April 26

04/26/2015

 
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Easter 4
1 John 3: 16-24
John 10: 11-18

Brothers and sisters in Christ.   I want to show you a You-tube video.  (To see the video clip watched by the congregation during the Sermon, please click on the link below)

 https://www.facebook.com/thisisiradio/videos/816410705086674/

What did you notice?  

First of all, with regards to the video:  A turtle is lying on its back and can’t flip over onto its feet; it is helpless.   Another turtle comes along and helps the immobilized turtle back on its feet; the second turtle did not walk away, did not turn his shell (or back) on the helpless one. 

What did you think?  Any reflections you might want to share?

Lots of things might go through our minds.   For one thing, you would be tempted to think that of course the one turtle would help the other.   Why not?  In fact that was the reaction of a lot of viewers.   After I had watched the video clip, I scrolled down and read some of the comments provided by the viewers who were all busy blogging. 

Some of the viewers commented that it was heartwarming to see such assistance in the animal kingdom and while they marveled how one turtle would help the other, they weren’t necessarily surprised.   One animal helping the other seems like such a natural thing.

However, most bloggers did not stop there; many began to reflect on the human condition.  Here is a snippet of some of the things they said:

If only people did this for one another

We should all be turtles, helping and loving our brother this way!

If only every human being on earth treated every one like that, there'd be no wars

It's sad animals will help one another more than humans.

Even Turtles help one and other, a trait we all should practice.  

Those comments made me stop and think.   Why can’t we human beings act like that one turtle?  After all, are we the ones who have evolved? 

As I continued to read the blogs, I saw another interesting comment.   A blogger said:  And God even sends help to the TORTOISES!!!!

That made me thing even further.   If God sends help to the turtles, even though the turtles maybe don’t know it, shouldn’t WE know it?   We human beings who seem to have a knowledge of God, should know that God sends help to us through other humans and that God calls us to serve and help others in need.  

Shouldn’t we know this?  Shouldn’t we do this? 

As I was reading the Scripture passages for today, there was a line in the reading from 1 John that caught my attention.   The writer of 1 John says:  How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

Good question!   How could anyone turn away?  If you believe in God, if you hope and pray that God’s love can abide in human beings, you wonder how anyone could turn away.   And yet…..   we humans often turn away.  

I don’t know about you, but that line made me feel guilty.  Do I always flip someone over, back onto their feet?  Do I always help?  Does God’s love abide in me?  Or not?

Those are some pretty heavy questions; they are questions that may make us feel guilty at best.   While we may wrestle with the human condition, and our complicity in that, the writer from 1 John had something important to say to me at the very least:

We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us--and we OUGHT to lay down our lives for one another.

Notice the word OUGHT.  I think the writer of 1 John knows how we are feeling, what we are thinking; we SHOULD be doing this.  However, the writer of 1 John does not linger on the OUGHT.   He says further:

And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.

What that says to me is, when we are struggling with the human condition, OUR part in the human condition, when we are failing to live up to God’s standards of love, when we are condemning ourselves and beating ourselves up, God’s heart is greater than our hearts.                                       

God wishes that we follow God’s commands, that we love one another, that we flip each other, back onto our feet.   God wants that, God desires it, God even commands it.   Even though we might struggle with God’s commands, God refuses to leave us, refuses to leave us alone, refuses to abandon us.                                                                                                                                       
The writer of 1 John tells us that God ABIDES in us, DWELLS in us, RESTS in us.  God’s spirit REMAINS in us, even when we don’t do the things we OUGHT to do.                                      


This is the heart of God that abides with us, even when we struggle to abide with God. 

As a reminder of that abiding, dwelling, resting, remaining, we have the life, the ministry, the death and resurrection of Jesus.                                                                                                                           

The writer of 1 John reminds us that we have our example of love from Jesus, the one who laid his life down for us.   The writer of the gospel of John says the same thing; the Fourth Evangelist puts such an understanding in the context of the Good Shepherd.

In the gospel of John, Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd.   The Good Shepherd lays his life down for the sheep; he claims the sheep, owns them, loves them and cares for them.                           

The good shepherd is not like the hired hand; the hired hand knows what he OUGHT to do, but doesn’t necessarily do it because he doesn’t have the same love, the same ownership, the same commitment as the good shepherd.  

No matter.   The HEART of the Good Shepherd, is the heart of God and it is bigger than the hearts of the sheep, the hired hand.   The sheep may not always follow the way they are supposed to, and at times it might be hard to shepherd them, yet the good shepherd calls them and somehow they follow.    The hired hand may not always do what is required, but will probably get hired back anyway. 

The heart of God is bigger than them all.  



