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Sunday, 28 April 2019

Mark 16:1-8 He is Risen


The cross is empty. Jesus was crucified, giving up his life, hung between heaven and earth on that tree, rejected by heaven and earth so that we are now accepted by God. After that horrific moment when Jesus breathed his last breath, everything changes. Now what? For Jesus’ followers, the future feels dark and bleak because everything was wrapped up in Jesus. He’s the rabbi, the leader, the one setting the agenda, leading everyone into his future. The cross may be empty, but Jesus’ broken body, along with their broken hope, lay in a dark tomb. When you don't know what to do, it's easiest to simply do the practical thing right in front of you, so the women get together and go to anoint Jesus' body with aromatic spices to take away the marks of his suffering and the smell of death. The women want to make sure Jesus receives the honour he failed to receive in his death.
The women are worried because of the large stone in front of the tomb. How are they going to roll it away? They go anyway and will figure something out when they get there. Imagine their surprise when they arrive at the tomb and it's open. What goes through their minds when they see the open tomb? The women go into the tomb with a sense of fear, worrying about what they might see, or maybe what they might not see. Is Jesus still there?  I'm sure they don't expect to see a young man dressed in white, sitting on the right side of the tomb.
Mark wants us to understand who Jesus is and stand in amazement when we get it. Mark tells us the women are alarmed, but they're also amazed and overwhelmed with wonder at this young man in white robes. This is a normal human reaction to encountering the sacred, the unknown, the unexpected. The young man speaks, "Don't be alarmed, you're looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He is risen. He is not here. See the place where they laid him!"
Jesus is risen, he's alive! He's on the move. "But go, tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'" The followers of Jesus are called to go to Galilee to meet him there; a call to trust and believe what Jesus taught them and to respond in faith. Jesus' followers have mourned. It can be hard to remember stuff during times of darkness and suffering. All you can see; all you can remember is what you've lost. Loss can go deep, especially the loss of relationships, of those we love or have loved. This is where the women are right now emotionally; they've walked through the darkness of hopelessness and loss on Friday and Saturday, but now light’s beginning to shine through. Just as the sunrise marks the beginning of a new day, this young man in shining white robes offers the light of new hope to the women.
The people being called to go see Jesus are the same ones who abandoned and denied Jesus; those afraid and hiding in an upper room are now being called to come see the one who brings freedom from fear and courage to move forward. "Tell his disciples and Peter," Peter’s singled out by the angel. Brash bold Peter who couldn't live up to his boasts, brave Peter who turned out to be not so brave after all and now living in shame and embarrassment, but that's not Jesus' desire for Peter or for you. Jesus’ resurrection is about new life and forgiveness. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we find forgiveness and acceptance by God as his redeemed children. Our sin is washed away on the cross, and our old life, our hurts, brokenness and pain find healing and wholeness in Jesus. Jesus reaches out with grace to Peter, his disciples and each of us who follow him as our Lord and Saviour.
