Sunday, April 20, 2014

Encountering the Risen Jesus: Mary, Thomas and Peter (John 20:11-29, 21:15-19)... Sitting Under The Fig Tree: Encounters with Jesus in John's Gospel and Now (Part 11).

“On the first day… in the garden” is how John starts his narrative of the resurrection (I preached on it last year).  He had started his Gospel ‘In the beginnings’ painting us a wonderful sweep from before time and Creation, and onto the incarnation, the word that spoke and it all came into being, the word becoming flesh and pitching his tent in our neighbourhood.  In Jesus we see the truth and grace of God revealed. Now we have a new start and the dawn of a new creation. “on the first day… in the garden”

And maybe you expect John who had started his gospel with that grand sweep of cosmic proportions to start his narrative of the new creation, in the same way, but he doesn’t he starts with simple stories of people’s encounters with the risen Jesus… By telling us how that new life, that resurrection hope began to shine its new reality into one life at a time, it helps us to see how that resurrection reality can shine into our lives as well this Easter Sunday.

We’ve been working our way through encounters with Jesus in John’s Gospel and now… We’ve followed him from sitting under the fig tree,  to being nailed to the cross… and today we find ourselves encountering Jesus risen from the tomb, in the garden with Mary, in the locked room with the disciples and in particular Thomas, and on the beach, by a fire with Peter … almost a full circle as we come back to where we started and find Jesus asking Peter to “follow me”.

Mary Magdalene, Thomas and Peter act as witnesses. They are witnesses to the reality of the resurrection; they meet Jesus raised from the dead. They also act as witnesses to what that resurrection reality means for us, how it can change our lives… from grief to good news… cynicism to certainty and forsaking to forgiveness. They invite us to witness what a life transformed by the risen Jesus can and what it means to be a witness to the resurrection.

Mary Magdalene, is mentioned in all four gospels as being at the cross, and a witness to the resurrection. Outside of that it is left to Luke to tell us about her, in Luke 8:2 he mentions Mary Magdalene as one of the women who Jesus had healed and who in response travelled with Jesus and provided financial support. In Mary’s case Luke tells us she was delivered of seven demons. She would have been a woman on the edge of her society, Outcast and stigmatised as having spiritual problems before she met Jesus, but in Jesus she found someone who had turned her life around.   

She had been at the cross, she had watched Jesus rejection and death, you can imagine all her hopes and dreams dying on that cross as surely as if they had been nailed up there as well. She is full of grief, and now as she had come to do one last act of respect to her Lord and master, her beloved Jesus, she finds that the stone has been rolled away and the tomb is empty. She does not see it as hope… no…What cruel sick trick is this… what last desperate act of hatred… there was no longer anywhere to focus that grief and desire to remember. Even the angels John tells us who were there are unable to console her.

A figure comes and stands behind her, she does not recognise him, she thinks it’s the gardener maybe he can tell her where they have taken the body… She is so caught up in her grief until he says her name “Mary”.She recognises at last through the tear filled eyes, the voice that spoke healing and wholeness into her life, who had been willing to have women as part of his followers and had taught them, a voice she could not forget saying “Mary”.   

Mary’s grief is turned to Joyous Good News. Jesus is ascending to the father, the grave has lost, death where is you sting. She is told to go and to tell the disciples and so her song of sorrow is turned to one of Good News “I have seen the Lord!”.

Despite what Dan Brown might have you believe…Mary seems to disappear out of the scriptural story at this time… My reflection on what she has to say to us today really comes in what sort of week it’s been for me. You see we too are called to witness to knowing the risen Jesus, and even in the face of grief to witness to that new life and new creation. I was given the privilege this week of doing a eulogy for my Father in Law Ray Middendorf, It meant that I sat down with Shona and some of his brothers and heard the precious family stories. But also as Ray was a man of faith I had the great privilege in the midst of that sorrow and grief in celebrating his faith and proclaiming Good News as well. That you and I have hope in a Risen saviour that goes beyond grief and death… I didn’t want to use my own words I borrowed them from a very trusted source… Desmond Tutu… who more than anybody recently has articulated that hope… when he finished his farewell for Nelson Mandela with “rest in peace and rise in glory”…

Thomas, also known as Didymus, which means twin, is one of the twelve. We meet him at various times in the gospel, you may remember when Jesus was going to Bethany and the disciples were trying to convince him that it would be suicide to do so, Thomas said “ hey we might as well go along and die with him”. But Thomas seems to be very absent at the cross and the day of the resurrection. In fact when Thomas turns up, he is not prepared to believe what he has been told. Thomas seems to fit into our twenty first century materialistic world, I want to see for myself, touch and hear for myself before I will believe. So when Jesus turns up in the locked room, Thomas as a witness becomes quite important.  We don’t know how Jesus appeared in that locked room, we do know that Jesus like with Mary is concerned and cares for Thomas. He invites Thomas to do exactly the things that he had said he needed to do to believe.  We don’t know if Thomas does these things or not, all we know is that Thomas stops doubting and believes. He turns from his cynicism to certainty… and he is the first to actually understand what this means. He responds in worship” My Lord and My God”.

You see for Thomas to believe in the resurrection is to believe in the divine nature of Jesus. If you believe in the resurrection it points to vindicating and proving all that Jesus had claimed about himself.  Thomas knew that… it was not a step he would take lightly.

