Sunday, April 30, 2017

Filled with the Spirit to form the dwelling place of God (Exodus 31:1-11, Ephesians 4:7-13)

This sermon was preached at the end f the school holidays so when it says Bingo in the conclusion that is because the congregation had a sermon bingo card (see end of post).

I am not very good at making things with my hands. I will often have these great ideas in my mind but by the time they’ve travelled that short distance from my head down my arms and to my hands, they seem to have got lost in translation. What’s up here does not come out of these. Even those warehouse flatpack furniture kit sets that anyone can simply follow the instructions and put together in no time at all, seem to be beyond me, they are made not for my convenience but for hours of stress and frustration. They have a negative impact on my sanctification and my vocabulary seems to devolve to a few angry choice works.  And I admire people who can make things with their hands, craftspeople of great vision and ability, artists and artisans, engineers, builders.

The Bible passage we are looking at today in Exodus mentions two such artisans Bezalel and his assistant Oholiab who oversaw turning the basic design that God gave to Moses of the tabernacle, the tent where God would dwell with his people, into reality. This was no flat pack furniture kit set, they were going to have to make it from scratch. It was going to have to be Utilitarian enough to be assembled and  put up and then taken down, broken up and transported and beautiful and ornate  enough to serve as a focal point for worship, and be associated with God’s presence. Not an easy task.

AS we move into Pentecost this year we are looking at what the Old Testament tells us about the Holy Spirit. Looking at the Holy Spirit at work from hovering over the waters in the creation narrative of Genesis to the fulfillment of the promise in Joel chapter 2 that God would pour out his Holy Spirit on all believers, and what it means for us today. While we don’t know much about Bezalel personally, he is the first person mentioned in the scriptures as being filled with God’s Spirit and receiving spirit gifts because of that. He is filled with God’s spirit, given wisdom and knowledge and all kinds of skills to form the dwelling place of God with his people.

AS I said we don’t know that much about Bezalel. It would be interesting to know about his spiritual life, his prayer life or how he developed the enormous range of Gifting’s and skills and abilities he had? What difference being filled by the Spirit of God made on his life? Did he still have to go through that 10,000 hour rule to develop his skills, the 10,00 hours of practise and hard work that allow Gifted people to reach their potential? Did it come easily or was it a matter of great sweat and exertion?  But we don’t know! He is only mentioned four times in the scriptures. In the reading, we had in Exodus 31 and its parallel in Exodus 35 and in the family tree list of Judah at the beginning of the book of chronicles and then in second chronicles where Solomon consults God at the place where the bronze altar made by Bezalel was kept. His assistant Oholiab is only mentioned in Exodus 31 and 35. It may seem strange to even look at them in a sermon on the Holy Spirit. Well two things…

The first is that it gives us insight into God’s filling of people by the Holy Spirit.  As I mentioned before he is the first person described as being filled by the Holy Spirit in scripture. Filled with the Spirit is the way in which the New Testament talks of our relationship with god’s Spirit This is also the first time there is a connection with the presence of God’s creative spirit with giving a person gifts and abilities to achieve God’s purpose.

Now before this we do have a sense in people’s lives Of God being with them to achieve God’s purposes and them being given gifts and abilities. Joseph has dreams and later is given the ability to interpret dreams, although we see him going to God and asking for God’s wisdom and revelation in those situations. He is a gifted administrator able to look after his master’s household and later the whole of pharaoh’s land and food production and distribution. Administration is mentioned Romans 12 in a list of Gifts the Holy Spirit, administration is not just paper shuffling it is the ability to make an idea and vision become a reality.  Moses encounters God at the burning bush and God says he will be with him as he goes to Egypt, he gives him some miracles that he is to perform to convince pharaoh to ‘let my people go.’

In the Old Testament there is a pattern of God’s Spirit being given to specific people to achieve specific rolls and tasks. God is at work in history and in his people by the Holy Spirit. In the case of Bezalel it is to build the Tabernacle, later in the book of Judges, that we are looking at next week, it is to judge Israel and to deliver them from their enemies. When Saul is anointed King he is filled with God’s spirit and he prophecies, likewise David was aware of God’s Holy Spirit with him, we used Psalm 51 this morning as a call to worship where after David is confronted by the prophet Nathan about his adultery with Bathsheba and having her husband Uriah killed, he asks God not to take his Holy Spirit’s presence away from him, like happened with Saul.  We see in the prophets like Nathan and the later written prophets like Isaiah and Amos and Jeremiah a sense of God’s Spirit present with them revealing the truth about Israel’s spiritual condition and God’s response. Because of the Spirit’s presence and revelation, we see how that points us to Jesus Christ and his coming, his life, death and resurrection as the ultimate way God would reveal himself to his people.

As we come into the New Testament, we see that at his baptism Jesus is filled with the Holy Spirit, John the Baptist sees the Spirit of God descending on him like a dove. It is because of the presence of the Holy Spirit and Jesus relationship with the Spirit that Jesus can teach and proclaim and demonstrate the Kingdom of God through signs and wonders.  It is easy to forget that Jesus while being God is also human, not super human, and as such is totally like us and it is only by the presence of the Holy Spirit that he was able to do the things he did.

Because of Jesus life death and resurrection, God’s Spirit is now present within and want to fill each one of us with the presence and power of God. Not just the one or two, the selected few but all the believers… you…you and yes even me. Because we are called as a people to achieve the purpose of witnessing to Jesus Christ and making disciples in every nation.  We are commissioned and we are enabled by God’s spirit to do that.

