Archive for March, 2018

Easter Sunday

Saturday, March 31st, 2018

 

Matthew 28:1-10

 

Dear Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so that we do not fear, but trust in the words of our resurrected Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Hands up all those who have ever felt an earthquake? Our brothers and sisters in New Zealand are all too familiar with feeling the earth shake beneath their feet.

I’m sure they would tell us that this can be terrifying, because there is nothing firm, nothing staying still and secure for you to stand on. The best approach is to get to a place that at least might offer at least some protection from falling objects, or to keep you safe from the walls toppling down on top of you.

But there’s another type of earthquake that most of us have felt, or will one day feel. This is where our life gets very shaky. The things that we have trusted as firm and secure have suddenly become very insecure. For example, you may have had a good job, secure investments, and a great house to live in. But how did, or would you feel, if you lost your job, all your hard earned investments or your house was lost?

Or, perhaps it’s not property, but you may have had good health. You do everything right, you look after yourself, eat and drink the right things, but then your health fails. Your strong legs, hands, or heart become very shaky and you feel you will never be the same again and you grieve for lost opportunities.

Maybe you lose friends or family. You may have had a good spouse that was taken away by tragedy, or through bitter and gut wrenching divorce. You may have lost siblings or close friends that you think you will never be able to replace.

Whatever it is, we have either faced it or will one day face it. We will be faced with times of upheaval, turmoil and our future will look very shaky. The things we had previously put our faith in, or relied upon, are snatched like a rug from under our feet, and we grasp at anything that promises even a glimpse of security.

Now imagine you are Mary Magdalene or the other Mary. Your world has been tossed up, shaken and torn. The man, who promised so much, had been gruesomely killed and laid to rest in a tomb. This man had performed miracles, he had stood up to teach those in authority how to live according to God’s Word, and he had even raised people from the dead. Yet, when he died without a whimper, your hopes and dreams are shattered. Where is your hope now?

As you try to cope with the emotional earthquakes over the past few days, you go to the tomb to see it once more. On your way, you experience a physical earthquake.

The guards at the tomb also feel the earthquake. Along with the shaking of the ground, they see an angel of the Lord in shining white who rolled back the stone in front of the tomb. Most appropriately, they did the only logical thing when faced with such strange sights – they shook like an earthquake themselves and fell over as if they were dead.

It’s strange that St Matthew alone focuses so much on earthquakes and shakings. There are several times in his gospel account where he points out a violent shaking. For example, when Jesus died, the earth shook and rocks split. The guards around Jesus saw the shaking and bore witness that Jesus is the Son of God. When Jesus rose from dead, the earth shook once more and the guards witnessed it again.

Matthew is trying to tell us something.

He is trying to point back to other times when the earth shook. As we look in the bible, we see that when the Israelites were around Mt Sinai, the earth shook. God sat on Mt Sinai and the ground shook. Perhaps Matthew is pointing to the fact that when the earth shook at these times, God was present on earth? These were times when God acted. These were times when God sent his judgement.

God was in action at the time of Jesus’ death and at the time of his resurrection.

Yet earthquakes bring fear. Where is our security when everything has changed, moved all around and been taken away from us? As the two Mary’s walked toward the tomb and felt the earthquake, did they think, ‘Oh, it’s ok, God’s at work?’ No, in fact they were terrified. Their whole world had been turned upside down.

At the time when they thought God was absent and defeated, the angel said those wonderful words; ‘Do not be afraid.’ Later, when they hurried from the tomb with mixed feelings of fear and joy, how did Jesus himself greet them? ‘Do not be afraid.’

Why shouldn’t they be afraid? Why shouldn’t we be afraid?

Because God is at work. In the midst of turmoil and upheaval, God is at work. As Jesus is raised from the death, God’s judgement has been carried out. Our wicked foe has been defeated. Jesus rose triumphant from the grave. Death has been defeated.

Yeah, yeah, so what!

We’ve heard this a hundred times before.

Every year, and even a few times during the year, we hear those words. We hear Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. We hear death has been defeated. But what has that got to do with my struggles at work, my struggles at home, my fading health and my loss of friends and family?

Everything!!

It’s when the physical, emotional and mental earthquakes surround us and we feel like we are on shaky ground, the words the angel and Jesus spoke to the women are the most welcome and reassuring words we want to hear: Do not be afraid.

Why?

