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You didn’t choose me but I chose you

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Easter 6 b  – Jn 15 9-17 Acts 10 44-48

Jesus said, You didn’t choose me but I chose you. Jn 15.16 It’s easy to lose sight of that – I/you didn’t choose him; he chose me/you. It’s quite confronting. I understand it to mean that Jesus acted to take hold of you and me before we even knew about him. It’s disconcerting enough to have our children flexing their independence and doing things without permission; it’s positively unnerving to have our God doing it too! Say goodbye to a comfortable, domesticated God!

This means that our faith is about choosing to respond to God – getting on board with initiatives that God calls us to; accepting the outstretched hand of God. It also means that if we walk out on the Church, it won’t make Jesus give up on you or me. Remember, he chose us! What we might do for Jesus won’t cause him to respond to us in love; he loves us anyway. Whatever we do, to please him or to cross him, his love for us is there. It never wavers. It’s just there; and that’s the force which can nourish and grow you and me into a people who are a blessing for the world.

Today’s reading from the book of Acts shows the earliest Church discovering that Jesus chooses people they never expected. They’re amazed; people who aren’t Jewish are given the Holy Spirit. You didn’t choose me; I chose you. We don’t often think about Jesus calling the shots; even less that he does it in such dramatic ways. We’re not used to dreams and visions and angels being part of our decision-making processes. We tend to make fun of that – to say it’s how fundamentalists think. We tend not to trust people who claim a special relationship with God.

Such misgivings can colour how we read scripture. If you take some today’s Gospel verses (10,14 & 16) out of context and read them literally, you might see a protection racket; Jesus saying something like ‘10 Do what I say, and you’ll be okay; 14 I’ll like you if you play by my rules; 16 Hang around with me, and I’ll see you do well out of it.’ Looks pretty worrying, doesn’t it. Someone who knew nothing else about Jesus, flipping open the Bible at this page, would probably balk at it. But they needn’t.

How would you help someone understand this Gospel passage? How would you open it up as good news for them? We’ve each been charged with doing just that. Personally, I usually start by looking at context. It always explains a lot.

The immediate context of this passage is the verses we read last week – I am the true vine. We’re reading through Jesus’ farewell to his disciples before he’s crucified. He’s giving them a message of a choice for love and friendship. When he talks of commandments, his command is to love like he does. And his master-servant relationship with his disciples, it’s laid aside, as he offers us his friendship.

He’s telling us about building a community of love, where the only measure of a relationship is the law of love. Keeping that law builds community that’s safe for all who belong to it, and any newcomer. We think only Jesus can create something so wonderful, yet today we hear him asking us to embody his creativity and trustworthiness. So when Jesus talks about us asking something in his name, v.16 c he trusts that we’ll ask what he’d ask – that we’ll be loving like he’s loving.

This looks back to last week when we heard Jesus tell us he’s the vine and we’re the branches. As his branches, it’s natural that we’ll genuinely express his care – particularly for the frail, the frightened and the needy. He’s chosen them. And we are his representatives, called to express his care for them.

As Christ’s branches, we are to reach out and provide hope and shelter and sweet refreshment in their season. Just as he reached out to us and grafted us onto him, we are to offer this belonging to others too – to offer without condition a connection, through Christ the vine – offer them connection with the true source their being, with a true reason for being. But like any branch, we can only draw the strength to do all of that from the vine; Jesus, the true vine.

That’s quite a bit of context, but it all helps to build bridges of unbreakable, free belonging. It helps us and all who hear this Gospel to know that his call to us, his way of love, his kindness and understanding can bring to a broken world the healing and peace of faith, hope and love – new life; true life.  Amen

I am the vine and you are the branches

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Easter 5b  I am the true vine – John 15 1-8

In John’s Gospel, when Jesus says I am the true vine, or I am the Good Shepherd, or I am the way, the truth and the life, or any of the other I am sayings, the I am part is especially significant. It’s a deliberate echo of God’s revelation of the divine Name to Moses at the burning bush Exodus 3.14I am who I am – tell the Israelites that I am has sent you. You might remember in the Good Friday Passion Gospel when soldiers came to arrest Jesus. Jesus asked them who they were looking for. When they said Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus replied literally I am, and everyone fell to the ground. The I am sayings in John’s Gospel tell us that the whole majesty and glory and love of God is present physically in this human being called Jesus.

Often, the I am sayings also make a connection between Jesus’ body and the Temple of Jerusalem. Jesus referred to own body as ‘this Temple’ – a place where God is present John 2.19-22 – which was what the Temple of Jerusalem was for the Jewish people. Jesus called his followers to shift their gaze away from the Temple building, and instead turn to him.

Today’s I am statement, I am the true vine, is for us an obscure Temple reference. What does a vine have to do with the Temple? The archæological architect, Leen Ritmeyer is a world authority on the Temple of Jesus’ time. On the basis of his research, he and a colleague designed and built a scale model of the second Temple Jesus knew. Supporting its porch are four columns. Wreathed up these columns and over the porch is a huge vine, wrought out of gold; the Golden Vine of the Temple.

This vine represented Israel whom God had planted in the Holy Land. Ps 80; Hos 5; Jer 2. It graced the doorway into the Holy of Holies. And pilgrims would bring offerings of golden leaves and clusters of golden grapes to add to the Temple vine’s splendour. In the Mishnah, we read whosoever gave a leaf, or a berry, or a cluster as a freewill-offering…brought it and [the priests] hung it there”. (Middot 3.8) So to return to this morning’s Gospel reading, when Jesus said I am the true vine, he was declaring that he superseded all this in his own person. He was effectively saying, By me, by this doorway, you enter God’s presence. I am the way.

Vines have a mind of their own. Watch them grow and you see creation at work before your eyes. Little tendrils stretch out quickly, looking for the next thing to grab onto. They set the direction of growth for the rest of the vine towards the light. Plants adapt to their environments like that. They adapt and belong – they give fruit, shade, beauty, variety, oxygen – they give life. So I find it a fascinating picture Jesus gives us of ourselves, the church, as the branches. It’s an image which speaks of amazing variety; an image of life-giving providence.

The vine growing in the soil is a picture of Jesus connecting us with the source of our being. It’s an organic, reciprocal image of a church community who can grow and spread where we’re needed in order to provide nourishment, refreshment, shade and beauty. There’s a wonderful purpose to it. Christ as the vine and we as the branches says that we are called to provide for anyone who needs our fruit.

Plants can be utterly different from each other – each specially adapted to its own particular environment. So how does this speak to us – St John’s, a branch of the true vine? In Adelaide terms, we’re an ancient parish – the second oldest – and we’ve seeded other parishes in our time – parishes, a school, St John’s Youth Services, our community store. And we’ve seen significant prunings too. The world around us has changed and we’ve adapted. And Jesus still calls us to bear much fruit. We’re the latest season of branches of the true vine, called to bear much fruit.

