Sermon for Fourth Sunday of Easter – ‘I Am The Gate’ – 2017 Year a

Sermon for Easter 4

Acts 2:42-47
John 10:1-10

“I am the gate”

 

[Audio and written content significantly differ]

 

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ He answered, ‘And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.’ He said, ‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshipped him. Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’ Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains.

Well today, the Fourth Sunday of this season of The Resurrection is as you may know often referred to as ‘Good Shepherd Sunday’, and our gospel reading certainly seems to point us in that direction at least so why begin with these verses?? Well it is all to do with context. If I say ‘Good Shepherd’ we may perhaps have an unhelpful image in our minds, for the words of Jesus in today’s gospel leading towards himself declaring that He is the good shepherd follow on immediately from the healing of the man born blind, and find Jesus in the midst of a dispute with the Pharisees, a dispute which leads in due course to some of them suggesting that Jesus is possessed by a demon. As always, context counts for a great deal – and the context helps us to discern a little more clearly what is going on here – what it means for Jesus to be The Good Shepherd, but also the ‘I AM’ saying in our gospel – perhaps the most obscure of these sayings for us – ‘I Am The Gate’?

Jesus seven times uses ‘I AM’ sayings in John – or 8 if we include his crying out ‘before Abraham was, I Am’
Each of them we have some sense of  – each embodies something Life giving
I am the Bread of Life – The Eucharist of course
I am the True Vine – an allusion to being the True Israel
I am the Way, the Truth and the Life
I am the Resurrection and the life
I am the Light of the World
I am the Good Shepherd

but ‘I am the Gate’? The focus of this passage seems not so much to be the Shepherd as the Gate. When Jesus is justifying his claim to be The Good Shepherd, he says, ‘The one who enters by the Gate is the Shepherd of the Sheep’ – but to call himself ‘The Gate’ – In what sense is that an image of Life, indeed Life in all its fulness?? Why would Jesus use this Sacred phrase, I AM . . . The Gate??

Well if we study the scriptures, we discover that the ‘Gate’ is not so much an inanimate object as a Place, a Place of Great Significance. And of course when we think of Jesus, we might also think of him also in terms of Place – He is the Temple. ‘Destroy this Temple, and I will rebuild it in three days.’ ‘he was speaking to them of the Temple of his body’ Jesus occupies space, He is a place, The place of encounter with the Living God  or Life in all its fullness.

Well I think that two different illustrations of the significance of the Gate as a place will begin to open this up for us,  and how it applies to us as Christians, how we encounter Jesus as ‘The Gate’

So first a line from Samuel –
‘Then the king arose and took his seat in the gate. And the people were all told, “Behold, the king is sitting in the gate.” And all the people came before the king.’ (19:8)

There is our Behold word, again, Behold the King, David, the Shepherd King, sitting in ‘the gate’. – and often as here it represents the Gate of the City. This was a most significant place in the Life of the people of God. For it was here that the King along with the nobles would sit and hear cases. It is a symbol of the place of judging disputes – a place of discerning – the King as the Judge – a place of discerning in a sense, who sill enter and who will not enter. The King seated in the Gate was a powerful symbol of the security of the city – as the psalmist says ‘I was glad when they said to me,
‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’ Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.
Jerusalem—built as a city that is bound firmly together. To it the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord,
as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the Lord. For there the thrones for judgement were set up, the thrones of the house of David. ‘

In the brief text from Samuel, it is precisely the Security of the people of God which is at stake. Absalom, David’s son, has usurped the throne precisely by taking David’s place at the gate and suggesting people come for him to hear their disputes. A dark story follows of the flight of David and the treachery of Joab – and Absalom is slain, and David goes into a deep mourning for his son, and disappears from the sight of the people. He has to be persuaded by Joab to  show himself for otherwise all the soldiers of the army will desert him. It is a deeply ambiguous and anxiety ridden reading, and of course the resonances with the story of Jesus where his brothers are constantly it seems telling him to ‘show’ himself before the people, and indeed ‘an army’ so to speak who deserts him . . . but Beholding The King sat in the Gate is a sign of the Stability – indeed the deep peace and prosperity of Jerusalem . . . of things being as they should be

And that symbol of the Gate as the entrance to the place of prosperity and peace finds another echo, again with strong resonances for us who seek Jesus in the familiar story of Jacob, fleeing from his brother Esau

Jacob left Beer-sheba and went towards Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said, ‘I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’ Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!’ And he was afraid, and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’

The Good Shepherd, The Gate – we don’t think ‘what though is the sheepfold?’ This place of security, and abundant life – is it not the place of the presence of God? Jacob realising himself to be ‘in the house of God, the gate of heaven’ I Am the Gate

Nathanael asked [Jesus], ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ And he said to him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’

He is the Gate to the place of God’s Peace – the doorway to Heaven – the earthly Jerusalem called to be the city of peace, but not knowing what makes for its peace – Jesus, comes for judgement into the world and Is the Gate – the place – the place of Entrance into the very life of God – He is the Temple – and he is the Temple Gate – perhaps the allusion is stronger here than to the City of Jerusalem – In my Father’s house are many mansions . . . no one comes to the Father except they come through me.’ The man born blind has been thrown out, but her hears the voice of the Good Shepherd ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ He answered, ‘And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.’ He said, ‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshipped him. ‘The sheep follow him because they know his voice’ . . . but the pharisees did not understand what he was saying to them, he did not hear them

Jesus the Good Shepherd, The King (Messiah), The Way into the presence of the fullness of Life in God . . .

And us? Isn’t this after all just my ‘talking about Jesus’? Something which I have suggested we should’t do – how do we find ourselves within the Gate?

We turn briefly to our reading from Acts – a scene set within the sheepfold . . .  Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

People – responding to the Good News of Jesus, responding by entering into his Life through Baptism, and finding Life in all its fullness. The fullness of Shalom, God’s Peace, Salvation as Life is shared amongst them – having all things in common, eating together . . . and all the while the Good Shepherd calling others into the fold.

We the Church, the household of God, the flock of the Good Shepherd, come into the church by baptism, we walk in via the font – we come into the fellowship of Salvation and Life – in and through The Gate. We are baptised into his death, and thus into his life. ‘Whoever enters by me, will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture . . . Jesus is the Gate, the Gate of Heaven, The Gate into the very presence of the Living God in whose presence there is life forevermore.

