MYW 4 Not such a bad idea

Not such a bad idea

By Ian Robinson

I have been thinking about ‘bad ideas’ lately. A few decisions I regret, some jobs too hard for me, some commitments on which I think I over reached myself. And some public debates that are pathetic and so they are going nowhere. Bad ideas. To make the depression complete I started thinking about why people don’t want to engage with Jesus, even though I think it would be brilliant idea.

Some say that the suffering of the world points to a pathetic god or no go at all. If that is a statement about the Christian God, why are there so many Christians doing so much about suffering and at such cost to themselves in the name of that God? When we turn to accuse God of doing not very much about the suffering, he can turn around and say: “That’s exactly my question – what are you doing about your neighbour?” Maybe it was statement about santa claus or myself.

Some say that the paedophile scandals and the caught-in-the-act evangelists (add in your own horror story here) are proof that Christianity doesn’t actually work. If that is a statement about Christianity, why are church services every Sunday commenced with confession of sin? If we turn to the church and say “you are full of hypocrisy”, the answer is “We know, we all are. It is the single biggest problem that we are sent here to address.” Maybe it was a statement about arrogance in an organisation, but the church has no freehold on that one.

Some say that the evidence for the existence for God is weak and no proof exists. If that is statement about the Christian God, what could possibly count as proof? This statement is best seen as a sudden realisation that no discipline runs without a set of assumptions and axioms that define it, and which cannot be proved from within it. Even “1+1=2” needs some qualifiers and statement of assumptions, as in this geek joke: “There are 10 kinds of people in the world, those who understand Binary and those who don’t.” The knowledge we have of God is no different to the knowledge we have of anything, so here’s to lifelong learning.

Some say that that the cost of becoming a Christian is too high. On two counts, it is unjust to be forgiven, and the behaviour and attitude adjustments are enormous. Money, time, sex, humility, community, justice – where will it end? On the other hand that’s the very thing that makes me smile – yes I go free, yes it is amazing, yes I can live with that sort of grace. And yes, like any good decision in life it is going to cost me and its going to be worth it.

Can you see from all this above why I think this is not such a bad idea. I get to connect with a loving and non-judgemental God, and am sent into a hurting world to address hypocrisy, injustice and suffering. In the process, I get changed, challenged and healed. And I am not alone. I am part of a very faulty human movement called ‘the church’ that accomplishes amazing things, bats well above its weight, and which falls flat on its face regularly. I can belong to that; I couldn’t belong to a perfect organisation, as in the joke by the brilliant Groucho Marx: ‘I would not want to join any organisation that would accept me as a member.” What else is going to make a difference, to me or anyone else? Politics? Fame? Facebook?

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JESUS ACTUALLY CARES

Jesus Actually Cares

From Mark Chapter 1.

A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.

In my mind, this true story from the Bible happened like this.

He had lost count of how many weeks since he got sick. Like a bomb in a Baghdad market, it just happened. It started when Levi saw a white patch on his arm when he went out to work the sheep. He poked it and it felt funny. ‘No worries. It will be all right’. But his worries had started there.

Yacov his cousin noticed it that day, and whispered to him at lunch: “You oughta see a doctor right away”. Doctor after doctor he saw, and none could help him, but they all took his money. The white patch spread to his shoulder. He lost all feeling in his skin wherever it went. When the bottom of his face went numb, his smile became lop sided and he looked gross. He wore a bandage to hide it. Everyone had noticed it now, and children stared at his bandaged face and neck, as though he was…, like he was,… it is hard to say it… like he was a leper. He had leprosy. They all believed back then that it was highly infectious. There was more panic around him than swine flu. You are ‘Unclean’ they sniped.

The officials told him he had to leave home immediately for the sake of his wife and children. No touch allowed. But how will I live without them? And furthermore he couldn’t go to work anymore for the sake of the other workers and their families. They made him wear a badge that said: Unclean. But how will I earn my food and housing? How will my family live?

He wasn’t allowed to go to church anymore, for the sake of the other families. No touch allowed. He couldn’t go to the shops or markets. Unclean. How will I eat? Or get clothes? or blankets? How can I ever survive? Is there no one I can be with – how will I stop from going insane? No touch allowed.

Week after week, month after countless month, as far as he was concerned the disease wasn’t fast enough. He wanted it to end. He could see his wife in tears only from a distance. He could watch his children play and go to school but they could only wave. No hugs, no kiss, no handshake, no drying of tears, no touch, none at all. The wasting face of the disease was ugly and they couldn’t even bear to look at him now. He felt like he was stuck somewhere in outer space. The pain of going on alive, so alone, was more than the pain of the wasting disease. ‘Life goes on’ other people used to say to him and he wished, wild and deep in his guts, that it didn’t.

Then Jesus came to the village. Levi had heard about him, and his healings. Why not try him? Levi couldn’t go in to the village, of course, so he had to hang around on the road out of town and just hope that Jesus came out that way. When he saw him coming, Levi’s heart jumped. Despite the hot sun, a small crowd also came with him, damn it, and Levi had to withdraw, hang back, out of the way and off the road, wanting the space to approach Jesus.

Jesus just kept along the road, walking with strength and purpose, but they didn’t go back. Jesus came another 50m closer and Levi had to back off yet again – no touch, unclean.

‘Maybe he won’t care after all. Maybe his eyes are for someone else. Maybe, maybe, oh I’ve had too many maybes too many doctors too many crushed hopes. And here goes another one. He isn’t even looking this way. He won’t want to see me. If he comes near me they will send him to weeks in quarantine and look at how busy he is, how many people want him. He has healed so many, taught such wonderful news. Not me. He won’t want to help me, …but …his heart jumped up.

“Jesus!” he shouted with an angry challenge, “you want to heal me!…don’t ya?

Jesus looked suddenly, past the little crowd and saw a leper standing back, hiding away from the road. He saw Levi’s ‘unclean’ badge. Finding his face, their eyes locked and a smile appeared at the bottom of Jesus’ face. The little chattering crowd fell nervously behind as Jesus swung across the road, walked lightly around the bushes, straight up to the guy half-hidden in rags and shame and rage and badge and bandage fifty metres away.

Jesus reached out and touched him. It felt like meteor strike. So when jesus said: “I do want to. Be clean”, Levi knew he was.

That’s the end of the story. You might like to wonder why I reckon Jesus smiled.

Like a leper , some of us are convinced that Jesus’ eyes are not for us, that Jesus’ smile is not for us, that Jesus’ love is for someone else, or some other place or some other time, maybe. Jesus cares about it. We probably all go that way at some time. Jesus cares about it. Is our problem too big for God to fix? Jesus cares about it. Is our problem too small for God to bother? Jesus cares about it.

All through scripture, Jesus welcomes in the stranger who doesn’t fit our social scene. Many many times, he gives a prime place to the weak and the poor, and sends the rich away empty. Many many times, he lifts women from the obscurity created by men, heals the sick, enlightens the religious and the nominal alike, sends the Holy Spirit into those who seek him, and guides the humble of heart into fullness of life. What a Saviour!

When my firstborn was lying badly burnt and in surgery, I discovered that Jesus cared about it. He is weaving a fabric of such a glory that is way beyond my imagining.

When I burnt out in ministry and got angry and exhausted with demands, I was shown how, despite my mistakes, Jesus cared about it. Others were healed when they timidly reached out to touch me.

When I finally faced the years and the stripes of abuse that fell upon me as a son, I looked back with different eyes and saw that Jesus has done something beautiful with my brokenness. I am so passionate now about the Father’s love.

When I am tangled deep in my own selfishness, beyond the pale, angry and ashamed, even there his kindness and gentleness have found me. His light turns my formless shame into a nameable guilt and this guilt he washes with forgiveness and restores me to my destiny.

Does all this describe you, my Christian friends? Is it not a great wonder that Jesus cares so much and so little, and so long for so many in such kindly care of the exact needs of each of our lives in detail. No wonder we say this love, his grace is ‘amazing.’ Glory to God!