Again Thomas steps out of the scriptural story, except when he is mentioned as part of the twelve and the apostles. Part of that is that Luke is interested in telling us how the Gospel spread to the centre of the Roman Empire, and we have Paul who was a prolific letter writer. Thomas however went east, to Syria where he is acknowledged as founding the church there… WE can tend to forget that in what are mainly Muslim countries these days that the gospel and church have been there from almost day one. I am always reminded of this in a story told by shane Claiborne, talking with the bishop of Baghdad during the US bombings, and in response to Claiborne’s expression of amazement that there are so many Christians in Iraq,  the bishop told him the west did not invent the gospel, it just domesticated it”…  In fact even in India the church looks back to Thomas going and telling and establishing faith communities.  (it was grat to have someone in Church from Madras India today who after the service told me of growing up and worshipping at St Thomas’ church in that city, traditionally said to have been built on the site of Thomas’ death in that city).

Jesus gentle rebuke of Thomas is a blessing on you and I who have believed withoutseeing. Who have come to know the risen Christ through the witness of people like Thomas and those who have followed him down through the millennium, have shared their hope and certain knowledge of Jesus death and resurrection.  It calls us to stand with Thomas as a witness, maybe like him away from the limelight, without the write ups, not at the centre of the dominant society but as it says in the great commission as we go… where ever we go… everywhere we go.

Simon Peter, we’ve known from those first encounters that Jesus has in this gospel.  His brother had come to find him and told him “I Think we’ve found the one”. He’d been there and seen and slowly begun to understand, he’d been given the name Peter… which means Rock… he’d assumed the position of leader and spokesman for the group. When many stopped following Jesus he had said “where else can we go, you have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” he’d even been ready for an armed uprising drawing his sword when Jesus had been arrested, but he was not ready for the cross. John tells us of Peter denying knowing Jesus three times; he tells us that while John was at the cross Peter was nowhere to be seen. He was at the tomb that first day and with the twelve. But it seems he had no understanding of what this meant for him, maybe he was still so aware of having forsaken Jesus, he decided to go back to what he knew. Let’s go fishing he says. It’s in that that he encounters Jesus again. In the midst of this we have a wonderful narrative of Peter being reconciled with Jesus, being forgiven, restored and freshly commissioned. Peter, do you love me?, Peter do you love me?... Peter do you love me? Then feed my sheep.  Come and follow me…

When Jesus had first meet the disciples he had spoken to them of the power to forgive sins and here that power is demonstrated and wonderful shared with Simon Peter. Sin and death have lost their power and we are set free. We are invited out of the familiar to serve Jesus a fresh and anew. Of course we know a lot about Peter’s story from here, we know he was an apostle we know he made mistakes and didn’t get it right, Paul had to rebuke him about showing favouritism to his own people. But we see that here is someone who experienced the new life, freedom and forgiveness from Christ crucified and resurrected.
John does not give us an account of Jesus ascension, but leaves us with his own account as a witness, in the hope that we will believe. There is the sense that the story of people encountering the risen saviour is to continue and it still continues, he still meets with us today, not in physical body, but by the spirit. Today does Christ want to meet with you. How today does the risen Jesus want to bring that new and abundant life to you? Like with Mary, Thomas and peter he cares for each one of us …How does he want to bring joyous good news into grief and sorrow for you?  Certainty and belief in doubt?... Forgiveness and reconciliation in the face of our failings and faults?   In what ways are you being called to witness to an empty tomb, fresh hope and the Risen Christ?  He is here today may you encounter the risen Christ.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

In the Swirl of the Passover Crowd: A Sea of Responses (John 12:12-36)... Sitting Under the Fig Tree: Encounters With Jesus in John's Gospel And Now (part 10)

John 12:12-36

Leading into Palm Sunday this year perhaps in New Zealand we’ve caught a glimpse of what can happen when a future monarch comes to visit. Crowds gather excitedly, people are expectant of even a glimpse, a wave, a walk by and chat, a photo op, although I wonder if you’d need to be a bit careful these days reaching into your coat pocket to pull out the ol’ cell phone for a quick selfie with the royals. Maybe that was what Jesus entry into Jerusalem was like, except with palm branches not Union Jack flags and cell phones.

We are rapidly working our way to Easter as we look at encounters with Jesus in John’s gospel and now. Today we are looking at Jesus triumphant entry into Jerusalem.  As you read John’s account you get the idea of the swirl and movement of the crowd as Jesus comes into the city, we catch a glimpse of how the powers to be see things, and Jesus public ministry comes to an end. Not with the acclimation of the crowd and growing worldwide acclaim  but with Jesus speaking openly of his coming death and one last plea to his own to believe and find light and life in him. Today I want to invite you to step into the swirl of the Passover crowd and encounter Jesus with me, as he comes into the city and speaks, to find yourself amidst the sea of people and responses to Jesus.

Jesus comes up to Jerusalem from Bethany, he’d stopped there and a feast had been thrown in his honour. Many people had come because they heard of the great miracle of Lazarus being raised from the dead. Now Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, at a time of heightened tension and nationalistic expectations, Passover where the Jews remembered their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. John tells us a crowd came out to meet him. Pilgrims from all over the country had come to Jerusalem for the festival, maybe many in this crowd were from Galilee and last time Jesus had been with them they had wanted to make him their king and he had slipped away to pray. Now here he was coming to Jerusalem. Could this be the time to throw off Roman oppression? 

There is excitement and expectation, while this event is mentioned in all four gospels. John is the only one who tells us what sort of branches the crowd used Leon Morris says “both the words they spoke and their actions express their praise.” Palm branches were an emblem of victory, and John’s mention here points to the triumph of Christ. The words are from the Old Testament we used them as a call to worship this morning. Hosanna means “save us” and echoes Israel’s hope that God would send a messiah to save them, the blessed coming one’. They were the usual words sung by pilgrims coming to Jerusalem.. But John records that the people add “Blessed is the King of Israel”  this was not part of the psalm but summed up the hope of the crowd.

