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The Good Samaritan at Anzac Day

April 25, 2015

Leunig AnzacFor the first time in a long time, I took an Anzac service. I have long been resisting this challenge. My concern about the growing tide of nationalism and the glorification of war (disclaimers to the contrary notwithstanding). For the best summary of my views on the Anzac story see here. However, this year it was harder to get out of it. It was my turn and a friend had encouraged me to speak our rather than simply inhabit the parallel world of peace services. Here is my sermon from this morning

LESSON           Luke 10:25-37

 

ADDRESS

 

Today we gather with a sense that there is a great cloud of witnesses… many who have gone before are with us, in some sense looking on. As we gather today we feel that their deepest desire for us is that we never have to experience what they experienced. Never again!

 

In 1915 it was billed as the ‘great war’… the ‘war to end all wars’. Of course it didn’t do any such thing. Wars do not end wars they beget wars.

 

Today we are in a church and so we listen to the word of God. And here this word from God goes by the name, Jesus of Nazareth.

 

In our reading Jesus is asked a question which essentially can be translated as a question about the good life. What does it mean to be part of the life of God? What does that look like? Jesus turns the question back to the questioner. What do you think? What does your law tell you? The guy says: “Love the Lord your God with all your soul and strength and mind. And love your neighbour as yourself’. Jesus agrees with this answer. It’s the standard orthodoxy of the time.

 

But the questioner isn’t finished. He wants clarity. “Who is my neighbour?” In response Jesus tells the famous story of the Good Samaritan – a story in which the person who loves his neighbour turns out to be a Samaritan. Jews and Samaritans were in a state of constant hostility. They despised one another. And this incendiary role-model, this enemy of Israel, turns out to be the one who loves his neighbour by loving his enemy, a wounded and dying Jew.

 

The thing is, there was another orthodox belief at the time of Jesus… that ‘my neighbour’ amounted to ‘my fellow Israelite’. “Love thy neighbour”, yes, but only if my neighbour is a cultural ally, or a member of my own nation, within my circle of kin.

 

In terms of the orthodoxy of his time Jesus was a heretic. “Love thy neighbour”, became, for the first time, “Love thy enemy”. “You have heard it said, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’, but I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

 

The tragedy of this moment of remembrance is, of course, that it is easier said than done! Those who died in military action bear witness today to the long history of our failures as a people to love our enemies. Not only must we remember those who have died, but we must also learn to repent. We honour them in our memory by learning repentance, by learning and relearning the things that make for peace.

 

Of course, this heresy that Jesus of Nazareth introduced (love for enemy), was not simply an idea. It was a life that he lived. It was a life that he lived all the way to choosing death on a Roman cross over military rebellion. It was a life that he lived as he was dying with the words ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.’

 

And for us who believe that this life was more than just his life, but the very life of God… that God raised him from death… believe that this life and this “dying on the cross” is our great hope. And in this man, who gives himself unreservedly into the hands of his enemies, in this man is the beginning of the end of war …

 

In response to this man, Christians gather weekly in buildings like this for a kind of boot-camp in the fragile art of loving our enemies, and learning reconciliation… and we fail regularly in the process.

 

In the end we believe (counter-intuitively perhaps) that love (enemy-love) is more powerful than violence.

 

This faith teaches us, in all the messiness of life, to look for the creative long-term solutions… In Jesus of Nazareth we learn the willingness to suffer, and to trust God. Better to risk death than to perpetuate the cycles of violence that continue with us in the 21st century.

 

Let us continue to thank God for the lives of those who have died. Let us continue to remember them and all they were caught up in … not in cynicism or despair, but in hope for the new life to come.

 

Thanks be to God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

God of the Sparrows

April 3, 2015

And there’s this guy called Daniel Imburgia, who, I just learned, is not just a fine artist and all round genius, he also writes great poetry… particularly for theologians. Here’s his recent offering on Fb for the season… obliged.

From, “God of the Sparrows #7″

 

And so we fall

But the god of the sparrows

Falls with us

 

Falling first before

Gravity

Or its theory

 

Falling with us

Not in our stead

 

Some might have

Thought ‘jumped!’

