Trinity Sunday [by Rev Dr Rachel Mash]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Isa 6:1-8
Deut 4:32-40
Psalm
29
2nd Reading
Rom 8:12-17
both
Gospel
John 3:1-17
Matt 28:16-20
by Rev Dr Rachel Mash, Environmental Coordinator, Anglican Church of Southern Africa

TRINITY- THE CIRCLE DANCE OF LOVE

Isa 6:1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple.

6:2 Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. Isaiah 6:1-2

What is your image of God? In Isaiah we have a vision of God sitting up on a throne, high and lofty, served by attendants. For most Christians, this is our image of God, a powerful emperor, normally an old white man. This image of God is modelled on the Roman god, Zeus, from which the Latin word for God, Deus comes.

Our image of God forms our spirituality . If our image of God is wrong, then our faith journey is heading in the wrong direction.

How does the concept of the Trinity help us to understand God? The Creation story uses a plural pronoun “Let us create in our image” (Gen 1:26-27). It took Christianity a long time to come to formulate the doctrine of the Trinity. Judaism was strongly monotheistic, and Christians rejected the multiple gods of the Romans and Greeks.

Finally with quite surprising lateral thinking  an image was found,  actually  taken from Greek theatre -perichoresis – ‘a circle dance’.  In this image there is no hierarchy – it is not a pyramid with the Father at the top, the Son next and the Spirit somewhere in between. This is rather a dance of love and creativity, fluid.  The Trinity means a dance, the Trinity means relationship.

It does not  mean that God is  made up of three separate dancers – God is actually  the dance itself – God is a flowing movement, not three statues. We don’t need to understand the dance of the Trinity to take part in it, we are already part of it in  body and mind and spirit.

When we accept the doctrine of the Trinity we start with God as relationship. In this way  we base our spiritual journey on a very different foundation. This foundation is not static but continually evolving and creating new forms of communion and interdependence.

Our image of God affects our relationship with other human beings. Most of us grew up with a static pyramid with God at the peak, men below God, women a bit lower down, and all those who are different to us, somewhere down below. Misogyny, racism, xenophobia, classism, caste system, homophobia,  abuse of indigenous peoples, these all have their root in seeing ourselves as higher up the pyramid than other people.

For example, we all love the Hymn, “all things bright and beautiful “ but the third verse has usually been dropped from hymn books

The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate;
God made them, high or lowly,
And ordered their estate.

The hymn writer, Cecil Alexander lived at the time of the potato famine in Ireland, when a million people died of starvation and another million emigrated to the United States. The rich man in his castle was the Protestant Englishman and the poor man at his gate the starving evicted Irish peasant.

When we see the world  as a pyramid of hierarchy, then those who are different to us in religion, gender, race or culture are lower down the pyramid- just as God ordered.

How would the image of the dance of the Trinity challenge these values – in a dance we would celebrate our differences – dancing the  dance of life  – unity in diversity.

Before he returned to God, he prayed (John 17:20-24):

I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.

A Trinitarian view of our relationship with all of humanity  would allow us to create authentic community and unity in diversity and freedom.  God clearly loves diversity- God created us all so different! It is only humans  who prefer uniformity. We like to create our ‘in group’ so that we can place  others  lower on the pyramid than us.  In Trinitarian love, diversity is celebrated.

Western modern individualism has reversed the Trinitarian understand of community –  as people in relationship with  others – to a separate and independent set of individuals.

I am a rock
I am an island
I’ve built walls
A fortress deep and mighty
That none may penetrate
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain
and an island never cries (Simon and Garfunkel)

In the African concept of Ubuntu “umntu ngumntu ngabantu” we see that a person is a person through other people. Our  value is based on relationships with other people.

The doctrine of the Trinity shows us that in God there is neither hierarchy nor inequality, but only unity in love amid diversity. The Christian community can become an image of the invisible God when its life mirrors the inclusivity of divine love.

Can we take this concept of the Trinity – the circle dance of love – into our relationship with Creation?

The most common understanding of our relationship with creation is the same hierarchical pyramid with God at the top, then humans, and then creatures below us.

So called ‘dominion theology’ is based on verses such as Genesis 1: 28

“Be fruitful, and multiply,
and replenish the earth, and subdue it:
and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air,
and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

“You made him ruler of the works of Your hands; You have placed everything under his feet”:…

Psalm 8:6

This theology has led to an incredible destruction of biodiversity, the unravelling of the web of life. In my life time, we have destroyed two thirds of the populations of wild animals, filled the oceans with plastic and burned down vast areas of the rainforests. Unless we change our relationship with nature, then the future is bleak.

The principle of Trinity can help us to see that we should be in a dance of love with creation. We are not separate from creation – we didn’t even have a separate day when we were created – according to the Genesis account we were created on the sixth day together  with all the other animals. How can the principle of the Trinity help us to understand our relationship with the web of life? We are not separate from creation, we are part of it.  We are one part of the Community of all Creation.

What is amazing in our modern times is how we are seeing the patterns of the Creator God in creation.  From atoms, to galaxies to organisms, we are seeing the essence of the Trinity replicated.  Science and faith are beginning to understand each other in the mysteries of the universe.  Scientists are telling us that everything is in relationship with everything else.  Trinity is even mirrored in  the three particles of every atom orbiting and cycling around one another—the basic physical building block of the universe.

In our gospel reading we find John 3:16, probably the most famous verse in Scripture – God so loved the world that He sent his only begotten son. And for most of us growing up we understood it to say God so loved all the people of the world. However in Greek the word for world is kosmos – how differently do we read the verse when it says “God so loved the cosmos that He sent His only begotten Son”. God loves the whole world, rivers and mountains, oceans and forests – and God loves us as part of this wonderful web of life.
So we must ask ourselves, what then is sacred – is it only the sacraments or is the whole of creation sacred?  We need to move from a relationship of ubuntu (we are who we are through other people) – to an even broader relationship with all of creation – ‘eco-ubuntu’ where we are who we are through all of creation.

Romans 8:12-17 teaches us that we are part of the family of God, and yet that family is not limited only to human beings. It is interesting to see in Psalm 148, that creatures, eco-systems and humans all join together in a wonderful choir of the web of life, in praising God. And yet St Francis takes this choir one step forward in his Canticle of all Creation – Laudato Si-  not only do we praise God with the Moon, the sun and the rivers, we praise God with Brother Sun, Sister Moon, brother Wind and sister Earth, our Mother. We are  not only worshipping  God  in the same choir, we are now part of the same family. We are kin.

We see this same family relationship in indigenous understandings of our relationship with creation. When we read

The LORD gives strength to his people; the LORD blesses his people with peace. Psalm 29:11

in the tradition of Native American Christians, the phrase “the people” refers  to all species, minerals even stars in the heavens. Among these people are the human people, the plant people, the four-legged, flying and swimming peoples, rock people, star people and more.  God gives strength to his people, God blesses his people with peace thus has an incredibly powerful message of hope for the whole of creation.

So this Trinity Sunday can we  embrace the Circle dance of God, Father , Son and Holy Spirit and extend the dance to mould our relationship with other humans and to all of creation?

Let us end with a poem from Meister Eckhart, the fourteenth-century German Dominican mystic:

Do you want to know
what goes on in the core of the Trinity?
I will tell you.
In the core of the Trinity
the Father laughs
and gives birth to the Son.
The Son laughs back at the Father
and gives birth to the Spirit.
The whole Trinity laughs
and gives birth to us.

