Easter III – Reminders of the Good News

The First Reading from Acts 3:12-26

12When Peter saw it, he addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? 13The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. 14But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, 15and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. 16And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you. 17“And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers.18In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. 19Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, 20so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus, 21who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets. 22Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you from your own people a prophet like me. You must listen to whatever he tells you. 23And it will be that everyone who does not listen to that prophet will be utterly rooted out of the people.’ 24And all the prophets, as many as have spoken, from Samuel and those after him, also predicted these days. 25You are the descendants of the prophets and of the covenant that God gave to your ancestors, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your descendants all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ 26When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you, to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.”

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke 24:36b-49

36While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate in their presence. 44Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures,46and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

 

 

 

 

Easter III – Reminders of the Good News by Mother Beth

 

When you have had a bad experience or you have seen something traumatic it can take time to get over that feeling of grief and disappointment.  The customer service industry knows that it can take up to seven good experiences for you to change your mind about a bad experience.    And they are just referring to poor service or a mistake at the checkout.   Some of us have witnessed some horrible things in our time – and although hopefully we don’t focus too much time on it – there are reports of atrocities and evil events all around us being reported in the news, on TV.

So is it any surprise that Jesus makes another resurrection appearance to us in the gospel reading for today?  It is important to be reminded day after day, week after week that the resurrection occurred and that it is still good news for us today.

The disciples, remember, are still reeling from the events of the crucifixion.  As far as Rome is concerned, they crucified Jesus as a statement to his followers – this is what we have done to your leader – much more will we do to you if you do not get into line and do what you should do – obey.

The disciples are unsettled and uncertain about how to go forward.  They were strong when Jesus was with them – He was speaking words of encouragement and cheering them on – leading them forward.  Now they are weakened by doubt and uncertainty.

Of course there have been reports that Jesus is alive.  The women have reported back from their visit to the tomb.  Mary has said that she has seen the Lord.  The two people on the way to Emmaus were in the middle of discussions around the events of the crucifixion and a stranger appeared to walk with them.  It wasn’t until he prayed and broke the bread that they realized that it was Jesus.  They have reported back to the others that they have seen the Lord.

And now we have another opportunity – today in the gospel lesson we hear, “While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them”.  He recognizes that they are afraid and that they have doubts.

He knows that they think maybe he is just an apparition, a ghost.

He says, “Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”

What does it take for you to be convinced of something?  Sometimes people will say, if Jesus walked in here today, then I would know for sure who he is and I would ask him that pressing question that I have been wondering about?  But the real question is… If Jesus walked in here today, would you recognize him?  Would you believe it was him?

Although we know the truth and we want to believe, sometimes this world shakes us up – Sometimes there is more death and dying going on around us than there is life and living.

It is not that we don’t want to have faith.  It’s not that we don’t want to believe.  We need to be reminded how great God is.  We need to remember that he has conquered sin and death.

Jesus now reveals just how “real” and live he is by asking for food to eat.  He wants the disciples to know – to be fully convinced He is not just a figment of their imagination – He is not just some spirit, ghost or apparition – this is not just a visit “from the other side” – some psychic’s rendering.  He is there in the flesh – present with them – and so he eats to prove his presence – to show himself as a real body.

Then he proceeds to explain what has happened.  That his death and resurrection are the fulfillment of God’s plan from the beginning of time.

Why does Jesus reveal himself to the disciples?  Why does he go to such lengths to show who he is?  So that the disciples will be witnesses.  They will now be prepared to be sent out and tell others what they have seen and heard.

And they were faithful witnesses.  That is proven by the Acts reading from today.  We hear Peter’s testimony “13The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. 14But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, 15and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead….“And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers.18In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. 19Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out”

Peter explains that this is the power of God that heals and brings wholeness to the lives of others.  He is able to testify to this because he has seen and experienced it for himself and then also seen and experience its power to transform others.

That is the power of the church – of gathering together – to remind each other of the amazing God that we serve – to remind each other as witnesses to the great things that God has done and continues to do.

It can be hard to keep believing day after day, week after week, on our own.  There are too many reminders of death and not enough reminders of life. Globally, nationally, communally, personally, the presence of death is more palpable than the promise of life.

Life, here and now, is very hard to see. In the end, I think being resurrection people takes some effort, in fact, a lot of effort. And some weeks will demand more effort than others. Jesus knows this reality, our reality. And knows that we need a reminder.

Why does Jesus continue to reveal to himself to us?  So that we can be witnesses with each other about him and his presence in our lives.
So that we can encourage and remind each other day after day.    So that we can reach out to others who have not yet heard or seen or experienced.  So that the good news about life can overcome the bad news in this world.