Others ‘pushed’

 

Regardless

We crash and shard

God, sparrow, and me

A mashup of smithereens

 

Dare we hope

Smithereens

Fly

 

– Dan Imburgia

Easter with Updike and some Women

April 3, 2015
William_Bouguereau_Women_At_The_Tomb_350

Mark 16:1-8

There’s a very well known poem, penned by the famous American novelist, John Updike, in 1960, which I have always liked for its forcefulness and its main point.

 

Seven Stanzas at Easter

 

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

 

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

 

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that–pierced–died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

 

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

 

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

 

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

 

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

                                          John Updike, 1960.

 

It’s about the importance of ‘bodily resurrection’. It’s about the

material world and the Christian faith. God takes the time (and space) to be material. That’s what Jesus, the incarnation, is all about – not simply a divine spirit who appears to be human but isn’t really. Jesus eats, drinks, shits, get’s sore feet, washes and so on. And the fact that some people will probably be offended by the language of bodily functions says something about our struggle to actually take bodily material world seriously for our faith.

 

And when Jesus is raised, this is not a departure from the body. This is not a ghost who lives on. Not a lessening of his material reality… not a kind of thinner lighter Jesus. This is a re-energised, renewed, divinely transformed body, a more potent material reality… That’s what the creed means when it refers to the ‘resurrection of the body’. What we hope for is not to escape from the body but for the material world, the bodiliness of existence to be transformed and lifted up into the life of God… and here we get a bit mysterious… of course … we have no science for this, we cannot put resurrection under a microscope.

 

So that’s one thing that the resurrection has always been about. But the other thing that John Updike wants to stress is that if you say you are Christian and believe in the resurrection, don’t then turn around and say that it is merely a metaphor for Spring time, for flowers blooming, for the changing seasons, for new life in the Christian community, for something within our own world. To do so is to create for yourself a Christianity without God. The resurrection is God! It is an event that meets the world from beyond.

 

And I think that is what today’s reading highlights for us… in Mark’s memory its a shocking thing, a fearful thing.

 

What did the women do after leaving the tomb?

 

If we read John’s or Luke’s gospel we would have heard them go and tell the other disciples and say ‘I have seen the Lord.’ Did you notice how Mark ended his Gospel. Let me read the last words of Mark’s gospel – this is according to scholars, very probably the original end of Mark’s gospel. The other verses are later additions. Mark concludes:

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.’

 

Not the joy of the resurrection, not the happy ending… but the shock of the resurrection.

 

These are the women. The ones who didn’t betray him. The ones who unlike Peter, didn’t protest at his talk of dying. The ones who stayed and watched at the cross and wept. They didn’t take up their cross with him. But then again they didn’t abandon him either.

 

They were not the prodigal sons… they were the one’s who stayed at home like the older son… they were faithfully sitting in the pew… all the way to the dead end.

 

They had accepted the real world… unlike their more idealistic male counterparts, they were grounded in the realities of birth and death and so they went along with Jesus, knowing that his was a lost cause. They knew how the world worked. They were practical people. They had even bought the ointment to seal the finality of it all.

 

The funny thing is, they hadn’t thought about how to get into a sealed tomb… and then when they get there an unnamed man in the white robes of a martyr points to an empty space… and while they are panicking inside and looking in all corners calmly declares ‘Don’t worry’… “You are looking for Jesus”… (as if he were in the hotel lobby and there were a list of possible people that he was checking off). “He has been raised”…..He’s been what?! What the…!

‘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.’

 

Lawrence Moore suggest that its the women’s turn for their Gethsemane. This is when they freak out and abandon Jesus.

 

They had taken the path of resignation… of despair. Their spirituality had become in a deep sense tragic. It was paradise lost for them. And all they could do was recollect times past.

 

Suddenly… Jesus was no longer ‘times past’. Jesus was ahead of them going into Galilee. Jesus was present and future. And they couldn’t handle that. They could lose their life for his sake, or at least out of a sense of duty and inevitability. They had walked that path. But now they were overtaken by not just a death-event, but a God-event.