Based Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations on the Trinity, 2016 and 2017

by Rev Dr Rachel Mash, South Africa

Ascension Day / Sunday [by Rev John Kafwanka]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Acts 1:1-11
both
Psalm
47
2nd Reading
Eph 1:15-end
both
Gospel
Luke 24:44-end
Mk 16, 15-20
by Vicar Revd Canon John Kafwanka K, St Augustine Church, Twickenham, UK

“Stop selling people things that are in the heavens because you have failed to make them relevant on earth.” Bishop Joshua Maponga, South Africa

This is a very powerful, challenging and also relevant comment and quote especially on the day we commemorate the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ.

It is quite fashionable, among many preachers, to point people to or prepare them for heaven while considering life here on earth as of little relevance, and yet one of the key lessons, if not the Key lesson, we learn from the Ascension Day is the emphasis that the work/ministry of the disciples of Jesus was to happen and grounded here on earth.

In fact, the disciples were told in very clear terms that, “This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come [back to earth] in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

The earth is not a place to pass through, but a place God made both for humans and other creation to inhabit and flourish, a place where God’s love and glory has manifested in and through all of God’s creation.

During his ministry, Jesus spoke about the Kingdom of God as being fulfilled among the people here on earth through and by his presence and actions.

The disciples witnessed so many things that Jesus “had said and done” during the three years of his ministry and their time with him.

Like other Gospels, Luke attempted and committed time and energy to put together “all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven.”

It was important for Jesus to leave the disciples – to ascend into heaven – for the sake of the Kingdom of God on earth and the ministry of the disciples.

The disciples needed the space to put into effect all that they had heard and seen from Jesus, and for the Good News of the Kingdom to spread to all corners of the earth.

For this to happen Jesus promised the disciples that, “I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” It was by this power (of the Holy Spirit) that the disciples were to continue the transformative ministry that Jesus had started.

So, the locus and concern of the life and ministry of the followers of Jesus, then and now, is here on earth, among humans and the whole created order. This is the point bishop Joshua Maponga was trying to communicate in his statement quoted above.

Jesus, the expression of God’s love to the whole creation, showed and declared through his teachings and deeds, a new way of being human, a new way of being in ‘just’ relationship (with God, with one another and with nature), and that is the way of God, the way of love – God’s love – and that is the ‘Jesus Way’.

The Jesus Way whose character and message are to be shaped by the life and message of Jesus;

that understands God’s love is for all humanity and all creation;

that knows that such understanding of God’s love is central to being Christian and to being a follower of Jesus;

that understands that unconditional love is the way – God’s way;

that strives to live by that love in a world often characterised by pain, hatred, violence, fear, hopelessness, greedy, abuse, neglect, and all;

that grew out of despair and fear, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, grew into confidence and hope.

And the ‘Jesus Way’ is to permeate the teachings and the deeds of the followers of Jesus; to permeate the whole of life, and the whole creation.

This of course would not be possible simply by the skills and powers of the disciples, but by the power and leading of the Holy Spirit.

Clothed with this power, the power of service – serving others (and not self-service), the power of love (counting the needs of others first, especially those on the margins), the power to embrace difference and recognise the value and dignity of everyone, the power to reconcile, the power to preach repentance with forgiveness without condemning – the simple Galilean followers of Jesus became a force for good, in their words and actions.

The disciples neither exhorted themselves nor wanted others to exhort them, but in everything they said and did, it was the name of Jesus Christ that was exhorted (Acts 3.12-13).

Many people started paying attention and got attracted to their message (the Good News of the love of God in Jesus Christ) and their lifestyle, and the movement grew one family at a time – beginning close to home, where the disciples were, in Jerusalem.

The Good News was for the whole world, and every part of the world was to be recipient as well as the bearer of the Good News. The simple and humble believers and not experts), filled with joy and love, became agents of the Good News, bringing joy and hope in neighbourhoods as they reached out.

This is the Jesus Way, where we are embraced by the never-ending unconditional love of God in Jesus, irrespective of our failures that make us focus on ourselves rather than on the way and will of God.

The Jesus Way speaks into the concrete situations of life – of pain, hatred, violence, fear, hopelessness, greedy, abuse, neglect, and all; pain, hatred, violence, fear, hopelessness, greedy, abuse, neglect, and pointing to Jesus with prayerful message and actions of healing, hope, justice, reconciliation, generosity, safeguarding, embrace, inclusion, dignity and honour.

Jesus did not take his disciples to heaven because the earth is a place of honour that God inhabits and his will is to be done here as it is in heaven.

by Rev John Kafwanka, UK

6th Sunday of Easter [by Rev Canon Andrew Sumani]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Acts 10:44-48
both
Psalm
98
2nd Reading
1 John 5:1-6
1 John 4:7-10
Gospel
John 15:9-17
both
By Rev. Canon Andrew Sumani (MTS, PGCert), Malawi, Central Africa

NOTES ON THE READINGS

ACTS 10:44-48

The book of Acts does not only narrate events but also recorded teachings of the Apostles. It shows life and growth of the earliest church after the believers were indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). In Acts 10, the giving of the Holy Spirit extends to the Gentiles who heard the Word (V. 44). The circumcised believers who were with people when this experience happened were astonished that even the Gentiles could receive the Holy Spirit (V. 45). The experience changed their perspective on salvation from being exclusive to the Jews only to being inclusive even for the Gentiles. The outcome of this experience for the Gentiles was a changed life pattern; now they spoke in a different language and worshipped God (V. 46). The change had happened and the sign of that change, which was speaking with tongues, was visibly felt. Even though other Jews might have wanted the status quo to continue of thinking that salvation is only for the Jews but what happened to the Gentiles was irresistible or unpreventable. They too had to be baptized with water with no any condition of circumcision attached (V. 47) as commanded by Peter (V. 48).

PSALMS 98

Psalm 98 links well to the previous Psalm and forms party to the series of Royal Psalms (Ps 93 -99), celebrating God as the King. It is seen as an official proclamation of the Messiah as a King who conquers over all nations in His holiness and righteousness (Ps 98: 1). The Psalm reveals and blends together God’s unfavourable salvation, righteousness, mercy, truthfulness and judgments (VV. 2, 3, 9). Although God judges because of His righteousness, but He also saves because of His mercifulness. He is true to His words (V. 3) for He never lies (see Num. 23:19). The Psalmist saw salvation being available to everyone (V 3b), and not only to the Jews. Therefore, the whole earth (all peoples) is called upon to celebrate God’s wonders he has wrought, the conquest He has won, (see Col. 2:15; Is. 49: 24), the discoveries of the work of redemption made (see Acts 10:36) and the accomplishment of His promises. The celebrations offered to God will have to be done in the accompaniment of instruments and joined in by God’s creatures i.e., sea, floods and hills. This intimates that the kingdom of God would be a blessing to the whole creation.

1 JOHN 5:1-6

The author of this letter pushes the idea that Jesus is the Christ, and anyone who believes it is born of God (V. 1). In the previous chapters (see 1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7) the author mentioned about being born of God. In this passage, he highlights how one is born of God, which is, by believing that Jesus is the Christ. There is close connection between faith and love. However, the author never wants anyone to begin to see that salvation is earned by loving others. Although, loving others is a Christian virtue which is a divine product of the relationship with God but salvation comes when we put our trust on Jesus and on His saving work in our lives. A saved person will love God as well as fellow-believers. Real love is demonstrated by a concern to do God’s will (VV 2-3). Generally, anyone who is born of God is a victor (V. 4). The victory over the world is achieved by the belief that Jesus is the Christ (V. 5). He came by water referring to his baptism and blood referring to his death contrary to the heretical understanding that denied Christ’ death.

