Archive for the ‘Easter’ Category

True cheers of Joy

Saturday, April 4th, 2015

True cheers of Joy

John 20:1-18

 

StMarksGood Friday I watched a documentary about two of America’s most infamous African-American gangs, the Crips and the bloods. South Central LA, a strip between Rodeo Drive and Hollywood that in the 50’s was separated by highways that were not to be crossed by those marginalised 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 colour 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!

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, 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, wanting to dry our tears and lift our heads and tell us that this isn’t all there is.

So today we celebrate and far from hopelessness, should we weep our tears cry of thanks and hope. The sure hope in Christ that:

Because he lives, we can face tomorrow

                (that) Because he lives, all fear is gone

                (that) Because we know he holds the future

                That future is worth  living,  because we know that as He lives, so do we!

Amen.

Easter Urgency

Sunday, April 20th, 2014

Text: John 20:1-9

We have, unwittingly, set a tempo with our current Easter celebrations that is quite contrary to the nature of the event.  We have the longest of long weekends…  A break…  People go away…  Switch off…  Shift our focus from the everyday and escape into wall-to-wall footy, or family get-togethers, or a lounge-chair, chocolates and a book…

Our weekend, even if it is ‘busy’, usually lacks the sense of urgency that drives the story in the Gospels: secret plotting, finding the right moment to make the capture, money taken and then almost immediately returned, the repeated plea to “keep watch!”, a rushed trial full of movement between three courts a hastily considered trade-off for another criminal, and even a hurried crucifixion constrained by the Passover regulations and timetables, a nearby tomb procured quickly, and incomplete burial rites. It is an urgent business and no less urgent on the Sunday morning, as today’s Gospel makes clear.

At the first light, they run!  The waiting during the Sabbath and the darkness has been an agitated waiting. They are not resting.  They are disturbed.  They are uncertain.  They are distressed.  They have been dragged—urgently—through the trauma of the previous days and they are unsettled about the “what next?”.  And…as you will know from hearing the Easter story over the years…when they are confronted by the fact and by the message—“He is risen!”—they do not calm down, or become less agitated.  The urgency continues.

The implications of Jesus’ resurrection necessitate urgency. This was not the first miracle.  This was not even the first healing in which someone who had died was made alive again. But this was an event in which the worst of human injustice, oppression, hatred, and cruelty had been offered by religious and secular authorities alike, as a public statement, as an assertion of power and authority.  And over and against this powerful, public statement Jesus had said, “Father, your will be done”; “Father, forgive them”; “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”.  And the one who openly identified with the weak, the ill, the poor, the displaced, the outcast, the hated, the oppressed, the suffering, and the dying—the powerless—the one who openly identified himself with those who suffered the worst of sin and evil in the world—the one who didn’t assert power and authority, but offered himself over to the will of the Creator. And to that, God answered with the resurrection. And to that answer, they ran…with urgency. To that answer.  To that declaration.  To that new creation.

Likewise the urgency this Easter brings us to urgency. What are we going to do tomorrow?  How are we going to live tomorrow?  We, who have followed the one who serves, who keeps forgiving, who releases from guilt for sins past and into new opportunity, who is generous in time and spirit and gives all he has to those in need, who distinguishes not on the basis of ‘who belongs?’ or ‘who deserves?’ but on the basis of ‘to whom can I show love?’ & ‘to whom can I be neighbour?’—we who have learned the day to day reality of grace from God walking with us…how are we going to live tomorrow?  As they ran to the tomb they wondered!  Is it over?  Is it gone?  Or is he alive, like he said?  Is he still loving, and giving, and forgiving?  How are we going to live this next day?  This is the immediacy and the urgency of Easter!

Those same followers of Jesus would, in the coming days and years, focus their Easter urgency into proclaiming a message of “hope”.The New Testament term “hope” has a very definite meaning:  We know that God, in Christ, has forgiven us, and given to us eternal life. This is made certain in the resurrection of Jesus—his life for us. There are no ‘ifs’ or ‘maybes’. This is certain. Hope is the certainty of the fulfilment of God’s promises. Easter is the Christian foundation for hope. Easter is the moment in which the Christian says  “I know that my Redeemer lives”— and because he lives, I have life, his life, my life, all bundled into the one. I am God’s new creation.  Hope is the certainty that looks forward in life because God has demonstrated his absolute power and authority and victory over sin and death.