Jesus' death and resurrection are about freedom from sin and washing away the stains and disease of sin that infects us, but it's also about new life. As followers of Jesus, we’re set free from our old lives, free from our old identities shaped by worry, shame, fear and guilt into new people shaped by forgiveness, grace, generosity, courage and more as we are changed by Jesus. As we embrace Jesus teachings, his life and his Spirit we’re transformed and approach life with hope and excitement, looking ahead to what Jesus has in store for us. Jesus' death and resurrection are confirmation of God's deepest love and commitment to you. It’s a sign that God never gives up on us and is willing to go to extraordinary lengths to show you that "neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, not any powers, neither height nor depth, not anything else in all creation, will be able to separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord," as Paul writes in Romans 8.
Mark goes on, "trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid." The tomb is empty and the call is to go see Jesus. Mark says they’re trembling and bewildered. The words also mean “astonished and amazed” along with “trembling and bewildered.” Their wonder at what they've seen mixes fear because of the unexpected and unknown. Can this really be true or is this some terrible hoax? Should they get their hopes up, or will they be dashed again? They’ve gone to the tomb looking for Jesus and now they're told to look for him somewhere else because Jesus is no longer dead, but alive and well and waiting for them.
The women's voices are silenced because of their fear. Mark wants us to stop here with the story not quite done yet. He wants us to sit with the fear, the hope, the doubt and wonder all mixed up inside us. This is what we so often experience in our walk with Jesus, these are the emotions that often sit inside us, whether we want to admit it or not. Fear is powerful, fear takes away confidence and strength, fear creates doubt, and here, even with glorious news, fear takes away the women’s voices. What fear silences you? What prevents you from going out and inviting others to come and see, to go with you to find Jesus and follow the one raised from the grave? At some point we need to work through it or allow ourselves to be stopped dead in our tracks. You can run but you can’t hide from your fear, you can’t let it silence you forever. Fear blinds us to who God has given us to deal with our fear; the Holy Spirit himself. The women find their voice again as we discover in the other Gospels and the disciples learn of the empty grave and the call to look for Jesus in a place other than the tomb.
How do we deal with fear? It starts with admitting our fear honestly. If we don’t start there, fear’s not going to leave. We can voice our fear straight to God in prayer and we can find a small group of trusted people where we can be honest about our fear and how it sometimes prevents us from really following Jesus and trusting Jesus completely with our lives. This is why God has given us the gift of the church; a place where followers of Jesus can share our fear and find hope, encouragement, direction, courage and strength.
As you face your fears, the Holy Spirit is with you, helping you find your voice. As the young man in the tomb reminds the women of Jesus' words, so the Holy Spirit reminds us of Jesus' words and who he is; the Son of God, Saviour and Redeemer, Lamb of God, washer away of our sin. The Holy Spirit guides us to Jesus and convicts us of the truth of Jesus' death and resurrection, of the new life and forgiveness we have because of the empty cross and empty tomb.
Catherine Marshall sums up the benefits of trusting in God when she writes, “There is only one way to get rid of fear; like any sin, we must recognize it, confess it in true repentance, claim God’s sure promise of forgiveness, cleansing and renewal, accept these gifts, rise and get on with life. Not only new confidence, but real growth in character, follows this facing up to what we fear, provided we are acting under God’s direction.” The empty cross and tomb are a call to step forward in faith and trust, a call to go out to declare to the world that Jesus is risen and is the Lord and Saviour of all; inviting others to join you in following the risen Lord where they too will find hope, grace, healing, peace, forgiveness and acceptance as part of the family of Jesus.