Amen

Acts 2 – City of peace – shalom, wholeness, the Church – Baptism

Psalm – lift high the gates

King of Glory king of Peace

Sermon for Secind Sunday after Easter – ‘Meals beyond words . . .’ Year A 2017

Sermon for Easter 3

Luke 24:13-35

 

‘Meals beyond words . . .’

 

Just a couple of weeks ago, we had guests for lunch who commented how unusual it was to sit down as family and share food together. In a world where there is much that is disturbing, perhaps there are few things as troubling as this apparently innocuous observation. For Eating Together is fundamental to our entire existence. Without Food, AND the presence of other human beings, we have no Life. Yet we have lost sight of both.
All too often nowadays we eat as if we were machines needing refuelling, as if in a pitstop – Alone. There is no sense of this being Life to us – indeed the language of refuelling is common attributed to what we used to call eating – indicating how we no longer understand it, or indeed ourselves as much more than biological machines, or dead things. There are very few things as deeply significant as a shared meal, or as troubling as their absence.

When someone comes to tell me they have a problem with someone else, sometimes I am led to ask ‘Have you sat down together to eat?’ The answer is rarely if ever ‘yes’. If our guest was correct then indeed it is true that families increasingly rarely sit to eat together. Of course, the width of your definition of family is indicated by the size of your table – to eat together is to be whanau, it is a Truth that the more we sit down together to eat, the greater is our Life – it is to acknowledge something which goes deeper than words – something powerful and intimate. If you wish as all children of God do, to make your enemies your friends, invite them to dinner – share Life with them, as Christ shares his very life with you.

That deep note of Intimacy is one of the things which comes to me through the text of this beautiful Easter story – it is the account of the first appearance of the Risen Jesus in Luke and in my mind is readily associated with Candle light, something which adds depth and atmosphere to any meal – candlelight  ‘for the day is far spent and the night is at hand’. Traditionally it was always the reading at Evening prayer on Easter Day – and it ‘Presence’ [sic] to us a profoundly intimate encounter with Jesus, not in the full light of day, but in the restrained light of evening in which shadows lend depth and a sense that mere sight is only part of the story.

It is a familiar tale – two of the disciples walking away from Jerusalem – a sense of tragic anticlimax – their eyes downcast as they talk between themselves of all that had happened, and then in their talking about Him, as Luke puts it ‘Jesus . . . came near and went with them’ a sense of appearing within their conversation, and their eyes were kept from Knowing him, for their minds are on their words, and they do not Know Him . . . ‘The Stranger’ gently interrogates them ‘What are you talking about as you’re walking along? Why so sad?’

Of course, to pick up on something we explored last week, they are ‘talking about’ Jesus. As I said we need to get away from all our talking about and learning about Jesus, as if we stood apart – as the disciples are stood, not recognising him . . .

So they recount the tale – assuming ‘The Stranger’ is an Outsider to it all – except of course at this point it is they who are the strangers to the Presence of Jesus . . . Their darkness of mind not yet illuminated by coming into the House

And they speak of their disillusionment – of how they ‘had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel’ . . . It is odd how we think of disillusionment as a negative thing, how we see it in a poor light – for surely as someone once said to me, ‘you can only become disillusioned if you are suffering from an illusion’
They have become disillusioned, but cannot See the Gift of it . . . and then to add to it all, the rumours of resurrection coming from the women of the group with their ‘vision of angels’ only sound like ‘an idle tale’ – indeed some of their number had checked the story out, ‘but they did not see him’ Funny, eh? Here they are standing in the presence Jesus, talking about Him, not seeing Him, recounting how earlier others reported that they ‘had not seen him’

‘How foolish you are . . .’ the word has resonances with an inability to See, to Know in depth, reinforced with another metaphor of Sight – ‘how slow of heart to believe . . .’ the Heart being the true organ of Seeing and perception, or ‘Beholding’ . . . ‘all that the prophets have declared!’

‘Beginning with Moses and the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.’

Now, if I could have a dollar for every time someone has said in my hearing, or indeed will in all likelihood say today ‘wouldn’t it have been great to be at that bible study!!’ I would indeed be a plutocrat 🙂 But note this – at the end of being led through the Scriptures, by Jesus himself. . . they still don’t see!! You see, The Scriptures in and of themselves are not enough . . . The Kingdom of God is not an endless Bible Study . . . the Scriptures have their place, within the whole, and as made known to us by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but it is Jesus we are looking for, Jesus himself – His Very Life . . . He is the Pearl of Great Price, He is the treasure hidden in the field . . . as St Paul puts it writing to the Colossians ‘For I want you to know how much I am struggling for you, and for those in Laodicea, and for all who have not seen me face to face. I want their hearts to be encouraged and united in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery, that is [?], Christ himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.’

Well, it was a long Bible study , ‘the things about him in all the scriptures’ – and they find they have arrived, but noting the time, in an act of typical hospitality – when Jesus makes to walk on, they invite him to spend the night with them . . . and here in the gathering dark the great reversal is Revealed. Last week we spoke of The Risen Jesus as the Visitor, around whom we accommodate our lives – but now, as they sit to eat, the Guest becomes The Host [no pun intended 🙂 ], the ‘Stranger’ becomes the Very centre of their lives

He is the one who ‘took bread, blessed and broke it . . . THEN their eyes were opened and they Knew him: and he vanished from their sight’ It is Then that they recognise what was going on on the road ‘Were not our hearts burning within us whilst he was talking-to us on the road’ The Eye of their hearts are enlightened in this encounter at the table.
‘Remembering Him’ in the Breaking of the bread gives life and light, illuminating the opening of the Scriptures. We might well say that here is the paradigm for Christian Worship as we Open the Scriptures and Break the Bread, the opening of the Scriptures warms our hearts, developing our appetite for the Living Word, who is the Living Bread

At the Centre of our Eyes being opened to the reality of Jesus in our midst, the awakening from the illusion of the dream of life without Him, an awakening which finds us hungry to break the fast, is the breaking of the bread. He feeds us in Word and in Sacrament, and this Feeding implies a deep intimacy, He nourishes us with his very Self.
As I pondered this earlier in the week, my mind was drawn to the deep roots in all of us of that first experience we have of feeding, at our mother’s breast. As we awaken, hungry, a Life beyond words, there two things happen, we are nourished, but also we learn that Eye contact, that Seeing that is before words and goes beyond words. They Saw Him and they Knew Him . . . (‘recognised’ does not do it justice)

Jesus is The Bread of Life, he gives it for our Salvation – for our Life – for our deep integration as human beings. In so doing, in this giving of the Holy Spirit as heaven and Earth are woven together in the Sacrament, so all Life takes on a Sacramental aspect. This is the deepest root of the mystery of a shared meal – for in Him all things in heaven and earth are woven together. This Meal, feeding on Jesus gives depth to all our meals shared together. Jesus makes us his friends by feeding us. It is this action, of sharing bread which is the most human thing we ever do, the first thing we do as our eyes are opening, and coming back to it over and over through our lives – the Gift of the Table which draws us all deeper into life.

