Easter Sermon 2015 – “The Ministry of Resurrection-telling”

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

‘“But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.’

The words which I have just read, and with which St Mark’s Gospel concludes, stand in strong contrast to those with which the Gospel began and which we read a few months ago on the First Sunday of Advent. There St Mark proclaimed, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”[1]

St Mark has set out to tell everyone the “good news”, but those who receive the great news of the resurrection of this Jesus from the dead react with terror and amazement and fear – and silence!

The women who have come to the tomb in which Jesus was hurriedly laid a couple of days earlier, – Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome – have bought spices with which to anoint his body. I heard someone say the other day, “I hope they kept the receipt!”

On the way, the women are worried as to how the stone in front of the tomb might be moved; but when they get there that worry is unnecessary. For the stone has been rolled away already – and Jesus is gone! A “young man dressed in a white robe” (an angel or two in other Gospels) tells them “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him”. He then gives them a task: “Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee”.

Throughout this Holy Week, I have been talking of ministry (= “service”) given to us as followers and disciples of Jesus Christ.

On Palm Sunday, we spoke of “the ministry of donkey-fetching”. Two of Jesus’ disciples were given the very ordinary task of fetching the donkey on which Jesus was to ride into Jerusalem. Our ministry of donkey-fetching is to do the very ordinary things of our life in service to Christ, whatever he asks of us. And most of us, most of the time will find “ministry” very ordinary.

On Maundy Thursday, we talked of “the ministry of foot-washing”. This entails our being willing to serve one another – Christians and those so far outside of the church. No one is outside the orbit of the love of God as revealed in Jesus’ life and death and resurrection; and we are all called to serve the least and greatest equally, without prejudice or discrimination.

On Good Friday, we encountered “the ministry of cross-standing”. According John’s Gospel, at the foot of Jesus’ cross as he was dying were his mother, his aunt, Mary Magdalene and the disciple John. Their presence was undoubtedly a comfort to Jesus in his last awful hours. We, as followers of Jesus and his disciples, are called to stand alongside those who are dying and those who are the victims of injustice and oppression, of violence and evil.

Today, we are introduced to the ministry of “resurrection-telling”. “He is not here; he is risen; go and tell”. This is the mission of all Christians. To tell the whole world that Jesus Christ has conquered death; that he has been through it and come out the other side; and so can we. This is “good news” indeed!

Sadly, in St Mark’s account of the resurrection, those who were given the “ministry of resurrection-telling” failed to do it. Which is probably why a number of attempts have been made to finish the Gospel on a more positive note. In many Bibles you will find at least two possible “better”, “happier”, endings. But Mark – the first-written of our Gospels – definitely leaves us with the mission unfilled.

Matthew, Luke and John have appearances of Jesus to various of his followers; St Paul in today’s Epistle details numerous post-resurrection appearances[2]; and the early Church built everything on the proclamation that Jesus not only died but rose in triumph because death could not hold him.

St Peter’s sermon to the household of a Roman centurion, Cornelius, of which we read a little as our first lesson this morning, tells the story clearly and succinctly. “They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people, but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.[3]

And so the story has been told generation by generation, for some two millennia so far. And so we – today’s disciples – are called to be witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus – to tell the story of his suffering and death which restores the relationship between God and all humanity, to heal division and to overcome the fear of death – and to tell of our own experience of his resurrection life in the here and now.

The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews says that Jesus went through human life and death, “so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.”[4] Isn’t this good news?

It is good that we have journeyed together through this Holy Week – from Jesus’ joyous welcome into Jerusalem, through the Last Supper, his painful prayer-time in the Garden of Gethsemane, his unjust trials before the High Priest and the Roman governor; to his crucifixion and death.

It is good that we could experience a little of the utter devastation as the broken and pierced body was laid in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathaea, and walk with the dispirited woman towards that tomb early on Easter morning.

And it is wonderful that we can say with the angel, “He has been raised!”

But if we simply enjoy this celebration together and go off to eat breakfast and chocolate, and that’s all we do, we will be like the Marys and Salome in the Gospel – amazed, terrified and afraid.

The resurrection of Jesus is GOOD NEWS! And, like St Peter and the apostles, “we are witnesses”.

How can we not share this news – in our lives and with our words and actions?

 

The resurrection of Jesus transforms our lives and our world.

 

The ministry of resurrection-telling is yours and mine.

 

Christ is risen! Alleluia!!     He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

[1] Mark 1:1

[2] I Corinthians 15:1-11

[3] Acts 10:39-41

[4] Hebrews 2:14-15

Good Friday Sermon 2015 – “The Ministry of Cross-standing”

In the Name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.   Amen.

