Monday, 23 February 2009
Thursday, 12 February 2009
At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"—which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" When some of those standing near heard this, they said, "Listen, he's calling Elijah." One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. "Now leave him alone. Let's see if Elijah comes to take him down," he said. With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, "Surely this man was the Son of God!"
Stand with me at the scene of the cross. Here there is no Easter Sunday, no glorious resurrection. No, here we are faced with the cross. Right here right now is our reality. Right here at the cross, right now at the cross is all we know. We have walked with Jesus as he taught with authority and wisdom. We have marvelled with the crowds as he healed the sick and raised the dead. We have celebrated with singing as this young Galilean rode into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey, seemingly the Messiah we had all been waiting for. Yet now we stand in the darkness of this scene of crucifixion, and all that has gone before seems distant, irrelevant and worthless. For before our eyes hangs this man, this same man. How do you respond to the man on the cross?
Darkness envelops the land and now as our eyes squint and strain through the darkness we feel relieved because we cannot see as clearly the fullness of the horror of the scene. The darkness now seems to hide it. But then what our eyes miss our ears do not, and a gut wrenching sound echoes out in the midst of the darkness.
‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’
Here at this sound the darkness of the land cannot hide the reality of the scene before us. Here at this sound our ears do not need to strain to know what is happening, for here at this sound we glimpse the truth of the horror of the event. This God-Man is god-forsaken.
His cry comes from the depths of his heart, for here he is alone, here he is abandoned. He is not singing a Psalm to prove his messiahship (Psalm 22). He is in torment, a place of unimaginable pain. Surely for Jesus, here the darkness is accompanied by silence. Here no longer can he hear his Father’s voice calling him the delight of his life (Mark 1:11).
As Jesus hangs in darkness and despair are we not confronted with the reality of our situation? For should it be us who hang there in darkness and despair because of the enormity of our sin? Because we have not loved God with all our heart soul, mind and strength, the One that has, hangs in our place. As he is suspended in our place, the horror of our sin and its consequences are heard.
As Jesus hangs on the cross the power of sin, death and darkness unleash its worst upon him. Powers that we were meant to feel the weight of. Yet in darkness and despair, Jesus experiences the weight of sin so we do not have to. Jesus hangs there so that we can be reconciled to God, so that we do not have to cry out ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ for how could we ask such a question when we face the actuality of our sin? To be god-forsaken should have been our only certainty.
As we hear the depths of despair in the voice of the Son of God, how do we respond to the man on the cross? Do we stand and discuss together what his cry might mean; cold to the reality of the suffering he endures? Or do we leave the group for a second and present Jesus a token offering on the end of a stick, as though it might soften the weight of cross that hangs on his back? How do you respond to the man on the cross?
As Jesus hangs in darkness, do we concede that it has overcome him (John 1:5)? Has the Light of the World been extinguished for good? Yet because of such pain and suffering, because of this journey, by Jesus, through the valley of the shadow of death, we can be sure that nothing we go through has not already been known by the Son of God. No pain or hurt, tear and mourning, crying or shame has not already been known by Jesus himself. Therefore, when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me (Psalm 23:4)! As sin, evil and death unleash their worst onto Jesus, as the horror of separation and abandonment confront him at the cross, we can stare humbly, reverently and with tears in our eyes at the cross, peering through the darkness, and see that Jesus hangs there, representing us, bearing the full weight of all our sin, so that we can know that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:39). Because Jesus was abandoned, we can know reconciliation. Because Jesus was in despair, we can know joy. Because Jesus cried out in dereliction, we can cry out in joyful reunion!
When glimpsing the horror of the scene, hearing the depth of the despair, and as we hear Jesus cry out and see the way he died, do we, with the centurion, say surely this man was the Son of God?
But do not merely gaze at the scene as if staring at the scene itself is enough. No, be sure that here God has done something, God has taken the first step, God, in his grace has made it possible for us to respond. A mystery has occurred here at the cross, a mystery that we are invited to share in. Here in such starkness and brutality, God reveals himself to us that we might respond to him. How then will you respond to the man on the cross?
Wednesday, 11 February 2009
Moses and the Burning Bush
Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, "I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up."
When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, "Moses! Moses!"
And Moses said, "Here I am."
"Do not come any closer," God said. "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground." Then he said, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob." At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
The LORD said, "I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt."
But Moses said to God, "Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?"
And God said, "I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain."
God calls out to Moses from the flames of the burning bush and declares;
"I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob."
This declaration is not merely God telling Moses who he is; it is God declaring the kind of God that he is. He is a God of promises, a God who keeps his promises. He has made a covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and he proclaims in this statement that he has not forgotten that covenant or his people, the Israelites. I believe that today God calls out to us declaring that he is this same God who spoke to Moses through the flames of the burning bush and he has not forgotten this nation or us. He declares that he is this same God who has spoken through the Prophets. He has a message for this nation. He is this same God who has spoken to us through his Son Jesus Christ. And what is it that God might be saying to us?
‘I have indeed seen the misery of the people of this nation. I have heard them cry out because of their slave-drivers and I have seen their suffering!’
As God spoke to Moses saying that he had heard the misery and cries of the Israelites under the hands of the Egyptians, so God speaks to us today, telling us that he has heard the cries of the people of this nation. The cries of a mother who mourns the loss of her son who has been stabbed to death. The cries of a father who sees the remains of his daughter found in a garden after years of silence. The cries of a girl who looks at herself in the mirror and despairs because she does not look like the girls in the magazines she reads. The cries of a teenage boy, confused over his sexuality yet never able to talk about it for fear of rejection and abuse. God has heard these cries, they have risen to him. And what will he do?