JOHN 15:9-17

The passage is an allegory of the vine. In the OT, Israel was referred to as a vine (Ps 80:8-16; Is. 5:1-7; Ezek. 15:1-6). However, Jesus is the true vine who acted in line with God’s call upon His life unlike the people of Israel. Jesus’ relationship with His disciples is patterned on the basis of the Father’s love for the Son (V. 9). The disciples’ obedience to the Son reflects the Son’s obedience to the Father (V. 10). The relationship between Jesus and the disciples is supposed to be forever reflected three times in the statement, remain in my love (VV 9-10). The author turns back to the issue of love as an essential Christian virtue which the disciples must reciprocate to one another because Jesus had shown them the same (VV 12-13). The change of relationship from servants to friends is significant as it depicts the privilege to information resulting into differences in the knowledge level (VV 14-15). The prerogative to choose rest with Jesus and not the believers. He chooses them so that they can bear fruit which in this context is probably the inviting of others to Christ (V 16). Verse 17 underscores v 12.

DRAFT SERMON/SERMON OUTLINE

LISTEN TO THE WORD:

The word “salvation” understood from its Greek word “sozo” carries an idea of being, rescued from danger, deliverance, preservation, healing, and safety. John refers to salvation as being ‘born of God’ (1 John 5:1). It is an experience that can be enjoyed by anyone because God, is no respecter of human race, colour, sex, tribe, age, background, education, etc. God shows mercy to whoever He wants (Romans 9: 15, 18). This is evidenced by the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles. This experience of the Gentiles changed the perspective of the Jews on salvation from being exclusive to being inclusive even for the Gentiles. Peter asked a rhetorical question about baptism being extended to the Gentiles. They too had to be baptized with water with no any condition of circumcision attached (V. 47). This phenomenon ushered the Gentiles into a ‘new family’ of God whose head is Jesus Christ (Col. 1: 18; Eph. 1:22-23), the true vine (John 15: 1). In God’s family, love for God and a neighbour patterned on the basis of the Father’s love for Jesus Christ, the Son, is supposed to reign over all (John 15: 9-12). However, loving God means obeying His commandments (John 14: 15-17) which includes taking good care of environment (Gen. 2:15; Num. 35:33-34; Deut. 22:6-7). Salvation is a call to action and celebration because faith without action is dead (James 2:26).

LINK TO THE WORLD:

It is clear from the Bible passages read that God is interested in the salvation of the whole world. Those saved are called to the true worship of God which includes water baptism, celebration of God’s wonders, love for God and our neighbours, and offering of praises and thanksgiving to God through music sung to musical instruments. Natural things form integral part of God’s worship. For example, baptism requires water and in the Gospel of John, the vine is used as an allegory to teach people about the relationship between Jesus and His followers. Creation preaches the glory of God (see Psalms 19:1-6). Therefore, as obedient and loving children of God we must show good stewardship of God’s creation.

THINK ABOUT GOD’S CALL:

Salvation is effectual. Once one is saved, certain old ways and perceptions must change. Love for God and a neighbour should become the way of life. To show our love for God, we must show good stewardship of God’s creation. Real love is demonstrated by a concern to do God’s will.

RESPOND:

In conclusion, I would like to appeal to all of us to deeply reflect on the message preached today. We should always be mindful that God has saved us not to become passive but rather to take action. Let’s pray that God will help us to become good stewards of His creation.

by Rev. Canon Andrew Sumani, Malawi, Central Africa

References

Brown, R.E. An Introduction to the New Testament. Doubleday: New York, 1997.
Carson, D.A., France, R.T., Motyer, J.A., and Wenham, G.J. New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition. Inter-Varsity Press: Illinois, 1994.
Donovan, Richard Niell. 2010. https://sermonwriter.com/biblical-commentary/new-testament-acts-1044-48/
Guzik, David. Enduring Word Bible Commentary: 1 John 5- Born of God and Believing in the Son of God. 2018.
https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/1-john-5/. Accessed on 29/4/2021
Kroll, Paul. 2012. https://learn.gcs.edu/mod/book/view.php?id=4475&chapterid=86. Accessed on 29/04/21.
Marshall, I. H. Tyndale New Testament Commentary: Acts. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans: 1996.
Matthew Henry Commentary. Psalms 98. https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/mhc/Psa/Psa_098.cfm. Accessed on 29/4/2021

5th Sunday of Easter [by Very Rev Ken Gray]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Acts 8:26-40
Apg 9:26-31
Psalm
22:25-31
2nd Reading
1 John 4:7-21
1 John 3:18-24
Gospel
John 15:1-8
both
by The Very Rev Ken Gray, Kamloops BC Canada
A READING FROM THE BOOK OF ACTS (ACTS 8:26-40)

Moving through Easter Season, we see the early Church emerging and extending, today in an act of witness and evangelism. The apostle Philip meets an enigmatic wealthy traveller, on a wilderness road, himself in a spiritual wilderness. A court official of “the Candace” a mostly female administration associated with Meroe in the Kingdom of Kush (now Northern Sudan and Southern Egypt), a place of many religious traditions, he has worshipped in Jerusalem but is perplexed by the words of the prophet Isaiah (Chapter 53) describing one who must suffer in order for light and true love to be revealed.

Philip is the one to guide him towards insight and truth. Right place! Right time! His witness places Christ into the creation story itself and into the life of the Ethiopian eunuch (one who sires no children). Philip’s witness starts with the scripture and next leads to Baptism, itself a rite conducted within the waters of Creation. Such witness will continue, for all people and all time.

Creation dances neatly and deftly through this magical story. The land ruled by a succession of candaces eventually collapsed through unsustainable management. God’s provision of salvation through Jesus, himself associated with the creating and creative Word (Genesis 1, John 1) creates opportunities and experiences hitherto unavailable to the Ethiopian and ourselves. Finally the waters of creation facilitate the man’s re-birth (John 3) into new life.

PSALM 22:24-30

Psalms, themselves the poetry both liturgical and reflective and well known to Jesus and his followers occupy a special place in the Judeo-Christian tradition. With its own original voice, Psalm 22 begins in a typical manner:

1) Praise, a corporate act shared with others seeking to give honour to the one owed such gratitude;

2) A statement of factual benefit, the poor shall eat and be satisfied, even if this is not totally accomplished in our various contexts; and

3) Such gratitude extends beyond individuals, families, collegial groups, even nations. It is universally deserved and acclaimed.

Such verses are both ambitions and a statement of accomplishments. They are anthems of praise and prayers for deliverance. Psalms ought to be proclaimed, which is different from being read. To read Shakespeare or Indigenous stories of Africa or Canada is a small experience compared with live, in-person performance and sharing. And how we long for such sharing to become widespread again.

A READING FROM THE FIRST LETTER OF JOHN (1 JOHN 4:7-21)

While there is no scholarly consensus on the authorship of the three epistles of John there is a striking similarity in mood, tone and language with the Gospel of John (see below). The priority of Love, the language of beloved, the relationship of abiding in God, suggest to this commentator an intimate and close relationship between Gospel and epistles. Certainly, one can hear Jesus sharing these very words, put in the first person, in the upper room discourse (John 13-17):

No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives 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. And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Saviour of the world.

If there is a limitation to these verses, they describe right, even perfect relationships between humans here with no comment on our relationships with the non-human world. If 1 John seeks to reduce any sense of distance between the followers of Jesus and God as Creator, what of the relationship between God and creation itself; and of our relationship with creation? This is a good time to push beyond anthropocentric (the human is the most important part of creation) tendencies and prejudices.

Spirituality is not just about sitting in a room encountering a mystical god in meditation or about seeing God in a sunset. Awe is the gateway to compassion. It is a deep awareness that we are creators, creators who work with the Creator, in an ongoing project of crafting a world. If we do not like the world or are afraid of it, we have had a hand in that. And if we made a mess, we can clean it up and do better. We are what we make.
― Diana Butler Bass, Grounded: Finding God in the World. A Spiritual Revolution

THE HOLY GOSPEL OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST ACCORDING TO JOHN (JOHN 15:1-8)

I grew up in the suburbs of a mid-sized Canadian city, so as a child I learned little of farming, agriculture, or the growing of vines. In my second placement as a young priest however I lived in an area populated by many wineries and grew accustomed to the lovely lines of cherry, apple and grape trees. I learned of the challenges associated with farming, most importantly that weather is your friend or foe; I learned about fertigation, grafting, cultivation and processing. I knew a few vine growers who explained the value and technique of pruning.

I can imagine those sitting around a table or at an outdoor location listening to Jesus’ teaching and helping us all to understand who he is, though a concrete understanding is elusive. We have seen miracles enacted and traditions challenged, modified and employed. We have seen the response of many to things Jesus has done, but still cannot fully identify who he is. The Gospeller John has collected some of the identifiers together, a set of similitudes – “I am” statements (remember Moses in Exodus 3). I am the Way, I am the Good Shepherd, I am the true vine.”

There is more, however. If now I know a bit about who Jesus is when he says “I am” I now discover that I am connected to Jesus and to God in ways unimaginable. More so, I will bear much fruit as I am transformed into a disciple (one who follows). This is a lot to take in, though as I continue to abide in Him, it will become easier, clearer, and a life’s vocation especially within the community of the risen One.

DRAFT SERMON/SERMON OUTLINE

Finding God in the World: Our World: God’s World

LISTEN TO THE WORD:
  • Begin with the quote from Diana Butler Bass above. Share your reaction.
  • Tell the story of the meeting of Philip with the Ethiopian traveller. Unpack how Philip’s and the Ethiopian’s very different worldviews collided.
LINK TO THE WORLD:
  • Consider aloud how people would describe our/their world today.
  • Pandemic! Climate Change! Food for all? Or not!
THINK ABOUT GOD’S CALL: WHAT DOES RESPONSE LOOK LIKE
  • If we live connected to the vine of life in Jesus, what pruning must now occur: In our own practices? In societal, commercial, industrial, political systems.
  • Where do we need the support, inspiration and resilience of Jesus and where do we find support for ecological justice in the ministry and presence of the local and global church?

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Dean Robert Willis of Canterbury Cathedral has created a Garden Congregation, a daily virtual prayer gathering since the early days of the Pandemic. He often touches on Environmental themes, for instance:

ONE

Morning Prayer – Wednesday, 14th April 2021
https://youtu.be/Rw1qkiR3r60
A forest Garden, an innovative project in early stages of development, where various layers of creation, intertwined and in good ecological balance demonstrate how permaculture gardening/agriculture/eco-design function (Clip commences at 21 mins.).

&

Morning Prayer – Friday, 16th April 2021
https://youtu.be/rKN7MQnqLhI
Dean Robert’s exposition of John 15 (Clip commences with the Gospel reading at 7:16)

TWO

Speaking not specifically to creation, but directly to the gift of community, enjoy this wonderful collaboration between composer and friends:
You Can Do This Hard Thing – By Carrie Newcomer – A Community Song Project
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h0M2PO1ZlVg

LYRICS

There at the table
With my head in my hands
A column of numbers
I just could not understand
You said “Add these together
Carry the two
Now you.”

You can do this hard thing
You can do this hard thing
It’s not easy I know
But I believe that it’s so
You can do this hard thing

At a cold winter station
Breathing into our gloves
This would change me forever
Leaving for God knows what
You carried my bags
You said “I’ll wait
For you.”

You can do this hard thing
You can do this hard thing
It’s not easy I know
But I believe that it’s so
You can do this hard thing

End

by The Very Rev. Ken Gray, Kamloops BC Canada

4th Sunday of Easter [by Dr Nicola Hoggard Creegan]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Gen 7 (see below)
Acts 4:8-12
Psalm
23
2nd Reading
Acts 4:5-12
1 John 3:1-2
Gospel
John 10:11-18
both
by Dr. Nicola Hoggard Creegan, Auckland, New Zealand

(Pictures: Church of the Good Shepherd, Lake Tekapo; © N. Hoggard Creegan)

Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18; 8:6-18; 9:8-13:

In this well-known ancient story the fantastical is mixed with exquisite detail. Much time has been spent arguing over its “historicity” and the scope of any ancient flood. More importantly this story reveals the importance of every animal in God’s scheme of things. They must all be included, not only the humans who are designated caretakers. The ark has become a deep symbol for the company of all life together on earth, and humanity’s role in protecting it. And the rainbow is a symbol of hope. The flood reminds us that the balance of life on earth is fragile. While water is required by our life, it can also kill. The mocking of Noah’s friends is a prescient warning of the consequences of not heading a warning; and that humans are bad at judging for ourselves the possibility of an unusual risk in the future, a lesson we are learning in this time of pandemic. Also important is the idea of God’s covenant with all life, made with Noah and his family, but also the animals and all life.  The Hebrew word nephesh chayyāh is used for both humans and animals (Gen 9:12), further underscoring our solidarity. We have begun to notice this in an ecological age (helped by Norman Habel and the Earth Bible among others).  A covenant is a two-way agreement. What we do matters. Christians have a tendency to passivism in light of the climate emergency, but covenant should encourage us that we are in an agreement with God, and we have a responsibility to all life on the planet in that agreement.

Psalm 23

First of all, the image of the shepherd is one of the closest of bonds between the human and the animal. The psalm introduces God or Lord as shepherd. A shepherd is an interesting metaphor for God. The shepherd was embedded with his sheep. Many of us grew up in countries which farm sheep. But the ancient flock and shepherd were more wild and more remote.  Like many hermits and anchoresses after them, shepherds were solitary, living out with their sheep and bonding with them. A shepherd was always in danger, but a shepherd was always attentive and present and willing to sacrifice themselves for their beloved sheep. The psalm speaks of the Lord keeping us safe even as we walk through the shadow of death.

Acts 4:5-12

There is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must we saved. This is a complex and controversial statement. It points to the universality of Christ. Although a man in Judaea 2000 years ago, the gospels also testify that he was the logos made flesh and that he was the one in whom all things hang together. There could be no other. In an ecological age we have begun to appreciate the significance of Christ as indwelling all life and matter. But this statement has also been used to bolster a particular kind of theological expression as proof of being a Christian in the western church.  It was sometimes used by Christian missionaries to impose Christianity and western culture on indigenous peoples. It can be understood in another way. Jesus is the incarnation of the logos, closely aligned with Wisdom, the principle or life source of all creation (See Celia Deane-Drummond and Denis Edwards). As Wisdom, God would be accessible to all peoples and all cultures, largely by their close indwelling of nature. As Wisdom, all cultures would know God and their knowledge of Wisdom would point in their own culture toward Christ. Acts can be read as saying two things: that ,if there is salvation it is in Jesus, even if it is not known that way; and that it is possible to reject this stone, to be against Jesus, and that is true whatever we profess, and whichever culture we are in. See indigenous Canadian sermon in resources.

John 10:11-18

Takes up the theme of the Psalm, that Jesus is the Good Shepherd. It resonates with Jesus as God, as in Psalm 23. But here with trinitarian extensions. The Good Shepherd and the Father (The Father knows me and I know the Father).

Jesus was being subversive –as usual—in claiming to be the Good Shepherd. He was associating himself with God. After all the Jews knew God in part as the Great Shepherd of the Sheep. The Psalmist said that The Lord, or Yahweh was the Good Shepherd.

The Good Shepherd conjures up scenes of idyllic shepherds with pristine sheep, and childhood colouring-in projects. With perhaps just a hint of danger in the background in the face of the wolf. But as mentioned above, the Shepherd invokes images of sacrificial closeness, becoming wild or uncomfortable or in danger to save others. The shepherd becomes other, even a sheep, out of love for the flock.

Although shepherds are contrasted with hirelings, in fact the shepherd was mostly a hired hand, not a high-status person in most agrarian societies. Nevertheless, as is the case in any job, the good shepherds saw their task as vocation, and others went only so far. The imagery points to the ease with which natural scenes fit the purpose of expressing theological truth, but also the reversals in status (God is depicted as Shepherd, and later as lamb) that are the norm in Scripture.

Draft Sermon

This gospel reflects and mirrors some of the themes from the previous readings. That Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and therefore of course God, but also in relationship with the Father. Themes of salvation from danger, sacrificial love and bonding, are resonant here. The Good Shepherd is a deeply personal image for both Jesus and for God. Salvation is portrayed here not as a payment or debt; but rather as a deep union between the Shepherd and the sheep. This is a union with a shared fate which is also the meaning of covenant.

Interesting also is the hint of other flocks: other flocks who may know Jesus or God in other ways. Human history shows how terribly we are fractured down religious lines, but the yearning of God is for all to be one, not in cleverness or by saying the right words, but by closeness to the Father through the Shepherd. And we who are also in Jesus, will model this love with other people and with the natural world as well.

But what of cultures who do not identify at all with sheep and shepherds. In New Zealand, the missionaries brought sheep very early to a country with no native mammals but bats, not normally a biblical image. In a recent Maori/Indigenous Canadian collaboration, Canadian Bishop Mark Macdonald talked about the idea of a ho’oda’in, a person in Gwich’in culture who would go ahead of the group in a hunt, leading them. And he spoke powerfully of how the idea of other flocks in John is very attractive to indigenous peoples, but that they don’t always understand it as the missionaries intended. They understand that they have always had some connection to the Father through their leaders, also acting as Good Shepherds in the past.

Similarly, with Wisdom, as mentioned above. Indigenous peoples can teach us that the Wisdom or Logos from which Jesus was incarnate proffers some degree of universal access to the Father. As we grow more sensitive to the ecology and the wildness of nature we too can sense God’s Spirit and logos in the natural world.

If the readings expand us beyond our culture, they do so also beyond our own story. This Sunday is two days after Earth Day. It is interesting that from the early middle ages the cross was placed at the heart of churches which depicted the known cosmos, together with images of the Good Shepherd. This is true most famously of the Galla Placida (link below).  What we might offer the world on Earth Day is the saving image of the Good Shepherd linked to the story of an evolving creation as logos or Wisdom, and known from the beginning of our species in the Good Shepherd and equivalent leaders who would represent the Father to their people.

Resources:

Re-contextualising: For a new image of shepherd in a remote Canadian indigenous culture.

https://anglicantaonga.org.nz/news/tikanga_maori/abpmarkmacd_karakia

Going back to the middle ages: Fifth Century Galla Placida with cross in a starry sky, and the Good Shepherd in the north transept. If you follow the link below to the Galla Placida you will see images of a fifth century church. A cross in the middle of the known cosmos of stars. Around this image are other more ordinary images, including the Good Shepherd.

Astoundingly, this was the 5th century, back when they knew almost nothing! The edge of the great explosion of Church architecture which continued throughout the middle ages, in which among other things the suffering heart of Jesus was placed in buildings that reflected the mathematical laws of the cosmos.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mausoleum_of_Galla_Placidia

Prayer from Pope Francis from Laudato ‘Si

God of love, show us our place in this world
as channels of your love
for all the creatures of this earth,
for not one of them is forgotten in your sight.
Enlighten those who possess power and money
that they may avoid the sin of indifference,
that they may love the common good, advance the weak,
and care for this world in which we live.
The poor and the earth are crying out.
O Lord, seize us with your power and light,
help us to protect all life,
to prepare for a better future,
for the coming of your Kingdom
of justice, peace, love and beauty.
Praise be to you!
Amen.

by Dr Nicola Hoggard Creegan, New Zealand

3rd Sunday of Easter [by Prarthini Selveindran]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Zeph 3:14-end
Acts 3:12-19
Psalm
4
2nd Reading
Acts 3:12-19
1 John 2:1-5a
Gospel
Luke 24:36b-48
both
by Prarthini Selveindran, Singaporean A Rocha volunteer

NOTES ON THE READINGS

Zephaniah 3:14-end

Context: Zephaniah offering hope, speaking for the humble remnant who will seek refuge in God and who are thus rescued by him. Here we have an announcement of salvation that was being looked forward to: where the LORD is doing a new thing among his people.

This particular passage is characterized by a summons to sing: boldly and aloud!

  • A new song of salvation: of joy and exuberance over God’s decisive and salvific actions
    • God has taken away judgement and cleared away enemies:
      • Twice repeated that God is with his people (v15, v17)
    • A promised future to look forward to, when God will enact justice: deal with oppressors (v19a), save lame and gather the outcast (v19b), transform shame into praise and renown (v 18, v 19c)
      • Significant, that God declares war on those who oppress others; in our context, this has implications on how we relate to the earth and our actions that prevent/deny others the access to healthy environments (including, how we use resources and our lifestyle choices that impact others)
      • We see here God’s heart for those who are marginalized and lowly, which should inform and affect how we relate to those who are dispossessed and on the margins in our own societies
  • incredibly in this song, it is not only Daughter of Zion, but God himself who is singing (“rejoice over his people with gladness…exult over you with loud singing”)
Psalm 4
  • Prayer of lament-complaint (note especially vs1-3 and the plaintive cries of “answer me”, “how long”) and of trust in God (vs 4-8).
  • Psalm about recognizing the devastating impact of sin and evil, but about orienting oneself towards God amidst that
    • Only through honest lament are these questions of justice able to surface; refusal to deny or censure pain/suffering/distress
      • Psalm reminds us of the need to bring such complaints to honest speech before God (but held in tension with being silent in submission, vs 4)
    • To that end lament is also an act of hope: resistance to accepting the status quo or injustice as the “way things are”, but rather active belief that God is capable of doing something new, or transforming the circumstances
  • Psalm carries themes of trust, confidence in and waiting for YHWH’S goodness, which should affect our way of living in this world
    • No recourse to other gods, act in faith (vs 3)
  • Language of ‘Lift up the light of your face’ (v6) echoes the Aaronide blessing of Numbers 6.24-26
  • “in peace…make me dwell in safety”: the idea that our security is to be found (not in wealth/material possessions/status/power) in none other than God
Acts 3:12-19
  • Here is the reminder that the God of Israel continues to be at work—just as he was from the very beginning (v 13)—and that he is at work through the Lord Jesus, the Author of Life, with power over death.
  • Peter’s sermon pronounces Jesus’ power to restore creation that is broken (here, the lame man) to perfect health (v 16)
    • The lame man is invigorated by God’s newness in resurrection life (v 8-9a), and is in some way a sign of this future full universal restoration of all creation (v20-21)
    • This claim in vs 21 of the restoration of all things is echoed elsewhere in Scripture (Eg. Matt 19:28-29, Eph 1: 10, Col 1:15-23) and signifies that God promises to restore, and not destroy, creation.
      • Salvation is thus presented as a comprehensive divine plan and purpose for the redemption of all creation
Luke 24:36b-48
  • Jesus communicates shalom (metonymic term for salvation); in the context of his death and resurrection, that understanding of shalom takes on a deeper, fuller meaning
    • The extension of shalom is fully embodied before the disciples; shalom as conveying that sense of security and blessing, wholeness and completeness.
  • The text rules out any notion of this being merely ethereal/spiritual event: the resurrection had a profound effect on materiality and physicality
    • Jesus offers two proofs of his physicality, post-resurrection: 1. Reference to hands and feet, flesh and bones 2. Capacity to eat food
      • These proofs are concretely physical, material, things of creation/the natural order
      • underscored with the text’s emphasis on i) seeing, and the ii) note that Jesus took and ate in their presence: disciples are authentic witnesses to this salvation fully, physically, embodied
    • This points to God’s own affirmation and desire to renew the physical created order: Jesus as first-born of this new creation