John tells us that Jesus responds to these calls by finding a young colt to ride on. In the synoptic gospels it goes into great detail as to how Jesus found the colt that it was all worked out in advance. But here in the swirl and whirl of this spontaneous but predestined event, Jesus symbolically shows them what sort of King he is and what sort of Kingdom he has come to establish. This is not the triumphant warrior king, riding on a white charger, or conqueror marching at the head of an army, rather it was a humble person , here RVG Tasker says is the prince of peace. Again in this action Jesus fulfils scripture and John quotes it for us from Zechariah 9:9…

The disciples didn’t understand what was going on,   John tells us it was only after Jesus had been glorified that they realised that these thing had been written about him. In his teaching at the last supper, Jesus talks of sending the spirit, the one like him, who would come alongside and lead them into all truth and here we see that in action. It only from the other side of the cross, only from the other side of the empty tomb, with the spirit at work in us that Jesus is fully revealed. The crowd can have an idea of who Jesus is and his mission and it is often that that understanding of Jesus fits into what we want, our hopes and expectations… But it is only as we allow the spirit to minister to us that the reality of Christ crucified is revealed, and that reality stands starkly against the mass moves and expectations of even his followers.

Now the home town crowd hears about Jesus, not just the country bumkins, who could be excused for thinking Jesus was someone special. The people who had been with him when he called Lazarus from the grave, the Jews who had travelled down for Jerusalem, start telling people about what they know, what they saw and more people come out to meet Jesus.  The people that the religious leaders might have thought would have been a bit more sceptical and circumspect, instead of flocking to see Jesus.  John’s transports us into the back rooms, the shadows and the Pharisees who had plotted against Jesus they see this as a sign that the whole world has gone after Jesus.

And we are no longer caught up in the crowd, but the words the Pharisees spoke seem to come true as we find a group Greeks who were at the festival come and see Jesus. The Greeks were probably what was known as ‘god fearers, people who were drawn to Judaism because of its Lofty morality and monotheism, but who did not want to go the whole hog of becoming proselytes and be circumcised.    They talk to Philip, and Philip tells Andrew, who in turn tells Jesus. And maybe they think this is a sign that Jesus is about to go global, that the big time beckons, if I maybe a little cheeky here they think it’s like he’s lorde, that is L ORDE. Our world beating teenage pop sensation… and Jesus does take it as a sign, but a very different sign.

Jesus sees this as a sign that his time has come. His mission is about to be fulfilled. In John 3:16 John had told us that Jesus had come as the saviour of the world, now he sees that about to be fulfilled, the Greeks represent that wider context for him. Jesus speaks to Philip and Andrew and the crowd around him. He tells them that just like with a seed falling to the ground and dying to produce much fruit that he too must die. This is not to be a popularist uprising, but as he will say later a sacrificial uplifting.

That to follow Jesus calls us to be willing also to give up our lives so that we might find eternal life. It would be great if the way of Jesus was simply all triumphant entry, but it is a call to sacrifice and costly love. Not that the Christian life is like sucking lemons, no it is full of joy and wonder and finding eternal life… but couched in different terms than our society sees them… it comes from being with Jesus  and in finding our honor and purpose and worth being meet by God, as we follow Jesus example. AS he will tell his disciples the night he was betrayed, after he has washed their feet and invited them to do likewise, and love one another as he had loved them,  that  he will give them peace and joy that are beyond the powers of this world to take away. But the road there leads through the cross.

John does not provide us with a narrative of Jesus prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, but amidst the hustle and bustle of the festive crowd we have an account of Jesus wrestling with what is before him. “His hour has come” he is aware what that will mean.  Being human it tells us that Jesus heart was troubled, But his faith and his trust in God do not weaver.  Our emotional response to an adverse situation, our experience of the pain of loss, facing suffering does not equate with a lack of trust in God. Jesus here wrestles with those very human feelings but expresses his knowledge and trust  that God will be glorified in this hour.

Amidst the business of this day and this place, we hear an audible voice from heaven; an affirmation that God will indeed glorify his name and will glorify his Son. That what is about to happen is God’s will and God’s way and God’s purpose and God will  be victorious despite it looking as if the powers of this word have won.  It’s interesting that John takes the time to work through how people respond to what happens here… We get Jesus understanding that God has spoken, not to gee Jesus up so he’ll go through with it, but as a way of showing those around that Jesus has been sent from God. Some simply write it off as very opportune thunder, yet in Psalm 29 we have the fact that God’s speaks in the thunder and the storm. Some thought an Angel had spoken. Ina very pragmatic way it shows how our the ears of the crowd and our ears can be closed to hearing what God has to say.

Jesus then translates what this voice means to the crowd. He speaks of Judgement that God has chosen to judge the world. And it’s not the picture that we often carry round in our mind as to what the judgement of God might mean. It’s not the negative I’m going to make you pay for all you’ve done wrong, you are never good enough for me kind of stories that we tend to carry round in our heads and our hearts.  Rather it is a judgement of liberation and victory that fits very nicely into the triumphant entry of the king into Jerusalem. The prince of this world, Satan, will be cast out.  Death and sin will be defeated; darkness will be driven out by the light. There is the hope of new life and living in the light. Jesus did not come to condemn but to all who believe in him he came that they may have life.

Now we do need to unpack this a bit, firstly, the crowd and Jesus understood the idea of being lifted up to mean death and death on a cross. This is an affirmation that this liberation this freedom this life, comes because of the costly sacrifice of Jesus. But also it needs to be seen in the context of the Greek’s coming to see Jesus. They kind of got lost in the swirl of this narrative, but remember they are the trigger for Jesus words here. Some have seen this as a sort of universalism, that everyone will find life in Christ. But it speaks more of a universal mission, that Jesus salvation and the life that he gives will be open to all peoples… “Jesus will draw all peoples”…  Not just the chosen people, but Jew and gentile, men and women, free and slave, rich and poor.