How does Jesus continue to reveal himself to us?  Through each other.  But more specifically I believe we can see the tangible ways that we experience Jesus in the narrative of the gospel lessons over the last weeks.  On Easter Sunday, we heard that it was as Jesus spoke her name that Mary recognized Jesus and realized the truth of the resurrection.  Speaking someone’s name is a sacred and intimate act.   Can our friends and family trust us to speak their name with love and faithfulness?

In the gospel reading from last week, Thomas was entrusted with the opportunity to touch the wounds of Jesus.  In this sacred and intimate act of touching – Thomas realized the truth about the resurrection.  To touch the wounds is to acknowledge and validate the suffering of another.  Can our friends and family trust us to handle their wounds – to acknowledge or validate their suffering?

In today’s gospel, Jesus partakes in a meal with the disciples.  To break bread together – to sit and dine together is a sacred and intimate act.  Are we welcoming our friends and family to partake in meals with us?  Is our table a place of hospitality and grace?  As we go about our day to day lives, are we faithful to reveal the love of a resurrected Jesus through the ways we interact with each other?  Are we open to receiving the faithful witness of Christ as we speak, touch and eat with each other?

May God make us faithful in these and many other ways to remind each other of the good news of Jesus Christ and may He give us boldness to speak that good news to all.   Amen.

It’s not too Late! by Mother Beth

The First Reading from I John1:1-2:5

We declare to you what was from the :beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— 3we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.  5This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. 6If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; 7but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.  8If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.  My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.  3Now by this we may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments. 4Whoever says, “I have come to know him,” but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist; 5but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. By this we may be sure that we are in him:

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John 20:19-31

19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”  26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

 

It’s not too Late! – John 20—A homily by Mother Beth

Some people believe everything they hear or everything they read.

When you stop for groceries and you’re waiting for the cashier, it’s sometimes interesting to read the tabloid headlines.   Some of the claims are so outrageous and it often causes me to chuckle about how ridiculous that form of media is.  The other day though I saw a headline that made me wonder.  It could have been true – maybe it is true and so that sent me in a search for some information to verify the story.    I asked a few friends if they had heard anything and then I went on a little investigation around the internet.  As yet, no other source has verified the story.

In the gospel reading today we hear the story of the disciples’ encounter with the risen Christ.   First of all we should notice that the disciples are locked up in a room because of fear.  Despite the fact that Mary Magdalene (as we heard last week in the gospel lesson) has seen Jesus and has reported that back to the disciples – they are not convinced – they are afraid.  I point this out because we have often singled out Thomas as the only follower who doubted the resurrection but here we see the group of disciples locked in a room.

Jesus appears extends Peace to them and shows them his hands and feet.

When the disciples relay this information to Thomas – he is leery and declares that he will only believe if he sees for himself the hands and feet of Christ.  But is this really all that surprising?

Mary did not recognize Jesus in the garden – probably because she did not expect to see him there.  The other disciples did not declare the resurrection until they had had a personal encounter – then they said “We have seen the Lord”.  Many people still question the finality of someone’s life until the can see the body and know that they are gone.  Thomas wants to be sure.  He will not put his faith in someone else’s say-so – he needs to know for himself.

It sounds like a tabloid headline – it could be true but, it’s also pretty sensational.  They watched Jesus die a bloody and horrific death on the cross.  Thomas knows that was no slight of hand, it was a brutal and torturous way to die and everyone was there watching.

But Thomas’ need for further proof is good news for us for a couple of reasons.

The good news on this second Sunday of Easter is that God wants to be in relationship with you – He wants to reveal himself to you – it is not too late – the journey is still ahead – you have not missed the boat.

The significance of Jesus showing them the wounds in his hands and side – is that he is assuring them that he is in fact the bodily resurrected Christ – he is not an apparition or a figment of their imagination.  Once they realize that he is the Christ – they rejoice.  But the journey does not end with the resurrection – John goes on to tell us that Jesus says to them “Peace be with you as the Father has sent me so send I you” – Just as Jesus was sent to them so they are now sent to others.  They are commissioned by Jesus to go and to tell others about the forgiveness of sins.

You see they have been locked up in this room wondering what to do – afraid and probably more than a little disappointed — everything that they had hoped for and planned had ended and even once they realized that Christ had been raised, they were still left alone – Christ was gone but what did that mean for them?

But now Jesus appears before them and gives them new instructions.  It is not over – they have work to do and they are motivated by seeing Christ – resurrected – in the flesh – but also his words of commissioning – sending them off to keep up the work of the ministry – to continue preaching the kingdom of God.

And then we catch up with Thomas.  Somehow Thomas has missed the meeting with Jesus and he is not content to just take the others word for it.  HE now insists that he too must not only see with his own eyes to believe – he insists that he must put his hand in Jesus side before he will believe.

The church has traditionally given Thomas a hard time for not believing the word of the other disciples; calling him “Doubting Thomas”.  I, however, am encouraged by his determination to see for himself.

