Monthly Archives: April 2012

No other name…but other sheep (Easter 4, Year B, 29 April 2012)

Readings
Acts 4.5-12
1 John 3.16-24
John 10.11-18 

I was sitting in my office one day. Not here, it was a few years back when I was head of the Pastoral Care Department of The Wesley Hospital. I’d just picked up the phone. There was a very angry woman on the other end, who was a member of the Uniting Church.

Let me start at the beginning. The chapel at ‘the Wes’ is open 24/7. As you’d expect—people want to come in and pray in a hospital chapel at all sorts of times. Sometimes, staff came in to pray too. There were a couple of staff members who at that time were coming daily to pray.

One had been coming for some time; she was almost part of the furniture. The more recent ‘pray-er’ was a student in the hospital. Like the first, she’d come in around mid-morning to pray. Unlike the first, she’d unfold her prayer mat, kneel and bow low to the ground. You see, unlike the first, she was a Muslim.

Sometimes, the two women would be in the chapel at the same time, the Christian and the Muslim each at prayer in their own way. The angry woman who rang me thought we were setting a very bad example to ‘young people’ by allowing this student to use the chapel to pray her Muslim prayers. She wanted to know why we hadn’t forbidden her.

I told her we were showing hospitality to a stranger in our land. That’s quite a biblical value, by the way, and to her credit she realised straight away that it was. She didn’t give up her objections, but she did eventually run out of steam.

What do you think our responsibility was in this situation? Especially in the light of Peter’s confession of faith to the leaders of his people:

There is salvation in no one else [but Jesus], for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.

If there is ‘no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved’, should we have done something different? Should we have offered her another space to pray? Should we have told her that Jesus is the Saviour of the world? I’m comfortable with what we did, though I do understand that for some people it’s not clear that we were right.

‘There is salvation in no one else…’ What does that mean?

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Children of God (Easter 3, Year B, 22 April 2012)

Readings
1 John 3.12-19
Luke 24.36b-48 

I saw a poem in Eureka St magazine during the week called The problem with being an atheist. It was written by an Anglican priest in NSW called Jorie Ryan, and it begins in this way:

The problem with being an atheist
is the lack
of imagination.
no one to talk with
when we were first begun
to share the pain
of dying
the joy of living
to delight in our first words
our singing notes
our pictures on the walls.
The problem with being an atheist
is the lack of gratitude
having no one to thank for being here
nothing to join hands with
and dance the dance of life.

It stands in stark contrast to the way our reading from 1 John 3 starts today:

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.

Jorie Ryan contends that atheism involves a lack of an ultimate reference for our joys and sorrows, a cosmic home to belong to; John proclaims that we have that ultimate reference and cosmic home, who is the Father who calls us children of God. The Father delights in the words we speak to tell our praise, the songs we sing as we serve others, the pictures we paint with our lives.

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“No other god has wounds” (Easter 2, Year B, 15 April 2012)

Readings
Acts 4.32-35 
John 20.19-31

 

 

Peter Campbell: On the Run, from ‘Of Time and its Distance’ 1975

For we bear the face of Jesus,
no other god has wounds;
prepare to take your place beside the King.

 

One time, four Yorkshiremen—Josiah, Obadiah and a couple of others—were having a conversation over a bottle of fine wine—in fact, a bottle of Château de Chasselas. They were talking about the old days, before they were well off:

In them days we was glad t’ ave t’ price of a cup o’ tea.
A cup o’ cold tea.
Wi’out milk or sugar.
Or tea.
In a cracked cup, an’ all.

Of course, this is an excerpt from the famous (and hilarious) Monty Python sketch, Four Yorkshiremen. I mention it because one talked about drinking from a ‘cracked cup’. Today, I want to talk about cracked things, wounded things.

Here in the church, since Good Friday we’ve had a cracked jar—or if you like, a crack(ed)pot. It has these lines through it that show that it’s had some damaging experiences. Is it useless, do you think?

Paul talks about clay jars in 2 Corinthians 4.6-7. He speaks of God shining within us ‘to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’. However, he doesn’t want us to get bigheaded about it, so he reminds us:

…we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.

We contain a great treasure; the clay jars in which we have this treasure are our ordinary human bodies. These clay jar bodies are all different: some are tall, some short, some taut and terrific, some flabby. They may be black, yellow or white bodies, male or female bodies, young or old. They’re all different but they have one thing in common: these clay jar bodies of ours—and we ourselves—are cracked. We are each flawed or damaged in some way. Does that make us useless, do you think?

Evidently, this jar isn’t useless. It’s still a lovely thing. It’s broken, yet still beautiful. You and I aren’t useless. What do we hear every Sunday after the confession of sin?

You are forgiven.
You are set free from the past.
In God’s eyes, you are beautiful.

That’s the truth about us: we are cracked, we are wounded, yet we are still beautiful to God.

You and I and the pot aren’t the only cracked things. Jesus is cracked as well. When I say that Jesus is ‘cracked’, I’m not being disrespectful. I’m talking about the wounds in his hands and side, still there in his risen state. No other god has wounds.

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The last word is ‘Life’ (Easter Day, Year B, 8 April 2012)

Readings
Acts 10.34-43 
Mark 16.1-18

We say ‘Christ is risen!’ today, but what difference does it make? Friends, it makes all the difference in the world if Jesus is risen! It means that no matter what happens, there is still hope and new life. It means that even a horrific death on the cross cannot defeat God. It means God is for us, no matter what. It means whatever setbacks or defeats we encounter in life, we can remember this: The last word is not death—the last word is Life!

Let’s look at the women who returned to the tomb early on Sunday morning. They must have loved Jesus, but they were looking for a corpse. They thought that death had had the last word. Their hopes for a new world in which God’s kingdom would finally come had died with Jesus on the Friday. They were heartbroken—but still, they were coming to the tomb to care for his dead body. They were going to anoint it with spices according to their customs. They’d been unable to do it properly before as Jesus’ body was taken from the cross under armed guard and then it was the Sabbath day, when they couldn’t do any work.

They were expecting to be confronted with a tomb cut out of a rock face, with a huge stone across; and they had no idea how they were going to move it.

What they found was something different. The stone was rolled away. Who else would be there? Who else was there who’d come to care for the body? They wouldn’t be grave-robbers, would they? After all, it was Joseph of Arimathea’s family tomb; he was a rich man, but there was nothing of value in with the broken body of Jesus.

Bravely, they entered the tomb. There was a mysterious young man there, who told them something they never expected to hear:

Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.

(Sorry, mysterious young man; they were alarmed…)

So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

And who can blame them? It was all too much to take in.

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God is Christlike (Good Friday, Year B, 6 April 2012)

Readings
Isaiah 52.13–53.12
Mark 15.16-47 

Thank you for being in church today. I mean it! Thank you for being the church today, Good Friday, with the crucified Lord. We live in a word of pain—and also the avoidance of pain. Today, there is nowhere to hide from the painful reality that Jesus died on the cross, his body already broken by torture.

As we gathered today, I said there were two unexpected things that Jesus’ death brought to birth:

The first thing: in the Cross, we see the eternal and infinite love of God for us. We didn’t see that coming. And the second thing: Jesus died as a criminal, but overcame death for us. Death is defeated, and he is risen for evermore! We didn’t see that coming, either.

We’ll talk about the second unexpected thing tomorrow evening at the Easter Vigil, and on Easter Sunday. Let’s talk about the first today:

In the Cross, we see the eternal and infinite love of God for us.

We couldn’t have expected that. The cross was a degrading instrument of death, used for the very worst criminals. People sometimes took days—agonising days—to die, but the torture Jesus received before his crucifixion considerably shortened his time on the cross.

It was commonly understood that anyone who died on a cross was under God’s curse. Why else would they be there? That meant that Jesus must be under a divine curse.

So you can see that the Cross was a genuine embarrassment to the early Christians; it’s not something they’d make up. Following a crucified criminal, calling this criminal ‘Lord’, was like being part of a lunatic cult.

So why did the Christians not hide the details of Jesus’ death out of sheer shame? Why did they remember it? And why do we still remember it 2000 years later? We remember this man of out all the crucified victims for this one unexpected thing: he conquered death on the third day. Jesus rose from the tomb, with the scars still on his hands.

And Jesus also showed the heart of God the Father. He forgave those who ran from him, those who denied him, even those who killed him. This is God’s heart for us.