Mark 14:53-65; 15:1-15 Why?


Good Friday always raises questions for me. Here are some of my 'why' questions.
On Monday the world looked to Paris and wept for they sensed the loss of something sacred, even if they don’t believe in God. But maybe the weeping is for the loss of the sacred in their own hearts, for an emptiness that can only be satisfied by the One who is sacred. Good Friday is about the sacred sacrificed so the world can know sacred hope once again.
Today we go back to the darkest day in history, the day when God dies for his creation. Without Jesus’ death, all hope in the world is lost and all creation lost with it. Yet whenever I return to the story of Jesus’ journey to the cross, so many questions flow through my head and heart.
Jesus goes quietly with the soldiers when they arrest him and goes through 2 crazily unfair trials that end with him convicted of blasphemy against his Father and treason against Rome. I end up with a whole lot of ‘why’ questions that keep coming back.
The first ‘why’ is why does everyone hate Jesus so much?’ It’s not like he’s some cruel tyrant; he’s spent the past 3 years offering healing, hope, forgiveness, and grace. He’s been teaching how to love God and how to live well with our neighbour so that the people can experience the shalom, the peace of God. There doesn’t seem to be anything that would justify such anger and yet Jesus did say that people would hate him and his followers. Jesus turns our world upside down, he challenges rules-based faith, pride filled leadership and calls us to humility, extreme generosity, and service instead of being served. People push back against Jesus because he calls us to be all in for him, no holding back. You can’t just kind of follow Jesus, he demands your whole life, and lots of people find that hard to accept.
I ask, ‘why death?’ Why does Jesus have to die? Over the years I’ve had so many people ask me this question, along with, ‘If God is all-powerful, couldn’t he have chosen a different way?’ God has always been clear what the penalty is for sin and disobedience. Genesis 2 tells us, “15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
Blasphemy is one of the bigger sins. The Jewish leaders believed Jesus blasphemed against God by saying he is the Son of God. Blasphemy is when you make God smaller while making yourself bigger. The leaders are afraid that if they don’t punish Jesus, that God will punish them. In Leviticus 24, God says,Take the blasphemer outside the camp. All those who heard him are to lay their hands on his head, and the entire assembly is to stone him. 15 Say to the Israelites: ‘Anyone who curses their God will be held responsible; 16 anyone who blasphemes the name of the Lord is to be put to death. The entire assembly must stone them. Whether foreigner or native-born, when they blaspheme the Name they are to be put to death.” God takes blasphemy seriously.
 Why two trials?’ Why does Jesus have to go through the mockery of a trial before both the Sanhedrin and Pilate? The Sanhedrin don’t have a lot of power. They can do the religious trial, but they have no power to really punish Jesus, this is why they need Pilate, only Pilate can sentence Jesus to death. But this means they have to find a reason for Pilate to put Jesus to death. In Luke 22, we discover that the chief priests tell Pilate that Jesus claims to be Christ, a king, and that he opposes paying taxes to Caesar, a form of rebellion against Caesar. Jesus’ first trial is for blasphemy while his second trial is for treason. Both trials are about Jesus claiming power for himself from the ruler of the universe and the ruler on earth.
Why doesn’t Jesus defend himself?’ Jesus didn’t have to walk this path to the cross, he chose to because this is his father’s will; the way our sin is paid for, washed away in order to make us holy in God’s sight. I know this and still part of me cries out ‘unfair, it shouldn’t be this way.’ It does make me appreciate Jesus’ commitment and love for us even more. Jesus accepts the injustice and overcomes it in the journey to the cross; his lifelong suffering and death on the cross making us right with God again.
Jesus knows that defending himself isn’t going to make a difference. Justice wasn’t the goal of these trials, getting rid of him was. Jesus knows the words of the prophets and fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 53, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” Jesus, the sacrificial lamb for our sin, remains silent in front of his accusers!
Why is Pilate so afraid’ and feels he has to sentence Jesus to death. Jesus is taken before Pilate so he can give Jesus a death-sentence. Pilate’s afraid of the Jewish leaders. Early on in his governorship, Pilate did some extremely cruel things against the Jews, so cruel, the Jews sent a group of people to Caesar to complain. Since the Jews have a history of rebellion, the governor’s main task is to keep the peace and so Pilate is given a harsh warning from Caesar to smarten up. In John 19, the Jews kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be king opposes Caesar.” And then a few minutes later when Pilate asks, “Shall I crucify your king,” the Jews shout, “We have no king but Caesar.” Pilate’s afraid of Caesar’s anger, so he hands Jesus over to be crucified.
Why crucifixion, why such a painful death?’ The penalty for sin is death, but why on a cross? This is where Deuteronomy 21 comes in, “anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse.” Jesus goes under God’s curse for us, taking our place. His family stood under the cross watching his life drip away. By taking God’s curse on himself, we receive God’s blessing in return. On the cross, Jesus enters into the kingdom of Satan, hanging between heaven and earth, rejected by both, and it’s here in Satan’s realm that Jesus defeats Satan and claims victory over him, overcoming death 3 days later. Satan is still frantically trying to twist God’s good blessings so they’re no longer good, but his power is limited because Jesus went to the cross under God’s curse and claimed every part of creation as his.
So many questions. Asking questions is good because it keeps us returning to Jesus and the Bible. When we get answers, we often stop thinking, reflecting and searching, so the Holy Spirit keeps raising up questions to keep drawing us closer to Jesus, the Jesus who went to the cross, who hung between heaven and earth because of angry frightened people, who defeated Satan and death so that we are made sacred again in the eyes of God.


Monday, 15 April 2019

2 Corinthians 9:6-15 Being a Blessing


Yesterday I had the joy of being installed as the new pastor of Bethel Church in Lacombe. Last week Sunday was my first Sunday in Bethel and it was a special Sunday because we celebrated our GEMS (Girls Everywhere Meeting the Saviour), our girls' ministry. Here is the message.

