Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday

Listen! Let all who have ears, listen! Listen and I will you a story.

This is a story about a man named Jesus. He lived a long time ago, 2000 years ago in the Middle East. He lived a special life, one filled with radical love and inclusiveness. His life was so beautiful, people remember him all these years later. It’s hard to forget someone so special and filled with so much love.

Jesus was a teacher and preacher and he taught the people that God’s kingdom of peace and justice was for all people. Jesus taught the people that it was important to follow laws and have rituals but it was more important that the laws and rituals were life giving and filled with love.

Jesus inspired a lot of people, a lot of people. Crowds would gather to hear him speak, people travelled great distances just to see him. There was something so special about him. There was something profound about him that made people think of God. Jesus loved so fully and forgave so generously he seemed he was almost like God. People began to use God language to describe this him, to describe what they saw. They said he could do amazing things like walk on water and calm storms. They said he could do even more amazing things like welcoming children to sit on his knew and speaking to woman about the kingdom of God.

A life filled with so much love and kindness is the most beautiful thing. A life filled with so much love and kindness is the most dangerous thing.

It’s dangerous to those in power. It’s dangerous to the status quo. It’s dangerous to the way we’ve always done things. Jesus talked about a landowner who pays all his works a full day’s wage when some only worked a half day. That’s can’t be right, can it? It’s not fair! Our economic systems would collapse if we did things like that. Jesus preached release to the captives and let the prisoners go free. That’s chaos! It’s not safe! Don’t they deserve to be punished? Jesus told them to love your enemies? What? How can you possibility love your enemy? They are your enemy for a reason, aren’t they?

A life filled with so much love and kindness is a dangerous thing. And it was very dangerous for Jesus. He was living in an occupied country, a place where it was best to lay low and not risk upsetting the powers that be. You’ll only risk making life more difficult for yourself. But Jesus didn’t lay low his message was too important. Not only did be not law low, along with him followers they marched, they paraded into the city of Jerusalem at one of the riskiest times of year, during the Passover festival. It doesn’t get more dangerous then that. And so Jesus was silenced. He was executed by the state. The ruling powers couldn’t risk it, they saw the influence he had with people and it threatened their own influence. So they assassinated him.

What a devastating shock, how could this happen? How could God allow this to happen? How could Jesus allow this to happen? Clearly he could have held back a little, not upset so many people for a greater good. It was such a waste, he was killed only a few years into his ministry, why didn’t he live longer? Love more? Go on changing the world?
But he didn’t, he died. They killed him. It was over. It was clearly over. Oh the things he could have done, oh what the world would have been like. Jesus’ followers fled, terrified to be associated with him, worried they were next, the next one to be killed. It was the end.

The dreams they had for Jesus. The hope they had for him. They thought there was something different about him, they thought Jesus’ actions and teachings made an invisible God, visible. And it was all for nothing. They were wrong, so wrong. How awful. How embarrassing. It was over, really over. Their teacher was gone, their friend was dead. It was the end.

Now listen! Let all who have ears listen!

Because the most shocking part of the story is still to come.

His followers thought it was over, the political powers thought his message was silenced by killing him. But listen I said earlier that Jesus lived 2000 years ago in another part of the world, so then how is it that I came to know these stories about Jesus, how did I learn about this man who loved radically and then died?

I’ll tell you how I know…I know because they tried to silence his message about God’s love. I know because they tried to stop his influence with people. They killed him. But it wasn’t enough. That couldn’t stop the message! It was to powerful to be stopped. It was too important, it was life giving and death couldn’t stop it.

The disciples were scared and lost without their leader, without Jesus their teacher. Teacher? He had taught them when he knew, he had even told then, “Anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. In fact, he will do even greater things.” And so they did.

The disciples and Jesus’ followers continued to preach Jesus’ message. They showed the love of God they saw made known in Jesus’ life. They didn’t let his death stop them.

They knew that he had been killed but that he still lived. Sure, they had been scared and fled but they now realized that love and hope were stronger then death and pain. God was doing a new thing, a thing that no one could have expected. It wasn’t over at all.

Jesus had been the special one they thought he was. In his life and even in his death he could inspire people and give them hope through the stories that were told about him. It wasn’t the end, not at all. It was just the beginning…


Thursday, 12 April 2012

Good Friday Sermon

Sermon for Good Friday

What Happened? Why did Jesus die?

Did Jesus die for our sins? This is often offered as the interpretation of Good Friday and it can seem like this is the only choice to understand what happened.
However I would like to suggest something different. It is a subtle change in wording but a significant change in meaning. I would like to offer an interpretation of Good Friday that says Jesus did not die for our sins but that Jesus died because of our sins.

Jesus died because of all of the things in the world that keep God’s dream for the world of being realized. The things that lead to Jesus’ death were: power and greed and selfishness and violence and fear and our willingness to accept the status quo without questioning it.

This particular understanding comes from the book The Last Week: A Day by Day account of Jesus’ Final Week in Jerusalem by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan. 

Borg and Crossan are two New Testament scholars whose books are easy to read and have allowed millions of people to find new meaning and understanding in the life of Jesus.

In the chapter in the book on Good Friday the authors ask, “Did Jesus’ death have to happen? There are two quite different reasons why one might think so. One is divine necessity: the other is human inevitability.” They offer the following in response, “Was the death of Jesus the will of God? No. It is never the will of God that a righteous man be crucified. Did it have to happen? It might have turned out differently…but this does not mean Good Friday had to happen.”