The golden vine of the Jerusalem Temple was a sign of God’s provision, and at the same time, an emblem of the people’s gratitude. It’s a very helpful image, this link between gratitude and generosity. It characterises people who know we are loved and blessed, and feel moved to respond with love and gratitude.

But how to respond to such a gift? In my weekly, I wrote about the work of St John’s Youth Services, which is a beautiful fruit of this branch of the vine. I also wrote about some related services that serve the poorest and most vulnerable in our community – homeless people; people escaping the poison of coercive control and violence; Aboriginal people in need – all on our doorstep, many with no safe place.

It’s time to ask if the fruit we’ve been producing until now is adapted to current needs. Are we bearing enough fruit – the right variety? Are we alive to specific needs; are we willing to be pruned; to have other branches grafted in with us, or to be grafted in different places ourselves? Are we called to something new? These are things we can only discern together through prayer and listening – openly and courageously. Do we increase the ministries we’re doing to meet increased need, or add something quite new? We in Parish Council await your suggestions. Amen.

The Good Shepherd

Bishop Greg Thompson

The Lord is my Shepherd Psalm 23/John 10

Kriol translation of Psalm 23 and then back-translated into English.

Psalm 23 – Saam 23.

Yawei, yu jis laik det brabli gudwan stakmen. Yu oldie maindimbat mi, en ai garram ebrijing brom yu. Ai kaan wandim mowa.

Yahweh, you just like that good stockman who’s everyday thinking about me, and I get everything from you. I can’t want more.

Yu lukaftumbat mi jis laik det stakmen weya im deigim im ship olabat blanga abum spel langa kwaitwan pleis garram bigmob gras en springwoda.

You look after me just like that stockman who takes his sheep to have a break in a quiet place with lots of grass and spring water.

Ebridei yu meigim mi jidan strongbala. Yu shoum mi det raitwei blanga bulurrum, dumaji ai trastim yu neim blanga dum wanim yubin pramis.

Everyday you make me strong. You show me the right way to follow. I can trust in your name because you do what you promise.

Nomeda if ai go thru langa brabli dakbala pleis weya enijing gin meigim mi dai, bat stil ai kaan bradin dumaji yu iya garram mi olataim. Yu garram yu spiya en yu longwan stik blanga lukaftumbat mi.

No matter if I go through a really dark place where things can make me die. But still I can’t be frightened because you’re here with me all the time. You’ve got your spear and long stick with you to look after me.

Yu meigm det padi redibala blanga mi, weya main enami olabat garra luk yu welkam mi en meigim mi jidan haibala, en yu filimap main kap til im randan.

You make a party ready for me where my enemies have to watch you welcome me and sit me in the highest place and fill my cup til it runs down.

Ai sabi yu na oldie gudbala langa mi, en yu laigim mi brabliwei ebridei weya mi jidan laibala. En ai sabi ai garra jidan langa yu haus garram yu olagijawan.

I know you want good things for me and you’ll love me like that everyday I’m alive. And I know I’m going to live in your house with you forever.

 

Sermon.

As a prayer, the Psalm helps us to consider the elements of our spiritual life. A Prayer that could motivate us to be walking with Jesus as our shepherd. A prayer that attends to the challenges of our lives and the invitation to trust God.

We have used the Kriol translation – a language spoken by over 50,000 speakers in Northern Australian. The youngest language in the world as it emerged in the 20th century in Arnhem land NT flowing from the dispossession of Aboriginal people from their land. Kriol is the first Aboriginal language that has been used to translate the complete Bible in 2006 and it took over 50 years.

I wish to reflect on both the Aboriginal text and the back translation so that we may have some new perspectives within this beautiful passage. As well as gain insight in how we may read the text in our context, especially as we mark ANZAC day.

The Psalm echoes the sacred memory of God loving, calling and leading his people as the Shepherd/stockman. – it recalls all the history of God leading Moses and God’s people out of slavery, through the wilderness and into the promised. Once they were no people, now they were God’s people. God had been a shepherd to them. Jesus draws on this wonderful loving image in John 10 I am the good shepherd. The devotion, care and sacrifice of the shepherd is an intimate picture.

Kriol translators draw on the experience of their country and of the many language groups of Australian indigenous people as well as the influence of early settlers language. There are no sheep or shepherds in Arnhem land ,so they translated the Ps 23 this way ;

Yawei, yu jis laik det brabli gudwan stakmen. Yu oldie maindimbat mi, en ai garram ebrijing brom yu. Ai kaan wandim mowa.

Yahweh, you just like that good stockman who’s everyday thinking about me, and I get everything from you. I can’t want more.

Yu lukaftumbat mi jis laik det stakmen weya im deigim im ship olabat blanga abum spel langa kwaitwan pleis garram bigmob gras en springwoda.

You look after me just like that stockman who takes his sheep to have a break in a quiet place with lots of grass and spring water.

We have an invitation through this prayer to ask God to walk with us as the shepherd  stockman. The Kriol translation assists us in seeing the three places that the Good Shepherd walks with us ‘at the billabong (kwaitwan pleis )– along the track (in the darkbala pleis)- with the feast (haibala plais)’.

Kwaitwan pleis. repeated in the psalms as refuge. The place of retreat and renewal. The place where we may focus on the spirit and meaning for our lives. In the Top End it is the place for food and nourishment. We need to make space and time for such a place. Setting aside space in our church or in our homes or in our work place to pray. We see this in the pattern of Jesus. And we see this through the trauma of war.

The Top End was a battlefield from the air during WW2. After the regular bombing far and wide across the north over 250,000 troops were stationed to provide support to the islands north and to prepare for invasion.

Among the military personnel were the 31 Squadron Beaufighters based 110 km south of Darwin at Coomalie creek. The runway is still there with a number of buildings rebuilt in commemoration of the bravery and trials of this squadron.

I have led Anglican services there in the rebuilt open-sided Chapel following the original design. The original chapel was built and paid for during the war from the 31 Squadron. I had recounted to me that the squadron had raised money for a mess but because of the attacks by Japanese bombers and the danger they faced in each mission, they gave it to the Padre to erect a chapel. ANZAC Day reminds us of the need for personal and community sanctuary while we face either danger or despair.

The Psalm moves from kwaitwan pleis to darkbala pleis.

Ebridei yu meigim mi jidan strongbala. Yu shoum mi det raitwei blanga bulurrum, dumaji ai trastim yu neim blanga dum wanim yubin pramis.

Everyday you make me strong. You show me the right way to follow. I can trust in your name because you do what you promise.