Many people I know are deeply concerned about the future of the Church and the World, but Jesus came and was unseen by his disciples then, so Now he is present, offering us Bread for the Life of the World, and enjoining us similarly to make friends by sharing bread together. In sharing Bread we build up our common life in Jesus Christ.

he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread . . . it is all we need. We have everything we need to make him known amongst us and in the world. Go and do likewise

Amen

Easter 2 – Learning Jesus

Sermon for Easter 2 -Year A 2017
Sunday April 23rd

Acts 2:22-32
John 20:19-23

‘Learning Jesus’

‘Abide in me as  abide in you . . . it is to my Father’s glory that you bear much fruit and become my disciples’ John 15

One of the great joys for my family living here in Dunedin is the number of guests we entertain. It’s odd how many people will pass your door if you only live a few miles away, but travel to the far side of the world and suddenly everybody wants to come and stay 🙂

Of course having guests means disruption to our lives. We need to look at diaries and try as far as is possible to clear them, I may need to take time off from work, we plan meals with our visitors in mind and arrange tours and local trips. We reorient our days around what they would like to do. Of course, we can manage this . . . for a while . . . we don’t expect them to stay around for ever . . .

The Risen Jesus is The Great guest, the Great Visitor, but HE has come to stay – as he says at the end of Matthew’s Gospel – Behold! (there’s that word again) ‘Behold! I am with you always even unto the very end of the age . . .’ He has come to stay, ‘at our house’, as he says to Zacchaeus – not alongside us, or above us, but within us

You see, Jesus does not merely give his life for us upon the Cross, no. As if something is going on ‘over there’ – between Jesus and His Father – No, this is Personal – He gives his Life that he might give His Life TO us. ‘Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains but a single grain, but if it dies it bears much fruit’ John 12:24.

So, when The Risen One greets the disciples He breathes on them and says ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’ The breath of His Eternal Life, he breathes on and Into his disciples – that His Life might become Theirs.

Receive the Holy Spirit . . . ‘If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

‘If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them’ – I remember many years ago, a particularly devout parishioner who did not like the modern words of the Lord’s Prayer. for as he put it, ‘We can forgive trespasses, but only God can forgive sins’ Well I never quite got to the bottom of the difference, whether we were just meant to forgive people who wandered across our garden without asking . . . but in a sense he put his finger on it. ‘to err is human, to forgive divine’

Jesus, Son of God, Son of Man – full himself of the Divine Life, Dies and is raised for His Life is eternal. And he then shares that very Life with his disciples. That which belongs to God we come to participate in, to Share in – That which God is doing in Jesus – ‘If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven them . . .’ He does Through us – I’ll return to the second clause a little later on.

Receive My Life says Jesus to his disciples, and I think that the metaphor of the Person who comes to stay is an apt one. Jesus The Guest who comes seeking a Home – your Body is a Temple of The Holy Spirit as St Paul reminds us –  let us ponder that for a moment – the guest who seeks to stay, as it were to ‘put up shop in our Living Room’ – these bodies  . . . I am coming in, to you. Put in those terms we begin to feel more of the power of it all and indeed the challenge. What of all that having a guest in our house entails – that guest who doesn’t desire to be leaving? How long before you sense that they are outstaying their welcome

If you were reading Father Stephen Freeman’s book during Lent you might remember the story of a Protestant friend of his who had had can experience of Christ which wasn’t wearing off, and it was too much for her. ‘I just can’t take it anymore, Jesus seems to be everywhere! I can’t get any work done!’ So, she finally told him, ‘Jesus please leave my kitchen and get back on your throne!” Well Fr Stephen doesn’t say, but one assumes that Jesus acceded to the request – The Holy Spirit is after all gentle as a dove and doesn’t compel us . . .’ I must admit, although I first read that with a chuckle, later I read it with a bit of a shiver . . . Really?? “Jesus please just get out of my house??”

You see if the guest shows no sign of leaving, then we are then confronted with a dilemma. What do we do? Do we ask them to leave?? . . . or do we carry on as if they are not there – hoping they might get the message?? . . . or do we allow our lives to be more and more changed so that they become the very centre of our existence, not just for a season but for Good – And in my text I capitalised that  – for GOOD. For if Jesus is staying he is staying for Good. Although I find some of the sentiment of ‘There is a Green Hill far away’ difficult, there is a deep truth in the line  He died to make us Good – He, The Good One, comes to dwell in us, so that our life becomes His— if we truly desire ‘the good’, not as an abstract idea, but as a lived reality then we will desire he stays and we are changed

We don’t have the screen today, so you can’t see the theme – “Learning Jesus”. In a sense its good you can’t see it as you’d perhaps be distracted – thinking ‘what does it mean “Learning Jesus”? is it about ‘Jesus the learner??’ No, not that – ‘Oh, more likely then it is a typo, Shouldn’t it be ‘learning about Jesus’?? After all isn’t that what coming to Church and Children’s Church is all about, isn’t it??’ Well no it isn’t – if we merely ‘learn about Jesus’  – indeed we perhaps need to get rid of the phrase all together for we are in danger of missing the point entirely, and so missing the Life. Jesus isn’t ‘over there’ as we ‘standing here’ give some thought to him – no!
Jesus doesn’t die to just to give his life For us, he dies that he might share his Life with us, that he might give his life to us . . . to be the guest . . . to Live in Us – to Change us

The Christian Life is not a matter of getting our thinking straightened out – to paraphrase James the brother of Jesus, it’s not a matter of right thinking, The Devil himself has got perfectly good doctrine! HE knows all about Jesus . . . he knows everything . . . No it isn’t a matter of right thinking, it is a matter of changing our lives around the Life of Jesus given to us in the Holy Spirit and weekly renewed by Grace in Word and Sacrament, as he comes to us afresh – as we pray at the end of the Eucharist – Send us out in the power of the Holy Spirit! . . .