The second thing, remember there were two. Is that Bezalel is filled by the Holy Spirit to make the place in which God would dwell with his people. The tabernacle was where God would be seen to dwell with his people, it was the blueprint for the later temple in Jerusalem, with the holy of holies and the various courts and places for sacrifice and worship. It showed that the God of Israel dwelt in the very midst of his people. It was the centre of their camp, when the pillar of fire or cloud moved they moved when it stopped they stopped. Building this dwelling place was both the work of human hands but also was the work of God’s Holy Spirit.  God gave Moses the plan, and he gave Bezalel his Holy Spirit to achieve the work. The wisdom and knowledge and skills with all kinds of materials that he would need to do the job. You can imagine that there we a lot of other things that needed doing as well, man management, project management, budgeting, they were intrusted with all the resources that the people of Israel had bought for the build.

For us today God still dwells with his people, not in buildings or tents anymore but in our midst by the Holy Spirit, we are the body of Christ in the world. Its not so much working with precious metal but precious people.  In 1 Peter chapter two the church is talked of of being a temple made up of living stones bought together to form the dwelling place of God. It is still the work of the Holy Spirit and of human beings to see that dwelling place built up. The church is a very human institution but it is also God’s at work. In our New Testament reading from Pauls letter to the Ephesians we see the risen Jesus giving gifts to the church, of apostles, prophets, evangelists, teachers and pastors, so that the body of Christ may be built up to maturity and to the fulness of Christ. God gives gifts to each of his people so that together we can build up the dwelling place of God, the church. The people in Catalan in Spain have a tradition of making these wonderful human pyramids and I think they are a great illustration of the Church, the dwelling place of God, not as a hierarchy but being built as we all play the part god has enabled us to play.  We are God’s Spirited people and God is building us together as the dwelling place of God as the body of Christ in the world around us.

I want to bring this together and make some points about what it means for us.

The first is that we can have the Old Testament understanding of the Presence and purpose of the Holy Spirit. That being filled with the Holy Spirit is for the special person or the key figure to achieve God’s purpose. That it is not for us, we a re not special, we are not gifted we are just ordinary people. But the reality is with Christ’s life death and resurrection everything has changed. God choses to fill everyone with his Holy Spirit, we are called and enabled to witness to jesus death and resurrection.

The second thing that goes along with that is we can easily see doing the work of the Church as being for one or two gifted people rather than all of us being the church, Christ’s body together.  Instead of the pastor or minister being there to play their role in helping to enable and equip us all to do what God has called us to do. We think they are God’s person set aside to do all the work. From putting out the rubbish to pulling out the weeds, preaching the word, visiting everyone, you name it. We wonder why it does not succeed, why so many in the ministry and in church leadership burn out, or don’t live up to our expectations.

  The answer is that God calls all of us and has given all of us his Holy Spirit and we are given gifts and abilities to use to achieve God’s purposes together. Even in Exodus 31 we see that Moses isn’t the one called to build the tabernacle, we see Bezalel isn’t called to do the work alone, he is given wisdom and knowledge and all sorts of skills to get it done, and I would hazard chief amongst those skills is to know he is part of a team.  He is given someone to help him Oholiab, who also has a god given skill set, he can gather together a team of artists and artisans to work with. You are god’s spirited people together we are called to work with and by the Holy Spirit to witness to Christ and to grow as the body of Christ into maturity. We all have a Spirit made place to belong and a spirit enabled part to play.

We don’t know much about Bezalel, he is only mentioned as I said four times in the scriptures, usually just in passing. We know who his father was and his father’s father and what tribe he belonged to apart from that we don’t have any personal details. I think that’s a good thing, it would be easy to see him as a spiritual giant, as an artistic prodigy, but we can’t. perhaps its best that we don’t know about if things were easy for him or the hours of wrestling with just getting the design of that decoration on the bronze altar right, or the piles of porotypes strewn around the work shop, the long production meetings trying to work out what was the right thickness of bronze rail to hold that amount of cloth up   and did we get the mathematics right for the pressure of the wind and how it would affect that measurement. We simply know that Bezalel and Oholiab were called by God and filled by God’s Spirit and they achieved the things God called them to do. Because that is our story as well, ordinary people like you and Me… Bingo yup you’ve got it Bingo it’s you and me… with our own set of skills and our own set of short comings, called together in Christ, and filled with God’s holy Spirit to witness to Christ together and gifted to be built into the dwelling place of God, to grow into maturity and the fullness of Christ.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

What the Lord has done for me ( A prayer of thanksgiving and confession)

This Prayer is called 'what the Lord has done for me' and simply looks at the work of God in creation, providence, the life death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit in terms of its impact on the individual... IS it a selfish prayer? Is it a self centered prayer? is it a reflection of the western Ideal of Individual as the center of it all? I'll leave you to decide... Sometimes I just want to think of the grandeur of what God has done and realize that it isn't just way out there over all and all around, rather that it actually impacts on who I am, who each one of us is as an individual... God made us who we are... Praise God, God has lead and guided us in life and history, praise God... God has sent Jesus Christ to live, die and rise again for us... God has sent his holy spirit to dwell and empower and enable each one of us...Praise God. We are forgiven.. praise God... he pours his holy spirit out on us when we ask him... Praise God.

Lord God, maker of heaven and earth,

Creator of all that there is

we come this morning to thank you for who you have made us.

