Sunday, 30 October 2011

Was it worth it?

Pentecost 20 year A 2011 Sermon  
Matthew 23:1-12

You know it’s kind of strange… how God gets through to me sometimes… as I try to discern God’s will…God’s inspiration… in writing a sermon for example…

Knowing this week’s message was to follow last weeks about Jesus as Messiah…
 relentlessly confronting the religious powers

I was waiting for that ‘Thank you God’ moment…that aha! Moment of inspiration
when suddenly it came… in a surprise package…

Snedden slide
all dressed up as Martin Snedden…
head of the Rugby World Cup organising team.

It was Snedden’s interview on Breakfast Television last Tuesday. When… Petra asked him

Word slide
‘Was it worth it?’
And I knew…it was the question for this week’s sermon.

And what an exceptional question. Was it worth it?

What Petra was asking of course…was…
in light of all the blood and sweat and tears…
poured into the Rugby World Cup
in light of the huge investment of  energy and resources …would the benefit to New Zealand
outweigh the cost ?
And what do you think Martin’s answer was?

[Ask – get response]

Mckaw slide
Of course it was worth it! And the true benefits
will be measured in years to come. Here and overseas…

And so right there at the breakfast table…
I… started thinking about…

Crucifixion slide
how God might answer the same question
Was it worth it?.... All things considered…

Was the cost to our God…of seeing his beloved Messiah …his anointed Christ…suffer and die…
steadfastly preaching mercy…
and praying forgiveness instead of revenge

Was it worth it to Jesus to stay true to the Way
right to the end…was it worth it to Stephen and to Paul and to Peter…and the other martyrs of the early church

modern day slide
was it worth it… given the shape things today
after two thousand years of trying…and the Messianic Age …the age of peace with justice and mercy
and wellbeing for all…still isn’t completely realised
in all the earth?

Was it worth it?

Is it worth it?

What do you think God’s answer would be?
Tell your neighbour what you think.


Jesus slide
My guess is that…Jesus already answered the question himself…in his parables of grace…the one lost sheep …the one lost coin…the one prodigal son…
and the one jealous and angry son…
the worth of one…multiplied by millions

parables illustrating the…unrelenting effort of God… seeking us out… calling our name
inviting us to the banquet table…
the joy of the shepherd and the woman…and the father…

And there’s even hint of Jesus answer…in our reading this morning…we can see it…in Jesus
risky and ceaseless defiance of the religious authorities … who already want him dead.

We know from last week… Jesus has already tied
the two most powerful religious parties… in knots… politically and scripturally…to the point they turn their backs and end all dialogue with him…

And today while the religious authorities are still listening …Jesus turns to his friends and make’s it clear
he’s not urging them to disobey to God’s law…

it’s not the law that’s the problem…Jesus tells us…
it’s the hypocrisy…
of those who call themselves experts in the law.

The scribes and the Pharisees do sit on Moses' seat;
so, do whatever they teach you to do and follow it;
but for heaven sake…

Slide words
don’t do as they do… for they don’t practice
what they teach. They’re happy to burden everyone except themselves. What they’re after is
worldly acclaim…the place of honour at banquets and the best seats in the synagogue…
and particularly… respect in the marketplace

blank slide
…they like you to call them…rabbi…and teacher
But don’t model yourselves after them.

And the new thing…the revolutionary thing…Jesus says …is from now on… you’re to consider yourselves
their equalsthis my friends
is a courageous political risk

And back at the Pharisees Jesus says from now on

Slide words
you aren’t to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you’re all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors,
for you have one instructor, the Messiah.’

Blank slide
Get over yourselves. [pause]

In the Messianic Age there is no elevated place
for the citizens of God’s realm…all are equal in God’s sight…all created in God’s image…male and female, Pharisee and Sadducee and every humble peasant …arriving for the Passover…

In God’s kingdom…there’s no point in making a great public demonstration of your piety
no reason to show off … you can’t score points with God with your status

in fact… in the Kingdom of God

Slide words
the greatest among you will be your servant. Get your head around that…All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.