So if you are disappointed today – if things have not turned out the way you had hoped or planned, be encouraged.  Thomas could have thought he had missed it – there was one opportunity and he was off doing something else.   But instead of giving up and assuming that he doesn’t need to know, Thomas insists that he see for himself.

Don’t settle for less than a real encounter with the living Christ – Thomas doesn’t – he is bold enough to admit that he is not interested in just taking the word of the other disciples – he wants the full experience himself – and why shouldn’t he get it – the others did?

How badly do you want to know the truth?  Are you interested in a real experience or content to just take someone else’s word for it.  In the last year we have heard a lot about “Fake News” and we have been inundated with poorly researched information through social media and the internet.  Don’t settle for someone else’s opinion.  Don’t just believe everything you see or hear.  Don’t just pass along or forward those cute little sayings.  Many times we are just too lazy or too tired to do the work of researching to find the truth.    Often it is the same with church, we want someone to tell us the answer but, the truth is to be sought after.  It is good to listen to others but we should not check our brains at the door – we need to seek and find.

Thomas insists on a personal experience – and a week later, Jesus shows up and shows Thomas his hands and his side; allowing Thomas to touch and be sure that He is in fact, present in bodily form.  It’s not too late.  Thomas did not miss the opportunity.  Jesus takes the time to alleviate whatever doubts there are.  Thomas is not content with the reports of the other disciples nor is he content with seeing Jesus.  Thomas wants real connection – he wants to touch the very scars of the Lord, himself.    There is something really interesting about this level of intimacy – touch is an important connection.   Thomas is determined to really prove that this is the same Jesus – the–bodily resurrected Jesus – not some memory or vision but the real thing.

And the good news for us is that the encounter does not end there.  Jesus goes on to affirm those who will believe without seeing.  This is a word of encouragement for those who would read John’s gospel from that time to the present time and beyond.  It’s not too late!

Jesus is speaking to us – encouraging and blessing us – for believing without seeing him in the flesh – for persevering in faith even if we have questions or so called “doubts”.

Thomas was brave to voice his demands – to insist that he get his own opportunity to see and feel Christ.

Are you brave enough to ask God for the assurance that you need?

Do you have doubts that need to be laid to rest?  It is not too late to have an encounter with the risen Lord.  It is not too late to believe.

God wants to hear your concerns and questions – HE can handle them.

And once you’ve had an encounter – the good news is – it’s not over – there is still more for you.  Christ comes speaking peace and breathing the Holy Spirit into and over you so that you might go out and tell others about the forgiveness that you have found in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Easter Sunday may be over – the excitement and anticipation set aside but we are not finished – we have not missed the opportunity – there are still many opportunities to be taken and experienced.

This is just the beginning of our ministry – Christ calls us to take up his charge and to go and tell.  The words he uses here are powerful.

23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

God gives us the responsibility to help others come to an understanding of forgiveness.

One commentator put it this way, “Jesus is not giving his disciples some special power to decide whose sins will be forgiven and whose will not. Rather, he is further specifying what it means to be sent, to make known the love of God that Jesus himself has made known. As people come to know and abide in Jesus, they will be “released” (aphiemi) from their sins. If, however, those sent by Jesus fail to bear witness, people will remain stuck in their unbelief; their sins will be “retained” or “held onto” (kratéo). The stakes of this mission are very high indeed.”

The good news is – it’s not too late for us – for God to reveal himself to us – for God to use us.  But it is also good news for those around us – in our homes – in our community – it is not too late for them – God wants us to go out and reveal his love to them – to show them the good news of God’s forgiveness.   To make space for them to have a real encounter and connection with the living Christ.

Easter Sunday may be over – but it’s not too late.

I Have Seen the Lord

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John 20:1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the scripture,that he must rise from the dead. 10Then the disciples returned to their homes.  11But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Easter Sunday 2018    I Have Seen the Lord, a homily by Mother Beth

Today is the game changer.  This day is the day in the church year that you really have to decide what you believe.  No other faith or religion professes that their leader died and was resurrected.  This claim sets Christianity apart from all the others.  The empty tomb presents the dilemma.  The empty tomb exclaims that Jesus is much more than just a good man or even a martyr who died for what he believed in.  The empty tomb suggests that something much more radical happened.  The empty tomb proclaims the resurrection.  And although many would like to tell you that it is the same for everyone – we all come to faith in the same way – the gospel for this morning reveals otherwise.  We see and hear three different responses to the events.

It was early on the first day of the week and Mary Magdalene has come to the tomb.  Why has she come?  She is grieving.  Jesus was her friend, her teacher, her leader and so she comes to mourn his loss, to visit the site where he was laid – to pay her respects.

But when Mary gets there she notices that the stone is missing and she immediately runs to report this news to the disciples.  She reports, “they have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we do not know where they have laid him”.

