Category Archives: Uncategorized

We Can Laugh!

 

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ According to John

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

(John 20:19-31)

Holy Humour Sunday.

The first Holy Humour Sunday I was asked to participate in,  I wondered about its origin.  So I looked up Holy Humour Sunday on my favourite website, and I found out it began in Europe, probably Germany.

It is normally held on the fourth Sunday of Lent, as a kind of respite from the gloom of Lent – a break, if you will. That Sunday was chosen apparently because it was called Laetare Sunday, which comes from the first word of the collect – Rejoice.

Not wanting to do what everyone else does, I chose to celebrate the day on the second Sunday of Easter. Today.

There’s no mention of Holy Humour Sunday  in the  Book of Common Prayer, nor in the Revised Common  Lectionary, but it seems a nice thing to do, to loosen up a bit, and celebrate with laughter.

There is laughter in the Bible, for example in the Old Testament, where we read that Sarah is in the tent and Abraham is outside talking to two men, said to be messengers from God, and they tell him he will be a father, and that Sarah will conceive.

Sarah hears this, and she is an old lady by now, so she can’t help laughing out loud.  But it did come to pass.

In the New Testament Jesus is called a drinker, and a glutton by some of the people who were trying to discredit him, and I would expect that, although not a drunkard or a glutton, someone who liked a drink now and then would  have to have a sense of humour, and would be heard laughing. 

If you are at peace with yourself, and with your God, then surely you can be happy, and can laugh.

I am always amused by the movies that show Jesus as a man speaking in a low voice, serious, and oh so proper.

Because he was human after all.

So, be at ease. We take today to remember, or to hear for the first time, or the second or third time, if it is funny, a joke, or a happy, funny remembrance. 

I am going to begin with, appropriately, an Easter story .

A man was driving to church on Easter Sunday. He had plenty of time – didn’t want to be too early – and he was on a country road, so wasn’t driving as carefully as he did normally, when he felt a bump, and a squeak, and alarmed, halted at once.

He got out of his car and saw, there, lying on the floor, a bunny, not moving, and to one side, a basket full of Easter eggs.

“Wow,” he thought, ” I have killed the Easter Bunny.”

As he stood there, feeling bad, not knowing what to do, a car pulled up behind him, and a lady got out.

“What’s wrong?”  She asked, coming toward him, and then seeing the Easter Bunny.

He couldn’t speak, but she sized up what had happened right away, and went to her car and took out something. 

She carried a spray can of some sort, and she leaned over the Bunny and sprayed something onto the poor thing.

After a few seconds, the Easter Bunny opened his eyes, and got to  his feet and, grabbing his basket, he just ran off,  waving back at them every few yards. Waving and running. Waving and running.

“My, ” the man said to the lady, ” What do you have there?”

She handed him the spray can she had used, and he looked at the label.

It said, ” Good for permanent wave,  brings new life to dead hair.”

We don’t need a commercial product, do we? Coming to know Christ beings new life, right away, doesn’t it?

But not everyone you meet during the day, has that new life in Christ, do they, and don’t you wish they did? ,

The Gospel has that story about Thomas, saying that he wouldn’t believe in Jesus’ resurrection until put his finger in the wounds in Jesus’ hand, and his hand into his side, and then when he sees Jesus, and the wounds, he is convinced.

It is a lovely story, but I can’t help thinking that Thomas must have been embarrassed as all get out.

I remember being embarrassed.  And on more than one occasion.

The first time  was when I was five years old and in infants’ school – or kindergarten – and my class was doing a play. I was chosen to go on stage at the very beginning and say a line that would set the scene for the play.

Quite proudly I walked on stage and said my line, ” It is a beautiful sunny day.”

And everyone, parents and teachers laughed. I didn’t know why and thinking I had done something wrong, was naturally embarrassed. 

The reason they laughed was that when I  said, ” It is a beautiful sunny day,” it was raining cats and dogs outside.

The second time I had to speak in public, kind of,  was a short time afterward, I was about six years old,  when my mother asked me to go on an errand. She sent me to the butcher’s shop for a half a pound of bacon.

