Sunday 23rd December 2012 – He is a God for the outcasts 

The Word This Week:

Thoughts on the Word:

Luke 1:39-55 (NRSV)

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’

There are many at this time of year who struggle, who feel marginalised, ostracised or oppressed.  There are many who mourn the absence of loved ones – and some who mourn their presence… There are many who struggle with the stresses of this season as we desperately try to meet the cultural expectation spend up big. There are many more who feel the stress, and the accompanying shame and guilt of not being able to provide adequately for their loved ones.  There are no doubt many of you listening to (or reading) this right now who identify with this pressure, stress, or marginalisation.  Today’s Gospel reading is for you.

We begin today’s Gospel scene immediately after the annunciation (the appearance of the Arch-Angel Gabriel to Mary to advise her of her virginal conception), during His appearance Gabriel also advised Mary of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, and following his departure, Luke tells us that Mary ‘…set out with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth‘.  Mary is eager to see her cousin, who like her has miraculously conceived a child, Mary knows the ridicule and marginalisation that Elizabeth has endured due to being barren, and she is eager to confirm for her the work of God in all that is happening.  Mary no doubt is also seeking the support and consolation of her cousin, as she becomes the subject of scorn in a society that didn’t look favourably on unwed mothers.

The baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaps at the sound of Mary’s voice – seemingly recognising that the Lord of Lords is present. Then the Holy Spirit  fills Elizabeth, who exclaims those words which are so familiar to those of us who come from the Catholic side of the faith – ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb’!   These words are read and spoken so often by Christians, and often the focus in our mind is on what they tell us about the Blessed Virgin, however I want us to consider this a little deeper than the obvious statement about Mary being blessed.  I wonder have you considered that this is the first proclamation of Jesus coming as Lord?  

Consider the scene for a moment – the first proclamation of the the coming of the Messiah who will redeem Israel, and indeed the world is anticipated and proclaimed, not by archangels or high priests or emperors or even ordained preachers. Rather, two marginalised, pregnant women—one young, poor, and unwed, the other far beyond the age to conceive—meet in the hill country of Judea to celebrate (and possibly commiserate about) their miraculous pregnancies. A baby leaps in the womb and  blessings are shared. Astonishment is expressed and Songs are sung.

Yes, the Lord of Lords and King of Kings is first acknowledged and proclaimed by two women…  Two women who were no doubt the subject of much ridicule and stigma – Mary after all was an unwed pregnant teenager – consider how today’s comparatively liberal society still denigrates and looks down on women in the same situation, and then consider how it would have been for her living in ancient Jewish society where such a situation was not just embarrassing – but shameful.  Likewise consider how society still treats women who have reached their mature years without ever having had children – there is, shamefully in today’s world still a stigma, a  view that these women, are incomplete – not real women, or that they are simply selfish.  Imagine then the views expressed of barren Elizabeth, who had not born any children, in a society where family and heirs were how your worth were expressed – Where a woman’s worth especially was determined by how many sons she bore her husband. 

Yet it was these two, ostracised, marginalised women whom God chose to bring the final prophet of the old covenant – John – and the fulfilment of that covenant – Jesus – into the world. It was these two women  who first proclaimed the coming of the King!  We see in this account the first tearing down of barriers to the Kingdom, the first signs of what the coming reign of Jesus will be like.  The Kingdom which leads St Paul to write in his letter to the Galatians that ‘There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.’ (Galatians 3:28 NRSV)

The story of these two pregnant women, with their mutual support of and confirmation of each other, a story of two marginalised and scorned women and their faith, tells us much about this creator whom we worship.  It tells us that God does not look on us with human eyes.  When God looks to us Hesees who we are, in our deepest being.  When He looked at Elizabeth He didn’t see the woman society sees, He didn’t see a woman who deserved to be ridiculed, or judged.  He didn’t see a woman who needed pity – rather he saw a woman who would bear the prophet who would prepare a way for the Lord! He saw a woman who would be the FIRST to proclaim the coming of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

Likewise when God looked to Mary, and chose her to bear Jesus, He did so because He could see who she truly was.  He knew that this poor, peasant girl in her heart was destined to be the mother of God incarnate.  He knew that it was Mary who had the love, the purity of heart and the faith required to become the mother of God.  He knew that she would suffer ridicule, and her condition would be considered shameful, and so of course did Mary when she said ‘…Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word…’ (Luke 1:38), She knew that she would be an outcast, but she chose to accept God’s will for her life – and truly since then all generations have called her blessed!.  God knew that Mary was right for the task that He had planned for her, just as he knows that you are right for the task he has planned for you.