Now here is the easy bit and the hard bit, all in one.

The main way we experience the care and compassion of Jesus is from one another. IT isn’t the only way. I told a story here a few weeks ago about how God himself came to me and cared for me in my desperation, but very few of you responded with a similar account. The main way we experience the care and compassion of Jesus is from one another. What is more, that is why we are here on the planet. Each one of us is uniquely made so we will love others in a unique way. Each one has a gift or two from the Great and Holy Spirit so that we will serve others uniquely and generously. It’s not rocket science. People are made for ‘the shelter of each other’ as one author put it.

So strong is this impulse in God that when something goes wrong in our messed up world, God does not send lightning bolts but sends a someone, to share and to help. Simple and good and profound.

Which is also where we get to the hard part – do we go where and when we are sent?

Maybe God will send individuals, like Peter sent to the centurion at Caesarea, or like Philip sent to the Ethiopian eunuch, or like the German doctor Albert Schweitzer sent to the Africans at Lambarene, or like Hudson Taylor sent to take the gospel in chinese clothing and language to China, or like countless unnamed Christians who have offered a word or a deed as unsung unnoticed mirrors of the ceaseless kindness of God . God sends someone, maybe you. Where God sends, God supplies.

At other times, the Bible records, he sends a nation to sort it out – I imagine in my own mind that that is a desperation measure, even for God, probably after many had refused to do what they were sent to do. When 6 million Jews were incinerated by the Nazis how many remained silent? And how many didn’t? When the Aboriginal children were removed from the parents, how many white folks simply believed the nice man with his racist propaganda? And how many didn’t?

What have we done about governments that refuse to deliver on their promise to make poverty history by 2015, while they easily find trillions to make wealth wealthier? Broken marriages and youth suicide are at epidemic proportions so who will go where and when God says to go?

You know what I fear most in life? Not that God’s call will be dangerous, not that it may cost me everything. My greatest fear in Christian life is that I will be too dull to hear it and too habituated to selfishness to go. If I don’t go, or if I don’t care and share enough, if I make a token effort out that is only out of my surplus time or cash, the consequence is that people will suffer longer, or more people will suffer. Isn’t that the picture of the world today?

And if I don’t go, God, ceaseless in kindness, absolutely unstoppable in his resolve to knit people together in love in the world he made for us, will move on and send someone else who will do it. And I will be left behind, left to languish in an outer circle of God’s will, smiling, dull, nice, religious and floating in my own self-importance like a plastic bag washed up on the river.

Let me show you biblically why I paint this so boldly. Kindness and caring is so central to Jesus that it is his clearest picture of the Last Judgement. To the point of fourfold repetition he describes what sort of faith he is looking for. On that last Great Day He will not, he says, ask us to articulate our theological position on inerrancy or our moral position on homosexuality or abortion. Only the Pharisees liked that stuff. Jesus says:

Mt 25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

Deeds of caring compassion that would be typical of being done BY Jesus are here said to be done TO Jesus. That is the faith that saves. So simple. Yes, the caring Jesus sends his caring friends to a broken world, to care for one another as we care for his world.

Jn 13:34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

Jn 13:35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

The ceaseless caring compassion of God is predominantly seen in this world through his caring compassionate friends of Jesus, who do good thing on a routine basis, and in the darkest places, and hopeless cases. One of ancient Desert Fathers of the church, St Anthony said: “our life and death is with our neighbour’. IF we are not being sent to care and to bless , we have no life within us.

Every one of us can do this. Maybe we cant take minutes but we can care. Maybe we cant organise a major social impact project, but we can care for one. Maybe we feel we barely have any faith and we understand it even less so we aren’t very good at faith-sharing – share that much in love and all will be well. And when we find we need to know something more, God will lead us to someone who will help us. Everyone of us who has learned a little of the caring compassion of Jesus toward us, can share that. That is probably all we can share, according to 2 Cor 1, so do just that. NO more and no less.

Father, send us. We are listening.

Father, send us. You are all we need.

Father, send us. Amen

JESUS PRAYS

Jesus Prays – true story

Jesus prayed and taught his disciples to pray, he said: “in order that the love you have for me may be in them”. So how do we learn to pray? I don’t mean ‘how do we make up words that sound good when strung in a religious line.’ How did Jesus pray? Let’s start there.

From Mark 1: Jesus Prays in a Solitary Place

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him,and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”

Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.

From John 17 Jesus Prays for His Disciples

Jn 17:13 “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

“Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

Here is how I see this true story, from the Bible. I hope you can hear it OK.

When Jesus got out of bed, some people would say it was still dark. But that’s because they were asleep. On the path, Jesus saw the stars spinning their bright way west, the moon stood by, and there was the hint of a sunrise, like a silver blush on the cheek of the horizon. Jesus could also see that the Kingdom of God was dawning upon the world.

He steered himself along the network of paths that led past the baker, past the gambling den, through the market square, around the synagogue, diagonally across the park and out of the village. His whole life had steered him towards these days. Yesterday, he had seen God heal people, under his hand, lots of them. It had never happened before. He had been teaching about God and people were getting it, thrilled to know at last, lives transformed. So many people were being touched. No one knew where it would lead. This stony track should lead me to the top of that hill.

It was surprisingly hard to climb. Over these first weeks, aA number of disciples had joined him at their very great cost and at enormous risk. And some of the religious people and government people just wanted arguments. Always arguments – why do people not welcome the Father’s Son and God’s word and God’s tender power?

The birds were out as he walked around the hilltop. They were singing the praises of Him who cares for them, chattering, spacking, cluck and dive and whistle, playing chasey, preening for the girl-birds to see, strutting for the boy-birds to see, singing praises. Into this choir, Jesus walked and waited, to pray with his heavenly father, who in his language he called ‘abba’ which means ‘dad’. Jesus and God were very close, as close as whispering. The bushes stood breathless.

As he prayed in the silence, there was a lot going on. It was love being shared, back and forth across the darkling world, such love pouring from the Abba to his child and such praise and love given straight back by him. If you had ears to hear, the stars sang praises. The wind hummed along. The trees clapped their hands. The hills hymned. The lake below played the bass. If you have ears, you can hear. The whole planet and all the stars were awash with love, like winter waves rushing up the beach at high tide. Love tossed in the winds of the Spirit. All in the space of utter silence.

Back at the village, someone was like a grey shadow moving around the darkened house. This room that room courtyard backyard, and he shook his head, and put his hands on his hips. He moved quickly. He was excited about all the healings yesterday, and what might he see today. There had been so many people! What a great success! Still he couldn’t find what he was searching for, and went outside, and with a glance at the sky, walked around the corners and across the park, still searching.

No one else was about. No one else had yet got up and said ‘what time is it’ and gone to work or gone to make a cup of tea. In the quiet of his place, Jesus knew what time it was – it was the beginning. He had begun to win the whole world for the Reign of God. ‘Dad, show me the next step, the right time. What are the right words to use today when teaching, and when arguing? Give those men and women with me some courage and stickability? I don’t even know if they want it, but I so want it for them. Don’t please let them retreat into their own ghetto, that would be so sad, a grief, a tragedy. Dad, like you do for me, when they enter the hard places and dark spaces of a broken world, may they keep the vision, may they be kept safe from the evil one.’

Out of the dark bushes behind Jesus came a huffing and puffing. He heard someone pause, then walk a bit more, pause and wander about a bit more. Jesus recognised the voice muttering. The sun was almost here now. The eastern hilltops were on fire with the bright light of promise. Farmers were just moving into their fields, mothers were getting breakfast for school children.

Simon Peter suddenly loomed up and nearly fell on him. ‘Oh! here you are. I’ve been looking everywhere for you. Have you eaten yet? We are all starving. Aren’t you cold sitting here? We’ve lit the fire. I’ve brought three text messages for you, there are four suspicious officials at the gate and five people in the courtyard who need healing, sad cases some of them. Shall I tell them to wait? There will be a big crowd very soon, I reckon, we are on a roll! You praying? How long do you want?’ and he started back down the way he came.