Amen


 

April 12- Easter 2

04/12/2015

 
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Easter 2                       
John 20: 19-31

I want you to imagine that you are 7 years old and you are talking to your mother who is in the kitchen, doing something at the cupboards.   You say to your mother, “Is there REALLY a heaven?   I mean, really?”

What kind of a reaction do you think you would get from your mother?
(be quiet, go and play, go ask you father, don’t be silly)

Imagine that your mother freaks out.  She calls for your father who comes into the kitchen totally confused.  He says, “What’s the matter?”  Your mother points at you and says, “HE/SHE does not believe in heaven!”

At this point, what is going through your mind? (You may feel ashamed, embarrassed, afraid, stupid or something less than) 

If a 7 year old can have questions about their faith or question some of the basic beliefs of their faith system, it is possible that an adult can have questions?  Can adults have doubts?

DO adults have doubts about their faith in this day and age?  

Of course they do.  Adults may look around at their circumstances in life and they may begin to wonder.  They may or may not wonder if there really is a god.  If they still believe in God, they may wonder what God is up to and what God is thinking.   They may look at their lives and wonder what God is doing and why God does not pour out God’s favour upon them.   People who may not necessarily have difficult circumstances in their lives, may be looking at the world around them and wondering what is up.   If there is a god, why is that God allowing the world to spin out of control in such a way? 

Adults can have doubts about their faith, even to the extent of not believing anymore. 

Is this a new phenomenon?   I don’t think so, in fact, I think our gospel reading for today, gives us some insight into first century Christianity and the individuals therein.  John the 4th Evangelist writes a gospel to a first century Christian community that is living in a world of doubt.   Thomas, is the poster boy.

Consider the poster boy. 

Thomas was a sincere and devoted follower of Jesus.   This wasn’t a guy who was some run of the mill fellow on the street.  This was a believer.  We encounter him in the gospel of John earlier, when Thomas says, "Let us also go, that we may die with him" (John 11:16).   Thomas has been zealous for Jesus and like the rest of the disciples, he may have resisted the idea of Jesus going to Jerusalem to die.  But it is obvious from his statement, that eventually, Thomas DID understand that Jesus had to go to Jerusalem to die and Thomas did not shrink from it.  It appears that he was quite willing to die with Jesus.

But, the crucifixion of Jesus broke Thomas’ heart. 

We have all heard the phrase, “once bitten, twice shy.”  And in a way, that might describe Thomas.  Thomas had believed in Jesus, but his belief had been betrayed.  All his hopes and

Don’t forget, Thomas was the poster boy. 

Is it possible that there were other Christians who were struggling with their faith?   I think that is probably the case. 

So if Thomas was the poster boy for faith struggles and doubts, what happened?  The gospel story, the gospel message, was that Christ had risen from the grave. 

The other disciples had experienced the risen Jesus and they were telling others.  But that was the point; THEY experienced Jesus, others like Thomas did not.  The fact that the other disciples have encountered the risen Jesus, has not affected his unbelief, his doubts.  In order to believe again, he must encounter the risen Jesus.

Which is exactly what happens.    Broken hearted Thomas encounters the risen Jesus and the experience is exactly what he needs.  What WAS that experience? 

Jesus does not condemn Thomas for his failure to believe, but gives him that which enables him to believe (v. 27). Thomas has demanded to see and touch the risen Lord, and Jesus allows him to do that. There is no indication that Thomas actually touches Jesus' wounds -- seeing the wounded, resurrected Christ is enough.

So Thomas encounters the resurrected Jesus, and he is moved to believe.   His broken heart is healed; he makes his confession that Jesus really is his lord and God.  He is forgiven, he is accepted; his unbelief has been put to the side. 

Broken hearted Thomas has been healed by the risen Jesus.  How does Jesus heal the broken hearted Thomas?  Forgiveness, sharing of the peace, acceptance. Jesus died for him and Jesus reminds Thomas of that.

Despite the behaviour of the disciples, J forgives them.  It is a word that we need to hear and it is a word that we need to proclaim to others.  Guilt is the number one thing that people expect from the church, but it is not the number one thing in the mission of the church given by Jesus.   Forgiveness is the number one thing.

This is a significant story in the gospel of John, a story that the early church took to heart. 

Vs. 21 forms the heart of the passage.   God has sent the son to reveal the Father, so the Son sends his church to witness to him throughout the world.  The church is now given its mission.  And the purpose of the sending is very clear.  The church is to witness to Jesus in order that others may believe in him through their word and thus have eternal life.  This was to be the original purpose of the 4th gospel - that others might believe and thus have life - and so too it is the purpose for which the church is sent out. 

The early church understood that the broken hearted needed to encounter the resurrected Jesus.  They needed to feel and share in the forgiveness and acceptance of Jesus because there were a lot of folks out there who were struggling with their faith. 