As we await the coming of the King, dealing with the stress, the sadness, the loneliness that comes to many at this time of year, Let us take comfort knowing that God knows us – really knows us, and loves us – really loves us.  God does not hold our failings and faults against us – indeed they are all forgiven through the redeeming work of Jesus, when we place our faith in Him.   God knows what you are destined for, he sees in you, your true potential and your true purpose.  I invite you to turn to him, and to hand over your stress, your feelings of loneliness, or rejection to Him, and when you do, be prepared to say to Him – what ever path he lays out before you – ‘let it be done to me according to your word’.

Sunday July 22nd 2012 – St Mary Magdalene

The Word This Week:

Ruth 1 

Psalm 73

Acts 13

John 20:1-18

Thoughts on the Word:

This week I have missed writing again – I have been to heavily focused on writing assignments for my B. Theology!  Instead of my ramblings I provide for you a Sermon from Carl A. Voges.  I got this sermon from here.  You can have my rantings and ravings again next week 🙂

Sermon on John 20:1-2,11-18, by Carl A. Voges

The Passage

“Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid them…'”

“…But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned and said to him in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”‘ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’ – and that he had said these things to her.” [English Standard Version]

“But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people.” [Acts 13.30]

In the Name of Christ + Jesus our Lord

As the Gospel readings have poured into our hearing during the month of July, the Lord’s people have been exposed to a wide range of the Son’s ministry in the world. There was the healing of the synagogue ruler’s daughter and of the woman with a bleeding condition. Then we were confronted with Jesus’ rough reception in his hometown and the sending of the twelve disciples. This past Sunday we encountered the killing of John the Baptist. This Sunday we were scheduled to see Jesus teaching and healing the crowds who are swarming to him.

Today, however, we are pausing in the journey through Mark’s Gospel to observe the Day of Mary Magdalene. The Church does not know her birth date or death date but she is honored on 22 July in the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran churches.

This honor is triggered by the exposure she had to Jesus’ Life as well as to her participation in his ministry. Today’s observance enables us to see how a saint from more than two thousand years ago can stir us to be faithful reflectors of the Lord’s Life, a reflecting made difficult and tense by the realities of sin, Satan and death.

We live in a world where people, for numerous reasons, are always being drawn to individuals who stand out. These people come to us from movies and plays, from television and sports, from politics and business. Sometimes these people stand out for good reasons; there are other times, though, when they stand out for wrong reasons. The Lord’s people are aware of such individuals and may even find themselves trying to imitate them, but with a significant twist – they don’t invest their entire life in such persons!

Such investment, however, is stirred when a person such as Mary comes into our lives. She shifts our natural thinking from the matters of this world to the Lord God who crossed her life and who drew her into the Life that was being displayed in the Son’s ministry. The Life that drew her in is imbedded in eternity and was shown most clearly in the Son’s crucifixion and resurrection.

Mary was from the city of Magdala on the northwest side of the Lake of Galilee about seven miles to the southwest of Capernaum. The city was an important agricultural, fishing, fish-curing, shipbuilding and trading center. It was able to generate considerable wealth for its inhabitants. Biblical scholars have noted that the population was predominantly non-Jewish because there is evidence of an oval stadium for horse and chariot races. Later rabbis concluded that the city disappeared because of its lack of legal, sexual and moral restraint, achieving a dubious reputation for itself.

We do not know when or where Jesus met Mary. It is not said in the Scriptures that he visited Magdala, though its geographic location put him in nearby areas where he was teaching and healing, preaching and restoring. It does appear that Mary was one of the more prominent Galilean women who followed Jesus. Luke 8 states that seven demons had been driven out of her by Jesus as he made his way through Galilee with the twelve disciples. Matthew 27 describes Mary’s presence at the crucifixion. The presence at the crucifixion is reinforced by Mark 15 along with the comment that she and other women followed Jesus in Galilee and ministered to him.

Her participation in Jesus’ ministry comes to a startling conclusion in today’s Gospel as she is moved from thinking that Jesus’ crucified body has been stolen to recognizing that Jesus has been raised from the dead and is poised to ascend to the Father.

