In Acts 10 we hear about the conclusion of the incident where the Apostle Peter witnesses the way God wanted to include the Gentiles (those beyond Israel) in the promises of his kingdom. Peter witnessed God pouring out his Holy Spirit on the household of Cornelius and he said, “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptised with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have” (Acts 10:47).
This was God’s way of saying that all people are created equal. But has that message got through to us in 2021? We don’t really treat everyone as equal. If you go to board a plane at the airport you will see two separate lines: one for economy and one for business class. Of course, you have to pay for that privilege.
Money certainly talks loudly in our world. It grants access and rights, establishing all sorts of exclusive little clubs. It impacts on where you can afford to live, on what schools you can send your children to and on what kind of restaurants and shops you can afford to patronise. And it is not just money that creates this exclusivity.
It could be your culture or your bloodline or your level of education or your looks or your system of beliefs or any other number of factors that determine where you find yourself on the different pecking orders of life.
Sometimes there are very obvious distinctions – like in the Indian caste system where you have the untouchables at the bottom of the social rung. But there are also far more subtle distinctions, like ones we make in our society. We might not always be conscious of the way we alter our behaviour toward someone depending on their weight or clothes or hairstyle or whether they have tattoos. But we do it just the same.
But God is above this kind of thing, isn’t he? God is not about to judge us according to our skin colour or our bank balance or our fashion sense or the number of letters we have after our name or any of these other superficial distinctions.
Yet at times in the Old Testament it might not seem like this. From God’s promise to Abraham to “make you into a great nation, and I will bless you” (Genesis 12:2) came the nation of Israel—God’s chosen ones, the ones he favoured, the ones he rescued from the hands of slavery to the Egyptians and the ones he gave the Promised Land to at the exclusion of all other races and peoples.
By the time Jesus was born, in the land of the tribe of Judah in the line of the great Jewish King, David, the Jews had been reminded of their treasured status as God’s holy nation for more than two thousand years.
But with the coming of Jesus, the global aspect of God’s mission was emphasized. Jesus said that “repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations” (Luke 24:47) and he commanded his disciples to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).
On the day of Pentecost, the Old Testament prophesy from Joel was fulfilled: “In the last days, God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit on all people’” (Acts 2:17). The Spirit enabled the disciples to speak in other tongues so that people from all sorts of different nationalities could hear the good news of Jesus.
In today’s reading from Acts 10, Peter proclaims: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality’ (Acts 10:34). From a worldly point of view Cornelius had rights. As a centurion he was a VIP in the 1st century Roman world. He went straight to the head of the queue. His position gave him power and prestige. He also appeared to have been well liked and respected in the broader community, including among the Jews. When some men went to fetch Simon Peter to meet with Cornelius they said to Peter: “He is a righteous and God-fearing man,who is respected by all the Jewish people” (v22).
All of these things counted in Cornelius’ favour in the pecking orders of the world. But none of them could gain him inclusion in God’s kingdom.
Now came the vital lesson that everyone needed to learn, a lesson that was driven home in no uncertain terms. Inclusion in God’s kingdom is always and only at the instigation of God and by his grace and power.
The parallels between what happened in Cornelius’ house and what happened on the Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem are unmistakeable—which has led many scholars to consider this account in Acts 10 as the Pentecost equivalent for the Gentiles. But we should really see both events as equally significant for Jew and Gentile alike as God seeks to communicate the universality and inclusivity of the Gospel of Jesus.
In both cases, Acts 2 and Acts 10, the Holy Spirit was ‘poured out’ on the people who were gathered (Acts 2:17,33; 10:45). In both cases one of the manifestations of the Spirit was the speaking in different ‘tongues’ (Acts 2:3,4,6; 10:46). In both cases the response of those who witnessed it was ‘astonishment’ (Acts 2:7,12; 10:45). And in both cases the Spirit was referred to as ‘God’s gift’ (Acts 2:38; 10:45).
The result was a complete change in Peter’s attitude. It was no accident that God had drawn this key leader of the early church to the house of Cornelius to witness this. So Peter said: “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water.They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have” (Acts 10:47).
God sent his only Son, our Lord Jesus, to reconcile the world to himself. Inclusion in God’s kingdom is always and only by God’s grace and power. We might differ in the upbringing we have received and in the type of family we are from. We might differ on the amount of our salaries, on our level of education, on the quality of our clothes and homes and the number of tattoos we have. But there is no pecking order in God’s family.
There is no one who has a greater right to be here than anyone else and no one is here except by the work of the Holy Spirit who has included each of us. That should surely impact the way we view and treat each other. It should surely also impact the way we view and treat those who do not yet belong to God’s kingdom.
May we never make a judgment that the message of Jesus is not for any particular type of person for whatever reason. May we never stand in the way of anyone being received into God’s kingdom for any bias we might have. Instead, may we welcome all people equally with God’s love, even as he has welcomed each one of us—completely by grace! Amen.
The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”
Let’s join in a word of prayer: Loving Holy Spirit of God, we are gathered so that you can reveal your presence in our lives to mould us into the people that we are destined to become as baptised children of God. God our Father, guide our time together this morning, that we may recognise your working in our lives in word and sacrament, to prune away all that is not of Christ Jesus. Lord Jesus Christ, as we rejoice over your presence with us, and continue to live in the glory of your resurrection, we pray in your name. Amen.
One of our favourite places to visit is the Hunter Valley. Looking over the vineyards, and the beauty of the area. Tasting the wines, olives, and other fruit produced in that area. This week, I was drawn to the illustration that Merrill Tenney provides in his discussion of John’s Gospel, about vines branches and fruit.
‘In pruning a vine, two principles are generally observed: first, all dead wood must be ruthlessly removed; and second, the live wood must be cut back drastically. Dead wood harbors insects and disease and may cause the vine to rot, to say nothing of being unproductive and unsightly. Living wood must be trimmed back in order to prevent such heavy growth, that the life of the vine goes into the wood rather than into fruit.
The vineyards in the early spring look like a collection of barren stumps; but in the autumn the new branches are filled with luxuriant grapes. As the vinedresser wields the pruning knife on his vines, so God cuts dead wood out from within His saints, and often cuts back living wood so far that His method seems almost cruel. Nevertheless, from those who have suffered the most, there often comes the greatest fruitfulness. (Merrill C. Tenney, John: The Gospel of Belief, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, pp. 227-28.)
While a tree or vine is dormant, it’s difficult for most people to see which branches are alive and which branches are dead. But I’m told that this is the best time to do the pruning.
When things seem to be going really good in our lives, most people have a sense of confidence. Whether that confidence is in God or in ourselves. I suspect that God, working through his Holy Spirit, finds this the most difficult of times to prune away all that is not of Christ Jesus and effect real change.
But in those times of our lives when things are going from good to bad to worse, people of faith often confront what needs to change in our lives and allow the Holy Spirit to effect those changes. So that we can regain a sense of joy and peace in living God’s way.
In our lives, I accept that the difficult times are times of pruning. Clearing away the things in our lives that threaten our existence in Christ Jesus. Painful times that bring self-reflection, repentance, redirection, and rededication. We can be sure that the work of the Holy Spirit is preserving the fruitful branches in each of us, nurturing our living faith.
I discovered that when a tree or vine awakens from being dormant. Some of the branches begin to show new life. Leaves, new shoots, and flowering fruit begin to appear. While other branches remain lifeless. It is during this time that the difference between the branches become noticeable.
It is during this time that the dead branches can be pruned away to make way for the living, growing, fruitful branches. It’s clear to me that those around us will see the fruit growing on our branches before they notice the vine that is Christ Jesus. The only way I can tell an orange tree from an apple tree is to notice the fruit. The question we ask ourselves is “do we want others to notice the dead branches in our lives or the living fruitful branches.”
Christ Jesus says: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
The Apostle John tells us that ‘if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.” As we abide in Christ Jesus, and live in his love, our Lord bears much fruit in us by his Holy Spirit. Fruit of “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control”.
We see all this being worked out in the Deacon Philip who lived through a time when things went from bad to worse. A time when Stephen, his fellow deacon, was stoned for proclaiming the Good News of Christ Jesus. Persecution that arose against Christians from both Roman and Jewish circles.