Each of us unique in our individuality

Gifted with skills and talents,

Given creativity that reflects your own

Intelligence to ponder and wonder

The ability to love and care which mirrors your love

Lord God, who moves in History

Who works out your plans and purposes

We thank you for your presence and providence in our lives

You’ve been with us in the experiences that have moulded and shaped

Held us in the hurt and pain

Healed us and made us whole again

Worked for our good not for harm

Our times are in your hands

Lord God, servant and saviour

Who in your son became one of us

We praise you this morning for Jesus Christ

Who shared our humanity, its joys but also its sorrows and pain

Who proclaimed good news, new sight, joyous freedom and love

Who healed the sick and welcomed back the captives

Who died on the cross to pay for our wrongdoing

Who rose again defeating death and sin and giving us new life

Lord God, Holy Spirit our comforter

Who fills his people with his power and presence

We thank you this morning for your abiding presence with us

Christ with us to the end of the age, and in all our ages

For open the scriptures and leading us into all truth

For the courage to witness to your son Jesus Christ

For gifts to serve and to build up your body

To walk in life with us bring forth the fruit of your love

Lord God, who hears our prayers

Who knows our thoughts and sees our inner most being

Forgive us for the things we had done wrong

Forgive us for the good we have left undone

Wipe the slate clean and give us a fresh start

Fill us anew with your spirit

Enable us to proclaim and live out Christ’s love

Empower us to live to your glory, Father Son and Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Holy Spirit in Creation and new creation (Genesis 1:1-3, 2 Corinthians 5:17-19, Galatians 5:22-25)

I used to spend a lot of my spare time out bodyboarding. Surfing lying down basically, surfing for the uncoordinated… but not necessarily unbalanced.  That meant you’d spend quite a bit of time sitting in the water a couple of hundred meters off shore waiting for the next wave.  One of the most amazing things when we were in the Bay of Plenty and in the Hawkes Bay were the Gannets. They would circle and circle, high in the sky, effortlessly and then suddenly their wings would fold back and they would dive straight down into the water after a fish, just a flash of white and gold then Splash! Other times as a wave rose and began to crest and you were paddling out to catch it, along the wave would come a Gannet, gracefully gliding across the face of the wave, ridding the air flow pushed up in front of it, with just the tip of its wing touching the water. Spectacular and beautiful.

That is some of the images that play in my mind as I read the first few verses of the creation narrative in Genesis and it talks of the Spirit of God, hovering over the waters, over the formless earth waiting for God to speak and for it all to come into being.

Today we are starting a series of sermons looking at the Holy Spirit in the Hebrew scriptures, what we call the Old Testament. It’s going to be a journey from the spirit of God hovering over the water in Genesis to the fulfilment of the prophecy in Joel chapter 2 that God would pour out his Spirit on all people, which was fulfilled at Pentecost and is the reality we live in, in our Christian walk today. We are God’s Spirited people, he has poured out his Spirit on us. We are called to be filled with The Holy Spirit.

I want to start with just a brief introduction to this series… This is the fifth Pentecost series I’ve preached here at St Peter’s, looking at what the scriptures say about the Holy Spirit. It’s important to do this because of two things.  The church suffers from insufficient teaching on the Holy Spirit; so we see it is an add on in our creeds and statements of faith, all this stuff about God and Jesus oh and we believe the Holy Spirit, and we can think that instead of being important and central to our faith and life that it’s an add on, an optional extra for the super spiritual, kind of like leather upholstery in a car, rather than God’s very presence and power in our lives. Secondly as a church we also suffer from over teaching on the Holy Spirit. But we’ve kind of left to others to do, so we equate it with the excesses of the more out there fringe elements, the chandelier swingers, show men and charlatans, and because of that we can get put off encountering and knowing and living  our faith by the Spirit moving in our lives.   

We are looking at the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, because it’s easy to think that the Holy Spirit simply pops up at Pentecost, or maybe just starts hanging round in Jesus life. But the Holy Spirit is how God has been active in the world from the beginning. It is how God has spoken and directed his people, redeemed, enabled and equipped them. We often don’t notice it in the Old Testament because it is hidden in words and metaphors, for example around the time of the exile the hand of God is a popular way of expressing the Presence and working of the Holy Spirit… by looking at the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament it allows us to have a good basic understanding of the Spirit, see how Jesus had made a difference and look at the Spirits work in our own lives.  We are going to do some theology, some biblical study and hopefully allow ourselves to be open more to the Spirit’s presence and moving.

I am going to start this series at the beginning, and if you don’t mind me quoting Julie Andrews ‘that’s a very good place to start’. In the creation story in Genesis chapter one we see that after God had created the universe and all that is in it, we are told that the Spirit of god hovered over the formless waters. It’s not a full blown trinitarian statement, but it tells us that God’s Spirit or what we know as the Holy Spirit was present at the beginning and involved in God’s creation process.

That calls us to do some theology… The question is often asked what or who is the Holy Spirit and the short answer is that the Holy Spirit is God, part of the triune God who has revealed God’s self to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We see the Spirit there in the beginning, as the Holy Spirit is God and shares with God the attribute of being eternal, without beginning or end. The Holy Spirit shares with God the attribute of creation as well. The prelude to John’s gospel tells us that the word, which he latter identifies with Jesus was with God in the beginning and bought everything into being.  The whole of the Godhead is involved in creation.  Now it’s hard to use a metaphor to explain the trinity without falling somehow into one or other error of doctrine. But let me use the idea of speech as a way of explaining that. As genesis tells us that God said and it came into being. When I say something, there is the idea and purpose that comes out of my mouth, then there are the words that conveys that idea constructs it and finally if you were to somehow see the disturbance in the air you could see how those words are carried into reality by sound waves. It’s not perfect, but it gives us a way of being able to think of the triune God speaking forth creation. The point I want to reiterate is that the Holy Spirit is the third person of the God head. When we come to the new testament epistles we will often see Paul speaking about such things as salvation or sanctification, that is our being made mature in Christ, and we see that he will speak of the Father and the Son, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit being involved in those actions. 

The other thing we see from this Genesis story is that the Holy Spirit is the means by which God is active in his creation. This is not as I keep on saying a distant disinterested deity but a God who is present and work in his creation in history. God works out God purposes and plans through the work of the Holy Spirit. The Hebrew word that we’ve been translating hovering can also have the connotation of the Spirit of God stirring the waters. Stirring them up.   It is a picture like our gannet or more biblically like a mother eagle in Deuteronomy 32:11 God talks of his care for Israel like being an eagle that stirs up its nest, to push its young out to learn to fly and then hovers over them and will not let them fall, but will catch them before they fall to the ground and bear them up. It is very much the picture of God’s Holy Spirit at work in Human history.

