somebody or something who can beat all our enemies. “Hosanna!” we yell. “Save us!”

And just like Israel, the natural thing is to turn to some source of power. Maybe we need to turn to the kind of power that comes out the barrel of a gun and declare war on terror, and kill all the terrorists before they kill us. Eradicate our enemies. Or there’s the power of money in that if we have enough security and protection and possessions, perhaps we will be safe.

And yet, sooner or later we face up to the fact that no matter how much we surround ourselves with the arsenal of the world and its comforts and protectors, we will never be safe for eventually death will still find us and tragedy’s can still knock on our doors.

Yes, we were in those crowds and we still are. “Blessed be the Lord” and then in confusion and hurt “why Lord?”

Yet hear our Saviour beaten and bruised by us and for us ask His Father to “Forgive them they no not what they do. “

To stand alongside Paul and know that we do what we don’t want to and don’t want we want to do and cry to the Lord “to take these thorns from our flesh” only to hear “my grace is sufficient for thee”

The words of God that seem to deride and ridicule. Words that in our hardest of situations seem foolish. “She’ll be right mate” or in contemporary society “to suck it up,” and so fall to our knees like Jesus in agony and prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane before His arrest, torture and death and ask  God the Father is there another way? And then see not ridicule and derision but see our God of all wisdom and love proclaim that “my grace is sufficient for thee.”

His grace given to us through his Son Jesus Christ who after crying for another way finished with “but not as I will, but as you will.”

The will of the Father that when the cheers and joy around us fade we still kneel at the foot of the cross and see his grace that lets us stand with the resurrected Christ.

The will of the Father that as we travel through our valleys in the shadow of death see we are not alone, but with by our resurrected saviour who guides, strengthens and in need, carries us that we not perish in our sins, but reside in the grace of God the Father.

The will of the Father that does not unleash his wrath on our world, but his will that we accept his Grace won for us through his Son and with the apostle Paul profess like him: that

 I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. 6 Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, 7 or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2nd Corinthians 12:5-9).

The Lord’s grace is most sufficient for us and in that when we are weak we are strong. Weak in self, yet strong in Christ that we fight our thorns of the flesh that they be not a wall between His grace, but a bridge to safety.

A bridge that we cross carrying our thorns yet leaving them behind as we instead bear our crosses as we follow Jesus. Fighting the good and running the good race in faith that come what may; His will has been done in you when you came to faith.

And in that faith, let us all pray for the help we need today, not that boast in ourselves, but that in the power of our Lord and Saviour we heed His wish that:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

And so today. Though weary and burdened we may be-we put our todays in the Lord’s hands as we have put our heavenly tomorrows and know, that there is no other way, for on our travels and in the grace of God, both kneeling at the Cross and standing in exultation with the risen Christ, we have been brought to see, trust and be thankful that yes, Jesus Christ is our only way, our truth and our life. Amen.

Look up and live

Look up and live

Numbers 21:4-9, Ephesians 2:1-10, John 3:14-21

Psalm 121 begins, “I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.”

StMarksHow often in life do you find yourself in the depths of despair or frustration only to feel a call within yourself to lift up your eyes and search for help?

Our emphasis today is on lifting up and looking up, what does it mean for us, how does it take place and what are the benefits.

Moses and the Israelites were taking the long way round to get to the Promised Land, they were bickering and moaning to Moses and against God for taking them away from a life that even though it was unpleasant and hard work, provided them with food and water and a place to rest. They felt that they would probably die in the wilderness and the food they were getting was a bit bland. So what did God do to fix it? He didn’t remove them from the wilderness, he sent venomous snakes among them and many of the Israelites died!  The wrath of God on display and yet when Moses prayed to God on behalf of the people God said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.”  And so, an antidote given from God that when the people were bitten they looked up and lived.

We could be a little perplexed by this scenario because last week we heard that “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.” And here is God telling Moses to make a snake from bronze and place it on a pole and get the people to look at it!  The thing to realise in this case is that God commanded Moses to make it, and also in the original commandments they were told “You shall not bow down to them or worship them”, they weren’t bowing down and worshipping, they were looking up and being healed and in doing so they were reminded of how God provides for their healing and his power over all things.