The Bible tells us that as the persecution grew, ‘those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ.’ (Acts 8:4–5 ESV)
Through the persecution, God was pruning away the fear and anxiety, allowing the fruitful growth of courage and faith through the Gospel message.
As Philip lived that faith, showing the world the fruit of the Spirit, the Lord led him to one who was returning from Jerusalem. One who had gone there to learn more about the God he found in the Scriptures. One who would have been rejected at the Temple, and who would have left the city unfulfilled, but still curious. So God touched the lives of both Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch as he brought them together.
One, abiding in Christ Jesus as a fruitful branch, and one seeking to be grafted into Christ Jesus to live as a fruitful branch. What we learn from this is that we too can make a difference in someone’s life, just as Philip made a difference in the life of this eunuch.
I’m not sure that Philip was excited or even prepared to present Christ Jesus to a Gentile, a foreigner, a eunuch. But Philip was prepared through God’s gift of Baptism and the precious Gospel message, and also the pruning of the Holy Spirit, to respond to the call of God when it was needed, in just the way it was needed.
And so it is for us. Most of us wouldn’t be prepared to stand on a street corner shouting the Scriptures, or even to sit with a group of people gently sharing the Gospel. But I am convinced that each of us is prepared to follow the leading of Christ Jesus in whom we abide. To witness the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our attitudes, actions and words, as we engage with those around us every day. That is all the Lord expects of us. As we abide in Christ Jesus by the faith he gives us, we can live in the confidence of our right relationship with God our Father, with God the Son and with God the Holy Spirit.
And, if we are ever confused about whether we are connected to Christ Jesus, in whom we abide, we can take a moment to contemplate our own navels.
Our belly button is a constant reminder that we all started life abiding in another human being. God’s Holy Spirit is the constant witness that we are abiding in Christ Jesus, by that feeling, deep in our gut, that we are not alone. That we are loved.
As branches, grafted onto the vine, Jesus calls us to be fruitful witnesses of the miracle of forgiveness and love, right here in the Mid North Coast. To demonstrate our connection to each other by showing our forgiveness, and our connection to God by showing our love. To join our hearts with a new sister in Christ through the gift of baptism, praising our Savour.
And so, the grace and peace of God keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, the Saviour of all. AMEN.
Each sheep is precious to the shepherd. He knows each sheep personally. He was there when it was conceived, and at the moment it was born. He knows its parents, and its genetic make-up. Each lamb is different with its own name and each recognises and responds to the voice of their shepherd.
This is the way God knows us. Each one of us is different. We each have our own unique DNA (unless we have an identical twin!). We have different personality traits, and different gifts and abilities. We too have a Good Shepherd. We are all precious to him- there’s no favouritism or heirarchy. The Good Shepherd is prepared to fight for his sheep and protect them from all evil.
Jesus fights for his people. There are three evil enemies who would attack us and leave behind only skin and bones.
Firstly, there is the evil within us that would destroy us. Like an evil virus in our computers that would cripple us and leave us empty. A symptom of this evil might be a bout of depression. One sees no way ahead. One feels helpless. One gives up on the future. But the Good Shepherd is always out in front. He knows the way ahead, even when we don’t. He knows the way and will lead us through anything that comes. Jesus is the way ahead.
Jesus knows we need times to rest and recuperate. He leads us to rest in the green pastures, during our times of grief and sorrow. A time of sickness when he reaches out to us through the caring hands of doctors and nurses can also be a time of rest. He gives us these special times of rest, because he loves us.
He can give us rest from guilt. Jesus gives us a peace of heart and mind the world can’t give. Perhaps there is a particular sin we are ashamed of. We try and keep a lid on it so no one knows about it. We hide it deep inside ourselves. We repress it. And the Good Shepherd knows all about and he says in love, “You are too weak to overcome it. It will destroy you. Give it to me and I will fight it. I’ll cover it over and wipe it away with my own blood.” So he makes it disappear from God’s eyes. We can all have a clean sheet and enjoy a time of rest from our guilt. Enjoy the green pastures of life he has led us to.
So the Good Shepherd deals with our first enemy – our sin and guilt. Out of love He cleans it up so we can run as smoothly as a brand new computer!
The second enemy is the Evil One. He wants to separate the sheep from their Shepherd. He wants to put something or someone else in front to lead us astray. If Jesus is not out in front leading us on, then who or what is? Could it be what others think? Could it be our status, urging us on to impress others. Is it Popularity? Or maybe it could be the latest fashions. Sheep follow one another! They love to follow the rest of the mob.
The Good Shepherd assures us we will get all the food and clothes we need. We can trust him, like lamb relies on the shepherd for food, and a safe place to sleep.
It is the Evil One’s work to separate us from the Shepherd’s voice so we don’t hear the words of Jesus. How does he do this? The Evil One comes in disguise, dressed up as a sheep. We might have friends whom he uses to separate us from the Good Shepherd. They get us far enough away in life from the Shepherd so we don’t hear his voice, his tender loving call, or his words of warning.
The scary thing is that just like we don’t see an evil virus coming in an email, we also don’t see the enemy, or his cunning, or see the wolf behind the sheep’s clothing. But Jesus does. Jesus recognises the Evil One and takes him on. We aren’t a match for the evil powers and forces that would lead us astray, separate us from Jesus, and destroy us. We are hardly aware of them, they are so well disguised. But Jesus recognises them and knows them. He fights the evil and cunning ones for us. He warns us.
When we stay close to Jesus we are safe. There will be times when we think we don’t need a shepherd at all. The Evil One will also assure us we are safe with him. He comes with his lies to entice us to leave Jesus and follow someone or something else. He will promise us the world, just as he offered Jesus the whole world. But Jesus knocked him back. Jesus is out in front. Out of love and care He invites us to follow closely behind him so we will be safe.
Thirdly, there is the evil of death. It is natural that even the mere thought of dying can frighten us. We avoid talking about it. We don’t know what is on the other side.
Jesus knows the other side. He comes from there. It is his home. He came to visit us out of loving care and concern, like a Good Shepherd. “Don’t be afraid!” he assures us. He rules over there too. In this world he had no place to call his own home. The other side is his home and he wants to take us there to be with him in safety.
Jesus leads his sheep home in the evening, through the dark valleys of the shadows of death. Jesus puts his arms round us. If necessary he picks us up and carries us over the line, like a shepherd carries a tiny lamb: the way you might carry a pet that you love to a place of safety at your own home.
It is not death that we need to fear. It is being cut off from Jesus, on the other side. If that happened we would be unloved, forever. Never accepted, never satisfied. We would have no name and no love. We’d be helpless and completely under the power of evil. Being separated from God is what hell is.
Jesus fights death and destroys its power to separate us from our Good Shepherd. Death can’t separate us from God and his love.
It is God who is love. His love is even greater and deeper than a mother’s love. God has designed mothers to love us too, no matter who we are. “I Love You”. We need to hear those words from our mothers and our families. But most of all we need to hear it from our God.
May the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Do the words of today’s Gospel reading sound familiar: “Jesus himself stood among them and said to them: ‘Peace be with you’”? If that sounds familiar it is probably because we heard these same words last Sunday in the Gospel reading from John 20. The context of that passage was twofold. First, it was the evening of Jesus’ resurrection; the first Easter day. Second, John also progresses to a week later, when the risen Jesus again appears to his disciples the following Sunday. It makes sense, then, for a reading that focuses on events the week after Jesus’ resurrection to be used in church the week after Easter Sunday.
We seem to be going backwards to the first Easter Sunday. Shouldn’t it be time to move on to something else? After all we know the Easter story well; maybe even too well. Every year that we celebrate Easter we become a little more familiar with it. Maybe the risk is to be so familiar with it that we do start to think of it as a story like those we might have read to our children, and don’t stop to reflect on the depth of the reality of what took place for us.