In those days a child could go out without  fear, as everyone in the neighborhood  knew everyone else, so it was quite safe. And the butcher’s shop was a five minute walk away.

I had a shilling in my tight little hand and I kept reciting to myself what I had to say, ” A half pound of bacon. A half pound of bacon.”

When I got to the store, there were a few people there. In those days you gave the butcher your order, and he went and cut the piece of meat, or selected the chops, or sliced the bacon, wrapped it,  took your money and you left. Self service hadn’t yet arrived in the UK.

So line-ups were quite common.

I waited behind three adults, and I was quite nervous as this was the first time I had been trusted with such an important errand.

Eventually I reached the counter and the butcher looked down at me and said, ” What do you want?

I said, quite proudly, ” A half pound of bacon.”

He said, ” Lean?”

And I leaned forward  – and repeated,  “Half a pound of bacon,” much to the amusement of those in line behind me.

It took a while before I understood what had happened. And felt, even later, embarrassment.

I have been told by some that when they had the opportunity to mention their faith, in front of others, they were too embarrassed to do so. 

But, you know, people who sell door to door aren’t embarrassed to talk about their product, or to enroll someone they spot who might become a sales person for them.

Some guy, working for one of those direct sales companies  seemed to be always in line near me at the bank, and he invariably took me aside and asked me if I would  be interested in a job.

Naturally, I said, ” No thank you, I have a job,” and angrily pulled my arm out his grasp.

He did this a couple of times and I made up my mind that the next time he did it, I was going to say, ” Why don’t you kneel with me right now and we will pray for your soul.” But I never did get that opportunity to “help” him. And I have often questioned, in my mind, if  that  would have embarrassed him. How would he have responded?

That’s a question to which I will never know the answer.

There are many questions in life for which there doesn’t seem to be an answer.  Here are a few.

Why is it called lipstick if you can still move your lips?
 
Why is it that night falls but day breaks?
 
Why do they call it "chili" if it's hot?
 
Can you catch a toad sitting on a toadstool?
 
If cats and dogs didn't have fur would we still pet them?
 
If peanut butter cookies are made from peanut butter, then what are            Girl  Guide cookies made out of?
 
Do  they use real shepherds in Shepherd's Pie? 
 
If tin whistles are made out of tin, what do they make fog horns out of?

The Gospels raise a lot of questions, too, don’t they?

One example: Why would Jesus give His life for us, for worthless people, for criminals even?

Because. I believe,  God sees something in each of us. He sees a soul worth saving. He sees a lost lamb that needs finding, He sees a prodigal son or daughter who wants to come home but doesn’t know the way.

But God in Jesus, and especially  in Jesus’ death and resurrection, shows us the way.  We can be found.  We can be forgiven and accepted.

I remember reading about a woman who said that Jesus came to her in her dreams and spoke to her.

She told her priest about this, and the priest said, perhaps to test her, “When you next speak to Jesus, ask him what I did secretly in seminary that I am ashamed of.”

A couple of days later, he saw her and asked did she speak to Jesus. She said “Yes.”   He then asked if she had posed the question he had given her and she said, ” Yes.” The priest then asked, ” And  what did he say? “

She said, “He couldn’t remember.” .

He could not remember!!

My own dad, wasn’t such a bad dad, but he never forgot anything “cute, or embarrassing”  you had done as a child – .things which he would repeat every time we had family visiting – embarrassing me, shaming me, in fact.  I would blush and go into another room..

What I would have given to have a dad who forgot the silly childish things I had done.

I found that in Jesus.

We find that in Jesus.

You notice that Jesus didn’t ridicule Thomas for his unbelief, then his belated belief, he merely said, “Blessed are those believe without seeing.”

He never brought it up again. It was forgotten.

And that’s something to be grateful for, and why we can laugh today, and relax, on Holy Humour Sunday –  or any Sunday!. 

Amen

Let’s Celebrate!

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ According to Mark.

