Sunday Sermon 31-05-2020

Pentecost.  May 31, 2020.  Leighmoor UC

Suggested Hymns:

TIS 572: O thou who camest from above

TIS 398: Come down, O Love divine,

TIS 675: Lord, the light of your love is shining

TIS 407: Breathe on me, breath of God

TIS 416: Great God, your Spirit, like the wind

TIS 418: She sits like a bird, brooding on the waters

TIS 421: Where the Spirit is, there’s freedom

The mood of Pentecost is one of great energy.

Images of fire, wind, breath and flowing water.

Colour, sound, movement.

Let us open ourselves to the moving of the Holy Spirit of God in our midst, in our lives.

Prayers of Adoration, Thanksgiving, and Confession

O God of glory,

You created the earth by your power,

you save the human race by your mercy

and you make all new by your grace.

We give thanks for your Spirit.

-active in creation.

The Spirit of Jesus, Spirit of love

-present in the church.

We rejoice in your presence

around us and in us,

like wind in our faces

and breath in our lungs.

Your Spirit gives us life.

We give thanks that in your power, by your Spirit

you give new birth and new life,

Like fire, warmth and radiance,

like life in dormant bulbs

which burst forth in spring.

We rejoice that you seek us,

accept us,

treasure us,

with love older than the mountains you created,

older than the distant stars you set in the heavens.

Your love is old…yet new every morning.

We thank you

Creator Spirit,

Life-giving Spirit,

Nurturing Spirit,

Spirit of love.

And yet, you who created us for life together,

We confess that we have turned from your way.

We have not loved you with all our heart;

we have not loved one another as you commanded.

We have been quick to claim our own rights,

but have been careless of the rights of others.

We have taken much and given little.

Forgive us.

We confess that we have tried to relegate your movement as Spirit, to our command and understanding.

(in a time of silence, we remember other things for which we seek forgiveness).

God is love

Through Christ our sins are forgiven

(thanks be to God).

Take hold of this forgiveness

And live your live in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Amen

Bible Readings

Acts 2: 1-21

Psalm 104: 24-34, 35b

1 Corinthians 12: 3b-13

John 7: 37-39

Sermon: A strange gift.

What is the strangest gift you have ever received?  A wedding present, unused?  We received a unique wedding present-a set of long handled filigree forks and a matching spoon-an exotic item that one uses to dip figs in honey!-well-I don’t like figs-and I don’t eat honey- so-needless to say-perhaps like wedding presents you received-it has never been used!

Perhaps your unusual gift was a birthday present, maybe an item of clothing, hiding at the back of your wardrobe, never seeing the light!

Today is Pentecost, a day when we remember the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the birthday of the church.’

It is important to remember that Pentecost doesn’t celebrate the Spirit coming into being.  Sometimes Christians speak about Pentecost as being the ‘coming’ of the Holy Spirit. 

No

The Spirit, God’s Spirit, has been active from before creation; today’s psalm, Psalm 104 speaks of God’s spirit being active in every age and generation-and for all species.  

What WE celebrate at Pentecost is a moment of new openness and receptivity to this Spirit which gave birth to the church.  In a sense, we ‘see’ the gift of the holy Spirit with new eyes.

A strange gift, the Spirit.  Imagine wrapping it up…and giving it to a child to open.

A box full of nothing…and everything!

The Spirit-symbolized by fire, breath, the dove, and wind. Our Uniting Church logo has the dove, and the red flame.

Fire

Living in bush fire prone Australia, we fear the hot summer, for we know that a fire burns more brightly with a strong wind.  We know that so well from last summer, don’t we?

Fire and

Wind.

1.Wind can be violent, or destructive.  It can force us, or push us, to change direction.

Think of how hard it is to walk when there’s a strong head wind!  At times, we may feel like autumn leaves-tossed about, buffeted by the wind-having no real control over our movements.

We think of the power of cyclones, hurricanes and tornados.

When we lived in Canada, we visited the equivalent of the mid-west, which was prairie country.  We noticed how strange the air was-and the sky-which was a yellow-brown colour.  It was so quiet.  That evening, as we sat in a restaurant-we marvelled at its strangeness, not knowing the reason.  The following morning we were told that the danger of the tornado had passed.

We were babes in the wood!

The destructive power of wind.

2 On the other hand, wind can be cooling, refreshing, life-giving.

Think back to summer-the still, hot days-and then the most welcome evening breeze. 

Wind can be life-giving.  If our lungs do not fill with air-we die.

At the birth of a child, it is important to have the baby breathe-to scream is even better-better for its lungs, maybe not so for the new parents!

The kiss of life-we can save lives with our own breath.

Mouth to mouth can be life-to-life.

Sadly, these days we are learning that our breath, or the breath of others, can be deadly.

Wind.

In Genesis: ‘then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being’(Gen 2:7)

And in Psalm 104:

‘when you take away their breath, they die

And return to their dust.

When you send forth your spirit (or breath) they are created;

And you renew the face of the ground.’(104: 29-30)

Wind can be life-giving, the Spirit is life giving.

Most of us have watched the much-loved film, The Wizard of Oz.

(if we has been allowed to gather to worship, I would have us sing ‘Somewhere over the rainbow’-so you have been spared!)

The storyline, for those who need a refresher: 

Dorothy is unsettled at home, she and Toto her dog get caught up in a cyclone in Kansas. Uprooted, she ends up in the land of Oz (which can mean quite a different thing for we Australians!)

She meets a lion-who is searching for courage

A tin man who wants a heart

And a scarecrow who thinks he is missing a brain.

Dorothy travels with them to find the Wizard of Oz-to request these things (courage, a heart, a brain), and then Dorothy wants to return home.

Along the way they are caught up in a battle- a battle of Good vs Evil-the wicked witch of the East against the Good Witch, or fairy, of the West.

Powerful stuff.

The film speaks to me about Pentecost, about the work, power and gifts of the Spirit.

In their adventures-in their struggle against the danger of the wicked witch, in their time together-in their brokenness-their humanness-this little band of pilgrims find friendship, acceptance, and LOVE.

When they request the things they think they need-courage, the heart of compassion, the brain (intelligence and wisdom)-the Wizard of Oz points out to them that they possessed these attributes all along.  It wasn’t anything he did-it was what they did-recognizing these qualities within themselves.

And Dorothy?

The fairy, or good witch, says that she has always had the power to go back to Kansas, BUT she had to learn it for herself (this was also true for the lion, the tin man and the scarecrow).

Who can forget Dorothy’s heart-rending speech:

“If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard, because if it isn’t there I never really lost it to begin with.”

She realizes that

“There’s no place like home.”

(repeat)

In Acts 2:

‘And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.’

For Dorothy, it meant a cyclone- the strength and power of that wind changed her life forever.

The Spirit’s power transformed the apostles-from people unsure of themselves, with no credentials-to the founders of the church.

We can be sure that the Spirit is still potent-it continues to transform lives-people are changed, renewed, energized.  The Spirit has always been here-it is seen in the Hebrew Scriptures in many different ways-brooding over the waters of creation, to transforming the valley of dry bones in the prophecy in Ezekiel.  In the land of Oz, the gifts of the Spirit can be seen.  The fruits of the Spirit-courage, love, compassion, wisdom, a sense of belonging, knowing right from wrong.  They were always present-but they needed to be named, and called upon, in order to recognize their existence.

In Romans 8: ‘For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.’

Courage! says Paul

In John: ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.’

Courage-says Jesus.

We do not rely on our own strength, or courage.

We have received God’s gift of strength, of courage, of perseverance through the Spirit.

The tin man came to the realization that he already had a heart-he loved and felt loved.

Another gift of the Spirit.

God loves us so much that he gave his only Son who was willing to die for us.

God still loves us-in John’s Gospel we are told that the Spirit will be an Advocate, a Helper.

‘You know him, ’says the writer ‘because he abides with you, and he will be in you.’

We don’t have to search very far-the Spirit is in the very core of our being.

The scarecrow wanted a brain-but his wisdom and intelligence were always present-just un-named.

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth-not conforming to the world’s rules and laws-but to God’s.

And Dorothy? What did she realize?

-that she had a home, that was she loved, that she belonged with her family, that her heart’s desire, her dreams, her visions, her pot of gold at the end of the rainbow-they were all there-right where she was.

The search was within her own heart, not out there in the world.

The Spirit allows us this peace.  Our home is both here, and with God.  We belong to God’s family. We are children of God, even heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.

Isn’t that marvellous?

We belong to God in such an intimate way-God is a loving, compassionate parent.

BUT as children of God, we are also open to pain and suffering.  Our lives and the lives of those around us, bear witness to that.

We are not promised a life of comfort.

(repeat)

The trials of our lives will lead to glory in the end-as Christ suffered and was glorified-so shall we be glorified.

Take heart, my friends.

The Spirit calls us to continue Jesus’ work in the world.  The Spirit dwells with us-like the pillar of fire, and the cloud, for the Israelites during the Exodus.  The Spirit is here-within us, within this place of worship, in our communities, families, places of work, where we volunteer, where we play bowls, or tennis or golf!

When we are quick to anger, or slow to forgive-allow the Spirit to blow within.

If, at times, the coals of compassion are but sparks-burning low due to tiredness, or compassion fatigue-allow the wind of the Spirit to breathe on the coals of our hearts to whip up, igniting the fire of love so that it burns deeply and brightly.

In the film The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy wore red shoes (in the book-they were silver).  We too wear red: we wear the Spirit-its eternal flame burning within our hearts.

Happy Birthday!

What a wonderful gift for us all.  The church.

The Spirit also reminds us that ‘there is no place like home!’

Amen

Prayers of the People

Holy Spirit, Spirit of life, full of compassion, wisdom and truth,

Take flight across the length and breadth of our world this day, we pray.

You, who created order out of chaos, restore our polluted planet, we pray.

May the earth be fruitful and beautiful, rich with your creative energy.

Touch our tiny planet with your power.

Like a dove, you settled upon Jesus at his baptism, affirming his sonship.

Come again to those whose humanity is tarnished, whose self esteem has been beaten down and crushed.

Affirm again the uniqueness of every individual.

You are our comforter, companion and counsellor.

Be present, this day, to heal the sick, to help heal broken hearts, to encourage the lost, to guide the confused.

Be alongside those with covid 19, and with their families, and medical and health teams.

You are the creator of community.

Break down the barriers that separate us-one from another.

Build harmony and understanding in the affairs of the nations.

You are the Spirit of Peace.

Spirit of God, breathe into us the generosity of love, so that we may be your hands and feet in the world.

In the words our Saviour taught us, we are confident when we pray to say-

‘Our Father in heaven…’

Amen

Filled with God’s Spirit, go out to love this world, and all of its inhabitants.

Blessing

‘Come, gracious Spirit, heavenly dove,

With light and comfort from above;

Come, be our guardian and our guide;

o’er every thought and step preside’

(from TIS hymn 402: words by Simon Browne)

In the name of the Father,

the Son,

and the Holy Spirit,

Amen

Sunday Sermon 17-05-2020

Easter 6

Leighmoor UC 17.4.20

Possible Hymns:

Be still, for the presence of the Lord

TIS 121: God himself is present, let us now adore him.

TIS 161: Tell out my soul

TIS 233: I will sing the wondrous story

TIS 245: We have a gospel to proclaim

TIS 276: There’s a light upon the mountain

[we have to be careful re copyright, so I am not listing possible youtube links.  Just type in the title, and if there is one on youtube, it should pop up.]

Bible  Readings

Acts 17: 22-31

Psalm 66: 8-20

1 Peter 3: 13-22

John 14: 15-21

Prayers of Praise and Confession

Creator God, we your human creatures bow our heads and hearts before you,

We acknowledge our utter dependence upon you for every breath.

We praise you for the unique revelation of your love, sending Jesus the Christ into the world,

Good news for a needy humanity.

We worship you, O God, and we ask that you make us midwives, carrying your Word into the world, and laying it gently into the hearts and souls of those around us.

And yet, we confess that we who bear your name, ‘Christian’, often fail to proclaim your presence and power in our own lives.

We confess that we have many idols of wood and stone.

We focus much upon what we build, and use much of our energy for the amassing of property, possessions, and successes, happy to talk about finances, scorecards, and fashion-but often leaving unspoken, words of witness to your goodness, kindness and mercy.

Forgive us.

We complain about what we feel life has not delivered to us, rather than attending to that which we can give to life.

Forgive us and restore us, we pray.

(in a time of silence, we remember other things for which we seek forgiveness).