‘I have come down to rescue them!’
He has come in Christ to rescue all people out of the hands of the slave drivers. Those who kill and destroy, God will bring justice. Those who see false beauty, God will bring his beauty. Those who are confused over their own identity, God will shape them into the image and identity of his own Son. At the Cross freedom rings out into our nation. Freedom from slavery! And, as Moses before us, we have been called by God to declare that freedom. Yet what does this freedom look like? God says:
‘I have come to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey’
God promises to bring the Israelites out of Egypt into a land flowing with milk and honey, the Promised Land and Moses is the one who God has called to lead these people to this Promised Land. As Moses before us led the Israelites through the waters to the Promised Land, we have been called by God to go and invite the people of this nation to go through the waters of baptism and journey with us to the Promised Land, a land where God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. A Land where God will live with us. A Land where God’s justice, beauty and love will reign forever. This is our Promised Land, with Jesus leading the way. As we walk this journey, we may stumble and fall yet God, who said he would be with Moses, has said he will be with us. As we walk this Journey we may grow weary, as did the Israelites, yet God has said he will lift us up. As we walk this Journey we may hunger and thirst, yet God will feed us at the Table, giving us strength for the Journey. And as we walk this Journey together, we can strengthen each other, carry each other, mourn and cry with each other, laugh with each other, with Jesus our light and our salvation leading the way.
Come, let us march humbly, yet boldly into the Promised Land, and as we march let us stretch out our hands and invite others to join us, announcing to them the Good News that the Saviour of the world has been born! Has been crucified! Has been raised to life! And will come again!
Monday, 9 February 2009
Ephesians 3: 14-21
For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
How will our community know the depths of God’s love?
There is something so powerful that it can change the world in which we live. It is something so potent that it can change a nation from being a source of hate and persecution towards others for the colour of their skin, to elect a black man as President of The United States Of America. It is something so impressive that it can fill a family with joy even though they sit huddled together in the depths of winter, without food and without shelter. It is a force so strong that mighty leaders fall to their knees and those in chains can hold their head high. It gives hope to those who are dying and comfort to those who mourn. It is behind every kind word spoken and every force of good in the world. It is the reason we exist and the reason the world has hope. It is the love of God.
It is out of this love that God created the world, to turning chaos into order. It is out of this love that God stepped into our humanity to deal with our sin and its consequences. It is this love that saw Jesus endure the shame and agony of the cross but then rise triumphantly from the grave, defeating the power of sin, death and hell. It is this love that draws us to God and calls us to turn away from sin and hell and journey towards life and love. It is this love that calls us to journey to the Promised Land when God will make all things new.
When Paul writes here of God’s love it almost doesn’t make sense. Paul talks of this love being beyond measure, yet calls us to grasp hold of it. He speaks of this love being beyond knowledge, yet calls us to know it. I believe what is happening here firstly is Paul telling us that the love of God is so immense, so amazing that it doesn’t make sense. Secondly I believe Paul is saying here that the only way to know it and the only way to grasp it is when we put our faith in Jesus. When Paul speaks of Jesus dwelling in our hearts, I believe he is speaking about God being at the centre of our lives, being at the core of our being and this happens when we place faith in Him. God then becomes the root of our being, the Rock on which we stand; we are now rooted and established in love. So now knowing where love originates and seeing through the Cross of Jesus the extent of God’s love for us, we can begin to know and grasp this love. I wonder, have you put your life into the hands of God? Have you seen Jesus as the hope of your life? Is God rooted at the centre of your inner most being? Is Jesus the one who you have placed your faith in? If not I ask you to respond to the love of God given to us through Jesus. I invite you to put your faith in Jesus, to ask him to be at the centre of your life. I invite you to call out to him in faith and begin a journey with Jesus towards a bright future full of hope.
I wonder though, if this morning you have already placed your hope in Jesus, if you have experienced His love for yourself, whether we have done enough to show our community here on Mersea how wide and long, high and deep is the love of God? I wonder if we have done enough to declare and show to our community how immense God’s love is for them and the world? How will our community know the love of God unless we go and tell them?
I believe day by day we all experience the love of God in one way or another even if we don’t recognize it as that. When nations stretch out their hands to give food and clothing to the hungry and homeless, right there the love of God is experienced. When lovers watch a setting sun and parents celebrate the birth of their child, right there the love of God is experienced. When the lonely are visited and the bereaved are comforted, right there the love of God is experienced. Yet we are called to go tell people where all love stems from. We are called to go and declare to the community and world around us that God loves them and that Jesus is the One who reveals God’s love to us.
So we join in with the nations and stretch out our hands to feed the hungry, yet seek ways in which we can tell of the one who stretched out his hands on the Cross and died for our sins.
We celebrate when new love is found and new life is formed and then seek ways to speak of the One who spoke into history and created all things out of his love for us.
We seek to visit the lonely and comfort those who mourn and seek ways in which we can share the One who wants us to be our eternal Comforter and who will one day wipe every tear from our eyes.
Sometimes we will be able to share God’s love through words, sometimes it will be done through our actions. But at the root and heart of all we say and all we do needs to be love. And to know what real love is read again and again the beautiful words of Paul in 1 Corinthians;
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
So, how will we respond to our community this week? Will we raise a hand in anger or stretch it out in love? Will we whisper words of slander or declare words of love? Will we seek to assassinate a character, or build a character of love? Remember it is God alone who has the power to change the world, yet he calls us to work with him in that. And he is able to do more than all we can ask or think, and he can do it through us.
There is something so powerful that it can change nations and communities, something so strong that it can break every wall of hostility and transform the very heart of a person. I wonder, how will we respond to it?