Another important point is that God didn’t stop the snakes from biting after Moses prayed, he still allowed the snakes to bite the Israelites, but then provided them with the antidote in the snake lifted up for them to see.  The antidote, being supplied by God, and so God himself providing the healing that is needed to bring them from death to life.

Our gospel reading makes the connection for us between the snake being lifted up in the wilderness for the Israelites and the son of man being lifted up.  We know in retrospect that Jesus was lifted up on the cross at Calvary, he was hung there for all to see, even if it was only for a short time, he was hung up there.  So what is the connection between a slithering and silent killer like a snake and the son of man who came to give his life for our sake?  You know the answer to that as well as I do…when the Israelites looked to the snake they were healed, saved from certain death.

Jesus was hung on the cross to save us from our certain death.  The healing that takes place through him on the cross takes us from death to new life in him.  Our second reading today describes this healing beautifully for us.  “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live…like the rest we were by nature deserving of wrath.  But because of his great love for us , God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions.”

Just like the Israelites who were bitten by the snakes, we were bitten by sin, through the serpent that tempted Adam and Eve.  We are surrounded daily by the slithering silent evil that longs to tempt us away from our focus on Christ and the cross on which he died to bring us healing from that sin.

Each and every one of us struggles with sin on a daily basis, there are events and challenges in the lives of all of us that threaten to swamp us, they feel like quicksand dragging us down feet first, like weeds wrapping around us and trying to trip us, like nets binding us hand and foot.  But even someone who is desperately trying to cling onto life can look up and live.

The Israelites looked to the bronze snake on the pole and they lived.  We have Christ on the cross to look to and to remind us that in fact we are already healed, and even better than that, “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.”

This takes us beyond the cross, we need not only look at the cross, but through the cross and see the resurrection of Christ in victory over death and to his ascension into heaven where he sits at the right hand of the father.  From there he prays for us, just like Moses prayed to God the Father on behalf of the Israelites, Jesus is sitting in his place in heaven bringing our needs before God.

None of this is our doing, as we heard in the opening, from Psalm 121, “our help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.”  And then in our second reading another way of saying it, “For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”

God gave us his son, to be lifted up on the cross, just like Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so that when sin bites us and threatens to bring about our spiritual death, we too have somewhere to look for help, we lift our eyes to the cross, but then through the cross to the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, all the while knowing in our heart of hearts that it is by grace that we have been saved, this isn’t something just for the future, but also saved here in our todays.

When I was young I was not tough enough to get a tattoo and now old I’m not cool or hip enough. That’s fine but what we should all have inscribed with un perishable ink of our hearts and minds is that most loved and to the point text from John 3:16 and the accompanying verse from John 5:24:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

(and) “Truly, Truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life..(and)..does not come into judgement, but has passed from life to death.”

So yes today, we can, we should and we must, in the truth of what we were and of what we have become stand at the base of the cross with our earthly sin and to lift our eyes to the Son of Man who was lifted up for our sake and see ourselves lifted up with Him that we carry on in the time allotted to us. Heavy in our sin, yet unburdened through His righteousness, knowing our inadequacies yet flourishing in His sufficiency and abundance and wether in self-disdain or denial, look up and see a saviour, our saviour, your saviour with eyes moist in affection toward you who He loves so great. The love He asks you accept without regard to your human standards, but to His standards which He has brought to your lives in the grace of God, the forgiveness of your sins and the peace of that in faith so shall you remain that you are given the ability to carry on no matter what your position or situation in life. To to lift up the burdened and free the chained as He has done to you. Because in you, regardless of your own thoughts, doubts, maybe’s if’s and buts, in you do I and the world see the masterpiece of God. And that is a sinner saved through the grace of God who will live in and for eternity. That is our truth, and that is our statement to this world, not that we boast or they envy, but that they hear of the unfathomable love of Christ through the simple words of those like us, and know that yes-it must be true for there could have been no other way. Amen.

Does anybody really care

1 Corinthians 1:18-25


In a philosophy class one of the first things we were asked was that if a tree falls in the forest but no one was there did it really fall?

I would say yes, but more importantly, who cares?

Don’t get me wrong I like pondering over things and when I used to visit my Father, Cathy tells me she and my mum would say “well that’s politics and sport done and so only religion to go.”

