Easter 5, 19.5.19
Text: John 13.31-35
Revd Paul Cannon
Just a short text from John today, but a critical one in terms of how we live as disciples of Jesus. In this moment we continue to read the Upper Room discourse where Jesus is reinforcing how he sees the way we should live as his followers. So it should be no surprise that Jesus finishes this section of his final teaching saying “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
Love is fundamental to calling yourself a Christian. Though Jesus never labelled us as Christians – or Christ followers, he did want us to live in a particular way.
There is zero evidence that Jesus had a plan for a church community as we have come to know it. What we can see in scripture is that Jesus had a way for people to live as his followers. In fact the earliest term for followers of Jesus was “people or followers of the way.” And that way is founded on love. Love underpins everything Jesus does – teaching, healing, exorcism, miracles, forgiveness, challenge, and ultimately, his death. Jesus wants us to take his example and to live it as we can.
Paul sums this up bluntly in Galatians 5.14 “For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’” The whole law of Moses is summed up by love.
One love action is hospitality.
In ‘Surprise the World’ Michael Frost encourages us to look at the Table Ministry of Jesus. Table ministry is being intentional about how we spend time together and spend time with others, encouraging the growth and development of each other’s faith.
Frost notes the controversy of Jesus’ hospitality. Hospitality was a major part of Jewish community, but all through history, they kept losing their way, as it says in Ezekiel 16.49 “this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.” The true sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was that they had failed to give hospitality, especially to the divine messengers.
Hospitality refers to the relationship between a guest and a host. Hospitality is derived from the Latin which carries an important meaning. Hospes means guest, host or stranger. It is a word that also has a root meaning of Hostis which means hostile. So hospitality is to receive those who may be perceived as hostile. That is what Jesus was trying to get across, love is about breaking down perceptions and traditions, and receiving the stranger.
That wonderful verse, Mark 10.42, reminds us of Love as hospitality: “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve …”
Jesus showed that to the world in the way he received sinners. And he was criticised for it, as Luke 7.34 says: “The son of Man came drinking and eating …”
And he did come eating and drinking, his first miracle of all things, was to turn water into a wine for the hospitality of a wedding. He ate with tax collectors, women, prostitutes, the unclean, the sick and the impure. And he did so intentionally.
Frost encourages us to look at hospitality as a way of being intentionally missional, reaching out to others, and he gives us thee points on this.
The Table can be a surprising place!
The water Jesus changes into wine is the water set aside for ritual purification, as if to say, see that, I’m changing your laws, I’m making your laws the opposite, from washing to drinking, from sober laws to fun time. Metaphorically he’s sticking his tongue out at the religious elite.
At the table Jesus accepts the intimate love of a woman who washes his feet, one of the few times Jesus is given hospitality. It is at the table that Jesus teaches about receiving the poor; chastises the Pharisees, eats with the common people, the traitorous tax collectors. At table Jesus also gives his last teaching on love, and at resurrection breaks bread at Emmaus.
Jesus was a radical socialiser, and as Frost challenges, we are called to be radical socialisers too. To open up to others and to host meals and times when you engage intentionally with them.
The Table fosters Community
Australian theologian and chef Simon Carey Holt says: It is through the daily practice of the table that we live a life worth living … Through the table we live our neighbourliness and citizenship, express our allegiances to particular places and communities, and claim our sense of home and belonging. At the table we celebrate beauty and express solidarity with those who are broken and hungry.”
Christians can be guilty of the holy huddle, we only invite other Christians to our tables because that’s safe, comfortable, but Jesus wants us to foster community with those who are Christians too.
Jesus and later the early Church, demonstrated that the church grew from gathering around the table, and the table was the place where people came to know Jesus, turned around their lives, and grew together.
Zacchaeus the tax collector is one prime example of how communion leads to conversion.
The Table Mirrors the Character of God
The Trinity Icon by Andrei Rublev shows the receptivity of God to all. The three sit at a table and invite others in. When we gather together around a table we mirror the Trinity, and when we invite others in we mirror God’s love.
I note too, that Jesus gathered where the people were, he never invited anyone home, he was an itinerant so he gathered people at other people’s homes, today that is still the case, especially in coffee shops, cafes and restaurants, church halls and parks.
Today we will celebrate communion in a formal and liturgical way, but the early church celebrated communion as a proper meal, communion was to commune with others at table. But it is communion that places the table at the centre of Christian living.
The table is the radical way of Jesus, it is radical socialising, it is inclusive, loving, healing, refreshing, opening, converting. The table is a call to ministry in gentle hospitality as mission.
