Sunday 20th April 2014 – Alleluia He is risen!

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The Word This Week:

Thoughts on the Word:

Matthew 28:1-10 (NRSV)

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

Let us pray – In the name of God, Father Son and Holy Spirit Amen.
Alleluia! Alleluia! He is not here, but has risen!

Today we remember the great triumph in the greatest events in the history of the world – today we remember and praise God that the death of Jesus which we remembered on Friday was not the end, today we remember that he rose again in triumph over the power of death and sin.  On Friday Jesus willingly laid down His own life, and took the just consequence of sin in his own body.  He willingly took the consequence that we have earned, through our sins even though he himself was sinless.  Friday ends with Jesus  taken and put into a tomb  where –  it was supposed – he would stay.

On Saturday his followers faithfully observe the Sabbath – even in their grief and agony over the death of Jesus they remain faithful to God –  but on Sunday Mary Magdalene and the ‘other Mary’ return to the tomb.  These two mourning women encounter an earthquake and the appearance of an Angel, the tomb which they have come to mourn at is opened and the Angel seeing what we can only imagine to be two terrified women in front of Him says “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ …

Now there are so many things we can talk about with regard to the resurrection – we will discuss the importance of its conquering power over death, and what that means  for all of us who have placed our faith in Jesus… hint it means that death will have no hold on us just as it had no hold on Christ! We could talk about the significance of the crucifixion which lead to the resurrection – that moment in time when Jesus took upon himself the sin of the world and opened the door to a life in relationship with God for all those who seek it. 

What I want to talk about first though is the people who Jesus surrounded himself in his life, his death and his resurrection.  Jesus, who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, did not surround himself with nobility, he did not surround himself with upright individuals who were well respected.  He did not surround himself with the righteous, but weak sinners – sinners like you and me.

Jesus’ closest companions along the way were a band of everyday workers – fisherman – tax collectors, and even lower in the social order than tax collectors – women. Jesus opened the door to salvation to all of humanity, and to demonstrate that all were welcome, and that all were loved, he chose the weak and oppressed, the sinners and the poor to be his witnesses.  Nothing speaks of this more than the role that women played in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

In Luke’s Gospel (Luke 1:39-55) we find that the first proclamation of 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 ministers. Rather, two marginalised, pregnant women—Mary young, poor, and unwed, and Elizabeth  far beyond the age to conceive—meet in Judea to celebrate (and maybe even console each other about) their miraculous pregnancies. Elizabeth exclaims: “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?” to which Mary responds by singing those wonderful words proclaiming God’s faithfulness and mercy in the Magnificat.

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 the baptist – 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.

When we move forward to the cross, we find that at the foot of the cross, it is predominantly women who remain with Jesus, the three Mary’s – Mary his mother, Mary Magdalene and Mary the wife of Clopas along with the Apostle John – everyone else has abandoned him in fear.  Then we come to the tomb on that Sunday morning, and who do we find going to the tomb – before the Sun has risen?  Yep, it is those who are the weakest, and most powerless in the society that yet again are chosen to be the first to hear, and then first to proclaim the news – Jesus is not in the tomb, He is risen!

Again and again Jesus chooses those who society would say are not worthy. Again and again God blesses those who are not those that society would deem to be ‘worthy’ of association with God. 

So how does this relate to us today?

Well, let me break this to you gently – you aren’t worthy.  Neither am I – in fact not one person on this planet is ‘good’ enough to get into heaven.  We can never – ever- earn our way into the eternal presence of God through our own actions, because we all sin – and even one sin means we cannot enter his presence. 

Now, for the good part – just like the women in Jesus life, whom society deemed to be not worthy of real respect, and little more than objects, but whom Jesus deemed to be so valuable that he entrusted them with the greatest of honours. To be the first to proclaim his birth, to be present at his death and to be the first witnesses and proclaimers of his resurrection.   Just like these women you are valuable in his sight, you are worthy of his love, and you can be redeemed and have your sin wiped away so that you can get to live eternally in the presence of God after all.  All he asks is that you place your faith and hope in him. 

Brothers and sisters, Jesus rose from death! Not in some metaphorical sense, he really rose from death and by doing so He has defeated sin’s hold on us and calls us to place our hope and trust in him.  When we do so, as St Paul says in his letter to the Church at Rome – we share in his death, and resurrection.

He says : Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection,

Therefore brothers and sisters rejoice, give thanks and praise God! For Christ calls all to follow him, all are welcome and through his death and resurrection all who place their faith in him are made one with him and are set free from the chains of sin and death.

Alleluia! Alleluia! He is not here, but has risen!

Sunday 8th March 2015 – Foolishness

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The Word This Week:

1 Corinthians:18-25 (NRSV)

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’ Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. 

I just don’t know how such a smart person can believe in God!