We do not learn about Jesus. No, as he comes to stay, as we day by day and week by week renew our desire to have him dwell in us, we learn Him, we learn His life in us, we learn to discern what is HIs Life in us, we learn to respond to his movements within us, to his promptings. We feel the tension when our life does not align with His – we feel it. Like Good hosts we are always looking out for our guest – what does he desire, now in this moment. We learn to be paying attention to Him at all times and in all places, and at times we notice how we have been not paying attention . . . We Learn Him and in so doing, our Lives bear witness to His Life.

As Peter stands up on the day of Pentecost to announce the Gospel to the crowds he says  – ‘This Jesus, God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.’ How are they witnesses? Because the Holy Spirit has filled them. They are full of the Holy Spirit – Their lives Naturally bear witness to Jesus – they don’t have to think about how to  – the Holy Spirit gives them words, and the Community of the Church bears it out. And so it should be for us – but we must allow Him to have that space, we must note when we are in danger of growing weary of our guest, for changing our lives is not an easy work, and his work in and amongst us is not yet complete – our lives do not as yet bear full and eloquent witness to Him – we are still learning Jesus.

It may be we once were learning him, once taking the time and the trouble, we may once have been so engaged an then it became too much, or we got distracted by many things, inattentive to our Guest – but Christ is Risen – His Spirit is present! Ask and you shall receive once more!
It may be you have never started out on the journey of ‘Learning Jesus’ paying attention to the Holy Spirit and allowing Him to direct your life – even though you are baptised although you learned all about him, you’d never been taught to ‘Learn Jesus’ . . . but Christ is Risen! – His Spirit is present! ask and you shall receive.

It may be you are in the midst of the battle of learning Jesus and it is a battle, the temptation to ask him to leave you to your own devices is great, Yet – ‘do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, ‘God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us’? But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Continue to say yes to his gentle work of transformation.’ Persist in forgiving Sins, over and over and over until your Soul is conformed to the Life of God within you. This I think is why Jesus tells Peter to forgive seventy times seven – not that there is a limit, but because it needs to become your first nature, you need to get over the idea that this is about you – that it is about The Life of Jesus In You –  bearing witness to the God who forgives.

‘Abide in me as  abide in you . . . it is to my Father’s glory that you bear much fruit and become my disciples’. We need to get away from the idea that being a disciple of Jesus is anything to do with getting our ideas right – rather it is about allowing our lives to be changed – to be re oriented – shaped by the guest who has come to stay.
Allowing ourselves to be changed by desiring that change and co-operating with the Life of Jesus In us. The early Christians were mocked because they preach d aNEw Life in Christ – and as everyone knew and still knows change of Life is about The Hardest thing – a leopard doesn’t change its spots – you cant tech and old dog new tricks . . . Bt God Can change lives – Receive the Holy Spirit – Whosoever sins you forgive are forgiven them – whosoever sins you retain are retained. Do you know what that means – have you so learned to forgive sins, that the Life of Jesus in you is doing it – perhaps then we might know what it is to retain them – only when we have sufficiently learned Jesus and His Life in you to forgive and to forgive might we dare to say we might possibly be able to know in fear and trembling, but only in step with the Spirit – to retain sins. Only when we forget it is about us – and come to know that it is all about Him. The Risen One, standing in our midst

Amen

Sermon for Palm Sunday – 2017 Year A

SERMON FOR PALM SUNDAY – 2017 YEAR A

Matthew 21:1-11

‘Tell the daughter of Zion . . . Behold!’

For me, coming to New Zealand five years ago was an odd experience – for although we all spoke the same language, culturally we were different. As Mark Twain said of America and Britain, ‘two nations divided by a common tongue’ 🙂 But English is a very problematic language and this goes much further than how we pronounce our vowels 🙂 for English makes the Scriptures quite difficult to understand, not simply because they weren’t written in English.

The Scriptures were written in Hebrew, and Greek (as well as a little Aramaic). Hebrew and Greek have about 1000 or ten thousand words respectively, yet there are more words in English than pretty much any other language in the world! (Over two hundred thousand!) So when we are trying to translate the New Testament from its ‘street Greek’, there are 20 times more words than in the original – or in the Hebrew – 400 times!!

The Hebrews and the Greeks were far less ‘wordy’ people. So each word they used encompassed a Wide range of meaning. Their World was one in which all sorts of things were woven together by a single word.
Take a simple example – the word ‘ruach’ in Hebrew, means Breath, it means Wind, it means Spirit . .  . and our question is ‘but which one does it mean here or here or here . . . but that is a nonsense question to one of the Hebrews. ‘Ruach means breath/wind/spirit! you Know??’ As if perhaps Breath Wind and Spirit were somehow woven together . . . I’ll come back to that idea of a single word revealing how things are woven together at the end

A big problem of English is that in settling on one word we miss so much of the meaning – if we translate Ruach as breath we miss Wind and Spirit for example, and sometimes it leads us to missing the point completely. So today in our gospel – we all heard ‘Tell the daughter of Zion,
‘Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’

If I said to you that the word we translate as ‘Look’ occurred over 400 times just in the gospels, and that if we add it’s Hebrew equivalent, more than 1300 times in the whole scriptures . . . we might perhaps realise that this was a very important word, perhaps the most important word in all of the Bible  . . .but you won’t find ‘look’ over 400 in the gospels, or over 1300 times in the entire scriptures. we find ‘look’, ‘See’ ‘discern’ occasionally even ‘remember’. We have so many separate words we like to use them all and so things get separate.
But older translations like the King James Bible, which came from an age before English became so very very wordy use just one word over and over again . . . Behold! Over and over again ‘Behold!’ Behold the lamb of God, ‘and behold as Jesus came up from the waters’, ‘Behold, a vast multitude non could number, ‘Behold I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves’, Behod, I am with you always, even to the end of the Age . . .

But what does Behold mean?? Well it’s like ‘Look!’ See! Pay attention! Never forget this! It’s like standing in front of the most Amazing Incredible Awe inpiring, perhaps terrifying Reality you can imagine and way way more -with your eyes wide open so that you Really took it in, Deep in, so that what you saw changed you form the inside out, so that you were never ever the same again. So that you were lost for words – for you could not contain it, rather It held you! Like a new born baby taking it all in and being Held. Behold!!

Tell the daughter of Zion, Behold! your King is coming to you, humble and mounted on a donkey not even a donkey a mere colt, a donkey’s foal’ . . . your King comes to you as the lowest of the low – Your King . . .