‘We’re not going that way!’ Jesus called out. ‘We’re going this way, to the other villages. People are waiting there too, they just don’t know it yet.’

Simon wanted to argue. ‘As far as I can see, we are having a great impact for God right here. There is a great need. Maybe revival has broken out.’

‘As far as you can see, did you say?’ asked Jesus, and continued down in the other direction.

Peter had been asleep. Peter just didn’t get it yet, about prayer. Do you get it?

SO what do we make of that story? The biblical version or the re-imagined version?

HERE ARE MY THOUGHTS ON THE PRAYING JESUS

Jesus prayed and taught his disciples to pray. “in order that the love you have for me may be in them” I don’t mean how do we make up words that sound good when strung in a religious line. I mean, as in the story, how do we take our place in the universe awash with God’s love? How does God help us to take our stand in the right way with right words at the right time? Prayer is powerful for those who learn its discipline. But just as ‘everyone can care’, everyone can pray. The way to learn to pray is to begin praying. ‘Master teach us to pray’ they asked. They knew they had to learn to pray if they wanted the love of God in them. Start. Talk to God exactly, unguardedly, what you feel, in your own unedited words.

Not all of you will welcome this idea. You are either enjoying your prayers or you are bored or worse. If you are enjoying your prayers at present, you are here hungry for more. But some of us are fearful of what a sermon on prayer may ask of us. Not more effort. Not more strain. Not more work at dry repetition. You may be simply lazy. More likely is that you may have outgrown the ways of praying that you know about. Jesus has moved off in another direction and wants you to follow closely somewhere new. This calls for experiments, maybe for picking up something you once dropped. This calls for addressing your prejudices and bad habits, maybe moving some foundations. ‘Master, teach us to pray.’

There are two main ways that I have seen Christians learn to pray in Jesus name.

One is by repeating the Lord’s prayer.

And you can think on each phrase and what it means to you today. It will take you higher and further into the passions and the spirit of Jesus. Just a couple of examples:

OUR FATHER: Reflect: How is God my dad? Jesus took a high risk in telling us to say this – a lot of dad’s are derelict in their duties of loving intimacy, some of us are just humanly fallible. God gets tainted with that brush in almost every one of us. IT calls us dads to raise our game. OR Reflect together: Men and women need to approach this quite differently. What will happen when we spend our day saying to someone quite different. -‘dad.., father…’ Carry a box of tissues.

In HEAVEN: Reflect: What am I looking forward to about the new heaven and the new earth that is coming?

OR you can sing e.g. SONG: I’ll be there

And so on. Repeat the Lord’s prayer and dive down into it.

Secondly, in providing a framework for prayer, we often teach this four part acronym: ACTS .

A: Adoration

J: ‘All I have is yours, and all you have is mine.’

So we can learn to praise, or worship, not always in song, sometimes words, sometimes posture, sometimes dance…

C: Confession

J: ‘Not my will but thine be done’ is as close to repentance as Jesus needed to go.

So we can turn over our thoughts and actions, our plans and our priorities and match them with the glory of God. It is only ever specific and two sided: things to turn from and things to turn towards.

T:Thanksgiving

J: ‘I thank you father that you have revealed…’

‘Give thanks in all circumstances’ says the Apostle, and there are always things to be thankful for. Thanksgiving is the threshold of all spirituality, an awareness and practise of the gift of life and hope.

S: Supplication

‘Father, I want..’

God will give us the desires of our hearts, the Psalmist says, when our hearts are tied to his.

All these four take practise, and there are many ways to take them forwards. Most church services include them all, which is why we often focus our learning about prayer this way. You and I can practise these each week, each day, each church service.

Today however, thirdly, I want to take you further – into BICS. Pronounce that ‘Biccies’ since churches are really fantastic at morning teas!

B:Blessing

J:‘Jesus took children into his arms and blessed them’

I love to do this. Baruch/Makarioi. It means a lot more than ‘happiness’. It is your love-imparted, a gift-given, like resuscitation with your air, like a blood transfusion, like a welcome smile . Try sitting in the bus or at the traffic lights and blessing everyone you can see. IT is a subversive. Prayer-walk your street, blessing everyone in the house as you pass by.

I:Intercession- prayers for others

J:‘I do not pray for them only but also…’

Many churches have a small group of their ‘praying ladies’. I wish there were more men, with the courage to take on the hardest ministry of them all. There are several levels of Intercession, from the routine we can all share through to standing in the gap almost as a prophetic act. In between these ends of a spectrum, some of us are called to pray for others a lot, so much so that going to work or other duties are a distraction. Does this sound like any of you? A church only grows from the fuel of the intercessors. Can I request respectfully that is this is you, that you get yourself off every other roster and duty you are in and get back to work? Don’t wait for God to allow a major debility to fall on you to make you do this.

C:Contemplation and meditation – bracketed together for this exercise.

J:‘Behold the wildflowers how they grow…’

Many of us are better at this form of prayer than we realise. It is easy in nature to contemplate exquisite beauty and to connect this with the creator as designer or originator, but also as the presence of the Spirit in all things. There are also practises by which we can learn to sustain a godly attention upon the sacraments, upon a verse of scripture or upon just one word ( a mantra). IT is not extensive, like intercession but intensive, focussed smaller and smaller to a point.

The methods of taming the soul and brain are shared across many religions, but notice this carefully, the object of attention and the relationship entered into can be quite different, and the consequences that are sought and found can be even more different.

In contemplation/meditation , we focus onto being. For instance:

Be still and know that I am God. Be still and know. Be still. Be. OR

Be still and know that I am God. Know that I am God. I am God. God.

S: Silence

J:‘Jesus went out to a solitary place and there he prayed’

The desert spirituality of Jesus’ Jewish ancestors is here being referred to. God showed up in the desert sometimes on fire and sometimes in the utter silence. Silence scares a lot of us. When the external distractions cease, silence throws at us the internal noise of our loneliness, our lack of integration, our resentments and our unrequited sins. IT is both a place of peace and a place of inner battle. IN our thousandfold distraction with industrial media and city living, we have great need to notice that silence is even possible and that it will repay the perils of a journey into it. If Jesus walked that turf, lived that story, how much more do you and I need to learn to do it?

AND THERE’S MORE – a HLLL of a lot more – How and when to pray for Healing, how to Listen for God’s guidance, how to Lament like 50% of the Psalms when things are not working out, how to express Love of God in familiar and intimate ways that sometimes Adoration does not come down to.

But for now, the praying Jesus invites us into his space and teaches us to pray in many ways. Today my main focus has been BICS – so have some BICS with your cup of tea and see where they take you. Take up to learn one way at a time and marinate yourself in it. Learn its disciplines. Receive its joy. Like Jesus.

Jn 17:26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

PRAYER

Master, teach us how to pray?

(Silence)

Do you want an answer to that question? Do you really want to go there?

(Silence)

Do you really want God’s love to come to you and motivate within you?

(Silence)

Amen

Joseph’s Story

Joseph’s Story

On Christmas Eve we stand in a long deep European tradition of beautiful music. The crowd who gather at Nedlands Uniting are even more international than that. The songs and readings proclaim the global significance of a little Jewish boy. Here is one of the ancient texts about that boy.

Matthew 1:18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.”

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

I am always wondering what it must have been like to be there. In my Bible story today, I am going to be Joe, the father on earth of baby Jesus, and you are going to be …you.

It was a hell of a shock for a bloke. I couldn’t talk about it at all for a while. But I can tell you my story now. You know, one minute your life’s going along, everything’s sweet, just like you planned. Working hard and loving it, doing up the house ready to carry the little woman across the threshold and live happily ever after. And the next minute you’ve been kicked in the guts.

I hear our story’s been told a million times over. Bit embarrassing really. I think it was about six months into our engagement that it happened. Mary hadn’t been herself for over a week. It wasn’t just her bad time of the month. She was all withdrawn and anxious-looking and every time I asked she said: ‘nothing’.