 

Now the rules of the universe had changed, they realised. When Jesus abandoned his life into the hand of Abba, Abba had taken it seriously. Now they were dealing not just with a past to be grieved, but future to be lived. The story wasn’t over.

 

The material universe was not just a material universe, not just a random collection of atoms and a very long time fading into

nothingness… the material universe was now ablaze with the glory of a crucified God. Taking up their cross and finding their true life was not just the past, but also the future now.

 

All they needed was eyes to see it… All they needed was a Spirit to give them the courage to live forward into it.

 

Thanks be to God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cat is out of the Bag (immolatus vicerit)

March 20, 2015

(Sermon for Advent 5)the-cat-out-the-bag

Texts:        John 12:20-33               Jeremiah 31:31-34

If you haven’t noticed… there is an enormous difference between John’s Gospel and the other three gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). The first three introduce us to Jesus blow by blow, as it happens, as if we too were disciples on the road with him learning with them what it is all about. John on the other hand begins long after the conclusion is known, after the resurrection, and never hides this from his readers. The reason why Jesus is good news for the world… is right there front and centre in the whole story. And so John’s gospel doesn’t begin with the birth of Jesus but before and behind the creation of the world ‘In the beginning was the Word” with God. Before and behind the creation of all things is God who speaks … and God’s Word became the flesh of a human life… and so on.

 

And in today’s scripture… as Jesus life gets close to its culmination, to its moment of ‘glory’, as John’s Jesus likes to call it … we are introduced to some Greeks. John, of course, is written at a time when the Christian gospel is moving well beyond the Jewish community and into the wider world. And so these Greeks (who could well be symbolic representatives, perhaps of this wider world) say to Philip “We want to see Jesus”. We never really find out if they get to see Jesus and there is this curious, cumbersome process where Philip goes to Andrew and then Andrew and Philip go to Jesus…. and then Jesus just begins to talk… its not clear whether the Greeks ever see Jesus.

 

It may just be poor story telling … but it’s as if John wants to remind us that this gospel is going out to those who will always be one step removed from the physical Jesus… like the Greeks, the readers of his gospel will rely on the witness of others. Each of us know of the life and story of Jesus because we got it from others.

 

I wonder whose witness inspired you with the life of Jesus?

 

When Jesus dies on the cross in John’s Gospel his last words are ‘It is finished’. The verb ‘telein’ means to bring to completion. What do you think Jesus was saying was completed in his death… What did he think he was achieving with his death.

 

I think the answer to that question is very clear at the end of todays text. Jesus says:

 

“Now is the judgment of this world,

now the ruler of this world will be driven out.

And I when I am lifted up will draw all people to myself.”

 

Now is the judgment of this world! Last week we read in John 3 a definition of judgment (anyone remember?) “This is the judgment, that the light has come into the world”. Remember Jesus did not come to condemn the world… (according to John 3). The judgment is not active destruction… but insofar as he is rejected he becomes the light that exposes the world for what it is. As he takes on himself the world’s judgment (the judge of the world takes on the world’s judgment) and is lifted up on a cross he reveals the dominion of death for what it is. Declared innocent by his Father at his resurrection, he exposes the lie that rules the world and so proceeds to drive out the ‘ruler of the world’.

 

“The cat (you might say) is out of the bag”. On Thursday morning here at the church we were welcomed by a sheep which had escaped from from its yard somewhere up the road in our suburb (those who read this sermon on my blog will know that NZ is largely inhabited by sheep with a few humans in between, so they will not be too surprised ;-)). The problem for us was, how to get the sheep back to its yard, wherever that was.

 

Once the cat is out of the bag its almost impossible to get it back into the bag. To change the metaphor slightly, once you’ve seen the planet earth from outer space its impossible to imagine a flat earth.