If a 7 year old boy learns that it is not kosher to express your doubts, what do you think an adult is going to do?   Tell somebody? 

So what do we take away from today’s gospel reading?  

            First of all, struggling with faith issues is nothing new. 

            Second, even the most devout people have doubts.  

            Third, it is not only the non-Christian who struggles with their faith issues. 

            Fourth, people need to be handled with the same grace and understanding as Jesus gave. 

            Fifth, people need to see the resurrected Jesus.  

            Sixth, one of the ways we meet Jesus is through forgiveness and companionship.

            Seventh, we need to be always open and receptive to those who are struggling with faith.

            Eighth, we need not shy away, but create opportunities for people to air their struggles.

            Nine, this is the mission of the church.

As a church, we are called to introduce people to the resurrected Jesus.  We are to introduce the broken hearted to the resurrected Jesus.  HOW? 

Forgiveness, companionship, sharing the peace and through a host of other avenues.  

This is the way of Jesus.   



Amen. 


 
 
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Easter Sunday B                                                           
Mark 16: 1-8

How is your memory?  Do you have a good memory?  Do you remember lots of things? Do you forget lots of things?                                                                                                  Sometimes people share with me their anxiety over forgetting things; they worry about their forgetfulness and whether this might be a sign of their age, or a sign of something bad like dementia or Alzheimers.   On the other hand, I don’t get too worried about forgetfulness; I think we forget lots and lots of things.    I think we forget more than we realize.                                                            



There are SO many things we try to remember, so many details that we cram into our lives, that I think we have a certain capacity in our brains and then the memory banks are full.  I personally think that we file events in our brains and some of those events we put at the front of our brains and some we file back there somewhere.                                                                          


Of course, none of what I am saying is accurate as far as physiology goes; physically speaking I don’t think we have a front storage and a back storage space in our brains.   Maybe the forefront of the brain, the recesses of the brain are I, euphemisms; convenient descriptions to console us when we forget.                                                                                                     


Regardless, we forget lots of things.             

On top of that, when you think of WHAT we remember and what we forget, that can get pretty interesting too.  WHAT do you remember?   Do you remember important things?  Do you remember silly and trivial little things?                                                                                                   

My dad passed away about 8 and a half years ago.   One day, shortly after he passed, our family was sitting around and sharing memories.   I piped up and said, “Do you remember when….?”  Much to my surprise, I discovered that neither my mother, or brother remembered the same event, in the same way, or at all.                                                                                                 


My brother also said, “Do you remember when….?”  Neither my mother or myself remembered.   The same occurred when my mother offered up a memory.                                                   


For whatever reason, we all had DIFFERENT memories.   Which made us all wonder, “Why do we remember SOME things, and forget others?   Did we each remember large and important events?  No.  Did we remember spectacular things and not the little insignificant events?  NO.                                                                                                                                                  
It was all pretty random actually.   Not only did each of us remember a variety of events and forget a vast array of other events, we remembered some things later.   For a while, almost every time I was on the phone with my mother or brother, we would share a memory that we had forgotten at the time of his death.   We remembered later and then shared that with each other.            


Do my mother and brother and I have good memories or bad ones?   I think for the most part, we all have good memories; it is just that at the time of my dad’s passing, there were things that we remembered, things we forgot and things we remembered later.  

Do you think people 2000 years ago, had good memories?  Do you think they remembered everything, or did they forget some things?   Did they remember later?                                                

I began to ask these questions as I considered THE EMPTY TOMB.                                                  
We read in the gospel of Mark today, that some women walked in the early daylight, to the tomb of Jesus.   In the haste to bury Jesus on Friday afternoon, before the beginning of the Sabbath when it was illegal to bury dead bodies, none of the usual burial details were observed.              


So these women go to the tomb of Jesus to anoint his body in the proper way, with the proper spices and fragrant plants.  However, when they arrived at the tomb of Jesus, they discover that the stone has been rolled away AND the body of Jesus is not there.               


As they peer into the tomb, a young man, dressed in a white robe, tells them that Jesus has risen from the dead.                                                                                                                                                                          
We anticipate that the women would have been dancing for joy at the prospect of the resurrected Jesus.   Instead, Mark tells us that they fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid.           

If you were to open your Bibles you would notice that Mark’s gospel ends right there; sort of.  Biblical scholars think that Mark ended his gospel at that point and that later on, some stories were added to the gospel of Mark, stories in which the resurrected Jesus appeared to his disciples.                                                                                                                                                               Why did Mark’s gospel end at that point?   Why were resurrections stories added later.   We don’t know for sure, but I wonder:   “Did the followers of Jesus have good memories, bad memories, or did they remember later?”

