Monthly Archives: April 2011

Second Sunday of Easter (Year A, 1 May 2011)

The risen life: forgiving sins

1 Peter 1.3-9
John 20.19-31

There is something very puzzling in today’s Gospel reading. Do you know what I mean? It’s this: the risen Lord Jesus says,

If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.

That could sound like we have the authority to determine which sins can be forgiven and which cannot. And it seems that is the way the Roman Catholic system of confession to a priest works. A Catholic priest has the authority to forgive the sins of those who come to him—or not to forgive them. In other words he has the authority to retain them. Is that what this means? I hope not.

Perhaps there are other ways of interpreting this saying. I think there are…

But firstly, the Catholic Church is right; only a priest can forgive sins. But the Catholic Church is also wrong, because we are a priestly community. Friends, each one of us is given authority to forgive others. You can say, ‘I forgive you’ to another person. And you know, when you do that, you are being a ‘priest’.

A priest is someone who links other people to God; it’s what a priest does and is. So we are a priestly community. We who make up the Body of Christ are a priesthood because we connect others to God.

So praying for others is a priestly thing to do. It’s priestly because we link another person to God through our prayer.

We especially link another person to God when we forgive them. And guess what?—we also link ourselves more firmly to God. It’s just the Lord’s Prayer in action:

Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.

A community that has the risen Lord Jesus in its midst is a forgiving, priestly community. Its members connect one another to God through forgiving, accepting and praying for one another.

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Christ is risen indeed!

The best comment on Christ’s Easter victory over death comes from the simply wonderful Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley

And a hush settles on Hades. It’s been a funny few days. The one in charge so much busier than usual – rushing about, getting involved in affairs upstairs in a much more direct way than normal…

Do yourself a favour and read the rest here!

And the best icon of Christus Victor? Why, the Harrowing of Hell of course…

The Harrowing of Hell

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Easter Evening (Year A, 24 April 2011)

Blessed and broken

Isaiah 25.6-9
Luke 24.13-49

I just love the story of the walk to Emmaus. Two disciples walk to Emmaus. They’re at their lowest ebb. (One is named, Cleopas; I suspect the other was his wife, Mary.) A third joins them, and draws them into conversation.

This stranger shows them from the scriptures that was inevitable that the Messiah should suffer; that a blameless life was bound to attract persecution, and even judicial murder.

As they draw near to their place, they invite the stranger in for a meal. Remember, these are two people whose hopes had been dashed; now, through the ministry of the Word offered by this complete stranger, they are able to offer hospitality rather than fall straight into bed and the oblivion of sleep. In fact, they want to hear more.

At the table, the undreamt-of happens. The stranger ‘took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them’. And they know. They begin to comprehend the incomprehensible. Before them is none other than the Lord, the Living One, who has won the victory over death itself. He is there, with them—and then he vanishes from their sight.

I never get tired of hearing this fabulous story. It shows us that even where we have lost all hope—when the absolute worst has happened, and we’ve given in to despair—Jesus Christ is there with us. We are never alone.

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Easter Day (Year A, 24 April 2011)

Trust the resurrection

Colossians 3.1-4
Matthew 28.1-10

Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed!

Viktor Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist and a Jew, who was interned in the Dachau concentration camp during the Second World War. In his most famous book, Man’s Search for Meaning, he tells about some of his fellow prisoners at the end of the war. They had been held captive so long that when they were released,

they walked out into the sunlight, blinked nervously and then silently walked back into the familiar darkness of the prisons, to which they had been accustomed for such a long time.

Sometimes, it seems the light is just too bright.

Listen to this claim that Diana Butler Bass will make in her next book:

The point isn’t that you believe in the resurrection. Any fool can believe in a resurrection from the dead. The point is that you trust in the resurrection. And that’s much, much harder to do.

I understand her words in this way: Sometimes, the sun/Sonlight is so bright that we may accept the ‘fact’ of the resurrection, but we don’t trust in the resurrection. In other words, we don’t trust that God doesn’t let death have the last word. God has determined that life comes out of death. The future is open. The last word is life.

That’s hard to believe sometimes. In Matthew’s story of Jesus, everything has finished. There’s no hope left. Jesus had been tried in a kangaroo court, flooded, mocked and made to carry his cross as far as he could. Then nails fastened him to the cross and he was hoisted in the air and left to die. Slowly. Painfully.

He called out, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ and breathed his last.

Death had had the last word—or so it seemed. How could anyone possibly trust in a resurrection? The disciples didn’t. They were beaten men.

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Easter Vigil (Year A, 23 April 2011)

A shared and bigger future together

Gospel Reading
Matthew 28.1-10

Richard Rohr says it so well, as usual, and much better than I can. From his Daily Meditations, 1 January 2011:

The raising up of Jesus is not a showy miracle on God’s part, but God’s eternal promise to humanity of a FUTURE that we can enter and trust together.