 When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

(Mark 16.1-8)

Easter Sunday

If we were in church today, we would see the church dressed in white. The altar would have a white frontal, the pulpit and lectern would have white and the celebrant would be wearing a white stole

(and chasuble). The reason is that this is a celebration.

We also wear white at funerals.  

A funeral doesn’t seem like a celebration. You have lost somebody you love. You won’t see them again – at least in this world – and you will have to do without them while ever you live. Nothing to celebrate there, is there?

On Good Friday  we mourn the death of Jesus on that cruel cross. Nothing to celebrate there either. What happened was a despicable, shameful act on the part of the authorities.

The disciples, after his death on that cross were understandably depressed, sad, grieving, mourning – and perhaps most of all – lost. 

What were they going to do now? They had given up everything to follow Jesus – jobs,  family life, secure positions –  and they had changed, too, while they were with Jesus.  It  was going to be hard, perhaps impossible, to go back to their old way of life.

But the bottom had fallen out of everything.

What a mistake they had made following Jesus. Who knew it would end like this?

Then the women came back from the tomb. They had gone to prepare  the body of Jesus, with spices, and expected to find his broken body in the tomb.

They had wondered, as they walked, if there would be anyone around to roll back the big round stone that covered the entrance to the tomb.

When they got there, what a shock!  The stone was already rolled away.

An angelic figure had told them to go and wait in Galilee. They would see Jesus there, he had said.

Now, they told the disciples what they had seen – the tomb was empty.  How the disciples must have confused by this. How could it be possible?

But  they would see Jesus again!

He would talk to  them. He would send them out into the world. He would send His Spirit to be with them. He would not leave them orphans.

More than that, his rising from the dead, they would realise later, means that we too will rise from the dead. That we too will live again, after we die.

That’s why a funeral, as strange as it seems, is a celebration.  As much as it hurts to lose someone, knowing they have gone to a new life, should, if possible, be reason to celebrate. 

The problem is that we live in and of this world too much. We can’t seem to focus on the next world.

How are we going to pay the bills? How are we ever going to afford a new car?   When will we ever get  around to that renovation?

We hope that aunt Millie will survive her illness. We pray that our kids will turn around and be what we want them to be – more like us!  

We don’t spend too much time thinking about the fact that we will live again, and that we will see the ones we lose, again.

This old body, with its aches and pains, its varicose veins, scars, and wrinkles, and arthritis, and missing this and that – this old body will have been left behind in the ground where it belongs, and we will have gone on, clean and fresh and brand new – in the spirit – but definitely us – to new life. 

And when you think about that, doesn’t it change your view of this life, and of this world?

I have known people who as they neared the end of their lives, began to give away things they had once treasured.  

One woman  had collected spoons all her life.  She had spoons from all over the world. She cleaned them and polished them every few weeks, and they were displayed prominently in her house.  However, they were mounted high enough on the wall that her grandkids couldn’t get to them.

You could almost say that her life was defined by her collection. 

She was the Spoon Lady.

Then, soon after her sixtieth birthday, she seemed to lose  interest in her spoons. The cabinet gathered dust. The spoons didn’t shine as they once had.  And  one day when the grandchildren came to visit, she took out a few spoons and allowed her grandchildren to play tea party with them.

I would like to think that at age sixty, she had taken stock of her life, and decided that she had invested too much in her collection.

Imagine how much good she could have done in her life had she devoted the same energy and dedication she had put into her collection of spoons, into something more worthy?

How much more would get done in His name, if we weren’t hung up on the things of this world.

We focus on the wrong things, I think.

Like the people of Baghdad.

In 2003, Saddam Hussein was  overthrown.  People were now free from a regime that executed people on a whim – executed men women and children, for nothing at all.   Hundreds of thousands had been tortured, raped, burnt alive, dipped in acid,  hanged, shot, kept in solitary for months, gassed, under what was surely  the worst regime since Adolf Hitler, and they rallied in great numbers to complain that the electricity has not been restored in the ten days since US forces defeated Saddam Hussein. 