I’m about to go splash like those gannets and go off the deep end here. What science observes as natural selection and animals adapting can also be seen as the work of the Holy Spirit, as God’s providence. In psalm 106 it talks of God making environments for each animal to enjoy and flourish in, and I believe part of that is that God shapes animals for the different environments they live in. It does not stop it being a natural process, I’m not anti-science I’m pro God’s providential grace. 

As we journey through the whole of the sweep of scripture we see God at work in history by the Holy Spirit, the calling of Abraham, the way in which joseph says that while his brothers had sold him into slavery God was able to use that for good. Moses encounters God at the burning bush and is told to go into Egypt. Leaders are raised up Kings anointed prophets sent to speak God’s word. In Isaiah we see it on an even bigger scale as Darius the Persian king is spoken of as God’s servant, the rise and fall of empires, God’s spirit at work. Around the life of Jesus and then the life of the church. In the book of ACTS there is a pattern of the church settling down and being happy where it is at, in Jerusalem doing very well thank you, 3000 converts one week and 5000 the next, but they are not fulfilling Jesus commission of going and being witnesses to Samaria and to the ends of the earth persecution is stirred up and the people go out, the church does not fall but it learns to fly, you can see it repeated and again. This year marks the 500th year of the reformation, you can see the spirit at work there too, stirring up a reemphasis on the saving work of Jesus Christ. God is still stirring up the church in our own time. In the face of secularism in the west we are being challenged and called back to what is real and important. We are being asked to move from being comfortable in our society to being uncomfortable and concerned again with the least and the lost, not to enjoy the favour of our society but to add some salt and flavour.

Even in our own lives we can look back and see how God has been at work by his Holy Spirit in the way things have happened, maybe you have those aha moments when you recognise God’s hand at work, as we’ll see later God’s hand is another way of talking of the Holy Spirit.

Now it would be easy to think perhaps that the Holy Spirit is like some force. Like the idea of the force that Star Wars popularised, which is just a reimagining of a pagan idea of a impersonal spirit or force at work in the universe. But that is not the case. Our God is a personal God, sentient and knowable. As we move through scripture we can see that we can know the Holy Spirit, we can have a relationship with the Spirit, in our passage we had read from the book of Galatians the Christian life is describes as a process of us walking with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit leading and guiding us, revealing the scriptures to us.

I want to pull that involvement of the Holy Spirit in creation and in God’s providence out of the realms of theory and theology to how it works its self out in our lives today. Yes the Holy Spirit is how God moves on a large world stage but also it is how God works in your life day to day.

You see Jesus has made all the difference and as Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians you and I are new creation, because of Christ’s life and death and resurrection. John’s gospel starts with Jesus involvement in creation and his narrative of the resurrection brings out the idea of new creation when it starts on the first day in the garden. The reality is that God is renewing his creation through Jesus Christ. As we have been forgiven of our sins our old life has gone and we are made new. But as we saw in creation the whole of the God head is involved in this new creation.  

In the passage we had read from Galatians we see that in the fact that as we allow the Spirit to work in our life, open up the scriptures and apply them to our lives, draw us into a closer relationship with Jesus Christ, convict of wrong doings and help us to live different lives that new creation is taking shape.  It bears fruit in our lives fruit that is love, patience, joy, peace, goodness, faithfulness, generosity, gentleness and self-control. The shape of this new creation in us is Jesus shaped fruit, Jesus flavoured fruit. Through that and having that lived out as more and more people come to know Jesus Christ and are filled with God’s Spirit we will see creation transformed as well.

We’ve seen what Genesis has to say about God the Holy Spirit and how the Spirit is involved in creation, history, our story and our new creation. The Key difference as we will see a we continue in our exploration of the Holy Spirit in the Old testament is that the Spirit moves from hovering over to being poured out on all. It easy for us perhaps to think of God’s Spirit out there somewhere hovering over, we may realise that God is not distant disinterested but that is how we like to think of the Spirit. Like with the gannets at the beach we can admire the beauty and splendour and gracefulness of their flight, out there beyond the break, but the wonderful reality is that Jesus Christ has made it possible for The Holy Spirit to dwell in us, to fill us with the presence and power of God, that is the new life in Christ, the new creation we are part of. My hope as we move on in this series is that you may know that presence more and more in your life and walk with the spirit. 

Monday, April 17, 2017

On the Cross Road: Jesus Journey to Jerusalem (Luke chapters 10-19) and what it has to say to us as his followers (An Index)

For most of the past year I have been working through a sermon series on the narrative of Jesus final journey to Jerusalem in Luke's Gospel. It is a journey which takes up the central third of the gospel in the telling (ch10-19) and one that focuses on Jesus teaching on what it means to be his follower. It is a series that has taken up the most part of a year (30 weeks) with time off for good behaviour! actually for a few other series. Our season of creation and prayer, advent and a well deserved summer holiday for me.

This is simply an index, so folk (If they so wish) can go back and find those sermons on my blog.