On a recent day of prayer, I did some Scripture study on the four Gospel accounts of the resurrection of Jesus. Something became very clear to me that I had never seen before!

The texts do not really emphasise a miraculous ‘returning’ of Jesus’ body, nearly as much as Jesus’ new cosmic body leading us ‘forward!’

Note that he sends his disciples forward into Galilee (Matthew 28.7), into the whole world (Mark 16.20), into their own futures (Acts 1.11)—and without any baggage from the past. Continue reading


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Passion/Palm Sunday (Year A, 17 April 2011)

Jesus: emptied of ‘all but love’

Isaiah 50.4-9a
Philippians 2.5-11
Matthew 21.1-11

 Last week, we sang that wonderful hymn, And can it be. Recall these amazing words from verse 3:

He left his Father’s throne above
(so free, so infinite his grace!),
emptied himself of all but love,
and bled for Adam’s helpless race.

Jesus ‘emptied himself of all but love’. As I’m saying these words, some of you will be hearing the tune in your heads.

Scholars think that the passage from Philippians we read today was originally a hymn, so the Philippians may have also heard the tune in their heads when Paul wrote these words:

Christ Jesus…emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.

We have no idea of the tune today; it would sound like a kind of chant to our ears rather than a song. I’m sure it sounded nothing like the tune to And can it be, but the words certainly inspired Charles Wesley.

He left his Father’s throne above…
emptied himself of all but love…

That summarises the first half of Paul’s words very well indeed.

Paul isn’t trying to give us a stand-alone theological explication of the ‘being’ of Jesus. He has a very practical reason for speaking of the ‘self-emptying’ of Jesus. Let’s look at why Paul introduces this hymn. He says,

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…

So the ‘mind’ of Christ Jesus is a mind that has something to do with being emptied for others.

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Fifth Sunday in Lent (Year A, 10 April 2011)

Blessed are those who mourn

Ezekiel 37.1-14
John 11.1-45

Blessed are those who mourn, 
for they will be comforted.

Matthew 5.4

Our community has mourned lately, and we’ve seen grief. We’ve mourned the damage done by the floods, and we see people continuing to grieve at the slowness of action to help them repair their homes. We’ve seen people mourning because of the damage done by Cyclone Yasi, in Christchurch and in Japan.

Yet Aussies are still not all that attuned to mourning. We seem to see it simply as a problem to be solved. We expect to be able to fix things up, or replace them. We want to keep moving forward.

A widow went to her doctor. She said she’d been told by her friends she was grieving too much for her late husband, and that she should be getting over it. The GP asked how long since he had died…her reply was Six weeks ago.

He was barely cold, and her friends wanted her to ‘move on’.

Blessed are those who mourn, 
for they will be comforted.

I don’t know about you, but ‘they will be comforted’ sounds like a very modest promise to me. It reminds me of Sigmund Freud’s rather unassuming aims in psychoanalysis, which were

to transform neurotic misery into common unhappiness.

Now that’s a promise even a pessimist could trust!

‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted’ is a message that would never get Jesus a gig in one of the big mega-churches these days. If he were there, I think his message would have to be less modest, more like this:

Never mourn again!
You can be happy all the time!!
Your life will be wonderful every day!!!

Just come to our church, accept what we say, and put your money in the plate!

To be ‘comforted’ in a future time seems a little anaemic really. Yet it is Jesus’ promise to those who mourn. We shall be comforted. And this is the kind of world we live in, a world of hope and a world of promise, grounded in God’s word. The comfort may come in the future, or in the next life, but it is assured.

That said, it is a future promise. The Beatitude doesn’t claim that those who mourn are comforted now. As I said, it seems to be a modest kind of promise. Those who mourn, whatever they mourn for—

their own brokenness and sin;
the state of the world as it is;
or the loss of someone dear to them—

they will be comforted.

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The Church of the Latter-Day Geeks

My good friend Avril Hannah-Jones will be leading a service in which “Wookies, robots, vampires and wizards will descend on the Romsey Uniting Church this Sunday to hear a fantasy-fuelled sermon exploring the parallels of fantasy and Christianity”—see the Macedon Ranges Leader.

Avril wants to explore the way the Doctor, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Harry Potter live out Jesus’ teaching, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”, and the themes of mercy, forgiveness and redemption in Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and the television series Angel.

She says, “You’re welcome to come in a costume of your choice, but blasters, stakes and other weapons will have to be left at the church door.” A sensible precaution.

It all started on Adam Hills’ TV show on ABC-1, In Gordon St Tonight. Here is the vid Adam’s crew made:

(By the way: I’ve preached at Romsey, and will probably do so again; I wonder if I need some new liturgical gear? What should I get?)

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