A temporary inconvenience blinded them to the greatest gift they could have been given  –  freedom! 

The disciples may have been thinking  how much they had missed  in the world by following Jesus.  They didn’t yet appreciate the earth shattering events they had witnessed.

It’s hard  to look beyond the everyday, the inconveniences, hard to see beyond our world.  

A boy named Jeremy Forrester was born with a twisted body and a chronic, terminal illness that was slowly killing him all his young life.  Still, his parents had tried to give him as normal a life as possible and had sent him to St. Theresa’s Elementary School. At the age of 12, Jeremy was only in second grade, seemingly unable to learn. 

His teacher, Doris Miller, often became exasperated with him.  He would squirm in his seat, drool and make grunting noises, yet  at other times,  he spoke clearly and distinctly, as if a spot of light had penetrated the darkness of his brain.  Most of the time, however, Jeremy irritated his teacher.  One day, she called his parents and asked them to come to St. Theresa’s for a consultation.

As the Forresters sat quietly in the empty classroom, Doris said to  them, “Jeremy really belongs in a special school.  It isn’t fair to him to be with younger children who don’t have learning problems.  Why, there is a five-year gap between his age and that of the other students!”

Mrs. Forrester cried softly into a tissue while her husband spoke.  “Miss Miller,” he said, “there is no school of that kind nearby.  It would be a terrible shock for Jeremy if we had to take him out of this school.  We know he really likes it here.”

Doris sat for a long time after they left, staring at the snow outside the window.  She wanted to sympathize with the Forresters.  After all, their only child had a terminal  illness.  But it wasn’t fair to keep him in her class.  She had 18 other youngsters to teach and Jeremy was a distraction.  He could never learn to read or write.  Why waste any more time trying?

Suddenly, as she sat there pondering the situation, a wave of guilt washed over her.  “Oh God,” she said aloud, “Here I am complaining when my problems are nothing compared with that poor family!  Please help me to be more patient with Jeremy.”

From that day on, she tried hard to ignore Jeremy’s noises and his blank stares.  Then one day he limped to her desk, dragging his bad leg behind him.  “I love you, Miss Miller,”  he said, loudly enough for the whole class to hear.  The other children snickered, and Doris’ face turned red.  She stammered, “Wh-Why, that’s very nice, Jeremy.  Now please take your seat.” 

Spring came, and the children talked excitedly about Easter.  Doris told them the story of Jesus, and then to emphasize the idea of new life springing forth, she gave each of the children a large plastic egg.

“Now,” she said to them, “I want you to take this home and bring it  back tomorrow with something inside that shows new life.  Do you understand?”  The children responded enthusiastically – all except for Jeremy.  He just listened intently, his eyes never leaving her face.  Had he understood what she had said about Jesus’ death and resurrection?  Did he understand the assignment?  Perhaps she should call his parents and explain the project to them.

That evening, Doris’ kitchen sink stopped up.  She called the landlord and waited an hour for him to come by and unclog it.  After that, she still had to shop for groceries, iron a blouse and prepare a vocabulary test for the next day.  She completely forgot about phoning Jeremy’s parents.

The next morning, 19 children came to school, laughing and talking as they placed their eggs in the large wicker basket on Miss Miller’s desk.  After they completed their math lesson, it was time to open the eggs.  

In the first egg, Doris found a flower.  “Oh yes, a flower is certainly a sign of new life,” she said.  “When plants peek through the ground we know that spring is here.”   A small girl in the first row waved her arms.  “That’s my egg, Miss Miller,”  she called out. 

The next egg contained a plastic butterfly, which looked very real.  Doris held it up.  “We all know that a caterpillar changes and grows into a beautiful butterfly.  Yes, that is new life, too.”  Little Judy smiled proudly and said, “Miss Miller, that one is mine.”

Then Doris opened the third egg.  She gasped.  The egg was empty! Surely it must be Jeremy’s,  and, of course, he hadn’t understood her instructions.  If only she had not forgotten to phone his parents.  Not wanting to embarrass him, she quietly set the egg aside and reached for another.  Suddenly Jeremy spoke up.  “Miss Miller, aren’t you going to talk about my egg?”