Luke 10:1-24- A Missional Road
Luke 10:24-37 compassion on the way to eternal life
Luke 10: 38-42 listening our way forward on the cross road
Luke 11:1-13 the prayerful pathway
Luke 11:14-32 coping with conflict on the cross road
Luke 11:33-53 woeful potholes and pitfalls on the cross road
Luke 12: 1-12 courage and trust on the cross road
Luke 12: 13-34 facing down worry on the cross road
Luke 12:35-48 be ready, live ready keep on keeping on the cross road
Luke 13: 49-59 fire and accounting for the weather on the cross road
Luke 13:1-9 Fig-uring out repentance of the cross road
Luke 13:10-21 Mustard Seeds, the kingdom of God and set free on... Sunday
Luke 13:22-25 small numbers and insurmountable odds
Luke 14:1-14 seating arrangements and the kingdom of God
Luke 14:15-24 God's big hearted banquet
Luke 14:25-35 the cost of discipleship
Luke 15:1-10 The lost sheep and the lost coin
Luke 15: 11- 34 The Lost Son
Luke 16:1-13 managing grace
Luke 16:14-31 generosity and Grace at the gate
Luke 17:1-1o Increase our faith, give us a mustard seed faith
Luke 17:17-19 Your faith has made you well
Luke 17:21-37 a ready steady faith in light of future hope
Luke 18:1-8 Just prayer results in perseverance of faith
Luke 18: 9-17 Who are you trying to kid and kids around Jesus
Luke 18:18-34 mission impossible: the eye of the needle and the cross
Luke 18:35-43 19:1-9 to seek and save the lost: The blind beggar and the short tax collector
Luke 19: 9-27 investing in the Kingdom of God
Luke 19:28-48 The king on a borrowed donkey

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Good Friday... Good Grief (Mark 15:21-47)

The term ‘good grief’ seems to be an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms, how can that keen mental suffering or distress caused by affliction and loss, be Good?  Yes, it is the natural process we go through when we lose someone or something that we love, it’s a natural reaction, a hard one to go through, with sharp sorrow, full of regret, anger, dark fields of depression, watered with tears where we feel alone and abandoned. It’s the process we must go through to come to terms with the fact that someone has gone, that things have changed, and it will never be the same, but we must go on. It can be a healthy process, as we make that adjustment well, as well as we can, or an unhealthy one, where you can find yourselves stuck at some point in the grief cycle, unable to break free; break through. I don’t think you can call it Good.

‘Good grief’ has stuck in the shared psyche of my generation because of its use by Charles Shultz’s beloved cartoon character ‘Charlie Brown’… ‘Good grief, Charlie Brown’.  In the urban Dictionary, it is defined as an expression of dismay, of surprise and shock, disbelief even.  “good grief, I can’t believe he just did that.”

‘Good grief’ comes to my mind as I focus on the events that we remember on Good Friday, that we had read to us from the gospel of Mark: the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. As a child the first sermon I was ever aware of listening to was a good Friday sermon, where the preacher talked of Jesus death as an example of Good Grief…and it’s always stuck in my mind.  At a deeper level, some say that the phrase ‘Good Grief’ comes from a time when there was still a sensitivity of using religious language in every day usage, particularly as an expletive or reaction. Good grief they said was the polite way of saying Good God or Good Lord, and that came from a shortening of the liturgical response ‘Good Lord, deliver us’, ‘Good God, save us!’ At the Cross we do indeed meet Good Grief: A good God who saves us.

At the Cross we encounter Good Grief…

As we had it read out from Mark’s gospel today we see the cross as a scene full of pain, suffering and sorrow. Simon the Cyrene is forced to carry the cross beam to which Jesus is to be nailed presumably because he is too weak from the beatings he has taken to do it himself. He is taken up onto a hill called Golgotha or the scull, a description of a round hill with no vegetation on top, that would have been beside the road into Jerusalem. He is nailed to that cross and it is lifted upright and put in place. So he can be displayed to all  by the Roman’s as a show of what this regime does to anyone who breaks the law or is even accused of standing against them. Rome has won again.

We often talk of insults and criticism as giving someone grief, and Mark’s account of the crucifixion focuses on Jesus being given grief. Passers-by, the chief priests and teachers of the law, and those crucified with him mock him. ‘he said he would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days’, ‘he said he could save others, he can’t even save himself’, come down, conform to our understanding of God’s messiah, then we will see and believe’. Pilate's taunt to the religious leaders who had bought him into this whole sordid affair… nailed above Jesus the Words ‘King of the Jews’ this is what will happen to anyone who considers rising against Roman rule.

The Grief of those who had been with him as they stand at a distance and see what is happening. Mark notes it is the women who had been with Jesus in Galilee, the disciples are nowhere to be seen, we know from John’s account that he was there as was Jesus mother, but mark and his source may only have noticed the women standing at a distance. Women who in Israel’s history in world history are  the ones who carry the brunt of grief and sorrow in the face of our inhumanity.

There is the grief and anguish in the only words that Mark records Jesus saying on the cross. Spoken in Jesus native Aramaic ‘Eloi Eloi Lama Sabachthani”  which means ‘my God, my God why have you forsaken me’. In this hour in this place of pain and death Jesus identifies with the depth of human suffering.  It’s not a   statement of doubt, it is the first words of Psalm 22 which is a messianic psalm which is full of verses that point to the cross, a psalm that is also one of deep trust and faith. Jesus cry is still to ‘My God’ an acknowledgement of faith and trust and relationship. R Alan Cole helps us to unpack one possibility of what is happening here when he wrote:

“if there was a barrier between the Father and the Son at that moment, it could only be because of sin, the son knew no sin, so it could only be our sin that cost him such agony. Here is the heart of the cross here is the mystery which no painting or sculpture, with distorted face, can ever begin to show, because we fail to realise the true nature of punishment for sin, as separation from God, and therefore the true nature and depth of the agony borne by him.”

This agony this sense of abandonment is reflected in the sky turning dark for three hours.

Finally, there is grief because of death. Jesus dies, and as this is the day of preparation for the sabbath and Passover the authorities allow Jesus to be taken down and buried in a tomb belonging to Joseph of Arimathea. The women follow along and they see where Jesus is laid as they will want to come back and make sure he receives the correct treatment in death that he did no receive in life.

At the Cross we encounter Good Grief, and we’ve looked at the grief but how can this be Good?