Mary assumes that something has happened – someone has tampered with the body – moved it so that his followers cannot visit, or mourn.  She wants someone, like the disciples, to know about the problem and to do something about this.  She tells what she sees so that the problem can be solved.

The disciples, Peter and John, set out toward the tomb.  They run together but John outruns Peter and gets there first.  John bends down and looks in and sees the grave clothes lying there but does not go in.

Peter goes right into the tomb and sees the clothes, notices that they are neatly folded and that the cloth from Jesus head is lying neatly by itself.

Now John goes in to the tomb, and the scripture says, “he saw and believed”.

So these two men had different reactions – Peter steps right into the tomb – a look was not enough – he wanted the full experience. This is not surprising if you remember about Peter from other scripture passages.  Peter is the one who steps out onto the water with Jesus.   He is going to make sure that the tomb is actually empty.

John looks in and sees that what Mary has said is true – the body is gone.   And when he steps into the tomb, something happens and he believes.

The two disciples leave the site and head back home.  Mary alone is left weeping outside the tomb.   And as she stands there alone, she looks back into the tomb and sees two angels in white, sitting where Jesus body had been lying.   They ask her, woman why are you weeping?”

She explains her situation to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him”.

You see she ran to the disciples for help saying almost the same thing and yet they came and saw and left.  And Mary remains there with her question.  She wants to know where the body is so that she can mourn – and attend to it.

Mary is not content to just look into the tomb and be satisfied.  Even with the presence of two angels, she asks the hard questions…. Where is he?  What happened to him?

When she turns around she sees a man standing there and she supposes that he is the gardener.   She wasn’t surprised by the angels so why would she be surprised to find a gardener in the garden or a caretaker in a funeral home?

The man asks her why she is crying and again Mary explains her situation. “if you have carried him away,  tell me where you have laid him.”

And Jesus calls her by name, “Mary”.  And it is when he calls her by name that she recognizes him and calls him Teacher.

Mary has an encounter with the risen Christ.    In fact, she is the very first to see and speak to the risen Christ.

And how does it happen?  She stands and struggles with the tough questions.  She asks not less than three times – where is the body?  What have they done with the body?

She is determined to get an answer to her question and instead of an answer she becomes the first eye-witness to the miracle of the resurrection.  Oh, she didn’t see the resurrection happen – no one did but, she is the first to have a face to face encounter with the resurrected Christ.

And of course, she is the first to tell the good news.  She runs back to the disciples and announces, I have seen the Lord!

So the question today for each of us is, what will we do with the empty tomb?  Are we like John able to look in, cautiously step in and then believe?

Are you or I like Peter who goes quickly in to the tomb and sees that there is nothing there and goes home?  Are you and I like Mary who is determined to find Jesus?  She keeps asking the question until she is given an encounter.  She presses past her own grief and dismay to discover the truth about what has happened.

And today maybe you’re saying, I’ve sorted it all out a long time ago.  I know what I believe.  And if that is true then good.  So today I ask you, what challenge does the empty tomb hold for you?  Easter is all about celebrating new life.  It is a time to step out of fear into faith and hope. What does it mean to live as resurrection people; assured the Christ is risen and so are we?  So today I ask you to consider, what ways have we slipped back into an apathy – or sleep in our faith?  In what ways have we let the cold, dark winter slip into our life?   This day we celebrate the new life that is ours through Jesus Christ.  Let’s step out into that life with renewed energy and excitement.

Let’s awaken from our contented sleep with a fresh call to love and minister to those around us.  Because the good news that Jesus is risen is not for us alone.  Mary ran to tell others, may the Lord enable us to do the same.

Today is the game changer.  Today is the day that makes a difference.  Let us live into that difference.  From this day forward, may we live our lives as people of the resurrection and run to tell the news, I have seen the Lord!  Amen.

 

Two Things I Know by Mother Beth

The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Mark 15

As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. 2Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” He answered him, “You say so.” 3Then the chief priests accused him of many things. 4Pilate asked him again, “Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.” 5But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.

6Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. 7Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. 8So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom.9Then he answered them, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” 10For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. 11But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. 12Pilate spoke to them again, “Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” 13They shouted back, “Crucify him!” 14Pilate asked them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him!” 15So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.

16Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort.17And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. 18And they began saluting him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 19They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. 20After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

21They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. 22Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). 23And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. 24And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.

25It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. 26The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” 27And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left.29Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30save yourself, and come down from the cross!” 31In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.

33When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” 36And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. 38And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”

 

Two Things I Know; A Good Friday Sermon  by Mother Beth

Two things I know for sure – “There is a God and I am not Him!” from the movie Rudy.

Recently I mentioned control issues and the fact that I have them.  Many of us have them, in fact – whether we want to admit it or not.  We may be able to surrender control in certain situations – or we may have learned to trust others to take control in certain situations.  I may recognize that I am not a Doctor therefore if I need a doctor and want to get better, I will have to trust someone else who has those qualifications and the letters MD after their name.