Nomeda if ai go thru langa brabli dakbala pleis weya enijing gin meigim mi dai, bat stil ai kaan bradin dumaji yu iya garram mi olataim. Yu garram yu spiya en yu longwan stik blanga lukaftumbat mi.

No matter if I go through a really dark place where things can make me die. But still I can’t be frightened because you’re here with me all the time. You’ve got your spear and long stick with you to look after me.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; your rod and your staff  – they comfort me.

The shepherd stockman leads us on a track through a valley. We need the sanctuary and refuge of the spirit, and we need the track for walking with God.

In the New Testament, God sends Jesus to walk with us and to show us how to walk with God. Walking with Jesus was the school of faith. Unlike his rabbinical peers, his classroom for disciples is on the road – learning by listening, doing, reflecting and experiencing both rejection and welcome.

Our missional journey as Anglicans and your personal journey are bound up with the great journey of Jesus. And we have a history of walking through the darkbala pleis In 1908 in response to the atrocities heard during an Anglican conference in Melbourne, Bishops commissioned ABM and CMS to send a ship and a team to the Gulf. Aboriginal Christians James and Angelina Noble and Horace Reid arrived at Roper and were sent out to contact the scattered Aboriginal tribes. One of the translators of the Kriol NT was Rev Dr Joy Sandefur who pointed out to me a gorge in the hills where men would lie in wait to kill Aboriginal people as they made their way to the Roper Mission in the 1900’s. She said local elders were still calling it the ‘darkbaka pleis’ in the 1970’s.

Barnabas Roberts came into Roper mission as a little boy soon after the sanctuary of Roper Mission was established in 1908. Like many others, he and his family experienced the horrible times of family being hunted off their country. Like many other families, his was badly affected by leprosy, which claimed his first wife, Norah.

Barnabas held on to the best of his traditions, including helping to preserve the Alawa language. For many years, Barnabas worked as a stockman, and walked with a limp after an accident with a horse. This did not stop him walking long distances to tell people the good news of Jesus, something he did right up until his death. He set the pattern of going out to people in isolated camps and encouraging them to follow the ways of the Lord.

We walk in the company of these Aboriginal saints and we are invited to join the great journey in Christ.

The track through the darkbala pleis is where we learn to trust in God, to grow in faith, to move towards the destiny Christ has won for us.

As the kwaitwan pleis needs the track through the darkbala pleis, so the track leads to the haibala pleis. The place of hospitality and community and of welcome rather than judgement.

Yu meigm det padi redibala blanga mi, weya main enami olabat garra luk yu welkam mi en meigim mi jidan haibala, en yu filimap main kap til im randan.

You make a party ready for me where my enemies have to watch you welcome me and sit me in the highest place and fill my cup til it runs down.

Ai sabi yu na oldie gudbala langa mi, en yu laigim mi brabliwei ebridei weya mi jidan laibala. En ai sabi ai garra jidan langa yu haus garram yu olagijawan.

I know you want good things for me and you’ll love me like that everyday I’m alive. And I know I’m going to live in your house with you forever.

Ps 23 carries a vision of community not only of the individual and the personal bond with God. It is a catholic faith we share in, bigger than the boundaries of our personal faith, affiliations and experiences and it brings us into relationships, often not of our own choosing. It is an open community in his name that transcends culture, language, gender and status – an economy of love where the intimate bond between shepherd and sheep, between Christ and church is reflected in the relationships of a faith community.

Such bonds of love were tested when two policemen were outside St Johns Canberra church as a service proceeded in 1950, and it wasn’t for a dignitary that they were there for, but for a preacher. Before the day he preached, there were various groups bitterly opposed to what the church was doing. It was in the newspapers, letters to the Rector and Bishop and a deep concern fell on the congregation. Rallies were held in the local community to oppose the church’s action. The Rector had embarked on a public controversy and the local community was divided. The service went ahead.

The Rector was Archdeacon of Canberra the Ven Robert Davies. He had welcomed the Presiding Bishop of the Anglican Church in Japan, Bishop Michael Yashiro – the first Japanese to be granted an Australian visa after the Second World War to preach at St John’s at Evensong on Friday, 9 June 1950. In a spirit of contrition and repentance, before his visit to Australia, he had sent several bamboo crosses to churches associated with the martyrs. The Bishop was to go on a pilgrimage to the various parishes in Australia, particularly the home parishes of ‘the New Guinea martyrs’ – Sister May Hayman was one of those martyrs whose window is in the St John’s sanctuary. During the service Padre F. Bashford of Duntroon took part. He was a former prisoner of the Japanese. Several of Sister Hayman’s relatives were present. The bishop dedicated the small bamboo cross bearing in Japanese characters the words ‘Reconciliation and Repentance’. This service was a moving occasion with profound significance but many of the community whose members had only too recently personal experience of the horrors of the Second World War found the timing too much. In this setting, it was thought unsafe to leave the little cross in the church and it was put in Davies’ care. (from ‘Firm Still you Stand’ Alf Body). It took more than 41 years to find its place in the church in what has been called the Reconciliation and Repentance Chapel.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows

I think of this bamboo cross story between bitter enemies and of how Christ’s love and courage through individuals began a healing journey at the Shepherd’s table.

Kwaitwan pleis, the track through the darkbala pleis and the community of the haibala pleis invite us to pray Psalm 23. The Good Shepherd will walk with us and when we are too weak carry us home.

 

God is vitally engaged with us

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Easter 3b  – Luke 24.36-48

You have given my heart more gladness than they have when their corn, wine and oil increase. Ps 4.7

Vicky and I have some very old cook-books and we find it a delight to browse in them during holidays. How else are you going to find out how to roast larks the Dunstable way? Or, for that matter, with today’s Gospel in mind, how are we going to broil fish? It sounds so worryingly like boiled. But, thanks to Warne’s Model Cookery of 1879, we know it’s more like ‘barbequed’, which sounds much tastier. Luke’s Gospel is full of food and drink and I find it makes its stories very memorable. Some of the most memorable sermons I’ve heard were about food.

So as you might expect there’s important food teaching for us to ponder in today’s reading from Luke’s Gospel. What we just heard happened late on the day of Jesus’ resurrection. It’s the day when two of his followers were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus and they were joined by a stranger they didn’t recognise. The stranger walked with them; talked with them. But it wasn’t until this stranger broke bread with them that evening that they realised it was Jesus. Then he vanished.

These two returned immediately to Jerusalem where they found ‘the eleven’ and all the others in a state of astonishment. The risen Jesus had just appeared to Peter! “The Lord has risen indeed,” they said. The two travellers then told everyone about their experience of Jesus breaking bread with them on the road to Emmaus.