There is the grief of a Roman execution using a most torturous and violent vile method, but all the way through this there is another narrative being written, another reality playing out. Unlike in Matthew and Luke, it is not pointed out to us so blatantly.  It’s is God’s plan and purpose, Jesus use of the open line of Psalm 22 invites us to see what is happening through its prophetic lens. The guards we are told sitting down and gambling over his clothes foretold. The jar of wine being offered to him foretold, the mockery and taunting, foretold. Scripture witnesses to the fact that God not Caesar, God not the religious authorities and their plans and scheme is in control. This is not a ignominious end to a good teacher, rather it is God at work. Instead of a defeat Mark paints it as a coronation, Pilate's words more true than he could imagine, here is Jesus the king of the Jews… It is a Roman centurion who provides Mark’s narrative with its high point. When by some divine revelation he sees what is going on and realises ‘surely this man was God’s son’.

In a deep irony, the grief that was thrown at Jesus tells the story of what is happening here. They meant is as mockery, but rather in it is deep truth. This is how Jesus planned to tear down the temple and build it again in three days.  Relationship with God was no longer going to be though a building and sacrificial system, but was going to be made possible by the person of Jesus Christ and his death on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. By not coming down from the cross, by not saving himself, rather trusting in God, Jesus was going to save many others. It was his death taking the punishment for what we had done wrong, that would enable us to be forgiven and set free. Jesus was God’s messiah and king and this is the way he was going usher in God’s kingdom. Not by some superhuman act but by as Philippians 2 puts it being obedient unto death, even death on a cross, because of that God would raise him up. It was not going to be that we may see and then believe that the high priests demanded rather it is by grace, and faith in Jesus that we will be able to see.

The women who stand off at a distance and weep, who follow to see where Jesus is buried are not left in their grief and sorrow, rather they are changed into witnesses, able to tell of what they have seen and spoiler alert they are the ones who have the great privilege of being the first to witness Jesus resurrection and to bear witness to the fact “he is risen, he is risen indeed’.

It is Good because ‘God has not abandoned us’, Jesus took on the pain we encounter and the deep separation from God, so that we may come to know God intimately as our loving father. So many people wrestle with understanding what Jesus did on the Cross, the various theories of atonement, but in Marks gospel there is one symbolic act which shows the reality of what Jesus achieved. As he died mark tells us the curtain in the temple was torn in two. The curtain in the temple was hung in front of the holy of holy’s the place where Jewish people believed held the very presence of God. It was only entered once a year by a high priest and only after many sacrifices for the forgiveness of sin. It symbolised the very real chasm between sinful broken humans and a holy God. But now God was no longer going to be with his people in this special place. The barrier between us and God is removed. The temple and sacrificial system was no longer needed, as in his death and resurrection, Jesus had made the way for us to come to know God. It is putting our trust in Jesus that we can come to know God, that we are able to have a clean and fresh start and be reconciled with God and with one another.

Finally, it is good grief because the Story does not end as the stone is rolled across the mouth of a borrowed tomb. It does not finish with the women and Joseph marking where Jesus is laid so they can make it the focus for memory, future mourning or even veneration. … it is Friday but Sunday is coming. We have Good grief because at the Cross we meet the Good God, who raised Jesus to life again. We can have new and abundant life lived in relationship with God because Jesus is raised from the dead. Death and sin are defeated. It is the wondrous truth that Jesus death and resurrection makes new life possible. We started our exploration of good grief by talking of Simon the Cyrene being forced into service to carry Jesus Cross, and even in that small detail we see how these events can change people’s lives, as we are told that Simon's sons Rufus and Alexander are known to the church. If Mark was written in Rome then this could be Rufus who is talked of as a leader in that church in Paul’s letter to the Romans.

It is Good Grief because it is the starting point of lives down through the last two thousand years that have been changed and transformed. This year we are marking the 500th year of the reformation, the re-centering of the Christian faith on the wonderful truth that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone. It is the hope that you and I have, the new life we share.
The term Good Grief may seem an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. But I would pray this Easter you may know the reality of Good grief in your life. Grief is the process by which we deal with the loss of a loved one or a significant part of our life.  The Good Grief of the Cross, is the process by which we allow Jesus death to change how we live. We come to him aware of all we have done wrong, we thank him for dying in our place, and ask him to forgive us, and acknowledge him as our Lord and saviour. That is Good grief that leads to new life. We can know Good Grief.. A good God who Saves us. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

What love is this? a reprise of a good friday poem/prayer

In about 2003 I wrote this reflection for a Good Friday Service. I've dragged it out and used a few times over the years. But it needed a bit of a re-write.  the refrain what love is this has been cut and I've rewritten the last stanza thingy without reference to the Stuart Townsend hymn "How deep the fathers love". What love is this is a favourite line from a worship song 'Glory' from the band 'Form' which starts off as a normal praise and worship clique  song, but then its as if the songwriter is surprised by the reality of the presence and love of God... his only response is to sing 'glory'.

Unlooked for


Freely Given

You O God reached down into our humanity

Even into the darkness of our inhumanity

With the light of your great Love

Not clutching divine nature

Become a servant

Humble and meek

Obedient even to death

Jesus, who befriended the outcast

Healed the blind, the lame and cared for the poor

Taught and showed what our heavenly father is like


Innocent yet condemned

Beaten and tortured

The sovereign king receives a crown of thorns

The welcoming outstretched hands nailed to a cross

Hope mocked and spat upon

Gasping for breath

Excruciating pain


We thought him stricken by God, cursed

Yet it was our iniquity, our wrong that he carried

In his death we have freedom and life

Side pieced

Buried in a tomb

Stone sealed

Beyond our ability to understand you have done it

Paid the price for us and invited us in,

What love is this can any grave hold it down?

What love is this?

Stone rolled away

Hope rekindled

Alive again, risen for the grave

Clean slate, new life and wholeness

Thank you O God for a love like this

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

If the stones cried out... I wonder what they'd say? ( an instillation for Palm Sunday).