Now the crowd raise their voice again, they had been silent since the beginning of this narrative. They had been simply observing and listening. They respond with misunderstanding and disarray. If there was an expectation of a messiah and a king, Jesus had now managed to destroy that, he’d put the kibosh on it, dampened it all down, with his talk of his death. Yes they are looking for a messiah, their worldview is crafted and built on an understanding of scripture and now Jesus does not fit that. He had come to his own and now they were rejecting him.  And Jesus finishes his ministry with one last plea that these people may come to the light. That they may believe in him. And sadly the narrative finishes with Jesus leaving and hiding himself from them.  We’ll it finishes beyond where we read today with the voice of Isiah telling us that this was according to scripture and Jesus crying out pleading and praying that people may come to know him and have life.


Where do you stand today in the swirl and whirl of this triumphant entry? There is the crowd around Jesus with their expectation and hopes… Jesus invites them to go beyond those to follow him even to the cross. What does that look like for you?


Are there people who have come to you and are asking to see Jesus? Maybe they don’t fit the bill, they are outside what you’d normally expect. Do you need to find an Andrew to help them to see Jesus?


Are our ears and eyes open this Easter, to Jesus lifted up? It’s an ugly sight but beyond it there is hope for the people round us in darkness. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Reflection On A Water Feature

It would have been easy to write it off as a burst pipe or an overflowing storm water drain, at least that was on my mind the first few time I noticed the water feature in the square in the Ellerslie shopping centre.  I guess I should apologise to the person who created it (and I looked around the square for a plaque to see who had... didn't find one).

Now, however, I find my self reflecting on this sculpture (or water feature) each time I drive through Ellerslie... which I do about two times everyday. It's not a fountain that you'd want to admire because of its artistic beauty or historical significance... lets face it the little township of Ellerslie nestled in the suburban sprawl of Auckland city isn't Rome or London or New York, it's not even down town Auckland.

Two thoughts come to mind, well three actually because I've pointed out to my son who is studying to be an engineer and he wondered if the fountain wasn't recycling the water that it used as it simply drains off into the ground in a very functional little drain that is a square round the four spouts.

But anyway back to the reflections I had. Firstly I couldn't help but think of Jesus words at the festival in John 7 where he talks of believing him being the source of springs of life giving water.

‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’
Historically there are famous fountains connected to churches which are a way of signifying this reality. But the simplicity of this water feature was such that it invites you to consider water sources springing up in the midst of the tough, concrete urban environment. Even the very modernist functional and I think soulless modern architecture and design of the Ellerslie public square. Although as you'll probably have guessed the plumes of water actually provide that life and soul, hopefully I've captured something of that in the couple of photo's I've put with this post.
The second thought was a prayer actually about being church in (or at least just outside of) this place. St Peter's finds itself down a side street hidden from view by the growing number of multi story gated apartments. On our advertising fliers I have summed this up by saying "St Peter's is the church just round the corner... but not round the bend... and definitely at the heart of the community".  But my prayer is that while we may be like the water feature in Ellerslie glimpsed as people move past on their way somewhere else or going about the business of everyday life, that we may indeed be a place which brings this life giving water to those around us... That by the Spirit's presence in our midst (and John tells us this is what Jesus was refereeing to) that people may meet with Christ.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

In worship... or Whats in it for me: Mary and Judas encounter Jesus On the Road To The Cross (John 12:1-11)... Sitting Under The Fig Tree: Encounters with Jesus In John's Gospel And Now (part 9)