Because what’s the worst that can happen?

We could die.

Well, in this case, do not be afraid! Death is defeated and life is victorious.

Since we are joined to the body of Christ through baptism, we have already risen. Jesus has already died our death for us. He carried our shame, guilt and punishment for our wrongs to the grave with him. He entered that great devouring mouth called death. But instead of being swallowed by that gaping and hideous mouth, he devoured death itself. Death now has no teeth. Previously our picture of death was this huge mouth full of rows upon rows of razor sharp teeth, waiting to gobble us up. Instead, the mouth is no more harmful than a newborn baby with those massaging soft gums.

Now, since he has risen to new life, we too have risen with him. Through Christ and his resurrection, we have already crossed over that dark chasm and now live in the light of eternal life.

This is the reason we do not fear – because death has lost its sting. Because Christ lives, we live also.

This helps us face our daily earthquakes. We discover that when we think we only have shaky ground, we instead have the most secure ground available. We have a secure ground that can never be shaken.

We have the secure ground of God’s precious Word: those wonderful words that come in the midst of our earthquakes. Words like ‘do not be afraid’ and ‘your sins are forgiven.’ Here in this church, we have a sanctuary from the world’s earthquakes. Here we gather in a sanctuary which provides peace, comfort, and forgiveness.

We have secure ground in Jesus Christ and his resurrection. Those wonderful words ‘He is risen’ reassure us that there is life after death. There is light after darkness. There is hope after hopelessness. There is security and peace even when all things are shaken about. Here as we celebrate his glorious resurrection, we receive that joy and hope in Christ.

When our world seems to shake and quiver, remember those wonderful words of Jesus: ‘Do not be afraid.’ Take his Word for it. He has gone ahead of us to heaven. He waits to meet us there at the appointed time. There we will see him with our own eyes and he will greet us again with grace, joy and peace.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Everything is complete!

Friday, March 30th, 2018
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!”

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.

pause

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.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

Palm Sunday

Saturday, March 24th, 2018

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Philippians 2:5-11

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

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient unto death—even death on a cross!

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

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your eyes, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

We are coming to the end of this Lenten season, this season of repentance and dedication to God, preparing for the great celebration of Christ’s glorious death and resurrection, our salvation.

Today, just a week before the Great Thanksgiving, it is Palm Sunday. When we remember the triumphant entry. Jesus riding into Jerusalem as its true King and Messiah. Now I’m not sure how many of you have seen Disney’s Aladdin, but Jesus’s procession was not something so grand. He came not on an elephant, not even on a strong, regal horse, but a colt, the foal of a donkey. He came to bring peace, not violence; He came humbly into Jerusalem.

He knew what was coming, He knew what these people would do, these who were rejoicing and proclaiming Him the prophesied Son of David, saviour of Israel. Hosanna, in the Highest! God save us! Later that week they would call for Barabbas to be saved instead and demand with the Pharisees Christ’s crucifixion. It appears they would’ve preferred a warrior king, rather than the servant king God gave them. Jesus did not become this warrior to overthrow the Romans for the Jews, instead He humbly accepted the work God had prepared for Him, even to His death on the cross.

It’s clear to everyone who hears the story, Jesus was a humble man. He even says He doesn’t want to die, then ‘not my will but yours be done’ (Luke 22:42). And last week we heard Jesus say, ‘Father glorify your name!’ (John 12:28). We see that He gives all glory to God the Father, not taking any for Himself. Jesus was humble, disciplined and obedient, even going into death by crucifixion willingly. Can you imagine doing that?

Can you imagine, giving up your desires and pursuing a far greater goal, which will bring you only suffering in this life? Can you imagine obeying so much that you do not run when faced with death? There are many places in this world, where people are faced regularly with death. Do they give up their home and leave? Do they reject their responsibility to their family to save themself? Do they renounce their faith and obedience to God to save their life here on this earth?

Paul here is calling the Philippians to repentance, to turn toward God alone, to have the same mindset as Christ, who humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. God is calling you to this life of humility, to follow Jesus as our great example in this life. He lived in our world, He was tempted just as we are, yet did not sin. That is obedience, and humility to the end.