Well, I got sick of that and told her: ‘If we’re gonna be married you have to trust me with whatever it is. I can handle it’. Got that one wrong. I was thinking that maybe she didn’t like the colour I’d painted the kitchen or something, but nothing could have prepared me for what it was.

She burst in to tears and blurted out, “I’m pregnant!” Geez, I can still remember the feeling in my guts. Like someone pulled a plug and all my innards fell into my boots. I felt like I was falling backwards – falling into a bottomless black hole. She was talking at a hundred to the minute but I couldn’t hear a word.

In case you’re wondering, it couldn’t have been me. Mt brain kept picturing her taken by some other bloke. I can’t remember what I said first. “How could you do this?” or “Who is the mongrel?” or something like that. I wanted to kill him. How stupid was that!?

Well the first shock was bad enough, but her explanation was like salt in an open wound. She swore black and blue that she’d not been with any other man, that she was still a virgin and that she still wanted only me. Well it isn’t rocket science, I do know how babies are made, and I was angry enough already without copping this sort of rubbish. She saw the look on my face and she started blubbering desperately about an angel and God Ruach Hakodesh being the father of the baby in her womb and the time for the Messiah and she had agreed to go along with God’s will. Well that was too much for me, bedding some other bloke was bad enough, but now she was insulting God. I think I must have just screamed at her to get out ‘cos she fled. She didn’t deserve that, I’m ashamed to say.

I didn’t sleep that night. Every time I closed my eyes I was falling down that black hole. But by morning, I had cooled down a bit. But I just went numb. Ice-man. I tried in vain to think about what to do next.

By mid afternoon I knew I could never demand that she go through a public shaming. She’d be dragged before the townsfolk and her offence spelt out. She’d never be welcome anywhere again. They’d turn their backs on her in the market and everything. She’d be destitute… But still, I couldn’t bear to do that to her.

That night I had decided – I’d just divorce her quietly. It would still be pretty humiliating for me, but I couldn’t do the whole public disgrace thing. Two mates as a character reference and a rabbi to sign the papers – that was all it would take. I’d get over it. That’s what I’d do. Divorce her quietly and get over it. Just work longer hours and stop myself from thinking about it too much. It was decided then. As I went to bed I planned to send Mary a message in the morning with my decision. On the pillow I wondered how she was feeling tonight.

Well that night was bizarre. I fell asleep OK. But I was dreaming like nothing on earth. And in the middle of the dream suddenly I was wide awake. There was this huge bloke standing over me. Looked like nothing you’ve ever seen. Dressed in lightning. Overpowering holiness burnt me like a fire. And he spoke with a voice like a sword, “Joseph Davidson, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. The baby conceived in her womb is from the Holy Spirit. She’ll give birth to a son, and you will name him as your own, as a Davidson. Call him Y’shua, because he will save his people from their sins.” Then, gone.

In the morning I was sure I was losing my marbles and that the dream was just my subconscious trying to let Mary off the hook somehow. I mean hey, God doesn’t do this sort of thing. God has standards. If God’s going to take some new step into the world he’d at least be consistent or tell a rabbi, or a king, not a carpenter. No child of God is going to be born in public disgrace, is it? God is not going to grab a couple of ordinary people, stuff up their lives, throw out their dignity, and then say, “Here, look after my kid,” is he? I mean – what would be the point?

But I didn’t send the message down to Mary’s place either. Bit gutless maybe.

I was confused all day, got nothing done that I didn’t have to do all over again. It was dawning on me that just because I knew about God in the past it didn’t mean I could just go on thinking always the same. Maybe this was something new. A Messiah was prophesied. I decided to sleep on it again. And blow me down, that night, exactly the same thing happened. The big guy the holy heat the voice: “Joe Davidson, swallow your pride and marry Mary. The baby boy in her womb is from the Holy Spirit. You are to raise him as your own and name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. This is for real, this is the time that Isaiah prophesied. It’s only a little miracle – what’s too hard about that?”

I knew it was for real. Sometimes you just know. The next morning I went down to Mary’s place and told her everything. I just kept saying to her, “I believe you. God spoke to me too …twice.” This wonderful girl had said yes to God at the first invitation!

Her whole body shook, and fell against me. I held her. We decided there and then to go with God. We would raise Y’shua for our people, and we wouldn’t expect everyone to thank us. I just held her as she cried. Actually I was pretty teary myself. I just kept repeating, “God is with us. God is with us. God is with us.” Emmanuel – that’ll be his middle name. And she just kept sobbing her eyes out.

Yep. That’s what happened and that’s where it all started. That’s my story. I’ll see y’s later.

Well everyone, that’s the end of the story . It was adapted from Laughing Bird Resources with permission.

There is no truer story around. God is not against us. God is not absent. God is with us. Today again, there is a lot riding on this. We all have some mistakes that keep us humble.We all have an old need in us that must open up in a new way. Can we open up to a fresh connection with this God. For instance, we are a people who know the cost of everything and struggle to live our values. We take up sophisticated technologies, and can’t quite locate ourselves in the simple things that really matter. Yes, there is a lot riding on this – for me and you and for our people. So, what do you say – let’s do life like Christmas, like Joseph and Mary, let’s all go with God. Find out how.

WHAT HAPPENED? Evidence for the divinity of Christ

WHAT HAPPENED?

Evidence for the deity of Christ

by Ian Robinson

Bible Readings: Acts 8:14-17. Luke 3:15-22

It is very cloudy outside this morning. The colours are muted, the blue sky is gone, and the sun is so covered that it may even be harder to know which direction is which. By the end of the morning, the sky should be clear and bright, and you will need to put on your sunglasses. Many global religions offer some light about God, but , with respect, this talk claims to offer the bright and clear skies that come from a clear grasp of the deity of Jesus Christ.

We came here today because Jesus teaches us how to live life in all its fullness. Hallelujah, we sing. The promise is huge and the demands are commands are difficult. Why follow Jesus? He says “He who has seen me has seen the Father”. To see Jesus is to see God.

We came here today because Jesus teaches us how to love, both love in divine dimensions and love in human dimensions. Wonderful, we say. He says his brand of love is the greatest thing in all the world, and when we wonder if we sometimes wonder if this is a wise investment, we overhear his prayer in John’s gospel: ”I pray for them, Father, that the love you have for me since the beginning will be in them. I in them and you in them. “ Yes, to love God is to love his Son.

Not just us, Christians gather the world over today because we believe that it is Jesus who saves us in all eternity and sends us into this world to enact the very Kingdom of God. When he started his public ministry, he said of that moment: “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is now at hand”.

With so much riding on it – our life, our love, our promise and purpose, the power to address whatever stops us from fulfilling them – no wonder that the church has debated in every generation what it means for this Jesus to be both human and divine. The Incarnation – it means ‘God took flesh’, not about the carnation flower, not about how a nation gets about in cars. It is not enough to say the usual ‘proof’: ‘ the miracles show Jesus is divine’ because in practise this falls way short of being convincing. Last week, someone asked me to preach on this because it is a live question still. If you want to know what you believe, this talk is basic.

It is not a question with a merely intellectual answer. There are those who are suspicious of church and creed, to the point where no reasonable explanation ever satisfies. There are those who claim, before examination, that all the evidence is a forgery, that the church has manipulated its own message to become more powerful, that the resurrection proves nothing, that miracles are magic tricks, that Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem is a fiction and that the New Testament was a slowly evolving set of bigger and bigger fabrications. Some of you may believe this. Among them are those who say that only things that are scientifically proveable are true, the only facts are material facts, and all else is just nonsense. They are called Positivists (a school of thought made famous by AJ Ayer in mid twentieth century) and the recent rush of atheistic writings are a reprise of this philosophy(even though AJ Ayer later moved away from this idea). It is all a case of “I have my theory do not disturb me with unwanted facts.”

On the other hand, perhaps you might like to know where the idea comes from and what is based upon.