There is a narrative of Jesus being anointed by a woman in all four gospels. Leon Morris says that the relationship between them is rather complicated. John and Mark , and Matthew are similar in the words spoken and even the setting, although Mark and Matthew have this happening after the triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Luke is very different in timing and in the insistence that the woman was a sinner, and therefore in the teaching that goes along with it. John is the only one who puts a name to the woman; he identifies her with Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus and places this wonderful act of Worship and devotion into the context of a response to the raising of Lazarus. This may seem like a real sort of academic bible scholar not very exciting way of starting off this
morning.  But as we had this passage read out to us today and as I’ve been looking at it in preparation for this message I couldn’t help but find myself standing in Mark Matthew’s narrative, in fact I couldn’t help but think that we all today stand in this story, with people from everywhere down through the last two thousand years as Jesus says (click for quote) “Truly I tell you wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
And we are working our way towards Easter by working our way through peoples encounter with Jesus is John’s gospel and now. Today we look at two very different responses to Jesus one that is a memorable selfless act of devotion and the other a miserable self-centred act of denouncement: One responses with worship and the other with what’s in it for me. Both lead to Jesus death and both invite us to examine our hearts in relation to who Jesus is and what he has done for us.
Jesus comes to the village of Bethany six day before Passover. He is on his way up to Jerusalem so there is a sense here that he is on his way to die.  Mary’s act of devotion is a preparation for his burial, and the seeds of Judas’ betrayal are clearly seen here. This is on the road to the cross.
We know that Martha was her normal hostess with the mostest and served. Once again it fits in with what we know of her character that she would show her devotion to Jesus by doing the practical things for the feast. Maybe again it was social expected of her as the oldest in her family.  However there is a lot of scholarship round the idea of Martha waiting tables. Because waiting tables is the Greek word from which we get deacon, and the English word minister comes from the idea also of waiting tables.  Feminist theologians quite rightly, I think, point out that Martha is always the one going about this servant leadership role in the gospel narratives. AS we saw last week  she is someone who declares her faith in Jesus as the son of God and I don’t think it stretches things too far to see her running of the feast here as her act of leadership and devotion to Jesus. If we are talking of encountering Jesus in this passage in worship or in is it worth it…. She shows that serving is also part of our worship. She carries out this role selflessly in contrast with Judas’ who saw his role as the keeper of the purse as a chance for self-enrichment. This is always a challenge for people who serve and who express leadership… is it about worship and honouring Jesus or is it about status and self-actualisation or advancement.  Worship or what’s in it for me.
Mary anoints Jesus feet with a very expensive jar of perfume. With nard which is an extract from a plant called spikenard… it is still used in perfumery and is still very expensive. In Mark and Mathew’s account she anoints his head, and it serves as his being anointed king as well as preparation for burial. It’s an acknowledgement of Jesus. In this instance just maybe John sees her wiping the feet as the ointment comes all the way down. In Luke’s account he points to the fact that he had been mistreated by the host who had not bothered to wash Jesus feet, and that the woman had not stopped washing his feet with her tears.
It’s a costly act, we are told that the nard cost about the equivalence of a year’s wages. But it was also costly as Mary puts aside her status, and as Jesus will with his disciples takes on a servant role. Jewish women did not uncover their hair in public but here she had loosened it to wipe his feet.
My friend Malcolm Gordon mentions this passage when he talks about worship. He says Worship is a  conversation, in chapter 11 we see the awesome and beautiful thing that Jesus had done for Mary in raising Lazarus from the dead, now in response Mary does a beautiful thing for Jesus.  Christ initiates and moves towards us with grace and love and healing and wholeness and we move towards Christ in response. One of the words in the Old Testament for worship is to lean forward to Kiss, here that is demonstrated graphically by Mary.
But the conversation of worship does not end there. Worship is two words and means to give something or someone worth. Mary acknowledges Jesus worthiness of all praise  and Jesus in return gives Mary worth, he acknowledges the beauty of this expression and its significance in pointing to his death, he defends her actions, her devotion. In Luke there is the affirmation of great love being shown when much is forgiven, In Mark and Matthew he tell us that she will be remembered.  Worship is God’s reaching out and initiating relationship with us and our responding. That opens the door to more of God’s grace as this conversation does not stop here but continues and is linked to Jesus death and God’s  grace shown to us all.
On a real practical level Mary’s devotion is also wholehearted and involves all of her, body, mind and spirit. I wonder if in her heart and mind she has finally understood what Jesus going to Jerusalem will mean. She gets it and this is her response, she does not get to care for Jesus body when he dies that is left to Joseph of Arimathea and interestingly Nicodemus. It involves her emotions and her body. It’s funny but one of the nick names for us Presbyterian’s is God’s frozen chosen: Referring to the reformed understanding of predestination and also our embracing of a very formal and cerebral worship. Can I be cheeky and say it’s Ok to get excited about Jesus, the amazing truth that in him the word became flesh, the creator came and lived as one of his creation, that in the face of our brokenness and darkness that there is life, and freedom and forgiveness and hope and joy and peace, and fellowship and brothers and sister s to walk the road with us and eternal life and the spirit presence to led and guide us to face down the evil and sorrow of this world.  I know it’s easy to sing too many of those Jesus as girlfriend songs, homoerotic worship as some have called it, its easy to get caught up in what we like rather than focusing on the one who loves us. I have friends who are always worried that worship can get too emotional, I worry that we don’t get caught up enough in the wonder of who it is we are loved by and who we have the privilege to worship. Mary is our model for worship.
However… It is easy to find ourselves standing with Judas. On the surface Judas is right isn’t he. Imagine what the equivalent of one year’s wages could do to elevate the suffering of few of the people who we met by the pool at the sheep gate, or along the side of the road. Part of true worship and Jewish piety was a willingness to give to the poor.  It showed that your heart was attuned to the heart of God, the kingdom mentality that we are blessed to be a blessing to others.  And Jesus does not dismiss that, he does not fault Judas on his care and concern for the poor, rather he says that there is room for both. When Jesus was asked what is the greatest command he replied it was to love God with all your heart and soul and mind and to love your neighbour as yourself.  The two go together . It’s interesting that in Luke’s gospel the two stories that follow on from that are ‘ the parable of the good Samaritan, in response to the question who is my neighbour and then we have the story of Jesus at Martha and Mary’s house where Jesus   commends Mary for sitting at his feet. I wonder here if we don’t have what it means to worship and give worth to Jesus, to sit at his feet, as we find ourselves today, with Mary again, and the go and do likewise of the Good Samaritan.
But with Judas we are told that there is an ulterior motive to what he has to say. We are let into what is really going on in his mind and heart. He’s in it not for worship but for what’s in it for him? He’s been dipping his hand into the money bag, lining his own pockets. I wonder iof Judas does not also understand from what is going on where this will lead. He was happy to follow Jesus when he thought that it would result in Jesus being installed in the palace, you have to remember that the disciples in the other gospels had arguments over who would be the key leaders when Jesus came into his earthly kingdom. But now that it is leading to the cross it is a different matter. What’s in it for me, does not present such an attractive alternative.  When it was going to be victory and public recognition and glory, Ok… But Judas begins to see where It is going that it will lead to the feet of Jesus in humility, the feet of Jesus nailed to a cross, without the understanding that it will also lead to Jesus feet stepping from an empty tomb, then worship and following just don’t seem worth it, and Judas looks for another source of what’s in it for me.
Ok well how do we tie this all together in a way that will connect with us today?
Well Paul Meztger says this encounter with Jesus comes right in the midst of a conspiracy theory. At the end of Chapter 11 where the religious authorities plot to have Jesus killed and the end of this story where we hear they want to have Lazarus killed as well. In fact he says this narrative is part of that conspiracy as it directly tells us why and how Jesus dies. However, “The real conspiracy” he says “isn’t taking place on the pages or on the surface but in the hearts of respondents-including the readers, as we react to Mary’s act of supreme devotion to Jesus and Jesus himself.” And he brings it home in a very challenging way by continuing “We the readers tend to praise Mary for her extravagant demonstration of love for Jesus but we tend to behave like Judas, both in our carefully controlled piety and in our dismissal of tactile costly worship when we encounter it in whatever form.”  The narrative finishes with people in two camps; those who came to see Jesus and believe and those who continued to plot his down fall… It finishes with with worship or what’s in it for me?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier... A Review/Reflection... Of Sorts