And this in particular to your interactions with each other, ‘In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.’ (verse 5). Now from what I have seen humility may be one of the strengths of this congregation, to be able to listen well to each other, to include each other, to treat each other as more important than ourselves; to not be too proud to speak, and to not be scared of correcting for the benefit of the other. We can read and think on all Christ’s interactions with people, He sought to heal, to comfort, to correct and to train all for the benefit of those He met, and also for us. Christ’s humility is not timid or quiet, it is not fear or cowardice, but rather it serves those around Him. He obeyed God for your benefit. He humbled Himself by obeying His Father’s commands, His Word, and not obeying Jesus’ own desires. Again, He didn’t seek after fleeting pleasures, but rather sought after the lasting pleasure of everlasting life for all. He was humble because He did His Father’s will, not His own, though He was tempted.

We fail in living this humble life time and again, we fail to obey Our Heavenly Father’s will and instead follow our own evil desires. That is our sin, that is what kills us, what brings us death. However, Jesus lived a life without sin, He completely obeyed God the Father and always did what is right. He tells us through Paul that ‘Christ did not please Himself’ but pleased others for their good, to build them up (Romans 15:2-3). That it was for our sake that He became poor, that by His poverty we might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). That just as through one man’s sin condemnation was brought to all in Adam, through one man’s obedience many will be made righteous (Romans 5:18-19).

Jesus lived the perfect life of humility and obedience, that every one of you is called to. He lived not for Himself, but for you and to bring salvation to all. Not only did He live, but also died as The unblemished lamb for you and as we are joined with His life, death and resurrection by the Holy Spirit through baptism and Holy Communion, all our wickedness is given to Jesus and His righteousness is graciously given to us. Jesus Christ, our humble and obedient King has saved us. Hosanna in the Highest!

The grace of God which passes all our human understanding guard your hearts in Christ Jesus, the founder and perfector of our faith. Amen.
Joseph Graham

 

True beauty

Saturday, March 24th, 2018

Text: Mark 11:1-11
Jesus sent two of his disciples on ahead with these instructions: “Go to the village there ahead of you. As soon as you get there, you will find a colt tied up that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here (verses 1,2).

A well-known beauty product company asked the people in a large city to send pictures along with brief letters about the most beautiful women they knew. Within a few weeks thousands of letters were delivered to the company.

One letter in particular caught the attention of the company president. The letter was written by a young boy who was obviously from a broken home, living in a run-down neighbourhood. With spelling corrections, an excerpt from his letter read: “A beautiful woman lives down the street from me. I visit her every day. She makes me feel like the most important kid in the world. We play checkers and she listens to my problems. She understands me, and when I leave she yells out the door that she’s proud of me.”

The boy ended his letter saying, “This picture shows you that she is the most beautiful woman. I hope I have a wife as pretty as her.”

Intrigued by the letter, the company president took out of the envelope a picture of the woman the boy had described – a smiling, toothless woman, well-advanced in years, sitting in a wheelchair. Sparse gray hair was pulled back in a bun, and wrinkles that formed deep furrows on her face.

This wasn’t the kind of woman the president of the beauty product company was looking for. The boy could see in this aging woman a beauty that others couldn’t see. The boy could look passed what could be seen on the outside and see what this person was really like on the inside. It took the disciples a long time to see beyond the man Jesus and see his real beauty and what his life was all about.

I wonder if Jesus ever got frustrated with his disciples as a bunch of dunderheads because they just didn’t catch on to what was the meaning and purpose of Jesus’ life. They saw him healing the sick, curing lepers, raising the dead. They heard him talk about the Kingdom of God, God’s love, discipleship and that he would suffer, die and three days rise again. But they just didn’t get it. They saw and heard only what they wanted to see and hear, and couldn’t see who he really was.

They saw his miracles and heard him talk about God’s kingdom and were expecting him to enter Jerusalem and establish his rule and take the city back for God. In fact, just before the events of Palm Sunday James and John came to Jesus and asked him for the top jobs when Jesus established his rule. They wanted positions of honour, to be royal advisers to King Jesus, to exercise power and authority in this new kingdom. Jesus calls the disciples together and says, “If one of you wants to be great, you must be the servant of the rest; and if one of you wants to be first, you must be the slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served; he came to serve and to give his life to redeem many people” (Mark 10:43-45).

It’s interesting to note that the first half of what the Gospel writer, Mark, has to say about Palm Sunday focuses on getting ready for Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Jesus sends off two disciples to find transportation for this significant event. Jesus tells them where to find a donkey, what they should do and what they should say if anyone objects to them borrowing the animal for a while.