Flustered, Doris replied, “But Jeremy – your egg is empty!” He looked into her eyes and said softly, “Yes, but Jesus’ tomb was empty too!”

Time stopped.  When she could speak again, Doris asked him, “Do you know why the tomb was empty?”     “Oh yes!” Jeremy exclaimed. “Jesus was killed and put in there.  Then his Father raised him up!”

The recess bell rang.  The children excitedly ran out to the school yard, while Doris cried.  

Three months later Jeremy died.  Those who paid their respects at the funeral home were surprised to see 19 eggs on top of his casket, all of them empty.

Jeremy had had the wonderful ability to see beyond this world.  Maybe that was what enabled  him to live – really live – despite his handicap.

He would be terribly missed by his parents, and by those others who had looked beyond the twisted body, and seen the sensitive mind trapped in there.

But he wouldn’t have wanted anyone to cry, would he? He was free, free at last, and alive – really alive.

And new life gained is surely something to celebrate.

That’s why we celebrate the new life we have gained  in Jesus the Christ this Easter Sunday.

And that makes it very appropriate to wear white, the colour of celebration, isn’t it?

Amen.

*I first came across the story of Jeremy some  years ago, on the site of the First Baptist Church of Arthur, Illinois USA. My thanks to them.

Truly This Man Was The Son of God

 

 

The Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ According to Mark


As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” He answered him, “You say so.”  Then the chief priests accused him of many things.

Pilate asked him again, “Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.” But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.

Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom.

Then he answered them, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead.

Pilate spoke to them again, “Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” They shouted back, “Crucify him!”

Pilate asked them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him!”  So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.

Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort.
And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. And they began saluting him, “Hail, King of the Jews!”
They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus.

Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.

It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him.

The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.”
And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left.


Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!”  In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself.  Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.


When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.”

Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last.

And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.
Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”

(Mark 15:1-39, )

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion. Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem.

 Lo your king comes to you, triumphant and victorious is he, riding on an ass, and upon the colt, the foal  of an ass.

The whole impact of that joyful statement, that prophecy of Zechariah was that the king was coming in peace. In Palestine, the ass was not a despised animal, but a noble one. When a king went to war he rode on a horse. When he came in peace, he rode on an ass.

The last verse of a G.K.Chesterton poem, about the animal that carried Jesus, says,

Fools, for I also had my hour,

One far fierce hour and sweet;

There was a shout about my ears,

And palms before my feet.

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem that day, he came as king, but as the king of peace.

And in doing so, he contradicted all that people had hoped for and expected.

People wanted to give a conqueror’s welcome to Jesus. It was reminiscent of the welcome given to  Simon Maccabaeus, a hundred and fifty years before.

They shouted, ‘ Hosanna!’ then, as now.   This is a  word that is quoted and used as if it simply means ‘Praise,’ but it is a cry to God to break in and save his people now that Messiah has come.

They thought they had a military leader here, in Jesus, someone like Simon Maccabaeus.

They are wrong of course.

When a king came in peace, he would ride a donkey.

Later, we read, that Jesus went into the Temple and  looked around.

You see, Jesus is deliberately summing up what he has to do, and assessing the strength of the opposition.  He is not an impetuous man. He prepares carefully.

He then returns to Bethany with the Twelve. Bethany is where Jesus can find a  few moments of peace.  It is a time when he can commune with his Father, before he continues his fateful journey.  

Note that the twelve are still with him. Even though they know he is going to die – willingly – and they probably think he is  suicidal – they are still with him. It says something for them, that as little as they understood what was happening, they still stood by him.

They haven’t yet been tested.

It’s fine to stand with a winner and bask in his glory. Sharing in his struggle, is a different matter.

They will desert him, but later, much later, some of them will give up their own lives to tell others about him.

Then we move to the trial of Jesus.  The Jewish leaders have already tried him, of course. They did this during the night, against their own rules against secret trials.