That’s where we came into the story today. And now, while they’re all talking, Jesus himself stands among them and says, “Peace be with you.” He shows them the wounds of his crucifixion and offers to let them touch him. And then, despite his having recently eaten with the two travellers, he asks them if they’ve got something to eat. Food again. They give him some grilled fish – and some of the ancient manuscripts say they also gave him a piece of honeycomb. Judg 14? Just like at Emmaus where he broke bread, here he eats with his disciples again. And by doing this, they experience Jesus as truly physically resurrected.

This is the joy we give thanks for every time we share Holy Communion together: more than an intellectual or emotional experience, this physical sharing in the broken bread and wine poured out is our experience together of Jesus physically resurrected and alive in and through us today.

It’s full of mystery, this food and the risen Jesus phenomenon in the Gospels. At first, his closest friends don’t recognise him, but then their eyes are opened when he eats with them. He’s the same person, yet somehow very different; he’s physically there, but somehow differently. In John’s gospel, we’re told that the risen Jesus gets past locked doors. And in John, as we’ve seen in Luke, he eats with his friends. Jn 21.9-10, 13 In both Gospels, at first, he’s not recognised, then suddenly he is.

Central to the Gospel message is this claim that Jesus rose from the dead physically – not as a ghost who can’t offer you wounds to touch, who can’t eat or drink with you. Jesus rose from the dead physically as a living, breathing, eating, drinking person.

It’s an enormously confronting claim; so confronting that people have tried to dilute it with theories about mass hypnosis and the gullibility of the simple Mediterranean peasant mind. They forget that Jesus’ early followers came from all walks of life, and had plenty of practical experience of the physical realities of life and death. All four gospels record that the disciples refused to believe it at first. So when Luke the physician records the conclusion of those gathered people that “the Lord has risen indeed,” it’s perfectly clear how momentous is the claim he is making.

The resurrection narrative reminds us that God always was, and still is, vitally engaged with us – the physical creation; vitally committed to our nurture and our restoration. That has serious implications for the way we treat each other and Earth. It’s something we engage with together each year now in the Season of Creation.

I’m reminded of the famous charge from St Teresa of Avila …

Christ has no body now on earth but ours,

no hands but ours, no feet but ours,

ours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion is to look out to the earth,

ours are the feet by which Christ is to go about doing good

and ours are the hands by which Christ is to bless others now.

Anyway, given today’s readings, perhaps a good start is to invite others to eat with us. It’s an option that virus closed off for a while. But why not try now – what does that Psalm say – taste and see that the Lord is good. 34.8a Let’s give it a try. You never know who we might find at the table with us.        Amen

Witnesses to the Resurrection

 Rev’d Susan Straub

Easter 2 Year B – Acts 4:32-37, Psalm 133, 1 John 1 1-2, 2, John 20:19-31

Children’s Talk

 When I was Priest in a country parish by the sea, there was a little boy called Selwyn.  He was bright and quick on his feet (his daddy was a national-level soccer-player).  One Sunday morning, Selwyn came confidently as usual to the altar-rail for his blessing.  He was dressed a little differently than usual, though still in his best:  he wore his Spiderman costume.   And we loved him for it!

Now Selwyn is not an uncommon name in some Pacific Islands. Many people are still thankful to the man who brought them the good news that God in Jesus is not only alive but with us; right where we are.  Not only that, but He loves us and always will. All you have to do, the man said, is believe it. It’s the Truth.  The life and death of Jesus of Nazareth, God’s Son, were evidence of the Truth of God’s love for the world, for  each one of us;  and for you.  The name of the man sent by his Church was George Selwyn, and he was the first bishop of New Zealand. (1809-1878).

Sermon

On Saturday, Easter Eve, I went for swim, instead of going as usual on   Sunday before church.  Jim, not his real name was sitting in the morning sun with a pleasant-faced Asian woman.  She could have been a recent immigrant as she didn’t seem confident about speaking English, but seemed to understand.  Jim had had orthopaedic surgery the previous week, was happy with his recovery so far, and grateful. That led to the wonders of living in Adelaide. Together we extolled its delights: from d medical science, to the space-agency, opera and high culture, sports, and our new Oval overseen by the Cathedral.  At that, Jim asked if I was taking Easter services, and as a quick aside to the woman, said, ‘Susan’s a priest’.  He then suggested my sermon should be about being thankful: for living in safety, when elsewhere in the world was suffering hugely, especially from the pandemic. Our exchange then centred on suffering and the person of Christ.  He made statements that allowed me to say that Jesus was a victim who didn’t behave like a victim;  that he didn’t repay evil with evil, but in the agony of the brutal, intentional cruelty, and humiliation of crucifixion, he said: ‘Father forgive them, for they know not what they do’ and the evil done to him was cut off, it couldn’t continue to circulate and damage others.  The woman was looking at me intently.

John 20:19-31

Christ’s appearances and what they meant to the disciples.

Easter Day, that first Sunday after the crucifixion, John wrote that Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene.  In the evening of that day, Jesus came and stood among the disciples as they were together in a locked room.  He greeted them, and showed them his hands and his side.  From the marks that the disciples saw on him, there was no doubt for them that this was truly their crucified Rabbi, and if this was their crucified Rabbi standing there among them, then he had to be master over death.

So as to understand what that really meant to these disciples, we need to know how they understood the cosmos. It was heaven, earth and sheol.  Sheol was the place of the dead.  There was no concept of heaven as dwelling forever with God.  The concept of forever dwelling with God, of nothing being able to separate us from the love of God was given to us by those earliest disciples.  For one thing it meant that all that Jesus had taught them could be lived out, as Jesus himself had lived, because it was true, it was genuine, it was a way where God walked too, God walked with them.

In other words, and this is an important theme in John’s gospel, Jesus is the Truth.  God’s Word, Jesus, is the Truth.  A couple of years ago, there was an article in the Easter edition of the Weekend Australian.   Written by Brian Rayment, QC Advocate for the Newcastle Diocese, the article explored the trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin (the court of justice of Jesus’ people), and the trial before Pilate, the Roman governor.  The conclusion Rayment drew is that the charge brought against Jesus was probably not that of blasphemy, but of being a false prophet, a fraud, a charlatan, one about whom no-one could testify to any evidence that what he had taught and said was in any way true or subsequently borne out. This would explain, for example, why the chief priests wanted to change the inscription on the cross from:  ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews’ to: ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews’.  Under the first title, the King of the Jews is being crucified, under the second title, a fraud, a false prophet, a trouble-maker, is being crucified.