I don’t know which of the disciples were given this task but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was James and John – the ones who had just asked Jesus for the most important positions when he becomes king. Looking for a donkey would be a kind of practical demonstration of what he had just said about greatness and servanthood. “If one of you wants to be great, you must be the servant of the rest”.

Can you imagine them wandering the suburbs of Jerusalem looking for a stupid donkey they could rent – how mundane, non-spectacular, even trivial? Just when Jesus is about to go head to head with the principalities and powers, striding into the capital city, the moment when they are about to share in Jesus’ glory, they are sent to wheel and deal with some donkey trader in some horrible stable and then trudge the streets with a donkey in tow.

And you know how donkeys can be. How embarrassing and humiliating if the donkey refuses to co-operate and they are forced to push and pull to everyone’s amusement.

When the Gospel of John tells this story, John tells it differently. Jesus comes into town on foot. There is no mention of the advance work of the disciples. Rather we hear that when the crowds started hailing Jesus as king, waving palm branches, and shouting political slogans about a new ruler for Israel, Jesus grabbed a donkey that happened to be there as a kind of visual message that he is not the kind of king they are expecting. A king doesn’t bounce into town on the back of a donkey.

But in Mark’s Gospel, finding a donkey and arranging transportation is something delegated to the disciples. For the gospel writer this is an important part of the Palm Sunday story. Without their obedience and their servant-like attitude; without their going off and roaming the streets to make this last minute arrangement, there would have been no triumphal entry into Jerusalem as we have come to know it.

I wonder if Mark is trying to tell us something here. As I said earlier, Mark often paints a very unflattering picture of the disciples – a bunch of dunderheads always misunderstanding and confused about Jesus and who he really was. In the end, when the going gets tough, and it’s time to show what they are made of, they run away and hide. They are nowhere to be seen at the crucifixion. Even at the resurrection they are portrayed as full of fear and apprehension.

Mark’s readers would have known all this so why does Mark give so much detail about the lead up to the Palm Sunday procession.

  • Is Mark reminding us that Jesus had called a group of ordinary folk to follow him, to work with him and for him? Humanly speaking they might not have been the sharpest pencils in the box, they had a lot to learn, could it be that Mark is telling us that in spite of their ordinariness and slowness to grasp what was happening, he could see beyond all that and recognise the potential in them as future servants of God’s Kingdom?
  • Is Mark reminding us that even though they didn’t comprehend who Jesus really was or understand what was about to happen, they were still prepared to respond with obedience to Jesus’ command to find a donkey; that a person can be obedient even if they don’t understand every detail?
  • Is the gospel writer trying to tell us that somehow discipleship and servanthood are interwoven; that discipleship isn’t about popularity and power but about doing the seemingly trivial and mundane?
  • Is Jesus telling us through this event something about himself – that he could have grabbed honour and glory but instead chose the road of becoming a servant for all people and allowing himself to be tortured and killed and then rise again for the sake of others?
  • Is Mark trying to tell us that in spite of the failings of the disciples Jesus was still prepared to trust them, empower them and place great responsibility on them for the coming of God’s reign in the hearts and lives of all people?
  • Is the gospel writer telling us that sometimes discipleship involves preaching, teaching, witnessing, healing and casting out demons from troubled people but discipleship also involves the mundane and ordinary – taking a pie to someone who is having a rough trot, being the one who says, “I’m praying for you”, offering words of assurance and deeds of help to those who need it – even those people we don’t particularly like or aren’t close to?

We can say a firm ‘yes’ to each of these questions. The lead up to the Palm Sunday procession tells us a lot about what being a disciple is all about. Jesus is highlighting that discipleship and service go hand in hand.

Jesus is a true servant and is obedient to the Father. For Jesus, the way is low – there is humiliation. He gave up his glory – he came from the highest place and went to the lowest place. He came from heaven and in the course of his work endured what no person ought to endure all for the sake of what others have done wrong. “He came to serve and to give his life to redeem many people” (Mark 10:45).

Palm Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week. The events of Palm Sunday make a nice story about Jesus being hailed as a king and palm branches being waved as the people shouted ‘Hosanna’. But Palm Sunday loses all of its meaning if it is disconnected from what happens on Good Friday and Easter morning.