I haven't done a film review recently... I don't know if I'm any good at them...and I know maybe I should have gone and seen Noah and maybe I could have contributed to the plethora of Christians commenting on it. Hey I could even post a photo on my facebook page pointing out what everybody knows... It's not a straight retelling of a biblical story. Lets face it we all should be aware of the great Hollywood Lie "based on a true story". One of the debates in a the bible and popular culture course I took was the dilemma of  how do you tell bible stories on film... and lets face it, it lends itself to people wanting to wrestle with the idea of ecological crisis... pollution, climate change and rising tides... Disney Pixar's Wall-e did it brilliantly with out the need to use big name stars or even much dialogue. 
Anyway call me a geek or a nerd or just a comic book universe junkie, but I went with my oldest daughter to an advance screening of Marvel's Captain America: the Winter Soldier. I had asked my kids not to get me stuff for my 51st Birthday this year rather focus on stuff we can do together... and my twenty year old daughter (fourth year engineering student) decided she liked going to the movies with her dad so she bought me a movie gift card. This is the second advance screening were been to.
Ok, This is according to Marvel Studies part of phase two of their universe. Phase one ended with all the origin stories being told of the characters that go to make up the avengers and the avengers movie itself. Phase two started with Iron Man 3... and apparently will conclude in the next Avengers movie.
Captain America has all the wonderful action and interestingly character development that go to make a great Marvel movie. In his now expected cameo appearance in the movie, creator Spike Lee (spoiler alert) says "I could get fired for this" and it came across to me as a meta-filmic moment as this movie really shakes up the Marvel universe. Things that had been seen as symbols of good and had captured our imaginations, because of their CGI wonder in the Avengers, now become symbols of evil and dread... I'm not going to spoil the movie for people by elaborating on this except to say that helocarriers will never be the same again.
Chris Even's does a great job in bringing Steve Rodgers to the screen. He manages to bring the right amount of physicality and also in his expressions manifest the earnestness and honesty needed for the role, and in actual fact a vulnerability and pathos which is needed for this man out of time.
in fact all the casting is well done. Scarlet Johansson  brings Natasha Romanov aka Black widow to life for the second time and manages to give someone who is a more complex and darker character the same level of humanness and integrity as Steve Rogers. Samuel L Jackson steals the show as Nick Fury... A part he was destined to play as he animated character was redrawn with him in mind. Jackson has all the best lines. Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson aka Falcon, manages to come across with the openness and friendliness (and courage) that would attract Steve Rogers as a friend. Robert Redford manages to present us with the all American administrator and (spoiler) in the plot twist an equally believable villain. Which actually leads well into the plot itself and expresses just how close the cause of liberty and freedom and shielding people from evil looks to control and the absence of freedom. The spectre of Nazi Germany and fascism rears its head, or many heads in this case.
The CGI is great. I loved Falcon's flying suit and Fury's car, particularly when Jackson rants at the Local Washington police " What are you staring at? Do you want to see my lease agreement?"
The storyline for the movie really is about Captain America's disillusionment with the world as it is portrayed to him by the high ups at SHEILD. It provides a commentary into the issue of surrendering liberty for security, and how far to the dark side (to quote another filmic universe) are you prepared to go.  As part of the reformed tradition it brings up that great concern about power and its abuse. For Captain he comes from a generation (often called as it is in the film "the best of us" used power in the pursuit of freedom, but the movie invites us to ask whether the same use of force and power can't be seem as trying to rule the world by fear.
In the end, without a spoiler, the film seems to provide an answer to that dilemma in the integrity of those who have power. yes there is the need for proper robust oversight, willing to hear dissenting voices but also for the integrity of those who are given power.
I have appreciated watching Captain America's portrayal of leadership in the thee Marvel Studio's blockbusters and again in the winter soldier, some of those qualities come out, loyalty yes, but to ideal and vision, not just pragmatism. Knowing those who he leads and caring for them. A willingness to make decisions which are not popular but which need to be made, showing grace, and being willing to put oneself on the line for what you believe. Maybe the line which comes though as a challenge for leadership and a warning is the line in the mouth of Redford's character... "to rebuild the world you need to tear the old one down."
Captain America is a good watch. If you are a marvel fan there was enough to spark your interest about what is to come... the mention of Stephen Strange in passing is a pointer to an upcoming movie and may give some indications as to people who will join the together for the next Avengers movie. I'll be interested to see how this movies release affects the Marvel TV series agents of SHEILD... after you see it thing may not sit well in that world anymore. I'm sure as I digest the movie a bit more, more will come to  mind. I wouldn't put on my top ten movie list, but a god watch and it will keep me coming back either at the cinema or online to see where the Marvel Universe is going.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Music driven by Complaints or mission in context... an interesting article and a continual challange.