God is love.

Through Christ our sins are forgiven.

(thanks be to God).

Take hold of this forgiveness

And live your life in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

Sermon May 17, 2020

Tell the story

Acts 17: 22-31

According to an ancient story, there were four men walking through the woods.  Suddenly, they came across a high wall.  Intrigued, they built a ladder to see what was on the other side.  When the first man climbed to the top, he cried in delight, and jumped down.  The same thing happened with both the second and the third men.  When the fourth man reached the top, he smiled at what he saw: lush, green gardens with fruit trees of every kind, streams, teeming with fish, and animals, wild and tamed, in abundance.  Like the others, he was tempted to jump down.  But then he thought of his family, friends and neighbours, and went back to share with them the good news, that he had discovered.

-he went back to share with them the good news he had discovered.

Acts 17: ‘The Paul stood…and said- ‘Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way…’

Sharing your faith.

Do you find it hard to talk about your faith outside the church family?

When was the last time you attempted to share your faith with someone else? 

Let’s be honest.

It’s tough to talk about these matters outside the church, and, even, sometimes within the church.

We don’t want to come on too strong with others, we don’t want to be regarded as some kind of religious fanatic.

-after all-this is the Uniting Church!

William Buckley said that you may be able to mention religion at a dinner party once, but if you bring up the subject twice in one evening you will not be invited back.

Besides, as we sometimes say-

‘I’d rather see a sermon than hear one’

or

‘actions speak louder than words.’

The best way to tell people about Jesus may be the lives we lead, rather than the words we speak

‘Be careful how you live your life…you may be the only Bible someone reads.’

BUT

-our faith is a faith with words.

-our faith is a faith with words.

Certainly, actions are important.

But there are times when we must use words, when we must speak.

And how do we do this-in a world that is often very negative and misinformed about religion?

How do we speak?

How do we share our faith?

Today’s Scripture, from the Book of Acts, may be of some help.

-it may help us in our own struggles to talk about our faith.

Paul goes to Athens, to the pinnacle of Greek culture, and there he tells people about Jesus.

Up to this point in Luke’s Acts of the Apostles, we have seen the power of the gospel to reach rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female.

But here comes another challenge-that of sophisticated intellectuals.

Paul is in Athens, the heart of the very best of pagan culture, the town of Plato.

Frankly-Paul is unimpressed.

Paul sees Athens as little more than wasteland ‘full of idols.’(v.16)

He argues with Jews, Epicureans and Stoics-with philosophers, pagans-who looked down at Paul:

v.18: ‘Also some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers debated with him.  Some said, “What does this babbler want to say?”

Now-Paul is a preacher who is eager to argue with anyone, in whatever world he finds himself.

Here is the only speech in the book of Acts made to Gentiles by the missionary to the Gentiles (who seems to prefer debating with the Jews).

Paul had said that was his mission-to go to the Gentiles, to the non-Jews, to share the good news-back in Acts 13.

Today’s reading records an episode in the life of Paul.

He is a masterful preacher-even in the face of opposition.

He talks to them about the Christian faith.

And, like a good debater, what does he do first?

He flatters his audience!

‘Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way.’

Is this a compliment or a criticism?

Throughout Acts, Gentiles are shown to be religious-they will worship many things-gold, silver, wood, the military, money.

When Cornelius meets Peter in Acts 10, he tries to worship Peter!

When Paul and Barnabas heal a man at Lystra, the whole town names them as gods, and tries to worship them! (Acts 14).

So-Gentiles are very religious.

Yet Paul knows that our chief human problem is not atheism-not not believing in God-but idolatry.  Worshipping other things.

Couldn’t that apply to our modern Western world too?  One writer said: ‘some…worship at the shrine of the Western Way of Life.’

Idolatry can come to us quite naturally-which is a problem in itself.

Or perhaps Paul is praising the Athenians.  Their groping after the ‘unknown god’ is a sign that at least they are searching, seeking.

Their impulse to worship is right, even if the objects of their worship are wrong.  

Then Paul appeals to their knowledge of creation, asserting that his great God ‘made the world and everything in it.’(v.24)

This God cannot be captured in shrines made by human hands but exists over the face of the whole earth that we all might find our true purpose in his service alone. (vss 28-29)

Paul observes nature and its wonders as a forerunner of faith.

How can people look up at the stars, or ponder the mysteries of life in the world without imagining a real, though still unknown, divine force behind it all?

How can we, looking up into the night sky-not marvel and wonder at God’s creation?

Paul hopes to move them toward faith, by way of the natural world

-nature.

Start where people are-their own life experience.  You can’t share your faith, ignoring others’ lives.

I think we have all experienced that for ourselves at some point in our lives.

-someone ramming religion down our throat.

Be sensitive, don’t ignore and discredit their experiences.

Yet, Paul cannot convert his audience solely through an appeal to observe the world.

Too many people look at grass growing-and see only cells dividing.

-or look at the sky and see bits of matter and swirling balls of gas.

They do not see the Creator’s mind, heart and touch in creation.

I often think that if you take a cup of tea and sit in the garden-not only do you feel close to God-you can see and experience God’s handiwork, have a little insight into God’s wonderful design-just sit still in awe.

But for the pagans-something more than nature is needed

-and that something is: the resurrection.

-a fact that is contrary to our observation of the way the world works.

In nature-things decay, decline, die.

Death is death.

What is done, is done-over, finished, ended.

YET Paul concludes his speech with the resurrection-for resurrection is, for Christians, our assurance.

Something that is beyond the natural.

-which is the final assurance that this one is ‘Lord of heaven and earth.’

Paul then mentions judgement-and risks rejection by his audience.

-there is no evidence, from nature, for the resurrection.

-there is no evidence that our actions shall be judged by an authority higher than our own opinions.

The response to Paul’s address was mixed-some mocked him, others believed, and others wanted to hear more.

‘We will hear you again.’

They wanted to hear more.

One of Paul’s converts was Dionysius, who became the first bishop of the church at Athens-so it may not have been a stunning success at the time-but it was certainly not a failure.

Sharing your faith.

What can we learn from this episode?

  1. Don’t be discouraged.

As in this episode, some will believe, some will scoff.  Happened in the gospels too, with Jesus and his disciples.

We know that many do not go to church now. Gone are the days of large congregations and overflowing Sunday Schools.

BUT

The love is still there!

Once children leave our communities of faith we might not see them again- -BUT if the seeds have been planted-their moral compass is in the right place, pointing due North.

  1. Our best opportunities for sharing our faith will not be in fancy speeches, but in our daily, ordinary contact with people.
  2. Keep at it-by our words and deeds.  You have no idea what seeds you plant.  Sunday School teachers-they have no idea what seeds they plant.  I remember my Sunday School teachers with love-they were very special people. They loved us.

We can’t compel people to believe-faith is a gift from God.

Some of us share our faith via words, but, I think, most share the love of Christ quietly, through deeds of mercy and love.

Or through a hesitant question from someone.  Perhaps asking what do you do at Christmas time?  Are you going away at Easter? These are little opportunities to be able to say: “No, we stay home so that we can go to church-as Christians, it is our biggest celebration.”

Or if someone is sick: “Would you like me to “say a prayer for her when I get home?

Or-‘what gave you strength during the time of covid 19?’ ‘What kept you going?’

You don’t have to reply with mountains of words…sometimes it be just one: ‘God.’ ‘Christ.’

Or two: ‘My faith.’

We share our faith in our own particular way.

Loving others, wanting the best for our fellow human beings-is the starting point.

Love and respect.

Be like the fourth man in my opening story-he saw the beauty of the garden-and knew he had to share that with others.- the ‘good news’, the ‘God news.’

Share the beauty, the jewel, the preciousness of the Christian life, with others.

-in what ever way you can.  The world needs this love more than ever,

Amen

Prayers of the People

Loving God,

 We pray for the world-your world, our world.

Our hearts are heavy.

Our worry enormous.

Our burdens increase day by day.

We pray for our troubled world-for those affected by the recent suicide bombings in Afghanistan this week.

We pray for their families, for the survivors.

Prayer in the time of Coronavirus (by our Moderator)  

 

God of love, God of grace, God of surprises, 

We are grateful for the moments of love and community we share. 

We know you are with us.  We know the promise we have in you.  Yet we live with our hurt in the present and uncertainty in the time ahead, and wonder what the future holds for us and our communities. 

We pour out our hearts and souls to you … and pray: 

for your world, your peoples and all who inhabit the face of the earth; 

for those who are grieving for loss of loved ones,  for those who fear for their safety,  for those who feel most isolated and alone; 

for those who give of themselves to support others:  health care workers, cleaners, teachers, truck drivers and delivery personnel,  pharmacists, grocery sales assistants, phone counsellors,  personal care assistants, those who prepare meals for emergency food relief 

… bring your comfort, hope, strength, and healing love. 

We pray for our communities of faith, that we may be beacons of hopefulness, of promise, of peace with each other,  and of inclusive love for neighbour. 

We pray in the hope we know in Jesus, in whom we see and know the fullness of the grace and love of God. 

Amen. 

 

Denise Liersch, Moderator, Synod of VicTas  14 May 202

Dismissal

Let us go out, or stay in, to sow the seed of the good news of Jesus Christ, trusting God for its growth and its fruit.

Amen

17.5.20

Leighmoor. UC

Easter 5 Sermon 10-05-2020

Easter 5, May 10th, 2020 

Hymn suggestions

TIS 703: As the deer pants for the water

TIS 474: Here in this place

TIS 647: Comfort, comfort, all my people

TIS 599: Take my life and let it be

TIS 254: O changeless Christ, for ever new

TIS 581: Happy the home that welcomes you, Lord Jesus

TIS 590: What a friend we have in Jesus 

TIS 628: In faith and hope and love

TIS 739:  Nothing can trouble, nothing can frighten

Call to Worship

Gracious, Creative God,

We give you thanks that we are awake, living today which is a fresh new day, never been here before, and never will be again!

May we be nourished, inspired, equipped…and comforted, today and always

Amen.

 

Prayer

Holy, Creator God, on this autumn day, with the golden leaves falling and the crisp morning air invigorating our bodies, we come in the name of the risen Christ to worship you.

We have every reason not to let our hearts be troubled, not to be afraid of anything in life or death.

For we are your people, loved by you.

During these days when we have been confined indoors, help us to be mindful of all your blessings to us.

You are the God of seasons: of autumn with its blue skies, rich red and orange hues,

Of winter, a time of rest, of chill, of rain.

Of spring with new life: buds, blossom, perfume -such an overflowing abundance of bloom and greenery

And of summer, with its heat and dust.

You are the God of our own seasons: baby, toddler, child, teenager, adult, senior citizen…all within these bodies of ours.

You are wonderful!

Yet, sometimes we neglect to say ‘Thank you’

Sometimes we become so overwhelmed by world events, and worry, so that we forget to put our trust in you.

Forgive us.

Sometimes we become so caught up in the ‘what ifs’ that we neglect to look at the many blessings we have received-recently, and throughout all our lives.

Forgive us.

Sometimes we neglect the ministry of prayer, which is a gift to us, a way we can talk with and to you-without needing an internet connection, or wi-fi, or cable-just  to be.

Forgive us, and in a time of silence we remember other things for which we seek forgiveness.

God is love.

Through Christ our sins are forgiven.

Thanks be to God.

Take hold of this forgiveness, and live your live

in the power of the Holy Spirit,

as forgiven people.

Amen.

Bible Readings:

Acts 7: 55-60

Psalm 31: 1-5,15-16

1 Peter 2: 2-10

John 14: 1-14 

Sermon: John 14: 1-14

Grand Designs

What house did you dream about living in, when you were a child?

In my fantasy, mine had turrets, and was very much castle like in design-but not in size.  It was small with turrets. 

I loved the idea of a circular tower, sitting up there, a bit like Rapunzel.

Now-I don’t fancy a circular room-too hard to get furniture to fit (except at exorbitant prices) and I don’t relish all the stairs in a tower (and not sure if a circular stair lift would work!)

I don’t live in a castle, or a house with turrets 

and that is fine-because it is my home, and HOME is where the heart is!

Grand Designs.

Ever watched the show?  My husband quite enjoys it (the UK version), but frankly, it annoys me and I usually walk away before the program is half over.

I also mutter throughout-which is probably a bit annoying for David.

If you haven’t seen the show, the premise is about a house being designed that is extra special.  I quite like the ones that are built to be ecofriendly, but some…

Well, last week’s, as an example.  A couple sold their perfectly good house to make the 100 year old concrete water tower at the bottom of their garden into a home!