The deity of Christ is the most logical, coherent and congruent explanation for a vast array of evidence, no matter how incomplete our understanding of how it works. So let us look briefly, to respect your attention span, from different points of view including twenty lines of enquiry.

The first point of view is the Observer of Jesus’ words and deeds. They would have heard those sublime teachings that floored people in their tracks, those crowds that gathered wherever they could to hear of life, love, human purpose and the fundamental sin-problem. What’s going on here? Why is it that his words stirred them so deeply, still reach so widely, still challenge so thoroughly, uproot hypocrisy so forcefully, and still people come from far away and stay too long and even his enemies said: “no one ever spoke like this man?”

But more, among his teachings are his foundational claims, of which I have said one or two already. Who would trust a man who said “before Abraham was, I am”, which was the most sacred name of God for Jews, and ‘I am the light of the world. I am the bread of life’, and so on. They tried to stone him for such utter blasphemies. They heard what he was saying.

There are some who deny these claims because Jesus also spoke with habitual humility, preferring to call himself ‘Son of Man’. But what’s the big deal about that title – everyone was a son or daughter of man – unless there was a sting in the tale, a biblical reference from the book of Daniel on the one who comes from God to judge the empires. Yes, Jesus spoke about himself as the Judge of all the world in this and many other ways. And also as Saviour! and as Messiah! And this Galilean from an obscure village looked across the whole world as his patch, setting up an organism (more than an organisation) which was the seed for a global movement with instructions to “go into all the world”. He was sure right about that!

So, here is a man who claims to be Global Judge Messiah Son of God, the pre-eminent and pre-existent ‘I am’. Why would a Jew in a Galilean paddock listen to these five ridiculously grandiose, even arrogant claims? How could you trust such a looney?

Just a minute. I am saying that it is quite sensible if you unsure that these claims are about deity. Then as now. So let us look at six more kinds of evidence which do not rely so heavily on textual quotes but reflect historic mainstream issues in Jewish culture of the time. This is evidence that is more widely arguable. These will establish the amazing conclusion that Jesus claimed and was regarded as divine by a fiercely monotheistic bunch.

Firstly, Jews believed for centuries that God physically inhabited the Temple at Jerusalem. Jesus said about his own self: Destroy this temple in three days and I will raise it up again.” In historic terms, that is a clear god-claim. Jesus is the man God inhabits.

Secondly, it is clear that many considered Jesus to be a spirit–filled prophet very much in the ancient tradition of Israel’s prophets, but even more, they got caught in the unfolding way that his life fulfilled hundreds of particular prophecies about God’s action to restore Israel. Jesus is the focal point of redemption-history.

Thirdly, he defines Israel. At all the definitive Jewish Festivals which he attended, which all faithful Jews had to attend annually , Jesus pointed to himself as the fulfiller of that definitive event: at Passover (Christian Easter)he is the Lamb of God, at the Feast of Hannukah has said:’ I give eternal life. I an dt Father are one.’ At the Feast of Tabernacles he is the one who gives water to ‘anyone who thirsts’. His new Israel (the church) has twelve new leaders, his twelve disciples. Unmistakeable at the time, only missed by our over-familiarity. Further, Jesus models complete obedience in the desert that his people did not manage, and his name is Joshua, like the leader of those who have learned in the desert and therefore enter the Promised Land. Jesus represents the pillars of Israel.

Fourthly, immediately after the Resurrection on the Sunday, his followers change Sabbaths. Instead of Saturday observance being the hallmark of the faithful , which was a statement about the rest day on the seventh day of Creation, the followers of Jesus begin to worship on a Sunday, the first day of the week, and the first day of new creation. There can’t be higher claim for the change of practice but that Jesus inaugurated something as significant as the first Creation. Jesus is a new Creator.

Fifth and Sixth are similar. Historically the Jews of Jesus time found their identity in God in two elements of their history. One was the gift of Torah, the Law of Moses. Yet Jesus said : “You have heard that Moses said… but I say unto you”. The Jewish feast of Weeks, (Christian Pentecost) was the feast remembering the day God gave his people the Torah. Pentecost , the birthday of the worldwide church, is therefore a Spirit-born new Torah. Matthew even organises his gospel narrative to replicate the five-fold structure of the Torah. Jesus gives a new Torah.

The other foundation was that they were people of the Covenant – the Covenant with Noah, with Abraham, with Moses, with David, and the many covenant renewal ceremonies that (we note )were held at the feasts of Tabernacles throughout the centuries. Yet Jesus says: “this is my blood of the new covenant”. We know that Christians are immediately found to be enacting a “blood meal” to the ridicule of their neighbours, who mistakenly call them “cannibals”. Jesus gives a new Covenant.

These six evidences from the pillars of Jewish history all identify the role of deity with Jesus. He personifies Israel, Torah, Covenant, Prophecy, Sabbath and Temple. It is not possible in his time to conceive of a more complete identification of a person with Israel’s God. His actions and words claimed deity in ten different ways. Why did they actually adopt these unique and unsurpassed claims?

We can look even more widely. These are not just Jewish arguments which are optional for Gentiles. In the wider context of the Greco-Roman world there are further evidences that Jesus was regarded as divine from the very beginning and by all believers. I can find five such evidences.

First the Christians proclaimed Jesus as Lord. This enquiry by itself would be incredibly revealing. In Roman times, as many commentators have observed, it was compulsory to worship Caesar as Lord. Christians say that Jesus reigns over a different yet present Kingdom. He is the historic Lord, ruling in the present, and many were thrown to the lions for saying “Jesus is Lord”. He is a personal Lord – in their own lives to be worshipped and obeyed. And He is the Lord of the Cosmos, the Creator about whom Paul says in one of our pre-gospel texts: “Colossians 1.15-20: all things were made through him and for him”. In Ephesus, the quintessential Greco-Roman colony, John says (1 Jn 2.20-25): ‘That which we have seen, heard..touched..this we proclaim’. These simple confessions, even by themselves, made under personal physical risk that we find hard to imagine, claim for Jesus an authority beyond land and empire.

But there is still more.

Secondly, Greco Roman culture was dominated by the worship of many idols and there were many schools of philosophy and kabala exploring what they called ‘the mysteries’. In Ephesians Paul uses that same expression about Jesus: ‘the mystery now revealed’. In Acts 17 at Athens , Paul claimed that the unknown gods (fulfilling every cultural tradition) was now revealed, namely, it says, ‘Jesus and the Resurrection’. No wonder his Messianic title quickly became the Greek word for fulfilment, ‘Christ’. That was not a name – Jesus was the fulfilment of the Greco Roman mysteries.

Thirdly, Greek philosophy valued Wisdom highly. John’s gospel calls Jesus by the widely accepted and broad concept of the Logos, usually translated the Word (Jn 1.1), which was the organising principle of the universe.

Fourthly, some of the Roman Caesars were regarded as being born of a virgin. I don’t think any one actually believed it. What did they mean? A bigger study is currently being undertaken by Prof Bill Loader, but an illustration may help us. The “Vestal Virgins” were not virgins like nuns in service of the Temple of the Goddess Vesta. They were temple prostitutes, whose gave service to ‘worshippers’. Here is a publically acknowledged ‘virgin’ a form of double-talk which you are not supposed to talk about as though it is real. Jesus’ virgin birth was not in any point like a sanctioned temple ritual. Some scholars maintain that the virgin birth of Jesus was a later historical development designed to bolster the church’s claims that Jesus had equal status with the Caesar. Then as now, quite simply, there was nothing to gain from manufacturing such a story. It is inherently difficult, and if there was to be a bolstering process in later writings, the story should have been omitted. Instead, Mary is interviewed by Luke. Joseph is interviewed by Matthew. No, though it is awkward, God wanted to say directly and honestly that this humble Jesus man really is equal with the pretentious Caesar. Jesus Christ born of a virgin plus God.