If the gospel writers had stopped their record of Jesus’ life with Palm Sunday then we would have a completely different idea of who Jesus is and what he achieved. Palm Sunday is not only about giving glory and honour to Jesus as king; it is about a servant travelling down the road of humiliation and undeserved suffering, the road of torture, pain and dying.

Jesus on the cross is not a pretty sight – the wounds, the bleeding, the crown of thorns, the nails, the extreme agony. We turn our eyes away from the suffering and the shame because it is a terrible sight. We turn our eyes away because it is our sin that put him there.

And yet in spite of the horror, what greater gift could he give to all humanity?
What better example could he give to the disciples who would follow?
Serving others will often involve humility and service to even those whom we think deserve it the least – exactly what Jesus has done for us.

The little boy in my opening story could see the true beauty of the old woman. He didn’t see her missing teeth or her wrinkles; he only saw her love for him and everything that she so gladly did for him. As we travel with Jesus to the cross again this week and then rejoice together in his resurrection from dead, may we again see the true beauty of Jesus – his love, his obedience and commitment, his willingness to die even for sinners, his victory over sin, death and Satan.

So join the Palm Sunday procession – come and walk with Jesus this Holy Week, through the tears and suffering, to the light of resurrection morning!


© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

Jesus knows what makes us tick

Saturday, March 17th, 2018
Text: Hebrews 5:7
In his life on earth Jesus made his prayers and requests with loud cries and tears to God, who could save him from death.

Getting inside of someone else’s mind is a really difficult thing.  What makes people think and act the way they do isn’t easy.  As you listen to the news have you ever thought to yourself or even said out loud, “What on earth was that person thinking?  “What was going through his head to make him do this?”

We hear of a gunman entering a school and randomly shoot a teacher and students.
We hear of someone brutally harming a child.
Each time we shake our heads because we can’t fathom what has happened in that person’s life or what is going on in their minds to bring them to that point.

A pastor was called in to support a young mother and her two children who were shocked and traumatised by the unexpected death of their husband and father.  After what seemed like a normal lunch with the family, he went out to the shed and ended his life.

The police, family, friends and neighbours all asked the same question, “Why did he do it?  What was going on in his head?  He had a lovely wife and great kids – what led him to take such an extreme action?”  Everyone was trying to get inside his mind but in the end everyone had to admit that they would never know.  As much as we would have liked to get an insight into what this father was really thinking it was now impossible.

We might ask – how much does Jesus understand what is happening in our lives?  Our fast-paced world is so different from the dusty roads Jesus walked in first-century Palestine.
Does he understand our needs and sufferings?
Can he empathise with our worries, especially those worries that upset us and stress us?
Does he really know what is going on inside of our minds and what is really distressing us?
To be specific since Jesus experienced none of these while here on earth –
does he know what it’s like to lie in a hospital bed;
does he know what it’s like being 70 or 80 and all that goes with an aging body;
does he know about the stress that’s involved as we go through the various stages of life – getting married, raising children, dealing with teenagers, changing jobs, planning for retirement and then choosing the right moment to go into an aged care facility?

Does Jesus know and even care about these things which, in the big picture of the universe, are quite trivial but to us they are what make up our lives?

We acknowledge that Jesus is God;
that he was there at the creation of the world and
that he now rules with all power and authority.  As Paul wrote, Christ rules above all heavenly rulers, authorities, powers, and lords; he has a title superior to all titles of authority in this world and in the next” (Eph 2:21-22).  Jesus is so totally different to us – his ways, his wisdom, his knowledge, his decision are way beyond our comprehension.  Theologians have called God The Totally Other.  If the glorified Jesus is The Totally Other how well can he appreciate the things that are happening in our lives right now?  Has he ever had a sick day?  Has he ever had to grapple with depression, terminal illness, or to live in a dysfunctional family?

We know that Jesus was the one perfect person to walk this earth but that leads us to ask, “Was his personality, his character, his ability to cope and endure, his patience, his understanding and compassion so perfect from the moment he was born that it made it impossible for him to understand what it’s like not to be perfect?”  Therein lies the question that is almost as old as Christianity itself – Was Jesus really human or was he God in human disguise – in other words, he didn’t really become one of us?

The answer we give is crucial.  Among the things Christians believe is that through the birth, life and death of Christ, God became a part of what it means to be human.  He didn’t stand aloof from our pain and trouble.  He came right into the middle of all that causes suffering, sadness, depression, sin, rebellion and death. That’s what Christmas is all about – God leaving heaven and enduring all that is involved in becoming a human on this planet including birth in a time when infants dying at birth or soon after was quite common.