 

What you see, when you see God raised up on a cross… is a world arrayed around, a world controlled by powers of violence and self-deception. You see a world that organises its peace around its scapegoats. The forces that rule this world… the prince of this world, to use the old language … is exposed as an exercise in justified violence, often mysterious and religiously justified violence, it is a world in which, according to Caiaphas, ‘it is necessary for one man to die for the people’. In the ancient world, they called it a sacrifice to the gods. We just know it as a process of finding someone to blame.

 

And most powerfully of all when we see God raised up on a cross, we don’t see a one-finger-salute to the self-deceiving powers of this world… it’s not a gesture of resentment that we see… its a gesture of forgiveness.

 

Jesus now makes it clear that the judgment point for the world – a man lifted up and hanging on a cross – will also become the attraction centre of a new world.

 

Historically we can never be certain that a saying like this goes back to the historical Jesus or not. But even if it really comes from John’s theological reflections up to about 90ad, it is incredible foresight! After over 2000 years of world history this saying has been so profoundly vindicated by the sweeping effect of this event on the history of the world. The voice of the world’s victims has been heard… the divine and moral authority of the world’s victims has subverted the consciousness of the world in so many ways – the God who sides with them has let the cat out of the bag. It’s not as if the power that rules the world has been annihilated and no longer functions, but the cat is out of the bag.

 

And by ‘cat’ here I mean Holy Spirit… Paraclete (in greek) which means counsellor or defense lawyer…

 

When the ruler of the world is judged, when the truth about the world is exposed on the cross. Jesus promises a defence lawyer who will ensure that what is accomplished in cross and resurrection is slowly but surely accomplished in the community of those drawn to the crucified God.

 

Remember John 16

 

“Unless I go (says Jesus)

the Advocate (defence lawyer) will not come to you

but if I do go

I will send him to you

And when he comes

he will show the world how wrong it was

about sin,

about who was in the right

and about judgment”

 

The cat is out of the bag… even if each day, we still find ways of averting our eyes from our victims… Perhaps like the Greeks who wanted “to see Jesus” we too fail to see Jesus in the face of the poor and of our society’s victims… all that may be true but there is still good news. The cat is out of the bag… a covenant is being written on our hearts, the hearts of humanity are being re-programmed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Love that Saves   (sermon)        

March 14, 2015

 John 3:14-21                        Ephesians 2:1-10Cardy Billboard

Elena has become a Christian today…

 

A week ago I talked to the youth group about baptism as the point of entry into a new life as a point of death to a past life and a new beginning as a follower of Jesus. My question to them was ‘Why would anyone choose this?’

 

Why would anyone love God, so much that they would treat their former life as dead and embark on a new life? (I’ve already half answered my own question – they must really love God… not just believe in God’s existence).

 

Today Elena didn’t make a choice to embark on the Christian life, her parents have simply included her in it. Rather than give her the choice they are giving her the default settings. They are raising her to love God.

 

But there is a deeper question… Why love God? It’s not obvious. God is very clever creating and holding the universe in existence and, if you believe this, God is much to be admired… but loved?

 

This is the secret power of John’s gospel… in particular John 3:16

 

God loves the world … not just individuals but ‘the world’… the creation (to be sure)… but also the problematic human world with all its violence and greed. Unbelievably, God loves it.

 

God loves the world-gone-amok so much that he ‘gave his only Son’… (‘begotten’) life from God’s own life … that’s what Jesus is for us ‘life from God’s own life’.

 

God loves the “perishing” world so much. So much that God was prepared to do whatever it took that there might be new life (eternal life, life of the age to come) as opposed to perishing of life.

 

The point of this act of love is to salvage the life of the world from its perishing and to bring new life to birth in the world (that the world might be saved through him). God carried the weight, carried the cost of that work… because God is love through and through.

So says John 3:16

 

This week Glynn Cardy, a Presbyterian minister in Auckland, in order to provoke some discussion at Easter time, put the sign on his Church billboard. “Jesus did NOT die for our sins”.