As John recounts that day, Mary has come to the tomb first and, seeing that the stone has been moved, tells Simon Peter and the beloved disciple that the Lord has been taken from the tomb. Both disciples go into the tomb, see the body’s wrappings and, believing, go back home. Mary, though, stands outside the tomb, weeping and peering into it. Observing two angels in there, they ask why she’s weeping. She says it’s because her Lord has been taken away and she doesn’t know where they took him.

Having said this, she turns around and catches sight of Jesus standing there. However, she does not realize it is Jesus. He asks her why she’s weeping and for whom is she looking. Thinking he’s gardener for this area, she states that if he is the one who carried Jesus’ body off, she wants to know where he has been placed so she can take him away. At that point, the non-recognition begins to give way to recognition when Jesus speaks her name. She responds by calling him Rabboni (Teacher)! Jesus orders her to not cling to him because he has not yet ascended to the Father. But he tells her to go to his brothers and explain the coming ascension to them. The passage concludes with Mary going to the disciples, stating that she has seen the Lord and reporting what he said to her.

This is a startling story, one that can lead to a great deal of speculation as one tries to fill in apparent gaps or to fit the details with Jesus’ appearances to others. However, it is better to resist those temptations and remain grounded in John’s account. This makes it easier for us to see how Mary serves as a model for our lives and the Church’s life.

Even though we don’t know her birth date or her death date, we do know that she was gripped by seven demons. The number probably expresses how intense and serious her situation was. Demon possession at that time could reflect all kinds of sickness – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. It is interesting that the biblical writings do not tell us how Jesus rid her of those demons. The point is that his Life crossed hers and she was rescued from them.

This reminds us of the grip on our lives by the unholy trio of sin, Satan and death. As soon as we are born into this world, that grip begins squeezing us. It stirs up all sorts of mayhem, it unleashes all kinds of trouble and difficulty. It is a grip that does not let go until we pass through death. Or until our Lord’s Life crosses our own! Mary had exposure to him as one person to another. We have exposure to him through the Scriptures and the Sacraments of Baptism, Forgiveness and Eucharist which he has gifted to the Church. This is a basic understanding in Lutheran tradition and practice. But the unholy trio blunts the cutting edge of those holy places.

For example, how many of the Lord’s people are mindful of the date they were baptized? A lot or a few? How many of the Lord’s people belong to parish communities where they can take part in the Eucharist Sunday after Sunday? A lot or a few? How many of the Lord’s people are aware that his Word streams only from the Scriptures, and that its activity consists of breaking us loose from the grip of the world’s life so we can restored to the grasp of the Son’s crucified and resurrected Life? A lot or a few? Finally, how many of the Lord’s people belong to parish communities where they can confess their sin privately and be gifted with the Lord’s forgiveness? A lot or a few?

These realities should stir us into taking people like Mary more seriously as a model for our lives in the Holy Trinity. It was his rescue of her that stirred her to faithfully follow him. It is his rescue of us that stirs us to follow him faithfully and honestly. However, because the unholy trio dulls the edge of that rescue so much, we would rather follow those people in the world who happen to be standing out right now.

My friends, let’s not go down that road! Yes, it is attractive and it promises us much meaning and satisfaction. But that attraction and promise is a cruel delusion. The world’s models will toy with us, they will crunch our lives so its natural mayhem will increase, they will continue to work on us so that we take a walk from the Lord who baptized us.

Because the realities of sin, Satan and death are always distracting and stressing us, they have us scrambling to find the god we so desperately need. What’s happens to us is what happened to Mary – the Lord God finds us! Today he finds us through the holy places that stream from our parishes throughout the world.

In these holy places is where his Life crosses ours, in them is where we see our rescue from death, in them is where we are drawn into the Life that comes from and pushes into eternity. From these places is where we can walk into the destruction and death of the world’s life, pointing to the Cross that has pierced such realities. From them is where a person’s life in the Holy Trinity is continually deepened.

We observe Mary’s life today to be reminded of the Lord’s saving and sustaining activity. We observe the lives of all the Lord’s saints for the same reason. We are deeply thankful to the Lord for transforming such individuals so they can be models for us as we reflect his Life to an absorbed, confused and anxious world .

Now may the peace of the Lord God, which is beyond all understanding, keep our hearts and minds through Christ + Jesus our Lord.

This sermon was taken from :

Sunday 10th February 2013 – Listen to Him!

