A reflection of a reflection

This sermon was prepared for the Camp Hill Veteran’s Memorial Building (at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital ) chapel service for Sunday, May 28th, 2017. The scripture reading it is based on is John 17:1-11 (Year A, Easter 7).

Jesus, in our scripture reading today, says these words to God: “you have given [the Son] authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God.”

Jesus tells his disciples, in the Gospel of John, that through knowing him we know the Father, this one true God.

Jesus also speaks in a way that often sounds a little like a riddle. The words are confusing in English, as well as in the early Greek. However, with a little patience, we can hear him echoing this idea of knowing God over and over again.

Jesus says that he has made God’s name known. He also says that God gave authority over believers to Jesus during his time on earth. He speaks about teaching these believers the word, or truth, that he learned from his Father.

Jesus, in our John passage, makes it abundantly clear that those who follow him also follow God, and that they do this in truth.

Through Jesus, whom we call The Christ, or the Anointed One, we learn about who God is. This idea invites us to go back, to re-read and reflect on the man we see portrayed by the different gospel writers.

What did he stand for? What did he call us to do?

And, if we believe, that through Jesus, we are presented with this God, we must then conclude that those things Jesus calls us to, God is calling us also.

When Jesus says: “All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.” It would follow that, in our glorification of Christ, by living in the truth he taught us, that we are also glorifying God.

As we read about Jesus’ ascension last week, on Ascension Sunday, we heard about how we are God’s representatives here on earth. We have the opportunity to glorify God, and Christ, in the world.

In the Acts passage which is part of the lectionary today, we see the disciples standing dumbfounded on the hill after Jesus’ ascension. Two robed men, who we believe to be messengers of God, come and laugh at the disciples, saying: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?”

They’re saying, are you going to stand here forever? Until Jesus comes back? This would never let them fulfil all he had asked of them—to be his witnesses out in the world. To go and care for others, the impoverished, lonely, sick and incarcerated.

Jesus didn’t ask the believers to just stand around twiddling their thumbs, how would that glorify him or the father?

Instead, he commissioned them and sent them out. And, he does the same for us, wherever we are in our lives.

The Gospel stories are just the beginning of the Story of Christianity. The Book of Acts and the Epistles tell us stories of men and women, Greeks and Jews, slaves and free persons, living out their beliefs.

We read their stories to find strength in common struggles, to learn from their wisdom, and to become part of this larger story.

We join with them, acting as witnesses to Christ’s “Good News”, reflecting his image in the world, thereby reflecting God through Christ.

And so, I wonder how you might be that reflection of Christ in your daily life. What are the ways you represent the Gospel message of forgiveness and redemption? (pause) What, in your character, reflects the character of God? (pause)

Do you practice those gifts that Paul extolled in Galatians? Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? (pause)

I firmly believe that each of us is able to live out the Gospel message, in our own ways, in the lives that we have been given. We are not all called to be preachers, missionaries, or Biblical scholars…

Instead, God calls us to do well with what we have been given. To steward our talents, to be good neighbours, and to be open to the call of the Spirit—the presence of God in this world.

So, as you go out this week, I pray you can reflect on all you’ve been given, to steward it wisely, to be neighbourly, and to be stirred by the call of the Spirit.

Amen.

 

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A Barely Believable Story // Death, Resurrection and Forgiveness

Reflections from the Gospel of John.

I ponder if the believability of Jesus’ death and resurrection has less to do with his living again, and more to do with his forgiveness.

If Jesus was so brutally murdered by the Roman state, handed over by the religious authorities of his people, how could he ever express forgiveness? As Professor Mary Boys of Union Theological Seminary (Source) puts it: “Crucifixion functioned as a state sanctioned punishment to terrorize and pacify the population for Roman rule.” It was not pleasant, and it is not to be made light of. It was cruel and public, it was a humiliation that startled on-lookers.

Yet, we see Jesus sentenced to this fate saved for those who must be made examples of. We see his blamelessness under the law here in John’s account of the Passion. Here Annas, father-law-law of the high priest Caiphas questions Jesus:

Annas (to Jesus): Who are Your disciples, and what do You teach?

Jesus: I have spoken in public where the world can hear, always teaching in the synagogue and in the temple where the Jewish people gather. I have never spoken in secret. So why would you need to interrogate Me? Many have heard Me teach. Why don’t you question them? They know what I have taught.

While Jesus offered His response, an officer standing nearby struck Jesus with his hand.

Officer: Is that how You speak to the high priest?

Jesus: If I have spoken incorrectly, why don’t you point out the untruths that I speak? Why do you hit Me if what I have said is correct?

(The Voice, John 18)

Jesus is placed in a power struggle between the Jewish religious authorities of the day and the Roman governor Pilate. Sent before one man and then the next, he, an innocent man, is eventually sacrificed to the jealous and vengeful will of the high priest and his people. Manipulating Pilate with a political agenda they are able to sentence Jesus to death under Roman law, where Jewish law will not permit. We then see the gentile Pilate “washing his hands” of the incident, in full awareness of Jesus’ innocence.

Persecuted by the men who were meant to be leading Israel in a life of devotion to God’s will and law, and wrongfully executed by an oppressive foreign state, Jesus died on the cross in a manner of shame, naked and in agony. When he returns to life in three days, a surprising affair to even his closest friends, he speaks of peace of mission. He presses his friends to share the lessons he had taught them before his crucifixion, and to care for his people’s, to shepherd a movement (John 21).

Jesus, in an unbelievable move, rose from his painful death to speak of peace and forgiveness. He rose from a shameful death to send his closest friends out amongst the people who had unknowingly taken part in a system that saw the death of an innocent man. He sent them out even to those who were his persecutors, the Jewish authorities of the day. It is not his death, though scandalous, which is so unbelievable, or even that a man could wake up from his death, but that he could send his closest friends out on a mission of forgiveness and reconciliation.

I am happy to put aside my skepticism and accept Christ’s death and resurrection, it isn’t always easy, but I see and feel the remainder of both. I find it much harder to believe a man could extend love and forgiveness like that–a barely believable story.