As St Paul struggles to put this beholding into words he says this
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited, to make use of it,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

Behold the King on a donkey’s foal, emptying himself in utter humility – making himself nothing . . . even to the point of death on a cross . . .

Behold your King? Do you see?? SO Unlike a King by our standards – in fact the complete opposite – becoming the servant of all . . . But we didn’t get it, and perhaps we still don’t. For  ‘Behold’ we built huge cathedrals, and Behold our clergy dressed in fine robes – and Behold our bishops wear purple the colour of the Emperor . . .

as we as a Diocese consider who might be out new bishop . . . I wonder if we have eyes to Behold, to See . . . or are our eyes trained to look on the surface of things?? Who on that Palm Sunday would have seen this weary, dust covered itinerant Jewish preacher and possible miracle worker as in fact the one in whom, through whom and for whom ALL things had been created?? I don’t expect the donkey was much to look at either . . .

Did they see?? Just a few days later the crowd that cried Hosanna to the Son of David stood before the stone pavement of judgement, this man stripped to the waist and flogged mercilessly and with a crown of thorns thrust onto his head – and Pilate cries out ‘Behold, The Man’. In human terms you might almost say, there is nothing to see . . . in human terms.
Pilate without realising it invites the crowd to ‘Look!’ See! Pay attention! Never forget this! It’s like standing in front of the most Amazing Incredible Awe inspiring, perhaps terrifying Reality you can imagine and way way more -with your eyes wide open so that you Really took it in, Deep in, so that what you saw changed you form the inside out, so that you were never ever the same again.’
Behold!’ See into the Truth. Behold The Truth . . . what is Truth Pilate asks and doesn’t behold The Truth stood in front of him . . . and now the crowd cry ‘Crucify’ They do not Behold their King . . .

As i suggest this calls into question how we look at the world, how we consider ‘what we are looking for in a Bishop’ – I must admit, I haven’t seen anything in the documentation which suggests that we are looking beyond the surface of things – we want a miracle worker no doubt . . . but Do we know how to Behold, the Deep Truth of things, the Deep truth of a person?? Or are we just looking for someone to save the Diocese?? Remember the Jewish people were looking for such a King, and when they see Jesus, they reject him . . . do we behold, Do we see??

But let us Behold for a moment or two. ‘your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ You King coming to you if you would but Behold! Yet he comes in humility – not offering himself to those looking for the spectacular – The word ‘humble’ – again it is just one word, but in Hebrew and Greek, it is humble, earthy, humus, soil, mud, it is Ordinary . . . in other word ‘humble’ is the stuff out of which everything is made – the stuff we see around us all the time and take for granted because it isn’t spectacular – because we do not behold. I am slowly, painfully slowly learning this – I can sit and Behold a tree for hours – as it ‘comes to me’ presents itself to me in all its Wonder Full Ordinariness . . . or Soil itself??
I remember a lovely piece of writing about an old metal bucket, which stayed forgotten on a hook under a tree and over the years leaves fell in it which slowly turned to soil and moss grew in it and bugs came to live in it, and occasionally a bird found a place for a nest in it, and the nest and the broken eggs added to the soil, which grew richer and deeper, slowly, without fuss, so you’d never notice – nothing to look at – Soil. But Soil Full of Life – Like the humble Jesus Full of Life but you wouldn’t have guessed . . . It is the Ordinary things which are the fabric, the soil, the humus, the humility out of which our lives come . . . Do we see our own ‘ordinary’ lives? Do we behold them?? With their joys, but also their sorrows? Their day by day quiet habits, a short prayer here, a phonemail to someone you haven’t seen for a while, a cup of tea with a friend . . . you see our Life if we Saw it is a thing of wonder, like that bucket of soil 🙂

If there is to be a future for the Diocese, it will come from those small things, for that is where all life comes from – the humble.

And that is The Truth of Things, for the Truth, the World’s King comes to US humble, Mounted on a donkey’s foal . . . and every Sunday in this worship we are so accustomed to, nothing special or flashy, this King consents to be handed over to us in a crumb of bread, a sip of wine . . . small, ordinary, humble things . . .

Bread and Wine – the Body and Blood of Christ – woven together so that you cannot tell one form the other. What if we only had a word for Bread AND Body, a Word for Wine AND blood?? If we ate the Bread/body and drank the Wine/blood . . . God made flesh . . . All of creation heaven and earth woven together in Jesus, so that you cannot tell one from the other. As if in this Bread/Body and Wine/ Blood we Beheld Everything? Wind, breath, Spirit, woven together so you cannot tell one from the other, if we but had eyes to See, if we did but Behold!

Abandon distractions . . . Behold! OT8 Year A 2017

Abandon Distractions . . . Behold!

Sermon for next before Lent – OT8 Year A
Isaiah 49:9-16
Psalm 16
Matthew 6:24-35

The words of God through the Prophet Isaiah “Behold! I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands”’

Behold! The everlasting God has carved you into the palms of his hands. Behold!

Of course that was not what we heard – we heard ‘See!’ There are times when one despairs of the committees which translate our scriptures out of Hebrew and Greek. The Command ‘Behold!’ occurs more than one thousand three hundred times throughout the Scriptures. Yet the NRSV has it just 27 times outside the New Testament and not at all in the New Testament. And this translation is the most widely used now in the Western Church . . . Perhaps it is no surprise that we have lost sight of God . . .

One thousand three hundred times, behold! Behold! Behold! The first word God directly addresses to the man and the woman in the Garden? Behold! God said, ‘See!’ NO ‘Behold!, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food.’

We are perhaps the first culture in the history of Mankind to have all but lost this facility. So people will say – ‘oh it is an old fashioned word for looking – so we will get rid of it’ Look! See! That will do.

Looking and Seeing as we shall discover in our Lent course are ways of blindness. They reduce the World to a set of objects for our use, for manipulating for putting to our own ends – because we do not ‘Behold!’ We perhaps do not even know how to begin and after all there is SO MUCH to SEE!!
We look this way and that – we lost the facility to Behold, rather we have advanced to the highest art form the facility to create a million and one things to look at. ‘Look here!’ Look there! Did you see?? we are held captive by a blizzard of images – and we can no longer Behold the Image of God. The author Matt Crawford – a motorcycle mechanic philosopher 🙂 – argues in his book ‘The World beyond your head’ for the right ‘not to be addressed’. He is writing about the fact that everywhere you look someone is trying to grab you attention – trying to get you to buy something. A local school is ‘Recognised by Apple as a distinguished school for innovation, leadership, and educational excellence.’ Recognised by Apple . . . Does no one See? Are we blind to this?? Have you ever taken time to consider their logo . . .? We have created an existence in which we are surrounded by a million and one human artefacts – look! Look! Look!