Because of Jesus, God can identify with us. He actually cares for us as one who personally knows us from the inside out and the outside in.  He knows what is really happening inside of us and the causes of the trauma and drama in our lives better than we know ourselves.  He knows all this because he has lived here amongst it all and experienced it all himself.

We say that through Jesus God knows what it is like to be hungry or to have plenty, to toil and sweat.
God knows the frustration of learning discipline and skills which do not come naturally.
God comprehends what it is like to sleep peacefully or toss sleeplessly, to relax and enjoy a joke.
Jesus may not have been an old man and experienced the aches and pains that old age bring but he certainly knew pain when every muscle, sinew, tendon and gaping wound made him cry out in agony.

Through Jesus God personally knows the sneakiness of some temptations and the full-on audacity of others.  From Christ God appreciates what it’s like to be warmed by a smile or snubbed by indifference.

God understands what it’s like to enjoy a new friendship and treasure an old one, to feel affirmed and to feel betrayed, to suffer for the truth, to be misunderstood, to make enemies, to suffer emotional and physical agony, and to feel forsaken. Yes, forsaken; forsaken by everyone. At the cross Jesus knows what it’s like to feel forsaken, even by God.

Some people say that if Jesus is not divine, then Christianity is a hoax. That is a part of the truth.  I would say that if Jesus were not fully divine and fully human then Christianity is a hoax.

When the writer of Hebrews says, “In his life on earth Jesus made his prayers and requests with loud cries and tears to God” he is reflecting on Jesus agony in the Garden of Gethsemane where he felt fear, dread, terror, and anxiety just as any of us would in the same circumstances.  He prayed and begged God to save him but still he had to suffer.  The letter to the Hebrews presents Jesus as the truly obedient son.  Obedience led to suffering and even though he feared death as much as anyone else, he trusted God perfectly.  Through his obedience he gained forgiveness for all those who buckle under the weight of suffering and depression; for all those who doubt God’s love for them when life becomes more than can be endured.

It’s natural for us to shy away from suffering. Not surprisingly, we dislike hard discipline and pain. We would like a trouble free, painless existence. Yet we need to face the unpalatable truth that we often learn more through suffering than we often do through comfortable times.

The very successful movie and TV star Michael J Fox was interviewed on TV was time ago.  At the age of 29 he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and was on a quest to find a cure.
The interviewer asked Fox after a clip from his time travel movie, “If you could go back in time, really, you wouldn’t change the fact that you’ve got Parkinson’s, would you?”
Fox replied, “No, I wouldn’t.  I absolutely wouldn’t. This path that I’m on …. it’s like I gave up my job to do my life’s work”.

That’s an amazing statement when you think about it.  There is an element of sacrifice about it and there is also the idea that suffering, used creatively, can enhance the beauty of a human life.  You may know of times in your life when some kind of trial or suffering has led you to grow in your understanding of God or developed your own perseverance, or strengthened your faith and trust, or increased your awareness of the suffering of others.  The path that Jesus was on included obedience and suffering and his life’s work brought about a cure for another sickness – the sickness of sin.

Even though Jesus never sinned he knows the shame and guilt that sin brings into our lives.  He was nailed to a cross but it was more than nails that held him there.  If it was just the nails then he could have used his almighty power and come down and healed himself and cursed his enemies.  Nails went through his flesh but it was our sin and shame and guilt that pinned him to the cross.  As he hung there he felt our shame and died for our sin.  He must have been overwhelmed with sadness at how much evil humanity had done and it was all now bearing down on him.  As the Scripture says, “He was wounded for our transgressions; he was bruised for our iniquities”.

When we look in the scriptures we see Jesus in two different ways.  In every way Jesus is one of us. He is as human as you and I.  He is born and dies.  He knows in a very real way what it means to suffer pain, and have needs, to feel vulnerable and helpless.  The man Jesus died the undignified death on a cross as a sinner giving his life to save all people.

The scriptures also show us that Jesus is God.  He created the world and us and as our Creator knows his creation.  He knows us more intimately than we can ever imagine.  He knew us before we were born – even before we were aware of ourselves.  He rose from dead and rules in heaven; he is our eternal high priest in heaven who presents our needs and prayers for us at the Father’s throne in a compassionate and understanding way (Hebrews 4:14-16).