I understand the need and desire to preserve something of history-but- a concrete water tower?-for an enormous amount of time and money?

So…you can hear me, can’t you.  Mutter, mutter, mutter. “How much?  Why? What luxury when there are so many people who are homeless…” etc etc.

Grand Designs.  Could be the title for today’s sermon.

I will preface my sermon by stating that there are two dominant themes in today’s portion of Scripture.  

One is to look at Jesus’ words of comfort: ‘In my Father’s house…’

Or

‘I am the way, the truth, and the life.’

If I looked at both, you would need to schedule in a lunch break! 

I have chosen to address the first one, ‘In my Father’s house…’ which, in a sense, follows on from last week.

Last week one of the readings was Psalm 23.  In my sermon for Leighmoor Uniting Church, I spoke of it being ‘an old friend.’

-a source of comfort.

Today we meet another source of comfort, a much loved portion of Scripture, used at many funeral services, and during the journey of dying: John 14.

These are words spoken by Jesus, to his disciples after the Last Supper-words they needed to hear, to help them through the harrowing days ahead.

These are words WE hear when we are upset

‘do not let your hearts be troubled.’

Words we hear when we start to doubt:

‘believe in God, believe also in me’

Words we hear when we need comforting whilst WE grieve…and when we fear death:

‘In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?’

Dwelling places: in the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Mansions: in the King James Version (KJV)

Rooms: in the Revised Standard Version (RSV) and in the New International Version (NIV)

Grand Designs

Words We hear when we are scared, fearful of dying:

‘And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.’

‘In my Father’s house…’

Grand Designs.  Wouldn’t you love them to do a program about this verse of Scripture?

In a loving parent’s home…

We can’t help but think of death sometimes, can we?

Especially these days.

We believe we will be with God, and see those who went before us…

But sometimes…sometimes…our knees shake a little and we may think ‘but…what if that is not so?’

Remember, these words were also for the disciples, who were about to fall-to deny, to betray, to leave, to hide…

Their sun was going to set at midday and their world was going to collapse in chaos around them.

A such a time there was only one thing to do-hang on to faith, trust in God.

There comes a time when we have to believe, believe because we can’t PROVE it

-to accept-where we cannot or do not understand.

We might cling on to the sense that there is a purpose in life, that there is meaning…that love is the reason…that it isn’t about the meaning of life, but that life has meaning…

BUT

We need more than inspirational quotes.

In this passage, we receive more.

(like those old adds on tv: ‘…and there’s more!’ I think it was usually a steak knife!)

Jesus offers more than a steak knife. He offers life, eternal life.

‘In my Father’s house there are many rooms…’

A grand design!

I remember reading this passage to a dying lady and her family. They said she wouldn’t like that very much as she hated house work.  I said it was heaven…no dust!

These words may simply mean that in heaven there is room for all.

-room for all.

I don’t know about you-but our house sometimes feels a bit cramped-especially during the past seven or so weeks.  Enough room most of the time-but one expects to get out a bit more.  Also, sitting at home one discovers that those piles of things, and boxes, really do need to be sorted-but where to put the items after they are out of the containers?  I think you know what I mean!

An earthly home can quickly become overcrowded.  An earthly home can have ‘no room’-think of the Christmas story: ‘…because there was no place for them in the inn.’ (Luke 2: 7)

We have driven past motels, and seen ‘no vacancy signs.’ I think I remember going on holiday-seems a long time ago!

Heaven is not a tight fit, not a small house but a truly GRAND DESIGN 

Heaven is as wide as God’s heart

-heaven is as wide as God’s heart

There is room for all.

As it says in The Message: ‘There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you?’

Jesus was saying to his disciples, his friends, “Don’t be afraid.  People may shut their doors, not let you in…but in heaven, you will never be shut out.”

-you will never be shut out.

What words of grace!  It doesn’t matter what you have done-you will not be shut out!

What else does this portion of Scripture tell us?

Well-it reminds us of Jesus’ honesty.

“If it were not so…would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?”

And…in that pivotal verse: ‘I am …the truth…and the life.’

None of us, no Christian, was EVER led to belief through false pretences, or through lies or cunning. He told his disciples (and us) of persecution, of hatred, of our own crosses that we would have to bear…Jesus did not promise us a life without hardship, without illness, without grief…

BUT he did tell us and his disciples of the glory, of the ending of his story.

Jesus did not bribe people with promises of an easy life…instead, he set a challenge-to aim for greatness, to live a more truthful, just, compassionate life

-to model him. 

Perhaps the image of the house, can call us to prayer.

We call the church ‘a house of prayer.’ 

Robert Munger’s book, My Heart-Christ’s Home, is a small, devotional classic.  Munger explores the house and it rooms, through the eyes of a young convert, to speak about our relationship with Christ.  In each room something new is discovered. In the ‘living room’, the young student and Christ agree on a time to meet each day, sitting in comfy armchairs near a fire, with a bookcase nearby.  The student is thrilled, and agrees to start each day with Christ, in this room.  So each morning they meet, Christ taking the Bible off the shelf and they read it together.

Munger writes: ‘Those times together were wonderful.  Through the Bible and his Holy Spirit He would talk to me.  In prayer I would respond.  So our friendship deepened in these quiet times of personal conviction.’

However, pressures of life got in the way of this regular time together. Days were missed.

One day the student rushes down the steps and passes the living room, its door open.  He goes in and sees Christ there, waiting.  He asks him if he has been there every morning.  Christ replied that he has been, He had said he would be. 

Ashamed the student asks for forgiveness.  Christ tells him that this time was not only for the student, it was also for Him. Munger has Christ say these very moving words: 

‘…you have forgotten that this time means something to me also.  Remember, I love you.  At a great cost I have redeemed you.  I value your friendship.  Just to have you look up into my face warms my heart.  Don’t neglect this hour if only for my sake. Whether or not you want to be with me, remember I want to be with you.  I really love you!”

Munger concludes with: “Don’t let Christ wait alone in the living room of your heart, but every day find a time and place when, with the Word of God and in prayer, you may be together with him.”

John 14 has Jesus promise to care for us here, and in the next life.

We are NOT alone-never have been, never will be.

What a Grand Design! Heaven:

‘In my Father’s house…’

What a Grand Design! And our hearts:

Home is where the heart is.

Home is where God’s heart is

Home is where God’s heart is beating within my heart, within your heart!

‘In my living room, in my heart…resides the Father…and the Son…and the Holy Spirit…’

Amen

Prayers of Intercession

God of love, we come to you with our prayers for others.

During this time of pandemic, we ask that you are there with those on the front line: the doctors, the nurses, and other members of health teams.

Be with those who are suffering, those who are dying.  Comfort them, and their families.

God of love, we pray for those going to work, who feel unsafe, but know they are performing vital services.

We pray for, and give thanks for those working in supermarkets, at check outs, or stacking shelves, for their cheerful faces and friendly manner.

We pray for churches world wide, unable to worship face to face.  We thank you for the many different ways we are learning to be ‘church.’

We pray for the world, your world.  We have been caught up with Covid 19, but we know there are other crises going on-wars, hunger, drought.

Be with those in trouble spots.

We pray for world leaders, and for our own leaders.

Give them wisdom, courage, and compassion.

In a time of silence, we remember those near and dear to us who need our prayers…

All these prayers we give to you, Lord, as we join in the prayer you taught your disciples:

‘Our Father in heaven…

Amen

Dismissal

Go out into the world with joyful hearts.  

Know you are loved…love others.

God has rooms …rooms for us, rooms for all.

Blessing

(Bruce Prewer’s words are used as the basis for this Blessing:)

May the nurturing, fatherly love of God always hold you in strong, everlasting arms.

May the costly, brotherly love of Christ ever walk beside you and deliver you from all evil.

And may the dependable, motherly love of the Spirit ever enfold you with holy warmth. 

Amen

 May 10th 2020

 

Easter 4 04-05-2020

Easter 4 

Psalm 23: Shepherd Sunday

Hymn Suggestions

703: As the deer pants for the water

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FBppKZ0eJlQ

or

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5pZkLWZv-E

(the first one is sung by Robin Mark, the second has gorgeous photography!)

107: Sing praise and thanksgiving, let all creatures living

10: The Lord’s my shepherd

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pN4tPkX0MG0  (Stuart Townend)

or

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l1HGlNcpdV4 (more traditional)

145: The king of love my shepherd is

233: I will sing the wondrous story

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hDPCFbAysBc

588: In heavenly love abiding

624: Christ be my leader by night as by day

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H79Z2EVGS98  (in this one there are masks against covid 19 virus!)

Bible Readings:

Acts 2: 42-47

Psalm 23

1 Peter 2: 19-25

John 10: 1-10

Prayer

You come to us as Shepherd.

Give us protection.

You come to us as Shepherd.

Give us our daily food.

You come to us as Shepherd.

Give us a safe place to rest.

You come to us as Shepherd.

Shepherd, we are glad to be your sheep!

Amen

Sermon: Psalm 23

The book ‘I Heard the Owl Call My Name’ is about a young Anglican vicar, sent by his bishop to minister to the Native American Indians of the parish of Kingcome, on the wild coast of British Columbia, Canada.  He is unaware the he has, at best, three years to live.  The bishop, knowing of the illness, sends him to this parish, so that Mark, in the short time available to him, may learn how to live DEEPLY, how to experience life in all its splendour, in all its pain.  As a man of faith Mark knows the meaning of life

-he KNOWS it, in his head, but within this Indian community, his new parish, he learns to EXPERIENCE it, to FEEL it, within the depths of his being.

“It has always been easier here, where only the fundamentals count, to learn what every man must learn in this world.” said the Bishop.

“And that is?”

“Enough of the meaning of life to be ready to die”, said the Bishop.

Enough of the meaning of life to be ready to die.’

The fourth Sunday of Easter is known as ‘Shepherd Sunday.’

Today we greet our old, treasured, much-loved friend, Psalm 23.

It is a psalm which comforts, reassures us.

It is a psalm which expresses great confidence in the ability of God to protect, to guide, to feed, and to lead.

We experience God as shepherd.

We trust our Shepherd-hard image perhaps for suburban dwellers!

Scholars do not know if David wrote this psalm but in a sense that doesn’t matter.  We have this psalm as part of our religious heritage, and even if David did not write it, we associate him with sheep.  

David, a son of Jesse, of the tribe of Judah, spent his early life as a shepherd in the Bethlehem area.

He is chosen to be the next king.  When he wishes to be sent out to battle Goliath, and Saul protests that he is ‘just a boy’ David replies:

‘The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion, and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of the Philistine.’

He trusts God-and has guts!  This verse also alerts us to the real dangers of being a shepherd in those days.  To be a good shepherd meant to put your life in jeopardy. There were always dangers.

You had to protect yourself and protect and guard the lives of your sheep. This was not a quiet stress free occupation-we are not talking about the images we may associate with the book or film of Heidi, or travel brochures promoting Switzerland and the peace and quiet of the Swiss Alps.

Shepherds would carry a rod or club-to defend himself against wild beasts or robbers.  He would carry a staff, which is like a crook.  This was used to catch and pull back straying sheep.  Bishops carry a crozier or crook, to remind them of their calling to shepherd their flock, to guide, to lead, to comfort them.

The shepherd would also carry a sling.  When a shepherd needed to call back a straying sheep, he would sling a stone.  They were so skilled in this that it was possible for them to land a stone or pebble right in front of the sheep’s nose, warning it back.  There were no sheep dogs in Israel!

But the sling shot was also useful when needing to defend the sheep from attack.

David a good shepherd, a brave shepherd, a shepherd who trusted God.  Even if he did not write Psalm 23, we associate the life and dedication of a shepherd with David.  Such perseverance and hard work helped equip him for the duties of king.  Many of the qualities were the same: trust, hard work, thinking of others, courage, guiding, protecting.

It is a psalm many of us link back to our childhood.

I remember my Sunday School had a picture of Jesus as the good shepherd, and this psalm was written beneath it.  I do not remember ever NOT knowing it.  

It is often the first portion of Scripture memorized.

As I said earlier, for, me, Psalm 23 is an old friend.  I am sure many of you would be able to say this also.

It is a psalm for children: it expresses a child-like trust in God’s ability to protect us, like a shepherd.

So it is a psalm that may have been at, or near, the beginning of life.

God has the qualities needed to be a good shepherd.