That is a statement I had made to me a few years ago by a colleague of mine in the department of education.  He and I had many a conversation about many things – we were great mates, but he just could not accept the idea that God had come to earth as a human being, been willing to act as a servant, be arrested, beaten, spat on and eventually killed in a most torturous way on the cross… and don’t even get me started in the idea of the resurrection…


In todays world, we are bombarded with the message that we don’t need God, that Christianity is some outdated religion which has been surpassed by modern science.  We are told that the biblical accounts couldn’t be true – Jesus couldn’t have performed miracles – that just doesn’t happen.  But Paul in our reading from the first letter to the Corinthians draws our attention to the greatest stumbling block for people not just now, but for the last two thousand years. The cross.

It makes no sense for a burgeoning faith group such as the one Paul was a member of, which is seeking to grow in numbers –  to point to the cross.  Why would you point people to this symbol of shame and death? It seems foolishness – even now to point to the cross.  Indeed many priests, ministers and pastors have stopped pointing to the cross as the central core of the Christian faith, and focus instead on the good life and teachings of Jesus… lest they be seen to be foolish by the world…

The thing is though, without the cross, the rest of the Jesus story fades into insignificance.  Without the cross Jesus is just another nice guy who said some nice things 2000 years ago.   When we look to the cross however,  in the shame and in the humiliation of it, we see the glory of God.

You see It is not a symbol of shame for Christians, but a symbol of Christ’s victory over death.  It is a symbol of sin defeated.  During Lent, the 40 days leading up to Easter, we go through a period of preparation – a preparation for the cross, and the resurrection.  We take time to reflect on our own lives and our relationship with God, so that we can better follow our Lord and saviour.  It is a time of repentance and renewal as we rededicate ourselves to Christ.  It is a time to defeat the complacency we sometimes develop in our spiritual lives through disciplined prayer and reading of the scriptures as we prepare for the cross of Good Friday and the resurrection of Easter Sunday.

But why is the cross so important?

Sin.  That word has a bit of baggage nowadays doesn’t it? It has been dragged around by the media, and used by the lunatic fringe to justify hate and violence.  The truth is that sin is simply anything we do that is in opposition to the will of God.  To use Jesus’ summary of the commandments – whenever we fail to love God, or love our neighbour we sin. 

Now you’re probably thinking “yes yes Daryl we know all about sin… “ but bear with me.  Because it is important – Sin separates us from God.  Sin stops us living to our full potential, it stains us and removes us from relationship with the one who created us.

We were created in the image of God, to be in relationship with God – yet because sin is so pervasive and has corrupted the world so much – we have no way to reconcile ourselves to the glorious, perfect creator and sustainer of the universe.  Even if all of humanity were to repent, and somehow manage to stop sinning from this day forward the corruption that has already taken place would mean that we would still remain separated from God – And without reconciliation with God we suffer the wages of sin – death.

That is where Jesus comes on the scene. God himself, recognising that we are incapable of defeating sin, recognising that having committed even one sin we have created an eternal gulf between us and Him. He chose to come to earth as one of us.  He chose to live as one of us, to be tempted as we are, to be as frail and weak as we are.  God chose to live as one of us so that he could mend the bridge – so that as a human being he could live a sinless life, and as a human being he could offer himself on behalf of the rest of us as a sacrifice, a ransom to set us free from the bondage of sin, to reconcile us to God, so that we need not suffer the eternal consequence.

By Jesus – the perfect sinless human dying on the cross – he suffered the consequence of sin without ever having earned it. He took the consequence for us so that we would not have to suffer it.  But how you might ask can one man take the consequence of sin for billions of people – well Jesus wasn’t just a man was he? Jesus is the Eternal Word of God through whom all things came into existence, he is the beginning and end – he is eternal – and so his offering of himself is also eternal.

As the creator of all and therefore being above all, Jesus’ death is sufficient to repay the debt of all. Leaving no debt left for humanity, He then demonstrated his complete destruction and defeat of death through raising again His body on the third day.  His resurrection on the third day which he foreshadowed in our Gospel reading shows also that the corruption of humanity that accompanied death was defeated, as He rose in an uncorrupted body.

That brothers and sisters is why the cross matters. That is why we must always point to the cross of Christ as our victory – because through the cross God has reconciled all who would place their faith in Jesus.  

We sometimes get caught up focussing on the life of Jesus, because we don’t want to talk about the cross.  The life of Jesus is incredibly important – the manner of his birth, his teaching, and his miracles all point us to his identity as God among us.  His life of love and compassion sets the model for us to follow as we seek to serve God and our neighbours.  But we must never forget that the cross is the key – we must not allow the world to stop us talking about this foolish cross of Christ, rather we must cling to it.

I am a fool for Christ. Are you?