This morning is one of those special mornings where we are invited to celebrate with the GEMS their journey following Jesus this past year. For the past church year, you’ve been learning about being a blessing, using this verse to be your guide, “and God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” What Paul is saying is that God blesses us to be a blessing to others. What does it mean to bless someone? We don’t use the word “bless” very often today. To bless someone is to give them a gift of kindness, to speak God into their life, to act in such a way that people are able to see who God is through us. Blessing someone is about our hearts and how we live, it’s about caring deeply about other people and being thankful to Jesus for all his gifts to us. For followers of Jesus, blessing others is part of who we are because Jesus blesses us.
The GEMS have spent the year being a blessing. Here are some of the things I’ve learned you’ve done: you stained 230 crosses for the Christmas dinner at the Lacombe Memorial Center and you had one of the grandpas in the church make them, which was a blessing to him. After dinner you invited the people to take them home as a gift, a really cool blessing that helps them remember that Christmas points to the cross and Jesus’ gift to us there of forgiveness and new life. Some of you made cards and attached them to bags of poppycock for the seniors, while others made cookies and hand delivered them to the seniors. Makes me want to be a senior! On Thanksgiving you served breakfast, which I heard was a really great time. All of these ways of being a blessing showed the people that they’re important to you and that you care about them a lot.
What were some of the other ways that you were a blessing this year? How did being a blessing make you feel? How do you think it made Jesus feel when you were blessing others? Why do you think Jesus wants us to be a blessing?
Many of you have been on a farm, and now that spring is here, you know that planting time is coming close, the farmers are eagerly waiting for the frost to come out of the ground so the soil can be made ready and the seeds planted. This is the picture that Paul uses to talk about abounding in every good work, As it is written: “They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.” When farmers would spread seed in their fields, they would take handfuls and spread it in a sweeping motion to make sure that the seed was well scattered over the whole field. The more seed they spread, the bigger the harvest, so the farmers would be really generous when they spread their seed. This is how Paul tells us we need to be a blessing, to be a blessing in as many ways and as often as we can.
Sometimes we get scared about being generous and blessing others because we’re afraid that we might not have enough left over for ourselves if we’re too generous in blessing others. And yet over the years, I’ve discovered that often it’s the people who have the least who are the most generous because they’ve learned that we are stronger when we bless others and live together in a strong generous community rather than holding on too tightly to our stuff. They have experienced that “God is able to bless us abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all we need, we can abound in every good work.” They know this because they’ve lived this. They usually think in ‘we’ instead of ‘me’ ways, they’ve learned that God intends for us to be together, this is why Jesus created the church, a place where people find a place where they are part of a family who cares about, and take cares of each other.
This is why people still dream of church today being more like the church in Acts 2, They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” This was a church filled with people who experienced God’s blessings and who then became a blessing to each other, just like the GEMS have been doing this year.
Paul reminds us that God created us in order to do good works, that it’s part of being his masterpieces in the world, Ephesians 2, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” God has chosen us to be a blessing in this world, beginning already with Abram when God called him to leave his country and family behind to travel to a new country where God would begin his plan to save and renew the world through his family. God told Abram, “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” When our lives are filled with and shaped by being a blessing to others, it shows the world around us who God is and what Jesus is like. We don’t do good works in order to be saved, we do good works, we try to be a blessing because our hearts are filled with thankfulness to Jesus for the blessings he has showered on us.
Jesus is the great blessing God promised through Abram. While we were still sinners, Jesus came to earth as a human just like us and he lived and experienced life just like us. Jesus came to lead us back to his father, to reveal his Father’s love for us, to show us what the kingdom of heaven is like through his miracles, his teaching and how he lived. Then Jesus went to the cross where he took the sin of the world, all the dirt and stains on our souls, all the brokenness and hurt of the world on himself and on the cross he paid the price for our sin. Jesus went to the cross to bring new life, to bring renewal into the world. There’s nothing we can do to save ourselves from sin, as the Heidelberg Catechism reminds us, “It’s a gift of grace and that for those who are grafted into Jesus by true faith, it’s impossible not to produce fruits of gratitude;” another way of saying that our lives are meant to be shaped by Jesus to be a blessing to each other and our community.
When we’re a blessing to others, we’re changed inside, shaped more and more into who God has created us to be. Being a blessing to others makes us more compassionate, it builds stronger healthy relationships, it creates understanding because as we look for ways to be a blessing, we see the people around us and the situations they’re in. Being a blessing helps us to understand Jesus’ heart for all people and helps us live grace-filled, thanksgiving filled lives, that shape our hearts and how we see the world around us, helping us to be more like Jesus. Being a blessing points people to God and Jesus, as Paul reminds us in verse 12-13, This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.” When you bless others with your words, deeds, compassion or other ways, in the end others will praise God because it’s how we show the world that we’re followers of Jesus. People learn to trust us, and through being blessing people, we grow closer with them and in these relationships of trust and deeper relationships, we learn their lives and when we pray for opportunities to share our faith in Jesus with them, the Holy Spirit opens opportunities for us to invite them to join us in following Jesus.
So as Jesus has blessed us, let us be a blessing to the world and invite the people God places in our lives to join us in following Jesus and getting to know him as their Lord and Saviour too.