How open is your table? Where is your table? Whop is at your table?
How radical is your socialising?
Easter 4, 12.5.19
Text: John 10.22 – 30.
Revd Paul Cannon
The Rolling Stones recorded a seminal album, their tenth, and released on the 12.5.1972.
When I listened to it I was jolted by a short track titled “I Just Want To See His Face.” A close listen to the song revealed that the lyric was I don’t want to talk about Jesus till I see his face.” I can take that two ways. In one sense it might mean I haven’t met Jesus in anyone I’ve encountered. Or it might mean, I don’t much care for religion and I’ll worry about it when I meet Jesus. I can discount the first, because there have been so many people who have been the face of Jesus to the world, both well known and those who are the humble people around us.
I think it is the latter meaning, they want to see the real Jesus, later.
But there’s an element of this in the text today: “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
It’s laughable really, because Jesus has made it plain all the way along, but the people cannot see: “I have told you and you do not believe.” Jesus says to the crowd of questioners.
The thing is, when he does tell them plainly, they can’t stand it and they seek to arrest him for blasphemy. So Jesus can’t win when he does make it extra plain.
But the way that Jesus mostly spoke to the world was through the way he lived and interacted with everyone: “The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me …”
It is astounding that the feeding of the multitude, the calming of the storm, the several healings and exorcisms, his clear teaching and knowledge, his humility and love, water into wine, all these should have been clear indications that he was the Messiah.
But what these questioners are really getting at, is how could an ordinary man like Jesus be the Messiah? His critics have been at him since just after the wedding at Cana. Remember when he goes back to Nazareth they say, isn’t this just the carpenter’s son? They couldn’t conceive that Jesus could possibly be who he said he was. They didn’t believe, says Jesus, so they question his validity.
They questioned his methods, he ate with sinful people, prostitutes, traitorous tax collectors, law breakers, he touched lepers, moved among the common people and rubbed shoulders with the poor, didn’t wash for meals, talked about the end of the law of Moses. He was a rebel upstart who was intent on wrecking the system.
Jesus is the prime model of how to truly evangelise. Jesus reached out to people and met them where they were at, treated their presenting or surface problems while meeting that deep inner need of God. He gave hope that law was not the way to God, that ordinary people mattered, That faith was quite simple, that forgiveness didn’t involve complicated processes.
One of the ways that Jesus worked was that he empowered the person: “Your sins are forgiven” he often said. “You are healed” “Take up your bed and walk.” He encouraged people to know they were free, released of all that they thought bound them.
The woman at the well he engaged in a lengthy conversation and she left released from all the heaviness of her life, and she went and told her whole community, many who decided to follow this man who could release people, and so simply.
Jesus, as Michael Frost would say, blessed the people. He strengthened them. Frost brings out the meaning of Blessing in his book ‘Surprise the World’: it is “To add strength to another’s arm.” So to bless is to build other people up so that they are filled with encouragement, and so that they grow in strength.
This is what Jesus meant by loving people, to encourage and strengthen them.
And this is what evangelism is. Frost talks about the two types of evangelist – the professional and called evangelist is like St. Paul, or Billy Graham. But the majority of evangelists fall into category two, ordinary people who simply get alongside others and bless them.
How hard could that be?
And I note that Jesus lived a questionable life! Not in the sense of moral depravity but in the sense that his life caused others to think and to question their lives as a result of how he lived and interacted with people.
The idea that Frost is trying to get across is that we aren’t called to live anonymous lives, we aren’t supposed to fade and hide, we are called to engage in blessing others.
Surprise the World is possible because we surprise people by blessing them, strengthening and encouraging them. This is no longer a normal behaviour in our community and it surprises people when we take time to unconditionally do that.
The world doesn’t need proof of Jesus in any other way than through the love that is blessing. Words won’t do it, solutions won’t do it, love does it.
It causes other to ask, “Why did you take time with me?” “Why did you do that?” “what motivates you?” Which is being questionable, people ask questions which you can build a conversation around. We talk about how Jesus has impacted our lives in real and meaningful ways, how Jesus has strengthened and encouraged us through the work of others.
This is how we also see the face of Jesus, this is how we become the face of Jesus for others, through blessing them and by being blessed.
The world is a fragile place, we are fragile people, we need blessing and so do those around us and into the world.
How questionable are You? Who are you strengthening?
Easter 3, 5.5.19
Text: John21.1 – 19
Revd Paul Cannon
In this gospel reading we have Jesus’ threefold reply to Peter’s threefold denial.
Jesus asks Peter three times if Peter loves him.