At the time of Jesus’ death on the cross and his burial, I am sure that the memories of all his disciples went blank.   The women who go to the tomb on Sunday morning have the additional shock of seeing the empty tomb.   I would think their memories were not very good either.   But later on, I think that the disciples of Jesus began to remember and they began to encounter Jesus all over again, in important and meaningful ways.                                                                         



As they Remembered, as they encountered the risen Christ in a variety of ways, all of his teaching, all of his promises of returning on the third day, came alive for them.   Some of them would remember this........   Some of them would remember that……

In the end, when they remembered is not as important as WHAT they remembered.   WHAT they remembered was the promise of Jesus that he would be raised on the third day.                           



The fact that TOGETHER they remembered all these things is important too.  TOGETHER they remembered all those stories and as they remembered, those memories gave strength, joy and hope to each other.  

I think that happened for me, for my brother and my mother.   As we have remembered, as we have shared with each other our particular memories, we have enriched the memories of each other.   As I received a story that I did not particularly remember, I had great joy and it gave me strength.   I hope my mother and brother felt the same way.  As we share those memories, the memory of my dad come to the front of my brain and keeps him alive.   That is good. 

The women at the empty tomb fled in terror and amazement, but as they gathered with other followers of Jesus, they were able to share their memories.   Each of them had a good memory and TOGETHER, they were able to compile memories that were meaningful and important.                                                                                                                                                               Together they remembered the story of Jesus, and as they remembered, they gave each other a precious gift of faith and they kept Jesus alive for each other.   For those who met the risen Jesus, who embraced him and talked to him and even ate with him, their stories and memories provided an additional gift to their fellow disciples.  

In the midst of many memories, God was writing a new story.  The story replaced the emptiness as God began to reveal God’s-self to humanity in the most powerful way.                                      



In the midst of the empty tomb, God was telling humanity that God had a plan.  That through this crucifixion of Jesus, God was standing in solidarity with all of humanity, at the lowest ebb of human existence; in pain, suffering and death.  God said, “I am there, I am with you, I will overcome this suffering and death.”  God spoke a new word to humanity, a word of hope, of life, of forgiveness and of heaven.                                                                                                  


God spoke all of these things, during the death of Jesus.  God spoke of our future in God.            


Somebody remembered the stories.  Somebody remembered the places they had been. 


Somebody remembered the promises.  Somebody re-discovered their faith.                                     
And so, that community of followers of Jesus, began to remember the promise, the future, the words of Jesus.  In the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus, they came to see the glory of God in its fullest.  They began to see and feel the hope, the life, the forgiveness, eternity.                                      
The tomb was never empty again.  


Alleluia.  


Thanks be to God.


 
 
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Easter Sunday A
Mark 16: 1-8

On Tuesday, March 24th, a flight operated by the Lufthansa discount airline, named Germanwings, crashed in the French Alps, killing all 150 people aboard.   Tragically, all the information that has been gathered through the various recording devices on the aircraft seems to indicate that the co-pilot intentionally locked the door to the cockpit and then put the aircraft into a descent, plunging it into a mountainside.  The aircraft was described by search crews as being “pulverized;” there was nothing much left.                                                                                                               

Since then, family members have been carried up to the crash site for a look, to see where their loved ones died.   I imagine that the family members who went, took with them momentos and flowers as a way of creating some sort of memorial.  I imagine that they needed to be there, to see for themselves, to gain some form of closure.  

I imagine that to some degree, they did not see a whole lot when they arrived at the crash site; the aircraft and the people inside, literally disintegrated.  I imagine there would have been virtually nothing to see, nothing distinguishable, almost as if their loved ones were not there.  

I imagine that it would have had the feeling of arriving to find an empty tomb.

As I reflected on the Germanwings air crash and those who mourn, I thought of the women who followed Jesus, who approached the tomb of Jesus on that Sunday morning after his crucifixion and burial.                                                                                                                                      



The trauma of Jesus’ death was still very fresh in the minds of the women who walked to the grave site where Jesus lay, that Sunday morning.  Even though the sun had come up on their day, the brightness and splendor of the morning was likely lost on them.  They were still sorrowful and hurting from the Friday, when their Lord and Master had been executed in such a brutal way. 

So they come to the tomb of Jesus, expecting to find his body, hoping that someone will roll the stone back for them, so that they could pour spices on his dead body. 

These women, were not coming to EMBALM the body of Jesus, they were coming to ANOINT him.  Two thousand years ago, the Jewish burial custom did not incorporate embalming, but it did include anointing.   People would often anoint a body with spices, perfume type spices, as a final gesture of love and respect.  The womens’ intent to anoint the body of Jesus, meant that they had come in the early morning, to pour perfume oils over their dead master.  Such perfumes were costly, so this was a financial sacrifice for them.

They waited until after the Sabbath, which extended from Friday evening to Saturday evening.   They waited until the Sunday morning, because the strict rules of the Sabbath observance made it improper to perform such rituals on their holy day. 