It is hard for us who are separated by thousands of years and thousands of kilometres to comprehend what that first Easter was really like for those disciples. It was an anxious enough time for them as it is, with the authorities promising the same fate to anyone who declared allegiance to Jesus and confessed him to be the Christ. Last week John told us that the disciples had gathered under the cover of darkness with the doors locked. So just imagine how startled and frightened they would have been when all of a sudden Jesus came and stood among them, hearts racing and throats dry, utterly confused about what was happening, thinking they had seen a ghost.
But it is not a ghost there with them; it is Jesus. He holds out his hands and points to his feet to show them the punctures in his flesh from where the nails were driven through to the wood of the Cross. “It is I myself!” He says. “Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” Just imagine being there, right in front of Jesus! What would you do? Perhaps you might slowly and cautiously reach out with your trembling hand, touching the hand of your Maker and Redeemer. As you make contact you feel the same human flesh that you have. Imagine the blur of emotions the disciples must have felt and all the thoughts running through their mind—one moment gripping fear, the next joy and amazement because it seems too good to be true. But it is true! This is Jesus with them. He has actually, bodily risen. He physically eats some fish, right there with them. The crucified Jesus is now the risen, crucified Jesus!
Easter is not just a story—it is real. God didn’t turn from pain and suffering, injustice, grief, and brokenness but in Christ he faced it and fully absorbed it. Those wounds the risen Christ showed his disciples are real. They encompass everything he endured: his betrayal and handing over to be crucified, the horrific depths of injustice; all the mocking and spitting, the ridicule and bullying, the abuse and brutality, the emotional torment and physical pain and the anguish of being God-forsaken that Jesus suffered. His wounds encompass the grief of a mother losing her son and the fear of those who loved Jesus being persecuted themselves. They are bottomless holes in which all the disciples’ own failings are hidden: the doubts about what Jesus said, the public denial of him. They are wounds that absorb their squabbling about who would be the greatest, their lack of faith, their incomprehension of his ministry and unreliability in it, the rebuke of Jesus when he revealed his mission and of going to the Cross, their inability to stay awake and keep watch with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and keep watch, their denial of him, their inability to recognize him after his resurrection and their unbelief of the women’s testimony on Easter morning.
How deep their fright and fear must have been…not only to see Jesus but then to fear what he might say to them. We share in the same failings and inadequacies of the disciples. We know too well the reality of guilt and shame as Satan comes to attack us with the fiercest of condemnations. It’s an intolerable burden and try as we might all the self-justifications and blaming others and even God—and relabelling what we’ve done or failed to do—doesn’t take that experience of gnawing guilt away. Although Satan is overcome by Christ’s victory, he tries to do whatever damage he can with the limited opportunity he has until Christ returns to make all things new. The devil tempts us to go against God’s word, and even to decide what that word is, thereby denying Christ rather than ourselves.
If we’re honest, we’ve seen that in the 14 days since Easter Sunday in our family arguments, or when we lose our patience with others, maybe even our brothers and sisters in the congregation. In fact it’s often in the congregation we know this most acutely, when we hurt others and they hurt us, because we have judged a matter that is important to them as trivial to us. We can become fixed on what we see in front of us and dismiss what others see around us. We might work harder at preserving our pride than preserving love, which overshadows the desire to gladly hear and learn God’s word and the desire to serve others. We might talk of the church and its worship in terms of consumer language; what we have a right to and how our needs should be met, as if God doesn’t know how to meet human needs. It’s14 days since we celebrated Easter, but the secret thoughts and attitudes of the heart are still there. We still sin, we still have guilt, we still need peace.
The devil loves nothing more than to lead us into temptation and then heap condemnation and guilt upon us when we fall. Then, having fallen, he drives us to look inwardly on how to justify ourselves. But we can’t justify ourselves. It isn’t what we do or say but what Christ does and says that makes us right with God and brings us divine peace. That’s why we need to hear the same words from last week all over again: on the first Easter day as Jesus came and stood among them and said: “Peace be with you”. Like the disciples, we also acutely know that we need God’s forgiveness and peace. Jesus came to bring the benefits of his death and resurrection to his disciples personally by telling them in four short words that their past failings are not held against them and they are in a right standing before God: “Peace be with you.”
If only we could go to that house where the disciples were and see Jesus too and hear his words. Was this experience just for the disciples and the women at the tomb and the 500 people he appeared to? If only we could go back there, somehow. Maybe that’s why the Lectionary compilers take us back to the first Easter three weeks in a row—because we can’t go back there. There is no going back, some 2,000 years ago to Jerusalem so far away.
But in Christ, God has brought Easter to us. We received and share in all of the benefits of Christ’s saving death and resurrection when we were baptised into his death and resurrection, and the one true God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, put his name on us so that we are his very own dear children who belong to him forever.
That is why we can rejoice with the apostle John and say: “See what love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God. And that is what we are!” God lavished his love on us in Jesus his Son, who is with us, in our lying down in the evening and our rising in the morning. He is with us when we eat breakfast, lunch and tea (whether that’s broiled fish or not). He is with us in our work place, at our school, in our study course. He is with us while we wait in the doctor’s surgery. He is with us while we wait for test results, or as we lie in hospital. He is with us as we travel, with us in our leisure. He is with us in our fears and trials. He is with us even though others sin against us. He is with us as others help us, and with us in our helping of others too. And in church he is with us here in a special way for a particular purpose that he is nowhere else. The risen Christ is here to meet with us and bless us, bestowing divine peace upon us.
We can’t go back to that house where Jesus opened the minds of his disciples to understand the scriptures, so Jesus comes here for us every Sunday as he leads us through the liturgy, as we listen to the readings, as we hear the proclaimed word. The repentance and forgiveness of sins that will be preached in Christ’s name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem, has even made it all the way to us here. We can’t go back to the house the disciples were in some 2,000 years ago to hear Jesus proclaim peace…so the risen Christ comes in our time, in this space, to this house. He stands among us, his baptised people, as we share the peace of the Lord with one another: “Peace be with you”.
16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. 18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. 19 Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean.” 21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)
22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.
24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. 27 God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’
29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man’s design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.
31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”
32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” 33 At that, Paul left the Council. 34 A few men became followers of Paul and believed. 
Second Reading: 1 Peter 3:13-22 Suffering for doing right
13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear ; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18 For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, 19 through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison 20 who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.
Gospel Reading: John 14:15-21 The promise of the Holy Spirit
15 Jesus said to the Disciples, “If you love me, you will obey what I command. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” 
The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.) (Ac 17:16). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.) (1 Pe 3:13). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.) (Jn 14:15). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Sermon for 6th Sunday of Easter.
The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Let’s join in a word of prayer:
This morning, God our Father, may your grace lift us from the grip of our challenges and insecurities to be all that we have been called to be. May your Holy Spirit inspire us to a renewed confidence, as we see the ending of this first round of Covid-19 isolation. And may we here together recommit our lives and hearts to following your will, sharing your love for us, and living our lives of faith in your Son Jesus Christ. Gracious heavenly Father, hear our prayer for the sake of our risen Lord, Amen.
Christ Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth.” (John 14:15-17 NIV)
‘Martin Luther once wrote of a dream where he was in his house and saw Jesus coming up the walk toward his door. Luther examined his surrounding and realized that everything was an absolute mess. Clothes were thrown over the furniture, old food was sitting out, trash was everywhere. And he thought, “How am I going to let the Lord of Life, Jesus Christ, come in to a mess like this.” He hurriedly tried to straighten up but the more he picked up the greater the mess became. Finally, Jesus was knocking at the door. Luther, resigned himself to the mess and as he opened the door, he said, “Jesus, come on in, if you think that you can come into a place like…” and as he turned he saw that everything had been put into order, everything in it’s proper place. The house was immaculate as Christ entered in. Oh, people, we make such a mess of our lives when we try to straighten them by ourselves. But if we will submit to Jesus, open our hearts to Him, He will make us immaculate, by cleansing us from sin and giving us the Holy Spirit to comfort, guide and establish us as a new creature.’
(‘adapted from contribution by Timothy Smith on Jan 29, 2005)
I suspect there are many in the world today who say that they love God, but when Christ Jesus says, “If you love me, obey what I command,” they might say in their attitudes and actions, if not in their words, “How am I going to let the Lord of Life, Jesus Christ, see the mess I made of things.”