So when Jesus appeared to his disciples alive with the marks of crucifixion, there could be no greater testimony to the truth that God had spoken in the person and work of this man.  The disciples saw and believed this truth, Thomas touched and believed, and John wrote these things so that we may believe. What we believe is that the way of God is the way of Jesus, the Christ;  that as members of his body we live his risen life; and that in living Christ’s risen life nothing can separate us from God.  You know as well as I do, that we all share the joys and the sorrows of human life.  We have our achievements and our failures, as did the one we call Lord, but we, who believe, who have faith, even if our faith is as small as a mustard seed in a sea of doubt, have the power of life and peace, and the power to give life and peace to others.  In fact, ou faith is made complete in loving giving.

At each eucharist, we celebrate the presence of the risen Christ in our midst with the greeting of peace, the broken Christ distributed among us, with Christ alive within us, God sends us out.  Like those disciples long ago, we too leave the security of the church, the building and each other to go out into the world with the message of hope conveyed in ordinary words and actions:  Christ is risen. He walks with us. Talks with us. Shall we face welcome, hostility or indifference? Like the disciples, we learn not to be fazed by the reactions of others one way or another, some are ready or receptive and some not (God knows!).  We know that we are called and sent to show our love for God and our neighbour: to show it in the way we live, and when opportunity arises, telling the truth.  Christ is risen! There’s nothing to fear. Love is stronger than fear – the fear of being judged by someone who tells you what Christians believe and that’s why they’re not, but they’re ‘spiritual’, whatever that means! Love is stronger than fear – the fear of being condemned, whether ‘trolled’ or ‘blocked’, or our faith overlooked to make us acceptable and socially appropriate to acquaintances, colleagues, neighbours.  Love is stronger even than death, so that nothing can separate us from God’s love.  That’s the truth

You see, in the person and work of Christ, our faith deals effectively with the problem of evil, of sin both committed and suffered.  We know that it was by people of faith in Jesus Christ that Adelaide was founded and developed.  As I left Jim and the woman on Easter Eve, ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘I’d speak of thankfulness!’

So here’s to thankfulness for the risen life we share in Christ.  Thanks for the way of life we share in Adelaide, in Australia;  thanks for the life and work of George Augustus Selwyn, first bishop of New Zealand; and thanks for Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, who loved faithfully and steadfastly in war and peace, his country, our country, our commonwealth of nations, and our Queen.  May he rest in the love and peace of Christ.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love is stronger than death

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Easter 2021

Love is stronger than death – quite literally. Jesus rose from the dead! He is alive! In his love for us, he came to bring us abundant life – life filled with hope, joy, freedom, justice, healing, equality, dignity, peace – he came to bring these good gifts of God to everyone.

But some people wanted to monopolise power, wealth and control for themselves. So they did what they thought was needed to stop him – they eventually murdered Jesus. But in him, the combined might of established religious and national vested interest and trans-national power were stopped in their tracks. Their final solution, to silence his movement by murdering him, was helpless in the face of the love which this dear, humble, compassionate man embodied. Love was born again when Jesus rose from the dead. His love is quite literally stronger than death itself.

John’s gospel tells us that Mary Magdalene found the empty tomb; and Peter and the beloved disciple were witnesses to this – right down to the grave-cloths discarded in the cave. Dumbfounded, the men return to their homes. But Magdalene stays, weeping, at the entrance to the cave. She looks in and sees two angels there who ask her why she’s weeping. She answers that she fears the body of her beloved teacher Rabbouni has been removed by someone. A horrible fear.

But then she turns and the risen Jesus appears to her, first asking the same question as the angels – Why are you weeping? – and then another question. She’s been staring into the cave – For whom are you looking? Magdalene first assumes he must be ‘the gardener’ and asks if he’s the one who’s taken her teacher away. She doesn’t recognise him. But the gardener? It’s a lovely detail, and only in John’s resurrection story, this memory of the tomb being in a garden (which we also heard in the Good Friday gospel). This woman and this man alone in the garden echo the first man and woman in the Garden of Eden; placed there to serve and protect. We know Jesus as the most perfect expression of our human vocation to serve and protect.

While we’re on the subject of echoes of earlier stories, let’s go back to Jesus’ second question to Magdalene – For whom are you looking? It reminds us of God looking for the man and the woman hiding in the Garden of Eden. But it’s the same question Jesus asked Judas and the soldiers in another garden – Gethsemane. John’s drawing all sorts of threads together. We’re reminded of betrayal and deceit in the two other gardens – Eden and Gethsemane. But as soon as John’s evoked these memories, we see that in this garden, they’re wiped away. Mary, he says; Rabbouni – my teacher. And she grabs him. Every tear is wiped away. Jesus has to ask her to let go of him – physically. Everything’s different from now on, but still connected.

In this garden, the man doesn’t point a finger of blame at the woman. Rather, Jesus commissions Mary to carry the wonderful news of his resurrection to the others. She is like the river flowing out of the Garden of Eden to water the whole Earth – she is the first Apostle, sent to bear the good news that the love of Jesus is stronger than death. That is the Gospel we bear still.

So in today’s service, we began our worship in a garden. We lit a fire to show that our God is afire with love – love that is stronger than death. From that fire, we lit a candle which held the light of Christ before us as we recalled the true significance of his resurrection in all time and space. And in the next few minutes, we will remember our baptisms – where we went under the deep waters of death with Christ in order that we might be raised to new life with him.

We engage in these ancient, symbolic acts to remind ourselves whose we are. We, have been raised to new life from the deep waters of death by the power of Jesus. We are to live the certainty that love is stronger than death. We are set free to name and defy the powers of greed, control and fear and death which could not contain Jesus, and which have no legitimate place in the world. Those powers rise and seek to dominate in every age; they’re doing so now. But we know, and we proclaim what we celebrate again today. Love is stronger than death. Christ is risen; Alleluia!

I am the way, the truth and the life

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Easter 5b – I am the true vine – John 15 1-8

In John’s Gospel, when Jesus says I am the true vine, or I am the Good Shepherd, or I am the way, the truth and the life, or any of the other I am sayings, the I am part is especially significant. It’s a deliberate echo of God’s revelation of the divine Name to Moses at the burning bush Exodus 3.14I am who I am – tell the Israelites that I am has sent you. You might remember in the Good Friday Passion Gospel when soldiers came to arrest Jesus. Jesus asked them who they were looking for. When they said Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus replied literally I am, and everyone fell to the ground. The I am sayings in John’s Gospel tell us that the whole majesty and glory and love of God is present physically in this human being called Jesus.

Often, the I am sayings also make a connection between Jesus’ body and the Temple of Jerusalem. Jesus referred to own body as ‘this Temple’ – a place where God is present John 2.19-22 – which was what the Temple of Jerusalem was for the Jewish people. Jesus called his followers to shift their gaze away from the Temple building, and instead turn to him.