But the truth is that in this world it is hard to surrender the control of our lives to someone or something else.  I am not suggesting that we all become fatalists or that we stop being active in our own decision making – not at all – to not make a decision is after all to decide not to decide and to let someone or something else decide for you.

The truth of the cross is that we need a Saviour – everyone one of us.  Things in this world have gone horribly wrong and we need God to set it right.  There is no other way.  And no matter how hard we try or how faithfully we work, No matter how good we are – we cannot save this world – I cannot save myself and we cannot save each other.

We need to be rescued, we need a Saviour!

We hear in the passion reading that that there was a sign nailed to the cross that read “The King of the Jews”.   There were two responses to that sign – the Jewish leaders scoffed and asked Pilate to change it to read – “This man said he was the King of the Jews” and Pilate’s response was “What I have written, I have written”.  Both responses show a misunderstanding of who Jesus is and what is really happening.

Many, including some of the disciples, were looking for a political victor – and earthly king and kingdom to overthrow the political power of Rome.

But Jesus knows, that as much as he loves his people and watches with anguish as they are oppressed – a political kingdom will not be enough – this is a bigger and more important battle than that.  The evil that was in the world – the need to seek out political power through violence and aggression need to be overcome eternally – once for all.

Sometimes I think we are still looking for political power – we want to legislate morality – we want laws and a government that complies with our standards – but Christ’s death is about so much more than social justice and advocacy.  He dies to take our place – he dies to do what no one else has been able to do.  He dies a death so that those that he stands in for will not have to die.  Through him we are reconciled to God – restored and brought back into covenant with the God of all creation.

His death is not just about being kind to those who are on the fringe of society.  His death is payment in full for the evil of this world.  He takes upon himself the suffering and brokenness and sin of mankind.

Pilate smugly, comments “What I have written, I have written” because although he can find no fault in Jesus, this is an opportunity to mock those of the Jewish faith.  This is an appropriate death, he thinks, for the one who would be king of the Jews.  This is the death that Rome would require of someone who the people worship and exalt over the Roman emperor.  Pilate jeers at the fact that Jesus is given to them as a King and yet they surrender him to be crucified.  He laughs at the idea that they have given up their leader.  And yet, the truth is Jesus is King – not just of the Jews but King of Kings and Lord of Lords – very God of very God.

There is so much in this world to pull us one way or another.  There is so much within ourselves – control, the desire for power, the temptation to succeed at all costs to pull us one way or the other.  And the very fact, that we insist on being so self-sufficient – that we are determined to be self-made women or men – leads us to the place where we take the role of god in our own lives.  We decide – we choose – we plan – we plot – we judge – we control.

But the good news of the cross is that Christ has overcome sin and death – the good news of the cross is that Christ has bought us with a price – that we have been ransomed, redeemed and reconciled to God.

“Jesus has come not to offer one more political alternative but the break the stranglehold that the powers have on the world.  HE offers a new world, a world in which God is God and human beings are set free to be human beings.”  NT Wright,  The Crown and the Fire

The good news of Good Friday and the cross of Christ is that God has done for us what we cannot do for ourselves.   There are two things that I know for sure 1.  There is a God and 2.  God’s son Jesus Christ died upon a cross because we all need a Saviour.  Amen.

If you love me, keep my commandments

John 14:15-21

15”If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

18”I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

Sermon – Easter 6 – John 14/Acts 17

The gospel lesson for today picks up where we left off last week.  Jesus is giving his final instructions to the disciples – He is preparing them for his departure and encouraging them with words of comfort.

Last week – the gospel talked about being sent out to do God’s work.  You may remember that Jesus had promised you will do the things that I have done – and greater things than these shall you do.  How is it that we do greater things? Each of us is sent out in the name of Jesus – as his ambassador – to do God’s work in the community – to be his representative – his ambassador right where we are.  At the same time as we hear these words of Jesus in the gospel of John, we also hear today about the early church in the reading from Acts.  This gives us an opportunity to hear what Jesus says to the church and then also to see what that looks like as it was lived out by the Apostles after Christ left this earth.

 

So this week the reading starts with Jesus saying, “If you love me you will keep my commandments.”

What are the two commandments? – Love the Lord, your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength AND Love your neighbor as yourself.  What is more fitting then to talk about LOVE? – and the discipline and action that LOVE requires of us.  LOVE is a Verb – we show our love by how we talk, treat each other and the priorities that we keep.   Love is a language that we speak – we speak it with our words but we also speak it with our money and our time.  We have all known people who told us they loved us and yet their actions did not match up with their words.  Real love follows through – Real love demonstrates itself in more than words.

Jesus has said, “This is how people will know that you are my disciples – if you have love one to another” and He also said, “A new commandment I give onto you that you love one another as I have loved you.”