Crucifixion slide
Jesus risks his very life…to fulfil his calling as the Christ of God… Jesus invests all he has and everything he does… for the sake of announcing the good news that everyone is equal in God’s eyes.

And without fore-knowledge of the resurrection…
Jesus keeps to the Way and on Calvary speaks peace
and mercy to his last breath.

Slide words
Was it worth it?

You are the answer. [pause]

Every time you make a choice

Every time you open your mouth

Every time you pray or sing or share your faith

You are the answer to the question… was it worth it?

Every time you admit with humility your brokenness and your need for healing and forgiveness.

Every time you show mercy and make peace

And we are the answer too. Together in community

Every time we grasp with humility our relationship with all those made in the image of God.

And every time we turn that understanding into action

we are a sign of the new covenant sealed in Christ’s blood…we are a sign it was worth it…

Was it worth it…love answers yes…

 Let us pray.

Sunday, 23 October 2011


Pentecost 25 year A Sermon 
No one was able to give him an answer…nor from that day did anyone dare… to ask him any more questions.

Jesus… took on the two… most powerful religious parties of his day…and when they couldn’t argue with him any longer… they gave up…they walked away...ended the relationship No more talking… no more questions…no more dialogue… no… more… relationship

As far as they were concerned… they had the power
You defy our authority…you challenge our assumptions… you present us with an argument we can’t win …
and we’ll cut you offcold

end of discussion…no sense wasting our time with you Jesus Cause us any more trouble… and we’ll disappear you…
have you silencedeliminated.  We don’t care how popular you are. We have the power. [pause]

And that’s what happened isn’t it?

Jesus enters Jerusalem with dazzling visibility…
in the traditional way of a Hebrew king…he allows himself to be hailed by the people as…King David’s son and heir and God’s anointed Messiah…the promised one…the one who’d rule in God’s name… over all people…
and who would one day… usher in the Messianic age

And how would we know it’s the Messianic Age…
the age of the Christ…the anointed one of God…because according to the prophets
it will be a time of justice, truth and peace.
A time of Shalom…a time of wellbeing for all people. [pause]

The people in the street sure want to believe it…
but those with the religious and financial power…well they’re not too sure the time is right…for such good news

maybe later…the Messiah can come…when they’re retired
but right now…they have too much to lose

But you see…Jesus has a mission…
and he’s not going to stop till it’s accomplished
and Jesus has a message…and he’s not going to be silent
till they get it.

His message all along… the messianic age… has arrived…
the kingdom of God is at hand… you’re all going to have to wake up your ideas. And I’m just gonna keep stirring
till you do. [pause]

So having entered Jerusalem with the theatrics of a Jewish king… at a time when the Sadducees control the Temple economy …Jesus wreaks havoc in their territory…and turns their religious business hub…into a healing centre…

The chief priests and teachers of the law are indignant
when in the very Temple courts…
the children praise Jesus as King David’s son.

 “Do you hear what these children are saying?” they ask him

“Yes I do,” Jesus replies, “have you never read in the Psalms

From the lips of children and infants…
you, God, have called forth your praise!
Jesus insists… I can’t do anything about it…the children’s praise is inspired by God…

And if that isn’t courageous enough …Jesus tells them
it looks like tax collectors and prostitutes… are more eager to enter the kingdom of God…than you are! [pause]

You see to Jesus…the signs of God’s Kingdom…truth and justice and peace and mercy and forgiveness…and wellbeing for all…are simply more important than the disapproval of those in power… so he’s undeterred by it.

And Jesus knows they want him out of the way. And so they know he knows…Jesus tells them a story… about tenants who kill the vineyard owner’s son.

When the Sadducees can’t win against Jesus in a religious barney…they try to trick him into treason against Caesar
… No luck…Then they try to get him on charges of heresyStill no luck.

Jesus just keeps on… challenging their right to be right about everything. And in frustration and anger…
the Sadducees…the most powerful religious party in the Temple…just turn their backs…
and close off all dialogue with Jesus. [pause]

And here’s where their biggest political rivals take Jesus on.

Those Sadducees couldn’t argue their way out of a paper bag think the Pharisees…let’s just see how this Jesus
stacks up against us!