Returning from retreat at Ngatiawa on Monday I took the bus to the airport. Disoriented by the sudden blizzard of visual stimuli having spent a week in the bush –  I glanced at the screen where our route was shown – only to see the name of a stop followed by ‘alight here for Burger King’.

And our distraction leaves us open and vulnerable to everything under the sun. We are an age like no other plagued by mental health issues and anxiety disorders. A young girl comes on retreat. She wants to know ‘what is the wifi code’ and is disturbed to find that there is no wifi available.’how will I keep in touch with what is happening in the world?’

In the time of Jesus – worries were sharp and upfront and pressing – what WILL we eat? what WILL we drink? What WILL we wear? And Jesus advice sounds at first like no more than a pragmatic answer. Who by worrying can add an hour to his life??

in the movie Bridge of spies – a Russian spy played by Mark Rylance, is caught in America. As his lawyer (Tom Hanks) explains his situation to him, of how he may well face the electric chair he seems unperturbed, so he asks ‘aren’t you worried’. Rylance putting more power into three words than most can in thirty three thousand replies ‘Would it help?’ But Jesus wants us not only to wake up to the futility of worry. He desires that we ‘Behold!’ And so in the fulfilment of those words first spoken in the Garden of Eden, he says ‘Behold! The birds of the air! they neither reap nor sow nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them.’

The gentiles worry about these things – those who do not know that they are the children of God. Who do not Know God as their Father – who do not Behold his engraved palms and see themselves there. Those are the people who worry. Your Father in heaven knows you need all these things. So strive for his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you . . .

What does this mean? to strive for the Kingdom of God and his righteousness?? It is to desire God through all, above all and in all. it is nothing new – It is to Love the Lord your God with all your heart and souls and mind and strength – it is to make every effort to enter in through the narrow Gate – to Love Him above and through and In all.

As St Augustine puts it – in the words of our collect – our hearts are restless – this is a matter of our desires – Look here! Look There! Did you See? Our hearts are restless until they find there rest in you.

Jesus has been teaching this all the way through the Sermon on the Mount. Don’t store up for yourselves treasure on earth – where your treasure is – there will your heart be. If you set your heart on the things of this world they will fail you – they will rust and the moths will get them – or someone will hack your bank account – or or or a thousand and one worries . . . all because our hearts are not set on God. Where your treasure is there will be your heart . . . you will be devoted . . . you will gaze longingly on it . . . and the eye is the lamp of your body – so if your eye is set on things that will decay, then so will your heart – your Life, your existence. you cannot serve two masters – you will hate one and love the other or be devoted to one and despise the other

For the first thousand years of the life of the Church, the church new this – they had a strong word for distraction – they called it ‘fornication’ – it was to have as it were those adulterous eyes that look for life anywhere but to the Life giver. Eyes set anywhere but on God – looking, Seeing, but not Beholding.

There is the lovely story of a man sat in a church  – same time each week he would turn up – finally the Vicar asked what he was doing sitting there. The man gave him a beatific smile – Oh, I just sit here smiling at God and he smiles back at me . .

The Psalmist speaks of this beholding – ‘For God alone my soul in silence waits – for my hope comes from him’

A brother came for a word from the Elder. Father, give me a Word/ Love the Lord your God with al your heart and soul and mind and strength’, The brother went form his teacher. Ten years later he returned, ‘Father, I have learned that word. Give me another Word. the Elder replied ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ The young man went out from him never to return. Such I suggest is the deep work which beholding God in Silence does. This Lent, if we have begun this work, let us continue. If we have put it down, let us pick it up again. If we have not yet picked it up, do so. for truly ‘Behold! He has engraved us in the palm of his hand’ This is not one fact amongst many – it is THE Fact – It is Life – it s The living God – it is We who are found there in His hand. It is there that our True Life is to be known

Amen

Blessed are the WHO??? The way of Power and the way of Jesus

Sermon for Fourth Epiphany Year A

Micah 6:1-8
1 Corinthians 1:18-31
Matthew 5:1-12

Blessed are the WHO?? (This sermon is given in a very different form to that written below)

 

 

“There is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it.”

I wonder if anyone can tell me who said that??

Well it comes from the lips of one of the characters of the more interesting philosophers of our age, JK Rowling . . . Lord Voldemort . . .

And I think it sums up in practice if not always in explicit theory the prevailing philosophy of our day, indeed of any age. Our hopes are either raised or dashed by the people, we the people put in power . . . Let’s be honest about this, we are not particularly interested in the moral character of our leaders, rather we just want them to ‘get the job done’ (as long of course it is the job WE want them to get done.) Given the choice over the effective brute and the ineffective Saint . . .

It’s interesting in this light to consider a couple of things – firstly why we make the choices we do for those who lead nations, where we have a choice – and democratic processes . . . well enough said about that. The Scriptures are really NOT big on Kings, Emperors, Leaders in general – indeed the idea of The Leader is in a very large part something which grew out of the movies 🙂 . . . but we still look for the person who is going ‘to get the job done’

So again locally what do we really want in a new bishop??? What are we interested in when in a few months time we come to elect Bishop Kelvin’s successor? It’s one of the ironies about human life that the more closely we know people, often the more clearly we see their faults and so are tempted to go for someone we only know vaguely, but then again, as the old saying goes ‘better the devil you know . . . than the devil you don’t’ yet be under no illusions as to where your choice lies 🙂 Perhaps out there there is some bishop with a proven track record in restoring crumbling dioceses, they have a really impressive CV – come over really well in presentations – and they want to be our bishop . . . They ‘get the job done’, then there is someone else, not at all much to look at. Known to be kind, humble, meek, pure in heart, with an at times sad disposition about the world . . . but will they ‘get things done’?? What do we look for in a bishop? With whom do we agree? Which way? The way of Jesus? Or the way of power?

