Archive for April, 2016

I will see you again.

Saturday, April 16th, 2016

Revelations 7:9-17
Psalm:23

“Down the lane I walk with my sweet Mary, hair of gold and lips like cherries.
It’s good to touch the green, green grass of home.
Yes, they’ll all come to meet me, arms reaching, smiling sweetly.
It’s good to touch the green, green grass of home.

Then I awake and look around me, at the four grey walls that surround me
and I realize, yes, I was only dreaming.
(But) arm in arm we’ll walk at daybreak.
(and) Again I’ll touch the green, green grass of home.
Yes, they’ll all come to see me in the shade of that old oak tree
as they lay me neath the green, green grass of home.”family

image001It doesn’t seem that long ago that in my first year here I sat at the bedside of one our sisters in Christ in the hospital as she was about to see the Lord face to face and with the curtain around her bed drawn I read plasm 23. It was the last time I saw her but I’m sure I’ll see her again, but as I departed the lady in the next bed loudly said “thank you so much for reading that.”

Today we have heard the scriptures read in a different order, but the order in life of how things work out. The Gospel of Christ pronounced to those before Him. The epistle of how His words work out in our lives, and finally revelation of how it works out at the end of earthly life, and all we could say encompassed by that beautiful psalm, psalm 23.

It seems strange to me now, but there was a time where I could not see any comfort in that psalm as it did not seem to show I was closer to Jesus but further apart. Where were my green fields and still waters? Where’s my comfort and my overflowing cup?

Two of America’s most infamous African-American gangs are the Crips and the bloods from South Central LA. A piece of land between Rodeo Drive and Hollywood that in the 50’s was separated by highways that were not to be crossed by those marginalized inside or those of racial anger or fear encircling this suburb of internment.

A suburb that has grown from young men forming their own clubs in the fifties because of not being able to join the boy scouts because of the color of their skin, to now open warfare between the gangs where most families are broken. Young men who grew up without role models to a future where a quarter of them will be either in prison or dead.

A future where many, many of them have never been outside their turf never mind feeling the breeze at a beach and all must not be caught “slipping.” Which is not to be caught unfocussed at all times because to do so at the edges of the gang territories, be it at the petrol station or the deli caught well get you killed by those wearing other colours. Blue for the crips, red for the bloods.

In the Middle East, Arab against Arab except for the universal hatred of Israel. South Central L.A. Afro American against Afro-American except for the universal hatred of the Authorities of Law that they see as wardens.

A climate of anger, un yet fear not to be showed, and hopelessness that saw one young 19 year old voice that “he did not choose that destiny, it chose him, a life that he knows God did not want in society, yet trapped, his only way out is if someone will come down into the pit with him and show a way out.”

In the beginning God created the earth, the heavens above and all within and saw that it was good, only for us to fall to sin.

Sin that has seen nation rise against nation and those within, brother against brother and sister against sister and in the church, Christian against Christian and maybe the most fierce of all, the inner fight of self against self.

Mary Magdalene standing at the Tomb in the presence of Jesus was asked “Woman, why are you crying”

Her tears that could not be quelled for she saw not the risen Christ, but a tomb of lost hope.

On Jesus Cross, Pontius Pilate wrote an inscription “Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews” and when those present sought for that truth to be distorted, Pilate answered “What I have written, I have written.”

I read this and for you, and for those still fighting the emptiness as I bring it before you as it was to me.

Woman, why are you crying?  I’m crying because the one who gave me hope, the one who accepted me not for what I do but for me as a person, my friend, Jesus, is dead!  I’m crying for all those who pinned their hope on him; for all those who saw God like they’d never seen him before; for those who felt unburdened by chains which bound them, chains of oppression, chains of hopelessness, chains of feeling you have to do the right thing but never being able to do it well enough, chains which said you weren’t allowed here, you couldn’t go there, you weren’t the right race, didn’t have the right background, weren’t rich enough, religious enough, healthy enough, weren’t the right gender to be a part of God’s plan for his people.

I’m crying for all those people who felt a sense of liberation in the message of Jesus who are now shattered because he is dead.  I’m crying for all those through the ages who have lost a loved one, for those who have experienced what it is to be separated from someone they thought they would have for ever, for all those who know the pain of sickness and disease and tragedy and have sat by the bedside of a loved one as they slowly let go of the breath of life, or have been stunned, shocked, numbed by news of an inexplicable tragedy, those who in the death of Jesus see nothing more than that he went the same way we all go.