Sheep are usually docile-the shepherd is not.

The shepherd is actively guiding, seeking, leading, protecting.

‘He makes me lie down in green pastures.’ The shepherd finds the right spot for the sheep to rest, to be restored.

We are led by God, we are restored by God.

Our religious heritage shows us how God acts as shepherd.  During the Exodus-the wilderness wanderings.

Psalm 100 :3: ‘Know that the Lord is God.  It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.’

In the reading from John 10: 11:  Í am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.’

In Í heard the owl call my name’ Mark, the dying minister, has been led by God to a green pasture, to be restored, refreshed, renewed.  He has been led there by his bishop, the shepherd of his flock, who has been guided by another shepherd, God.

Mark rests-and learns to trust others

-and learns to trust himself.

His soul has been restored.

The Hebrew word for soul is NEPESH, ‘spark of life.’ It is the strength by which we live.  It is the spark necessary for our well being.

Mark has found strength in God.

Psalm 23 is a psalm for the beginning of our lives

-and a psalm for the end of our lives

-as well as for in between these two.

‘Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil, for you are with me.’

Psalm 23 dares to speak about death, dares to speak about the end, that dark valley- AND NAMES IT AS A PLACE WHERE THE GOOD SHEPHERD CONFRONTS US.

-and names it as a place where the good shepherd confronts us.

It is scripture for the beginning of life and for the end of life.

Think of the number of funerals you have attended, and the number of times this psalm is read or quoted.

Many, nearing the end of their earthly lives, turn to this psalm.  I was chaplain in aged care facilities for nearly 9 years.  I would call this a well-used psalm.  Worn at the edges, fading pages psalm.  You know what I mean-used a lot!

Embraced.

Early Christians, who died as martyrs, went to their deaths with this psalm on their lips…as will many of us as we approach our end.

It speaks of life, and dares to speak of death.

Mark, who is learning how to live…and is also learning how to die.  Some of the myths of the Indian tribe spoke about death as a time when you went to the land of the owl.  Indeed, when you heard your name called by an owl, you were nearing death-hence the title ‘I heard the owl call my name.’

If a child died, the mother would say ‘Do not look back.  Do not turn your head.  Walk straight on.  You are going to the land of the owl.”

-he leads me in the right paths for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil for you are with me.’

‘Under a green spruce old Marta stood by herself, her eyes on the young vicar.  How thin and white he was!  How long had it been there-that look on his face she had seen many times in her long life and knew well?  It was not the hard winter that had placed it there, it was death reaching out his hand, touching the face gently, even before the owl had called the name.

Later

‘Mark trudged up the black sands to the path and stopped.  From the dark spruce he heard an owl call-once, and again- and the questions that had been rising all day long reached the door of his mind and opened it.

“Marta, something strange happened tonight.  On the banks of the river I heard the owl call my name,” and it was a question he asked, an answer he sought.

She did not say, “Nonsense, it was my name the owl called, and I am old and with me it does not matter.” She did not say, “It’s true you’re thin and white, but who is not?”

She turned, lifted her sweet, kind face with its network of wrinkles, and she answered his question as she would have answered any other.

She said, “Yes, my son.”

Psalm 23 dares to speak about death-yet comforts us by saying we will not be alone, that the shepherd will be there.

God’s presence transforms every situation.  God is present.  But this relationship does not exclude deathly valleys; we are born, we learn that death is part of life, and will one day be part of our life experience BUT we can trust in the loyalty and strength of our shepherd-we will be guided and met, at the end of the valley.

We as Easter people need not fear death for Jesus has gone before us and will greet us when it is our turn.

‘I am the good shepherd and I know my own and my own know me”

The Hebrew word for follow is RADAP which can mean ‘follow’ or ‘pursue’.  Does this add a different meaning?  Instead of being ‘followed’ we are ‘pursued’ by God-more like a shepherd who guides, seeks, leads, protects.

God pursues us, wants us as his own.

Reminds me a little of Francis Thompson’s 182 line poem ‘Hound of heaven’.  As a hound pursues a hare, relentlessly…so does God pursue us.  John Stott, an evangelical Christian, in his book Why I am a Christian confesses that he is a Christian not because of the influence of his parents and teachers, nor to his own personal decision, but to being relentlessly pursued by ‘the Hound of Heaven’, Jesus Christ himself.

Remember how Jesus pursued his disciples after Easter; they thought they were ‘safe’ behind locked doors-but they were sheep, without a shepherd.

Jesus pursued his disciples after his resurrection, and continues to do so-because we are loved.

‘And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my while life long.’

Mark dies, and is buried.

‘In her house old Marta lay awake in the dark, and she said softly, “Walk straight on, my son.  Do not look back.  Do not turn your head.  You are going to the land of our Lord.”

Psalm 23: a psalm for the beginning of life, and for the completion of life.  The bishop told Mark that everyone must learn enough of the meaning of life to be ready to die.

Go out into the richness of life, as people of the resurrection.

There will be difficult times, storms ahead, but remember the good shepherd is there, pursuing you with his blessings, his faithfulness, his steadfast love.

The Psalmist-maybe David-maybe not-wrote about how he kept his hope alive and found that at journey’s end, it was a coming home.

‘Past the village flowed the river, like time, like life itself, waiting for the swimmer to come again on his way to the climax of his adventurous life, and to the end for which he had been made.’

There have been many translations of the 23rd Psalm.  Most of them add something to our understanding , a new way to approach an old friend.

I will conclude a version, a translation from a native American Indian (or First Nations):

‘The Great Spirit above is a shepherd Chief, I am His and with Him I want not.

He throws to me a rope, and the name of the rope is Love; and He draws me very tenderly to where the grass is green, and the water not dangerous, and I eat and lie down satisfied.

Sometimes my heart is very weak and falls down; but He lifts it up again, and draws me into a good road, for His name is Wonderful.

Sometime, it may be very soon, it may be longer, it may be a long, long, time, He will draw me into a narrow place between mountains.  It is dark there but I’ll not turn back, and I’ll not be afraid, for it is in there between those mountains that the Shepherd Chief will meet me, and the hunger I have felt in my heart all through this life will be satisfied.

Sometimes He makes the love rope into a whip, but afterwards He gives me a staff to lean on.

He spreads a table before me with all kinds of food, He puts his hand upon my head, and all the tiredness is gone.

He fills my cup till it runs over.  What I tell you is true, it is no lie.

These roads that are away ahead will stay with me through this life, and afterwards I shall go to live in the big camp, and sit down with the Shepherd Chief forever.

Amen.

Prayer

Shepherding  God,

We know you look after us during our lives, staying by our side, strengthening us as we face ordeals. We know and believe that you will guide each one of us when it is our final journey.

Gift each one of us a sliver of your courage, a pinch of your compassion, a dusting of your love…it will be more than enough to satisfy us, and the wider world.

Amen.

Barbara Allen

May 3rd, 2020 Leighmoor UC

Sunday Sermon 26-04-2020

Easter 3, April 26, 2020.  Leighmoor UC.

I am aware that if we had been meeting for worship this Sunday, the service would have included material for Anzac Day.  I have written a prayer, and I have also inserted one after the Sermon, which is from a resource written by Uniting Church chaplains serving in the Australian Defence Forces.

Hymn Suggestions:

161: Tell out my soul

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s6ji4y9Q-K0&list=PL5DD548A5057D8327&index=3&t=0s

395: Alleluia, Christ is risen!

254: O changeless Christ, for ever new

514: Be known to us in breaking bread

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8aOwYeG_jyU

595: O Jesus, I have promised

613: Lord of all hopefulness

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b8mti7VL3gg&list=RDb8mti7VL3gg&start_radio=1&t=0

47: Our God, our help in ages past [Anzac Day]

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rsHIwXTjAOU

Bible Readings:

Acts 2: 14a, 36-41

Psalm 116: 1-4, 12-19

1 Peter 1: 17-23

Luke 24: 13-35

Prayer

O wonderful God, you who created the earth and the sky, you delight us too by your nearness.

You astonish us through the ordinary ways you make yourself known to us.

May our hearts be filled with gratitude-for you, our Creator, who fashioned this planet and the rest of the solar system, and who created each one of us.

You place us on the road…to faith…to mission…meeting grace, goodness, and compassion, along the way.

We remember today those who were and still are, involved in the bloodbaths of war.

We pray for all affected by war…for war widows, for people who grew up minus a father, and for those who did not recognise the one who returned.

Even though we are in lock down-our hearts are not.

We continue to pray for our armed service men and women who are serving, and pray that one day, there will be no war, and all will live in peace,

We pray this prayer in the name of our Prince of Peace,
Amen

Sermon

The Journey to the Heart

[Luke 24: 13-35]

In the 1960’s, there was a very moving book-and later, a film, released

-a story of three friends

– 2 dogs and a cat, making their way through 400 kms of Canadian wilderness, to get back to their master.

The Incredible Journey.

I must have been about 6 years old when I saw the film-a Saturday matinee-and I cried, and cried and cried!

-the story of the animals, making their way home.

The Incredible Story. There has since been a remake: Homeward Bound,(1993)

Another Incredible Story:

‘Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about 7 miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.  While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them…’(Luke 24: 13-15)

The Incredible Journey.

-two disciples on the road to Emmaus that first Easter evening.

-they are walking from Jerusalem after an unsettling weekend.

-they carefully review the events of the past days.

Cleopas and his unnamed companion

(because often unnamed people in the Bible are women, some scholars suggest that the unnamed one is a female disciple), but it doesn’t matter

-They were members of the larger circle of the disciples of Jesus-and they were very depressed.

The promising adventures of these last years in which they had invested themselves, failed to show them the redemption of Israel:

‘But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.’(vs 21)

Their incredible young leader, in whom they had such hope, was arrested, sentenced to death, and crucified.

To be sure that morning there were stories circulating that the tomb of Jesus was empty, that He was alive!

But such reports were not acceptable.

Meanwhile, an unrecognized Traveller appeared and joined with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.

The stranger asked about their conversation.

These depressed ones express surprise that the Stranger was unaware of the harassment, and death of the prophet of Nazareth.

Then they shared their own bewilderment at the fact that on the third day when there should have been some glorious fulfilment, their hopes were only further crushed.  Even though the women had told them of an empty tomb and the vision of angels, they discounted this report.

So what does the Risen Christ, seen as a ‘stranger ’do?

HE TELLS THEM OFF!

‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!’

Let’s consider for a moment, what their encounter with the risen Christ tells us about their faith:

  1. The disciples show many of the traits we all show-

In our faith-there is the initial enthusiasm, them disillusionment after the honeymoon period, then a rekindled fervour (later they said ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road…’)

  1. They worked through their disappointment in their sharing with Jesus.

To have someone come and join in, as Jesus did, reminds us what a key element sharing faith is-even when we have doubts.

Let’s keep these points at the front of our minds as we hear the rest of the story.

What happens?

They come near to the village, it’s almost evening, they urge him to stay with them.

Why?

The Biblical precepts of hospitality: it was very important to display hospitality and to extend that to strangers-as Abraham entertained angels, so too, may we…(maybe we have to wait until the end of lock down-or recognize those in our household as angels!)

Also-they may have been eager to learn more from their travelling companion.

THIS is the turning point for them.

This is where they are changed from doubting and despairing disciples, into excited witnesses for their Lord.

Their action-their invitation changes him from a stranger to a companion.

Recognition of the risen Christ comes with the act of breaking bread and the sharing of a meal.

The word ‘companion’ means ‘one who eats bread with another.’

We have all had those meals, haven’t we…perhaps with someone we don’t know very well-maybe even just met-and by the end of the meal, the time together, they have become a friend.

Once He has blessed the bread and given it to them, their eyes are opened.

BUT their journey, their incredible journey, does not stop there.  Their journey takes a turn-back to Jerusalem, to share the good news.

Last week we heard about the disciples gathered in lock down.  Once Jesus appeared to them for the second time-they were able or enabled-to move out into the wide world.

The church is not to stay in one room-the people are to move out into the community.

Two points I wish to make concerning our role as Easter people:

  1. The first is a question: 

‘What kind of creature are we?

We are born of God, and participate in the large story of God’s love for us. Easter is the opening of our hearts-giving shape and direction to our lives.

The heart needs a story, a human being needs a mission.  What drives me?  Where is my heart?

  1. To be human- is to have a mission, it is to know the wounds of Christ, to be enlivened by the Spirit, to be a person of the resurrection-to be a player in the divine plan.

The wounds of Christ are not confined to an event from 2,000 years ago.