So they hurried to the grave on Sunday morning, running against time.  Jesus had died in the mid-afternoon of Friday and had been in the grave for close to 36 hours.  In the Jerusalem climate, during the late spring when Jesus was crucified and buried, dead bodies would begin to decompose very quickly.  So with no embalming practices at their disposal, the women hurry to the tomb.  THIS was not going to be an easy morning, this was NOT going to be a pleasant experience.             

Instead......, they find something that they did not expect.  

The TOMB of Jesus was EMPTY.  Yes there was a young man at that empty tomb, who told them that Jesus had risen, who showed them the place where Jesus lay, who told them to go to Galilee with the rest of Jesus’ followers.  There, he said, they would get to meet this risen Jesus.             

Today, 2000 years later, we would imagine that these women would have been jumping for joy, excited over the prospect of their master being alive.  Instead, in this gospel of Mark, we get something totally unexpected.  We experience the empty tomb and the emptiness of the human soul; the women flee in terror.

The women, like their male counterparts, flee frozen in silent fear.   The women are confronted with the emptiness and the starkness of the empty tomb.  It is “one more nail in the coffin” of their sorrow, if you will.  They do not run about telling everybody about the resurrection, rather it becomes for them, another bleak reminder of what had happened a couple of days earlier.

Just a lot of emptiness.

Emptiness.   Standing at a mountainside in France, mourners may have likely had a emptiness….. and MEANINGLESSNESS.   Perhaps one of the most difficult parts of such a tragedy is the sense of meaninglessness. What did these people die for? What was the point? While these questions tend to be necessary parts of grieving they are often fruitless.

Yet..... all is NOT “empty.”  

I am hopeful that the emptiness of those families wIll eventually be replaced with something else.     As one moves along in life, there are the constant reminders, reminders that are ANYTHING but, empty.   They may have memories and stores and pictures and who knows what.   Hopefully it will keep their loved ones alive

And then there is The promise of our faith:   in the midst of emptiness, there is life, there is hope, there is the promise of eternal life. 


The tomb of Jesus was empty.   Yes indeed, it WAS empty.    Yet....  all was NOT empty for the disciples of Jesus.   


            they had the words and teachings of Jesus.

            they remembered, they had the memories.  They had the stories. 

            they had the promise

            they saw him on the cross and they understood.   Life was not empty anymore. 

Yes.... there is “emptiness” in some parts of our lives, but there is something else as well.   There is memory, there are shared experiences, there are stories of faith and with all that, the void of emptiness is filled.   Darkness is replaced with light.  And with the light, comes hope and life. 

In the midst of emptiness, God was writing a new story.  The story replaced the emptiness as God began to reveal God’s-self to humanity in the most powerful way. 

In the midst of the empty tomb, God was telling humanity that God had a plan.  That through this crucifixion of Jesus, God was standing in solidarity with all of humanity, at the lowest ebb of human existence; in pain, suffering and death.  God said, “I am there, I am with you, I will overcome this suffering and death.”  God spoke a new word to humanity, a word of hope, of life, of forgiveness and of heaven. 

God spoke all of these things, during the death of Jesus.  God spoke of our future in God.           

The women flee from the tomb in terror and amazement.  They are so afraid they do not speak a word to anyone.  The emptiness of Good Friday, brought to life again at that empty tomb, was more than they could handle. 

But.... in the pain of encountering the empty tomb, somebody remembered the words of Jesus and the fact that he would rise again.  Somebody remembered the stories.  Somebody remembered the places they had been.  Somebody remembered the promises.  Somebody re-discovered their faith.

And so, that community of followers of Jesus, began to remember the promise, the future, the words of Jesus.  In the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus, they came to see the glory of God in its fullest.  They began to see and feel the hope, the life, the forgiveness, eternity. 

The tomb was never empty again.  



Alleluia.  


Thanks be to God.


 
 
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Good Friday

Last Sunday, PALM SUNDAY, I talked briefly about what a visit by Queen Elizabeth II would look like, to our city.  Of course our knowledge and expectations of royal visits would lead us to think that there would be many of the usual activities:

- the Queen would arrive and there might be some sort of parade, or procession into town
- there would be the welcome of local, provincial and federal dignitaries
- welcoming events to greet the Queen might take place at City Hall
- the Queen might tour some of the areas of local interest
- the Queen would honor us by dedicating some building or plaque
- the Queen might speak in some sort of formal affair

At all times, as the Queen was ushered about our city, the usual royal protocol would take place.  People would be schooled in advance to observe some of the following:

- bowing or curtseys
- how to speak or address the Queen
- what to say and not to say
- how to dress
- how to act

Such protocol would be observed to ensure that the Queen was accorded the proper respect, in a dignified manner, that any reigning monarch would deserve AND expect.

We can imagine ALL of those things.  We can all imagine the things that are necessary to treat the Queen in the way that we all deem right and proper.  We can imagine all that etiquette and understand why it is all observed.

But... could you imagine this?

Imagine that after the Queen was ushered into our city with great pomp and ceremony, to cheering and adoring crowds, that she was soon treated with no respect and afforded no dignity.

Imagine that she was dragged or pushed up the aisle of our church, to stand before our Church Council and listen to our demands to answer allegations of improper religious conduct.

Imagine that after being grilled by our Church Council, she is paraded to the Mayor’s office, who grills her regarding her role and her purpose for showing up in Maple Ridge.

Imagine the Queen being paraded on foot, unceremoniously, from the City Hall, to the gazebo in Memorial Park.  Imagine that once she is there, she is put on trial for the charge of treason. 

Imagine that she is accused of treason and then put on display on the steps of the courthouse, mocked, while the bloodthirsty crowd outside, calls for her execution.

Imagine that the Queen is then handed over to the authorities, who summarily, “string her up,” on the outskirts of town so as not to sully the streets or the reputation of Maple Ridge.

Could you imagine all of that?    Is that any way to treat Queen Elizabeth II?   Our automatic reaction would be one of disbelief.  We could not imagine any monarch, any queen or king, being treated in such a manner.                                                                         

And yet..... if we were to crack open our Bibles, and begin to read the Passion of Jesus Christ, we would notice such behaviour.  From the time he entered Jerusalem to the shouts of “Hosanna!,” to the time that he is “strung up” on the outskirts of the city, we would be witness to such shabby treatment of ROYALTY. 

Make no mistake, the 4 gospels of our Bible are quite adamant in setting the scene for us throughout all of Holy Week, culminating in the crucifixion of Jesus. 

This is all about the final week in the earthly life of a KING.  This is not about a criminal, this is not about an itinerant preacher, this is not about a part-time carpenter.  This is all about a KING. 

From ADORATION to HUMILIATION, this is all about a king, his kingdom and his plans for his kingdom and our inclusion in his kingdom.

The gospels repeat this idea of a KING, throughout and John’s gospel is exhaustive in it’s treatment of the royal Jesus.

Jesus is born, as a descendant of the house of David, royal David’s son.  At his birth, the angels announce the arrival of a king.   He is adored and honored and worshiped by the three wise men, in the manner of a king. 

As a baby, he is a threat to King Herod.   Herod will not cotton to the idea of another king on his territory, so he seeks to kill this supposed baby heir to the throne. Jesus and his family, like many royal exiles, flees to another country. 

When Jesus enters Jerusalem, the adoring crowd “paves his way,” with palm branches as one would greet a king.  They shout “Hosanna,” welcome to our Messiah, our king.

Jesus is arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, by the temple police and taken before Caiaphas, the High Priest, and accused of religious heresy. Realizing that they can’t get rid of Jesus for religious reasons, they have to resort to the political.   They turn him over to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, with charges of treason.   Reference to the king, abounds.

Jesus stands TRIAL before Pilate.   The issue?  Are you a King?   Incredibly Pilate finds himself interrogating and holding trial over a king.  He is noticeably uncomfortable and bewildered.  Never in his wildest dreams would he think of putting a king on trial.  If this man is truly a king, he shouldn’t BE on trial.  Pilate wants to know and observe the proper protocol.

Pilate probably came to the conclusion that this fellow wasn’t REALLY a king, or any threat to his own king, the emperor of Rome.  So Pilate decides to “humour” Jesus and the priests by treating Jesus as a “mock” king. 

Next comes the humiliation of this supposed king.  He is made to wear a purple robe, purple being the color of royalty.  He is “crowned.”  He wears a crown of thorns; mock royal attire.

Soldiers, who would NEVER assault a king strike him on the face and say, "Hail, King of the Jews!"

After such shabby treatment, Pontius Pilate tells Jesus, “I have power to release you, and power to crucify you.”  But this king, reacts like a true king.  He says, “You would have no power over me.”   A simple governor of a Roman outpost, will have no authority over royalty.

The Jewish religious leaders see their advantage slipping away, so they begin to advise Pilate.  They say, “Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor."   This begins the charge of treason.

Pilate seeks the temperature of the crowd.  He brings Jesus before them on the courthouse steps and says to them, "Here is your King! Shall I crucify your King?"   The mob ignores the authority of this king and yell, “Crucify him!”

The chief priests answered, "We have no king but the emperor."   But here, these Jewish leaders have really put their feet in their mouths.  In the culture of Israel, there was no earthly king who had authority over Yahweh.  In effect, they turn their backs on God.  Yahweh was always their king.   Jesus the son of God is their king and they didn’t acknowledge it!

Even at Golgotha, the Hill of the Skull, known as Calvary, Pontius Pilate gives one more nod, to this KING.   Pilate puts an inscription on the cross above Jesus.  It read, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.

The gospels in our Bibles leave no doubt.  This “one” who is being tortured and crucified, is truly a king.  But he is a king unlike any other.  

This king is unlike any other because he does not TAKE, he GIVES.

A king in ancient times was notorious for “taking.”   The king could take your life, simply on a whim.   The king could extract whatever money he wanted from his subjects.   The king could take land or any other property because the king assumed it all belonged to him anyway.  The king could declare war and sacrifice multitudes of lives just because.   Royalty could and often did, TAKE whatever they wanted.

But THIS king does not take, he gives.   THIS king does not take the lives of others, he offers up his own life; he gives his life for the sake of others, for the sake of all. 

Kings in ancient times did not “take” ALL the time, sometimes they granted things.   They granted some of their territory to friends, they may have granted a certain wealth, or status as well.

THIS king is not bound by an earthly territory; he is King of Kings and Lord of all.  He does not grant wealth, or status, or land, or money.  Instead he grants eternal life and forgiveness of sins, things that no other king can grant. 

THIS king grants gifts that are precious to the human life and condition.

For human beings who live in a world that sometimes speaks anything BUT forgiveness, a world that reminds us that there is no “free lunch,” this royal gift might be very welcome.  Jesus’ first words from the cross are God’s LAST WORDS for sinners - forgiveness.  That forgiveness does not come cheaply, yet when Christ reappears at Easter, forgiveness is a fact.   We can count on it, in our interaction with God.

This royal one speaks to the human condition.   Jesus cries out in despair, for he feels abandoned by God.  This is a very human reality.   We can relate to him and he can relate to us.  He goes to the very pits so that we will be rescued when we hit bottom, when we ourselves cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  The one who is truly God’s Son speaks to us: “I have been there myself - in the pit of despair.  And since I have been there, you will not stay there.”

This royal one remains true to character.  He has been compassionate and merciful in his ministry.   In the midst of suffering and death, he displays these qualities.  He looks for his mother and then commends his mother to the care of one of the disciples that he loved. 

This royal one shows his commitment to God and God’s divine plan for humanity.  Jesus was sent to earth to communicate the grace of God, to demonstrate that God is ruler over all and that nothing surpasses God. 

In his life and ministry, Jesus set his face firmly towards the city of Jerusalem and to the cross.  The KING of kings and LORD of lords, went there to die, to fulfill the word of God and he saw that through to the end, to usher in HIS kingdom, the kingdom of heaven. 



Amen

 
 
Picture
Maundy Thursday
John 13: 1-17, 31b-35

Years ago, a young woman who was a member of my congregation died from cancer after 3 long years of living with the illness.  Prior to her death, she dictated letters to the hospital staff, addressed to each of her children.  I don’t know exactly what was in those letters, but I can imagine that there were words of love and encouragement and I would also expect, words of instruction, on how to get along without her.    In addition to the letters, she also had strong words of encouragement for her husband and words of instruction and expectation, about how she felt her children needed to be raised. 

Only 5 years ago, I learned of a woman who died in the hospice house and while she did not write letters, she left her family a video-taped message.  Her video tape also laid out some of her hopes and dreams for her children, and some thoughts on how they would continue their lives without her. 

I guess you could say that each woman communicated some form of gentle command, for those whom they loved, commands on how to go on living and being.  Letters and videotapes were not just commands, but an essential way for those children to remember their mothers, what their mothers stood for and who they were and what they expected, even in death. 

Nowadays, people are somewhat creative in the way that they leave behind such memories, such commands and expectations.  Video tapes which are now a thing of the past, or in recent times, CD’s, are evidence of that, but letters have often been used to communicate such things.  On top of that, I find that there are some sort of verbal reminders left behind, the verbal commands.   When I am helping a family prepare for a funeral, our conversation about that loved one, will often contain thoughts about the legacy left behind.  What were some of the essential truths that mom or dad taught me?  What did he or she stand for and how did they communicate that?    People often talk like that as they reflect upon the past and the memories of their loved ones.

I imagine, if that were you or me and our time on this earth was coming to a close, we might begin to think in terms of leaving something of us behind.  What would we want our loved ones to remember about us?   Is there something essential about us, that we would never want them to forget?   What kinds of hopes and dreams would we lay out for them, what kind of expectations would we have of them in our absence?   How would we communicate that?

Tonight is kind of like that for me.  This worship service tonight, is not a funeral preparation, but it does carry for me, some overtones of preparing for life “without,” of expectations, of remembering essential things.