And they have condemned the Son of Man. 

They won’t tell Pilate that he is a blasphemer, which is what they have accused him of, because the Romans wouldn’t care. They tell Pilate that he counseled people against paying taxes to Rome, which is, as we know,  a direct lie.   

Even religious people, even people who obey the law scrupulously, even they, will lie when they feel the very structure of their lives threatened, as it was by the coming of the man Jesus.

He was against the hypocrisy of the religious leaders at the time. But more than that,  he has come to show a clear way to God. He has come to make things right between mankind and God. He has come to strip away the mystery of worship. And condemnation for sin. 

They don’t want that. Do they?  They are going to be out of work. And out of power. And out of the money

Pilate sent Jesus to be flogged. Men would die after such a flogging. It was said that such a flogging, a scourging, would lay bare the very bone.

We have read about such punishment, of course. But the reading of it goes by without a real idea of what it does to a person.

When I saw Mel Gibson’s  The Passion of Christ, and that awful scene of the flogging, it brought it home to me what Jesus really suffered.

After that ordeal, Jesus was too weak to carry the cross on his own, so the soldiers pressed a passer-by into service, they  compelled a man called Simon, to help him carry the cross. 

Palestine was an occupied country. Anyone could be impressed into Roman service for any task.  A tap on the shoulder with the flat of a Roman sword was all that was required.

When that happened, you did what was asked without question.

Simon was from Cyrene in Africa. He may have come from that far-off land for the Passover.  He may have saved for a long time to make the trip of a lifetime, and then this happens to him.

He had to do it. He may have taken the cross, resentfully, fully intending to get rid of it as soon as he could. Get to Golgotha and then fling down the thing and get away.

Has it ever happened to you that you were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and got lumbered with a job you didn’t want? And you did it resentfully?

And how did it turn out?

Let’s see how it may have turned out for  Simon.

Simon is described as the father of Alexander and Rufus. Now it is highly possible that Mark wrote his Gospel first for the church in Rome. In Paul’s letter to Rome, 16.13, he mentions: Rufus, eminent in the Lord,  Rufus – son of Simon –  was such a Christian that Paul called him ‘eminent in the Lord.’

Rufus’s mother was so dear to Paul that he called her his own mother.

Something must have happened to Simon,  Rufus’s father, as he carried that cross with Jesus, to Golgotha. 

Could it be that Simon’s enforced service to Jesus, carrying his cross to Golgotha, bound him for ever to Jesus?  Did seeing the man Jesus, his suffering, and his death on that cross, open his heart, to the love of God, as it was shown so explicitly, that day in Jesus?

And also led his family to Christ’s service?

I have been asked to do something, and accepted it with little grace, and then found after doing it that I had actually enjoyed the experience, and received much more than I put in to it.

Do you know what I mean?

Now Jesus is hanging on the cross.  

There was a company of loving women in Jerusalem who came to every crucifixion and gave the criminals drugged wine, to ease the terrible pain. Jesus refused it –  resolved to taste death at its bitterest, and go to His Father with open eyes.

Then the Son of God was taunted and mocked by none other than the chief priests and scribes.

The idiots. They can’t see that the end is in sight for them and their fellow hypocrites.

I don’t know if you remember anything from the US invasion of Iraq. We all want to forget it, really.

But as the battle raged and American soldiers were in the suburbs of  Baghdad, and everyone in the world knew the end was imminent, the Iraqi Information Minister was still on television saying that Sadham’s army was beating back the invaders.  It was ludicrous.

I half expected a US Marine to look over his shoulder and wave home to his mother, while this minister was talking.

These people standing by the cross have seen and understood nothing. Like that Information minister, they want to go on doing what they have been doing for so long, and ignore the reality of a new era dawning on the world.

Temple worship is finished.

Priests controlling access to God is finished.

Temple bureaucrats telling people how to worship, and what to sacrifice, and what price to pay for the sacrifice, and punishing people for petty infractions of the law, are history.

God is now available to all.

Forgiveness of sins is now available to all.