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.  When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.”  Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.”[1]

These words from today’s Passion Gospel provide the springboard for my sermon this morning.

On Palm Sunday, we spoke of “The Ministry of Donkey-Fetching” – that much of our service as Christians is in doing the mundane and ordinary tasks of being Christian – ministry which often goes unnoticed and without fanfare.

Last night, in our Maundy Thursday service, we spoke of “The Ministry of Foot-Washing” – humbly and willingly becoming, like Jesus, servants to one another and the wider world free of prejudice, reluctance, discrimination or favouritism.

This morning, I want to talk of “The Ministry of Cross-Standing”. By this I mean our willingness to stand by the cross of suffering and pain which is being experienced by those around us.

One of the most personally rewarding and challenging types of ministry in which I find myself involved is that of being with people who are dying. In the mid-2000’s, I worked for a couple of years as Chaplain to the Silver Chain Home Hospice Care Service, based out of the Murdoch Community Hospice. This was a time of meeting terminal patients in the last stages of their life and illness. It was a wonderful experience, working not only with the dying, but also with their families and carers and being a resource for the Silver Chain staff.

I was often in awe of the nurses, doctors and ancillary staff of the Service, in their unstinting willingness to be alongside these patients, and I learned a great deal about such care, which is frequently of help to me in my daily ministry.

On the night we call Maundy Thursday, when Jesus was arrested and taken off for his “kangaroo court” trials, all of his close disciples ran away and left him. John apparently attends some of the trial and Peter sits outside taking every opportunity to deny Jesus that comes his way.

When people come down with terminal illnesses, there are often friends and family members who “run away”, unable and/or unwilling to be around in such a situation. Precious indeed are those who willingly stay around to listen, to talk, to encourage, to feed and give fluids, and to help with necessary personal hygiene matters.

This “ministry of cross-standing” encompasses much that it means to be a true follower of Jesus.

Precious indeed were the women and John standing by the cross. Crucifixion was one of the most evil forms of execution known to humanity, both intensely painful and intensely humiliating. To run from the sight of it would be perfectly understandable; but the presence of Jesus’ mother and aunt and Mary Magdalene and John “the beloved disciple” would have been so important to Jesus as he gradually expired on the cross – not to mention extremely costly and even risky for them.

But there is even more to this “ministry of cross-standing”: Jesus in this situation represents all who are persecuted and penalised unjustly and unjustifiably.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells of the King who rewards those who fed him, gave him drink, clothed him, cared for him as a stranger, and visited him in sickness and in prison. The Jesus we see on the cross is a victim of all the unfairness and injustice and alienation the world could throw at him.

Every disciple of Jesus is called by the ministry of cross-standing to stand in solidarity with those who are victims of society, of governments and political powers, of wars and corruption and domestic violence and sexual abuse – while never forgetting to support and care for the victims of natural disasters.

Last Sunday, many Christians marched in Perth and across Australia’s cities and larger towns in support of the many refugees who are imprisoned in our “detention centres” on- and off-shore, especially the 107 children still held in these hell-holes. And this evening there is to be a silent vigil outside Royal Perth Hospital in support of an Iranian man who is on a hunger-strike and near death because our government wants to send him back into an impossible situation in his homeland.

Christians who understand our ministry of cross-standing will always stand with victims, actively supporting them, and actively working for the alleviation or removal of their burdens.

The Good Friday story is first and foremost about the death of Jesus on the cross for the salvation of humanity. This is about the removal of sin and all that hinders and damages the relationship between humanity and its Creator. And thanks be to God for the amazing love and grace which makes this possible!

Despite its awful story of injustice and cruelty and abuse of power, we rejoice to call this day “Good Friday”, because of all God in Christ achieves through the cross.

And as we come to the foot of the cross in worship, adoration, sorrow and reflection this morning, we can commit ourselves to the ministry of cross-standing, caring for and serving and advocating for all who suffer and all who are dying – both in the natural order of things and through all forms of injustice.

The Lord be with you.

[1] John 19:25-27

Maundy Thursday Sermon 2015 – “The Ministry of Foot-washing”

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.   Amen.

Feet! Most people find them pretty unattractive. I certainly do. I am grateful for the podiatrist I see every so often who checks on the condition of my feet – pulses, sensitivity, ingrown nails and other potential problems – and then cuts my nails and sands back the hard, dry skin. But there is no way I would want to do her job. On the other hand – should I say “foot” – the fact is that those of us who experience her care very much appreciate this service

In the time of Jesus, of course, people wore open sandals, or more often bare feet, as they travelled dusty roads in Mediterranean heat. By the end of a day’s journey, the feet would be pretty unpleasant. And the job of the lowliest servant in the house was to wash the feet of the master, his family and his guests. A humble and unrewarding job, we might well understand.

On Sunday, I spoke of “the ministry of donkey-fetching” – how much of what we are called to do in service of Jesus is very ordinary and mundane; how not all ministry is highly visible, rewarded and famous, just necessary and almost routine.

Today, the obvious title for the sermon is “the Ministry of Foot-Washing”.

In this evening’s Gospel, we see Jesus sharing a meal with his twelve disciples – probably the Passover meal.

And then we read that “during supper, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.”

Jesus takes on the lowliest of jobs for those who are by definition lower in status than he. He is their rabbi, they his disciples; yet he takes on the role of the lowliest servant, washing their feet.

Peter, the regularly outspoken one in the group, objects, realising that this is all about-face: by rights, he should be washing Jesus’ feet. But Jesus insists, later saying to them all, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord–and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”

 

It’s not about status, Jesus says. In the Kingdom, none is greater or lesser than another. All are called to serve equally, without discrimination. Do you notice that Jesus even washes the feet of Judas Iscariot, into whose heart, we read earlier in tonight’s Gospel, “The devil had already put it … to betray him.”

The love with which Jesus “loved his own who were in the world” incorporated even the traitor. In this situation, we would almost certainly call out the traitor, refusing to perform for him any service, however elevated or lowly.

Of course, as the story continues, we will read that all the disciples flee from Jesus at Gethsemane, and Peter denies three times even knowing him. The element of service, the ministry of foot-washing, is not dependent on past activity or potential future outcomes: it is to serve high and low in the here-and-now, without prejudice, without reluctance, without discrimination or favouritism.

You and I are people who have declared in our Baptism and Confirmation that we will “strive to live as a disciple of Christ, loving God with our whole heart, and our neighbour as ourself, until our life’s end?”

 

And living as a disciple of Christ is to “follow in his steps”, to do as he did and taught. We are called to the service of others – within and outside of the church – without prejudice, without reluctance, without discrimination or favouritism, as I’ve said.

For many centuries, Jesus’ action in washing his disciples’ feet has been “re-enacted” with the clergy washing the feet of lay people in what is an action more symbolic than physically necessary. As a parish priest for over thirty years, I suppose I have washed well over three hundred feet (or perhaps pairs of feet) in my time.

A bit of a problem with this is that it can still seem to elevate the priesthood in a way that is unhelpful. Surprising as it may be to you, I am not Jesus! J If anything, my washing your feet is to say that you are special, not I. It is an annual redressing of any sense of imbalance between “laity” and “clergy”.

At the same time, Jesus’ command to the disciples was to “wash one another’s feet”. So this evening, I’m going to start the washing, and ask you to “pass it on”. And somewhere in the line, I hope someone will wash mine.

By the way, if foot-washing is a problem for you, feel free to offer your hands to be washed. The symbolism of service is not limited to feet!

So, the call of Jesus to us is to the ministry of donkey-fetching and to the ministry of foot-washing.

And there’s more!

Part Three tomorrow.

The Lord be with you

Palm Sunday 2015 Sermon – “The Ministry of Donkey-Fetching”

NB: This sermon draws heavily on http://revplockhart.blogspot.com.au/2015/03/tthe-ministry-of-donkey-fetching.html. But it set me off on the theme for all the sermons of Holy Week]

+ In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today, Palm Sunday (aka Passion Sunday) marks the beginning of the greatest week in the Church’s year, the week we know as “Holy Week”. Throughout this week, we are called to walk with Jesus from the time of so-called “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem, through Maundy Thursday’s Last Supper and foot-washing, to his trial and awful death on Good Friday, all the way to his glorious resurrection which we celebrate at Easter.

Today, this Palm Sunday, also marks the beginning of a new life for E [a sixteen-year-old-girl]. As an adult, E is coming for Baptism, coming to make a personal commitment to walking with Jesus for the rest of her life. Such baptisms usually are preferred to happen on Easter Day or during the Easter season, because of the connection of Baptism with the death and resurrection of Jesus. But I think the “coincidence” of E’s Baptism and Palm Sunday is wonderful, because it all speaks of journey and service.

In Baptism, E will be committing not only to belief in God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but to serve God and the world, “shining in the world as a light to the glory of God the Father”. And at Easter we will all be invited to renew our own promises to do the same.

This theme of service is the one about which I feel called to speak throughout this Holy Week.

Today I want to talk about the “Ministry of Donkey-Fetching”.

Most ministry to which we are called as Christians is not particularly “out there” and spectacular. There are relatively few called to high office in the church, or to be great evangelists or famous missionaries. Most of us are called to simple and faithful service, mostly not widely observed or praised.

As Jesus prepares to enter Jerusalem, we are told that he calls over two of the disciples to send them to get a donkey. Of course the mundane task of donkey-fetching is made special by Jesus’ prediction about where the two would find the donkey and what would happen when they got there. Yet there is still a level at which it remains an ordinary task. It was just something that had to be done – someone had to fetch the donkey.

Imagine, years later, these two disciples trying to explain the significance of their donkey-fetching ministry. Maybe the omission of their names from the story reflects how they might have felt about it. So the question we could ask is why even bother including this part of the story, it has to be more than just filling space. Mark, particularly, seems not to waste words in telling his story of Jesus.

One of the things that strikes me about the inclusion of this aspect of the disciples’ work is that, even in mundane and ordinary tasks, God can be encountered. Jesus sends the disciples to fetch the donkey, and by predicting the encounter that the disciples would have, Jesus turns the event into a moment of revelation.

The appearance of the person questioning the disciples as Jesus had predicted affirms for them that God’s work is going on around them, even in the midst of a mundane task.

When asked, “Why are you doing this?’ their response is to describe what Jesus had said to them. They tell of Jesus’ prediction of the event. Through this, the disciples are once again reminded of Jesus authority and place within their lives.

Now, what, if anything, does this have to do with us? When we see this mundane and ordinary task as something special, an encounter with the divine, I believe we are reminded that even the most ordinary tasks in our lives can be places in which God speaks to us as well.

As we put our hands to work in the everyday humdrum of life making a meal, mowing a lawn, balancing our books, serving customers in a shop, or patients in a hospital or home, or students in a school, we can encounter God’s presence and be taught by God’s love just as the disciples were.

The great American preacher and activist, Martin Luther King, once declared, “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

Maybe in these moments of our everyday life we will hear someone asking, ‘Why are you doing this?’ Why are you doing chores at the church, or looking after the op shop, why is it that you are nursing or teaching? I wonder do we have a sense that God has called us to these everyday tasks of life as an expression of ministry in the world. Tasks that may seem everyday – even dull and boring – may be places we remember and encounter God; and maybe when asked we might even be bold enough to explain that we had a sense that Jesus had asked us to do it.

Just as with the disciples and their task of donkey-fetching, so too we are often called to do mundane and less than glamorous tasks in our lives. Ministry, service of Jesus day by day, can often be that simple – and that rich!

So the disciples return with the donkey; and we can safely assume they follow Jesus as he enters Jerusalem.

This little part of the Jesus’ story is not a mere detail, but an essential part of his whole journey from his birth at Bethlehem to his death and resurrection.

We who know the story of what occurs should also understand our place within it. We are part of that crowd. We are not just the donkey-fetchers. We wave our branches. We gather in hope. Yet as we do so we know that despite our enthusiastic response, we too will probably lose our way with Jesus. Like his key disciples, we may well desert, betray, and hide. The crowd which welcomes Jesus into the city, may well be some of those who will cry “Crucify” on Good Friday.

This is how we live our lives with a strange mixture of belief and disbelief; with an annoying ability to do both things which are good and bad, often not even fully aware of which is which. We live as people celebrating God’s love, yet all too often denying his place in our lives.

Yet, the good news is that Jesus, knowing this, rides on. He travels towards the cross, towards his death and towards his resurrection, to break through our fickleness and so declare God’s love for us and inclusion of us in God’s very life.

This gathering on Palm Sunday shows the other side of the coin of our spiritual life to the low-key and mundane task of donkey fetching. The times we encounter God as a gathered community – just like running to the roadside to see Jesus, we come and gather here, and in worship and in singing our Hosannas, Jesus is present with us here in the midst of our fickleness, accepting our praise.

The hope that we find in the story of the donkey-fetchers and of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is that Jesus is with us and alongside us. He is there us as we go about our everyday tasks and he is here as we gather together to celebrate, not because we are worthy in any way of his presence but because he chooses to be so out of love.

The ministry of donkey-fetching is probably much under-rated; but it is a ministry to which E and all of us are called, and to which we commit in our Baptism.

The Lord be with you.