In the Acts reading we hear Paul speaking to the people of Athens.

He sees that they have a monument to an “unknown god” and he takes the opportunity – not to berate them – or to judge them but rather to do the work of God – to extend towards them.  He does the work of hospitality by creating a space for them to hear the good news of the gospel.  So he says, I see that you are religious and interested in religion – and that you speak about an unknown god.  Let me introduce you to God – let me make God known to you.  And then he proceeds to tell about God calling the nation of Israel – choosing Abraham – sending him out into the land.  Paul proceeds to explain how we are made in the image of God and if that is so then obviously God is not a statue or made of gold or silver but is alive. That God appoints places and times and that he calls people to repentance because a time is coming when we will be called to judgment and brought before the man appoint to judge all.  Who is this man?  God has revealed him by raising him from the dead.  This is man is Jesus.

 

 

You might ask, how do these two passages fit together – Jesus is speaking to his own disciples and sending them out to do God’s work and then we hear about Paul – out doing the work of God.  But I do want to emphasize that this is all motivated by love.    What is it that draws us towards God? – it is his love for us.  “While we were still sinners Christ died for us”  – Christ’s unconditional love for us draws us to him.  But that is not all.  Once we have experienced that kind of love we can not help but love him back – Our love for Christ compels us – drives us to want to do – Remember Love is a verb – and we show love by action.

But that is still not all.  God tells us that we show our love towards Him by loving our neighbor – by loving each other.

In the last part of the gospel for today Jesus says, “21They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

If you want a picture of the love of God you can read about it in I Corinthians 13.  We hear this passage most often at weddings but it is not just about love between a man and a woman – the passage is revealing the characteristics of real love – true love – unconditional love.

We use the word “love” in so many ways – we overuse the word love in our everyday language.  Think about it… When we are shopping, we might say… I love those shoes.  Or when we are travelling we might say, I love this place.  When we are young we might say, I love this movie star or I love this singer or performer.  But is that really what it is to love?

Love is a verb – Love is demonstrated through actions and over time and in difficult situations.  Love is best revealed in community.   Some of you may have discovered that it is not always easy to love people.  In fact, I would say that it is often difficult to love people.  So how can we do this difficult thing?  What will empower us?

Jesus promises in the gospel for today – to send another advocate.  I will not leave you orphaned or in other words, I will not leave you all alone.  I have been your advocate – your helper – the one who is looking out for you and when I leave my Father will send another one to look out for you – the Spirit of Truth.   So we can be assured that we have the Holy Spirit – empowering us – encouraging us – equipping us and giving us the words to say – the works to do.

Someone said this week, “to be willing to be uncomfortable so that someone else can be comfortable that is love”.  God asks us to step outside of our comfort zone in order to extend love to others.

This week I also heard someone say,  “Visitors don’t usually come to a church because of the coffee or the music, they come because someone invited them.”

Many times in the church today, we get distracted by thinking that we need to change to draw people in – we need to do something really impressive and then people will be drawn to that event and start coming to church.  But the truth is… Love is what we need.  We need to be so motivated by the God’s love for us that we love him unconditionally.  We need to be so motivated by the love of God that we long to do his works – to demonstrate our love for him and in appreciation for his love for us.  We Love Him so much that we Love those people that he loves.

For God so loved all of the people in this world that he sent his Son so that anyone who believed on Him would not die but have everlasting life.  Have we received the love of God?  Have we accepted that he loves us no matter what we have done?  Have we fallen in love with Him?  What about those people around us who God loves… do we love them?

This is how others will know that we are his followers – we will love each other – we will love those around us.  May God give us the grace to love him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Amen.   

 

Preparing a Place – an act of hospitality

Sermon –Easter 5 – John 14:1-14

John 14:1-14
14:1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.  And you know the way to the place where I am going.”  Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”   Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”  Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”  Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?   Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.  Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.  Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.  I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do

it.

 

Preparing a Place

The passage from John’s gospel is probably most recognizable to us because it is read at the beginning of the funeral service.  It is a passage that speaks of the promise and hope of what lies beyond this world and this life.  It seems fitting to hear these words on the same Sunday that we hear the story of the first martyr, Stephen.   We know that in this world terrible things happen to good people – Good Friday reminds us that death is an all too present reality – that the world is threatened by those who do and say things that are challenging.  In the face of that reality, we hear John 14.

John chapter 14 is part of a larger passage that is known as Jesus farewell discourse – that is – Jesus is preparing the disciples for a time when he will no longer be with them and so he gives them his final words of advice.

To place this on the timeline of Christ’s life, I will tell you that in the previous chapter, he has partaken in the last supper – and washed their feet, but he has also announced that one of them will betray him and that Peter will deny him.  He has spoken quite bluntly about the fact that things are going to get very difficult.

This is where we come into the story – Jesus encourages the disciples by challenging them to believe in God – believe also in me.  He is speaking words of comfort and trust.