Jesus tells his followers that the role of the Holy Spirit is, in effect, to remind us of Christ’s presence in our lives, as he asks us to keep his commandments.
When Jesus was present, he was the one who instilled in the believers the right words, coached them through the proper attitudes, taught them the joy of doing the right thing. But as the disciples waited for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, I am convinced they would have spent their time in that upper room re-living all that Jesus taught them. Words like those we find in the Gospel reading for today, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth.” (John 14:15-17 NLT)
Some of the work of the Holy Spirit is reminding the faithful of the truth, jogging the memories of the followers of Jesus Christ about all that he asks of us and all he will do to help us so that we can be the people who he has called us to be in love.
It may surprise us to think of the Holy Spirit in this way, as a quiet, active presence in our lives. Often the Holy Spirit reveals himself in the gifts and the fruit of the Spirit that are active in the believing and worshipping community. And indeed, the Holy Spirit of God does work in our lives and in our community in so many ways.
‘The Holy Spirit is the person and the power of God drawing people to Christ to see with new eyes of faith. He is closer to us than we are to ourselves. Like our eyes through which we see the world around us, we can only see our own eyes in the reflection of a mirror. The Holy Spirit is the one through whom all else is seen in the light of Christ, and we see Him clearly in the reflection of love of God and the grace of Christ Jesus. Father and Son revealed in Scripture, and experienced in sacraments, through the presence of the Holy Spirit.’ ( Youngblood, R. F., Bruce, F. F., & Harrison, R. K., Thomas Nelson Publishers (Eds.). (1995). In Nelson’s new illustrated Bible dictionary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
God knows everything about us. He knows we are notoriously forgetful. Especially about Him. And so, at just the right time, God poured out his Holy Spirit upon all believers, to remind us of all that Christ Jesus is and all that he has done for us. Today’s reading and message is a foretaste of Pentecost. It’s like a preview of a movie that will peak our interest to experience that movie in a special way. In two weeks, Pentecost will once again remind us to experience life with God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit in a special way. We know that we are created to love God, and to care for one another, but as the pressure builds of living in our broken world, we sometimes forget who we are and what we are supposed to do and to be in life.
The Holy Spirit led the Gospel writers to witness these precious words of Jesus and so much more. So that whoever has “eyes to see and ears to hear” would be joined with our Lord in this life and in the life to come. Jesus warned the Disciples that the world would not accept the Holy Spirit, because it neither knows Him nor sees Him. Just as Paul encountered in Athens a world that recognised an unknown God, we encounter a world that rejects God in any form. Especially the truth of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, one God eternally.
I have come to understand and to accept that God’s Spirit is always present, surrounding us. The challenge is that we can only recognise that we are covered over with God’s Spirit when we receive this truth in the Scriptures. By faith, we can know him. By faith, he lives within us and joins with our spirit to sing the praises of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. By faith, we come to trust Scripture. To gain comfort from it. And to gain courage from it. Scriptures reveal that God has determined to work salvation in this way.
Jesus wanted the Disciples to have a reality to share. Their reality – and yet, also his reality. By God’s gift of the Holy Spirit, their witness became our Saviour’s witness. From the Scriptures, we discover that these two were inseparable. Throughout the New Testament, we discover God working in the world through disciples. He continues to work in the world today through each one of us. We are Jesus’ disciples to our time and place. We can make his reality our reality too. Inseparable from our Creator, our Saviour, and our Counsellor. Even in times of separation and recovery from pandemic.
By living our reality, with Christ Jesus at our centre, we can witness with our attitudes and actions, what our words often cannot say. Peter offers us some helpful advice from his first letter, ‘Do not be frightened. But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.’ (1 Peter 3:15 NIV)
God, in His grace and glory, is calling out to each one of us to be living witnesses to the world. Witnesses that God can be trusted. Knowing that we have the help of God’s Holy Spirit, who is with us forever.
The grace and peace of our loving God keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. AMEN.
26 God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin. She was engaged to marry a man named Joseph from the family of David. Her name was Mary. 28 The angel came to her and said, “Greetings! The Lord has blessed you and is with you.”
29 But Mary was very startled by what the angel said and wondered what this greeting might mean.
30 The angel said to her, “Don’t be afraid, Mary; God has shown you his grace. 31 Listen! You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of King David, his ancestor. 33 He will rule over the people of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will never end.”
34 Mary said to the angel, “How will this happen since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will cover you. For this reason the baby will be holy and will be called the Son of God. 36 Now Elizabeth, your relative, is also pregnant with a son though she is very old.
Everyone thought she could not have a baby, but she has been pregnant for six months. 37 God can do anything!” Mary said, “I am the servant of the Lord. Let this happen to me as you say!” Then the angel went away.
39 Mary got up and went quickly to a town in the hills of Judea. 40 She came to Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the unborn baby inside her jumped, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 She cried out in a loud voice, “God has blessed you more than any other woman, and he has blessed the baby to which you will give birth. 43 Why has this good thing happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 When I heard your voice, the baby inside me jumped with joy. 45 You are blessed because you believed that what the Lord said to you would really happen.”
46 Then Mary said, “My soul praises the Lord; my heart rejoices in God my Savior, because he has shown his concern for his humble servant girl. From now on, all people will say that I am blessed, because the Powerful One has done great things for me. His name is holy.”
John 14:1–12 Jesus the way to the Father
141Jesus said, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust in me. 2 There are many rooms in my Father’s house; I would not tell you this if it were not true. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 After I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me so that you may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”
5 Thomas said to Jesus, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. So how can we know the way?”
6 Jesus answered, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. The only way to the Father is through me. 7 If you really knew me, you would know my Father, too. But now you do know him, and you have seen him.”
8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father. That is all we need.”
9 Jesus answered, “I have been with you a long time now. Do you still not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. So why do you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I say to you don’t come from me, but the Father lives in me and does his own work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Or believe because of the miracles I have done. 12 I tell you the truth, whoever believes in me will do the same things that I do. Those who believe will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.
1 Peter 1:3,12-13, 2:1–10 God’s chosen people, a royal priesthood
13 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In God’s great mercy he has caused us to be born again into a living hope, because Jesus Christ rose from the dead. 12 Those who preached the Good News to you told you those things with the help of the Holy Spirit who was sent from heaven—things into which angels desire to look. So prepare your minds for service and have self-control. All your hope should be for the gift of grace that will be yours when Jesus Christ is shown to you.
2 So then, rid yourselves of all evil, all lying, hypocrisy, jealousy, and evil speech. 2 As newborn babies want milk, you should want the pure and simple teaching. By it you can mature in your salvation, 3 because you have already examined and seen how good the Lord is.
4 Come to the Lord Jesus, the “stone” that lives. The people of the world did not want this stone, but he was the stone God chose, and he was precious.
5 You also are like living stones, so let yourselves be used to build a spiritual temple—to be holy priests who offer spiritual sacrifices to God. He will accept those sacrifices through Jesus Christ. 6 The Scripture says: “I will put a stone in the ground in Jerusalem. Everything will be built on this important and precious rock. Anyone who trusts in him will never be disappointed.”
7 This stone is worth much to you who believe. But to the people who do not believe, “the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” Also, he is “a stone that causes people to stumble, a rock that makes them fall.”
They stumble because they do not obey what God says, which is what God planned to happen to them.
9 But you are a chosen people, royal priests, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession. You were chosen to tell about the wonderful acts of God, who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 At one time you were not a people, but now you are God’s people. In the past you had never received mercy, but now you have received God’s mercy.
Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
1 Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
3 While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.
5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin.
6 Therefore let all who are faithful offer prayer to our God.
The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Luke writes in his Gospel, ‘Mary said, “My soul praises the Lord; my heart rejoices in God my Savior, because he has shown his concern for his humble servant girl.”’
Let’s join in a word of prayer: Father of life, grant that today, our worship will reflect the true devotion of our hearts.
Reveal to us your concern for us, Father, and fill our hearts with praise. Guide our time, even in our imposed isolation, as we celebrate your concern for every mother, and for their husbands and children too. Fill us with your Spirit so that we rejoice over your concern demonstrated by your plan for our lives. Gracious heavenly Father, hear our prayer for the sake of our risen Saviour, Amen.