We might of course readily say, well the Way of Jesus of course, but after a few hours wrangling over it that old temptation to ‘get things done’ can rise to the surface . . . after all Jesus’ track record doesn’t exactly speak volumes does it – Yes he was a Good man, but at the end all his followers have given up on him and he’s dead on a Roman Cross . . . oh yes there were rumours that that wasn’t the end, but . . .  we live in the Real World. The world of Realpolitik go ‘getting things done’

Of course that ‘realistic’ desire to ‘get things done can extend right to the heart of religion. If we just . . . pray hard enough, if we just worship in the right way, if we just get ourselves sorted out. The prophet Micah leads us off down this track pondering “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high??? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?’ Will that be enough to twist his arm?? How about something bigger??? ‘Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?’ Perhaps that doesn’t quite cut it – it’s really not all THAT sacrificial  – hang on a minute ‘Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”’ The Religious world is just as prone to Power – Power over God to ‘get things done’ Ramping it up. If we get a thousand people praying for this . . . if we give more . . . if we . . . if we get the right bishop, the right leader . . . if only . . .

And God is having none of it ‘He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you?? but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? While the World calls for bigger and louder and more and more Impressive, more ‘powerful’ – the Human scaled response is all that God calls for – in our day to day lives, our daily bread existence, act justly with the people you meet, don’t seek to win out over them, be fair, Love Mercy – treat others as you yourself are, fragile and frail and like the grass of the fired that is here today and gone tomorrow, but a breath of wind . . . that’s all you are – so walk humbly with your God. Wake up to the scale of your existence  – lose your illusions . . . for in that small thing you may find you are much closer to Him than you might think

As St Paul says ‘Jews demand Signs’ Show us a sign that we might believe win you they said – do something spectacular Jesus! ‘Greeks demand Wisdom – well worked arguments – a decent apologetic – explain your faith!’ and all we have is ‘Christ crucified’ . . . humanly speaking no power at all . . . I think it is probably fair to say that if no one has ever laughed at you for your faith, you haven’t really explained it to them properly 🙂 And then says Paul – just look at yourselves – Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. . . humanly speaking the church was never meant to look like much – funny how we get anxious as in the eyes of the world we become ‘irrelevant’, small, nondescript.

Blessed says Jesus, blessed are the nobodies . . . In Lent we’ll be looking at some of the ways our faith doesn’t make sense in The Modern world . . . not with any view to change it, mind you . . . there’s enough folk trying to do that, not enjoying the way in which the world ignores all this sin and salvation stuff, this message of the cross . . . but lets be honest, look at those Jesus says are blessed – no wonder we don’t get a ready hearing – Blessed are the WHO . . . Really?? The Meek shall inherit the Earth?? These words of Jesus are SO hard to hear in our culture of Power of ‘getting things done’, of the irrelevance of Good or Evil, just Get Results – as I have mentioned before these words of Jesus so stick in the throat of some Modern Christians that they try and avoid them – to paraphrase one popular writer, ‘God’s Kingdom is so wonderful that even the losers get in!!!’ But in so doing rejects not only Jesus’ words, but Jesus himself – the poor, mourning, meek one, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemaker finally persecuted and killed for righteousness sake.

When Jesus talks about the kingdom of God he uses metaphors about things small and hidden – not obvious, not demanding our attention. In amongst all the people putting their money in the treasury, he picks out the widow putting in her mite, the woman who brushes her hand against the hem of his robe, the child in their midst. the lost coin, or the one sheep in a hundred or the mustard seed . . . ‘God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. Jesus was low and despised, he was mocked, laughed at, spat upon and finally crucified – and we expect that our faith will seem respectable?? Wise? Significant??
It is hardly surprising that when St Paul goes to Corinth taking only this message of Christ and him crucified he goes ‘in weakness and in fear and in much trembling’. Trusting God to work through his Holy Spirit to bring people to faith – because sure as eggs is eggs, only God can bring us to faith in the One revealed to us in Jesus on the Cross, for He in no way tallies with the way we are taught to understand the world – Blessed are the WHO???

Finally we have a stark choice – the one the world holds before us, and of which Voldemort’s words are the unveiled truth, “There is no good and evil, there is only power . . .”, or the way of Jesus. The way of Jesus sounds to us so other worldly – after all how is THIS the way to get things done?? Pray by all means, but come on ‘we need to get things done!’ But if the words of Jesus sound otherworldly, perhaps it is because the world in which we live is so distorted??

For in the same way that God chose the weak and poor and the foolish – those ignored in the world, – those are the same people who receive his message so readily. The poor in Spirit, the mourners and the meek. Those with no power of themselves to save themselves find themselves to be the recipients of God’s salvation.

Occasionally people rise to power who effectively throw off the mask – who agree with Voldemort not only in deed but in word, but the way of the World is in practical agreement with him even if it has not the self understanding to admit it  “There is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it.” As someone commented about Donald Trump this weak – ‘well at least you can’t accuse HIM of being a hypocrite’ WYSIWYG . . .

there are only two ways, the way of power and the small hidden weak poor foolish merciful and humble way of Jesus. Each of us Is small, our days are few and race by like the wind – let us not waste them – let us follow Jesus in his humiliation, for finally the way of Power will be revealed to be a Lie. This we believe – let us so live

The Baptism of Jesus – Year A 2017

The Baptism of Jesus – Year A, 2017

Acts 10:34-43
Matthew 3:13-17

“All the prophets testify about him, that everyone who believe in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” Acts 10:43

The Baptism of Jesus is a bit of a puzzle for us. The custom in many church’s on this Sunday – one which we have observed here in the past, is to use it to remind ourselves of our own baptism. Now that is a good thing to do, and of course in Catholic churches a small stoop of water is provided at the entrance to the church that you might take a little to remind yourself of Baptism before coming to participate in the Eucharist. But it we are not careful we do what we always have a tendency to do, to make this all about us. So we say the point of the Baptism is Jesus identifying with us – but that’s not strictly correct.

Jesus’ baptism is the Baptism of John and has a very clear meaning. It is the baptism of repentance of God’s people who are called to turn back to God in preparation for the coming of the Servant of the Lord as prophesied by Isaiah. It is very much a Jewish rite – indeed it had a special meaning in that it was the rite of purification for those wanting to become Jews – for proselytise – that is those seeking to convert The Odd thing about the Baptism of John was that it was Jewish people who were coming to be baptised. As John told the Pharisees ‘Do not presume to say to yourselves, “we have Abraham as our Ancestor”’ Put another way, “don’t go relying on your Jewish heritage” God is looking for a response, that of Repentance for the Kingdom of heaven has come near.