Maybe Easter should be our ‘moveable feast’. Easter should be the Christian celebration we have the day our family welcomes a new baby—a day filled with a sense of urgency over the fact of this new life, this new life created by God. Easter should be celebrated on the day a new marriage begins.  Or the day we begin a new job, or a new course of study. Easter should be our celebration at the moment we buy a new home, or build one for someone else! Easter is the celebration that marks our living in the presence of the God who has declared absolute grace, declared eternal love, declared that he is with us and for us in every circumstance and every stage of life—one with us from birth through all the realities of living, through death and the grave. And we, like Mary and Peter and John—we can declare “Christ is risen!” with the joy of recognising that our neighbours, like us, have lives to live—and they can live them in the knowledge of God’s loving presence, today! Urgency comes about at the point of intersection between a question or uncertainty, and an answer.

In our world, in our society, and in our very local communities and families (and selves!) there is often much agitation and anxiety: Can we save the world from ecological disaster?  Can we save the world from economic disaster? Can we survive on-going hostility and war? Can we survive on-going injustice? Can we survive our own individual weaknesses and the hurt they cause? Can we live past the next generation? Or even the next day?

Today God proclaims again, and reminds us again, that he has heard our prayers, our cries, our dying breath, and has made his statement: I am the resurrection and the life. Believe and me, live, trust, hope, be certain that I am for you.  And trusting in me you will always live. Urgency comes at the point of intersection between a question and an answer.  And we are surrounded by a world still with only questions. You know the love of God and the life of God for the world. So celebrate and live in it, continually daily reminding yourself of it, and pray that those still asking questions, they too will find the answer – that is Christ. Amen.

In the light of the Resurrection

Friday, April 10th, 2009

In the light of the resurrection John 20_1-18


The excitement of the first Easter begins where the Good Friday finished, in the dark.  John records ‘Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark…’  While it was still dark!  The Sun had yet to rise and shine on Jesus’ tomb, was yet to shine on Mary and the other women walking to the tomb, yet to shine on the sleeping disciples.  Those closest to Jesus, those who loved him, and saw him crucified, remained in darkness.  Not only was the sun not shining on this new day, but the faith and hopes of Jesus’ followers, including Mary Magdalene, were darkened by grief and unbelief at what they had just witnessed and experienced. 

They were living in the dark of deep loneliness, their Lord and friend had been crucified.  They couldn’t deny the facts.  Jesus was dead and buried and along with him, their hope of salvation.  Perhaps, I suspect, that in some way they all felt guilty for not trying harder to stop Jesus crucifixion.  But its too late for ‘should haves’, death is the end, its final.  All the hoping and all the faith in the world could not bring Jesus back; John was right to begin his account in the darkness.  It was indeed a dark morning for Mary and the disciples. 

Yet haven’t we all experienced a dark morning, when we don’t want to face the day.  A time of the darkness of our soul, when death or illness, or fighting or something we have done or said has separated us from those we love?  The guilt we feel over not handling the situation properly haunts us, yet, like with the disciples its all too late for ‘should haves’.

The good news of Easter is that Jesus doesn’t stay in the tomb, the sun does rise, there is a new day and there is a new beginning.  Jesus has no intention of leaving his friends, including us, alone and in the darkness of loneliness, guilt and separation through sin and ‘should haves’.  By the power of God, he is raised from the dead, raised from the tomb and raised into the lives of Mary and the disciples, raised to life for all of us who walk and live in darkness.  When Mary arrived at the tomb it was still dark, but as she looked around, saw the evidence, not only did the light of the sun begin to shine, so did the light of Jesus resurrection. 

Jesus could have simply just appeared to Mary and the twelve where they were sleeping.  He could have just walked into their lives, and showed himself, but instead, he chose to draw his followers out into the darkness, out to the tomb, out to where they thought he was dead, to see for themselves that God brings new life in the midst of suffering and hurt. 

For our sake, and for the sake of his disciples, Jesus wants to leave no doubt that he has risen.  No doubt that he has the power over death and darkness.  No doubt that the words of his father have been fulfilled ‘I will glorify my name through your death’.  Jesus assures faith by leaving a long testimony of signs which point to his resurrection. 

The stone is not just rolled away, it is thrown from its moorings, an impossible feat for a few men secretly trying to steal Jesus body, while the guards are on duty. The linen cloth still lay wrapped, not touched or damaged in any way, to show that Jesus body had not been stolen or disturbed by vandals, but rather, that he rose through them.  The head piece, that once covered Jesus bloodied head, now lay folded and separate from the linen.  Robbers or the Jews would not have been concerned to do this.