Sermon for 5th Sunday of Easter – Mother’s Day
A four-year-old and a six-year-old presented their Mom with a lovely house plant. They had used their own money and she was thrilled. The older of them said with a sad face, “There was a bouquet that we wanted to give you at the flower shop. It was real pretty, but it was too expensive, and Dad said “no”. It had the prettiest ribbon on it that said, ‘Rest in Peace,’ and we thought it would be just perfect since you are always asking for a little peace so that you can rest.” (Source unknown)
Even in the midst of his own hardship, Jesus gives us words of peace to provide a rest from anxiety: ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.’ Jesus was giving us a focus for our attention to give us hope even in the hardship of living in a broken world. Hardship has a way of drawing our attention away from Christ. Pain slows us down. Very few of us, after facing a challenge to our Christian living, come out the same as when we entered in. Jesus understood this and tried to prepare his disciples, and us, for the road ahead. The most striking example of adapting to the challenges of living with the ups and downs of life is the mother of Jesus, Mary.
Mary, the very human mother of Jesus, began her journey of motherhood with the visit of the Angel Gabriel. The angel came to her and said, “Greetings! The Lord has blessed you and is with you.” Mary began that dialogue with anxiety, wondering what the angel could want with her. And she concluded the dialogue with words of faith. Mary said, “I am the servant of the Lord. Let this happen to me as you say!”
Later, Mary quietly celebrated the birth of her son with dignity and grace. While the shepherds went away telling others what the angels had said about this child, Mary treasured these things in her heart and continued to think about them. (Luke 2:19 NCV)
She endured the uprooting of her family three times, when she and her husband Joseph were forced to go to Bethlehem to register for the census, and then to flee to and return from Egypt with a youngster to escape the jealous wrath of King Herod. ‘An angel of the Lord came to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up! Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt, because Herod is starting to look for the child so he can kill him. Stay in Egypt until I tell you to return.” So Joseph got up and left for Egypt during the night with the child and his mother. And Joseph stayed in Egypt until Herod died.’ (Matthew 2:13–15 NCV)
Mary demonstrated her motherly care for Jesus when he came up missing on a family trip. ‘When Jesus was twelve years old, they went to the feast as they always did. After the feast days were over, they started home. The boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Thinking that Jesus was with them in the group, they travelled for a whole day. Then they began to look for him among their family and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him there. After three days they found Jesus sitting in the Temple with the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. When Jesus’ parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why did you do this to us? Your father and I were very worried about you and have been looking for you.” Jesus said to them, “Mother, why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?”’ (Luke 2:42–50 NCV)
Mary urged her son on to his mission in life, in the midst of a wedding they were celebrating together. ‘There was a wedding in the town of Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his followers were also invited to the wedding. When all the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” Jesus answered, “Dear woman, why come to me? My time has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you to do.” (John 2:1–5 NCV) And of course, Jesus listened to his mother and turned water into wine for the guests at the wedding.
Mary stood by her son, Jesus, in his darkest moments of his crucifixion. And she became the mother of an adopted son, the Apostle John, when Jesus spoke to her from the cross. ‘Standing near his cross were Jesus’ mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the follower he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the follower, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, the follower took her to live in his home.’ (John 19:25–27 NCV)
She was present with Mary Magdalene to witness the empty grave where they laid her son after his suffering. ‘The day after the Sabbath was the first day of the week. At dawn on the first day, Mary Magdalene and another woman named Mary (whom we identify as the mother of Jesus) went to look at the tomb. An angel of the Lord came down from heaven, went to the tomb, and rolled the stone away from the entrance. Then he sat on the stone.
The angel said to the women, “Don’t be afraid. I know that you are looking for Jesus, who has been crucified. He is not here. He has risen from the dead as he said he would. Come and see the place where his body was.’ (Matthew 28:1–6 NCV)
And I am convinced Mary was there in the upper room with the Disciples when Jesus appeared to them saying “Peace be with you.” She pulled her sons together after the resurrection of Jesus, and gathered them in the upper room for prayers of thanksgiving that opened up the way for the infilling of the Holy Spirit. ‘The followers went back to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives (after the ascension of Jesus). When they entered the city, they went to the upstairs room where they were staying. (The Disciple) were all there. They all continued praying together with some women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and Jesus’ brothers. When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a noise like a strong, blowing wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw something like flames of fire that were separated and stood over each person there. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit.’ (Acts 1:12~2:4 NCV)
What a testament of motherhood. Motherhood through all the challenges and changes in the lives of their children. Motherhood in the presence of God our Saviour. Motherhood in the grace of God our Father.
As we journey with God, I am sure our mothers would smile, as we discover greater maturity of our faith and devotion fulfilled in our lives. As long as we live, there is still more that our Saviour wants to bless in us. There is still more the Holy Spirit wants to accomplish in us. And one day we will be present before God our Father in all our weakness, yet complete and holy, because of Christ Jesus. We can’t hide anything from God our Father, but he still loves us because of the sacrifice of his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. He loves us even more than our mothers love us, in spite of our shortcomings. Just like the old saying, “you can fool some of the people all the time, and all the people some of the time, but you can’t fool mom.” And mom still loves you.
One young mother filled with despair, went to her grandmother and told her about her life and how things were turning out so bad for her – her husband had an affair and she feared she would be left alone to raise her three children. She did not know how she was going to cope and just wanted to give up. She was losing her faith in the goodness of life and was tired of struggling. It seemed as soon as one problem was solved, a new one took its place. With a compassionate smile, her grandmother took her to her warm and cosy kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to boil. In the first she placed a few carrots, in the second she placed a couple of eggs, and in the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil; without saying a word.
In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in another bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a mug.
Turning to her granddaughter, she asked, ‘Tell me what you see.’ ‘Carrots, eggs, and coffee,’ the young mother replied. Her grandmother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft and mushy. The grandmother then asked the granddaughter to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the overcooked hard boiled egg. Finally, the grandmother asked her granddaughter to sip the coffee. The granddaughter closed her eyes as she tasted its rich aroma. The granddaughter then asked, ‘What does it mean, grandmother?’
With a mother’s compassion and love, her grandmother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity: boiling water. Each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard, and proud. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its precious interior, but after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they changed the water
With a mother’s wisdom, she asked her granddaughter “Which are you?” “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean? Ask yourself, my dear: Which am I? Am I the carrot that seems strong. But with pain and adversity, do I wilt and become soft and lose my strength?
Am I the egg that starts with a soft heart, but changes with the heat?
Did I have a caring spirit, but after hardship or challenge, have I become hardened and stiff? Does my shell look the same, but on the inside am I bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and hardened heart?
Or am I like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavour. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you let Jesus help you gain strength and change the situation around you. When the hour is the darkest and trials are their greatest, do you let the Holy Spirit elevate you to another level?
My dearest granddaughter, may you have enough happiness to make you sweet, enough trials to make you strong, enough sorrow to keep you human and enough hope to give you strength during times like these. All to make you the best mother that God wants you to be.”
As the granddaughter listened with an open heart, her demeanour softened, her eyes smiled through a tear, and she sought the arms of her grandmother for a reassuring caress of a mother’s love. (adapted from NewsLinQ)
I suspect that most Christian mothers would be among those who would quote today’s Gospel to us, “Don’t be troubled. You believe in God, now believe also in Jesus Christ.” “He is the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through him.”
The only remedy that we find in this broken world for that empty anxious feeling when things don’t work out the way we intend, is to trust in our Saviour. As Jesus says, “You trust God, now trust me.”
This morning, let us all pray that our trust in Jesus Christ will remain strong. Our faith in a loving God will remain steady. Our passion will be kindled by the Holy Spirit to care for each other and reach out to our neighbour with enthusiasm, especially in these trying times. And our hope in the plan of Christ Jesus will remain a constant joy in our lives.
As we celebrate Mother’s Day today, may the grace and peace of God keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. AMEN.