DRAFT SERMON/SERMON OUTLINE

Matter Matters
  • Amidst a perplexing, disorienting, anxiety-riddled time, Jesus stands amidst his disciples and says, “Peace to you”
  • a vision presented of a wounded Saviour pronouncing and embodying salvation and shalom to his people
    • through this pronouncement, the disciples experience resurrection life, in recognizing the risen Christ among them
  • significantly, Jesus’ testimony of his renewed physicality signifies that the material order will be renewed
    • through his actions (the ‘proofs’ of his resurrection), Jesus affirms and acknowledges the created order: flesh, bones, hands, feet, broiled fish to satiate hunger
    • through his actions—Jesus shatters human categories of God’s action within his world and the disciples’ understanding of who God is; God has done a very new and remarkable thing!
    • the resurrected Christ is revealed in and through the created order (here, continuity is highlighted, elsewhere in the Gospel accounts, discontinuity—walking through locked doors—is emphasized)
    • God does not intend to rescue humanity from materiality, but perfect them in it: new creation inaugurated in the resurrection of Christ (see also 1 Cor 15)
  • Jesus’ resurrection shows that all life and matter in the age to come will be transformed; and that we are to anticipate the redemption of the whole creation
  • What does it mean for us to be Witnesses to these things?
    • To witness carries echoes of the OT, where Israel was called to be YHWH’S witness (see for eg., Is. 42, 1-6, 44: 6-8)
    • We are to tell and live stories as en-fleshed people of what this restoration and transformation to new creation looks like
    • So N. T. Wright says, “The resurrection of Jesus is the reaffirmation of the goodness of creation, and the gift of the Spirit is there to make us the fully human beings we were supposed to be, precisely so that we can fulfil that mandate at last. What are we waiting for? Jesus is coming. Let’s go and plant those trees.” [Jesus Is Coming – Plant a Tree!]
  • How will we ‘live’ the resurrected life today in the now and the not yet, embodying shalom amidst times that are perplexing, disorienting and even anxiety-riddled?
    • (recalling Psalm 4): Part of that would mean living in trust of God, reorienting how we live, and rejecting a narrative/principle of scarcity of material resources that governs our life
    • (recalling Zephaniah 3: 14-end): Part of that also means being willing to sing subversively, and more, to enact justice, especially for those on the margins of society

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

N. T. Wright on the significance of Christ’s resurrection for the created order and the task of the Church

https://www.plough.com/en/topics/justice/environment/jesus-is-coming-plant-a-tree

Richard John Neuhaus discussing Christ’s resurrection and its import on the created order and environmentalism

https://www.firstthings.com/article/1997/12/christ-and-creations-longing

An Easter prayer by Walter Brueggemann

http://hopefulimagination.blogspot.com/2008/04/easter-us.html

by Prarthini Selveindran, Singapore

2nd Sunday of Easter [by Samuel Chiu]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Ex 14:10-end,15:20-21
Acts 4:32-35
Psalm
133
2nd Reading
Acts 4:32-35
1 Joh 5:1-6
Gospel
John 20:19-end
both
by Samuel Chiu, Christian & Missionary Alliance, Vancouver, Canada

NOTES ON THE READINGS

Exodus 14:10-31
  1. This famous scene of the Lord God rescuing the Israelites from the chasing Egyptian army by parting the Red Sea is a vivid example of the powerful presence of the Lord God with his people.
  2. This is the Lord God who is the Creator of all things, and whose powers are over and beyond all seemingly intimidating natural and human forces.
  3. God’s presence is not passive but active: saving, guiding, protecting
John 20:19-23
  1. The resurrected Jesus appeared to his disciples in hiding and waiting.
  2. After the surprising greetings, with “Shalom” and showing his hands and side (the evident of his crucifixion), he commissioned them by saying “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.”
    • There is a very significant echo at the beginning of the same Gospel: the way of God sending His only begotten Son and the consequences
      • The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14)
      • “…made his dwelling among us…” (NIV) is literally “pitching his tent among us. This graphic depiction is translated in modern terms by Eugene Peterson: “…moved into the neighbourhood…” (The Message)
      • The “glory” and the “pitching his tent” are the various ways in the OT describing God’s presence with his people.
  1. There is also an apparently perplexing gesture of “breathing on” the disciples by the resurrected Jesus. In fact, it is a powerful reminder of Genesis 2 in which the Lord God installed his priestly representative in his Temple (installing Adam in the garden to work it and take care of it) – now it is not just one person to take care, but all Christ’s disciples.

DRAFT SERMON/SERMON OUTLINE

Preaching Points / Outline
  • The Covid-19 pandemic has turned the world upside down, causing tremendous anxiety among millions.
  • Simultaneously, the environmental calamity is shown in severe tropical storms, wildfires, droughts, floods, and scenes of demise of wildlife and suffering of human communities, all adding to the despair. God seems to be far away, indifferent, uncaring, or even worse, being the one who is causing all this great suffering.
  • The Bible has a completely different picture: God is here, among us, particularly in times of despair and great need. In the experience of the Israelites being rescued by the Lord God, He clearly demonstrated that He is the Lord of all, the One who is beyond all the seemingly intimidating powers of nature or tyrannical human empires. (Exodus 14)
  • The Israelites, having experienced this dramatic rescue and powerful presence of God, were supposed to become gradually the SIGN of the presence of this Lord God in the world: all nations would recognize the presence and reign of this powerful and merciful God through the faithful and truthful living of the Israelites.
  • The vision and calling of God’s people as that SIGN has never been lost, despite the failure of the Israelites to be faithful to the covenant.
  • The NT has a powerful scene to demonstrate this: John 20:21-23. The resurrected Jesus appeared in front of his fearful yet somewhat anticipating bunch of disciples. He said to them: “As my Father has sent me, so I am sending you.”
  • Jesus was essentially saying that “I am sending you all now in a similar fashion to how God the Father has sent me.” How was Jesus being sent? In what way or fashion?
  • We find the answer in an important echo at the beginning of the same Gospel, in John 1:14. Jesus the Word was sent to dwell among us, within the world, “pitching his tent in our neighbourhoods.” And that is the glorious presence of the Son with us, full of grace and truth.
  • According to Jesus, his followers, meaning all Christians, are sent to be his presence in the world with grace and truth, just like he became His Father’s presence in the world.
  • How would such an active grace-and-truth-filled presence look like in our world today then? With a reference to the gardener scene in Genesis 2, also echoed in this passage, it could include, but certainly not be limited to, the following:
    • in local community gardens, advocating food security and climate resilience
    • in corporate boardrooms, discerning for decarbonized financing
    • in planting trees or restoring wetlands
    • in engineering labs, testing new generation energy-saving technology
    • in welcoming those fleeing their homelands because of climate and environmental disasters, providing aid or welcoming them into our homes
  • May the Lord bless and empower us to be his “faithful presence” in the world.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