The two disciples looked and saw the signs and believed, yet their faith was weak.  Mary looked into the tomb, saw the evidence but could not believe.  The horror of Jesus death could not be over come, even with such powerful signs and wonders.  Sometimes hurts are too deep.  We are no different.  Sometimes our suffering is so dark, that we fail to see the signs of hope Jesus sets before us.  The people who help, the prayers people pray, the friends who support without judging.  Something even more powerful needs to happen before the light of Jesus forgiveness shines in our hearts, and it happened to Mary and to the disciples.

Jesus speaks a personal word of hope when he calls them by name from the darkness of unbelief in the resurrection light of faith and hope!

Jesus says ‘Mary’.  She hears her name and believes.  The darkness has been lifted by the power of Jesus personal call to her.  By hearing Jesus words, she now knows for certain that he has risen and he has forgiven the past and lives eternally to bring her into his kingdom as foretold by Isaiah ‘He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.’ 

Jesus has a personal word for you and he calls you by name into his kingdom as he has promised ‘surely I will be with you always, even to the very end of the age’.  He could do this anywhere and he does it most clearly in baptism and Holy Communion.  Often however, he will call you by name in the midst of your suffering, drawing you away from all comforts and supports, out to where you though God was dead; out to where there appears to be no hope, just like he did with Mary, Peter and John.  It is often in our suffering that we are open to reading the bible and hearing his word and this is where Jesus speaks our name, gives us hope and assures us that has risen to have power over sin, death and the devil. He did it with Mary and the disciples, why wouldn’t he do it with you? 

Hear, believe and rejoice today in the gospel by which you are saved ‘that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures’. 

 

 

 

 

Get Real – Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Sunday, May 4th, 2008

Get real is what David thought when he tried on Saul’s armour to fight Goliath; it was too cumbersome, too heavy to fight with. Get Real is what David did when he took off the ill fitting armour, picked up five smooth stones from the brook, and went out to battle Goliath; David got real, and when he did, he was freed to fight with God’s armour, and not human armour.

Get Real was the name and focus for the two day conference Bill, Karen and I went to in Sydney last week.  Rev Dr Michael Foss was the key note speaker.  He is the senior pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran church in Burnsville, Minnesota.  His passion and ministry focus is to redesign the Lutheran church for a new age of mission and ministry.

Get Real is what the Lutheran church needs to do if it is to stop the out flux of members; if we are to stop losing all our young people; if we are to be faithful Jesus’ calling to make disciples of all nations.

To Get Real, Foss argues, means to take off the old armour, the old ideas and ways of doing things, which served us well in the past, but are no longer effective any more.  Everyone here would feel the same as he does, we hurt when we see our dear children, previous members, and people in the community rejecting faith in Jesus, no longer coming to church and we are confused and stumped as to what we can do: who is to blame? Us? Is God’s word not effective any more?

No, Foss says, it is the system that is letting us down; its the way we do ministry that needs to change.  Its like David trying to fight for God’s people in Saul’s armour; our church is trying to fight for God’s people wearing cumbersome, out of touch and impractical ways of doing ministry.  A ministry that no longer connects with the changing world and no longer even connects with those in the pews; that’s why they are leaving.  It is a mode of ministry based on membership instead of discipleship.

For the Lutheran church to Get Real in today’s post-modern, post-Christian world, Foss says it needs to move from membership to a discipleship way of thinking; from making ‘members’ who receive ministry, to making disciples who give ministry; to Get Real means to listen to the preacher duck, and learn to fly.

I will close this talk posing some of Pastor Michael’s challenging questions; questions we as a congregation need to face.

The text for this morning’s address is:
Luke 10:1 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.
2 He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.
3 Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.
4 Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.
5 “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’
6 If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you.
7 Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.
8 “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you.
9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God is near you.’
10 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say,
11 ‘Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near.’
16 “He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”
17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”
18 He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.
19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.
20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

o    Jesus has just sent out 72 disciples to go and tell the good news to the surrounding towns, that the kingdom of God is near.  Can you tell me what they were told to bring?  Nothing!  Even money was not needed.  Nothing was taken along to assist with the mission task, Jesus had already given them everything they would need; they were to just go out without a plan, with out and map, without an itinerary.
o    mission is not about what we have and what we don’t have.
o    I don’t have…our church doesn’t have…its not about what we are to carry…its not about the preparations and the plans; its not about how well we create and run mission programs.