But there they are. “Come down off the cross, they  said, and we will believe you.”

What sort of half hearted sacrifice would that be?  If he had come down from the cross?

It would have shown that there was a limit to God’s love – that he didn’t love us enough to suffer and to die, for us.

Jesus went the whole way, because there is no limit to God’s love for us,.

He even sacrificed his own Son for us.  

Jesus’ actions tell us  “God loves you with a love that is limitless. There is nothing which He is not prepared to suffer to have his children turn back to him.

Not even death on a cross.

How can we gaze upon that awful, yet lovely sight, and not want to love him in  return?

How can we?

How do we?

Truly this man was the Son of God.

Amen.

People will notice the change.

The Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ According to John.

(John 12:20-33)

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

“Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say–‘ Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.

“Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”

The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.”

Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine.

“Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

The Fifth Sunday of Lent.

There is an account in Matthew, Mark and Luke’s gospels, of a  young man who had seen Jesus and was taken by what he said.

He saw the goodliness and the godliness in Jesus, and he was drawn to him. He thought he wanted to follow Jesus. To be with him daily, and learn more about how to serve God.

He was a young man who had been given all the benefits and privileges of wealth and position. He was educated, and sure of himself. 

He was of the ruling class.

So he approached Jesus, and told him of his desire: “ I have been moved by your words. I have realized that there is much more to life that just enjoying oneself; that one cannot continue to live only for self.  I would like to be one of your followers.”

Jesus looked at the young man, and his heart went out to him. He was certainly in earnest. He seemed to know what he wanted to do, and had come directly to Jesus to talk about it.

Jesus told him how he and his disciples lived. Sometimes they were offered shelter in someone’s home. Sometimes they ate well. But mostly, they lived outside, gathered around a campfire. They often didn’t know where the next meal would come from. Jesus’ disciples had left family and loved ones behind to follow him.

Are you prepared to do this? Jesus asked. “ Are you prepared to give up what you have?  Can you live as we do?   Do you realise what you will be giving up?”

The young man was eager at first. ‘Of course, I can. Of course, I will.’ But as he thought more about it, his eagerness began to flag. Maybe, he thought he could live at home, and come out mornings, and join the group. Maybe he thought that he could be in the new life, and still have a foot in the old life too.  He hadn’t realized the depth of commitment required.

Jesus looked at him with love, and with tenderness.

“Give away all that you have, and come and follow me,” he challenged, gently.

The young man slowly stood up, looked at the men lying around the fire, some in conversation, some already asleep, and he knew he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t give up the fine life he had, and live as an itinerant.

Reluctantly, he turned, and began to walk away.

“Who was that?” Peter asked Jesus. “What did he want?”

“Oh, a young man with high ideals, but without  the determination to grasp them fully.”

“Never mind.” Peter said, “You have us.”

“Yes Peter, “Jesus replied.. “But……”

And the next night, as the group gathered around the fire, Jesus drew away from his friends and stood outside of the firelight, looking into the darkness –  looking for the one who had wanted new life, but couldn’t let go of the old.

“I tell you for certain that a grain of wheat that falls on the ground will never be more than one grain unless it dies. But if it dies, it will produce lots of wheat.”

I don’t know if we really believe that. I think a lot of us, and I am no exception some of the time, have the idea that we can get by, following Jesus part-time.

It may be that we have never been asked to make a solid commitment.

Sometimes, I regret that in the Anglican church, we are mostly baptised as infants.  Our parents make a commitment for us.

Committing to baptism is an important moment in a person’s life  Especially if it happens in adulthood. It denotes a real commitment to change.

Sometimes I regret that in the Anglican Church we don’t baptize by full immersion. I once attended a full immersion baptism of two young adults and it was incredibly moving. 

Imagine coming to the minister and asking to be baptised – knowing the importance of that act in one’s life, and witnessing to one’s commitment, and embracing a new life – being submerged under water, and then bursting forth into the light.

They used to say, those who were baptised this way, that it was like dying and coming back to life again.

And you can see that can’t you?  The washing away of the old life, and the putting on of the new.