This is a direct parallel to the three times that Peter denied Jesus after his arrest.
“No, no, no – I do not know this man” - is set right with; “Yes, yes, yes Lord, you know that I love you.”
This threefold question is Peter’s moment of redemption, the moment Jesus forgives and accepts Peter and restores him as friend and follower.
But it is not as simple as just saying “I love you.”
After each “Do you love me?” Jesus adds the instruction, feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep.
That in itself is an interesting statement. Why three instructions that sound the same? Feed my lambs and feed my sheep indicates that the lambs will grow to be adult sheep who will still need feeding. Tending is pastoral, whereas feeding is equipping.
Now Jesus wants to know if Peter understands that his love must be real, it must be an active love, a real love in practice. Jesus is making it very clear that to be his follower is to be invested in the way of Jesus. Words are not enough, concrete action must immediately follow.
What is interesting in the original greek in this passage is that Jesus uses both Phillia (fillia) and Agape (ag-uh-pay) for the word love, which holds a particular meaning for us when we engage with this reading.
Philia is a love for friends and family. Agape is love for all, it is a welcoming love. So that Jesus is asking; Peter do you love me? And he is also asking; Peter do you love my way, and, do you love those who I love?
This is important because Jesus is saying, its not just about me. I came that you might learn to love as I love – to love other people.
These two words are doing words, they all about taking action, doing, acting, achieving, being, commitment, investment, risk-taking. Because that’s what love is.
And Jesus is not inviting a fluffy, dreamy sentimental love, a love of no-risk and no commitment. If we conceive of love this way it is a romanticised love, a love of being oh so helpful and happy and wonderful. You could sum this sort of love up as “be nice to people.”
But the love that Jesus is advocating in this breakfast moment down on the beach is, in contrast, a costly love that will test and stretch us in our faith. It is the love that got Jesus killed. Its not about niceness!
And Jesus foretells that Peter will also suffer and die for his faith. “When yo were younger you used to fasten your own belt, but when you grow older you will stretch out your hands and and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not want to go.”
This is not the fuzzy love of weak Christianity. Nor is it the nostalgic “God and country” love of civil religion - always remember that it was the state that executed Jesus.
Instead this is a love that irritates and inconveniences, that questions governments and institutions, defies social rules and unjust laws, questions the status quo, questions the desire of people who want to hide in the sand. This is a love which makes trouble and teaches us to expect trouble but not for its own sake because love is for others.
Jesus’ own mother Mary, in her great song of praise (Luke 1.51 – 53) tells of how Jesus’ love, the love incarnate, will scatter the proud, bring down the powerful, lift up the lowly, and send the rich away empty. This is not meek and mild.
Still in the wake of the global economic crisis, in the face of a global refugee crisis, there is no talk of love. There is plenty of anger and talk of revenge. What would it mean to reach out to the world and address it with redeeming love that would lift it up as we would lift up our own family and loved ones? To love one’s enemies, to heal and renew, to look for better ways to move into a new future as a community?
Our attitudes to poverty and race prevent us from finding ways to move forward in the world today.
Even worse, is our attitude to God’s own creative work, the universe – and our attitude to the earth. What love would it cost us to to really do something, to take particular responsibility and economic action for the earth?
What does Jesus’ love demand of us? What will it cost to stand with those who need a voice? What will it cost to take action that our friends will disapprove of? What will it cost to love like Jesus loves in a world where real love really costs?
Feeding and tending sheep is more than providing the essentials for those in need. To love all the sheep is to love all sheep, even the ones who stray and fall away, the unlovely ones, the ones who rile and annoy us, those who do harm. It will mean standing tall and calling unchecked and raw power into question, speaking the truth of Jesus.
It will mean jamming a stick in the spokes of institutional wheels of injustice. It will be a time of making trouble, but it will be, must be the trouble of love for loves sake and not our own, and a love that is peaceful and never vengeful. That is real powerful love, the love that Jesus demands, the love that Jesus showed us how to live, and it is love that we can live through the discernment of the Holy Spirit.
Do you love Jesus enough to tend and feed his sheep? All his sheep?
Easter 2, 28.4.19
Text: John 20.19 – 31
Revd Paul Cannon
The disciples are huddled behind locked doors in fear of the authorities.
The horror of crucifixion would be enough to send anyone into hiding.
But Jesus is not contained by tombs or doors. Jesus enters a locked room and presents himself to his disciples.
Just remember that in John 10.1 – 10 Jesus refers to himself as the gate or door for his sheep.