Today’s I am statement, I am the true vine, is for us an obscure Temple reference. What does a vine have to do with the Temple? The archæological architect, Leen Ritmeyer is a world authority on the Temple of Jesus’ time. On the basis of his research, he and a colleague designed and built a scale model of the second Temple Jesus knew. Supporting its porch are four columns. Wreathed up these columns and over the porch is a huge vine, wrought out of gold; the Golden Vine of the Temple.

This vine represented Israel whom God had planted in the Holy Land. Ps 80; Hos 5; Jer 2. It graced the doorway into the Holy of Holies. And pilgrims would bring offerings of golden leaves and clusters of golden grapes to add to the Temple vine’s splendour. In the Mishnah, we read whosoever gave a leaf, or a berry, or a cluster as a freewill-offering…brought it and [the priests] hung it there”. (Middot 3.8) So to return to this morning’s Gospel reading, when Jesus said I am the true vine, he was declaring that he superseded all this in his own person. He was effectively saying, By me, by this doorway, you enter God’s presence. I am the way.

Vines have a mind of their own. Watch them grow and you see creation at work before your eyes. Little tendrils stretch out quickly, looking for the next thing to grab onto. They set the direction of growth for the rest of the vine towards the light. Plants adapt to their environments like that. They adapt and belong – they give fruit, shade, beauty, variety, oxygen – they give life. So I find it a fascinating picture Jesus gives us of ourselves, the church, as the branches. It’s an image which speaks of amazing variety; an image of life-giving providence.

The vine growing in the soil is a picture of Jesus connecting us with the source of our being. It’s an organic, reciprocal image of a church community who can grow and spread where we’re needed in order to provide nourishment, refreshment, shade and beauty. There’s a wonderful purpose to it. Christ as the vine and we as the branches says that we are called to provide for anyone who needs our fruit.

Plants can be utterly different from each other – each specially adapted to its own particular environment. So how does this speak to us – St John’s, a branch of the true vine? In Adelaide terms, we’re an ancient parish – the second oldest – and we’ve seeded other parishes in our time – parishes, a school, St John’s Youth Services, our community store. And we’ve seen significant prunings too. The world around us has changed and we’ve adapted. And Jesus still calls us to bear much fruit. We’re the latest season of branches of the true vine, called to bear much fruit.

The golden vine of the Jerusalem Temple was a sign of God’s provision, and at the same time, an emblem of the people’s gratitude. It’s a very helpful image, this link between gratitude and generosity. It characterises people who know we are loved and blessed, and feel moved to respond with love and gratitude.

Easter-5-b-2021-True-Vine- (1)

But how to respond to such a gift? In my weekly, I wrote about the work of St John’s Youth Services, which is a beautiful fruit of this branch of the vine. I also wrote about some related services that serve the poorest and most vulnerable in our community – homeless people; people escaping the poison of coercive control and violence; Aboriginal people in need – all on our doorstep, many with no safe place.

It’s time to ask if the fruit we’ve been producing until now is adapted to current needs. Are we bearing enough fruit – the right variety? Are we alive to specific needs; are we willing to be pruned; to have other branches grafted in with us, or to be grafted in different places ourselves? Are we called to something new? These are things we can only discern together through prayer and listening – openly and courageously. Do we increase the ministries we’re doing to meet increased need, or add something quite new? We in Parish Council await your suggestions. Amen.

Palm Sunday-Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Palm Sunday – Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem

Outside: introduction to the liturgy of the Palms

The Temple Mount looks out east across to the steep side of the Mount of Olives – Jesus’ triumphal procession will be like a slow-moving tableau. The Roman headquarters, the Antonia fortress, at the north-west corner of the Mount commands a clear view both over the Temple precinct, and the Mount of Olives.

The soldiers will watch everything from their battlements. I don’t think they’ll believe it’s an insurrection – these aren’t insurgents. More likely they’ll think there’s a factional battle brewing between different groups of religious fanatics.

And the Temple authorities will be watching too, trying to measure the threat; preparing strategies to quench a dangerous new movement. If they don’t stop it quickly, there’ll be soldiers out on the Temple Mount imposing martial law before you know it. You can sympathise with all of them really; that is, until you think about the decisions some of them took.

The Palm Sunday Gospel calls us to join the crowd of people who surround Jesus, and to choose to walk with him. So let’s do that. Let’s raise our palm crosses, bless them together, and then hear the palm Gospel.

Sermon – The servant king who conquers through self-emptying, not force.

The crowds on the Mount of Olives were crying out words from Psalm 118.  : Ps 118.25 Hosanna Save us, we beseech you, O Lord! O Lord, we beseech you, give us success! 26 Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD. We bless you from the house of the Lord. 27 The Lord is God, and he has given us light. Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar.

Everyone who was anyone has come to Jerusalem to conquer her, to control her, to rescue her, to avenge her. Jesus came to save them by emptying himself of power.

David captured it from the Jebusites (1000 BCE) 2 Sam 5

Sennacherib, King of Assyria came to take it from Hezekiah, but was mysteriously turned back (701 BCE) 2 Chr 32

The army of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon sacked the city and carried the people off into exile (586 BCE) 2 Kings 25

Alexander the Great conquered the land (332 BCE)

Julius Caesar’s general Pompey (63 BCE) and Caesar in 47

Caliph Omar (Arabian) (638 CE)

Baldwin I Crusader King (1099)

Sala’adin (Sultan of Egypt and Syria) (1187)

The Mamluk Pashas (Egyptians) (1250-1517)

Suleiman the Magnificent Ottoman Sultan (Turks) (1517-1918)

Napoleon’s Palestinian campaign ended with an outbreak of the plague amongst his troops (1799)

Theodor Herzl & Kaiser Wilhelm both visited the Ottoman rulers (1898)

The British General Allenby strode in ahead of his troops (Dec 1917)

The Arab Legion marched in (1948)

Israeli forces took it in (1967)

Lots of them believed they were joining a mission to save Jerusalem from blasphemy and evil. Yet they came to do that with swords or guns or bombs.

Today, we accompany another king who rode into Jerusalem. We join a crowd of ordinary people who line the road down the Mount of Olives to shout with hope and joy – hope for a king who’ll lead an army. But we get Jesus, perched on the back of a tiny donkey that jiggles its unceremonious way down towards Jerusalem. We’re shouting; we’re crying out to him to save us. We’re bellowing הוֹשִׁ֘יעָ֥ה נָּ֑א – Hosanna ‘save us, we beseech you’– the cry of suffering people – we’re crying out to this very exposed man on a borrowed donkey; calling him to save us.

The generals, sultans, caliphs, kings, emperors and armies have arrived to turn people into enemies, captives, slaves, subjects, displaced persons and refugees. They’ve taken by force what isn’t theirs to take. Jesus doesn’t do that; he’s an utterly different king. He receives what isn’t his too, but rather than taking over people’s freedom, he receives from us what hurts and terrifies and imprisons us.