Mission is first of all about who we are.  Jesus sends out the 72 with nothing, yet when the disciples come back they say ‘”Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”  With nothing but the word and command of Jesus, not even any money, great things were achieved.  So great, that Jesus even sees the devil fall like lightning from the sky.

o    Jesus is not concerned about what they did; he is not concerned about the route they took, the type of people they saw; the mission strategies and procedures they undertook.  Jesus is not interested in programs.  Jesus is first and foremost interested in reminding his disciples of who they are.
o     ‘do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’
o    They are children of God.  They are forgiven, they are loved by Jesus and they are his disciples; that is who they are.  And flowing out of this knowledge is joy.  A joy that gave them the courage to go out and tell others.
o    We are children of God.  We already have every gift. Everything we need.  We have forgiveness, grace and eternal life; we have the spirit.  In baptism we become a child of God. We are loved by Jesus and we are his disciples; his followers.

o    And as a child of God, are we not already fully equipped from the work he has assigned for us?  Just as he prepared the 72, Jesus has already prepared us for what ever he calls us to do.  He has given us his spirit, his words, his presence as he has promised ‘do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.’

o    Yet as Lutherans, we still need to have everything planned out and be fully prepared before we attempt any sort of mission.  We are afraid to step out on to the mission road without a road map!  We are afraid to lose what we have in order to go with nothing.  We need to know precisely what to expect and have contingency programs in place, ready for every possible scenario.

o    Jesus sends out the 72 without any of this, yet look what happened.  Jesus knew they would learn as they go, learn to trust in God; trust his word and his faithfulness.

o    Pastor Michael Foss posed this question to us ‘are we in the LCA more worried about what we have, than who we are?  As disciples of Jesus, are we prepared to let go of what we have and learn as we go, and learn to trust in God, and develop an authentic Australian expression of Lutheranism?  And are we ready once again to rely on the faithfulness of God, as our forefathers did and become disciples of the church and not just members’?

o    Put your hand up if know of a time when God was faithful to you?  Is God’s faithfulness a once off deal, only valid for that point in your life?  Of course not; God is always faithful.  Fix your eyes on God’s faithfulness.  (how do you row a boat? Turn around and try to look over our shoulder?  What happens?  When we row a boat, we don’t concentrate on where we are heading we focus our vision on a fixed point on the shore and row away from it)

o    We go backwards into the future.  As Christians, we fix their eyes on the previous faithfulness of God to go out backwards into the future.  We fix our eyes on the cross, and on the open grave; we fix our eyes on the font from which we received new birth and became disciples of Jesus.  As long as we fix our eyes on the faithfulness of God, we can go back into the future as disciples with faith that changes lives, that serves beyond the church, that risks everything for the sake of others.
o    Think about this:

o    We have faith because we stand on the shoulders of those who taught us the faith…do we have broad enough shoulders to carry the next generation?

o    Are we able to dream big enough that only the NEXT generation can fulfil it?

o    As disciples of Jesus, do we see ourselves as just bricklayers or kingdom builders?  Same calling, different vision!

1 Peter 2:2-10

Sunday, April 27th, 2008

There is a real art in building a house.  Steve and Darren would know better than most of us, the work and that goes into every meticulous detail to ensure they build a solid house; a house that will last for a very long time.  Of course, care also goes into the safety of those building the house. Occupational health and safety laws help us to have a safe working environment.

I have some photos of safe working procedures.

Why do we build houses?  Why do we go to great lengths to rent or own a house?  Is it just for shelter?  Just to have a place where we can unload all our stuff?  No.  A house is more than bricks and mortar; more than a storage facility.  A house is where we live, where our lives are lived out and a place we call ‘home’; home with the family.  A place we feel welcome, wanted and needed; a place where we feel safe.  And for children, our house is where mum and dad are; places were they belong to our family and are a part of it; a place of trust, knowing that us, as parents, have the best intentions for them.