Watch and Listen:



The Word This Week:

Thoughts on The Word:

Luke 9:28-36 (NRSV)

The Transfiguration

Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

In today’s Gospel reading we encounter Jesus with three disciples on a mountain top.  This is significant in that we find throughout scripture that encounters with the divine often occur on mountains.  What happens on the mountain top is something that has many things to teach us as we seek to understand God’s message to us through His Word.  Today though our focus will be on the instruction of the Father to Listen to Jesus.

Jesus is transfigured – transformed – on the mountain, and we see a glimpse of Him as he truly is, we catch a glimpse of his divinity.  However Jesus is not alone on the mountain, he is joined by Moses and Elijah, two of the greatest figures in the history of Israel, representing the Law and the prophets.  These representatives of the Law and Prophets are there to give us a message from this text – Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets.  This is confirmed for us by the great voice of the Father from the cloud (the cloud being another common symbol when encountering the divine)  ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’Do you see the significance of this? in the presence of the Law, the Prophets and Jesus we are to listen to Jesus!  We are to follow Jesus who fulfills the Law, who is the ultimate prophet.  I wonder, how seriously do we as Christians take this directive from the Father – because it is a directive for us, and not just the disciples on the mountain top, it is recorded in Scripture for our benefit as those who seek to follow Jesus… Listen to Him!

It is so easy for us to get caught up in this world, to become so focused on what the world preaches as truth, that we forget to listen to Lord of Lords and King of kings.  We get so caught up wanting to fit in, or to please family and friends that we choose to follow societies norms rather than to live the life of service, faith and love that scripture calls us to.  Some of us do this because we are afraid – we don’t want to be the weird Christian that people talk about and make fun of behind our backs, we don’t want to be different, we want to fit in.  This is a normal feeling, everyone wants to be accepted, to be welcomed and thought well of … but is that what Jesus calls us to do?  Does Jesus call us to conform with the world or to be members of His Kingdom?  You see while we may be able to justify to ourselves the reasons we use for our conformity, we simply cannot conform to the world’s views AND be listening to Jesus. 

Lets explore an example.  The world is increasingly telling us that there is no one way to God, that all faiths are equally valid and just provide a different way of understanding the divine.  Now there are an increasing number of Christians who agree with this view.  A growing number of those who claim to be followers of Christ are willing to openly declare that Islam, or Hinduism provide just as valid a path to God.  They do this out of some naive attempt to be non-offensive to members of other faiths.  However this is not what Jesus said, if we are to listen to Jesus as the father commands us then we must take Him at His word when he tells us … ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6).  Now this can be a hard thing for us to explain to the world – that Jesus is the only way, but it is what He said, and we must be honest with those around us.  We must listen to Him, and tell others what He says.  It won’t always be easy, no-one wants to tell someone something that they don’t want to hear, but by conforming with the world, we perpetuate a lie, and when we do that we become followers not of Christ, but of the master of lies – Satan.

There are many other examples where Christians are being tempted to espouse the view of the world rather than the view put forth by Jesus, and the thing most often said is that we need to show love on issues and not be ‘judgemental’ after all we are all sinners.  Of course that is true – we are all sinners, every last one of us.  However if we are to be sinners that listen to Jesus then we are called to repentance, we are called to live a life in which we seek to turn away from sin – not just allow it to continue.  Let me ask you this – is it loving to tell someone that it is ok to continue to go on sinning? Is it really a loving thing for us to tell Muslim a Hindu or a Buddhist that they will be just fine – that Jesus isn’t the only way to salvation? Would it not be much more loving for us to tell people the truth? That Jesus calls us to turn from sin, that the ONLY way to salvation is through the redeeming work of Jesus? Lets be honest when we conform to the worldly view of these things, we are not showing love for anyone – except ourselves in order to try and protect our own egos and feelings.  If we were showing true love for others we would be seeking to introduce them to the Gospel – the true Gospel, not the watered down version that is acceptable to society, but the genuine Gospel of Christ which calls us to repentance and brings us to salvation through the redeeming work of Jesus on the cross and through his resurrection.

As we move into Lent this week I pray that with me you will seek to renew your commitment to listening to Jesus, just as the father commanded on that mountain top.  I pray that we will have the courage to speak the truth of the Gospel out of a genuine love.  I pray that we will use this time of preparation and reflection, where it is traditional to give something up, to give up our tendency to be followers of the world instead of Christ, and to take up the challenge of displaying the true love of Christ through truly listening, and doing what he says.