And it’s right here that our reading for today comes in.
one of the Pharisees…an expert in the law…decides to test Jesus with this: “Teacher which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” …Jesus answers without hesitation what every Jewish boy knows:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second’s like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

And right back at them…Jesus challenges the Pharisees right to be the highest authorities in matters of holy scripture.
If you’ve got it all figured out Jesus asks…then

Whose son is the Messiah?

“The son of David,” they say.

O really Jesus says… if the Messiah is David’s son…

‘How is it David speaking by the Spirit…calls him his Lord?

And at this point our story teller Matthew says
‘No one could say a word in reply…and from that day on… no one dared to ask him any more questions.

In the Messianic pursuit… of justice and peace and mercy …Jesus would argue till he was blue in the face. Jesus would keep the channels open…Jesus would keep debating…
keep challenging…keep communicating… 

But what does power do?

Power… walks away... no more talking…no more questions …no more dialogue… no… more… relationship. When you have the power…they assume…you call the shots

challenge our authority …make us look bad…
and we’ll show you what power is…
we can cut you off cold…end of discussion…
no sense wasting our time

Cause any more trouble and we’ll just disappear you…
have you silenced … eliminated. 
We don’t care how popular you are …or how many people are behind you. We have the power.

Power sees Jesus as an adversary… [pause]

But those who’ve come to trust in Jesus as their Messiah
aren’t fighting him…they willingly follow Him…
to the tax collectors and the prostitutes…to the marginalised and the sinner…Jesus is no adversary
Jesus is an advocate and friend…
who offers them a place… at the banquet table.

And the whole point of all this…
is that Jesus is the Messiahthe one who’ll usher in
a new age… of justice and peace and wellbeing…for all people! The one who will bring God’s Shalom
to all people...the one who will bring… salvation…

Obviously the Messianic Age is still a work in progress.
It is both now and not yet… by Jesus reckoning it is …
at hand to be grasped and yet…still to be.

And if we are followers of this Messiah…this anointed one of God…then the story of Jesus arguing with religious economic and political powers…
raises some challenging questions for us.

How long are we prepared to argue and debate
with those in power… when the conditions that make for justice and peace are not present in our family
or our work place …or our community… When there isn’t wellbeing for everyone in our nation
and even sometimes in the church? 

How far are we prepared to go with Jesus’ mission…and Jesus message of good news for the world…

All the way into the halls of parliament
or the throne rooms of corporate kings?

Do we see Jesus as an adversary… or an advocate?
Are we with him or against him?

And what if we should discover on reflection…
that we are in power…that we are the ones with
the power to decide… how business shall be conducted…
and money spent…

Whose voice are we trying to silence…who do we wish would shut up? What good news are we refusing to hear…
With whom do we deny relationship? [pause]

Could it be Jesus?

Remember the living Christ…the Messiah...
has a mission and his followers won’t stop till it’s accomplished
and Jesus has a message and his followers won’t be silent till it is understood at the ends of the earth. We are sent out from here to make it happen. Everything we do…every protest we make…every vote we cast… will either bring about
the fullness of the kingdom of God… or obstruct it.

And you know what gets in our way?

Fear and pride and the lie… fostered by ungodly powers and principalities…that we have to look after ourselves alone
because no one else will.

My friends that is an ungodly notion…a diabolical notion…
And it immobilises us. It’s in the nature of the world
to create passive citizens…who’ll maintain the status quo. And we accept the world’s rules…
when we deny our responsibility toward the rest of God’s creation.

My friends, the whole point of the gospels…
is that Jesus is the Messiah…
and as the prophet Isaiah said…

of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness  from that time on and forever. The zeal of God Almighty will accomplish this.[i]

And should we decide we are with Jesus
in his mission and his message of wellbeing for all…
then the gospel also reminds us that Jesus doesn’t give up …in the face of opposition…and he doesn’t end his relationship with those who persecute him…
and when they’ve done the worst they can do to him

…what does Jesus say? Father forgive them…

My prayer is that by his strength… you will do likewise.

[i] Isaiah 9:7