Sure enough it didn’t take long for his opponents to be outraged and paint over the ‘did NOT’ bit. Glyn was prepared for opposition. His response to the question as to why Jesus died is ‘he died for his own sin’. And what was that? Sedition! As Cardy put it. He was guilty as charged. Undermining the empire. And Cardy is right. I have said as much many times in sermons. But is that the whole story? It is fine to point out one of the causes of Jesus death, a very important cause of Jesus death… but does that mean you have ruled out the impact of Jesus death on ‘our sin’. In explaining it that way, (that Jesus died because he was seditious) does that mean you have explained the whole event? Does it mean that you have explained why we are sitting here two thousand or so years later worshipping the man? Does that explain why people regularly get baptised – die to an old life and commit themselves to a new life following this man? Is Jesus death nothing more than the death of an inspired rebel. That’s the problem with the ‘did NOT’ on Glynn Cardy’s noticeboard.

 

The first preaching of the church took for granted that he died at our hands and at the hands of empire (read Acts) ‘this Jesus whom you crucified’… but what was at least as important for them was that God was involved. Whatever reasons the empire might have had for killing this dangerous man from Nazareth, and they certain had reason, God also had reasons for taking the path towards death. God raised Jesus. God affirmed the man who, although crucified by us, nevertheless chose to face this death and gave himself to it in hope for us.

 

Today we are not reading Glyn Cardy’s noticeboard, we are reading John’s gospel. And for John’s gospel Jesus is not just a political rebel – he comes from the heart of God (Son of God) and the Empire is not just an empire – it comes from the heart of a perishing humanity and epitomises the human problem, our sin. What we see in John’s gospel is more than an encounter between a dreamer and an empire. We have an encounter between the love of God and the sin of the world.

 

And with the resurrection of Jesus comes the victory of God over all that holds humanity in bondage. There is much more at stake with the death of Jesus than the fact that empire is wrong. What is finally at stake is that God is love – love in action.

 

And that action, according to John’s gospel, addresses the problem of sin.

God, says John’s gospel, did not do this to ‘condemn the world’…. But God did do it to ‘judge’ the world. And what is this judgment?

vs 20 “And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world.”

The judgment that God brings is compared to light… moral light, divine light. God judges us by shedding divine light on human action and the human condition. And light judges us because we want to protect ourselves from light… John says people love darkness rather than light

 

To put it another way… we don’t want to admit our neediness. We don’t want to know. And God loves us enough to confront us anyway.

 

Before I finish I want to mention a couple of things about this sin that Jesus’ death addresses. The first is the phrase in the letter to the Ephesians – today’s other text. The writer sees their life prior to conversion as being ‘children of wrath’. It’s a kind of parallel to the phrase ‘Son of God’. One gets his life from the life of God (begotten there, so to speak) and the other gets its life from the cycles of violence that form us as human being – out of the problem of sin.

To put it in the words of W H Auden

            I and the public know

            what all school children learn

            those to whom evil is done

            do evil in return

             

The other thing that struck me this week was Peter Matheson’s Opinion piece in Wednesday’s ODT

“The Cold War, with its threat of nuclear catastrophe, has been replaced by simmering fires of discontent right across the globe.

These factories of hate are not going to go away.”

 

“What realistic alternatives to the present unjust world order could we be offering them?”

 

To which I would only respond… it depends on whether you think communities formed by the love of God are in fact ‘realistic alternatives’. The response to factories of hate has got to be factories of love. God loves the world enough not just to send the Son, not just to raise the Son for us again, but also enough to raise up communities of new life in the world. This is the Christian gospel.

 

 

Stop Making my Father’s House a Marketplace: the gospel in a neo-liberal culture

March 10, 2015

(homiletical input for Cafe Church last Sunday)

John 2:13-22 “Stop making my Father’s house a market place”

 

This phrase stands out for me…

 

Today’s service is going to be a reflection together on this thing Jesus called the

‘marketplace’… What is that?

 

On the other hand we have what Jesus called ‘my Father’s house’ – the temple. But in the way he describes it you hear that word ABBA (Father) and Jesus conception of God’s grace.

 

So on the one hand you have this ‘marketplace’ and on the other hand this oikos (Greek for house) of God’s grace… Interesting from the Greek word for house (oikos) we get words like: economy, ecumenical (church), and ecology…. I wonder if all of these might in some sense be houses of God’s grace. But don’t let’s get ahead of ourselves.