5:1The Lord is my shepherd; I have everything I need. 2 He lets me rest in fields of green grass and leads me to quiet pools of fresh water. 3 He gives me new strength. He guides me in the right paths, as he has promised. 4 Even if I go through the deepest darkness, I will not be afraid, Lord, for you are with me. Your shepherd’s rod and staff protect me. 5 You prepare a banquet for me, where all my enemies can see me; you welcome me as an honoured guest and fill my cup to the brim. 6 I know that your goodness and love will be with me all my life; and your house will be my home as long as I live.
John 10:1-16 Jesus, the Good Shepherd
10 1Jesus said, “I am telling you the truth: the man who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate, but climbs in some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2The man who goes in through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3The gatekeeper opens the gate for him; the sheep hear his voice as he calls his own sheep by name, and he leads them out. 4When he has brought them out, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they know his voice. 5They will not follow someone else; instead, they will run away from such a person, because they do not know his voice.” 6 Jesus told them this parable, but they did not understand what he meant.
7 So Jesus said again, “I am telling you the truth: I am the gate for the sheep. 8All others who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the gate. Whoever comes in by me will be saved; they will come in and go out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only in order to steal, kill, and destroy. I have come in order that you might have life—life in all its fullness.
11 “I am the good shepherd, who is willing to die for the sheep. 12When the hired man, who is not a shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees a wolf coming, he leaves the sheep and runs away; so the wolf snatches the sheep and scatters them. 13The hired man runs away because he is only a hired man and does not care about the sheep. 14–15I am the good shepherd. As the Father knows me and I know the Father, in the same way I know my sheep and they know me. And I am willing to die for them. 16There are other sheep which belong to me that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them, too; they will listen to my voice, and they will become one flock with one shepherd. 
John 21:1,15-19 Jesus calls us to be Shepherds
21 1Jesus appeared once more to his disciples at Lake Tiberias.
15 Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these others do?” “Yes, Lord,” he answered, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Take care of my lambs.” 16A second time Jesus said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord,” he answered, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Take care of my sheep.”
17A third time Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was sad because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” so he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you!” Jesus said to him, “Take care of my sheep.
18I am telling you the truth: when you were young, you used to get ready and go anywhere you wanted to; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will bind you and take you where you don’t want to go.” 19 Then Jesus said to him, “Follow me!”
1 Peter 5:1-11 Follow the Good Shepherds and be Shepherds serving one another
5 1I, who am an elder myself, appeal to the church elders among you. I am a witness of Christ’s sufferings, and I will share in the glory that will be revealed. I appeal to you to be shepherds of the flock that God gave you and to take care of it willingly, as God wants you to, and not unwillingly. Do your work, not for mere pay, but from a real desire to serve. 3Do not try to rule over those who have been put in your care, but be examples to the flock. 4And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the glorious crown which will never lose its brightness.
5 In the same way you younger people must submit to your elders. And all of you must put on the apron of humility, to serve one another; for the scripture says, “God resists the proud, but shows favour to the humble.” Humble yourselves, then, under God’s mighty hand, so that he will lift you up in his own good time. 7Leave all your worries with him, because he cares for you.
8 Be alert, be on the watch! Your enemy, the Devil, roams round like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. 9Be firm in your faith and resist him, because you know that your fellow-believers in all the world are going through the same kind of sufferings. 10But after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who calls you to share his eternal glory in union with Christ, will himself perfect you and give you firmness, strength, and a sure foundation.
11To him be the power for ever! Amen.
American Bible Society. (1992). The Holy Bible: The Good news Translation (2nd ed., Ps 23:1–6). New York: American Bible Society.
American Bible Society. (1992). The Holy Bible: The Good news Translation (2nd ed., Jn 10:1–16). New York: American Bible Society.
American Bible Society. (1992). The Holy Bible: The Good news Translation (2nd ed., Jn 21:15–19). New York: American Bible Society.
American Bible Society. (1992). The Holy Bible: The Good news Translation (2nd ed., 1 Pe 5:1–11). New York: American Bible Society.
The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
The Good News Bible translates the beginning of the 23rd Psalm as: ‘The LORD is my shepherd; I have everything I need. He lets me rest in fields of green grass and leads me to quiet pools of fresh water. He gives me new strength. He guides me in the right paths, as he has promised. Even if I go through the deepest darkness, I will not be afraid, LORD, for you are with me.’
Sermon for Sunday of Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday
Let’s join in a word of prayer: Loving Father, as we gather in the solitude of our homes with hearts that sing together the joy of knowing your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, we give thanks to you for guiding us safely to this day by the voice of the Good Shepherd. May you bring us many more such days, as we listen for your voice and strive to discover the path to peace in our hearts. Give voice to our witness and courage to our convictions, that we may always remember to be caring and compassionate like shepherds to each other. Gracious heavenly Father, hear our prayer for the sake of our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ our risen Lord, Amen.
The time between the resurrection of Christ Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit, must have been time of great uncertainty for the Apostles and early Disciples. With such joy over the resurrection mixed with such anxiety their future. I can just imagine the Disciples and followers of Jesus Christ gathered together. Striving with all their might to remember every word Jesus spoke to them. Every miracle he performed. Every compassion he showed to people. Trying their hardest to pit these memories against the memories of the gruesome death of their saviour.
In our lectionary, placing Good Shepherd Sunday during this time of waiting for the next great event in the Christian calendar is no small thing – and certainly no coincidence. We have the gift of an opportunity to visit with the Disciples and followers as they experienced this time of waiting.
Jesus gives the gift of his wisdom and warning from John’s Gospel, when he compared himself as both the gate, the gatekeeper, and the shepherd of a flock of sheep. It appears that Jesus was so very fond of shepherds and sheep. I suspect they were everywhere in the holy land, and yet were not given much thought, except when a perfect specimen was required for sacrifice at the altar of the Temple in Jerusalem.
As we look at ourselves as the sheep of our Saviour’s pasture, we certainly don’t see perfection. But we do see the perfection of the ‘lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’. And we do hold onto the image of a compassionate, vigorous, protective shepherd, just as I imagine Jesus wants us to see himself. Who protects us from the devil and his minions. Who guides us to the best that life has to offer. Who tends our wounds, provides our needs, and carries us when we cannot take even one more step. And who invites us to the even greater pastures in the perfection of eternity, when our time on this earth comes to an end.
I adore the Good News translation of Psalm 23. ‘The Lord is my shepherd; I have everything I need.’ So many in our developed part of the world cannot see past the wants of their existence these days, to remember that our needs are provided. And just give thanks to our Good Shepherd who has made provision for the greatest need – life – beyond the challenges, fears, and pain of this broken world. Even beyond the celebrations, accomplishments, and victories that are so temporal. Christ Jesus gives us the victory to live the joy of our salvation and the strength of our conviction. Even in isolation to overcome the threat and the reality of this global virus.
As King David’s 23rd Psalm continues, ‘The Lord lets me rest in fields of green grass and leads me to quiet pools of fresh water. He gives me new strength. He guides me in the right paths as he has promised.’ What a great allusion to our life in Christ Jesus.
I am told that sheep are a bit skittish, and find it difficult to relax in an open field, without protection. Always alert to any sound or sight that might be threatening. I am also told that sheep have a difficult time drinking from moving water of a stream or river, easily being drawn along in the current with their thick wool.
As sheep of our Saviour’s pasture, people are a lot like these sheep. When left in the open with no protection against our own temptations or the influence of the demons surrounding us, we live scary lives. When faced with swift currents of events around us it is easy to be drawn along in directions we don’t really want to follow.
But with the protection of our Good Shepherd, we are shielded from the worst of these currents of temptations. Sure, we will still make mistakes, and wander from the Good Shepherd from time to time. But he will never let us wander too far from his protection.
Although the prodding of his Holy Spirit that represents his rod and staff will sometimes certainly be uncomfortable as we are guided back to the flock.
Psalm 23 goes on: ‘Even if I go through the deepest darkness, I will not be afraid, Lord, for you are with me. Your shepherd’s rod and staff protect me.’ I always remember the story of a lamb that wandered from the flock and ended up slipping off a cliff, landing on a narrow ledge, caught in the trunk of a small tree there. It bleated, and struggled, and looked around with such panic for the longest time. The shepherd saw it there, but just waited as it continued to struggle. Until that lamb was completely spent lying in a limp heap against the small tree. Then the shepherd tied a rope around himself and worked himself down to the ledge to retrieve the poor little lamb, placing it one his shoulder as he made his way back up the crevice. You see, the shepherd knew if he tried to save the lamb while it was still struggling they both may have fallen to their demise. But when the lamb was quiet he could rescue the lamb without concern for either of their safety.