At the beginning I talked about getting into the mind of someone else and understanding where that person is coming from and what makes him/her act in certain ways.  What makes us tick might be a bit of mystery to other people but it is no mystery to Jesus.  Approach God boldly and confidently, knowing with every human need that you suffer, Jesus is the High Priest who hears, knows and understands how you feel.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

Look up and live

Saturday, March 10th, 2018

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.”  How 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 as bland as I’ve been eating lately!  So they were grumbling big time.

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!  Here is the wrath of God pure and simple, but 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 lie.”  God provided the antidote and when the people were bitten they looked up and lived.

We could be a little perplexed by this scenario, we heard last week “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.  God does provide 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, as we see in the screen behind the altar at Croydon, to the wrappings of the empty tomb which represent the resurrection of Christ, in victory over death and then to his ascension into heaven where he does indeed sit 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 too.

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 for the future, we have been saved.   Look up and live, lift your eyes to the Son of Man who was lifted up for our sake, so that we might be saved.

Amen.

How is your worship?

Saturday, March 3rd, 2018
Text: John 2:15,16
So Jesus made a whip from cords and drove all the animals out of the Temple, both the sheep and the cattle; he overturned the tables of the moneychangers and scattered their coins; and he ordered those who sold the pigeons, “Take them out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”

What is it that really burns you up?  What really stirs you up and gets you angry? Some people say that all anger is sinful.  It’s true a lot of anger may lead to saying and doing things that are harmful, there is also good anger.  Good anger comes as an expression of love and concern.

Today we hear of Jesus being angry.  The anger that Jesus felt that day grew out of his love for his Father and love for the people he saw in the temple and concern for what their worship had come to mean.  It is because of the intensity of his passion that we see Jesus so stirred up.

Jesus has just performed his first miracle at the wedding at Cana where he turned water into wine.  In fact John doesn’t call it a miracle; he calls Jesus’ miracles ‘signs’.
They are signs that God is doing something new; a new age is dawning on this world.
They are signs that the Messiah has come and that God is about to reveal his glory and do some powerful things as he demonstrates his love.
They are signs that a new order has come to replace the old.
They signs that things will never be the same again.

Jesus’ first interaction with the public in John’s Gospel takes place in the temple.  He causes a furore and people question his messianic authority and ask for a sign.  The sign Jesus gives is a prediction of his own suffering, death and resurrection.

Can you visualise the scene?  Jesus has entered the temple courtyard and it looks like a market place crowded with people selling and buying and money changing hands.  As Jesus watches all this he is outraged.  He makes a whip from some rope and drives out the animals from the courtyard, overturns the tables sending the coins of the money changers spilling on to the ground.  “Get these out of here,” he shouts. “This is place of prayer.  How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market! ” 

By the way, we aren’t talking about Jesus driving out a couple of animals from the courtyard.  During the Passover thousands of lambs as well as oxen and pigeons were slaughtered in the temple. So you see the temple courtyard would have resembled a huge animal market.   And as Jesus cleared all of these out, it was the maddest and angriest anyone had ever seen Jesus.

But you see, the problem is not only that Jesus is really mad, but he is in the temple when he gets so angry.  And it’s the time of the Passover – the great celebration of the liberation of Israel from Egyptian slavery.  This is the highest, happiest feast of Israel’s year.

The temple was the place where the nation gathered to be close to God. The temple is that place where they remembered God; they came there to be with God. Everyone is happy to be here at Passover in the temple for this festival occasion.  What a contrast this is to the anger of Jesus, whip in hand, overturning tables and shouting, “Get out of here!”

A while ago we heard the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament reading.  On this occasion Jesus doesn’t get red hot about adultery, he doesn’t get mad because the people in the temple were stealing, he doesn’t get furious because of covetousness or lack of respect for parents.

He attacked their worship. He assaulted their religion.  He isn’t attacking the Pharisees for their legalism, or the scribes for their snobbishness.  He isn’t assaulting unbelievers, he is attacking believers.  Here he barges in and attacks the religious for their religion, for the way they have perverted the worship of God.

John quite deliberately places this story in chapter 2 of his gospel because a new thing is breaking into this world.  The temple with its sacrifices and superficial worship has had its day.  Jesus explains it this way to the Samaritan woman,
“Believe me, the time is coming when you won’t worship the Father either on this mountain or in Jerusalem. … The time is coming and is already here when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for anyone who will worship him that way.  For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-26).