by Samuel Chiu, Vancouver, Canada

Easter Day [by Murray Tessendorf]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Isa 25:6-9
Acts 10:34-43
Psalm
118:1-2
2nd Reading
Acts 10:34-43
Col 3:1-4
Gospel
John 20:1-18
both
by Murray Tessendorf, National Director for A Rocha South Africa and ordained Baptist minister

Notes on the Readings

Isaiah 25:6–9 (NIV)

Isaiah, in this passage of praise to God, points us to a place, a person and an occasion with extraordinary prophetic clarity. The place described twice (vs 6 & 7) as “on this mountain” is a certain reference to Mount Zion (see Isaiah 24:23). This is the mountain upon which King David uttered the words, “… I will not take for the Lord what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing”(1 Chronicles 21:24, NIV) and which the Apostle Paul quotes, “… As it is written: “The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins” (Romans 11:26–27, NIV). That Mount Zion is the place of sacrifice and forgiveness of sins is undeniable. The ‘person’ Isaiah draws our attention to is the Lord Almighty: Father, Son and Spirit who works in such a manner that in Him we rejoice and are glad in his salvation (vs 9). Most extraordinary is the occasion in which Almighty God serves people in what is described as his preparation of a banquet rich in the symbolism of broken flesh and wine which swallows up death forever.

Psalm 118:1–2 (NIV)

Within the opening phrase of Psalm 118, the psalmist sets the context of the psalm within the eternal nature of our Lord’s enduring love; thus, this Psalm, whilst certainly referencing the psalmist’s personal encounter with his Lord, is framed within an eternal perspective. Verses 14-24 describe the psalmist’s experiences of God’s grace in a manner that every ‘born again’ Christ follower surely experiences: the Lord is my strength, defence and salvation; the Lord’s hands have done mighty things; I will not die but live. These are all spiritual truths common to followers of our Lord Christ.  The psalmist goes on to point us to a gospel message in his reference to the ‘gates of the righteous’ (vs 19-21) which may surely be paralleled by Jesus Christ’s utterance, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. …” (John 10:9, NIV) (see also Matt 7:13-14). This eternal perspective is furthered within the last chapter of scripture: “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.” (Revelation 22:14, NIV). Prophetically, we cannot miss the eternal nature and work of Jesus Christ as ‘the stone the builders rejected” (vs 22) which so beautifully ties to the Apostle Peter’s reference of Jesus in 1 Peter 2:6, ““For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”

Acts 10:34-43

The Apostle Peter’s calling to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles fulfils many OT passages that speak of God’s salvation for the Gentiles as well as the Jews, including Isaiah 25:6-7, “On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations” (Isaiah 25:7, NIV). Through this encounter Peter helps us to understand that whilst Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross is a gift available to all, he reminds us that the words of the prophets remain relevant that “everyone who believes in him (Jesus Christ) receives forgiveness of sins through his name”. The essence of the word ‘believes’ in verse 43, speaks of more than simply ‘believing in God’ (see James 2:19) but of placing our full faith, confidence and trust in the person of Jesus Christ for our salvation.

John 20:1-18

This narrative passage is full of emotion: Mary anguished at finding Jesus’ tomb seemingly desecrated and standing open; Peter and John’s panicked confusion in their rush to confirm Mary’s story but leaving without answers. The most striking emotions occur once Peter and John have left the open tomb and Mary Magdalene, now alone and standing before an empty tomb in the early morning light, has an extraordinarily tender encounter with the risen Lord. Through her uncontrollable sobs she answers the angel’s question, “They have taken my Lord away and I don’t know where they have put him” and even though Jesus was standing right there with her, she failed to recognise him, thinking he was the gardener. Jesus wasn’t the gardener. Scripture doesn’t tell us that he was doing the work of a gardener nor that he was even pretending to be the gardener, but in Mary’s grief she mistook him for something that he was not. Mary was not alone in mistaking Jesus for something he’s not. His peers looked to him as a political liberator freeing Israel from Roman oppression. We might even reduce him to liberator of the oppressed from the power of tyranny and in so doing fail to recognise more importantly that he is mankind’s liberator from the tyranny of our own sinfulness. Mary’s confusion was undone with Jesus simply calling her name, “Mary”, leading her to that extraordinary confession, “I have seen the Lord”.

Draft Sermon Outline

The narrative of Christ’s resurrection in John 20:1-18 provides the account that reveals a number of common themes emerging from today’s passages:

Christ as suffering servant and risen King:

Isaiah 25:6 alludes to Jesus Christ’s deliverance through suffering in the banquet imagery of broken flesh and wine upon Mount Zion. Romans 11:26-27 echoes Isaiah 25, speaking of a deliverer coming from Zion who will take away sins. Psalm 118:21-22 provides a clear image of a rejected saviour who becomes the cornerstone, whilst 1 Peter 2:6 helps us to understand that the precious and chosen cornerstone laid in Zion is the person of Jesus Christ. Acts 10:39-40 bluntly speaks of Jesus death, “…They killed him by hanging him on a cross…” and resurrection, “…but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen”.

Christ’s eternal work:

The eternal consequences of Christ death and resurrection are seen in his swallowing up death forever, (Isa 25:8) and in his ‘forever enduring love’ of Psalm 118:1 which provides the eternal context for the remainder of the psalm, including the psalmist’s phrase, “I will not die but live” (vs 17). Even Psalm 118:19’s reference to the gates of the righteous have a present context: “…enter through the narrow gate (Matt 7:13) and the eternal reality of entering “through the gates into the city,” the New Jerusalem (Rev 22:14).

Christ’s work in restoring creation to himself:

Isaiah 25:8 speaks, in Old Testament terms, of ‘all things being reconciled to Christ by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Col 1:20). Within the phrase, “…he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth…“ (Isa 25:8) we see the saving work of Jesus Christ freeing his people from the disgraceful effects of sin and death. What’s more, Christ’s sacrificial work on our behalf is complete in both the removal of the disgrace of sin from his people over all the earth, and complete in that it will undo the effects of the disgrace of mankind sin from all the earth. Our current environmental crisis is without a doubt a human sin issue but Christ’s death and resurrection have done the work in full to undo the curse of sin on the earth (Gen 3) so that we can look forward to the undoing of the effects of sin on all God created on the day when he makes all things new (Rev 21:5).

Our response: Christ I praise and Christ I proclaim.