 A facebook friend posted a link to an article by Ed Stetzer on worship music. I appreciate Ed Stetzer's insights and have valued some of his books in the past... mainly 'Comeback Churches 2007 (written with Mike Dodson ) and Planting New Churches in a Postmodern Age' 2003. Both of which I have read when I have found myself ministering in a church planting situation and in working in a comeback church.
The article referred to the concept of multiple services based on different worshipping styles. All my church life I have been involved in music (not bad for a non musician really) and trying to connect worship with emerging generations of New Zealanders. Which means everything from the new wave of seniors through to postmodern youth of various eras and cultural tribes.  I agree with Stetzers
's critique of church life...
"Throughout history, the Church has condemned forms (of music) until they become mainstream. Culture changes, and the church eventually says, "that's OK". we were just kidding that whole time. Sorry we drove out a whole generation."
Unfortunately, churches, when given the choice to do so, will choose their traditions over their children. We've seen it time and time again."
I also agree with many people who talk about gravitating to the new simply because it is new rather than evaluating its worth.
But Stetzer is right the question that needs to be asked is what fits the Missional context in which I find myself now...rather than what do I simply like. In a recent publication by the Anglican Church in England called "From Anticdote To Evidence" that came out of a two year study of Anglican Churches that were growing... The conclusion was that worship styles were not as important as the thought and intentionality that goes into worship itself. Another factors when it came to worship styles were an openness to change and give things a go, A focus on those outside the church rather than simply those inside and an awareness of the need to minister to children and youth.
One of the problems of plotting the course of the blended style (which we are)... which we say is an inspirational blend of the best of the new with the best of our tradition is that as a smallish church that is growing in terms of an older congregation and young families is that while it can stretch to meet both those demographics is that it leaves you open to the problem of standing in the middle of the road... you are likely to get hit by traffic coming from both directions. and criticism can become the pressure rather than mission.
One of the metaphors I use from New Zealand life is the 21st parties I've been to down through the years. Where many different generations of the family have gathered together to celebrate the great event. The younger ones are usually out in the garage, which has been converted into an extra room, with coloured lights and a loud stereo. The aunties and older relatives sit in the lounge together and if there is music on its easy listening. and the parent aged people are in the kitchen working away. The family is together and they are all celebrating the same thing and gather together for he meal. But somehow they manage to do it in a way that meets all the different requirements.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

In The Face of Death: I Am The Resurrection and the Life (John 11:1-44) ... Sitting Under The Fig Tree: Encounters With Jesus in John's Gospel and Now (Part 8)