'If the stones cried out I wonder what they'd say?' This was my unlikely reflection leading into Palm Sunday. I started to write my typical flowery prayer but decided it might be better to invite people to voice (or at least write) their own prayers of thanks using rocks and chalk...

If the stones cried out I wonder what they'd say.
Would they recognize their creator in Jesus voice and presence. That he spoke them into being amidst the immense pressure of  earth cooling and volcanic fire and tectonic drift. Would they speak of the grace of God they had seen over the centuries, his hand with his people, the feet of prophets bringing God's word, the passing of kings anointed to serve, would they tell that this one was different, that our hope and theirs was in the new Creation he would bring. In forgiveness and freedom that would come from his blood spilt on them. Would they know of a stone that would be rolled away in Resurrection's victory dawn.

If the stones cried out I wonder what they'd say.
Well we will never know, the disciples and the children refused to be quite and we are invited as well to sing and tell of his goodness and grace, to point to Jesus as God's chosen king and our saviour.

So on Palm Sunday as our prayer of thanksgiving I invited people to take a rock  and with chalk to write or draw on it something they wished to thank God for. How this king Jesus had brought change and new life to their lives...and we placed them on an instillation in our church foyer... A short road made of cloth from palm trees to the cross. But behind the cross was one of our stain glass windows with the light shinning through a  window that spoke of God's creation. Pointing beyond the cross to the hope of new life and fresh creation in the resurrection.

We processed out of the church to lay our rocks on the road and then processed back into the church with palm fronds... To Carl Tuttle's song 'Hosanna, Hosanna'.

Monday, April 10, 2017

The King on a Borrowed Donkey (Luke 19:28-48)

One Sunday after church I took James out for a driving lesson and we ended up heading out to Auckland airport, and as we were going along George Bolt drive, a high-speed motorcade came towards us from the airport. There were police on bikes, that stopped at every intersection to ensure that the vehicles behind them could move through without stopping. There was a police car with lights flashing so motorists would pull over and let them speed by. The motorcade itself was three large black SUV’s with blacked out windows. You couldn’t see who it was in the cars, you couldn’t see which vehicle they were in or which one contained, my over active imagination assumed, heavily armed security people. It was quite a sight, it felt like being in a movie not on a Sunday drive in Auckland, it was unsettling to think that in New Zealand such measures were necessary for a visiting dignitary. 

I wondered what kind of welcome this person would get when they arrived at their destination…red carpets, warm handshakes and greetings, amidst the flashing bulbs of a media scrum, or if they were an unpopular politician, the chant of protesters and yet more police to keep the peace. They would get the grandest of accommodation and the best of service.

I checked the newsfeeds to see if there was someone important coming to New Zealand but there was no mention of anyone. Maybe if it had been someone big there would have been more fuss more ceremony, tighter security and more coverage. Just remember back to Bill Clinton’s visit in 1999 for the APEC summit in Auckland, or the Royal visits that so many look forward to and cherish. All the trappings show us how important and significant these people are… there is a paradox in that to how Jesus enters Jerusalem, and his welcome… He comes humbly riding on a donkey, a borrowed donkey at that…  

Today we come to look at Jesus entry to Jerusalem, amidst the crowds of pilgrims coming for the Passover festival. We are looking at it from Luke’s perspective. For close to a year now we’ve been following Jesus journey to Jerusalem in Luke’s gospel, a journey that takes up the central third of the gospel. I know I said we’d finished that series last week with Jesus parable of the ten Mina’s but the journey really finishes here as Jesus enters the city. It finishes here as Jesus goes to the temple, and drives out the merchants. It finishes here as he teaches and the crowds are attentive to his words. It finishes here as the religious establishment want to have Jesus killed and they put into effect the events that will lead to the cross, Jesus death and his resurrection.

Luke’s account of Jesus entry into Jerusalem, is told in four sections marked by different geographical indicators of Jesus final journey up from Jericho to Jerusalem and on into the very temple itself. The focus of this passage is very much on Jesus himself, it’s full of Old Testament witness to who Jesus is, and it picks up themes that have been running through the gospel: That Jesus is God’s chosen king, but his kingdom is totally different than the realms of this world and how are we supposed to respond to Jesus, there is both worship and acclaim and disrespect and rejection in this passage.

We are told Jesus went ahead, going up to Jerusalem, and he approaches the villages of Bethphage and Bethany  on the Mount of Olives. The mount of olives is mentioned twice in Luke’s account because in Zechariah 14:4-5 it talks of God’s messiah coming from the east from the Mount of Olives. The scene here focuses on Jesus sending his disciples to go and get a colt, that had never been ridden from one of those villages. He tells his disciples if they are asked what they are doing to tell the person who asks the Lord needs it… and they will be given it. This is what happens.

The motorcade that James and I saw had been meticulously planned and practised and there is the feel of some prior planning going into the mission to get a donkey for Jesus. We know from John’s gospel that Jesus visited Bethany on a regular basis. In first century, Jewish customs if a rabbi needed something he could ask and it would normally be lent to him. But the emphasis in this section is not on Jesus strategic planning but his prophetic insight and the fact that what is about to unfold is part of God’s plan. If the planning has gone on it is God’s divine plan. Jesus has on three occasions in his journey to Jerusalem told his disciples that in Jerusalem he would be rejected betrayed and killed and in the final part of Luke’s journey narrative that he would rise to life again on the third day. What is about to unfold is not a tragic end to a good ministry, political intrigue and the happenstance of history, it is God’s purpose and God’s plan, right down to the minute detail of providing a donkey.   

The disciples bring the donkey to Jesus and they throw their cloaks on it and in front of it on the road. Jesus ridding on a donkey is fulfilment of scripture in the book of Zechariah 9:9 the prophet says

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
    Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
    righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

This act is to show that Jesus comes as God’s chosen king. The placing of cloaks in front of the donkey reinforces the Picture of Jesus as King as in 2 Kings 29:13 we have the coronation of Jehu as king of Judah and it tells us that cloaks were laid before his bare feet.   