Do you know what it is like to be forewarned about something? To see ahead of time what is to come?  In some instances it can be disappointing because it can reveal something that was intended to be a surprise.  As a small child I remember asking for pots and pans for Christmas – my sister and I really loved to play house and I had spotted this shiny red set of pots and pans at the toy department in the Eaton’s store.

About a week before Christmas my sister, brother and I were playing hide and seek and I decided to hide in my parent’s closet.    I looked up and there I saw the shiny red pots and pans that were one of my Christmas gifts.  At first I was excited to realize that I was getting the very thing that I had asked for and then it began to dawn on me that I now knew ahead of time what would be in that beautifully wrapped package on Christmas day.

How could I pretend to be surprised as I opened that gift when I knew ahead of time what was in it?  That glimpse of what was to come left me a little disappointed.  The joy of the surprise taken away by knowledge ahead of time.

On the other hand, sometimes a glimpse of what is to come can be reassuring.  I remember watching the Wizard of Oz with my children when they were much younger and as we sat cuddled together on the couch my son began to grow uneasy.  The appearance of the witch had scared him and he said to me, Mommy, I will only continue to watch if you can promise me that this movie has a good ending.

Have you seen it before?  Do you know what is going to happen?  I assured him that I had seen it before and that I could promise that the movie had a happy ending.  He settled down and continued to watch; trusting that I had not steered him wrong and that things would get better.  Isn’t this the assurance that we are all looking for in life?  We want to know that things are going to get better and that there is a happy ending.  This is often what motivates us to keep going through the tough times.

Jesus, knows that the road ahead for his disciples will be difficult and that there will be moments when they doubt or when they just want to give up or run away and so he speaks words of assurance to them.

“I am going to prepare a place for you if it were not so, would I have told you that? And I will return and come to get you.”  Jesus is preparing them to carry on without him.  He knows that it will be hard for them to keep on so he gives them something that they can hold onto.

Jesus further assures them saying, “you know the way to the place  where I am going”.

Thomas asks, “How can we know the way?”  Isn’t that like us.  We want to know the steps.  We want to know the details.  Draw me a map, Jesus so that I do not get lost!

Jesus responds, “I AM the Way, the truth and the life” – Jesus says look to me, follow me – knowing me that is the way – that is how you will know the Father.

Philip responds, “Show us the Father and then we will be satisfied”.  How often have we said, “I just need this one thing – I just need to know this one answer – I just need to be sure of this and then I will be ok – then I can go on and not worry or wonder”?

Jesus says, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.  I am in the Father and the Father is in me.  Believe me.  But, if you cannot just believe me then look at the works that I have done and believe because of the works.

You see, Jesus does the work of his Father in heaven.  It is only God that can forgive sins.  It is only God that can do miracles and heal sickness. The disciples have witnessed these things.  The works that Jesus has performed point to the fact that he does the acts of God.

And you may have noticed over the last several weeks in particular, that Jesus often expresses not just assurance but also instructions.  Jesus says, Believe in me and those who believe “will do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these because I am going to the Father”.

How is this possible?  Jesus takes these followers who aren’t sure that they know the way – who need to see the Father to be reassured and then he blesses them by saying that they will do the amazing things that he has done – and even greater things they will do!!

 

We hear that it is possible because he will do whatever we ask him to do if we asking in his name.  This is Jesus extending his power – his authority to us.  Praying or asking for something in Jesus name – is to say that Jesus has given you the right to ask on his behalf – it is as if he is asking the Father for it himself.

Ok maybe we can get our mind around doing the things that Jesus has done because we do these things on his behalf – we ask in his name that it be done.  But Greater things?  How can we do greater things?  I have heard it said that we do the greater things because there is more of us.  When Jesus walked this earth, he was the only one doing God’s work – he was limited by his human body to only be able to reach so many people.  But now that He is seated at the right hand of the Father and he releases us to do work on his behalf – we can all be out doing the work of the Father.  How great is that?  What if everyone of us here went out and did God’s work today?  What an impact we could have on this community!

What will it look like for us to prepare a place in our lives and in our community for others?  I am struck by the idea that Jesus is modelling for us a great picture of hospitality.   The reassurance and peace that we have gained through our own personal connection to Jesus Christ compels us to speak words of hope and peace to others who have not yet experienced it.  I am challenged anew by this passage to begin to explore the ways that I might begin to prepare for new relationships with friends, family and the community around me.

Whatever you are facing this week, do not let your hearts be troubled.

Believe in God and know that he is preparing a place for you – is there anything as wonderful as being welcomed home?  That is what Jesus promises – that he has gone ahead to prepare a place where you and I can be welcomed home – be assured of that.