Fifthly, Greco Roman civilisation was about city-states, not national boundaries like today. And while King Herod made a name for himself as the builder of several classical cities all over the area of present day Israel Palestine, including making Jerusalem the largest Temple in the Roman Empire, and Caesarea its largest man-made port. The city-state was big news in Jesus area. Jesus predicted in a more or less generic fashion that Jerusalem will fall, not one stone left on another. As already stated he named himself as the Temple that lasts. He and not Herod had a kingdom that lasts, a claim that was considered dangerous enough that it was this charge for which he was crucified. John also records that they await a ‘new Jerusalem’ of which Jesus is the King. Jesus represents a new civilisation.

In short, in the Greco Roman world, which stretched at the time from Spain to Persia, the evidence of the broader historical context is that Jesus as a person started a new society, was equal to the caesars in the political system, fulfilled the beliefs in the mysteries and the underlying philosophy in the schools. (The only other institution with which Jesus is NOT compared is the military.) How much more pervasive and persuasive can one person become ? The language is all about ultimate key concepts and institutions in every direction. The life and love that he taught was based on his authority as God. The movement that he started arose from the desert at a unique time for a unique redemption.

So far, to understand the nature of Jesus’ deity in Christianity, going back to the very beginning, we have five kinds of claim by Jesus , six kinds of further evidence from Jewish culture and five from even wider Greco Roman civilisation.

Notice there are four more evidences that I have not yet mentioned.The usual suspects.These are the very things that are usually mentioned in this question, when seeking to prove that Jesus is divine –

1. The many miracles of Jesus over physical mental and spiritual illnesses, control over nature like the calming of a storm, walking in water and multiplying the food

2. The Resurrection of Jesus,

3. The Transfiguration of Jesus on the high mountain in th eoresence of three disciples and two heavenly beings, and

4. His baptism in the River Jordan where he is visited by Father and Holy Spirit.

Precisely because they are most spoken about, I am not going in to these today. I assume you know these events, so let me just say this about them.

1.Something must have happened. Something must have happened to provide sufficient reinforcement of the truth of Jesus’ grandiose claims. These were people who lived with him, not distant recipients of public media. Fierce monotheists do not easily subscribe to a man being divine, especially when you know when he goes to the toilet. So they say: 1 Jn 1.1-4.

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.

2. This Something had to be BOTH comprehensively right there in front of them AND YET so cosmic in its significance that that the early Christians would successfully undo the entire culture around them, as I have detailed above.

3. Something was compellingly convincing, could not be denied, yet not fully grasped intellectually. We know from all our sources that they found it hard to grasp, and they spent four hundred years coming to terms with this intellectually.

4. We know they held on to these convictions when they met even brutal opposition and softer denial from those whose interests were confronted. Even so, we know that some of them, like Judas, succumbed to the world’s agenda. But the ongoing group had seen God’s power at work in particular ways in concert with the words and deeds of Jesus. There is some act of volition, of choosing to see this, to trust what we can intuitively recognise.

I call this point of view God’s point of view. My conclusion must only be that Godself had come and confirmed the words and works of Jesus. And what is more, the followers had received this same Spirit-power on the day of Pentecost and saw it spread throughout the known world. Still they struggled to understand it mentally, as you can see in the New Testament with the variety of ways they had of expressing this. It was not a struggle with the apparent divinity or the apparent humanity of Jesus, but how exactly they fitted together. Mostly their struggle was with how to rethink their own cultural assumptions, just as it is the thing that confronts you and I today.

This struggle continued under great pressure across the regions , cultures and personalities for centuries, as they tried to grasp how one person could be both fully human and fully divine. Four different ideas arose that were rejected because they were inadequate to represent the evidence of what happened. Meeting in the Council of Chalcedon in 461AD, Jesus was “acknowledged in two natures [a very loaded concept] without confusion, without change, without division, without separation”. Later they affirmed he had both a human will and a divine will. In all the succeeding centuries it has been hard to grasp a fourth and fifth century set of cultural assumptions about a ‘person’, a ‘nature’, a ‘will’. In all these debates, we see that they were prepared to change their fundamental assumptions and way of thinking, in order to bear witness to the reality of what they continued to experience in line with what had been revealed at origin in the events about Jesus Christ.

The problem is this: We can all admit that God is a mystery. We also can admit that the nature of a human is also a mystery. Especially those of us who are married! Every generation sees it slightly differently. So, we can never grasp how it works exactly, this God-man thing. Rationalists and mechanics, engineers and materialists, positivists, atheists and modernists think they can wrestle this question to the ground. But that is, with respect, I suspect the arrogance that comes from little knowledge. Christians simply hold true to that which we do know, try to interpret it both adequately and imaginatively for each new cultural world, and all else is speculation. The healthiest intellects should preserve some mystery, for God is not in a box. The mystery is revealed in all those twenty evidences but there is still a mystery. The evidence is in, in volumes, from all directions. What is required is for us to begin by trusting what we can never fully explain.

The raw word of witness is what was so persuasive that the Way was something to be taken not watched and analysed further: e.g. “Once I was blind but now I see”. “That which we have seen with our own eyes this we proclaim to you”. Or at Jesus’ baptism – “I saw heaven opened and the Spirit like a dove descending and a voice from heaven saying ’this is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased.’ Father Son and Spirit have been caught in the frame, but even more, caught in the act of broadcasting the divine love that Jesus says defines a people, a nation, an empire and a person. ‘We saw it’, they said. ‘We lived it’. ‘The same Spirit came to us too’. As then, so now.

One contemporary theologian said: “Grenz p 311 In this one historical personal life we find revealed who God is and who we are to be – true deity and true humanity. As this human being, Jesus was divine… All of his life, including his resurrection as the confirmation of his claims concerning himself, indicates that in Jesus the Word has come in the flesh. In short, we do not celebrate the Incarnation merely at Christmas, but throughout the church year, climaxing at Easter.”

So, somehow the cosmic Spirit-God can fit in a human frame. It shows that flesh and spirit are not opposites. So, let’s get over this strange and immoderate language of omnipotent and omnipresent and all knowing all loving and other concepts that can never be grasped, still less worked with. These are not the most accurate words to use in understanding God. The most sophisticated language about God is ….”Jesus”. Let us return to our witness to the things that we saw. Realise that the miracles and resurrection and baptism are God’s best efforts to authenticate the person and work of Jesus. This is what we believe and therefore we take the risk to pattern our whole lives on this God-man – so this is how we live and love.

Jesus was God in human flesh. It is not something we made up to win the race of religious marketing. The eye witnesses simply encountered that the Nazarene is what God is and what humans are. it is the strength in our salvation, it is the intimacy with our Abba Father, it is the sacrifice in our compassion for the broken, it is the assurance in our sufferings that God suffers with us, it is the hope that our love is stronger than fear, that forgiveness is stronger than pain, that life is longer than death and that you and I are loved to the most enormous lengths by the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

All this, all this and more from the God-Man Jesus Christ. What a salvation. What a Lord. No wonder I am so excited to be counted among his servants. If you have not begun this wondrous journey, start today. Ask me how. Or join me in this prayer.

Personable God,

We see in Jesus that we can be at one with you,

Abba, father.

We see in Jesus that the barriers are down now,

Saviour and Spirit.

We see that we can think with more reality than our education provided,

Word and Wisdom.

Miracle-giver, you are the

Life-force, the Cosmic Mind, the Eternal Word.

So let us live like Jesus,

And incarnate the gospel in our own human frame,

as a people who are saved and sent,

as fully human beings.

So, let us love like Jesus,

love Abba God with all our hearts and souls and minds and strength,

and love our neighbours as ourselves,

and love one another, and love our enemies.

And let us welcome the Spirit

whom the risen Lord has sent forth

to any of us who welcome him.

We confess and sing that all eternity,

all history and all of the vast cosmos,

are framed by this simple confession –

a Something that is not too far from any child,

a Something that no fashion of science can supplant –

Jesus Christ is Lord,

To the Glory of God the Father.

Yes, Jesus Christ is Lord,

To the Glory of God the Father.