The great thing about Borg and Crossan is that they place the story of Jesus’ death in its own time and place. They provide a context and an understanding of what Jesus’ actions meant not as part of a greater cosmic plan but what his actions meant in those days.

They continue,

“The execution of Jesus was virtually inevitable. Not because of divine necessity, but because of human inevitability- that is what dominations systems did to people who publicly and vigorously challenged them. It happened often in the ancient world. It has happened to countless people throughout history. Closer to Jesus, it has happened to his mentor John the Baptist. Now it happened to Jesus. Within a few more decades it would happen to Paul, Peter and James. We should wonder what it was about Jesus and his movement that so provoked the authorities at the top of the domination system of their time.

But Jesus was not simply an unfortunate victim of a domination system’s brutality. He was also a protagonist filled with passion. His passion, his message, was about the Kingdom of God.

He spoke to peasants as a voice of peasant religious protest against the central economic and political institutions of his day. He attracted a following and took his movement to Jerusalem at the season of Passover. There he challenged the authorities with public acts and public debates. All of this was his passion, what he was passionate about: God and the kingdom of God, God and God’s passion for justice.

Jesus’ passion for him killed. To put this meaning into a single sentence: Jesus’ passion for the kingdom of God led to what is often called his passion, namely, his suffering and death. But to restrict Jesus’ passion to his suffering and death is to ignore the passion that brought him to Jerusalem. To think of Jesus’ passion as simply what happened on Good Friday is to separate his death from the passion that animated his life.

Good Friday is the result of the collision between the passion of Jesus and the domination systems of his time.
It is important to realize that what killed Jesus was nothing unusual. We have no reason to think that the temple authorities were wicked people. Moreover, as empires go, Rome was better than most. There was nothing exceptional or abnormal about it; this is simply the way domination systems behave.”

The authors end this section with the message,

“According to Mark, Jesus did not die for the sins of the world. The language of substitutionary sacrifice for sin is absent from his story. But in an important sense, he was killed because of the sin of the world. It was the injustice of the domination system that killed him, injustice so routine that it is part of the normalcy of civilization. Though sin means more than this, it includes this. And thus Jesus was crucified because of the sin of the world.”

Borg and Crossan’s book is an important book on the topic of Good Friday and Easter Sunday and it very much worth reading, especially if you enjoyed this excerpt.

Another scholar who offers insights about the meaning of Good Friday for those looking for additional interpretations is Rex Hunt. He offers the following:

“Jesus died because he was publicly and brutally executed.
He certainly did not want to die.
He died as a result of his passionate, imaginative living.
He died as a result of a decision not to deviate from the God-Self-Neighbour relationship he continually lived.
What Jesus said and did and stood for...
collided with all that was heartless and oppressive
in a social religion that had forgotten its real meaning.
His healings on the Sabbath.
His acts of forgiveness.
His stories which turned conventional wisdom upside down.
His association with that society’s outcasts.
His speaking in the name of the God of compassion...
all tore open the social and religious fabric of his time.
Either that social and religious order, or Jesus, had to go.”

The same themes that we saw in the Borg and Corssan quotes come through here. Our task is to ground Jesus’ death in his life. If we simply focus on his death we risk missing out on his radical life. Here’s one more quote. It’s from John Shuck:
"Jesus was about making changes in this world.  That is what got him killed.  He talked about compassion. He talked about moving beyond ethnic boundaries and divisions.  He talked about forgiveness.  Not something you go to the priest for or even to God for, but your neighbor. That is the one we hurt. That is the one from whom we need forgiveness.  We get it as we give it.  He worked to bring people together:  Samaritan and Jew, Greek and Roman.  He practiced an open table, rich and poor, male and female.  He challenged unjust boundaries and rules. That is what got him killed.  Dying was not his reason for living.  Living was his reason for dying.  For life, he died.  For integrity, he died.  For compassion, he died.  For justice, he died.  For change, he died...  I think it is a sham and a shame that the religious establishment distorted his story"
What does it have to do with us?

Now that we have spent time learning about new and different interpretations about Jesus’ death we need to ask “What does this have to do with us?”

Good Friday acknowledges the sins of the world. In Good Friday we face the reality of the sins that Jesus died because of. Jesus died because of power and greed and selfishness and violence and fear and because of our willingness to accept the status quo without questioning it

It can be uncomfortable talking about sin. And so there is a temptation not to talk about. It is much nicer to focus on the positive and happy things in life. But this might mean we get off a little easy. Of course it is important to hear that God loves you and its true God does love you and that is the topic most Sundays and on Easter morning.

However on Good Friday we talk about sin. On Good Friday we talk about the reality of these influences in our lives and in the world.  This morning we talk about sin not because we’re vile sinners who need to feel guilty but we talk about sin this morning because we acknowledge that we’re not blameless in the evils of this world. Each one of us struggles with power and greed and selfishness. Each one of us can do better to stand up against violence and fear and our willingness to accept the status quo without questioning it.

God loves you. Let me be clear God loves you but on Good Friday we realize we can all do better.

As uncomfortable as it can be to talk about sin it is important to realize that sins are not just things the “bad” things that we do. We need to move from an understanding of sins of commission to acknowledging sins of omission as well. It’s not good enough to just not be violent or not be greedy. It’s not good enough to sit by and watch the sins of others. It seems it may be sinful to not work for justice and for love and to help God’s dream for this world come true.

Hopefully this has given you some things to think about. This morning we wrestle bravely with the meaning of our foundational story of faith and we know that God goes with us…God is with us at the foot of the cross and with us in this place this day.