I’m crying for all those with emptiness inside, all those who search for meaning, and all those who are confused and lonely and wanting to give up.  And I’m crying for a world which is without direction, spinning hopelessly out of control, a world marked by millions without a home, without enough food, without the security of knowing how safe they will be tomorrow, with the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, for all the displaced people, all the orphaned, for the unborn who are terminated before they see the light of day and the elderly and frail who wonder when it will be their time to be extinguished– I cry for all those who could have found hope in this Jesus who have now been left hopeless as Jesus lies cold, dead in the tomb!

And I’m crying for me and for those like me, for those who lived before me and believed that God would one day set things right, and all those who come after me. And I’m crying because a man like this, a man we thought was God’s man, the holy one, should be treated this way.

But then like a voice from the dead, Woman why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking? “Mary, Mary it is I who you seek.”

Un yet still she cries.

Woman, why are you crying?  Lord my tears now are for this moment where my joy no one can take away from me.  My hope was dashed but now it has been restored.  I wept for others, but now I know that they, too, can have the experiences I’ve had of Jesus and everything he brings.  I cried because my Jesus, the Rescuer, the Saviour was dead, but now I smile because I know that my Redeemer lives!

The average age of death for those gang members of South Central L.A. is 20 years and 5 months. One of those more fortunate was former gang member Robert Martinez who like many of his once colleagues sported religious tattoos to which he stated, that “we all believed in God but we never talked about it. Everybody was afraid they were going to die and we wanted to be ready. Now a practicing Christian he still carries the same tattoo of Christ on his left arm that he carried into those mean streets of his youth. Christ with that boy on the streets and Christ with Him now in Church.

I, like Robert Martinez have come to see Psalm 23 through our trials and tribulations caused by self and others not as a separation from Jesus, but rather see His underserved and unfaltering love and presence amongst it.

Martin Luther King Jnr, the day before he was shot and killed finished his speech with these famous words: “I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter to me now, because I’ve been to the mountain top. And I don’t mind. Like everybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place but I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the Promised Land! And so I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything; I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

Yes our redeemer lives. Jesus having been into death itself, came out of it as Victor; having trumped Satan’s last trump.  Having verified, underlined, and confirmed everything he did, everything he said as real, genuine, believable, trustworthy, life-changing.  Not a loser but a winner.  Not defeated but victorious.  Not just one with us in our pain and our dying. Not just one with us, but one who is in front of us, who has gone ahead of us, offering us healing and help and hope.

Like a thief on a cross we too have seen the Promised Land that is Jesus Christ next to us. Like to that gang member lost, angry and fearful, God stands with us with His presence tattooed into our soul when we saw Him not and like Martin Luther King we know the glory of the coming of the Lord and though some of us may reach the promised land early or later than others, in that number will we be:

“One of the great multitude from every nation, tribe and peoples of earth. Standing before the throne of the lamb, clothed in white robes washed clean by the blood of the lamb. The lamb Jesus Christ who has lead us beside still waters and restored our soul. Who has lead us in paths of righteousness for His names sake. Jesus in goodness and mercy who has followed all the days of our lives that there in the house of the Lord shall we dwell forever, sheltered with His presence to neither hunger nor thirst any longer. To never shed a tear in sorrow nor ever again tremble in fear.

Like a thief on the cross we have seen the Promised Land that is Jesus Christ and asked that He remember us. And in knowing His response I leave you now with the same departing words as those I have said in confidence to all our brothers and sisters in Christ about to enter the Promised Land. Whether tomorrow here on this earth or not-I will see you again. Amen.

Just do our “job” as Christians

Saturday, April 9th, 2016

image001Acts 9:1-6

Often in society and in the Church we like to see, or even expect some positive changes in people when we extend our hand in help.

Well who said so? And for that matter what is positive change. Maybe the change needs to come in us. To have that perseverance and staying power when to us it seems a futile and lost cause. To just do our “job” as Christians and persevere and stay, knowing that God is somehow in that person’s life doing His job.

The same perseverance we suffer under in our own “stuff”. To persevere in our own hardships and disappointments knowing that God’s amongst it. To persevere in the knowledge of our sin, the stuff we detest of ourselves yet continually fall for, but stay clinging to what Christ has told us-that he is amongst it with us-seeing it and knowing it-yet staying firm in his commitment to bring us his grace.

And in these times of enlightenment and self-help, when we have to rely completely on someone else when we have no answer to the situation it can be the gaining of wisdom outside of “self”.