As parents we build houses and live in houses so that our family can live together as one.  Our hope is that our family would grow up in the house, one in trust and unity; one in safety and respect as a family.  Yet we know all to well, that the house, our house, can in fact be quite the opposite.  The house we provide for our family can turn out to be places of pain and anger and places that are not safe.  Our selfishness is exposed as we grow together as a family.  Living as a family in the tight confines of a house, often leads to arguments and power struggles; ‘this is mine’, ‘I never get a turn’, ‘you are always so picky’, and so it goes on.  A house becomes a dwelling place of individuals; a place where there are a number of ‘me’s’ but no ‘we’s’.

The walls of a peaceful looking house, with tranquil gardens and meticulously finished décor, can often hide the real picture can they?  A house can hide the anger and fighting, the separateness and the division within a family; hide the group of ‘me’s’ and present the family as a ‘we’.  Often this is the reality we face, a broken home; a house that is a place for hurting individuals, rather than a home for a loving family.  This is the effect of sin and it strikes at the core of society, the family.  The devil strikes at the inner fabric of who we are; who we were created to be- members of a family; people who belong and have their identity and self worth in being valued member of a family.

The devil knows that if he can break down the family home, he can break down society.  If he can break down the ‘we’ of a family home and make them into individual ‘me’s’, he can destroy a whole family.  And in destroying the family, he is destroying each individual.  You know yourself, when there is a breakdown in the relationship between your spouse, or another family member, when you are no longer a ‘we’, but a ‘me’, you don’t feel whole anymore; you’re incomplete; a part of you has been taken away.  And if not resolved, this leads to anger, resentment and revenge.  We try and reclaim what we lost.  We hurt the one who hurt us, to get even, to get back what we had.  And if we can’t get it, we look to fill our emptiness elsewhere.

Drinking, gambling, internet and even extra-marital affairs are just some of the things we do to try and fill our emptiness, reclaim what we think we have lost.  And these often become our addictions, because they can never fill the emptiness inside.  Sin empties us of relationships, makes us individuals, loners searching for a house, a home, a family to be part of.

It is for this reason that Jesus came into the world; to rebuild broken relationships, to restore the house of Israel, to make us part of the family again; God’s family.  We were originally created to be in relationship with God; created to be in his image, to belong to him and to others in relationships.  Sin changed all that, and so we live with a continual sense of loss and separation from a house we once lived.  St Augustine expresses it this way ‘You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you’.  We are restless and empty until we find our home with God.

And so God sent his only Son Jesus into the world to build a new family home for us to live; a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands but by the loving hands of our Saviour. A house in which we can live forever and never be separated from him.  What is ironic about Jesus’ house, is that we provided the tools and the materials for its construction; the wood for the cross, the iron for the nails, and the hammer and spear for its completion.  Jesus used these tools and materials, normally used to bring about separation and death, to build a house that will restore broken relationships; our relationship with God, and our relationships between each other through the forgiveness of sins.

The house Jesus built is a radically different house, built on forgiveness, grace and mercy; built out of love for others rather than love for self.  By dying on the cross and rising again to new life, Jesus broke the power of sin; forgiveness is available to all who call on his name. By the wood, nails and spear, our relationship with God is restored; we are forgiven; we are whole again.  Jesus has given us a new house to live in; a new family to be a part of; a place where our hearts are at rest.

Not only did Jesus build the house, he is also the corner stone, the central building block of our new family home, Peter writes ‘Jesus is the living Stone– rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him’.  And through the waters of our baptism, we are born again into God’s house; we are part of his family.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, we become part of God’s living house.

Jesus is the corner stone and we are like the bricks which make up his house.  Peter adds ‘You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.’  Living stones in God’s house, that is who we are in Christ.  You and I are part of God’s house; a house built on forgiveness, grace and mercy; a safe place for family members.

This is where Jesus’ forgiveness makes a difference in our families now.  We are living stones of God’s new house. As baptised believers, we all have a part to play in Jesus’ new building.  Peter calls these parts ‘our spiritual sacrifices to God’.  That is, in our own homes, in our own families, we sacrifice our self for the sake of others.  Our spiritual sacrifice is to remain a ‘we’ and not a ‘me’, especially in times of conflict.  Our spiritual sacrifice is to pray for God’s Spirit, to pray for our families, to pray that we would let go of the old self, the old way of doing things, to let go of the addictions we have to fill our void, even when we don’t want to.  Now that is truly a strong house; a true family home; a home built on Jesus Christ the corner stone is a strong home.  It is built on the ‘we’ and not the ‘me’ and a home who trusts in the Lord will never be put to shame.”

Amen

1 Peter 1:3-9

Sunday, March 30th, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 23rd, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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