The care that one would take before making the commitment, and the great start to one’s new life that such a ritual would be.

We have confirmation of our baptism, of course, and I would hope that Confirmation is an experience that makes our baptism more meaningful, a moment when we make our own commitment to add to the commitment our parents made when they brought us to be baptised.

We are talking about the depth of commitment here, aren’t we?

As Jesus points out in today’s Gospel, being one of his followers, isn’t a part-time thing.

It isn’t something that you can do Monday mornings, Tuesday afternoons, and Sunday evenings.  It isn’t a hobby. 

You can’t follow Jesus just when he happens to be going through your neighborhood, and then leave off when he leads you too far from home.

It requires commitment, and it always means change.

And it means that we have God’s love and strength and his Spirit inside of us  to help us make that change.   

It may mean getting new friends. It may mean changing the way you do your job. It may mean giving up some things you like to  do – things you know are bad for you, but which you do anyway.

A neighbour of mine, had a heart attack.  He was relatively young, early fifties. But he had always lived a  sedentary life.  The heart attack was a wake-up call. He came through it well, but his doctor warned him that he would have to change the way he lived. And he did.

I would see him walking up my street, each morning.

He ate better.

He quit smoking.

He cut down on his drinking.

In just a few weeks he began to look much fitter. He  began to look like a new man.

But then, after a while, I didn’t see him walking by as often.

He started smoking again, to try and control his weight –  he had gone off his diet – and he had resumed drinking.  

See, the new man had checked out.

And the old man was back.

He didn’t have the commitment.

I doubt he is still alive today.

Jesus could see in the young man, a real need for a new life. A life that would be hard, but rewarding. A life of giving, rather than a life of taking.  But he couldn’t let go, could he?  

Taking on the new life is a bit like being a trapeze artist. You have to let go of the bar you are hanging on to, to be able to grasp the bar you want to go to.

It’s not easy, is it? To let go.    

But it wasn’t easy for Jesus either.  Nobody wants to die. Do they?

Hardened murderers, vicious rapists, gangsters.  They all shrink from the gallows, or the chair, or the lethal injection, when it is time for them to pay the ultimate price.

How much harder must it be for an innocent man?  For someone who has loved and cared for, and healed people?

How much harder for someone who has tried to bring freedom to those enslaved by sin?

No, Jesus didn’t want to die!

But he would not go against the Father.

“ I will go ahead, and will glorify the Father.”

“ I have already been glorified,” God says, “ And will be so again.”

That’s kind of like a parent  telling their son or daughter, “You have already made me proud, and I know you will make me proud again.”

Jesus was glorifying not himself, but his Father in Heaven.

So, willingly, yet fearfully, for he is, after all a human being, Jesus continues his journey to the cross.

He will die a shameful death in this world and find glorious acclamation in the next.

He will be the wheat which bears its fruit in dying.

And the truth of that saying is a historical fact, isn’t it?

Christians baptised into Christ as children, still have to make the choice, when they are old enough to do so:  Will I die to my old life and live to the new?

It’s the only way, isn’t it? 

It takes resolve to follow Christ at home, and at work, and at play, and any time, and any place.

Stop fibbing… swearing…., telling smutty stories…., manipulating, ….gossiping,… grasping, ….damaging your body by eating too much, drinking too much, smoking too much,…. exercising too little,  stop putting people down and start building them up……. turn your whole life around – if you haven’t already done so.  Completely.  One hundred per cent.

Because if it’s not one hundred per cent, then all you have is  the old life with new bits stuck on.

Like a wall that has been painted over, but the old paint still shows through.

There is a saying, isn’t there, that a leopard  cannot change its spots,  or is it a tiger can’t change it’s stripes? 

It means of course that people can’t change who they are.

Maybe we can’t, change ourselves, but God can.

And maybe the outside doesn’t change, but the inside sure does. 

And that will begin to show through on the outside.

People will notice the change.

For the better.

Trust me.

Amen

The story of the young man is taken from John Shea’s Experience of Spirit.