People still hurt, are wounded.

-the world, God’s world, is scarred, scared, and battered.

Knowledge and love come together in God in a way that is unlike other ways of human knowledge, or human knowing.

For us-knowledge is power.

For God-knowledge is communion.  

It is a different way of approaching the world.

With God, knowing is a kind of loving, becoming loyal to a people, a group, a community.

Loyalty.  Fidelity. Faithfulness.  Communion.

Where is our heart?

Remember that I said that ‘companion ’meant ‘to eat bread with one another.’

One of the first steps taken by the early Church was to become a community.

-a community that ate and drank together

-that broke bread together, 

-as they experienced Christ’s presence in breaking bread together, their eyes were opened-like the disciples on the road to Emmaus.

What is our mission?

How can we come alive?

What difference does the resurrection make in our lives?

-in the life of the church?

-in the life of the community?

What is our mission?

At times, our hearts risk being hardened by the vision of a world out of control.

But that’s not our mission

-to switch off

-shut down.

-have a ‘I can’t cope with the world’s problems’ heart attack.

The human soul is in danger.

When the heart is no longer ‘burning within us’-with the compassion and love of the risen Christ

-then we are in trouble.

BUT

The remedy, or the cure, is the message of Easter.

Easter contradicts tribalism, the polarization of world powers- by calling us into a fellowship of reconciliation.

Into a story which throbs with healing and transformation.

We are meant to be here.

God wants us to be here.

We have work to do.

What did the two disciples on the way to Emmaus do after recognizing the risen Christ?

( and-an aside-how did, or why did, they recognize him?  

-was it because he broke bread-they weren’t part of the inner circle, the 12-so they wouldn’t have been present at the Last Supper-but they may have been at the feeding of the 5,000

-OR was it seeing the wounds on his hands or palms, from the nails of his crucifixion-when he blessed and broke the bread-and gave it to them?)

What did they do?  ‘That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together.’(v.33)

Another incredible journey!

It’s evening, they rush back-7 miles! 

-to tell the others

-to be part of the community

-to be with their companions, with the ‘ones who eat bread together.’

As Jesus was faithful in his mission, so too are we, his followers-to be faithful in our mission.

Our journey, our road (which is difficult to pick at the moment being in lockdown!) is that of faithfulness, of ‘having a heart.’

As companions of Christ-we are to be towers of strength in the communities in which we live.

As Easter people-we have a mission-which is a love story.

Go out into this wounded world, wounded in an unprecedented way at present-as companions-on the incredible journey as people of faith, on a journey of love-to love.

Like the animals in The Incredible Journey-we, too, are on the journey home.  We don’t have to trudge through 400 kms of Australian landscape-He meets us right where we are…right here, now, today.

Amen.

Separate Prayer for Anzac Day (from the Uniting Church)

Prayer Lord God, help us to remember, the sacrifice of the first ANZACs, the generations of men, women and children who have died in the cause of peace. Help us to remember those who bear the scars of their service, physical, mental and spiritual. Help us to remember those who had to say goodbye: widows and widowers, girlfriends and boyfriends, parents and orphans, sisters and brothers, and all who anxiously waited with no reply. Save us from ever glorifying war and its horrors and tragedies. As the sun rises on this day, Lord, help us to remember. 

As you leave this place remember those who you have never meet, but sacrificed everything for your freedom. Whoever you meet, wherever you travel, speak words of God’s love and peace. We pray this in Jesus name

Amen

Prayer

Go out with Emmaus hearts-full of wonder, of joy, for Christ is among us, next to us, at our meals, on our walks.

May your hearts, minds, and eyes be open to this great miracle of divine love.

Amen

Blessing

May the Lord Jesus Christ

who walks on wounded feet,

walk with you to the end of the road.

May the Lord Jesus,

who serves with wounded hands,

help you to serve each other.

May the Lord Jesus

who loves with wounded heart,

be your love forever.

Bless God wherever you go,

and may you see the face of Christ

in everyone you meet. 

Amen  (Bishop Matthew’s blessing)

Rev Barbara Allen

26th April, 2020 Leighmoor UC

Easter 2 Sermon 19-04-2020

Easter 2, Year A, April 19th, 2020

Hymn suggestions:

Be still for the presence of the Lord, the Holy One is here

pastedGraphic.pnghttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZugvUQ4m90U

398: Come down, O love divine

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CLQu6_Tjk9M

355: Man more than man

263: May daughters and my sons hear tell-

392: At the dawning of salvation

407: Breathe on me, breath of God

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M5keJHZdWYM

649: These things did Thomas count as real

691: Faith will not grow from words alone,

Bible Readings:

Acts 2: 14a, 22-32

Psalm 16

1 Peter 1: 3-9

John 20: 19-31

Prayer

Loving, Easter God,

We must stay behind shut doors, but our doors are always open to you, our Divine guest.

There are no barriers for you…unless we erect them.

Come into our hearts…come into our homes.

May you be the key that unlocks the strength we crave, the soothing words we need to hear, to dissolve our fears.

Amen

Sermon: Break out or lock down?

[John 20:19-31]

When lock down becomes break out.

When low mood becomes enthusiasm

‘Then she said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands.  Reach out your hand and put it in my side.  Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “MY Lord and my God.”

In 1909, Paul Engle wrote these words:

‘You say you buried God (weeping you say it)

And split the flesh to its essential parts.

But you have left us bodies bright with flame,

And buried God no deeper than our hearts.’

The Sunday after Easter Sunday.

We are still in the Easter season, which concludes with the celebration of Pentecost, near the end of May.

So…Easter…yet today is known in the church as ‘Low Sunday.’

-the Sunday after the outburst of Easter joy.

Similar to the first Sunday after Christmas Day.  We feels a little flat.

Some of the excitement has gone-in a way we have reached our goal

-our Lenten journey has ended from darkness to the light of the empty tomb, seen at dawn.

Now we are back-on the other side of the mountain-back in the valley.

We have finished our Hot Cross buns

We have consumed our chocolate quota for the year

We have grieved and moved through to rejoicing.

And now

-we are left coping with the Easter victory, in our ordinary lives.

Our Bible reading depicts a confused, dispirited group huddled behind locked doors on Easter morning.

Yes, the women had said “We have seen the Lord” -but they were not believed.

That’s typical isn’t it-women are sometimes blamed, or labelled as being too emotional, even hysterical, in times of grief.

It is worth noting that in Jesus’ time (and this is still the case in some countries in the world today), women’s testimony did not count as reliable, or even legal witness.

In western society, in our main-line churches, we could say we have known nothing but crucifixion, or death

– slow decay

-empty churches

-decline in numbers

-ageing congregations

-absence of children and youth.  Think back to Sunday School numbers when you were young.  Sunday School picnics were wonderful occasions.  Church socials/events were often the places where young people met, fell in love…another wedding in the church.

But now?

Decline.

Even Easter, the most important event in the Christian calendar, which makes it on to the secular calendar but: 

if you only listened to secular society you’d think it was a 4 day holiday invented by confectionary manufacturers to honour something to do with bunnies!

Sometimes we, the church, feel small, powerless, without the numbers.

-seen as irrelevant in society.

Even some politicians say that.

The church may feel that it is dying

-numbers are down-how can we become excited about the resurrection, when we see decay in our midst?

Shouldn’t our numbers be larger as people of the resurrection?

In the reading from John, it’s Sunday evening, 2 days after Jesus was crucified.  Ten disciples are hiding in an upper room.  Judas has taken his life, Thomas is somewhere else.

That morning they had been told by the women that Jesus’ tomb was empty.

They are scared.

Would they be blamed for the theft of the body-an act that warranted capital punishment by the Romans?

Huddled together, frightened.

Then suddenly Jesus stood among them and greeted them with

“Peace be with you.”

He showed them the holes in his hands and side.

And he gave them the gift of the Holy Spirit-a very different account from the one from Acts.  Here Jesus is depicted as breathing the Holy Spirit into the disciples in the same way that God breathed life and Spirit into the first human beings.

Nothing more than a breath…but it blew open a securely locked door.

The huddled, fearful disciples-behind locked, bolted doors

-were broken into

-breathed on

-given the gift of the Spirit.

Remember Aslan, the Christ figure, in C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe?  After Aslan has risen from the dead, Aslan brings the stone statues of the creatures of Narnia back to life by breathing on them.  He bounds up to a stone lion:

‘I expect you’ve seen someone put a lighted match to a bit of newspaper which is propped up in a grate against an unlit fire. And for a second nothing seems to have happened; and then you notice a tiny streak of flame creeping along the edge of the newspaper. It was like that now. For a second after Aslan had breathed upon him the stone lion looked just the same. Then a tiny streak of gold began to run along his white marble back—then it spread—then the color seemed to lick all over him as the flame licks all over a bit of paper—then, while his hindquarters were still obviously stone, the lion shook his mane and all the heavy, stone folds rippled into living hair. Then he opened a great red mouth, warm and living, and gave a prodigious yawn. And now his hind legs had come to life. He lifted one of them and scratched himself. Then, having caught sight of Aslan, he went bounding after him and frisking round him whimpering with delight and jumping up to lick his face.’(from Chapter 16, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe)

“Peace be with you.”

BUT-who was missing?

Thomas!

When he returns, they urge Thomas to take their word for it-and one week later the scene is repeated.

When we read this passage, we usually focus on Thomas’s doubt or his disbelief

BUT let’s look at the other disciples.

What happens?

Have they changed?

They have been confined, as Jesus found them the first time.

IF they have continued for another week, shut in the house where Jesus first found them

They BELIEVE BUT have they shown any evidence of that new faith in the way they behave?

Where is the “peace be with you”?

Where is the decrease of fear?

The moving out to proclaim what they had seen and how they had received the Spirit?

Perhaps we can be a little more tolerant of Thomas.

MAYBE Thomas remained sceptical-because he couldn’t see any evidence in their behaviour that their new commitment to the risen Christ had made them persons of courage and action!

Jesus again said “Peace be with you.”

Their lives are transformed.

-transformed-becoming living witnesses to the meaning of the resurrection and the reality of the risen Christ.

The disciples each come to experience and believe in the risen Christ in their own way

-for Mary Magdalene it is in hearing her name lovingly spoken by Jesus, in the garden

-for John-it was seeing the linen cloths lying in the empty tomb-and seeing the truth for himself

-for Thomas-it was through questioning and being able to see and touch.

For some-it was discovering Christ’s presence in their midst despite their fear.

-even if it meant a push out of a locked, secure room.

We experience faith differently-and seeing the variety of responses from the disciples, remind us of this. We also live out our faith differently-some stand on street corners and proclaim their faith, others move through their community quietly, helping those in need.

What about us?

We, as the church, are meant to be excited, ecstatic with Easter joy,

Yet at times, we are locked behind our doors of fear, our closed doors of despair.

We worry-and are concerned, consumed by our own self-defeating doubts.

Perhaps society is right-we are irrelevant

Yes, we could stay behind locked doors

WE lock ourselves IN

BUT

There is a knock at the door

-a breath upon us.

It is the Risen Christ

-who breathes upon us

-who gives us some of that same power which empowered him.

Gerald Manley Hopkins wrote in one of his poems:

‘Our king back…

Let him easter in us…’

‘Let him easter in us’-here Easter is a verb, a ‘doing word’-a word of action.

As Easter people we are empowered to ‘do’ something

-to proclaim the Good News

-to move out from behind shut doors

-to be less fearful.

Our faith is demonstrated in our actions, our deeds.

We could call this ‘Low Sunday’ if we wish to remain fearful, inactive, shut-in

OR

We could move from this place of worship with freshness, with the Spirit, as Easter people.

‘Let him easter in us.

I invite you to move from lock down…to break out!  In spirit only, you still have to stay behind your front door!! The challenge is how to be resurrection people, Easter people, how to ‘easter’ behind shut doors, during lock down.

By praying, by phoning people, by the writing of letters, sending of texts, zoom meetings, by tending God’s creation by gardening, really, by keeping in touch with Christ, and with each other. BY LOVING.

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.”

And…as the stone lion bounded up to Aslan…may we bound up to our Christ, and let him easter in us.

Amen

Blessing

May the coming week be grace filled, decorated with love.

May the jewels of silence, of stillness, creep into your very being, and refresh you with peace, and with courage.

Go and easter, as resurrection people.

In the name of God, who created you,

in the name of Christ, who loves you

and in the name of the Holy Spirit who continues to inspire and comfort you.

Amen.