A man was a successful Wall Street analyst until drink drove him into deep depression which led to his mental disintegration. Following an accident which resulted from him being drunk, he decided to deliver himself from the depths into which he had sunk and became a member of an organisation called the “Moral Re-Armament”-an organisation that stresses do-it-yourself redemption. But instead of gaining his freedom through self-help, he sank deeper and deeper into the depths and after a three day drinking binge he ended up in a Manhattan hospital completely shattered. In his moment of complete and utter helplessness he prayed to God for help and said “suddenly, the room lit up in light and he was caught up into a feeling that words cannot describe”. This changed his life and what had been impossible for him to achieve was achieved in him through the power of God. From the depths of his defeat, degradation and despair he was “resurrected” from a living death and made alive. A “resurrection” that would be felt in the lives of millions, as this man Bill Wilson was to go on and be the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous.

A gift, a miracle-an encounter with God that saved him and countless others.

A gift, a miracle and encounter with God that changed the apostle’s Peter and Pauls lives and the lives of the countless millions others who saw and heard the truth of Christ in the lives of these two men who accepted his offer to leave behind their mistakes and live instead under His grace.

Peter who denied Christ three times and went missing in his time of need and Paul, a leader of those inflicting death and punishment on Christians who when they met the raised Christ came not to just know what he stood for, but what he came for-to set them free of themselves, of their failures, character flaws, and most importantly-of the things that they could not undo themselves-their sin.

These direct encounters, miracles if you like may seem reserved for the few but all who encounter Christ are offered his same life changing power.

A team mate of Shane Warne’s once remarked that no matter how much turbulence and media attention he was getting because of his personal life, when he walked onto the oval he left all his troubles on the ovals picket fence and was free to be the champion he was.

In our lives Christ is the picket fence that surrounds us. In our lives Christ brings the truth that sets us free:

“For I am the Lord, I change not. If you come to me, I will not cast you out. Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heaven burdens and I will give you rest”.

We may not seem to have that moment like the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, Peter or Paul, but those same gifts and miracles are hidden in every aspect of our lives. In our joyous moments Christ is there just as he is there guiding us as we walk through the chaos and confusion.

Like Paul, we may have a thorn in our side that we wish wasn’t there, but like Paul we have God’s grace and that is enough because living in that grace, we have the sureness of the resurrection on our last day and the sureness, that now-today we can serve God the Father by leaving our mistakes, burdens and sins from the past with our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

The knowledge of our inability and failure to live as we should is the start of wisdom. The knowledge of Christ’s power and love is the emergence of that wisdom. To live in Christ’s forgiveness and his total acceptance of you in every facet of your life is to understand that wisdom.

To give Christ our past and present burdens is to answer his call and whether we answer that call and lay them off to him or not, in his name we are still forgiven and free in this world-that will not change. But his desire is that we join with a man that God said “was after his own heart”, yet a man that fell to adultery and murder.

A man called King David who in his sin truly came to know restoration in the grace of God. That restoration is what Christ craves we know and join with King David in testifying, and giving evidence of in our lives: From Psalm 55: verses16 to 18:

“As for Me, I will call upon God; and the Lord will save me…He shall hear my voice. He has delivered my soul in peace from the battle that was against me” (Ps. 55:16-18).

The Lord has blessed you and kept you. The Lord has made His face shine on you and been gracious to you. The Lord has looked upon you with favour and the Lord gives you his peace.

This man Thomas.

Saturday, April 2nd, 2016

John 20:24-29

 

image001People have often been hard on Thomas. He has been nicknamed ‘Doubting Thomas’ and some have portrayed him as almost a coward, when in actual fact, the evidence in the Scriptures is that Thomas was a man of great courage.

Thomas is sometimes treated as though he is a person who doesn’t want to believe, like many people today in society today. But maybe Thomas wanted to believe but found it hard to.

This man Thomas?  The other Gospels tell us nothing about him except his name. It is only here in John’s Gospel that Thomas comes alive for us. Thomas is portrayed as a man of great courage. There is the time Thomas speaks up when Jesus and his followers received news of the illness of Lazarus, the close friend of Jesus. News comes that Lazarus is near death. Jesus makes no move for two days to go to his friend. There had recently been two attempts to stone Jesus, so Jerusalem was a dangerous place for Jesus and his disciples.