The way verse 26 is phrased in the Greek is quite interesting, because it actually reads like this: “Jesus of the locked doors came and stood among them.”
Jesus of the locked doors!
Now while it indicates the circumstances of his appearance, it also indicates something about Jesus himself. Jesus is a door. So this ties back to all his other references to being the way, being the gate, being the door for his sheep, for his followers.
The phrase, Jesus of the locked doors, doesn’t mean that Jesus is the one who restrains, or locks people in. it means the opposite. Jesus calls himself the door, the way. It means that Jesus is the one who cannot be contained by rocks, gates or doors. And he demonstrates this by entering a locked room. So he is the one who can open or ignore doors.
This is helpful, because we, like the disciples, are the one’s who lock the doors. Those doors can be real doors, they can be real in another sense too, they can be spiritual doors, psychological doors, theological doors, whatever doors there are we can lock them.
Do we really think that God cannot see into the heart? Do we really think we can fully block God from our lives?
Jesus is showing that none of that can really keep him out.
There is no lock so rigid or sophisticated that can actually prevent Jesus entering our lives.
The disciples are huddled in fear of the authorities. Maybe they’re the next to be put to death?
There is also the sense that some of this fear is to do with the more recent resurrection appearances. It is a fear of having to be true to Jesus in the world when who knows what might happen to them as a result.
Jesus comes through the wooden door, but he also intrudes on their door of fear. It is fear that has locked them up more than the door to the room because they take fear with them, it is in them, a part of them.
How does Jesus unlock the door of the person?
He greets them as one who comes in peace, there is no animosity. They were probably expecting him to be angry that they had run away and denied him, that here they were bunkered behind locked doors frightened, and perhaps ashamed.
The peace Jesus announces is one of acceptance and forgiveness. That is the first key he gives to unlock our doors.
He gives another key, a powerful one when he gives them a foretaste of the gift of the Holy Spirit that comes soon after this. As John says: “He breathed on them and said to them, ‘receive the Holy Spirit.’ It is a reminder that we are not sole operators, in becoming followers of Jesus we become partners in his mission to the world and that involves receiving the Holy Spirit. It is then the disciples started to come alive, and is also when we come alive. It is when we can discern and act in accordance with what God really does want us to do in the world.
So fear has no place. The gift of the Spirit is a promise kept. In John 14.18 Jesus says: “I will not leave you orphaned.” We are not alone, he is with us.
The keys of forgiveness and the Spirit are about whatever we are locked up with. Firstly, the fear. Then Jesus speaks about forgiveness in a relational sense.
If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” What does he mean?
Here is the forgiveness key. But it comes down to whether we forgive or not.
A lack of forgiveness is clearly a binding. If we fail to forgive ourselves, if we fail to forgive others we lock ourselves and others up. The retaining of anger, jealousy, hate, suspicion, resentment, are prisons we place ourselves in. By forgiving others we release ourselves from our prisons.
To retain is to also risk consequences for body, mind and spirit. That is why in Matthew 18.18 Jesus says ‘whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ Meaning we determine our relational prisons. Jesus gives us keys to unbind, to release, to heal, to forgive, but the choice is still ours.
And note, the power of the Spirit helps us to forgive.
Jesus is also forgiving of Thomas. He accepts him. The word doubt is not a good translation, it uses unfaithful. So Jesus actually says to Thomas: ‘Do not be unfaithful but faithful.’ Why would that detail be important?
Because Thomas is perhaps speaking emotionally rather than intellectually. Thomas, like the others, knows that if the resurrection is true, it will change their lives. So this is a question not of doubt but unwillingness to face the task ahead.
This is the question they all had to face, could they be faithful? Or would fear rule them?
But this is the question we all face.
This all builds to verse 21: “As the Father sent me, so I send you.”
If we are to be a people of the Way, if we are truly followers of Jesus, then we must be the people of forgiveness. How can you possibly undertake ministry if you cannot be faithful to what Jesus asks of you?
So in this passage, we encounter a Jesus who models forgiveness as it is eternally. We also encounter a Jesus who is honouring his promise to never leave us as orphans and who therefore comes in the power of the Spirit that enables us to forgive, to overcome fear, and to undertake the task of ministry he has for each one of us. We also encounter a Jesus who can listen without judgement.
Jesus is the door, Jesus has the key. What do you need to let go of in order to follow in his way?
Easter Day, 21.4.19
Text: John 20.1 – 18
Revd Paul Cannon
This moment is amazing! Breathtaking!
But what are we to make of it?
