Monthly Archives: March 2018

The Seven Words from the Cross

Seven Words: A Good Friday Meditation

The Seven Last Words are the seven last sentences, or phrases, or sayings, uttered by Jesus as he hung on the cross on Good Friday, at least as recorded in the Gospels.

 

The First Word
Luke 23.26, 32-34

The soldiers led Jesus away, and as they were going, they met a man from Cyrene named Simon who was coming into the city from the country. They seized him, put the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus.… Two other men, both of them criminals, were also led out to be put to death with Jesus. When they came to the place called ‘The Skull’, they crucified Jesus there, and the two criminals, one on his right and the other on his left. Jesus said, ‘Forgive them, Father! They don’t know what they are doing.’

Hannah Arendt was a Jew who left Nazi Germany for the USA in 1933. She once wrote:

Forgiveness is the only way to reverse the irreversible flow of history.

Jesus reversed history by forgiving his torturers. Jesus has given the world a second chance. He said

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

People who hung on a cross were not meant to ask forgiveness for those who were killing them; they were jeered and sledged mercilessly, and they were expected to return jeer for jeer, sledge for sledge, until exhaustion took its toll. It was all part of the sport.

But Jesus forgave, and history can and one day will be reversed.

Teach us how to forgive, Lord. Teach the nations how to forgive, instead of seeking an eye for an eye. Amen.

 

The Second Word
Luke 23.29–43

One of the criminals hanging there hurled insults at him: ‘Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’

The other one, however, rebuked him, saying, ‘Don’t you fear God? You received the same sentence he did. Ours, however, is only right, because we are getting what we deserve for what we did; but he has done no wrong.’ And he said to Jesus, ‘Remember me, Jesus, when you come as King!’

Jesus said to him, ‘I promise you that today you will be in Paradise with me.’

Truly I tell you,
today you will be with me in Paradise.

Tradition gave the penitent thief a name, did you know that? He is called ‘Dismas’. He said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’.

Dismas is a great example of faith to us: Jesus was enthroned all right, but his ‘throne’ was a cross, the place of degradation and shame. This was his only kingdom.

Can I see what Dismas saw? Can I see signs of Jesus’ kingdom as I look around the world today?

How is it coming? Does it really come as the hungry are fed and the homeless are sheltered? Or is that wishful thinking?

Lord, I believe—help my unbelief. Forgive me, Lord, and increase my faith. Amen.

 

The Third Word
John 19.25–27

Standing close to Jesus’ cross were his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. Jesus saw his mother and the disciple he loved standing there; so he said to his mother, ‘He is your son.’

Then he said to the disciple, ‘She is your mother.’ From that time the disciple took her to live in his home.

Woman, here is your son.

Things weren’t always smooth between Jesus and his mother. In the Gospel According to Mark, there is a time when his mother and the family come to take Jesus away, because he was obviously mad. That day, Jesus asks a question:

Who are my mother and my brothers?

He looks at those who are gathered around him and says

Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.

Friends, Jesus names us, you and me, as his sisters and brothers. He has created a new community, a whole new family through his love poured out for us.

Can we enter into these new friendships, these new kinship networks, that are created by his Spirit among us?

Can we love one another, as he has loved us?

 

The Fourth Word
Mark 15.33-34

At noon the whole country was covered with darkness, which lasted for three hours. At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud shout, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why did you abandon me?’

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

William Willimon, a Methodist from the USA, reminds those of us who believe that

God the Father did not save God the Son from the cross or rescue him from this agony. — Thank God it’s Friday

God the Father did not save our Lord Jesus from Calvary, but the Father was there with our Lord throughout that whole ordeal.

1700 years ago, Cyril of Jerusalem reminded us that it was right here Jesus that truly took our place on the cross. We know what it means to be separated from God, through sin or disobedience, though despair or unbelief, through grief and loss, through serious illness and as we face death.

We are separated from God; Christ knew that separation in order to be one with us.

Yet God was still there with him on the cross. My God—for you are still my God—why have you forsaken me?

As he cries out, Christ is for ever with us who are lost, so that we may find our way home.

 

The Fifth Word
John 19.28-29

Jesus knew that by now everything had been completed; and in order to make the scripture come true, he said, ‘I am thirsty.’

I am thirsty.

Did Jesus get thirsty? Sometimes, we are strangely surprised when we realise that of course, the answer to this question is Yes.

Jesus calls out, I thirst.

Jesus calls out to us today, I thirst—where people have to walk miles to fetch water; or in places like Flint, Michigan where their drinking water is contaminated by lead.

Jesus calls out to us today, I hunger—where drought or blight causes people to face famine.

Jesus calls out to us today, I am homeless—yes, on the streets of Brisbane.

Jesus, you thirst today. Give us hearts to quench your thirst. Amen.

 

The Sixth Word
John 19.29–30

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 is finished.

Lord, we are grateful that you didn’t say, ‘I am finished.’

Your work was finished. You accomplished the mission the Father had given you in your life and your death.

You now hand it on to us. You said we would do greater things; help us to trust you and your Spirit amongst us.

Lord, strengthen us. Keep us faithful to you. Amen.

 

The Seventh Word
Luke 23.44-49

It was about twelve o’clock when the sun stopped shining and darkness covered the whole country until three o’clock; and the curtain hanging in the Temple was torn in two. Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Father! In your hands I place my spirit!’ He said this and died.

Father, into your hands
I commend my spirit.

Lord Jesus, once you said,

Blessed are the pure in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of God.

And Psalm 51 says,

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.

And also

The sacrifice acceptable to God
is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God,
you will not despise.

Deliver us from the ego-prison of our self-righteous spirits. Give us each one a renewed spirit, one we too may commend to your God and our God, to your Father and our Father. Amen.

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Which Procession?

Readings
Psalm 118.1–2, 19–29
Mark 11.1–11

Some understand what is right; others understand what will sell.
Confucius

  • Our narrator is Zack, a merchant who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing; not a believer in Jesus.
  • There is some conjecture in this sermon. Did Jesus and Pilate enter on the same day? It dramatically heightens the tension if so. But even if not, they entered within a few days of each other and the stage was set for the collision of Good Friday.

Good morning! My name is Zack. I’m in business here in Jerusalem. I import spices and perfumes like frankincense and nard from the east, and ceramics and jewellery from the west. Business is very good indeed—and it’s all because of the Romans. They’ve built straight roads, good roads, easy to travel roads, roads that make it quick and safe to transport my goods. And no one but no one gets in their way.

The other day my cousin Reuben suggested we take the morning off to see the procession, and I thought, Why not? Reuben lives out in Bethany; I don’t see him that often, and I’d just taken a shipment of spices. Nothing was coming in for a few days.

I wasn’t sure why Reuben wanted to see the procession though; he’s not like me, he doesn’t see why we need the Romans here. He actually wants to get rid of them by force! How can he and his friends do that, I wonder—a few ruffians with daggers, the odd soldier bumped off, and what happens then? The Romans make sure that even more people die on crosses!

And sometimes the wrong ones are crucified. My old friend Caleb was arrested and crucified last year for insurrection. But the poor man was innocent! I do what I can for his widow and kids. They won’t starve. Reuben told me it was ‘collateral damage’.

Anyway, as I was saying, I wasn’t sure why Reuben wanted to go to the procession. I asked him if he was going to make any trouble, and he looked at me as though I was mad. That’s not like Reuben, I thought. Maybe he’s got some sense at last.

So I went to the western gate of the city and waited. At first I thought Reuben was just late, but he never showed.

The procession was really majestic and so intimidating! Pilate looked splendid, so splendid he could have been Caesar himself! And the soldiers in their leather armour and the clatter of their swords and the stamp! stamp! stamp! of their feet! And the horses, and the battle standards, and…I looked all over. No Reuben.

Turns out he was over on the east side of the city, at Jesus’ procession. It was that procession he was inviting me to! I didn’t even know about it.

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How the light gets in

Readings
Jeremiah 31.31–34
Hebrews 5.5–10
John 12.20–33

Kintsukuroi means “to repair with gold”. When a ceramic pot or bowl breaks, an artisan puts the pieces together using gold or silver lacquer to create something stronger, more beautiful, then it was before. The breaking is not something to hide. It does not mean that the work of art is ruined or without value because it is different than what was planned. Kintsukuroi is a way of living that embraces every flaw and imperfection. Every crack is part of the history of the object and it becomes more beautiful, precisely because it had been broken.

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It’s a bit old-fashioned now, but perhaps you’ve heard of someone being called ‘a jeremiah’. A jeremiah is someone who complains all the time or expects things to go disastrously wrong. A jeremiah is a thoroughgoing pessimist whose glass is always half empty.

We get this name from the biblical prophet called Jeremiah, who is also called ‘the weeping prophet’.

When God called Jeremiah to be a prophet, God gave him a commission. God said (Jeremiah 1.9–10):

Listen, I am giving you the words you must speak. Today I give you authority over nations and kingdoms to uproot and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.

It was Jeremiah’s job to prepare the people of Israel for the inevitable destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BC, and for the exile that they would face in Babylon once Jerusalem was gone. He was the weeping prophet because he did a lot more uprooting and pulling down, destroying and overthrowing, than building and planting.

But today, we see that Jeremiah could indeed build and plant hope within the people:

The Lord says, ‘The time is coming when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the old covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and led them out of Egypt. Although I was like a husband to them, they did not keep that covenant.

God had made a covenant with Israel when they left Egypt. It was epitomised by the Ten Commandments. God gave the commandments to them as a path to life, but time after time they broke the covenant.

Though God’s heart is broken by the people’s sin, God offers a ‘new’ covenant:

The new covenant that I will make with the people of Israel will be this: I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts.…’

I read once about how some Jewish rabbis read this verse. They asked, Why does God write the law on our hearts? Surely it would be better if God wrote the law within our hearts?

Surely, that would be a better place. What good is it to write the law on the outside of our hearts, and leave the inside untouched?

I like the way these rabbis thought.