In today’s passages the response given to knowing Christ’s salvation is praise and proclamation. Isaiah 25:9 “…let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation”; Psalm 118:24 “…let us rejoice today and be glad”; Acts 10:42 “He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead”; John 20:18 “…I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her”.

by Murray Tessendorf, A Rocha South Africa

Palm Sunday / 6th Sunday of Lent

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Isa 50:4-9a
both
Psalm
31:9-16
2nd Reading
Phil 2:5-11
both
Gospel
Mark 14:1-15:47
Mark 11:1-10
by Rebecca Boardman, USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), Regional Manager for East Asia, Oceania and Europe

NOTES ON THE READINGS

Old Testament – Isaiah 50:4-9a

The musings of the prophet Isaiah who is trying to make sense of exile. This text deepens our understanding of Jesus’ journey to the cross, highlighting injustice and describing the suffering of the servant at the hands of his enemy. It vividly depicts human willingness to destroy someone who had only done good.

Psalm – 31:9-16

Expresses the suffering and pain of the rejection, betrayal and crucifixion of Jesus. The same pain that we continue to cause as we destroy God’s creation

Epistle – Philippians 2:5-11

This passage is one of the earliest Christian hymns and confessions of faith. Paul’s letter outlines a pastoral theology and is asking people to shift their mind-set/ their attitudes. It is a calling to live in the identity of who we are in Christ and outlines Christ’s commitment to serve people at the greatest personal cost. Christ was not a passive victim but chose to take upon himself the sins of the world as an example of pure love and service. It is through the example of Christ that we are able to see God’s character of selfless love.

Gospel – Mark 14:1-15:47

The fast pace of Mark’s gospel slows down to narrate Jesus’ crucifixion and the event preceding it. N Clayton Croy (2009) helpfully segments this passage into four segments:

1.      Preparation and Passover (Mark 14:1-25)

Here we see two ritual acts before the passion: the extravagant devotion of the women who anoints Jesus’ feet, and the Passover which remembers Israel’s liberation from slavery in Egypt with the discussion of the Passover lamb alluding to Christ’s crucifixion. In celebrating the Passover, we are introduced to the sacrament of the Lord’s supper (the ritual becomes personal to Jesus Christ).

2.      Supplication and Seizure (Mark 14:26-52)

Jesus and the disciples travel to Gethsemane. Jesus speaks of being “deeply grieved” and is “distressed and agitated” at the events that he knows will occur. As Jesus prays the disciples are able sleep in spite of Jesus’ request to stay awake. Judas arrives betraying Jesus and leading to Jesus’ arrest. Although the disciples had committed to standing by Jesus each flee, abandon or deny Jesus on his arrest demonstrating cowardice and failure.

3.      Trials and Denials (Mark 14:53 – 15:15)

Jesus is taken to trial before the council and high priest. While the testimony against Jesus by others is contradictory, false or inadequate. When asked directly Jesus states/confesses that he is the “Son of Man”. Jesus is bound and handed over to Pilate. At the time of the Passover festival Pilate had the opportunity to release a prisoner however chose to appease the crowd releasing Barabbas rather than Jesus. The story of Peter’s denial of Jesus (three times) in inter-wowen with this narrative.

4.      Ridicule, Crucifixion, Death and Entombment (Mark 15:16-47)

Jesus is handed over to Roman soldiers where we read of horrific verbal and physical abuse. Crucifixion at this time was a punishment that combined execution, humiliation and deterrence. In Mark’s gospel here we see the deeply human portrayal of Jesus particularly in his cry in vs 34 “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” and in vs 37 when we hear that “Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last”. We hear of the temple certain being torn in to and the affirmation by a Roman soldier of Jesus’ divine nature. The passion narrative ends with the burial scene. It is to note that the presence of women at this point

DRAFT SERMON/SERMON OUTLINE

As we consider todays texts I would like for us to think about the points of contrast between the action and attitude of Jesus and the action and attitude of his disciples. In the Epistle Paul calls us to live in the identity of who we are in Christ. What can the gospel reading illuminate to us about the gaps between our thoughts and actions as we endeavour to be disciples of Christ and the character of God which is showed in the most selfless loving way in the narrative of the Passion.

a)     Identifying and worshiping the divine

At the beginning of today’s passage, we read of the women who anoints Jesus with costly ointment from an alabaster jar (14v3-9). The disciples label this act as a waste of resource because the ointment could have been sold and given to the poor whereas Jesus says that “she has performed a good service to me”. While many may not see this as a helpful story when thinking about stewardship I think that this passage is incredibly helpful when thinking about value. The women who anointed Jesus with oil knew the deep and rich value that came from a living relationship with Christ so much so that demonstrating this love was worth using an expensive and likely imported ointment. She was able to see this in a way that the disciples were not. She valued God incarnate in a way that meant that only extravagant love was a response. Her response is a deeply human response to the extravagant love of God revealed in Christ.

God is made visible to us in the beauty, majesty and awe of God’s creation. What would happen if like the women in Mark’s gospel who we can see the immense value of God in creation? What would extravagant love to our planet look like if we fully appreciated this?

b)     “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake”

In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus is prayerfully discerning what may lie ahead for him. His disciples are not. In response and preparation Jesus commits himself to prayer: asking not to have to face the violence ahead but submitting to the will of God (vs 36). However, the disciples fall asleep even after Jesus’ instruction: “Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Here we see a difference between how much Jesus and the disciples are ‘grieved’ by what lays ahead. For Jesus his prayer is impassioned, whereas the disciples are only superficially affected by the events and as such they are able to fall asleep. The violence that Jesus is speaking to is not simply the physical violence of crucifixion but the spiritual violence of being separated from God and in acknowledging the pain of this.

When we consider our planet I think that we may also enter into this grieving of the sins of people in the destruction and exploitation of the planet and how this is a demonstration of our brokenness from a deep connection with God. It is from the emotions of anguish, grief and distress that we are able to lament the destruction of our planet and our separation from God. Do we enter into these emotions responding with fervent prayer to God or do we fall asleep distracted by other things? By what things are we distracted and what can help us be more intentional in our prayer for the reconciliation of all of creation?

c)      On trial

When Jesus is on trial he speaks to the absolute truth that he is the “Son of Man” he does not deny his divine relationship with God. Peter, in a similar way is on trial -not in question of his own identity but in regards to his knowing Jesus – but Peter denies Jesus three times because he is afraid of the consequences of the authorities and powers.

In light of injustices such as our climate and ecological crisis, the exploitation of people and our planet, in what ways do we deny the truth because it is easier for us? Power today may come from societal expectation, from ideas of wealth and progress and success. Power can come from wealthy corporations or governments who wish to push their aims and greed despite the cost to people. Standing up and speaking truth to the structures of power can be costly. Will we be like Peter and deny the truth that God has called us to stand for justice and the care of all of creation?

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Bible Study resources:

USPGs 2021 Bible Study Course ‘For Such a Time as This’ considers the biblical narrative of salvation in respect to care of creation and justice for all. The six week study includes voices and perspectives from across the Anglican Communion including: India, Belize, Mozambique and Japan. The course can be accessed online at https://www.uspg.org.uk/engage/support5/forsuchatime/lent-course-2021/ and this web page also includes video presentations from the authors of each week’s reflection.

Liturgical resources:

A number of liturgical resources from across the world church have been collated in the following document: https://d3hgrlq6yacptf.cloudfront.net/uspg/content/pages/documents/CLimateSundayResource.pdf

by Rebecca Boardman, USPG, UK


Reference: https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/sunday-of-the-passion-palm-sunday-2/commentary-on-mark-141-72-151-47-2