We are in the Lenten season and this is a time of self-examination.  Jesus cleansing of the temple leads us to ask ourselves,
“Does our worship need cleansing and renewing?”
“What does this ‘sign’ say to us about how we worship and our attitude toward worship”.  This is a text that leads the religious to examine their religion.

We are supposed to come here to meet God, to spend time with God and be touched by God and healed by God.
We are supposed to come here to recall the great things God has done in our lives this past week and celebrate with thanksgiving how God has rescued us from slavery to sin and given us a new land, a home in heaven with him forever.
We are supposed to be here to let the God who loves us touch our lives in his Word and the Sacrament, assure us of his love and send us out into the world to make a difference.
We are supposed to come here with our fellow Christians and be strengthened and reassured in their presence that we are loved and supported and comforted.

But what often happens.  We get out of bed, get dressed, sit in our seat, sing the hymns and songs, fight to keep focussed during the sermon, struggle to concentrate when our legs are aching during the prayers, stand for the benediction, have morning tea … and go home.

When Jesus saw what people had done with the worship life in the Temple he was horrified.  It made Jesus mad, just so mad when he saw what had happened to worship in the temple and what terrible attitudes those worshippers had.  When Jesus looks into the temple of our hearts when we worship, is he also horrified about the way we approach worship?

When he looks into our hearts does he see our reluctance to be here, driven here by our consciences, barely participating in the service and glad it is all over when that last “Amen” is said?
Are we so busy that out of the 168 hours in a week we can’t willingly spare just one hour to come into the presence of God with our fellow believers and celebrate God’s love.

When we come here to this church, do we really worship and celebrate God’s goodness in our lives, or do we just go through the motions sitting, standing, singing, saying the words, and perhaps sleeping, if not physically then spiritually?

When we come here to worship are we aware of what we are doing – that we have come here in the presence of the all-powerful and ever-loving God whose name we call on at the beginning of the service?
When we come here to worship do we have a sense of the absolutely amazing grace of God who has made it possible for us sinners to have the privilege to come before him?
At the temple the worshippers lost sight of just this fact and became more engrossed in other things. Recently I read this about worship:
Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke?  Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it.  It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets.  Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews for God will one day take offence…”

There is an element of humour in this, but it is also the truth.  Too often we consider worship as just a yawn.  Just as Jesus took great offence about the way the people were worshipping at the temple, likewise he is also offended by the attitude we have to worship.
The Bible says, “Since we are receiving a Kingdom that cannot be destroyed, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy reverence and awe” (Hebrews 12:28).  We have to admit that “reverence and awe” have been replaced by a yawn.

Isn’t it true that sometimes we lose focus of why we come here?  We lose focus because we are distracted by our feelings about the music, the preacher, the people sitting around us, the person we don’t particularly like sitting a few rows in front of us, you know what I mean.  This is one of Satan’s oldest tricks to get our thoughts and focus away from God and on to things very mundane and extremely distracting.

It happens to me as much as to anyone else – there are times when I don’t like the music, or there’s a distraction, and I admit that sometimes I find certain things that people do in worship off putting but when I’m most annoyed I have to remind myself that we’re all different, we all have different tastes in music, we have different ways of worshipping e.g. some like drama while others like meditation,  but in spite of our differences, in love we join with our fellow brothers and sisters and worship and celebrate our God in the best way we know how.

Remember Paul’s picture of the church as a body.  Every part of the body works together, even in worship.  And besides, God comes to us in his word and Sacraments regardless of what kind of music we have, or what style of liturgy, or what level of understanding we have about what worship is all about.

Jesus cleaned out everything that didn’t belong in the temple.  He cleans out everything that doesn’t belong in our lives including our worship lives here in this church or wherever.

He gave his body and blood for all the insincerity in our worship,
the times we have been driven to worship by conscience but our hearts weren’t in it,
for all the times we have spoken the words and not meant them.
He has given us his body and blood for the times we have sat here and gone home untouched by the Spirit,
for all the times we have given something else a higher priority than coming into the presence of God.

We thank God that he is still cleansing his temple, the temple of our hearts today.  We are made clean by the blood of the Lamb and invited to come and stand in his presence with reverence and awe.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy