Sunday, 29 March 2009

A story written on our hearts

Lent 5 year B Sermon 

What a sobering thought

that Jesus was predicting for his friends ‘the kind of death
he was going to die’

I can just hear some of you saying…

aw…Diane why do we have to drag ourselves through this depressing story… year after year in the lead up to Easter. Why can’t we get past it… why can’t we get over the Cross…

why can’t we just bask…in the warm glow of the resurrected Christ…why can’t we just… rest easy in the new covenant

One minute we’re praising God… singing hymns and songs… maybe even raising our hands in a celebration of God’s

love and forgiveness… and the next moment we’re plummeting off a cliff marked crucifixion.  Why cant we leave it out? [pause]

I’ll tell you why…because it’s the story of Jesus life death and resurrection… that fulfils the prophesy we heard in Jeremiah…

‘…this is the covenant I’ll make with the house of Israel after those days…says the LORD…I’ll put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.’

No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the LORD," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.’In the time of the new covenant…God’s will is to be written on our hearts…and in the time of the new covenant…

it’s the story of Jesus life… that teaches knowledge of God’s will for us…and the story of Jesus death…
that give’s us the ultimate demonstration of God’s forgiveness…and it’s the story of Jesus resurrection... that gives us hope…as we recognise that  God’s love is stronger than death.

Without the full story of Jesus written on our hearts…we can’t follow him all the way … and the full revelation of God is hidden from us. Without the full story written on our hearts…we might take our focus off the one…who’s prepared to die…for God’s new covenant of mercy and forgiveness.

We take our eyes off what loving us…cost Jesus… and what loving us costs the one he called Abba

Without the full story written on our hearts… our praise and thanksgiving are focussed on the blessings of discipleship. Heck… if the whole story was written on our hearts… following Jesus might end up costing us something…

we might end up making sacrifices ourselves…and the next thing you know… we’d be facing our own Good Friday.

Whoa whoa whoa Diane back up the train before you get carried away preaching…are you trying to tell us…

the law… Jeremiah talks about being written on our hearts… is the same as Jesus’ teaching… the same as the story of Jesus life… death and resurrection…

Absolutely I am…and let me ask you a question.

Is it written on your heart… or just something you hear on Sunday morning … or read in the Bible?

 And how can God get in anyway… to write anything

how can God fill our metaphorical hearts…
 with the knowledge of his will for us? [pause]

A friend told me a story the other day… about a young man who’d been a youth worker in a Pressie church in Dunedin. Now he’s got another job outside the church…He told my friend…that these days… he just doesn’t have time to be a Christian. He’s far too busy. He told her he found it

much easier to be a Christian…when he was being paid for it. 

My guess is that this young man never allowed God to have access to his metaphorical heart…I suspect he never took the time to invite the author of the story in …to his heart.

So his understanding…was a head thing

…like memorising the times tables… he knew how he was supposed to live…but didn’t have anything to help him live it…like a relationship with the one… whose story it is.

In Jeremiah’s time hundreds of years before the life of Jesus… maybe you had to be a prophet to have that kind of relationship with God… You certainly weren’t allowed to have an image of God to relate to…

When they were young… Jewish men studied hard…

to memorise the words of the Law… as a way to remember God’s will for them…and if they were good at it …as they got older… they’d memorise the words of the prophets too…

And paradoxically… they’d study Jeremiah’s prophesy… that one day… God’s will…would be written on people’s hearts and everyone would know God.

For us living in new covenant times…one thing’s for sure

…God isn’t going to tattoo his will for you… onto your vital organs…so your doctor discovers it when they open you up for heart surgery…

No the prophesy is about our metaphorical heart…

that tender place in each of us… where love is given and received…where relationships are formed…

The part of us that learns to love… from being loved…

and learns the meaning of grief and pain and sorrow…
from losing the ones we love…

It’s the part of us that aches and curls up into itself…

when love is betrayed. And the part of us…
that can become hard and refuse… to take the risk of loving.  [pause]

So how do you open this metaphorical heart of yours…

to let God into that tender… vulnerable place…
so the knowledge of God’s will for you can be carried within it?

Well today I’m going to teach you one way…if you’re willing.

Sometime in the next week I want you to

Find a quiet place…away from the phone and interruption.

2.      Get comfortable.

3.      Pray briefly what you need to pray then
Imagine all the people and situations you’ve prayed for …being covered by a cloud of forgetting.

Now it’s just you and the presence of God

5.      Invite God to fill you with his Holy love and then

6.      Spend some time just loving God and being loved – listening instead of speaking.


Let’s try it now just for a couple of minutes
and if you don’t feel comfortable doing this… then just be generous to those who want to try it by waiting patiently while they do:

OK close your eyes… Imagine all you pray for covered by a cloud of forgetting so on top of the cloud it’s just you and God…[pause]

Invite God to fill you with his holy love. And just spend a moment loving God and letting God love you.

Silence [two minutes]

It’s my experience that this kind of contemplative prayer takes practise…over time you get better and better at it…

I’ve left some notes on how to do this on the back table…

It’s also my experience that taking time with God like this soon becomes an indispensable part of every day…an appointment with God I place higher than any other priority. A time when I am filled up again… with the strength I need to carry on as Jesus’ disciple.

To do this of course may require you sacrifice something else…it might cost you something…it might cost you time …you might have to extend yourself…

Such a small sacrifice when we remember the cross don’t you think.

You know we are free to practise the presence of God…free to invite God into our hearts… anytime and anywhere…especially here in this place of safety… among friends and followers of Jesus. That’s why some people just sit with their eyes closed during the songs.

I know there are many of you who long to deepen your relationship with God. Just in the past week two of you have confided in me… a desire…a thirst…to go deeper into relationship with God.

If you’re really serious about allowing time for it to transform your life then why not make yourself accountable for it… to someone whose spiritual wisdom you trust…perhaps talk to your Elder about your progress.

We need to be accountable because it so easy for us to give up…As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote ‘If the heart is devoted to the mirage of the world, to the creature instead of the Creator, the disciple is lost…However urgently Jesus may call us, his call fails to find access to our hearts. Our hearts are closed, for they have already been given over to another.’

And I say how else can we be healed and comforted …or lead to the knowledge of God’s will for us… unless we spend time with him and listen for his voice.

How else can we develop the willingness to forgive as we have been forgiven?  Or the strength to follow Jesus… no matter what the cost? 

When we’re prepared to open ourselves to let God write the story on our hearts… every chapter will be recorded there… especially the story of the cross…for how else can God tell us just how much we are loved?

How else can we then pray sincerely the prayer of the Psalmist?

‘Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Don’t cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me… a willing spirit.’

So may you be filled with eagerness…and excitement…to take the steps to open your very heart…so

so the king of glory may come in… to write his story there.



Sunday, 15 March 2009

Not in my Father’s house

Lent 3 year B Sermon 

What a way to begin your mission to save the world

upsetting those in power…disturbing the established pattern…showing no respect for procedure
even turning over the furniture

Jesus is behaving like a crazed…cattle drover…cracking the whip…stampeding the animals…driving them out…

Yet our storyteller confirms it was the beginning of Jesus’ ministry…

In John’s gospel Jesus is baptised…starts appointing disciples, and becomes the wedding guest everyone loves to have around…

He’s turned water into wine…the first sign… John’s gospel tells us…revealing the glory of things to come. [pause]

This young rabbi has promise…he’s beginning to attract attention…gather an entourage

What will his next move be? Will he go up to Jerusalem…to curry favour with the rich and powerful…will this lead to a meteoric rise... a position of power and prominence…and earthly authority? [pause]

Well…not exactly…though Jesus does go up to Jerusalem

Fresh from the wedding at Cana…the festivities continue… Jesus and his friends are going to party…with pilgrims from all over the world as they stream into to Jerusalem…
to celebrate the Jewish Passover …and everyone is expecting a good time

Jews and foreigners alike… travel days on end… to get there… and when they finally do… they’re not disappointed. All once they round the Mount of Olives…and there she is… across the Kidron Valley,

"the perfection of beauty," "the joy of all the world."


And…for forty years King Herod… has put all his energies and all their taxes… into maximizing the impact …

of their first view of the city…
when travellers come around that bend…
King Herod wants to blow them away!

You see Herod had transformed the city like no other ruler since Solomon…Herod’s waged a deliberate campaign to raise Jerusalem’s profile…to increase the city’s importance in the eyes of the Roman Empire… and in the bargain …perpetuate the name of Herod for all eternity.

He built palaces…a theatre… an amphitheatre, viaducts… public monuments and magnificent fortifications. Herod built temples for various pagan gods... to serve the large gentile population of the city… [pause]

King Herod takes the most holy place in the Jewish world…a place to which their prophets promised God would return …a place where rituals and ceremonies foreshadow the coming of the Messiah…the anointed one…the one who would reconcile the whole world to God…

Herod takes this place and turns it into a monument to himself.

And when Jesus and the other religious pilgrims…round that corner on the Mount of Olives… Herod makes sure the breathtaking view… is dominated by one thing…

the gleaming gold and marble…of a new Temple… shining in the sunAn awesome symbol of wealth and powerlying in wait…for the eager multitudes… who flock to the city in their hundreds of thousands… for every required religious festival.  [pause]

And when Jesus and his friends… finally make it through the gates ….and up the stairs into the Temple grounds…they enter a vast plaza called "the Court of the Gentiles" where everyone pays the price of admission…their Temple tax… and where everyone buys their animals for sacrifice. And every Jewish family… rich or poor…that large enough to consume a lamb… must offer one.

And if you’re not blessed to be born a Jew…if you're a foreigner… hoping to worship God in the Temple… well there’s no way you can pray inside…you have to stay right where you are.

And everyone…Jew or Gentile rich or poor…has to pay a half shekel into the temple treasury… as an offering to Israel’s God.  And Herod accepts no foreign currency
so you must exchange your money… for the Temple’s coins…

During the Passover…foreign exchange dealing is big business…

So it’s here… in the court of the Gentiles…that Jesus and his friends ‘find people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables.’ [pause]

I guess Herod’s business strategy was… ‘If you build it… they will come’.  For Herod the Temple was kind of like a national bank.  A great public treasury… with vaults… containing immense stores of private wealth which was loaned out at high rates of interest.  [pause]

But wasn’t the Temple was supposed to be a place of prayer … for all nations.  Hadn’t the prophet Isaiah said…

And foreigners… who bind themselves to the LORD to serve him, to love the name of the LORD, and worship him, and all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and all who hold fast to my covenant

These I will bring… to my holy mountain and give joy in my house of prayer…. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar;

For my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations. I will gather still others to them 
besides those already gathered."

King Herod and the religious authorities… have turned the Temple into a religious tourist trap with money at its heart. And we who are listening to the story…already know that Jesus has taken up the mantle of Messiah…with its claims to the throne of David… a claim Jesus now makes crystal clear

‘Making a whip of cords, he drives all of them out…pours out the coins of the money changers…over turns their tables… and yells… ‘get this stuff out of here! Stop turning my Father's house… into some kind of bazaar!

It’s no coincidence…Jesus friends are reminded of one of King David’s psalms

I am a stranger to my brothers, an alien to my own mother's sons;

for zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you… fall on me.

The purpose… for gathering the people of God into the Holy Place… was prayer and worship…and Herod had made a mockery of it… in order to impress Rome

And here’s where John’s gospel gets really interesting …because John has said… in turning water into wine…we see the first sign… that causes Jesus disciples… to believe in him. And now… after Jesus’ dramatic challenge…to the corrupt system in the Temple

listen to what the authorities demand…

"What sign can you show us for doing this? We’ve heard about the water into wine thing…what miracle will you now perform…to justify this traitorous behaviour?

Ok… Jesus says… this is itthis will be the sign that justifies the wreckage I’ve caused today…

"Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up."

At this the Temple authorities are incredulousthis guy is obviously quite mad. Hey fella…they respond its take forty six years to build this temple and you’re gonna raise it up in three days? Talk about being a false prophet

To even hint at the destruction of such a mighty symbol of wealth and power was unthinkable…yet Jesus warns by his anger and his actions that the perversion of the promises of God… would have dire consequences… even the fall of the Temple itself.

And not even forty years pass… before it does happen.

Instead of welcoming the gentiles to the house of prayer… instead of including the pagans and foreigners… who are honestly seeking after God …they’re kept in their place… outside…

The cleansing of the Temple was the second sign… revealing the glory of things to come…

And after this …John’s gospel tells us… Jesus will perform others signs… as the promise of the prophets comes true

The promise to reconcile all humanity… to God…

and if the covenant… has already been violated beyond recognition…well then Jesus would bring in a new one…and a new Passover meal… where everyone will be welcome.

Will the Elders please come forward to help in serving this sacred meal.