‘Be still, and know that I am God.’ (Psalm 46: 10)

19.4.20 Leighmoor UC: Rev Barbara Allen

Christ is Risen! Sermon 13-04-2020

Happy Easter!

Christ is Risen!

He is risen indeed!

“Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here, but has risen.”(Luke 24:5)

‘Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”(John 20: 28-29)

Lost and Found

As we approached Jerusalem

the crowd stood at the gate

and cried in tear-choked voice”:

“We are lost

in his death.”

Upon the hill

the angels sang:

“We are found

in his rising.”

(Ann Weems)

Easter

Just when I though

there would be no more light

in the Jerusalem sky,

the Bright and Morning Star

appeared

and the darkness has not overcome it.

(Ann Weems)

My haiku for this morning:

‘Angels fill the hole

with resurrection splendour.

Paradoxical!’

We are Easter people!  Sing your alleluias!  Make a joyful noise!  Dance, pray, smile, laugh.

Easter blessings and love,

Barbara

 

Easter Sunday, 2020.  Rev Barbara Allen

[hymn suggestions: people can access some of these on-line, or read them in their hymn books.  These suggestions are from Together in Song (TIS):

365: Christ the Lord is risen today

720: Halle, halle, halle, hallelujah!

392: At the dawning of salvation

362: Jesus Christ is risen today

382: Now the green blade rises from the buried grain

242: I danced in the morning

228: Crown him with many crowns

380: Yours be the glory, risen, conquering Son

390: Alleluia, alleluia, give thanks to the risen Lord.

Call to Worship

With Mary, let us approach the tomb.

With Mary, let our surprise and grief-be turned to joy.

With Mary, we hear Christ call our names.

Let us give thanks to our risen Lord who has triumphed over death.

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Amen

Prayer

O God, to you belong all praise and glory.

Easter is a glorious season, a time to remember your power-and your love.

The stone was rolled away, and our fears of death were rolled away as well.

You brought life out of death, and have promised that to us also.

God of wonder, that the tomb should be empty on that Easter morning is as unbelievable to us as it was to Mary; that one should die and be raised again for all, is beyond our comprehension.

Yet though our minds be stretched beyond their limit, by the gift of faith we do believe.

We praise the risen Jesus, alive and present in our midst.

Because Jesus stooped to comfort the least of your people, those on the margin, the overlooked, we too have hope that you can lift our spirits, when we despair.

When we face troubled times, you comfort us, strengthen us, and love us. 

Fill us with hope as we behold Christ’s resurrection.

The miracle of Easter shows us that nothing is impossible for you-and that nothing in life or in death can separate us from your love.

Alleluia!

Amen.

Bible Reading: John 20: 1-18

Sermon

There is a picture of the empty tomb, with the stone rolled to the side.  The caption reads: Missing, presumed dead.

-missing, presumed dead.

‘Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.’

Easter: the mood of the Easter Season is a rollercoaster of emotions: from grief and loss, to waiting-and patience-and finally it is Easter Sunday, the most important day in the church calendar.  Christmas is essential-we need the Son of God to be born among us-we need the death on Good Friday-but Easter Sunday is the most important-because if there was no resurrection-no empty tomb-then the baby Jesus remains just a baby, and Good Friday just a day of death.

We as Christians know that if there was no resurrection, we have nothing to stand on.

We worship a risen Lord.

This year, we cannot attend a church gathering, but the ‘alleluias’ still abound in our hearts. We are still the church.

He has risen!  Alleluia!

And yet, like the Christmas story, it is all too easy to rush through the Easter story.

After sombre Good Friday-we hurry through Easter Saturday-eager to get to the good part.

BUT stop!

Listen!

We know the quote ‘take time to smell the flower’

Slow down-or you’ll miss some jewels of the Easter story.

In John’s account, we hear that Mary came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.

The gospel accounts of the First Easter are, to a degree, so familiar that we tend to merge them together.

John does not say why Mary went to the tomb-but it was not in order to anoint the body (as in Mark and Luke).  In John’s account, the preparation of the body -to mask the odours, and to show respect and devotion of family and friends-had already taken place-carried out by Nicodemus. 

Mary goes to the tomb- in order to grieve

-away from others

-to weep in private.

She comes to the tomb while it is still dark.

John is the only gospel to state that it was dark.

Matt and Luke say that it was dawn.

Mark-that the ‘sun had risen.’

John may be using the word ‘dark’ to convey to us that Mary has not grasped what has happened.

-she ‘saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb’

-all that the empty tomb means to Mary at this stage is that the body of Jesus has been stolen.

-she hasn’t grasped the deeper significance.

‘She saw.’

Seeing is believing

But not yet.

How well do we see? Ever driven home-and you can’t remember how you got home?  You were so intent on what was going on in your mind, that you weren’t aware of what you were doing, or seeing?

How many of you have ever been on a familiar, maybe your daily, walk-and not noticed something that has been there for a long time?
We see…but not see.

Mary rushes back to tell the other disciples, Simon Peter and John.

‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb…’

Although we are not told whether she looked into the tomb-Mary has assumed, because of the removal of the stone-that the body has been taken.

Her concern was legitimate.

Emperor Claudius had issued a decree stating that anyone who removed a corpse or robbed a tomb was subject to capital punishment.

Would the disciples then be blamed for the empty tomb?  For the removal of the body?

Her time of grief turns to shock; she rushes back to report to Peter and John.

Seeing is believing

Or

Seeing is not believing

Or

Seeing is not seeing!

The race between the disciples, Peter got there first-he didn’t go in but he peered in and saw the linen wrappings lying there.

John wants us to look more closely-not to rush past.

Peter sees the cloth, the linen shroud.

The other disciple becomes a little braver, or more curious…

‘Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in and he saw and believed.’

He looked

He saw.

He believed.

Believed what?

NOT that Jesus had risen from the dead.  Nobody thought that.

The text goes on to explain that they did not as yet know anything about resurrection:

V 9: ‘for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.’

So, having seen, having believed that Jesus was dead BUT that Jesus’ body had been stolen from the tomb, these two disciples returned home.

They came

They saw

They went home.

Seeing is not seeing.

Seeing is believing one thing-but not another.

They return home-confused.

Confused-seeing the grave cloths still in their places where the body had been, suggests that the body had NOT been stolen.

Why would grave robbers strip the corpse, neatly fold the grave cloths in the tomb, and go off with a naked corpse?

They return home-confused.

Think back to a time when you were grieving-you may be in that state now-think back to the beginning of your time of mourning.

Often the most painful time is when you return home

-the funeral is over

-friends and family leave making sure you have enough food to keep you going (though you don’t feel like eating and can’t imagine you’ll ever enjoy a meal again).

-all is quiet.

-then you see it

-her favourite chair

-the unfinished book on the bedside table

-his work tools, not put away

-the clothes in the wardrobe

It’s painful.

-like the folded linen

A reminder of their presence.

-of their earthly life.

They returned home-confused

BUT

Mary stays.

Mary stays…to grieve.

V 11: ‘But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb.’

She stayed-weeping at this final outrage

-Where have they taken the body of Jesus?

Where can she find the body of Jesus?

Because that’s a big part of our love.

We don’t love ‘humanity’- we love those eyes, that hand, that touch.

It hurts.

She wants the body, in order to grieve.  Not to be plagued by thoughts of it having been stolen-and what the thieves might have done with it-have they treated the body of Jesus with respect?  Or has it been tossed away somewhere?

The sight of the stone rolled away, the folded linen cloths, the absence of the corpse-did not move Mary to thoughts of resurrection.

She, like Peter-only knew of one possibility- that ‘they have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him.’

DEAD BODIES DO NOT SIMPLY DISAPPEAR.

Someone has to move them.

Mary needs the body, to help her grieve.

We understand that.  Often after a death, a loved family member needs to see the body…have a ‘viewing’ in order to believe, or see, that the person truly has died.

EVEN when she looks into the tomb and sees two angels in white

‘She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him”

Mary is so consumed with grief-she does not SEE.

In the other gospels, the angels elicit fear or amazement from the women.

BUT HERE-we stand, looking on-with compassion at Mary’s grief-which is so strong that she does not see the miracle in front of her

-she does not see the angels, or the significance of the moment.

And then that amazing meeting, when Mary meets Christ, whom she thought was the gardener.

Before we judge her too harshly, haven’t we all, at some time in our lives, mistaken someone for someone else?  Especially if we have been crying, or preoccupied, or the sun is in our eyes?

Jesus asks the same question that the angels asked: ‘Why are you weeping?”

For the third time, Mary repeats her concern about the theft of the body, still not recognising Jesus.

When she hears her name “Mary” the impossible, the incredible, breaks through.

Now she SEES.

The one who had died -now greets her, calls her by name.

Bringing the personal, her name-to this momentous event.

He knows our names!

The Divine knows each of our names!

Even when disasters abound around us, when we remain behind shut doors because of a virus we cannot see…He knows our individual names…because He loves us!

From the big picture-the universe-to the small-our own, individual name, our small lives…

Seeing is believing.

Mary’s need to pursue the body of her beloved Jesus does not have room for the miracle that has happened.

The voice of Jesus has called to her, from across the gaping hole of death.

Like the voice that shatters glass, the voice of Jesus has shattered Mary’s world, called her forward to new possibilities, a new future.

That same voice shatters our world…if we let it.

Mary is now able to obey, to tell the others, “I have seen the Lord.”

She has moved beyond her preoccupation with the corpse, with the body, to an encounter with Christ.

While the other two, Peter and the other disciple-were the first to enter the tomb and ‘see

-it is Mary Magdalene who is the first witness to testify to the risen Lord, the first to testify to a new relationship.

In the gospel of John, the emphasis is upon the restoration of the personal relationship broken by the events of Friday, upon the way Mary Magdalene and later the disciples-are brought into a new and deeply intimate relationship with the risen Lord.

Seeing is believing.

Like Mary, when we encounter the resurrection-we see something- it might be the grave cloths, or we notice the stone that has been rolled from the tomb’s entrance-or angels.  I think I would have noticed the angels!

-we hear something (footsteps, our name)

But nothing is explained to us.

The angels didn’t tell Mary how it happened.

Jesus, as the risen Lord-did not tell her either.

Really, who CAN explain the resurrection?  Some things defy explanation.

We just have to believe.

We see and believe.

We follow in Mary’s footsteps- for we come here to find Jesus

BUT we don’t FIND Jesus.

No-instead-the good news of this Easter Day is

-Jesus calls your name, shatters the world, returns, intrudes.

WE are the ones who have been found,

We have been given ‘new life.’

We are the ones who are to listen, to hear our names.

The caption: Missing-presumed dead has been rewritten.

Now it reads: Found-Alive!

Jesus is not missing.

But there are some who miss Jesus, who do not see.

Jesus breaks into the world, returns, intrudes, calls your name,

and FINDS YOU.

Alleluia!

Amen.

Prayers of Intercession.

Risen Lord, we bring before you the aches of our hearts.

As we pray, we are mindful that in a lot of cases, prayer is all we can do at the moment.  Remind us that this is important work, vital ministry.

We pray especially for those suffering from COVID 19, and for the doctors, nurses, health professionals, medical researchers, and others involved in caring for the sick, the dying, or searching for a cure.

We pray for politicians, we know they are trying the best they can, in a time of uncertainty.

We pray for those on welfare, those on our streets, those who are finding it tough during these extraordinary times.

Be with those near and dear to us,

In your name,

Amen.

Dismissal

Let us go out to live as Easter people,

joyful that love and life have overcome fear and death forever.

Alleluia!

Blessing

The grace of Christ attend you

The love of God surround you

The Holy Spirit keep you

This day and forever

Alleluia! Amen.

Easter Sunday, Leighmoor UC and Heatherton-Dingley UC

 12.4.20

Virus-free. www.avg.com

 

Good Friday Message & Sermon 10-04-2020

Hello Jesus’ followers,

As we enter into the solemn mood on this the holiest of our holy days, we kneel at the feet of the cross, crying for our loved one who has died.  We were not his followers then, but we are his followers now.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about haiku, Japanese poetry enshrined within 17 syllables.

My morning dog walks are slow…Harry is middle aged, blind, and has been off colour the past few days.  The walk allows me to wake up properly, pray, and sometimes, through the silence, bits of haiku start to form.  Today, this Good Friday one came into being:

Mary on her cross.

Heart shredded by grief’s talons.