“Don’t make this oikos of God into a Marketplace”

 

Q What do you think of when I say the word ‘market place’?

 

Farmer’s Market … Supermarket … Stock Market … different connotations.

 

What kind of idea of market place might Jesus have in mind when he is concerned that the temple is becoming a ‘market place’?

What is a marketplace?

Here’s my attempt at an informal definition

 A place where we go to get something we want and we pay for it and we leave. No one is really personally involved (or at least they don’t have to be). No one really loses anything, or gives anything away. It is all comfortable exchanges between people who keep their distance from each other and get out of it what they want.

Are markets a bad thing? Should we never trade?

 

Perhaps Jesus is saying that we should divide our life into two parts – the market part and the temple part…the money part and the church part. Is that what he has been saying?

 

I don’t think so. To understand this we need to see Jesus attitude to the temple in the rest of his life. For Jews the Temple is the centre of their religion… it is the place where the divine and the human intersect – the sacred meeting place.

 

Jesus has been a offering a radical alternative to the temple for some time. He has been going around the streets of Israel dramatically declaring forgiveness (by-passing the role of the temple). As Tom Wright suggests it’s like someone going round Dunedin streets issuing passports and drivers licences on their own authority… It helps you understand why the man got himself crucified.

 

Jesus has been taking God out of the temple and into everyday life (not separating the market from the temple) … He has been letting God change the marketplace of everyday life rather than the Market determine God.

 

Jesus sees the opposite happening in the temple of his day … Not just that God is being kept in the temple (in a separate part of life) … but that in the temple God is becoming a commodity.

 

You can’t sell God! You can’t market God! Is Jesus message.

 

So the Jews are outraged… How dare you challenge the temple practices! What sign do you have to prove your authority?

 

The sign that authorises his critique of the temple is his crucifixion and resurrection. The sign that verifies his right to critique the temple assumes that his own life/body in its crucifixion and resurrection is a new ‘temple’ (the place of the intersection of divine and human).

 

“Destroy this temple/body and I will raise it again in three days”

 

Jesus suggests that his body is the true temple! (place of divine/human intersection) and his life is the true life (for us)!

 

His body which will be killed…. is the true temple.

 

In his body… Jesus doesn’t sell God… he gives God away… Or better God gives           God away – in the middle of everyday life, politics, history, economics

 

In other words… through his body… through his death and resurrection God intersects with our every day lives and effects the marketplace exchanges of life… our economy… our ecumenism… our ecology.

 

Q: Any comments/responses?

 

Jesus lives out the life of Abba… Jesus brings the ‘house of Grace’ into our everyday lives… and that’s where we come slap bang up against this thing he calls the marketplace

 

Q: Where in your life do you find yourself influenced by ‘market’ thinking?

see above definition of market [on screen]

 

Q: How does it challenge your spirituality and your sense of God’s grace?

 

Examples for discussion follow-up

· Do I think if I live a good life God will reward that?

· Neo-liberal economics – market must control all things

· ‘I didn’t get much out of it’ after a service

(what do you expect, some kind of religious supermarket)

· We can’t deal with global warming cause it will challenge our lifestyle too much it will ruin our economy – our growth – the market controls the natural world.

· Perhaps we should have more feel-good sermons and bouncier music to attract more people to church, to market ourselves or God better

· Is the church a business?

 

If Jesus is to be believed, none of our life can be lived as if it were an isolated exchange between individuals for the sake of our self-interest – such a life is not being lived ‘in the Father’s house’.

 

By the death and resurrection of Jesus the Father’s house has ‘hit the street’.

 

Christian Pacificism for Lent

February 27, 2015

Sermon: The Suffering Messiah (Mark 8:27-38)coptic Christians beheaded

Let’s hold in our minds for a few minutes the image in our newspapers and the internet over the last fortnight of those 21 Coptic Christians about to be beheaded on the beach. I want us to bring that frightening image today into conversation with todays gospel text:

It begins with Jesus questioning his followers ‘who do people say that I am?’ To which they reply ‘John the Baptizer’… ‘Elijah’ and ‘One of the prophets’. Then Jesus says ‘Who do you say that I am?’ And Peter replies, ‘You are the Messiah! (the coming King, the one who defeats the forces of evil in the world and brings in God’s reign of peace)’. That’s what Messiah meant.