Yes! Jesus Christ is Lord,

To the Glory of God the Father.

Amen

“YOU SAY THAT I AM”- True Words from Jesus’ enemies

“YOU SAY THAT I AM”

True Words from Jesus’ enemies

A Liturgy for Good Friday

Needs 8 readers, plus the leader and 9 songs.

Setting : Dark cloth drapes from ceiling, an upright Cross in centre of worship space but not obscuring the screen. Lecturn is behind the cross. Overhead projection of many images of Christ and words of the prayers and songs.

INTRODUCTION To the theme

Leader: There is a long tradition in the church of reading on Good Friday the seven last words of Christ spoken from the cross. Today, there are seven readings from the gospels, but in this celebration, we focus on the words from the enemies of Jesus Christ. We will see there is truth even in their words.

That is why this service is provided today – so that we can all look again into the truth. There are lots of words and pictures and you will have to work quite hard to take some of it in. We will stand and sing songs that carry the theme along bit by bit. If you cant sing, just speak the words.

Today, we take the enemies’ words, so that as you leave here you will know that in your own place, in systems that are set quite hard against the gospel of Jesus, you too can be saved to serve, you too can know an awesome healing Love.

And to the structure of each section.

A bible reading, a leading thought from me, and then two questions – one which helps us to see that we have been sinned against like Jesus, and one which helps us to see that we are sinners who have contributed to his sufferings. Each of these has a response to say together. Your responses are written in yellow on screen. One is in the words of Romans chapter 8: “In order that we may also share in his glory.” The other isin the words of Romans chapter 7: “Is there nothing that can be done for me? Thank God, Jesus can do it.”. And now let us begin.

CALL TO WORSHIP

From a world that puts a premium on ‘getting and keeping’,

We have come to worship the One who puts a premium on giving.

From a world whose greatest leaders will scarcely give money for the needy,

We worship the Leader who shed his own blood for sinners

#Come, let us worship in humility; let us kneel before Jesus Christ our Lord!

Let us praise the One who dies for us that we might live for God!

Now, the first words from Jesus enemies.

1. IT IS EXPEDIENT – one more compromise

Reader 1- John 11. 47-57

Leader: The leaders of the nation can see Jesus do signs and miracles. The Pharisees and Sadducees are actually talking to each other – a strange alliance of opposing forces.

They both see that many are coming to believe in Jesus, and they fear that things might get out of hand.

They fear reprisals from the occupying Roman army. It has happened before, especially since Pontius Pilate became governor. There have been other Messiahs, all of them quickly and brutally slain by Rome. For this level of fear and this strange kind of alliance to form, it must be that Jesus’ following has become more than a token movement. So, a compromise is struck. But not a passive compromise – it means they now plot to terminate him. Somehow, their words are true. Jesus WILL be the one to die for us all.

Leader: Have you ever been compromised, been attacked by those who should have supported you? …You share the sufferings of Jesus.

In order that we may also share in His glory.

Leader:. Have you been there when a group of you have taken one more small step in the name of efficient, rational sensible direction, and then found yourself the bringer of sadness?…You caused the sufferings of Jesus.

“Is there nothing that can be done for me? Thank God, Jesus can and does.”

Hear the words of the second enemy.

2. DESTROY THIS TEMPLE – twisted words

Reader 2: Matthew 26. 57-63a

Leader: Eventually, two people are found who come forward to the inquest.

They can quote Jesus’ claim to be a construction giant – to destroy thirty years of temple construction and to redo it all in three days. He meant his own flesh, of course, but in this inquest the meaning is irrelevant.

It sounds so ridiculous, yet they treat it as an actual threat, and it is a treasonable offense. It is enough that he speaks against the glorious temple of Jerusalem, the centre of their power. Somehow, their words are true. Jesus is an actual threat. The greater glory and power are His.

Leader:. Have you ever been misunderstood, perhaps your reputation dragged through the mud by questions without fact and suspicions without substance, your words deliberately twisted? You share the sufferings of Jesus.

In order that we may also share in His glory.

Leader:. Have you mocked the words of Jesus, pretended they were too hard to carry out, too old fashioned to actually struggle to obey, neglected to read the words of eternal life?

You caused the sufferings of Jesus.

“Is there nothing that can be done for me? Thank God, Jesus can and does.”

The words of the third enemy.

3. PROPHESY TO US – the offense of Jesus

Reader3: read Matt 26.63b-68, 27.1-2

#Leader: Finally, they want to trick Jesus into condemning himself. And he simply does so. He says quite honestly that he is the anointed one, the Son of God on the earth, and the foretold Son of Man coming from heaven at the Last Judgement. It is enough that he claims it – they never even begin to debate whether it is true or not.

#Frightened by his in-coming, they beat and abuse him. Offended by the way that he opens to God, they taunt him like a meddling prophet.

Their words are true. Jesus speaks from God, and walks with God, and leads us all the way back home.

Leader:. Have you ever been threatened because you pointed out a wrong? Has someone found fault with your faith or conduct, just to cover up for themselves? You share the sufferings of Jesus.

In order that we may also share in His glory.

Leader:. Have you made excuses for your own sins by saying you are no worse than so and so? Have you stood passively by while others do wrong to someone out of wrongful jealousy?

You caused the sufferings of Jesus.

“Is there nothing that can be done for me? Thank God, Jesus can and does.”

The words of the fourth enemy.

4. THE KING OF THE JEWS – the political game

Reader 4: READ Matt 27. 11-14, 22-31, 37

Leader: Already bleeding on body and face from acts of police brutality, Jesus is now accused of treasonable offences in the Roman court. The Romans had sometimes installed their local favourites as king, like King Herod. Sometimes they installed direct rule, like Pontius Pilate.

The charge brought against Jesus – that he claims to be king – is a “winner take all” political game. Pilate is a sneaky manipulator and pretends to be innocent. The crowd is as subtle as a street riot, but pretends to be guilty with his hand-washing theatrics.

Jesus is flogged, the 39 lashes that will strip skin in chunks from his back, and take him to within a millimeter of his life. Somehow, Pilate’s words are true. Jesus is a pawn in the game, and yet it is His purpose in history which somehow rules the events.

Leader:. Have you ever been hurt as the pawn in someone else’s game? you could not explain yourself, because they would not listen? You share the sufferings of Jesus.

In order that we may also share in His glory.

Leader:. Have you ever passed the blame for Jesus’ sufferings to the Jews, or to some people who are worse behaved than you,? Have you ever stood silently by while the great powers of this world, the powerful leaders of business and government, cause suffering to the innocent, but not to you? You caused the sufferings of Jesus.

“Is there nothing that can be done for me? Thank God, Jesus can and does.”

Hear the words of the fifth enemy.

5. HE CANNOT SAVE HIMSELF – intense passions

Reader 5: READ Matt 27.38-44

Leader: They gather around the three crosses, at a safe distance. They throw his own words back at him. It is political theatre, like question time in federal parliament. They take to it with a passion.

“He trusted God. he said he was God’s own Son. Let God deliver him.

He claimed to rebuild the temple in three days, so, do something with a few nails!

If you are the Son of God who came down, come on down!

He claimed to saved others, yet he cannot save himself!”

It is amazing, really, how closely they had observed him. Despite themselves, they knew him.

Beating in Jesus’ breast is another passion. He doesn’t WANT to save HIMSELF. He came down, yes, from heaven, to die. He came down, yes, to a cracked world, to rebuild. He came down, yes, not to deliver himself from the cruel theatre of sin, sickness and corrupt systems, from sorrow and satan, but to encounter them fully, to save us utterly… you, me and our neighbour.

His enemies call out and snigger that if he comes down they will believe in him.

Somehow, their words are true. Jesus HAS come down.

Leader:. Have you ever been through a time of weakness and found you became someone’s target, a target of abuse or a target of their complaints, or a mirror for their anger at something else, just because you were too weak to hit back? You share the sufferings of Jesus.

In order that we may also share in His glory.