As sheep of our Saviour’s pasture, we will still go through the dark times of life in our broken world. We are reminded of this when we hear each day of the number of people who are struck with the virus, how many parish, and how many thankfully recover. No one is immune from the brokenness of life. But we can trust that our Good Shepherd will never abandon us to the deepest darkness we face. As Jesus spoke to the ladies that attended his empty tomb, and the disciples along the road to Emmaus, and in the upper room, “Do not be afraid.” And “Peace be with you”.
That peace from our Saviour brings us to the final words of the 23rd Psalm, ‘You, Lord, prepare a banquet for me, where all my enemies can see me; you welcome me as an honoured guest and fill my cup to the brim. I know that your goodness and love will be with me all my life; and your house will be my home for eternity.”
As we journey through this life, we have the assurance that not all the times of life will be filled with darkness and dread. That our Saviour also fills our cup of life to the brim with good things he has instore for us. And after we have passed through the deepest darkness, we will experience the most wondrous goodness and love of our Saviour. Jesus said, “I have come so that you might have life and have it more abundantly.”
John writes that Jesus revealed himself as the Good Shepherd who cares so much for each one of us. By trusting him and following his voice, we experience abundant life. By knowing Jesus, and feeling his presence close to us, we discover who we are, as children of the living God. Jesus lived among us to be known and understood, to be trusted and believed.
Jesus performed miracles so people would see his authority as God the Son, and trust themselves to his care. He taught so people would understand and apply his message to their living. He related in love so he would be known in mercy as Shepherd of our souls.
As we live in the presence of the Good Shepherd, we experience the abundance of living faith. We are invited to know his voice and respond to his calling as we live in his name. His authority is at work in us. His Spirit is transforming us into the people that we know He wants us to be.
Christ Jesus is calling us to show the world that we are Christians by our love – love for Him, for the word of God, and for each other.
Our response to God’s great and wonderful gift of salvation is to commit ourselves to our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. And to one another as brothers and sisters in his family.
Because of this, we can ‘devote ourselves to the teaching of the apostles, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer’, following the Good Shepherd. And we can pray that the Holy Spirit will set our hearts and lives ablaze for Christ Jesus to the glory of God our Father. And to be shepherds to one another in the same way that Jesus Christ is our Good Shepherd.
May the grace and peace of God keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. AMEN.
: First Reading: Acts 2:14a, 22-24, 36-41 Three thousand people repent and are baptised
14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd:
22 “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.
36 Therefore, let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (…OVER…)
38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
: Second Reading: 1 Peter 1:17-23
Set free by the sacrifice of Christ
17 Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. 18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.
22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. 23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.
: Gospel Reading: Luke 24:13-35 Jesus made known in the breaking of the bread
13 Now on the day of resurrection two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about eleven kilometers from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him. 17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 “What things?” he asked. “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body.
They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.”
25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. 28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread. 
The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.) (Ac 2:36). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.) (1 Pe 1:17). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.) (Lk 24:13). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
: Sermon for Third Sunday of Easter
The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Let’s join in a word of prayer: Loving Father God during this Easter Season, our fellow Christians around the world celebrate in isolation the resurrection
of Your son Jesus Christ, as we worship You. Guide our time together this morning that we may come to recognise the presence of the risen Lord in our lives. Gracious heavenly Father, hear our prayer for the sake of our risen Lord, Amen.
There was once a young boy who decided he wanted to find God. He knew it would probably be a long trip, so he decided to pack a lunch—four lamingtons and two cans of sparkling lemonade.
He set out on his journey and went a few blocks until he came to a park. He was beginning to become tired, and sat on one of the park benches next to an older lady surrounded by pigeons.
When he grew hungry, he pulled out a lamington. As he ate, he noticed the woman watching him, so he offered her one. She accepted it gratefully and smiled at him. He thought she had the most beautiful smile in the world. Wanting to see it again, he opened a can of lemonade and offered her the other one. Once again she smiled that beautiful smile. For a long time the two sat on that park bench eating lamingtons, drinking lemonade, smiling at each other, and watching the pigeons. Neither said a word. Finally, the little boy realized that it was getting late and he needed to go home. He started to leave, took a few steps, turned back and gave the woman a big hug. Her smile was brighter than ever before.
When he arrived home, his mother noticed that he was happy, but strangely quiet. ‘What did you do today?’ she asked. ‘Oh, I had lunch in the park with God,’ he said. Before his mother could reply, he added, ‘You know, she has the most beautiful smile in the world.’
Meanwhile, the old woman left the park and returned to her home. Her son noticed something different about her. ‘What did you do today, Mom?’ he asked. ‘Oh, I ate lamingtons and drank lemonade in the park with God.” And before her son could say anything at all, she added, ‘You know, God’s a lot younger than I imagined.’”
(Jef Olson, Hearts Burning Within) This morning we read in the Luke’s Gospel of two others who encountered God in a special way. As a result their eyes were also opened, their hearts warmed, with their spirits tingling. Two who discovered God in as unlikely a place as a park bench shared with a new friend.
These two disciples had followed Jesus during His ministry. They had heard him speak, saw him perform miracles, watched him heal the sick, experienced his forgiveness of sins. But they also witnessed His cruel death. And after this, they heard the witness that Jesus had been raised from the death he so willingly accepted on our behalf. There are some who say that Cleopas was a cousin of Jesus of Nazareth. That he may have been there at the Last Supper with Jesus.
After all that, on the same day of the resurrection of Jesus, they lowered their heads and began the sad march toward their home in Emmaus. A journey to try and pick up the shattered pieces of their lives after their great adventure of following Jesus. While on that journey home, they are joined by someone who appears to be a stranger. Someone who appears to be oblivious of the events that have happened in Jerusalem. Someone who doesn’t appear to know about Jesus. Someone they don’t yet recognise. So, they fill this stranger in on the sad news. News about a man, Jesus, who was a prophet and teacher. A man who they thought might be the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel. But a man who was condemned to death and crucified. The unspoken words of these two followers are the sad news that this was not the Saviour they had been waiting for.
I can just see Jesus, shaking his head and smiling. Speaking words directed toward all humanity, and not just these two followers, “You are such foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures.” Then Jesus opened the Scriptures to their understanding. Scriptures that they surely heard him recite during his short ministry.
And even then, they still did not recognise the resurrected Jesus. Because they were not looking for him. They were not expecting him. It was unthinkable to them that Jesus could really be alive. But that is precisely the good news that overcomes the shadow of their sad news.
Jesus is alive, forever!
And Jesus is present with us every day of our lives. Even on our loneliest and saddest journeys. Even during this time of COVID separation from friends and family.
When Jesus sat with them to eat, and when he broke the bread and blessed it, they suddenly recognised him. We aren’t told what it was that awakened them. Whether it was the act of breaking bread that would become the hallmark of our renewal in Christ. Or the prayer that he said to bless the bread. Or the imprint of the nails in his hands as he handed the bread to them. Or maybe all of these witnesses that this was truly the risen Lord, once again in their presence.
And just as suddenly as they recognised him, He disappeared. But he left behind in the wake of his passing through their lives, a sure and certain faith, and the warmth and comfort of his continued presence. Opened eyes, hearts, and spirits.
Isn’t it amazing how accurately this describes the experience of almost every Christian. We are brought up with the Scriptures, that tell us about Jesus. We encounter Jesus personally in our baptism. But so often, we set aside our faith in the hustle and bustle of busy lives.
But at some point, our heart is softened, our mind is prepared, and our spiritual eyes are opened. We receive the full impact of Jesus as our very real and very personal Saviour.
From that day on, our lives are different. We have a new outlook, a new hope, and a new future. And then, in the wake of this spiritual renewal, we face the temptation to doubt the reality of our renewal experience. Was it real? Did it really happen? Does is matter at all anyway? This temptation becomes almost palpable for some to doubt God’s love and care during the threat of the challenges the world faces, especially from this virus.