  • Remember that costly perfume the woman anointed him with? Jesus received her gift as an acknowledgement of his burial.
  • Jesus received Judas’s twisted friendship for him
  • He received the animosity of the chief priests and the cowardice of Pilate
  • He received Barabbas’s execution
  • He received the crowd’s capricious change; ‘hosanna’ one day, ‘crucify’ the next
  • He received the soldiers’ boredom, their mocking and their cruelty
  • He received Simon of Cyrene’s forced assistance
  • He received acknowledgment of his kingship with the sarcastic inscription on his cross
  • He received the contempt of passers by, of priests and scribes, and of one of the criminals crucified with him
  • And in death, he received the centurion’s confession of belief.

Somehow, by his self-emptying, Jesus makes space within himself to receive the gifts and sufferings of others. By his self-emptying, he opens himself to receive the good and the bad. And in receiving them, he transforms the life of the people to whom he shows such compassion.

No-one can be just a bystander watching Jesus pass by. He will receive something from us – respect, indignation, shame, dishonour, authority, disbelief – and we’ll find the place where it was in us may well be utterly transformed.

If we choose him as our teacher – if we choose discipleship to Jesus – to follow him – then on this Passion Sunday we need to know that his is the path of compassion. And compassion, as our Lenten study group has been learning, quite literally means suffering with the other – the one who hurts. The terrible challenge of the Holy Week journey we embark on today is this; as followers of Jesus, are we also prepared to travel the road of self-emptying? To renounce the power and influence we might habitually use to serve the ends of ourselves, our friends and families? To enter the world of those who are hurting, and be with these dear ones in their pain?

Jesus doesn’t ask this of the ones who are already suffering – he doesn’t need to; you already know compassion. But he does ask it of the comfortable and the contented – and he asks it not so much individuals as communities.

So St John’s, are we prepared to stay on this path? Are we still prepared to self-empty; to risk; to receive what only the compassionate dare to receive, and to trust in our Lord that this will lead to healing?

Follow Jesus’s style and priorities

Archbishop Geoffrey Smith

Lent 5B – Jeremiah 31.31-34, Hebrews 5.5-14, John 12.20-33

English can be a tricky language to learn for a number of reasons but including because one word can have more than one meaning. There is an example of that in today’s gospel reading: the word ‘see’. See, that’s s-e-e not s-e-a, (that’s another challenge with English-different words can sound the same).  S-e-e can describe process of seeing with our eyes, or it can describe understanding , as in ‘oh now I see what you mean’. It can be tricky.

Today’s gospel passage from John’s gospel has some Greeks, that is people from Greece, likely to be non-Jews or in other words gentile people, who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover festival, finding the disciple called Philip and saying-‘we wish to see Jesus’.

The passage then has Philip telling this to Andrew and the two of them telling Jesus.  Presumably they said to Jesus, ‘some Greeks want to see you’. There is no record of the Greeks having a face-to-face meeting with Jesus. What follows the communication of the request to Jesus is a long passage where Jesus reflects on the meaning of his death and resurrection and what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.  The people from Greece want to ‘see’, that is meet Jesus, but the response Jesus gives is about seeing who he is, and seeing the meaning of his death and resurrection and understanding what following him entails.

The Greeks want to see Jesus, but Jesus wants them and the disciples to understand what he is all about.

This play on seeing and not understanding is a bit of a theme in John’s gospel. There is a contrast between the religious people who should recognise Jesus but don’t see who Jesus is, and often the people who aren’t religious specialists who do see. Who do get it. Who do understand who Jesus is.

So instead of ending up with a face-to-face meeting with Jesus where the Greek enquirers eyeball Jesus, we end up with the most concentrated teaching on the meaning of Jesus death and resurrection in the whole of John’s gospel. This is to help us to ‘see’, to understand, to follow and so have life.

John’s gospel tells us what the purpose of the gospel is: ‘so that we might come to believe (or continue to believe) that Jesus is the messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing we may have life in his name’ (Jn 20.31).

So, it seems important then that we have a look at this block of teaching and see what it might have for us on the fifth Sunday of Lent.

First, Jesus’ crucifixion was not some unfortunate mistake or tragedy where Jesus’ life was taken from him against his will. His whole life was about service. In his ministry we see him offering himself for the good of others. His life was a life of love. Jesus’ death was the final and most dramatic example of that. Jesus didn’t have some macabre death wish but a sense of his vocation of service. As he says in verse 27-‘should I say-father save me from this hour?’. (That is the hour of his rejection and suffering and death). ‘No’, he says, ‘it is for this reason that I have come to this hour’. Jesus’ whole ministry led to his offering of himself for the life of the whole creation. This is love. This is service.

Second, in Jesus’ offering of himself, the world has been judged. All the priorities of the world, those who think they have power and influence, the forces of evil themselves have been shown to be false. Here in Jesus offering of himself do we have real meaning, real purpose, real power. The world and its priorities and what it thinks is valuable has been judged and shown to be lacking. The ultimate power of evil is overcome in the offering of Jesus himself and his death on the cross and the true way of life and living has been highlighted.

Third, Jesus’ offering of himself on the cross, his great act of love, will lead to reconciliation. He says, ‘when I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all people to myself’. His death is enough for all people. Through his death all the people of the world are invited to him. All the people of the world are welcomed by him. All the people of the world have the opportunity to know him and be at peace with God through him, and receive his life. This is the answer to the word of God through Jeremiah in the first reading: ‘for I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more’. This through the offering and death of Christ.

It is important that we notice the word ‘draw’-I when I am lifted up will draw all people to myself’. There is the sense of a positive energy. Not only is the door to Jesus and his life open but there is an attraction to Jesus as people see the power of his loving service on the cross and realise how wonderful that is.

There is a tension in John’s gospel in that so much is on offer to the whole world, but there is the need to accept what is on offer. To respond to Jesus’ loving service. To believe and trust in him and follow him. People need to accept and believe but the way is open to all.

Fourth, those who ‘see’ who Jesus is are called to follow him. He says: Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life’.

To love our life is the antithesis of Jesus style. Jesus’ style, his example is to give away his life in service. To expend himself for the good of others. Not to preserve himself or save himself but to spend himself. To hate life in this context is not to despise our life, but to be loyal to Jesus. To follow his example. To serve others as Jesus did.

What it means to serve Jesus is seen clearly in the foot washing which comes in the next chapter. There Jesus takes on the task of the lowliest servant in the household and dirties himself in the process of making the disciples clean. Its only their feet but it is symbolic of cleansing all of them. That is what it means to follow Jesus. To give of ourselves for the good and healing and benefit of others.