Leader:. Have you observed Jesus, and learned about him, maybe sometimes offered thanks to him, yes, observed him and known him a little, but never bowed the knee in absolute adoration, or never abandoned all to put your trust in his Lordship? You caused the sufferings of Jesus.

“Is there nothing that can be done for me? Thank God, Jesus can and does.”

MEDITATION –

Passion: intense suffering of the body

Passion : intense love of the soul

The persecutors of Christ thought that agony could destroy his compassion,

That death could overcome his Love:

A Love that places the welfare of humanity before the letter of the law

A Love that spurns the company of the mighty in order to be one who serves;

A Love that exposes the hypocrisy of the self-righteous;

A Love that forbids revenge and offers forgiveness

A Love that remains obedient unto death,

A Love that trusts God to sustain life where no hope is visible.

This Love is now unquenchable.

The price is paid.

The question is running –

We can go free by following Jesus,

or we can stay how we are.

Hear the words of the sixth enemy

6. WAIT, WILL ELIJAH SAVE HIM – cosmic entertainment

Reader 7: READ Matt 27. 45-51

Leader: It is near the end. An unnatural darkness descends….

Jesus’ breath is getting shorter, fluid is building up against the lungs, physical shock is feeding back into heartbeat, bowel, breathing, brain function. …

Meanwhile his enemies play with his gasping words, applauding at his bottomless misery….

Leader:. Have you ever taken a courageous step of faith, and soon found yourself alone and exposed? Have you stood beside the weak and the needy until you felt in yourself their anger, their frustration, their abandonment? You share in the sufferings of Christ.

In order that we may also share in His glory.

Leader:. Have you ever watched violence just for the thrill? Have you stood back, looked away, while the world’s poor slide further into despair? Have you seen the sacrifices of God’s servants and turned your face or despised or picked fault, instead of moving closer? You caused the sufferings of Christ.

“Is there nothing that can be done for me? Thank God, Jesus can and does.”

Even in death, his seventh enemy still speaks.

7. THIS MAN WAS INNOCENT – truth too late.

Reader 8: READ Luke 23.47-49

Leader: Here on a rocky hilltop, in the smell of a rubbish dump, under a steely sky, hangs a man – breath gone, blood let, dead cold. Below him is an experienced soldier who saw the truth too late. He comes with a long acquaintance with brutality. The bravest and boldest have begged for mercy under his command. But today he utters words that are his memorial – “this man was innocent”.

At last, but too late, someone speaks up for Jesus. It is one word of truth in a down pour of lies, that “Jesus King of the Jews” took the pain and the strain, took the stage, … and commanded it.

BENEDICTION

Leader: We too are like Jesus, for we too have been sinned against. We carry a share of pain in our hearts. We can hold it in regret or remorse or shame or we can let it go and join Jesus on the freedom road, where Love heals and Life springs up again.

We too stand among those who are scandalised, offended, threatened by Jesus – because this particular man claims to be an immense God who has come to walk in the shoes of every person on earth by name. Through one man, in one time, in one place, by one drastic way, he opens the door, so that He can really bring each one of us to the one and only God, the source of all that is good, the one who is Love Eternal.

Leader: Oh Great and Simple God,

It would be easier for us if you had stayed in heaven,

And left us guessing and trying to justify ourselves.

But you came down, and you call us all

to a life of self-denial in the service of others,

a life of self-discovery in worship of you.

Here in this celebration of Christ’s passion and death,

we reach out and grasp again your calling upon our life.

May the cup of suffering and the spite of evil not come to us,

But if it must, then, like Christ, we shall do your will and not our own.

For the cross is our daily load,

Your Love is the source of soaring joy

the pathway to the best life and the deepest soul,

and to all eternity. Through Jesus Christ our Saviour and Lord,

Amen.

A Liturgy for Easter Sunday

A Liturgy for Easter Sunday

Four readers, one prayer, one 5 min sermon, 7 songs, leader. Everything white.

prepared by Ian Robinson

Leader: “Christ is Risen”

Response: “He is Risen indeed”

READING 1. IT IS SUNRISE Mark 16.1-8

Leader: These women came to the first Easter Sunday morning filled with disappointment in their lives. All they have left to work for is to carry out a decent burial.

On this Easter morning, are you pre-occupied with disappointment? Is this the best you can do with your life – to keep a decent, respectable life? You could do worse, but the promise of Easter is that you can actually have God’s purpose working in your life.

You can be holy. The Risen Christ has a new beginning for you. It’s no wonder the women’s first thought was how scary it could be.

READING 2. THE TOMB IS EMPTY Luke 24.1-12

Leader: At this stage of events, they are only afraid. They are afraid of two things.

One is that their enemies have stopped at nothing to suppress Jesus’ movement. They are afraid they will be the next to be arrested, flogged and crucified. At least two of them leave town immediately. Jesus had to catch up with them in a town called Emmaus.

Maybe they are also afraid that Jesus might actually have risen from the dead, as they heard the angels say. It is such a shining hope, so much would then be different, and that alone would be very scary. No wonder the Risen Jesus kept greeting them with: ‘peace be with you’.

Remember the goodness of God. Remember the kindness of Jesus. He has never brought harm to anyone who placed their trust in him. Peace be with you.

READING 3. JESUS APPEARS Luke 24.36-44

Leader: There he is in the flesh. It changes everything. There are huge possibilities that open up now. Walking with Jesus in freedom from sin. A new life, a new vision. Forgiveness and love both given and received. Finding self in serving others. Making peace with justice. Integrity and generosity that counts for all eternity. Personal communion with a living God. What richness he has lavished on us in Jesus Christ!

SERMON

To be honest, Easter is not all about huge possibilities that open up. There are also some possibilities that it closes down.

If you like to be the victim, the tragic, the hero, the bitter fighter, then with the resurrection of Jesus your whole life is shattered. With Jesus leading us beyond death, we need no longer get so bitter about death and suffering.

Again, if you like to accumulate experiences, accumulate money and securities, live on overdrive, fly off on sex or drugs, then the new life of Jesus has shown up your emptiness. With an eternity to live, we need no longer rush to fit in every good thing we can get.

Again, if your focus is ‘me’, what about me, what’s in it for me, what I want, where I’m going, do it my way, the empty tomb shows how fearful we really are to be embraced by life. We are no longer our own – we have been bought with a price and held beyond death! To live the new life we have to stop reinforcing the defences of the present one.

Yes, there is some bad news for some. But I find that it’s good news, the happiest news of all time. I know I haven’t got it all sorted, but as I walk the road with Jesus, the light from the empty tomb is just simply fantastic, worth living for, and worth dying for.

Amen

Prayer 1

Because you have saved us so openly and so strongly,

We are confident to bring to you

all our disappointments.

We bring to you our narrow thinking.

May your Kingdom-purposes be seen in us.

Because you have loved us so completely,

We can bring to you our fears and pain.

We bring our doubt- that you might give us less than the best.

We welcome the New Life

That you have pioneered for us.

Because you have conquered death,

We can put aside the fear of suffering,

and the bitter sting of death.

Gently, please, take apart our inner defences, and set us free.

Open up new spaces inside our hearts,

Space for being loved, being safe,

being clean, being true, and

spaces for integrity, generosity, kindness, and peace.

READING 4. JESUS SAYS ‘HANG ON A SEC’ Luke 24.45-53

Leader: The power to live the New Life does not come just by wanting it, choosing it, training it, being born with it, or seeing it in someone else. The power comes through the Holy Spirit, whom we must welcome into our life.

BENEDICTION

Because you walk with us, Jesus,

and show us freedom from failure,

We can give and receive

both forgiveness and love.

We can find ourselves in serving others.

We can make peace with justice.

We can know, more deep than breathing,

this personal connection with the living God.

Oh, the riches of the love

which you have lavished on us in Jesus Christ!

So, shock us into life!

Nurture us into love!

And impel us with your grace

To share again and again, in myriad ways,

That vast good news: Christ is Risen!

He is risen indeed!

Hallelujah! Amen.