Peter wrote in his second letter, ‘I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.’
Thank God that we have the witness of the Apostles. A witness that remind us of the continued presence of Jesus in our lives. A witness that confronts our own doubts.
And Thank God that we have the presence of our Saviour in our lives. In our prayers and meditation, in the fellowship of other believers by phone and social media, and in the joyful witness of baptism that we hold in our hearts.
What an honour it is to worship our Lord Jesus Christ, whether it’s through reading the words of others, through streamed worship services, or listening to recorded messages on the radio.
The two followers experienced fellowship as well. After their experience with Jesus, they rushed back to Jerusalem to share the experience with the Apostles, Disciples, and other followers. But instead of presenting their Good News that Jesus appeared to them, they receive the confirmation that yes indeed, Jesus is risen! When Jesus disappeared while in their presence, He went ahead of them to appear before those gathered in the Upper room on the evening of the resurrection.
And then despite all their initial doubts, they celebrated together. What a joyful time it must have been. What a joyful time it will be again to join together and celebrate our risen Lord, after our current restrictions are ended. And despite any doubts, and any challenge to continue believing, by our Saviour’s sacrifice, our baptism and our faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we will also be raised to be with Jesus, at just the right time.
We have a gift from the Holy Spirit of faith, and a sure hope in our Saviour, Jesus Christ. May the grace and peace of our God keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, the author and perfector of our life eternal.
Acts 2:14a, 22-32Peter gives witness that God raised Jesus
14 Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd:
22 “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.
25 David said about him: ”‘I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. 26 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, 27 because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.
28 You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.’
29 “Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day.
30 But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.
The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.) (Ac 2:22). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
: Sermon for Second Sunday of Easter
The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
Luke writes a testimony from the Book of Acts, ‘After his suffering, Jesus showed himself to the Apostles and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.’ (Acts 1:3 NIV84)
Let’s join in a word of prayer: Loving God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; every Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection of your Son, our Saviour. Our hearts are attuned to the events surrounding that resurrection. Once again, fill us with awe and wonder over the appearance of your Son to the disciples, and the strength and confidence this gave them when they received your Holy Spirit. Guide our time together this bright and shining morning of the Easter season, that we may never deny our Lord, Jesus Christ, and that we remain signs of the resurrection to the world around us. Gracious heavenly Father, hear our prayer for the sake of our risen Lord, Amen.
In life, we often pursue that which eludes us. For me, it’s the perfect sermon. For others it might be true love, wealth and security, perfect family and children, or renewed health. Some folks spend their lives striving to find purpose or direction. Others search for sobriety while still others seek help for their depression. Some folks are looking for even a hint that there is a God and his love that they have heard so much about, even during worship on Sunday mornings. Most of us are striving for something, if we are really honest and are really living.
I’m not sure what is eluding each of us, but I can assure you that we are not alone. There are others who have struggled with the same issues, problems, and challenges. The good news is that many of them have overcome! There are those who have found true love, purpose, financial security and peace. There are those who have beaten depression, addiction, and self hate. I’ve have heard their stories, seen their pictures, and shared their victories. I trust their witness because I see the passion in their eyes and hear the urgency in their voices when they share their experience. It gives hope to those of us who have never experienced these things ourselves.
To be sure, I will keep trying to preach the perfect sermon, because so many victorious people can’t be wrong. And, after all, it is really Christ Jesus who inspires the words I share. I am never going to give up on searching for what matters. I’m going to celebrate when someone else find their victory. I’m going to encourage others to keep trying and remind them that they are not alone. I will point to the success of others and join in their joy!
That is why I get so excited every time I hear Jesus saying, “Blessed are those who have not seen and believed” (John 20:29).
In the reading for Easter, we shared the words of Matthew, ‘The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.’
I am sure that the disciples did eventually go to Galilee, just as Matthew tells us in his Gospel. But Acts tells us that Jesus appeared to the Apostles on several occasions before that, and John records events that occurred before their journey. The disciples were huddled in fear and grief and anxiety. Huddled in the upper room where they shared their last meal together just a few days earlier. Huddled, yearning for what eluded them. The Messiah died a cruel death, and was placed in a borrowed grave. Now Mary comes and tells them that their friend and Saviour is alive. Could they really believe that what eluded them was now their reality. How often is it that when we discover that thing that eludes us for so long is now within our grasp, we can hardly believe it.
It was in this atmosphere, that ‘Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.’ It was just unfortunate that Thomas was missing from the fellowship when Jesus appeared to them. When Jesus spoke to them, with his gentle greeting, “Peace be with you.” When Jesus revealed what had eluded them and was now standing in their midst. ‘One writer explains that the Hebrew word ‘shalom’, for “peace,” is a most comprehensive word, covering the full realm of relationships in daily life. The word as a greeting suggests the fullness of well-being and harmony. As a blessing, it is a prayer for the best that God can give.
At a time when the concept of shalom became all too casual and light-hearted with no more significance than a “G’day Mate”, Jesus came to give it new meaning.
At Bethlehem, God announced that peace would come through the gift of God’s unique Son. ‘a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those upon whom his favor rests.” ’ (Luke 2:13–14 NRSV)
The mission and ministry of our Lord made it quite clear that Jesus had come to introduce the rule of God and to usher in peace for the world.’
(Harry N. Huxhold, Which Way To Jesus?, CSS Publishing)
Even so, it would be some time before shalom became a reality for the disciples. Shalom in eternity with our Lord Jesus Christ. But in Christ’s presence in that upper room, I am convinced that they experienced peace in their hearts that would sustain them in their challenges of life. That they received what eluded them after the crucifixion.
That is what worship does for me every time I gather with my friends to express my Christianity – it gives me sense that all is well in a world filled with uncertainty and brokenness.
Francis Bacon writes the proverb, ‘If a man will begin in certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.’ (Francis Bacon, Advancement of Learning (1605)1.v.8. (London: Oxford University Press, 1951), 41)
So it was with Thomas. Who began with the words, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”
And who ended with the words, “My Lord and my God!” That was when Thomas received the peace of God that eluded him through Christ’s resurrected presence in his life.
Dorothy Sayers says about Thomas: It is unexpected, but extraordinarily convincing, that the one absolutely unequivocal statement in the gospel of the Divinity of Jesus should come from Thomas. It is the only place where the word God is used without qualification of any kind, and in the most unambiguous form of words. And he says it with conviction. Thomas simply says of Christ, “My Lord and my God!” (Sayers, The Man Born to Be King (London: Victor Collancz, 1943), 319-20)
Thomas wasn’t there to experience the risen Christ Jesus when Jesus stood among the disciples and showed them his hands and his side. He wasn’t there to hear the words of Jesus, “Peace be with you!” the first time. And so, Thomas showed the same scepticism that Peter and the others showed to Mary Magdalene when she announced to them that Jesus had risen from the dead.
Jesus showed his compassion, when He appeared to the disciples in the upper room. He showed equal compassion to Thomas when He appeared a second time to confirm the message of the others. He shows us his compassion, when he appears to us in the Holy Scriptures as the Holy Spirit witnesses to our hearts that Jesus is alive. And Jesus tells us “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” We are blessed because Jesus is alive.
The Apostle John closes out the reading from his Gospel this morning with his words, ‘Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.’
After the gift of faith and wisdom from the Holy Spirit, Peter writes to us, ‘Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.’
God, in His grace and glory, is calling out to each one of us this morning to be signs to the world. Signs that God can be trusted. Signs that whatever eludes us is fulfilled in Christ Jesus our Lord, our friend, our Saviour. Because of the fulfillment we discover in Christ Jesus, we can live out the goal of our faith, our salvation. And we are not alone. We have the help of God’s Holy Spirit. That is why our prayer is that ‘the Holy Spirit will set our hearts ablaze for Christ Jesus to the glory of God.’
I share once again the words of Paul to the Church at Corinth, ‘What I received, I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.’ It’s now up to us to live as signs that Jesus is alive in our hearts and our lives. May the grace and peace of our God keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. AMEN.