But the baptism of Jesus was a bit of a puzzle for John also. He protests to Jesus “I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?” John who declares Jesus to be “The Lamb of God – who takes away the Sin of the world” doesn’t understand why Jesus has come for baptism. Clearly what is happening here is something to which we Gentiles are outsiders (a theme which Matthew comes back to later on in his gospel.)

Yet there is an identification going on here and a very significant one. Jesus replies to John’s amazement with the words “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness” Such powerful words which we can discern even more clearly breaking it down phrase by phrase “Let it be .  .” Like the words of Mary – there is here a submission to GOd’s good purposes – Let it be to me according to your word.
“Let it be so now!” In other words in the Baptism of Jesus we are witnessing a special Time – that which Jesus announces as ‘The Day of Salvation’ In this moment of human History, something Special is happening – “Let it be so now” – “for, it is proper for us” Note how Jesus draws John in into this moment. Remember a few weeks ago how we heard in Advent that passage from Matthew – and Jesus asks the crowds ‘What did you go out in the wilderness to look at?’ The one about whom it is written, ‘Behold! I am sending my messenger ahead of you who will prepare your way before you’.

“Let it be so now! For, it is proper for us” Jesus is saying to his cousin, This is Our moment. From this point on John the forerunner withdraws, becoming less as Jesus comes to fill our vision – but now – it is proper for us  in this way (that is through John Baptising Jesus). You John are going to play your Key part Today by baptising me – “to fulfil all righteousness.”

To fulfil – You don’t have to spend long in Matthew’s gospel before you hear what is a several times repeated word – ‘fulfilment’. We have already encountered it once, in our reading just before Christmas – where in Joseph’s dream – he is told by the angel ‘you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. All this was to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel” which means, God is with us’

All this was to fulfil . . . we’ll come back to this in a moment. Then Joseph takes the infant Jesus and Mary to Egypt – ’to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet – “Out of Egypt I have called my son” and then twice more – ‘to fulfil, to fulfil – before now – ‘this is proper to fulfil all righteousness’. Put another way, the other fulfilment seem to be coming to this point – “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness.”

Jesus doesn’t merely do things to fulfil God’s plans and purposes, He IS the fulfilment of those purposes. And this is revealed in this moment. The purposes of God for his people which he has been patiently working out through the history of Israel. As Jesus comes up out of the waters of the Jordan – ‘suddenly the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending upon him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased”

Throughout the Old Testament story of God’s people – over and over again through the prophets God refers to Israel as ‘My Son’ So the ‘the people of Judea and all Jerusalem and all the region along the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptised by John in the Jordan.’ and finally – the fulfilment – The Son of God. The fulfilment of God’s purposes for His people – baptised and  affirmed as God’s beloved Son . . . and the question is – ‘What happened next?’

If we are to fully understand the baptism of Jesus, we need to see it in its context and that it is ‘Jesus, who will save his people from their sins’ The context is of God’s people preparing themselves for His coming – They are with John, in the wilderness – they are on the far side of the Jordan – they are outside of the place of promise – and we do not know but we may assume that after their baptism they go home . . . except one . . . Jesus comes from Galilee – like all the rest he has to cross the Jordan to meet John – he has to leave the land of promise but he doesn’t re-enter . . .What happened next? He is sent out back into the wilderness. to save his people from their sins.

All three gospels which specifically mention the baptism of Jesus, next have Jesus’ being led, or as St Mark has it – driven out into the wilderness . . . what is going on here? If we see the baptism as it were a renewal of the story of going into the promised land, Jesus would go back across the Jordan, but no – he is led by the Spirit out into the wilderness . . .

As I said last week as we considered the name of Jesus – Emmanuel, God with us, to save his people from their sins. The Name of Jesus, the one who Is the fulfilment of God’s desire to save his people from their sins, the name Jesus – Joshua – ‘The Lord Saves’. John Baptises Jesus to fulfil all righteousness and then he is led back away from the Land and back into the Wilderness. All the others crossed the Jordan, were baptised and went back in – Jesus ‘to fulfil all righteousness goes into the wilderness’

At the heart of God’s work to save his people from their sins was under the Old Covenant through The Day of Atonement – And on this most Holy Day in the Calendar of God’s people two goats were selected . . . one was offered as a sacrifice and its blood was spread on the atonement seat, the cover of the ark of the covenant. The other? The Priest laid hands on the Goat and placed the sin of the people on the goat and it was driven out into the wilderness. After the waters have washed away the sins of all the people from Jerusalem and Judea and along the Jordan – Jesus finally, the sinless one steps into those same waters – and the sins of all the people are laid on him by John  who is of the priestly line of Abijah (‘My father is The LORD) — and he is driven out into the wilderness.

Now there is much more to all of this story – but remember ‘it is to fulfil ALL Righteousness’ In the Old Covenant – this was tied explicitly to the Day of Atonement. So Jesus is sent out as the Scapegoat – bearing the sins. It is interesting to note that at times of course the goat didn’t particularly want to disappear into the wilderness, and so to stop as it were a reinfection, it was thrown off a cliff . . . have you ever wonder why St Luke – after the baptism and the time in the wilderness notes that on his return to Nazareth – when he has declared the salvation of God in the synagogue – records ‘They got up drove him out of the town and led him to the brow of the hill . . .so that they might throw him off the cliff . . .’

Well as we know – this isn’t the whole story – for there is a second goat – the one whose blood is scattered on the mercy seat – the atonement cover of the Ark of the Covenant – for Jesus is the One who will fulfil ALL Righteousness – the entirety of the work of atonement foreshadowed in the Old Covenant – is to be found in Jesus, the one who will save his people from their sins.

But this now does become about us – for in our baptism we are included in Jesus Baptism – so that all that was effected through him – the removal of Sin and its final destruction upon the cross – we are included in

St Paul sums this up wonderfully in his second letter to the Corinthians – “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Every part of the Life of Jesus reveals who Jesus is – the one who will save us from our sins. He who IS the righteousness of God – who does what he is ‘to fulfil all righteousness’ – bears the Sin of the World, that we might become the righteousness of God. He is baptised and carries away our Sin so that when we are baptised we might know how righteousness. And so . . . when we are baptised we join with the crowds from all across Judea, and now indeed all across the world, an untold multitude – that we might go, not back to the wilderness, but forward into he land of God’s promise in and through Jesus. For ever praised.

Amen

(I am very grateful for an article by Alistair Roberts
which helped tremendously with this reading of Jesus baptism)