And Jesus immediately and sternly tells them to be silent and not to tell anyone about him.

Interesting response! Why do you think Jesus is not interested in their publicity? Surely he would want people to know that he was the Messiah!

Perhaps the very next verse makes it clear. Verse 31:

“Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering… and be killed”.

He is a messiah who brings God’s reign, not through military victory but through suffering.
I am struck by the contrast between their Messianic hope… and Jesus own understanding of his calling and his future?

“He said all this quite openly.”
On the one hand he hushes up all talk of being Messiah. On the other hand he ‘quite openly’ talks of the suffering he is about to face.

And then he rebukes Peter in the strongest possible language:

“Get behind me Satan! For your mind is not on divine things but on human things”

Your messianic ideas are human rather divine.

Peter, who advocates for a violent divine response, a conquest; Peter is here the tempter (Satan). This kind of a Messiah… who takes on evil in the usual human way, with violence (fighting evil with evil) represents Jesus greatest temptation.

Verse 34

‘Then he called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”’

The ISIS publicity photograph with the men in orange about to be executed and the men behind with their faces hidden by black balaclavas had a subtitle (do you remember what it was?) ‘The People of the Cross’.

No doubt those who posted that picture on the internet, the PR branch of ISIS, think of the sign of the cross in terms of the crusaders with their swords or the Americans with their bombs

It’s a profound irony, presumably lost on the PR men, that the ‘people of the cross’ in that picture are the ones who look, not like crusaders or American soldiers, or New Zealand soldiers, but like Jesus… like Jesus who won his victory over evil, precisely by going to his public execution… like the guys in orange overalls… for them that was the victory

Can you see Jesus in that picture? Can you see God in that picture? I’m told that in the video of the execution, the Coptic Christians can be seen mouthing the words ‘Jesus Messiah’ and the words ‘Jesus is Lord’ – the words that the Christians challenged the Romans with in the first and second centuries.

Taking up the cross for them is not taking up arms (like the crusaders, or the Romans who carries banners with crosses on them). Taking up the cross is a moment in which they come face to face with the force of evil in the world and, in the name and way of Jesus, confront that evil with their suffering and even their death.

Jesus is at his clearest here.

“For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life.”

”…to gain the whole world” … Even if the whole world is at stake… if the life of the kingdom is lost in the process, then the process is not Jesus’ process and those who undertake it are not followers of Jesus.

He couldn’t be clearer really. The life of the reign of God, has one point of access… and it’s not a violent revolution or a military conquest… it’s suffering, and possibly martyrdom.

Not because Jesus loves suffering. Not because Christianity somehow romanticises suffering. Simply because if you are to face evil without merely escalating and perpetuating the evil, you will have to be prepared to suffer and possibly die.

Lent is the time of year when we contemplate Jesus, the man who gave his life for others and ultimately for us. Why? Most deeply because his life was not his own to possess. As he received it constantly from his Father he gave it away to others.

‘Then he began to tell them that the Son of Man (true human) must undergo great suffering’

We are not just talking about any kind of suffering. The suffering Jesus is talking about is the price of social non-conformity – suffering at human hands, suffering in opposition to the evil powers in the world. So in confronting this world he gives his life into the hands of his Abba, into the silence … that’s the shocking thing, Abba is silent… but in trust and hope for Abba’s resurrection. In trust that love will be victorious in its own way.

In conclusion let us return to the political realities of our picture… And in this context I want to say just one thing. For us this morning in worship the question of what we as New Zealanders ought to do is not the first question. We are not first of all New Zealanders. At our baptism we are marked first of all as Christians. We are first of all followers of Jesus. Our duty is not first of all to John Key or any government, it is to Jesus Christ in whom God gives us our life and our identity.

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