But the donkey also speaks to what sort of king Jesus is as well. This is not the conquering hero coming into the city at the head of a victorious army, claiming the spoils of war and demanding the accolades of the people. Commentator Darrell Bock says “the humble animal denotes not a messiah of power but of humility and service.”  That this is at Passover signifies sacrifice for forgiveness of sin. God’s king and God’s kingdom stands in sharp juxtaposition to the realms of this world. Down through history attempts to use political or military power to instil the Kingdom of God have led to tragic consequences. The crusades, the Spanish inquisition, parts of the reformation, with civil war and revolt.  In recent times aligning the Christian faith with this party or that government or putting our hope in this candidate or that candidate, has done more wrong that right. We must ask ourselves  is Jesus the humble king of peace, and see his kingdom come as he did in humble service, care and compassion for the least and the lost, and the display of the churches reflection of Jesus righteous and just character. Not demanding influence and power but siding with those with influence and without power.

The story moves on and we move closer to Jerusalem. Again we see Jesus coming from the Mt of olives and down into the last valley before the city. We are told that the disciples begin praising God for all the miracles they had seen. As the city draws near their belief in Jesus as the messiah  turns into worship and thanks to God. I preached on psalm 124 at the Edmund Hillary retirement home on Thursday. Psalm 124 is one of the psalms of ascent, which gives thanks to God for his help in a series of trials and sufferings, described in a wonderful array of vivid images. The Psalms of ascent were used by pilgrims coming to Jerusalem and I can imagine a psalm like that one sparking the disciples to think of all God’s help they had seen in Jesus signs and wonders. It prompts them to use the words of another Psalm associated with the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, a royal psalm, Psalm 118 ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! ‘peace in heaven and glory in  the highest’.
  if you are wondering where the hosannas are in Luke's account. Luke's quote of Psalm 118 focuses on Jesus aas King and the hosanna's in the psalm are right before he starts to quote. Like wise the palm fronds are not mentioned but again they are in Pssalm 118 as they follow on from this quote by talking of a procession with palm fronds to the altar in the temple.

There response to Jesus is to praise God for all the things they have seen and heard, to acknowledge Jesus as their king. That their hopes for the future are in Jesus and who he is. They don’t fully understand it yet, there will be big doubts and hard times ahead, God’s purposes will look a lot different than how they had hoped for, but their response to Jesus is faith and worship. The same response we are called to make. There hope of Heavens peace and glory, are our hopes, reconciliation with God and his justice and righteousness to reign.

But we also see in the middle of this rejoicing the voices of opposition that have been with Jesus all along. There are no police barriers or security guard to keep them away. Pharisees come to Jesus  and tell him to stop his disciples saying the things they were. The Pharisees you see may be spiritually blind, but they are not dumb they know what these words mean, they know that Jesus disciples are hailing him as king and messiah and saviour. They do not recognise him as such, he does not fit their image of what the king and messiah would be.  Jesus reply here does not quells their anxiety rather it fuels it. Jesus really in an open affirmation of his divinity says well if the disciples stopped, then creation itself would cry out, and acknowledged who Jesus is. The Pharisees hearts maybe like stone when it come to Jesus but the stones beneath their feet would tell of Jesus.  This is the wonderful task and privilege that you and I are given to tell and share of what we know of Jesus and give praise for God’s salvation in Jesus Christ. Creation the psalms tell us speak their praise but it is left to you and I to speak and declare the truth of Jesus to a world that needs to know.

The journey moves on. In verse 41 it tells us that Jesus approaches Jerusalem, as he comes up out of the last valley the whole city comes into sight. Jesus response is to weep, in this last stretch of the journey we’ve seen Jesus act as a prophet and as a king, now he acts in a priestly manner. He shows God’s care and love for the city and it’s people. He laments that the city and its people, represented by the Pharisees in this passage, have not recognised who he is, have not realised that the peace they seek has come to them in the person of Jesus Christ. They had a chance to embrace a different way of living a different way of dealing with the powers who were occupying and oppressing their country but they missed it.  He uses a whole raft of military imagery, ramps being raised against the walls, siege, brutal conquest to speak of the consequences of not recognising the time of God’s coming to them. It’s a very accurate portrayal of the Romans destruction of the city in 70AD in response to a Jewish revolt seeking their independence from Rome, their own understanding of the Kingdom of God.    Jesus as priest tries in here with the Passover as he has come to Jerusalem not only as its king but to offer a sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. This is the true salvation and peace that Jerusalem was looking for…

The narrative then changes location again and Jesus enters the temple, cleanses it of the merchants and money lenders and starts to teach. You know that’s a sermon in itself…

You know I don’t know who was in that motorcade that flashed past us that Sunday afternoon. I don’t know where they were going or what they were about. It’s just the image that is stuck in my mind. But in Luke’s account of Jesus entry to Jerusalem we are invited to see who Jesus is. The Jewish scriptures show us the significance of his every action here. We see Jesus as prophet, king and priest. AS the gospel goes on we see where Jesus is going, his betrayal, his death on the cross and his being raised to life again, and ascending to the right hand of the Father, we have seen what Jesus is about and experienced in our lives as well as we have known his grace and love and calling and purpose.   We are invited to join the disciples in giving him praise, being attentive to his word, hearing it and obeying it. We are challenged about rejecting him and how that road leads to judgment.  Today I simply want to finish by inviting us to first be still and think in our own minds how we want to respond to Jesus as king. Then I am going to invite us to stand and join our voices with Jesus disciples and the children mentioned in John’s gospel and the people of the kingdom of God to sing hosanna ‘god save us’ lets be still, lets pray.