Saturday, March 28, 2015

Palms with Passion

This day a week before Easter is a bit of an unusual day for us because it brings together two things that seem to be contradictory. 

We have what we call the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, and we read the story and our hearts are roused by the idea of hailing Jesus as our King.  We wave our palms and we sing Hosanna!

Then we come inside and without really preparing us for it we read Isaiah’s vision of the rejection and suffering that awaits those who seek to do God’s will, and then we retell the familiar story we call “The Passion” – remembering in detail the unfairness of Jesus’ conviction and the horror of his execution.

I guess we celebrate because we believe that in the Resurrection, Jesus was vindicated, but that does not diminish the injustice of Jesus’ conviction or the horror of his execution.  In many ways it could be said that Jesus provoked this reaction from the religious and political leaders of his day, and because we know the end of the story Christians have come to believe that in God’s hands, suffering for the sake of righteousness can be redemptive.

From one angle, that is not a message I like to hear.  Nor do you, I suspect.

I would prefer to believe that goodness would naturally prosper and bear fruit without pain.  That the world would witness the works of righteousness, applaud, and follow suit.  I would prefer to think that loving servants of God would, after a long and successful life, die peacefully in their beds and all people would speak well of them at the funerals.  I do not want to hear that goodness is often rewarded with misunderstanding and rejection.

On the other hand, I do need to hear the ongoing message.

We know from bitter personal experience or from the stories of others we know and love when we take a stand against injustice or some other evil no-one thanks us.  In fact it is often the case that we get into serious trouble ourselves.  So we are often tempted to consider the question, “Will the trouble be worth it?”

But this story of Jesus’ passion not only inspires us with his obvious courage in the face of that opposition.  This story teaches us that any suffering we endure in the course of exercising our Christian integrity is not wasted.  The pain of carrying our cross for Christ in a society dedicated to instant gratification, is not wasted.  In a way it becomes a part of the continuing work of Jesus, and it will be consummated in that new heaven and new earth where sorrow and crying and pain are no more.  This is something we really need to hear.

It has been said by some who have gone through severe persecutions, it is not what happens to you that matters, but how you deal with what happens.  Suffering can disillusion us, embitter us, and break us.  Or we can let God use it for a greater purpose, and in the process be made great by it.

Today is the first day of a week long journey towards the cross.  We know the story.  We remind ourselves of it every year.  We remind ourselves of it every Sunday as we celebrate the resurrection in The Lord’s Supper.

Some of you will have stories of suffering in your lives that you still struggle with today.  Something about them still drags you down rather than up.  It challenges your faith rather than strengthening it.  As we journey towards the cross this week, spend some time thinking of how that story might be told differently for you so that it affirms God’s promise that good can be made of the worst situations.  Remember, it is not so much about what happens to you that matters as how you choose now to respond to it.  This may be where you experience the Resurrection this year.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Those who believe in the Son will not be judged.

As you know I am currently walking with a couple of people towards what they know will be their end.  Terminal illness can be pretty awful for some people, but at least it gives us time to put our houses in order before we die.

One of the questions that is often asked in times like this and is born out of a fear of dying is this: “What about the judgement? – will I make it? – will I be good enough?”

There is a long and image-filled tradition in Christianity that causes many of us to fear the judgement that we believe is facing us – at the “pearly gates” or when we meet our maker. 

One possible explanation for this is our pondering about the sins we commit after we are baptised.  The Church has struggled with this a lot and I see two significant expressions of it. 

In the Roman church they have a theology of Purgatory which is a place you go after you die, but before you are ushered into Heaven.  The purpose of this time in Purgatory is to wash away the stains of those sins you may have committed after you were baptised.  The worse the sins the deeper the stains and the longer you need in the big washing machine of Purgatory.

But churches from the puritan traditions also tried to deal with this problem of sins we commit after our baptism.  They developed something like the Jewish purity code which meant that after you did a bad thing, you had to clean it up by some ritual.  That might involve public confession in church, or coming to the Mercy Seat, as they do in the Salvation Army.

Maybe each of these have their value, but it seems to me that they miss the mark when put alongside the words we read from John’s Gospel today.

Images from the book of Revelation and elsewhere, of Jesus sitting in Heaven on a Judgement Seat, seem to contradict this wonderful affirmation of John in verse 17:  

For God did not send his Son into the world to be its judge, but to be its saviour. 

John then goes on to explain that those who believe in the Son will not be judged, and that the judgement of those who do not believe in the Son is not something being held off till a future time, but is simply a consequence of their decision not to believe.

If we are to rightly understand the idea of God’s grace, then this is the only way it can be.  Paul affirms this idea again and again, as he does in Ephesians 2:

God's mercy is so abundant, and his love for us is so great, that while we were spiritually dead in our disobedience he brought us to life with Christ.  It is by God's grace that you have been saved. 

And this “being saved” business is not something that can be given up lightly.  When we baptise people we anoint them with Chrism oil and we say these words:
“I sign you with the sign of the cross to show that you are marked as Christ’s forever.”  I can’t say these words without believing them.  Do you?

