Carlyle Marney was one of the great preachers in the Southern states of America during the time after the Second World War. He was a mentor and role model to many ministers. One of the stories attributed to the rich legacy he left behind took place on a seminary campus where he was invited to be the speaker for a distinguished lectureship. One of the students asked, “Dr. Marney let us hear you say a word or two about the meaning of the resurrection.” It was a fair question and an appropriate one from a future preacher to one who was already a great practitioner of the art of preaching. However the young students were taken aback by Marney’s response. Dr. Marney replied, “I will not discuss that with people like you.” Continue reading
It is tempting to say that Easter gets earlier every year! Needless
to say the idea that this season could be any earlier this year is, of
course, nonsense. Nevertheless, this expresses the sense that the
pivotal event of our Lord passion and resurrection rushes upon us
without time for proper preparation. The outcome can often be
that Easter is just another holiday without spiritual meaning, depth
What’s to be done? Well, during worship on these Lenten
Sunday’s we are preparing ourselves by hearing the story of
Christ’s journey to the cross and the empty tomb. This is only
natural since Lent is indeed a time for stories. It’s the time when
we think about the story of the Israelites escaping from slavery in
Egypt, miraculously crossing the Red Sea, struggling through the
wilderness for forty years, and, at last, entering the promised land.
It is also the time to tell and retell the stories of the struggles and
miracles of the early church.
And all of this is hugely important since we all have stories to tell:
stories about who we are, where we come from and where we
hope to go in life. We all have stories of our travelling in faith.
Why not join us then this Lent time for worship? For then you will
be part of truly saying to the world ‘This is our communal;
story’: the story of the Israelites, the story of Jesus and the story
of our church family’s ‘journey of faith’. Moreover you will be
affirming and finding meaning in your own story – your unique
story – your story of one loved by God shown in the Easter of
Colossians 1.15 – 20
It is a strange story – it is a moving story – it is a story that hits you between the eyes and stops you in your tracks. It is a story that has so much to ask us today.
Because, just recently I was told of a middle aged German who visited Auschwitz a couple of years back. He was looking at the various photographs when became very agitated. When they eventually got him calmed down, he managed to explain that he was looking at a picture of the unloading ramp at the concentration camp. It was there that a SS officer decided who was to live and who was to die. Behind him in the photo was a SS guard taking down the decisions. That man was his father. Now, the visitor went on to explain, that his father would never say what he had done in the war and taken his secret to the grave. They then asked him – what had his father done after the war. He had been a Lutheran pastor!
Well I suspect we think to ourselves there can be no hope for this Nazi no matter what he did later. Yet we also, strangely, come away from that story saying to ourselves but if there is hope for him, then there must be hope for me.
However, is this heart’s demand for such a hope misplaced?
Well no – it is certainly not.
Because that hope is the gospel hope. It is the hope we ca not so much overcome who we are but can escape from who we are and we can climb out of who we have become.
And that very hope comes to each and every one of us from a gift from God; the gift that concludes our series on divine gifts and the gift which exceeds and overshadows all others. Because, that gift is the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Now Jesus reveals many smaller details about God, but he also reveals two huge facts as well. And the first is that God is a loving God, a caring God and even an indulgent God. If it were not so why would have Jesus told us not to have troubled hearts? Why would he have told us that his divine father would be concerned about such things? Why indeed did he sacrifice himself so that we could have the fruits of that act of love today? Since in bread and wine this morning we do remember as the letter to Colossians has it – he made peace for us though his blood shed on the cross.
More to the point, however, is that the quality of God’s love is not weakened by what we do; what we are and what we have become.
Instead that love is constant and unbreakable and eternal. Indeed, the quality of God’s love is the same as that Vernon Scannell wrote of in his poem – contradictions in Love:
As fragile as an eggshell bauble
On a Christmas tree
But as durable as gleaming steel
Of knife, or sword or key.
Sweet as the fragrance of the rose
Or honey from the bee
But cold and scentless as the snow
And salty as the sea.
As gentle as a summer’s breeze
Or mother’s lullaby
But burly as a hurricane
Or thunder in the sky.
As magical as witches spells
Or blackbirds in a pie,
But plain and simple as good bread
Without which we would die.
Yet the revelation that Jesus makes about God has more to say.
For, our loving God is not like the old woman who lived in the shoe – full of love but unable to act out that love. Quite the opposite, our God shows his love by intervening in human affairs. And so he does bring change to human hearts; he does resolve nearly impossible situations and does help us to be different and better and more worthy of his Son’s gospel.
Ah we say – I’ll never change – He’ll never change – she will never change!
Well on our own that is true. However the point that Jesus made by talking of himself being the way is that – God can. The point of the whole passage from John is that – Jesus will. The point of the lesson from Colossians is that Jesus – is more than able to.
But what about our concentration guard whose life had seriously gone of the rails? What about those who today are consider beyond the pail? What about ourselves when we, on occasion, we feel really beyond the love and saving arm of God?
Well, there is an ancient legend about Judas that Madeleine L’Engle tells. The legend is that after his death Judas found himself at the bottom of a deep and slimy pit. For thousands of years he wept his repentance, and when the tears were finally spent, he looked up and saw way, way up a tiny glimmer of light. After he had contemplated it for another thousand years or so, he began to try to climb up towards the light. The walls of the pit were dark and slimy, and he kept slipping back down. Finally, after great effort, he reached the top and dragged himself into an upper room with twelve people seated around the table. “We’ve been waiting for you, Judas,” Jesus said. “We couldn’t begin till you came.”
What Christ ultimately reveals then is that he wants all of us to return to him no matter the situation. He wants each of us, with every fibre of our being, to climb back and desire for him to bring change forever. Since all he ever requires, is for us to accept his active love into our lives.
For, at this moment, we cannot know how in the end the concentration guard stood with God. We cannot even know where he or she next to us in the pew stands with God. That is for them and their creator. But we do know where Christ stands – he stands ready to show us the way – he stands willing us to ascend again to him. He stands waiting so that he and we can each begin and begin and begin again.