Certainly it was preparation time for the disciples, although they struggled with that thought and denied its existence.   For quite a while, Jesus had begun to prepare his disciples for “life without him.”  The night before his death, was the culmination of that preparation. 

The disciples of Jesus gathered in the upper room, to celebrate the Passover meal, a meal that was very common for the religious pilgrims congregating in Jerusalem that day.   They celebrated the Passover, they shared in a meal to remember how God delivered their ancestors from slavery in Egypt.  This was a story that was essential to their history, to their living and being in the present and essential to their future; it was the most important story in Israel’s history.                   

That story reminded them of their past, that God had delivered their ancestors from a horrible existence.  It reminded them that they were free people in god’s eyes and they could live in the promise, that god would never abandon them.  It gave them a glimpse into their futures, that God would always be with them and would always take them to God’s-self.  

So Jesus and his disciples gather like any other Jewish believer on that Passover night, to celebrate on THAT basis, but Jesus turns this night into something else.  Jesus is about to be arrested, tortured and put to death.  His time has come and so he makes use of this meal for a different, albeit related purpose.

Jesus uses this meal to remind them of God’s saving past, of God’s continued presence and God’s promises for the future.  However, Jesus is the NEW COVENANT, supplanting the old covenant that God had established with Israel’s founders.  As the son of God, Jesus puts himself into that picture. 

Beyond THAT however, Jesus does something else, he creates that video tape, that CD, that letter, given to his disciples as he prepares to die.  Jesus gives them his story that they will relate to others.  This story is in the form of a command, a story that talks about his essence.  As he prepares to die, he leaves them with the essentials of who he is, how they can remember him and how they can faithfully act out the essentials that he has passed on to them.   They have the legacy of Jesus, his story and his command. 

What was the story and what was the command?          

During this passover meal, Jesus gets up from the table and apparently does the unthinkable.  He takes on the menial role of a servant or slave and washes the feet of his disciples.  He tends to them, not as a master, but as a slave and it offends their sensibilities.  The story of Jesus is a story of servanthood.  

At the conclusion of this act of servant hood, Jesus gives his disciples a little test.  “After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you?”

Well.... good question.  What has he done for them?  What is the legacy, what is the expectation?    “You call me Teacher and Lord--and you are right, for that is what I am.  So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.  For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.  Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.  If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.’”

That is who Jesus is, that is his legacy to them; that is his example, his teaching and values that he will leave behind. 

Jesus then hammers it home in the form of the command. 

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”

This is how Jesus expects them to live in relationship to each other, in relationship with the rest of the world.  Jesus reminds them of his love for them and this love will be underlined or magnified the next day when he is crucified, and then 2 days later, when he is resurrected form the grave.  At that point, they will see, just how great the love of Jesus is for them and for all of humanity.  That love will be put into action and that action demands a response.  Jesus expects that his disciples will respond, not to the harshness of law, or of punishment, but that they will respond to grace and love.  Jesus expects that they will respond and this is how he wants them to live in his absence. 

There was the crux for the disciples of Jesus.  They heard his story, they heard his commands; they heard how Jesus wanted them to respond to his love and grace.          

Response is a very important consideration. 

Sometimes when people are sitting at their kitchen table, or in their living room and they are reflecting upon the life of the loved one who has died, they talk about response.  They understand what that person stood for, and they often talk about how that has touched them. They compare what they have learned from the person who has died, to how much they have understood and lived that out. 

“In what ways did they expect me to live that out and HOW DID I live that out?  How have I been faithful to the values that they passed on to me?”  People begin to talk about that, they begin to talk about how they have incorporated such teachings into their lives. 

The disciples of Jesus knew the score and they could figure out the response, but it wasn’t easy.  To some degree, this story, this legacy and command offended their sensibilities.  Sure they had heard him several times before, tell them that he was going to die, but it appears that they never really paid attention.  They also probably never understood that THEY were going to have to carry the ball, THEY were going to have to embody the legacy and the commands. 

NOW, it was hitting home.  Jesus really was going to die and he had some expectations of how he wanted them to carry on.  The final demonstration, laid it all out.  As he dressed after washing their feet, the image of servanthood was unmistakable.  They were to be servants, to each other, to the communities in which they lived and worshiped.  This was not what they had signed up for at the start, but this was the command they were left with; servanthood, living for the other, loving the other.  

This is how Jesus expects US to live and respond to his love for us.  Today as we prepare for his crucifixion, his burial and eventual resurrection, we are reminded of just how much Christ loves us and just how much he expects of us.  The story has been imprinted upon us, the values have been given and we remember. 

Now comes our response.  Just like the disciples of Jesus in the upper room, we can imagine that it is not easy and in some respects, if offends the sensibilities.  How HAVE we been faithful to the values, the story, the expectation of Jesus?  How will we live this out?   



Amen.