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God so loved (Lent 4B, 11 March 2018)

Readings
Ephesians 2.1–10
John 3.14–21

…the Lamb of God will remove the sin of the world by lifting it up with him when he is lifted up on the cross. His lifting up will be his exaltation to heaven; the lifting up of the sin of the world will be its removal from the world. — Richard Bauckham, Gospel of Glory: Major Themes in Johannine Theology (Kindle Locations 3116-3117). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

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The story is told that Archbishop Desmond Tutu was once asked by the BBC to identify the defining moment in his life. He spoke of the day when he and his mother were walking down the street. Desmond Tutu was nine years old. A tall white man dressed in a black suit came towards them.

This was back in the days of apartheid in South Africa. When a black person and a white person met while walking on a footpath, the black person was expected to step into the gutter to allow the white person to pass and nod their head as a gesture of respect. But this day, before the young Tutu and his mother could step off the pavement the white man stepped off and, as they passed, he tipped his hat in a gesture of respect to her.

The white man was Trevor Huddleston, an Anglican priest who was implacably opposed to the apartheid policy. This small act of his changed Tutu’s life. When his mother told him that Trevor Huddleston had stepped off the footpath because he was a ‘man of God’, Tutu found his calling. ‘When she told me that he was an Anglican priest I decided there and then that I wanted to be an Anglican priest too. And what is more, I wanted to be a man of God,’ said Tutu.

We’ve spoken a bit about the descending way lately. The wisdom of the world is that we should strive to get more, hoard more, have more… Yet Jesus says that if we follow him we must take the the descending way, taking the place of a child, or a servant. We must embrace humility, and seek the good of others.

The story of Trevor Huddleston and Desmond Tutu is an echo of what Jesus did. It shows us that we too can be part of changing minds and hearts by following the example of Jesus in small and very achievable ways.

All it took to win the young Desmond’s heart was a privileged white man to step off the kerb and tip his hat. All it took was for Trevor Huddleston was to see that black people in the apartheid system had the dignity of being children of God. All it took was something that is within the capabilities of any one of us. Continue reading

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I wanted to include some photos in Strange wisdom, strange strength but the post was appearing blank. I’ll try to work on it.

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Strange wisdom, strange strength (Lent 3, 4 March 2018)

Readings
Exodus 20.1–17
1 Corinthians 1.18–25

Paul sees the judging and saving activity of God as underway in the present moment; he describes the church not as those who have been saved, but as those who are being saved. The distinction is important, because he will continue to insist throughout the letter on the not-yet-completed character of salvation in Christ. — Hays, Richard B, First Corinthians: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (p. 28). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.

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While I was down in Tasmania last winter, I was delighted by the little towns and villages that dot the landscape. One of the best is Ross, which is just a short drive north of Hobart. The wool store in Ross is home to this tapestry by John Coburn called Canticle. It depicts The Tree of Life. Isn’t it striking?

http://aumuseums.com/tas/northern/tasmanian-wool-centre

I went there a couple of times last year. I mean, I visit Ross just to stand once more in front of this tapestry for a while.

But there’s a lot more to Ross. Since this is a sermon rather than a travelogue, I’ll tell you about one other thing.

The Uniting Church in Ross is one of those lovely old structures that I at least always associate with ‘church’. It really is a beautiful building. Sadly, it’s no longer used for regular services. I would love to be at a worship service there.  Continue reading

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What do you mean by ‘must’, Jesus? (Lent 2B, 25 February 2018)

Reading
Mark 8.31–38

Everyone suffers. Some will attempt to flee. Those who are willing to interpret their necessary suffering as the spiritual task of relinquishment, who are willing to lose their lives (as they have made them) for Jesus’ sake, will receive a new, better, and—dare we say—resurrected life. The way through suffering is the way taken by any who would become a follower of Jesus. — Thomas R Steagald, (Homiletical Perspective, Mark 8.34–9.1), Feasting on the Gospels: Mark, Kindle edition, loc. 8920

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Last week, we read that Jesus started his ministry in Galilee after John the Baptist was arrested. Well, trouble wasn’t only blowing up for John. It was blowing up for Jesus too. If you read Mark from the beginning (two chapters a days takes you just over a week!), you’ll see Jesus

  • preaches the good news of the kingdom of God coming near;
  • heals the sick, and delivers those bound by evil;
  • angers the authorities;
  • feeds 5000 with some bread rolls and a few fish;
  • is thought to be mad by his own family;
  • angers the authorities;
  • stills a storm on Galilee;
  • teaches using parables.

Oh, and did I mention that he angers the authorities?

And so we come to today’s Gospel Reading, which shows that Jesus really was heading into trouble with the authorities:

Then Jesus began to teach his disciples: ‘The Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the Law.…’

‘The Son of Man must suffer…’ What do you mean by ‘must’, Jesus?

We heard last week that the Spirit ‘drove’ Jesus into the Judean wilderness. Is it God who is now making sure that Jesus ‘must’ suffer? Is Jesus a pawn in the hands of forces bigger than himself?

(If you play chess, you know what happens to pawns. They get sacrificed.)

What does ‘must’ mean?

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