The Bible says (John 1.18),

No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

It is God’s Son Jesus who has shown us what the heart of God is: the heart of God for us is mercy, grace, peace and forgiveness. But it’s not just for us—it’s for all people. No exceptions. That’s another thing we didn’t see coming.

The late Michael Ramsay, one-time Archbishop of Canterbury, once said:

God is Christlike, and in God there is no unchristlikeness at all.

In other words, though we can’t see God, we can truly know God through Jesus Christ. God is Christlike. Jesus Christ is the perfect image of God.

So where is God when Jesus gives himself for us on the Cross? Sometimes, it seems people think that God is high above in heaven safe from it all. But that’s not the Christian teaching.

We teach this: God is Christlike. God is there with Jesus. Suffering with him. Enduring the Cross with him.

 

A picture is worth a thousand words. This sketch by William Blake shows the Father embracing the Son in his agony, and the Spirit hovering between them.

God the Father isn’t a long way off from the sufferings of Jesus; he shares the pain of Jesus and with Jesus, God forgives us. In the same way, God is not distant from our ordinary suffering; the Cross shows us that God is with us at all times, even when it seems he has gone. The Cross declares that God is Christlike, full of grace and mercy. Christ has passed God’s judgement upon us, and that judgement is this:

Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.

Thank you again for being in church today. Thank you for staying with Jesus in his hour of need, and opening your heart to him. Keep your heart open to this loving, living Lord who perfectly shows us the forgiving and reconciling mercy of God. Amen.

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Why do we call this Friday ‘good’?

The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood—
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.

Those lines are from Four Quartets, by T.S. Eliot. Why do we call it ‘Good’ Friday? What do you say when a child asks you if Jesus died today, why don’t we call it ‘Bad Friday’?

We have quite a mixed attitude to the Cross of Jesus Christ.

We hear words based on Psalm 22, and are reminded that Jesus felt abandoned by his Father God on the cross, saying:

My God, my God,
why have you forsaken me?

The physical torture of the cross was surely more than enough for Jesus to endure, but he also experienced the absence of God for the first time in his entire life. For him in those moments there was no vindication. No rescue. Just the sheer agony of godforsakenness.

But we also sing,

When I survey the wondrous cross…

How can an instrument of sheer torture be ‘wondrous’? Are we mad?

The Cross is an absolute scandal. Yet we see in it the deep, deep love of God:

See from his head, his hands, his feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down;
did e’er such love and sorrow meet…

And we see also a great victory here:

or thorns compose so rich a crown?

This is something like no other thing on earth. This is something that we have no comparison for. It stands alone.

Why do we call this Friday ‘good’? Why do we remember this man who died on a cross above all others who died on crosses, and above every other victim of injustice, terror and political envy?

Quite simply, we remember this man because God our Father raised him from the dead.

His friends and followers were totally demoralised when Jesus was betrayed and arrested. Peter denied him, the others scattered. A few women looked on from afar. It was all over.

Their world was shattered. Their hopes were gone. There could be a knock on their door at any time. They might be dragged away too. Nails could also be driven into their hands and their feet.

God hadn’t just abandoned Jesus. God had abandoned them too.

Before long, though, these same people were saying, ‘We have seen the Lord!’ And they were filled with a new energy and power that they recognised as God’s Holy Spirit.

How on earth…?

The resurrection.

They had to grapple with what the cross meant. It could no longer only be an instrument of shame—we see sorrow there, yes, but also love.

As they looked back, they saw that God had brought something supremely good out of an absolute horror. Jesus lives—Jesus forgives those who had left him in the lurch, and even his killers—and Jesus is alive in them.

They began to see that death does not have the last word. The life of Jesus overwhelms death. Death is the second-last thing to happen; the last thing is resurrection to new life in God with Jesus Christ.

They saw that Jesus died for them, and they were transformed.

That same transformation is there for us today. We too can know the life of Jesus within. We can know too that the deepest, darkest losses and disappointments of life are never the last thing. The last thing is resurrection to new life in God with Jesus Christ.

And it starts now.

Easter Sunday isn’t a postscript to an ugly death. It isn’t a happy ever after ending. It’s a new beginning, a second chance at a new life. Don’t hang back from the Crucified One—he is risen!

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