This ties in so clearly with the mission of Jesus which is the healing of all things. The bringing good to everything. That’s what Jesus did. That’s what his followers do.

And finally, verse 26, ‘whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also’. Where is Jesus to be found? Jesus is found among those lost from God. Those who are marginalised and in need. The sinners and the sick. Those who might be breathing but are short on life. That’s where Jesus was to be found in his ministry and that’s where his followers will be found today. Bringing hope and healing and life to those who are running short of those things.

We are all in the process of ‘seeing’ Jesus. We are all in the process of understanding him and understanding the implications of his service for us. Lent is a good time to move that understanding on, but also to hear again his call to follow. To follow his style. To follow his priorities. To be where he was and still is.

What this means for us in comfortable middle-class Australia requires some thinking as it can be challenging for us. The whole narrative of our society is opposite to the idea of self- offering and service in the style of Jesus. The narrative of our society goes the other way, so we as followers of Jesus need to think about what it means to actually follow the one who washed his disciples feet. Who dirtied himself to cleanse others. Who gave his life so the whole world could have more life. Who died so that the whole world could be healed. And then we need to act, because that’s what following Jesus always means.

 

 

 

The Church is our Mother

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Lent 4b Mothering Sunday – Num 21 4-19, Ps 107 1-3, 17-22, Eph 2 1-10, Jn 3 14-21

Introduction to the readings for the younger people

We’re about to hear an episode in the adventures of the Israelites that doesn’t appear in many children’s Bibles.

After God rescued the Israelites from being slaves in Egypt, they often grumbled about things on their journey – especially about the food. Today, they even grumbled against God and against their leader Moses.

God sent fiery serpents among them and lots of Israelites were bitten and died. They realised how wicked they’d been. They said they’d been wrong to complain, and they asked Moses to pray that God would take away the serpents from them. Moses did pray, but God didn’t take the serpents away. Strangely, God told Moses to make a fiery serpent and set it up on a pole. Moses made one out of bronze and set it up on a pole, and from then on, if anyone was bitten by fiery serpent, they had to look at this bronze fiery serpent and then they wouldn’t die. One person said that this means ‘… Israel can’t become so terminally ill that God isn’t able to heal them’. (T B Dozeman, NIBC II – The Book of Numbers, p.167)

In today’s Gospel story, Jesus reminds someone about this old snake on the pole story. Jesus meets a man who’s wondering about becoming his follower – a man called Nicodemus. He’s a Pharisee; a Jewish religious leader. Jesus tells Nicodemus, I will be like the serpent set up on the pole. He means that when we see him up on the Cross – which is a sign of death – we’ll see that he’s the way the world can be rescued from death.

Jesus tells Nicodemus that he came to rescue the world – not to condemn the world, but to save the world. Nicodemus listened to Jesus, and even though he was very secretive that night, he would become one of the bravest of Jesus’ followers.

We still remember the danger of death leading to life in the Church when we are baptized. We go beneath the deep waters of death as the way Scripture tells us we enter abundant life in God’s Kingdom.

Sermon

If Moses had prayed the way the people asked him to, he would have asked God to take the serpents away from them. Maybe he did pray that. But God didn’t remove the snakes; people kept on getting bitten. But when they looked at Moses’ bronze serpent, the bites didn’t kill them any more. Is this a story about that eternal question of why a loving God allows suffering, or is it a story about a merciful God who sends healing into a world where our mortality means suffering is inevitable – God so loved the world that he gave his only Son … is that what it’s about?

These questions were still hanging around when Jesus talked with the Jewish leader called Nicodemus. Jesus linked the serpent on the pole with his crucifixion: 14…just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. The Gospel tells us when we can really see, we’ll know Jesus gives life where logically there should be death.

Nicodemus had come to Jesus secretly that night to avoid being noticed. You don’t let on that a dangerous radical has captured your imagination if you value your social standing. Yet we know Nicodemus openly became a disciple soon after. We’ll soon find him speaking up for Jesus against his fellow religious leaders. Jn 7.50-51 And we’ll meet him again on Good Friday when he comes to his Lord again – this time to embalm him for burial. Jn 19.39-42

Nicodemus had been baffled just before, when Jesus told him he had to be born again. Today we come into that conversation as Jesus tells him about the Son of Man being lifted up like that bronze serpent Moses made. But still on Good Friday as Nicodemus risks everything to bury his Master, he doesn’t yet know that his eyes will see Jesus again ‘lifted up’ – from the grave, and finally from human sight at his Ascension; such knowledge is a privilege that we only have with hindsight.

So has our journey been travelled for us by Nicodemus and the other earliest Christians? Have they tackled all the questions of pain and suffering and healing in a world of mortals, and left us with the answers? No, they certainly haven’t. The questions are new again in every generation. But we can learn from their journeys.

In today’s story, Nicodemus is at one stage on the journey we’re all travelling. He’s come to Jesus to dip his toe in who knows what; to step over the edge of the certainties of his faith world. He’s come secretly to visit someone who challenges his world; threatens to turn it upside down. What is it in Nicodemus that senses his yearning; and why him particularly, and not one of his fellow Jewish leaders?

Last week, we heard how the Holy Spirit lives inside us – places God’s wisdom right on our hearts – hears the deepest yearnings of our hearts, and speaks them for us to the heart of God. In our listening prayer, we hear that conversation between our own hearts, and the fathomless love of the God who bends to hear us. As we hear our yearnings go out, our call is to follow them towards God. Like Nicodemus was called, the Spirit beckons to us as well. Will we also hear and follow?

Today, we’re called to explore the paradox that we are at once the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, and yet we and all creation live embraced in God. This Mothering Sunday, our collect prayer sees this embrace from inside: Eternal God, in whom we live and move and have our being. It’s like an unborn baby might experience life in the womb. Eternal God, in whom we live and move and have our being. God holds the world in a loving embrace; an embrace so nurturing that it’s like a womb.

On Mothering Sunday, one image we’ve inherited is that the Church is our Mother. This echoes something in the conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus. Jesus had told him you can’t see the kingdom of God without being born again. Might that be where we fit in? Are we, the Church – called the bride of Christ – are we the living sanctuary, the womb, where God nurtures people’s life and movement and being so that they and we may be born anew from here – from this community?

I think it means that on this Mothering Sunday, we remember that our mission as a church is to be a place, a people, of nurture, of nourishment, of warmth and welcome both for each other, and for anyone who is called to be born again into God’s Kingdom, through this community. We nurture life and movement and being.

Today, may we lift up our eyes with Nicodemus to discover the paradox that we are at once the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, yet we are also embraced inside the journey of gestation in God. We live and move and have our being in God. Amen