“My son, my son, why…”

Blessings as you mourn, and wait through Holy Saturday. Sometimes we are not good at waiting, impatient in this society of 2 minute noodles, drive-through food etc, though these weeks in lock down may have made us a little more patient.  When we slow down, when we wait…well, we see things we haven’t noticed before, we become mindful.

In the darkness, remember…you are loved. In Jesus’ darkest time, he remembered and cared for others, right to the end:

‘When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. ‘(John 19: 26-27)

Barbara

Good Friday Service: Leighmoor Uniting Church, 2020.

If you have a cross, of any kind, I invite you to have it in front of you, or wear it, during this service at home, and to have as a focus for the rest of the day. I would have used other symbols for the Good Friday service, having them as the ‘voices’, but instead I have chosen to put together a service that is easier to follow on your own, or with a small family group.

Introduction

On this Good Friday we hear the Bible Readings, and are invited to enter the story, through some of the key characters. When we hear their stories we may ask ourselves: Am I like Peter?  Do I deny Jesus? Do I grieve like Mary?  Each of the stories (some of them adapted from Whole People of God material) is linked with Bible readings, if you want to look them up. I was going to include them as well, but it would be many more pages!  I have included prayers, parts of hymns, and a poem.  You may enter into all of it, or part of it.  You may even choose to focus on a hymn, or a reading, instead. 

Prayer

From the depth of his agony, Jesus cried out:

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

In this question he identified himself with all who suffer pain, rejection, and death.

We are invited to experience God’s presence, even in our darkest hours.

This is the darkest of all Christian days, yet we worship God.

In our grief, we seek God’s caring presence.

Amen.

Hymn 339: O sacred head sore wounded.

  1. O sacred head sore wounded,

with grief and shame weighed down;

O kingly head surrounded

with thorns your only crown;

death’s shadows rise before you,

the glow of life decays;

yet hosts of heaven adore you

and tremble as they gaze.

  1. What language shall I borrow

to praise you, heavenly friend,

for this your dying sorrow,

your mercy without end?

Such agony and dying!

Such love to sinners free!

O Christ, all grace supplying,

turn now your face on me.

  1. In this your bitter Passion,

good Shepherd, think of me,

look on me with compassion,

unworthy though I be:

beneath your cross abiding

forever would I rest,

in your dead love confiding,

and with your presence blessed.

(-Paul Gerhardt)

Reflections

  1. Judas Iscariot tells his story: (Luke 22:39-51)

Was I there?  Yes, I, Judas Iscariot was there all right.  I don’t suppose you’ll ever understand why I acted as I did.  But if you had known Jesus as I knew him, perhaps you wouldn’t be quite so harsh in your condemnation.

Why, he had everything going for him!  He could make the crowds hang on his words.  There were hundreds-no thousands-who would have done anything he asked them to do.  He was the perfect leader for our people.  And then he threw it all away.  It would have been child’s play for him to get the whole nation behind him and throw those detested Romans clear out of the country.  I was sure that’s what he was leading up to, with all his fine talk about a kingdom.  And then he blew it.  “My kingdom is not of this world”-indeed!

I tell you I’ve never been more disappointed in my life.  Someone who lets people down like that ought to be betrayed.  And yet…O God…I wish I could forget those eyes that seemed to see right into me.  I wish he had just stopped loving me for one bitter moment.  Perhaps it would be easier for me now.

  1. Peter tells his story: Luke 22: 54-62

How could I have done it?  “I’m your man, Jesus.  You can count on me!  Maybe not on anybody else, but you can count on good old Peter the Rock” That’s what I said to him, not 24 hours ago.  And I meant every word of it.  I was so sure that nothing could ever make me let him down.  And then look what I did- told those men and that serving girl, three times in arrow, that I never even knew him!

Never knew him!  I knew him as I’ve never known anyone in my life.  To think that I was the one who realised on the mountain top that here was no mere mortal, but God living with us.  I was the one who blurted it out: “Jesus, you’re the Christ, the son of the living God!”

And now I’ve denied him.  And without any doubt those murdered will have his life.  My last chance to say I’m sorry, or to do anything to help him.  If only there could be another chance.

  1. Pilate tells his story: Matthew 27: 11-31

Why, oh why, did I have to become governor of a God-forsaken little province like this?  A bunch of lunatics-that’s what these people are!  Coming to me with their petty little disputes, threatening an insurrection if I don’t do exactly what they want.

This was the last straw, this Jesus business.  Why, they didn’t have a case against him at all.  Sheer jealousy, that’s all it was.  And he stood head and shoulders over every one of them who were after his blood.  I’ve never seen such courage.  He took his flogging, and all the jeering and spitting without ever flinching.

I wish there’d been some way of saving him.  I really do!  I tried…God knows I tried.  But what can you do with a howling mob like that?  If there’d been a riot, and Caesar had heard about it…well, at least, nobody can hold me responsible for his death.  I’ve washed my hands of the whole thing.  Still, I wish there’d been some way…I just can’t forget the way he looked at me.  I don’t think I ever will.

Poem: The Four

(written by a member of a previous congregation):

‘Peter, Judas, Pilate…

What shame surrounds the three.

But shame on shame,

a hundred shames on me!

My Lord I slayed.

For I betrayed, and I denied and crucified

the One who so loved me.

I did the same, yet laid the blame

on them, those other three.’

  1. The criminal tells his story: John 19: 16-18, Luke 23: 39-43

It’s all over for him. For me, a few more hours of this unspeakable pain, and then it’s over for me too.  I never expected to die like this.  Oh I knew I’d die a criminal’s death one way or another, but I always thought it would be with cursing and shrieking defiance to the end.  But then, who’d ever have thought I’d die beside a person like this?

Person?  Yes, and yet more than that, I’m certain.  Now for the first time, I’m suddenly at peace, and just because of him.  Imagine!  Hanging on a cross, blind with pain, and I can say everything’s all right!  I’m a whole person.  God, thank you for letting me die here.

Hymn 730: ‘Jesus, remember me’

‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,

Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom…’

(-Jacques Berthier)

  1. Mary tells her story: John 19: 25b-27

There were so many things I wondered about.  Sometimes I think we should have demanded more obedience from him.  It wasn’t that he was a bad boy.  Not at all.  If anything he was too kind, too generous, too involved, too interested in God.  We told him to be careful, to choose his words carefully.  I pleaded with him not to make the leaders angry.  I used to beg him not to make a spectacle of himself even though once I completely contradicted myself and almost made a spectacle of him at a wedding at Cana.  Imagine asking him to do something about the wine shortage as if he were some kind of cheap magician!  Thank God only the servants knew what happened.

I was so terrified when crowds started following him.  Foe every person that loved him I knew there were several who hated him.  I couldn’t bear their hatred for him.  I wanted to take him away and protect him from them.  He once got angry with me because of that.  He said I was asking him to deny his calling.  I probably was.  But I knew where it would lead.  I knew the end would be heartbreak-my heartbreak.  Oh, how I wish I could have protected him from this cruel ending.  How I wanted him to stop his teaching, stop his healing, stop his loving of every heart-broken creature he met.  But in my heart of hearts, I knew that would be asking him to deny who he was and who God had called him to be.  No parent has the right to ask their child to deny their very soul.  In the end all I could do was to be with him, love him, love the people that love him and join them in their grief.  My son.  My son.  Did your faithfulness have to bring you to this?

  1. A contemporary Christian: John 19: 38-42

Was I there? That’s a rather odd question to ask someone who is living in 2020!  20 centuries after the event! 

Well, I’ve got some questions of my own.  Tell me, why did it have to happen?  Why did God let Jesus die like that?  Why did anyone want to put him to death?  I’ll never understand it.  And yet, I wonder…would it have been any different if it had happened today?  Society is pretty good at putting goodness and love to death.

We know that peace is better than war, yet we wage war in spite of ourselves.  We know that the starving two-thirds of the world could be fed, but we hang on to our standard of living.  We know that Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount could revolutionise human life, but we reject both him and his teaching.  We know we are caretakers of God’s creation, but we continue to pollute its waters, earth and sky.

Was I there?  Yes, I’d have to say I was, along with Peter and Judas and the others.  Things aren’t so different today than on that first grim Good Friday, except for one thing; we know about Easter Sunday.  The cross doesn’t just mean death, it also means victory, new life.

Hymn 345: ‘Were you there when they crucified my Lord?’

  1. Where you there when they crucified my Lord?

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

O sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble:

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

  1. Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?…
  1. Were you there when the sun refused to shine?…

5. Were you there when he rose from out the tomb?

(-African-American spiritual)

The story of the cross:

I am the most familiar, most despised and yet the most loved symbol of Easter.  Once I was a fine young tree.  As I grew, I dreamed of what was in store for me.  I heard the older trees talking about how the woodsman would come and cut us down, how we would be used to build homes, furniture or even a ship.  I often dreamed of the time when I too would be taken down and made into something useful.  I rather hoped that I would become a part of a ship and sail off to see the wonders of the world.  How differently my dream turned out!

One day the woodsmen came and cut me down.  I was once proud, yet sad-sad to be leaving my fellow trees.  The man took me to the courtyard of a workshop where they began to shape and hew me.  They were good men and loved the touch of fine wood.  “This is a beautiful wood,” one of them said.  “I wish I could make it into a chest for my wife.” But when they had finished, they threw me on top of a pile of other rough cut logs.  A man came in all in a rush, looked about, spied me, ad said, “This one will do”, as he hailed me out of the pile.

“At last,” I thought, “my time has come.  I wonder what I am to become?” The man did not seem to take pride in his work.  He was only bent on getting the job done as quickly as possible, as if it were a job he didn’t want to be doing.  When he had finished, he called to another workman to help carry me.  I didn’t seem to be anything, just two pieces of wood.  Perhaps there were other pieces that needed to be fitted.

The carpenter carried me to a courtyard, where an officer, after glancing at me, said “It will do.” He ordered two other guards to carry me through the streets, pushing through the crowd that had grown in the square, until they stood in front of a Man-beaten and bent in pain.  The guards thrust me at him but another called out, “No! We barely got him this far.  He’ll never be able to carry this.  We’ll be here all day.  You, hey, you, pick this up and carry it.  By order of the Emperor.” The man from the crowd, Simon of Cyrene they called him, picked me up and began to carry me, followed by the jeering crowd, out of the city to a place called Golgotha.

Then and only then did I realise the “useful” thing I had become.  They laid me on the ground and after laying the tired and beaten Man upon me, they hammered nails into his hands and feet.  The guards groaned as they hoisted me up and set me into a freshly dug hole.  I was the cross.

Prayer

Loving God,

we thank you for Jesus

and that he would stop at nothing,

not even death on a cross,

to show that you love us,

that you seek to forgive us,

and that you promise to be with us always.

May we always remember the depth of that love!

Jesus, you carried our sins in your own body on the tree

so that we might have life.

Let us go out to keep our vigil at the cross,

at your feet,

in your name

Amen.

Hymn 342: ‘When I survey the wondrous cross’

  1. When I survey the wondrous cross

On which the Prince of glory died,

My richest gain I count but loss,

And pour contempt on all my pride.

  1. Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast

Save in the death of Christ my God;

All the vain things that charm me most,

I sacrifice them to his blood.

  1. See from his head, his hands, his feet,

Sorrow and love flow mingled down;

Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,

Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

  1. Were the whole realm of nature mine,

That were a present far too small

Love so amazing, so divine

Demands my soul, my life, my all.

(-Isaac Watts)

To close with the story of the lily:

I am the lily.  Once long ago I bloomed in a garden belonging to Joseph of Arimathea.  It was a quiet evening when they came.  Joseph and some women, weeping women, came with a cart carrying the body of a dead Man.  Joseph himself tenderly carefully wrapped the linen sheet about the body and carried it into the tomb, a cave he had just carved right into the hillside.  As he rolled a rock over the entrance, Pilate’s guard arrived insisting that a seal be placed on the entrance and a guard posted.  With the guard in place, the others quickly left.  Silence returned.

But I am not a symbol of sadness; I am a symbol of hope.  Because you see, the story is not yet over.  There is more to come.  And I will wait here by the entrance to the tomb to greet my Lord on Easter morning.

Rev Barbara Allen

Good Friday, 10.4.20


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Maundy Thursday 09-04-2020

Hello Faith Pals,

I thought I would send you some thoughts for tomorrow, being Maundy Thursday. 

Tomorrow morning I will email you the Good Friday service and the Easter Sunday service.  I just wanted to get this to you so you had it for tomorrow.