Because the reading was so long for this message we used the visual bible. It also helps to show the fact that John 11 presents itself as a series of scenes. That explains the screen shots I used as images in the second half of the message.
At the church I worked at in Tauranga there was a woman who was a receptionist at a local funeral home. She told us of the time two young men arrived at her counter and asked if they could have a body so they could pray for it to be raised from the dead. No, it wasn’t April 1st or a prank, one of the local Pentecostal churches had been doing a series of studies on miracles and had been encouraging the young people who had been attending to practise praying for these various healings. This week apparently it had been about raising the dead and so the young men in their earnestness and innocence had come to borrow a body to practise on. Now in the providence of God, the women at the counter was a wonderful Christian and graciously explained to them that she couldn’t do that as the funeral home was there to serve the families, to which the love ones belonged, so it wasn’t appropriate, she let them down very gently.
As we are heading into Easter we are working our way through ‘encounters with Jesus in John’s Gospel and now’. This week we are looking at Encountering Jesus in the face of death. In a very real way this narrative leads us directly to the cross, in the end of John 11, beyond our reading, we see that the religious authorities actually decide that if because of this miracle people will flock to Jesus, then the romans may crackdown on Judea, and it is better for the sake of the nation for one man to die than for all to die. This morning I want to have a look at this passage and see what it tells us about Jesus, remember that the miracles in the gospels are called signs and wonders and they point us to see who Jesus really is. And I want to explore what it has to say to us as followers of Jesus.
Ok what does it have to say to us about Jesus?
You’ll notice in the icons in the image to the  right that the figures are making a sign with their left hands, holding two figures up, it’s not a gang sign, we’ll it could be, nor are they being your typical Auckland drivers, it signifies the two natures of Jesus, his divine nature and his human nature and how the two met perfectly in Jesus. In the narrative of the raising of Lazarus this comes through most strongly.
We have one of the most moving pictures of the humanness of Jesus. The gospel narratives only give us glimpses of the private life of Jesus, but we capture some insight into Jesus friendships in the way that John talks about Jesus loving Lazarus and his sisters.  Adrian Plass says that you get the feel that these are the people that Jesus would relax and hang out with on a Friday night. From Luke’s gospel we know that he had been to their place for dinner.
The other thing that shows Jesus humanity is that shortest of bible verses ‘Jesus wept’, which comes also in the midst of verse that tell us that Jesus was deeply moved by what was happening. Paul Metzger says this does open “an ocean of questions for us.” Why when Jesus knew what he was going to do did he weep? What did he weep over? Yes Jesus identifies with the grief of the situation and the pain of those around him; he is a compassionate man, maybe even aware of the turmoil and pain he has caused by his delay. Although we do need to be aware that if you do the arithmetic Lazarus had died by the time Jesus would have been notified, as he had been dead for four days when Jesus got there.  But that delay would have caused some anguish for Mary and Martha. There is also a sense that he is moved by the disbelief of the people. Even Martha and Mary’s trust in Jesus as great as it is, will not go as far as trusting him in the face of death. In the end Metzger concludes by saying ‘God’s knowledge does not stop God from identifying with us fully in our pain.”
More than any of the other miracles stories in John’s gospel this also shows us the divine nature of Jesus. Jesus has been talking about being the giver of life and here there is a sign of what that means. That to believe in Jesus is to believe in the one that vanquishes death.  There are other instances in the gospels where Jesus has raised someone to life, the son of the Widow in Nain in Luke 7 and Jarius’ daughter in Luke chapter 8, both of which could be written off by sceptics as being close to death comas, but here Lazarus has been dead for four days and as Martha tells Jesus has probably started to decompose and smell, so there is no doubt he is dead. In fact in Jewish thought, the spirit of a person would wait by a body for three days before finally departing so even in their world view Lazarus was beyond the pale. We see Jesus here showing us that he is the resurrection and the life, that that is not just a future hope, as Martha said, ‘I know he will be raised to life on the last day’ but a present reality. Not that those who believe in Jesus will not die, but that what Paul calls our last enemy death has been defeated.
It also gives us insight into what Jesus means by revealing the Glory of God. All the way through these narrative Jesus talks of ‘the glory of God’ being shown in what will happen to Lazarus. It would be easy to wonder at why Lazarus and Mary and Martha had to go through what they did simply for the Glory of God to be revealed? When we think of the Glory of God, we need to realise that in John’s gospel that glory is always shown to us in the cross. The cross is where the Glory of God is shown most. And this is reflected in this narrative “Jesus approaches the grave of Lazarus” say RVG Tasker, “with tears in his eyes and anguish in his heart, to expend the divine power that would raise Lazarus from the dead, and knowing that he was destined to experience the same anguish in Gesemenene before moving on to Calvary to perform the redemptive act by which the sting of death would be forever drawn and in which believers would always see the glory of God.”
What does the passage have to say to us as followers of Jesus?
I have to admit that I started reflecting on this passage from a theological perspective, but when you read it, it’s a very human story. It’s told as a series of scenes with people and Jesus.
n this first episode or scene, the disciples find themselves wrestling and concerned for Jesus they know for Jesus to go back to Judea is to court danger. The proximity of Bethany to Jerusalem is not just a geographic note; it tells us of the closeness of Jesus to the people who we saw last week had tried to stone him. When it says many of the Jews came down from Jerusalem, it is short hand for the people who would have been Jesus enemies; it does not refer to the whole Jewish community.
The key thing that Jesus is hoping for is that the disciples may get a greater understanding into who Jesus is and believe. Thomas who we equate with his doubt rather than his faith is the one who shows leadership and courage. Admittedly he phrases it in a negative way, ‘we might as well go and die with him,’. In the end of course when it comes to Jesus death they will all desert him. In this scene I see a real challenge to us that we will see the glory of God more as we are willing, to step out of our comfort zones, to live a little dangerously. Jim Wallis talks of the best way to that is to trust our questions and where they will lead us and to get out of home a bit more often. Remember Jesus is the one who invites us to go with him and see, and who know what we will see as we trust Jesus to led us.
The second scene we have is Jesus meeting with Martha. Again Martha gets some bad press in the gospel, she is seen as being so focused on being the hostess with the mostest that she misses the opportunity to sit and learn from Jesus. She is probably the oldest sister and the weight of dealing with the visitors and making the arrangements for the funeral have fallen on her. Part of that may be why she goes out to greet Jesus, it is what would be expected, a social norm. But again she is a great example for us of faith. She tells Jesus that she believes that if he had been their sooner, , that Lazarus would not have died, because she believes that God will answer Jesus prayers. I wonder if there isn’t a bit of a rebuke in that because we know that Martha was not above being straight up with Jesus. However she affirms her belief in Jesus as The Son of God and her faith in the eternal life that Jesus had been talking about. But she does not get her head around the fact that Jesus can speak that life into the situation here and now in the face of death. There is no thought of a resurrection in her mind; in fact she is the one who tells Jesus there will be a stink if they open the tomb. I wonder if there isn’t a great hope for us here as followers of Jesus that in the midst of grief and sorrow and suffering that even beyond what faith we can have that Jesus is able to show the glory of God in those situations. It may not be the raising of Lazarus it maybe in another way, but for us as followers of Jesus there is the hope that even in the face of death Jesus is able to bring life.
It might be unfair to speak of Jesus love and compassion only when we talk of his encounter with Mary rather than Martha, maybe he meets both of them at the level they need to encounter him, Martha at the intellectual faith level and Mary at the emotional level. But we see in Mary’s sorrow that Jesus response is compassion and care. He delays no longer and goes to the tomb. He identifies with the grief and pain and is moved to act. Not that he is able to be manipulated by emotion or our fervour, remember Jesus had already told the disciples that he would raise Lazarus, but he identifies as we’ve already looked at with our human experience. I think for all of us there is that wonder of knowing God’s compassion and care, that in Christ God is with us in the midst of our suffering and sorrow, with our brokenness and pain, and as we’ll see as we head towards Easter, just how far Jesus is prepared to go to bring life and light into that situation.
And finally there is Lazarus, the last scene in our reading today is Lazarus being raised to life.  We don’t ever really get to know much about him. He is only mentioned here and in the party in the next chapter, he didn’t seem to be at home in Luke’s account of the other dinner party at Martha and Mary’s. We don’t have an interview about what death is like in the local newspaper or TV talks show. But we have a sign in his resurrection of the hope we have in Jesus own death and resurrection, that as followers of Jesus death is not the end, it is a door through which we walk, to be with Christ. Not only that but in this life as well Jesus is able to breathe and speak life into the most hopeless of situations, maybe it is not to prompt us to be like the two young guys in the story I started with, but that we can experience that new and abundant and eternal life In Jesus here and today. I wonder if many of us aren’t walking round like Lazarus and death hangs off us like grave clothes restricting us and we need to hear Jesus words “take off the grave clothes and go free”.
Jesus is ‘the resurrection and life’ in this life and as we have so powerfully been reminded of by the end of Desmond Tutu’s great tribute to his friend Nelson Mandela in the face of death “rest in peace, and rise in glory”.