Suddenly, Jesus announces he will go to his dying friend. The disciples think this is a bad move! It would be suicidal for them to go near Jerusalem. The danger is so great the disciples are near to abandoning Jesus at this point. But Thomas speaks up and says, “Let us go, that we may die with him.” Thomas can only see disaster lying ahead: nothing else. But this is no reason for him to turn his back on Jesus to try and save his own skin. He loves his Lord and because of Thomas’ courage, all the disciples go with Jesus to visit Lazarus.

And now here in today’s situation-again before we judge Thomas, we must also remember that while the other disciples were locked away for fear of the Jews, Thomas wasn’t there – which means he must have had the courage to venture outside.  And in regards to faith-Thomas is no worse than the other disciples.  They also didn’t believe until they saw Jesus.  They didn’t believe Mary’s testimony that she had seen the Lord. Yet Thomas is the one who is labelled the doubter.

What we see in Thomas is that human courage and faith in God are two different things and sometimes the two are easily confused.  The human strength that allowed Thomas to be absent from the safe place behind the locked doors is not going to help him when he needs faith.  Just as it wasn’t Peter’s human strength that allowed him to obey God rather than the human leaders.

When the other disciples tell Thomas they have seen the Lord, Thomas cannot accept it. The return of Jesus from the dead is too much for Thomas to believe, ironically even though he had seen the raising of Lazarus back to life.

So Thomas didn’t doubt that people could be raised from the dead. But he couldn’t believe that Jesus, the raiser of dead people could be raised himself. So when Jesus does appear to Thomas and invites him to touch his hands and his side and realises it is indeed the Lord-he in joy and excitement bursts out with his great confession of faith, “My Lord and my God”.

These aren’t the words of a man who is still pondering his findings! When Thomas sees the risen Jesus in person before him, he doesn’t need half an hour to detachedly examine the body of Jesus. The scriptures don’t tell us if Thomas even touched Jesus. Thomas speaks out with the courage of his faith, “My Lord and my God”. This is the greatest and boldest confession of faith any follower of Jesus made, and it comes from the mouth and heart of Thomas. It is a courageous confession and the same confession of faith we make about Jesus in the Creed.

Yes-The tomb is empty, but yes: sometimes so too is the place where we go to look for help from God.  Yes-Jesus deals with Thomas’s doubts, but yes-he declares that this won’t be how he will deal with the faith/life struggles that we go through.  And yes-Jesus will use our faith and says that we will be greatly blessed when we believe without seeing,

In Thomas’s struggles we see that God is the one, the only one, through whom our life questions can be answered.  God is the initiator and it is God to whom we must go in our life struggles.  When we allow God to direct our life and trust him it won’t always be “up” – it will sometimes be “down”.  But it will always be forward to eternal life in heaven.

On the seventeenth day of the second month the Lord shut the door of the Ark and the water beneath the earth burst open and the floodgates of the sky were opened for forty days and nights. On the first day of the tenth month the tops of the mountains appeared and after forty days Noah opened the window. A dove was sent out to see if the water had receded to sustain life. It returned as it left-empty handed, or more precisely-empty beaked. . Seven days later he sent it out again and it returned with a fresh olive leave. Seven days later he sent out the Dove again and it did not return to the Noah, but returned to the world where it once was.

I have met several Thomas’s in our world who want to believe, but struggle. Just as we struggle when those we want to believe seemingly want not to, and with those that are yet to believe that we know and love that can be very hard emotionally.

Jesus rose and left the tomb and it remained empty and returned to the Apostles’ who were hiding in fear carrying His scars for their freedom, and in another seven days Thomas saw for himself the risen Lord.

Jesus said to Thomas: “Because you have seen me you have believed, blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed.” The Word of God as recorded by the apostles in the room has not returned empty we have believed and are blessed. And as blessed we are, in prayer and in service to our Lord do we make known Him known to those who doubt or know not.

Isaiah 55:11: “so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

Mark 11:24: “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”

No less than the very Words of God that the more so should we respond too in faith in our homes, in our workplaces, schools and here in this house of God.

So I ask you now in prayer to bring your needs and those of others before the Lord in Prayer. To in prayer offer to the Lord your fears and trials and in faith leave them with Him, and ask that’s the Lord Will be done to see those we know who still doubt or deny  Him, will in God’s time together with the apostles, Thomas and us. Together with those in Christ that have gone before, those with us now and those yet to come and together with the angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven see, know and bellow in sure and joyful voice “My Lord and My God “

We bring our prayers before the Lord. Amen