Mary comes and find the tomb empty and in grief she runs to tell the others. Peter and the other disciple run to find that Mary is telling the truth, The other disciple, who we assume to be John sees and believes, but it seems his belief is limited to the raising of Jesus, not the implications for everyone. Peter’s reaction is not recorded by John.
Peter and John return to their homes, perhaps to ponder and reflect. But their homes are in Galilee in Judea.
Mary has returned and she stands at the tomb weeping, she steps inside and encounters two angels who ask her why she is weeping, but before she replies she has turned and seen a man she assumes is the gardener. Why would she make that assumption? Was his manner, his dress? Clearly Jesus is not readily recognisable. Mary was a close disciple, she would surely easily recognise Jesus even through her tears of grief.
The gardener addresses her “Mary.” And she then recognises Jesus, and reaches out to him crying “Teacher.”
Jesus asks her not to hold onto him. He is yet to return to the Trinity, God, Son and Spirit.
This refers back to “It is Finished” the work of Jesus concludes as the Spirit is released into the world in a new way, not to one person to do all the work, but to all who would follow that so that the Spirit inhabits the heart and guides and drives with passion to complete the work of Jesus in the world today.
But this whole moment, what are we to make of it?
This is the penultimate moment for us all, Jesus said he would die and then be raised. May, Peter and John are the first witnesses to this happening.
But what does it mean for us, for the world around us?
When Jesus is on the cross, he cries out “It is finished.” What is finished is the time of Jesus doing everything, what came after was the new time of the Spirit energising people to do the work which was ongoing, the same work that Jesus had been doing.
But how to communicate this?
Throughout history Christians have been irritating others with the wrong way.
Knocking on doors, sending leaflets, ear bashing, confronting, writing endless pages on pedantic theology has been an obsession for many, but so counter-productive.
How did Jesus do it?
Well he did study, he went to Rabinical school like every other child at that time in the Jewish community. He knew the scriptures so well he could endlessly quote them all.
But the difference in Jesus was that he went to where the people were, he went to the market places, to the homes and the synagogues, the place of worship. He went to the people, he didn’t wait for them to come to him. But by going to the people he became known and eventually popular and sought. By the middle of his ministry years he had no peace or space because people were constantly seeking him out.
The model he set for us was not to sit around reading about him, but to live what he modelled.
The martyred German pastor Dietrich Bonhoefer wrote a sensational book called “The Cost Of Discipleship” where he talks about how those who follow and how some engage the risk of Christianity, the risk of love. But he also talks about those who follow in name only, those who want the title Christian, want the moral image, but not the risk and he speaks to this as cheap grace. That we cheapen the cross when we don’t live the resurrection life. It is a powerful treatise on living faith.
Jesus asks that we continue his work.
So we are called to go where the people are, to listen to them, to offer them hope and to sit with them in their hour of need. Not just those who already believe and follow, no, but those who are yet to know him.
We can’t go down to the Forum or Centrepoint and just shouting stuff at people, God forbid! There is not much point in studying in order to communicate your faith, that is simply delaying what Jesus wants, hiding, putting off the real. We are not asked to go and harangue people like some denominations have and do.
We will never be able to sit people down and logically explain the resurrection, we will only bore them with theology or Bible verses that sound detached and abstract.
So what is this moment, this amazing event and how do we share it with the world?
Well, it is clear from the New Testament writings that we must in the world and being Jesus to the world.
Unless we live what we believe the world will never catch on, it will never be real. People know when you aren’t real, they know when you are fudging, when you are avoiding. People especially know that if you hide behind books even scripture, that you aren’t really living it. You can quote the whole bible, but are you living it. And that’s the point, integrity!
Jesus understood that people wanted real response, healing, understanding, release, freedom, insight. He did that by being with people and engaging with them where they were at. Paul did exactly the same. And the whole point of the resurrection is not to know what it is theologically, but to know how to say to other people – this is how it has affected my life.
John and Peter returned home, Mary returned to the others. It wasn’t until Pentecost that the penny dropped, that it all became clear.
The resurrection is not supposed to be a doctrine, it is supposed to be applied.
You can study plant biology at university, but you can also study horticulture at TAFE. The first is academic study the other is applied science as we used to call it. Well Jesus wants us to treat faith as applied science, something practical, something you do.
The resurrection isn’t an invitation to reduce our grief about the cross, or to sit in a warm glow about the resurrection stories, we are being invited to be Jesus to the world, to get real, to continue his work.
We are being invited to be love to the world in real and meaningful ways as we get alongside people and listen to them. Listening leads to knowing and understanding, intimacy and friendship, it is an opportunity to share how the resurrection has changed you. Any other way is purely academic.