Philosopher “sizing” about things can be interesting, eye opening and fun and yet, without the gift of the Holy Spirit the smartest philosophers in the world can’t tell us a thing about God’s love.

A person could read about human beings and their great love stories in a novel, but still not know that God’s love is deeper and higher than any human love

We could study the rich variety of trees and animals, the seas and its creatures, the stars and black holes in space, and anything else in the universe caused by the creative genius of God.

But these majestic pieces of the cosmos still can’t tell us that the real essence of God the Father who is a God of Love.

One could philosophise and knowingly say, “Whoever designed and caused the human beings to live on this planet must have been more than super ingenious and whoever created the stars and space and time has it all perfect, and must be the finest and most powerful craftsman ever.” All true.

One might also conclude that God is not only supremely powerful, but at the same time cruel, the way death is part of nature and human existence. So then, in that manner-no, creation does not show us the God of love.

We really can only know the full depth of God’s love by looking at the cross.

That the all-powerful God would personally go to be crucified for you and me is shattering, mind blowing stuff. The cross teaches us more about God the creator than any study about his creation.

On the cross we see God seemingly at his weakest. People do with him what they like! The spit on him, mock him, humiliate him, whip him, and God bleeds.Only a few nails hold him to the cross. God is held by a handful of nails to the timber – part of his own creation.

There God dies, seemingly as weak as the day he came into the world.

Our Saviour Jesus who entered the world a helpless baby. Who depended on a couple of humans called Mary and Joseph to look after him and keep him alive only to leave the world helpless, along with a couple of criminals for company who also hang and die on several pieces of wood.

Yet in that picture of the cross we see the love of God reaching out to all types of people.

The love of God that continually in our confused lives reaches out to you and me that we know that:“The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is     stronger than human strength.”

There, on the cross, we see what our sin has done to God and what it can do to us.

We destroy the genius who designed us and gave us life: the same one who brought us into this world and gave us the freedom to enjoy it with him, and with one another.

The freedom to reject him and drive him out so we can claim the universe for ourselves, and keep all the glory and praise for ourselves.

Would we willingly let anything we made turn on us and destroy us. No we’d use force. If we invented human beings we’d keep full control. Humans would be like puppets that couldn’t move unless we pulled the strings. To our way of thinking it is foolish of God to let people think for themselves, or have the power to turn on God.

Yet the one with all the power, God the Father doesn’t rule people by force but chooses to win people by his divine love.

God prefers people to show love and praise and trust rather than rule with an iron fist.

God chose to enter the world in Jesus so he could be close to us, and we could be close to him. He came because he cares.

Our weakest point is our selfishness and can separate us from God. So God chose the cross to meet us in our weakness. His Son Jesus given to us in love, who came to us in love so we would never be separated from God and his love again.

God could use his power to wipe out the human race. He could send a terrible disease that doesn’t respond to any treatment; or a meteor that would smash the world and destroy all human life. But God chooses to use a cross, made of wood. A cross the same as any other cross the Romans used for executing criminals.

And yet on this one hangs the Son of God. The Son of God taking our places.

To those there. The Son of God, yer right. The apostles after following Jesus seeing miracles of untold power and words of mighty love and wisdom see him seemingly defeated and ask themselves “what was that?”

Given the circumstances a fair enough question.

Yet they would soon understand as we have that God chooses that way to show his loving concern for them, for you and for me. Our God who wants to win people by his love, and not by brutal force.

The cross of Jesus is the place we see the power of human sin. Our sin that was so great in God’s eyes that Jesus went ahead and paid for it even before we were born.

Things happen in our lives that we simply don’t understand and often unfairly God gets the blame.

He understands that sometimes we would like a puppet master God who clears the path by forcing us this or that way but we all know how that works out when we are told not to do something without understanding why, we try to do it or at the least become resentful of our inequality of freedom.

But if we really just think for a moment: if there were no cross of Jesus, then the song “Amazing Grace” wouldn’t exist. And Amazing grace it is-and it’s our grace. It’s your grace and no matter what we think of ourselves or each other.

In belief in Jesus Christ as your saviour, my saviour-We are saved. And that is: The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding. Amen.