In the meanwhile, we have been given the name of Jesus and sent out to do the works of God at home and abroad.  Wherever we find ourselves on this planet, we go as Christ’s ambassadors that the world might see and know that God loves them and that they too might be assured that Christ is preparing a place for them.  Amen.

 

The Good Shepherd

The Good Shepherd – Easter IV by Mother Beth

Have you ever noticed that it can be difficult to figure out who has your best intentions at heart?  If you enter into a business transaction – say to purchase a used item – a previously owned vehicle or a refurbished appliance.  If the sales person says, “I am trustworthy” – it does not necessarily assure you that they are trustworthy.  We are suspicious of people who claim that we can trust them.

The gospel reading for today is commonly known as “the good shepherd” passage.  Although we hear this passage out of context, let me remind you where this occurs in the gospel.  In the 10th chapter of John, Jesus is responding to events that have happened in the earlier chapter.

Several weeks ago we heard about the man born blind – Jesus spit on some mud and put it on his eyes and told him to go wash.  You will remember that the man was healed but, because of that healing there was great discussion about who Jesus is.  The leaders of the synagogue were upset that Jesus healed someone on the Sabbath – because they consider it work – and they interpreted God’s commandment about keeping the Sabbath as highly important and did everything possible to refrain from work on the Sabbath.  So who is this Jesus who heals and disregards the Sabbath – surely he cannot be from God – he must be a sinner – he must be evil.

There are many people who still have the same struggles today.  The Easter season asks the question over and over again – who is Jesus and what will we do with him – what place will we give him?

So right on the heels of all this discussion about who Jesus is and whether or not they can trust him – Jesus says, Very truly I tell you….

In other words, Jesus is saying, I am telling the truth – you can trust me.

He goes on to talk about the others – the thieves and bandits that find some other way to enter the sheepfold – not by the gate but by any other way.  Those people are up to no good – they do not have good intentions for the sheep.

But the one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.  The one who is given permission by the gatekeeper – that is the one you can trust.  And you will know that you can trust him because he promises that his sheep know his voice.  He calls them by name.

One of the things that parents and children are encouraged to do today (especially in the city where there are many adults coming and going from schools and daycares) is to establish a “safe word”.  In the event that someone other than their parent comes to pick them up – that adult would know the safe word to say to them.  So if a neighbor is sent on the adult’s behalf then that adult must say the “safe word” so that the child knows the parent has sent them.

Jesus is telling those around him – you can trust me – I am the shepherd – the gatekeeper has vouched for me and let me in – I came through the proper channels – I know your name and I even know the “safe word”.   This is not a trick – I did not sneak in!

But the scripture goes on to say, “they did not understand what he was trying to say to them”.

So Jesus tries another approach – “I am the gate for the sheep” and “whoever enters by me will be saved”.  You may have heard that in some instances the shepherd acted as the gate for the sheep.

The sheepfold was built with a gap for a doorway.  In this gap the shepherd would stand, sit or lie and this would keep the sheep inside the fold.  More importantly though, the shepherd could provide protection against any attacks.  With the shepherd right there keeping watch it would be difficult for thieves and bandits to steal sheep.  It would also be difficult for animals to get by to hurt the sheep.  The shepherd protects against predators.

Whether we realize it or not there are still predators out there.  There are people who are not trustworthy.

It is important to know who you can trust.  It is comforting – in difficult circumstances and in the face of fear – to know that the Shepherd is trustworthy.  The protection of the sheepfold is that the sheep are huddled together.  In a group they are safer than they would be on their own and the shepherd protects the whole group.

The passage does not end there – it is not just about being huddled together in the safety of the fold.  The sheep “come in and go out and find pasture” – the Shepherd leads the sheep out to find pasture – to enjoy the sunshine and the fields – to be nourished by the grass – to have the freedom to run and play.  It is not a picture of the sheep cowering in the corner for fear but rather a picture of security, safety and freedom.

Jesus says, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

And that is what he offers. Abundant life.  What does abundant life look like for you?  For the man born blind, abundant life is to be able to see – to be freed from disability.  What does abundant life look like for you?  To walk in wholeness – to be set free from emotional or psychological baggage?

In Isaiah 61:1 we hear, The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, [Isa 61:1 NIV].

This is the passage that Jesus stood up and read in the temple in Luke 4 – Jesus declares that he is the fulfillment of this prophecy.

The abundant life involves freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, and freedom from oppression.

The Easter message has reminded us that we are saved from sin and death but this passage adds to that that we are saved for something – we are saved for abundant life – The good shepherd leads us from the safety of the sheepfold to the pasture of abundant life.

So do not be discouraged; imagining that the Christian life is one of restrictions and “thou shalt nots” – it is so much more than that.   The truth is – the shepherd can be trusted – he leads and protects.   Jesus says, “The thief comes to kill and destroy but I have come that they might have life and have it abundantly”.    O Lord, help us to trust you and to let you free us to live an abundant life.  Amen.