Paul goes on to say in Ephesians:

“It is by God's grace that you have been saved through faith.  It is not the result of your own efforts, but God's gift, so that no one can boast about it.

There are no good things we can do to get us “in” and in fact there are no bad things we can do once we have declared our faith in Jesus that can cause us to miss out.  God knows that none of us is good enough – and never can be.  This is what Paul means when he goes on to say:

God has made us what we are, and in our union with Christ Jesus he has created us for a life of good deeds, which he has already prepared for us to do.”

So, “Why,” you might ask me, “do we say the Confession every time we come to church?”

My understanding of this is that it is not about clearing the slate of the bad things we have done since we last said the confession – although that is probably something of a consequence of it.  Our repetition of the Confession each week is more importantly a reminder to us all every time we gather together that we are not perfect, but we are forgiven.

And when we do this we can enthusiastically take up the life we were created to live – a life of good deeds, not so that we might be save, but because we are saved.

In this reflective season of Lent we have a perfect opportunity to take time to consider what it is that God would have us do in order to live that life.  What are the things God has prepared for you to do?  Sometimes the answer to this is very obvious.  There are good things right in front of you, so to speak, that you could be doing.  Other times you may have to give some good thing a lot of thought before you say to yourself – “Yes, that is what God wants me to do.”  But either way, we are called to be doing good things.

God is good – All the time!

All the time – God is good!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Doing the Right Thing

This sermon was preached by Rev'd Galal Bashir

When I was in Egypt, I used to work in the manufacture of floor tiles and slabs .  One day one of the customers came and bought 61 boxes of slabs- each box with 9 pieces.  He was a police officer.  We had a rule that you had to check your product before you left from the place.  After a few months, that man came back and asked to return one box of broken slabs back.  I called some of the workers to check it for me. 

I said to him, “I can't take it back because they are broken.”

He asked me, "Where is the manager?"

I replied to him, “I am the manager.”

He went to another person and asked him “Where is the manager?” and the person brought him back to me.  

Then he asked me, “Where is the owner?”

I replied, “This is my job, it isn't the owner’s job.”  I spoke to the customer and told him if he spoke to the owner, the owner wouldn't be able to take them back because that isn't his job to manage.

I told this man, who was a policeman, who had authority, to go – to leave and not come back.

Jesus did the same sort of thing in the temple.  That is what the Father sent Him to do.  He did what needed to be done and had the courage to do it.  

In the temple courtyard there were many foreigners, people who they came from different places.  There were Pharisees, high priests, the people of the law, Sadducees, people well educated, rich people, and poor people.  There were people selling animals for sacrifice, and changing Roman money into Temple money.  People had come to the Temple to celebrate Passover.
But Jesus cast them out and cleansed the temple because what they were doing had nothing to do with worshipping God or doing God’s work.   
In this story we see how Jesus went to the Temple and showed us all something important about how to live for God.  He did what he had to do. 
How you live?  Will you live well?  Will you worship God properly?  Will you be honest and true in everything that you do?
As Christians we are in Jesus and Jesus in us.  This for the non-believers not understood.  The Holy Spirit with all people whatever their denomination; culture; colour; rich or poor - even if they are not perfect enough to please God.
Faith in Christ is a principle of action.  To have faith in Christ, is to be willing to act on your belief in Him.  By the leading of the Holy Spirit that person is to committing himself to God.  Christians are called to be honest, they are also called to be courageous and to stand up for what is right.
As we obey the Heavenly Father, He blesses us.  He gives us strength and determination to meet life's challenges and helps us to change the desires of our hearts.  Through faith in Jesus Christ, you can be healed, both physically and spiritually.
Our Heavenly Father promises that when we repent and turn our life towards him, He will forgive us our sins and bless us.  Faith in Jesus Christ and repentance leads to baptism and confirmation in His Church.

The Ten Commandment of Exodus tell us the big things to do or not to do.  The commandments are the law given to people to relate to God and to worship and to obey God. 

But the commandments do not tell us how to act in the little things of everyday life.  To act well in the little things we need the wisdom.  Paul tells us in Corinthians that wisdom does not just belong to the scribe or the rich man.  We learn wisdom by following Christ in all things.  God is wiser than all, and God’s foolishness is still wiser than the wisest man on earth. 

Paul was telling the Jewish people that Christ Crucified is the message which must be accepted and lived.  He is telling us too, that God remains faithful and doesn't change.  Paul is telling us that we can have wisdom for every-day living through faith in Jesus.

We all know that to tell a lie is wrong.  We all know that we have to do what is right.  This understanding is with us so we can do the right thing in life.

I was a bit fearful when I refused to accept back the broken tiles from the policeman.  He was actually an officer – a Major.  This man had recognition in society; he had power and could make life difficult for me.  So I hoped I would not suffer because I stood up and did the right thing.  But this man went away and did nothing – he knew he was wrong.

Let us all pray for wisdom and for courage so that we do the right thing all the time.  This is what Jesus has taught us and what God expects from all of us all the time.