For the hymn: ‘Were you there when they crucified my Lord?’ one version has these verses added for Holy Week:

1. Were you there when he gave them bread and wine?

2. Were you there when he knelt and prayed to God?

3. Were you there when his friends betrayed and fled?

4. Were you there when they scorned and mocked our Lord?

4. Were you there when they led him to the cross?

We would be having a service tomorrow evening, wouldn’t we? (not sure whether this is a tradition at Leighmoor UC).

Washing of feet, or Tenebrae?

It doesn’t matter.  What might be helpful is tomorrow, sometime during the day,  when you have your shower/bath, or put on your shoes and socks, you consider your feet, and remember that Jesus washed his disciples feet.

When you have your meals on Thursday, if bread is used, remember the last meal Jesus eat with his disciples, and put yourself in the picture.  Where are you sitting?  What are you doing?  What does it mean to follow the one who called himself ‘The Bread of Life’?

‘Kneels at the feet of his friends,

silently washes their feet:

master who acts as a slave to them.

Yesu, Yesu,

fill us with your love,

show us how to serve,

the neighbours we have from you.

Loving puts us on our knees,

silently washing their feet,

this is the way we should live with you.

Yesu, Yesu,

fill us with your love,

show us how to serve,

the neighbours we have from you.

As we ponder Jesus’ last night with his close friends, his disciples, we remember it was a night when he washed his disciples’ feet, as an example of humility.

A night also when he broke the bread and poured the wine, as a means by which his disciples could remember the meaning and significance of his death.

It was also a night when discipleship failed;

when Judas betrayed his Master, and Peter denied his Lord.

And those who had followed him abandoned him and ran away.

Here is a beautiful prayer about Peter’s denial, and what it means for us-from the pen of the wonderful Ken Gire:

Dear Lord Jesus,

Thank you for Peter.  He was a great man.  He loved you so much.  He left everything to follow you.  In your name he healed the sick, cast out demons, and preached the kingdom.  For three and half faithful years he stood beside you.  And when the soldiers came to take you away, he stood up for you,  When the others deserted you, he followed all the way to the temple courtyard.

I confess I would never have made it that far.

Help me not to pass judgement on him, Lord.  Rather, may his great and fervent love for you pass judgement on me.

Help me to see that I deny you in so many areas of my life, in so many ways and at so many different times.

When I am too busy to pray, I deny that you are the centre of my life.

When I neglect your Word, I deny that you are competent to guide me.

When I worry, I deny that you are Lord of my circumstances.

When I turn my head from the hungry and the homeless, I deny that you are a God of mercy who has put me here to be your hands and your feet,

When I steal something from another person to enrich or enhance my life- whether that be something material or some credit that is rightly due another, which I have claimed for myself- I deny you are the source of all blessings.

Forgive me, Jesus, for all those quiet ways, known only to you, in which I have denied you.

Help me to pray for and encourage others the way you did for Peter.  Even during those times when they may in some way deny their friendship.  Especially during those times.

Thank you for all the times you have prayed for me that my faith might not fail.  There is no telling how many times I have been rescued from Satan’s hand because you stood beside me.  And thank you, most faithful of friends, that no matter how terribly I have failed you, I can always look into your eyes, and there find forgiveness.

Amen (Ken Gire, Instructive Moments With the Saviour)

Prayer

Lord Jesus, although you were betrayed, another denied knowing you, and everyone abandoned you,

help me to stay with you.

You remained faithful to death, even death on a cross.

Strengthen me, help me not turn aside when the going gets tough, but help me follow you through sunshine and shadow alike,

For the final victory belongs to you,

Amen.

Blessings to you all,

Barbara

 

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Psalm Sunday Sermon 05-04-2020

Sunday April 5th: Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday 

Lectionary Readings:

Palm Sunday: Isaiah 50: 4-9

                        Psalm 118: 1-2, 19-29

                        Philippians 2: 5-11

                        Matthew 21: 1-11

Passion Sunday: Isaiah 50: 4-9

                            Psalm 31: 9-16

                            Philippians 2: 5-11

                            Matthew 26: 14-27:66 or Matthew 27: 11-54

Lots of hymns to choose from.  Some are:

Tis 333: All glory, praise and honour

       348: Ride on, ride on in majesty

       724: Hosanna, hosanna

     231: At the name of Jesus (picks up the words from one of the Bible readings    set for today: Philippians 2: 5-11)

As we prepare to enter Holy Week, we may wish to reflect on:

640: Kneels at the feet of his friends, silently washes their feet

Prayers:

God of all faithfulness,

we come before you this Palm Sunday

to remember your way of love

in the midst of triumph

and in the midst of pain.

We recall the passion of your son Jesus Christ

and of how he was faithful to your way

even when it meant death on a cross.

Be with us as we read the story again

and help us to respond faithfully to its challenges.

Amen.

This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Oh Lord, our feet are like lead, we feel unable to dance at your entrance into Jerusalem.  We feel weighed down at the beginnings of the most holy time in our Christian calendar, Holy Week.

We do not feel cheerful, joyous, due to the troubles in the world, troubles on our front door step.

Oh Lord, as we struggle to welcome you into Jerusalem, we ask that you ride into our hearts.

Help us tame our fear, our anxiety.

Help us to continue to love one another.  This can be difficult to do, as we may look at others as harbourers of the virus. 

Help us to remember that you are with us, we are not alone.

Amen

Sermon

Crowds 

Welcoming parades- Moomba, Grand Final parades,

or disruptive crowds, protests.  Last year, around this time, there were a number of large protests in the city-do you remember?  I seemed to be in the city on several of those occasions, stuck in a tram, or having to negotiate a different route through the city, on foot. There were a number of union protests, climate change ones, and a large protest organised by vegans.

But not this year.

The city is, I understand, pretty empty. This year, there is an absence of crowds.

An absence of gatherings, of groups.  Forbidden as well.

More like a Good Friday than a Palm Sunday mood.  

If Palm Sunday was actually taking place THIS Sunday, the crowd would not have been able to gather to welcome Jesus into Jerusalem, due to the covid-19 virus. What would they have done?

What will we do?

How will we welcome Jesus?

Let’s get back to the Gospel:

What sort of parade was it on Palm Sunday?  Did the crowds inconvenience anyone?  Stop market traffic?  

On Palm Sunday, we are reminded that the Jesus whom adoring crowds welcomed into Jerusalem, is the Jesus whom the crowds turned against before the end of the week.

Palm Sunday quickly merges into the Sunday of the Passion.

-violence, bloodshed, and terror lurk behind the words of the story of Jesus’ last week.

During this Holy Week- we see a terrifying picture of our true selves and what God intends to do with us 

(repeat)

Today’s lectionary reading has two choices: Palm Sunday, about the parade into Jerusalem, or the other readings, for Passion Sunday, which is the account of the betrayal, arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus-about the longest text of the church year-it contains the Last Supper, continues with Jesus’ prediction of his death and his disciple’s betrayal of him, and closes with his burial.  It is a story of betrayal, injustice, cruelty and death.

It is a reminder that we continue to betray Jesus with our sin, our violence, our unfaithfulness.

This sermon will attempt to merge Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday, as we ready ourselves for Holy Week.

Two different moods-joyful, and sombre.

And yet-is this so?

Palm Sunday: on this day, crowds welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem by waving palm branches and shouting as he rode into town on a donkey.

-the waving of palm branches is usually interpreted as a biblical sign of welcome, hospitality.

But reports from an anthropologist note that, in some cultures, people wave branches to ward off approaching evil or terror.

The branches are like an extension of their arms, protecting themselves.

WHAT IF those waving palm branches were not simply an outburst of hospitality- but an unconscious attempt to ward off Jesus- to protect the inhabitants of Jerusalem from this strange intruder?

If that is so-then maybe we should wave palm branches every time we open the Bible!

Terror is no stranger to the Bible.

The Bible can be a terrifying book.

Not every time we hear the word, but as we near Good Friday-it is hard to escape the approaching terror.

An innocent man is about to be murdered.

Think about shocking parts of the Bible, shocking Bible stories.

One of the most disturbing for me, is the story of Abraham preparing to kill his son Isaac.

And now, in the New Testament, God is preparing another son, for a cross.

Let’s go back to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday- as a parable for how it often feels to follow God.

We may have faith that things will ultimately turn out according to God’s will  BUT we know that God’s will may be radically different from our own.

-we may FEAR as we make our way through life.

One preacher wrote about the Texts of Terror-some biblical passages which are quite horrifying.

-the killing of the first born of the Egyptians in Exodus 11:5

-the ordering of Saul to slaughter all the Amalekites.

And in the New Testament- Jesus’ command to sell everything we have and follow him (Mk 10: 21) 

-the refusal to open the door to the foolish bridesmaids in Matt 25: 12

-and the innocent Jesus being led to Calvary.

So, as we head towards Jerusalem, this Palm Sunday, we encounter, or perhaps fear, meeting a God whose mind we CANNOT read, whose decisions we CANNOT predict.

We protect ourselves.  In the story of Abraham and Isaac, we quickly find the part about the ram being provided in the thicket, which saved Isaac,

-or we move from the horror of Good Friday, jumping ahead to Easter Sunday.

Why these terrible texts?  Do they remind us of our helplessness, our frailty?

-how out of control we are?

YET there is some CONSOLATION knowing that these texts, these kinds of stories, are in the Bible.

*- a religion is no good if it will only speak on bright, sunny days- but can’t help us when we are going through our own darkness, our nightmares, our pits of despair.

(repeat)

A faith that is relevant only for the good times-is little faith.

Fairy tales help young children see their worst fears acted out, gives them an opportunity to name their unnamed terrors.  This is helpful and redemptive.

Think back to your own childhood- I found it very hard to read the Grimm’s fairy tales- but every now and again I had to- overwhelmed by their brutality (eg Hansel and Gretel)-and then the much craved relief at the end of the tale.

(of course, these were originally told and written up for adults-their association with children came much later).

The terror that lurks behind the story of Palm Sunday we recognise.

-we recognise our faces in the faces of the crowd, those whom at first adoringly welcome Jesus into Jerusalem, but, by the end of the week, turn against him in a frenzy of bloodshed and violence.

We know the way in which we recognize our saviours, falling down before them in gratitude when we believe that they will give us everything our hearts desire- turning against them in anger when they do not deliver what we expect.

And somehow it is redemptive to see that depicted in the Bible-present in the Bible even as it is in life.

If the Bible was only concerned about the lilies of the valley and the birds of the field-it would not be our book.

But the Bible is our book.

-it is about us- the people we are rather than the people we wish we were.

And because the Bible is about us it is often a terrifying book.

More than just describing our terror, the Bible depicts a God who embraces our misbegotten cruelty.

God did not have Jesus stand over Jerusalem wringing his hands at the sight of mixed human motives- our evil, our sin.

God beckoned Jesus into Jerusalem, through Jerusalem, all the way to Calvary.

God does not simply name and judge our terrors; God is present in them, working out our redemption in ways we cannot see.

We know that healing hurts.

The events of Holy Week pose this question:

Are we prepared to follow God through all the events of our lives, or just the events that meet with our approval?

(repeat)

God does not set out to improve us but to radically save us.

The gospel itself may be a terrifying story for those of us who wish to avoid suffering and death.

Death lurks in the shadows throughout every event of this week, this Holy Week.

Jesus does not begrudging give his life to the forces of evil.

He offers it willingly.

He goes into the darkness alone- in quiet confidence that he will not be alone forever.

Palm Sunday.

Leading in to a tragic story of betrayal, violence and death.

From the sunshine of a parade-to the storm clouds of death.

Some of the members of the crowd who shouted “Hosanna” when he rode into Jerusalem, in a few days’ time will yell “Crucify him!”

Are they our voices?

Where are we in the crowd?

It is interesting to note, that in Luke’s account, ‘crowd’ is not mentioned, instead it reads: 

‘As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully…’

‘…multitude of the disciples…’

Let’s be part of that category, shall we? We are included in this group of disciples.

The good news is that Jesus did not step aside from the encroaching terror.

-he did not escape into the divine world, sealed off from human pain.

He came among us.

-he came among us, willingly.

He passed through the waving palm branches (branches waved either to welcome him or to ward him off)

and marched with us up to death.

He embraced the terror, the pain of human existence and said,

“Brothers and Sisters, I love you.”

He is with us now, today, comforting us in our unsettling times, standing beside us, whispering peace into our troubled, fearful hearts: “I love you, I am with you always. I will never abandon you.”

Amen

(5.4.20.  Leighmoor UC)